Dec 012016
 
Catch You When You Fall

“Catch You When You Fall” || Serene fall colors in the meadow at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Fine art prints available – click on photo to order)

How many of you have photographed a gorgeous location only to arrive at home to say, “I didn’t really capture what I wanted” while reviewing your images? Ever had that sinking feeling while you are sipping coffee at your desk when you realize if you would have just moved to the left two feet or switch to a different lens, that would have made the image you wanted—and now there’s nothing you can do about it?  It’s a total bummer, isn’t it?

While reviewing your images on your computer, asking yourself what you could have done differently on your photo shoot will certainly lead to a refined understanding of your current photographic abilities and provide new ideas to try on your next shoot. However, your ability to resolve what you do not like about your photograph is limited to some cropping, exposure levels, and other processing software features. Otherwise, it is difficult to “fix” an image you spent all that time working on in the field, brought home, and then generally disliked.

The ideal time to conduct an initial critique on your work is when you are standing behind your camera in the field. When you analyze your photograph while you are in the process of making it, you give yourself the opportunity to resolve any issues at the time of capture.

After you set up a composition, review your photograph on the back of your LCD.  Check for obvious technical issues like exposure, white balance, depth of field, etc. Then (assuming the light is not fleeting or the jaguar is not disappearing into the woods), take a minute to conduct a quick critique on your image, specifically asking, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t you like about it?”

Pay attention to your answers! Increase the focus in your photograph on the elements you like. Then, fix or eliminate what you do not like. Repeat this process over and over until you have a frame you can say, “YES! I like everything in this photo!” Only then should you pick your tripod up and move on to another composition.

To give you an idea of how this works, here is the sequence of photographs I made which resulted in the marquee photo above titled, “Catch You When I Fall:”

Sequences of my RAW images that eventually resulted in “Catch Me When I Fall” (the photograph at the top of this post). Click on the photo to view larger.

Now, I typically have a difficult time seeing the trees through the forest (preferring instead to slap on a wide-angle lens and photograph the entire forest…). However, when I saw the colorful trees and leaves being cradled by the luscious grasses at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park in Maine this past autumn, I knew I wanted to make a more intimate image I titled, “Catch Me When I Fall” (which expressed the emotion I immediately felt when I saw the scene).

The landscape initially felt very busy to my eye, so I started with a classic horizontal composition with a birch tree in the bottom left corner of the Rule of Thirds grid and the leading lines of the grasses leading across the frame (image “_1110461.dng, or just #461 for short). After I snapped it, I asked myself, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t you like about it?” I loved the grasses and leaves, but the composition looked too forced and predictable. I also did not like how the subtle line of grasses led the eye essentially out of the frame without going anywhere interesting.

I moved my camera around slightly for image #462 and #463 to resolve those issues but in doing so, realized I had too much grass and not enough of the fall colors I enjoyed so much when I saw the scene. The balance of visual elements felt off.

I tilted my camera up slightly for image #464.

I checked my histogram, and the exposure was too dark so I added about 1/3 stop of light to lighten in #465.

Then I thought I might have too much of the grass in the foreground, which led to me walking into the scene about 10-12 feet to record image #466.

When I did so, however, I lost the leaves in the foreground which was a strong visual element critical to my composition. I decided if the horizontal orientation offered to much of the grass, a vertical orientation would reduce the amount. Hence, image #467.

I noted the image was underexposed, so added another third stop of light for image #468.

For #469, I tilted the camera up a little to position the leaves differently within the frame and emphasize the very subtle path of separated grasses takes from the foreground to the background through the trees. And to straighten my implied horizon. :) I liked this, though!

I could have stopped here (note that #469 and my final frame of #476 are quite similar), but being anal-retentive, I kept asking “what if…,” specifically, what if I moved the placement of the leaves within the frame starting with #470? I liked the leaves better, but I went too wide and started getting “UFO’s” (like distracting plant branches and berries on the left-hand side of my image, too many leaves in the bottom left corner). And my horizon was crooked. Again. So #471, 472, and 473.

As I adjusted my composition, the clouds had thickened and the natural light had decreased so I needed more light via my exposure so I clicked #474.

During the middle of my 13-second exposure, the breeze kicked up and moved the grasses. I knew instantly that would be a throw-away frame but checked my histogram anyhow.  That’s when I noticed the sky in the top right corner blinking at me. Rather than darken the whole exposure, I chose to angle my camera down towards the ground to eliminate it from my composition resulting in #475.

I still did not like the few leaves in the bottom left corner, so I made a small camera tilt to eliminate them in #476. Then a YES! I like everything about it! “Catch You When You Fall” came to life!

(This process should bring great comfort to those of you who think you’re too analytical, as I am–I tell you what, it pays to be picky in your photography!)

This might take one try or six hundred.  Regardless, don’t give up! Something grabbed your attention strongly enough to stop you in your tracks and wrestle with that dreaded tripod (be one with the tripod…)—and since you are the only person in the world who can see it like you do, it is worth putting the effort into polishing your personal visual expression.

Keep in mind that fixing what you do not like about a photograph relies heavily on the tools you have collected in your photographic “toolbox” (e.g. technical knowledge, familiarity with your camera, human perception). So, if you find yourself with a problem you do not know how to fix, do not get frustrated. This is simply a sign of where you might need to develop a new skill.

This approach is especially helpful when you stand in front of an overwhelming scene and simply do not know where to start. Like putting a pen to a blank sheet of paper and then editing the words later, snap “anything.” Then review your photograph and ask, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t I like about it?” Keep what you like; fix what you don’t. Rinse, lather, repeat.

In addition to helping you bring home images you like with greater consistency, over time, you will train your brain and eye to quickly notice key visual elements (like shape, color, light, form, pattern, balance, spatial relationship, etc.) you like and to disregard what you do not like more naturally, which will ultimately help you develop your own individual style.

Have you tried this approach before? If so, tell us what you like about it (and what you don’t like about it)!

Jun 222016
 

Amy Minton was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Amy’s work can be viewed on her website at www.amymintonphotography.com.

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Winter is a beautiful time of the year and offers many opportunities for outdoor photo shoots.  My camera, however, hibernates in winter.  Well, at least that was the case before I participated in Colleen’s workshop, “Winter in Acadia:  A Creative Photography Retreat,” this past February.   By the end of the workshop, I was very happy that I took my camera out of hibernation and returned to Acadia National Park.  Now, not only do I possess confidence to shoot outdoors in winter (and in fact have done so – post-workshop), but also I learned about the creative process and its influence on my photography as well as history, geology, and wildlife within and around Acadia National Park.

Blueberry Hill

This image was made on a very chilly morning (-17 wind chill), which may be the reason why I wanted to create an image with this lone tree located near the Blueberry Hill Parking Area.  To me, loneliness feels “cold,” and at the time, despite being appropriately dressed for the winter conditions, I was cold.  So, while standing there, I imagined that this tree was also feeling alone during the cold sunrise as it looked out toward the other trees on Schoodic Island.  I wondered if the tree longed to join the other trees on the island, or maybe it wanted to invite the trees to join him on Schoodic Peninsula, a.k.a. “the quiet side of Acadia.”

 

Otter Cliff

Face of Otter Cliff.   I usually don’t think of a title for an image when at a location, but while at Boulder Beach (Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island) the snow and ice coating the rocks at Otter Cliff appeared to reveal a face.  At time, I wondered if it was only during the winter season that the face is exposed.  If so, then add it to one more experience of the unique beauty of Acadia National Park in winter.

 

Wildlife

The harbor seals in this image were spotted resting, presumably on a rocky outcropping exposed at low tide, in Wonsquak Harbor.  I am sharing this image because it represents one of the many forms of wildlife that was seen during my photo adventure.   In addition to the harbor seals, I watched a seagull drop, while in flight, drop a mussel onto the road in order to crack the protective shell, and then, gain access to the mussel inside (I had never seen that before).  There were also a variety of mammal and bird tracks in the snow, but the “coolest” tracks, in my opinion, were the river otter tracks.  Despite not actually seeing the river otter(s) (unlike the workshop participants the week before my group), I thought it was amazing to see the paw prints in the snow and then see where the otter slid on it’s belly on top of the snow.  It still makes me smile when I think about that river otter running along the snow and then sliding on its belly before he reached the waters edge and began to forage for food.  I suspect the river otter made a game of it along his way.

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Jun 222016
 

Dixie Pearson was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Dixie’s work can be viewed on her website at dixiegirl.smugmug.com.

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Winter in Acadia gave me the opportunity to be truly alone with the landscape.   Through Colleen’s excellent guidance, I was able to “turn off” my thoughts, and listen to my surroundings.

I learned to make mindful observations of the landscape. Here are just a few of my observations:

  • The crashing of the waves and the whistling of the wind during our first day of shooting at Schoodic Point.
  • The snow and ice forming “ice pillows” over rocks at Duck Brook.
  • The myriad ice formations, rising and breaking around us at West Pond Cove.
  • The sound of the pebbles, like tiny bamboo xylophones, tumbling in the surf as each wave recedes at Boulder Beach.

Here are 3 of my images, with accompanying haikus, from our trip:

the icy brook flows
forever echoing change
possibilities

Duck Brook

 

tree on craggy shore
arms raised in supplication
granite sky warning

Boulder Beach

 

veiled light revealing
the sun’s fickle winter gaze
how I see has changed

Sunrise, Blueberry Hill

What an incredible opportunity it was to capture such an amazing place in winter. I can truly say that it was well worth braving the elements~just dress warmly and enjoy!

Thank you!

Dixie Pearson

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Jun 202016
 

Rebecca Wilks was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Rebecca’s work can be viewed on her website www.skylineimages.net and her blog at theviewfromtheskyline.blogspot.com.

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Another fabulous workshop with Colleen Miniuk-Sperry has come to an end too soon.  I’d been to (and Around) Acadia National Park with her twice before, but never in the winter.  Of course our little group knew we couldn’t predict what the weather would bring in February for safe travels or for photography.  We were fortunate.  Temps were well above freezing the week before and after our time there, but we saw wind chill temps below minus 20.  Yes, we were slow-moving, sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally whiny.  We were fortunate though, since the colder temps are much more conducive to photographing snow and ice, which we did with joy.

Colleen has asked each of us to contribute a few favorite images with our thoughts.

One morning along East Schoodic Drive I was following the trail of a fox in the deep snow.  I looked up and was struck by the graphic quality of evergreen trees with ice plastered to their trunks on one side.  As Colleen often encourages students to do, I pondered what attracted me to the scene.  There’s a literal narrative here about the strength of the storm the night before, but also universal truths about perseverance and the fresh start that comes with the dawn.  Oh, and I think it’s pretty.

We drove twice to Mount Desert Island, where the larger and more visited (though not so much in the winter) part of the park lies.  My favorite shots there were at Duck Brook, where fanciful ice formations resembling pillows, chandeliers, and sea creatures had formed above a retreating flood.  The texture of the ice fascinates me still.

Somehow on this trip, I often found myself shooting in the opposite direction from my friends.  Here’s an example along Park Loop Road.  They were making lovely images of a snow-covered Boulder Beach, but I was captivated by the coast in the other direction with their curves echoed by the high tide line and mountains as well as the sense of power in the waves.

I can’t wait for a chance to do it again.

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Feb 242016
 
The Night Conceals and Reveals

“The Night Conceals and Reveals” || A faint winter Milky Way appears above the illuminated shoreline (painted with a flashlight affectionately referred to as “Big Bertha”) along the western side of the Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

The setting sun unfurls a silky sheet of sparkling black satin across the evening sky. Within the opaque darkness, my rental car’s headlights illuminate slivers of Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula’s pristine landscape. Though momentarily blind to its beauty due to my late arrival from Arizona, I distinctly know what I am missing. Over countless visits—thanks to serving three stints as an Acadia Artist-in-Residence, leading numerous photography workshops, and enjoying personal time—since November 2009, I have come to know these surroundings as well as a doting mother knows her own child.

I pull off at the paved pullout immediately to the south of the historic bridge over Mosquito Harbor and step anxiously into the moonless night. I peacefully close my eyes (though it makes no difference) and quietly eavesdrop on nature’s concealed conversations. The air instantly fills with familiarity. Andante splashes against the granite shoreline sing of a flooding incoming high tide. The crackling crunch beneath my feet suggest seagulls eagerly dropped mussels like bombs against the asphalt to break open their tasty treat earlier in the day. The gentle breeze reveals a salty scent of fresh life precariously balanced with musty death on the delicate knifelike edge of land and sea.

I return to my vehicle to continue reuniting with old friends. Along the way, I wave to the granite outcroppings shaped like cupcakes and now isolated by the high waters. I wink at the Winter Harbor Lighthouse and think to myself, “We have so many stories to catch up on.” I slow my speed while passing by my favorite winter photography spot, West Pond Cove. I hear the waves slurping against the rocky coast. I grin deviously and declare, “Just wait until you ice over. I have big plans for you, me, and my camera then.”

After I park in the vacant lot at Schoodic Point and turn my headlamp on, I excitedly bolt to the boulders frosted with winter’s thin icing. Despite being bundled in all the warm clothes I own, I still shiver, sending the warm desert blood pulsing through my veins to my chilled fingers and toes. With a fervent tingle in my gut, I knock at the wind and announce gregariously, “It’s me! I’m back!”

Wasting no time, Poseidon answers, emerging from the sea as majestically as the rising moon breaks free from the low-lying clouds hugging the horizon. Ignoring the unyielding granite cliffs separating me from his ocean home, his soft fingers curl around the rocks and tickle my soul, spinning me in a joyous pirouette. We waltz together for a few minutes, and though the hushed music never stops playing, I pause to offer an overly dramatic balletic bow in reverence.

Then the silence speaks the words a long-lost lover longs to hear: “Welcome home. I’ve missed you.”

Oct 232015
 
Whispers in the Water

“A Whisper in the Water” || Jordan Stream, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available – click on photo to purchase yours!)

“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”  ~Elizabeth Lawrence

While Acadia National Park no doubt possesses grand beauty, I oftentimes find myself marveling (sometimes for hours and hours…) at the little details and moments that make the landscapes so special.  While sauntering along Jordan Stream on my final day in the park last week (on my most recent two-week stay), magical reflections dancing in a small pool absolutely entranced me.  Thanks to a variety of trees donning their fall colors beneath a blue sky opposite of where I stood, the palette of colors – reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and blues – changed constantly on top of the water.  I could have watched this interplay of light and hues all evening, but I knew I had to make a photo of this!

As I put my 100-400mm lens on my tripod, I decided I needed a little faster shutter speed to keep the undulating water from rending too much motion in the final photo.  However, I was photographing underneath a canopy of trees (in shade) in late afternoon light.  In other words, I did not have a lot of natural light available.  That’s an easy enough challenge, but I also had a polarizing filter stuck on the front of my lens (for almost two years now; I have tried it all, it is not budging) which meant I would lose one to two stops of light as a result.

Considering my circumstances, I settled on my widest aperture of f/5.6 and an ISO speed of 1600, which yielded a 1/40th of a second shutter speed.  Not as fast as I would have liked, but I was not willing to bump my ISO speed to 3200 to get to 1/80th of a second.  With how slow the water was moving, in the difference between those two settings would have been inconsequential – and would have increased the noise/grain in the final image.

After snapping numerous frames of just the water reflections, I evaluated my results.  I liked the general concept of the wave movement, colors, and light, but in the end, felt the images lacked some structure.

As I observed the colors and patterns change, nearby eddy would occasionally push leaves into my composition.  Sometimes a clump of five or six would enter my frame; on a few occasions, only one would pass through.  As they would float by, I felt like they were subtle whispers or messages crossing momentarily through reflections.  I originally kept them out of my frame because I was not sure if I could render them sharp enough with my shutter speed.  I figured I would give it a shot (or two or two hundred) though…it’s only pixels after all.  And they put the Delete button on the back of the camera for a reason, right? Right!

At first, I tracked a few leaves using autofocus, thinking that would be the fastest way to ensure the leaves rendered sharp.  I missed a bunch of great opportunities as my lens kept zooming in and out, trying unsuccessfully to pick up the requisite contrast to focus on in the ripples.  So I returned to manual focus and tried to track the leaves with my camera as they’d cross my view.  But trying to focus while tracking on a tripod became a comical exercise.  I could not hand-hold the camera steady enough at 1/40th of a second to get a sharp image.  Generally, you want your shutter speed to be faster than 1/focal length of your lens to ensure sharp images while hand-holding the camera.  In my case, this meant 1/400th of a second or faster…theoretically, I could have increased my ISO significantly, but again at the expense of much grain.

Instead of taking my camera off the tripod, I decided on a different approach – one I use while photographing people in the environment ironically.  I composed my frame with my desire background of the reflections, and then simply waited (and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited….) for a leaf to come into my frame.  As Elizabeth Lawrence’s quote above suggests, I sat still and watched the leaves turn along the stream.  This experience alone was worth my time; if a photo resulted, it would be simply be more proverbial gravy on a heaping pile of delectable mashed potatoes.

Within the 70 attempts I made as various collections and individuals of leaves roaming through my composition, I managed to create the photograph of a single leaf (see above), one I titled “A Whisper in the Water” because of my emotional connection with it.  I really liked the lone leaf, as it conveyed more serenity and calmness than the groupings of leaves did – and helped express the concept of “whispers” I wanted to share.

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 100-400mm at 400mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6 at 1/40th sec., polarizer (by necessity, not choice, which did nothing for my photo other than slow it down).

Want to learn more about photographing Jordan Stream and other beautiful locations in Acadia National Park? Pick up an autographed copy of my guidebook Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How at www.photoacadia.com.

Jan 032015
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethereal Decay

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

A Frozen Universe

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

 

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

A Single Triumph of Summer

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

 

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

Sequential Erosion

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

 

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

The Storm Within

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

 

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

Where the Wind Blows

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

 

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

Psychedelic Sunset Surprise

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

 

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

What's SUP, Mom?

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

 

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

The Network

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

 

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

Schoodic Serenity

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

 

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

What Lies Ahead

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

 

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

Mud Tetris

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

 

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

Winter Greetings

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

 

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

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

Keep shooting!
~Colleen

 

Dec 122014
 
The Network_BW

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Network scene

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

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

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

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

The color original of "The Network"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Colleen

Dec 102014
 
In the Storm

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

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

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

Wheels in Montana_CGCC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maine_Acadia National Park_00226_original

The original color image of “In the Storm”

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow – Day 2!

~Colleen

Dec 042014
 

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

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

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

Some images from the trip:

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

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

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

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

Thanks for everything!!
Rebecca Wilks