CD Cover Art!

I am honored to have two of my photographs used as cover art for recently-released CDs. Both of these opportunities came about through my volunteer work as the still photographer for the serialized-for-TV opera "Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser."  You can read more about my involvement in this project and see the resulting photographs in my blog posts here and here.

The combined audio CD/video DVD boxed set of Vireo was released on February 28. Its cover features one of my photographs, taken during the filming of Episode 8 on Alcatraz after the park had closed to the public:

The second CD cover also came about indirectly through my work on Vireo. Members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus played major roles in Vireo. When the Chorus went looking for a colorful, eye-catching abstract image (instead of the usual picture of rows of girls singing) for their 2018 CD, Final Answer, they turned to the galleries on my website. They chose my image “Paintball” for the cover:

This photograph is part of a series taken at the “Graffiti Underground,” an abandoned coal pier on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. Other photographs from that location can be found in this gallery.


It is always a challenge for me to look beyond the scene in front of my camera to see what else is there. However, when I take the time to go deeper and search for the what else, I have the chance to make photographs that are unique and have greater impact.

Abstraction — removing something from its frame of reference — is one way that I attempt to go beyond the obvious. Here are three examples of that approach.


Skyine Reflection

Reflections that warp reality are ready-made abstractions. In this photograph, the curved and polished glass walls of Boston’s Intercontinental Hotel turn the reflected skyline into a colorful, abstract cityscape. I have a large print of this photograph in my living room, and I never tire of looking at it.



This photograph is an example of a literal abstraction — a small detail excised from a larger scene. Skogafoss is one of the most famous and most-photographed waterfalls in Iceland, so it is difficult to make a photograph of the entire waterfall in its context that is not a cliché. Here, I used a telephoto lens to isolate just part of the face of the waterfall. No longer recognizable as Skogafoss, this image nevertheless portrays the power of the falling water that is for me the essence of the Skogafoss experience.

Intentional Camera Movement

Marsh Grass

I am fascinated by the different ways that long exposure photography alters our perception of time. We typically think of long exposure as a way to portray the movement of subjects — we put the camera on a tripod, open the shutter for seconds or even minutes, and record the movement of clouds, stars or flowing water. However, holding the shutter open while moving the camera produces different results and leads to new kinds of abstractions. Here, I photographed marsh grass at Paine’s Creek on Cape Cod using a ~1 sec exposure while moving the camera in a horizontal “swipe.” The resulting image is painterly in its lack of sharp detail, yet it evokes for me a sense of the place.

I have collected some of my favorite photographic abstractions in this new gallery.  I hope you enjoy them!

Eight for 2018

In 2018 I learned that planning and completing a cross-country move did not leave a lot of time for photography. Nevertheless I identified these eight photographs as favorites from my photographic year.

1. Niagara at Night

The CanAm Photo Expo was held in Niagara Falls, Ontario in April. A friend was fortunate to be assigned a hotel room overlooking the falls, so several of us crammed our tripods in her window one evening to shoot the illuminated falls. I was struck by the otherworldly ice sculptures at the base of the falls.

2. Boathouses at Sunset

I participated in an informal photo shoot one evening in May at the city pier in Canandaigua, NY. The clouds initially looked promising for a spectacular sunset, but it never materialized. However, the warm light of the setting sun was perfect on this row of boathouses.

3. Words and Music

Just before we left New York I served for the last time as the photographer for the Geneva Music Festival, an annual chamber music festival held in Geneva and surrounding communities in the Finger Lakes. A highlight of the 2018 season for me was “Collaboration: Music and Poetry,” a joint effort of the Cavani Quartet and poet Mwatabu Okantah. Here, Okantah reads his poetry, interwoven with the music of Dvorak’s “American” string quartet.

4. Edge of the Forest

Forest Edge.jpg

This photograph was taken on a multi-generational family walk (not a dedicated photo shoot!) at Tahoe Meadows, an alpine meadow (~8500' elevation) just on the Lake Tahoe side of the summit on the Mount Rose Highway between Reno and Incline Village. This stand of pine trees, with the sunlit dry grasses in the foreground, seemed to be a perfect subject for creating an abstract image using intentional movement of the camera during a long exposure. This image was selected as an Editor’s Choice by the editorial staff at

5. Broken Dreams

Our brief camping trip to the eastern Sierras in October yielded the remaining four favorite images for 2018. This abandoned cabin, along the side of US 395 near Lee Vining, spoke to me of risks and hardships encountered by those who settled the high desert east of the mountains. This image was also selected as an Editor’s Choice by the editorial staff at

6. Young Buck

The mule deer hanging around the campground and resort at Convict Lake didn't pay much attention to humans. We encountered this young guy and his female companion (sibling? girlfriend?) munching the foliage along Convict Creek just across from the campground.

7. McGee Canyon

Fall color in the eastern Sierra is all about the aspens -- quite different from what we were familiar with in the Finger Lakes. We hiked partway up McGee Canyon and were treated to this glorious display of color.

8. Head in the Clouds

Mt. Laurel dominates the view to the west across Convict Lake from the campground. Here, the intricate details and colors of the face are highlighted by the low morning light coming through the broken cloud cover. Of many images taken over three days, this is my favorite — a quick shot grabbed while hitching up the trailer. Always have your camera ready!

A Look Back at 2017

Here is a somewhat belated personal reflection on my photography in 2017 viewed through 12 photographs.  As in previous years, these are simply some favorite images from the year presented in chronological order.

1.  Vireo again:  The Abandoned Train Station

The abandoned 16th Street Station in Oakland, CA became a surreal circus venue.

In January I once again had the opportunity to serve as the still photographer for the filming of episodes of the serialized opera Vireo:  The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser.  (My blog post about this adventure tells the full story.)  Most of the action was filmed in the abandoned 16th Street Station in Oakland, CA, which was converted into surreal circus venue for the climactic eleventh episode of the opera.  This image captures both the station itself and the large assembly actors, singers, orchestra, and participating audience that filled the room.

2.  Vireo:  Deborah Voigt, the "Queen of Sweden"

The "Queen of Sweden" (Deborah Voigt) among the snowflakes (San Francisco Girls Chorus).

Near the end of Episode 11 the Queen of Sweden (Metropolitan Opera star Deborah Voigt) makes a dramatic entrance.  This photo catches her interaction with young members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus as she moves to center stage.

3.  Vireo:  Escape in a Red Valiant


Caroline (Emma MacKenzie) and Vireo (Rowen Sabala) in the red Valiant.

Much of Episode 10 takes place during an escape through the snow to Sweden in a red 1962 Plymouth Valiant sedan.  For the shoot the car was located inside a white-wall studio, and of course the video crew had all the best camera angles and sight lines.  I was struggling to get decent images while shooting through the car windows until I remembered my circular polarizing filter, which allowed me to get unique shots with minimal glare.  This image has been widely used in publicity for and articles about the opera.

4.  New Zealand:  Mt. Sefton

Mt. Sefton, Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand

We spent the month of February on a magical trip across the South and North Islands of New Zealand.  Carol and I traveled with our son Dru, daughter-in-law Shannon, and our close friend Karen.  Karen has visited New Zealand many times over the past 20+ years; she and served as our tour guide, introducing us to "real Kiwis" and places that many tourists do not see.

It was much more of a family trip than a photography trip, but it still yielded a wealth of photographic opportunities.  This photograph is from one of my favorite locations, Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park on the South Island.  We had this view of Mt. Sefton (just around the corner from Mt. Cook) from our apartment window.  I have a number of photographs taken here, including some colorful sunsets, but this image captures for me the beauty and grandeur of that landscape.  Plus, the clouds were amazing!

5.  New Zealand:  Te Mata View

The view from Te Mata Peak.

We encountered adverse weather only once, while visiting in Napier after our arrival on the North Island.  Nevertheless we made the steep drive up Te Mata Peak and were rewarded with this view, made more dramatic by the breaking storm clouds and the touches of sunlight on the sculpted hills.  In many ways, this landscape reminded me of my native northern California.

6.  New Zealand:  Mud Cauldron

A mud cauldron at the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area, New Zealand

Much of New Zealand is one big volcano.  Wai-O-Tapu, an extensive geothermal area with geysers, colorful thermal pools, and mud pots, reminded me of Yellowstone National Park.  I was mesmerized by this bubbling and burping mud pool -- in the end I decided that it made the most sense as an ethereal black and white image.

7.  New Zealand:  Pohutukawa Sunrise

Sunrise through a pohutukawa tree at Simpson's Beach, New Zealand.

The pohutukawa, or "New Zealand Christmas Tree," is an icon of New Zealand.  In February we were mostly too late to see the beautiful red flowers, but the gnarled and weatherbeaten shapes of the trees give them a distinctive majesty.  This photograph, one of the last ones I took in New Zealand, captures for me the essence of New Zealand coastal scenery.

8.  Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods, Bears Ears National Monument, UT

We spent a week in early May among a group of Nikon shooters photographing in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Bears Ears National Monument.  Many of my favorites from that trip, including this one, wound up processed as black and white images.  For this photograph the black and white approach enhances the austerity and majesty of the landscape and highlights the wonderful cloud formation.

9.  Double Arch

Double Arch, Arches National Park, UT.

This is another black and white favorite from the Utah trip.  I had to wait a long time for the horde of selfie-takers to vacate the base of arch!  I was initally not very happy with the color version of this image, taken in very harsh light with a featureless blue sky.  However I recently gave it another chance in black and white.  The result is completely different and much more satisfying, to the point that it climbed right up into the "Best of 2017" list.

10.  Letchworth Sunrise

Sunrise at Letchworth State Park, NY.

One of my goals for 2017 was to get out more often to shoot local subjects.  This photograph is the result of one such effort, a short camping trip in September at Letchworth State Park, the "Grand Canyon of the Genesee River" south of Rochester, NY. I photographed the sunrise at this location on two consecutive mornings.  The first morning proved to be more of a scouting trip, allowing me to find the desired location in relation to the rising sun.  In this image, taken the second morning, everything came together with the rising sun above the river of low fog in the valley. 

11.  The Cloister

We spent a bit more than a week in late September visiting friends who had rented an apartment in Paris for two months.  For part of that time we traveled with them to Provence, touring the back roads by rental car.  This photograph of the cloister at the Abbaye de Senanque is my clear favorite from the entire trip.  I envisioned the final black and white image as I pressed the shutter button.

12.  Zen Reflection

Autumn reflection, Taughannock Falls State Park, NY.

The final image in this annual retrospective is from one of my favorite local spots, Taughannock Falls State Park near Ithaca, NY.  On this late fall day I was hoping to find reflections of sun-lit fall foliage in the quiet, shady water of the creek.  It was not a great year for fall color in our region, so there was not much to work with.  However, when I saw the juxtaposition of these rocks and the reflected color I knew I had found my subject.  Thirty seconds after I took this photograph the wind came up and the reflection disappeared.

2016 in Review: Twelve Images

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” (Ansel Adams)

January... time to look back, take stock, and look ahead.  Taking this advice from "St. Ansel" to heart, I have selected a set of twelve photographs (out of almost 5000 shutter clicks) from 2016.  These are not necessarily the "best" (whatever that means) or most popular on social media.  Instead, they represent waypoints that were significant to me on my photographic journey.  Here they are, in chronological order.

1.  Thread Cones

In March I made a return visit to the historic abandoned silk mill in Lonaconing, MD.  When I saw this rack of metal thread cones I immediately saw in my mind the image I wanted, and I ran through the rain back to my car for my 85mm f/1.8 lens.  This is one of my two or three favorite images of the year.

2.  Oil Cans

This image from the Lonaconing mill was also made with the 85mm f/1.8 lens.  I was drawn to the subtle patina on both oil cans and the sense of depth afforded by the out-of-focus machinery in the background.

These two Lonaconing images, plus six others from this visit and and my first visit to the mill in 2013, comprised a portfolio that was selected by a jury for inclusion in the "Portfolio Showcase 2016" exhibit at the Image City Photography Gallery in Rochester, NY in August 2016.  More Lonaconing images can be found in this gallery.

3.  Aria

June found me in San Francisco, serving as the photographer for the production of an episode of "Vireo:  The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser," a serialized opera being produced for television.  This episode was filmed on Alcatraz after the park closed for the night.  My assignment was to photograph the entire production -- from the boat ride to Alcatraz, to behind-the-scenes shots of performers, musicians, and production crew, to shots of the performances in progress.

This image, one of my favorites from that event, was shot through the dirty glass window of the open door of the main cell block.  I was able to frame both Greg Purnhagen (in the role of Doctor/Priest) and the steadycam operator recording his performance.  

4.  Caroline

I was able to get this image of Emma MacKenzie (Vireo's "mysterious twin Caroline") between takes.  The dramatic side lighting of the video lights caught her pensive expression as she awaited her entrance (in a straightjacket, seated on a hospital gurney and holding an odd skeletal totem) at the beginning of the scene.

5.  Vision of Liberty

In July I had the rare opportunity to spend a brutally hot day with a group of hard-hatted photographers on a tour of the unrestored Immigrant Hospital on Ellis Island.  The hospital was immigration "purgatory" where immigrants with health problems awaited a decision by the medical staff -- only those deemed to be healthy were allowed to immigrate, whereas the sick ones were returned to their port of origin.  I found it interesting that the Statue of Liberty was so clearly visible from many of the hospital rooms, an ever-present reminder of a hoped-for future that was not yet attainable.

6.  Aurora!

All of the remaining pictures in this selection are from our return visit to Iceland in late September and early October.  Unlike our 2014 trip, we had many days of excellent weather, beautiful fall colors, and the Northern Lights.  More extensive collections of images from the Iceland trip can be found in this gallery and in this album on my Flickr page

This year's trip was billed as "Aurora Madness" and it definitely delivered.  This image, taken during the night of the most intense aurora display, captures for me the essence of being all alone overlooking glaciers and mountains with the aurora dancing overhead.

7.  Blue Lagoon

No visit to Iceland is complete without a visit to the Jökulsárlon glacier lagoon and the adjacent black sand beach.  Here the "blue hour" light, just before sunrise, accentuated the natural blue color of the icebergs.

8.  Chill

Iceberg fragments carried out of the lagoon at Jökulsárlon are washed up on the adjacent beach made of black volcanic sand.  At sunrise these diamond-like ice fragments sparkle and glow as if lit from within.  Here, a long exposure softened the breaking waves to accentuate the sharp detail of the iceberg.

9.  Kirkjufellsfoss

Kirkjufellsfoss is one of the most iconic (and over-photographed) locations in Iceland.  During our 2014 Iceland trip we were here on a gray, rainy and windy day and I came away with no useful photographs.  This year the weather was more benign and I was finally able to get this image.  The moody look was achieved by conversion to black-and-white with a red filter to darken the sky and add drama.

10.  Arnarstapi Arch

The sea arch at Arnarstapi is on the southwestern coast of Iceland.  This photograph is the result of one of those rare occasions where I achieved exactly what I intended.  I found a high camera position to achieve visual separation between the arch and the rocks in the distance, and I used a 3-minute exposure with a strong neutral density filter to soften the movement of the breaking waves and accentuate the movement of the clouds.  I knew from the outset that this would ultimately be a monochrome image.

11.  Abandoned Farm

The modernization of the Icelandic economy over the past several decades has resulted in the abandonment of many rural farms.  This shot was not originally among my collection of most significant photographs, but I kept returning to it in my image review.  It speaks strongly to me of the changes that have occurred in rural Iceland.

12.  Oxararfoss

This photograph is the result of another second chance following a disappointing experience on the 2014 trip.  Here, the Oxarar River plunges over a cliff and flows down the rift between continental plates in Thingvellir National Park.  On the last trip I found this panoramic composition only with my iPhone; this time I was determined to revisit it with my camera.  On this day, the fading fall color of the low bushes along the river and the dark clouds added a sense of drama, as if winter were just around the corner.


Looking Back, Looking Ahead

In pulling together this set of images I was surprised to see that they represent only a handful of my photographic adventures.  There were many other images from other locations that did not make the final cut.  I am also surprised that none of the final twelve images were taken locally.  One of my resolutions for 2017 is to get out and about more in the Finger Lakes, camera in hand, to take advantage of the scenes and subjects that are close by.

The Other Side of Ellis Island

Last month I had the rare opportunity to join a small group of hard-hatted photographers spending the day shooting in the unrestored Immigrant Hospital on Ellis Island.

The hospital opened in 1902, serving as a detention facility for immigrants who were ill and therefore considered unfit to enter the United States.  After the hospital was closed in 1930 the buildings served as offices for the FBI, a detention facility for WWII prisoners of war, and finally a Coast Guard station.  The Coast Guard declared the buildings to be "excess government property" and they were abandoned in 1954.  However, recent fundraising efforts have allowed some of the buildings to be stabilized against further damage and decay, and parts of the hospital were opened to the public for hard hat tours in 2014.

Our day-long photographic tour, which involved access to parts of Ellis Island hospital complex that are still not open to the public, was arranged by photographers Tony Sweet and Mark Menditto in cooperation with Save Ellis Island and the National Park Service to raise funds for additional restoration work.

Here are some of the first batch of images from that day.

The Statue of Liberty, visible from a hospital room

The Statue of Liberty, visible from a hospital room

Hospital corridor

Hospital corridor

The hospital employed advanced methods in public health medicine, such as giant autoclaves used to sterilize mattresses.

Mattress autoclave

Mattress autoclave

For more than 3500 immigrants the journey to a new life ended on Ellis Island.  The hospital's autopsy theater was a teaching facility that drew medical students and observers from hospitals across the United States.

Autopsy theater

Autopsy theater

Cadaver refrigerator in the autopsy theater

Cadaver refrigerator in the autopsy theater

2015 in Review: Ten Images

My turn (a little late) for the photographer's conventional look back at 2015.  These ten images are not necessarily my "best" (whatever that means) or "most popular," just the ten that resonate the most with me.

1.  The (Un)Red Rose

This image was taken on a cold January night during an indoor macro shoot.  I was experimenting with off-camera flash to illuminate the rose from different angles.  I particularly liked this shot, but it was just too red!  Conversion to B&W shifts attention to light, shadows and texture rather than in-your-face color.

2.  Eagle Cliff Falls

Torrential spring rains created heavy flow in all of the waterfalls in the Finger Lakes.  This was my first visit to Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen (not far from the much more famous Watkins Glen).  Despite the rain and the sediment in the water I came away with this rare shot of the falls in full roar. 

3.  Seneca Sunset

This was taken at Seneca Yacht Club on a warm summer evening.  I was experimenting with using a new reverse graduated ND filter to balance exposures in shots where the sun is just above the horizon.  I think it worked!

4.  Boston Skyline Abstract

I was on the Boston Greenway in August shooting a large outdoor fiber art installation, but my eye was grabbed by the abstract reflection of the Boston skyline in the glass wall of the Intercontinental Hotel.

5.  Fist Bump

This is another shot from Boston. We encountered this street drummer while walking through Quincy Market. I was happy just to listen until a little boy approached and wanted to join in the fun. The drummer gave him one of his sticks and then matched his beat to what the boy was doing. I scrambled to dig my camera out of my bag, but by the time I was ready to shoot the boy was done, except for the congratulatory "fist bump" from the drummer.  Again, I chose a grainy B&W treatment to remove the distractions of color and focus attention on the drummer's face.

6.  Warp Speed at the Beach

This image and the next two were taken during a workshop on Cape Cod led by Tony Sweet.  Here, a two-minute exposure (using a 10-stop ND filter) at Race Point Beach captures the streaming movement of the clouds against a static foreground.

7.  Come Back Next Year

These vacation cottages line the beach along Cape Cod Bay in Truro, MA.  When we visited they were quiet, boarded up for the winter.  The high contrast of the early afternoon light made this an obvious choice for a B&W treatment.

8.  Colors of Dawn

On the way to catch the sunrise from the Fort Hill overlook at Cape Cod National Seashore, I said "Try to remember to try some swipes."  This image, the result of a 6-sec horizontal swipe (hand-held), turned the pre-sunrise landscape into an abstract with layers of color.

9.  The Grain Wharf

Before dawn at the historic wharf in Coupeville WA -- one of my very favorite images for 2015.

10.  Sol Duc Falls

This image is my favorite from an October visit to Olympic National Park.  I actually photographed this location twice, two days apart.  This shot is from the second day, which followed a day of steady rain. Here I was finally able to break away from conventional compositions from this location.  I isolated the top of the falls, allowing me to use the lines of the flowing water to lead the eye back to the rich fall colors.

From Pixels to Paper

This is the irony of photography in the digital age: the number of photographers has exploded and the internet is full of images, but the majority of these images are trapped on computers, tablets and smart phones and are viewed only transiently, often on a small screen.  Only a tiny minority of these images ever escape from “pixel prison” and become printed, permanent things.

Canadian photographer David duChemin encourages photographers to print their work, hang it on the wall and live with it for a while.  Only then, he maintains, can one gain some perspective about the enduring value of any particular photograph.

More than a year ago I decided to listen to duChemin and get more serious about printing my photos just for me, rather than the occasional print ordered as a gift for someone. For a while I was seduced by the apparent economy of print-to-order services, but I was ultimately not satisfied with how faithfully the print reflected my on-screen image.  About a year ago I bought a dedicated ink-jet photo printer that will print images up to 13” x 19”.  Since then I have been on a journey, fueled by ink and paper, that has led me to a greater understanding of the relationship between the digital image and the print and greater satisfaction with my own printed products.  Although I am still a raw beginner with lots left to learn, my own prints now are much more satisfying that what I was able to achieve by ordering prints online.

The image above is one of my favorites from the past five years of photography.  It was taken on a winter afternoon in Brooklyn, looking down Washington St. toward the Manhattan Bridge and intentionally composed to show the Empire State Building framed in the arch of the bridge tower.  This photo was first printed for me by a local print-to-order business as part of a set of black-and-white images (some of mine, some of Carol’s) that we intended to display as a group, the “black-and-white wall” of our dining room.

After looking at it in this context for a while, I realized that the image needed to be both BIGGER and BETTER.  Some additional post processing work solved the “better,” and my new printer took care of the “bigger.”  The first image in this post is the result:  printed 13x19, matted and framed 18x24.  I was finally satisfied.

Recently, this image has been “on the road,” first as part of an annual exhibit of photos by members of the Finger Lakes Photography Guild in Canandaigua, NY, and currently as part of a juried show at the Image City Photography Gallery in Rochester, NY, where it was featured among the preview images for the show.  The journey from pixels to paper made it possible to share this image in new ways.

Bug Shots

You'd think an entomologist would have loads of insect pictures, but I have only a handful.  I found these four last week while looking for illustrations of macro and close-up photography and decided I liked them well enough to share.

Butterfly on thistle   Nikon D90 + Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro ; Keuka Lake Outlet trail, NY.

Butterfly on thistle

Nikon D90 + Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro; Keuka Lake Outlet trail, NY.

Only the first image was taken with a true macro lens, the Sigma 150.  On a crop sensor camera like the D90 it makes a great "bug stalker."  Unfortunately, when I upgraded to a D7100 I found it was incompatible with the Live View autofocus system of the new camera (important for shooting on a tripod), so I sold it.

The remaining three images were "opportunity shots" taken with a variety of all-purpose zoom lenses. In each case, I got as as much as I could at the longest focal length and then I cropped afterward for the best composition.  I'm surprised at how well this approach worked even with the 12-megapixel D90; with modern higher resolution digital sensors you can really throw away a lot of pixels and still come away with something.

Bumblebee on coneflower   Nikon D90 + Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, The High Line, New York City.

Bumblebee on coneflower

Nikon D90 + Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, The High Line, New York City.

Bug sex   Nikon D90 + Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR; Garden of the Gods, CO.

Bug sex

Nikon D90 + Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR; Garden of the Gods, CO.

Hummingbird moth   Nikon D90 + Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR; Anthony Road Winery, Penn Yan, NY.

Hummingbird moth

Nikon D90 + Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR; Anthony Road Winery, Penn Yan, NY.

These images make me want to shoot more insect pictures.  The first image, in particular also makes me want to get a new "bug stalker" macro lens.

“Congratulations, you are a winner!” (Huh?)

Photo contests are everywhere these days, and for the most part I ignore them.  However, I recently learned that my entry to one contest was deemed a “winner.”  The entire process — from the decision to enter this particular contest through multiple layers of judging — caused me to think about my photography in a different way.  I’ll elaborate below…

First, some background on this particular contest and the image in question.  I am a member of Nikonians, a large and diverse international community of professional and amateur photographers who use Nikon equipment.  A number of Nikonians web forums hold monthly or quarterly themed competitions.  The theme for the May 2014 contest in the Travel Photography forum was “carnival,” selected by the winner of a previous month’s contest.  I decided that some of the images from our trip to Venice during Carnevale in 2012 fit this theme and submitted two shots of individuals in elaborate and traditional Carnevale costumes.  One of these images (below) was selected as a “finalist for the month” (again, by the winner of a previous monthly contest), then selected as the monthly winner by a poll of those visiting the Travel Photography forum, and finally selected by a jury of eight experienced photographers from among more than 100 monthly/quarterly winners of the themed contests and challenges during 2014 as one of the “ten best of Nikonians 2014” images.

Venice Carnevale:  Eye Contact

Venice Carnevale:  Eye Contact

What is it about this image that caused it to be selected, through three rounds of judging, from the literally hundreds of images submitted to the various Nikonian forum contests?  The composition is simple, the pose is classic (thanks to the model, not to me!), and the colors are rich.  However, I think it is the eyes, engaging almost confrontationally with the camera, that make the picture distinctive.  (When I posted the picture to Facebook, a friend commented that it was “unnerving, but in a very cool way.”)  Her eyes reach out to make, almost demand, a connection with the viewer.  A more difficult question is:  how can I make images of my more usual (and inanimate) subjects that also connect powerfully with the viewer?

But then, who are the “viewers” of my images?  I am not a professional photographer and have no desire to be one.  I got back into the photography game five years ago primarily to please myself by taking something more than just snapshots, but I would be lying if I said I did not derive satisfaction when others see and respond to my photos.  Still, I have no desire to play the popularity contest game that is 500px these days or accumulate lots of superficial “likes” on Facebook or Flickr.  In the end, this is the liberating beauty of being an amateur:  I can make the photos I want to make, share them where and when I want to share them, be thankful if some people find value in them.  Being a “winner” in a photo contest is important to me because it demonstrates I’m not just talking to myself through my photography.  That’s enough for now.

Looking back, looking ahead

Here is is the first day of 2015 and I am still catching up on last year's website chores.  After a break of a few months, I have now finished working through my Iceland "keepers."  Here are the last five images, which also appear in my updated Iceland 2014 gallery.

Another B&W shot:

This image is another example of color detracting from impact.  The bright green foreground grass and rusty red roof of the hut pulled the eye away from the strong textures of the building and surrounding rocks.  Conversion to monochrome puts the emphasis back on these textures:

Abandoned hillside hut near Stokksnes.

Abandoned hillside hut near Stokksnes.

"Underground" church:

This peat-roofed wooden church, partially dug into the soil, was reconstructed in 1884 on the foundations of a 14th century building.  It is still in use.

Peat-roofed church at Hof.

Peat-roofed church at Hof.

Another image from Fjallsarlon:

This more intimate iceberg lagoon lies below the foot of the Fjallsjokull glacier.  It took me a while to find a way to process this image that yielded the subtle colors and the serenity of the reflections.

Fjallsarlon and Fjallsjokull.

Fjallsarlon and Fjallsjokull.

More from Jokulsarlon:

Our first visit to the famous iceberg lagoon coincided with the setting of the midsummer sun in the northern sky over the Breithamerkurjokull glacier.  This intense golden sunset provided the sidelight for the other Jokulsarlon sunset image in the gallery.

Midnight sun over Jokulsarlon.

Midnight sun over Jokulsarlon.

The next day gave us close-up views of the icebergs, including this one containing an ice cave illuminated by sunlight transmitted through the ice.

Jokulsarlon, beneath the ice.

Jokulsarlon, beneath the ice.

Looking ahead...

In 2015 I hope to shoot more often, print and exhibit more of my images, and blog more frequently!

Adventures in iPhoneography

I’ve now owned three different iPhones, but I did not pay much attention to their cameras until recently.  That changed, however, when I went to Iceland earlier this summer on a photo workshop led by Tony Sweet.  Knowing that Tony is an “iPhone art photography” guru (he’s writing a book on it), I upgraded to the iPhone 5s before the trip and challenged myself to shoot with the iPhone as well as my camera throughout the trip.  Here are some things I learned:

1)  Sometimes the iPhone gave the only useful image from a location — as at the base of the triple falls at Kirkjufell, where I was unable to keep the lens on my Nikon clear of water drops no matter how often I wiped it.

Triple falls at Kirkjufell.

2) When I pulled out the phone at a location after being “done” with my camera I found compositions with the iPhone that I had missed.  For me the moral of this story is to be more diligent about working locations!

Abandoned farm near Bergamot; iPhone HDR

3) Processing images on the iPhone using the apps that Tony introduced and demonstrated gave me a chance to play with effects that I might not try (or have tools for) in my Mac-based postprocessing environment.  Using the iPhone to shoot and process helped me “get loose” and become more open to a variety of creative urges.  The challenge for me is to bring some of this spontaneity and sense of play back to my DSLR shooting and processing.

Svartvengi geothermal power plant; multiple effects  using Snapseed

4) The iPhone is a great tool to explore panorama compositions — either with the pano function of the  Camera app or by stitching a series of separate images together using an app such as Autostitch — before going to the bother of setting up camera and tripod.

Hoffelsjokul panorama; multiple exposures assembled with AutoStitch.

Jokulsarlon panorama; iPhone camera pano.

Since returning from Iceland I have struggled once again to remember that the phone is also a camera (old habits die hard!), but I now know that even when the only camera I have is the iPhone I can still make images with impact.

Pike Place Market (Seattle, WA); multiple effects using Snapseed.

Lost in Iceland, Part 2: Images and challenges

Finally I've been able to work through many of the images from our Iceland trip.  This new gallery contains a baker's dozen of my favorites, with more to follow as I process them.  This first set represents the "low-hanging fruit" -- images that were relatively straightforward to process and for which I had a clear vision of the final product.  The ones I'm still working on need more thought, more effort, or both to achieve the end result I'm looking for.  The image below is a bonus -- I could have included it in the gallery, but I needed something pretty for the blog!

Midnught sun over Myrdalsjokull

Putting together this gallery caused me to reflect again on the workshop experience and the various challenges I faced trying to make these images.  Here are the four most significant challenges:

Challenge #1:  Everything is new!  This is, of course, a challenge whenever faced with photographing a new location, but Iceland is such an unusual place that the sense of novelty was enhanced.  This is why making a first visit with knowledgeable local guides makes such a difference.  Without Einar, Raggi and Tony to put us in good shooting locations we would have seen and done much less and missed some very cool things.

Challenge #2:  So much daylight!  I knew we'd have very long days so close to the Arctic Circle and just after Midsummer, but the experience was quite disorienting.

The weather for June 26 in Reykjavik.  (Photo:  Carol Soderlund)

The weather for June 26 in Reykjavik.  (Photo:  Carol Soderlund)

As you can see from the Weather Channel on my iPhone, we had 21 hours of daylight.  During the first part of the workshop in particular we took advantage of the long days -- on one day we shot at 7 different locations over a period of 15 hours, ending up at two successive iconic waterfalls after midnight. This was one of those times when I wished I could get along with a lot less sleep.

Challenge #3:  Staying on task.  This challenge was the product of the novelty of Iceland and the length of some of our days in the field.  To jump out of the bus, grab the tripod, and take advantage of the photographic opportunities in front of me at location after location required a degree of concentration and focus (pun intended) that I had not anticipated.  It was exhausting but also very rewarding.

Challenge #4:  Photographing extraordinary locations in ordinary (or even mediocre) light.  It can't always be sunrise or sunset (even at Midsummer in Iceland!).  How do you make the most of mid-day light or the gray and featureless skies that we encountered during the stormy second half of our workshop?  For me, the answer was to think about shooting with a black-and-white image in mind.  Almost half of the first 13 images in the gallery wound up being more satisfactory to me in black-and white.  For example, I like the image below well enough, but I think the monochrome version in the gallery is much stronger. 

Abandoned farm, color version.

Abandoned farm, color version.

Working through the "raw material" that I shot on this trip to get the first set of finished images has given me a chance to savor the whole experience again.  Definitely, I'm going back to Iceland!