Sep 252013
 
AHWP Womens Retreat_Silly

In accordance with tradition on all of my photography workshops, our group poses for a “silly” group photo on the shoreline of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

This past weekend, 17 enthusiastic women embarked on a remarkable four-day photographic journey to Page, Arizona on the third Arizona Highways Photography Workshops(AHPW), “Women’s Photography Retreat.”  Offered in a different location each year, this year our group marveled not only at classic locations like Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon, but also lesser-known spots like the depths of Glen Canyon on the Colorado River from a jumbo raft and the geological “teepees” of Little Cut.

AHPW_WPR_Everyones Own Vision

Everyone following their own vision while rafting down the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, Arizona.

During our location visits and classroom sessions, we reviewed photography techniques like conveying time through slowing our shutter speeds, getting closer to our foreground subjects and maximizing our depth-of-field, and taking test shots at high ISO speeds to determine the proper settings for long exposures of the night sky.  We also held discussions about we can gain inspiration from learning about the history of women in photography as well as how women photographers may see differently.  In between, we swapped “interesting” life stories (some involving things like cats and microwaves…) and loads of belly-aching laughs.  But most importantly, this workshop is – and has always been – about empowering women to try new things by pushing the limits of what we think we’re capable of in both photography and life.

Although the entire experience was unforgettable, what will certainly go down as one of my favorite memories of my photography career is our hike and night photography session at the Toadstools hoodoos in Utah. To watch the women light paint, photograph the Milky Way, and then hike back in the dark under the full moon light – all experiences some had never had until this past weekend – was incredibly rewarding.

We set out about an hour and a half before sunset to allow ample time to wander among this geologically rich area.  After photographing the hoodoos bathed in direct sunlight at sundown, the group refueled during our picnic dinner before starting our night’s activities.

AHPW_WPR_Wiggle the Pickle

While waiting for the night sky to fall and the moon to rise, we ate a picnic dinner on the rocks. Somehow, this led to a suggestion to “wiggle your pickle.” And if you’re going to wiggle your pickle among a group of photographers, someone is bound to get “THE” shot of everyone wiggling their pickle!

Since many of the ladies had never photographed in the dark or painted with light, we began with a quick introductory session around one of the clusters of hoodoos.  In a line, we focused (figuratively and literally) on composing the frame before losing daylight.  As the sun fell well below the horizon, the entire group tested their exposure settings starting at ISO 1600, an f/8 aperture, and 30 seconds shutter speed – an arbitrary setting to serve as a starting point for how much light our camera would collect during that time frame.  Based on the histogram, we could add or subtract light accordingly to record our vision.

As soon as everyone dialed to the right settings and achieved sharp focus, I counted “1-2-3″ and everyone snapped the shutter at the same time.  During the exposure, I painted the hoodoos from the left side with about five to seven seconds of light from a strong LED flashlight.  After the exposure, we all reviewed our histogram to determine whether our cameras had collected enough ambient light and flash light.  Then, we’d repeat.

After a number of snaps, a large, unsightly shadow line revealed itself at the base of the tallest hoodoo.  Because the neighboring smaller hoodoo prevented the flash light from hitting the taller hoodoo, the light needed to originate from the front – not the side.  Because of the longer exposure, I could solve this minor problem by running into the frame with my flashlight while the group’s shutters were released.

On my first attempt, I painted the hoodoos from the side for a few seconds and then danced into the frame (“Like a gazelle!”), painting the tallest hoodoo at the base to eliminate the shadow.   A quick review of the photos indicated the tallest hoodoo had received an excessive amount of light, so we needed to repeat the process with less flash light time.

On the next attempt, one second I was painting the hoodoos as I had down countless times before.  The next second, I was chewing on sand.  By taking a slight deviation to the right in my path in order to distance myself and my flash from the hoodoos to achieve less light, my right foot dropped into a two-foot deep trench and my entire body fell forward into the higher ground on the opposite side.  Not wanting to ruin the entire group’s photo, I yelled, “I’m OK!  KEEP SHOOTING!!”

(The hilarity of this statement becomes more evident when you consider the entire group had released their shutter for 30 seconds, making any adjustments to their shot impossible.  What were they going to do then?  Change their ISO?!)

With the flash light still moving in my right hand, I used my left hand to pick myself up so that I could continue running across the frame to paint the shadow area with light.  After the exposure completed and many laughs about my tumble, “Keep shooting!” quickly became our trip’s motto.

And what a fitting rally cry this was not only for this trip and all the AHPW Women’s Photography Retreats, but also for life in general.  When something brings you down, hose yourself off, get up, and try again.  When something gets in your way, walk around it.  When something does not go the way you hoped, try something else.  No matter the situation or obstacle, personal growth and success comes when we keep going.  Keep trying.  And always KEEP SHOOTING!

~Colleen

P.S. If you or someone you know would like to join us on the next AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat in Verde Valley/Sedona in April 2014, visit the AHPW website at ahpw.org/workshops/2014/Sedona-Arizona-Womens-Photo-Retreat-2014-04-25/ for more information and to register.  This workshop sells out quickly, so if you’re interested, I’d consider registering as soon as possible to reserve your spot!

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!)

Mar 212013
 
UMEAC-00032_c

Ride With Me,” Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Of all the images I’ve created thus far, the one I get questioned the most about is, by a landslide, “Ride With Me” in Acadia National Park in Maine.  I’m frequently asked, “Where was the camera?” and “And how did you snap the picture with both hands on the handlebars?”

Though I captured the image above during my second Artist-in-Residence with the park in October 2010, my visualizations for this image started almost a year earlier in November 2009 during my first residency.  In the months leading up to my first visit, I read a wonderful book by Ann Rockefeller Roberts titled, “Mr. Rockefeller’s Roads:  The Untold Stories of Acadia’s Carriage Roads.”  Concerned the “new” automobile would threaten the natural beauty and affect the quiet, peacefulness Mount Desert Island provided him, his family, and fellow community members, John Rockefeller, Jr. envisioned setting aside land to establish a network of carriage roads limited to only carriage riders, drivers, and pedestrians could utilize for recreational purposes. By 1940, a 57-mile system of carefully designed and developed carriage roads existed for exactly that purpose.

Inspired by this story,  as I turned each page, I started to piece together the kind of photograph I wanted to make when I arrived and experienced the phenomenal carriage roads for myself.  As soon as I made it to Acadia in November, I hit the carriage roads on foot or by bicycle, traveling almost every length of the 45-miles within the park boundaries.  Occasionally, I stopped to make a photograph or two or ten or fifty.  I felt I was capturing “nice,” technically acceptable photographs along the way but never truly felt I had captured something that did this unique feature within Acadia justice.

Poor Carriage Road Shot - ExampleThe photo to the right was honestly the best I brought home.  Does this inspire anyone to go to Acadia and see the carriage roads for themselves?  I’m guessing a resounding NO!!  This shot is just, well, really sad…

Now once you have a spark of enthusiasm or even a semblance of an idea, don’t give up on it!  I had the fortunate opportunity to return to Acadia in October 2010, so I had precisely 10 months to analyze what went wrong in the first attempt and design an approach that would yield the type of image I wanted to capture on the carriage roads.

I wanted to share how much fun it was to hike and bike along these paths, so I decided I would show myself in motion.  I’m not a fast walker, and so help me, I do not run ever (unless someone is chasing me or is giving away free cameras across the field…) so I planned to create the image while on a moving bike with a slower shutter speed to imply movement and speed.  I could hold the camera in one hand up to my eye while keeping one hand on the handlebars to render an OK image, but that approach seemed doomed for certain disaster for clumsy ol’ me.  I needed both hands on the handlebars, but how would I trigger the shutter?

I mulled my idea over with my husband, who promptly suggested I research what skydivers do to trigger the shutter when they throw their crazy selves out of planes with both hands free.  Hmmmm, yes…I found a company online, Conceptus, who made switches for just this reason!  So I traveled to one of their distributors in Eloy, Arizona to pick up my tongue-switch, a cable-release that would plug into the camera and would allow me to trigger the shutter hands-free with my tongue!  After just a few clicks, I knew this tool would certainly help me capture my vision!

With fresh enthusiasm for my idea, I returned to Acadia and started biking the autumn-kissed, tree-lined carriage roads with my camera strapped to my mid-section with a basic strap, my camera manually focused at infinity, my lens set at 16mm for a wide-angle perspective, and of course, my tongue switch in my mouth!  I’d bike as fast as I could downhill, experimenting with various shutter speeds to render just enough motion but not so much it looked like the stars when the Millennium Falcon went into hyperspace mode.

Six-hundred shots later- only four of which turned out to my liking – and I can confidentially say this photograph, “Ride With Me” is exactly how I felt about enjoying the carriage roads and perhaps more importantly, it conveys exactly what I wanted to share with my viewers about that special feeling.  I hope this photograph does inspire you to go to Acadia and see the carriage roads yourself!  Truly, as the title expresses, I wanted you to ride with me.

Whether you’re photographing from a bike, an airplane, or with your two feet solidly planted on the ground, remember to look at your image on the back of your LCD before you move yourself or your tripod to be sure what you’ve captured is exactly what you envisioned and wish to share with your audience.  If you don’t, you’re cheating yourself and your audience out of something very important you have to say about the scene in front of you.  Work the scene by moving your position, changing lens, using light differently, modifying your exposure settings, applying filters, or whatever else you can do to ensure you capture that vision. And like I suggested earlier, once you have an idea pop into your head or you see something in the field that excites you, don’t walk away or give up until you’ve recorded it with your pixels!

Technical info:  Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm at 16mm, ISO 50, f/20 @ 1/5th of a second, polarizer, triggered by Conceptus tongue-switch, basic post-processing.

Jan 042013
 

New for 2013, we're pleased to introduce our new Print of the Month Collection!

Here's how this works:  Each month, I'll select one featured photograph, and for the duration of that month only, that selected photo will be available for sale at 30% OFF any size and style print!  In addition to your print, you'll also receive a one-page write-up on the story behind the photograph, which will include specific location information, technical details, and photography tips.

To order the print of the month, visit our new 2013 Print of the Month gallery, select that month's photo, click Add to Cart, select the size and style you desire, and then enter the coupon code provided above the photograph during the checkout process.

Without further ado, I'm excited to share that our most recent photograph, titled “Winter Solstice Eve” from Canyonlands National Park, Utah is CMS Photography's very first Print of the Month!  Now thru January 31, 2013, if you use coupon code 13JANPOM1, you'll receive 30% off this print in any size and style!

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Viewed from the Green River Overlook, the sun sets over Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order & use coupon code 13JANPOM1 to receive your 30% discount now thru January 31, 2013!)

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