2015 April » You Can Sleep When You're Dead: Blog by Colleen Miniuk

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Apr 302015

“405 Exposure” photo copyright Luke Vanderbroek

“405 Exposure”
The image is in Orange County California on an overpass above the 405 freeway. At the time I took this picture I was early in my photography career and was exploring what it was that I was interested in taking pictures of. In addition, one of my closest friends from middle school is just as interested in photography as I am and we were looking for good ideas of things to take pictures of. Both of us decided to explore the idea of long exposures and we went to the closest airport, John Wayne Airport, and attempted to find a place to get long exposures of planes landing while waiting for a friend who was arriving at the airport and was in need of a ride home. After multiple failed attempts at convincing difference security guards to let us on to the roof of the buildings surrounding the airport we wondered around the exterior of the airport looking for a good place to shoot to no avail and decided to head home after meeting up with our friend. On the way back to the car I noticed a small overpass over the freeway that looked pretty accessible from the street and we decided to check it out. Luckily enough for me the sidewalk on the overpass had enough space for me to set up my tripod and my lens fit just perfectly through the chain-link fence keeping people from falling off the overpass and I started shooting images. Fortunately I chose the settings that looked the best pretty quickly which was helpful since taking long exposure takes forever to find out what little setting changes does. My friend and I instantly knew we found a great image after the first preview showed up on my screen and eventually I got the perfect settings for the image I was looking for. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t have a remote trigger and was only able to do thirty seconds exposures, but I was still able to take a great image.

I took the picture on the Canon T3i with an 18-55mm lens. I was using a plane old tripod and a flashlight to see the buttons on my camera and to adjust the tripod. My settings were a thirty second shutter speed, f22, and 100 ISO. The only post processing I did was some cropping, dust removal, and a little saturation adjustments.

About the Photographer:
My name is Luke Vanderbroek and I am a current student at Northern Arizona University and was born and raised in Orange County California. I first discovered my interest in photography my freshman year of College and have been improving in my photography career ever since. I was always interested in photography as a kid but didn’t get my hands on a good camera until I purchased one as a freshman. My favorite styles consist of long exposures, macros, and landscapes. My goals in photography are to push the boundaries that many photographers don’t consider going to. I want to get to the places photographers haven’t been able to get to before or places that many people haven’t made it to and get a shot like no one else has seen before.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at http://youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/3rd-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project/Please take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Apr 302015

“Light and Shadows” photo copyright Eric Schwab

“Light and Shadows”

We go back to the year 1952, in Paris. It sounds paradox but a few years ago the family was confident. The economy was booming right after World War II and Tony was successful with his company in steel business. Reconstruction occurred everywhere and international steel demand was higher than ever before.

One night, Tony met Olivia in his local bar “par Bonheur” on the edge of Paris, only a short hop away from his apartment. The atmosphere has been great this evening, the joy was drawn in each of the guest faces and laughter sounding through the room. Tony had a great day because he won a couple new customers and his sales increased steeply. For him the perfection must have been predetermined and at the end of the night, after plenty drinks, many stories, and a moonshine walk, they ended up together in his apartment.

A few months later Olivia announced that she is pregnant. In the beginning a bit taken by surprise, but happy head over ears and impatient for their first mutual child, anyway, they decided to move together. Adam was born and well cared by Olivia. Furthermore, she managed the household, washed their clothes, and ensured that dinner was ready when Tony came from work at seven.

The years passed by and he had less and less time for his family. “Someone has to bring the money”, he always accused towards her. But generally he didn’t talk too much about his business.

Then, on Adam’s sixth birthday, Tony disappeared. He was gone already when Olivia woke up. Not a word about why or anything else. Worried about her husband and angry to the same time, the mother tried to stave her child off.

After midnight Tony staggered in the bedroom where Olivia sat crying and waiting for her husband for hours. Quietly and with an unsteady voice, she asked him where he had been. Tony stood in front of the bed and watched her with a pitiful look. For many seconds nothing happened. The hesitation of her husband made her even more crying. Then, he reluctantly mumbled that the company was bankrupt, went in the living room, opened a bottle of wine and sank into self-pity.

Why I took the picture: This picture was shot within the scope of our first Assignment “Light and Shadows”. Therefore, the focus was on my new toy ‘Yongnuo’ Speedlite 2.

How I took the picture: I searched after anything in my apartment which could create such a lamellar style. In the end I figured out that the cover of our heater in the hall had this characteristic. I placed this thing next to my sofa and the flashlight right behind. Because I haven’t had a tripod for my flash, I had to adjust the height with my clothes basket as well as a package and a few books, to adjust the right angle of light. Then, I had the idea to dress in kind of “French”-clothing and used the wine bottle to pretend this desperate, drunk man.

I shot the picture with my Nikon D5100 on a tripod, 35mm 1:1.8 NIKKOR Lens and triggered with a remote control. This was my first time using flashlight and in my adolescence easiness, I shot this picture with 1/60 and F/1.8. I like the field of depth, but today I would shoot the picture on 1/100 and increase the light source a little. It is not blurred, but I think it is possible to even increase the sharpness a little bit more.

About the Photographer:
Hi, my name is Eric Schwab. My major is Computer Information Systems in Dresden, Germany and I started photography in the beginning of 2014. Right now I am on my year abroad in Flagstaff and in addition to my major classes have taken beside Intermediate Photography at NAU. As you probably noticed, I am not a writer, but I am stoked to take interesting pictures. The story is meant to head those of you, who don’t see a story themselves, into a possible direction. If you have a different story, please feel free to contact me.

Furthermore, I am not only interested in arranging, composing, and shooting photographs, but also in post editing with Photoshop. Beside photography I love to travel to new places and that’s why I run ‘Just Another Travel Blog’. If you want to check out the places I have travelled since I started my blog or just watch a few more pictures from this class, I would be happy to see you there: www.eric-schwab.de

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at http://youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/3rd-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project/Please take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Apr 292015

Photo copyright Karli Crocker

One of my best pieces of work that I have composed within this past semester is a panoramic picture I took while in California for Christmas Break. Some of the most beautiful beaches are in California, and I had the opportunity to visit Davenport Beach. I love the beaches, and landscape photos. When it comes to nature and wildlife I find it to be the most beautiful part of the world, and since it always sparks my interest it is almost impossible for me to go anywhere without snapping a few thousand photos of my surroundings. Although I did not end up bring my camera on this adventure, I always have my phone that is what I was able to snap my favorite photo of the semester with.

I went on a hike just off the sandy beach with my boyfriend and dogs in Davenport. As we climbed up the cliff, I looked back and noticed the beautiful view that felt as if it was surrounding us. I was so disappointed that I did not bring my camera with me on this beach adventure, but I could not leave without taking a picture. I found a place to stand on the cliff and observe the entirety of the view. I looked at the landscape with my iPhone 6 camera, scanning as if I was going to take a panorama, from all different levels and angles from where I was standing. After taking a few test panoramas with my phone, I found the perfect place to set up for the exact picture I wanted to capture. It took me a few times to perfect the shot; I was waiting for the perfect sunset lighting too, but I finally came up with the perfect panorama picture of the beach.

I have a huge emotional attachment to the beach, and even though I have so many snap shots of beach scenery, this photo really captures my ideal imagination of the beaches. Like I stated above, I took this photo with my iPhone 6 on panoramic mode, and for a phone photograph, I find it to be very crisp and beautiful. I enhanced the colors just a bit in post process, but this photo is an accurate representation of what my eyes captured. I am now actually grateful that I had my iPhone so that I was able to take a panorama a lot easier than it would have been with my camera.

About the Photographer:
I am a college sophomore at Northern Arizona University. I am a double major in Photography and Criminal Justice, and no I do not plan on using those degrees together to be a crime scene photographer, as much as everyone suggests it to me. Photography has always been a hobby of mine because my Dad was a photographer. He taught me from a young age about photography, and how to hold a camera, and the rest came naturally. Having a dual major makes time for photography very limited, but I am interested in building my own photography business, as well as start painting my images on canvases to display in art shows in the future. I am hoping that my photography business can help contribute to the debt I will soon acquire by going to Law School to become a lawyer.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at http://youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/3rd-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project/Please take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Apr 292015

“Bright Eyes” photo copyright Cloie Bright

“Bright Eyes”
This world is filled with beautiful and eclectic people.  It is an honor as a photographer to try to capture that beauty in a single frame.  One such honor came to me as a good friend of mine is graduating and when is not a better time to capture such moments as graduating college?  She is naturally a gorgeous woman and therefore getting a ‘pretty’ shot wasn’t going to prove to be that difficult.  However, sometimes life does not end up as perfect as you expect and in this case it came in the form of a foot boot that she had to wear because of a surgery.  As a photographer you have to be able to bend to those particular whims if you have any chances of succeeding at achieving the goal you set out to do.  In this case to capture the exuberant expression of a woman who has succeeded at overcoming five grueling years of schooling to become a professional.

How was I going to do this?  My client wanted to do outdoor photography.  Flagstaff is a beautiful place and she wanted to show that in her graduation photos.  My job was to make sure to get shots that both herself and her family would love.  So, I did my research.  How I learn the best is learning from the example of other individuals.  Sites that give great examples of photography that I use are Pinterest and Behance.  Some things that I found worthy of taking note of, especially in regards to a young woman being the model, was to have her shoulders tilted, use multiple different points of view, make sure that the focal point a was her eyes, and to try to keep her as comfortable as possible.  Doing this research helped to better prepare me for the shoot upping my own confidence, which hopefully helped her to be more relaxed in front of the camera.

To best execute this photo I decided to take her out during the golden hour to a park with flat land and great landscape shots.  For this shoot I used my Nikon D750 partnered with a 24-120mm lens.  The overall goal of the shoot was to keep her comfortable and having fun because those positive feelings would hopefully then show through the image.  However, because of her wearing the boot, that handicap started to overall cross over to her feeling unattractive.  I fixed this as best I could by encouraging her through words and putting her in positions that were natural and flowed well with her clothing and her personality.  I also made sure to show her if there was a great shot of her that right away was a ‘winner’ to boost her confidence and make the overall experience positive.

The end results to the shoot were fantastic.  This image was one of the strongest because it justly shows her happiness about graduating and focuses on her eyes, captivating the viewer.  The settings for this particular shot was: 1/620 sec, f/4, ISO 200.  In post processing the first thing that I did was find the perfect crop with the dimension of 5 x 7 inches to best fit the purpose of the photograph.  After which I focused on the exposure and sharpness/clarity of the photograph.  Then I moved into her face and softened her skin and dodged (the iris and whites) and burned (the pupil and edge of the iris) her eyes to make them sparkle just a little more.  With this image I both satisfied myself and my client with a great shot that would look great in her announcements!

About the Photographer:
My name is Cloie Bright and I am studying Photography.  In photography I have taken Senior Portraits, been the photographer at an animal shelter’s fundraisers, taken family portraits, and photographed a wedding.  However, I have a passion for landscape portrait photography.  I have not mastered the kind of style that I want, but am slowly developing it with each photograph that I take.  Eventually I would love to be a photographer for a park and recreation agency.  Being able to record the time that people have exploring the great outdoors tugs at my roots and heartstrings.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at http://youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/3rd-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project/Please take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Apr 282015

Photo copyright Kassandra Wilhelm

I have a fascination with “the world inside the mirror.” As a child I would image climbing through the frame into another world; a parallel dimension. That fascination inspired me to create this image.  That, and my “people have multiple sides.” The visual message is dark, in my opinion. I wanted the posing to be dramatic, emphasizing a loss or detachment of self from reality. Perhaps the viewer could take a different approach and view the individual outside of the mirror in white as a purified form. Meanwhile the girl inside the mirror wears black, and looks grieved. Maybe the girl in the mirror is a past or future form of the girl outside of the mirror. My mother pointed out that the girl inside the mirror might represent true feelings of hurt; she is a symbol of emotional turmoil, which is what traps her. The girl in white is looking into her reflection, seeing a side of herself that still causes pain and anguish, even though she looks clean and free of problems.

If I want any message to cross to the reader, it would be to recognize that everyone has facets of their lives that they do not show, or do their best to hide. Frequently people as a whole get caught up in their own turmoil’s, and instead of showing others kindness, we treat them like an inconvenience, or perhaps just forget about them. I like to remind myself every morning that people everywhere struggle with their own personal kind of demons. So no matter how “put-together” a person may be, they still should be approached with the same respect and kindness that you would want in return.

I set the camera on a tripod for the photo-shoot. I have a Canon EOS Rebel, and I was using a 18-55 focal length lens.  I set up a flash unit behind and slightly above the backdrop, and then used a reflector for fill light. My ISO was set at 1600, F/8.0. The lens was open to 28mm.  Ultimately in post work, I enhanced the color and made touch ups to skin tone. I layered two images, and then used a layer mask and the resizing tool to match up the mirror half of the photo with the “reality” side. Matching the color and light in each image proved to be a little bit of a challenge. Careful clone-stamp work followed, in an effort to create a seamless image.

About the Photographer:
My name is Kassandra Wilhelm, I am a 19-year-old girl and my passion is studio/fashion photography. I have spent the last couple of years photographing weddings, engagements, senior pictures, family pictures, and I have experimented with studio work more recently in the last year. I love to photograph humans. Everything from stiff, dramatic fashion photography to loving, candid pregnancy photographs, I absolutely love to capture it. My inspiration comes from a photographer in my hometown, Mrs. Maria Butterfield, who taught me most of what I know. I think that capturing a personality or a story in an image is an exciting process, which changes with every subject.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at http://youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/3rd-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project/Please take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Apr 282015

Photo copyright Erin Twarogal

When my Photography instructor told my class and me that our next photo assignment was a focus on High-Speed Liquid, I was super excited to get started on the shot.  I love to experiment with new techniques that improve my photography skills without needing fancy camera equipment that I do not own already. Mainly, I really enjoy creative and motion photography.

I had several different ideas for the assignment but I had some limitations.  I was required to use dropper to drop liquid to forming a splash or whirlpool but I was able to utilize one of my ideas.  I went to the home décor aisle at a department store to find anything I could hold water in and I was lucky enough to find an interesting dish with a mirror-like bubble pattern. I love the dish with its “bubble wrap” reflections. I filled the dish with water and then I tested the droplets to see how it looks in a picture.  The result was very neat.

For this image, I have my Nikon D3200 camera and I used 50 mm lenses. I set up white poster around the dish to optimize the reflections then I hung a Ziploc bag of water above the dish.  I used a pin to poke a hole for water to come out, drop by drop. I also used a few color gels with my off-flash shoes. I set my camera on my tripod and zoom focused at the dish, where the droplet is. My camera set in 1/200 shutter speed, aperture in 11 stop, and I used low ISO. I had the set in dimmed light room, to avoid capturing random reflections.

After took many shots, I used many different color gel in my hot shoe but I used green tone gel most. I really like the color most in my picture than any other colors. I tried to use gold tone but it was look very alike honeycomb. The picture has one droplet that hit at the one of patterns, in the dish, as it made look like its burst. I thought the picture was very interesting and this was very exciting experience with the assignment.

About the Photographer:
Howdy folks, my name is Erin Twarogal. I am half Illinoisan and half Arizonian. I love both cornfield and desert. Therefore, I am undergraduate student of Northern Arizona University and will receive Bachelor of Science degree in Photography and minor in Anthropology.  When I was very young, I was holding my mom’s old film camera for the first time and I really loved how I could capture any moment in a forever image. In addition, I like to share pictures with my family and friends and they love my work.  My photography goal is to capture moment of memory for people to treasure forever.  emt842.wix.com/erinsnakedeyes

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at http://youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/3rd-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project/Please take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Apr 272015

Introducing the 39 NAU students who will act as Guest Bloggers on this blog starting tomorrow through mid-May (their photographs appearing in alphabetical order):
First row (left to right):  Stephanie Austin, Krista Baldwin, Emma Benanati, Cloie Bright, Eleanor Carty, Samantha Columbo, Garrett Creswell, Karli Crocker
Second row (l to r): Stevie Deale, Alicia Dean, Rita DeBrodie, Christye Flanagan, Nikki Harcey, Rachel Leone, Morgan Louvier, Samantha Martinez
Third row (l to r): Sunday Miller, Thomas Miner, McKenzie McLoughlin, Jubran Mohammed, Parker Munsch, Don Olson, Ashlee Outsen, Hannah Petersen
Fourth row (l to r): Angel Rangel, Jasmine Riley, Sydney Roberts, Eric Schwab, Natalie Smith, Jordan Thompson, Taylor Tracy, Erin Twarogal
Fifth row (l to r): Ashleigh Vance, Luke Vanderbroek, Cory Walters, Ryan Wesson, Ariel White, Kassandra Wilhelm, Ursula Woody

Each year we work with the Northern Arizona University (NAU) photography students on the “Behind the Image:  Guest Blogger” project, it just keeps getting bigger and better – and the 3rd annual event is certainly no different!  I’m thrilled to officially introduce the participants who will serve as guest bloggers on my blog starting tomorrow through mid-May.

To give you some background on this effort, two years ago, I partnered with my good friend, fellow photographer, and NAU photography instructor, Amy Horn, to offer her photography students an opportunity to turn their school studies into real-world, practical experience. Thirty-five students participated in this inaugural project (to see their entries, select Guest Blogger and Making the Image categories from the right side of this screen).  After receiving many positive comments from both the students and this audience, Amy and I teamed up again last year, where 24 students participated in our sophomore effort.  In our third year, we have 39 excited guest bloggers ready to show and tell their work!

On March 31, 2015 I visited Amy’s two Intermediate Photography (PHO285) classes to share my “Clowns, Snowballs, and Boats: Surviving as a Freelance Photographer” presentation and to share details about the “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” assignment.  The students received  instruction to select a single image they created during this semester.  Then, we asked them to provide an 800-word (or less) description of their photograph, outlining why and how they made their image.  We encouraged them to share what process they used to create it, what inspired them to make the photograph, and the technical information for the resulting photograph.  To help readers connect with them, we also requested a 100-word bio.

Their photographs and words will be shared exactly as they submitted (i.e., I’ve done no editing of their work).  Some are blogging for the very first time!  I hope you enjoy the diversity, the unique perspectives, and honesty these students will present.

Even though my blog and personal photography focuses on the Great Outdoors, the students were given free range to pursue their own interests beyond nature if they desired.  No matter our own individual domains, I feel strongly that we can refine our own style and work by reviewing and evaluating any type of photography – and get lots of new ideas!

If you feel so inclined, please show your support for these learning student photographers! Leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section for each blog post to not only provide your encouragement and perspectives, but also to help polish your own style.  As you review the image and write-ups, ask yourself, “What do you like about the image?  What might you improve?  Do you have any similar experiences with this subject, technique, or approach?” As I often share in my presentations and the Austin Kleon book suggests, “Steal like an artist!”  How can you apply what you like to your own work in a different situation?  Tell us about it.  Let’s hear what you have to say!

With that, please join me in welcoming the 2015 NAU Intermediate Photography students and enjoy their photography and “Behind the Image” stories!

Apr 022015
Fire Away

“Fire Away,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV. The iconic Fire Wave rock formation at sunset in the Valley of Fire State Park. (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Although it wasn’t completely obvious, hopefully you’ve realized my blog post yesterday, “Making the Image:  My Most Unique Photo of Yosemite” was part of a semi-elaborate April Fool’s Day joke, where 11 participating photographers posted the exact same image of Tunnel View (the idea and image compliments of Jim Goldstein).  We linked our blogs together, suggesting we all shared tripod holes to get our “most unique shot of Yosemite.” We really didn’t go to Tunnel View.

If you haven’t done so already, the hilarious faux write-ups alone are worth clicking through the chain of linked blog posts:

Jim Goldsteinwww.jmg-galleries.com/blog/2015/04/01/my-most-unique-photo-yosemite/

Colleen Miniuk-Sperry: youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/making-the-image-my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite/

Olivier Du Tre: blog.olivierdutre.com/2015/04/tunnel-view.html

Ken Cravillion: kgcphoto.blogspot.ca/2015/04/original-tunnel-view.html

David Leland Hyde:  landscapephotographyblogger.com/my-most-unique-photograph-of-yosemite-valley/

Jim Sabiston:  www.essentiallight.blogspot.com/2015/04/my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite-yet.html

Eric Fredinewww.ericfredine.ca/blog/2015/3/31/my-unique-take-on-yosemite

Floris van Breugelwww.artinnaturephotography.com/wordpress/2015/fresh-air-and-fresh-views/

Richard Wong: www.rwongphoto.com/blog/my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite-yet/

Youssef Ismail: www.organiclightphoto.com/blog/?p=1918

Gary Crabbe:  www.enlightphoto.com/views/2015/04/01/best-yosemite-shot-ever.htm

The silly prank aimed to highlight and poke fun at the inundation of homogeneity we see in nature photography today.  Endless streams of the same scene in magazines, calendars, postcards, Flickr, and social media could easily lead us to believe those are the only subjects worth photographing.  To this point, I made a sarcastic comment in yesterday’s post, “…but I figured if Ansel hadn’t found something gorgeous to shoot in those spots, I sure wasn’t going to!”  With the highest respect for Mr. Adams, this notion is absurd.

Early in my photography career, I spent a lot of time blasting away at classic scenes for three reasons.  One, I wanted to see these amazingly beautiful scenes with my own eyes (and not solely through others’ photographic interpretations).  Two, the predefined compositions gave me a baseline to determine how well I was controlling my camera to get expected results.  And three, they sold well (hence the “endless streams of the same scene in magazines, calendars, and postcards”).

In hindsight, a fourth reason existed:  I knew how to look; I did not know how to see.  After eventually getting bored with having my photographs look like everyone else’s,  I turned to learn more creative ways of expressing my personal vision.  As I did – and continue to do – so, the question remains, “Can I shoot the icons?”  Or better yet, “Can I shoot the icons and still be called a respectable photographer?”  As I wandered around the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada (not Oregon, as my April Fool’s blog suggested) in mid-February after proofing my book, the answer came to light.

I had visited the park before, but never photographed during what I considered conducive lighting conditions.  Normally, I would research and visualize before setting out to a location.  However, I could only find 24 hours a day in the days leading up to my trip, and preparing the book for printing consumed most (if not all) of that time.  As a result, my brain only recalled two locations based on what I had seen on the internet:  the Fire Wave and Elephant Arch.

During my six-hour trek, I initially decided to avoid these two iconic spots in the park.  Although I did not have copies of either scene in my stock files, I wondered how could I possibly showcase these two sites differently all the previous photographers, hikers, and general nature enthusiasts alike who had already snapped their own photos here.

Making a pretty photograph of a roadkill (meaning: easily accessed), classic scenes – the Fire Wave, Elephant Arch, and other icons like Delicate Arch in Arches National Park or Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park – is easy.  Mother Nature has already painted the beautiful palette and thousands (if not millions) of photographers have already figured out (and proven by mimicking excessively) essentially the same composition.  ‘All’ one needs to do is show up at these places, turn your camera on, and wait for a vibrant multi-hued sky; a double rainbow; or a glowing Milky Way overhead.

But simply incorporating fleeting light into a cliché composition is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.  Changing the weather conditions does not transform a documentary “trophy” shot into something fresh or creative.

Then a different thought crossed my mind:  Why should the fact that every photographer but me has photographed these scenes prevent me from enjoying and photographing them for myself?  Stubbornly, I decided it should not, and so I changed my mind as I crossed into Nevada.  I resolved to photograph the Fire Wave later that evening.

I arrived about two hours before sunset to scope out the Fire Wave area.  I held two attitudes about the evening:  one, I would likely share the location with other photographers wishing to make their own images – and that’s OK! – and two, tourists wishing to snap selfie’s while standing atop the rock formation had equal right to enjoy the scene as I did.  Under no circumstance would I pretend I owned the place or tell anyone to get out of the way (two things I have watched with great sadness by impolite and impatient photographers at iconic locations before).  After all, they made the clone-stamp and patch tools in Photoshop for a reason, right?  Right.

Much to my surprise, only two other photographers scampered about the rocks (one of whom left well before the sun went down).  I tested a variety of compositions with my wide-angle lens and four-stop graduated neutral density filter, settled into my favorite position, and then waited. Thanks to the candy-colored light show Mother Nature provided, I brought home a nice rendition of an iconic shot for my stock files (photo above).

Following a rejuvenating restful sleep, the next morning, I pulled into one of the parking lots, flipped my camera gear onto my back, and melted into the shadowed canyonlands with no particular destination in mind.  Unlike shooting pre-existing compositions, creative photography requires a more mindful, peaceful, slower pace – one where experiencing, discovering, and connecting with my surroundings occurs before making an image (if an image is made at all).  I philosophically agree with Ansel Adams’ perspective, “My photographs become records of experiences as well as places.”

I eventually picked up the White Domes Slot Canyon Trail where I spent two hours in awe (and 129 different compositions) hovering over a small wash where I created my “Stone Butterfly” – an apropos composition that revealed I was ready for a metamorphoses from cliché images to creating my own here. (Post continues after photograph)

The Stone Butterfly

“The Stone Butterfly,” Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

For the remainder of my three-day stay, I continued to wander through unnamed canyons and rock shelves to create fresh footprints in the sand and to soak in this magically whimsical environment in my own way.

I longed to see a hypothetical time-lapse video showing the seemingly impossible process of these sherbet colored rocks forming eons ago. (Post continues after photograph)

Diamond in the Rough

“Diamond in the Rough,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

I marveled at the stars visible from my campsite while sipping wine. (Post continues after photograph)

The Gathering

“The Gathering,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

I paid homage to Anubis, an Egyptian reference found in the Elizabeth Peters book I had just finished reading the night before. (Post continues after photograph)

Anubis in Stone

“Anubis in Stone,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

I broke down crying in front of a dead tree for a dear friend who had passed away unexpectedly just two weeks before my trip. (Post continues after photograph)

Gone, But Not Forgotten

“Gone, But Not Forgotten (In Memory of Jim),” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

In each of these meaningful moment, I made an image to represent my experience in this fantastical place.

On the final morning of my stay, when I needed to quickly return to my Arizona, I determined the easiest and quickest location to photograph on the way out was – wait for it – the roadside Elephant Arch.  I approached the icon just as the red “sailors heed warning” colored sky transformed the orange sandstone in all directions into a glowing ember-like spectacle.  The light unfolding over the landscape opposite the arch spoke to me. (Post continues after photograph)

A True Valley of Fire

“A True Valley of Fire,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

As I made my final image (of a scene some may overlook while honing in on Elephant Arch), I thought to myself, can I shoot the icons (and still be called a respectable photographer?  Sure.  Because of their remarkable beauty, anyone who wishes to do so, should.  Just don’t expect to be alone or different as you do so.

Without question, though, I would encourage everyone with even greater enthusiasm to look beyond them for your own artistic expressions.  Tremendously more rewarding and fulfilling moments await if you are willing to uniquely experience the world around you and focus on photographing the meaningful connections you develop along your own journey.

Happy trails,

P.S.  To see all 13 images I created during my three-day trip, visit http://cms-photo.photoshelter.com/gallery/Nevada/G00002EqYTMEHKIE/C0000.fuI6BhfIuI.

P.P.S.  To gain an abundance of insight about “Personalizing Place” from a variety of different photographers/speakers, join us at the upcoming Moab Photo Symposium on May 1-3, 2015.  Learn more at moabphotosym.com.

Apr 012015
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! 😛