I love the California desert.
I go there every year to photograph.
I love the stark beauty.
The changing conditions.
I love the variety.
I love the solitude.
I love almost everything about it
(well, between the months of November and February that is!)
And so I’m happy to announce that John Barclay and Dan Sniffin have invited me to join them on their February 2014 Tour/Workshop to three of California’s premier desert locations.
We will be focusing on three incredible areas: the Mesquite dunes in Death Valley, Trona Pinnacles and the Alabama Hills.
Here is information on the workshop and the website where you can sign up.
I hope to see a few friendly faces there!
I just spent the most wonderful five days in the San Francisco area. I was warmly received by the Palo Alto Camera Club and then spent some time in the City where my wife and I enjoyed the sights and some fantastic food. Then we spent a day walking on and around the Golden Gate Bridge with spectacularly perfect weather.
While on the bridge I spied this Monolith which I wanted to photograph. I spent several hours trying to find a vantage point where I could photograph it alone, separated from the city. However due to a restricted area under the bridge, I was unable to find such a shot and gave up. But I’ve learned that when the ideal conditions do not exist, you should look for other opportunities in the non-ideal conditions.
Instead of photographing this Monolith alone as I had done with all of the other images (http://www.colethompsonphotography.com/Monoliths.htm) I decided to include a man made structure to show the contrast between the two.
I like how the contrast between nature and man works in this image to make it stronger.
I recently visited the Northern California coast. Part of me wanted to photograph there because so many of my photographic heroes have, and yet another part of me said: “What can I create that is better or different than what they have done?”
For me the answer was to go, to enjoy the beauty, to be inspired and to try! I know that this coastline still has many famous images to give, but only to those who have the eyes to see them. Every place, no matter how small or mundane, has great images to give, so how much better to be in this beautiful place?
I did create several new images; some are conventional ones such as “Diminishing Cliffs” above, but my primary focus was to complete “The Lone Man” series. I’ll be introducing some of those new images in my next newsletter, due out in about a week.
Another very enjoyable part of my trip was to have lunch with my friend and classic photographer Huntington Witherill. He’s been in LensWork a few times and he creates in both b&w and color. I love his work so much that I own two of his images, please check out his work.
This was a great trip. If you have a chance to visit this area, I’d recommend it as it’s both inspiring and a piece of photographic history.
This week I was speaking to a High School photography student about how the images I create, look nothing like the images I shot. When I photograph something, I have a vision of what the final image will look like and I work to bring the captured image in line with that vision. My art does not try to faithfully reproduce what my eyes saw, but rather to recreate what I saw in my mind’s eye or my “vision.”
I characterize my creations as being composed of 50% the shot and 50% this vision. Bringing the shot into line with my vision starts with the image capture, sometimes I’ll underexpose like with “Alphie” above, to set the mood I’m trying to create. Transforming the image continues as I convert it to black & white, frequently using a lot of blue channel to give a contrasty and grainy look.
But most of my vision is introduced when I dodge and burn the image, working in Photoshop like I did in the darkroom, but with infinitely more control. Using a pen and tablet I paint the image to darken it, selectively enhance contrast and to tease out the highlights exactly where I want them. This step is where the “created” image can take a radical departure from the original shot.
Sometimes during processing I might see a new possibility or find a surprise in the image, but generally I know from the moment of capture what the finished image will look like. I think this ability comes from having a personal vision, knowing your capabilities and the limitations of your tools.
Alphie was created about a week ago off the Santa Cruz pier. It was early morning and the sea lions were just becoming active and lazily floating in the water; they seemed to be stretching and waking up. I photographed them as they took on various poses and once I saw this image, I knew that I had what I was looking for.
But as you look at Alphie, remember that you’re really seeing him through the lens of my vision, and not the lens of my camera.
“Rocks and Mist” is another one of my long exposure shots. The image was captured late one night on the rocky shore of La Jolla Cove in San Diego. I was standing on the eroded lava rock about 10 feet from a precipice that fell off to the ocean. The waves would come up and go over my feet as I stood there for the 30 second exposure.
The effect of the waves going in an out over the 30 seconds gives the misty, foggy effect. The only illumination were the distant lights and stars. I was using a 16mm lens and so there is a distorted almost fish-eye effect, which is not really noticeable since the viewer does not know what the scene really looks like.
This was shot in 2005 and I recently returned to the same spot and was very surprised at how small this rocky area really is. The wide angle lens added much to the look and feel of the image.
Water and long exposures are a great combination. A very long exposure can smooth out water for a very simple and clean look. Sometimes a shorter exposure can give form and shape to the water and then there is the misty look as in the above image. Using a digital camera allows you to experiment and get right before you leave. I love digital!
I’ve just returned from Orange County in California, my old stomping grounds, and have a few new images that I’ll be showing in my next newsletter. Here is one entitled “Safe Harbor.”
It was taken at the Dana Point harbor and I was pondering the difference in the sea on one side of the wall compared to the other. One is calm and the other turbulent.
It made me think of the walls we put up in our lives, and wondering if they really provide calm or they are just a way to avoid certain things.
This is the Angel Gabriel. I met him on the Newport Beach pier as he was eating French Fries out of a trash can. He was homeless and hungry. I asked him if he would help me with a photograph and in return, I would buy him lunch.
The pier was very crowded and I wanted to take a 30 second exposure so that everyone would disappear except Gabriel. We tried a few shots and then Gabriel wanted to mess up his hair and hold his bible. The image worked and the only people you can see besides Gabriel are those “ghosts” who lingered long enough for the camera.
Gabriel and I then went into a restaurant to share a meal; he ordered steak with mushrooms and onions. When it came, he ate it with his hands. I discovered he was Romanian and so am I, so we talked about Romania. He was simple, kind and a pleasure to talk with.
I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and wanted to share the money with him. He said I should give the money to someone who could really use it; that he had everything that he needed.
Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll.