Tag Archives: Colorado

Still, It’s Good to Be in Colorado

Bent Tree, Distant Ranges Near Fraser, Colorado, 2016

Bent Tree, Distant Ranges
Near Fraser, Colorado, 2016

Northern Colorado, where I live, is a great match for me photographically.  If I want to photograph architecture or urban environments, there’s Denver and the cities along the Front Range.  If I want to photograph rural and pastoral scenes, there’s lots of farming and agriculture on the Eastern Plains.  To the north, up towards Wyoming, are the wide open spaces and big sky country of the high plains.  We have cold winters that offer up beautiful snowscapes and warm summers that bring dramatic monsoon storms.  A day’s drive can put me in the spare landscapes of northern New Mexico or the red rock canyons of southern Utah.  Oh yes, and there happens to be a dramatic range of rocky mountains just to the west of where I live here in Fort Collins.

I get out and photograph a fair amount, and I’m very aware that I’m fortunate to have so many opportunities for photography around me.  Even if I didn’t live here, though, I’m confident that I would still photograph just as much.  I’ve always believed there’s good opportunities for photography anywhere, not just in “marquee” locations like here in Colorado.  I think those who feel they have to travel to special or exotic locations to photograph are missing the just-as-good options for photographs closer to home and fooling themselves into thinking that locations make a difference in making good images.  It’s not the subject matter that makes good photographs, it’s the photographer.  The drive to be creative and express that creativity through photographic images comes from inside, and I believe I would be producing just as much work at the same level I am now whether I were to live here in Colorado, or in Dover, Delaware, or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, or Bakersfield, California.

Still, the foregoing notwithstanding, I have to admit I got lucky that my environment matches my photographic interests so closely.  It’s good to be in Colorado.

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It’s Okay to be Quiet

Fence in a Snowy Landscape Near Carr, Colorado, 2016

Fence in a Snowy Landscape
Near Carr, Colorado, 2016

If you work on photographs using image editing software, maybe you’ve heard that you should set a true white point and a true black point.  In Photoshop, this would be accomplished, for example, by using the Levels tool to move the black point slider to where it just about touches the left side of the histogram and the white point slider to where it just about touches the right side of the histogram.  The idea is that having a true black and a true white ensures that the full range of tones from black to white will be present in the image, and that images without the full range of tones will tend to look flat and lifeless.

Well, it’s a good idea and most of my images in fact do have a true black point and a true white point.  But not this one.  From memory, I believe the blackest point is about RGB = 15, 15, 15 and the whitest point is about RGB = 240, 240, 240.  Given that the RGB range for a black and white image is from 0, 0, 0 to 256, 256, 256, this means there’s a non-trivial gap at each end of the image’s histogram, and instead of having the full range of tones from black to white, the image tones here are somewhat compressed into a band from dark grey to light grey.

But I like it this way.  If I had used a true black and a true white, the image would have been more crisp, vibrant, and dynamic.  It also would have been louder, punchier, and more in-your-face.  That’s not what this scene is about.  It’s about the peacefulness and calmness that was present in the (very cold) air that day and what I was feeling about it when I tripped the shutter.

I think the more compressed tonal range is an effective tool with which to communicate that calm and quiet feeling.  I also should note that I think you can get away without using a true black and a true white in this image because it is an image of snow – the presence of so many white tones means you can still get sufficient contrast between the snow and the fence to keep interest, even without having the full range of tones present.

Perhaps more importantly, I think it’s okay for the image to be calm and quiet.  Computers and software make it so easy to pump up the contrast and (for color images) saturation that a good number of photographs these days tend to make me feel like I’m being shouted at.

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Daylight Savings

Tree Split Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

Tree Split
Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

About a week ago it was daylight saving time here in the U.S., which means that clocks were pushed forward by one hour.  I’d been looking forward to this for some time, because the additional hour of daylight in the evenings means that there now is enough time to do whatever it is I may be doing during the day, and still have enough light for some photography in the evening.

For example, this past weekend I spent the day both Saturday and Sunday skiing, but after the ski day was over there still was enough daylight to do some exploring and photographing in the snowy mountains near the ski area.  As the days get even longer, I’m looking forward to getting out in the evenings after my day job to photograph in and along the Front Range near my home here in Fort Collins, Colorado.  By June and July, there will be enough light for me to make the hour or so drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park and still have an hour or two to explore and photograph before it gets dark.

It’s fun for me to get out with my camera, but there’s a bigger point at issue here.  It’s the idea of working photography into my daily routine.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have a full-time day job as well as all of the chores and responsibilities of daily living.  Often, at the end of the day, I’m tired and it would be easy just to wind things down and call it quits.

But I think photography is kind of a “do it or lose it” discipline.  Staying engaged with it on a daily basis – be it making captures in the field, editing captured work, or simply reading and learning new things – is necessary to keep developing one’s art and craft.  I think it’s important, therefore, to find ways to work it into the daily routine.  Fortunately, for me anyway, it’s not hard to do because the desire is there.  It’s simply a matter of making it a priority and following through with it.

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An Open Question

Three Bins, Old Snow Weld County, Colorado, 2016

Three Bins, Old Snow
Weld County, Colorado, 2016

I have a theory that if you have an artistic vision and you follow it honestly, then your work will always look like yours and not that of someone else.  I think this is true because one’s vision directly follows from who one is, and we are all unique individuals with our own unique ways of seeing the world.  For this reason, it doesn’t matter what we photograph because, assuming we stay true to our visions, our photographs can’t help but look like they’re ours, no matter what the subject is.

Well, I think I’m really putting that to the test with this image.  Grain bins are a very popular subject among photographers, and have been photographed in countless manners and iterations.  Is there really something in this image that is uniquely mine?  Does it really have some attribute or characteristic that reveals the evidence of my own hand?

Perhaps you’re expecting an answer from me to my own question.  It’s true that I often set up questions and answers, but here I really don’t have one.  I do like the image, though, so it just will have to remain an open question.

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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Moon Over Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

Moon Over Sprague Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

Here is an image that was captured last summer in Rocky Mountain National Park and probably edited not too long thereafter.  It sat unnoticed on my hard drive until just a couple of weeks ago, when I came across it by accident while going through my files looking for something else.

I’m not sure why I didn’t think it was post-worthy the first time around.  Maybe I didn’t like the way the long exposure blurred the shape of the moon, or the fact that the clouds actually are airplane contrails windblown into the shapes of streamers, or that there are two fisherman visible in the image (normally I don’t include people in my images).

If those things bothered me before, they don’t now.  In fact, I rather like them.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, what is it about time spent away from something that makes it more appealing?

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Of Level and Tilt

County Road, Pinprick Moon Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

County Road, Pinprick Moon
Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Last summer, I realized that I’m not very good at leveling the camera when I shoot a photograph.  I would rely on my eye in order to judge the level of the horizon, but invariably I would get it wrong and would have to correct the rotation of the image later at the computer.  So, I bought a simple bubble level that slides into the hot shoe of my camera to solve the problem.

It’s worked out quite well.  After a brief break-in period of getting used to using it in my workflow (“I’m not going back to the car just for that!”), most of my images come leveled-out just fine.  In fact, I’m astonished at just how bad my judgment really is.  More often than not, I’ll compose the image, check the level, and realize that I’m substantially off.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened this image file on the computer and saw that the level of the horizon was off.  Except that it’s not.  If you look closely at the road, especially where it crests over the horizon, you’ll see that the image indeed is level.  It’s the slope of the landscape that’s tilted.

At first I found this a bit disconcerting, but having lived with the image for awhile I think it adds a certain pleasantly off-kilter appeal.  Anyway, at least I know my bubble level works, no image rotation required!

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Small Differences

Two Dancers, Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

Two Dancers
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

I can’t count how many times I came close to tossing this image into the trash can.  It sat on my desk for months, never looking quite right to my eye.  Several times I picked it up with the intention of discarding it, but something always held me back.  There always was a nagging little voice telling me that there was something solid here, something worth keeping, even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at any given time.

Then one day, I discovered what my hangup was.  I really liked looking at the image from a distance, but not so much up close.  I realized that what I liked about the image was the forms and the lines of the trees and the distant mountains, but not the texture of the grasses and the bark.  When viewed from a distance, the forms and lines dominated the composition, which was why I liked it.  When viewed close up, the grass and bark textures were really noticeable, which is why I didn’t like it.

So, I used various tools in Photoshop (the dodge and burn tools, several curves layers with the effects selectively painted in on layer masks) to reduce the contrast in the grass and bark, mostly by burning down the highlights and midtones so that the overall tones mellowed out into a shadowy evenness.  Then, I slightly upped the global contrast in the image, which further emphasized the lines and forms of the trees and mountains as compared to the background sky.

You can see the prior version – the one that sat on my desk for months – below.  The differences are small, but to me are what made this image a keeper versus one that ended up in the trash.

20150725_1701-FOR-COMPARISON

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Pretty Pictures

Republic Plaza, Lowering Clouds Denver, Colorado, 2015

Republic Plaza, Lowering Clouds
Denver, Colorado, 2015

If I had to wager on it, I would wager that the image in this post won’t be one of my more popular images.  I haven’t been a photographer as long as many others who practice this discipline, but I’ve been doing it long enough now to have a sense of what will “land” with most people and what won’t.

So why do I do work like this?

Basically, because  it speaks to me.

I didn’t set out looking to make this image.  In fact, the day I photographed this, I had not intended to do any photography at all. I was in Denver, Colorado on completely unrelated business and found that I had some time to kill.  Walking down an alley between two buildings, I just happened to look up over the rooftop of one of the adjacent buildings and saw this scene.  I suppose it struck me just right – it moved me enough to motivate me into the exercise of getting my camera from out of my car and making this capture.

And having finished the image and lived with the print a little while, I still like it, so I’m posting it here even though my guess is that it won’t be most people’s cup of tea.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t hope that people would like my work, but ultimately it’s more important for me to stay true to my own vision and not let the reactions of others set the agenda for how I produce it.

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Mount Sneffels Redux

Cloud Arch Over Mount Sneffels Near Telluride, Colorado, 2015

Cloud Arch Over Mount Sneffels
Near Telluride, Colorado, 2015

Usually I don’t post more than one image of the same subject captured on the same date from the same location.  The reason is that when I take multiple captures on a given shoot, it’s because I have one final product in mind, and the multiple captures simply are incremental tweaking in order to get the best possible capture for the image I want to make.  While any of the several captures might make a good final image, doing more than one usually results in the multiple images being cumulative of one another and not really adding anything to the portrayal of the subject.  The better choice almost always is simply to pick one capture – the best capture – and go with it.

The image in this post is an exception.  If you look back on November 15, 2015, you’ll see that I’ve already posted an image of Mount Sneffels from the same day and location as this one.  However, I think this one really does pose its own different and distinct interpretation, so I’ve gone ahead and posted it here today.  Rules, after all, are made to be broken, something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

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Mirror, Mirror

Ice Shards in Black Water Jackson Lake, Colorado, 2015

Ice Shards in Black Water
Jackson Lake, Colorado, 2015

When I began to take a more-than-casual interest in photography, I began to look at the works of other photographers, which in turn led to an interest in art in general.  For me, looking at artwork is a little like looking into a mirror – it reflects back to me my own interests, tastes and perceptions.  Identifying and analyzing how others have considered and resolved artistic issues allows me to decide what I have liked and not liked about their approach, which helps me to understand myself a little better with respect to the things that I want to encourage in my own work versus those I don’t want to pursue.

The great thing about this is that there’s so much artwork available to practice on, both contemporary and historical.  It allows you to experience art not just as a passive viewer, but as an active, critical participant.  It’s a fun little intellectual exercise to engage in when looking at art (at least for me), with the practical payoff of helping to improve one’s own artistic development in the process.

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