Book Publishing Made Easy

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You gotta love technology!

I wanted to create a lasting memory of the trip Sam and I took out to California, something that would be accessible to us and anyone else we wanted to share our trip with. Of course the blog is a nice mechanism for doing this, as are online hosting sites like Flickr and Vimeo, but not everyone is as excited about logging on and surfing the net as we are.

Searching for a more accessible alternative, one that could be enjoyed the old-fashioned way by holding it, I settled on using the “book” option within iPhoto to assemble and publish a hardcover, dust-jacketed, 10 x 13 book. I did some research on other online self-publishing options such as Lulu and Blurb, but settled on iPhoto largely due to the ease of use. Regardless of the tool you use, there are many options regarding size and shape, with beautifully designed templates making the compilation process very smooth. Choosing and arranging photographs was as simple as drag and drop, and the process of adding and editing text was easy.

I have been checking the FedEx tracking site almost every day since ordering, anxious to know when the finished product was going to arrive. The anticipation of seeing a printed journal of the adventures that Sam and I shared together has been very real for me, and much more intense than I had expected.

On order for about a week, the book – “Californiadventure” – arrived today, and I can happily report that I am absolutely thrilled with how it turned out. The quality of paper and printing is OK, but the overall production of the book – especially the dust-jacket – gives it a very nice feel. If you were to visit your local bookstore and find a copy of this book on a shelf there, the quality is such that you would probably never know it had been self-published.

As much as I enjoy the benefits of working and displaying images digitally online, there is something permanent and “real” about our book, so when we close the lid on the laptop and rejoin the analog world, this book will always remind us of the wonderful Californian adventure we shared together.

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Sand and Water

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I am experimenting with adding a black border on the top and bottom of this image… I was wondering if it helps in the presentation of the details?

Late one afternoon while wandering throughout the Mesquite dunes in Death Valley I came across these patterns in the sand on the edge of a temporary pond. Recent rains had impacted the dunes in many ways, and I was intrigued by the textures, shapes and lines created by the past subtle (and not so subtle) movement of water. They reminded me of the awesome power of nature at work, and even though they were the result of very recent changes, it was easy for me to imagine that they were from a more ancient time.

Maybe not a typical grand landscape that we are used to seeing from Death Valley, but this image serves as a more intimate reminder to me of the experiences I had with Sam exploring what is a wonderful national park. He was immediately impressed and drawn to discovering everything he could about these dunes, and I think genuinely appreciated the uniqueness and scale of his surroundings. Knowing that this was his kind of place, time spent exploring what was an almost surreal landscape together, is time that I will always treasure.

Although you see the world different than me
Sometimes I can touch upon the wonders that you see
All the new colors and pictures you’ve designed
Oh yes, sweet darling
So glad you are a child of mine

–  Child of Mine by Carole King

Dunes redux

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Back in Death Valley for the evening, I asked Sam if he could choose go to one location in the valley (that was open), where would it be? He responded quite emphatically that he wanted to return to the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells.

We were staying at Stovepipe Wells that same evening, so that worked out well as we parked the car a ways past the new parking lot and started hiking in to the smaller dunes to the east. In addition to exploring a part of the dunes we hadn’t seen previously, we were also trying to avoid the many footprints that marred what is a pretty landscape.

Sam headed off to do his own thing and before long he was merely a speck, appearing and disappearing as he navigated the ups and downs of the dunes. I felt quite proud of him for being willing to leave me behind and do this by himself. Maybe he just wanted some peace and quiet away from his dad!

The warm light soon started to get lower in the sky, and before long we were treated to shadows stretching down into the hollows between the dunes. Our decision to head to this part of the dunes paid off in that we saw fewer footprints, and for most of the evening we were probably the only two people in what was a very large area.

I didn’t see Sam until the sun had actually set, that’s when I saw him climbing one of the higher dunes before making his way along a ridge to where I had settled in to enjoy the dusk. I think he really enjoyed the solitude of being out on the dunes totally by himself for the evening, and I have a feeling he will remember this time for the rest of his life.


Wet Sand Dunes and Grey Skies

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Another image from our evening spent on the Mesquite Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley. When we first ventured out onto the sand dunes we were disappointed in the weather, the number of footprints visible, and how wet the sand was – little did we know what was in store for us.

There was very little texture in the sand, and the light was mostly both grey and flat. In this image I was drawn to the contrast between the rare dune ripples in the foreground and the ominous and fast moving grey clouds overhead.

Sunset of a Lifetime

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I just turned 46 years old in January. I have always had an appreciation of nature, and over the past ten years or so since I became semi-serious about landscape photography I have seen more sunrises and sunsets than the average person. So when I say that the sunset we witnessed tonight was the best I have ever seen, I hope you can fully understand how spectacular our evening on the dunes near Stovepipe Wells was.

It started out pretty grey and blah, the dunes were wet from the rains last week, and there were footprints all over the place – all making me less than enthusiastic about our chances for some good shooting. Despite this, we were more than happy to enjoy the exercise as we hiked up and down all of the major dunes, all the while searching for a pleasing composition. Even in these conditions, the dunes here are truly amazing, stretching for what seems like miles and miles within the valley.

We had pretty much given up on getting any real “keepers” when we noticed some nice light way off in the distance. We hoped that maybe the sun would get under the layer of clouds and provide us with a last minute show, and boy did it ever. I have never seen a sunset like this in my life. Both Sam and I marveled at the show that was going on in the sky, and I was especially pleased that he was here to share it with me. Perched high on top of the highest dune, we didn’t really have time to go look for an interesting foreground to include in a composition. We mostly just sat in awe, admiring what was going on around us, but here is a taste of what we saw…

Death Valley (and Eastern Sierra)

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Taking a break from the Superbowl hype…

OK… am officially a little worried about the impact the recent weather in Death Valley might have on being able to access some of the more remote parts of the park. After the last round of winter storms washed through DV, there apparently is still a lot of mud and debris around, especially on the dirt and washboard roads to places like the Racetrack, the Devil’s Golf Course, and Titus Canyon. With more showers possible in the next few days, things aren’t looking good for being able to get to some of the more isolated locations in the park. On the plus side though, atypical weather conditions might make for some interesting photographic opportunities in the desert.

Even though the road to the Racetrack is open, the playa is still wet, and NO-ONE SHOULD EVER WALK ON THE PLAYA WHEN IT IS WET – footprints left there can last for years, so with that in mind it unfortunately looks like we will not make it there on this trip. Over the next few days we will be examining our options… maybe we see the iconic sights of DV and then wander on over to CA 395 and explore that region for a couple of days? Last year I had a chance to briefly visit the Alabama Hills behind Lone Pine, and found it to be an incredibly beautiful landscape. At 14,505 ft, Mount Whitney and the Eastern Sierra tower over a desert-type landscape that flows over huge rounded rocks and down into the Owen’s Valley – a landscape that definitely lends itself to photography. I have always wanted to explore from Lone Pine up through Bishop and on to Mono Lake, and this might be a great time to do that.

Not being completely familiar with the area, I have been using Internet social networking tools like Flickr and photography forums to reach out to others with experience from these regions for advice on shooting locations and weather conditions. It never ceases to amaze me how generous people are with sharing information and ideas. Photographers like Ben HorneDan Mitchell, Kevin McNeal, Phil Kuglin, Jim Fox have all been incredibly generous with their knowledge and expertise, so thank you to everyone who has helped.

The image in this post was made on a previous visit to Death Valley, and is from the dunes near Stovepipe Wells. This is a morning shot, and I loved the patterns and textures that were accentuated by the early light. I was lucky on this occasion that there weren’t too many footprints to deal with – a sandstorm had come whipping through the previous afternoon erasing all evidence of human presence. Am very much looking forward to getting back here, this time with Sam.

Four days and counting until we leave…

Death Valley, Plan B and Plan C

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OK… when I check the road conditions at the NPS web site that are updated every other day or so it would appear that the winter storms that reached into Death Valley in recent weeks have had a more serious impact on the landscape than I initially thought. Many of the backcountry roads are still closed due to either snow and ice, or debris and mud from flood damage – bummer.

What if the situation isn’t more stabilized by the time we are scheduled to arrive? A big part of why we chose to visit Death Valley was to experience the power and vastness of the largest national park in the US… that and the possibility of some weather that is warmer than we are getting these days in Maine!

If we are restricted to major roads and cannot get to some of the more remote locations we had planned on visiting we will be disappointed, but I realize that we will still be able to see amazing sights, and am sure that we would thoroughly enjoy visiting many of the iconic and more frequented locations in the park that would be available to us.

The image above is from one of those icons – Zabriskie Point. The early morning light had climbed over my left shoulder to warm the distant Panamint Range. After I made this image, the light quickly stretched across the valley floor, chasing the shadows toward me and lighting up the weathered and crumpled folds in the foreground. I intentionally composed this photograph with the dominant expanse of sky to try to accentuate the scale and immense size of this place. Though it looks like I might be in a place devoid of other humans, there were about 50 other people enjoying this beautiful scene with me… some of them photographers, and many of them conveniently deposited here from a luxury tour bus. Despite the crowds… a spectacular place that everyone should witness at some point in their life.

We will be keeping a close eye on the conditions and hoping that no more moisture makes it to Death Valley in the next week or so, and as we get closer to our departure date we will be considering three possible scenarios.

Plan A is to stick to the plan hoping that everything gets back to normal in time for our arrival.

Plan B is to forge ahead even if some of the more remote places are still inaccessible. If we can’t get to places like The Racetrack, or some of the higher elevations, we can still experience the park in most of its glory through the more often visited iconic locations. Who knows, the rains might even offer a fresh perspective on the desert. We might also make a side trip over to 395 and the Owens Valley to see some of the sights there.

Plan C is if things don’t look so good in Death Valley to make a right turn out of Vegas and instead of going toward California, head over toward northern Arizona and southeastern Utah where will be able to find some different, but nonetheless spectacular scenery and landscapes.

Stay tuned…