Colorado River Reflections

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Colorado River Reflections

This is one of those images where the stars seem to align and something magical happens.  I was traveling west of Moab heading toward Potash along the Colorado River.  I had planned to photograph Jug Handle Arch and some petroglyphs in the early morning light.  While I was winding through the canyon the sunlight would sporadically hit the river or the canyon walls.  I started to look for spot to photograph the steam rising from the water but the light wasn’t right or the background lacked interest.  Much of the river bank was choked with the invasive salt ceder making access impossible.  I had almost given up when ahead of me I could see the canyon widen and sunlight was striking the walls and river.  Unfortunately the mist was gone but more impressively reflections appeared.

One reflection in particular caught my eye.  I spent the next half hour or so taking several photographs of the scene from different locations and angles.  The scene was perfect but the images just weren’t conveying what I wanted to express about it.  Finally I climbed up from the river bank and up the hillside behind me to give it one last try.  That was it, the look and feel I was going for.  Colorado River Reflections turned out to be one of my favorite images from my Moab trip.

Clouds and Dreams

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Clouds and Dreams

This is one of those images that can never be recreated.  The reason being is the purely random pattern of the clouds.  The landscape itself hasn’t changed for hundreds if not thousands of years but the sky is always changing.   Creating images like this involves embracing the change and working with it rather than against it.  Clouds can be problematic when composing an image because they are in constant motion.  If you can anticipate the movement, you can compose your image and wait for the clouds to reach the desired point.

In this image I saw the clouds approaching from the left in the distance and worked out a composition before they reached the desired location before I took the image.  I liked the look of the clouds.  The reminded me of quick brushstrokes across a canvas.  My desire was to have them fill the sky above the unique rock formation and the desert landscape.  The contrast between the blue sky, soft white clouds and the harsh parched landscape was compelling.  I couldn’t help but think about the beauty of the landscape and its enduring nature and the beauty of the sky and how fleeting it was.

 

Sands and Rails

Sands and Rails

Sands and Rails

 

Few things have had as big of an impact on the American West as have railroads.  In many ways they have defined the west.  Countless towns and cities owe their existence to the rail roads.  Today they have lost the importance that they one had but they still make me wonder.  I wonder what it was like before the rail roads.  I wonder how difficult it must have been to build them.

This image was taken in a remote part of Utah that was 60 miles or more from any form of civilization.   I was stuck by the stark western landscape and the iconic train running through it.  The clouds added an ominous look and heightened the feeling of isolation.

Art vs. Documentary Photography

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Fajada Moon

There are frequent arguments about what constitutes art.  These arguments often appear to be too common in photography circles.  Many people believe that photographic images should not be manipulated at all.  The correct and proper image is the one straight out of the camera, “get it right in the camera”, is often heard.  Is that really art or is it documentation of whatever you are looking at?  To me it’s a documentary.  It may be done in an artistic manner or with artistic intent but its limited by camera technology.

Currently no camera is capable of capturing images as I envision them.  That is why I create my images, partially in the camera and partially through post processing.  When you spend a fair amount of time behind the lens you grow to appreciate what an unbelievably impressive thing the human eye is.  You simply can not duplicate it’s capabilities with a camera.   To capture an image you must learn to work with the limited capabilities of the camera.  To create and image you must go a step further and learn how to transform what you have captured into what you have envisioned.  Then you can take it another step further to express what you feel.

The two images in this post are the same.  While photographing the scene I wanted the focus to be on color and form.  I underexposed the image to drop the Butte into shadow and intensify the colors.  This was not the reality of the scene but rather how I envisioned it.  During post processing I intensified the vibrancy of the color and darkened the Butte a little more to further create the image I had envisioned.  While photographing, I had an image of the moon over the Butte come to mind.  I really wanted to see it and create that image.  The problem is, it was impossible because all of the color in the sky would be long gone before the moon reached the proper location.   To further complicate things the moon would have been so bright that it wouldn’t be possible to expose it and the landscape properly.  Because of digital technology and all the post processing tools that we have today it’s possible to create the images that we envision more than ever before.

In Fajada Moon  I was able to use the Fajada Butte image and add the moon from another image that I created to achieve the piece of art as I had envisioned it.  I was able to express what I wanted to and not be limited to documenting only what was there.  It is rare for me to make compilations such as this but I have no problems doing it if that is what is necessary to fulfill my vision.   This Butte probably has been photographed a million times so it’s well documented.  In theses images I had no intention of documenting the Butte but rather using it’s form as a symbol of the American West.  The color in the sky further added to the symbolism.  My addition of the moon added another motif common in western folklore.  For me it was the ultimate expression of what I felt about the location that night.  I’ll have to admit that listening to the coyotes howling might have played a small part in it as well.

 

 

Fajada Butte

Lone Cottonwood

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Lone Cottonwood

 

Cottonwood

Here again are two different takes on the same subject.  Cottonwood is more of an environmental portrait of the tree.  It gives you a sense of where it lives and the color adds reality to the image.  In Lone Cottonwood the environment  is minimized and the color is stripped away leaving a simple portrait of the tree.  Is one more correct than the other or is one better than the other?  I don’t think so.  The color image Cottonwood is more realistic than the black and white image because we live in world full of color.  Black and white is an artificial manipulation or reality.  It’s often seen as more noble than color but that’s more about the fact that it’s older.  We may never have even had black and white film if people learned how to make color film first.

I don’t think one is better than the other and I use both for different reasons.  Color plays on different emotions and generally makes people happy.  Black and white makes people think, you need to slow down and look more closely to see the image.  It’s one of the reasons why I feel Ansel Adams work is still so popular today.  His images make you slow down and really look at them and think.  Because black and white is not reality we can’t glace over it as easily and understand it.  Many of Ansel’s images have been recreated in color by an untold number of photographers of all abilities.  I personally have seen many of the things he photographed and I have to admit that I often like his images better than the real thing.  Incidentally Ansel did work in color and created a significant body of work but surprisingly many people aren’t even aware of it.

In my Western Color collection I try and create images that capture the true natural beauty of the American West.  I want the viewer to see the west as I see it.  In my black-white-west series I want people to think about and feel the American West.  Many of the images that I create draw on the folklore of the old west, the pioneers and the fantasy of days gone by.

Rio Chama

Rio Chama

Rio Chama

This image was more challenging than expected to create.  I had already been at another location down the road for close to an hour before I relocated.  By the time I set up again I was frozen and could barely feel anything with my hands, they were so numb.  The sun was rising further to my left  than I had hoped.  This changed the angle of light from what I had envisioned meaning that there would be shadow where I had anticipated light.  Fortunately the light fell on the trees that still had some leaves and accentuated their fall color.  Unfortunately the light lasted less than five minutes before it became too intense.

Overall I’m very pleased with the image.  It is one of those places that makes you wonder what it’s like at different times of the year.  A few weeks earlier and there would have been more fall color, spring might bring an entirely different look and colors.  I have a feeling that someday I’ll be back in the same spot, hopefully on a warmer morning.

Moon Shot

Moon Shot

Moon Shot

I had been working out near Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost ranch and was heading back to where I was staying at the Abiquiu Inn as the moon was rising.  When I reached the top of a plateau I noticed the color in the sky and was looking for a place to stop and take a few pictures.  Since it was a few days before Halloween the idea of Witch flying on a broomstick in front of the moon came to mind.  While I was pulling my gear out I looked up and saw something in the sky.  It wasn’t a Witch but a plan was flying by.

Quickly I set up and waited for the plane to get far enough that the vapor trail extended beyond the moon.  It reminds me of an eyebrow.

 

Moon Shot II

Initially I thought about calling this image “Missed”.  You can see it’s the same subject and taken shortly after Moon Shot by the vapor trail.  This is one of those scenes that I can visualize in black and white and in color.  Both are effective and though of the same subject, very distinct images.  By isolating the moon and removing the color it really makes you think about the moon.  The plane acts as a reference for going to the moon in the image.  The size of the moon in the image is enough to draw you attention but not large enough to give you all the information further increasing the desire to get closer.  Trust me, leaning in so your nose touches the screen doesn’t help much.

 

Silk Dunes

Silk Dunes

Silk Dunes

This image took me nearly 15 years to create.  The idea has been floating around in my head since I was a kid.  I had watched several movies that were filmed in the desert and featured great images of massive sand dunes.  Around 1998 I saw an image of some dunes and found my location for the image that I wanted to create.  In the spring of 2000 I made my first trip to the area hoping to create the image that I had envisioned.   Unfortunately the place looked nothing like the images that I had seen of it.  The color was wrong, the contrast wasn’t right and overall it was a disappointment.   I wasn’t happy with any of the images that I created on that first trip.

Several years went by and I often thought about returning and trying again.  For many reasons my travels never brought me close to the area.  This year there was a strange twist of fate that would bring me right by the area as I was returning from a trip.  This time the late afternoon sun along with it being late October proved just right for creating the contrast that I was looking for.  The color was still all wrong but this time I wasn’t looking for color but rather light, shadow and form.  The landscape took on an entirely different look when viewed from that perspective.  The sand became less harsh and took on the creamy, silky look that I wanted.  In the end I was able to create the image that I have so often though of.

Sunrise Over Taos

Sunrise Over Taos

Sunrise Over Taos

This image is part of my Western Color collection and it’s easy to see why.  The vibrant colors of the the sunrises and sunsets in the west are breathtaking.

I had spent many hours the day before I created this image scouting the location.  My initial plan was to just photograph the sunset but the entire time I kept thinking about the sun rising above the mountains.  I ended up getting a later than desired start the next morning.  Everything was a rush.  I ran down the trail along the Rio Grande Gorge with all my gear hoping not to fall over the edge in the dark.  It was about 19 degrees out and my hands were numb, making it very difficult to set up in a hurry.

Finally, I was in the spot I had decided on the night before and had my camera set up.  When the first light started to appear I noticed that there were some clouds.  This was a bonus since there are so many cloudless days.  I recomposed my image to take advantage of the clouds knowing that they would reflect a tremendous amount of color.  Shortly before the sun broke over the mountains the sky was filled with vibrant blue and red.

I underexposed the image to accentuate the blues and reds and to cast the mountains in shadow.   The intent was to simplify the landscape to a solid shape and make the image about the sky.

Burning Bush

Burning Bush

Burning Bush

This image is part of my Western Color collection.  The range of color throughout the western landscape has always impressed me.  Two of the most striking displays of color are sunrise and sunset.

I was setting up to photograph the sun as it rose above the horizon.   Initially I was just looking for color and a plain horizon.   The contrast of the vibrant colors with a vast minimalist landscape is very moving to me.  I was hiving difficulty finding the right look because of the topography of the area and some development nearby.  Then I noticed the two sage bushes that jutted above the horizon when I used a low angel.  I quickly got setup and waited for the sun to rise hoping that I could get the right angle of it back lighting the larger of the two bushes.

The sun rose with a vibrant orange and yellow glow right behind the sage.  The warm light glowing behind the bush made it appear as if it were on fire.  “Burning Bush” instantly came to mind and is a fitting title for the image.