monochrome

COMPOSE THE SCENE, THEN WAIT

1/1800 @f4.0, ISO 200.

1/1800 @f4.0, ISO 200.

The title of this blog comes from something Sam Abell* said during his presentation, The Life of the Photograph, at OPTIC 2017. I have watched and rewatched that presentation several times now and there is no doubt that I will watch it again.

During the presentation, Sam takes us through his thought process when making a photograph. But this idea of finding a scene, composing the image and then waiting, really stuck with me. I struggle sometimes with the patience that is required when photographing on the street. Why can I sit for hours waiting for just the right light when photographing landscapes, but while walking the streets of a city, I move as fast as the pedestrians around me.

1/1600 @f4.0, ISO 200.

1/1600 @f4.0, ISO 200.

As I set out to photograph the 187th Indepence Day Parade of Churches and Sunday Schools in Roxborough, Philadelphia, I decided to test out the idea of just staying in one place, with one lens and let the parade pass me by. Not a real stretch I know, but it was the idea of finding the right background and light and then waiting for the uncontrolled action to pass in front of my camera.

I walked most of the parade route and finally settled on background that was fairly uncluttered and in the shade. There was also shade on my side of the street which meant the foreground would be in shadow as well. That provided natural framing if I exposed for the light that would fall on the parade goers. 

1/2200 @f4.0, ISO 200.

1/2200 @f4.0, ISO 200.

With the background picked, I finished off the composition by selecting the Fujinon 50mm (75mm equivalent) f2.0 lens attached to my Fujifilm X-Pro2. This focal length meant I had only one or two shots before the subjects passed by. The benefit of a parade, of course, is that you can see what's coming and know they are not going to change their course. The downside is that you can't control who will plant themselves on the opposite side of the street to watch the parade. Or that it would be the one July 4th parade-goer who wore bright orange instead of red, white, or blue.

In deciding what to photograph, I looked for color, flags, and enthusiasm. I did choose to present all the photographs in black and white, and not just because of the previously mentioned, man in orange, but I liked how the contrast of light and shadow, put all the emphasis on the subject. 

1/3000 @f4.0, ISO 200.

1/3000 @f4.0, ISO 200.

This parade is not like a typical parade made up of marching bands, fire trucks, and floats, but consists of parishioners from all the churches located in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, 15 participated this year. There are a few classic cars or perhaps a band made up of from the congregation, but it is really just a way to start Independence day before they head to their church for a picnic.

I'm happy with my results although I keep wondering if I should have chosen an alternative spot as a backup or would it have been better to pick an interesting group and follow them along the parade route, however, I think as an experiment it was best that I just stayed put.

* Sam Abell is an American photographer who has worked for the National Geographic Society since 1970 photographing more than 20 articles on cultural and wilderness subjects. In addition to numerous books, he lectures on photography and has exhibited his images to audiences around the world.

SALTON SEA - A PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDY IN BLACK AND WHITE

Salton Sea State Recreation Area. 1/640 @ f8, ISO 200.

Salton Sea State Recreation Area. 1/640 @ f8, ISO 200.

I don't exactly remember when I first became aware of the Salton Sea. It may have been something I read, or perhaps I saw a news report or documentary, but I do remember being fascinated by this place.

A few weeks ago I finally had an opportunity to spend a day exploring a few of the communitites that remain.

North Shore. 1/750 @ f8, ISO 200

North Shore. 1/750 @ f8, ISO 200

Heading first to the Salton Sea Recreation Area, I had to pass through North Beach and the desolation became apparent. Empty lots where houses would never be built, abandoned gas stations, motels, and stores are the first thing I noticed, and what I expected to see. 

North Shore. 1/640 @ f9, ISO 200

North Shore. 1/640 @ f9, ISO 200

However, the recreation area was a surprise. It seemed like many other recreation areas throughout the country, campsites, a camp store, small beach with pavilions, picnic tables, and grills.

Salton City. 1/350 @ f11, ISO 200

Salton City. 1/350 @ f11, ISO 200

But like all the other locations I would visit over the course of the day, something seemed slightly off. Maybe it was the lack of people or the overall sense of failure. I don't mean failure of the people that remain, but the failure that comes from a dying sea. The failure to sustain life due to an increase in salinity and pollution over the years. 

Salton Sea Beach. 1/240 @ f8, ISO 200.

Salton Sea Beach. 1/240 @ f8, ISO 200.

I knew before I took my first photo that I would present them in black and white. Even in color, there is a monochromatic look to the area. I also shot all the photographs with the same lens, a Fujifilm 16mm, f 1.4, and from a similar height. That common perspective is what I was looking for in order to make this a series. 

Salton Sea Beach. 1/750 @ f8, ISO 200.

Salton Sea Beach. 1/750 @ f8, ISO 200.

With a large waterfront in one direction and mountains in the other, I can see why people were drawn to this location. And perhaps if you look deeper, why some people reamain.

Desert Shores. 1/340 @ f8, ISO 200.

Desert Shores. 1/340 @ f8, ISO 200.

I never made it to Bombay Beach or Slab City and did not interact with any people. I hope to change that if I have the chance to return. Mostly the people. I'm curious what it is like to live on the Salton Sea. And I know it is people that will add a warmth and bring my photographs to life. Maybe even show that the Salton Sea really is alive after all.

Desert Shores. 1/250 @ f8, ISO 200.

Desert Shores. 1/250 @ f8, ISO 200.

FINDING PHOTOGRAPHS IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

The light that appears just after sunrise is special. In this case, I liked how it made the sand colored mountains glow. I wanted something in the foreground and picked this lone josohua tree which I originally thought about shooting in silhouette, however, as the sun began to rise above the mountains behind me I knew I would have a few minutes where the sun lit the top of the tree, but before it lit me and cast my shadow into the scene. Sometimes missing the actual sunrise is fine.   Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon XF 35mm f2 R WR, 1/60 @ f14, ISO 200 .

The light that appears just after sunrise is special. In this case, I liked how it made the sand colored mountains glow. I wanted something in the foreground and picked this lone josohua tree which I originally thought about shooting in silhouette, however, as the sun began to rise above the mountains behind me I knew I would have a few minutes where the sun lit the top of the tree, but before it lit me and cast my shadow into the scene. Sometimes missing the actual sunrise is fine.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon XF 35mm f2 R WR, 1/60 @ f14, ISO 200.

It was still dark outside when I left Oceanside, Calif., on my way to Joshua Tree National Park, hoping to arrive in time to photograph the sunrise. As I made my way west on the I-10, still some 40 miles from my destination, a place I've never been, and the sky began to slowly lighten, it became evident that I was probably going to miss another sunrise.

It was only then when I recognized a familiar anxiety, which shouldn't exist, yet an anxiety that creeps in almost every time I decide to make one of these personal photo trips. Why do I put any kind of pressure on myself and why does it matter if I miss the sunrise? Am I really missing the sunrise if I'm watching it with my eyes? Do I have to actually capture the sunrise in a photograph in order to alleviate the anxiety? These are the questions I struggle with.

During the middle of the day I had a great time exploring a section of the national park called Jumbo Rocks. Lots of fun climbing around the granite rock formations in search of interesting shapes. I thought the light wrapping around this particular boulder which was balancing on an even bigger boulder made a nice composition. Choosing to convert to monochrome during post  processing helps to focus on that composition as does using a red filter, which turns the blue sky almost black.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon XF 35mm f2 R WR, 1/900 @ f8.0, ISO 200 .

During the middle of the day I had a great time exploring a section of the national park called Jumbo Rocks. Lots of fun climbing around the granite rock formations in search of interesting shapes. I thought the light wrapping around this particular boulder which was balancing on an even bigger boulder made a nice composition. Choosing to convert to monochrome during post  processing helps to focus on that composition as does using a red filter, which turns the blue sky almost black. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon XF 35mm f2 R WR, 1/900 @ f8.0, ISO 200.

The strange thing is that I rarely feel this kind of anxiety when I'm on a paid assignment, like the one I just finished the day before. I feel pressure for sure, but somehow it's not the same. I've reflected on this before, this feeling that I have to get a remarkable image or somehow the trip was a waste.

Of course, the reality is that I normally come back from all of these trips with at least some photographs that I'm proud of. What I am certain of though is that I do return from these trips with memories of a great experience. Maybe that is more of the point.

I kept noticing how these lines of a different type of rock  made their way through the giant granite formations. In this case, I used the line to lead the viewer into the photo.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon XF 35mm f2 R WR, 1/680 @ f11, ISO 200 .

I kept noticing how these lines of a different type of rock  made their way through the giant granite formations. In this case, I used the line to lead the viewer into the photo. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon XF 35mm f2 R WR, 1/680 @ f11, ISO 200.

I'm fortunate that I get paid to take photographs. And I'm also fortunate that I get to travel in pursuit of those photographs. And when I can extend that trip in order to experience a new location with my camera, I try to take full advantage of it.

One of the best things about photographing during the winter months is that the sun sets early enough that there is still plenty of time for dinner. What is difficult, however, is with close to 800,000 acres of land, how do you find the perfect spot to photograph that sunset in Joshua Tree National Park. During my travels through the park earlier in the day, I found a section with a lot of trees, so I returned to that spot and after about 20 minutes of walking around as the sun dropped behind a distant mountain, I found a nice composition and made my final photo of the trip.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon XF 16mm f1.4 R WR, 1/60 @ f9.0, ISO 200 .

One of the best things about photographing during the winter months is that the sun sets early enough that there is still plenty of time for dinner. What is difficult, however, is with close to 800,000 acres of land, how do you find the perfect spot to photograph that sunset in Joshua Tree National Park. During my travels through the park earlier in the day, I found a section with a lot of trees, so I returned to that spot and after about 20 minutes of walking around as the sun dropped behind a distant mountain, I found a nice composition and made my final photo of the trip. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon XF 16mm f1.4 R WR, 1/60 @ f9.0, ISO 200.

Sometimes on these personal trips, I just need to remind myself to slow down, realize that there is not a deadline and that there is not an editor waiting for the results. These trips are about me and my camera and capturing memories. And sometimes when I miss that photo of a sunrise, I need to remind myself that I still had the experience and know that I'm fine with that.

TWO DAYS, TWO VERY DIFFERENT PHOTOGRAPHS

The first thing I noticed was the bare feet and the half empty bottle of liquor as this couple approached me on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach. That was enough for me to turn around and follow. When I noticed the dog, I had all I needed for an interesting photograph. I followed for about five minutes before the crowd thinned enough for me to isolate those elements.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a 16mm, 1/340 @ f2.8, ISO 200 .

The first thing I noticed was the bare feet and the half empty bottle of liquor as this couple approached me on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach. That was enough for me to turn around and follow. When I noticed the dog, I had all I needed for an interesting photograph. I followed for about five minutes before the crowd thinned enough for me to isolate those elements. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a 16mm, 1/340 @ f2.8, ISO 200.

Part of me is jealous. I sometimes wish I could settle on just one genre of photography; landscape, street, portraits, weddings, etc., and become great at it. Instead, I find myself photographically all over the place. 

Take for instance a few weekends back. I was in Little Creek, Va., on assignment for the Navy photographing autonomous surface vehicles when weather canceled Saturday operations. Instead of calling it a day, I headed to Virginia Beach to photograph what was remaining of the annual Neptune Festival.

Since it was late in the day and the weather was not great, I decided to walk the boardwalk looking for street photos and then maybe a sunset. Sunset never really came, but I did walk away with one solid street photograph.

With sunrise or sunset photos, I like to have a foreground element. In this case, I used the pier which helps lead you into the photograph. The sun provides some backlight at the end of the pier and adds a subtle warmth overall without overpowering the photograph. Finally, I used a slow shutter speed to smooth out the surf, which further draws you in.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with 16mm, 1 second @ f16, ISO 200.

With sunrise or sunset photos, I like to have a foreground element. In this case, I used the pier which helps lead you into the photograph. The sun provides some backlight at the end of the pier and adds a subtle warmth overall without overpowering the photograph. Finally, I used a slow shutter speed to smooth out the surf, which further draws you in. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with 16mm, 1 second @ f16, ISO 200.

Then on Sunday with a scheduled day off and much better weather, I rose early and headed back to Virginia Beach to photograph the sunrise. Even though I was 100 yards from where I made the street photograph the previous day, it was a completely different scene. 

It was just me, a few surfers, and another photographer, so instead of the crowds and mayhem, it was just great light and the sounds of the surf.

I suppose I'll never settle on just one style or genre of photography. Why would I? After all, the only thing that seems to be affected by these ever-shifting genres is my Instagram numbers as those that followed me because they liked a landscape photo, unfollow as soon as I post a street scene. 

However, those are just numbers from mostly anonymous people. What matters to me, and keeps me shooting after all these years is the variety. So even if I never become known for a specific genre of photography, I am fully satisfied that I can come away with a decent photograph from any situation.

SAME LAKE - THREE DIFFERENT PHOTOGRAPHS

When I peered out of my tent at 4 a.m., I could see the stars. An hour later when I broke camp and headed to the lake, the stars were gone and the clouds were starting to build. There was some wind, however, it was blocked by the mountains, so the surface of the lake remained calm, allowing me to capture some nice reflections. A half hour after I took this photograph, the sky became a solid gray and it started to rain. No sunrise, but I still came away with a photograph.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with 16mm lens, 1 second @ f3.2, ISO 200 .

When I peered out of my tent at 4 a.m., I could see the stars. An hour later when I broke camp and headed to the lake, the stars were gone and the clouds were starting to build. There was some wind, however, it was blocked by the mountains, so the surface of the lake remained calm, allowing me to capture some nice reflections. A half hour after I took this photograph, the sky became a solid gray and it started to rain. No sunrise, but I still came away with a photograph. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with 16mm lens, 1 second @ f3.2, ISO 200.

I set out on an overnight backpacking trip to Avalanche Lake, located in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks in New York State, with the intention of capturing both a sunset and a sunrise photograph. What I ended up with was neither a sunset nor a sunrise, but I still came away with three photos that I'm proud to share.

The details. From the Adirondack Loj parking lot, located 16 miles from the town of Lake Placid, it is a 5.2-mile hike to the south end of the Avalanche Lake where I took the photographs. The first 2.3 miles to Marcy Dam and the next one mile are fairly easy. However, the next mile presents you with a 635-foot elevation change in order to reach Avalanche Pass before you descend a litte to the lake which sits nicely between Avalanche Mountain and Mount Colden.

I knew that I would not be able to capture the sunset unless I hiked back to the other side of the lake. and that wasn't going to happen. But the great late afternoon light coming from behind and skimming the tops of the mountains on either side of the lake added a nice warm color reflection and made the photograph.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with 16mm lens, 1/60 @ f11, ISO 800, Exp. Comp. -1.3.

I knew that I would not be able to capture the sunset unless I hiked back to the other side of the lake. and that wasn't going to happen. But the great late afternoon light coming from behind and skimming the tops of the mountains on either side of the lake added a nice warm color reflection and made the photograph. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with 16mm lens, 1/60 @ f11, ISO 800, Exp. Comp. -1.3.

The final part of the hike which brings you around the lake is the most challenging and demanding, especially with a full pack and camera gear. You will contend with boulders, ladders, and a very winding trail, but if you take your time, it is worth it. One of the neatest parts of this section is the two "Hitch-Up Matildas," or boardwalks, that are affixed to the sheer rock walls. 

While it is quite possible to do the round trip hike to Avalanche Lake in one day, it would be tough to do that, yet still be there early in the morning or late in the day, optimal times for taking photographs. So I recommend you bring a tent and plan on spending the night. There are some lean-tos closer to Marcy Dam, but that is still quite a hike. A nice tent area sits only about 100 yards from the South end of the lake.

At this end of the lake, there is plenty of debris, mostly logs, that has built up and makes for some interesting foregrounds. In this case, I switched to a vertical and used this large branch to lead you into the photograph. Converting to monochrome emphasizes the contrast between the warm wood and the cool lake.  Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a 16mm lens, 1/60 @ f16, ISO 800, Exp. Comp. -0.3.

At this end of the lake, there is plenty of debris, mostly logs, that has built up and makes for some interesting foregrounds. In this case, I switched to a vertical and used this large branch to lead you into the photograph. Converting to monochrome emphasizes the contrast between the warm wood and the cool lake. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a 16mm lens, 1/60 @ f16, ISO 800, Exp. Comp. -0.3.

So in the end, even if I didn't capture a sunrise or a sunset, I was able to get three different looks of the same lake and it was all made possible because I made the overnight hike. Sometimes the effort put into the hike makes the photographs even better, even if only to the photographer.