Not enough time… Bryce Canyon

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I understand how lucky I am to live relatively close to Acadia National Park. I have what is considered a landscape photographer’s dream location in my backyard… a jewel of a park that I can explore and get to know more intimately in a variety of conditions and in all seasons. If the afternoon light suddenly looks promising, I can literally take off and be in one of the prettiest places in America within an hour. As I said… I am lucky. Like many photographers though, I also dream of seeing the iconic landscapes of the American West and beyond. I have always been intrigued by photographs of places such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion… and Bryce Canyon, but in order to experience these places for myself, it takes immense planning and a considerable commitment – unlike my local early morning or late afternoon impromptu jaunts down to Acadia.

Every now and again I get a chuckle out of reading online opinions preaching that in order to photograph a particular location properly, you must spend time there, you need to come back to the same location again and again in different seasons, in different light… you need to fall in love with the landscape to truly appreciate and make a photograph of it. Of course spending time in a particular location will help you get to know it better – and probably photograph it better (whatever that means) – but sorry… but while I would love to buy into the romantic requirement of becoming one with the landscape to make a pleasing photograph, for me, like most normal people, it’s just not always practical. I’m often in the position where I’m stealing a weekend – or maybe even just one morning – in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a place that I might have been longing to see for quite some time. Since I usually don’t have any flexibility with travel plans, my fingers and toes are crossed, hoping that the weather cooperates to provide those ever-elusive “perfect” landscape photography conditions. That’s OK.

A few years ago I was able to tack on a couple of extra days to a work-related Salt Lake City conference, and one of the stops I made on my whirlwind tour of southern Utah was Bryce Canyon National Park. I literally rolled into my hotel after dark one evening, and only had the next morning to “see” the park before I was scheduled to fly back home. Obviously I would have liked more time to better understand and discover this wonderful place, but despite this frustration, I was determined to make the best of what little time I had there. It’s also not a bad idea to do a little research ahead of time so that you can maximize your time. Beyond the obvious mapping of where you want to be, checking where and when the sun is going to rise, and if you will be beside the ocean, checking the local tide charts can give you some added information about the conditions you are likely to experience.

The relatively small 56.2 square miles of Bryce Canyon National Park is quite high in elevation, sitting at over 8,000 feet on the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in south-western Utah, and as such, it is exposed to a wide range of elements. Frost and dissolving rainwater have shaped the limestone amphitheaters into a ragged and surreal landscape of canyons, arches and the famous spires called hoodoos. As the sun peeks over the eastern horizon, early light bathes the park and the colorful rock formations actually appear to glow… quite a sight, and when I was there a recent snowstorm had dumped at least another foot of the white stuff on the landscape making for a spectacular vista.

Speaking of vistas… on this particular occasion due to the deep snow and the brief time I had available, it wasn’t workable for me to venture much beyond the standard touristy viewpoints skirting the rim of the park. I wish I could have hiked down into the heart of the park and explored the wonders of Bryce more fully, but when opportunities are limited and there’s not enough time, you make the best of it and embrace the moment… wherever you are… hopefully coming away with a few photographs that remind you of the incredible sights you saw.

A slice of heaven

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No… this hasn’t turned into a food blog, but I figured I would share some iPhone pics from our recent visit to NYC – I love having the camera with me (Lori’s iPhone) all the time.

There are lots of cities that lay claim to having the best pizza in the US, and needless to say, New York City is definitely one of them. Luckily we get to visit what I consider to be the most incredible city in the world quite often, and every time we do, we like to sample some of the local fare, especially the pizza. John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village has long been a favorite of ours, and judging by the number of “Top 10 Pizza in NY” lists it is on, we aren’t alone in our admiration. I can remember visiting John’s with friends one Saturday night back in 1989 when Lori and I lived and worked in Manhattan, so now every time we return it brings back great memories.

You wouldn’t believe how many pizza joints there are in NYC… it feels like there’s literally one on every block. In my book there’s no such thing as bad pizza, but to survive the competition in New York you’d better be good! Besides, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere… wait, isn’t that a line from a song or something ;)

Touch it and feel it…

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Actually… I wouldn’t advise that you touch and feel prints, not unless you want to get smudgy fingerprints all over them! While viewing photographs on-screen in a computer slideshow or on a web site can be impressive, there’s definitely something about physically holding a print in your hands that just can’t be beat. It’s similar to that comforting feeling of turning the page in an old-fashioned paper book, even though I do enjoy reading on my iPad. By the way, if you do get smudges on your print (like I always do), you should be able to simply “polish” them gently away with a piece of soft cotton.

In reality, I don’t get that many images printed, so when I do, I always get excited for when they arrive. I have had my adventures, or should I say misadventures, with printing, mounting and framing photographs, so these days I take a rather lazy route… but one that I can be fairly sure will be successful. It’s simple actually… I let the experts do the printing and mounting, and I buy off-the-shelf frames that I think will show the prints well. To this point I just haven’t uncovered the desire to print, mount, cut mats and make frames myself.

Known as “The Dark Hedges” – this is a scene from back home in Ireland where a magnificent row of 300 year old beech trees rather spectacularly line and frame a local roadway. I love how the trees reach high above the road to become tangled as an overhead canopy, and the side-lighting from the overcast day added a nice layer of depth to the landscape. I have wanted a print of this photograph for some time, and just this week I finally took the time to get it done. I used a California based company who accepts online orders - Aspen Creek Photo - and I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the print (and the whole ordering process). It was printed on Fuji Pearl paper, a metallic paper that renders the scene almost 3D-like, and this time for reasons of stability, I also chose to pay a little more and have it professionally mounted on 3/16″ Gatorfoam.

Just for fun… here’s the un-framed image below, and for those following my travails with selecting a new WordPress theme, this is still the same one (Nuntius) that I have been using for a while. I’m having a hard time deciding on a new theme, so to buy myself some time, I made a few tweaks to the color scheme. Simple, and hopefully sharp.

If interested in purchasing prints from this location, visit my online gallery at: http://www.acadiaandbeyond.com

In the light of day…

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On our way back home from New York today, it just happened to be around lunchtime as we crossed over the Piscataqua River from New Hampshire into Maine, so we stopped in York for sandwiches from a local deli. When I sheepishly suggested that we enjoy the unseasonably warm weather and have ourselves a picnic at the lighthouse… I was thrilled when both Lori and Jack were in total agreement – they are so patient with me and my camera! I know I said no more photographs from this location, but before I do a refresh of the blog, I wanted to share a couple more from our brief return visit today. Besides, in most of the photographs from my last visit, all you could see was the silhouette of the lighthouse!

On my previous visit I had arrived before dawn, but because we were in a hurry to continue our journey on to New York, I only stayed until about 20 minutes after sunrise. The light was obviously very different then, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring a darkened landscape which was somewhat unfamiliar to me. This afternoon though, as the bright sunlight played hide-and-seek from behind the clouds, I was obviously able to recognize much of the terrain. My previous sunrise visit had coincided with high tide, and what do you know… it was high tide again when we arrived this afternoon. If anything though, today’s tide was even higher, actually making it impossible for me to get to some of the ledges and rocks I had used as shooting locations on my last visit.

We all know that the softer light of the early morning or late afternoon often makes for more dramatic landscape photographs, and truth be told, I live for the peacefulness and solitude that you can experience at these times… but there’s no rule that says you can’t shoot in the middle of the day, especially if the conditions are just right. Blue skies with puffy clouds, high tide breaking fiercely over a rugged coastline, and a striking subject that is pretty much one-of-a-kind… I’d say the conditions were just right!

A fresh lick of paint

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I love the variety of themes available on WordPress. It is so easy to personalize your blog, and you can have a complete site redesign all within just a couple of clicks of the mouse. It was only last October that I switched to this current theme, Nuntius. I like many aspects of what it offers, and when I activated it last fall I thought I had matched the colors of the custom header with the rest of the theme. The header was just supposed to be temporary, but here we are some four months later, and I never did get around to creating something more interesting. I work almost exclusively on a MacBook Pro laptop, and on that screen I’ve always thought that the shades of red matched properly. It’s only now as I’m visiting granny and grandpa and viewing the site on a different computer that I’m embarrassed to notice that the reds aren’t even close :{

Cue a new look… within the next few days I will probably be switching themes (again), but before I do, I will be taking a hard look at the range of options. I love the font on the Nuntius theme, but for displaying photographs, the lighter background isn’t necessarily the best. Maybe I will choose a theme with a darker background this time around… one that makes color photographs “pop” a little more? Anyone have a suggestion?

Here’s a screenshot of my failed custom header. Yikes… I can’t believe I thought those reds matched! Stay tuned for a fresh lick of paint… and if I use a custom header in my new theme, I’ll make sure to match the colors correctly this time.

When plans go awry…

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Last one from my stop by Nubble Light last weekend… I promise :)

I had originally been hoping to use tidepools along the shoreline to frame a reflection of the lighthouse, and although they were there as advertised, my plan didn’t quite work out. As I lowered my tripod all the way to the ground, I splayed the legs as far as I could. I lay on my belly to see through the viewfinder to frame a composition, but at that point I realized my plan wasn’t going work out. Sure enough, there would have been a nice reflection to include in the frame… if it weren’t for one problem… the water in the tidepools was frozen! No worries… I settled for using the tidepools as interesting foreground elements, and I went on to thoroughly enjoy the rest of my morning spent exploring this wonderful place.

Working within the frame…

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When I spend time photographing in a particular location I always try to fully explore the scene. I enjoy the exercise of physically wandering around looking for different angles, less obvious perspectives, and interesting elements to include in compositions. More sky, less ground… more ground, less sky… landscape orientation versus portrait… the size of the aperture and the length of time the shutter is open… using a wide angle lens to accentuate certain things or compacting the scene by using a longer lens… just some of the many ways to experiment with what you include within the viewfinder.

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of landscape photography is choosing which elements of a scene to include within the frame and which to leave out. Next comes arranging important elements in relation to how they interact with each other to make a pleasing composition. Sometimes it comes together and “works” better than it does at other times, though of course what I personally like in a photograph might not be what someone else likes… it’s all totally subjective, but isn’t that half the fun? When I became seriously interested in landscape photography a few years back, a pro-photographer friend of mine, Kip Brundage, told me that if I find an interesting subject, I should photograph it every which way I can. He also told me to try to make it mine. While I could certainly learn from another photographer’s interpretation of a particular scene, I should constantly strive try to create something original… this particular piece of advice has always stuck with me.

Here are a few more examples of what I was seeing on the recent mid-February morning I visited Nubble Light in York, Maine. As you can see, I was all pretty random with some of my compositional choices, but since there isn’t any single “right” answer, I got to experiment and try all sorts of ideas. Most significantly for me though, it’s all about actually being there in person to fully employ the senses and appreciate the wonder of this earth we live on. I learned that there is something very special about standing on the tide-soaked rocks below Nubble Light before a winter dawn, and if I can come even remotely close to conveying my personal experiences in a single photograph… then I consider that photograph to be a success.