Sep 032015
What Lies Within Counts

“What Lies Within Counts” || Abstract, close-up view of a dandelion seed head from City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Sometimes while photographing, we arrive at a grand scene offering so much beauty that causes us to – rightfully so – feel quickly overwhelmed.  To overcome this unsettling sensation, I tap into mindfulness techniques as a way to become more aware and connected with our surroundings (as some of you have experienced while participating in my photo workshops).

When I intentionally slow myself down to express curiosity and gratitude for my surroundings, the process oftentimes leads to a “flash of perception” experience, or in other words, a moment where I say, “WOW, look at THAT!”  When I catch myself saying this (especially if I say it aloud while alone!), I know instantly it is my cue to break out the camera gear and start creating a photograph.

Without further exploration and definition, though, the “THAT” is difficult to bottle up and stuff into a rectangular frame successfully.  To help provide additional guidance to my compositions, I will frequently title my image before I snap the shutter.  If I have trouble condensing my thoughts into a short title, I will simply talk through what I am seeing, focusing on the shapes, colors, lines, forms, etc. grabbing my attention.  As I outline my thoughts, I pay close attention to the words and concepts I can express photographically.

In May 2015, at the Moab Photography Symposium, a frequent attendee and fine photographer introduced me (and eventually the entire audience) to his favorite way to connect what he sees with what he feels – a haiku – a technique he learned from famous photographer Eddie Soloway.  Using the traditional haiku form of three lines (the first and last lines requiring five syllables and the second, seven), a photographer describes what you see in the first two lines and then how you feel about it in the final line.

Having a great interest in poetry myself and having created haikus before in a different context, I immediately gravitated towards this new idea so relevant to photographers trying to understand their surroundings and ultimately, express their thoughts in pixels.  I’ve not only incorporated this process more regularly into my own photographic pursuits, but I now also offer it to my students during my photography workshops as another option for expressing what we observe.  In fact, I put the practice to recent use on my photographic outing last week.

While hiking one afternoon among the gigantic granite spires in City of Rocks National Reserve in southern Idaho, I came upon a meadow full of summer blooms – rabbit brush, yellow salsify, asters, and more – interspersed among the junipers and sage brush.  I spent a few minutes simply admiring summer’s abundance – and my fortunate opportunity to see it.  After observing for awhile, I noticed a small dandelion seed head off on its own in a small clearing in the middle of the busyness. I walked over to inspect more closely.

Joy in the Little Things

“Joy in the Little Things” || Abstract macro view of a yellow salisfy seed from the Henry Mountains in southern Utah (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Having recently photographed a similar, but much larger subject – the yellow salsify seed head – in the Henry Mountains this past July (see photo “Joy in the Little Things”  on the right) and again along the very trail I was hiking before reaching this meadow, I knew I wanted to get my lens as close as possible to study the intricate details of this smaller, but equally exciting, specimen.  To do so, I grabbed my 100mm macro lens and two 12mm extension tubes.

As I set up around the fluff ball, I started to think about how I would title my frame by considering why I picked out this exact subject.  Certainly, the intriguing shapes and structure contrasting the softness interested me.  But, there was more to it than just the visual appeal…

I came up with “What Lies Within Counts” to reference not only the dandelion within the larger context of its existence in the field and it’s relevance to life in general, but also the heart-like shape I saw (which is the shape of the out-of-focus bracts of the dandelion) that offset the bright white radiating shapes.

Immediately thereafter, in almost in a whimsical song, a haiku started to develop in my head, with the title of my photograph becoming the last line of the haiku:

Look Closely (A Haiku)
A busy field sways,
Veils one dandelion’s grace –
What lies within counts.

With the title and haiku as my guides, I tested a number of different compositions to fulfill these notions.  I eventually settled on placing the dandelion bracts as off-centered as possible to create a sense of asymmetrical balance while keeping the flower itself centered in the frame to allow for a natural vignette to occur (which is simply the edge of the flower appearing against the ground, blurred by a wide f/2.8 aperture setting).  Because of a substantial, but irregular breeze, I bumped my ISO to 800, which yielded a fast enough shutter speed (1/500th of a second) to help freeze the dandelion as it swayed in the meadow.

In addition to waiting for the breeze to calm momentarily, I also waited for a cloud to pass in front of the sun to turn the harsh, contrasty mid-day light into more pleasing, softer diffused light.

As I packed up, I still noodled on the title and tagline of the haiku as it related to photography.  In order to make our personally meaningful nature photographs, I certainly believe “what lies inside [the photographer] counts.”  By paying attention to our individual backgrounds, experience, knowledge, and interests – all the things that drive you to you say “WOW, look at THAT!” – leads to more consistent success and satisfaction in the image making process.

Just remember to look closely not just at your subjects, but at yourself as you do so…

Aug 192015

“Into the Great Wide Open” || Blooming canola field and clouds in Alberta, Canada (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” ~Don Williams, Jr.

Earlier this summer, while en route from my friend’s home in Calgary to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, my companions and I enjoyed seemingly endless views of blooming yellow canola fields along the highway.  For a closer look, namely in search for a red barn to serve as a pleasing contrast between the blue sky and yellow flowers, we turned down a random dirt country road to continue our scouting.  When we came upon this particular field while driving a dirt country road, we all agreed: we had to stop to photograph it (yes,despite no red barn)!

When I surveyed the scene, I knew immediately that I wanted to showcase the juxtaposition between the yellow flowers and the non-blooming green weave as a leading line through the frame.  To draw more attention to the contrast and to reduce the visual tension (thereby offering a greater sense of peace and harmony), I intentionally positioned the green shape in the middle of my composition and allowed even amounts of space for the yellow on either side to create a more symmetrical balance.  I also wanted to give a broader context to the path as if it were leading into this great big sky – and into a great big unknown – so I dropped the horizon towards the bottom of the frame to emphasize the expanse above the landscape.

As I perfected my composition with my 24-105 mm set at a 50mm focal length, the mid-morning sun kept playing hide and seek. One minute, the scene fell in completely diffused light.  Then, the next minute, it appeared fully illuminated. Knowing that a viewer’s eye would travel along the green (darker) area to seek the brighter part of the frame, I waited patiently for the sun to dance across only part of the field, specifically the top part, where the path ends and meets the sky.  For a mere few seconds, the sun cooperated before moving on and spotlighting a different part of the field out of my frame.

I stayed put for several more minutes, hoping this lighting effect would return to the top of the ridge, but alas, it did not, and I chose to move on to additional compositions under almost completely diffused light.  We never did find a blooming canola field with a red barn (found plenty of both, just not together!) but we enjoyed the journey to find it immensely.

When I returned home to process the image, titling it came very easy.  I named the resulting photograph after the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song, “Into the Great Wide Open” as that’s what I was humming while I made the image!

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 24-105mm at 50mm, ISO 100, f/11 at 1/250 sec.

Aug 102015
Drifiting From Reality

“Drifting From Reality” || Reflection of cliffs melt into a riffle along Succor Creek in the Succor Creek State Natural Area in southeastern Oregon (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

When I decide where to travel to create my own photography (versus shooting on assignment), I often try to mix up my time between visiting old favorites with new locations.  Because of my deep connections and ongoing fascinations with my favorite places, I feel not only comfortable and relaxed in these spots, but I also find endless stories to tell about them.  In these places, it feels like I’m coming home to a plateful of freshly-baked, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies.  And those who know me know very well that I am not capable of resisting freshly-baked, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies (or any cookies for that matter…).

At the same time, though, I love the thrill of discovering and exploring all the new surprises a completely new location offers.  It’s like opening presents on my birthday or at Christmas.  Every time I look or pick something up, it offers me a chance to learn something new about the place or a subject -  and quite often about myself. This past May during my three-week adventure in Oregon, I balanced my time between old favorites – the coast, specifically Carl Washburne and Cape Lookout state parks – and a new place – Succor Creek State Natural Area.  Not only did I chose the Succor Creek area because I had never been there before, but also because it promised water in the high desert (a juxtaposition that never ceases to intrigue me) along the eastern border Oregon shares with Idaho.

After about an eight-hour drive from Portland, I arrived to the tree-lined oasis and set up camp.  For four blissful days, I enjoyed hiking along the water’s edge, marveling at thunder eggs (Oregon’s official state rock), and watching the light dances on the rhyolite cliffs surrounding me in my temporary “home.”  Ever corner I turned, a new sight, scene, smell awaited – oh, the joy!

From my camp, I could hear the water gurgling and tossing against the rocks all day and all night.  As I listened, I wondered what it would be like to be that water – Where has it been?  Where is it going?  And why?  I started to pen words answering these questions and internalizing the idea of an unknown journey within myself.  Where had I been?  Where was I going?  And why?   I smiled when I realized Succor Creek was living up to its name.  By definition, the word “succor” means “help; relief; aid; assistance” according to

As quickly as the creek streamed by me, the words formed into a new poem to help me share my experience:

Go With the Flow

Silky caramel water seduced
By a stoic stone
Without choice, innocently
Drifts downstream
Towards a riffle
That looks not to cause trouble,
But simply has nothing

Else to do.
Streaking gracefully
Then plunging and drowning
In its own breath,
The wave curls over
Itself, roaring, frothing, splashing,
Madly gasping for the past
Just barely,

Out of reach. Overthrown
Yet unscathed save for an escorting
Crown of sage bubbles,
Whispering memories bursting
In the unruffled aftermath
Into an embrace

Of empathetic trees
Where my roots dip
Their toes
Into the mirror.

Floating away,
United in our destination


As I polished the draft of my poem,  I glanced up to notice a beautiful reflection glowing on top of the water’s surface while sitting in camp late in the afternoon on the day prior to my departure.  Harsh sunlight bathed the entire scene, but I had learned enough about this location in the days prior to know if I waited an hour or so, the creek would fall into shadow (thanks to the sun dropping behind cliffs to the west of me) and create a desirable contrast to the still-illuminated cliffs to the east of my position.  I headed to the creek with my camera and tripod in hand anyhow to perfect my composition so that I could be ready as soon as the light fell into place.

While watching the reflected light pour over the riffle, I decided to title my forthcoming photograph, “Drifting From Reality.”  I intended to create a composition with a slow enough shutter speed to create a “silky” effect mentioned in my poem.  I also wanted the water to appear as if it were melting the cliff’s reflection in the water into the “stoic stones” on the left side of my frame.  I settled on ISO 100 and f/22 to slow my exposure down.  I waited until the bright light receded in order to get a final shutter speed setting (1/4 second).  The photo above resulted.

I spent the rest of the evening photographing and wading in the warm creek, playing until the day faded into night.  With the final click of my shutter, I decided to add Succor Creek to my “old favorites” list.  I certainly can’t wait to return!  And next time, I’ll bring fresh-baked, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies…

Aug 062015
Skeletons of the Past

“Skeletons of the Past” / Remnants of old trees rise out of Goat Pond in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

My friends and I arrived to Goat Pond in the Spray Valley in Kananaskis Country in Alberta, Canada late in the afternoon, while the sun played hide and seek behind clouds.   Upon surveying the somewhat barren landscape, I saw the dead branches sticking out of the water and immediately came up with the title (“Skeletons of the Past”) for my photograph.

I grabbed my 24-105mm lens, and then set my camera to ISO 100 and  f/11 for the appropriate depth of field.  This resulted in a 1/40 of a second shutter speed.  Easy!  Click!

After reviewing this first frame, I gasped.  It was absolutely horrible and nothing like what I envisioned (see photo on the right).  The composition appeared as I had hoped, but the photo lacked the mood and emotion I felt about this particular scene.  I wanted it to feel more mystical, ethereal, maybe even dream-like.

The first frame

The first (horrible) frame I captured at Goat Pond with ISO 100, f/11 at 1/40 second.

I looked up at the sun.  Clearly, I could not rely upon the existing lighting conditions to help create that mood.  In addition, we hadn’t planned on returning to this location again, so I would have to make do with the hand I had been dealt right here, right now.

Paying attention to the words I associated with my vision – things like “mystical, ethereal, and dreamlike” – I turned to my 10-stop neutral density filter to help slow the motion in the pond’s waves to help create those concepts in my photograph.  After some experimentation with shutter speed, I settled on 30 seconds, as it provided enough “mystical” but retained structure within the water to still imply movement.

I used a Cloudy white balance to help offset the blue hues of the overcast day, but knew when I processed the image later at home, I would add a little blue coloration back into the scene to help convey a more gloomy feel to match the “skeleton” part of my image.  Since the scene appeared monochromatic, I tried converting the frame to black and white, but ultimately decided the blue tones helped communicate the coldness I aimed for in presenting the my final vision.

This experience reminded me just how important observation and problem solving skills are in a photographers bag.  Sometimes the final image isn’t “hit-you-over-the-head” evident.  However, as you continue to look at your surroundings and ponder how to creatively overcome natural and technical obstacles, your vision can eventually come to life.  As a Dakota Indian saying suggests, “When there’s nothing to see, look.”

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 24-105mm at 105mm, ISO 100, f/11 at 30 seconds, 10-stop neutral density filter.

Aug 042015
On Becoming a Wave

“On Becoming a Wave” || On a foggy morning, waves roll into Cannon Beach, with Ecola State Park in the background, on the northern coast of Oregon, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

While the idiom goes, “A picture is worth a 1000 words,” sometimes I find I have a little more to say about a place or experience than just 1000 words.  Typically, those words evolve into a story, a blog, or in extreme cases, a book.  More and more frequently, though, I find myself writing poems to accompany my images.  Although I have composed poetry for a number of years, few people outside of my immediate family and a couple of close, trusted friends have ever read my written creations.  Until now…thanks largely in part to the encouragement I’ve received from my family and friends.  And because I find it becoming an important part of my creative process for self-expression.

Like creating a meaningful image, inspiration for my poems come literally from everywhere and anywhere.  Sometimes a poem almost writes itself, spilling onto the pages somewhat effortlessly as thoughts about a place, experience, or situation flow freely (much like arriving at a location and everything – the light, the composition, the mood – all comes together in one magical moment to snap a photograph).  More often, I get a spark of an idea – a word, a phrase, or a notion – and spend time noodling on what it means to me, how I feel about it, and what I wish to say about it (similar to the visualization process I use to make photographs).  During this analytical process, I dig as deep into my soul as possible to try to first understand what’s happening inside me, without judging, and then try to pick carefully the words to help reveal those emotions in a written form.

There are times when I feel like I’m not myself when I write poetry, only to discover later the poem I develop expresses exactly who I am.  It’s a difficult head space to describe…but Rollo May’s has a great quote about the process:  “When you write a poem, you discover that the very necessity of fitting your meaning into such and such a form requires you to search in your imagination for new meanings. You reject certain ways of saying it; you select others, always trying to form the poem again. In your forming, you arrive at new and more profound meanings than you had even dreamed of.”

I enjoy pairing my poems and photographs together to convey a broader sense and context of the observations I deem important as I’m in the Great Outdoors.  In some cases, the poem adds more meaning to the photograph.  In others, the photograph helps explain the poem.  A poem helps me communicate the reason why I made the photograph in the first place (in more depth than a descriptive, but short, title would).  A photograph gives me an avenue to express deeper thoughts in my poems.  It’s very much a “which comes first, the chicken or the egg” scenario.

With that background in mind, I thought I’d share a more recent photograph and poem pairing, one I created while wandering along “my” beloved Oregon coast this past May.  Watching waves crashed into the cliffs or roll onto the beach is something I could literally do all day, so I started with visual inspiration from the sea, resulting in the photo you see above. Fog along the coast in the summer frequently occurs, which I find adds extra drama to the already beautiful scenery.  To capture a more intimate view of the waves rolling onto Cannon Beach, I walked to the mouth of Ecola Creek as the tide receded and then ran with the waves and photographed them from a low, crouched perspective as they raced onto the shore.  I ended up hand-holding the camera, even at the slow shutter speed of 1/4th second, as I didn’t have time to set up the tripod.  With my wide-angle 24-105mm lens, I used an f/9 aperture to get just enough depth of field combined with the motion in the waves I desired.

The idea for this poem originated while I was judging the Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards for the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) around that same time frame and noted a number of entries titled, “How to Be a [Insert object or animal here]” (likely originating from one teacher’s classroom writing activities).  I immediately thought about what it’d be like to be a wave, which resulted in the following poem:

“On Becoming a Wave”

Effortlessly across
The palette of blue,
Bobbing, boiling, rolling
Until the winds guide you

Twist your tendrils,
And fluff your skirt
To sashay into your daring
White-gloved entrance.
Rumble, rock,
Foam and froth
With unbridled delight.

Rain or shine,
No matter the terrain,
Disregard resistance.

Thunder madly into resilient cliffs.
Explode into a bouquet of decay.
Spray seaweed confetti across the sky .
Ooze through every crack, every crevice,
Taunting each grain of sand to roll between
Your insistent caress.

Frolic until a drifter’s whisper
Summons your soul,
Disregard resistance.

Pause to remember
Where you came from.
Then as the cobble claps,
Take a bow and
Recede elegantly, flawlessly
As delicate lace.

Time to begin again.


As this is my first time sharing my poetry publicly, I certainly welcome your thoughts about my photo and poem pairing so please leave me your comments below!  What do you think about it?  Does anyone else out there write poems to accompany your photographs?

May 182015

Let’s hear it one more time for the 39 NAU students who acted as Guest Bloggers on this blog (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

That’s all folks!  Let’s give the Northern Arizona University’s Intermediate Photography students a big round of applause for sharing their images and thoughts with us in this year’s “Behind the Image:  Guest Blogger” project.   What thrills me the most from year to year with this effort is just how different each student sees the world.

To the 39 participating students, what did you think of your blogging experience here?   Was it as scary or exciting as you thought?  Would you do it again?  Would you do anything differently in hindsight now that you’ve completed your assignment?  I so appreciate your willingness to participate as Guest Bloggers and thank you for being YOU!  No matter where photography or life takes you, always remember that creativity lives within you if you tap into your 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 your visual messages.

I am also filled with much gratitude 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.

To those of you who left comments on the photographs and stories, many thanks!  If you haven’t had the chance to review all of them (and would like to), find the 39“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!

Finally, leave us a comment on this post about your thoughts on this year’s project.  What did you like about the photography as a whole?  Did you get new ideas?  I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks again, everyone!  Until next year!


May 172015

Photo copyright Ashleigh Vance

After seeing it done in the introductory photo class I help with, I was inspired to shoot my own steel wool light painting photograph. I did some research and once I realized how simple the procedure really was, I became determined to create my own. I took a trip to Home Depot that afternoon and purchased several packages of steel wool, a pair of gloves and a whisk.

The main issue I came across was that of creating a unique photograph. There are only so many ways you can safely spin the wool and only so many angles to shoot it from; because of this, many of the shots begin to look generic and I knew I did not want that.

I spent a lot of time debating where we could go to do the shoot. Between the firework restriction, risk of forest fire and the need to be original, there was only one real answer: the lake.  We drove out to Lake Mary and pulled the car almost all of the way down the boat ramp to the dock. I prepared one of my friends with the spinning equipment, set up the camera and tripod and instructed my other friend on how to work the car’s headlights. Once everything else was ready, I went back to the camera to program and focus the shot.

After trial and error, I decided to go with ISO 100 and f/8 so that the shutter speed would not have to go any slower than 25 seconds. Any more time than that and I found the sparks and movement got too messy. An ISO of 100 was also important to me here because any extra grain would be detrimental to the quality of my shot. As you can see on the dock area, grain was already beginning to show up even at as low as I could go. All light within the image was the result of the moon or the fire.

Once I had the camera settings the way I wanted them, shooting was almost easy. I attached the whisk to a pet leash and stuffed stretched out steel wool inside. I then sent my friend out onto the dock with a candle lighter. Once they lit the steel wool, they quickly began to spin it around at various angles and that was it. Of course it was really important for them to employ effort while spinning so that the light painting was neat.

Overall, I had a great time with this project. It’s still a generic idea almost any way you shoot it, but it’s a lot of fun and looks great. While I will more than likely never be able to sell anything from this album, it was still worth the experience.

About the Photographer:
During my second year of high school, I enrolled in photography by chance. I needed an art credit and I considered photo class little more than that. However, I quickly discovered how wrong I was.

Back when I was in high school, we started on film and in the darkroom. I loved it immediately. I spent the rest of my time in high school in our photography classroom and I owe a lot of my personal development to my former teacher and classmates. I went from the girl who didn’t speak to someone who wasn’t afraid to teach lessons or compete.

In high school, I took senior photos for extra money and competed in various events like the State Fair or SkillsUSA regional/state.  Nowadays, my focus is more on working to get published rather than competitions, but I still freelance often. My favorite type of paid shoot would have to be engagement because my focus is really on portraiture.

I think my work is different from others largely because of how much time I put in to post-processing. If I can avoid it, I will not deliver a raw image to a client. Someday I hope to shoot fashion with a modern post-processing style. Food and retail work also interests me – anything glamorous catches my eye.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 162015

“The Subway” photo copyright Ariel White

At the beginning of the spring semester my roommate and I began thinking about what we were going to do for Spring Break.  Last semester we had gone hiking in Zion National Park, Utah, but we did not get to go on all the hikes we wanted, so we decided we would go back.  This park is known for its red rock, the amazing hiking experiences, rock climbing, and the photography opportunities it provides.

My roommate and I set out on our hike at 8 o’clock in the morning.  The sun was just starting to climb over the horizon and was bathing the landscape in light.  This was one of the more strenuous hikes as we had to scramble over rocks, wade through water, and climb up slippery, moss covered rocks.  We hiked The Subway for three hours before reaching the end.  The hike became visually appealing as we approached the end.  We stopped many times on the way to take pictures, but what I was most excited for was the end of the hike.  We had reached the end before the sun was fully over the mountain.  My roommate and I hiked into The Subway and were taken aback by the beauty.  It was amazing thinking about how it all formed.  It was very slippery due to the water and the moss covered ground.  Many holes had formed inside allowing pools to swirl and to flow and to make for a breathtaking experience.  I took a few photographs from inside as I knew it would be impossible to explain to people how amazing this was.  All the photos I took were handheld as I did not have a tripod with me.  If I had one I am sure I would have captured even more incredible photographs.  When I took the photo I wanted it to show the beauty of nature.  I wanted people to know that sometimes you have to go out of your way to capture something great.  I believe this photo encapsulates that perfectly.

I took this photo with my Canon Rebel EOS T5i, with the 18-55mm kit lens.  The focal length was at 30mm with an aperture of f/4.0.  ISO was set to 400.  I had the shutter speed at 1/25 as I wanted to capture the motion of the water and make it look a little like mist.  There was some post processing involved.  I lowered the exposure on the rocks and upped the contrast to bring out the formations.  This also brought out the water pool and the light coming in through the tunnel.  I saturated the green in the pool to make it stand out and also saturated the light in the tunnel to show how it shined through.  I cropped very little on the top so as to not detract from the photo.  I am very pleased with the final result.

About the Photographer:
My name is Ariel White and I am a senior at Northern Arizona University.  I will be graduating with a major in Electronic Media and Film (renamed to Creative Media and Film) and a minor in Photography.  I chose Photography as my minor because I felt it went hand in hand with my major.  Coming up with visually captivating photographs would work almost exactly for setting up scenes for a TV show or film.  I had always been interested in photography, but I never had the means nor the money to let my interest grow until Spring of 2014.  Once that camera was in my hands I knew it was something I would use throughout my life.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 162015

“Amanda: the Knowledge” photo copyright Don Olson

“Amanda: the Knowledge”
Although I photograph a variety of subjects, the human face fascinates me most. I usually shoot black and white for portraiture, and to reveal that certain inner essence that represents how I see the individual requires the model’s trust. We must reach a point in our session where we are just two people in conversation and the camera recedes from attention.

If you ask someone to look determined, or fierce, or elated, it will not work, in my experience. The photographer must elicit actual determination, ferocity, or elation. An actor who can completely and convincingly portray true emotion on cue scarcely exists outside of stage and screen, and in our media-saturated world, I think people find it difficult to react in a pure and genuine manner with a camera around—frequently we mimic what we have seen as the “correct” response that fits the zeitgeist and meets the perceived approval of our peers, or the photographer. I don’t want to capture a pose, but rather a personality.

Amanda Belles’ team recently won a competition at the “Hack Arizona” convention for a robot they built in just 36 hours. The robot teaches itself how to walk in varied terrain. Amanda wrote the software—the robot’s brain, in effect— with techniques from genetic programming, one aspect of her astounding intelligence revealed. And yet she is the most approachable, down-to-earth individual imaginable, quick to joke and laugh, and as agreeable a model as one could want for a portrait session.

ut the problem is exactly this. Amanda’s bright, wide smile, and her openness actually mask the fiercely curious, competitive, and incisive intelligence that compels this image. I had only ten minutes to get this particular shot, so I tried to make her laugh to reduce any nervousness—who can relax when a giant black camera with a massive piece of glass is thrust into one’s face? We changed locations for softer light, and I sensed that like a lot of people do when forced to pose for the camera, she began to lose interest. So I asked her something rather dumb.

It worked. She took just a moment to form her answer—too polite to call me an idiot—and I got the shot I wanted. In it, you see what sharp focus she possesses, and the hint of her smile reveals her amusement at someone—me—not quite so bright as she is. The intensity of her eyes mirrors her absolute clarity and confidence. Amanda shows this expression rarely, almost as if she wants to conceal her genius or that it embarrasses her, but irrepressibly, it breaks through.

Of course, people I photograph do not always love my pictures of them, which I understand. I don’t airbrush freckles, cowlicks, and the like out of a photo. I do not make idealized images of the physical form of the person, but instead seek what lies at the core. I find this far more beautiful than highly stylized, tone-perfect glorification that cannot exist without an army of stylists, art directors, and post-processors. I greatly admire such photography, but I search for something else. Some call it the “Leica look,” and photographers I revere, like Sebastião Salgado and Steve McCurry, heavily influence how I try to see.

In this session we used a Canon 5D Mk III and a 50mm 1.2L lens set to f/5.6. Typically portraits call for moderate telephoto lenses in the 70mm to 135mm range, but I use this particular 50mm for close portraits because I can remain at normal conversational distance as I shoot and it gathers enough light to control the depth of field to a ridiculous sliver, if necessary.

About the Photographer:
In the early 1970s I learned film photography, how to process and print in the darkroom. After a long hiatus from photography, I decided to tackle the new digital technology, but that ancient film experience comes in very handy. I still love street and portrait photography in black and white, but thoroughly enjoy the variety that digital allows without breaking the bank. I now take classes at Northern Arizona University as an irregular postgraduate to fill in the great gaps in my knowledge and to expand my artistic horizons.

After all, in the end only the image matters.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 152015

Photo copyright Rita DeBrodie

Man is a complicated creature, which is something that we are shown time and time again. One of the most important, defining characteristics of man is his ability to love. That is the concept I wanted to capture. This image is a very simplistic commentary on the two sides of love, the light and the dark. On the technical side, I am fascinated with the idea of sunbursts without sunlight. I used my external flash as the light source and bounced it off the inside of the subject. By positioning the flash unit inside the lid of my heart box, I was able to bounce a lot of that light around and create dramatic shadows that outline the shape of the lid. This also caused the white background to flood with the rich red color that dominates the photo. I faced this image with the idea of creating something vibrant and moody while only using one source of light. As you can see, the only light for my subject is the flash unit. The focal point of the image is the light burst, but what tells the real story is the sharp contrast between the textured red background and the stark black silhouette of the box lid. The tension created by these colors repeat on the right side of the image. The dark shadow of the box forms the heart’s shape and leads the eye right back to the brilliant light burst. The lines in the image move the eye around in a circle. That cycle is what I wanted to communicate, that life’s experiences have a way of coming back around and that love finds a way even in the darkest times.

I used a Canon Rebel T3i to capture this image. I set the f-stop to f/25, my exposure time was 1/30 of a second and I set the ISO to 800. I needed to keep my f-stop as low as possible to create that strong light burst effect. My lens is an 18 mm – 55 mm lens, and I captured this image with the lens set to about 28 mm. The flash unit that I used is a Neewer TT 560. I connected the flash unit to a Neewer FC-16 wireless receiver and had the transmitter attached to my camera so that the flash unit would trigger at the exact moment I needed it, especially important given my exposure time.  I used Adobe Lightroom as my post processing software. Within Lightroom, I cropped the image down to create a little more tension and cleaned up a few spots created by dust on my camera’s sensor.

About the Photographer:
My name is Rita DeBrodie. I am an Electronic Media and Film major at Northern Arizona University and my minor is Photography. My background is in small productions and screenwriting and I believe that often the smallest details are the most important. I face all cinemagraphic tasks with the eyes of a photographer, trying to capture that perfect moment with a subject and tell a story that will awe and enlighten an audience. I prefer small scenes that convey a larger meaning in photography and I use strong contrasts and leading lines to pull focus to my subjects.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!