Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Obvious View

Great Sand Dunes National Park No. 4 Colorado, 2014

Great Sand Dunes National Park No. 4
Colorado, 2014

In landscape photography, sometime it’s the obvious view that’s the best (or, if not the best, at least pretty darn good).

On the day I made this capture, I arrived in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park with the idea of hiking out into the dunes, far enough to get away from all the tracks and footprints near the parking lot, in order to photograph the dune forms and shapes in their pristine condition.  Unfortunately, as so often is the case with landscape photography, the weather had other plans for me.  Specifically, it was a terribly windy day, and the wind was whipping up sand in the dunes like spray on the ocean.  I’m usually pretty willing to take my camera out into all kinds of adverse conditions, but one situation I avoid is wind-blown sand.  It’s just too easy for sand to get into the lens and camera, which can really pose a problem for those moving parts.

Instead, I had to make do with what was available.  I drove around to different ends of the park, seeing what there was to see, occasionally snapping a photograph or two, but not really coming away with anything that spoke to me.  As the sun began to set, I figured I would call it a day, and I pulled into the now-deserted visitor center parking lot to pack up my things before getting on the road.  As I was stowing my gear, I noticed a short trail making a quick loop around the visitor center – from the trail, one could take in the view of the dunes as seen in this photograph.

Turns out it’s a pretty nice view!  So I grabbed my camera and spent 20 minutes or so experimenting with some long exposures.  The one benefit of the windy day was that the clouds were really moving through the sky.  As a result, I was able to capture the movement of the clouds over the dunes as seen in this image.  On this day, at least, it was the obvious view that was the best.

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8 1/2 by 11

Stand Up Tall (White Trees, Series 1, No. 8)

Stand Up Tall
(White Trees, Series 1, No. 8)

I’ve had a theory for awhile that 8 1/2 by 11 – that is, letter-sized – paper, is not a good format for printing photographs.  My thinking has been that letter-sized paper is so common in everyday communication and correspondence that it is just too “ordinary” for photographs.  Images printed on 8 1/2 by 11 already have one strike against them, because they’re dimensioned in the same way that, say, audit letters from the IRS are.

Over the last couple of years, though, as I’ve become more serious about photography, I’ve done a lot of printing on 8 1/2 by 11, principally in the form of making test prints to evaluate as I work on making an image.  I’ve really come to appreciate the virtues of this size.  You can pick up an 8 1/2 by 11, hold it in your hands and move it around.  The small size makes you approach the print more closely and really look into it to appreciate it.  And you don’t bump up against resolution limits and print quality issues in the same way that can cause problems when making larger prints.

As Christmas time approaches, it’s common for art galleries to have “small works” shows, presumably with the goal of making available smaller, less expensive artworks for gift-giving.  Maybe this is why the idea of small prints has been on my mind lately.  Or, it could be the half-a-dozen or so 8 1/2 by 11 test prints I have lying around on my kitchen table at any given time.  Regardless, I’m surprised at just how much this size has grown on me – I may have to take it more seriously as a display format in the future.

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Roadside Photography

Cloud Waves Over Spanish Peaks Near La Veta, Colorado, 2014

Cloud Waves Over Spanish Peaks
Near La Veta, Colorado, 2014

On several occasions, when others have viewed one photograph or another of mine, I’ve been asked how far I had to hike, climb, or otherwise go out of my way to get a particular image.  There seems to be an assumption that landscape photography requires a commitment to travel to remote, out of the way, or otherwise difficult-to-access places.

Sometimes this is true.  There are a few photographs in my portfolio that required at least a hike of a few miles – see the image in my previous post for an example.  However, the vast majority of my landscape images are made by the side of the road.

This view of Spanish Peaks, a landmark in Southern Colorado, probably is quite familiar to anyone who has driven on U.S. Highway 160 west out of Walsenberg, Colorado on the way to La Veta Pass.  I found myself on this road a couple of weeks ago on the way to photograph the sand formations in Great Sand Dunes National Park.  Though I hadn’t planned on photographing these peaks, I know a good thing when I see one, and when I saw this scene coming together I didn’t hesitate to pull over to the side of the road (safely, of course) to photograph for 20 minutes or so.

I think the principle at stake here is that there is good photography all around us.  Photographers, especially those of the landscape variety, seem to want to put themselves through extraordinary lengths to get a photograph.  That can be appropriate, but by no means is it necessary.  The quality of a photograph is largely unrelated to when, where, and how it was captured, at least in my experience.

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