It seems that winter has gained a second wind here in Clearlake. We were granted a few days of warm sun and are now suffering the biting cold of bitter winds. In this lakeside city beaches are bare and boats are left to sid idly, alone.
Cold weather makes me feel like I'm in a hurry, even when I have no reason to be. I find myself running to the car, stomping on the gas to get the heater working as quickly as possible, and driving a bit faster than I usually would hoping to find my destination warm inside.
I loathe the cold. I don't like shivering, the layers of clothing necessary feel restricting, and my electric bill skyrockets with the heaters on all day.
148mm f/8 1/320sec ISO100
When the temperature drops, I feel a sense of isolation. When I step outside I don't hear or see birds, squirrels, even insects seem to be hiding from the cold. The sky becomes grey, casts a damper on the colors of the world, and finding motivation to leave the studio becomes more and more of a challenge.
I made this image on one of those cold, windy, dull days. I forced myself to go outside and dig some beauty out of the frigidity. I succeeded in taking some photos that I'm happy with, but this image stands out, not for it's beauty, but because it reflects how I feel in the heart of winter. This boat floats lifelessly on the water, alone, it's sails packed and motor off, patiently waiting for a warmer time, and so am I.
300mm f/5.6 1/400s ISO100
I made this image right outside my studio. It was a bright, warm day. The kind of day that inspires a primal urge to get outside, a difficult urge to satiate when you're like me and spend ten hours a day working inside, so I took a break, went outside and just stood in the sun for a few minutes. Of course, it wasn't long until I started to see other animals enjoying the weather, and it's hard to be three feet from a building stocked with photography gear and NOT take photos.
My break only lasted a short time, but the sun warming my skin felt like an old friend and brought animals out of their winter hiding places. I shared a portion of that sunny day in winter with a myriad of animals who missed their old friend, the sun, just as much as I did.
This image is a common blue jay. Blue jays belong to the same family as Ravens, Crows and similar birds. The family Corvidae are mostly birds who flourish equally in urban areas as well as forests. These birds have been sighted dropping nuts and other protected foods on roads in front of cars, using the cars to open their meal, and a number of other amazing things that utilize people to get what they need.
I have always been fascinated with animals that use tools. Are humans really that different from the rest of the creatures on this planet,
or are we just very good at convincing ourselves that we are.
300mm f/8 1/400s ISO400
I was shooting a model in Ukiah, California and we stopped to eat before heading to our shooting location, (it's hard to hold a camera steady when you have the hunger shakes) and I spotted this man walking down the street with a pet bird. This bird wasn't tied or anchored in any way, he was simply content to perch on this man's hand. Almost everyone he passed wanted to touch the bird and ask him questions. The bird didn't mind, he might have even liked the attention.
I have spent more than a healthy ammount of time pondering where humans fit in the animal kingdom and yielded very little. Humans have attempted to tame, train, and dominate just about every animal on this planet to varied values of success, it's refreshing to see a person living with an animal instead of just dominating it.
We've all grown accustomed to seeing people walk their dogs, but other animals always amaze. Have you ever seen a cat riding in a car? I bet it caught you off guard. It takes more than a dominant hand to teach a cat or bird, or anything other than a dog for that matter, to walk with you, untethered.
When I look at this image, I imagine what it would take to develop the type of relationship necessary to keep this bird grounded and planted while walking under his native home, the sky. It may be human nature to keep pets, but it's unusual to see other animals keeping them, and make no mistake, this man is indeed this bird's pet just as much as the bird the man's. What else could it be? What other logic could explain why this bird travels with this man so calmly and content?
I've kept birds here and there in the past, and even a bird with clipped wings will try to take off when you bring it outside. It's something special we glimpse in this scene, a different kind of relationship between man and beast, one that happens sparsely.
If only I could get my chinchilla to walk around town with me...
28mm f/8 1/10s ISO100
Living in a small town with origins as a seasonal fishing village provides endless opportunities to create beautiful images that require very little travel, not that travelling is a bad thing, I love photography expeditions, but it adds a magical quality to life in general when I can step onto my back porch and see a view like this.
I notice that humans tend to spend so much of their time focusing on other humans and only stop to pay attention to the world around them when they get hit in the face with it. It's so easy to get caught up in our job, our friends, our passtime activities, that we forget to really look at the beauty that surrounds us. Nature is wonderful, and frightening.
I always get asked why I moved from a booming metropolis to a small, isolated city. The answer lies hidden within an image like the one above. Life isn't always about being surrounded by millions of other people, it's not about being recognized in the grocery store, it's about being surrounded by things that make you stop and appreciate life. Sure, I found a great deal of success in metropolitan areas, and not everyone of my past clients is willing to travel to my current location, but images like the one above make a stronger case for travel than a photo of a dirty, cramped city.
If there is a time and place where it feels like magic really does exist, that time is dawn or dusk, and that place is alone, surrounded by untameable forces of nature. Places like the one in this image.
Sure, I still miss things from the bigger cities I've lived in, mostly 24 hour resaurants. Even a Denny's would be nice, but when you see the night sky free from city lights you can never truly go back.
47.5mm f/22 1/125s ISO100
This is the sunrise on January 1, 2012. It's only February and already this year has been kind to me.
The early morning skies here in Northern California are usually very still and mostly cloudless, or raining. The two conditions that make photographers start packing up their gear. This day was no exception. The morning I made this image was cold, still, and dry. Only a few streaks of clouds staining the sky, and I had to search for those. It was my first photo adventure of the year, so it didn't surprise me when I had to drive, then hike up a mountain, before I found an interesting view.
This time of year is usually associated with Valentine's day and taxes, which means most of us are stressed for one reason or another, so it's even more important to get out and find beauty in the world around us, to take a break from the stress and enjoy those moments that get lost so easily in our sea of responsibility.
55mm f/8 1/100s ISO250
I started taking pictures many years ago. I was taking pictures for almost a decade before I started photographing. I simply love making images, and I enjoy sharing them with people. It's an amazing experience to listen to people in a gallery talking about images that I made, hearing their interpretation, how the images makes them feel, or what memories are conjured while gazing at them.
Many religions condemn 'graven images' and I understand why. There is a certain magical power that images have over us. They reach inside and pull out our memories and emotions and make us feel them, like new, again. It's simply magical.
Artists are sorcerers and everyone knows it. There is some mystical quality that surrounds a great artist, as though some deeply buried part of your brain recognizes that ability to manipulate your emotions, and that's what good art does, manipulates our emotions. Art can have a profound effect on us personally, as a society, and one day it will create future civilizations' interpretation of us, just as we examine art from earlier times and use it to create our view of the past.
When I bury my time capsule with my greatest works, I'm going to include some photocopies of my rear end. I'm sure that will be just as funny in the future as it is today.
So, before our civilazation is destroyed in a zombie apocalypse, go out and create some images that will tell your story. Use whatever you have, pens, pencils, brushes, blood - just DO something, CREATE!
80mm f/8 1/125s ISO100
One of the greatest aspects about photography is networking. Humans can make connections in so many ways, some more personal than others, but nothing I have experienced is like getting to know someone while photographing them.
From the photographer side, the goal is to portray the person you are photographing in the best way possible. The camera forces you to look for the best in that person, to learn their story so you can tell it with your images. The best sessions I have had included in an initial meeting to get to know the person, their likes and dislikes, and what type of photos they hope to create. When it's time to start shooting, I have an idea of that person, it's a great starting point. After the initial consultation the actual session feels more like getting to know an acquaintance, instead of meeting a stranger. Conversation feels more natural, and can get more personal. The camera is the ice-breaker that allows me to get to know the subject, to find their beauty and uniqueness, and that's what creates a lasting relationship.
Photographs are memories, we look at them and the image brings to mind the experience behind the picture. It is always worthwhile to get to know the person photographing you, it will add a depth to the memories associated with those images. K-Mart family photos might look nice hanging on your wall or on your holiday cards, but the memories that come with them are usually of discomfort, how hard it was to get the youngest to smile, how late you were because the teenager took so long in the bathroom, and how everyone except mom wanted to run screaming out of the store. That's why camera phones are so popular, the photographer you have the best relationship with is yourself. The only downside to that is you miss out on meeting some really great people when you keep to yourself. The internet is a great tool to expand your social network, but nothing yet concieved builds bonds as strong as those forged face to face.
The above picture has nothing to do with people photography, it's not a model, it's a cat. A cat with a very uncomfortable look on his face in fact. Further into the session he began to ease up and as we got to know each other a bit more he became increasingly more comfortable with the camera.
80mm f/5.6 1/20s ISO200
While trapsing around in the wilderness I sometimes forget that no matter how deep I hike into a remote location, how long I walk off a path, I am not the first human to tread that ground.
People have a deep urge to leave their mark on places, from the flag on the moon to the 'tom wuz here' carved into the park bench, it's some primal instinct to mark where we are, to let future travelers know we were there.
I found this crude marker sketch just how you see it now, sitting loosely on the bark of a tree, on the lake's edge surrounded by nature. I thought it was a great alternative to carving into a tree or spray-painting a name. Just a clue that someone was there before me, a reminder that art can happen anywhere and inspiration strikes at the most random of times.
This little rock put a smile on my face, and I hope it will do the same for you.
As I pack up my gear and prepare for my next assignment, one that will bring me deep into the bedrooms of women and challenge me to bring out their strength with a healthy dose of sexiness, a small corner of my mind will be lingering on this image, reminding me that there are still pioneers blazing new trails off the beaten path, but they aren't cowboys armed with torches and machetes but regular people armed with sharpie markers and whatever else they can find, millions of people eager to leave their mark on the world. I hope the mark I leave will make people smile the way this one made me.
One of the the instant hooks photography had over me, the one that has kept me coming back again and again over the years, the aspect that continues to drive me to refine my techniques and learn new methods, to photograph each day, is tied in with the viewfinder.
When you look out through the viewfinder, you see a different perspective of the world around you, for some reason framing your vision in a black box forces you to see things differently, to look at what you're seeing, and when you really look at something you notice aspects about it that you might have missed before.
Over the weekend I tried to find this swimming hole I used to visit with my friends when I was still in school. I haven't seen the place in about twelve years, plus it's winter instead of the usual summer visits I made in the past. Needless to say,
300mm f/7.1 1/160s ISO100 I didn't find the swimming hole.
Not finding the area I wanted to photograph I chose to explore places I have never been, follow roads I've never traveled, and hiked to places rarely traveled. I spent all day driving, hiking, and exploring, and when darkness started interfering with my photography I headed home with some memory cards full of normal, uninspiring shots of places I have never seen for a reason. It was great to get out of the studio and explore, get some exercise, and enjoy the stillness of an area untouched by humans, but it's always a bit disappointing to end an adventure without a really cool photo to go along with it.
I made this image when after I got home. I set my gear down and started filling the coffee machine, I love fresh coffee. After filling the percolator, grinding the beans, and starting the machine I noticed that my faucet had developed a drip. Great, leaky plumbing, one more thing on the list, but while diagnosing the problem I started to look at the drops falling from the nozzle and ran to get my camera. Being close to that dripping nozzle forced me to see it from the camera's point of view, which is usually far more interesting than the one we see every day.
This capture is just another reminder that to really find the beauty in the world around us, we have to close our field of view a bit and focus on the details. No matter how bad the news tells us the world is, there will always be wonderful things as well.
Keep your eyes focused, find the tiny pieces of joy hiding all around you, and take a picture to remind yourself of them.