A Dance On The Beach

July 28th, 2019

The Place No One Knew

July 20th, 2019

Sunrise over Negit Island, Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra 1980

We seek a renewed stirring of love for the Earth.
We shall urge that what man is capable of doing to the earth
is not always what we ought to do, and we shall plead that all Americans, here, now, determine that a wide, spacious, untrammeled freedom shall remain in the midst of the American earth as living testimony that this generation, our own, had love for the next.
 -David Brower in The Place No One Knew, 1963

The Place No One Knew

© 2000 William Neill, originally published in Outdoor Photographer Magazine in 2000.

In 1963, the Sierra Club published a monumental book which features magnificent photographs of master landscape photographer Eliot Porter.  Glen Canyon, in Utah and now buried under Lake Powell, was once a wild and transcendentally beautiful section of the Colorado River.  Government plans to damn the river just downstream from Glen Canyon became widely known too late to stop the project.  A sacred landscape was lost forever, the book a eulogy its demise. The concept behind the book The Place No One Knew is a vital one for nature photographers to know.

No one knew Glen Canyon.  Years later, a dam plan was slated to be built in the Grand Canyon, but the fame of the park and public knowledge of the proposed dam helped stop the project.  Had Glen Canyon been a national park, cherished by the nation as the Grand Canyon is, it might still be wild and free.  The book relates a now-classic environmental moral:  Be ever vigilant!

This book’s idea was to illustrate, in heartbreaking fashion, the need to continually defend wild places against development and destruction. The message is more relevant than ever before, a lesson vital to any photographer concerned with conservation.  Awareness and appreciation of endangered places are essential before public concern can be raised and action taken. While most significant landscapes in our country are well-known, often-photographed, and reasonably well-protected, thousands of local nature preserves around us also deserve our collective photographic attention.  Photographing local or lesser-known pieces of wildness can remind our viewers that beauty is found all around us both near and far.  The moral of Glen Canyon applies not only to grand and famous landscapes.

Our local woodlands, wetlands, ponds, streams, meadows are most vital to us on a daily basis.  As we drive to work or maybe to the market, that glowing reflection on the neighborhood pond sparks a light in our day, often unconsciously.  I witnessed much destruction of these little landscape niches in the suburbs of San Francisco and Washington, D.C. while growing up. The cumulative impact of thousands of small landscapes being devoured by progress can be surprisingly invisible.  Stop, look around you and try to remember how your area looked five, ten or twenty years ago.  One or two encroachments in the neighborhood may seem tolerable, but few stop to add up the total sum of the whittling of development into natural landscapes in every city around the country over the past 50 years.

I don’t pretend I have the answers, but I do hope to encourage the reader to think about these matters. Consider what use your photographs may have for making sure your local wild places and critters are not unknown.  Publicizing a local landscape could have the added advantage of promoting your artistic reputation or career, as well as making others aware of a place no one knew.

When I first moved to Yosemite in 1977, I spent many weekends photographing nearby Mono Lake camping along the shore with not a soul in sight.  Back then, the lake was not well known as either a photographic location or as an environmental issue.  The water that naturally would normally flow into it from the adjacent Sierra Nevada mountains was being diverted to southern California.  Since the lake has no other source of water, it began to dry up. The diversions were adversely impacting the bird populations that used the lake as a breeding site and a feeding stop along their migration path.

Having a college degree in environmental studies, I always hoped to find ways to use my images to preserve wild places. After photographing Mono Lake for a few years, I took my slides to the Mono Lake Committee, the group active in publicizing Mono Lake’s approaching death.  After sharing my work with them, I learned that they wanted to use one of my images as a notecard.  The image shown here was selected, becoming the first photograph I ever had published.  I was thrilled, of course, and received in payment a bundle of cards for promotional use.  I used the card successfully for years as a marketing tool sent to potential clients (including this magazine at its inception!).  More importantly, my imagery made a small contribution to the successful effort to preserve Mono Lake by making more people aware of its stunning beauty and ecological importance.

Sunrise over Negit Island was made in 1980 with a 35mm film camera and a 300mm lens.  I often use the 200mm to 300mm range focal length for landscapes because they allow me to compose images with more graphic qualities.  I love the use of lines and shapes in my work. When we frame a landscape in our viewfinders, the scenes are generally more complex, and with the graphics being less apparent, options of how to design an image become less obvious.  Try studying a potential scene to find its key shapes.   Do you see the u-shaped river of a glacial valley or the contrasting s-shape of a river against jagged mountain peaks?  These shapes may provide the key to the strongest composition.

My image here shows several shapes that complement each other.  The lake reflects the sunrise sky in a striped pattern due to variable winds out on the water.  Negit Island, a volcanic formation, pops out in its black silhouette against the surrounding pinks and purples.  The receding desert mountains add depth and stature to the landscape.  The fleeting clouds floated blissfully above, touched by the dawn light and then vanished soon after.

Once a place no one knew, the lake remains alive, saved for now by court and governmental decree.  Long live Mono Lake!  Never forget Glen Canyon!

 

Protecting Place

July 14th, 2019


Eroded Navajo sandstone slot canyon, Antelope Canyon Tribal Park, Arizona 2002
Wista 4×5 Metal Field Camera

NOTE: The original version of this essay was written and published in Outdoor Photographer Magazine in 2002 after a recent visit.

I first visited Antelope Canyon in 1982, when only a very few photographers had discovered the remarkably-carved sandstone slot canyon. I happened to have seen some of the first published photos of slot canyons ever published, which intrigued me greatly. Some years later, and without planning to seek them out, I saw photographs in a nearby visitor center, I asked for directions and was drawn a simple map. I parked my car along the highway as directed. No signs or markers were to be found. Hoping that I was heading in the right direction, I shouldered my heavy pack and hiked up the wash. I had no clear idea of how far the slot was or how I would get into it when I got there. After a few miles, I could see the sides narrow down to a sandstone cliff with a slot in it. I entered this unknown space with a sense of mystery and discovery.

I spent hours within the sculpted walls, completely in awe, and completely alone. Well, except for a raven cawing eerily from somewhere above my head. The few images I had previously seen did not prepare me for what I saw and felt. Here was the Sistine Chapel of natural sculpture. The profound art of Creation.

At the end of that extraordinary day in Antelope, I heard a truck driving up the sandy wash. I was a bit worried. I didn’t know if I belonged there. The people from the truck seemed surprised to see me, with my 4×5 camera, recording the slot canyon. Worried and protective, they asked me what I planned to do with my images. I told them I would label my photographs vaguely if they were published, in hopes of protecting the canyon from becoming well known. In a fine bit of irony, these were the folks who had led me to the site with their published photographs!
NOTE: A new book “Searching for Tao Canyon” chronicles their explorations starting in the early 1970s.
Searching for Tao Canyon By: Pat MorrowJeremy SchmidtArt Twomey

I returned home with a few decent images, two of which are included here. Some were published, some I printed for display in galleries or were shown to workshop students, but I never labeled the location specifically, only “Slot Canyon, Arizona” or something. I was often pressed for more specific directions, and I gave as few hints as possible. I was torn between the desire to share such a treasure, and the same territorial feelings felt by those early photographic explorers of Antelope. At the same time, other photographers were discovering, and publishing images of the slot canyons. The secret was getting out.

We must all think carefully about the impact of our images.  Does publishing our work outweigh the possible impact the exposure might bring?  Can we depend on resource managers to protect delicate or overused landscapes?  Is nurturing the love of nature’s treasures through our photographs more critical, and worth the risk? These are important questions, for which I have no definitive answers.

Just the other day, I received my copy of a travel magazine that reaches several million readers.  On the cover was a beautiful image of a very sensitive area, which had already been a subject of vandalism, with its location clearly defined.  I cringed and could only pray more damage would not result from the added attention.  In spite of this quandary, I am hopeful that when images are published of delicate places, others that follow will tread lightly and become involved in its protection.

NOTE: Here are two nature photography organizations involved in protecting nature and encouraging safe and ethical standards for nature photographers.
Nature First https://www.naturefirstphotography.org/
North American Nature Photography Association http://www.nanpa.org/

 


Side Canyon, Arizona 1982
Wista 4×5 Metal Field Camera


Slot Canyon, Arizona 1982
Wista 4×5 Metal Field Camera

Last Light – Revisit the key themes in your photography to add depth and quality to your portfolio

June 26th, 2019

I was driving home at sunset a few months ago, as the last light of 2018 faded into darkness. I had recently posted my favorite images of 2018. I stopped to photograph at an open area of grassland where I could see the bands of sunset color. Using the magic of ICM (intentional camera motion), I moved my camera back and forth horizontally, blending the land and sky into a painterly abstraction of the scene before me. I relish the uncertainty of this process, where no results look the same and are hard to predict. In near darkness, I made 73 images in 6 minutes, experimenting with various shutter speeds and speed of my camera motion. The exposure times ranged from 0.5 to 2.5 seconds.

The creative life of an artist has its cycles like the seasons, its ebbs and flows in the river of experience and ideas. I’ve learned to embrace this lifelong process, riding high when new images come readily and being patient when my vision seems stale and repetitive. If inspiration isn’t appearing, I won’t force the issue. My goal is to see the beauty around me as a daily practice, and if I stay connected to that purpose, I know the images will come sooner than later.

While developing my recent retrospective book, I naturally got thinking about the major themes in my photography. The most significant departure in my landscape photography is my “Impressions of Light” series. I had spent 20 years creating images with, and building a career using, a 4×5 view camera with the goal to represent the magic of nature with exceptional sharpness and exquisite detail.

Then about a decade ago, I began to see students of mine experimenting with intentional camera motion using a single exposure and slow shutter speed with great results. Soon I became fully immersed in the technique myself, experimenting with, and developing a portfolio of, impressionistic photographs.

As a teenager, my mother worked as a docent at the National Gallery of Art when we lived near Washington, D.C., so I often had the chance to visit the exhibits. I was captivated by the “en plein air” approach of Monet and by the pointillism of Van Gogh I viewed there. Art soon became my favorite class during my high school years. My intrigue with the Impressionist movement led to my experiments with blurred images many years later.

The motion studies seen in my “Impressions of Light” work are an extension of my core goal of depicting the beauty I discover in nature. The ICM technique removes literalness and context, and distills the essence of a subject or scene in a fresh way, much as snow or fog simplifies the landscape. This less-literal approach has great potential to convey the spirit of a place powerfully.

To evolve creatively as an artist, I have found it necessary to push myself in new directions. Success toward this goal cannot be achieved passively, but it must be sought out and consciously pursued. I have tried to adhere to the concept that, as an artist, one should always question one’s own preconceived notions.

As 2018 ended and I reviewed my photographs from the past year, I noticed that I had not made any new “Impressions” photographs. So, on that last day of the year, it seemed the right time to push myself to add new work to my portfolio. Well, those results got me revved up for another session in the same area a few days later. This time I worked on a day with ominous clouds and beams of light striking the foothill grasslands.

Progress happens one step at a time; one idea leads to another, and down the road we travel. The pathway toward elevating one’s photography is to continually add depth to those primary themes that inspire us. Creative tangents are critical to that growth but sometimes can be too random. Most of us can benefit from a more focused approach. My recent images shown here will add valuable breadth to my Impressions series. For your own creative resolutions, target your key themes to build their depth and quality level, plan shooting sessions with those targets in mind, and I’ll bet you see exciting improvements in your photography. Enjoy the ride!

Feel free to leave your comments below.

Cheers,  Bill

PS  My Impressions of Light ebook is available at my ebook store HERE.


Grasslands at sunset, Madera County, California 2018, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
1/2 second at f/11, ISO 100

 


Grasslands at twilight, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
2.50 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Grasslands and sunset, Madera County, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
3.20 second at f/5.6, ISO 100

 


Sierra Foothills, Madera County, California 2019
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
2 second at f/32, ISO 100

Autumn in Paradise

June 9th, 2019

Greetings from the Sierra Nevada,

First, thanks to my students that attended a private workshop with me in Yosemite Valley that past spring. If you wish to see a sample of the scenes we found, see my Springtime in Paradise blog post below.

Here is a selection of favorite Yosemite autumn images from recent years to give you an idea of what we can find. I also have shared some past student comments here.

As for possible dates, the best times to come are the last week of October (28-1st) and the first week of November (4th-7th).

Email me if you have any questions!


Oak and Pine, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2012
Sony Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM,
1/90 second at f/4, ISO 100

 


Bigleaf Maple and Merced River, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2012
Sony Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM,
6 second at f/27, ISO 100

 


Black Oaks in afternoon backlight, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 2012
Sony Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM,
1/8 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Oak reflections, El Capitan and the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2012
Sony Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM,
1 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Autumn Oaks and Snowstorm, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California 2013
Sony Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM,
1/15 second at f/6.7, ISO 400

 


Cottonwood leaves and cloud reflections, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2013
Sony Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM,
1/60 second at f/16, ISO 400

 


Autumn Sunset, El Capitan and the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2013
Sony Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM,
2 second at f/13, ISO 100

 


Dogwood and Forest, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2013
Sony Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM,
1/3 second at f/8, ISO 100

 


Autumn Elm and Sunbeams, Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California 2014
Sony Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM,
1/180 second at f/22, ISO 200

 


Autumn Reflections, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California
Sony Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM,
1/180 second at f/2.8, ISO 320

 


Maple leaf and autumn reflections, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2014
Sony Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM,
1/60 second at f/4.5, ISO 320

 


Autumn Snowstorm, Yosemite National Park, California 2015
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1/8 second at f/16, ISO 400

 


Autumn Snowstorm, Yosemite National Park, California 2015
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1/10 second at f/13, ISO 400

 


Autumn Elm and Mist, Yosemite National Park, California
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1/30 second at f/25, ISO 125

 


Cottonwoods, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1/4 second at f/22, ISO 100

 


Half Dome, Elm and Sunbeams, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 24-105mm F4 G SSM OSS,
1/250 second at f/16, ISO 400

 


Maple Leaves along the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1.60 second at f/22, ISO 100

 


Autumn Oaks and Sunbeams, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 24-105mm F4 G SSM OSS,
1/10 second at f/16, ISO 100

 


Clouds at Sunset, El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California 2016
Sony ILCE-7RM2, 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM,
1/13 second at f/18, ISO 100

 


Merced River Reflections, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS,
3.20 second at f/29, ISO 100

 


Elm Branches, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM,
1/6 second at f/13, ISO 400

 


Dogwood and Forest, autumn, Yosemite National Park, California 2018
Sony ILCE-7RM2, EF24-105/4L IS USM,
1/6 second at f/16, ISO 400