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 152014
 
OR_Nehalem Bay State Park_00002_BW_c

Day 4: “Spellbound by Sand.”Sand dunes in wind-swept patterns on the beach at Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

After seeing how much texture the black and white conversion brought out in my Day 2 Black and White Challenge submission, “Down by the Sea“–and liking it!–I decided to try dropping the color out on other Oregon coast shots I had made.  I dug up  a few photos, including a vertical image called, “Spellbound by Sand” (some might recognize its horizontal sister image, “The Constancy of Change“) from my wanderings at Nehalem Bay State Park from two summers ago:

Spellbound by Sand

The original color version of “Spellbound by Sand.” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

With the setting sun approaching the horizon, the light and shadows seemed to literally dance across the sand dunes.  The howling and unrelenting wind added to this effect, of course (and kept the area free of footprints!).  Focused on emphasizing this perception, I positioned my tripod about waist-high and pointed my wide-angle lens (i.e. 16mm) down towards the dunes.  The distorted perspective allowed me to seemingly elongated the lines in the sand and to fill the frame with my primary subject.

To maximize my depth of field, I used an f/16 and focused at the hyperfocal distance for my lens and aperture setting (i.e. 2.82  feet away from my camera, according to the DOF Master, dofmaster.com).  At an ISO speed of 100, a shutter speed of 1/10th second resulted.  Knowing if I exposed for the land, the sky would appear overexposed and blown out (and if I exposed for the sky, the land would appear underexposed and too dark), I placed a three-stop graduated neutral density filter over my lens to hold back light in the sky.

Before snapping the shutter, I followed the dominant lines around my frame, taking great care in ensuring the lines did not lead the eye out of the frame.  As I shifted a little to the left, then a little to the right, and then settled in on a composition I liked, I noticed the strongest lines originate from the bottom left corner, travel to the small mound off to the right near the middle, and then push into the explosive-looking sky.  I knew from the moment of capture, this photograph possessed a great deal of energy given the lines in the sand and the backdrop Mother Nature provided in the clouds.  I liked that the image conveyed how I felt about the scene – in words, an emphatic and enthusiastic “WHOOHOO!”

When I experimented with converting the image into a monochromatic one, the black and white format transformed into a trippy–almost spastic!–mesmerizing optical illusion.  If you look at it long enough, the sand looks as if it’s moving!  In post-processing, I increased the contrast in the sand to amplify the effect even more so.  Like my Day 2 photograph, “Down by the Sea,”  the monochromatic treatment emphasized the alternating highlights and shadows in the foreground and created a greater feeling of dimension to the final image.

Which version do you prefer: the black and white or the color image?  And why?  Leave me your thoughts in the Comments section below.  I’d love to hear from you.

There are a whole slew of tremendously talented photographers working primarily in black and white.  One of those is my buddy, Chuck Kimmerle.  Chuck already completed the Black and White Challenge by sharing some lovely work.  But I think he might have gotten off this challenge too easy (since he works almost exclusively in monochrome).  With a little twist on the assignment, I challenge Chuck to post five COLOR photographs over the course of five days.

On to Day 5 tomorrow!

~Colleen

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