Archive for the ‘Vision and Creativity’ Category

Telling a Visual Story

Monday, February 8th, 2016
Ross's geese in the fog at sunrise, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Ross’s geese in the fog at sunrise, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Claudia and I have made several trips to California’s Central Valley this winter to photograph birds. It’s one of our favorite things to do this time of year, when large flocks of waterfowl take up residence in the valley’s marshes for a few months before migrating northward in the spring. I love watching and photographing the movements of these flocks, especially the white geese – the snow geese and Ross’s geese. Seeing 10,000 geese take off in a single, noisy, coordinated wave is simply awe-inspiring, but there’s magic and beauty in their smaller comings and goings as well.

My approach to photographing wildlife is similar to my approach to photographing landscapes. Rather than making closeup photographs of individual animals, I’m trying to incorporate the animals into the landscape, looking for ways to capture a mood and convey what it felt like to be in a particular place at a particular time, watching a unique and beautiful moment.

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A Snowy Morning

Thursday, December 17th, 2015
Reflections along the Merced River, winter, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Reflections along the Merced River, winter, Yosemite. I tried several different versions of this photograph. I initially wanted to include a wider view, with more trees on the sides, but a distracting log just out of the frame on the right bothered me. In the end I liked this tighter, simpler, distraction-free version better.

Yosemite Valley received two doses of snow this past weekend, first on Friday night, and then again on Sunday night. I wasn’t able to make it up there on Saturday, but Claudia and I drove up early Monday morning after the second snowfall.

The storm had cleared around midnight, and temperatures then dropped down to 25 degrees. Below-freezing temperatures inhibit the development of fog and mist, so the skies were clear when we arrived in the valley. But we found three to four inches of fresh, fluffy snow coating all the trees.

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Oceans of Fog: Part Two

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Thursday morning; focal length was 75mm

As I mentioned in my last post, the fog display on Thursday morning might have been even better than Wednesday morning. It didn’t look very promising at first. There was no fog at our house, and none in Mariposa either, so I knew Mt. Bullion wouldn’t work. Claudia was with me this time, and we decided to take a back road out into the lower foothills. At one point we crested a ridge, and there, below us, was the sea of fog.

Again I was fortunate to find a good viewpoint looking toward the southeast. This time there was a layer of high clouds above the fog, already starting to turn color with the sunrise. Best of all, a double-peaked hill was poking up out of the fog in that direction. The image at the top of this post is an early one from that morning, with a brilliant sunrise above the fog and hills.

After the sun rose, the fog lifted into some nearby ridges, getting high enough to almost – but not quite – obscure that double-peaked hill. Soft backlight filtered through the high clouds, bringing out beautiful textures in the fog (see the two images below).

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Oceans of Fog: Part One

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, Wednesday morning

After the episode of dense fog in the Central Valley that I mentioned in my last post, the fog lifted into what meteorologists call a stratus deck last week – essentially a layer of fog that’s slightly above ground level. From the Central Valley the stratus deck would look like a low overcast. If you were to drive out of the valley into the Sierra, you’d climb into the clouds, and into a layer of fog, and then eventually get above the fog and into sunshine. And if you could find a hill or ridge that rose above the stratus deck, you’d be able to look out over a sea of fog.

That sight should be familiar to people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or anywhere along the California Coast. When I lived in the Bay Area in the early ’80s, I remember driving along Skyline Drive on the Peninsula and looking out to the west over a sea of fog covering the ocean. At that time my interest in photography was in its infancy, but it was a beautiful sight. I’ve had that mental image in my mind ever since, and have long wanted to make photographs from above a sea of fog.

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Oaks in the Mist

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Oak, sun, and fog, Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Oak, sun, and fog, Sierra Nevada foothills

As regular readers know, I love fog. It’s a little like snow in the way it can transform an ordinary landscape into something dreamlike.

We’ve had a lot of interesting fog around here lately. Last week the fog was very dense in the Central Valley, sometimes persisting all day rather than burning off in the afternoon. One morning we made an early trip into the lower foothills of Mariposa County, an area with rolling, grassy hills and scattered oaks (I’ve posted images from there before). I was hoping that the fog would be thick enough to push up from the Central Valley into these foothills, and it was – just barely. We were right on the edge of the fog, which was actually perfect – foggy enough to create a misty, ethereal mood, but not so foggy that it completely obscured the landscape.

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Wildlife Landscapes

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Sandhill cranes, fog, and the setting moon, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Sandhill cranes, fog, and the setting moon, San Joaquin Valley, CA

Although I specialize in photographing landscapes these days, I also enjoy photographing the masses of migrating birds that spend the winter in California’s Central Valley. And while I won’t pass up an opportunity to capture a close-up wildlife portrait, most of the time I’m trying to include some of the animals’ habitat. I’m really attempting to photograph landscapes with birds in them, and, as with other landscapes, use the light, weather, and moment to convey a mood.

Last Tuesday morning Claudia and I made another trip down to one of the wildlife refuges in the Central Valley. As usual, I hoped for fog, but knew that if the fog didn’t materialize there would be a nearly-full moon setting to the west, which also might help to add some mood to the photographs.

As it turned out, we got both. We found some low-lying mist, but it wasn’t thick enough to obscure the moon. I just needed some birds to add to the mix, and fortunately we found a flock of sandhill cranes roosting in a pond with the moon behind them.

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“Ordinary” Landscapes

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh, CA, USA

Sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh, California, December 18th

I’m grateful to live near Yosemite Valley, one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. But in photography, light is more important than subject. My most popular image of 2014 featured an orchard in the Sacramento Valley – with exceptional light. I’d rather photograph an “ordinary” scene in great light than an extraordinary scene in dull light.

Last month Claudia and made an early-morning drive to one of the wildlife refuges in the flat-as-a-table-top expanse of the San Joaquin Valley. I was hoping for fog, which is common on winter mornings in the Central Valley. Instead, I found the beautiful clouds and reflections shown in the photograph above. In this case, the flat landscape helped, making it possible to catch the orange ball of the sun just as it crested the horizon. The light, clouds, colors, and reflections helped to convey a nice early-day mood.

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Finding Rhythm

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Curious deer, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Curious deer, Yosemite

We all know that music has rhythm. Speech has rhythm too: the cadence of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs gives language its order and structure, and makes it easier to understand.

We don’t usually think of photographs as having rhythm, but they do – or, at least, good ones do. Most effective photographs have some kind of repetition, a pattern that helps give the image cohesion and rhythm.

The tenth issue of Photograph digital magazine just came out, and it includes an article of mine called “Finding Rhythm.” I’ve been thinking a lot about visual rhythm lately, so I was happy to have this opportunity to write about it for the magazine.

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The Power of Diagonals

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Half Dome at sunset from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome at sunset from Tunnel View, Yosemite. The dramatic light might grab your attention here, but the interlocking diagonal lines create a cohesive design and a sense of energy.


 

One of the keys to learning composition is to think abstractly. As Ian Plant says in his excellent ebook about composition, Visual Flow, “Learning to think abstractly about visual elements is the single most important thing you can do to improve your compositional skills.” The less you think about the subject, and the more you think about the underlying abstract design – the lines, shapes, and patterns – the better you compositions will be.

It’s often easier to think abstractly when photographing a small subject, like a pattern of leaves, or a series of cracks in ice. But it’s just as important to look for repeating lines and shapes in big, sweeping landscapes. One of the most common – and powerful – designs in these big scenes is a series of interlocking diagonal lines. Most hilly or mountainous areas have an abundance of diagonals, and diagonal lines give a photograph a sense of dynamic energy and motion – a perfect fit for dramatic landscape images.

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Knowing What to Look For

Thursday, November 13th, 2014
Aspens in fog near Ridgway, CO, USA

Aspens in fog near Ridgway, CO

 
Claudia and I have been busy since our trip to Colorado in early October, so I haven’t had a chance to post more images from our travels until now. But maybe that’s a good thing, as that time has given me a chance to reflect on the journey.

It had been a dream of mine to photograph the autumn aspen display in Colorado, and it more than lived up to my expectations. Colorado veterans said it was the best fall there in many years, and it certainly looked good to us. The sheer number of aspens covering the hillsides was astonishing.

The problem was that I didn’t know the area. At all. I’m usually writing about photographing Yosemite, or maybe the aspens on the eastern side of the Sierra, places that I know intimately. That knowledge is a big advantage, giving me a greater chance of being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the light, weather, and conditions.

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