It seems kind of strange to me to be talking about color. My photographic roots are in black and white. Before digital came into play, all of my personal work was black and white. I wouldn’t even carry color film with me. I loved what I could do with black and white. The entire process from shooting to processing to printing was fascinating to me. Expanding or compacting the tonal range of a scene and moving the tones to where I thought they should be was what I loved. I felt in complete control of the scene I was photographing. Then came digital.
The changes that digital brought along have been significant to me. I won’t go into them all now, that is for another time. The one change that I will discuss, though, is how it has affected my use of color. I still like to print in black and white, but I have added color as well to my repertoire.
Photographing in color first, and then converting the image to black and white, I began noticing how color could affect an image. I began studying the color composition of each of my photographs before converting them to black and white, and soon I began looking at the color in a scene and analyzing it before pressing the shutter. Little by little, color photographs began appearing in my portfolio. Now, it seems, that only those very special images make it to black and white.
The image above, Complementary Reflections, is one where color is everything. Without the color, the photograph would be a complete failure. The cool tones of the eastern sky reflecting in the water filled with the warm colors from the setting sun creates a feeling of excitement in the image that draws me in. When making this photograph, I got an idea to do a series of abstract images about color. Most of the photographs in the series so far I have made at the ocean, but occasionally I find just the right conditions on a lake or other body of water to photograph this way. It is fun and exciting to evolve and change. This change, to photograph in color, never would have happened for me if I had resisted the move to digital capture. It has been challenging at times, but always exciting!
This photograph also appears in my book Silent Solitude.
The ocean, during the day is alive with activity. It is an exciting place to be. I love beachcombing with my kids collecting all kinds of interesting rocks and shells. Letting the waves crash into you and nearly knocking you down is a fun experience. Watching surfers catch the waves and riding them ashore, flying kites, tidepooling, and the list of activities goes on and on. When the sun sets, though, something magical happens. Everything seems to slow down, at least in my minds eye it does. The sounds become soothing, the fresh ocean breeze is calming to the soul. Yes, the waves of the rising tide are still crashing into the rock lined shore, but in my minds eye I see something entirely different. A long exposure smooths the surface of the wild sea and calms the waves crashing ashore. The cool blue sky bathes the scene in rich cool tones that create a very soothing effect on the viewer. This is what I come to the ocean for!
Previsualization, being able to recognize what it is I really see, and then being able to successfully render that image with the camera is what creative photography is about. Anyone can shoot a thousand images and then find a good one, but to be able to consistently render your feelings in an image is something entirely different. You must know your tools and understand how to use them if you are to create photographs that exhibit what your minds eye sees. It is not so much about what you physically see, but how you interpret what you see.
Grove of the Titans
A couple of weeks ago I was on a family trip to see the Redwoods, and as usual, I mixed in a little photography as I do with every trip. The first morning I was up before 5:00 AM to make sure I would capture the morning sweet light and headed up Howland Hill Road into the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park toward Stout Grove. One nice thing about being a photographer and getting up early is that you have the world to yourself. When I arrived at the grove, not another soul was around. It was just me and the trees. Peaceful and quiet, I was left to think, meditate and photograph. The experience was awesome, but that is not what I want to talk about today.
After some time of photographing, I heard footsteps behind me, and I turned around and met a wonderful man from New Jersey. He had done a lot of research on the redwoods, and clued me in to a couple of groves of trees that are a bit off the beaten path, and are quite hard to locate without help. Park rangers will not disclose their locations, as they hold some of the largest trees in the world. One of those groves is the Grove of the Titans, home to the 1st, 4th and 5th largest Coastal Redwoods in the world. These massive trees have bases up to nearly thirty feet in diameter. Ten feet is huge, but thirty? To me it was unimaginable. I decided to take my wife and kids with me later that day to locate the grove and then return in better light to photograph.
In the afternoon the five of us headed out on what turned out to be quite the adventure. The first mile or so was a breeze as we were on a well marked and maintained trail. Then the adventure. I knew that we needed to veer off the trail, and we quickly found ourselves bush whacking through dense ferns that were taller than me, although at my height, that is not too difficult! We climbed over downed trees covered in moss and unstable root systems where, if not extremely careful, we would find ourselves slipping and risking twisted ankles or worse. After some time, my youngest two children (13 and 8 years old) had had enough and felt we should turn back. My older son and I felt like we were on the verge of something exciting and move on while my wife turned back with the others. As they turned back, we surveyed the situation and determined that we needed to drop down into the small valley and cross the stream, which we did. As we climbed the bank on the other side…WOW! I have never seen such large trees.
As my son and I stood in the middle of this circular grove of giants, I was speechless. We both stood in silence for a minute, and then my son spoke, “Something happened here.” I was overwhelmed. It was as if we were on sacred ground. I have been in some pretty special places, and the feeling here rivaled the feeling I have had in those other places. I felt like I was in an ancient temple of sorts. I knew that I must come back and photograph, while at the same time I knew that I could in no way do justice to the scene in front of me.
The next morning I arose early again, and with my wife headed to the grove. We arrived, much more quickly this time, as we knew the location and found an easier way in. I sat in the center of the grove again and took it all in. This grove is a large open circle formed by 9 of the largest trees I have ever encountered. In the center is a small mound on which I stood. Again I was in awe of what nature presented me with. I set my camera on the tripod and began photographing, trying desperately to photograph what I felt. The massive tree trunks, tall and majestic, overpower anything and everything in their presence. The quiet, the peace, the beauty of it all leaves in my mind an assurance that there is a God, a Creator who is in control and wants me to enjoy His creations.
Again, as I left the grove, I felt like I was leaving sacred ground. There was a feeling difficult to portray in images. It was something that had to be experienced.
Rocky Shoreline near Crescent City, California
It’s always good to get back home! I have been on the road photographing the Pacific Coast from Crescent City, California to Brookings, Oregon. When I am out, I am on the go from before sunrise to long after sunset, so I really have no time to post. My apologies for those of you that frequently check in. In fact, I am on my way out again this afternoon, but for a shorter trip this time. I will be back to regular posting next week. I have some new images and stories to go along with them.
This image was made on my first evening in Crescent City. It had been stormy all day, but we got just a sliver of light right at sunset that illuminated the coastline while the waves crashed into the rocky shoreline. It was quite a trek getting to water level, as I had to make my way down a steep incline of boulders, but it was well worth it. Never could I have experienced the sea in this way from high above. There is nothing like being right at the waters edge, or even in it at times, attempting to capture a representation of its force, power and beauty.
I had never been to the Alvord Desert in Southeastern Oregon, but had heard that it was an interesting place, so yesterday my youngest son and I went to explore. We had no idea what we were in for. All we had was a road map, cameras and sleeping bags. It was just what I needed. A spur of the moment trip to an unknown location that would offer photographic opportunities outside of my “normal” shooting style (comfort zone). When feeling in a rut, this type of activity is one way, at least for me, to get me jump started again. I may not come back with a great piece of art, but it is great for my state of mind.
After a longer than expected drive we finally arrived just a few minutes before the sun dropped below the Steen Mountains, so there was not a lot of time to explore. It has been a while since the area has had rain, so there were many vehicle tracks winding their way around on the playa. Most of my photography has very little reference to man, so this was a bit troublesome for me. I really had to think of ways to use the tracks to my advantage. I was not very successful at that, so I moved to the edge of the playa and focused on the foliage growing up through the playa.
Before long the light was gone, and it was time for us to eat smores and then get ready to photograph the stars. In my 30 plus years in photography, I had never photographed the stars. I have always been the one to get to bed so that I could get up early for sunrise, but on the night of a new moon out in the middle of nowhere, I thought it would be a good time to try something new. Now, I am not sure what took me so long to try this! I can see how this could be addictive.
There are great images just waiting to be made at all hours of the day or night. Even though I may not have come back with that incredible photograph that I am always searching for, I did come home with some new ideas that, at a future time, will become great images.
Simple is always good. Life feeds us, at least me, too many complications. Maybe that is why I love to isolate the simple things in my photographs. While photographing one evening at Bruneau Dunes State Park, this little clump of brush growing in the barren, windswept sand at the base of the dunes caught my attention. I couldn’t let it go until I had a good image. Sometimes while in the moment, I think that I overwork a scene, but I am not disappointed when I return home and look at what I have photographed. It is that “working a subject to death” process that results in a better image than I would otherwise get. Yes, I may miss something else, but that something else is not what drew me to the scene anyway.