Topic: Dunes (3 posts)

Shrink Wrapped 2

This is the second post about photographing shrink wrapped boats in the winter.

Shrink Wrapped 1 was here

Okay, I get it. You may not care about some pictures of plastic wrapped boats taken in a boatyard. I certainly wouldn't. In fact, I didn't until this winter. Why would you? Because, honestly, you might learn something, not in a "from the master to the student" kind of way but from a veteran to the inquisitive practitioner or the curious observer hungry for  information. What if the pictures transcended their most mundane circumstance? Perhaps you can learn something from my sharing some of my experience. I know I've learned things from this project and I also have been led down some false paths too, or fallen into a few traps. This always happens, of course, and it is exhausting but ultimately rewarding to retrace your steps and have a go at it again.

Frustrated after that first shoot in Gloucester, having gone home and made prints I felt I might have something but needed more input, needed to know more about what was out there. I headed to Newport, RI a real kingdom of boats, marinas and boatyards. OMG what an overload! Boats everywhere of every kind. Powerboats, sailboats, racing boats, tugboats, ferries, all kinds. All plucked out of the water and all wrapped in plastic sheeting. Intense. At one point I was able climb up a fire escape to the second floor of a storage building and look out at shrink wrapped boats from above

only to find that this was not the paradise of wrapped boats I thought it would be. I found that what I thought was an opportunity to catch them without real conflict, wasn't so great. For the most part they became just boats stacked up and covered in plastic, not what I wanted at all. Be careful what you wish for. 

But I did  find some color

and some truly twisted plastic

as though the crew working that day started at 3:30 pm on a Friday afternoon and no longer cared, thinking of beers, maybe a hot date and the weekend.

I moved on and a few days later found semi transparency in another boatyard, where they used a different plastic that was somewhat transparent,  this one in Boston where the boats stay in the water over the winter. What an amazing world.

This is where, in retrospect, the project started to get some teeth, as these files positively glowed. And here, just to show you what this marina looked like:

So,  where have I ended up? Photographing more wrapped boats, of course. Having too many pictures is always a problem, but it's better than having too few. I am still struggling with the editing, a digital photographer's heavy weight as it's easy to make so many pictures. But I now know what I am doing, the logistics of lens choices, for instance, the approach angles and need for blue skies or cloudy days. Much of the work in a project like this is pragmatic: how can you put yourself in front of the right place in the right light, logistical concerns of placement, angle, what else is needed as you continue, etc. This reminds me of years of wheat field work; driving driving driving, stopping, setting up, making one picture, tearing down and then driving driving driving again. Day after day.

For me, purity is very important in this project.

This one above now sits framed in my studio at 55 inches across, for instance. Why so big? Because I have to actually make a big print to know how it will work. And this one does work as it plays with scale so well. This one below is much newer, made in the past couple of weeks but pulls at me as it is very different and obvious but not something I would have paid attention to unless I had the experience of making several hundred other pictures before it. But look how pure it is, just this large form of a wrapped powerboat sitting there on land over the winter. So normal and yet very beautiful, one of those photographs that speak to the essence of things. 

Am I done? No, not yet. But the clock is ticking as warming weather will begin to see these unwrapped, set free. So, I am headed up the coast for a few days in search for more shrink wrapped boats. Can't wait.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog. It is pleasure to share my thoughts with you. You know you can always send comments: Neal's email

Topics: Dunes,Wheat,Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 8, 2017


About a year ago I took a big chance. I ordered the new Nikon D800e as it made a file that was 36 mp. This meant I would give up a tool that had made so many incredible pictures parting would be hard. This was the Nikon D3x. Too big, too expensive and too heavy by far this pro level Nikon had never let me down. I took it to Europe a few times, shooting extended bodies of work with it. I made landscapes with it and shot the Reggio Emilia series with it. I took it to shoot wheat fields from the ground and from the air, I took it to Utah and I shot much of the Islands of MA project, all aerials, with it. Sincere apologies, but I become attached when a camera makes so many wonderful photographs.

At any rate, those of you that have known me for awhile know I am always trying to get bigger pictures to be better. This is a holdover from my 8 x 10 days when I would reverse mount my enlarger and project on the floor to make big prints. One of the reasons the move to inkjet printing was so liberating for me in the early 2000's was that scanned 8 x 10 negatives made great prints 4 x 5 feet across.

At any rate, many of us waited for a long time for the 800e and I didn't get mine until late May last year. New cameras have never been easy for me to adjust to and this one was no exception. I started photographing with it right away and made several series using it through the late spring, summer and fall including: Penland 2012Pulaski Motel, Virginia 2012Wheat 2012 and Rivalta, Italy 2012 (one of my favorites), among others. The files are very good, the camera is a little clunky and not made to the same standards as the D3x, and it is a little slow, but overall it is a reasonably good camera. It is cheaper too.

All this time with the 800e files I was making prints on 22 x 17 inch paper, a standard size for me when printing out portfolios. This is large enough to see the work, small enough to carry around. But over the past two weeks since returning from San Diego, I have been working on the new Imperial Sand Dunes pictures I shot while there. These are aerials and are up on the site now: Dunes 2013. I have been printing them 37 x 25 inches and have framed three at 45 x 34 inches. 

OMG! I only wish you could see the actual prints as they are exceptional. Sliding along at about 100 mph, about 800 feet over the Dunes, clicking away at 1/1600 of a second and these photographs show the very small wave like patterns the wind forms on the sand with such detail it simply blows me away. So far I've printed and framed these:

Here's a detail of the one above:

With more to follow. I can't stop thinking about them. This is a sea change for me as all those years in 8 x 10 was basically a pursuit for this. Both the large scale view of the subject at high quality that when viewed closely didn't fall apart. I'd love to show them but my up and coming shows are locked in and Jason Landry at Panopticon (the gallery that represents my work) looks ill every time I bring it up about wanting to show big work. BTW: Almost no one wants big work: not the gallery, not most buyers, certainly not the museums, unless you're an Andreas Gursky, which, evidently, I am not.

I would do a pop up show of these if someone would give me a space. The pictures are simply unbelievable.

Topics: Dunes,Commentary

Permalink | Posted March 12, 2013

Dunes 2013

I flew over the Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California again a couple of days ago. I had shot aerials there about this same time last year. Why photograph them again? Read on.

It's a good question and raises bigger issues than just another hour of photographing a year later.

As always, I will provide a little background and context. Last year the Dunes were a discovery of major proportions for me. They are 48 miles of dunes that reach from not far from the Salton Sea all the way down into Mexico. Much of the dunes are accessible via off road vehicles by permit. As we who live on the coasts go to the beach, people in this area go to the dunes. Weekends are frenetic and can be quite dangerous as all types and all ages with all types of all terrain vehicles criss cross the dunes, sometimes at great speed. People are killed every year. And these vehicles leave tracks. But, just as the wheat fields change due to the seasons the dunes change due to the winds. The area is known to have sandstorms and this scrubs the dunes clean of tracks and moves the sand around, just like snow drifts. Last year I made pictures in and of the dunes every way I could figure out. This included parking and walking in a ways, going out in the dunes in a jeep, flying over them and even renting an ATV for a day, trailering it in and driving it up into the dunes. The pictures that came out of that effort are here: Dunes 2012.

This year I just made pictures from above:

I wrote earlier (Aerials) about how to photograph from the air and won't repeat it here except to say that it is intense and I was nervous before flying this time as I am every time.

So why photograph material again that I just photographed last year? Because there was more to do. Each time I fly to photograph, it is just one hour. This is a cost thing and a "how much can I possibly do?" thing. One hour is really short to make a substantive body of work and there was no way I got it all in one hour last year. So I felt as though it needed more attention and hoped many variables would come together and lean in my favor this year to make a contribution to last year's body of work. Secondly, I wanted more file. I used a different camera this year and the newer one makes a bigger file. This after I've preached that the camera makes little difference? Well, it does if you believe the image needs to be printed large and well. That is the case here.

The larger issue is when do you know that you need to go back and when do you know you're done? Gut, intellect, research, some serious looking over what you've done, seeking advice, showing the work to others, letting the work settle a little in your estimation of it and being in touch with your feelings, i.e. is it calling you? Do you find yourself thinking of being back, thinking of what else you might do, how you might add to what's been done? There it is.

Over the next few days I am going to shoot out several more posts as, believe it or not, I've got too many back logged entries waiting to go out. Hang on and remember no one ever said you had to read them all. I know I know these retired guys with so much time on their hands. Well, I am not so very much retired yet, am I?

Topics: Aerials,Dunes

Permalink | Posted February 17, 2013