Category Archives: My Thoughts

Inspiration

20110516_0199_200_201_202_203_tonemapped_1Sunset Over Kalalau Valley, Kaua’i

I had a great time in Hawaii, and made it back home safely. I very much appreciated the words my friends suggested for this series of articles. I want to talk about one more word… “inspiration”.

Hawaii is a pretty inspiring place, especially for a visual artist.  Remote islands with beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife. Grab your camera and just head out for the day to see what you’re given.

But as I’ve said before, the most important inspiration comes to me from the people around me in my life.  Family and friends.  Really amazing family and friends.  Amazing.  And imperfect.  And courageous.  And especially, inspiring.

Thank you all for being here, for gathering here, in my life.

Bluebonnets

Thanks to a wet winter, we’ve had a really good spring for wildflowers in central Texas.  There are millions of bluebonnets and other wildflowers along the major highways in Austin.  (Thanks, Lady Bird.)

Sometimes, I think I take the wildflowers for granted.  Growing up in Texas, I’ve seen and photographed a lot of bluebonnets.  So rather than go out and photograph them, I’ve just been enjoying the wildflowers as I’ve been driving around town.

Do I really need another bluebonnet portrait?  Can I find a new, interesting wildflower composition I haven’t seen before?  Still, the flowers are so good this year, maybe it’s worth at least a little effort.

Texas Bluebonnet

Click to enlarge

So this past weekend, one of my best friends and I decided to try to find a good spot for wildflower photography.

But first, we had lunch.  And then we went shopping for a hat for her.  Next, we drove down some country roads, but didn’t find any wildflower patches that inspired us.  Then we gave up the wildflower search to visit a neighborhood garden tour, and to spend some time with a couple of friends who live there.

Near the end of the day, we still hadn’t taken a photo of wildflowers.  As we left our friends, we drove by a neighborhood park flooded with the distinctive, blue, state flower of Texas.  We got out our gear and walked around.  I took several dozen photos, but we were tired, and I don’t think either of us felt particularly inspired.

Back home at the end of the day, I went through my images, and selected a few worth keeping.  And when I saw the image below, I was reminded that it’s not about the photography, and it’s not about the flowers.  It’s about being inspired by the people who touch us.  It’s about friends who make us laugh.  It’s about sharing life.  Thanks, Nicole, for being part of it.

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Tucson, Day 2

saguaro_silhouette

As a musician, I’ve been trained, in the moments leading up to a performance, to relax—to calm myself, and peacefully contemplate what I’m about to do. It puts me into the right mindset, by clearing everything else out of my head. And then when I’m ready, I can execute the way all the rehearsals taught me to perform.

And so it needs to be with photography. I know my cameras; I can handle most of the photographic situations I’ll be in. But if my mind is still back home, thinking about work  or other chores, I won’t be ready to make the photographs I know I can make.

Even in nature photography, there’s a lot to think about—what’s going to happen next?  When’s the sun going to set?  Which way is the wind blowing?  What time does this park lock its gate?  What’s the hyperfocal distance for this shot?

Today, in the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park, I had to just say, “Stop!”

saguaro_arms I was standing next to a 30-foot-tall Saguaro, and listening.

The wind was blowing hard.  I stopped to listen to the wind flowing through the needles of the Saguaro.  Wow.  I bet a lot of people go through life never hearing that sound.  Let’s listen a little bit more, to the birds, and the squirrels…

A whole lot of nature photography is being patient. It’s waiting for the right light. It’s waiting for a shadow to move. Or a cloud.

saguaro_national_park_javelina_rocks And sometimes, the right light doesn’t happen.  Sometimes, the cloud doesn’t show up in the right spot.  That’s part of nature photography.

But if my mind is open, I will still enjoy what I’m doing. I can listen for the wind. I can watch and listen for the animals around me.

Okay, I’m ready again. Ready to take another photograph. My mind is clear again.

Summer Trip Epilogue

bristlecone_pineI’ve been back for a couple of weeks now from my trip to the Pacific Northwest. The return to my “normal” life was slow and arduous. I was so ready to turn around and escape again.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot I like about my “normal” life. But there’s a lot I like about traveling and experiencing new places.

As I look back on the experience, the most meaningful parts of the trip were the beginning and end. I started my trip visiting my college friend Claire and her family. I ended my trip visiting my friend Tricia and her collection of Hood River friends.

Yosemite, the Eastern Sierra, and the Cascade Range are fabulous. But they don’t hold as much meaning to me as renewing and growing old friendships. So thank you, Claire and Trish, for being the bookends of a wonderful trip. I can’t wait to see you again.

I was inspired by the long hikes.

I was inspired by blue skies and mild temperatures.

I was inspired by the beauty of the nature around me.

I was inspired by the people I met along the journey.

I was inspired by the photos that came out of my cameras at the end of each day.

I was inspired by my friends around the world who followed me on this blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  I wish you could have come along.

Photographically, there were a few themes that really stand out about the trip…

  1. Mount_HoodWith each use, I grow more and more excited about the images coming out of my infrared camera.  (I had my Nikon D200 converted to infrared by Life Pixel.)  I’m pleased to announced that I’ve started making prints for sale directly from my Zenfolio Landscapes Gallery, and the first three images are all infrared photos from this trip.  I’ll be expanding this gallery in the coming weeks and months.
  2. windsurferI had a blast photographing the windsurfers on the Columbia River. It requires a lot of the same skills as bird photography. I flipped a few familiar settings on the camera, and I was ready to follow the action.
  3. Mikes_TreeI enjoyed learning about night photography from Michael Frye, Mike Osborne, and my fellow Ansel Adams Gallery workshop participants.

For those who care about equipment…

  • Nikon D200, converted to infrared by Life Pixel
  • Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
  • Nikon D700
  • Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 lens
  • Nikkor 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 lens
  • Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 lens
  • Canon Vixia HF S100 High-Definition Camcorder
  • Sandisk Extreme III and Lexar Professional CompactFlash cards, Delkin SDHC cards
  • Domke F-1X Camera Bag, my favorite camera bag ever
  • REI Lookout 40 Daypack
  • Gitzo G1027 Mark II Mountaineer Carbon Fiber tripod
  • Bogen/Manfrotto 3221W tripod
  • Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead

And for those who care about numbers…

  • 688 photos with the D700
  • 516 infrared photos with the D200
  • 15 still photos with the Canon Vixia, and about 45 minutes of video

Yes, that’s right, I really took two tripods, three camera bodies, and four lenses with me. They all got used. (One tripod is lightweight and small for hiking.  The other is sturdy and great for night photography and windsurfing photography.)

Thanks for reading this blog. I can’t wait to take you along again. More to come soon.

Summer Trip Day Fifteen, Saying Goodbye

Trish_and_Brian

I left Portland today, returning to Austin.

I said goodbye to a lot today…

  • My dear friend Trish
  • Cool temperatures and a little bit of rain
  • Days of exploring and not having a schedule to keep

It was hard saying goodbye.

But I’m also looking forward to returning home to family and friends and a fun job.  They make this trip possible.

Summer Trip Day Eight, First Week’s Retrospective

Lambert_Dome_Reflection

On Monday, I’ll be up early—doing laundry.  And I’ll be out late—doing photography.  So, I’m writing this blog post in advance, to say a few words about my first week.  I’m now halfway through my trip.

A week ago, I imagined this as a photography trip.  To me that means seeking the best light—up before down, out after sunset, putting myself in the right place at the right time, and trying hard not to let a good photo opportunity slip away.

Visiting the Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery the other day, I was reminded about how Galen Rowell worked so hard to be at the right place, in case the light and all the other elements of a good photo came together.

But for me, it hasn’t played out this way.  Sure, I’m doing a lot of photography, but I’m not getting up at 3:45 AM to drive to some place an hour away to be there for first light at 5:00 AM.

This is okay for infrared photography; it actually works pretty well in the middle of the day. But for visible light photography, my mid-day hikes don’t yield the best photos.  During my five-mile mid-day hike through Devil’s Postpile, I had plenty of time to contemplate this.

Instead, this trip has been about discovering new places.  As I was explaining to a friend of mine, I have to get to know a place before I can really capture it with photography.  Galen Rowell would sometimes go back to a place many different times, waiting for the conditions to be right—the light, the wind, the snow or rain.  This explains why I’ve been to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge four years in a row.

This has become a kind of a scouting trip for me.  I’m figuring out what works and what doesn’t in places like Yosemite, the Bristlecone Pines, and Bodie State Park.  I’d like to come back to try different times of the year, with different weather conditions.

I believe that these places have more to say… more to reveal… than I can discover in a quick first-time trip.  I’ll be back again.  I’ll be more ready.  I’ll know more about what I want to accomplish.

In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed the handful of images that I’ve selected for the blog postings for this first week of my trip.

I’ll be back with another post on Tuesday.

Telling a Story

26-06 for blog

 

I was in a meeting about social video the other day—an R&D guy in a marketing meeting, I’m no expert compared to the others in the room.

We talked about traits of good and bad videos. One of our Audio/Visual experts talked about how good videos had a beginning, a middle, and an end. I agree with this statement to the extent that good videos tell good stories, and good stories always need a beginning, middle, and end.

As a still photographer, I am constantly striving for an image that tells a full story. An image that doesn’t need an explanation—something powerful that tells its own story, and even captures in a single scene what happened before and what happened after.

And like most photographers, I don’t usually succeed at that.


I immediately thought of the image above, from the Grand Canyon. (Kodak E-6 100-speed film, Nikon F100, 1/40s f/3.2, Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 lens)

It shows Zoroaster and Brahma Temples in the fading sunset light.  Smoke from a forest fire near Cape Royal is blowing westward, and is lifted by the thermals coming up Bright Angel Canyon, settling again as the smoke reaches the Kaibab Plateau.

I like the image because it tells a story… a bit about a forest fire, geography, geology, and weather.

I showed it once as a 12”x18” print to Jim Steinberg, a professional photographer in Colorado. I told him the story behind the image, and what I thought was beautiful and interesting about it. Politely, he suggested that the image wasn’t very strong and that it did not, in fact, tell its own story. It only became interesting when I was there to tell the story.

Of course, Jim was right. That was good feedback. I needed to hear it.


I still like the  photograph. I still like the story that goes with it.

This blog lets me put words around my photographs. As some of my friends know, I like to write.

I’m about to leave for a two-week trip to the western United States.  (Nevada, California, and Oregon, at least.) I hope to publish on this blog frequently during the trip, with photos, short videos, and the stories around them.  Stay tuned.

You can also follow me on Twitter, if you like short, often pointless, updates.