Bill Course Photography: Blog en-us (Bill Course Photography) Sun, 25 Feb 2024 20:51:00 GMT Sun, 25 Feb 2024 20:51:00 GMT Bill Course Photography: Blog 120 80 The Uncompromising Clyfford Still At moments, I found myself smiling, almost laughing out loud at the genius of Clyfford Stills' paintings. Standing in front of some of the greatest works of the Abstract Expressionist movement was simply wondrous. These were a tutorial in non-verbal communication. He could, with a single dab of color in precisely the right place, make an entire canvas balance perfectly. If you blocked it with your hand, the arrangement in frame became something far less.

The Clyfford Still Museum, in Denver, is a unique venue in which a single artist's complete works are presented in a purpose-built gallery, and chronical his artistic development to the brilliance that became the driving force in Abstract Expressionism. His friends/colleagues were the marquee names of the era, and he was, many times, their collective conscience. He was uncompromising in his work, steadfast in his commitment to never bending to outside influences or opportunities. The power of his work is the testament.

We, in photography, take frequent inspiration from the painting world and especially in abstracts. Abstract Expressionism has influenced many an abstract photograph, and that is not entirely a bad thing. But, when standing in front of Still's works, I found myself saying that I must do better. Take inspiration? Yes. Imitate? Impossible.

To become a better photographer, simply stand in front of great works and learn. Ask why that color was chosen, why it is there and not over here, why that shape, why that texture, why that obvious dab on the edge or in the upper corner. Explore and they will tell you!

]]> Sun, 25 Feb 2024 20:51:23 GMT
Lower Antelope Canyon - A New Approach Make no mistake, the canyon is still beautiful and well worth seeing.

When I last photographed Lower Antelope nine years ago, I arrived early, was second in line behind a fellow photographer from France, and we were taken by ATV to the canyon entrance. We had the canyon to ourselves for the first 30 minutes and with full use of tripods. I have two friends who remember descending into the canyon via rope ladders and spending hours virtually alone, unguided. Those days are gone forever.

The canyon tours now push hundreds of people of all ages through the canyon every day, usually in multiple guided groups of 12-16 and you get about one hour in the canyon. No tripods, no camera bags, no backpacks, no purses, just a camera or two and water bottles.

Do the Navajo deserve to make tons of money on the canyons? Absolutely! It is long overdue and I have no quarrel whatsoever. I want all the proceeds to benefit the tribal people. Just know that this will not be a contemplative stroll through sacred ground.

So, here are some suggestions to help you get the most out of your photographic efforts. I carried two cameras on straps, a 14-24mm and a 24-120mm. Managing two cameras is tricky through some of the narrower passages, and up and down the steel ladders. If you have one on a chest strap it could be easier. I shot at 800-2000 ISO (this was at about 11am), f8 - f11 to ensure depth of field, mostly autofocus and, of course, stabilization on. Because the dynamic range can be super wide with deep shadows to bright sunlight, I would recommend exposing to the left. Exposure compensation about 1/2 to 2/3rds under and check the histogram. In this situation, it is easier to pull out the shadows a bit than to rescue clipped highlights. These shadows can be a nice compositional element. Clipped highlights, not so much.

I found that the vast majority of my "keepers" were shot between 14-40mm, but one really excellent image was at 120mm. This was unexpected as I thought they would fall in the 35-85mm range. I am not normally a fan of "shooting loose", but it is really important to give yourself enough room to crop later as you won't have the time to frame up the image properly in many cases. You don't want to clip some critical edges accidentally.

The purpose of the guides is to give information about the formations, but more importantly to keep people moving through. Pausing for more than a few moments is discouraged, so here is the strategy I used. In my group was a family with 3 small children and they were toward the back of our group, so I stayed at the very back of the group. I knew the family would be taking kid pics and selfies at every turn. They paused frequently, so I could take several images unencumbered and the guides would be busy trying to move that family along while I remained an innocent bystander. It worked. Take the time to assess the situation.

It can be a bit chaotic, but if you plan for and accept the situation, you can concentrate on getting some wonderful images and enjoy what is still one of nature's true works of art.

]]> Thu, 10 Aug 2023 23:59:08 GMT
Being At One Often when we are asking "why", we should be asking "how".  Our deductive reasoning nature drives the who, what, when, where, how, why in us all. Science asks "how", whereas religions ask, seek, and configure "why", when a reason neither exists nor is necessary. 

At its best, photographing in nature is being in a place and time while understanding that it is changing before our eyes. Although we don't stay long enough to register that change, realizing that what we are seeing right now has, in reality, already passed is thrilling and assuring. 

By moving past the bucket list/epic approach to landscapes, we can then realize what the allure, the inner call, really is. We are connecting, we are immersing ourselves in that place and in that moment. This is why the most powerful experiences, at least for me, are when I am alone photographing a place that has completely enthralled. The ensuing image is a shadow of that experience, an experience that lives on and can never be taken away. In that moment, the camera is secondary, almost superfluous, except that it could be the reason I got there!

The immersion of photographing that moment transforms into a unifying experience. There is no "why", and "how" fades into the background of now.

The landscape simply is, I simply am, and, for a blissful moment, it is being at one.


]]> Thu, 08 Dec 2022 17:25:55 GMT
Aspect Ratio and Perception Two of my most admired photographers, Michael Kenna and Bruce Percy, photograph in 1x1 aspect ratio, exclusively (no "L" bracket required). They are masterful image makers and the square format is only a small part of their signature styles, but it is their vantage point in seeing the world.

Until recently, I had always felt that if I shot in full-frame 3x2, having the final crop in mind as I made the image, there was no need to change the aspect ratio in camera, nor potentially "sacrifice" those coveted megapixels we all consider when purchasing gear. After all, whether you crop in camera or in process, the net result is identical, right? Mathematically, yes, artistically, no.

When I posed my "shoot in 3x2 with crop in mind" approach to Bruce Percy, he responded that that is not enough. His views are that 3x2 is too stretched for portrait, and generally so for landscape. It is far easier to work in 4x5 and that your images are tighter and cleaner. Further, and this is the key, if you set your aspect ratio to 4x5, or 1x1, your perception begins to shift, and quickly. Initially, I resisted, but after grudging experimentation, I realized that he is absolutely right. As I worked in the new aspect ratio, I also found that it affected focal length choices in numerous ways, and it is a fascinating process. Composition has always been my utmost concern, and working in new ratios opens your eyes to new configurations and hard decisions about what should be in the frame. These are all good things. As Guy Tal wrote in his exquisite new book "Another Day Not Wasted", "It matters less what is in the frame, than why it is in the frame".

As with all new skills, this can be a struggle at times, with the usual steeper-than-anticipated learning curve. But, why else do we photograph, if not to grow creatively and enjoy new worlds, especially those that are already in front of us.

Now, I change the aspect ratio out of 4x5 only if the subject absolutely demands it. Clearly, no one aspect ratio will work in all situations, but I suggest you test this out. It will open yours eyes in the simplest and most dramatic way.



]]> Tue, 02 Nov 2021 18:10:51 GMT
Moving Mountains You can move mountains.....with your feet. Trees, buildings, sea stacks, sun and moon, with ease.

I mostly think of my images as arrangements. At first, I thought I had finally coined an original phrase, but soon learned some very admired photographers hold the same concept. Arranging the elements in your image requires movement, sometimes necessitating significant effort. Whether opening up merges, changing perspective, or placing elements more precisely in the frame, the key is to do it without your tripod, and sometimes without your camera. For some reason, a tripod once planted, too easily becomes immovable. Moving left and right, up and down, forward and back, and testing focal lengths are essential to an image that gives you that "Yes!" moment. It may include getting back in the car and trying another location.

Since this is an experimental process, be prepared to capture your image from multiple set-ups, some being only minor adjustments. The most difficult thing to do is move your camera once it is on a planted tripod. Ironically, the best image may be realized when you have made that final adjustment requiring a move of less than a foot in one direction. Resist the tendency to accept as final, the first tripod location you use. A very hard thing to do I know, as I have subsequently looked at my monitor and said, "Why didn't you move 6" to the right?", or lowered your tripod a foot, or (insert here)

The beauty of taking time to arrange the elements is you consciously, and then sub-consciously, become immersed in the moment and place. As you begin to slow down, you start seeing with a new and changing perspective, which will often result in a "How did I not see that before" revelation....especially in a familiar location!

Cecil B. DeMille once said of a filmed sequence, "Include it out!" By movement and arrangement, you control which elements make the final cut. 


]]> Wed, 19 May 2021 23:23:52 GMT
Housebound Abstracts As we all navigate the pandemic as best we can, staying positive is one of the greater challenges. To break the insidiously lurking "everyday is Blursday" feeling, I needed a new photographic outlet not involving an international flight. Full disclosure, I stole this idea from the Dutch photographer, Maarten Rots, at, and set about to shoot abstracts locally...very locally.

The rules of the game were that they all had to be shot in the house utilizing only things I saw every day. Unlike Maarten's home, there are little in the way of slashing shadows and brightly colored interiors in our home, so other avenues would have to serve.

I had recently acquired a used copy of  the venerable Nikon 200mm Micro. After searching the big photography houses first to no avail, I finally found one available, online, at Glazers Camera in Seattle. In fact, they had two. When it arrived, it was in pristine shape. The plastic Manual/Auto ring, that is typically broken, was perfect and it appeared that someone had bought the lens years ago, and forgot it was in the cupboard. And, there was almost no scoring on the lens mount. Final score -  Bill: 1, Pandemic: nil

It was an easy choice to use the opportunity to get acquainted with the new lens shooting macros, as well as refreshing my skills with in-camera multiple exposures. The results can be seen on the posted gallery cleverly titled Housebound Abstracts. 

I have had great fun, especially when family and friends try to guess how and where the images were made. I will continue to add to the collection and hope to expand on these and other techniques. As my Whidbey Island friend Jan wrote, "It is amazing what you can find right under your nose, if you just look."

Give it a go!


]]> Sat, 16 Jan 2021 21:09:33 GMT
Epic Obsession and Our Personal Guidelines My favorite composer, Igor Stravinsky, wrote in his Poetics of Music, that before he could begin a new composition, he first had to establish the parameters for the composition. Otherwise, the possibilities were infinite and he could not proceed.

In this digital age of photography, now, anything is possible. Yesterday, when I downloaded the latest PS, LR and ACR upgrades, I could not resist looking at the Sky Replacement feature. I was, at once, fascinated and appalled. I could, with little effort, take an unremarkable landscape and create an "epic" sunset, rainbow, or dramatically clouded sky. To me, this is a sophisticated form of Clip Art. Is it wrong? For me, if you disclose what you did, then no. If you do not, then you should identify your images as graphic art. Dropping in a sky is no different than adding an exotic flower, a herd of Bison, Mt. Everest, the Starship Enterprise, point made. 

"Bucket List" photography, sadly,  has evolved from capturing your experience at iconic locations, to "Epic Obsession". If your one-time visit at the long-anticipated location is not "epic", are you now disappointed? Are you there to immerse yourself in the beauty, the moment and environment, or are you seeking to generate yet another, "Awesome colors, Dude" post on your social media site of choice. If it is necessary to alter the image so dramatically, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate why you are taking photographs. This should not be a Saturation Slider contest.

For me, my guidelines are these: I am there to capture the moment, the mood and my visceral experience of that moment. I want you to feel and see what I felt and saw. Will I remove minor distractions? Yes. The distant power line, the styro cup I didn't see at the bottom of the pond, the tiny hot spot at the edge of the frame, yes. To give the viewer my three-dimensional experience requires that I draw them into my two-dimensional image and view the whole. Similarly, my abstracts must be photographically honest. I will not add elements. Will I process colors and textures? Yes. Add what was not there? No. These guidelines give me comfort and gratification.

I believe it is incumbent on us all to continually assess what we are doing as photographers, and decide what our purpose is in both the capture and the presentation. Now that anything is digitally possible, it becomes far more challenging to clearly define our work and our style. That difficulty and challenge when met, creates true artists.


]]> Thu, 22 Oct 2020 19:02:37 GMT
Abstracts Informing Landscapes Since taking an abstract workshop three years ago, my approach to landscape photography has not been the same. Inherently impatient, I have learned to be far more deliberate while striving to concentrate on line, form, space, and color relations. Shooting abstracts as often as possible forces one into increased awareness of composition, simplicity and lighting (not just light). My good fortune to have three fellow photographer friends (and marvelous abstracters) who are willing to give me unvarnished criticism in image review sessions is immeasurable. This helps separate images that work, from images which had an emotional attachment resulting from the effort and/or experience of the capture. In turn, this gives me a more clear-eyed approach to landscapes. 

Abstracts force you to keep all extraneaous elements out of your image (not always easy or successful), keen awareness of congruent and incongruent colors, and encourage a more uncompromising view of the finished product. Saturated colors and grand views will no longer suffice. Admittedly, I am lightyears from greatness, but for the first time, I have glimpsed what artistry can feel like. Perhaps the most satisfying side effect is a heightened understanding and appreciation of modern and contemporary art. Tuning in to the artist's non-verbal communication can be a nearly transcendent experience at times.

There is a certain irony to the increased enjoyment of one's work as you simultaneously become ever more demanding of yourself, and, ruthlessly critical of your past production. There are days when I want to delete my entire website, but, I hope, it also serves as a record of improvement.

Abstracts challenge you to see everything in a new way, force you out of your comfort, create new demands on your equipment, and require you to plan several steps ahead in the realization of the image. Sometimes, it can be the opposite, of course, when the image tells you what to do. Abstract sources can be found anywhere and once you start looking, they appear at the most unexpected moments and in the most unusual places.

My recommendations are these: study modern painters, sculptors, photographers and graphic artists. Mimic them, experiment, study your results, delete a lot, and most importantly, play with it. Get out and shoot....alot! Your own results can be puzzling, exasperating and surprising at first, but they will also reveal your style, as well as  tell you something about yourself. I can guarantee your landscapes will never be the same, and the better for it. 

]]> Sun, 13 Jan 2019 17:09:27 GMT
Just Shi-Shi of Perfection One of the most beautiful beaches in Washington (and therefore the world, my opinion) is Shi-Shi Beach out of Neah Bay. Broad, sandy beaches nearly 3.5 miles long, with the glorious Point of Arches and numerous beachside camping sites create a spectacular place for photography and peaceful contemplation. 

Located in Olympic NP, Shi-Shi is accessed through Makah tribal lands, so a National Park camping permit and Makah permit are both required. The Park Service also requires that all food, scraps, and scented toiletries be stored in a bear canister due to extremely clever raccoons and other camp robbers. A bear canister is provided with your wilderness permit, but plan on dropping the equivalent of a pony keg into the bottom of your pack, without any of the benefits! I got mine at the Quinault station (they have plenty) and they are also available in Port Angeles. Makah permits are sold at many of the stores in Neah Bay and at the Museum. I recommend the Makah Mini Mart as it is open 24/7. To lighten my pack by leaving the stove at home, I experimented with the self-heating meals (got them at REI). They are entertainment in themselves and taste great, but when they say one serving, they really mean one serving. So, pack accordingly.

Postings at the trailhead warn that parking is for day use only and that overnight cars will be vandalized, not "could" or "possibly".... "will". There are two residences just down the road that offer parking for $10/ day/vehicle - take it. The tribal trail in is two miles, the first half on rough-cut boardwalk and the second half on some dirt, but mostly in mud. The depth of the mud varies according to rainfall, but with no rainfall the previous week, it was still 2-3" deep in spots. Plan on serious boot clean up at the beach. The best thing I did was clip a pair of Tevas on my pack at the last minute because I wore nothing else after I arrived at the beach. Once you reach the end of the tribal access trail, the descent to the beach, which was once a root-bound, steep and ungainly trudge has been replaced by a beautiful series of switchbacks with railing, steps and gravel. Thank you Park Service!

When you finally step out onto the wide open beach, it is another 2 miles on flat sand to the area around Petroleum Creek (named for the tannin-color water). One warning that is not well published is chemical water treatment tablets do NOT work at Petroleum Creek, so be sure to carry water filtration gear. Also, there is a pit toilet just south of the creek. From Petroleum Creek, Point of Arches is another 15-20 minute walk, and that is where you will spend your time.

Now for the good stuff. Sunset is killer on this beach and to get the most out of it, plan your trip so that low tide and sunset are as synchronized as possible. The iconic strata rocks that run toward the Arches are only visible at low tide. And, they can be buried in sand some years. If they are, you still have endless, stunning possibilities. Low tide around the Arches area is absolutely fascinating in morning or midday and is worth allocating lots of time to explore, enjoy and shoot. Sunrise can be soft and beautiful. It was a bust for me, but, an hour later, a morning marine layer became nicely evocative. In the evening, even if the weather is pleasant, wear long pants as the sand flies will drive you to distraction. This is a wonderful location and I highly recommend staying at least two nights. I carried Nikon 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 80-400mm lenses and used them all. Tripod, absolutely, and pack 2 hand towels, one for you and one for your gear....and TP.

My deepest thanks to Barry Semple,, from Vancouver, BC. Barry's blog on his trip (one of many) was incredibly helpful, but more importantly, when I e-mailed several questions, he responded immediately, in great and helpful detail, all while traveling with his family in Spain! Would that we should all be so kind to each other!

So, in closing I can't resist, don't be Shi-Shy. I know, I know.


]]> Fri, 10 Aug 2018 23:34:37 GMT
Winter Photography: Japan After 9+ hours on the excellent All Nippon Airways, I was kneeling on the floor of Narita Airport sorting my gear and heard a woman's voice saying "Could we interview you?". I turned around and a camera and microphone were in my face and I was instantly chatting with the crew from the reality show "Why Did You?" Thus began a wonderful two-week photo and travel odyssey in Japan. I will confine most of my comments to photography suggestions gleaned from the experience, but suffice it to say, I loved every second. The people are wonderfully courteous, helpful, and honest. It was an absolute pleasure the entire time.

Tokyo & Kyoto: Here, you are traveling on public transportation, so tripods and big camera bags are impractical during most of the day. I had never carried 2 cameras around my neck before, ever, but this turned out to be a great system. Combined with a very small daypack for snacks, batteries, one spare lens and gloves, etc, I could react quickly to any opportunity and move easily. I had a D750 w/80-400mm and a D7200 w/16-80mm and I could shoot most anything quickly, correctly and with great resolution. This was especially useful at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market where one second you're shooting the turret drivers with wide-angle "shutter drag" technique and the next second getting a very personal telephoto portrait. I even did a couple of 2 second exposures at Shibuya, one by balancing the end of the telephoto on its upright lens hood while on the ground, and another by using the traffic control box as a mid traffic island tripod.  The system also gave me great flexibility at the temples, shrines and early morning wanderings on side streets. Japan doesn't wake up terribly early, so traveling and arriving early beats the crowds and affords greater photogenic moments. Pro tip of the day, and this will sound crazy, for excellent food and drink on the fly, 7- Eleven stores in Japan are incredible. Surgically clean, beautifully stocked, unfailingly polite and even some tables and chairs, they offer good food and anything else you suddenly realized you forgot. No slurpees in evidence!

The Snow Monkeys: Arrive at the Park by about 8:15am as the entrance to the hot springs area opens at 9:00 and there is a bit of trek in. In winter, ice trackers are nice to have if it is particularly frozen. You can take a tripod, but I don't recommend it as, again, you want flexibility. I used the same setup of 2 cameras. A 400mm reach is the maximum you'll need and you can get some nice interactions with a mid-range zoom. Most people congregate around the hot springs and that is where you get the steamy, dreamy iconic shots, but take the time to move around. The snow areas around the springs are great places to catch more dynamic moments and the area down below the springs along the creek are great for more natural settings. Don't be afraid to move around because even if you "lose your spot" you'll gain another advantage. Allow a couple of hours at least.

Hokkaido-Wildlife and Landscapes: This is a nature photographer's dream come true. There is too much here. You simply can't get it all, so relax and get all that you can.

The Japanese Cranes are magnificent and you'll want a 600mm reach if at all possible, not all of the time, but a lot of the time. I used an 80-400mm full frame on my D7200 crop frame and that worked perfectly. MAJOR TIP, when the cranes toss their heads back and begin trumpeting a call, it is a great shot, BUT, it also means it is highly likely that other cranes are flying in. So, look up for your iconic cranes-in-flight shot. You will want a steady tripod, and warm gear, as in really warm gear. The Heat System gloves, mittens and liners combo is the way to go. They were good enough that I didn't really need the heat packs that much. You will be standing in very cold weather, snow and probably wind, so be prepared.

The Whooper Swans are habituated, so are easy to photograph. You can get some great shots with a wide-angle down low as well as the usual telephoto shots.

The Steller's Sea Eagles are another matter. Generally, you will be fine with up to 400mm reach, but be sure you have shutter speeds of at least 1/1000 and memory card with super fast write speeds, or you will definitely lose shots to buffering. After you have shot for about 20 minutes or so, I suggest looking for specific shots by picking out individual eagles and follow them awhile. You can get some aerobatic shots and unique angles that way.

Hokkaido landscapes were my greatest joy and greatest frustration. I got some of my favorite shots ever, but there simply was not enough time to really work the area. This is a dream location, at least for me, and I would go back in a heartbeat. Tripod, absolutely, and every lens in your bag. And, most likely, ever layer of clothing you own. It can remind you of winter in Iceland, occasionally. So, if you love austere landscape photography, allow as much time as you possibly can.

Finally, this was my first photography trip to Japan, so I will be the first to say that I just got a fleeting glimpse of the possibilities. If you are even half interested in seeing this marvelous country, hesitate no longer! Do it. And, I highly recommend Jack Graham Photography for the trip.




]]> Wed, 21 Mar 2018 22:22:25 GMT
Alaska: The Big Browns & Decoding Denali  After the four of us had convened at the airport in Anchorage (2 from Seattle, 2 from Portland) we hailed a cab for the drive to Iliamna Air Taxi which would fly us to, you guessed it, Iliamna on the Alaska Peninsula. Before I could ask our driver, Achmed, how he had arrived in Anchorage from Somalia, he had popped on his shades and turned 80's rock up to "stadium" volume, and we were off. With his only nominal acknowledgement of signals, stop signs, speed limits and the center line, we arrived in heart-stopping time, to check in at Iliamna. When you fly on a 9 passenger prop plane, your weight and the weight of your gear are critically important, so be prepared to share personal information.

Once aboard, the pilot, dressed in the formal Alaska crew attire of unreadable logo'd t-shirt, very comfortable jeans and sneakers, turned around in his seat and said, "The oxygen masks are under your seats and work just like the airlines', the fire extinguisher is behind the co-pilot's seat, so fasten your seat belts and we'll get out of here." Perfect, done! The flight and pilot skills were flawless and the views just a hint of the spectacle to come.

Landing at Iliamna is like landing at a late 50's cargo airfield. Vintage, highly reliable and lovingly maintained prop planes are the lifeblood of the Peninsula and the roar of these beauties is exhilarating. As Jerry Jacques, our host and pilot at Bristol Bay Sportfishing Lodge would later explain, whether it's a can of coke, a TV or a sheet of plywood, it costs about $1.90/lb to airfreight it in. Add that to your cost of living!

Jerry picked us up for the short drive to the Lodge which would be our very comfortable base for the next few days. We were fitted for the chest-high waders we would live in for the duration, had the first of many superb dinners and breakfasts, and got trained on the protocols of bear behavior and more importantly, ours. All of the staff were outstanding, caring, thorough and made you feel right at home, especially since we were in their home.

Our first two days were "epic" in every sense of the word. Flying in a 7 passenger float plane, staring out the window at the mountainside seemingly at arm's length, or the endless expanse of lakes and tundra were worth the trip alone. After landing on a lake (totally new concept!), hiking in and fording a creek, we were ready to shoot from a small mid-stream island. It was beyond exciting. At one point we counted 21 bears in view, 13 adults and 8 cubs, and I laughingly posed the question, how are we gonna get out? Our guides always carried serious side arms, but honestly I just never felt uncomfortable with these massive animals nearby. They had one focus, fish until they gained back their 40% weight loss from hibernation. They were magnificent.

Monday's weather was socked in and our original plan to fly to Brooks Falls was in serious jeopardy. We agreed to go back to our previous spot with only a 15% chance of going to Brooks Falls. After flying awhile in a low, but doable ceiling, I noticed Jerry reaching down and, without saying a word, dialed in new coordinates. I thought, "I'll bet we're going to Brooks Falls." And we did. It was another epic day and it was Jerry's skills that got us in and got us out.

A brief aside on how to photograph grizzlies from someone who had never done it before, my experience for what it's worth. You need a minimum reach of 400mm a good deal of the time. 500-600 is better. You don't always need it, but when you do..... I shot all of the grizzly images with an FX Nikon 80-400 mounted on a D7200 crop frame, giving me the 600mm equivalent. Or, as Jack Graham said, "You just bought a backup camera and teleconverter all rolled into one." Generally, stay wide open, high shutter speed, higher than you might think, pushing the ISO whenever necessary. Don't always zoom in all the way, so you can catch a cub or other bear moving into the frame. Extremely important, keep looking behind you and around you. Some of my best shots came from breaking away from the obvious and seeing other activity, arrivals and interactions behind or off to the side. Stay alert, never wander too far from your camera as things change in a heartbeat. Don't be afraid to shoot massive numbers of images the first day. You can dial it back later as you get a sense of the animals and their behavior patterns. Shoot in short bursts, and be sure you have memory cards with fast write speeds so you don't lose shots to buffering. Regardless, know your equipment thoroughly, as the adage goes, "The best camera in the world is the one in your hand." In these circumstances, you have to trust your equipment.

As the "Bristol Bay Four" (our moniker coined by the Iliamna Taxi staff) parted ways in Anchorage, I picked up my rental car at 6:00pm (after our flight back had been delayed 1.5 hours) and now had a 5 hour drive to Denali where I would stay in the Bootlegger cabin at the (what else?) Grizzly Bear Resort. After catching a quick meal, taking some midnight sunset images, and trying to scout some socked in vistas, I fell into bed at about 1:30am. I had to rise at 4:00am to prep and then make the 5:00am call for the 5:15 shuttle bus into Denali.

The road into Denali NP is 92 miles one way, but you can only drive the first 15 miles. The iconic shots are all further in, so the shuttle buses are a must. For photographers they make more sense than the tour buses because you can get off a shuttle, shoot at a location awhile and catch another shuttle coming through. It takes study, familiarity with the schedule and flexibility (the next bus could be full), but you get the maximum out of your day. Take the earliest bus you can and plan for a very long, beautiful day. Or, camp inside the park! Either way, pack all of the food and drink you will need as there are no services in the park unless you are staying at the very expensive lodge at the other end of the park. Be sure to sign up to go as far as Wonder Lake. Everyone wants an iconic shot of Denali, the mountain, but it is usually visible one day out of three (its mass creates it own weather system), so best you plan to stay several days or take what nature gives you, which in Denali is considerable! You can't get it all, but you can get a lot.

A quick word on Matanuska Glacier. Go and photograph it! It is on tribal lands and quite a treasure trove of possibilities. If you go on the ice, wear ice trackers at minimum. I managed on the ice in some Keen boots, but it was treacherous and I don't recommend it. Don't even think about moving from one spot to another on the ice without packing your gear in your bag, even if it is only a few feet. One slip and you will do serious damage to yourself, or, more importantly, your camera! Take the extra two minutes to make your whole trip a success. Matanuska is photogenic, Exit Glacier in Kenai is OK to see, but not a real photographic opportunity.

And, lastly, when in Anchorage, stay at Maria's Creekside B&B. Delightful lady, new and spacious rooms, great food, and meticulously well kept.

Next visit, I know I will spend time in the Seward area. There is always more to see! 






]]> Fri, 11 Aug 2017 16:28:31 GMT
Photographing at America's Car Museum America's Car Museum, in Tacoma, is a car lover's paradise and a treasure trove for photography. Alas, no vintage Italian roadsters, but, once inside, you will find that is of little consequence. Make no mistake, this is a tough place to shoot. No tripods allowed, the logic being they are not concerned about photographers, but rather of other patrons knocking your tripod into the side of a priceless Deusenberg. I get it, and the instant mental re-play gives me sweaty palms.

With the exception of the automobiles next to the large wall of windows, and a few featured cars, the vast majority of vehicles are in low light and the issue is compounded by spotlights everywhere. You are constantly ducking and dodging to control the hot spots.  Additionally, with a number of cars parallel parked and cordoned off, it is difficult to get straight-on shots of some marvelous grilles and trunk designs. These are the conditions you have to overcome, but it can be done.

Here are a few tips on how. Plan to be shooting at around ISO 800, frequently as wide open as your lenses will go, with VR/VC definitely on, and remember to use smooth breathing technique (firing on the exhale) combined with body-bracing. I would also suggest shooting bursts, since frequently the second or third shot will be the sharpest of the series. You will use every lens length you can bring with you. Camera bags and camera backpacks are allowed, and that's a good thing. I did a lot of isolation with my Nikon 80-400, and it was the only time I have ever wished I also owned a 70-200. By the third hour, the 80-400 was getting a bit heavy, but its VR was incredible. Most of my isolation shots were under 200mm. I found my 14mm prime perfect for some tight, super-wide views of late 50's Chrysler grilles, and my older Nikon 24-70 (no VR) with good technique still nailed it in burst mode. I found out, after my arrival, that they do allow monopods (not mentioned when I called ahead), but my past results with monopods have not surpassed good handheld technique.

I would suggest allowing at least three to four hours to shoot. I walked and shot for about two hours, took a lunch break and reviewed images and then re-walked the entire museum another two hours. I found on my second time around I was more comfortable with the conditions, saw angles and subjects I missed the first time, and re-shot a few subjects I had flagged after initial image review. To be candid, many of the images are not where I want them to be, but I am still very happy to have them. It is especially satisfying to get some pleasing results by adapting to the situation and doing all you can to make the most of the day. Some miserably cold winter day, I will go back, armed with experience and renewed enthusiasm!


]]> Fri, 09 Jun 2017 22:08:04 GMT
Cape Cod: A Left-Coaster Goes East Sesuit Harbor In October, while standing on the second beach we visited on Cape Cod, I asked myself, "What's missing here?"

The Washington coast is known for its drama, sea stacks, tide pools, arches and volcanic outcroppings, while the Oregon coast has a diversity second to none with sandstone cliffs, monoliths and extensive sand dunes added to the above list.

So the answer to my question was, "Everything." Which mattered, not at all.

In the Northwest the coast inspires "Wow", "OMG!!", "Unbelievable!". On the Cape, the broad sandy beaches, gentle dunes, sandy cliffs and myriad ocean colors evoke, "Ahhhh.....yes." Followed by a long tension-relieving sigh and usually a smile. It is little wonder that the beaches of the Cape are packed all day, every day in Summer. There is a grace and serenity here that is subtle, but unmistakable. Capturing it photographically is a pleasant challenge. At first, I tried to add drama, but soon realized it wasn't necessary. After settling in, the textures, lines and soft lighting gradually made it effortless.

It can be difficult to capture the character of an area you've never seen before, especially when on a family vacation, during which you want to be with everyone and also make great images. There is nothing better than traveling with my family, so it is important to balance the urge to shoot every sunrise and sunset with having family dinner at a decent hour, and not waking everyone at 0-Dark-Thirty to leave for sunrise. Marie and I have discussed this and I have had similar conversations with numerous photographers who experience the same perplexity. They love their families and they love their hobby. The answer is, you strike the best balance possible, make the best images you can in the moment, and accept the light and weather conditions as they come. Sometimes Fortune smiles upon you, sometimes not, so you relax and enjoy. It is all good!

My thanks to John Ferreira, a fine photographer from Connecticut, whom I met at an Oregon Coast workshop. John sent me a marvelously detailed spreadsheet of locations, best times, and descriptions of the iconic locations on Cape Cod. It was invaluable, and helped us put together an itinerary that worked well for all. Lots of research and a little luck can make for a very satisfying trip.

If I were to return to the Cape, I would shoot the lighthouses from further away, putting them in greater context. They tend to draw you in with their distinctive shapes, colors and textures. The beaches, marshes, harbors and rivers are endlessly compelling. And then, there are the boats....and the towns.

I love the Northwest more than any place on this earth, but the peaceful pleasance of the Cape lingers for a long time.

]]> Wed, 07 Dec 2016 23:13:32 GMT
Jack Made Me Do It Blue Boat After listening to him debate for some time whether to gamble on a sunset materializing or not, Jack's wife finally said, "You don't know if you don't go!" Which has become a mantra for the Jack Graham Photography Workshops. They are always educational, highly productive, and frequently entertaining. The other mantra that you eventually hear in your sleep is, "Simplify."

After we arrived at Charleston Harbor on his Oregon Coast workshop, Jack told us he wanted us to spend about two hours on the marina concentrating on close-ups, patterns, color, and abstracts, code words for "Simplify". I didn't want to do it. Two hours. Really, two hours?! But, he was pretty jacked up about it (sorry, it was there for the taking), and his enthusiasm got me to at least walk onto the docks. The morning fog gave us a beautiful flat, even light, so it was, I hated to admit, a prime opportunity.

After wandering around a bit and just looking through the viewfinder, I started to think more about what you could say with the camera without being obvious. I also became aware that not only were the subjects moving every so slightly, but so was I. Ultimately, I got into a bit of a rhythm and before I knew it the two hours blew by. It was a lot of concentration and I had a blast! The whole experience gave me a refreshed look at how I was approaching traditional landscapes, and will probably affect how I view framing and cropping more than anything else. It is always good, and never easy, to take yourself out of your comfort zone, stretch your mind, and this was one of those times.

I didn't want to do it, but Jack made me do it. I'm really glad he did.


]]> Tue, 02 Aug 2016 23:19:29 GMT
Staying Loose in the Palouse Three Ribbons Patience and flexibility are absolutely essential in landscape photography, so every time I pick up my camera, I have to remind myself to put my innate impatience and Germanic sense of order on pause. This was never more true than while in the Palouse region. Ever-changing weather and fast moving clouds create wonderful light, if you are willing to catch the 4:55 sunrise and the 9:15 sunset, all while anticipating the moment when the light breaks just right. The Palouse is a great place to learn to take what Nature gives you at any given moment.

To photograph the Palouse, you need to have a very good plan precisely so you can change it and adapt as the environment dictates. Otherwise, you will not know which way to turn first, or where to even begin. Allocating time to scout Steptoe Butte, the small towns, the farm roads, and all of the barns requires knowing in advance what you hope to capture, because, trust me, you won't be able to get it all in one trip. Not even close!

Some of my favorite shots came when Marie and I were executing a planned route, getting hopelessly lost on some remote dirt road and being gob-smacked coming up over a rise, or creeping around the next blind turn. This is a place where you stop, awestruck, in the middle of the road, hang U-turns on all-but-deserted highways and pull to the side of every other road saying, "I have to do something with that!" Marie's sense of safety and self-preservation were put sorely to the test, especially when I actually backed up on a State highway. Well, you know, no one was coming. And then, just as I set up my tripod on a railroad track, we heard the distant whistle of what turned out to be a freight train heading my way. It was definitely an "Oh sh*t" moment, but I got the shot.

When you find a "great shot", but the light's not right, be prepared to go back more than once. Allocate time for repeat images, especially when you are still learning how the light closes out at different elevations. Simply thinking you can "chase the light" and get it right won't work. I heard one photography workshop leader from a very prestigious publication say to his group, "Well, the light was kind of a bust tonight!" It was all I could do to not say ya shoulda been here an hour earlier when the light was incredible, as one glance at the cloud bank on the horizon would have told you! 

Marie and I found the people in the local towns to be wonderfully nice, very helpful and kind. We had one of the most delightful, time-travel-to-the-50's lunches at the Feeding Station in Tekoa. It was a great reminder of how unpretentious and sincere people can be. 

So, if you stay loose, eat where the locals eat, talk to the farmers, pet the dogs, and take what the moments give you, you will have a grand time, and capture some great images!



]]> Fri, 24 Jun 2016 22:23:55 GMT
I Love It When That Happens Twilight + 75 minutes, moonlit surf, lighthouse on horizon left, passing ship horizon middle Thursday was to be the first day of sun in several weeks, but by bedtime Wednesday night, I was feeling beat. When I awoke to the first hints of a clear day, I felt a bit renewed. At 7:30, I texted Marie, who was at work, and said, "Am I crazy to drive to Forks?" She replied, "It's a beautiful day..." I decided The Pacific Inn in Forks would be the arbiter. They had a room available, so, just like that, I was off for the three hour trek. 

After a brief scouting of Ruby Beach, I tried to scout Rialto Beach only to discover that the road that takes you right to the beach was closed two miles up due to structural failings. Good to know if you planned to be there at sunrise and now had a 30 minute hike added to the approach.

After locating the Second Beach turnoff, checking in at the motel, and an early (and delicious) burger at The In Place, I headed back for Second Beach, one of the more photographed beaches on the Pacific Coast. The sunset did not disappoint and I spent over an hour shooting sunset and twilight. I also managed to get my boots filled with wave water more than once. 

At that point, I was tired and a bit wet, but was noticing that twilight continued to linger. I sat down on a log, just to take it all in, quiet my mind and rest. It was then that I remembered that Art Wolfe had once captured a starry twilight on the same beach, so I decided to wait it out, hoping the twilight would hold long enough for the stars to come out. I had tracked the weather, checked the tide tables, but hadn't checked the moonrise, and that's when I got really lucky.

I knew the tide would start to pull out, noticed that twilight was still glowing through the arch on the right, glanced over my left shoulder and there was a half moon sitting just above the horizon. Perfect! Enough light to illuminate the surf and main seastack, but not enough to wash out the stars. I set up the shot, timed the exposure to catch the rotation of the distant lighthouse, and did not anticipate the added dimension of a ship moving on the horizon. There was very little wind, so a 15 second exposure was safe and I could keep my ISO at 200. The twilight held as the stars really started to pop, and it all came together at once.

I love it when that happens!

]]> Tue, 22 Mar 2016 22:36:05 GMT
No Auroras, No Sun, No Roads, No Problem Landscape photographers love dramatic light and skies, and, trust me, Iceland has the formula down! Just below the Arctic Circle in the middle of the North Atlantic, Iceland will not disappoint, especially if you choose to photograph in February! On this trip, 90% of the time there were whiteouts, heavy snow, rain, sleet, high constantly gusting winds, road closures, power outages and cold. I mean Arctic cold.

But, oh, that 10%! When the weather breaks and the terrain is revealed, you don't care how cold, windy or miserable it might be, you are willing to earn every shot. And you do earn every shot. I loved every second. Operating your equipment would seem the biggest problem, but the greater problem is which direction to turn first. This is a stunning place. Stark, spare beauty that is a unique blend of a frozen volcanic desert with icebergs, glaciers, waterfalls, geothermal venting, spectacular coastlines and a lifestyle like no other.

My gallery from this adventure is just the smallest taste of what is possible, and someday I hope to get a second chance. The Icelanders are wonderfully nice people, the photographic opportunities are overwhelming and, I am told, they have Northern Lights! 

]]> Thu, 18 Feb 2016 16:53:18 GMT
Belated Thoughts on Manzanar After spending the morning at the Devil's Postpile, I was driving south on Hwy 395 thinking about how I might approach Manzanar. I was bemoaning the fact that I would arrive in the late afternoon so the Sierras would be backlit and I would not be able to use them as the dramatic backdrop that is so often seen.  That would soon become a secondary consideration.

When I pulled into the main entrance, I noticed the historic entrance down at the far end of the site and headed that way. As I drove through the original entrance that "welcomed" all of the internees, I started to really see for the first time. Everything changed. Manzanar doesn't grab your attention, it Getting out and walking around, the spare desolation and the realization that this is real, just washes over you. As a very close friend said, "You look around and say to yourself, 'We did this?!'" We did. 

I shot it in monochrome for all the obvious reasons, but I also did it out of respect somehow. I thought of my high school classmates whose parents and grandparents had their lives changed forever when they were uprooted and taken from their homes. And, of my upperclassmen friends who had been born in the internment camps. I originally thought I would never need the hour and a half I had allotted for the visit, and yet, it flew by in an instant. I stopped shooting when I finally realized the sun had gone down.  In an odd way, I don't think I have ever had a more sincere, and uniquely pleasurable photographic experience. 

]]> Thu, 24 Dec 2015 22:13:13 GMT
A Very Painful Shot Tenacity It had rained harder and longer than any of the locals could remember. In Acadia National Park, Maine, that was particularly impressive, but not conducive to the Fall color photography I had in mind. When we finally got a break in the weather, Marie and I headed out just to see something other than the interior walls of our modest motel room, so we were excited! We quickly hit Boulder Beach and Monument Cove in darkly overcast and damp conditions, and got a few images. We were scrambling on some big boulders above Monument Cove where it was wet, but my Keen boots seemed to be doing just fine. With camera in hand (major error in slippery conditions), I had just turned to see this lone, wild blueberry bush that was a bright red splash of color against the overcast setting with the iconic Otter Cliffs in the distance‚Äč. Not paying attention to my footing, my boot slipped from the top of a steeply slanted boulder and with the full force of all my weight on the one foot, I slid about 3 feet and slammed into the sharp rock wedge at the bottom. It was one of those moments where you can't speak, breathe or move. It is pure white heat through your brain and body, and I knew I was in trouble.  (The wonderful staff at Mt. Desert, pronounced "de-sart'", Island Hospital subsequently diagnosed it as a double fracture of the 5th metatarsis, something they saw rather frequently!) When I finally regained control of my bodily functions, I hobbled and crawled over to set up the shot I was after. I took several exposures, each time wiping tears off my face, glasses, viewfinder and camera. It turned out to be one of my favorite shots of the trip, but it is the most painful picture I have ever taken. Through the saintly patience of Marie and Amanda, about 2/3rds of the Mainly Maine Gallery images were shot while I was on crutches and in a boot that looked like it came from the props department in Robocop. But I got the shots!

]]> Tue, 29 Sep 2015 23:03:39 GMT
So That Was Different For my last morning in Monument Valley, I had planned to shoot the classic sunrise over the Valley. I had scouted my location the evening before and got up at 4:30 AM to make the drive from Gouldings to get set up in time. I had not seen ground fog in the area before so I thought "cool" this will be something unique. When I arrived, the Valley was filled with fog. There was no "window" on the horizon, just a thick wall of dark gray. I waited in my car, checking my phone clock for the theoretical sunrise hoping to see the sun burn through in a miraculous burst of color. At sunrise, the wall of gray was unchanged. Remembering that I could actually see landscape on the drive in, I grudgingly decided the Valley was not going to happen and headed back toward Gouldings. When I got a glimpse of what was about to happen I pulled over to the side of the road, grabbed my camera bag and ran to the fence line to capture the first shot below. I loved the Navajo dwellings dwarfed by the monument (especially the ones at the very bottom of the fog line), which in turn were dwarfed by the enormous morning sky. I took a few shots, turned around and saw the monolith on the other side of the road and took off running. The light level was much lower on that side, so I was shooting between breaths at 1/40 of a second at ISO 800, just to maintain a steady hand for sharpness. I had taken a few OK shots then saw the one beautiful desert flower just beyond the fence line and knew that was my foreground in the second shot below. Again, The Navajo dwellings were just visible at the bottom of the fog line, especially to the left. Within a few minutes the sunrise was gone and, with it, the color. I was exhausted, and realized I had probably forgotten to breath a good portion of the time! It was an unforgettable, gorgeous moment, not what I had in mind, but ask me if I care! What a gift.

Ground Fog, Sunrise and Tribal Homes Ground Fog and Flower

]]> Thu, 20 Aug 2015 18:55:14 GMT
Twilight Kiss The Kissing Couple is photographed thousands of times a year and is one of the icons of Olympia. The Sandman tugboat with Budd Bay in the background has also achieved selfie status. My thought was to combine the two in one shot with a unique perspective. When I scouted the location in the afternoon, viewed at ground level, the boardwalk railing blocked the Sandman completely. The tide was rising, but would not lift the boat high enough to clear the railing by sunset.

I arrived 45 minutes before sunset. With my tripod at full height and the center post fully extended, when standing on a three foot stepladder I had brought, the Sandman cleared the railing. I moved the tripod a few times until I got the Couple, the boat and marina framed in, while carefully framing out the trashcan that the City had bolted to the boardwalk. Since the boardwalk is part of the character and feel of Percival Landing, I tipped the camera down slightly and got a great diagonal leading line slanting to the left.  I waited for sunset, which turned out to be a bust. Then, as twilight rolled in, Mother Nature lit up the sky and as a bonus for my hard work, gave me clouds running diagonally to the right. Oh, and the Olympics in the distance. Thank you very much! 

Right place, right time, right setup, and a beautiful gift. Twilight Kiss

]]> Wed, 05 Aug 2015 16:13:42 GMT
What the Picture Doesn't Show Little Painted Desert, Navajo Country The Little Painted Desert is a Navajo County Park approached from a non-descript dirt road leading to a few dilapidated picnic tables and miscellaneous structures adorned with graffiti. Until you reach the end of the road, you have no hint of the beauty you're about to see. I had the place to myself, and that remained true the whole evening.

I had arrived about an hour and a half before sunset to scout the location and since you were free to hike into the hills and ravines, well, say no more! It was cold and a bit breezy, especially for April, and after I chose my location, I returned to my rental car to thaw out.  As the sun started dropping, the wind picked up. I saw the colors starting to reveal and so moved to a slightly different spot and set up. At that point, the wind was roaring and kicking up fine grit sand. I used my body to shield the camera, but even with a very heavy tripod I was sure I needed to time my exposures between the heavy gusts. Since my eyes were tearing up from the wind and I was using a remote release, I had minimal opportunity to check the results until back in the car. I did, in fact lose some shots to slight camera vibration from the high winds, but I got the result I wanted.

]]> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:43:28 GMT