Tag Archives: Cheyenne

The Power of Ordinary

Windmill and Railroad Grade. Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2020.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’ve been listening to the “F-Stop, Collaborate and Listen” podcast put out by Matt Payne.  It’s a great podcast, I highly recommend it.  Since I’m not really plugged in to the photography community at large, it’s been interesting to listen to in part because it discusses attitudes and trends in the landscape photography community that I otherwise would not really be aware of.

One trend that is discussed a lot is that of landscape photographers, whose photography largely consists of identifying popular images of popular locations and then seeking out those locations to make more or less copycat images.  It is, apparently, kind of a widespread activity, and as a practice is rightly criticized on many levels, not the least of which is that this kind of photography is, for obvious reasons, not particularly creative.

I think this criticism can go even deeper.  The practice seems to presuppose that extraordinary photography relies on an extraordinary subject.  Photography done in this way results in exceptional photographs only because the photographer has placed his camera in front of something exceptional to look at.  The practice of copying other’s images in this manner probably makes photography a lot easier, because the original photographer already has accomplished half (or more) of the task – finding a subject that is exceptional.

But this approach also seems to me to be incredibly limiting.  Imagine how restrictive photography must be, when you have to plan a trip to some extraordinary place just to make a photograph.  What does your camera do in the meantime?  Sit on a shelf, waiting for its day in the sun?  How much easier would it be, if you didn’t have to go out of your way to make a good photograph?  How freeing would it be, if good photographs were to be available everywhere outside your door, near or far, any day, any season, under any conditions?  That’s the power of the ordinary.  When you can find photographs in ordinary things, truly the world of creativity is at your doorstep.

There’s more.  When you can make compelling photographs of ordinary things, you begin to see that everything is (or maybe, more accurately, has the potential to be seen as) extraordinary.  Even the gesture of a windmill, the line of a railroad grade, and the movement of a cloud.  It’s all subjective, of course, but I would not have photographed these things if I didn’t find in them at least a hint of the extraordinary.

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What Can I Say?

Railroad Grade. Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2020.

What can I say?  I like quiet, unassuming scenes like this one.  I like them, but I recognize many people (maybe most people) will see nothing special here.  Where are the tall mountains?  The pretty sunset?  The fierce waves crashing against a rocky coastline?

Why do I like this scene?  I like it because it is a study in light:  the way the late afternoon sun lights up the dead level of the rails, and how the light fades away as you move up from the horizon and leaves the foreground in pitch-dark shadow.  I like it because of the graphic design:  the very dark foreground juxtaposed against the very light sky, with the long white horizontal of the rails and the upright black verticals of the posts adding just enough visual tension.  I like it because it communicates to me the feeling I had when I was there:  the peaceful and somewhat foreboding emptiness of the wide-open prairie, and the anticipation of the power and controlled fury of the locomotives that regularly and inevitably thunder through this place.

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More Than Meets The Eye

Windmills No. 1. Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2020.

I don’t generally get too excited about the mechanics of photographing these days, I’m far more interested in the content of the images.  The mechanics of this image actually are a bit interesting, though.  If you have some photography knowledge, you may know that the blurring of the clouds in the sky is due to a long exposure.  In this case, without looking at the metadata, my guess is the shutter speed was on the order of 15 seconds to two minutes.  Even at the 15-second low end of that range, though, turning blades of a windmill typically would move so fast as to have registered in the image much like the blades of a propeller airplane engine.  Why do the blades appear so still?

Well, obviously, because they weren’t turning.  This windmill field was newly installed when I photographed it, and probably had not been brought online yet.  Importantly, the blades of the windmills were stopped from turning.  But not perfectly so — they were permitted to move very slowly, my guess being that truly stopped windmill blades would undergo an extraordinarily high amount of stress in a stiff wind, and so even stopped windmill blades must be provided a bit of slack to turn.  That is why the blades of the windmill in the foreground appear slightly ghosted.  The blades oscillated back and forth between the positions over the course of the exposure.

As mentioned, I generally don’t get too excited about photography mechanics, and these days am more focused on image content.  Seeing these gigantic windmills up close in the rolling high plains landscape west of Cheyenne, Wyoming was a surreal experience, and the blurred clouds and ghosted windmill blades help evoke that feeling, I think.  Still, the mechanics of the image in this case are kind of interesting too.  More practically, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get another photograph like this one, because the field has become active and the blades now turn with a fair amount of speed.  Any exposure time sufficient to create blurring in the clouds now most likely would indeed cause the windmill blades to look like the blades of a propeller airplane engine.

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Capitol Vista Schoolhouse Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2015

Capitol Vista Schoolhouse
Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2015

One of the things I love about practicing photography is the sense of engagement with the world that it gives me.  I’ve spent many wonderful hours bouncing around back roads and out of the way places in my old 4×4, ostensibly looking for photographs, but really just looking, seeing, and absorbing the beauty and wonder in things both grand and ordinary, that most people seem to pass by without giving a second thought to, alone with my thoughts and maybe some good music on the radio.  It’s peaceful and exciting all at once, and every now and then I get to frame up something nice that I capture mostly for myself, but post online anyway.

The sign on the front of this building says that it is the Capitol Vista Schoolhouse, presumably because the Wyoming state capitol in Cheyenne is located within eyesight just to the east.  I don’t know for sure, though – I was too engaged capturing this view to the west, and I forgot to look.

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Five Day Challenge: Day Four

Moon Over Low Clouds Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2014

Moon Over Low Clouds
Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2014

Well, it’s Day Four of my participation in the Five Day Challenge on Google+, wherein the challenge is to post five black and white photographs in five days.  I mentioned at the outset that this was going to be a pretty aggressive schedule for me, as I usually average creating one new image maybe every two weeks or so.  On top of that, my work schedule is pretty killer this week and next, combined with various other obligations I’ve agreed to besides.  As a result, I only got a chance to begin my final pass at editing the image in this post late last night at about 12:30 a.m., and finished up at about 1:30 a.m.  I generally make a print of all of my work prior to posting online just to make sure it looks good on paper – the print for this image was run just minutes ago, before I began this post.  Aggressive schedule indeed!

Anyway, tomorrow is the last day of the challenge for me, hope to see you on Day Five!

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