Summer Trip Day Two, Yosemite

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I drove down to Yosemite today—my first time visiting this park.

I like to get to know a place before I try to get serious with my photography. I spent some time at Tuolomne Meadows, and some time in Yosemite Valley. In the valley, I took some of the iconic shots that you’ve seen from other photographers. Of course, as I mentioned in my earlier post, if it’s in Yosemite Valley, somebody’s taken the photo before.

I am doing something a little different—I brought my Infrared Nikon D200, and trying a few infrared shots. The image above is an infrared shot of Upper Yosemite Falls in afternoon light, converted to black and white with Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro.

I also brought along my video camera. I’m not good at video yet, but I’m working on it.

Tomorrow is another day in Yosemite.

Summer Trip Day One, Reno

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Just a quick blog post to say that there’s no blog post today.

Thanks to an “equipment change”, I had a four-hour layover in DFW and it took me a lot longer to get to Reno than expected.

I did have dinner with one of my best friends from college and her family.  It was great catching up.

See you tomorrow.

Summer Trip Day Zero, Austin

Jet at Sunrise

Tomorrow morning, I leave for Reno, Nevada.  I hope to see an old friend, and spend some time near Lake Tahoe. And then on to Yosemite National Park.

I’ve never been to this section of the country before, and I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a couple of months.

Yosemite, of course, has been made famous by photographers such as Ansel Adams, William Neill, and scores of others. I have a good friend who has mentioned that she’s intimidated by Yosemite—“how to take a unique, interesting picture when every square inch of the place has been photographed before?”

I also realize that the week before July 4 isn’t the best time to visit a major national park if I want to avoid crowds.

But I’m not going with a list of “must have” shots.  I’m not going with an agenda.  I’m not going with much of a schedule to keep.

Will I shoot the iconic pictures of El Capitan, Half Dome, waterfalls?  Probably.  Maybe just for my own memories—or for some photographic “B roll”, as it were. Or maybe I’ll find a perfect shot.

I do hope that Yosemite Valley will be one of those places that takes my breath away when I see it.  Places like Crater Lake in Oregon, or the Grand Canyons of the Colorado or the Yellowstone.

But if I go into this with fixed ideas of what I’m going to shoot, I might miss something beautiful right in front of me. Recently, I’ve had some great lunch conversations with one of my best friends about this—about being ready to let good things happen in life, rather than trying to force them to happen.

I’m optimistic. See you on the road.

Telling a Story

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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.

Boston Trip

I was in Boston recently for work, but had a little bit of spare time to visit Cape Ann (Gloucester, Rockport, etc.).  Here are a few of my favorite photos…

Herring Gulls, Larus argentatus, (~3-year-old juvenile in front). I took this along the Eastern Point breakwater in Gloucester. Click to enlarge any image.

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Rockport Harbor

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Fish Net Buoys in Rockport

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Hill Country Ranch Weekend

Last weekend, I had the great privilege to visit a friend’s ranch near Kerrville, Texas, with a few other photographers.

We were hoping for partly cloudy, interesting skies.  Instead, it was overcast and misty much of the time.  But this didn’t prevent us from going out and photographing.

One of the tricks I learned from Bob Krist is that when the weather’s bad, you can usually wait until a few minutes after sunset, and the sky will go blue.  I also used a little flash to kick a little light onto the Texas flag.  (Click on any of the images to view them larger.)The Front of the House After Sunset

Another trick I’ve learned is that infrared can make overcast skies look pretty interesting even in the middle of the day.  I have a Nikon D200 that I’ve converted to infrared (at lifepixel.com).

I took the infrared idea a step further.  I used the intervalometer built into most Nikon DSLRs, and set it up to take a photo every couple of seconds for a few minutes, and then converted these images to a video with Adobe Photoshop Extended.  (As expected, the “HQ” button below noticeably improves the video quality.)

On Saturday afternoon, we had a few hours of sun, where the infrared images get really interesting.  Here’s the back porch of the ranch house…

Infrared View of the Back Porch

And in this infrared shot, I’ve left the colors that come straight out of the sensor.  There’s a hint of blue left in the flag, and I like the overall sepia tone. False Color Infrared View of the Front of the House

One morning, we hiked up one of the hills to an area that overlooks the ranch house.  There’s an old Madrone tree part of the way up.

Madrone Tree

The hillside opposite the front of the house was covered in wildflowers, especially Damianita.  Here’s a fisheye view of several hundred flowers.

Damianita Daisy (Chrysactinia mexicana)

The Prickly Pear cactus were also beginning to bloom.  Here are some near the old corn cribs.Prickly Pear near the Corn Cribs

On our last morning at the ranch, we decided to try to find a golden-cheeked warbler.  We never found one, but I did get this photo of an Ash-Throated Flycatcher.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Here’s a photo of John Wheat, in search of the elusive warbler.

John Wheat

And here’s a shot of my buddy Copper.  She is a city dog who loves being a ranch dog, too.  She’s on a diet.

My Buddy Copper

It is a tradition that every group that visits the ranch gets their picture taken by the bell, so here’s our gang.  We’re smiling, but a little disappointed that our ranch adventure had to end so soon.

Our Photography Group

Thanks for a wonderful weekend!

In Search Of Conservation Photography

Conservation Photography

Are you using technology in green or environmental engineering?  I’m in search of a conservation photography project.  I’ll help document and publicize your project.  How can I help you?  Email conservation@bhpowell.com.

In honor of Earth Week, I’m letting you in on my crazy idea.  As many of you know, I have a day job working in software, and I’m honored to work for a company that has “improve everyday life” in its mission statement.  I think most of us go through life just wanting to know that we’re making a difference somehow.  I try to make a difference at work.  I try to make a difference in the lives of my friends and family.

One of my goals for this year is to take on at least one conservation photography project.  I want to tell a story in photos and words that show the beauty of something you are trying to save.  A conservation photography project is more than just photos.  It’s the story around it.  It’s what we’re trying to save, and why and how we’re trying to save it.  It’s about the threats, and why those threats exist.  And as Cristina Mittermeier reminds us in her article, What is Conservation Photography? , it’s about what you do with the story afterwards.  I want to work on a conservation photography project that will make a difference.

The ideal project would be one that uses National Instruments products somehow, but I’m open to anything.  No, I don’t know how all of this is going to work out–that’s the crazy part, and through Twitter (twitter.com/brianhpowell), Facebook, and this blog, I plan to take you along for the ride.

Please spread the word–retweet this, post a link, email your friends who might have some ideas.  And email conservation@bhpowell.com with your thoughts.  Thanks!

Brian

 

Giant Spanish Dagger

We’ve had a Giant Spanish Dagger (Yucca faxoniana) in our backyard for a few years, and for the first time it’s started to bloom. It’s about 8 feet tall. The flower stalk is growing an inch or two a day.

For the photos below, I mounted my camera on a monopod with a wide angle lens. I used a 10 second timer delay, pressed the shutter, and positioned the camera near the flower stalk in time for the shutter release.

Bosque del Apache 2008

The day after Thanksgiving, I picked up a rental car and started driving to Socorro, New Mexico. This was an 11-hour drive, but I had committed to picking up my friend Jennifer from the Albuquerque airport about 10 AM on Saturday. The rental was a Kia Sorrento SUV, big enough to hold a bunch of photo gear. I was thankful that the price of gas had fallen well below $2/gallon, and that the SUV managed about 20 mpg.

I could have gone a variety of different routes to Socorro, but I went with the advice of my Garmin GPS, by way of San Angelo, Roswell, and Carrizozo. (Sadly, it was too late to pay my respects at Smokey the Bear’s grave on the way through Capitan.)

Saturday, November 29 – Tuesday, December 2
5:00 AM. Time to get up and start three and a half days of intense, frustrating, yet relaxing, bird photography at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, south of Socorro. It wasn’t long before I saw one of my photography mentors, Arthur Morris.

Artie is arguably the world’s greatest bird photographer. He leads photo tours all around the world. He’s sometimes a little rough around the edges, but a very good teacher. You can learn a lot from Artie just by being nearby as he yells advice to his workshop students, and as he weighs the options to keep shooting or move on to another spot. I also recommend his book, The Art of Bird Photography II, a 916-page book for which I did a thorough editorial review.

Favorite 2008 Artie Morris quote: “These silhouettes are the easiest situation for auto-focus. If you can’t get your camera to auto-focus here, you should take up knitting.”

I also saw a couple of other pro photographers I know, Robert O’Toole and Larry Ditto. Larry lives down in McAllen, and had his own workshop group at Bosque. I first met him on a trip to the cloud forest near Gómez Farías, Tamaulipas, Mexico. I also introduced myself to another pro I recognized, Laurie Excell, leading her own small photo tour.

My friend Jennifer and I first met on a photo workshop in Utah a few years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch and done other photo adventures together. She’s an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School.
Rounding out our trio was my friend Nicole, a great photographer and one of my best friends.

Here are a few of my favorite images. Click on each to enlarge. (More available on bhpowell.com.)

It’s kind of hard to see here, but the moon, Venus, and Jupiter are all in the sky on this Monday evening.


Here’s a silhouette of my friend Nicole, as we tried to hold on to the last bit of light.


This next shot is with an infrared fisheye, pointed straight up as snow geese flew overhead. You can see a bit of the ground at the corners.

Tuesday morning, we were up for one final dawn photo shoot, then back to the hotel to check out, and off to Albuquerque. I dropped Nicole and Jen off at the airport, and drove on to a work meeting in Albuquerque.

Salt Lake City Trip

Last week, I was in Utah for work, presenting at a military/aerospace trade show. I arrived in Salt Lake City early afternoon on Saturday. It was too early to go to the hotel, so as I am wont to do, I drove into the mountains for a hike. I drove to the ski town of Alta for an “easy” hike to Cecret Lake.

“Easy” is relative. The hike was at about 9000 feet elevation, and was a 1.5 mile hike with a 420 foot elevation gain. I took two SLR camera bodies, and some extra camera gear that I forgot to unload before I started on the trail.

It was a good, but slow, acclimitization hike. Here’s an infrared shot on the way up…

Here’s a view of Cecret Lake with a few other hikers on the far shore.

After this shakedown hike, I drove back to Salt Lake City to the downtown Marriott hotel where my co-workers (about 25 to 30 people) were staying. The hotel was right across from the Salt Palace Convention Center, and a block away from Temple Square.

Next to the Salt Palace is the Maurice Abravanel concert hall. I was fascinated by the 30-foot-tall glass sculpture in the lobby created for the 2002 Olympics.

Sunday, September 7
As a classical musician, it’s a treat for me to visit the regular music performances at Temple Square. Every Sunday morning (since 1929), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (and on this Sunday, with the Orchestra at Temple Square) records a half hour TV and Radio broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word. Here’s a photo from the rehearsal just before air time.

Besides the broadcast, I skipped lunch at the trade show on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and went back to the Tabernacle for the half-hour noon organ recitals. The juxtaposition of the music and the military trade show was quite interesting.

Here’s a photo of the Mormon Temple just outside the Tabernacle.

Sunday afternoon, I drove down to visit Timpanogos Cave National Monument. To visit the cave, you have to hike from about 5700 feet elevation at the visitor’s center to 6700 feet at the cave entrance. This seemed easier than the Saturday hike—I guess because of the lower elevation and 24 hours of acclimitization. Here’s a view from the shelter at the cave entrance, looking across the valley.

And here’s one of my less blurry shots from inside the cave…

Before I left the area, I kept heading east through the National Forest and walked around Cascade Springs…

And here are a couple of panoramas from the Cascade Springs area in the Uinta National Forest. The first one is visible light, and the second one is a negative infrared photo. (Click to enlarge each.)


And then it was back to the hotel to meet up with several others for dinner at Red Rock Brewing Company.

Conservation Photography and Other Photo Adventures

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