Toadstool Hoodoo, UT Tuesday, Oct 2 2012 

In May 2008, I went on a trip with fellow photographers Tyler and John, and we explored the areas around the Utah-Arizona border.

Right before the trip, I bought a used Canon Elan 7 film camera, because I wanted to use my 17-40mm lens on it, so it can be the true wide angle lens. The results I got on film were really good, and I was encouraged to continue with my retro ways.

Toadstool Hoodoo (Ilford HP5)

Toadstool Hoodoo (Ilford HP5)

Shown here is one of my favorite film shots from that trip. It’s the back of the Toadstool Hoodoo, on the road between Page AZ, and Kanab, UT. The sun came up high enough that the light wasn’t as “golden” as it may have been an hour or so earlier. But I really like how the texture of the rock reflects the grain of the film, and the shadow detail was wonderfully preserved on Ilford HP5.

Like I said, this shot encouraged me to continue shooting film. For our 2009 trip, I bought a medium format camera, the Mamiya 645, and recently I upgraded again, to the 6×7 format of Mamiya 7. I still get great results with film, especially black and white.

If you still shoot film, leave me a comment below.

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Model Shoot: Ashley Sunday, Jan 30 2011 

Last weekend, I was invited by the photographer Ray Dauphinais to assist him on a photo shoot he did for The Angels Foundation. I worked with Ray a few times before, and I didn’t mind helping around with lights and equipment and learning something in the process.

Most of the shoot took place in a gym of a downtown Dallas residential building, but then Ray and I went exploring the building with one of the models, Ashley.

Ashley had a great attitude and a photogenic face highlighted with brilliant eyes. The impromptu shoot started when she changed from the gym clothes into a little black dress. As she sat down by a window to wait for us photographers to get our gear ready, we put away our flashes and worked with available light. We made a makeshift reflector to fill in the shadows and this quick portrait with her smirk was the best of that series.

Ashley, digital

Ashley, digital

Then we took a quick trip to the roof of the building. The downtown skyscrapers provided great background for Ashley and her dress. After a few digital test shots, I felt brave enough to put a flash on my medium format Mamiya 645 1000S. The idea was to use a few last frames of a roll of Kodak Ektachrome 100 that I had in the camera for months. I climbed on some patio furniture to eliminate the whitish overcast sky and fired off two shots, of which I prefer this one.

Ashley, on color slide film

Ashley, on color slide film

Finally, on our way down from the roof, we walked through a narrow hallway with distressed walls and tall windows. Again Ashley’s face looked great in natural diffused light framed by her flowing hair, so I used another film camera to capture the image. There was a roll of Ilford HP4 Plus in my Canon Elan 7 since my trip to New York in November, and I wanted to get a few shots to wrap it up. Sure enough, this “look”, showing Ashley’s “femme fatale” side, was what I was looking for.

Ashley, on black and white film

Ashley, on black and white film

Point of Inspiration: Alan Ross Wednesday, Jan 26 2011 

This past Saturday, I met Alan Ross, a master photographer, who spent some time in the 70s as the assistant to Ansel Adams. An exhibit of his work opened at the Sun To Moon Gallery in Dallas and he was on hand to schmooze with the Dallas socialites, which, for an hour or so, included yours truly.

Alan Ross

Alan Ross, inspiration

On display was about 20 of his quite exquisite silver gelatin prints, in formats up to 24×30. My favorite by far was Bridalveil Fall in Storm, obviously an homage to Ansel’s Clearing Winter Storm. The touch of genius was a river at the bottom of the frame, which miraculously picked up some great light from the clouds. Then there was Farm and Clouds, New Mexico, layers upon layers of rich details and flowing lines, truly a magnificent work of art.

Then I saw a few others and realized something. I’ve been fortunate to visit some really amazing places the last few years with friends Scott, John, Tyler. All those places were on the walls of the gallery – Bryce Canyon hoodoos, Monument Valley rock formations, and scenes from Yosemite that nearly retraced my own steps.

Which is telling me I’m on the right track. Sure, those are places of world-wide known beauty, visited by million people every year, but my friends and I have done some amazing work there. I have little doubt that we’re getting to where we’d be able to post our own work in galleries. The way we see things, the way we make decisions about what to shoot, it’s all leading somewhere. A lot of the shots I’ve seen at this exhibit are of fragments of nature; a group of aspens here, a pile of rocks there. There was always something outstanding though, and it was usually the weather – the clouds or the fog. So, not always the golden light (it’s black-and-white, after all), but often something to enhance the subject and transform it from ordinary to extraordinary.

Alan signed my copy of Ansel’s Autobiography and we talked shop a little, which inspired me to establish my 2011 resolution – start developing my own black and white film. This was taken with my Canon Elan 7 camera with 85mm lens on great Ilford HP5 Plus film. The only thing that could have made it more exciting would have been to develop it myself.

The Indestructible Fifty Friday, Dec 3 2010 

I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I had to start rebuilding my Canon gear from scratch. After I decided to purchase the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, my needs dictated to get a “walkaround” lens, something that I can keep on my camera about 80% of the time. That ended up being the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens, which is truly spectacular, and served me well in many occasions.

Lovrijenac Fortress

Nifty Fifty at its best

And yet, with two Canon cameras (one digital and one film), I was not done collecting gear. My friend Scott was selling his EF 50mm f/1.8 II, otherwise known as “the nifty fifty”, so I was happy to take it off his hands. The Fifty proved to be a wonderful addition to my arsenal almost immediately, as I made some really nice portraits with it, although it was also occasionally useful for landscapes. It’s very light, and I once mistakenly took it off the camera thinking I’m only twisting off the lens cap.

Lenses of that focal length aren’t difficult to manufacture, so they are of very simple design and very good optically. Its large maximum aperture opened up a lot of possibilities for photos with narrow depth of field. I was able to use it in a wide variety of ways, and the image of the Lovrijenac Fortress pictured above is one of my favorite photos, a print of which is awaiting matting and framing. I loved using it on my film camera (Canon Elan 7), because there was something basic about the combination.

Indestructible Fifty

A photo of the old lens, taken with the new lens

Alas, in the last year or so, it had it rough. The Fifty had to share the backpack with several other pieces of kit, many of which were more sturdily built. At some point, it lost the battle against the Mamiya 645 1000S, and its autofocus function was no longer available. The innards were spilling out, and at one point along the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park, I even dropped it and barely saved it from a fall of many hundreds of feet. The Indestructible Fifty kept on clicking, but it clearly needed to be replaced.

This past Thanksgiving Week, I spent a few days in New York City, and on my list of places to visit was the B&H Photo Video store, the largest camera store in the world. They are the best in the business, and I’ve purchased items from their website many times before, anything from a roll of film to my Canon 7D. The store is insanely efficient, which it has to be, because the amount of shoppers rivals any department store I’ve ever been to. The staff was extremely knowledgeable, and through an amazing system of belts and elevators, they provided me with a brand new copy of the nifty fifty. I used it to snap the picture of the old lens falling apart, but I hope to find many happier subjects for it in the future.

Nevada Falls, From John Muir Trail Tuesday, Oct 19 2010 

I mentioned in my previous post that I visited Yosemite National Park during peak water flow. Scott, John, Tyler and I wanted to spend a day climbing up and down one of the signature trails of the park, The Mist Trail, which that day could have been named The Enormous Plumes of Spray Trail. The section just under the Vernal Falls was the worst, and we were more concerned with protecting our expensive cameras from the water than with using them to take photos. On top of the falls, we had to change shirts and expose some soaked clothing to the morning sun.

The final climb to the top of Nevada Falls didn’t quite resemble an unrelenting cold shower like its counterpart downstream, but we still got plenty of gusts of wind that brought the chilling spray upon our weary bodies. By this time, sun hid behind some clouds and the temperature dropped a bit. Wind was strong, and the clouds were moving, which made photography a bit challenging due to the changing light.

We finally made it to the top and enjoyed lunch, before we got on our way back to the valley following the John Muir Trail to the other side of the falls, against a sheer granite cliff. Just after one last refreshment courtesy of some persistent snow melt, we paused to gather our strength for the descent. I fired off a few shots, including the one of the back side of Half Dome I posted earlier.

Nevada Falls, From John Muir Trail

I then changed lenses and tried a wider composition with my next shot, which is what you see here – notice the similar scattered light. At 17mm, pretty much everything is in sharp focus, and I really love the distorted clouds reaching for the corners of the image with Liberty Cap dominating the center. I hesitated to post this, because it was too similar to the earlier shot, but upon further review, I decided this photo has a character of its own and deserves a spot in the blog.

The Other Side of Half Dome Wednesday, Jun 30 2010 

I am told by mountaineers that the three most distinctive mountain shapes in the world are the Mustagh Tower in the Karakorams, the Matterhorn in the Alps and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. – Ansel Adams

And, yet, this doesn’t look instantly recognizable as Half Dome. For the third love letter to Half Dome created by my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, I picked this image, shot on Ilford FP4+ film using an orange filter to increase the contrast between the sky and the clouds. It is the back side of Half Dome, the side that makes it seem like there was a Full Dome once.

This was taken slightly above Nevada Fall, on the John Muir trail. Scott, John, Tyler and I have been climbing up Mist Trail all day and got thoroughly soaked three times – at Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and then again, a few yards from where this was taken, where some random snow melt endlessly dripped over the narrow trail as a never-ending cold shower.

We were tired and wet, but once we got to this side of the Nevada Fall, we realized what we were looking up at. The sheer, smooth cliff above was none other than our friend Half Dome, in a rarely seen angle. And while the fascination with its face and profile has been long documented in countless photos by masters and laymen alike, it was a surprise to see the smoothness of the dome, interrupted only by a few scars, carved by Father Time and Mother Nature.

Canon 7D, EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens @ 40mm, CPL

As it were, I don’t have many shots from this vantage point. Day was getting long and legs weary. Some others have more interesting skies or a different composition; one of those, a digital effort, is shown here for purposes of comparison. But in the end, I chose this shot because I thought the sparse splashes of color distract from the beauty of the subject. A subject, that, quite accidentally, captured the heart of my favorite lens.

Half Dome, Sunset No. 4 Saturday, Jun 26 2010 

I have photographed Half Dome innumerable times, but it is never the same Half Dome, never the same light or the same mood. – Ansel Adams

My main image of Yosemite was El Capitan, with Half Dome being only a distant second. Nevertheless, after five days in the park, I didn’t even realize that we shot Half Dome during each of the five sunsets. We snapped dozens of shots more, from the valley, from the Mist Trail, and from anywhere else we could. It quickly became the focal point of the trip, the main star of the show. Some of those shots are coming soon, but I wanted to post this one before all others.

Half Dome, Sunset No. 4

This was Sunset No. 4, when we drove up Glacier Point Road, but only to the trailhead to the Sentinel Dome. After an easy 1-mile hike, we came to the bare granite clearing at the top of Sentinel Dome, which towers over all of the Yosemite Valley and offers unbelievable 360-degree view of the Eastern Sierras.

We got there early enough and snapped around, but then the sky lit up and the golden hour followed. This shot follows The Formula, which says it’s not even that important what you shoot during this kind of light. But, the glory of Half Dome just elevates this to another level.

Another reason I like this shot so much is that it was taken with my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, which was simply in love with Half Dome. Several great closeups of the peak are waiting to be posted soon. Until then, here’s a bonus shot, taken 15 minutes after the one above. The sun has set, but the clouds were glowing in shades of pink, and some of that light was reflecting on the stony face of Half Dome. If you ever get a chance to witness the sunset from Sentinel Dome, don’t miss it.

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