Serendipity and the luck of the photographer: the chance of being at the right place at the right time!

I recently received  a request for a photograph that I do not currently have in my files so I planned a quick trip to try and capture it. I pre-visualized the image: sunrise light on a specific snow covered mountain with some nice clouds in the sky, and on the morning I was there to make the image conditions were almost perfect with the exception of the clouds.  I made the shot and granted it is a nice image, but not exactly what I was hoping for and I will most likely return to try again. I have learned over the years that patience and  perseverance reward the photographer.  That said, later in the day as I was traveling the weather started to change  and  as I was driving through the northern San Luis Valley  an amazing lenticular cloud developed over the Northern Sangre de Cristo Range.  It was mid-day light, but the combination of the snow covered mountains with the incredible sky and clouds was too good to pass up and envisioning it in black and white, I knew it would be an excellent image.  So the moral of this story is that as photographers as much as  we may plan and have  hopes to capture certain images, it is often the random serendipitous chance moments that we encounter that produce the most satisfying images. I am not saying you should not plan and pre-visualize, but just getting out there and seeing what images come your way can be rewarding. In other words just get out and do it and see what nature provides!

A Lenticular Cloud over the Sangre de Cristo Range, CO

The Joy of Clouds

There is nothing less interesting to me as a landscape photographer than a bright clear cloudless sky, but add some clouds and marginal weather with interesting light and wow, some magical images can be made. A great example of this is my Bison and Crestone Peaks image where the sun lights up the layers of clouds formed  from an inversion and a clearing late Spring storm with fresh snow on the peaks . Earlier in the morning the valley was blanketed in fog and I was able to make some interesting images but as it started to burn off, this  amazing scene was revealed.  Clouds can add a dynamic element to any landscape and can make any image truly unique.

I will offer two additional examples, a black and white image of amazing cumulus cloud build up over the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona in July, and early morning  clouds over the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma. Without the clouds my camera would have stayed in the bag.

Cumulus Cloud Build-up over the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ

Tall Grass Prairie Morning, Oklahoma

Bosque Moonset

I took my my annual trip down to Bosque del Apache NWR this year during the last week of December to coincide with the full “Blue Moon” on December 31/Jan 1.  I often time my trips to coincide with full moons so that I may photograph moon rises and moon sets. The best time to photograph a moon rise is usually  the day before the full moon, as the rising moon will occur  before sunset and allow a nice balance with sunset light. Of course if there are clouds on the eastern horizon, the moon is obscured and that was the case at Bosque this year. The best time to photograph the full moon set is the morning following the full moon or occasionally one morning later. Again the idea is to balance the position of the moon with the pre-sunrise light. Another interesting element that may be present is the earth shadow. In the western US, if the horizons are clear before sunrise or after sunset, the presence of the earth’s shadow  is often visible as a pink and blue band on the horizon opposite the rising or setting sun. The juxtaposition of such an earth shadow with the full moon can make a stunning image, and this was one of the images I was after at Bosque. I was fortunate to have almost perfect conditions on the morning of New Years Day and managed to make the image seen here. A few clouds were present that masked the effect of the earth shadow but  they took on the wonderful  pink glow of pre-sunrise light that photographers love. It was cold enough that a group of Sand Hill Cranes were huddled together with their necks buried in under their wings and their legs actually frozen in the ice. After the sun rose it was quite comical watching them trying to extract themselves and then run and slide across the ice to take off.

New Years day full moon set over the Crane Pools at Bosque del Apache NWR

Sandhill Cranes getting ready to takeoff at Bosque del Apache NWR

Capturing a moment: Sometimes you get lucky!

A Pair of Sandhill Cranes Captured in the Yin-Yang of Flight, Bosque del Apache NWR

For many years my photography has primarily concentrated on capturing the  composition, light and form of the grand and intimate  landscape. However for the last couple  years, I have started to take up the challenge of  bird and wildlife photography because I feel that as a photographer I needed to grow and challenge myself in new ways.  Making artful images of wildlife is not easy and I have gained a great respect for those photographers who specialize in wildlife. One location I have traveled to for the last few years every December or January is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Here there is an amazing concentration of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese and it provides great opportunities to practice the art  of birds in flight photography.  Believe me it is addicting, and at least with modern auto-focus technology and high shutter speeds, the photographer has some chance to capture a sharp image. The real challenge is to make artful compositions of subjects that are in constant motion. The bottom line is that many many Birds in Flight images wind up in the trash, but occasionally you get lucky and capture a moment in time of grace and beauty. The image of a pair of Sandhill Cranes in flight I post above is an example of  all things working together: light, form, and a perfect juxtapostion  of elements captured at precisely the right moment in time. Sometimes you get lucky!  I am very honored that this  image has been awarded  an Editors Choice Honorable Mention in this years Audubon Magazine Birds in Focus Photography Contest.

Color or Black and White?: the Power of the Digital Darkroom

Photographers today have some amazing tools available to them in the digital darkroom! The ability to to produce either a color or black and white image from a digital file today gives the photographer great control and allows  vision, experimentation and choice in bringing the final image to life as a fine print.   I recently started using Silver Efex  Pro, a photo shop plug-in from Nik Software, and for someone who originally did B&W burning,dodging, and toning in the chemical darkroom , the control over the image that this  digital tool  allows is is amazing.  As an example I present a macro image of Broadleaf Chasmanthium, a grass species I photographed this Summer in Oklahoma. Although I do  really like the color image, I believe the  B&W version is a bit more “artistic” and has its own unique beauty.  As an artist I find it very liberating to have such tools available to me as I pursue my creative vision to capture the beauty the natural world.

Taking another look: finding new images among the old.

In getting ready for the upcoming Colorado College Arts and Craft show I have been revisiting older images in my files looking for new stock to print.  I impose on myself very high standards for images that  I offer  for prints so usually very few selects from a particular trip  ever become  a fine print on paper.   However sometimes  a subsequent look after the passage of time will reveal an image that  deserves to be printed, and in my search for some new images to offer  I did indeed find a few more gems on my hard drives:

Aspen,Willows and Pines, Teton NP, Wyoming

I made this image in Teton National Park in the Fall of 2007.  The soft cloudy afternoon light that made the Autumn colors pop, and the strong composition of layers of grass, willows and aspen make this image worthy of  printing. Enjoy.

Extracting an Image: layers, patterns and colors

One of my favorite places to photograph is Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. Its a great place to extract natural abstract images  built on patterns, textures, colors and forms. I made this image last Spring and as I  wandered  among the dunes, I was drawn to the patterns of magnetite, illmenite and other dark heavy oxide minerals that are concentrated by  the wind winnowing away the lighter less dense quartz and feldspar grains. These diagonal layers of  dark patches in contrast to the  golden colored layers of rippled sand in the foreground combine to make an interesting  graphic image. A print of this image is currently on display at the Visitor Center in the park.

Show announcement

My image Dawn Flight is being shown in the “Go With the Flow”  juried exhibit  at the Art Matters Gallery in Salida Colorado from Nov 4 through Dec 30. The opening will be Saturday Nov. 14, from 2-6 PM, which I will be attending.

Memories of Summer: Oklahoma Tall Grass Prairie Sunrise

A blast  of Winter came to Colorado over the last few days; snow, cold and wind. Now I actually like cold and snowy weather; it can provide  beautiful and challenging photography, but my senses  were still accustomed to the wonderful  warm days of Indian Summer in Colorado that were present just days before the storm . This morning, as I scraped the ice off my truck in 16 degree temps, my mind wandered back to my summer excursions, particular to a trip I made in July to Oklahoma when the temperatures went over 100 degrees. On one day I spent a wonderful morning at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in the Osage Hills of Northern Oklahoma and was able to capture a great sunrise. Conditions were perfect with incredible verdant green grass and wonderful clouds in the sky that lit up as the sun hit the horizon. Viewing it certainly warms me up and brings back wonderful memories. Isn’t that why we all make photographs?

Oklahoma Tallgrass Prairie Sunrise

Sunrise on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma

Slow Down and Look: The Joy of the Intimate Landscape

One of my absolute favorite photographic subjects  are intimate compositions of grasses. Finding and making  these “Tapestries of Grass” is a joy but also a challenge to extract an image from an environment that at quick glance may seem mundane or  even chaotic. The secret I believe in making any good intimate landscapes is to slow down and really look at the environment around you. When I am out I will often just stop and stand still for several minutes, scanning the surroundings and watching the light. More often that not something will catch my eye.  I look for patterns, textures, and colors and if it strikes me I set up the tripod and precisely fine-tune the composition.  If it all comes together I make the photograph, if not I move on.  The following image made in Kansas at the Webster Wildlife area is a good example. It was made from spending at least  30 minutes wandering and looking in an area of  prairie less than acre in size. Kansas Autumn Grass Tapestry