In Tall Trees

I spent a couple of days in the forests and mountains around Seattle a few weeks ago. I hope to go again.

I am a desert guy. Lived in the deserts most of my life, and I find them fascinating – maybe due to my design predilection for minimalism. Not sure really, but the ability to see hundreds of miles from the Vermilion Cliffs, or to watch a the sun set over vast distances of open earth is something of a wonder to me.

I also find that deserts are hard to photograph. Well, at least hard to photograph well.

Some have been able to make astounding photographs of the desert southwest, but I am still working on it.

So get me in an area where you cannot see more than a couple dozen yards through thick, dark, and somewhat mysterious forest, and it is a whole new ballgame.

We took the “Mountain Loop” road out of Granite Falls, WA, and set out to just be three guys with cameras having fun. And we did. Charles, Bret and I spent a good long time not saying much, just taking in the wonderful environment.

And the quiet. The incredible quiet.

Rock and Tree: Washington State

I thought this was so interesting. The tree had obviously gained a foothold in a small crevasse on the rock. As it grew, it split the rock and enveloped it with the roots and trunk. Note: there are chains and other human artifacts on the rock, and I don’t move this stuff when I shoot.

It was a semi-cloudy day, and I was struck by how little light made it through to the ground. I had to bump some ISO as I looked for some interesting things to photograph.

I didn’t really have to look that far, but I did have to think about the light. Lots of contrast in the scenes. With the sun being nearly full on, and the dark backgrounds that were naturally occurring, I did have to think closely about exposure and processing.

Aspen trees against the backdrop of forest.

You can see the widely varying exposure from the light cloud cover foreground, the white Aspen trees and the dark forest just beyond. I like the way it seems to make heroes of our intrepid trees.

The silence of the area was punctuated by the sounds of birds and rushing water. Everywhere there were small creeks leading to larger ones with waterfalls. Below us was a river that flowed with abandon with rapids seemingly at every turn.

Rivers with water in them… coming from Phoenix, I can tell you how rare that is there. LOL.

Erosion and Tree Roots, Cascades: Washington State

Rushing water can take its toll as well. A slide has taken this trees base and washed it away. The exposed roots hang far above the water’s edge. Tenaciously it hangs on… but for how long?

I was also in love with the forest floor. So many colors of green mixed with the light that would fight its way through.

There are places where thoughts run to change, and the patterns of a fast moving world. And there are places that give us pause to consider that not everything moves at that pace. Some things take their time.

Time. One of the most misunderstood values of our lives.

I see people wasting it, taking it for granted, and ignoring its value all around me.

I see it in myself.

The forest floor takes its time. Things happen slowly there, and with great purpose. And while that purpose may be not totally revealed to me, or you, it is still the guiding hand.

At the Forest Floor: Cascades, Washington State

Light, shadow, design and purpose. Are there metaphors in the images we are drawn to make? Do we see beyond the surface with our subconscious and make photographs that have a deeper meaning than the pretty colors?

The image as metaphor? The image as an allegory, as Minor White suggested?

Yes, I think so… but I also know that the allegories can have different meanings for each that view. Perhaps the underlying basis is there, but the stories we tell ourselves are different from each other.

As similar as the leaves in the above photograph, but upon close inspection no two leaves will be an exact match – and that is where the true understanding of the allegory comes into focus.

I have no idea what your story will be when you see my photographs. I only want to make photographs that are capable of creating a story inside you.

One last image and I am off to a busy Saturday.

Pines on the Olympic Peninsula

We found these trees on a road through the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. I will post more images from that trek at a later date. I felt the image belonged with this group, though, so I included it.

Yes, I kind of fell in infatuation with the forests and mountains of Washington State. It would remain to be seen if I could actually go from the wide open spaces to something so nearly claustrophobic as these mighty forests.

I don’t know. My affinity for the desert, its dry wind and open skies is pretty deep.

But I do love the forests, I do.



I was recently on creativeLIVE and have received some rave reviews of the workshop. If you are interested in taking a look at the workshop, you can find it on creativeLIVE’s web site here. I think it is a tremendous value and if you are unable to attend any of my workshops, this may give you a ton of information you will want to have to push your photography to the next level.

Seat-o-the-Pants Shooting… Yeah, It Happens.

Seat-o-the-Pants Shooting… Yeah, It Happens.

I am working on a big project with the Phoenix Children’s Choir, and need to get some new shots of the kids and the choirs and the performances. So when last weekend’s final concert came along, I knew I had to get some shots.

The venue was amazing, and I checked it out for lighting. There was so much wonderful natural light in the church main room, that lights were not needed. I was pretty pleased with that, as trying to light 300+ chorus members in a 5 minute window with strobes was going to be a bit of a challenge.

The test shots looked good and the huge pipe organ pipes made a very cool background.

We were set… camera at the ready, tests made, images double checked and ISO/aperture/shutter speed nailed down.

“Hey, I have an idea…”, I heard from behind me.

“All the choirs have shots taken in these kinds of halls, let’s do ours in the courtyard.”


At 3:30 in the afternoon?

“Sure, let’s see if it can work…”

Outside in the mid-day sun.

No strobes, no scrims, very little shade.

Did I mention it was outside – in the crappy part of the day?


Thoughts On A Couple of Portraits

Thoughts On A Couple of Portraits

I was asked about my portraiture by a reader who wanted to know what I am thinking about when shooting.

I decided to break down a couple of shots I did of Natalie in Seattle the Sunday after my creativeLIVE presentation.

We were on the waterfront and the sun was out in full force. Yes, it was out in full in Seattle in April. Maybe it was me, maybe it was Bri… who knows.

The girls were taking turns standing by a metal building with some glass in order to get warm. Even though the sun had just burned off all the clouds, there was still a very chilly breeze coming off the water.

I was taken with the light that fell across Natalie’s face as she was facing away from the full sun. The area we were in had a lot of patio that was very light concrete. It served as a fantastic fill.


Looking at Natalie in the sun and taking a meter reading of all of her would naturally include some sunlight. And that sunlight would skew the reading toward being darker than I wanted. I was not interested in anything but her face. I took a reading of her face, opened up a stop and 2/3 and did my test shot. I found that a little hot, so I closed down a third of a stop. That seemed right to me.

Yep, the hair blows out. Yep, the background seems really bright.

That is the look I wanted to portray… what I saw in my minds eye was the shot playing out against the bright sun, and letting that sun BE bright and open and airy.

What I didn’t want was to get any sun on her face. The contrast of the sun on the tip of her nose or on a part of her cheek would have been terribly difficult to remove.


“Sea Shell” Improvisation: 1 Hour Challenge

“Sea Shell” Improvisation: 1 Hour Challenge

I often say that photography is “Jazz with a camera.” And I say that because I believe it to be absolutely true.

A Jazz performer has to know their instrument so well, that it is second nature for them to simply play it. Jazz requires improvisation (and if it doesn’t, it ain’t jazz…) and photography is all about improvisation. Imagine the mastery it takes to not only play the instrument, but make the music up on the fly with other players accompanying you. Trying new and daring twists and turns while the drummer and bass lay down a sweeeet groove… yeah.

Photographers do the same thing. They get to know their instruments so well, that they can simply start to make stuff up on the fly, while not losing the goal or reason for the photograph. Let’s try this- or that, or change lenses for a different POV. What happens if we get down low and bring a shiny card in from the edge here…? Choices flying by and we have to be able to choose them quickly to keep time.

See – a jazz player is playing a couple of bars ahead in their minds, and they can keep the chord structures and the ‘changes’ fluid. They hear the music to come before it is played. All the while being totally aware of the other musicians and what they are doing.

A photographer does the same thing visually. A photographer ‘sees’ the image as a it will be seen from their camera and lens combination even before they put it together. They begin to ‘play’ the images by composing elements, trying this and trying that. Knowing the final image (or close) before tripping the shutter.


Jazz, baby.

This is something I used to do a lot. And I mean A LOT. We used to call it ‘testing’, but now it is called “creative”. Shooting creative is like working that axe in the woodshed. Woodshed’n makes you play better because it keeps your mind and instrument in tune.

“Creative” shooting keeps your vision tuned up as well. There is no substitute for shooting… ABS, as Nick Onken says: Always Be Shooting.

So this is my first of the year improvisation. It will not be the last. I plan on doing these at least once per week (next week is a fork… a single fork).

My rule to myself is to not shoot more than one hour, and to shoot within a single set or area. Working the shot out and making as many variations as possible. Hopefully we can keep the setup included in that hour. As a jazz musician too, I expect I will break said rules and do whatever the hell I want – but, we gotta start somewhere.

Today I went outside and noticed my daughters shell collection. She collects them as she visits different beaches when we are on vacation. I think they each have a name… or did when she was younger.

One was filled with gunk and water and it caught my eye.

I decided right then to make those shells the subject of my improv. I set up on the front porch area and decided to use the sun as my source. A 5-in-one reflector kit scrim was the single modifier, and a piece of white fome core was my surface. Clean and graphic. I spent 45 minutes from setup to tear down.

Here are the shots:

I used two basic lighting setups: One with the scrim vertical in back of the set to create more shadow in front of the shells. And one with the scrim over the top of the shells for a broad, soft source. The sun was my main light source today.

Vertical Light Panel creates more shadow to the front of the shells as the light is not seen from that position.

You can see in this shot that the light is not covering the front of the shells, so it creates more shadow.

With the scrim over the top, more light comes to the front part of the shells and eliminates the shadows in front.

The top scrim brings the light to the front of the shells. The sun was fairly high in the south sky and we had moderately scattered clouds. I had to work with the sun, not the clouds ad it made the light too flat. Having a bright, powerful source behind the scrim made the light a bit more punchy.

Thanks for coming out today.

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Portraits: Four Simple Approaches

Portraits: Four Simple Approaches

I had the chance to do some portraits of some of the talent we had at the LE Weekend Meetup. They were Briana’s dance company and all of them were delightful and beautiful dancers. The folks who came had a blast and I was simply stunned that so many people came so far to hang out with us.

We had photographers from NY / FL  / WA / CA / KS / TX and other far flung areas… we covered North America pretty well.

More shots from that weekend coming when I get them all in from the folks… wow, it was fun.

The first portrait was of Briana and done as a demonstration for one of the photographers who wanted to understand the large fill card and main light approach.

Rediscovering the 50 – Working To Know My Least Favorite Lens Better

I am not a ‘normal’ lens kind of guy. Never have been. My Hasselblad has two lenses – the 250MM and the 50MM. Yeah, I’d like an 80 Planar for it someday, but there are a lot of things ahead of that. My favorite 8×10 lens is my 375MM, and when working with 4×5 you would find a 75MM or a 210MM before a 150MM. Actually, I don’t own a 150 – sold it decades ago.