Monday, February 24, 2014

A great story

Jeff Carter, a photographer friend, took this photo while on a recent business trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. He set up in front of the exit tunnel for San Vicente Creek on Davenport Beach. (Sandy Lyndon's Central Coast Secrets web site reports: "Before the construction of the cement plant, and this railroad rampart/tunnel system, San Vicente Creek was considered to be the best trout-fishing stream in Santa Cruz County.") Jeff used a Gitzo tripod and a Canon 5d II with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II at 24mm, f/18, 1/8 second, ISO 50.

Though his work on this image is incomplete, Jeff permitted me to use it recently in a seminar. I used it to illustrate how a simple nature photograph can tell a story.

Permit me to interpret:

"While the earth turns and the sun settles into the western horizon, San Vicente Creek flows from the land to the sea, fresh water becoming salt water. All life depends on this exchange, planet-wide. San Vicente Creek has done this for perhaps thousands of years. It has worn a channel in the rocks. The rocks may be millions of years old. The rocks define the stream, give it shape, provide a channel. But a question arises: Do the rocks shape the stream or does the stream shape the rocks? The answer floats in a myriad of human assumptions about time, cause and effect, subject and object. The stream's liquid and vapor have given life to the moss on the rocks. They sustain the moss. The rocks sustain the moss. As the stream moves outward into the ocean, the ocean presses inward against the land. Clouds form above the ocean, continuing the water cycle, the cycle of life - planet-wide."

Is my interpretation fanciful?


Is it subjective?

Yes, in the form and emphasis of presentation. No, in the underlying facts about natural processes and in Jeff's visual depiction of them.

Is it falsified by anthropomorphism?

Yes, somewhat. Yet the underlying facts are there, and we are, after all, human. We don't paint, sculpt, make photographs for the pleasure of dolphins. They take their pleasures from other sources, different sources. For us, a little anthropomorphism can be expected.

Did Jeff - would anyone - ponder this scene and think up all this stuff about it before taking the photo?

Probably not. In fact, hopefully not. The story is told as a gestalt, all at once, without dissection or intellectualization or the projection of fantasy. This is best. This is the beauty of a still photograph or a painting: It is not a story told sequentially; it is a story told all at once or . . . not at all.

Thank you, Jeff, for a great story!

Chuck Sale
February 24, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hidden gem

Naomi Sawyer, my literary partner, and I were walking along the trail from The Crags tailhead parking lot (north slope of Pikes Peak in the Pike National Forest) to the Crags Valley when we came across a fairly unremarkable cascade of water over rocks in Fourmile Creek. The early morning light wasn't perfect, but it interested me. I knew it would be fleeting, so I hastily set up the Gitzo tripod and waded into the water. I took shots from various angles with my Canon 5d II with Tamron 28-300 f/3.5-6.3 lens at 92 mm focal length. The image below was shot at 1/13 of a second at f/8, ISO 200.

We soon moved on.

The point of this introduction is to illustrate how what appears unremarkable in the field, can sometimes be turned into something unique in Lightroom. Even after downloading to Lightroom and doing a cursory overview of the images, I missed the potential of this image and passed it by - for months.

With a different artistic mindset (one imposed by a rather impressive cold/flu), I browsed again through the files of that day, chose this one and others like it, considered deleting them, then played with some extreme settings on this one, and got this result.

I suppose the moral of this story is to pause before deleting files. Play with extremes before discarding what may appear unusable. I believe in murdering my babies (don't be alarmed: It's a writer's metaphor), but I have learned to hold off a bit before I do. Hard drive space is cheap. Hang on to the apparent rejects until you have played with them a bit - not the obvious junk, but the images that you hesitate over, even for a second.

I got several passable captures that day, but this one was special because it wasn't obvious - and it was nearly lost.

Chuck Sale
February 23, 2014

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Out of the corner of my eye . . .

A few days ago, I took my morning constitutional (known in Colorado as a hike) with my faithful friend, Rusty. This dog loves to hit the trail almost as much as he loves to eat, and I never have to arrange a time and a meet location or hear a long list of reasons why on this particular day or that, he is just too busy. He is never too busy. I just lift my hiking pants off their hanger in my closet, and he appears, tail wagging, deep brown eyes sending forth their message of hope and willingness. The call of the wild is always in him, as it is in me.

Wildflowers are emerging along the front range. Not big ones like those that form the lush colors of spring in the San Juans near Silverton and Ouray. Those are the stars of the wildflower theater. They strut across the pages of calendars and books, they glow brilliantly on computer screens, and they adorn the walls of plush offices. In contrast, the wildflowers in the mountains around Colorado Springs, where I live, are more modest. They wear understated garments, and live closer to the ground. There is more space between them. Their more robust siblings in southwestern Colorado yell the arrival of spring. My wildflowers whisper.

Rusty and I left the car and walked into the foothills of Mount Blodgett. In a small open space I know (that is as precise as I care to be on location), the subdued colors of spring appear reliably each year. A bit of attention is required to find this color. One must stare into the distance and then get close to the ground and listen with the eyes. I bring my camera to make a record and sometimes to capture an essence. I may venture for hours. I am enthralled by simple things.

When I returned home on this day, I began the usual work of post processing my images. I came close to deleting the one you see here. I got caught up in the technicalities. I had caused the depth of field (how much of the image is in focus) to be quite narrow. This was deliberate. In this case, however, I thought I had gone too far. Only the lower front of the blossom is in focus. The rest of the blossom is out of focus and much of the rest of the image is what artists call negative space. Too much negative space, I said to myself, and even the petals are fuzzy.

But I did not delete. I moved on to other images, the more technically pure ones, and finished them. Then I came back to this imperfect one. But I could not delete. I tinkered a bit, cut off the right side of the blossom, stretched the empty space, and saw something out of the corner of my eye.

I saw as I always see the best things, out of the corner of my eye. It was partial, the product of a glance. Perhaps you will see in the photograph how transitory and partial is our experience. And yet how beautiful in its incompleteness.  There is no time to bring all things into perfect focus. To do so is to stagnate; we must move on from even the precious things.

This image breaks all the rules but one: It is true. There is a tiny area where things are clear; the rest is a passing blur. We move on. We must always move on.

I think that we are blessed when we find beauty in what is incomplete, partial, visible only as we pass by.

I saw this flower out of the corner of my eye.

Perhaps you will too.

Chuck Sale
June 12, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

February in Colorado

February is a cold month in Colorado Springs, and sometimes gray. But Colorado is not an enduringly gray place, even in winter. The clouds always threaten to part, and the sun always threatens to illuminate. Always there is change, variety, natural wonders coming and going.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Artist Friends

I am inspired by and sometimes collaborate with many other artists. Here are a few I am happy to introduce. I will introduce others in later posts.

Debbie Francis is an example of someone with a good eye (see above). She travels frequently as an IBM troubleshooter and takes along her little camera--nothing fancy, just a point-and-shoot. I do the post processing for her. Here is a street scene in Denmark, rendered as digital art.

Here is a slideshow of other images she got during her Denmark trip.

Check out the work of the others. My brother Greg is a skilled wildlife photographer.


For excellent instruction in art, particularly composition, visit Coni Grant's blog.

Chuck Sale || Colorado Springs, Colorado 

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Desperate Conditions

27 December 2oo8. At a remove, desperate conditions can be desperately beautiful. In this picture of Pikes Peak, dangerously high winds are ripping shingles of snow and ice off the ridges and sucking debris out of the canyons. These conditions are harsh indeed for any mountaineer caught in them.

But from a vacant lot in a windless residential neighborhood miles away, there is no harshness, no danger. There is only the distant beauty of light on atomized snow, of shadows, and of the golden glow of peaceful patches of stillness on the foreground ridge.

Who then has the true experience: The mountaineer struggling against forces that threaten to overpower him and rob him of his vital heat? Or the aesthete looking on from afar, adjusting the brightness, contrast, saturation and other things for which the mountain has no name and in which the threatened mountaineer has no interest.

A wise man once said that a human being is a star's way of knowing itself. But if the human being approaches too close, his wings prove wax and melt, like those of Icarus, and the star knows itself no more.

There is a part of me that wishes to be intimate with violent elements. I have approached these elements and pulled back from them in my past, wings warped and singed but not melted away.

In the end there will be no pulling back.