Dec 112014
 
Down by the Sea (monochromatic version)

Day 2: “Down by the Sea,” European beach grass lines the sandy shore at Pistol River State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

In my post yesterday’s “Day 1: The Black and White Challenge:  “In the Storm”, I introduced the Facebook Black and White Challenge (and my participation in it).  In this fun exercise, a person posts a black and white photograph on his or her Facebook page each day for five days.  Then, he or she challenge someone else to do the same each of those days.

For my Day 2 entry, I’m jumping from the Maine coast to the Oregon coast (my two loves)!

A cancellation in my schedule this past September left me with a rare 10-day time frame completely free of commitments.  With this gift, I did what any sane outdoor photographer would do:  I hopped into my truck and drove 22-hours from Arizona to the southern coast of Oregon!  (What we’ll do for love, huh?)

I have spent much time wandering the Oregon coastline over the years, but the majority of that time I spent happened in the more accessible middle and northern sections.  However, every time I drove from Gold Beach to Brookings (usually to visit northern California and other southerly locales), I said to myself, “If I ever have a week or two weeks to spare, I’m coming here to explore!”  So, by traveling so far, I wasn’t losing my mind; I was merely fulfilling my promise.

One of the many highlights from my impromptu road trip included exploring the Pistol River State Park.  For my first few visits, I did not make any photographs but rather simply soaked in what this special place had to offer.  Sure, some photographic ideas popped into my head, but they needed some time to simmer.

Towards the end of my trip, a nasty storm socked the coast in for a couple days.  I continued my explorations and made some new images in various locales north of Brookings, much of it in blissful solitude, even at the more popular stops.  After all, it was only rain!  (Have the Oregon coast to myself?  Don’t mind if I do!)

When the weather forecasts suggested the system might break (which was timed coincidentally with the next sunset), I headed back to Pistol River area for one final visit before returning home to the desert.  With the light dancing in and out of swiftly-moving clouds, I knelt on the sand beside clusters of European beach grass.  Using my visualizations as my guide (but modifying my original idea to respond to the fleeting lighting conditions), I adjusted my composition so as to achieve balance between the grasses, sand, sea stacks, and the ever-changing sky.

Through a wide-angle lens (i.e. 20mm) I used an ISO 100 and an aperture of f/16 with a shutter speed of 1/13 second.  I chose these specific settings to help balance my need for extensive depth of field and the perpetual movement in the grasses given the prevailing winds (which was strong enough to keep the beach grasses waving, but not enough to keep the animal and human footprints from disappearing in the sand).  Because of my close proximity of my camera to the grasses,  I would have liked to have used f/22 to see an extensive depth of field.  However, after experimenting with the slower shutter speed that setting caused, I didn’t like way the grasses appeared in the photo (too much movement and way too soft).

So I took a small step back from the grasses, set f/16 (still needed extensive DOF), and tried again with a 1/13th second shutter speed.  I really liked the combination of still and moving grasses this rendered – frozen enough to see what it was, but blurred enough to see the wind was moving.   Theoretically, if I wanted to freeze the motion of the grasses (which was not my goal), I could have bumped the ISO up to ~400 or 640, took another step back, opened my aperture to f/11 or f/8, and snapped away with a faster shutter speed.

My three-stop graduated neutral density filter helped to bring out detail in the clouds, but also darkened the off-shore rocks in the background. This resulted in the following color photograph (post continues after photo):

Down by the Sea

The original “Down by the Sea” in color (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

I definitely did not visualize converting this image to black and white when I snapped the shutter.  I did not even consider it when I arrived home and began processing the photos.  However, the Black and White Challenge caused me to rethink my approach with my pictures.  As I sorted through my images for this exercise, I had some interesting philosophical conversations with myself on things like, “How do various color impact a scene?” “What makes an effective black and white image?”  “How can I use both color and monochromatic techniques to improve my visual messages?”  When I experimented with converting this image to black and white, I felt like I was dusting off my traditional darkroom tools developed 11 years ago and putting them back into use to expand my creative toolbox today.

The monochromatic treatment emphasized the light and shadows alternating and working together in layers across the scene, more so than in the color version.  While I could have lightened the sea stacks in the background during post-processing (to overcome the underexposure from the graduated neutral density filter), I did the opposite.  I intentionally darkened the rocks in the monochromatic version to serve as a more dominant backdrop.  I felt this matched the more aggressive mood in the sky.  Both the darker backdrop and sky served as a juxtaposition to the more flowing, gentle grasses highlighted by a ray of sun in the foreground.

What do you think? Do you prefer the color or monochromatic version?  Why?  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Since he started me on this challenge, I now re-nominate Floris van Breugel to finish his Black and White Challenge.  Only two more photographs to go, Floris!  You can do it!

Stay tuned for Day 3, thanks for stopping by,

~Colleen

Jun 042013
 
Washed Up

“Moved by the Sea,” Cape Blanco State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

With the blissful freedom to choose “where ever I want to go” for my photographic outings, I normally select my photographic destinations based on a number of factors, including, but certainly not limited, to the specific visualizations I’ve developed for a location or subject, the anticipated weather, and seasonal considerations (e.g. wildflower blooms, fall colors).

With that in mind, I ventured to Redwoods National Park in northern California last week in hopes I’d catch the tail end of the rhododendron (affectionately referred to as “rhodies”) bloom.  A storm brewed off-shore in the days prior to my scheduled departure, and I kept my fingers crossed that photogenic inclement weather like light mist and fog would help me record images with vibrant pink blossoms offset by the towering, gi-normous redwood trees.

Over the course of three days, though, the dark stormy skies unleashed in unrelenting, non-stop downpours. The storm arrived onshore earlier than predicted.  On top of Mother Nature dumping buckets, the number of rhodies on the ground far, far exceeded the number of blooms remaining on their lanky branches.

After making the most of the few rhodies still intact and with 100% chance of rain forecasted for my fourth and final day, I decided to seek refuge in a drier place along the southern Oregon coast.  I had no final destination in mind for the evening and made the decision that I would start looking for a campsite around 5 pm, wherever my travels took me.

Under partially clearing skies, I arrived at a lovely forested spot in the Cape Blanco State Park just after my arbitrary deadline.  Mentally exhausted from my Redwoods trip, I thought a casual stroll along the beach at Cape Blanco would refocus my creative thoughts.  One whiff of the ocean breeze as I hiked down the steep hill to the shoreline was all it took to rejuvenate my soul. (Oh, how I love the ocean!).

From a distance, I spotted this long bull kelp resting on the shoreline. Likely a remnant of the last high tide, as I approached it, I wondered where the sea would take it the next high tide.  Where had it been before this evening?  Where would it go in the days ahead?   Would it remain here and dry out?  Like me at this moment, it had no set, pre-defined destination.  It went where ever the waves and winds took it.

Now connected with this wandering whip, I knew I needed to record an image of it.  Watching the next storm develop on the horizon, I set up my camera with my wide-angle lens.  One snap to confirm my composition and exposure revealed the need for some adjustments.  I repositioned my tripod to intentionally align the bull kelp with the parting line in the sky, placing it in the middle of the frame and breaking the “rule of thirds” on purpose.  I then needed to balance the exposure difference between the land and sky with a three-stop graduated neutral density filter.

Pleased with the results but wanting to see how different light would affect the outcome, I waited for sunset in hopes the sun would poke out one last time before disappearing.  The skies parted gloriously for a mere seven minutes about 8:30 pm (sunset officially occurred at 8:48 pm).  Though the beach received warm, glowing sidelight, the clouds’ shape had changed completely to a flat, even, overcast sky.  When comparing the two results, I preferred the earlier version which appears above.

As I trudged back up the hill to my campsite and considered how well my “casual stroll” along the beach turned out, I recalled one of my favorite Ansel Adams quotes: “Every man’s work is always a portrait of himself.”  Reflecting not just the serendipitous moment but also my experience during this particular photographic adventure, I decided to title this image, “Moved by the Sea.”

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm at 16mm, ISO 50, f/22 at 1.3 seconds, three-stop graduated neutral density filter, basic post processing.

May 162013
 
Waves of Change

“Waves of Change,” Ecola State Park (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Almost eight years ago to the day, Craig and I celebrated the end of our first temporary stay in Oregon by standing on the headland at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach.

Sunset at Indian Beach

“Sunset at Indian Beach” from 2005 (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

I remember that evening in 2005 so vividly, I can still feel the memory today:  The gentle ocean breeze.  The smell of the tide change.  The warmth of the setting sun.  Two of the photographs I captured that evening – with my Contax 645 medium format film camera – now rest above our bed in our Arizona home to serve as a daily reminder of one of our favorite places and moments along the Oregon coast.

Months ago, as we prepared for our second temporary stay in Oregon, a rush of thoughts overwhelmed my mind based on our first experience.  Where to go, when to go, what to see, who to see, and how to record such ample and different beauty in Oregon. As they say, “So many places to see, so little time.” The list of places to see and things I want to do became longer than a child’s Christmas list.

Sea Stack Sunset

“Sea Stack Sunset” from 2005 (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Despite the seemingly endless new photographic opportunities this transition presented, I decided to start my photographic journey in Oregon in the same place I left off:  on the headland at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park.  It’s a place I’d been countless times before, and yet when I arrived on Tuesday morning, nothing, nothing, looked the same as 2005.

Upon coming to the realization that nothing, nothing, had remained the same, I smiled as big as the little girl who got everything she wished for on December 25.  In that instance, I mouthed the words as the wind whispered, “No man ever steps in same river twice, for it is not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  ~Heraclitus.

(Turns out Heraclitus’ quote applies to oceans and women too!)

I couldn’t have been happier to learn that in eight years, everything, everything, has changed.  Mother Nature altered the landscape such that I can no longer stand in the same place as I did before, thanks to landslides.   Those landslides pushed new rocks into the ocean, and each wave crashed a little differently on those new sea stacks.  It’s not possible for me to re-create the same compositions I did in 2005, even if I wanted to-I didn’t.

On top of significant natural changes and differing light/weather, I’m thankfully not the same person, photographer, artist that stood on that headland before.  I replaced my film camera long ago with two generations of digital cameras.  I now know what to do with a graduated neutral density filter.   I’ve embraced my love affair with the coast, despite living in the desert.  Endless experiences – conversations, readings, successes, failures, travels, and other inspirations – have challenged and changed my perspectives over time so that when I look at a scene I’ve seen before, I’m looking through an entirely different lens.

Ansel Adams summed it best:   “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Hang On!

“Hang On!” Ecola State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Whether we know it or not, as time passes, we and the world around us are constantly changing.  But, neither change nor creativity needs to be a passive activity.  If we seek to create new images in the same spots, we must change as a person.  Simply buying a new lens won’t cut it.  Oh sure, new gear can help execute new visions, but we need to start with new ideas and make different associations among the knowledge we already possess to see, and ultimately photograph, something new in places we’ve already been once or a hundred times.

Consciously and subconsciously, we can gain fresh thoughts everywhere and anytime, not just while photographing.  Some ideas how:

  • Reverse engineer photos you like to understand the process they used to achieve a specific result.  How’d they do it?  Then how would you do it differently?
  • Keep asking “what if.”  What if you used a different lens?  What if you climbed the hill for a more aerial perspective?  What if you saw the ocean as the desert, metaphorically speaking?
  • Devour books.  Not just photography books, but anything that tickles your passion and stimulates your brain.
  • Listen to music, watch movies, attend plays.  And then think about how you can incorporate the concepts and ideas you hear, see, and experience into your photography.
  • Talk with and exchange ideas with others.  Not just other photographers, but also those who know nothing about photography, who explore other activities and fields you enjoy, and think differently than you.  Surround yourself with people who know more than you.
  • Screw up.  Often.  Then learn from the experience to develop even more new ideas.
  • Engage with your environment.  An experience you have in one location can help trigger ideas in a different location.  Ride a bike, go for a hike, take a field-based class – whatever gets you closer to your subject.

So last Tuesday, I brought with me to Indian Beach all my experiences from spending 90+ days in Acadia National Park in Maine over the last four years, every critique I’ve conducted during all the photography workshops I teach, the entire process of writing a book about Arizona wildflowers, and more simply, even the songs I heard on the radio as I drove to Ecola State Park, among so many other things.  And as a result, my photographs look nothing, nothing, like they did in 2005.

What other tips do you have to see the same place with fresh eyes?

Spring Emergence

“Spring Emergence,” False lily-of-the-valley at Ecola State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)