The Subtle Seduction of Joshua Tree National Park

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An entire National Park named after a tree?  Seriously?

Now the Grand Canyon… that’s some park.  Gigantic crevice in the planet… that you can climb down into.  Cool.

Yosemite.  Epic walls of towering rock surrounding a pristine valley.  Yessir.

Yellowstone.  Bears, wolves, elk around every corner.  That’s surely worth a visit.

But Joshua Tree?  Just a few hours west of San Diego, California, and yeah… it’s named after some trees.

I had a glorious day there recently (and at the nearby mysterious Salton Sea) and it was extraordinary.  Joshua Tree delights in its subtlety.  In its understated charm.  The hikes scale a low lying and approachable mountain, forge through easily missed hidden valleys, ascend toward a seemingly misplaced dessert lake, and leave you utterly and beautifully alone in the silence.  It was breathtaking.

More to come soon…

My visual gratitude journal

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I’ve heard it several times before and I bet you have too.  Keeping a gratitude journal – into which you spend 10 minutes at the end of every day jotting down everything you were grateful for during that day – will reduce your stress and up the happy in your life.

Arianna Huffington summarized all this in her book Thrive by noting: “According to a study by researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida, having participants write down a list of positive events at the close of a day — and why the events made them happy — lowered their self-reported stress levels and gave them a greater sense of calm at night.”

I’ve read all about this.  I’ve talked with people who do this.  Without citing all the hard evidence, I’ll just say… I buy it.  I get it.  I’m in.

But… I stink at journaling.  I’ve tried it probably 10 times before, for a variety of reasons and typically upon the advice of a friend, but I can never get past a couple of days of actually doing it.  Once I even purchased a beautiful leather clad journal with heavy weight cotton paper and thought to myself: “Yeah, I haven’t successfully journaled because the paper itself wasn’t just right.”  Right.

More recently, however, it has hit me like a much appreciated bag of bricks over the head: why not keep a visual gratitude journal?  One that I capture with a camera (or my phone) and which helps me account for all of the things that I am most grateful for in my life.  I have created a special on-line gallery (accessible only by me) into which I place these images.  They contain photos of people, of events, of places.  Just knowing I possess such a gallery prompts me to search around during the course of each day just looking for, and thinking about, my blessings.  I review the gallery often and consider everything in my life I have reason to appreciate.

And you know what?  It works.  Maybe I don’t stink at journaling after all.

Try it and see.  Let us know if it works…

Photographic artistry: Ever the elusive

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” — Edgar Degas

It has been a slow awakening, a coming into the light.  And it has been fairly difficult.  I am a photographer.  I know how to use my equipment.  I know my way around post-processing software.  I have refined my photographic eye.  But I am no artist.

I have spent decades refining this craft.  Most of that has been joy, as I have described on these and other pages.  Experiences of living, of traveling, of encountering and of discovery most often include peering into a glass or electronic peephole, manipulating compositions, altering shadows and highlights, and capturing it for all of posterity.  It has been a photographic… pardon the cliche… journey.

The quest to improve as a photographer is big business.  This desire is fuel to an industry that seeks to move gear, instructional supports, travel workshops, and a million other associated products and services.  The fundamental equation is this: buy X and you will become a better photographer.  I’ve wanted that.  Many want that.  Many.  It’s big business.

Joey described his recent decision (see here), a shedding of sorts, to focus on artistry.  And not all the rest.

As for me…

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Worth Preserving

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It has dawned upon me on more than one occasion that I have nothing from that era.  Nothing left to show from it.

I entered college, as does everyone, with a sense of wonderment.  And anxiety.  What would the future hold for me?  Would I fit in?  Would this eventually be okay…?

Not long after starting, I grabbed one of the few things in my possession that grounded me to my past and which marked my identity – my camera… and headed to a meeting of all those interested in working at the school newspaper.  Thinking that I would need to claw my way in, to prove my worth in a crowded field… I brought a small portfolio of my high school work and processed up to the table with the long haired hipster (an odd site in the early 1980s) editor and introduced myself.  Seeing I was holding a well worn Pentax K1000, he said: “You’re a photographer?”  Before I could deliver my much rehearsed elevator speech, he continued: “Can you cover the basketball game tonight?”  I was in.

By the end of that first year, I was co-photo editor of the paper and never looked back.  That gave me immediate access to all sporting events, including court-side passes at the old Boston Garden for the really big games.  I watched Doug Flutie eviscerate my team on his way to the Heisman Trophy.  I gained front row seating at school shows.  I mingled with administrators and faculty at fancy cocktail receptions.  I was in.

The best part, though?  A building key and special 24/7 access to a sprawling darkroom on the third floor of the campus center.  A facility no one else used, not even my co-editor who preferred to shoot and let me do all the developing.  I spent hours in that place, bringing images to life in pulsating chemical-suffused water under a dim red glow.  The images came to life onto paper, hung drying from racks of wire lines that enveloped me.  It was a bliss.

Yet now…

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Landscape Photography: Trying a Radically Different Style

I’ve been blessed.  I’ve hiked in deserts, snowmobiled on glaciers and pulled a camera’s viewfinder up to my eye in numerous enchanted locations.  I’ve enjoyed capturing scenes, isolated onto two dimensional fragments reflected back up off of paper or liquid crystal display panels, many of which I have treasured.  Less so for their artistic value.  More so for the memories of the experiences they evoke.

This pursuit, decades old now, has helped foster a photographic shooting style that is hard to separate from the actual experiences.  I take in a beautiful spot.  I capture it photographically.  They are the same thing.  But for better or worse, this has taken place with a capture approach that involves lots of shooting.  It is not uncommon that I will finish a day of shooting with 250-300 new images on my card and then Lightroom library.  As I hike, I capture everything I see.  As I stand before a scene, I zoom in, I zoom out, I snap away.  I have completely distinguished the capture from culling processes.

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But Thomas Heaton does it differently – see video above.  He is a photographer/vlogger from the UK who heads out into nature and captures its beauty… one or two photos at a time.  His style is deliberate.  He searches for a composition, which sometimes never materializes.  If he steps away from a day of shooting with just a few shots, he’s happy.

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You Must Always Shoot RAW. Or Maybe Not…

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Among photographers, it’s almost universally considered conventional wisdom.  Among this Father and this Son, it’s an ongoing debate.  Son says you have to shoot RAW whenever quality is job 1.  Whenever you hope to preserve the latitude to continue the creative process after the shoot and onto the computer where a larger screen and capable software allow you to truly fulfill your artistic vision.  Whenever the stakes are highest and you have to deliver the very best.  Father says… eh.  I’m not so sure.

First, it’s worth pointing out that I fondly recall the days of film shooting, when you chose your film style and ISO and then everything else you did happened in the field and at the moment of capture.  Sure, I went into the darkroom and could brighten, darken, dodge, burn, and crop the finished print… but more often than not, I was working against a pressing deadline and needed to produce… and fast.  So, other than making sure the exposure was nailed, I did not labor all that much on the final version.  I knew when I was out shooting that getting everything right then and there was vital.

In the digital era, we have way more flexibility.  We can spray and pray with the camera firing like a jackhammer, we can nudge ISO up and down to our heart’s delight, we can even use film simulations to get the look we want.  Wasted clicks can be deleted in a heartbeat and so the cost associated with mistakes is low.  Very low. Continue reading

Sandpipers and the Beach Stroll

IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘m no wildlife photographer… though I will confess that I happily fashioned myself one when I trekked to the Inside Passage in Alaska and shot feeding bald eagles and lumbering black bears.  And in South Africa, I captured hungry cheetahs devouring a freshly killed baby nyala.  Don’t let those particular shots in my portfolio fool you (despite the prominence of their display)– most of my typical wildlife shooting includes squirrels and pigeons.

Nevertheless, every opportunity I get to pop a longer lens on a camera body and point it at something that flies, swims or crawls on all fours, I leap.  Such was the case during a recent trip to Amelia Island in Florida.  Though this time, it was the lowly sandpiper that captured my attention.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve walked along countless beaches in my life, frequently with a camera in tow, and hardly noticed the sandpiper.  These small birds dart about in my path, chasing meals that lie just below the surface of the sand and surf.  They are timid, prone to keeping out of my way just as I steer clear of theirs.

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