Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Capturing a Portrait of the Landscape

July 19, 2012

I’ve never been much of a portrait photographer. When I do photograph people — it’s often by accident — and almost certainly involves my own shadow. Nonetheless, I have tremendous respect for those who are truly good at shooting portraits.

A successful portrait photographer must quickly ascertain their subject, earn their trust, then reveal the person’s true identity in the final photograph. If you think this sounds difficult, then you and I have a lot in common.

Some of the best portraits I’ve seen are those that show the true character of the subject, flaws and all. Direct eye contact is of utmost importance — It reveals more than what words can ever describe.

Highly retouched, airbrushed and liquified portraits do little more than showcase what is possible with digital retouching. The “portrait” is diminished to an idealized representation of what the person might look like if truly non-human.

If you want to view some excellent portraits, be sure to check out the work of my friend Blair Bunting. His striking portraits are awe inspiring.

Though Blair’s portraits and my fascination with landscapes are quite different, there are commonalities with our photography. The underlying qualities of a successful portrait are equally valid for landscape photography.

I too find it important to get to know my subject. My style of photography involves revisiting many of the same locations on a continual basis. It allows me to see how each location changes, and satisfies my own curiosity about the natural world.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll see the same locations again and again — Death Valley, Zion National Park, and the Colorado Plateau.

These locations now seem like familiar friends. They remain steadfast, resilient, and familiar — yet at times hostile and unforgiving. It is this character that I wish to capture with my photography.

I strive to produce an accurate portrait of the landscape — one that tells a story, and reveals the many flaws that make it real.

Genesis: January 2011 — Death Valley, CA

Beauty Surrounds Us

April 5, 2011

In my daily life, I am surrounded by photography. I work at a photo shop here in San Diego, and I enjoy frequent shooting trips. In my spare time, I participate in various online photo communities such as and

The photos posted on these sites are truly magnificent. Before the advent of the internet, it would be impossible to see such a diverse, and current collection of photographs from some of the world’s best landscape photographers.

Many landscape photographers strive to chart new territory, explore new regions, and bring back the first photos of a given location. This romanticized view of landscape photography has been blazoned by many great adventure photographers like Art Wolfe, and the late Galen Rowell.

Well known locations such as Yosemite, Zion, and the Pacific Northwest are often referred to as “iconic”. I also hear the term “over-photographed,” tossed around in conversation — as though there is a quota for the number of photos that can be taken in a recognizable location.

Those who complain about “over-photographed”  locations are not commenting on the beauty of a location. Instead, they are referring to an abundance of photos that lack personal vision.

As history has proven, the most notable landscape photographers are those that impart unique, personal vision on a scene. Rather than depicting a scene in a literal sense, photographers with strong personal vision will depict how they felt at the moment of exposure, thus giving the subject a voice. An intimate dialog is created between the viewer and the photograph, revealing untold secrets of life, death, and survival.

Personal vision is shaped by our choice of composition, our intuition of when to trigger the shutter, and our photographic technique. Although our choice of subject is important, it often times does not determine our vision. A photographer that possesses a strong personal vision will produce consistent, and recognizable work despite their choice of subject. Among contemporary photographers, Marc Adamus comes to mind. His excellent work is easily recognizable despite a variety of subjects.

If we as photographers possess a strong sense of personal vision, it does not matter where we shoot. Whether you are standing in your front yard,  traveling to an exotic location, or photographing a popular location — your personal vision will shine through.

Image Burnout

April 10, 2010

Prior to shooting large format film, I was easily burnt out on my own photos.  The more I saw them, the less I wanted to see them.  I saw errors in judgment, and other issues with the overall image quality.  It’s not that I’m a perfectionist, but I got tired of seeing the same shot over and over — Until now.

Since my switch back to film, I have captured several images that I never tire of.  My office has wall space for just 2 40×50 prints.  I have selected “Southwestern Zen,” and “Portrait of Music” for display.  Southwestern Zen sits over my left shoulder, and Portrait of Music looms behind me.  While working, I frequently sneak a glance over my shoulder at Southwestern Zen.

Southwestern Zen (Feb 2009)

Simply stated, this image brings me inner peace.  The soothing effect is followed by a wave of inspiration and  anticipation of my next visit to the Southwest.  As I type this, the print is bathed in a warm spotlight. It is a beacon of what I strive for with my photography — not only capturing a simple, graphical photo of nature, but one that brings me inner peace.

This print has a special place in my heart.  It was the print that converted me back to film.  I still remember sitting on the floor with the print propped up against the wall.  I stared at it for many minutes, captivated by the detail, color, and richness.  I’m not tooting my own horn here.  I was very lucky that this photo even turned out.  It was my first trip shooting large format, and the camera was still quite foreign to me.

It is an inspirational photo because I made all the correct decisions when I tripped the shutter.  If I could relive the moment and reshoot the photo, I would do nothing different. It is difficult to properly display this image on the internet.   When viewed in person, every tiny detail of the bush is resolved, bringing it to life.

Portrait of Music (Feb, 2009)

I remember the first time I visited the Wave with my girlfriend Lyuba.  It was an amazing experience.  I returned to this location 18 months later with a particular shot in mind.  I selected a vertical composition, and bought the necessary lens to take this shot.  I wanted a sweeping line from the lower left corner.  This would suck the viewer’s eye into the scene, direct it toward the right, then angle back toward the upper middle.  Upon reaching the apex, the eye rains down over the image. It’s a roller coaster for the eye.

Although this location has been photographed many times over, I have never seen this particular composition.  It is a simplified, dynamic view of this particular rock formation.  I chose all of the settings perfectly, and would not do a thing differently given the chance to reshoot.  I find this to be a very fun image to view.  It does not give the same soothing feel of Southwestern Zen, but I enjoy viewing this print for inspiration.

Andy Goldsworthy: A Source of Inspiration

January 25, 2010

In preparation for my upcoming solo trip to Death Valley, I visited the local bookstore for some reading material.  A good book keeps my mind occupied, and helps pass the time between shots. I found the novel I was looking for, then browsed the Art and Photography section.

One book in particular was perched at precarious angle. While returning it to the shelf, I recognized the name on the book. It was titled “Time” by Andy Goldsworthy. Several years ago, I visited the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art to view Andy’s installation.

His work consists mostly of natural elements that are placed in a very structured manner.  Leaves, rocks, or other objects are arranged in prefect rectangles of bold color.  He also prefers to use serpentine lines, similar to a stream flowing through a wide flood channel. It is difficult to describe his work, but each piece is very unique.

From a photographic perspective, he documents the natural destruction of his work.  He leaves the camera in the same location, and takes a series of photographs as the leaves blow away, and the the natural world reclaims its resources.

I have tried in the past to stage scenes by arranging leaves, or other subjects.  However, I have not found these experiences to be productive.  My efforts have been to try and mimic the chaotic arrangement of nature.  Maybe the best approach is to take an inspired approach by Andy, and go with a heavy handed approach.  It certainly gives me something to think about.

Time: By Andy Goldsworthy