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 dictionary.com.

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,
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
Unknown.

 

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”

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

Home.
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?