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This blog was begun on January 29, 2011. The views expressed, unless otherwise credited, are those of the author, David Halpern, who is always willing to hear contrary views. These views are also subject to change as technology improves or other new information becomes available. Questions and comments are welcome. Click to Email Me

 Archived Blog Postings - June 28 through December 31, 2011

December 31, 2011: Happy New Year! ¡Feliz año nuevo!

New year's eve is a time for celebrating with song, fireworks, and toasts. We do it perfunctorily and few can explain why we celebrate in the manner we do, except to say that it is festive entertaining and joyful. Can any of us explain the Robert Burns poem set to music that we'll sing at the final stroke of midnight tonight?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

I'm not suggesting we ought not celebrate. I just wish we'd consider why we celebrate as we do, what we're celebrating and why, and give serious thought to what we want to do in the coming year that will be worth the celebration that will come at the next new year.

May your year be healthy, productive, and satisfying. And let us all try to be good to each other.


December 29, 2011: Almost everyone loves puppies. I certainly do.

Throughout the years when I was a practicing commercial photographer, I described myself as a "generalist," meaning that I did not specialize in any one type of photography or subject matter. That was a necessity in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I lived and worked, if one wanted to survive in this business. I suppose I might have specialized in oil field photography for a while, but the volume of available work in that arena dropped off significantly in the early 1980s. Beside that, I enjoyed the challenge of doing many different things. Over the years I did a lot of advertising and product illustrations in my studio, architectural and industrial photography, and documentary work. In the first category, my subjects ranged from children's fashions to construction tools to jewelry and food products. And occasionally, there was a need to include animals in my photographs.

On this occasion, the client was a friend who had a litter of puppies that were destined to be hunting dogs. This many years after the assignment, I don't recall what the intended use of the photograph was, but I didn't encourage him to take his business to a typical "pet photographer." I went to a local feed store and bought a few bales of hay, the client brought in some antique duck decoys, a shotgun and shells, we found an old milk can and before the puppies were brought in, we built the set, set up a couple of Broncolor Hazylights with the dominant light on the left side to simulate normal daylight with just enough direction to bring out detail and define the forms while providing broad coverage. There was, as I recall, a strobe with an umbrella reflector at the camera's position to provide a single catchlight in the eyes of the puppies, but the overall effect I wanted was that of a single light source coming from the left side. While I always liked to fill the shadow areas, I never wanted to see multiple shadows from obvious secondary light sources. To this day, my preferred lighting is a single source, supported with reflectors of various types, though I make exceptions when photographing night scenes.

When photographing animals and children, I always anticipated uncontrollable behavior. If multiple animals or children were involved, I expected at least one of the subjects to wander off the set or become distracted just as I was about to trip the shutter. During this shoot (and I still have all the film to remind me) I had some pictures of one puppy, some of two and several where all were looking in different directions. Fortunately, there were enough like this with all the attention focused on the camera where I was no doubt making strange sounds or engaging in some ridiculous behavior to keep them "interested." You'll notice that all three pups have a slightly confused look on their faces as if they're not sure what to expect from me. They're clearly not ready to get up and approach the camera and they're probably hoping I'll stay put behind my camera. Whatever...I accomplished my purpose and how I managed to do that was less important that the achievement itself. I promise, however, I would never do anything to traumatize my subjects.

Well, that may not always have been true with my adult human subjects.


December 25, 2011: My wish for all of you...

Forest Shadows, Santa Fe National Forest, NM © 2010, David Halpern, All Rights Reserved


December 24, 2011: There's your mouth! Santa Claus through the eyes and of a child.

A while ago, I was going through my negative files and rediscovered twelve images that I made in my studio around 1980, all versions of the one shown here. This particular photograph was never published because it didn't fit the client's purpose, but I was reminded of some of the details of the occasion and, in retrospect, I found it amusing.

I regularly encountered surprises when young children were the subjects of a shoot. I remember one occasion when I was asked to do an Easter illustration for a children's clothing store. We thought it would be interesting to put a young child on the floor next to a large rabbit and watch the interaction. To get things started, we gave the child a carrot and asked her to feed the rabbit. The child, however, decided to claim the carrot for herself. As she took her first bite, I tripped the shutter and immediately knew I had an even more appealing and certainly more amusing picture than the client and I had planned.

For this Christmas set-up, we were just hoping that the child would not be frightened by Santa and that we would get some cute smiles and conversation. What we didn't expect is that this young lady would see right through the set up, realize that the beard and moustache were not real and go exploring for his real facial features. Not only was she fascinated; she was very pleased with her discovery.


December 23, 2011: It's that magical time of the year in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and if you've ever experienced Christmas Eve on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico, you know it's like no other Christmas celebration anywhere. Thousands of people will walk the distance from Paseo de Peralta to Palace Avenue, visit with friends, look into gallery windows, drink warm cider or hot chocolate, and warm themselves at numerous bonfires. Farolitos or luminaria rimming rooftops and adobe walls will light the way for pedestrians and automobile traffic will be prohibited. There will be carolers and sometimes spontaneous musical outbursts by participants in the walk. The fragrance of burning piñon will fill the crisp December air and people filled with the spirit of the season will greet strangers with smiles.

The photograph above is a montage of images made during last year's walk. It wasn't planned, but when I downloaded the individual images to my computer for review, I couldn't resist the temptation to assemble them in this manner. This year, I'll again take my camera on the walk and perhaps take a more deliberate approach.


December 19, 2011: Street Photography

New Orleans is a wonderful place to practice your street photography—particularly photography of people—and you see a lot of tourists doing it with everything from professional SLRs to iPhones. Many of the performers seem very willing to be photographed, though some of the "character types" want compensation for allowing their pictures to be made.

Each of the images you see in this blog post were made with the subjects' knowledge that they were being photographed. The pictures, however, are neither for sale nor available for commercial use. The cornet player (right) was photographed in Jackson Square and I don't know if I would have made his picture had I not been impressed with his musicianship. He was very good—no average street performer playing simply for handouts.

The picture below is different from the other two because the subjects are neither character types or performers. They are construction workers on a break. When I saw them, I was attracted as much by their "arrangement" as I was with the appearance of any one individual. I didn't conceal what I was doing and I was pleased that they didn't attempt to pose for me. In fact, the slightly hostile looks on some of their faces was exactly what I hoped for, after all I was interrupting their leisure. I shot the picture from across the narrow street and then shouted "Looking good!" to which they responded with thumbs up. That's the way I prefer to relate to people I photograph. I learned long ago that you get cooperation when you're open about what you're doing and when you avoid the quick grab shot.

For this picture of a street band, complete with sleeping dog, washboard and bucket bass, I sat down on the curb in front of them to make it appear that they were performing just for me. Actually, there were quite a few people in their audience and I would have made a picture from behind the group looking out at the bystanders had there been enough room behind them to allow me to to capture both the audience and the band. A photograph of both groups from either side would not have captured their facial expressions. As it is, this is the kind of a photograph that you have to view in a larger size in order to appreciate the expressions and the details of the environment.

There aren't many places where you'll find as much activity in the streets as you do in New Orleans, and when you do find similar activity, it most often is on the sidewalks. But, many of the streets in New Orleans' French Quarter are closed to vehicular traffic during the day and performers often work on the pavement. I've made these kinds of photographs in Seattle's Pike Street Market and at street fairs and festivals in other communities, but I know of no other city that affords the variety of photographic opportunities found in New Orleans' French Quarter.

It is a great place for a photography workshop.

December 16, 2011: Where today is also yesterday and tomorrow. Royal Street in New Orleans

Looking toward Canal Street from near the intersection of Royal and Toulouse Streets. I wish I could show you this image full size so that you could appreciate all the details from the foreground to the Royal St. Charles hotel sign six blocks distant.

Royal Street is fascinating. From Canal Street you can walk the fourteen blocks to its intersection with Esplanade Avenue, losing track of both distance and time as you pass some of the city's best known restaurants and wander in and out of galleries and shops. You also see attractions such as the restored Louisiana Supreme Court Building and St. Louis Cathedral. One of my most fascinating stops was at 533 Royal—the Historic New Orleans Collection— where I watched a video presentation featuring historical 3-D photographs of the city.

I made this picture from just outside M.S. Rau Antiques, established 1910 and aptly described as a museum where everything is for sale. Directly across the street From M. S. Rau is the well known Court of Two Sisters Restaurant. In the distance are the popular Brennan's and Mr. B's Bistro.

While the entire French Quarter is a feast for a photographer's senses, I kept coming back to Royal Street during my full day of exploring, perhaps because I found the most interesting people and places to visit either on that street or a within a block either way from the intersections. Unfortunately weather conditions last week were far from ideal, so I guess I'll just have to plan a return visit to the Big Easy.


December 14, 2011: Jackson Square in New Orleans' French Quarter...the iconic image

Has any camera toting visitor to New Orleans not photographed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral? If any subject in the French Quarter can be considered an icon, this is it. As I recall, I made my first picture of this site with a Spartus Full Vue twin lens reflex camera that my parents gave me when I was twelve years old. This one's a little better.

If everybody and his brother has made this picture already, why did I bother making this photograph last Wednesday? Well, to begin with I did it because I was there and it was a nice day. I did it because of nostalgia. And I did it as a challenge to myself to make a picture of the place in the middle of the afternoon without showing a single person in the image. Call it a demonstration of patience...or maybe just plain obsessive compulsive behavior. No Photoshop tricks were used. This is exactly as it least for a few seconds.


December 13, 2011: New Orleans, a city of fascinating juxtapositions, history and cultures...

This is where I was headed shortly after my December 3 post, that featured the picture of the St. Louis Bay bridge on US 90 in Mississippi. That bridge was destroyed when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast in August 2005, but it was rebuilt and completed in November 2007. My photograph of it was made in March 2009. Almost four years after Katrina, that visit to the Gulf Coast and seeing how much of the area remained devastated were disturbing experiences. A year earlier, I had visited New Orleans and seen the boarded up homes in the ninth ward still bearing the painted on markings that told the story of rescue and the death toll. But, I had no idea how far the long lasting effects of Katrina extended until I toured the Mississippi coast in 2009. The media where I lived at that time had concentrated its reporting on New Orleans.

Last week, as I returned to the Crescent City, I was anxious to see how much had changed in the three years since my last visit. I explored a thriving community, spending most of my time in the French Quarter, which although it had been the first part of town to reopen after Katrina, had nonetheless not escaped damage and business losses. This year, the charm of the Quarter was much as I remembered it from visits many years ago. I walked for hours, exploring the shops and galleries, listening to street musicians, eavesdropping on tourist conversations and trying to sort out the visual clutter. I looked for interesting subjects to photograph and found a few, from the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel with its over-the-top holiday decorations, to the roof lines of historic building, to the tourist attractions along Decatur Street in the French Market, where I made the image below.

This was a scene like those I remember from my first visit to New Orleans when I was a teenager. I liked the building with its roof dormers, shuttered windows and balconies with iron railings. The building by itself was interesting, but I looked for something else that would mark the picture as being clearly from the French Quarter. I made a couple of exposures and then, off to my right I saw the mule drawn carriage making its way in my direction. Cars were coming in the opposite direction and I hoped that there might be a moment when the cars would be out of my field of vision so only the carriage, the building and a few pedestrians would be in my picture. Luck was on my side. As the mule entered the frame from my right, a car passed me going in the opposite direction. Then there was a break in the traffic as the carriage completed the composition I'd wished for.

What this image demonstrates is the importance of photographing with both eyes open. It's really important to be as aware of what is going on outside the frame of the image as you are of what is going on inside the frame, for that unseen action can be a part of the story you're trying to relate to the viewer. As in this instance, it affected my timing and made it possible to achieve a composition that might have been missed, had I not anticipated the action on the street in front of me and been ready to trip the shutter at the right moment.


December 12, 2011: A different perspective on clouds from 30,000 feet.

Last Thursday, as I was flying northeast from Dallas (no, that's not where I was heading when I posted the bridge picture on December 3...more on that later), I looked down from my window seat on American Airlines Flight 1822 and saw an striking array of cloud formations. The only camera I had readily available was an iPhone, and I used it to make the series of pictures shown below.

Now, I'm accustomed to seeing clouds from the windows of airplanes, and generally I'm not easily excited by them. But these were different than the clouds I'm accustomed to seeing either from the ground or from planes. I generally recognize cumulus, stratus and cirrus clouds, but I was looking at an assortment that defied simple descriptions, and in just a few minutes, I recorded these nine images, all of which reminded me of waves in a stormy sea. But. we were not flying through a storm, and from what I could see of the ground below, there wasn't a storm below us. The air at 30,000 feet was calm.

I imagined that had I been viewing these clouds from below, they would have appeared recognizable as cirrus or cirrocumulus, but from above, with their vertical wisps, like spray from the tops of giant waves, they were more exciting than any cirrus clouds I'd seen before.

Obviously, I'm not a meteorologist, but seeing cloud formations like these makes me want to know and understand more about atmospheric phenomena. Maybe one of you readers can offer some enlightenment. What was I seeing here?

December 3, 2011: I'm off to gather new material. I'll be back to the blog on December 12.

If you recognize this bridge, then you probably have a good idea of where I'm heading for the next few days. I haven't visited this area since 2009, and it will be good to get back to this part of the country, to see how things have changed since then, to explore the rich history, culture, architecture and textures of the region's principal city and make some photographs that are different from those I've shared with you since I became a resident of New Mexico.

During the week, I will not be able to post new content to the blog. I will be flying to two destinations in eight days, and as much as I would like to carry my lap-top computer with me, I find that air travel today is such a hassle that the less I carry the better. I've even lightened the load of camera equipment I take with me.

So, please come back to the Blog after December 12. I will be keeping my journals during this trip and that will provide a substantial amount of new material.

Also...and I'll be telling you much more about this soon...I've made plans to teach two seminars for the Santa Fe Photography Workshops in 2012. In August, I'll offer the second edition of my "Seeing in Black and White" workshop, and this time it will be a five-day session. Then, in October, I will offer "Four Corners: From Capture to Print," which will give you an opportunity to explore much more of the landscape than we would have covered in the Bisti this past year. Stay tuned for much more news. about these offerings.


November 29, 2011: " really restores your faith in randomness!"

The Wall of Windows, Bryce Canyon, Utah, 1991

One summer morning in 1991, while photographing in Bryce Canyon Utah, I set up my 4"x 5" view camera just off a trail and was about to make this picture when I heard the footsteps of a single hiker coming toward me. I was hidden from his view, and was behind the camera with my focusing cloth draped over my head and the camera back as I made adjustments. Concerned that he might walk into my picture, I came out from under the focusing cloth and was waiting for him to pass, when he stopped suddenly about thirty feet away and, in what almost was a shout, exclaimed, "Wow, it really restores your faith in randomness." He wasn't talking to me; it was a spontaneous outburst prompted by his excitement with the view. We exchanged pleasantries and he continued on his morning hike. I went back to my camera, exposed a couple of sheets of film and then was off in the direction from which he had come.

I thought a lot about his exuberant remark and I wondered what he meant by "Faith in randomness" I guessed that the man was a mathematician or at least had been a student of mathematics. I understood the meaning of the word "random" as in random numbers, or selecting something at random, without aim or as a chance occurrence. But, "Faith in randomness?" I never thought about random occurrences that deeply.

On the other hand, looking at this "Wall of Windows" (the name that has been given to this particular formation for obvious reasons) I perceived some order in the natural architecture and the process of change or evolution it represents. While the forms and shapes appear to have a quality of randomness, they are formed that way because of the location of various densities of rock and mineral deposits in the strata, the direction in which water naturally flows and the force it exerts on the rock and soil depending on its volume, acceleration and other measurable factors which, although seemingly random in their occurrence, produce predictable effects. It was interesting how that hiker's spontaneous reaction triggered this wave of analytical thought and enriched my morning. I found myself viewing nature as a force that is always in control, sometimes producing results that we would not wish for, but always according to its own mysterious and wonderful plan.

Many thoughts go through my mind as I'm making photographs. Sometimes they're personal, sometimes they're silly and occasionally they seem profound. I don't always talk about them, but I regularly record them in the journals I've kept for years to remind me why I make the pictures I do. To me these observations are much more important than technical notes about f-stops, shutter speeds and exposure meter readings. When I was growing up and reading everything about photography I could get my hands on, I found it curious that photographs were regularly captioned with their titles followed by film ratings, f-stops, shutter speeds and even the contrast filters used. What was that information going to do for me? I wasn't likely to go to any place and make the same picture that someone else had made under identical conditions. So, in my journals, that kind of information only appears when there is something about the data that I need to recall when working under similar conditions. For example, one of may favorite lenses when I worked with large format cameras was optically designed to produce the sharpest image at its smallest aperture setting (most lenses are designed to produce the sharpest results using a f-stop somewhere in the middle of the the available aperture range) and its smallest aperture was f/90. I generally made a note in my journal when I used that lens because that information best explained the remarkable depth of field and apparent image sharpness.

And, as in this instance, I often listen to the comments of the people I meet when I'm working. These are sometimes comments made to me, but more often they are comments overheard and not intended for my ears...which gives me an idea for a future blog post. 


November 28, 2011: Recalling a miserable night, a glorious dawn, and an incredible opportunity more than thirty years ago...

It was a dark and rainy night. Wait...this isn't the story you've heard before.

This was a place I'd never been and like most drilling rig sites it was nowhere near a city. I'd been given precise directions, but having no familiarity with the area and the landscape, I was not at all comfortable alone in a rented car on rural roads in the dark of southern Mississippi. I leaned forward peering through the windshield as my wipers swished back and forth. The road signs were few and there were no lighted intersections. Now and then there was a light in a farm yard and I could see tall pine trees lining the road, but mostly I followed the beams of my headlights down the asphalt roadway leading into more darkness. I'd been driving most of the night because I was told I needed to be at the rig site by dawn, though with the rain, I hadn't any preconceptions of what kind of photographs I might be making in this weather.

I knew, too, that this asphalt road was going to turn to gravel and finally to wooden boards when I reached the drive leading to the rig and the trailer where I would meet with the toolpusher (that's what they called the boss of the rig's crew).

My directions were very good and I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I made the final turn and saw the lighted rig ahead of me. I pulled up next to the trailer, left my cameras and other equipment in the car and ran through the rain to the trailer door. The toolpusher was expecting me and he had just brewed a fresh pot of coffee. We exchanged greetings and a few early morning wise cracks. I looked out the window at the lighted rig, but I wasn't about to start climbing around it in the rain. I downed my first cup of coffee and went out to the car to retrieve my equipment. The rain was letting up, but it was still dark.

I inspected my cameras, loaded film and exchanged stories with the toolpusher until first light. The rain was over but dawn revealed solid cloud cover. Then something magical happened. The clouds began to break up into small puffs that reminded me of popcorn against the brilliant blue sky and the horizon turned bright yellow. I was startled and excited. "Excuse me, I need to be outside right now!" and without hesitation I grabbed one Hasselblad camera, my 40mm Distagon lens, my exposure meter and a tripod and was unceremoniously out the door. I didn't have to expose many frames to know that it wasn't going to get any better than this. Nature had presented me a gift and that miserable dark and rainy night had turned into one of the most spectacular mornings I would ever experience. I stayed longer at the rig site, but I can't recall now what other images I made. This one would be the obvious choice when I showed it to the art director, and I wasn't surprised that it was given a full page in the client's annual report. I titled it Popcorn Sky and filed one transparency for my portfolio.

I remember this experience so vividly, as though it happened just yesterday. The drive through the rain and the surprise I experienced as the clouds broke into those remarkable popcorn puffs, and the equipment I used have stayed with me for more than thirty years, though I don't recall the exact location of the rig, the name of the tool pusher or any of the other images I made that day. Maybe it was the extraordinary effort I made to be at the right place at the right time that makes the experience so memorable, or the feeling of joy I had because I was given the gift of that opportunity. was an experience that still makes me glad I chose to make my living as a photographer.


November 27, 2011: Remembering past experiences. Learning for the future.

In the early 1970s, I was based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it was only natural that many of my clients were in the business of exploring for and refining oil. I became accustomed to working in the "Oil patch" and routinely found myself climbing on drilling rigs and refinery towers to look for dramatic angles and photographs that were out of the ordinary. The assignments I enjoyed most were those where I produced the images for company annual reports, because those were the ones that permitted me to be most creative. We would discuss what the client wanted to communicate and then it was left to me to come up with the appropriate photographs.

In those days, there were a lot of photographers working in the oil patch, and coming up with images that were out of the ordinary wasn't easy to do, and it wasn't comfortable. I recall the first time I climbed to the top of a refinery tower two hundred feet tall carrying two Hasselblad cameras and a backpack full of equipment. But that was a piece of cake compared to the first time I climbed the ladder to the crown block of drilling rig in Wyoming, 285 feet above the ground, or sat in open the door of a hovering helicopter to photograph an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico. I tried to ignore what some people tried to tell me was dangerous, and in time I came to regard all of this as fun. It was profitable, too.

The picture below was the last one I made after a long day aboard a tow traveling down the Alabama River to the Port of Mobile. I boarded the towboat early in the morning and spent the daylight hours climbing all over it and the string of oil barges it was pushing toward a storage facility at Mobile. I was allowed to move freely and exposed several rolls of film working from every angle I could imagine, being careful not to fall overboard. When the sun set, I put my cameras aside and spent time talking with the captain and crew until we docked. Then, as I was about to disembark, I saw this scene from the deck of one of the barges, looking back toward the towboat with it's searchlight beam scanning the dock. Though I felt like I was rocking and the barge wasn't as steady as I wished, I set up my camera and tripod and made a series of exposures. Frankly I was surprised to discover, when I developed the film, that the barge had not been moving at all as I thought and the images were sharp. This one was used as a two-page spread in the annual report. Another daylight shot with the city of Mobile in the background also was published.

This image represented just one of several days I spent in southern Alabama. Each day's subject was different. One day I would photograph construction in my client's refinery; on another I would be making pictures of people on the job or in the boardroom. I would travel to drilling sites in the Florida panhandle or fly to Houston to make pictures in the plant where the company's newest drilling rig was being manufactured.

I was a commercial photographer from the early 1970s through 1998, and I loved doing it. I never looked at the work as just making pictures, always reminding myself that I was in the communications business, creating images to solve problems, just as I had done in the advertising agencies I worked for during the previous fifteen years. I approached each assignment with the same intensity I applied in the making of my personal images, and the dividing line between fine art and commercial photography became blurred. I still often entertain the idea of calling an old client and asking for one more opportunity to visit their facilities to make a few personal images.

Today, young photographers tell me that assignments like the one I described above are not easy to get. Annual reports frequently are illustrated using photographs made by several different photographers hired because of their proximity to each required location. My experience was as a photographer hired to give the annual report a desired "look." Often, my knowledge of a particular industry was an advantage and I required less direction than someone who, as one client told me, "Just took pictures." In this digital age, art directors often feel that they can use their computer software to add a style or consistency to work provided from multiple sources. Travel expenses have increased since my heydays and fewer clients are willing to bear the added expense of flying a photographer all over the country. Indeed, the business has changed, but I still believe that opportunities exist for individuals who are willing to work hard, establish a personal style and and set themselves apart from the pack. You really have to want to succeed and you have to believe in what you do.


November 26, 2011: I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, that you survived Black Friday and that you will have a safe and sane Cyber Monday.

I spent the past several days reminiscing. Part of that involved reviewing negatives and transparencies that I've been meaning to preserve as digital files, but haven't had the time to scan until now. It was a bit like visiting old friends that I hadn't seen in years. The renewed contact brought the events crashing back like ocean waves and the separation seemed to have had little effect on memories. I'm, sure you've had experiences like that; you pick up right where you left off and a new conversation begins.

I'll share some of those memories in my next blog post.


November 19, 2011: Mother Nature creates the most incredible art. (About found images)

If you've followed my blog for a while, you've often read that I try to approach each new location without preconceptions. That's my way of remaining open to new possibilities–including subjects I couldn't have anticipated and might not have recognized had I been looking for something specific.

So when our October Santa Fe workshop visited The White Place near Abiquiu, that was the way I began exploring the landscape, just as my students did, never having visited this location. The first thing that caught my eye was a large red rock pointed skyward like a large arrowhead. I started walking toward it, but the closer I came to it, the less it looked like it had from a distance and the less it excited my imagination. So I started walking around it and came face-to-face with the subject shown above, eroded into the face of a wall of tuff. I'd seen strange patterns eroded into mud and rock many times, but this one appeared to be a relief sculpted with purpose, but not yet completed. I started to walk away, but after walking several paces, I turned back and looked at it again. There was no reason not to photograph it, so I composed the image and made two exposures.

Nothing in the photograph suggests the size of the subject, so I'll tell you that it was relatively small—the frame includes about four feet from top to bottom. What you see was sheltered in a niche in the side of a larger formation and had the light been earlier or later in the day and the shadows long, I might not have seen it at all.The more I study it, the more the image suggests, like stalctites and stalagmmites in a cavern. I didn't make another image like it that afternoon and it's not the sort of subject that I generally photograph, but it has me thinking that there's a lot in this part of the country that is deserving of more attention.

This is a found image, created by nature. My only contributions to the process were recognition and the ability to make a correct exposure. The composition seemed obvious, though surely I could have composed a tighter or wider image. I would have liked to see what one or more of my workshop participants would have done with the same subject, but they had scattered in several directions and I was quick to realize that I should go look for them and see what they were discovering on their own.As it happened, they didn't need my suggestions for subject matter, the environment stimulated each of them and they were expressing their own vision.


November 16, 2011: Sometimes we make images just for fun...and because we have the opportunity.

This burro was photographed at the Ghost Ranch on November 14. He was looking at me and I was looking at him. No more commentary seems necessary.


November 15, 2011: A few words pro and con about simplicity. The value of seeing more in less.

This is an image from The White Place that doesn't tell you much at all about the total landscape. It's part of a scene that is extremely complex, so much so that an effort to take it all in can be overwhelming. The photograph below, for example, was made in the same general area, and though it does not include the tipi-like structure shown in the picture above, it demonstrates the challenge to the eye that is common when you're exploring this kind of landscape. I made the wider landscape image for reference, and while I tried to create an interesting and pleasing composition, inviting the viewer to explore its content, it's the kind of photograph that gives an overall impression without fixing your attention on anything specific—not that there's anything wrong with making pictures like this.

In my own work, I often exhibit a preference for simplicity, though I wouldn't impose that on my students or anyone else. Over the years, without a lot of conscious effort, I've seem to have become more focused on the elements in my photographs as geometric shapes juxtaposed within the context of the natural environment and, as a result, many photographs appeal to me as graphic designs even as they are expressions of reality. For a time, particularly in the early 1970s, I tended to compose images so tightly that they lacked a sense of place. Looking back on that work, my usual observation is that those pictures could have been made almost anywhere. I came to wonder why I bothered to travel to distant and sometimes remote places if my apparent purpose was to dwell on the texture of a single rock or the lines created by a portion of a flowing stream; not that there's anything wrong with making pictures like that either. My aesthetic response when reviewing those photographs was "Isn't this interesting?" or "Isn't that beautiful?" when what I intended to say was "Look at what you can find beautiful, interesting or spiritually uplifting in this natural environment." Subsequently, I began to look for a way to relate the details that attracted me to make the image to the larger and recognizable scene in which I discovered them. Now, I make a point of adhering to the principal statement I feel a need to make with my photography. That doesn't mean I don't explore other types of visual expression and subjects outside the box I have created. Like anyone interesting in the further evolution of his own art, I never close my eyes to new opportunities, new thoughts and alternative approaches.

What do you see in the photograph at the top? I saw the tipi standing out against the shadowed background, of course, but I recognized from the angled lines in the rock that they both were once part of the same geologic structure, now separated by many years of erosion. I also was drawn to the small balanced rock on the point of the pinnacle and it begged me to make the picture now, for it might not be there when I make my next visit to this place.

I use my own thought process here as an example to stimulate your thinking about your own approach to image making. What I've written and shown you explains why I composed the image of that single pinnacle as I did. It is not to suggest that you should approach subjects in the same manner or for the same reasons.


November 12, 2011: There's something very elegant about old cottonwood trees.

I'm drawn to the old cottonwood trees here in New Mexico.

I'm not sure why, but students often bring me photographs they have made of trees. Long ago, when I taught regularly in Oklahoma, I discovered that when I gave my first semester students their first assignment to shoot a roll of black and white film, invariably there would be at least one exposure on that roll—and more often several—of trees, usually looking up at a chaotic arrangement of branches with no central point of focus. The students would tell me that they were drawn to the subject by the complex assortment of lines or the contrast between the branches and the sky or (occasionally) the texture of the branches. I, on the other hand, often saw confusion and careless composition. Still, I remembered the wise advice of Ernst Haas and I felt admonished not to criticize too harshly what might actually be a good beginning.

Over many years, I've made a lot of pictures of trees—aspens, redwoods, maples, sycamores, cypress, willows, palms, pines—all of which have character and beauty. But, there's something special about an old cottonwood like the one above, photographed in Cerrillos during the Seeing in Black and White workshop. I love the rich deep texture of it's bark. It reminds me of many expressive wrinkles in the face of a centenarian who has lived for all his years exposed to the elements of nature's seasons. Its branches are like graceful arms spread up and out to provide the balance that keeps its thick trunk upright. Against those weighty forms, its large leaves, still delicate by comparison to all else about the tree, offer something gentle—a softness to the shadows cast on the ground below. To those of us who like to see beyond what is and conjure up animate images in its form, the central portion of this photograph suggests the head of a large elk raised with pride to show off the many points of its antlers. I see nothing chaotic or careless in this composition and it certainly offers a point of central focus. (OK...OK...Halpern's in love with a cottonwood tree. One day it's rocks, the next he's imagining an elk up a tree.)

What I'm doing is explaining my motivation for making this photograph. I can't do that when an image is hanging on the wall of a gallery; I can't stand there next to my photograph and explain my sensibilities to every visitor. I can only hope that I can get the attention of the viewer and provide enough interest through the quality of the image to cause that person to become involved with the subject and see something they find appealing. To the student who shoots first and only later tries to explain why, my message is simply to turn that process around. If you understand why you want to make a photograph and what you want that photograph to say, you will be better prepared to complete the execution in a manner that is more likely to achieve your purpose.

That is what I mean when I describe the process of pre-visualizing an image. Those who believe it is only about achieving the desired technical values in the print are missing much of what the process is about. Tonal range, contrast, highlights, subtle shadings...all those things are important, but at the same time acknowledge the importance of communicating to the viewer a concept, a mood and your emotional involvement with the subject.

We have been taught through the words of great photographer-artists of the last century and the descriptive terms we use are the ones they applied to their creative process. I think, especially in the digital age that gives so much attention to technology, that it is time to address ourselves to the task of developing a new language that humanizes the process of making photographs and makes us more emotionally sensitized even as we become more technologically aware.

That is why, in Seeing in Black and White, I introduced the students to an exercise borrowed from Gestalt psychology that encourages a person to understand that when you look carefully at a subject, you actually are seeing much more than a single word or convenient phrase can define. The exercise helps the person regain the childlike ability to explore the entirety of a subject for which a child has not yet acquired the knowledge to understand or the language to describe. Awareness thereby becomes a new experience and no two subjects, no matter how similar, ever appear quite the same again.


November 11, 2011: Continuing a review of Seeing in Black and White, at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.

On the third day of our workshop, we traveled north of Santa Fe, passing the spot, where in 1941, Ansel Adams made his most famous image, "Moonrise, Hernandez New Mexico." Today,the location bears no resemblance to that iconic image. Though visitors sometimes stop along the roadside to pay homage to that masterwork, the local residents are not welcoming or appreciative of the "Gaper blocks" they create along the roadside. We drove further north on US 84 toward Abiquiu and turned east on County Road 554 to access the rock hoodoos of Plaza Blanca.

Georgia O'Keeffe could see the strange and wonderfully eroded rocks of Plaza Blanca from her house in Abiquiu, and she celebrated them in a series of paintings, notably From the White Place (1940). Artists and photographers are still as fascinated as was O'Keeffe by this place, although access to much of the area now requires crossing private land and groups like ours ask for permission to explore the cliffs and arroyos.

This was my third visit to Plaza Blanca but it was my first to this particular part of the area, so my impressions were as fresh as those of my workshop participants. Our visit was under nearly ideal weather conditions and everyone was able to take advantage of excellent afternoon light, but this site is large and I definitely want to return and explore it in much greater detail.

The fact that it is called "The White Place" tells you something about the color of this landscape. This is principally a formation of tuff, compacted volcanic ash that has been eroded over centuries. It's hoodoos and cliffs could not long survive in a less arid environment, and while you will encounter splashes of color as demonstrated in the photograph on the right, and small boulders of black basalt, the predominant values are gray and white which under early morning and late afternoon light can reflect blue, yellow and pink. But for most of the day, the The White Place is just that—an ideal subject for black and white photography—offering images that let the viewer examine the often intricate textures and the play of light and shadow.

During the afternoon, I left most of the workshop participants to explore on their own. This was our third day together and I suspected that I had lectured enough and introduced them to exercises that might enhance their abilities to become more sensitive to elements that influence strong compositions. But, I watched each of them from a distance. One wandered much farther into the landscape than I imagined anyone might, another climbed a ridge to look down on the formations from above, discovering that this is a fragile landscape and what appears to be secure rock can be easily dislodged if you attempt to rely on it for support. One wandered the arroyos examining the flowing lines left by water from the last rainstorm. I saw another scrambling into the mouth of a side canyon with very steep and high walls.

Toward the end of our visit, as most of us were returning to our starting point, I climbed onto a slab of very white rock and discovered, in the late afternoon light, basalt rocks casting long shadows on the very bright surrounding surface. I called to those around me, made a few exposures of my own and then got out of the way while the others found even more than I to make into images of their own. The photograph below is a reminder to me that I want to spend more time with this subject when I return.


November 10, 2011: Beginning a review of Seeing in Black and White, at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.

The four days of my October 26-29 workshop were a combination of practice in the Santa Fe Workshops' digital lab and field exercises that afforded participants the opportunity to photograph a variety of subjects under lighting and weather conditions that ranged from rain and heavy cloud cover to a brilliant sunset. In the next few days, I will post some of my own images that will show some of the opportunities we had and reveal some of the challenges the students faced while creating black and white interpretations of subjects that were full of color.

We began the workshop on a day that offered rain at the lower elevations and a bit of snow at the higher elevations above Santa Fe. We took advantage of the remaining fall color, accented by raindrops that fell intermittently throughout the afternoon. My primary purpose when conducting a workshop is to provide assistance to my students. I do, however, keep a camera close at hand and that allows me to make a few photographs for demonstrations and as a record of the event. Below is an example from that first outing.

Effective black and white photography requires an understanding of color, light and contrast. These aspen leaves were yellow and orange and they were lying on a gravel surface that contained a lot of blue, although they initially appeared to be black and dark gray in contrast to the brighter colors of the leaves. The challenge in this instance is to convey, without color, the shades of fall by contrasting the leaves with their dark background and rendering the drops of water to convincingly show how wet the environment was. This requires subtle control of the contrast filtration afforded through Adobe Lightroom (or Photoshop) in order to capture the mood of the subject.

On our second day, we drove south to Cerrillos and Madrid, New Mexico where our subjects included architecture, man-made objects like glass bottles and old vehicles, large cottonwood trees, a few local people and railroad tracks. The weather was more cooperative—partly cloudy or partly sunny depending on your philosophical outlook—and we ended the day with a brilliant sunset near the former location of Waldo, west of Cerrillos.

One doesn't often consider photographing in black and white in the glow of sunset, but the example below demonstrates one such possibility. With the setting sun behind me and somewhat to my left—its brilliant light turning the western rock face of this this small hill to bright orange and red—I realized that red contrast filtration could produce exciting contrast with the tree in the foreground and the sparse ground vegetation. Though the sky is light in value, and there is a temptation to darken it, there is enough detail to make the hill stand out against the clouds and the overall range of values in the image is pleasing. The direction of the light tells the viewer that this picture was either made very early or late in the day, though the exact time is less important to the success of the image than is the mood created by the quality of the light.

Tomorrow, I'll show you some more images, including ones from a place called Plaza Blanca (The White Place), an exciting rocky landscape that was a favorite of Georgia O'Keeffe.


October 23, 2011: Where did the last ten days go?

While preparing for my rapidly approaching workshop, Seeing in Black and White, I moved a lot of activities to the back burner and without intending to ignore this blog, I awoke this morning to the realization that indeed I had been off line for too long a time. So enough with the excuses, let's get back to sharing the words and pictures.

Fall color is still with us in Santa Fe.

And it's not all at the higher elevations in the mountains, in fact, much of the aspen color is gone following an early snowfall. But the contrast between the bare branches and remaining foliage at the lower levels still presents interesting image possibilities. And, there are other trees that display beautiful golden colors in the valleys and all around our city. A block down the street from me there is a glorious locust tree that has turned yellow and when the afternoon sun hits its leaves they turn a brilliant gold. Along the river are ancient cottonwoods that offer huge canopies of yellow contrasting with their deeply textured trunks. And the willows, mountain ash and the abundant chamisa and purple asters lining the raodsides also add dramatically to the display of brilliant color. We may not have the variety of hues that New England "Leaf peepers" boast of at this time of the year, but I'm not complaining because, to quote the old prospector, "There's gold in them thar hills!"

Last week, I drove up toward the Santa Fe ski area and turned onto Forest Road 102 that I wanders northwest through the Santa Fe National Forest toward Chupadero and Tesuque. It was late on a Thursday afternoon and the sky was clear. Near 6:00 the sun was sinking over the Jemez mountains and the light was particularly red and strong, turning the aspen leaves to their most saturated colors. In the picture below, you'll notice that some of the foliage is still green and I was particularly pleased that the tree on the right added depth to this image.

In earlier blog posts, I've talked about translating fall color to black and white, but this image and others made that afternoon beg to be shown in all their brilliant color, for that is what attracted me to the scene and the color is precisely what I want the viewer to appreciate.

Can a photograph like this be converted to black and white? Of course it can, but why would I want to do that? The picture below shows one possible interpretation in which I've put special emphasis on the white trunks and drawn your attention into the forest where the tree trunks stand out more prominently against the black background than they do in the color image. However, I really did not intend to make this a black and white image. I have much stronger photographs of similar scenes that were made in the spring and work better in black and white because I was seeing them that way when I composed them.

You be the judge. Do you prefer one of these two images over the other? I won't ask what you would have done in this situation because you weren't there and you can't know what was outside the viewfinder's frame. Had you been given the opportunity to look at the total environment, you might have been influenced as I was, or quite likely you would have selected a completely different composition.

There's one more observation I want to share with you from that glorious afternoon. As I was driving up into the mountains, I saw a lot of people driving down. I saw other photographers packing their gear and heading home, but I had no one following in my direction, I also had FR 102 all to myself. It always surprises me that so few people take advantage of late afternoon light like that, after all, photography is all about light and I'm not the first of us to make that observation. Dinner will wait, folks. Get out and make pictures.  


October 12, 2011: Photography as Therapy

I ran across this image a few days ago and it took me a while to remember what the circumstances were when I made it. I can't recall all of the details, but I know that it was made around 1971. I was working with Gardner Advertising in St.Louis and had escaped to San Francisco, my favorite city at that time, to recharge my batteries. I recall that I had never before photographed the Golden Gate bridge from this side and had never even seen Angel Adams' image Golden Gate Before the Bridge. I don't remember exactly where I accessed this beach, but it was somewhere east of Cliff House. The direction of the light tells me it was made in the late afternoon, and it must have been rather windy and cool because there was no one else around to disturb the sand. The original image was made on Kodak Ektachrome 35mm. film.

I never thought much of the color image, but many years later I converted it to black and white and was very pleased with the results.

Forty years later this image has held up pretty well—a decent photograph made during a difficult period of my life. Photography was one of my self assigned therapies then, and it was successful. My avocation became my full-time profession in 1972.

I must admit that I didn't know exactly where I was going when I started this post. By revisiting this image, I've discovered what its meaning is for me. It also demonstrates the value of photography as therapy.

I think all of us go through periods of self doubt or disappointment with the direction our lives seem to be taking. At these times we can pick up a camera and let it be a safe instrument that we place between ourselves and the subjects of our attention. The camera gives us a way to examine our world piece by piece or image by image. What we photograph then can be a stimulus to renewal. Our pictures can help us see things with a fresh perspective. You don't even have to be a skilled photographer to discover the truth in that observation.

Next time you feel like you need an uplifting experience, pick up a camera, go out in the street or the country side and look at the world through the viewfinder or lens. You just may discover a lot about yourself in the process and find clarity in the thoughts your images evoke.


October 11, 2011: Film vs. Digital

Yesterday, I showed you a fall color image translated to black and white. Today, I want to make a different kind of comparison using a similar subject. While looking through some older images recorded on 2 1/4" film, I came across the photograph below, made in 1985 in a Colorado forest.

Recently, I've started thinking about the differences in the images I've made since switching to digital capture with those made on film, mostly prior to 1997. And, there are some striking differences. I won't get into a debate over which is better, because both have their good qualities; they're just different.

When I compare images reproduced in the chemical darkroom with those reproduced on my Epson printer, I often find that the range of values in both black and white and color tends to be more limited in the chemically processed prints. I can make digital reproductions that match those almost perfectly, but by scanning the negatives and transparencies and processing them with the latest software, I often discover details in both the highlight and shadow areas of the images that I'd never seen or could not reproduce due to the limitations of the media used when the images were made.Another difference is in the apparent sharpness of the images. While the characteristics of the lenses I used in my film capture days were often different from those of my current lenses, I've observed that the digital images taken under conditions similar to those I used when shooting film (i.e. with camera mounted on a sturdy tripod, similar point of critical focus, comparable aperture selection for depth of field, similar lighting and ISO settings) tend to have sharper detail and edges. If you scroll down to yesterday's post and compare that digital black and white image with today's photograph, you can see what I mean. Of course, I can replicate digitally the appearance of the image made on film if I choose to do so, but generally, I prefer the crisper image. It was what I was striving for when I made pictures on film, but only achieved, at the level I would have preferred, when I was using large format cameras.

In this blog post, I'm talking primarily about image aesthetics. It is interesting to some of us to delve into the technical aspects of this comparison, but if I were to do that, the discussion would consume many thousands of words in addition to countless charts and examples. One of the things one learns when approaching a subject scientifically is the importance of controlling variables. In the paragraph above, I mentioned differences in lens characteristics and some of the conditions under which photographs are made, but those variables are only an introduction to the list of considerations required in a scientific comparison of film and digital images.

My technical gurus insist that digital only exceeds the merits of film when the images are captured on large sensors yielding files in the range of 40 megapixels and above. They insist that digital has not reached a quality comparable to 8" x 10" film capture, though the differences aren't obvious unless the reproduction size is extremely large. I cannot debate their arguments, but I am satisfied that my 24 megapixel files yield images that compare very favorably with those I used to capture on medium format and some 4" x 5" films when printed in sizes as large as 20" x 24".

As I continue to scan my film (there's a process that produces yet another variable) and compare those pictures to my current digital images, I enjoy learning more about their relative qualities and finding ways to narrow the "appearance gap." Meanwhile, I will echo the observation of one photographer friend who, while examining my digital and silver prints side by side, commented "It's not that one is better than the other; they're just different."

All of which demonstrates that photography has come a very long way in relatively few years. In 1997, I wouldn't have dared to hang a digital print next to one of my silver prints. Now I love to challenge viewers to tell me which is which.


October 10, 2011: Translating fall colors to black and white.

It just seems to make sense to photograph fall foliage in color. But don't overlook the opportunity make pictures in the fall of details that lend themselves well to black and white interpretation. Here's an example that I made near the Santa Fe ski basin on October 1.



The color image makes it clear that the image was made in the fall. It is a literal interpretation of the subject. The black and white version might have been made in the spring or summer although the green foliage would have required some contrast filtration to produce the effect you see in this image.

Had I been photographing an entire mountainside in brilliant fall color, I might not have considered making a black and white photograph of the scene, but this is a detail or abstraction of the larger scene, and because the markings on the larger tree trunk in the foreground compelled my attention, I wanted the viewer's attention to be similarly directed and felt that eliminating the color would help me accomplish that objective. (Normally, a viewer's attention is drawn to the lightest or brightest point in a photograph. Inasmuch as the markings on the trunk are dark and not in the brightest part of the image, I realize that I'm working against human nature.)

The decision to convert this photograph to black and white was a rather subjective one, as are many decision a photographer makes. However, the principal point I wanted to make is that even when a subject is one of extraordinary color, there usually are details of the larger scene that can yield striking black and white compositions. Never overlook these often more subtle opportunities, or in this case, don't be guilty of failing to see the trees for the forest.


September 30, 2011: Interpretations can vary dramatically in black and white.

My friend Pete Kunasz has just completed an experiment. He made a photograph in color, converted it to black and white and then sent it to several people and asked them to respond candidly to the comparison and express a preference. I felt that his black and white version was lacking in several ways and asked him to send me the large image file so that I could offer another interpretation. The results appear here with a smaller version of the original color photograph. I asked Pete to let me show these images here, because they speak to the substance of my upcoming workshop, Seeing in Black and White.

Pete's interpretation My interpretation

I'm not showing these to discredit Pete's version or his sensibilities. The fact is that 60% (15) of the 25 respondents in his "survey" preferred his original black and white version. Six people (24%) preferred the color photograph and the remaining 4 respondents (16%) either expressed no preference or said that it would depend on the intended use of the image. I wasn't asked to participate in the experiment, but since he shared the images with me, I offered my opinion.

I explained to Pete that before I converted the image to black and white, I altered the color values and contrast or the original color image. I felt there was so much color variation in the sky behind the branches of the tree that if I attempted a straight black and white conversion, it would appear as if there were dark clouds in that half of the sky, and that just didn't seem natural. By lowering the contrast between blue sky and the tree, I was able to focus more attention on the branches and soften the effect of the uneven and conflicting sky. At the same time, adjustments to the brighter sky, clouds and light rays in the left quadrant, made that portion of the image much more interesting and allowed me to see that those effects extended toward the distant peaks in the "V" of the tree and toward the horizon. I reduced the mid-ground contrast, too, suggesting a thin cloud cover and a cooler temperature. The picture has a distinct desert feeling and while viewers might not appreciate the subtle distinctions I made, I don't want them to think about that as much as I just want to create a pleasing effect.

To those who abhor the manipulation of images in programs like Adobe Photoshop, I hasten to explain that the kind of manipulations I did in this black and white conversion are essentially the same as those we black and white photographers used to do with contrast filters on our lenses and "dodging" and "burning" in the chemical darkroom. The important difference is that in the computer, I can apply all of the "corrections" at the same time and produce more consistent and reliable results. The average viewer, comparing my black and white conversion and the original color photograph would not be likely to notice the manipulations and would most likely regard the images simply as monochromatic and color versions of the same scene.

Black and white interpretations of color photographs are always likely to be as different as the photographers who create them. I once gave identical negatives to sixty first year university photography students and asked each one to make a print. Of the sixty prints that were returned to me, none were identical. That is one of the wonderful things about black and white photography; it allows for subjective interpretation without there being any absolutes. When color is manipulated, the results are often much more obvious.

We will have much more discussion of this subject in my October workshop. I'm grateful to Pete for allowing me to use these examples, Not only does it show how photographers can interpret the same subject in very different ways, it points out how important it is to understand color, even when the image is to be presented in grayscale.


September 28, 2011: Photographers–generally–are not litter bugs.

Shooters of another kind thoughtlessly left this litter behind.*

That's because when we're making our pictures, we often have to pick up after those who do litter. I find it a problem wherever I go. I'm also disappointed to say that I find this to be the case more often in the United States than in some foreign countries.

If the foreground is important to my composition, I make a point of scouring the area and picking up whatever I find that isn't part of the natural scene, It is not uncommon to find shell casings like those in the picture above (and note that there is one live 22 caliber shell in the photograph), dirty diapers, half eaten burgers, old shoes, broken glass, used condoms, and of course the ubiquitous paper cups and aluminum cans. It's pretty disgusting and not at all what we want to find in a wilderness area or National Park, but the fact is there are a lot of slobs out there. And, while you would expect hikers and wilderness campers to be respectful of the environment and pack out what they pack in, even those hardy individuals are not excluded from that characterization.

Roadsides are the worst places, but I don't do a lot of my work from the sides of roads and highways. Those who know me understand that I do sometimes stand or set up my tripod in the middle of a road, but more often, I get off the roads and generally prefer the back country. Back in the 1970s and 80s, I didn't have to pick up much trash along the trails; I'd come back from a long hike with a few pieces of paper in one of my vest pockets. More recently, I've started carrying a plastic trash sack, though I've dug holes in dry areas well off the trail and buried some of the more offensive stuff.

Because it's now the digital age, some might ask,"Why don't you just retouch the foreground and leave the litter where it lies." Those who would suggest that option are totally missing the point, and if I have to explain it, then the world has indeed become a very sad place.

For many years, environmentalists have followed a mantra: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints." It is uncommon today to find pristine wilderness, but when you do find it, it can provide spiritual moments.

*I found and collected these spent shell casings in Waldo Canyon, not far from the ghost town of Waldo, New Mexico. All of them were collected from one small area overlooking rangeland. The photograph was mot made at that location, but composed later in Santa Fe.


September 25, 2011: The Santa Fe area is a photographer's paradise.

Whether your interests are the landscape, the architecture, the people and their activities, or the myriad details that set it apart from other communities, there's plenty that will turn you on as you photographically explore the area during my workshop Seeing in Black and White. In the coming days, I'll share some of my own images from the area like the one below of Santa Fe's Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. I'll show images of a variety of subjects, but I won't even scratch the surface of the possibilities that exist in the area surrounding our storied 400 year-old city.

The thumbnail images below are typical of those I've found within easy driving distance of my home. Recognizing that my subject interests will not necessarily be the same as yours, I will listen to the desires of each student and select locations that suit the wishes of all. After you register, send me an email and tell me what type of subjects you prefer. Also, bear in mind that I want to introduce participants to new challenges. So there will be a variety of subject matter, and there will be options in choosing an approach to the interpretation of images in the prints you make.


September 24, 2011: The Bisti? Well, maybe next year...

When Reid Callanan, Director of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops asked me to lead a workshop in the Bisti Wilderness, I was flattered and excited about the opportunity. As you have no doubt noticed from earlier blog posts, I consider the Bisti a very special place—a unique landscape offering unlimited opportunities for the photographer. We selected early October for the event because the cooler temperatures in the Bisti at that time of the year are a welcome relief from the summer's heat, and rain, which tends to make for slippery footing, is unlikely. As a bonus, early October is between seasons for the Santa Fe Workshops, and without other seminars competing for lab time, my students would have had unlimited opportunity to refine and print their images.

I scouted the Bisti, selecting locations that offer a wide variety of interesting land forms. And, inasmuch as the Bisti is undeveloped wilderness, both the Workshops and I, wanting to be certain that the participants had an enjoyable experience, gave a great deal of thought to logistics.

I was disappointed that registration did not meet the required minimum number to assure the workshop's success. I was looking forward to working with students in this remarkable environment, sharing our responses to it and seeing the resulting images. I received several inquiries, but for whatever reasons—the current economy, perceived physical requirements, absence of "creature comforts," or transportation issues—the workshop didn't have the attraction for you that I thought it would. I hope that feedback will provide guidance for planning another similar but more appealing opportunity. Meanwhile, I'll chalk it up as a learning experience and put all my effort into making Seeing in Black and White a memorable and positive experience for every participant.


September 23, 2011: More on black and white photography...

Cobblestone Bridge, the first of Acadia National Park's carriage road bridges (1917)

When I served as artist in residence at Maine's Acadia National Park, several years ago, I became so fascinated by the fall color in the woods on Cadillac Island that for two weeks I almost ignored the park's dramatic Atlantic shoreline. It was the brilliance and variety of hues that drew me to the woodland areas, and then, walking over the miles of carriage roads that wind their way through and across the island, I became equally fascinated by the classically rustic stone bridges that carry the roads over streams and lowlands, without detracting in any way from the natural beauty of the landscape—in fact, they enhance it.

It was the color that first attracted my attention, but several years later, when I decided to assemble a book about the carriage road bridges of Acadia, I decided that black and white photographs would be more effective in telling the story. The striking color of the surrounding trees, beautiful as it was, drew too much attention away from the architecture of the bridges themselves. With the black and white images, I felt I could be more subjective, using the sunlight and shadows to set the mood of the woodland environment and drawing the viewers' attention to the texture and structure of the arches and smaller details.

But, the decision to use a monochromatic approach was made only after studying the black and white images side by side with identical compositions shot on color transparency film. These pictures were made in a pre-digital time and I had done most of my photography, and all of the bridge photography on black and white 4" x 5" film. I realize that this decision was made subjectively, and some of my readers might disagree with it, but this is a subject about which I've thought long and somewhat philosophically.

When photographing any subject, I'm always especially conscious of the light—its intensity, direction, and mood. Light reflected off our subjects is what we are photographing, and light can define any subject in many different ways, depending on—in addition to intensity, direction and mood—the time of day, weather or atmospheric conditions, the contrast between light and shadow areas and the material nature of the subject itself. In the Acadian woods, the location of each bridge had to be considered and it was important to be at each location at the right time and under the right atmospheric conditions. I studied maps, monitored the weather and sometimes made multiple scouting trips (mostly hiking) to determine when and from what position to make the photographs. There are usually many options when photographing simple landscapes, but when man-made architecture is introduced into the scene, one has to consider the best viewing angle to show the character of the structure, as well as the way it is positioned to serve its purpose.

In this photograph of Cobblestone bridge, which spans a pretty and ordinarily quiet creek, I wanted to emphasize the arch (as I did with all of the bridges) and show the texture of the barrel which, like the faces of the arch, is clad with cobblestones. Although the overall quality of this scene is serene, the range of light values produces extreme contrast between light and shadow that would have destroyed the desired mood of the picture. To correct this, I pre-exposed the film to maintain some detail in the brightest highlight areas when exposing for the shadows (a subject discussed in an earlier post concerning an image of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison). With digital photography, I could have made "bracketed" exposures and combined a number of these using either the High Dynamic Range tool in Adobe Photoshop or a stand alone program like Photomatix HDR Pro. I'll talk about HDR in another blog post and demonstrate that tool during my October 26-29 Seeing in Black and White workshop.

Please pardon the shameless plug, but there still are openings for this workshop and you can find more information about it by visiting


September 17, 2011: How do you know a subject will make a good black and white image?

This is a photograph of a philodendron leaf, made in San Antonio, Texas, in the summer of 2000. I saw the plant while roaming the River Walk and immediately knew that I "needed" to photograph it. The leaf was a bright green, but I saw it as a black and white image with a full range of values from white to black and grays that would give the subject a metallic appearance. How did I know that, and why did I immediately decide that it would make a better black and white print than a literal color interpretation?

That is one of the things we will talk about in Seeing in Black and White, the workshop I will be leading October 26 through 29 at the Santa Fe Workshops. And, by the time this four day seminar concludes, I believe each of the participants will have a better understanding of how to obtain more effective monochromatic and color photographs. We will look at all kinds of subjects—landscapes, people, documentary, and even abstract imagery—and we will study the light, the contrasts and the composition. We will talk about perceptions and the emotional response we want others to have to the images we create. And we will, in the process, develop a greater awareness of everything we see and sense in our environment.

Whatever your interests as subjects go, there will be something for you in Seeing in Black and White, and even the most experienced users of Adobe Photoshop may learn a few new things about using the tools for converting color images to black and white.

To learn more about this workshop, go to or email me.  


September 7, 2011: Lessons from photographing industrial landscape and architecture

During the 1970s and 80s, much of the photography I did was commissioned by corporate clients for their annual reports. I became accustomed to working in refineries, factories, laboratories and board rooms and traveling all over the U.S. I thrived on this kind of work because it gave me opportunities to see new landscapes and to meet interesting people doing exciting work. Candidly, the people I enjoyed most were those who worked on the assembly lines, drilling rigs, in research labs and weld shops. I liked being in environments where the sparks flew and heavy pieces of steel were moved about on overhead cranes. I enjoyed climbing the refinery towers to get dramatic angles and hanging out of helicopter doors to photograph scenes in river ports and oil fields. People often tried to tell me that what I did was dangerous, but I found it to be no more hazardous than climbing into places like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison or hiking a snowy tundra ridge in the Rocky Mountains.

Today, even though I no longer accept commercial assignments, I still like to photograph the landscape and architecture of industry. The difference now is that I don't often have the access I used to enjoy. I can still call up a few former clients and ask for permission to photograph in their facilities or on their property, but more often than not, I have to talk my way into an environment that I find interesting or wait for an open door. And, I have to be especially mindful of the rules that apply to this kind of photography. I don't often need permission to photograph the natural landscape, but industrial environments almost always require access permits. I used to walk along railroad tracks and photograph equipment and construction sites, but that is largely a thing of the past with present day security and liability concerns. Much private property, including corporate buildings cannot be photographed without obtaining releases from the property owners or signing waivers. Still, I enjoy doing that kind of photography as much as any other.

In all the years when I was being paid to do commercial photography, I never looked on the work as being fundamentally different from what I did on my own time as a landscape and nature photographer. I used the same equipment and films and approached every opportunity with the same eye. I tried to find beauty in every subject and though the knowledge I applied to commercial work came from different experiences than those found in photographing the natural world, there were many overlaps and the information was applied in a similar manner. The importance of maintaining a high level of enthusiasm for each new subject was something I recognized as essential to success and I never thought of separating my business from my "Art," and I still don't.

In the past week I've read some comments by other photographers who see their commercial endeavors in a totally different light than their personal efforts. I often sense frustration in their comments and a desire to separate what they do from who they are and what is important in their lives and with their families. Based on my own experience, I find that an unhealthy attitude that can produce a lot of unhappiness. To me everything in life is interconnected. I suggest that one's energies should be applied to finding common threads that enable one to find satisfaction with the whole of life's experiences. If photography is only a job, you need to find a way to weave a more complete fabric before you burn yourself out and hurt the ones around you as well as yourself.

Balance comes from seeking pleasure in all things. The more successful your effort to find balance, the more pleasurable all your relationships are likely to be.


September 2, 2011: The iPhone never ceases to amaze me.

I made this picture last weekend with my iPhone 3Gs. It's not the latest and greatest iPhone, but it's still pretty amazing. All I did to the image in Photoshop was increase the color saturation a bit, but not by much. I've talked about the iPhone in an earlier post, so I won't comment further in this one. I'll let the image speak for itself.


August 31, 2011: Equestrian Photography

Sixteen years ago, my wife introduced me to equestrian sports, particularly show jumping. Sue's been a horse person virtually all of her life and is currently a United States Equestrian Federation licensed official. Before we were married, I'd done a little trail riding in western saddles and I rode very poorly, often feeling so sore at the end of a ride that it took me days to recover. I don't ride at all now, but I think horses are beautiful animals and I enjoying watching them perform under well trained riders. When traveling to horse shows with Sue, I often photograph the activity for my enjoyment. I'm still learning how to do this kind of photography and I have an excellent resident critic who pulls no punches. I've found that it isn't enough to stop the action of horse and rider clearing a jump; you have to understand correct form and recognize the critical moments. I'd done some sports photography years ago, and I understood how to follow and capture peak action, but with football, basketball, baseball, track or soccer I went for drama, facial expressions, contact, and the scoring moment. In equestrian sports, that would be like waiting for the horse and rider to crash into a jump sending rails tumbling or the rider into the ground like a lawn dart. Equestrians hate those kinds of pictures and professional horse show photographers, while they may occasionally take pictures like that, rarely show them and almost never sell them. You just don't see them in equestrian magazines. Photographing equestrian sports is a lot like photographing a ballet and you might be amazed how ugly a picture of a beautiful ballerina can be if your timing is off.

This photograph was made during a Grand Prix jumping competition in Estes Park, Colorado in 2005

Because I don't compete with the official horse show photographers, I've become friendly with a few and I sometimes follow them around and talk shop when there's a pause in the action. I was amazed when I first saw a really good horse show pro at work. She (yeah, they're a lot of women who are very good at this) didn't use a motor drive, but I could tell that she didn't often miss a shot. And she could tell me by listening to my shutter whether I'd captured or missed the action. I found that the only people who used motor drives at horse shows were the press photographers sent to cover the events by the local newspapers. Some of these guys could fire off several frames in a second and still not capture the horse and rider where they wanted to. Timing is critical and if you release your shutter at the wrong moment using a motor drive, it is likely that all the frames will be useless. So, I learned to watch the action carefully, anticipate the critical moment and concentrate on a single frame. It was like the old days when we used press cameras and and sheet film.

Doing this kind of photography helps me sharpen my senses and think quickly. I like doing it because when I do I always learn something I didn't know before. For me, that's what life is all about.

If you want to try this kind of photography, take your camera to a horse show. Check the USEF website to find when there's one in your area. Attendance at most of the shows is free for spectators and if the event takes place out of doors, you generally can walk around the grounds, watch several events and shoot from behind the rail fences with a long lens. Only the official horse show photographer is allowed inside the ring, and sometimes even they are required to shoot from outside the fences. Never climb or lean on a fence or do anything that might be interpreted as distracting to a horse and rider, and never use flash without permission.

It's a good idea to spend some time learning proper spectator behavior, so don't just grab your camera and head for the jumper ring. It's best to observe first and perhaps spend some time making photographs in the stables or exhibitor areas. Learn how things work before you embarrass yourself, get thrown off the grounds by an official, risk getting hurt or cause someone else to be hurt. If you've haven't spent time around show horses, it is especially important to learn how to conduct yourself around them.


August 30, 2011: My love affair with rocks

Some people collect or crave precious stones. I'm a bit less discriminating in that sense, but I do like rocks and they are often the subjects of my photography.

These four images are from a collection of thousands collected over the years from landscapes around the world. Sometimes my interest is geological, sometimes it is simple curiosity, and often it is fascination with what the rock looks like other than itself. I love the textures, the compositions within them, and the way they take on an other worldly appearance beyond the obvious reality of the landscape in which they are found.

The rock on the left appeared to me as resembling rusting scrap metal. I found it while visiting Waldo Canyon south of Santa Fe. The second one is factually titled Gneiss and Schist, though at the time I made it, I was was interested in the "pucker" that appears in the center of the photograph. I found it in a glacially polished rock face in Rocky Mountain National Park. The third image stirred my imagination while visiting Arches National Park in Utah, and the final image on the right is a lava detail, found at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. The heart shaped indentation in the right center is what attracted my attention. With the exception of Gneiss and Schist, each of these examples are selected portions of larger compositions, and the two black and white photographs are reproduced (in their entirety) in my book, Pilgrim Eye.

Though I have often exhibited images of rock textures in exhibitions where they received positive comments, I can't recall that I have ever sold a print of any of them. I think that odd, considering that paintings of layered color and textures are generally accepted as abstract art and widely appreciated. I've thought about this a bit and have speculated that collectors of photography tend to appreciate rock forms and textures most when they appear in images that provide a particular sense of place. I feel that the realistic nature of the photographic medium influences a persons sensibilities differently than does painting, even when the subject is abstracted from the identifiable reality. In truth, I have not explored any theory in great depth, and it might be interesting to exhibit a large collection of rock texture abstracts in order to study viewer responses more thoroughly. Perhaps that could be done through an on line gallery, though I learn a lot more when I have the opportunity to study the faces and body language of viewers.


August 29, 2011: If looks could kill...

This big bison was telling me he didn't want anyone foolin' around with him. He might have been tired, but he was letting me know that, if necessary, he could get on his feet quickly, chase me down and make me sorry I ever invaded his territory.

The picture was made in Yellowstone National Park. There were no other visitors around and though I was quite close, the animal was near enough to the roadside for me to shoot from my vehicle and still keep the camera's position low to look him straight in the face.

One of my regular haunts over more than three decades was the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, where I learned a lot about bison behavior. The refuge maintains a herd of 650 "buffalo" that roam freely over 59,000 acres of grassland and ancient granite mountains. Generally, they are encountered in groups consisting mostly of younger bulls and several cows. In the spring, visitors are treated to the sight of the cows tending their new calves which are lighter in color and without the characteristic large head and front quarters of the mature animals. It is common to hear tourists exclaim "They're so cute!"

But the cuteness is rapidly transformed into a bulky and imposing appearance that commands your respect. They tend to move slowly as they graze, and while they may look slow and lazy, they are quite agile and can run much faster than one imagines. Normally wary and tolerant of people who view them from a respectful distance, they can be provoked if you get too close and will charge unexpectedly. The older bulls become very independent and will often live a solitary existence. I have encountered them standing alone in some of the rocky and higher locations on the refuge, and once, atop Elk Mountain, I rounded a massive boulder and unexpectedly found myself face to face with a huge bull. Fortunately, we were both startled, and I was able to make a quick retreat.

When humans visit protected wildlife sanctuaries and parks, many tend to think of the animals in these environments as tame. But, there is a vast difference between tame and protected and the visitor should always remember that these are still wild animals and that they are being visited on their turf. I have seen many examples of stupid tourist behavior as well as some tragic results, and I never cease to be amazed that people can be so slow to learn from their mistakes.

If you're going to visit and photograph wildlife, please remember that they are indeed wild. Try to learn something about animal behavior before you go, and always err on the side of caution.


August 27, 2011: You gotta be quick, and have a good bit of luck! (or find a slower bird.)

Bird photography has fascinated me ever since I saw Eliot Porter's incredible stop-action images about fifty years ago. In 1990, while working as artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park in Montana, I met wildlife photographer Tom Ulrich, who travels the world photographing birds and mammals, has published several books–including Birds of the Northern Rockies, and travels and lectures annually around the U.S. Tom's work inspires me, we stay in touch and whenever I show him my wildlife images, he keeps me humble.

My attempts at photographing birds are less purposeful than Tom's, and usually occur when a sudden opportunity is presented to me. While conducting a workshop at Rocky Mountain National Park a few years ago, the subject of which was historic structures in the park, my students and I were fascinated by the large number of hummingbirds that were drawn to the many feeders at the Baldpate Inn, just off Highway 7 south of Estes Park and west of Lily Lake. Our schedule was flexible and several of the participants wanted to try photographing the hummers as they darted between the feeders and nearby pines.

When I teach, I make a point of concentrating on the work my students are doing and I do very little shooting, but I set up my tripod mounted camera on the porch of the inn near one of the feeders and tended it now and then while moving between and helping those who needed assistance. My camera was stationary and the field of view was just beyond the edge of the feeder, so that if I did have an opportunity to capture a bird coming in for a sip of nectar, I could quickly release the shutter and hope for the best. I didn't make many exposures during the exercise, and the one shown on the left below has to be classified as a lucky shot. I captured the entire bird, and the point of critical focus is its head and especially its eye.

The picture on the right, of a slower moving Cassin's Finch is the sort of thing most anyone can do in the right setting, a long lens, ample sunlight, a reasonably fast shutter speed and some patience. This picture is one of a series I made last year in our garden. The bird's perch is atop a natural rock fountain that along with several feeders hung on a nearby fence attract many species of birds throughout the day, so I was able to set up my camera in the shade of our portal, about twenty-five feet away from the rock, relax in a comfortable chair with a long cable release in my hand, open a book and wait for a feathered visitor to land in the right place.

None of this gives me license to call myself a photographer of birds, but it is a source of enjoyment when I'm not out in one of my favorite landscapes and feel a need to give my eye and my camera some exercise.


August 26, 2011: How to photograph moving water – one opinion

Some people photograph water with high shutter speeds, preferring to freeze the motion and see every tiny drop of spray; others like to use long exposures and let the water paint its image on the film with soft long lines and sometimes losing virtually all definition so that the water seems cloud-like or feathery. Generally I prefer the softer approach, but as the image on the right demonstrates, not always.

I like the abstract nature of images where the water is in contrast with the hard and often toothy surface of the rock over which it flows, tumbles and falls. I like the interpretive quality of those images which appear very different than what we see with our eyes.

But there are scenes like the one on the right, made at Schoodic Point in Maine's Acadia National Park, where I appreciate the violent force depicted with the faster shutter speed and the many interesting patterns and swirls revealed in the frozen image.

In the photograph on the left of Chasm Falls in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, I chose to place the camera on a steady tripod and expose the image for a full second. Sometimes, when seeking an especially soft effect, I work after sunset or before dawn when the exposures have to be very long—sometimes lasting several minutes.

One nice thing about working with a digital camera is that you have no excuse not to experiment. Try different shutter speed and aperture combinations and see what appeals to your own sensibilities. Years ago when I did my experimenting—often with a large format camera and hours in the darkroom processing sheets of 4" x 5" film—the cost and time spent was significant, so I really appreciate the tools available to students today.


August 25, 2011: I've never considered myself a wildlife photographer...

But I have had a few opportunities and this is one I discovered among my old files from Glacier National Park, Montana. I made it on color negative film and scanned and cropped it to this square format a few months ago. I had put the film away and had not even looked at it for twenty years. But I remember making the picture and the location and I'm now glad I didn't discard the film.

The tone of the picture and the snow on the goat's horns make it appear to have been made made in the winter, although the animal's coat tells you immediately that it was not. The background is a snowy slope near Logan Pass and there was plenty of snow in that area well into the summer. I was driving west to east on the Going to the Sun Road, returning to my quarters at the Avalanche Creek ranger station when I saw this big fellow, oblivious to traffic on the road. I grabbed my Nikon, loaded a roll of color negative film (because it had a higher ISO rating than any of the transparency film I had at the time) and under flat light made a series of hand-held photographs with a 300mm lens. I'm surprised the picture is as sharp as it is under the circumstances, but I'm pleased with the "pose" and the quiet feeling of the image.


August 24, 2011: A new home, new opportunities and a fond look back

This post marks my return to New Mexico.The moving process is almost complete and while the van still hasn't arrived with the furniture from our former home in Oklahoma, the new workspace is set up and I have access to the computer and the files I need to get back to blogging. The opportunities ahead—new subjects to photograph and workshops to teach—excite and challenge me.

I'm especially glad to have the stressful downsizing exercise mostly behind me. While sorting through the accumulation of color transparencies, negatives, prints and correspondence that filled my files, I couldn't help but reflect on the vanity of my youth. What was it that made be think that all that I created needed to be saved for posterity? As I have grown older, happily I have grown a bit wiser and can recognize that among my souvenirs are things that posterity can well do without. My children already have indicated that they can do without much of the things I so diligently saved, and the truth is that I, too, can live quite happily without them. I took thousands of old Ektachrome and Kodachrome slides to the shredder, along with many boxes of correspondence that I used to think of as "history." Oh, I didn't discard everything. I hung on to a few pieces of correspondence with people like Angel Adams and Edward Abbey, and I kept some of the news clippings about my early exhibitions. What I kept takes up so much less space that it's probable that I will recall where I put it if someone really is interested.

Among my old transparencies, I came across the image of mushrooms below. It was an assignment for a magazine spread. The magazine's art director, with whom I collaborated, was Karl Tani, still a good friend although we're now separated by a thousand miles or so.

This was done before computers, and the background calligraphy was hand scribed by Karl on a large piece of translucent paper which was placed on a large light table in my studio. Karl also hand picked the mushrooms from a local grocery and together we arranged the elements to accommodate the type that would headline the article. The lighting, in addition to the back light of the light table, was provided by electronic flash from two Broncolor Hazylights. The image is totally un-manipulated, of course, and it took several hours to set it up, so much so that we had to replace all of the mushrooms because the first batch had dried out by the time we were ready to make the final exposures.

I can hear someone asking, "Didn't you work with a stylist?" The answer is simple, we did this in Tulsa Oklahoma more than twenty years ago. If our budget would have allowed us a stylist, the problem would still have been locating one. But, in those days we had fun, worked hard and learned a lot of valuable lessons.


August 16, 2011: The road less traveled...

This is a photograph made in 2007 of a section of the Piilani Highway (Hwy 37) on the Island of Maui, Hawaii. Shifting volcanic soils are responsible for the road's wiggly course, which may not seem inviting to some visitors. I found it fascinating and spent quite a while standing over a tripod on the center stripes making photographs. Not surprisingly, I didn't have to move to let cars pass while I was shooting. This is truly a road less traveled.

I haven't been back to Maui since I made this picture. Can anyone tell me if this scene has changed since 2007?


August 15, 2011: Industrial Photography 101

For many years, through the late 1970s through 1996, a large portion of my photography was used in corporate literature and annual reports for clients in energy related industries—oil and natural gas exploration, refining, heavy equipment manufacturing and construction. This required me to work in some very demanding environments and under difficult lighting conditions. Through the seventies and mid eighties, mercury vapor lighting was common in most of the manufacturing facilities where I worked, and some plants were equipped with sodium vapor lighting, with the yellowish color we still see used on freeways and parking lots. Fluorescent lighting was most often used in offices, and often various artificial lighting sources were mixed with daylight from windows and open doors. We didn't work with digital equipment then; film still was the dominant medium, and filtering the light sources to obtain pleasing images was something a lot of photographers did not know how to do. You might occasionally be able to bring in electronic flash or continuous lighting equipment when creating special illustrations, but most of the time, it was important not to disrupt the manufacturing process and that required shooting under available light.

I learned early, with a lot of help from the people who ran the labs that processed my color film, how to correct bad light. Filters over my lenses did part of the job, filters over the light sources were also required on occasion. "Crossover" between different kinds of light was a constant problem, and you had to learn how to use the contrast between light sources to their advantage. The picture below, made in the 1980s is a typical example of an image made for a client's capability brochure. It was made under mercury vapor lighting with, as I recall, the use of reflectors to fill some of the shadow areas. Magenta and yellow filters were combined over the lens and the exposure was slow enough that I needed the worker to "freeze" his motion for several seconds while I made the exposure.


Digital photography and sophisticated software has made this kind of photography less problematic, and I think I would enjoy an opportunity to return to some of the more challenging venues and giving them a contemporary interpretation. Though I was often restricted by the specific needs of my clients, I've always known that there is plenty of art to be found in industrial subjects.


July 26, 2011: Looking back...

Today is my 75th birthday, and while I don't choose to think of myself as old, I do find that I tend to look back a bit more often over the body of my work and reminisce about some of the opportunities I've had and the interesting subjects I've photographed over more than a half century. This year, because Sue and I are moving to a new home and downsizing, I'm going through the difficult and somewhat painful process of reviewing my files and editing my inventory of images. I'll be saving work that's representative of the stages of my career, but I'll be discarding images that have little or no value to me and have long since served the purposes of the clients who commissioned them. As I decide which images to keep, I'll share some of them on this blog and explain how they were made and why I consider them significant.

I'm beginning with this image I made for the cover of the bulletin of the National Model Railroad Association. It's a scene on my own model railroad, the Alanville & Leesburg (after my sons). The layout was left behind in a former home which I sold in 1997. Photographic memories and a few pieces of rolling stock is all I've retained.

The scene, built on a corner of the layout represents a rugged section of an imaginary part of the Colorado Rockies where both standard and narrow gauge tracks cross "Pearson Gulch," named for a very special friend and fellow modeler, Ben Pearson, who died during the construction of this layout.

There are five trestles or bridges in this scene, all "scratch built" to fit the requirements of the space. The stone arch bridge on the highest level is made of plaster and each stone is hand carved. The tall curved trestle was built stick by stick, in place, just as a real trestle would have been constructed. Its bents are more than 90 feet tall and each features realistic scale nut and bolt details which, unfortunately can't be scene in a picture of this size. There are two "steel" girder trestles, one of which is supported by the two towers visible in the picture, while the other has only one supporting steel bent. The wood truss bridge in the foreground is the shortest of the spans and is supported at each end in a prototypical manner.

The rock scenery is made of hand carved plaster painted with washes of oil paints, although some of the foreground rocks are real—added to cover the edge of the supporting benchwork for this photograph. The "water" is simulated with a plastic resin. The distant peaks, clouds and some trees are hand painted with oils on a coved background that blends seamlessly with the ceiling of the room, and the three dimensional trees are made with a variety of materials including wood, wire, lichens, asparagus ferns, and ground foam rubber.

The locomotives were built from kits and modified with extra details to suit my personal sensibilities and the one freight car is what we modelers call "kit bashed" and lettered with dry transfer type.If you look carefully in the center of the image, on the tall trestle, you'll see a scale figure of a workman standing on a platform next to a red fire barrel. He's wearing a yellow hard hat (required).

The photograph was made with a 4" x 5" view camera and the natural lighting effect was created using my studio electronic flash equipment and carefully placed reflectors to provide fill and lower the overall contrast. The smoke effect was achieved with cotton plumes that were very lightly sprayed with black and gray paint, and these were secured to the smokestacks and blurred by movement in multiple exposures under ambient room light to achieve a more realistic and translucent appearance.

Nowadays, some of these effects could be achieved simply with digital photography and Photoshop®, but in 1987, I was still bound to analog photography and the chemical darkroom. The scene was recorded on Fuji Velvia transparency film.


July 23, 2011: Opening a new window...

Well, so much for getting back quickly. This move, so far, has required more of me than I had imagined, and getting back on line wasn't nearly as simple a matter as I had thought it would be. Without mentioning corporate names, I will tell you that my internet service provider made two long visits to the house, which already was completely wired for service, and I had to have my modem reset twice from their remote location before I was able to maintain a reliable connection. Each technician diagnosed the problem differently and blamed "the other guy" for causing the problem. Candidly, We've all heard enough of that in recent times, from Washington to Wall Street to the street where we live.

Nonetheless, all is well at this moment, and there are many more positives than negatives to report. The picture at the right is one such positive. That's the view I saw through my bedroom window when I awoke the first morning in our new home. Hollyhocks, aspens, adobe walls and a beautiful blue New Mexico sky. I don't know what I do to deserve this, but I'm taking it all in, enjoying every waking moment and looking forward to the next day, and each new challenge.

Tomorrow we begin the final stage of this transition, say goodbye to a lot of old memories and start to create the stuff of new ones.


July 14, 2011: Pardon the interruption; I'll be back soon.

I've tried to find time to write over the past few days, but preparations for moving into our new home have been—as you might imagine—major distractions. Beginning tomorrow, my computer will be down for at least a day, but I'll make my best effort to be back on line quickly.

July 9, 2011: Finding beauty in the horrific

On July 3, friend and photographer Ford Robbins shared these pictures of the Las Conchas fire with me, noting, "I thought you might enjoy these."

I wrote back, "I don't know that enjoy is the correct word, but I am impressed, both with the view from your patio and the power of the fire. I've
been sending word to people outside of New Mexico about the fires and cautioning friends to be careful as they travel around the country during this very dry season. I've never experienced anything like this
and because of the duration of these wildfires and their
lingering effects, I find them even more frightening in some respects than the tornadoes I witnessed in Oklahoma."

Ford thoughtfully replied, "I share your concern and the need for care.Perhaps you are right that enjoy is not the operative word. However, I find immense beauty in the horrific that these fires present, in the traditional sense of the old word sublime. That such a frightening visual experience can present itself as beautiful is a fascinating paradox for me, and that was/is what I am trying to convey. It is interesting to me that some responders have picked up on this, while others have expressed horror and have wanted to rescue Margaret and me. Who said that photography cannot evoke emotion; in fact it must, or it is a waste of time and resources."

Ford makes an excellent point, and I admit that when, on June 26, I posted the image made over my back fence, I was moved by the beauty of the color, enhanced by the concentration of smoke and ash in the atmosphere.

Human fascination with the horrific has long influenced art and because of its ability to stir the emotions it is often used to arouse society's conscience, producing positive results from tragic events and abominable conditions.

The Las Conchas fire has become the largest wildfire in New Mexico's history and is still burning. We can hope that our response to images like these willl help to reduce the likelihood of it being repeated.



July 8, 2011: "We grow too soon old and too late smart" (Pennsylvania Dutch proverb)

How true. I suppose I've known that for a long time, but recognizing a truth is one thing and changing behavior to benefit from that knowledge is another.

In my June 9 post, I talked about moving to a new home and having a place for more of our stuff. Well, as we close in on moving day, I find myself thinking more seriously about that stuff, and finding that there is an awful lot of it to pack and perhaps a greater amount I need to get rid of.

When I was younger, I thought that everything I made, wrote, found, collected, or photographed needed to be saved and cataloged. It had value—certainly to me at that time—possibly to my children, and one day—I vainly imagined—to the whole world. Now, I think it's amazing to observe how much truth is revealed with the passing of time. What the devil was I thinking? I now have boxes of things that the world and my children wouldn't and don't want. As I begin to downsize and simplify my life, I realize I don't even want to see them again. My wife, Sue, keeps reminding me of that, and I'm beginning to marvel at her wisdom. I'm even irritated with myself because I'm going to have to spend weeks going through my "collected works," throwing things out and thinking about the time I could be spending more productively, if only I hadn't grown too late smart!

So here's some friendly advice for all my fellow accumulators of stuff. Get over it! The stuff that's really important is the stuff of which friendships are made and the stuff that bring families closer together. The things that clutter or lives keep us from seeing clearly and spending our time productively. They have less and less value as we grow older.

Cornell Capa once put it succinctly as we exchanged greetings outside the ICP in New York. He asked me what I was doing and I don't recall my answer, but as he bounded up the steps, he turned and shouted, "Get busy. Make something happen!" Those words continue to ring true.

Don't dwell on the stuff of your past. If you're busy and productive, others will assess the value of your stuff and what really matters will make its way into the hands and minds of the next generation, still bearing your imprint.


July 4, 2011: Stars and Stripes Forever!

I spent July 4, 2002 in Petersburg Alaska. It was a memorable experience because the entire population participated in the celebration of our independence. Activities, including a parade and a variety of competitive events for participants of all ages continued throughout the day. I made my way out into the main street and photographed all of the festivities.

This was my favorite image of that day and it's still one of my favorite pictures.


June 28, 2011: New Santa Fe Workshops are now on line.

Please visit for the details on the two seminars I'll be teaching this October. The page below can be accessed under the "Instructors" tab or you can use the "Find a Workshop" tab to find all the details.


 For postings between April 1, and June 27, 2011 go to Blog Archive here.

 For postings between January 29, and March 31, 2011 go to Blog Archive here.

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