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Apr 012015
 
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April Fools Post_Tunnel View

“Ode to Ansel” The spectacular view from Tunnel View

After the craziness of proofing my latest book, a couple weeks ago, I decided to jet to Oregon for a few days of personal photography.  Preferring the back roads to the busy highways, I found myself within arms reach of Yosemite National Park in California mid-day on the drive up.  Instead of pushing on, I decided to spend the afternoon exploring a place I had only seen twice before.

As I approached the park, I started channeling my inner Ansel Adams, who’s photographic legacy in Yosemite is unmatched.  Tapping into visualization (a process Ansel and fellow photographer Minor White encouraged and used in their own work),  I brought up a catalog in my mind of various popular photographs Ansel made in Yosemite and wondered how I could put my own spin on each of them.  I remembered a few past Outdoor Photographer magazine articles that challenged photographers to think like Ansel, so I considered, “Where would he go to photograph if he were alive today?  If he photographed Yosemite today with a digital camera, how would he approach it?  How would he render his classic scenes in color?”

I thought about exploring some of the more remote, unnamed areas tucked among the 1,190-square-acres of spectacular scenery found within Yosemite’s borders, but I figured if Ansel hadn’t found something gorgeous to shoot in those spots, I sure wasn’t going to!  With that in mind, I decided where I was to spend my afternoon:  I had tunnel vision for Tunnel View.

When I pulled into the Tunnel View parking lot, I could not believe the scene.  Oh sure, the majestic Yosemite Valley looked as stunning as ever.  The snow-dusted monoliths, the grace of Bridalveil Falls, and the wispy clouds dancing in the clear blue sky backdrop (I really wanted similar moody clouds as Ansel had previously captured, but I didn’t want to copy his rendition exactly so I had hoped for even clearer skies…).   However, what caught my eye was just how many other photographers were already there blasting away!  At least 50 other photographers were doing a tripod tango at the overlook!  I thought I’d have the place to myself!

I looked around for a little space to squeeze into in between all the interlocking tripods, but wasn’t having much luck fitting in.  As a little frustration set in, a familiar voice called to me, “Hey Colleen!”  Much to my surprise, it was my good friend and fellow photographer, Jim Goldstein!  After chatting for a bit, he offered me his spot in the line-up.  I felt so fortunate, because quite honestly, he had THE best position for the best view of Yosemite Valley.

I set my 16-35mm lens to  ISO 100 and f/16 to achieve the broadest depth of field.  Aiming for a unique composition, I waited a few minutes before shooting to allow the shadow line to run from my bottom left corner into the frame towards the falls (the payoff).  This created a nice sense of movement into the frame…and made the classic arrangement different enough to call it my own.

I snapped just a single frame (the photo above) when I heard some shuffling behind me.  Then, a man’s voice sputtered in jest, “You know, Colleen, Ansel would have never used a digital camera for this scene.”  I laughed and turned around to see who the comedian was.  Lo and behold, my good buddy and fellow photographer, Olivier du Tre, stood behind me with his over-sized backpack slung over his shoulder, looking for a place to shoot with tripod in hand.

We spent a few minutes catching up, but the light on Yosemite Valley was fleeting.  Having already nailed my shot and considering Olivier had traveled all the way from Alberta, Canada to capture this one moment with his slow-to-set-up 4×5 camera, I offered my spot to Olivier so he too could make his own unique image.

And boy, did he ever!  I enjoy seeing what other photographers take away from the same spot, and Olivier’s photograph won’t disappoint.  Check out his blog to see his spin on this beautiful scene:  blog.olivierdutre.com/2015/04/tunnel-view.html

Happy April 1st! :P

Colleen

Jan 292015
 
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Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake

“Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake,” Prescott, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

In between leading the exciting “Paint With Light” workshop with the Phippen Museum last Thursday and the popular “Watson Lake” workshop with the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops this weekend, I managed to sneak in a free day of my own photography on Friday.  Given my enthusiasm for rocks and water (and since I was already in the neighborhood), spending some extra time wandering about the fantastical jumbo rocks at Watson Lake was an easy and obvious choice for me.

After enjoying windless, crystal clear conditions the evening before (perfect for our night sky workshop!), it was of no surprise my free day began with blue skies overhead.  I started off on Watson Lake’s western shoreline before sunrise.  Since nothing of interest occurred in the sky, I ended up filling my memory card up with mostly reflections and abstract water patterns.  After a few hours of delightful play, I began visualizing where I wanted to perch myself for the afternoon and evening.

I noodled on an idea I came up with about three years ago while walking along the Peavine Trail on the eastern side of the lake.  From experience, I recalled this easy-going path offered the best prospects for side and backlighting in the evening at this time of year.  Instead of stopping at my usual favorite spots, I wanted to climb to a high point along the shoreline to get a more aerial perspective.  Easy said than done, though, as few trails lead to the tops of the granite boulders high along the edge of the lake.  Using the Google Maps displayed on the Photographer’s Ephemeris app on my iPhone, I determined I could start along the aptly-named Tree House Loop just beyond the Peavine Cove and then rock hop off-trail to a spot I found photogenic.

With my afternoon plans set, I headed to Prescott for a quick lunch to refuel.  By then, clouds had started to roll in one by one.  By 3 pm, fairly dense cloud covered the sky such that if the current conditions prevailed through sunset, direct light illuminating the rocks did not look promising…

While I am aware of them (mainly to decide what to wear!), weather conditions play no factor in my decision making process to go photograph or not.  I always go regardless of what Mother Nature throws out – rain, sun, fog, hail, blizzard, etc.  I love the challenge of seeing what I can creatively develop from the canvas she provides to me…and truly, you never know what you get until you get outside.  That said, I am a sucker for sunsets (and sunrises) where the sky explodes into an unforgettable multi-hued palette of color.  Naturally, a little part of me hoped that was what was in store for this evening.

Although my vision was clear, my final destination was unknown so I set out along the Peavine Trail about two hours before sunset.  After scrambling, running into dead-end boulder cul-de-sacs, and scouting out several options, I found a scene I really loved.  After soaking in the spectacular view and appreciating my fortunate situation, I tried various compositions of the landscape under overcast skies.  I settled on a favorite with my 16-35mm lens set to 16mm, set my aperture at f/18 to achieve extensive depth of field, and confirmed my ISO was set to 100.  I pulled out my three- and four-stop graduated neutral density filters just in case.  (Although a polarizer would have been effective considering my angle to the sun, I generally do not use that filter with my 16mm due to excessive vignetting and uneven polarization, which causes banding in the sky.)

Then, I waited.

With a mere five minutes until sunset, I still couldn’t resolve whether the clouds would choke out the setting sun’s light or if the sun would sneak under the cloud layer to render a memorable fiery sunset.  The glowing red light on the distant cliffs to the north near Chino Valley and a sliver of blue sky to the west above Granite Mountain gave me hope for the latter.

A few minutes after the official sunset time, the sky magically transformed from grey to pink.  The bizarre-shaped granite terrain glowed.  In my enthusiasm for what was transpiring in front of my eyes, I went into “SPP” – Sheer Panic Photography – mode (the state in which a photographer seemingly loses his or her mind in awe and keeps blasting away as quickly as possible to make the most of the decisive moment) for the 8-10 minute show.  Besides the beautiful colors, I felt thrilled to see my idea from three years ago coming to life!

After all was said and done, the composition above was my favorite out of the twenty or so frames I made last Friday evening.  My final technical settings were Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm at 16mm, ISO 100, f/18 at 3.2 seconds, four-stop graduated neutral density filter.

Jan 032015
 
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“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here’s hoping your 2015 has started off with a bang and ends up being your best year yet!

Almost every time I ask my Dad casually, “How’s it going?” he responds immediately with delight, “Living the dream!”  And I always nod back in agreement, “Yes, Dad, we sure are!” As we flip the calendar to another year and begin to reflect on all that was, I can’t help but smile about all that is: I’m living my dream.

At the risk of sounding like a skipping CD player, 2014 goes into the books as my most successful, most productive, and most thrilling year to date (I know, I know, I say this every year…but it’s true!!).  In my 7th year as a full time freelance photographer and writer, I increased focus on the places and subjects I love most, fulfilled aspirations for writing another book (and donating to a great cause), established new editorial connections, and thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with dear friends while meeting amazing new people in a multitude of speaking engagements and photography workshops.

I recognize, with certainty, that I would not be able to life this phenomenally fulfilling life if it were not for your continued support. Words can hardly express how grateful I am not just today, but rather every day, for your help, encouragement, friendship, and laughs along this journey.  Thank you!

In celebration of the close of 2014, I’d like to share my favorite 15 photographs from last year.  Here goes, in chronological order:

1. “Ethereal Decay,” Mono Lake Tufa State Preserve, California (January 1, 2014)
As so many photographs I had previously seen of Mono Lake promised, my first visit to see the tufas here did not disappoint.  Given my ever-growing passion (obsession?) for bubbles, I was more drawn to the air bubbles rising from decaying algae along the shoreline than the iconic rock formations!

Ethereal Decay

“Ethereal Decay,” Mono Lake Tufa State Preserve, California (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

2. “Rock On!” near Page, Arizona (January 9, 2014)
Of all the rock formations in the desert southwest, I have an affinity for the cracked brown Dakota Group sandstone found around the Page area in Arizona and southern Utah.  Although I had made an image of these rocks near Studhorse Point with my large format 4×5 camera years ago, I continued to develop visualizations for new compositions in this special spot.  After multiple attempts, all the elements came together on a cold morning in January, resulting in this image I call “Rock On!”

“Rock On,” near Page, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

3. “Sailors Delight at West Pond Cove,” Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine (February 12, 2014)
After getting a delicious taste of winter in Acadia National Park as the park’s first winter Artist-in-Residence (my third residency) in February 2013, I could not wait to pack all the clothes in my closet and return to experience the snow and ice again.  During my fortunate second winter visit in February 2014, West Pond Cove quickly became one of my favorite places to photograph the fleeting ice at low tide at sunset.

Sailor's Delight at West Pond Cove, Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine

“Sailor’s Delight at West Pond Cove,” Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

4. “A Frozen Universe,” Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine (February 28, 2014)
To celebrate the anniversary of my personal Independence Day (also known as my escape from Corporate America and the start of my 7th year as a full-time freelance photographer and writer), I snowshoed to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.  Expecting epic winter views at the top, I packed my wide-angle and telephoto lenses, leaving my macro lens behind in an attempt to lighten my load for the 8-plus mile round-trip haul.  When I made it to the summit, I was shocked to see a Mecca of ice bubbles in the parking lot!  I needed my macro lens!  GAH!  Fortunately, I remembered to pack my extension tubes, which I used on my 24-105mm lens to create this composition.

A Frozen Universe

“A Frozen Universe,” Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

5. “A Single Triumph of Summer,” Tohono Chul Park, Tucson, Arizona (April 24, 2014)
Arizona’s spring wildflower bloom panned out to be a bit of a bust, but with what little rain we did get, the cactus enjoyed and put on a beautiful show.  Thanks to the recommendations from a couple of volunteers at Tohono Chul Park, I found this regal, night-blooming echinopsis cactus showing off in the early morning light.

A Single Triumph of Summer

“A Single Triumph of Summer,” Tohono Chul Park, Tucson, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

6. “Sequential Erosion,” Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado (June 13, 2014)
After completing a presentation/book signing tour through Colorado this summer, my parents and I decided to stop at the Grand Sand Dunes National Park for our first visit.  Although we only had a short amount of time to enjoy the park, we learned enough about it to know we’ll be back soon.  I wanted to make an image that shared the expansive nature of this landscape, so I chose to create a panoramic image stitched from 11 vertical frames.

Sequential Erosion

“Sequential Erosion,” Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

7. “The Storm Within,” Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (July 1, 2014)
My first (and very short) visit to Toroweap Overlook on the north rim of the Grand Canyon did not go exactly according to plan. In fact, it ended up costing me an additional $281 and four beers!  (Read about the entire adventure on my blog post, “My $281 (and Four Beer) Trip to Toroweap.”)  Following a nerve-wracking drive, I finally reached the rim with five minutes to spare before sundown and hastily composed this scene.  The trip – and scenery – was certainly unforgettable.

The Storm Within

“The Storm Within,” Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

8. “Where the Winds Blow,” Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park, Oregon (July 8, 2014)
In 2014, I had the great fortune of spending a month’s worth of time (over multiple trips) in my beloved state of Oregon.  Although the summer months draw hoards of visitors to the entire scenic coastline, gale force winds and threatening skies kept beachcombers away from this stretch of beach, leaving me to enjoy the windswept, ephemeral sand patterns in the late afternoon in joyous solitude.

Where the Wind Blows

“Where the Wind Blows,” Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

9. “Psychedelic Sunset Surprise,” Sparks Lake, Oregon (July 20, 2014)
En route home from my 22-day summer Pacific Northwest tour, I stopped at Sparks Lake to camp overnight.  Going into late afternoon, the thick clouds indicated sunset might be a grey one.  But for a few minutes after sunset, the sky surprisingly exploded into magical color.

Psychedelic Sunset Surprise

“Psychedelic Sunset Surprise,” Sparks Lake, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

10. “What’s SUP, Mom?” Frenchman Bay, Maine (August 6, 2014)
During my August visit to Acadia National Park, I convinced my Mom to take a formal lesson with me from Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Frenchman Bay near Bar Harbor.  I slung my camera (secured tightly in a EWA waterproof bag) over my shoulder, in case a photogenic moment occurred during our lesson (and my Mom’s first time atop a board).  Thanks to a clearing storm, we paddled across the perfectly still and serene sea beneath rainbows and moody skies.  With much pride for my Mom’s infectious adventurous spirit, I couldn’t resist snapping this peaceful moment of her soaking in her experience.

What's SUP, Mom?

“What’s SUP, Mom?” Frenchman Bay, Maine

 

11. “The Network,” Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine (August 8, 2014)
Thanks to a nomination by my good friend and amazing photographer, Floris van Breugel, I participated in the “Black and White Challenge” that ran wild on Facebook this year.  In preparing for the five-day project, I dug up various color photographs I thought might be more successful with a monochromatic treatment, including this one of a spider’s web at Schoodic Point.  To read how I created this image and why I chose to convert it to black and white, head to my recent my blog post, “Day 3:  The Black and White Challenge:  The Network.”

The Network

“The Network,” Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

12. “Schoodic Serenity,” Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine (August 8, 2014)
I could stand along the Acadian coastline for all of eternity and never tire of the awe and wonder this magical place offers.  Sometimes it’s stormy and fiesty; sometimes it’s quiet and tranquil.  But every time – including this past August – my soul sings in the reverie.

Schoodic Serenity

“Schoodic Serenity,” Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

13. “What Lies Ahead?” Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine (October 17, 2014)
Thankfully, no government shutdown (like in October 2013) prevented me from helping not one, but two, photography workshop groups enjoy and photograph the autumnal beauty of Acadia National Park this past October!  I created this image of the boardwalk on the Jesup Trail during the second trip (read more about it on my blog post, “Persistence Pays Off:  October 2014 CMS Photography’s Acadia Workshop“).

What Lies Ahead

“What Lies Ahead,” Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

14. “Mud Tetris,” Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah (October 25, 2014)
Immediately after my three-week stay in Acadia, I headed to southern Utah to connect with my good friends Guy Tal, Bruce Hucko, and Michael Gordon for a few days in the desert.  I also had the fortunate chance to meet and spend time with Charles Cramer and Dan Mitchell on the same outing.  In between the many laughs, we explored some of the magnificent canyons found in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  And I’m pretty sure between the six of us, we photographed every inch of cracked mud along the way!  When I saw this collection on the side of a sandstone wall, I immediately thought it looked like the blocks from the video game “Tetris.”  After snapping a few frames, at Bruce’s urging, Bruce and I switched cameras and challenged each other to change something about the others composition.  He zoomed my arrangement out a little wider than I had originally composed – and I liked it!  So Bruce gets a little extra credit for helping me perfect my vision.

Mud Tetris

“Mud Tetris,” Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

15. “Winter Greetings” Cape Lookout State Park, Oregon (December 19, 2014)
I snuck in a few extra days along the Oregon coast before visiting with my in-laws in Montana for the holidays.  For four straight days, it relentlessly poured (as it’s prone to do during winter in Oregon).  I became so accustomed to the rain tap dancing on top of my camper that when all went suddenly silent in the early morning hours of day 3, I rushed out of bed and headed to the coast with my camera in hand to Cape Lookout.   The storm surge prevented me from walking along the beach, but I found a trail that hugged the coast that provided outstanding views of ephemeral waterfalls pouring into the stormy seas.

Winter Greetings

“Winter Greetings,” Cape Lookout State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

For additional inspiration to kick off the year, head over to Jim Goldstein’s annual blog project where he’s posted his traditional and ever-growing list of other photographers’ own favorites and best from 2014.  This is my third year participating – see my collections from 2012 and 2013.

As the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote above suggests, my wish for you is that every day you’re on this planet – in photography and in life – is the best day of your year.

Keep shooting!
~Colleen

 

Dec 162014
 
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Taking Center Stage

Day 5: “Taking Center Stage.” Row of trees in the pastoral Kohala Mountains region on the Big Island of Hawai’i. (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

Having sat behind a computer for 10 years prior to pursuing photography full-time, I dislike sitting in front of a computer now and post-processing my images for hours at a time.  I would much prefer to spend that time playing outside and perfecting the image in the field rather than “photoshopping” it later.  My post-processing time is generally limited to cleaning up the dust spots, making a few Curves adjustments, sharpening, and more recently, tapping into Tony Kuyper’s awesome luminosity masks.

Not so for my Day 5 Black and White Challenge entry!  I ain’t gonna lie, I worked the heck out of this image in Photoshop!  And boy, did it need it!

I made the original color version a number of years ago while driving the backroads through the Kohala Mountains on the Big Island of Hawai’i.  At the higher elevations, beams of mid-day light poked out from behind the fast-moving clouds, spotlighting various elements of the pastoral landscape.  We had pulled over to explore this scene, one that had grabbed my attention immediately as we approached it at 45 mph.  I liked the way the small tree stood at the foot of a stand of larger trees.  Using my telephoto lens, I tried a number of different compositions to convey this relationship.  In reviewing my frames, though, they all felt too tight to express what I was truly seeing.

I switched to my 24-105mm lens to back off and include more of the moody sky.  I enjoyed how this broader perspective offered a fresh view of scale between the small tree, the stand of trees, and the ever-changing sky.  After a few frames, a soft light illuminated the area surrounding the small tree.  As the light danced, I kept shooting various compositions.  Pleased with my results, we jumped in the car and continued our leisurely drive in the beautiful countryside.  (Post continues after the photo.)

While browsing my images back in Arizona, the image did not stand out among the thousands of frames I created during our week-long trip.  Simply put, I didn’t find it remarkable.  So, the image has been collecting dust on my hard drive ever since. Well, that is, until the Black and White Challenge crossed my desk recently.

UHIKM-00001_color_c

The original color version of “Taking Center Stage”

As I prepared other images for this challenge, I reconnected with the notion of using traditional black and white processing (specifically, burning and dodging). With this in mind, I pulled this image out, dusted it off, and just started playing with Curves adjustments and masks.  A little darker in the sky to frame the primary subject and to make the clouds stand out.  A little lighter in the foreground to grab attention.  A little darker around the beam of light so as to define it better than in the color frame.  A little darker around the edges of the frame to hold the viewer’s eye inside the picture longer.  A little darker in the trees.  A little lighter on the small tree in front.  With each adjustment, what I liked about the original scene started to emerge in the photograph on the screen!

Just for fun, I tried making similar adjustments to the color image, but without much success.  No matter the change, the color only served to distract.  The tones of the small tree blended with the tones in the foreground.  The blue sky felt too calm and cold for how I interpreted the scene (which was like the small tree was trying to take the center stage).  In short, my vision simply needed to be expressed in black and white.

What do you think? Do you prefer the color or monochromatic version?  Why?  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below.

What I loved most about this exercise is that it pushed me in a different direction than I’ve been heading for almost 11 years.  The challenge reconnected me with my photography roots, which allowed me to see my photography in a new light (pun intended).  I am grateful to Floris van Breugel for nominating me and giving me this creative jolt.

So, I’m challenging everyone reading this to the Black and White Challenge.  If you have not tried it yet, consider yourself nominated!  If you have already done it, why not try it again with five new images?

You do not have to be on Facebook to participate (and don’t use that as an excuse to not participate)!  Experiment, play!  Pick out several images you think a black and white treatment would improve the image.  If needed, learn how to do selective adjustments in post-processing (e.g. Levels and Curves with masks) so that you get the feel of how selectively burning and dodging enlargements from film helped deliver a final vision in the traditional darkroom.  Evaluate your results.  What do you like about what you see?  What don’t you like?  Change what you don’t like, keep what you do.

Not every photograph will be a successful one in black and white, but just by trying, you’ll be learning new things about your photography, about your craft, and most importantly, about yourself as a photographer.

Keep shooting!

~Colleen

Dec 152014
 
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OR_Nehalem Bay State Park_00002_BW_c

Day 4: “Spellbound by Sand.”Sand dunes in wind-swept patterns on the beach at Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

After seeing how much texture the black and white conversion brought out in my Day 2 Black and White Challenge submission, “Down by the Sea“–and liking it!–I decided to try dropping the color out on other Oregon coast shots I had made.  I dug up  a few photos, including a vertical image called, “Spellbound by Sand” (some might recognize its horizontal sister image, “The Constancy of Change“) from my wanderings at Nehalem Bay State Park from two summers ago:

Spellbound by Sand

The original color version of “Spellbound by Sand.” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

With the setting sun approaching the horizon, the light and shadows seemed to literally dance across the sand dunes.  The howling and unrelenting wind added to this effect, of course (and kept the area free of footprints!).  Focused on emphasizing this perception, I positioned my tripod about waist-high and pointed my wide-angle lens (i.e. 16mm) down towards the dunes.  The distorted perspective allowed me to seemingly elongated the lines in the sand and to fill the frame with my primary subject.

To maximize my depth of field, I used an f/16 and focused at the hyperfocal distance for my lens and aperture setting (i.e. 2.82  feet away from my camera, according to the DOF Master, dofmaster.com).  At an ISO speed of 100, a shutter speed of 1/10th second resulted.  Knowing if I exposed for the land, the sky would appear overexposed and blown out (and if I exposed for the sky, the land would appear underexposed and too dark), I placed a three-stop graduated neutral density filter over my lens to hold back light in the sky.

Before snapping the shutter, I followed the dominant lines around my frame, taking great care in ensuring the lines did not lead the eye out of the frame.  As I shifted a little to the left, then a little to the right, and then settled in on a composition I liked, I noticed the strongest lines originate from the bottom left corner, travel to the small mound off to the right near the middle, and then push into the explosive-looking sky.  I knew from the moment of capture, this photograph possessed a great deal of energy given the lines in the sand and the backdrop Mother Nature provided in the clouds.  I liked that the image conveyed how I felt about the scene – in words, an emphatic and enthusiastic “WHOOHOO!”

When I experimented with converting the image into a monochromatic one, the black and white format transformed into a trippy–almost spastic!–mesmerizing optical illusion.  If you look at it long enough, the sand looks as if it’s moving!  In post-processing, I increased the contrast in the sand to amplify the effect even more so.  Like my Day 2 photograph, “Down by the Sea,”  the monochromatic treatment emphasized the alternating highlights and shadows in the foreground and created a greater feeling of dimension to the final image.

Which version do you prefer: the black and white or the color image?  And why?  Leave me your thoughts in the Comments section below.  I’d love to hear from you.

There are a whole slew of tremendously talented photographers working primarily in black and white.  One of those is my buddy, Chuck Kimmerle.  Chuck already completed the Black and White Challenge by sharing some lovely work.  But I think he might have gotten off this challenge too easy (since he works almost exclusively in monochrome).  With a little twist on the assignment, I challenge Chuck to post five COLOR photographs over the course of five days.

On to Day 5 tomorrow!

~Colleen

Dec 122014
 
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The Network_BW

Day 3: “The Network.” Feathers, water droplets, and other materials float in a spider’s web on Schoodic Point on the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

For Day 3 of 5 in the Facebook Black and White Challenge, I am excited to share a new abstract piece (above) titled, “The Network” from the Schoodic Point on the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Amidst a whirlwind schedule of book signings and presentations in Acadia this past August, I managed to escape to Schoodic Point for an afternoon of revitalization and refreshment.  With no intentions or expectations of photographing, I simply strolled along the strikingly beautiful pink granite ledges at one of the park’s most scenic overlooks.

Having visited the point likely 60-70 times over the last four years, I continue to find scenes and things that amaze me–from the gi-normous waves explosively greeting the Maine coast to the way the granite and basalt dikes intertwine.  I never know from trip to trip whether the landscape or the smaller details will be the first to reach out and grab my soul.  Either way, Schoodic Point seems to speak to me every time I come to say hello.

On this particular visit, one minute I was watching the waves in quiet reverie.  The next minute, as I turned my head away and spotted a small spider web strung across the boulders, I lost my mind, “OH MY GAWD, HOW AMAZING IS THAT?!!”

I rushed to the granite overhang to investigate my flash of perception more closely.  With my camera still in my backpack, I approached this 3-foot by 1-foot area with curiosity, appreciation, and admiration.  Truth be told (and perhaps not surprisingly, given my “air bubble” obsession), I was first draw to the water droplets suspended in between the threads (on the top right in the photo below).  The longer I studied this arrangement, though, the more I connected with a large clump of unidentifiable material in between the feathers.  Was it decaying feathers?  Fur from an animal?  A dead animal?  When the creative flow hits, you do not ask many questions.  You go with the flow–which is exactly what I did as I set my equipment up to make an image.

The Network scene

The scene of the scene: a spider web strewn across the granite boulders at Schoodic Point. Had I picked my camera up and snapped immediately after having a flash of perception, this would have been the photographed that resulted. Instead of grabbing a camera, I investigated the scene and ask over and over, “What is it that I love about this scene.” This yielded a more focused, more meaningful image of the cluster of tangles in between the large three feathers on the left.

To get a closer perspective, I reversed the center column on tripod such that my camera dangled upside down.  With a macro and two extension tubes stacked, I knew my abilities to record anything but a ridiculously shallow depth of field would be tough.  So I positioned my lens parallel to my primary subject to maximize the appearance of focus across my frame. The setting sun grazed the boulders, so I placed my rain jacket across two of the tripod’s legs to help create a larger shadow (and block the wind) across my scene.

Given the coastal breeze, I made an “insurance shot” at ISO 640 using f/6.3 at 1/25th second.  I knew this frame would not render the depth of field I needed, but would allow me to freeze the moving web during the exposure.  I also knew it would yield a sufficient enough shot to give me the freedom to push my settings slower and try to expand my depth of field in additional frames without the risk of going home empty-handed (or with a bunch of blurry images on my memory card).

I dropped my ISO to 400 and stopped down to f/9, which resulted in a 1/4 second shutter speed.   With each lull in the wind, I snapped away on continuous shoot mode (a.k.a. “machine gun” mode) as the web danced in the afternoon winds.  After making a few series and reviewing the images on the camera’s LCD, I felt I had successfully recorded the photograph as I envisioned.  Here’s the original color photograph (post continues after photo):

The color original of "The Network"

The color original of “The Network” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

However, when I began editing my images at home in Arizona, I liked the end result; surprisingly, I did not love the end result.  The reason(s) why alluded me.  I mean, everything seemingly fell into place when I photographed the web: I had passion about my subject.  I took ample time to develop a visualization of what my end results would look like.  I filled the frame with my subject.  I arranged the various elements to achieve asymmetrical balance.  Conditions provided conducive lighting.  My depth of field rendered an adequate amount of sharpness for the subject while blurring the background.  It was close, but not perfect.  I set the image aside.

Oftentimes, it helps to create distance between you and a problem as this allows you to collect new ideas and gain fresh perspectives in order to solve them.  When Floris van Breugel nominated me for the Black and White Challenge in late October, this image immediately popped into my head.  The monochromatic direction gave me just the boost I needed – a new idea to try!

I converted the image to black and white, and instantly my photograph became as creepy and weird and abstract as I saw on the granite ledges that August afternoon.  I originally believed the color background added to the chaos.  And in many ways, it does.  But when I dropped the color out, my vision for this scene finally came to life.  Now I love the end result!

Do you agree?  What differences do you see between the color and monochrome versions?  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Since I have shared an image from Acadia National Park, I would like to nominate my good buddy, talented photographer, and best-selling author, Bob Thayer, to participate in the Black and White Challenge!  (If you have ever visited a gift shop near Acadia, you have no doubt seen his awesome books, “The Park Loop Road” and  “Acadia’s Carriage Roads.”)

On Monday, I’ll share Day 4′s photograph.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

~Colleen

Dec 112014
 
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Down by the Sea (monochromatic version)

Day 2: “Down by the Sea,” European beach grass lines the sandy shore at Pistol River State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

In my post yesterday’s “Day 1: The Black and White Challenge:  “In the Storm”, I introduced the Facebook Black and White Challenge (and my participation in it).  In this fun exercise, a person posts a black and white photograph on his or her Facebook page each day for five days.  Then, he or she challenge someone else to do the same each of those days.

For my Day 2 entry, I’m jumping from the Maine coast to the Oregon coast (my two loves)!

A cancellation in my schedule this past September left me with a rare 10-day time frame completely free of commitments.  With this gift, I did what any sane outdoor photographer would do:  I hopped into my truck and drove 22-hours from Arizona to the southern coast of Oregon!  (What we’ll do for love, huh?)

I have spent much time wandering the Oregon coastline over the years, but the majority of that time I spent happened in the more accessible middle and northern sections.  However, every time I drove from Gold Beach to Brookings (usually to visit northern California and other southerly locales), I said to myself, “If I ever have a week or two weeks to spare, I’m coming here to explore!”  So, by traveling so far, I wasn’t losing my mind; I was merely fulfilling my promise.

One of the many highlights from my impromptu road trip included exploring the Pistol River State Park.  For my first few visits, I did not make any photographs but rather simply soaked in what this special place had to offer.  Sure, some photographic ideas popped into my head, but they needed some time to simmer.

Towards the end of my trip, a nasty storm socked the coast in for a couple days.  I continued my explorations and made some new images in various locales north of Brookings, much of it in blissful solitude, even at the more popular stops.  After all, it was only rain!  (Have the Oregon coast to myself?  Don’t mind if I do!)

When the weather forecasts suggested the system might break (which was timed coincidentally with the next sunset), I headed back to Pistol River area for one final visit before returning home to the desert.  With the light dancing in and out of swiftly-moving clouds, I knelt on the sand beside clusters of European beach grass.  Using my visualizations as my guide (but modifying my original idea to respond to the fleeting lighting conditions), I adjusted my composition so as to achieve balance between the grasses, sand, sea stacks, and the ever-changing sky.

Through a wide-angle lens (i.e. 20mm) I used an ISO 100 and an aperture of f/16 with a shutter speed of 1/13 second.  I chose these specific settings to help balance my need for extensive depth of field and the perpetual movement in the grasses given the prevailing winds (which was strong enough to keep the beach grasses waving, but not enough to keep the animal and human footprints from disappearing in the sand).  Because of my close proximity of my camera to the grasses,  I would have liked to have used f/22 to see an extensive depth of field.  However, after experimenting with the slower shutter speed that setting caused, I didn’t like way the grasses appeared in the photo (too much movement and way too soft).

So I took a small step back from the grasses, set f/16 (still needed extensive DOF), and tried again with a 1/13th second shutter speed.  I really liked the combination of still and moving grasses this rendered – frozen enough to see what it was, but blurred enough to see the wind was moving.   Theoretically, if I wanted to freeze the motion of the grasses (which was not my goal), I could have bumped the ISO up to ~400 or 640, took another step back, opened my aperture to f/11 or f/8, and snapped away with a faster shutter speed.

My three-stop graduated neutral density filter helped to bring out detail in the clouds, but also darkened the off-shore rocks in the background. This resulted in the following color photograph (post continues after photo):

Down by the Sea

The original “Down by the Sea” in color (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

I definitely did not visualize converting this image to black and white when I snapped the shutter.  I did not even consider it when I arrived home and began processing the photos.  However, the Black and White Challenge caused me to rethink my approach with my pictures.  As I sorted through my images for this exercise, I had some interesting philosophical conversations with myself on things like, “How do various color impact a scene?” “What makes an effective black and white image?”  “How can I use both color and monochromatic techniques to improve my visual messages?”  When I experimented with converting this image to black and white, I felt like I was dusting off my traditional darkroom tools developed 11 years ago and putting them back into use to expand my creative toolbox today.

The monochromatic treatment emphasized the light and shadows alternating and working together in layers across the scene, more so than in the color version.  While I could have lightened the sea stacks in the background during post-processing (to overcome the underexposure from the graduated neutral density filter), I did the opposite.  I intentionally darkened the rocks in the monochromatic version to serve as a more dominant backdrop.  I felt this matched the more aggressive mood in the sky.  Both the darker backdrop and sky served as a juxtaposition to the more flowing, gentle grasses highlighted by a ray of sun in the foreground.

What do you think? Do you prefer the color or monochromatic version?  Why?  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Since he started me on this challenge, I now re-nominate Floris van Breugel to finish his Black and White Challenge.  Only two more photographs to go, Floris!  You can do it!

Stay tuned for Day 3, thanks for stopping by,

~Colleen

Dec 102014
 
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In the Storm

Day 1: “In the Storm,” waves roll into the Schoodic Peninsula’s rugged western coastline in Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

If you have spent any time on Facebook in the last several months, chances are high you have run across the “Black and White Challenge” making its way from photographer to photographer.  For those unfamiliar with this social media experiment, it goes something like this:  Post a black and white photograph on your Facebook page each day for five days.  Then, challenge someone else to do the same each of those days.

Although I enjoy viewing monochromatic images (both in general and during the recent Facebook challenge), I had not thought about black and white processing for my own work for quite some time.  About 11 years to be exact…

Wheels in Montana_CGCC

Humble beginnings: I made this image in the fall of 2001 (from my 7th roll of film). I knew little about light or composition at the time, but I really liked how the light illuminated the logging wheels while the fog cleared from the hills in the background at my husband’s childhood home outside Missoula, Montana.

To escape the stresses of intense corporate life, I began taking photography courses at the Chandler-Gilbert Community College in September 2001.  Through my five semesters of classes (until the end of 2003), I learned what an aperture was, how to slow my shutter speed, ways to compose effectively, and many other foundational techniques.  I also vividly remember learning that a black and white image should possess a bright white tone, a rich black, and a nice range of greys in between (the lack of such combination being one of the reasons some high dynamic range, or HDR, images fail, in my opinion…but I digress).

Eager to expand my photographic repertoire, in late 2003, I tried my hand at color slide film.  I instantly found shooting in color helped me better express what I loved about what I saw and experienced in the outdoors.  Despite the lingering and unforgettable fumes of stop bath and fixer trying to tempt me back to the darkroom, I chose to pursue my work in color…and as a result, the few remaining rolls of black and white film I owned aged well beyond their expiration date in my refrigerator.

Fast forward to this past October.  During the Black and White Challenge on Facebook, my good buddy and talented photographer, Floris van Breugel nominated me to participate.  Since then, I have scanned my collection of images, experimented with many in the digital darkroom, and finally selected five to offer to the challenge (and in the process, remembered just how fun it was to watch your photograph come to life in the darkroom trays while chit-chatting with your photographer friends.  It was kind of like sitting around a warm campfire, only without the s’mores and tequila…). While I am a little late in joining this party, as the idiom goes, “Better late than never.”

With that, my first contribution to the Black and White Challenge is “In the Storm” (image atop this post) from the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park.  This past February, while making my standard rounds along the western shoreline in the late afternoon light, I reconnected with one of my favorite views.  I had high hopes that the fast-moving winter storm would break into a magical fiery sunset just after the sun disappeared behind the horizon.  As I waited, I played.

Specifically, I experimented with various shutter speeds to render the waves kissing the rugged cliffs into an ethereal mist.  To do so, I slowed my exposure settings down as much as possible:  ISO 50, f/22 at 30 seconds.  I also added a three-stop graduated neutral density filter over the top portion of my frame, so as to darken the clouds and to pull some additional texture out.

When I looked at the results on my camera’s LCD, I enjoyed the composition and the idea of moving water.  I felt, though, as if the motion effect (even at 30 seconds) was still too fast for what I envisioned.  I turned to my Lee 10-stop Big Stopper neutral density filter to help me slow my shutter speed even further.  I set the final exposure to ISO 50, f/22 at 502 seconds while using the Big Stopper filter in front of my lens.  Here is the original color image (post continues after the photo):

Maine_Acadia National Park_00226_original

The original color image of “In the Storm”

When processing the photo on the computer, I decided the colors were not important to me conveying my desired message for this scene.  On top of that, the even, diffused lighting lacked contrast and perhaps a little shape.  In technical terms, it looked blah.

As we review in many of my workshops, if it’s not helping your story, take it out!  I eliminated the color tones and increased the contrast through a series of spot-specific Level adjustments (like burning and dodging to achieve “a bright white, rich black, and a range of greys in between” in the traditional darkroom).  While blue hues typically feel cold, I believe the image took on a sharper, even colder feeling, once I dropped the gloomy color out.  Also, the increased contrast the black and white image displays offers the illusion of greater dimension and shape than the color version.

Do you agree?  Which version of this image do you prefer and why?  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below.

To fulfill the requirements of the challenge – and in honor of my Chandler-Gilbert Community College days – I nominate my dear CGCC friends on Facebook to participate:  Mona Burato, Patty DeBermuda, and Lynn Welter!  Let’s see what you’ve got, ladies!

Until tomorrow – Day 2!

~Colleen

Dec 042014
 
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Rebecca Wilks was one of four students on a private CMS Photography workshop to Acadia National Park held in mid-October 2014.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  I hope you enjoy, as I so very much have, seeing Acadia through her eyes (and if you do, please leave her a comment on her post!).  More of her work can be viewed on her website www.skylineimages.net and her blog at theviewfromtheskyline.blogspot.com.

I didn’t know what I was missing.  Last year, that is, when Colleen valiantly invented a workshop “around” Acadia National park because the government had shut down and the park was closed.  It’s just as well, because I would have been terribly disappointed if I had known what I know now.

Acadia is a really special place.  From the historic carriage roads with their stone bridges to the classic rocky Maine coastline, I’m hooked.  I’ve rarely had as delightful a group of traveling companions, as well.  I’m looking forward as only a naive Arizona girl can to a trip in winter 2016.

Some images from the trip:

Sometimes I’ll be intrigued by something other than the main attraction.  We’d stopped to shoot a bridge and Stanley Brook called to me from  the forest.  I loved the repetitive s-curves and the (very different from my desert home) mossy forest.

Honestly I had no idea what this image would look like, because the wind was blowing 50-60 and my eyes were watering so much that I couldn’t see anything.  I may not have been the only one who was tempted to hike back to the vehicle and get off Cadillac Mountain, but Colleen the intrepid talked (shamed) us all into staying, and in the end I was pleased.  The light seems otherworldly to me.  That being said, we all agreed that we’d had about enough of this mountain and it didn’t make the short list of places to visit on our last two days, after Colleen had gone home.

Rain and fog in its fabulous moodiness.  The voice in my head wants to stay cozy in bed, but I’d so glad we got out this day.  Layers, colors, fog.  I loved it.

I really wanted this one.  We all did.  We shot here mid-day and then on a densely overcast morning.  We gave it yet another try on our last morning in the park and we saw this incredibly beautiful (no less so in its subtlety) treat.  Ahhh.

Thanks for everything!!
Rebecca Wilks

Dec 032014
 
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Amy Minton was one of four students on a private CMS Photography workshop to Acadia National Park held in mid-October 2014.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  I hope you enjoy, as I so very much have, seeing Acadia through her eyes (and if you do, please leave her a comment on her post!).

Regarding my overall experience in Acadia, it was AWESOME!  Getting some nice pictures to frame or put into a book or calendar to share is a bonus to me.  The real pleasure for me was experiencing Acadia National Park and doing so with others who were just as excited about seeing the park.   What a great way to spend time off – learn/experience nature and photography.

Some highlights from this trip include:  50 mph wind gusts atop Cadillac Mountain; sitting and listening to the water flowing down Jordan Stream after a night/morning of rain; hearing the sounds of the woods as you walk along a carriage road; enjoying popovers at the Jordan Pond House; and observing the groves in the rocks created by the glaciers or other geological marvels.  Also there were plenty of photography learning experiences.  For example, Colleen showed me how to bracket for exposure and I subsequently merged post-processing (see Eagle lake carriage road and bridge photo below).  I learned about creating abstract images by moving my camera after releasing the shutter, and Colleen talked/showed me how to set up and take images to later merge as a panoramic photo.  Additionally, she made me think and ask questions of myself as to why and how I wanted to capture what made me stop and admire a scene in nature.

First, a little why I selected these three photos to share:

(1) Abstract motion blur Sieur de Monts Jesup Trial.  Although I generally do not think – abstracts (no shock there), I have been intrigued by abstract motion-blur images I have seen in magazines, books, and online.  Yup, I wanted to give it a try and had thought there would be an opportunity to do just that during the workshop.  The types of trees as well as the colors from the grasses and leaves seemed to me to be screaming make an abstract image via your camera.  I think it surprises folks at work as well as my family when I have shared this picture and another one (also taken from the boardwalk).

(2) Eagle lake carriage road and bridge.  After reading about Acadia’s Carriage roads and bridges, I really was looking forward to seeing them.  All the care, time, and effort that was put into creating and preserving the idea/concept of the carriage roads is rather remarkable.  As I look at this picture, I am able to see JDR Jr’s concept fulfilled – people enjoying nature without the interruption of cars (road travels above the carriage road).  It makes me smile and I am able to imagine myself walking along the carriage road admiring nature and being at peace.

(3) Persistence pays off Newport Cove.   When I look at this image, I am reminded of the effort that went into having the opportunity to make it.  We scouted the location with Colleen before she headed back to  Arizona (after the workshop ended), and thank goodness.  I don’t think we’d have found it in the dark nor would we have as confidently negotiated the path as we did (twice).  Saturday morning was beautiful in its own way – Moody Maine (possible title for my photo book) but did not live up to the promise we all knew was possible if there was good morning light.  We were rewarded for our decision to return on our last day in Acadia.

I have many fond memories from this trip and find myself looking back upon them and smiling.   It was a fun and awesome adventure.  I can definitely see why Colleen keeps going back to Acadia and wrote Photographing Acadia National Park guide book.

Keep Shooting!
Amy