December 16, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I have added 122 images from eight Baltic countries to my VISIONS OF EUROPE portfolio.  They are:  Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, and Norway, or more accurately images from principal cities in each of those countries.  This represents a distillation from approximately 5,000 images created on a 15-day cruise throughout the region, and may well complete that portfolio for the foreseeable future.

Photographing in a "tour format" is not the optimum way to create quality fine art, nor does it tend to an exhaustive coverage of such a large area, but at this point in my life is the only practical way to sample the varied cultures in Europe.  Consequently I would categorize the images in this portfolio as travel and street photography rather than fine art.  However, if one embarks on such a journey prepared with a plan of attack, that is having done some research as to what kind of subject matter to expect, and going with a reasonable arsenal of tools, it is possible to come home with some decent images.  That, I hope, I have achieved.

Photography is the driving force for me on our various travels.  It sometimes means I'm burning the candle at both ends to get what I want.  For instance on this past trip our ship began its entry into a Norwegian fjord at 5:00 a.m. in drizzly weather with a cold, brisk wind blowing.  I pulled myself out of bed in time to be in position to photograph our progress into that fjord, and while the lighting and elements were to say the least challenging I think I came away with some stunning images.  By using a combination of techniques, shooting RAW file format, and applying appropriate post production edits I was able to extract a ton of color from scenes that looked pretty bland at the time.  Norway, for instance, is stunning in its beauty.  It is perhaps the one place on this trip I would like to return to and really dive into it properly.  For one who embraced photography to create mountain landscapes and seascapes it is a paradise.  This was just not the right kind of trip to take advantage of that.

The other place that has long been on my "bucket" list is St. Petersburg, Russia.  I admire Russian literature, classical music and opera; St. Petersburg is a "mecca" of classical Russian culture.  We spent two exhausting days there and while we saw a great deal so much missed.  I think we saw the highlights but one thing I wanted to do is spend substantial time on the Nevsky Prospect, the principal street in the city.  Alas there was just no time.  Moreover, Russia is difficult place to visit on one's own.  A pricey visa is required, and then too the language is more challenging than in many other western European countries.  I'm not sure I'd want to tackle that on my own.  But in the context of a tour it was very comfortable and enjoyable.

Berlin was a surprise to me in the amount of construction going on, especially in the former eastern sector.  Perhaps that is naivety on my part inasmuch as it is not all that long since the Berlin Wall came down and East Berlin began to emerge from the horrors of WW II.  Berlin is still grappling with that emergence as evidenced by cranes and scaffolding on virtually every major building.  Still, given its rich array of museums, music venues, etc., signals Berlin to be a major cultural center in the world.  

The remnant of the Berlin Wall still extant is a grim reminder of the horrors of man's inhumanity to his own kind.  That Germany is indeed recovering from that nightmare is testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.  I have now personally seen the remains of that wall and the one that imprisons the inhabitants of Bethlehem.  My reaction to both was the same...repugnance.  Walls are intended to keep people in or out, and doing so they may fulfill their purpose but they insult the human spirit.  Ultimately they cannot endure.  That my own country now proposes to build its own wall is a disgusting sequel to what I've witnessed in Berlin and Jerusalem.

The creation of this portfolio embodies a significant sector in my overall portfolio.  One may wonder why I chose to "focus" so strongly on Europe.  I didn't set out to do so; it pretty much grew of it's own volition.  Still, there is much that is unique, e.g., architecture, culture, etc., and understanding more about my own roots seemed somehow important to me.  While American culture is also unique and important there is much to be found in Europe that defines who we are.  A great many Americans, including myself, trace their lineage from European sources.  Traveling instills one with a different perspective from those who have never traveled; I think one becomes more tolerant of different views, ways of doing things, and in self identity.  Perhaps a way of putting this is "less insular".  I have traveled through all of North America, much of Europe, quite a bit of Asia, and a bit of Africa and have found something to admire everywhere, and perhaps the debunking of preconceived notions and prejudices.  The rest of the world cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.  We are all part of the same world and mutual understanding is a necessary prerequisite to world peace.  






May 15, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Although My early years as a photographer focused on landscapes I have always been more of a generalist...I'll aim a camera at anything I find interesting.  In the last few years I've gone to architecture, street photography, portraiture, travel, wildlife, and even flowers.  Maybe this broad spectrum of interest has cost me renown because I don't consider myself necessarily an expert at any of these genres, and my photo gear isn't geared to a particular type of photography, but I am capable of assembling an adequate kit at a moment's notice to do just about anything at least competently.  

When I originally set up this site I used the term "fine art photography", not because I consider myself a great artist but because I tend to play around with my images far beyond what is possible to produce in camera.  This may be blasphemy to some hard core traditionalists still using film; get over it.  The camera is a tool that renders an image; nothing more.  If that image satisfies you artistically that's great.  I want something more.  I don't think even Ansel Adams was satisfied with what came out of his camera.  He was known for spending as much time, if not more, in his dark room, developing, dodging, burning, etc., until the result met his satisfaction.  His craftsmanship at technical settings, composition, and post processing is what made him an artist.

There are some subjects I don't mess with too much.  Certainly if doing documentary photography I do very little outside the camera.  But flowers lend themselves well to artistic expression and what I end up with may be very different from the original image.  That concerns me very little.  The original image is but a starting point.  What I am doing is giving my personal interpretation and expression to a particular subject.  Sometimes I have something in mind that the subject triggers and I try to produce it; often I surprise myself when something emerges that sets me off on a completely new thread.  It's all part of the creative process and today we are fortunate to have many tools to help us create an image.

I am also fortunate to have a world class botanical venue within five miles of my home, the University of California, Sant Cruz (UCSC) Arboretum.  It is a teaching and research facility specializing in plants of differing ecological origins from places like New Zealand, Australia, Africa, as well as the Central Coast of California.  One can actually photograph California's golden poppy then walk a few steps and work with Proteas from South Africa.  I know of no where else one can do that!  

The new portfolio that accompanies this blog is a "painterly" rendering of floral images created at the Arboretum over a period of roughly five years.  I usually make one or two trips each year across town to photograph in the Arboretum.  It's an opportunity to break out my macro lens and specialty Lensbaby optics and just have fun.  Over that time I've assembled thousands of images, most of which never leave my computer.  But I thought it would be fun to work on a few of those to see what happens.  I wound up with images that might have inspired Monet and some that might have been painted by Georgia O'Keefe, and a couple that resemble the Expressionist paintings of Joan Mitchell.  Most of all it's just fun.




March 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

PORTRAITS IN THE WILD is the the portfolio where my wildlife images live on my website.  I will attest right up front that every image in this portfolio is of an animal or bird totally free and wild in its natural habitat.  I have been so very fortunate over the past few years to visit a few of the premium locations in the world to photograph exotic wildlife.  I have a ton of photos of wildlife taken in zoos, but I look at zoos as practice opportunities, and while many of those photos represent the animals nicely it just isn't the same as interacting with a non-captive animal where he lives.  I have photographed wildlife in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Alaska, Washington, British Columbia, the Yukon, Alberta, Manitoba, and most recently South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.  

I cannot begin to describe the adrenalin rush one gets when photographing a bear, for instance, when my Nikon is the only thing that separates us.  I found myself in that position on a couple occasions in Alaska a few years ago.  Believe me, I was paying attention to what was going on.  But you know, the bear on those occasions really wasn't interested in me.  Oh, he was aware of my presence and kept an eye on me, but otherwise went calmly about his business.  I didn't press my luck to get closer; my long lens did that for me.  The goal is to get the best photo possible without disturbing the animal, e.g., invading his space, surprising him, or putting one's self in jeopardy.  That sounds like a simple statement but it's not.  One must plan and execute a wildlife photo session very carefully.  It's not enough to just decide to take photos, one must physically get to where the animals are, determine how to approach them, select equipment, perhaps most importantly know something about the animals to be photographed (their habits, characteristics, etc.), then while actually photographing the subject be very sensitive and aware of how the animal is reacting to your presence.  Knowing the animal's habits and bodily actions are important tip offs to what is happening.  If the animal displays any sign of stress or abnormal behavior that is the time to back off.  An adrenaline rush is one thing, but being charged by an angry animal is a whole different ballgame.

The type of photo session is key to many preparatory decisions.  Many of my wildlife shoots have been guided ventures where the only consideration is choosing equipment and clothing one is going to take, then getting one's self there.  The best of such that I have experienced was a one week "photography dedicated" trip to Churchill, Manitoba to photograph Polar Bears.  I did a lot of pre-trip research to learn about the Polar bear, his habitat, challenges, and habits.  Then I took everything I had on that trip, two cameras, a full range of focal lengths, tripod, etc.   I also carried cold weather gear, boots, etc.  I had a lot of weight, all dedicated to photography; there was no other activity.  Contrast that with my recent trip to Africa.  We had but two days on safari out of a 16-day trip and severely limited as to both carry-on and checked luggage.  I was not able to take the long lense I wanted due to weight restrictions.  I had to think through very carefully what situations I might encounter and how to meet them from a "limited" equipment scenario.  I knew I would be shooting from a Land Rover or boat (I even shot a few from the back of an elephant!)  I settled on one camera and one 18-300mm lens, plus 1.4X and 2.0X tele-extenders.  I wasn't exactly satisfied with this limited setup but it worked quite well.  While I would have preferred my 400mm telephoto lens it was just too heavy to consider.  Because I would be shooting from a moving vehicle, and at times in low light conditions, I knew high ISOs were essential to achieve adequate shutter speed.  I don't like that, but I didn't have a choice.  Fortunately modern digital SLRs handle high sensor speeds nicely, and software does a great job in post-production to eliminate or reduce residual digital and color noise.  I also knew that a tripod would be out of the question, and while I could have used one in other places I didn't even pack one.  Image stabilizing lenses are a big help in hand held situations .  Many trips have been on-my-own in an RV where my photo gear got priority in terms of space; decision making was easy-it all went.  I've also done a lot of backpacking where once again space and weight were critical, however, wildlife photo opportunities on those ventures were limited, outside of Alaska that is.

Wildlife photography is thrilling.  I would encourage anyone who hasn't tried it to give it a go, if even in your own backyard or park.  Birds & butterflies make wonderful subjects, and perhaps not as adrenaline inducing as a Polar Bear or African lion but still requires some planning and practice.



January 16, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

A journey to the Arctic in early winter?  Who are you kidding?  A few years back my wife and I were in the Yukon at the turn of summer to fall and were treated to one of the most glorious treats of nature, the change in color of the tundra to bright reds and oranges.  One has to be a bit lucky to see this because fall in this sub-Arctic environment happens very fast, perhaps just a few days until winter moves in.  Already in late August, early September, we were getting strong hints that it was time to head south.  But winter?  Why on earth would anyone want to brave that?  For a photographer interested in wildlife the answer is Polar Bears!

This time it wasn't the Yukon but a small settlement on the south shore of Hudson Bay known as Churchill.  This is one of the best places in the world to see the great white bear because they congregate here in late fall as the polar ice begins to form on Hudson Bay where these hungry bears access the ice and head for winter hunting grounds for fat laden seals on which they are dependent for survival.  Without the seal Polar bears cannot build up the reserves of fat to carry them through the long months from say April to late November during which time they eat very little.  And therein lies their plight.  Because of warming global temperatures ice forms later and melts earlier keeping them land bound longer each year.  This naturally throws their life cycle completely out of whack causing them over time to lose weight, give birth to fewer cubs, and inhibit their ability to nurture the cubs they do have.  These great mammals, and other animals, fish and birds that share this place are "on the edge".

I went to Churchill hoping to be on time to witness this unique migration and photograph the great bear.  I was there just as Hudson Bay was beginning to freeze over.  Churchill is not considered high Arctic.  It is in a transition zone known as the sub-Arctic where the boreal forest that extends hundreds of miles in northern Canada meets the coastal plain of the polar seas, in this case, Hudson Bay.  The landscape around Churchill is largely barren consisting of low tundra, stunted willow like brush, and stunted trees.  By November it is largely a black and white world interspersed with islands of evergreens, most of which show the stress of cold and Arctic wind.  Yet if one looks closely there is color left over from the riot of fall, reds, oranges, sienna, ochre, greens, and blues in the water.  On cloudy days the blue becomes slate-like.  It is kind of like Death Valley in that the bones and structure of the Earth itself are exposed and on full display.  The landscape and flora, like their fauna cousins, are truly "on the edge".  And yet they survive in this raw climate, so far.

I find much to compare the Arctic zone with say Death Valley.  Certainly the climates are far different, but they are both extreme and stark.  Quiet and motionless one moment, the next can produce violent flash floods in the desert or howling blizzards in the Arctic.  Life is fragile and tenuous.  A plant can take decades to grow a few inches in height only to be obliterated in a moment with one careless footstep.  The landscape can seem lonely and deserted yet somehow the vastness and quiet gives one time and space to engage the intricate workings of this vast machine, to come to the understanding that the workings of nature are all in harmony and syncronization.  We are a part of that landscape and welcome in it, but carelessness, technology and industrializiation also gives us opportunity to upset that intricate balance.  Consequently we must be careful not to trend too harshly on what is an easily disrupted balance.

I personally find peace and beauty in such places.  At Churchill I had opportunity not only to photograph the great white bear but also a part of his environment.  I found a special place where the vastness was almost overwhelming.  I learned a great appreciation for the creatures that call this home and for the challenges they face in surviving their changing environment.





November 19, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Mosi-oa-Tunya is the colorful local name for one of nature's awesome wonders, Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River, Africa's fourth longest river.  Translated it means "Smoke that Thunders" for its prodigious spray which in the wet season can be seen from thirty miles.

While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water.  Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America's Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls.  In height and width Victoria Falls is rivalled only by Argentina and Brazil's Iguazi Falls.

The falls lies partly in Zimbabwe and partly in Zambia.  The Zambia side is dry at this time of year preventing us from seeing the falls in its full glory, but also allowing us to see it at all!  I'm told that during the wet season the spray is so thick that it is impossible to see into the gorge and that the falls seemingly "rains up".  So, we were inadvertently fortunate.  But even if half the falls was dry the rest of it gets your attention and "smoke that thunders" is indeed an appropriate appellation.  I was not entirely comfortable peering over the cliff into the depths of its's a long way down.  Which causes me to comment on the brave (foolish?) souls who wade into a pool (Devil's Pool) where the water is shallow enough to wade to the brink of the falls and peer over the edge.  There was a group taking that dare as we watched.  My skin still crawls.  Even though the water was only calf deep one slip would send one on a journey of no return for over 350 vertical feet.  Not a wise bet in my book.





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