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Night Photography

Milky Way Galaxy

Milky Way

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.

A Simple Life

dunes

Windswept

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.

Photographer or Tourist?

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

My life can get quite crazy when on a photography trip. I arise early, oftentimes 4:00 A.M. or earlier and head out to a predetermined location. Frequently a pre-dawn hike is required and I arrive in plenty of time to prepare for sunrise. I never like to be rushed. Photography for me is not a job, it is an experience, and one to be enjoyed! Once I arrive at a location, I try never to hurry, I observe, I meditate, I let all of my senses go to work so that I can fully experience where I am. Only after I find myself can I really create an image that will have any impact at all. Once I have determined what it is that I will photograph and how I will photograph it, I set up and wait. As the sun nears the horizon, the light quality gets better and better, then all at once it becomes great! I shoot away, making subtle adjustments between exposures until everything is just right, then nearly as quickly as it came, the light is gone. Sometimes in the morning, the real good light only lasts a few short minutes, then it becomes harsh and uncontrollable. All of this effort for sometimes a mere five minutes of great light. Worth it? Absolutely! So much so that I turn around and do the same thing in the evening.

Evening photography is a little different than sunrise photography. The light quality stays good for me longer in the evening than in the morning, mostly because I love the light after the sun sets. I often, during the summer months, will shoot until after 10:00. This makes for some really short nights, but very much worth it in my opinion. I do need a few days to recover after returning home from a photography “vacation.” Why do I do it? It is who I am. I love photography, and great photographs are made at the ends of the day. I once heard a friend respond to someone questioning why it was necessary to get up so early. His response was that “At five o’clock you’re a photographer but at 11:00 you’re just another tourist.” How true that is. Avoiding tourists and enjoying the sights in a kind of light that you will never find at mid-day is part of what drives this passion of mine.

Organized Chaos

Aspens

Aspens, Sun Valley, Idaho

Part of my job as a photographer is to simplify the chaotic world that we live in so that the images created in my camera are easy and interesting to look at. Most of the time, the scenes that present themselves to us are filled with so much “stuff” that it is hard to isolate individual elements. If we don’t train ourselves to look for simplicity, we will rarely find it. I often tell my students that I see the world better than they do because I see differently. I have looked so long for small elements that interest me that that is now what I see. My photographs are my vision. That is how I see the everyday world.

Composition is critical to creating interesting images. Painters, I think, have the advantage here because they start with a blank canvas and add only those elements that are needed for the image. Photographers, on the other hand, must find those compositions in nature, and then capture them in the camera. One afternoon as I was walking along the river in Sun Valley, I happened upon this aspen grove. When you look into the photograph, there is a lot going on, however as I looked and thought about what it was that made me stop, I realized that the repeated vertical lines of the tree trunks are what interested me. The muted color and tones created by a late afternoon overcast sky enhanced a feeling of peace and calm. Given the time, I could sit in the middle of this grove in meditation for hours and not feel bored. The strong vertical lines of the trees give my eyes a pattern to follow and places to rest after wandering throughout the other areas of the photograph.

I love finding images that seem to create order out of chaos. My vision is a very simple vision, and in the fast paced society in which we live, visualizing the simple things slow life down for me and helps me to live a more relaxed life.

Multnomah Falls

Splash Zone, Multnomah Falls

Impact Zone, Multnomah Falls

When traveling to the Northern Oregon Coast I will frequently stop at Multnomah Falls, a very popular and spectacular waterfall that is right next to the highway. I find it interesting that even though I have stopped and photographed this waterfall on numerous occasions, I have never printed an image of the entire falls. I am, for some reason, drawn to the details of this amazing display of water power. This past trip through the Columbia River Gorge was no different. I hiked up to the bridge that provides a great view of impact zone, the area where the falling water meets the pool below. It was fascinating to me. I stood watching as the spray of cold water soaked me and my gear to the bone. I realized what it was I needed to photograph. The trouble was figuring out how to keep my lens dry enough to get the image.

I set up my camera on the tripod and, not worrying at first about getting wet, framed up the image. I needed to capture the falling water at the edge of the frame with the spray and mist blowing through the frame to the left side, causing a thick haze across the entire frame. After framing it up and calculating the needed exposure to show the texture of the falling water in the background and create the desired haze in the foreground, I dried the lens and, with the help of my wife, kept the lens covered until just prior to tripping the shutter, then immediately after the exposure, covered the lens again. About every third shot, I stopped to dry off the lens again. It was quite a challenging process, however very rewarding as well.

Masterpieces are very rarely created in an easy setting. I believe that it is the challenges that allow us to create great images. In photography, just as it is in life, anything worth doing is worth working for. In conditions where everyone else packs it in and goes home, he who perseveres is bound to create something great. It is that challenge that I am constantly striving for. That is one reason that when I saw the forecast for heavy rain I opted to go to the coast. I knew that the adverse conditions would force me to look at things a little differently than I had in the past. I would attack the situation head on and was confident that I could win. I certainly was glad that I did as I returned home with a few great images added to my portfolio.

Foggy Morning, Bandon, Oregon

Bandon

Shoreline at Bandon, Oregon

This happens to be one of my favorite images that I have made along the Oregon Coast. It was a cool, breezy morning and the marine layer was thick, which meant that I would have no dramatic sky. On the coast that is not unusual. I really like what happens here, though. The fog allows for the ocean to appear to vanish into the sky, creating a vastness that otherwise may not be apparent. The thick fog and bluish color of the image helps in creating a coolness, resembling my feelings as I photographed. My images are always about my feelings. It may be what I see, but even more about how I see and what I feel. This particular morning I was cold and wet as I walked the beach in search of an image. I knew, as I walked around the rocks to this location, that I had found what I was looking for. I must have spent 30 minutes or more just watching and dodging the waves as they rushed ashore, finding the correct angle for the composition that said what I wanted and timing the exposure to capture the motion of the water, creating an image resembling the feelings inside of me. When everything comes together as it did here, I am amazed at what can happen.

Photography is really not about the final image, it is about the experience, living the experience and then sharing it through the photographs created.