Bristlecone Pine, Eastern California, 2007

Just east of the Sierra Nevadas, lies an often overlooked range called the “White Mountains”. Maybe due to my home state, New Hampshire, which also has the “White Mountains”, I’m prone to gravitate to this range in nearly the complete opposite part of the country. I’ll cover more of this area in the future, since a lot of my portfolio is from the area. But today, I’d like to show off some shots from a truly magical location, eleven thousand feet up the range.

Bristlecone Pine At Sunset, Eastern California, 2007
Phase One P45 Digital Back, 39mp, on a Hasselblad H2
HC 50-110 Lens @ 50mm : ISO 50 : 1/2 at f22
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

The bristlecone pine species is famous for having some of the oldest known living organisms on the planet. At least one, is over 5000 years old. The experts won’t tell us just where this tree lives. But it’s thought to be located somewhere in the White Mountain range. And that’s not all… An even older tree was actually cut down, kinda by accident, in the 1960’s. This episode of Radio Lab talks all about this. It’s a really fun listen. Go to 15:30 and check it out.

The above shot was taken as the sun crept behind the larger mountain range to the west- the Sierra Nevadas. I love this shot. It’s one of my favorites blown up really large on canvas. At four feet wide, it still holds up wonderfully. And you can walk up and pick out the pine cones. I love how the tree trunk glows with oranges and yellows. And behind the tree, over the range, the sky is milky and pink, yet contained by deep blues. This shot also shows off the earth the trees thrive in- shards of dolomite and sparse soils.

Here are a few more shots.

Bristlecone Pine, CA

Bristlecone Pine, Eastern California, 2007
Phase One P45 Digital Back, 39mp, on a Hasselblad H2
HC 50-110 Lens @ 85mm : ISO 50 : 1/8 at f22
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

Dead Bristlecone Pine, Eastern California, 2007
Phase One P45 Digital Back, 39mp, on a Hasselblad H2
HC 50-110 Lens @ 55mm : ISO 50 : 1/4 at f32
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

Bristlecone Pine Valley, Eastern California, 2007
Phase One P45 Digital Back, 39mp, on a Hasselblad H2
HC 50-110 Lens @ 50mm : ISO 50 : 1/4 at f22
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

Abandoned Airstreams, Southern Colorado, 2014

As a cold frozen rain and a driving wind whipped me about, I managed to sneak a few shots of these abandoned Airstreams. The sky was gray, but I knew if I shot via infrared, the sky would show details not normally seen with the naked eye. Someday, I’ll indulge you in talking about how this realization came about, some 20 years ago, shooting with a Nikon FM2 with good ‘ol Kodak HIE-2481, slogging through a late and dreary Utah fall. Nowadays, I’m shooting with a converted Nikon D800. The results are amazing, though I still miss the days of the latent image and developing in hotel bathrooms and youth hostel showers.

Abandoned Airstreams, Southern Colorado, 2014
Nikon D800 Infrared Converted
Nikor 24-70 @ 35mm : ISO 100 : 1/80 at f6.3
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

As I was trying to get THE shot, I noticed a Ford Explorer creeping into the shot- headlights blinking, blowing it’s horn (barely heard because of all the ice and wind hitting my hood). It was my wife (of about 5 days). “What the heck is going on?” I wondered…

And there it was- a second vehicle. An old pick up, barreling towards me. Roads and paths be damned, whoever was heading my way was doing it with sheer conviction. As the old pickup approached, it would dip down into a ditch, then jump out, becoming nearly air-born. No dust was stirred, for it was too wet. But old vegetation flew all about. These ditches turned out to be due to the fact that I was shooting in an old drive in- where they dug into the earth to allow cars to park lowered and angled up at the screen.

I was, of course, not feeling too good about what I was getting myself into. The location was not marked as “No Trespassing”. But this was the west – and trespassing is treated differently in each state. Luckily, my burden became my salvation. I had cameras strapped all over me- a normal D800 and a D800 Infrared, along with a vest packed and puffed out with an array of lenses.. Yeah, I looked like a photographer, not a vandal. And that’s all the guy heading right at me needed to know.

The driver seemed to have noticed all my gear as he approached- slowing down about 20 yards away. I opted to walk to him, cameras in hand, making it obvious I meant no harm to him or his property. I explained what I was up to. Just shooting those awesome Airstreams, nothing more. He cooled down, and we were soon talking about the guys trout farming enterprise. He was heading into town for more pipes. Crisis was adverted.

In the above shot, I love how the hazy-glow of the Airstreams brighten up the otherwise gray tone of the image. Infrared can often do those sorts of things, even during overcast conditions. It makes the Airstreams the star of the shot.

Here’s a color exposure of the same scenario. Nice, but in the color version, it is so much more about the grasses. Sure, the shot is not cropped as tight. But I ended up doing that to tend to the intensity of the grasses- giving into the fact that the Airstreams are almost second fiddle.

Abandoned Airstreams, Southern Colorado, 2014
Nikon D800
Nikor 24-70 @ 28mm : ISO 100 : 1/100 at f10
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

Some other things to notice.. Check out the difference in sky details between infrared and color exposures. Just amazing how the details just come out without any trouble. And that green bushy shrub- it’s the king of the foreground in the Infrared shot, lighting right up. Whereas in the color shot, the shrub is lost. We’ll talk about why this happened another day (I’m sure I’ll opine further about Infrared in the future, so hang in there).

Finally, lets check out another shot from the location. I shot this after the property owner took off. This let me slow down and shoot a little more, pushing compositions further.

Air Conditioned Bus, Southern Colorado, 2014
Nikon D800
Nikor 24-70 @ 70mm : ISO 100 : 1/125 at f10
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

I wanted to also talk about this shot, because I think it complements and contrasts the other two in so many ways. First off, the use of color here is pretty darn successful- far more than in the previous shot. The blue of the sky, references the blue of the bus and then contrasts the sweeping wisps of golden grass. I don’t mind the sky being silken and lacking in detail- no need for the detailed sky of the Infrared shot. And the composition is actually more fitting of my oeuvre- I’ve stuck the bus over to the side, letting the background open up, and the electrical poles hold things together. And finally, inside the bus, the paneling and that pink steering wheel finish things off.

Next up, we’ll venture to the high elevations of Nevada’s White Mountains and ancient Bristlecone Pines. See you then.

Ruby Beach Flows, Southern Washington Coast, 2011

I’ve been up and down the west coast many times. And each time, I never come up short of finding amazing shots. In 2011, my (future) wife and I flew into Seattle and proceeded to drive Route 101, around the outskirts of the Olympic Peninsula. Prior, we took a ferry from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island. I had been on this route a number of times before, showing off how neat the ferry service was, she took it all in stride.

Ruby Beach Flows, Southern Washington Coast, 2011

Ruby Beach Flows, Southern Washington Coast, 2011
Phase One P45 Digital Back, 39mp, on a Hasselblad H2
HC 50-110 Lens @ 55mm : ISO 50 : 1/4 at f32
HDR Composite of 8 exposures using Photomatix Pro
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

Many times in the past, the coastal drive brought me days of solid rain. This time though, we were blessed with wonderfully expressionistic overcast skies. After camping a few days deep in the Queets Rainforest, we continued south down the Washington coast.

We stopped and went for a walk along Ruby Beach. I took this opportunity to wander away from the main area- carefully walking along the narrow beach. To my back was a sea wall. While shooting in this spot, I knew that I could be trapped by the tide if I waited too long.

But I couldn’t help it. I had to get the shot I was seeing in my head. Shooting with a Phase One P45 on a Hasselblad H2, I took multiple exposures. They were long, photographically speaking. Many shots were under 1/30 second. What I knew though, was that if i kept the camera position stable, I could take these exposures and combine (composite) them later into an amazing shot.

The final shot shows wonderfully on Epson Exhibition Canvas, with a varnish of Breathing Color Timeless. I’ll talk about how I apply the varnish for my prints another time. The multiple slow exposures, then composited together into one shot, give a surreal, soft, almost creamy visual feel to the water. I love how the shadow of the rocks operates inside that area, and how the pebbles have their own micro representations of the larger scene. And being a fan of older photographic mediums (we’ll cover that more someday), I’m a sucker for warmer prints. In this case, that warmth worked out incredibly well.

Here are some other shots from Ruby Beach, also shot during this visit.

Ruby Beach Washed Up Logs, Southern Washington Coast, 2011
Phase One P45 Digital Back, 39mp, on a Hasselblad H2
HC 50-110 Lens @ 50mm : ISO 50 : 1/60 at f8
HDR Composite of 6 exposures using Photomatix Pro
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

The northwest pacific coast is littered with washed up logs from old logging operations. I could shoot them all day. Stay away you swamp loggers… In the above shot, I love how the colors all work. We have the overcast/drab sky, foggy background and then the colors start to pop out in the mid range scrub. And then we have in the warmer foreground the logs placed within the more neutral/cold rocks. And these rocks have little color nods, the oranges, to the logs themselves. And of course, this shot has a bunch of diagonals- that can seldom hurt a composition.

Ruby Beach Boundary, Southern Washington Coast, 2011
Phase One P45 Digital Back, 39mp, on a Hasselblad H2
HC 50-110 Lens @ 35mm : ISO 50 : 1/4 at f32
HDR Composite of 7 exposures using Photomatix Pro
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

In this final shot, I wanted to again capture the dynamic skies, while also showing the relationship of the ocean, washed up logs and the living forest that comes right up to the beach. By using the multiple exposure-composite technique, I was able to capture the dwindling light, while preserving the deep shadows of the standing trees.

Jacked Up Ford Pickup, Southern Nebraska, 2010

As you’ll find out, I shoot a lot of old trucks, gas pumps and trains; hallmarks of the modern era now often left to rust out in some abandoned field or lot. If their placements also include big landscapes and dramatic skies, I cannot resist but capture them.

One of my most favorite photo trips was in 2010, where I drove from my home in the Northeast to a client in Indiana. After that, I continued west, right through the middle of the country. My goal was to shoot old trucks and gas pumps mostly. And I happened upon many jackpots.

Nebraska turned out to be a great place to shoot. With it’s wide open skies above sweeping rolling hills, numerous small towns, peppered all over, it offered a lot of opportunities.

Jacked Up Ford, Southern Nebraska, 2010

Jacked Up Ford Pickup, Southern Nebraska, 2010
Phase One P45 Digital Back, 39mp, on a Hasselblad H2
HC 50-110 Lens @ 50mm : ISO 50 : 1/30 at f16
HDR Composite of 6 exposures using Photomatix Pro
This shot and others can be found on my westernspaces.com site

This shot was one of them. I never met anyone at this location. I stayed on public roads to reduce any issues. But I have to thank whomever for such a great layout! You’ll  be seeing more from this shoot over time.

Today, I’m not going to cover all the technical aspects of this shot, nor my methods of photography, other than a quick note on the above photo’s final treatment. Many people ask me if I “change” the colors. And to that, I have to say, it all depends on what “change” means. I don’t recall ever changing the color of something- so that red, is now green, as an example. But I certainly have boosted colors in many cases. That’s actually why I picked this shot as the first for this blog…

Yes, the shot is pretty “hot”. The rust and cyan colors are quite intense. But that’s how I wanted the shot. That’s how I saw the shot when I was shooting. And I actually think that the intensity of the foreground colors helps separate the truck from the clutter of the background. Sure, the background could have been let to fall out of focus- but then what about those awesome clouds?

What I find is that many people will simply adore the photography of Ansel Adams, but then when they find out a shot is taken digitally and “changed” they look down on such a thing. Well, I hate to break it to you, but Adams was all about manipulation. And he is famous for using whatever technologies of the time would help him create images that he “previsualized”. As an example, skim through his book The Print. Check out the chapter on dodging and burning. What’s that all about? He’s making a sky darker, or a shadow lighter, by simply exposing portions of the print more or less according to what looked good to him. And although he was not as well known for his later color work, he applied similar and newer techniques to that medium as well.

And so much of what Adams discusses in his publication, The Negative, revolves around how to obtain as much details in the shadows and in the hi-lights as possible. His Zone System involved a number of approaches during both exposure and development (of the film) to obtain as much dynamic range as possible. Sounds like HDR (High Dynamic Range) today does it not? And yes, I’ve done it the Adams way (for half my photographic life) and the new way as well.

There is no “straight” shot. Film and digital sensors all have biases. Fuji Velvia was richer and had more contrast than Kodachrome, as an example. And does it matter where the filter was applied? In front of the lens of the camera? In front of the lens at the time of enlargement? At the time of post-production in Adobe Lightroom? And what if the reds need to be more vibrant? Should we crank up the magenta and yellow, during enlargement, do a selective burn on a target region, then soak the print in a chemical bath for an additional 15 seconds that’s 2 degrees cooler than it should be? Or do we select the red channel in Lightroom and bump up the “vibrance” settings by 10? They’re all just different technologies to obtain similar results.

The intent of this blog is not to argue just about how contemporary techniques have possibly cheapened the art of photography. But we’ll see the topic come up on a regular basis. Much of my catalog that I’m most proud of certainly falls into the digital realm. But I’ll make sure to conjure up older exposures as well.

 

Welcome

Hi- Well, I’m finally getting around to blogging about my photos. Honestly, this is just as much about SEO as it is about talking about my shots… But I promise I’ll always post good info and stories. I’m also going to pull out some oldies on occasion. So stay tuned.

Make sure to check out where most of these shots live at Western Spaces.

-mike