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You Can Sleep When You're Dead: Blog for CMS Photography by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry » You Can Sleep When You're Dead

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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

Dec 022014
 
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What Lies Ahead?

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

Last October, I kicked off an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to help me cover the cost of printing my guidebook, Photographing Acadia National Park:  The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How.  One of the perks I offered was a three-day photography workshop in Acadia National Park for up to four people.

Not long after the campaign went live, I received a note from a previous workshop student, Rebecca Wilks, who expressed interest in this Acadia workshop.  She had been a student on the October 2013 Arizona Highways Photography Workshop that started off as “Autumn IN Acadia” photography workshop and ended up being the “Autumn AROUND Acadia” photo workshop, thanks to the government shutdown.  The park closed a mere six days before the workshop started and lasted the entire duration.  I can’t express in words how difficult emotionally this was for me:  to have a group of twenty people eager to see and photograph the beauty of this coastal park – a place I’ve completely fallen in love with – and not be able to show them any of it.

With much assistance from my friends out there, though, we put together a wonderful new itinerary that showcased other beautiful places around Mount Desert Island like Little Long Pond, the Thuya Garden, Cooksey Overlook, and Lamoine State Park.  It was enough of a taste of Maine to convince Rebecca, as well as three other women from this first trip (Amy Minton, Gwen Williams, and Jen Bookman) to book a return trip to see and photograph Acadia National Park.  With much gratitude for their support of my book and Indiegogo campaign (why their names are in bold on page 215 under “Valued Individual Contributors” in my book), we immediately began planning their workshop for mid-October 2014.  I could not wait to show them Acadia and see what photographs they would create there given this second chance!

To kick off what ended up being a four-day workshop (three days simply wasn’t long enough!), we naturally began with the traditional stop at Tim Horton’s for coffee and donuts.  We then headed directly into the park, specifically Duck Brook Bridge, where we snapped a commemorative “YES!  We’re finally IN the park!” photograph.

“We’re back! Take THAT, U.S. government!”  From L to R: Gwen, Jen, Rebecca, and Amy on Duck Brook Bridge

Over the four days, these hearty women sampled classic and off-the-beaten path spots within the park.  As we endured 50+ mph winds atop Cadillac Mountain, fog so heavy we couldn’t see 50 feet in front of us at Otter Cliff, and a glorious colorful sky over Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, I encouraged (as I do on all my workshops) mindful observations, connecting with what each person saw and responded to emotionally, refining the technical execution of personal visions, and fully exploring a scene.

We even had a tremendous amount of FUN together, as you might be able to tell from our group photo time lapse from the Otter Cliff parking lot (From left to right:  Gwen, Rebecca, Colleen, Amy, and Jen):

Their persistence paid off in the form of a fabulous experience, camaraderie, and a new portfolio of meaningful photographs at the height of fall color in Acadia.  After the trip, as I looked through some of their images, I couldn’t help but recall a quote from Maya Angelou to describe their journey: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

Amy and Rebecca have graciously offered to write a Guest Blog about their experience and to share a sample of their photos from the trip, which will follow in the next two days.  I hope you enjoy, as I so very much have, seeing Acadia through their eyes (and if you do, please leave them a comment on their post!).

Keep shooting!
~Colleen

Aug 042014
 
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Remote Possibilities

“Remote Possibilities” at the Toroweap Overlook in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

My buddies and fellow photographers, Guy Tal and Bruce Hucko, and I made a deal.  We were to meet in Torrey at 2:00 pm on a Thursday for a multi-day wandering together to discuss the future of the Moab Photo Symposium (it’s a GO for 2015! Mark your calendars for April 30 – May 2!).

After agreeing to these arrangements, I did some math.  I would need to leave my home in Chandler at about 4:00 am in order to make the 550-mile, 9-hour run (plus an hour time change in Utah) within the set deadline.  Not being a morning person, if I am getting up at that hour, I would really like to have a camera in one hand and an encouraging cup of black tea in the other.

With that, I pondered leaving on Wednesday and making an overnight stop at a scenic location en route.  Plenty of spots entered my thoughts, but one stuck in my mind:  Toroweap along the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Despite it being high on my photographic “to see” list for years, I had never been to this iconic place before.  Most people shy away from this remote location in July due to the scorching 100-degree-plus temperatures.  However, the promise of solitude made it the perfect choice for me for a quick stopover.  I could photograph at sunset and then again sunrise before getting back on the road no later than 6:30 am to reach Torrey on time.  On paper, it seemed like a lot of driving to sneak in such a short stay.  Nonetheless, I simply wanted to finally see Toroweap with my own eyes.  Now was the time.

After suggesting to Guy and Bruce that I would be making the trek from Toroweap, and apologizing in advanced for potentially arriving late, I received a quick response:  For every half hour I was late, I would owe them each a beer.  Fair enough, deal.

On Wednesday morning, I set out to northern Arizona packed for a 22-day road trip- and ample cans of local brews, you know,  just in case.  (One can never be too prepared, right?)  After an uneventful six-hour drive (one that included a stop at Jacob Lake Inn for a requisite and divine Cookie in a Cloud), I turned down the dirt road to Toroweap and said aloud to no one, “Here we go!”

Despite warnings about difficult driving conditions, I felt as if I was driving on the dirt Autobahn for the first 45 miles or so when compared to other backcountry roads I had driven before (like Alstrom Point above Lake Powell and the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park).  As each uranium mine semi-truck, and presumably other visitors, whizzed by me from the opposite direction, I felt solitude on the canyon’s rim coming closer.  When I spotted an SUV turn onto “my” road from the Colorado City route, slight disappointment kicked in, as I knew they too were heading to Toroweap (there are only so many roads out there).  On the bright side, if I had any trouble along the way, they would eventually run to me as they retraced their steps.

As I approached the national park boundary,  I heard a sudden “DING-DING-DING!”  A message popped up on my truck’s dash:  Right rear tire: low air pressure.  Slowing down from 20 mph, my eyes widened as I studied the monitor as the air pressure plummeted: 70 psi to 60 to 55 to 43 to 24.  I never saw or heard the culprit, but the hissing sound became abruptly and painfully loud, as I my emotions spilled, “Oh no. No. No. NONONONONONO!  Not here, not now!  Wake up, bad dream!”  I swore at myself for acting overconfident on the first part of the trip:  karma will always find you, I reminded myself.

I had never changed a tire before in my life.  My husband, Craig, and I talked just earlier this year about practicing in the comforts of our driveway, but that plan had not yet come to fruition.  Too late now.

I realize I am not the first person on the planet to ever change a tire.  But the prospect of learning how to do it on my own while solidly 55 miles away from civilization as mammatus clouds collected overhead and thunder rumbled down the valley, well, it made me sick to my stomach.

Hands shaking, I nervously opened the glove box to remove the stiff instruction manual for the first time since we bought the truck last year.  I was slightly relieved to find step-by-step instructions with illustrations.  As I stepped out of the truck, I muttered, “Here we go.”

As the distant sky crackled, I dropped the spare from underneath the truck.  Checking the first step off the list gave me some hope…and an idea.  I decided to photograph a time-lapse sequence to document this momentous occasion in my life on the road.  Taking a short break from tire-changing, I positioned my camera and wide-angle lens on a tripod with an intervolumeter set to fire every five seconds.  (And now in my first ever attempt at putting together a time-lapse – lots to learn there! – you too can laugh at the hilarity that ensued condensed in four and a half minutes…).

For almost an hour (unbeknownst to me in the field, but confirmed via timestamp from my photographs), I danced around to figure out where the jack was, how to unscrew the bolts, and reattach the rim facade to secure the spare onto my truck.  As time passed, the storm darkened the sky and brought the thunder closer (each time thunder boomed, I looked up to judge how far away the cell was, which you’ll see in the timelapse).

As I started to pack the jack up, a white truck approached mine.  Its driver stuck his head out the window and asked, “Are you OK? Do you need help?”

“I’m not sure,” I responded as I approached his vehicle and noticed – with intense relief – the familiar national park patch on his sleeve.  “I’ve just successfully changed my first tire and now I’m not sure what to do.”

He declared as he got out of his truck, “I’ve been watching you from the ranger station just over there [less than a mile down the road] and thought you had been here too long to be taking photos of the sign.”

I explained I was heading to Toroweap, but with no spare tire and the most challenging part of the road ahead, I shared that I was contemplating heading back to Kanab immediately.  I absolutely must be in Torrey, Utah by 2 pm tomorrow afternoon!

He studied the two-inch gash in my tread and, without hesitation, suggested he had plugs at the ranger station.  “I might be able to fix this,” he said enthusiastically as he dumped my lame tire into the back of his truck.  “Finish up here and drive down to the station.  We’ll see what we can do.”

Larry Forster, a volunteer with the NPS, and I chatted at the ranger station while he kept shoving plugs in my tire.  Sudsy water showed, though, that I had likely split some of the grooves in the tire as well.  I kept thinking to myself, “This must have been one hell of a rock (that I never saw).”

As a part of the conversation, I revealed to him my occupation as a photographer and writer, which prompted him to suggest, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier.  You go on to the overlook.  I can work on the tire some more.  You can pick it up on the way out tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I replied with much trepidation.

“You gotta see it.  You’ve come this far.  There’s no use turning back now,” Larry encouraged.

After a bit more convincing, I took a deep breath and said, “OK, if you don’t see me back here by 7:00 a.m., come get me!”

I anxiously crept along the now high-clearance four-wheel drive track, taking almost an hour and a half to travel the remaining and mere 6.3 miles (it’s entirely possible I could have walked the same length in less time).  Upon reaching the end of the road, I parked, grabbed my photography gear, and sprinted to the edge.  I reached the rim and made my first image of the canyon at 7:46 p.m.  The sun dropped below the horizon and the canyon into shadow at 7:51 p.m.   I stood above the abyss until I could not see it anymore, partly to soak in as much as I could, and partly to delay driving the extremely rough 0.9-mile drive back to the campground.

A thirty-minute crawl landed me in a campsite, directly next to the same car I had been disappointed to see ahead of me earlier in the afternoon.  I was too wound up to make new friends with the five German gentleman – the only other group in camp – but their presence alone brought a sense of calm over me.

My 4 a.m. alarm buzzed seemingly immediately after I laid my head down on the pillow.  Beneath a star-filled sky, I returned to the overlook to enjoy the scene in a new light.  As I set-up my composition in the twilight, I heard two voices approaching, one distinctively female.  How could that be?

The pair casually walked up to the rim and said a cheery, “Good morning!” in a British accent.  Though our pleasant exchange, I learned they had abandoned their two-wheel drive sedan “somewhere along the road” and walked through a good portion of the night without headlamps or flashlights (under a sliver of a crescent moon) so they could arrive in time for sunrise.  And they did so with 15 minutes to spare.  Impressive.

The sun’s morning rays bathed the canyon in rich, warm light, exposing new cracks and crannies in the geological wonder I hadn’t seen the night before.  It’s cliché to say about a cliché place, but I’ll say it anyway: words can hardly describe the grandeur rolled out in front of me.   At that moment, I knew Larry was right.  I had to see this.

Within my mere 10-hour stay (way too brief to fully absorb and appreciate the scene), I recorded 96 frames total, four of which I will keep, even though I frantically composed them all and they are not anything anyone has not already produced or seen from this spot.  Here’s the thing, it wasn’t (nor is it ever) about “snagging” photographs.  Actually, I couldn’t have cared less about making an image other than to document that I had reached my destination.  I simply wanted to stand at the edge of the canyon, breathe the fresh air, and marvel at Mother Nature’s work.  I smiled and thanked Larry silently in my head.  I saw it, and it made me feel alive.

With my 2 p.m. deadline looming in the back of my mind, I packed up my equipment and searched for the couple from London.  When I found them, I offered them a ride back to their vehicle, which was no doubt along the route back to the ranger station.  They enthusiastically accepted.

Tire Plugs

Six tire plugs later…

The travel bug had bitten these two youngsters, Natalie and Hansa (I hope I’m spelling his name correctly!), much in the way it had munched me.  Both had once taken on unfulfilling jobs, only to leave and then gain what they valued most: time.  And in that time, the chance see the world.  In their multi-week stay thus far, they had seen more sights in the United States than most Americans see in their lifetime.  They were already making plans to take on temporary jobs back home to save just enough money to enable their return.  As I pulled next to their car (about three miles from the overlook), we agreed, so much to see, so little time.

With Natalie and Hansa following me, I arrived at the ranger station at 6:50 a.m. to meet Larry and reclaim my tire.  The tails of six plugs spewed from my tire like a jester’s hat.  Larry lifted it into the front seat of my car and assured me I would have no trouble using it as a spare on the way back to Kanab, if needed.  I couldn’t thank him enough.  After well-wishes and heartfelt goodbyes to Larry, Natalie, and Hansa, I returned to Kanab where the good people at Ramsay’s promoted my original spare into full time service on my truck and sold me a new spare.

The cost?  $281 and an extra hour, or four beers for my friends, Guy and Bruce.  A worthy price to pay for such an adventure.  After all, as the proverb goes, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

The Storm Within

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

May 122014
 
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2014 NAU Guest Blogger Project Summary

Featuring the 24 NAU students who acted as Guest Bloggers on this blog since April 30 (their photographs in alphabetical order):
First row (left to right): Joseph AL-Ruwaished, Ashley Carlson, Caitlin Chesler, Areina Contreras, Olivia Franco, and Ryan Gelb
Second row (l to r): Trent Heimerdinger, Paul Hurd, Allison Jourden, Donna Kelley, Shelby Lynch, and Chris Martin
Third row (l to r): Kelsey McHugh, Ty McNeeley, Rachel Richmond-Woodward, Daniel, Riebe, Jamie Shrader, and Ali Springer
Fourth row (l to r): John Thompson, Carlye Townsend, Matt Valley, Meagan Wakefield, Carolyn Wood, and Wuke Zhou

That’s all folks!  It’s a wrap on this year’s Northern Arizona Universtity’s Intermediate Photography students “Behind the Image:  Guest Blogger” project.  Let’s take a minute to give them a well-deserved round of applause for sharing their photographs and stories with us!  Great job one and all!

I’m most thankful to the students for tapping into their individual backgrounds and passions – whether it be travel, beloved pets, people who inspire, moving natural scenes, or intimate details of the world around them – to present a broad variety of visual message.  At a time when we’re inundated with iconic and cliche images, these guest bloggers have proved and reinforced my belief that creativity is still alive and well in our industry (something I also feel is required of us if we wish to see success down the road as visual artists).

To the participating students, what did you think of your blogging experience here?   Would you do it again?  Would you do anything differently in hindsight now that you’ve completed your assignment?  Thank you for being awesome Guest Bloggers and keep up the great work in the future!

I am also filled with endless appreciation for NAU Photography Instructor, Amy Horn, who helped coordinate this real-world assignment with her class.   It’s truly a pleasure to work with someone so dedicated to her students and to facilitating the learning process in photography.

Many thanks to those who took time out of their busy schedules to comment on the photographs and stories!  For those of you who haven’t had the chance to review them, find the 24 “Behind the Image” write-ups by clicking on the “Guest Blogger” in the Categories box on the right-most column on your screen.  Then, feel free to add your thoughts in the Comments section below anytime that’s convenient for you!

While you’re at it, let me know what you thought about this year’s project overall by leaving us a comment on this post, as I value your opinions tremendously.  What did you like about the photography as a whole?  Did you get new ideas?  Looking forward to hearing from you.

Thanks again everyone!  Until next time!