Vietnam and Montana, Pho and Thunderstorms

2015 has been a lively year….one of visual and cultural extremes. Six weeks in SE Asia and four in the Outback of Montana. One experience of culture, the other of emotional beauty. Both so memorable where does one begin.

At the beginning, I suppose.

The Promise of Vietnam was exotic, a promise that had elements of hesitancy on my part as well as heightened expectations. We were returning to the war fields of the 60s and 70s, to a place where we lost so many young men, to a place where the war was lost. But where was Vietnam today?? Lots of stories about renewal and the embracing of Western culture without leaving their own behind. About the reunification of the country. So with my husband, a veteran of that long ago war, and our friends Mags and Allan, also a veteran who was based in Saigon, we set out to explore the New Vietnam. From the Mekong Delta to the mountains of Sapa we immersed ourselves in their cities, celebrating Tet in Hue along the Perfume River.

But before Saigon and southern Vietnam, we spent a week in Cambodia visiting the ruins of the Angkor Wat region. A photographer’s greatest challenge while traveling I have found is to capture the true essence of the area. In Cambodia I tried to capture the history and the grandeur of the numerous kingdoms from over a thousand years ago. My husband, Ellis, had visited Angkor Wat when he was in the army, and there were only the four of them walking the grounds which were heavily cloaked in the vines and trees of the forest. Today there are thousands of people from all over the world visiting, with busloads of tourists outside each ruin. So a bit of the mystery was lost and the imagination needed to be engaged. That and patience. I have found that patience is your best ally while traveling. Sitting and waiting and watching. I was able to get dozens of photographs of just the ruins because I had envisioned printing them using a technique that would make them look like the original photographs taken by the early French archeologist Henri Mouhot, who had uncovered the ruins back in the 1860s. It was a singular experience that has given me unique memories of a land that once not only thrived but dominated the entire region.

On to Saigon, the Mekong Delta, Na Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Sapa, by planes, trains and automobiles. The trains seemed to be vintage 1920s, the cars and planes modern. The average age of those we met was 25-35, so it is a very young nation with a lot of “can do” attitude. Up in the Highlands on the border with China where the Hmong, Yao and Tay live, the cultures are intact and thriving, seemingly untouched by the communist regime. And everyone speaks English. What war??

I returned home with over 2,000 photos taken on my Sony a-6000, the perfect travel camera. I found myself almost giggling at the end of the day, having had so much fun roaming the streets of a very different culture, small camera in hand….almost invisible. Now I need to figure out what to do with 2,000 photos, mostly street scenes of people going about their daily routines.

 

 

 

 

And then there was Montana…….

Last July we took off for a Road Trip to Montana, a 5,000 mile wandering of the mountains and wheat fields and river valleys. In search of nothing but hoping for deliverance. We had had a death in the family and I felt the need to wander without any time schedule or compass. Each day was something to be discovered and cherished, no agenda to adhere to, no goals to be met. Just drive and wander the Big Sky Country of my parents. I was hoping to find some magic in the skies, and what I found was wonder. Daily thunderstorms and early morning stillness. Sunshine and downpours, skies filled with streaked clouds high in the sky and horses running wild down below. The openness and untouched (except for the barbed wire) beauty of the vast landscapes was exactly what I was needing, and Montana never fails to live up to the hype. I will return for another 5,000 miles, making Montana my home away from home.

 

Inside the Ta Prohm Temple in Cambodia

Inside the Ta Prohm Temple in Cambodia

 

An entry into the Ta Prohm ruin in Cambodia

An entry into the Ta Prohm ruin in Cambodia

Overcome with Time

Cambodian Ruin

 

The King looking out over his Kingdom

Bayon, where the King looks out in all directions

 

 

Afternoon Thunderstorm north of Bozeman

Afternoon Thunderstorm north of Bozeman

redo of Madison valley storm

Thunderstorm rolling into the Madison River Valley

Atop the Buffalo Jump north of Great Falls

Abrasokee Barn

 

Driveway Home in the foothills of the Abrasokee Mountains

 

Summer in the Broughtons

Summer in the Broughtons is really an oxymoron of sorts. Is there a summer in the Broughtons?? It is a cold, wet, foggy place that more often than not is shrouded in some form of water. It is a place that is still protected by Vancouver Island from the ocean, but gets the ocean winds and currents nonetheless.

It is a beautiful archipelago of islands and inlets. Not many people cruise the are because of it’s distance so far north, and because of it’s incessant fog. But the fog makes it mystical and beautiful. It can take your breath away.

Sailing with my husband on board our friend Margaret and Bob’s J-40 Tula, we enjoyed many a magical anchorage, generally alone except for the harbor seals and resident eagles. And bears if we were anchored in an mainland inlet. We call them BOBs….bears on the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Springtime in the Palouse

This last spring a friend of mine and I went on a road trip on the hundreds of miles of rural roads through the Palouse area of Eastern Washington. I had followed for weeks the agricultural reports put out by the State and the weather reports put out by NOAA; the timing had to be just right. Too soon, and the winter wheat isn’t up and green enough….too late and the wheat is too tall and loses it’s spring green color. Not enough rain, and everything is on hold. And of course I was looking for the spring rain clouds which reminds me so much of the rain squalls on the ocean.

The Palouse is so familiar to me, it reminds me so much of being at sea, the long rolling seas and the clouds skirting by in such a hurry.

The wonderful thing about the Palouse is that all the roads are in great shape so that the wheat farmers can get their huge machines to the fields. And there is nobody on them until harvest time. I can meander without worrying about always keeping my eye on the road ahead.

The day shooting begins at dawn, meaning dawn on site. I always want the light just as it comes over the yard arm….giving new warmth to the cold wheat. That magical edge of the day light makes for an active hour of shooting, looking for clouds to put with the land. It can be a very intense search.

This particular photo shoot gave also gave me mid-day drama with the spring rains. I could tell from a long way off when a cloud was getting ready to empty it’s heavy water from my years of seeing the very same thing on the ocean. The cloud has to achieve a certain darkness before it opens up and lets it all out. With this anticipation I was able to find a suitable spot for my tripod just as the heavens would open up.

 

Here are some black and whites of that shoot, some places I’ve been to before….but the landscape is different with each planting.

 

 

 

 

Winter in North Yellowstone, Montana

In January 2014 a group of friends gathered in the Yellowstone River Valley at Bar B Ranch for a week of winter fun. I have always wanted to head to Montana in the winter to photograph the snow landscapes, so different from the spring and summer scenes that I have photographed for most of my life. I wasn’t disappointed. Although the real snow hadn’t arrived and the temperatures were on the mild side, the land still had the magical glow of winter. And of course there are the Big Sky Moments, where you can see the weather approaching from what seems to be 50 miles away.

One memorable drive was through the Lamar Valley on the northern boundary of Yellowstone, known for it’s wolf populations. Although we never saw any wolf packs, we saw their tracks in the snow.

One day while snowshoeing I was bedazzled by the patterns of shadows in the snowbanks. A simple thing, yet very powerful. Studies in black and white given as a gift to a photographer.

I would love to plan another extended stay in this area for another photographic excursion. You have to be prepared for weather and wind, but the drama that can develop are worth the layers of clothes one must wear.

This trip was lucky in that there was enough land definition in the hillsides to provide some graphic relief from the normal all white landscape. One hint to winter photographers, bring weights for your tripods to steady them in the wind.

Here are a few shots, there are more in the Gallery section….

January 2013 Exhibition At the Bainbridge Gallery

It has been a long time between posts, which means that life is good and photography is afoot. I finally received the Nikon d800 last June and have been busy ever since. It is a truly remarkable camera and has given me a new way to view the world. I have been a devoted 4×5 photographer since 1997 and have accomplished a large format portfolio that not only was an adventure to produce, but gave me great satisfaction to show. What I enjoyed the most was the personal conviction to each and every picture, since only one negative is exposed at a time. Black and white film to me was a open page to be filled with light enhanced silver. I painted with light and saw what I wanted to photograph and how I was going to develop and print it even before I opened the shutter. Each image was a statement.

I have taken that same approach to the newer and smaller format of the full frame 35mm digital camera. I still paint with light and I still compose each shot on a singular level. I look before I shoot, think about what I can do with the light once it has been pixelized. My computer has become my darkroom (which unfortunately now only breeds spiders). An image created with the Nikon d800 once developed can be several hundred megabytes, the same as one of my scanned 4×5 negatives. The image is unforgiving in what it captures. If the lens was not set right, or if there is any vibration, the image will show it. I have to know the “sweet spot” of each lens. The detail that the camera offers is stunning, and unlike all film, I can manage the grain to almost nothing. It then becomes all about the shot, the intent, the emotive image.

 

I’ve had a ball. On a sailboat in Barkley Sound in early June, on the California Coast, on the Olympic Peninsula, at the foot of Mt. Hood, it’s all been a joy to see through the new camera. The backpack still weighs a bit, but not as much as the 40 pounds when I carried the 4×5.

 

This January Bainbridge Arts and Crafts has generously given me a large exhibition to show my latest work. I have been working toward this show ever since I received the new camera. I wanted to see where the new format would take me. I’ve worked with an assortment of exposure techniques, from long singular exposures using neutral density filters, to HDR images that combine up to nine images of different exposures for incredible dynamic ranges. I’ve handheld some shots to play with motion when the light is dancing off water at my feet. Now that is something you cannot do with the 4×5, which is a much more static format.

 

 

I have posted under the gallery tab in the main menu all the images from this show for you to peruse. It has been a wonderful six months of photography. Of course not all that I took and enjoy are posted, there is only so much wall space. I have left out the Coastal California Redwoods, which I find humbling but difficult to convey. There’s a project, just how do you give homage to a thousand year old stand whose community stands silently, towering above even the birds.

If you are on Bainbridge Island any time during the next month, stop by the Gallery and have a look. I think you’ll enjoy the journey that I’ve presented. A hopefully come away treasuring our Northwest Wild Lands. They are still there……

The Peninsula in April

I just got back from a three day trip around the Olympic Peninsula with some friends….what a trip. I’ve done it several times in the last decade because I’ve wanted to get to know my backyard on a personal level. Each time I visit the rainforests, the beaches and the mountaintops, they are different. Not only different from each other, but never the same as before. The Rainforests have been ravaged by the intensified winter storms that hit the Northwest coast every year. The huge trees are scattered like pick up sticks, the sun reaching the forest floor for the first time in hundreds of years. The ecosystem will change, for sure. The winds in places look to have been hurricane strength, with microbursts in places that took down almost everything. It will take generations for some of the forests to recover. But that’s nature. The forests in the lee, the lands around Lake Crescent, appear to have been spared, mostly. By comparison anyway.

The beaches are always fun and different every time I go. The logjams at Ruby come and go, and the sands seems to migrate up and down the coast. Some times the beaches are rocky, sometimes sandy. I saw a photograph of the large, singular rock on Ruby Beach being bashed by a wave at least 10 feet taller than its height. It was dramatic and told the tale of sand migration.

We ended the trip with a quick snowshoe up at Hurricane Ridge, a return visit to the snowy slopes. If you haven’t been this year, there is still a mammoth amount of snow, and the back country snowboarding and cross country skiing are still in full swing. Oh to be young again…..

Spring Lightroom/Photoshop Workshop

I have been asked by several Islanders when my spring workshop will be….and that’s a good question. There is a need, I think, for a workshop for beginners because I think both Lightroom and Photoshop can be intimidating for the first timers. I’ve heard so many times from folks that to learn them appears to be a daunting task, and something that they just can’t do on their own. I agree on that. I’ve been using Photoshop for 15 years and feel pretty competent, but there is always more to learn.

My idea for beginners is to have two half day workshops. The first 4 hour day would be a hands on lesson on the fundamentals of the two programs. I’m assuming that participants of course have one or the other. Personally, if I were to have only one, it would be Lightroom, because it is the closest thing to the darkroom and designed just for photographers. There are some things that it cannot do, but for beginners, it has almost everything that you’ll need.

The first day will be an introduction on how to take your pictures….understanding your digital cameras and how to set them up for maximum postproduction effect. Then we will focus on the basic fundamentals of how to use the program. Using some of my pictures, I will show step by step how to take the initial image and make it into a photograph with impact/emotion. The task would then be for the participants to take some of their own pictures during the next week (or two), develop them and present them for a critique to the class on the following workshop. At this point, further discussion and “show and tells” would help with the fundamental understanding of these two powerful programs. I’ve always said, that whatever you can imagine, you can make it so.

Photoshop and Lightroom are programs that will actually make you giggle with glee. The basics are easy to learn. If you start with a good image and you understand the step by step method of development, you can make taking pictures a wonderfully enjoyable event.

So, if you are interested in a workshop, probably after May 1st, then let me know. The only requirements would be that you have a camera and hopefully a laptop computer with either Photoshop or Lightroom installed. The workshop will be held at my studio on Bainbridge Island. The cost for the two days will be $90.00.

 

Pixels Coming of Age

My thoughts today are all about pixels. Lots of them. I was one of the first to sign up for the new Nikon D800 and its amazing pixel count of 36 MP. That is a number that until now was only available to the medium format studio camera for $13-20,000. My 4×5 negative when scanned to 300 dpi would give me a black and white file size of around 100 mb. When opened, the Nikon files at 14 bit will probably give me a 75 mb RAW file. For a landscape photographer this is mana from heaven. I love my 4×5, but at 62 years of age I have to admit that the 30-40 pounds of gear it takes makes going to the Outback an aerobic exercise.

I know that the number of pixels does not necessarily translate into a better picture…take the scores of point and shoots that have been vying for the most pixel count in their tiny sensors. There are pixels and then there are pixels. What we all want are quality pixels. From what I’ve read, and from what images I have seen posted on the internet, I think the Nikon D800 will have both. I hope to have one in my hand within the week.

I still say, though, that the best camera you own is the one in your hand. It is, after all, about vision. So don’t leave home without one.

Snowshoeing The Ridge

Last week my husband and I decided to take advantage of a glorious day after a large front had passed through the region, leaving at least a foot or two of new snow in the mountains. Living on Bainbridge Island, we are only a hour and a half from Hurricane Ridge that is open most every day during the winter months. This must be a lot of work for the National Park Service to plow the road and to keep it free from falling rocks. When we arrived at the summit, we were not disappointed. Fresh snowfall and an almost empty parking lot greeted us – it was midweek and the ratio of Rangers to snowshoers was almost 1:1. Once into the trees, we were in a winter wonderland and we had it all to ourselves. The snow was dry and fresh and the air crystal clear and clean. It was a wonderful mid-week break from the lowland winter gray.

Mountain Light

Driving into the mountains above Santa Fe I was looking for a stand of aspens that I had photographed many years before. There had been a light dusting of snow the night before and the sky was again cloudless and bright. I didn’t remember exactly where I had been, so we were just exploring to see if anything would appear. I was wonderfully surprised by the artistry of the aspens once again. The low afternoon light made the thin, icy branches of the aspens iridescent. Once again, the aspens of Santa Fe had given me a spectacular show.