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Friday, April 1, 2016

God's Playground

Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.
   
    --Ansel Adams

For those who have graduated from confusing it with Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park seems to quietly--but forcefully--beckon those who have never been there.  Located in northern California, Yosemite has long been on my list of must-see places.  No small part of this longing has to do with my interest in photography (dormant for a while, but recently renewed).  One simply cannot think of landscape photography without thinking of Yosemite.  Some of it has to do with escaping the man-made and connecting with the God-made.  If I’m being honest, though, I think some part of me needed to go to Yosemite to be overwhelmed--to be brought down a few notches, and to be reminded that the granite will be around long after I’m not.

Our spring break trip to Yosemite was my 13-year-old daughter’s idea.  Back in January, she came in and asked me if I had any books on Yosemite.  I have two books by Ansel Adams, one more educational, one more pictorial.  I gave her the more educational of the two, and thought nothing else about it.  The next day, she announced that she wanted to go to Yosemite for spring break.  I offered no objection, and was secretly elated.  I spent the next few weeks learning about Yosemite.  Not necessarily the history of its existence, but more about the various locations in the park, where to go, where to stay, how to get there, how to photograph it.  I knew that we would arrive in daylight, that our hotel would be two miles from the south entrance of the park. (Be advised--it's still about 35 miles to Tunnel View from the entrance.)  The road we would take to the park would carry us directly to Tunnel View, the scene most people think of when they think of Yosemite Valley.  As luck (and airline schedules) would have it, I ended up at Tunnel View just before sunset on our first day.  I was ready to pop out of the tunnel and see this grand sight I’ve only seen in videos or photographs.  What I didn’t realize is that you first come around a bend in the road before you get to the tunnel, where you see a more compressed view of Yosemite Valley.  Unless you pull over, it’s a view that is gone shortly after it appears, leaving you with your mouth agape and your heart racing.   She is a tease, isn't she?
 

As you glide down the road and into the tunnel, your heartbeat increases with anticipation.  You know what’s coming next.  You’ve seen a glimpse of it just now, but nothing can really prepare you for what you see when you emerge from the tunnel.  Suddenly, one of the greatest landscapes in all the world is revealed to you.  More accomplished persons have uttered or penned eloquent descriptions of Yosemite Valley and the first impressions it generates.  It’s going to take some quiet time working through the photographs to cobble together the words that might describe my impression of Yosemite Valley.  For now, though, consider the words of others.  First, Carl Pope, a former executive director of the Sierra Club: “It’s a place that you step into and you don’t know what’s going to happen.  It’s a place that can surprise you.  It’s a place where you’re small, but where being small is not a bad thing--where being small is actually a wonderful thing.”  Next, these words by William A. Turnage of the Ansel Adams Trust: “I don’t think there’s any place that hits you in the solar plexus the way the first time you come into Yosemite Valley.  It’s simply overwhelming. . . . It’s awesome.”
 

Over the next few days, we learned our way around the park and it’s amenities.  In many ways, the place truly is overwhelming, almost too much to take in, even given an entire week.  It’s probably similar to being given a $50,000 shopping spree in New York City or Chicago, but you have only 30 15 3 minutes to shop.  And it’s huge, this place.  The entire park is roughly the size of Rhode Island.  One downside to visiting in early spring is that pretty much all of the upper elevation places are inaccessible because the roads are closed from November until sometime in May.  Even though I had purchased Michael Frye’s book on photographing Yosemite well before the trip, I was at a loss as to where I should start.  As in writing, in photography sometimes you just have to start doing something.  Anything.  So that’s what I did.  Tunnel View.  Bridalveil Falls.  Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.  El Capitan.  Half Dome.  Mirror Lake.  Tenaya Creek.  Mist Trail.  Vernal Falls.  North Dome.  Cathedral Rocks and Cathedral Spires.  Valley View.  I got a lot of the basic shots, and in the coming days I’ll post them here, with discussion of how I got the shot. 

Since I've mentioned Tunnel View, that's where I'll start.  This was taken the morning of our third day.  It had rained a good part of the afternoon before, and into the evening, before turning to a light dusting of snow.  The weather forecast showed the storm to be clearing out just around sunrise.  I had read that you really need some good clouds for a dramatic Tunnel View shot, so I got up early and headed to Tunnel View.  About 25 or so other people had the same idea, so we were all lined up with our cameras and our tripods and remote shutter releases.  It was a brisk 27 degrees, but once the sun cleared Cathedral Rocks (the formation just past Bridalveil Falls), it warmed up considerably.  I have countless shots of this scene still to work through, but this is one I really like.  ISO 100, Sigma 10-20 at 20mm, f/16 at 1/10 second.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Empty Chairs

I will always remember April 19, 1995.  On that day at 9:02 a.m., an explosion a bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  Until the attacks of September 11, 2001, this bombing remained the most destructive terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  I remember it for two reasons.  

The first, most immediately recognizable moment for me was the heightened level of security at the federal building in Fayetteville.  As part of my law clerk responsibilities, I often had to take documents to the federal building.  The afternoon of April 19th, you could not get within 2 blocks of the federal building in Fayetteville.  Secondly, a guy I knew from my hometown was in the Murrah building at the time and was killed in the explosion. 

This second reason is what made me get out of bed this past Sunday morning and drive to downtown Oklahoma City to visit the memorial.  We were in OKC for a dance competition in which my daughter and her dance company competed.  Those of you who have kids who are doing or have done this understand that 1) the venues are conveniently located near NOTHING; and 2) the event timings leave little room for free time.  I knew we would probably not be loading up to drive downtown to spend any significant time at the memorial and museum, but I was not going to leave town without going to this piece of hallowed ground and visiting The Field of Empty Chairs.

I got there about 7:30--about an hour later than planned.  But, I still had the place to myself.  Wearing dark glasses and a black skull cap, carrying a large camera bag and a tripod, it did not take long for a security guard to appear and make sure I was on the up-and-up.  We chatted.  He told me it was ok to walk among the chairs.  He showed me where the names of the bombing victims were engraved on the chairs.  He showed me the chair of Baylee Almon, the infant in the famous firefighter photograph (I'm not going to give it to you--go look for it).    I didn't have nearly enough time to do much of anything other than take in the site and take a few photographs.


The children's chairs are smaller than those of the adults.  If you have children, you instinctively get how poignant this is. 






Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sunset on Summer

This photograph seems fitting for the end of summer.  Most of us who have kids are already back in school, and some of us are already looking forward to fall break.

This photograph was taken at The Dock in Lake Providence, Louisiana.  We stopped there for dinner on the way to Florida this summer.  Random mom and her young son.  The surprising thing about this photograph is that it was taken with my iPhone 4S.  I recently downloaded the Camera+ app, and used the Clarify tool to really make this image pop.  The only thing done outside of the iPhone was to pull it into Photoshop and straighten the horizon.  That's it.  Camera+ reports the EXIF as being ISO 64, 4.3mm, 1/356 at f/2.4  Weird numbers, but I was shocked at how good this turned out.The iPhone 4S camera is pretty good for a phone, and Camera+ seems to be a great little app--for $.99, you can't go wrong!


Monday, July 30, 2012

A Resurrection of Sorts

I've had two photography posts since the beginning of 2011.  Aside from that, I've pretty much been AWOL. I just haven't been inspired to get behind the lens.  About a month ago in Florida, I was asked by friends to take some obligatory ocean side portraits.  Veritable CF.  Foggy lenses.  Dirty lenses.  Fading light.  Rechargeable batteries that had forgotten how to hold a charge.  Panic.  Total fumble.

That whole fiasco experience kinda pissed me off.  A few years ago, I was working hard to develop my skills and a knowledge base.  You probably remember the little sign in the dentist's office when you were a kid:  "Ignore your teeth and they will go away."  Same thing with photography.  If you don't practice, the little nuances (hell, the big nuances, too) of running that little box-sized supercomputer will overcome you.  What to do?  Go shoot.  Anywhere.  Anything.  Push the button.

So I decided to challenge myself and do something I've always thought about doing--a one lens challenge.  Actually, to make the challenge more exacting, it needs to be limited to one focal length. Manual mode only.  So on the way to the Bentonville Farmers Market last Saturday morning, I grabbed my camera and stuck on my 50mm 1.8.  Sharp lens.  Fixed focal length.  Foot zoom.  With wife, daughter and dog in tow, shooting was not exactly convenient (and crepes--can't forget those).  But I got a great shot of my daughter with a dragonfly balloon, and got a few shots of 3 of the 4 members of a little high school group called Farmer & The Markets (they kinda reminded me of a Walk Off The Earth video).  I got a down the line shot with a shutter speed fast enough to freeze faces but slow enough that hands conveyed a send of motion.  It's one thing to know your camera and what all the buttons and dials do, but you should challenge yourself to tell a story, convey some motion, or have some direction and so I was pleased to pull off that shot (it took a few times to get the shutter speed right).  But I also got one of those all-purpose stock shots, imploring you to support your local musicians, and I like it because it conveys a sense of waiting and wanting.  Of course, as I sit here writing this, it occurs to me that had I shifted about 2 feet to the right, I could have included the open guitar case where people were tossing tip money for the guys.  That really would have been the prop to finish the shot.  Just because you have a bunch of nice pots doesn't mean you can cook. They'll be back and I'll try again.

50mm, 1/320 at f/2.8, ISO 100.  Conversion to B/W in Lightroom.

My Lightroom skills these days are about as poor as my camera skills.  I'm fairly pleased with the overall conversion, but need to get some of the blacks out of the music stand. 





I've seen some versions of this challenge talk about shooting an entire week or month with one lens.  Even as simple as it is, the 50 1.8 can be a little hard to get your head around when shooting on the fly, so while I don't know if an entire month is realistic, it's a good way to learn about perspective and composition.

Go support your local farmers markets and musicians.  Take your camera.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Vulnerability

I found myself in an uncertain situation last night. When I got home from work, I went to the mailbox and got the mail, which included a Priority Mail package for me. I opened the envelope to discover three New Customer packets from Verizon Wireless. As I looked through one of the packets, I found a “Customer Receipt” that indicated that I had opened 3 cell phone lines with Verizon on February 20th. This not being the case, I immediately called Verizon and alerted their fraud department. In the process of doing this, I learned that the account had been opened with my social security number. I called the police (an officer later came to the house to interview me). I instituted fraud alerts with the credit reporting agencies. I tried to get my once-annually free credit report, only to learn that someone had already either got it or tried to get it the same day as the Verizon accounts were set up. This last little piece of information was perhaps a little more frightening than anything else.


So don’t think it can’t happen to you. Despite best practices, it most certainly can happen to you.


That feeling of vulnerability that comes with not knowing when the next shoe is going to fall is scary. But I’m over being frightened. Now I’m pissed. I don’t know who you are, but I am a patient man. I don’t know who you are, but I have a slow burn. I don’t know who you are, but I am Maximum Decimus Meridius. I don’t know who you are.


Not yet.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Soliloquy

This weekend at Wine Club, we will be presenting 6 wines from 4 of our favorite wineries from our May trip to Napa Valley. I got a little bored the other night and broke out some flashes, a shoot-through umbrella, a grid and some props to get this shot of the top of the capsule of a bottle of Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Soliloquy Vineyard Oakville 2009. We love Flora Springs. You should, too. Check them out here. Get some wine. Share the love.

Two speedlights at camera left. One high and shooting down through a shoot-through umbrella at 1/2 power. Second light is Justin clamped to a chair at 45 degrees, with a Honl grid, aimed pretty much at the capsule (which is the foil covering over the top of the wine bottle). White blanket background. I ran out of batteries or I would have splashed the background.

ISO 100
1/60 at f/11
Nikkor 70-300VR at 300, hand held.

Incidentally, the other wines are the 2009 Buehler Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Valley, the 2009 Buehler Vinearyds Zinfandel, the 2007 Trespass Vineyard Cabernet Franc, the 1999 Flora Springs Trilogy, and the 2005 Taylor Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hello, blog. Long time, no see.

So it's been about 16 months since I've posted anything on here. Coming soon (relatively) will be a little recap of our recent trip to Napa Valley. Until then, here's a shot from high on a hill above Buehler Vinevards. I took four or five shots from the passenger seat of John Buehler's truck, and after about 30 seconds, he remarked, "What the hell are you doing, making a photograph or a painting?"

I think I've forgotten how to operate a camera. I'll blame it on the wine.