Topic: Northwest (26 posts) Page 1 of 6

On The Road to Pinnacles

While in Northern California in February 2018 my sister suggested I make a visit to Pinnacles National Park near Soledad.

So I packed up my gear and drove down from San Jose early one morning, about an hour and a half away. Little did I know.

The story about photographing at Pinnacles itself will have to come another time. What I wanted to show you was what I found on the road to Pinnacles that blew me away.

I know: not spectacular, no flash, no super saturated colors here. California hills in mid-winter: just a little green starting to show under the trees, a few cows here and there, some gray sky. Perfect, at least for me.

I know, "single trees on the hillside" is over the top cliche', right? So what! This was gorgeous.

I have worked to represent this stretch of road heading east to Pinnacles in its natural state, not with color sliders, saturation and sharpness cranked to the max conveying a falsely romantic syrupy-sweet utopian version of a place.

This certainly didn't need that, this rather pure and elemental landscape that morning on Hwy 146 to Pinnacles.

Finally, let's take a look at cause and effect. I had just driven up from the Ventura area where I'd spent days photographing fire and mudslide damage, both on the ground and from the air. I was also frequently driving two hours up to Santa Rosa from San Jose to photograph the extensive fire damage and destruction there. Take a look at the blogs  Disaster and Catastrophe if you haven't.  Some beauty and serenity was a good thing for me at that point. My heart swelled up in my chest as I was making these pictures (and is doing so now as I write this). Let's not forget why we do this, this making art (sounds pretentious, I know). We express ourselves through a heartfelt desire to share what we believe are perceptions that others may sympathize with. Can I bring a little peace and some form of slight joy to your day or world as you look at these? I hope so. Because this is what I do: make pictures to share.

Comments? Always welcome. Go here

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northwest

Permalink | Posted March 14, 2018

Shooting Square in San Jose

If you are a photographer from a certain age you probably know just what this means. Otherwise, not so much.

Shooting square refers to the film size used, 120mm and 220mm film. Think Hasselblad, Rollei, Yashica and even Plaubel (although this one used the same film, it framed a rectangle). It was also larger format in that it inherently rendered in higher quality due to its negative size: 2 1/4 inches wide. This allowed bigger prints but also a broader tonal range and better sharpness when enlarged. Less grain too. The cameras tended to be bigger and bulkier, so not as fast as 35mm. But people did use them out and about, as well as in the studio. I was one of those that used them almost exclusively outdoors. 

Made zillions of pictures this way. Go to Nantucket, Yountville, Solothurn,  Portland, Westwood Village, Portland, Oakesdale, Bluff, Boston, Fences and Walls, Mountain Work, Bermuda Portfolio, Southshore, Nelson and on and on. Scroll to the bottom of the Gallery page on the site and you'll see them there, all in squares.

Slip up to present day, last week, actually, to our now highly evolved way of making pictures digitally, to the Nikon D850 where, for the first time in my knowledge, Nikon has provided a camera with an image area called "1:1". So, when gearing up to shoot in downtown San Jose, CA I set the camera for an image area of 1:1 and then converted the shot files to black and white in Lightroom and made a series, just like I did in 1982. In fact, I just printed them.The first series of pictures from a month-long shoot in California.

Next, I will put them on the Gallery page of the site.

Quite simply they are of such astoundingly high image quality that they certainly blow away anything I ever did in 120mm with an analog camera and they most likely are a distinct improvement over anything I ever did in 4 x 5, let alone 8 x 10. I made the prints 14 inches square.

I can hear you asking, if you are a photographer, "What lens, Neal?" The Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8, a lens of now legendary quality and certainly the peer of the famous Carl Zeiss 38mm Biogon mounted to the Superwide Hasselblad, first surfacing in 1956.

Here I am, making pictures now that look very much like ones I made in my darkroom in 1979. But in a whole different world: digital and inkjet. With   quality unimagined, holding the camera in my hands, no tripod, no lightmeter hanging around my neck, no changing film every twelve exposures. No film agitating, drying, snipping and cutting, dusting off, placing in the enlarger, focusing, making an exposure, slipping the paper into the developer, the stop bath, the fixer, toning, then washing and squeegeeing, placing on a drying rack to dry overnight.

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Topics: Black and White,Digital,Series,Northwest

Permalink | Posted March 9, 2018

Mt Tamalpais

I am in California for a few days this week visiting my sister, who lives in Berkeley.

We are headed out to have a picnic lunch today at Mt Tamalpais, which you can drive up. From the top you can see all of San Francisco Bay, down to Marin, a good deal of Richmond and down towards Oakland, etc. It is a glorious place with a trail the runs right around its circumference. 

I have photographed quite a bit at Mt Tam over the years, including the original "Mountain Work" series made in the late 80's:

and in more recent years too:

including driving up it one morning in 2015 in fog:

that slowly burned off as I walked the trail:

Mt Tamalpais. One of my favorite places.

Topics: West,Northwest,Vintage,Black and White,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted October 25, 2017

Wheat 2016 Finish

This is the third and last installment of blogs about a trip I took to photograph wheat fields in SE Washington in October/November 2016.

In the last post about the aerial pictures I made I wrote that we were in the air for about an  hour. As important as that one hour was for me and other aerial photographic excursions have been over many years, I spend the other nine or so days while out here by driving, stopping, hauling some camera out of the rental car, often setting it on a tripod, making a few exposures, reversing the same process and driving off, looking for the next picture to make, hour after hour and day after day. Most of my time I am on dirt roads, access roads that are there for the farmers to get their equipment to the fields. These can be treacherous, muddy and slippery after it rains and so dusty in the late summer at harvest time everything you own is covered in a fine powder. I used to have nightmares about this when working in 8 x 10.

To break this down to fundamentals, there are two basic kinds kinds of pictures you can make here, photographs with horizons and ones without. I make both in about equal amounts. In the 18 or so times I've been here to photograph I don't think I have ever felt as though I've run out of material to photograph, as each season brings a different landscape. Drive, shoot, drive, shoot, etc. This is a very limited way to make pictures and needs a very disciplined approach, I know. But I find it fulfilling and rewarding as the pictures I have made now over many years seem to speak to me at some core level.

The principle is extreme simplicity with elegance. This is very controlled photography that must be carried out with a maximum of attention to detail.  There also are some really awful photographs made here: cliche'd, over wrought, and super saturated. Many photo t rips and workshops are offered here. I don't know whatever happened to restraint, refinement and discrimination. Try a Google Images search for the Palouse to see what I mean. Like this:

The prevailing thought seems to be that if the colors are good somewhat realistically rendered then they will be better with the color sliders cranked to maximum. Same with sharpness. Hate that. Free country, I know, and others may do as they wish but for me more is not necessarily better. 

The color palette is determined by the season and the kind of light, meaning mostly the time of day. Mid days are usually not so good, blue and bleached looking. However, cloudy days mean good pictures can be made all day. My general advice is: get up before dawn, work until mid to late morning, eat, take a break midday and then get back to work by about 3 until the daylight is gone.

Tech: Most of my photography out here is with long lenses. Even with a long lens I find I can hand hold at times. Currently, I use two telephoto zoom lenses with the Nikon D810 camera; the Nikon f2.8 70-200mm in second generation version and also the variable f stop Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens. The 70-200mm is slightly better but can vignette at long length and the 80-400mm is amazing considering its reach. With both you need to be aware of the clarity of the air. Also at longer lengths a tripod isn't always a guarantee, especially in wind. It is often windy here. This written from personal experience. 

As I write this today, I just got home last night. Don't ask me about flying on commercial airplanes as it is not good out there. That being said, my flights to and from Spokane, WA( the closest real  city) were uneventful and on time. I do advise getting approved for the TSA Pre Check as it does speed things up in security.

In the next week or so, as I begin to work the files, I will post both ground-based and aerial wheat field pictures on the site.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted November 4, 2016


Reserve flight out to Spokane from Boston: check

Reserve rental car: check

Reserve cottage in Moscow, Idaho: check

Ship gyro stabilizer out ahead of time: check

Get camera sensor cleaned: check

Pack: check

Fly and arrive

Shoot for several days with it raining on and off waiting for good weather: check

Reserve plane from Doug Gadwa, pilot I fly with: check

Day of aerials fly with door off in back seated next to large opening, camera in hand, preset to the right shutter speed (fast), gyro spinning at 21000 rpm to stabilize the camera, harnessed in but able to lean out and point straight down (Jesus! scary), shoot 516 frames in one hour: check

All that for one hour's shooting? Seems crazy, doesn't it? This is a "discretionary " trip, meaning I am not on assignment, no one's paying me to come out here, not on any grant. Most won't even know I've gone. 

Ah, but then this happens:

Which, for me, makes it all worthwhile. 

BTW: looking at these on your brand new super iPhone 7 will only lead you to surmise that the photographs are nice but not "special." That will be the wrong conclusion. Check this out below. You can see real prints soon, the weekend after the elections. After what we've all been through you may need something aesthetically pleasing to sooth your soul. 

Coming up:

Open Studios in Allston at 119 Braintree Street, Allston November 12 and 13 from 12-6 both days. I will be there and the studio will be open. As I get home this Thursday I will make prints of some of these for that weekend. Hope you can come.

Topics: Wheat,Digital,Color,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted October 31, 2016