Made the Switch

Those of you that read this blog regularly know it isn't so often that I write about the gear I use. But I just made the switch from a 2013 13 inch MacBook Pro to a 2018 15 inch MacBook Pro and it was a good decision. I have also matched it with the 27 inch LG display (following Apple's recommendation)  which integrates seamlessly  with the computer.

This new system validates my contention that technology marches forward, whether we are aware of it or not. The computer does its job, without fuss or slowing down, the display is minimal and elegant with a screen that is flawless. It also is a lot lighter than my older Apple 27 Apple display I used for several years. The laptop is thinner and lighter too.

Yes, the new MacBook has limited ports but that is easily solved by plugging in an adapter that has six, including a card reader. 

Two things: I felt that when I travelled the 13 inch was limiting my ability to edit my work on the fly. It just wasn't a big enough screen to be making final edits on imagery I might subsequently be printing 40 inches across. 15 inches is still small but it is better. I also believe the screen is better now too. 

I don't fly with the big display, although I do have a case for it. I use it when I drive someplace to teach or on a "more than one day" shooting trip. This new one will be easier to carry with me as it is thinner, less bulky and lighter. Most likely I will keep it set up at home so I can work on files. 

As I still use the "trashcan" Apple Pro computer to drive the 44 inch Epson printer at the studio now and it is connected to a couple of Drobos and Lacie RAIDS for storage and backup it makes sense to have something at home where I can edit, work on the blog and do everything else we use a computer for these days as well. What a luxury to have something this good, that can travel with me whenever and wherever.

In contemporary practice in photography the computer is essential, whether working in analog or digital capture. That it be reliable and capable is really important. It helps if it is well designed and elegant as well.  After all, this is a machine I use literally every day. I know Apple's taken some heat for not being so much about computers these days but this one, at least for my purposes, is simply the best computer I have ever had. Adding the 27 LG display is just the frosting on the cake. 

BTW: the 2013 13 inch MacBook Pro and 27 inch Apple display are for sale. email me if interested: here.

Topics: technical

Permalink | Posted December 9, 2018

What if?

What if a photographic artist went back to a place where he made work before? What if he was working within the overall definition of "landscape photography"? What if he took the opportunity to make the final prints a divergent opinion from what he had done before? 

That's what I am working on, as a recently turned 72-year old career photographic artist with close to a thousand separate printed portfolios of work made over my career. Another way to pose this is: what would be the point of going back to Utah to make the same pictures you made before?

Spoiler alert: I am looking at the trip through a different lens.


We all know we can do anything we like. We all know we have the freedom to express ourselves however we choose, the only penalty being how our work will be received. I am working on these files to  alter the subject more, to apply a more individualized set of controls, to interpret and direct more, rather than hang on to a factualized record of time and place.

I also made some panoramics, something I don't do often. Let me share with you how I do them and why.

Of course, there are two ways to make these. One, to simply crop a wide angle image top and bottom. The other is to shoot multiple frames, usually from left to right and then bring those files into Lightroom, Photoshop or another software to merge them all together. This has advantages and disadvantages but for me is the only way to go. A downside is that this then ends up being a very big file (this one is 830 mb, for instance). This takes some serious grunt and time for the computer to work through. But the fidelity and ability to make this a very large print is unsurpassed. I have one in my studio from Iceland that is 86 inches long!

Another approach I  am working on is to minimize the photograph in content and skew its colors to divorce it from reality. This is tricky as the work can be easily dismissed as gimmicky and contrived:

I have some history of doing this. Last winter's "Washed Out" from Malibu, CA made pictures that were distinctly not pretty (here). BTW: Washed Out are from the same canyons in Malibu that burned due to recent fires.

And finally, as I was at Thompson Spring a couple of times this trip, revisiting the site where I made the series

 Thompson Spring (2010)

I noticed the loudest and most prominent aspect in this almost ghost town was the train going right through at high speed.

So the RR line became a fascination:

Which, of course, I followed until the road ran out.

(I know, hard see on your phone so small is the evidence of the RR track going though. This is a little easier in a 22 inch print.)

That's what I am working on so far and links you to my current thinking as well. This is a process that takes time, thought and perspective. And finally, and this is big, I am relying upon literally decades of experience as I sift through this new work. Past efforts are at play here, as I reference these pictures to ones made in Utah before and a broad array of my work, both from earlier analog days to current digital practice. I also have no interest in being repetitive. The very best part of having done this so long, I really know what I am doing. As well, the adjustment and configuring tools are so amazing these days that I find it a miraculous world of possibility and opportunity to explore, interpret and invent. Are you an artist or a documentarian? If the former, you really have amazing freedom of expression. Use it.

Topics: New Work,Utah,Southwest

Permalink | Posted December 2, 2018

Utah Update

Since I left Utah two weeks ago you haven't heard a thing from me.

This is just a brief update to tell you what I am up to with the work I made. Job number one is to edit files, and begin to print the work. Some people like to wait a while, let the new work settle in a little, allow some perspective on what was done and I agree, this is important. But I also like to make some prints of files I know I want to see, not only a determiner whether I was on or not but to see if I was technically where I needed to be. 

This I have done. 

Life does intrude and, especially when returning from a trip like I took to Utah to photograph, all that life entails came flooding back. A little medical, some friends and family, a meeting or two, time spent online judging a grant competition (with a fast looming deadline!) and long hours at the studio working on files and making work prints.

Also, I spent a week on Martha's Vineyard with family for Thanksgiving.

Within the overall number of pictures I made, there are subsets, chapters in the overall body of work that will be from Utah. While I did make "incidental" photographs (the term I use for photographs made without any effort to make a series or any kind of narrative, pictures that stand alone), I also made separate series. These need a longer view and are far heavier lifting than just skimming through a few thousand flies to see what things look like.

Let me share with you some of what I am working on:

This is Factory Butte, a few miles west of Hanksville, Utah, at dawn. I photographed there one afternoon until the sun went down and then was back again the next morning at sunrise. If I had to give one reason for going to Utah this time it was this.

Something about this huge hunk of rock and eroded desert appeals on a deep level for me, for it is so shocking, so primitive, so large and such an anomaly.

I also find it challenging. How do you photograph just one "thing", perhaps it is a little like a still life.

I learned a long time ago, that when confronted with something truly amazing do not just make one or two photographs and hope for the best. If you can, follow though on your commitment to really work on your images, using every idea you have, perhaps over hours or even days, to return back home with the best you can. There's nothing worse than regretting what you didn't do when you are now thousands of miles away.

Are these finals? I have no idea. At this stage I make prints to just see what I've got. It will take time to finalize this work, trying different approaches, looking at all the files I shot. Already I've begun to print some in black and white, for instance. 

Next up? There is far more in this same huge valley in Utah than just Factory Butte. Stay tuned.

Topics: New Work,Digital,Colorl,West

Permalink | Posted November 28, 2018

Utah Day 8

I left Moab yesterday and drove the 3 hours up to Salt Lake City. What a boring drive! It's all I could do to stay awake.

 But in the early a.m. I drove out to

which you get to by driving on the northern access road just out of Moab to Canyonlands Park. This essentially is a peninsula above the desert valley. It is an extraordinary place and, from this vantage point, essentially like standing on the bow of a ship.

It felt like aerial photography with the advantage of not going 100 mph, giving you all the time you wanted to study and look. I loved being able to roam around this whole expanse with a long lens and pick and choose my pictures.

As I was photographing, looking through the lens, I found myself thinking of macro versus micro economics, minimal versus maximal, a world view versus a hyper-close view.

This was oddly powerful. I don't know that I have ever been accused of having a God complex but if ever that were to surface now would be the time, as though, click the shutter, there I've made another butte, click, another canyon, click, another wash, click, another spire.

Last, another thought along a different line, at what point would the image break down in terms of intelligibility? As I pushed the medium and the limit of my lens, as I reached now across miles of information, content compressed through great distance, the image would just lose its comprehensibility and break down into abstract lights and darks.

I know, "Neal, what were you smoking?" Right? I swear, I was substance free. But you'd have to be clueless to not have deeper thoughts in a place like this. Our world can feel very large here, and us, very small.

To wrap up my time in Moab I leave you with this:

with the shadow of me and the rental Jeep in the picture. I hate goodbyes, always hard when you leave what you love, but Moab continues to be a place close to my heart, something about its scale, its color, its shapes and forms, its accessibility, draws me in. Goodbye Moab, I hope to see  you again soon.

Topics: Digital,Color,Southwest

Permalink | Posted November 11, 2018

Utah Day 7

This was my last day in Moab and I used it to drive  40 miles south to the lower entrance to Canyonlands National  Park, then another 40 miles west  into the park itself. A lot of driving but some of it was very beautiful

This is also where the petroglyphs are at Newspaper Rock on the way into the Park

160 miles of driving for just a few photographs but we cannot live by photographs alone and I enjoyed the day, nevertheless.

Back in Moab I downloaded the files as usual

on to an early 2013 13 inch MacBook Pro that is everything when I travel, never having let me down and a real workhorse. It is how I write blogs while on the road, place new works on the site, teach from, edit my work in Lightroom and send files for publication, plus do all the things we need a computer for these days, including streaming.

One thing I don't do often while away is prepare files for printing, saving that for the studio when I return home and can work on a 33 inch Sharp display. 13 inches is small for deciding how a file will print, at say 17 x 22 inches. As it is really past time to replace the MacBook I have been thinking of replacing it with a 15 inch one, the idea being that it would be large enough to prepare files for printing while on trips, and therefore cut out or reduce one very large step in the workflow. I do love how small the current MacBook is, but perhaps the bigger laptop would be a better solution. Any of you out there use a 15 inch? Your thoughts on this much appreciated. Neal's email: here

After another trip at dawn to photograph the upper Canyonlands Park I will head up to Salt Lake for a couple of days. I plan to continue daily posts until Tuesday the 13th, when I fly back home.

Topics: Color,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted November 10, 2018