Fall arrives and makes everything better (autumnal musings).

It’s been a long, long summer here–that meant good things, like the first public showing of my Owens Lake Project at the G2 Gallery here in Los Angeles (Venice, to be precise), and not-so-good things, such as decompressing from the exhibit (and the rather intense work getting it ready), and battling a summertime bout of the flu from hell.

Middle Fork of Bishop Creek in Autumn

Middle Fork of Bishop Creek in Autumn

Autumn has long been my favorite time of year, and looking forward to fall color in the Eastern Sierra and elsewhere only makes it that much better.  I was able to make two trips to the “east side” this year, and the aspens didn’t disappoint (just click on the photos to see a larger version).

Bishop Canyon didn’t disappoint, which was a relief after yet another dry year.  There were the usual wall-to-wall yellows and golds, and a bit more fiery orange than I’ve seen there the last couple of years.

I was able to work in a little shooting time at Mono Lake with its alien tufa landscape, and was fortunate to capture a Sierra wave cloud at sunset.  The lake is showing the effects of the three-year (so far) drought, with the later level down several feet.  I think we’re all crossing our fingers for a big snow year this winter to help both the landscape and our dwindling water supply.

Mono Lake Sunset

Mono Lake Sunset

Speaking of water, last weekend I moderated a discussion panel on California’s water issues at the G2 Gallery’s Green Earth Film Festival–a now-annual event the gallery hosts that I cannot recommend highly enough.  The Muir Project’s JMT documentary “Mile, Mile & A Half” (which you may recall I reviewed last summer) opened the festival, and the rest of the weekend featured several compelling documentaries such as Dam Nation.  If you’re in the LA area, you should add this event to your calendar next year.

G2 Green Earth Film Festival

G2 Green Earth Film Festival

After wrapping up the panel, I headed back to the east side for round two of fall color shooting to catch some of the more northerly canyons.  The more I shoot in the Sierra generally, and the east side especially, the more I find myself looking for more intimate, less obvious scenes that characterize what makes that area so special.  I’ve been fascinated by the dormant bracken ferns in the Sierra since my first autumn visit to Yosemite years ago, and was immediately drawn to this small scene along the Tioga Road, showing the soft, feathery red ferns against the hard, stark granite canyon wall.  To paraphrase my favorite poet Wallace Stevens, these are the measures destined for my soul.  Autumn in the Sierra is a balm to any stressed out, weary heart.

Dormant Bracken Ferns and Granite, Tioga Roac

Dormant Bracken Ferns and Granite, Tioga Roac

For those of you in southern California, please considering joining the NANPA nature photography Meetup group.  I recently took over as co-leader/organizer of the group, and hope to see some of you in the (sometimes unexpected) wild places here in SoCal.  Our first outing was at Leo Carrillo state beach north of Malibu–our group had a great time, and I’m currently soliciting suggestions for future meetups.

I’m off to the great American southwest next week for several days to get both my red rock fix and shoot some fall color there–something I’ve wanted to do for some time now.  When I return, I hope to share some scenes from the remote wilderness in Arizona and Utah.  Until then, be well, enjoy the changing season, and do a little rain dance while you’re at it.  We need it here in California.

Things are hoppin’ in 2014!

Slow activity here on the blog usually means things are extra-busy on the photography front, and 2014 has been especially busy–and exciting!  This is just a quick update to fill you in on what I’ve been up to.

New exhibit this summer in Los Angeles

First, and most exciting and important–my conservation photography project on the Owens Lake in the Eastern Sierra is scheduled to go on exhibit at the G2 Gallery in Venice, California from June 10, 2014 through July 27, 2014.  I’ve been working on this project on and off for over four years, and it’s hugely rewarding to know that it’ll finally get a great public showing.  If you’re not familiar with Owens Lake, and even if you think you are familiar with it–please come see the exhibit and find out what a broken but beautiful and thriving place it is.

Reflection, Sierra Crest and Owens Lake

Reflection, Sierra Crest and Owens Lake

 Interview in Outdoor Photographer magazine

I also found out this morning that Outdoor Photographer magazine has published an interview it did with several landscape photographers–including me–about the essentials of landscape photography beyond that camera we hold in our hands.  There’s a lot of great info from photographers who’ve been an inspiration to me, and it’s worth checking out.

Look for more updates on the documentary project in the coming months, especially my updates (hopefully live blogging, cell reception permitting) as I do a perimeter hike of Owens Lake during spring migration.

Yes, I still shoot things

I’ve been too busy to update my galleries with recent work, unfortunately (that’s now a front-burner priority), but if you’d like to see what I’ve been seeing lately, you can always check out my photostream on Flickr, which is akin to a raw newsfeed.  I post just about everything there from portfolio-level images to pics of things I simply found interesting for one reason or another.  I’ll publish a new blog post as soon as the galleries are updated!

2013 – My Year in Photography

Another year will be in the books just a few hours from now, and then it’s on to 2014–which I’m really looking forward to!  2013 was an incredible year for me where all things photography are concerned.  I traveled farther than I ever have before and spent a couple of weeks photographing the incredibly beautiful country of New Zealand (and can’t wait to go back).  I challenged myself on some pretty tough hikes to beautiful destinations, especially the hike to Kanarra Creek.  I blame the bighorn sheep for that one being so tough (more on that in a minute).

I had (am still having, for a few more days) my first major exhibit as one of two photographers featured in G2 Gallery’s Emerging VI exhibit this year, which has been an amazing experience on many levels.  And looking ahead to the new year, I learned a couple of weeks ago that one of my images will again be included in the prestigious Yosemite Renaissance exhibit in Yosemite National Park.  That’s my favorite juried exhibit I submit my work to each year, as it focuses on non-traditional views of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada–a real creative challenge.  It’s truly an honor to be included with the other talented artists, who aren’t limited to photographers–the exhibit features photography, paintings, sculptures, and this year, even quilts.  It’s an exhibit you do not want to miss if you’re in the park any time this spring.  I’ll write more on that later; now on to the Big List.

These kinds of retrospective lists serve a couple of purposes; aside from the vanity of showing off your best work of the year, it’s a wonderful opportunity to examine your work in terms of personal and artistic growth.  Is my “eye” becoming more refined?  Am I expressing my vision and my experience in these places in a way that is not only aesthetically compelling, but true to what I saw and felt?  An image is more than just a shutter click and data collected on a sensor, after all.  As I have the last couple of years, I’ve gravitated away from the big icons in landscape photography–beautiful places that I love and still photograph, but not the images that stay with me heart and soul.  While a couple of locations may be recognizable to some of you, most of them are from lesser-traveled locales.  So, in no particular order, these are the images I consider my best from 2013.

1.  Aoraki Panorama, New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  This mountain, and this location, is so enormous that it’s difficult to know exactly how you want to photograph it.  I came back with shots that show the vast tussock grassland of the Tasman Valley leading up to the foot of Aoraki (also known as Mt. Cook), tight shots of the peak taken with a long lens, but it’s this one I like best:  a panoramic shot of Aoraki towering above the impossibly turquoise-colored Lake Pukaki. Click on this one to see it (much) bigger.  I’m probably a little jaded when it comes to grand mountain landscapes given the time I spend photographing in the Sierra Nevada, but Aoraki and the Southern Alps left me absolutely jaw-on-the-ground in awe.  I hope this panoramic image gives you some idea of the scale of the place–and if you ever get the chance to go there, GO.Aoraki Panorama, New Zealand

2.  Hilltop Topiary, California Central Coast.  The rolling hills just inland from California’s coastal mountain range on the central coast is one of my favorite places to explore and photograph.  While most are familiar with the area as a premier wine-growing region, the majority of that landscape is still wild chaparral made up of rolling grassy hills dotted with oaks, cottonwoods and willows.  It can also host impressive wildflower blooms in spring, but has been mostly barren of those for the last three years.  What I have had extraordinary luck with, however, are dramatic skies over those green, rolling hills, as I had this day.  This cluster of trees, which look almost manicured, have grown naturally in this pattern, and remind me somewhat of the wingdings font of nonsense characters, especially the seemingly heart-shaped oak on the left.  I have a soft spot for naturally occurring whimsy in landscapes, so this is a shoo-in for my “best” list this year.Hilltop Topiary, CA Central Coast

3.  Kaikoura Sunrise, New Zealand.  It took considerable restraint for me not to choose all ten of my favorite or best images from my New Zealand trip–I managed to limit those to just three in this collection, including this one from the lovely seaside town of Kaikoura on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.  The tiny bay is flanked to Kaikoura Sunrise, New Zealandthe north by snowcapped mountains, and ringed with rock formations like the ones you see here.  I only spent one night in this town (would LOVE to have spent more!), so I was delighted to wake up to a sunrise like this, and made the most of matching the cloud patterns to the shape of the rocks, even picking up some nice reflections in the pooled water in the rocks.

4.  Stormy Moeraki Sunrise, New Zealand’s South Island.  This is one of those locations that, while often photographed, lends itself to endless interpretation depending on how you decide to photograph the mysterious round concretions–the famous Moeraki Boulders.  These naturally occurring spheres dot the relatively small beach just north of the village of Moeraki, appearing in lines, clusters large and small, and single boulders.  This was one of those cases of not getting the sunrise you hoped for, but getting one which was even more interesting–a stormy, roiling sky with the warm glow of the rising sun just along the horizon.  I decided to balance the texture of the clouds with the streaking lines of the receding tide, with a line of the boulders separating them mid-frame.Stormy Moeraki Sunrise, New Zealand

5.  She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Bodie Ghost Town, Eastern Sierra).  I very, very rarely give my images “artistic” titles, preferring to stick with factual descriptive titles.  But I made an exception in this case.  I was in the Eastern Sierra in early September, and decided on a last-minute whim, mid-day, to drive up to the ghost town of Bodie, which I’d never been to before.  I hadn’t really planned to photograph much, if at all, as it was mid-day with a flat sky–not the best conditions.  She Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Bodie Ghost Town, CA)This was really just a trip to wander the streets of this old western town and see it in person for the first time.  But I did come away with this shot, which affected me on an emotional level most of my more conventional landscapes don’t.  This intimate scene of the tumble-down house, with a rusted, discarded wheelbarrow in the foreground seemed to me to capture the lost, forgotten feeling unique to ghost towns.  And although the sky isn’t particularly interesting (albeit the characteristic deep blue of the high sierra), the texture of the golden grass leading up to the little cabin supplied the drama instead.

6.  Desert Bighorn Sheep Pair, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.  I rarely shoot wildlife–not for lack of desire, but more lack of opportunity–unless the opportunity presents itself as a herd of elusive desert bighorn sheep loitering around the visitors’ parking lot very early in the morning.  This is one of those experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I’ve looked for these beautiful animals every time I’ve been in one of the places they call home–the Eastern Sierra, Death Valley, Anza-Borrego State Park, and various locations in the Mojave.  And I had never so much as spied a speck-sized bighorn on a distant ridge.  Until this morning.  A fellow photographer and I had arrived in the park just after midnight, where we planned to do some night Desert Bighorn Sheep Pair, Valley of Fireshooting, quickly photograph the sunrise, and then rush over to our planned morning hike of the narrows at Kanarra Creek just over the border in Utah.  But when a herd of bighorn decides to grace you with their presence and linger at close range for over an hour, you take that opportunity!  It was immense fun stealthily following these sheep around the canyon once they left the vicinity of the parking lot, and I came away with several really nice images of them–males, females and lambs.  This shot, however, is my favorite–a younger male who was courting a female managed to separate her briefly from the rest of the herd, and ended up maybe 20-30 feet away from me.  I was able to catch them in profile, with the red rock of Valley of Fire forming a beautiful backdrop.

7.  Canyon Passage, Kanarra Narrows (Utah).  This location was our destination the morning we encountered the herd of desert bighorn–and given that it was the middle of summer with mid-day temps in triple digits, it was critical that we get as early a start as possible to avoid the worst of the heat.  But as I said, when one is given the chance to shoot desert bighorn at close range, one does so, which meant we started the hike into Kanarra Creek right around lunchtime, and temps were already hovering near 100 degrees.  This is not something I recommend under ANY circumstances, Canyon Passage, Kanarra Creek (UT)but we were carrying sufficient water and food, and decided to give it a try.  It was a grueling few hours on the hike in, with lots of pauses to rest and hydrate, but once we made it the first few miles and entered the cool, dark narrows, it was all completely worth it.  This location seems to be growing in popularity recently, and while VERY popular as a hike for locals, it’s not completely crawling with photographers the way other locations are (and I hope it stays that way, though I’m not optimistic).  I hope to go back and do this hike again in less brutal weather–under which circumstances it is surely a beautiful, fun hike.  This was a little like a death march thanks to the extreme heat, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat to see those intimate little narrows with Kanarra creek running through cool and clear.  It’s unique among the narrows and slot canyons I’ve explored to date, as it’s reminiscent of the much larger Virgin River Narrows in Zion National Park, as you’re wading through the creek that runs wall-to-wall inside the steep canyon walls, but with the size and intimacy of one of the smaller slot canyons found throughout the Colorado Plateau.  This image shows one of the small cascades (perhaps 15 feet tall) encountered as you hike upstream, with ad-hoc ladders in various states of repair to help hikers climb up and continue through the narrows.

8.  Twisted by Millennia (Ancient Bristlecone Pine, White Mountains).  The Ancient Bristlecone Pine groves high in the White Mountains that flank the eastern edge of the Owens Valley is one of my favorite places, whether I’m there for photography or just exploring the ancient groves above 10,000 feet.  This ancient place is almost otherworldly, and whether it’s the very thin air or some other kind of “energy” (not to go all new age on you), it is deeply special, and inspires a kind of reverence among those of us who visit.  This particular tree (actually a long-dead snag Twisted by Millennia (Ancient Bristlecone Pine)that’s been standing for thousands of years) is especially attractive thanks to its unique corkskrew shape.  I’ve photographed–or tried to–this tree on several occasions, but have come away less-than-satisfied either because the light wasn’t quite right, or I wasn’t at my best (thanks to altitude sickness).  On this evening, however, I had no issues with the altitude, and a beautiful sunset shaped up and framed that tree perfectly.  You get lucky with some images, and others take repeated attempts to get–this was the latter, and worth the effort.

9.  Autumn Sunrise over Hot Creek, Eastern Sierra.  I lose track of all the reasons I love the Eastern Sierra–there are almost too many to count.  Just north of the Owens Valley lies the Long Valley Caldera, which is one of the biggest underground volcanoes on earth and a very active geothermal area.  One of the more photogenic geothermal features is Hot Creek, a spring-fed stream that Autumn Sunrise, Hot Creek (Eastern Sierra)curves its serpentine path just below the looming Sierra crest to the west.  I’ve stopped along and above Hot Creek several times, and never could quite get a handle on how to photograph it in a way that pleased me.  I decided to take another run at it this fall, and spent a little time in the afternoon scouting out a suitable spot for the next morning’s sunrise, finally coming up with something I thought could prove interesting.  As is the nature of the Eastern Sierra in autumn, a (mostly) unexpected winter squall developed just before sunrise, which made for interesting and beautiful conditions.  There was no way to tell if sunrise would be a bust–or something better.  We trooped out of our motel in Mammoth Lakes while it was still dark, and walked right into a graupel flurry.  Oh, east side–I do love your crazy autumn weather!  We headed over to the spot we picked out the day before, and set up to wait for sunrise.  The clouds to the east that hung over the White Mountains mostly blocked the rising sun, but let through just enough light to give a soft glow to the peaks of Mount Morrison and Laurel Mountain, and turn the sky a lovely pastel pink.  The frigid morning temperatures also meant that the air above the geothermally fed creek sent up clouds of fog, adding still more atmosphere.  It’s one of the prettier mornings I’ve enjoyed in the Eastern Sierra.

10.  Minimalist Dunes, White Sands National Monument (New Mexico).  This is one of the last images I made this year–just a few days ago, in fact.  I’ve long wanted to visit White Sands with its endless dunes of super-fine gypsum sand (the remnants of which are still caked on the Jeep as I write this).  And more than just about any other photograph this year, this one feels closest to my Minimalist Dunes, White Sands NM“eye” or vision.  The way I shoot is informed as much by painters like Rothko and O’Keeffe as it is by the usual landscape photography masters, and I think this image shows that influence clearly.  I really enjoy the opportunity to make minimalist and/or painterly images when the setting is right, and White Sands was perfect for this.  We were fortunate to have light, wispy clouds throughout the afternoon, which softened the sky just enough to make for fruitful shooting under the low light of mid-winter.  It took a couple of hours of exploring the dunes to find what I was looking for, which is what you see in this shot–a minimalist criss-cross of two white dunes under an azure sky.  I think it’s the perfect image to conclude my “best of” list, and the perfect image with which to end what has been a great year of photography for me.  Your feedback and encouragement this year has been greatly appreciated, and I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014! Happy New Year!

P.S. A HUGE thanks to Jim Goldstein, who aggregates these best-of lists on his blog each year.  It’s a herculean task that I’m very grateful for, and love discovering new photographers I previously wasn’t familiar with.  I’ll link to that digest when he publishes it sometime in January, and I highly recommend perusing the list of talented photographers.  Thanks, Jim!

Great e-Gift Ideas For The Photographer In Your Life!

The holidays are upon us and you have a photographer to shop for–you’ll find plenty of gear and gadget lists (and those are great; I’m an avowed gadget freak myself), so I thought I’d offer some non-gear alternatives for the Photographer Who Has Everything. These are all e-books, and one of the greener gifts you can give.  They can all be bought and sent as gifts via email links, and you can look all thoughtful and conscientious even when you’ve completely forgotten until the last minute (don’t worry, I’ll never tell).  I own all of these, and they come with an enthusiastic personal recommendation.  Links to each book are in the titles below.

An Honest Silence: a Celebration of Wilderness

honest silenceThis e-book won’t teach you how to make better images, but it will feed the brain and the soul of anyone who spends time in the wilderness.  It’s a collection of thoughtful essays accompanied by gorgeous photos; a kind of meditation, if you will.  From the book’s description:

“An Honest Silence is a mix of photography and short, intimate essays by each of the authors.  All three authors come from different backgrounds and hold different points of view, but what the book ultimately shows is that wilderness is a common thread in everyone’s life.  From the Colorado Plateau to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, the reader is taken on a personal journey through the wild.”

One of the authors of the e-book is photographer Greg Russell, whose work and contemplations on nature and photography have been one of my guideposts over the years as I’ve grown as a photographer.  He is a great photographer to follow for both his images and his writing.  This gorgeous e-book is just $5, and more than 50% of proceeds go to a conservation group near and dear to my own heart, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  Through 12/25, the book is just $4 if you use the code “wilderness50″ at checkout.

Pretty much ANY of Michael Frye’s e-books, but especially this one and this one.

If you’ve ever searched out great pictures of Yosemite National Park, you’ve almost certainly encountered Michael Frye’s beautiful photos.  He’s photographed in and around Yosemite for many LightandLand_cover4years, and is intimately knowledgeable about the area.  He’s also a wonderful writer and teacher about digital photography in general, and his books on landscape photography and the digital darkroom are perennial go-to’s for me.  And they should be for you (or the photographer in your life), too.

His book Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom is a kind of laboratory exercise where he takes you through five featured images, showing you his workflow for each image in the digital darkroom (in this case, Adobe Lightroom).  It’s an incredibly instructive exercise that gives the reader an almost hands-on look at process, and will surely result in an “a-ha!” moment for those still trying to get a handle on processing with Lightroom.  This e-book is a bargain at just $5.

For more in-depth instruction, I’m not sure there’s a better book out there on Lightroom and the digital darkroom in general for nature and landscape photographers than Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step GuideLightroom has become a powerful tool for photographers–so powerful, in fact, that I rely on it (over Photoshop, which I also have and love) LR5-CoverSpreadfor almost all of my image processing.  Later versions of the program have added even more powerful processing tools, and Frye takes you through these step-by-step, including tutorial videos embedded in the PDF-based e-book (which is as great as it sounds!).  As with all of Frye’s books, they’re as aesthetically pleasing as they are instructive, and this e-book features 87 full-page photo spreads interspersed with the lessons.  Even if you THINK you know everything there is to know about processing images in Lightroom, you’ll still find this book an immensely helpful guide.  And it’s a bargain at $14.95.

Mr. Heat Miser vs. Mr. Snow MIser

Okay, okay–I still love the children’s holiday shows, so this inevitably came to mind when thinking about Sarah Marino’s and Ron Coscorrosa’s excellent new e-guides: one for Death Valley National Park, and one for Iceland (see? you thought of it, too, didn’t you?).

desert coverYou’ll have a hard time choosing between Desert Paradise:The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park or Forever Light: The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Iceland (oh, go ahead–just buy both!).  I’m still not sure how Ron and Sarah found time to complete these exhaustive, gorgeous photo guides while still maintaining a pretty busy shooting schedule this year.  They’re both gifted photographers, and can now add gifted authors to their resume.  When I search out a photography guide for an area I plan to visit, I am really, really particular.  In a perfect world, every photography guide would be (SHOULD be) like Laurent Martre’s excellent books, which give detailed information on what to shoot, where to find it, what the hike is like to get there, and so on.  I don’t want to know simply where I can find a place on my shooting list–I need you to tell me what to expect and how to prepare.  Ron’s Iceland coverand Sarah’s e-guides do this and more.  In addition to everything I just mentioned as “must haves” for an e-guide, there’s basic instruction on photography and composition, a detailed gear guide, a section on photography ethics (big hat-tip to them for including that), and they’ll even tell you where you can find food and a place to pitch your tent (or check into a motel).

If you’re thinking of visiting either Death Valley or Iceland, have already been, or just like to daydream about either place, these books are the best guides you’ll find for them.  They’re beefy tomes–the Death Valley e-guide clocks in at 134 pages–and priced at $14.95 each.  If you buy both e-guides, you’ll get them at a special price of $24.95, all in.

Any–or all–of these e-books make wonderful gifts, and have a long shelf life as helpful guides to the craft.  Do a photographer (and the environment) a favor and add one of these to their virtual stocking.

New Limited Edition Print – Milford Sunset, New Zealand

I’m pleased to offer my first-ever limited edition print featuring one of my images from this year’s New Zealand trip.  Milford Sound, the iconic location in Fiordlands National Park on New Zealand’s South Island exceeded every expectation when I arrived there–massive jagged peaks rise dramatically from the sound in all directions.  On the evening I took this photo, variable fog and clouds descended on the sound, giving the scene an appropriately mystical appearance.  The setting sun was muted by those clouds, showing pastels of gold, pink and purple as the light faded.  Milford was easily my favorite stop on the trip, and this image is one of my favorites from this amazing, beautiful country.Milford web version

The print I’m offering is a true limited edition, which will number a maximum of 25 numbered prints and one artist’s proof.  Once those are all gone, I will offer no more prints in any format of this image.  I’ve chosen an archival quality heavyweight cotton rag paper for the edition, which has a matte finish (meaning no glare to interfere with image viewing when displayed with non-glare glass or acrylic).  The ink for the print is Epson UltraChrome Hi-Gloss® 2 pigment ink, and combined with the high-quality paper, will have a lightfastness rating of greater than 200 years, meaning no fading/changing of color when displayed properly (i.e., out of direct sunlight).

The image is 8.5″ by 11″, and is printed on 11″x14″ paper, leaving a 1.5″ border all around.  I will sign each print and include the edition number, i.e., 1/25.  The print comes unframed, and It can be displayed in a standard 11″x14″ frame of your choice.  The print ships flat, not rolled, and I recommend framing the print as soon as possible to protect it from damage.  A certificate of authenticity will be included.  The price for the print is $125, competitively priced for limited editions of similar size and quality.  Shipping is a flat rate of $10 anywhere in the U.S. (inquire by email if you would like this shipped internationally).

As an added incentive, all orders for the limited edition print received by December 31 will also July 2014receive a complimentary copy of my 2014 Visionary Light calendar, a $16.99 value.  The Milford image for the limited edition is also the featured image for July 2014.

The print makes a great gift, so consider purchasing it for your favorite nature lover!

To purchase one of these limited edition prints, please send payment of $125 plus $10 for shipping via PayPal to my email address of robin@robinblackphotography.com.  You can expect delivery of the print approximately two weeks from the date of order.

Please don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions.

2014 Visionary Light Calendar Now Available (and at a GREAT price!)

CoverMy 2014 calendar is now available through lulu.com, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.  I think it’s my best calendar to date, and I’m delighted to be able to offer it at a substantially lower price than calendars from previous years–just $16.99.  You can order them through lulu.com at this link (that link will also allow you to preview the images for all 12 months).

It features images from my travels over the past year, including a couple of images from my recent trip to New Zealand. One of the New Zealand images (the Milford Sound image pictured here) is previously unreleased; I’ll be offering my first-ever limited edition print of this image, so watch for news on that in the next week or two.July 2014

Lulu.com has guaranteed Christmas delivery for all orders placed by December 10, and right now there’s an offer for free shipping on all orders (use code FREESHIP).

These images summarize a year’s worth of incredible experiences and beautiful light, and I’m so happy to share them with you.  The calendar makes a great gift, so consider picking up a few extras.

Pictures At An Exhibition – Thoughts on my first “big” gallery exhibit

If you saw my previous blog post, then you know I’m part of an exhibit that opened recently at the G2 Gallery in Venice, California–a duet, if you will; I’m one of two featured photographers in their annual “Emerging” exhibit, along with gifted wildlife photographer Susan McConnell.  I’ll be featuring an interview with Susan here in the next few weeks, by the way–stay tuned for her great insights on wildlife photography.G2 Exhibit

I’ve previously had images that were part of bigger exhibits–the biennial International Conservation Photography Awards (where I won first place, landscape) and the annual multi-genre Yosemite Renaissance, among others.  If you’re an artist, be it a photographer or in any other medium, there’s no better thrill than walking into a gallery and seeing one or more of your pieces on display, especially when you’re surrounded by incredible works from other artists.  But having 13 pieces up as a co-exhibitor in a show is quite a different experience.  It has been daunting, stressful (in the BEST possible way), thrilling, enlightening, and an experience I am honored to have had.

Several photography contacts have emailed me over the last few weeks asking how I had my work chosen for the show–in this case, it’s a juried exhibition for which I submitted a sample of my work, along with a detailed written application and photography resume.  For what it’s worth, I was completely surprised when I found out I’d been chosen as one of the two artists in the exhibit–no matter how much confidence you have in your work, these things are highly subjective, and take into consideration everything from the jurors’ personal taste to the individual gallery’s style.  For anybody who has an interest in being part of something like this: SUBMIT YOUR WORK.  Do so often.  Ask for feedback when possible.  The practice is good for you, and you never know when your work is going to (finally) catch a curator’s eye.  I’m still pretty much a neophyte at full-blown gallery exhibits myself, so I’ll just encourage you to do what I did–in addition to submitting often, do your research (on galleries, on juried shows, anything you can think of).  Keep working to improve your portfolio.  Don’t give up–as cliched as that sounds, you really can’t give up if you want to achieve something like this.  Get constructive critical feedback whenever possible, whether it’s through a reputable online forum or during a portfolio review session at a conference or one-on-one with someone you seek out (and pay) for a portfolio review.  Get your work in front of as many educated and critical eyes as possible, and then pay attention to the feedback.  Frames Pieces and White Gloves

It won’t always be helpful–my very first portfolio review a few years ago was at a conference with a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer.  The extent of the review was “I don’t really do landscapes, I don’t know anything about conservation photography, but you should put more people in your photos.”  If you’re at all familiar with what I shoot, that was disappointing, unhelpful advice.  But she wasn’t entirely wrong, either–I have a handful (just a bare, bare handful) of photos where I have included people when it helps the image better tell a story.  Seek feedback, and listen.

So, you find out some of your work will be featured in an exhibit–what next?  In my case, because it’s expensive to print and frame 13 images, I opted to do almost everything myself.  Not only did this save me some money (and thank goodness for my college photojournalism professor who insisted we all learn how to dry mount our pics), it also gave the exhibit prep an up-close-and-personal element I hadn’t counted on.  I had my images printed by a printing house I was comfortable with and had worked with before, then ordered frame pieces, dry mount tissue, mats and acrylic, and spent two full days mounting, matting and framing everything.  I spent more up-close, meditative time with those 13 images than I have with any other images of mine, and everything gradually became much more personal to me.  This wasn’t just an assortment of my better work, these were memories and experiences that mean a great deal to me:  the heart-shaped lightning bolt image that taught me to never, ever overlook an opportunity to shoot (it was taken from the 31st floor of the Paris hotel in Vegas, looking south at an active thunderstorm); the stormy sunrise at Moeraki, New Zealand I shared with a dear friend; the surreal lone oak that was the only thing to shoot when I was originally out looking for wildflowers to photograph; the annular eclipse over Wukoki Pueblo in Arizona that was both my most researched and pre-visualized image and also an almost overwhelming astronomical phenomenon to witness in person.  Those 13 pieces are a nice summary of my life for the last few years–moments I’ll never forget; some of them deeply personal, some of them unimaginable encounters with light, all of them mileposts of my ongoing photography education.  Mounting & Matting

I also learned something about my “eye” as a photographer that I hadn’t previously been aware of–and for that, G2’s curator, Jolene Hanson, has my deep gratitude.  When I go out shooting, I always try to come home with something good, and something interesting.  I can endlessly scrutinize an image while working in the digital darkroom, thinking of what works and what could be better.  I study other photographers’ work to think about different ways to work with light and composition.  But I hadn’t given too much thought to my own particular style.  After being chosen for Emerging VI, Jolene asked me to send 30 or so images for her to choose from for the show.  I sent what I thought was a good representation of my work, my best images, a variety of compositions.  In studying the 13 images she chose for the show, I “got” her approach.  Very few (really, only two) conventional landscape comps (wide angle, down low, near-far perspective).  All could be described as “moody” (in a good way, I hope).  Light and/or atmospheric conditions were the primary subject in most of the pics.  She had narrowed down to what my dominant style is–something I’d never really considered before.  It’s easy to feel somewhat abashed when you realize “oh–yeah, that IS mostly what I shoot.”  A “duh” moment.  But it also helped me to understand my creative subconscious (for lack of a better word), and what the common themes are that seem to come up in my work more than others.

All of this rambling is mostly to say this has been an extraordinarily educational experience.  I’ve learned far more about myself as a photographer in the last two months than I have in the last five years.  I am deeply grateful for the experience–and more excited about photography than ever.

New Exhibit Featuring My Work – Emerging VI at G2 Gallery in Venice, California

I’m very, VERY honored to have been chosen for this year’s Emerging exhibit at the G2 Gallery.  I’ve been a fan of the gallery since they opened their doors in 2008, as their mission is one dear to my heart–a gallery filled with incredible images that works to advance environmental issues with nature and wildlife.  If you’re not familiar with them, this is their mission statement:

The G2 Gallery is an award-winning nature and wildlife photography gallery that facilitates change by bringing attention to environmental issues through the persuasive power of photographic art. G2 shares this passion with both celebrated and emerging environmental photographers, who use the camera as a tool to inspire conservation. G2 donates all proceeds from sales of the art to environmental groups.

emerging banner

 

I have 13 pieces on display in the exhibit.  Most are from various parts of California or the desert southwest, and one is from my recent trip to New Zealand.  I’m honored to share this exhibit with San Francisco wildlife photographer Susan McConnell:

Susan McConnell is a photographer and biology professor at Stanford University. She teaches classes on both brain development and conservation photography at Stanford, and has been at Stanford for more than 25 years in different capacities. A member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, Susan’s interest in biology was the foundation for her passion for conservation photography. Susan’s images have appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, Nature’s Best Photography and Outdoor Photographer. Her photographs of Namibian elephants graced the cover of Smithsonian in 2010 and were exhibited in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Susan was also mentored by internationally renowned photographer Frans Lanting.

I look forward to featuring an interview with Susan here on my blog in the coming weeks, so please check back!

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, the opening reception for Emerging Vi, along with exhibits on birds of prey and wildfire recovery in the Angeles National Forest (a fantastic documentary project by Michael Caley), as well as a beautiful solo exhibit by Don Gottlieb, will be this Saturday, November 9, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  A $10 donation is requested, proceeds of which supports environmental charities.  Free valet parking (if you’ve spent time in Venice, you can appreciate this!), and wine, non-alcoholic beverages, and hors d’oeuvres will be served.  You can RSVP at the link above.

The exhibit is open now, and will run through January 5, 2014–I hope you can stop by if you’re in the area!

Why I use Lowepro’s camera bags–not a review, but a grateful testimonial

First things first:  if you’re reading this, you may notice that my website looks a bit different and scaled-down.  I’m currently going through a big redesign as I switch most of my galleries to Photoshelter’s excellent format.  This is taking a bit more time than I expected, so please stay tuned; I believe the result will be worth the wait (well, I’m excited about it, anyway!).

Me in the Narrows

In the Virgin Narrows with Lowepro’s Slingshot 202 AW

I have a pending review that I hope–if my under-construction site cooperates–to have up in a few more days on one of Lowepro’s new Urban Transit series of bags.  It’s an awesome bag, and has become the new and much-needed home for my Olympus PEN micro 4/3 setup.  But you’ll have to wait a few for that–until then, I thought I’d recount a recent experience I had in the field that drove home for me exactly why I love Lowepro’s bags and use them exclusively (you’ll notice they have a permanent link in my “stuff I use” section on the right-hand side of this page).

I made a quick weekend trip to Utah last month to see a couple of spots, including a hike in the Virgin River narrows in Zion National Park.  In preparing for the trip, I decided to use my trusty SlingShot 202 AW.  It’s the first Lowepro bag I ever bought, and still probably my favorite.  It lets you keep your gear close to your body, giving easy access without having to take the pack off.  This specific feature is why I wanted it with me in the Narrows–you’re wading through water for almost the entire hike (that’s me in the pic, above, doing just that), so there’s no place to put down your camera pack.

Kanarra Glow

Intimate Slot-Style Narrows on Kanarra Creek

This testimonial would be completely boring and obvious, except for one thing.  It saved my gear.  I’d hiked Kanarra Creek the day before, and the water level was so low and easy going there that I got a bit overconfident.  I’d packed a bunch of gallon-size Ziploc bags so that I could “waterproof” my camera and lenses inside the bag, since I wasn’t using a true dry bag (more on that in a moment).  Kanarra was a piece of cake in that regard, so I foolishly decided I didn’t need to bag up my camera and lenses for the Narrows hike the next morning.  Well, thanks to two weeks of daily monsoon thunderstorms, the water level in the Virgin River was higher and faster than I’d hoped.  It was also muddy as all get-out, so much so that you couldn’t see the river bottom–or where you were stepping.  And there are a lot of rocks in that river bed.  Small river rocks.  Great big nasty river rocks.

What I couldn’t see, about 1/3 of the way up the canyon, was that the current had washed out the sand around one of those big jagged rocks, leaving an un-seeable deep spot around it.  My klutzy feet, naturally, found that deep spot, and down I went.  And my camera bag went with me, ending up completely submerged.  Talk about instant heart attack–even though I’d banged up my knee pretty badly in the fall (stupid rock!), the only thing I could think about was getting my bag up and out of the water as fast as possible.  I was almost afraid to unzip the bag and look inside, sure that my camera must’ve been as soaked as I was. To my amazement, all was dry.

Here’s where I need to emphasize this:  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS.

I took a big chance carrying my gear in a non-waterproof bag.  The SlingShot is absolutely, positively NOT a waterproof or “dry” bag.  You should not do what I did.  Or if you do, use my tip from above and bag everything up in Ziplocs for protection.

That said, I strongly believe my gear survived its unexpected baptism SOLELY thanks to Lowepro’s excellent build quality on their bags.  My Slingshot was completely soaked on the outside–down through every bit of the padding.  But inside the bag was completely dry, and with it my 5DMII and lenses.  This is why I only use Lowepro–because even though this bag was in no way designed to protect my gear when it was submerged, it did.  If the SlingShot was my favorite bag before this trip, it holds a truly special place in my heart (and bag collection) now.

Next time I do the Narrows–which will be in a couple of months for fall color–I’ll most likely be using one of Lowepro’s new Dry Zone series of bags (which ARE waterproof, and look great from the reviews I’ve seen so far).  I haven’t been able to get my hands on one yet at my local camera store, but I’m excited by the bag’s specs.  Until then, I remain grateful to Lowepro and my trusty SlingShot, which went FAR above and beyond its intended design on this trip.

Movie Review: “Mile, Mile And A Half”

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” -John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

So what the heck is a movie review doing on my photography blog?  Re-read that Muir quote, and there’s your answer.  My first visit to Yosemite National Park in 2009, including a few days in the Sierra high country, was the singular experience that made me Get Serious (very, very serious) about photography.  I absolutely believe there is something special and life-changing about that place, so when I saw a little video trailer about a group hiking the John Muir Trail linked on Facebook almost two years ago, I had to check it out.  I’ve been borderline obsessed–and completely smitten–ever since, and have followed their project closely all the way to completion.  And now it’s time for you to see it–their official theatrical premiere is this weekend at the Dances With Films festival in Hollywood (and it should soon be available to purchase, so stay tuned for that–I’ll update as soon as that happens).

Mile, Mile And A Half

What began for The Muir Project as a kind of open-ended project quickly evolved upon their return from the trail into a full-blown (indie) feature documentary.  They carried a daunting amount of equipment into the backcountry–something that surely must have been a logistical and (pretty literally) backbreaking challenge.  But that effort paid off with a beautifully produced and directed film.  The cinematography and editing are pretty much perfect; they capture really well the beauty and grandeur of the high Sierra, something that I know from personal experience can be difficult to fully convey on film.  Not only do we see the vast granite landscapes of the Sierra crest and lush high-country meadows and lakes, we’re treated to something most people–even most JMT hikers–will never witness: heavy snow.  And water.  A LOT of both.  The summer of 2011 followed a year of record snowfall, so even in mid-July, the high country still sported massive snowfields, and the streams and rivers roared much higher than usual with the record snowmelt.  This presented a whole new set of physical and logistical challenges for the hikers, and the tension (and beauty) of that adds a whole other layer of WOW to the film.  The score, created by Los Angeles-based musicians Opus Orange, strikes just the right tone–never obtrusive, always perfectly fitting the mood of the film.  And if you’ve seen the trailers, then you’ve already heard the movie’s unofficial theme song, Opus Orange’s irresistibly upbeat single “Almost There.”  Two of the group’s members joined them for several days on the trail, so you get to meet them, too.  Even the title art is exceptional, and also something that happened as a result of The Muir Project’s journey; a chance meeting with hiker (and artist) Kolby Kirk on the trail led to his eventually doing the illustrated title and chapter art for the film, and what a great addition that is to the film.

On Top of Mt. Whitney With Opus Orange (Photo by The Muir Project)

The film looks great–but more important, it’s also got great heart.  Building a narrative structure from documentary footage of a month-long hike must have been a challenge, but it’s seamlessly organic here.  There’s even a plot twist fairly early in the film (which I won’t reveal here) that took me by surprise.  We meet all the characters–the hikers, the Muir Project themselves–and get to know them well enough to feel an emotional connection.  You genuinely like these people, and their friendship and ability to get along well with each other in the wilderness is a huge part of why this film is successful.  This even translates down through the two and a half minute trailers–everyone is instantly likeable, their infectious sense of fun is immediately evident, and I (and I’m sure many others, including my hiking-obsessed nephew Zack) found myself going back and re-watching the trailers over and over–especially on days when I was tied to my desk at work and could only daydream about the mountains.

Their adventures on the trail quickly spread beyond the members of the group–and this, I think, is the key to what makes this such a compelling film.  Early in their trip, they meet a married couple, teachers from Colorado, who are spending their summer on the JMT.  They decide to join up with the Muir Project members, and we follow their journey on the trail as well.  The chemistry, friendship and camaraderie they quickly establish not only adds an unexpected narrative element to the film, but it’s a perfect example of the kind of friendships that can happen on long (LONG) hikes like this.  This, too, is an integral part of the experience of a JMT hike.

Plein Air Painters in the High Country (Photo by The Muir Project)

They meet a brother and sister who aren’t just hiking the JMT, but are doing so with similar artistic goals–only they aren’t filmmakers, they’re en plein air painters.  If you think it’s nutty to carry a lot of camera gear into the wilderness, try carrying several stretched canvases and painting supplies in addition to your pack.  I found their story–and their motivation for doing what they do–completely fascinating.  And perhaps the story that I found most powerful–and moving–is that of a young Japanese woman they met on the trail.  She spoke little to no English, and was hiking solo.  It’s difficult to get your head around the courage that must have taken, and it’s just one more story among many in this film that shows the countless reasons any one hiker may have for setting foot on that almost 220-mile-long trail.  It’s a journey of the heart, soul and mind as much as it is a test of the body.

This film will make you long for the mountains, even if you’ve never stood on top of one.  It does precisely what the filmmakers set out to do: inspires.  They deserve great credit for not only carrying off such a daunting task in the high country, but also in turning the raw footage and images they brought home into a truly beautiful and wonderful film.

Monsoon Sunset, Whitney Crest and Mt. Williamson (and somewhere high up there, the members of The Muir Project)

About that quote at the top of this review: it rang especially true for me (as I’m sure it will for anyone else who loves wild places).  I finally got to see the full-length movie at a private showing here in LA back in October.  As one particularly stormy but stunning sunset flashed on the screen late in the hike, I realized I’d shared that sunset with them.  I did some quick math in my head, then checked my photo files when I got home.  Sure enough, I’d been in the Alabama Hills at the foot of Mt. Whitney that same evening, surrounded by one of the most beautiful, dramatic sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.  How lovely to look at that photo now, and know that The Muir Project members were there, too, somewhere high above me, experiencing that same magnificent sunset.  It always makes me smile now to think about that.  We really are all connected–and Mile, Mile And A Half does a wonderful job of reminding us of this.

So, want to go see it?  (And I HIGHLY recommend you do!)  Their two screenings this weekend at Dances With Films have already sold out (thank goodness I already bought my tickets!), but they have screenings scheduled (so far, with more to be added) in Emeryville, Sacramento, and Durango, Colorado.  You can find details and links to purchase tickets here.  If you’d like to get to know the filmmakers a little better, you can read my interview with them last fall on Dan Bailey’s excellent Adventure Photography blog HERE.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, the mountains are calling, and I must go. . . .