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Monday, April 24, 2017

About  a hundred years ago, or more specifically the time I was in junior high school, we started to learn about the big words and their definitions in the dictionary.  One of the terms that fascinated me was anthropomorphism and through the ages and changing prospective its come to mean something different  to yours truly than my educators original explanation. The scholars definition of  that huge word goes something to the effect  that we as humans " assign emotion or thought patterns to animals or objects which are incapable of such dimensions". When it comes to inanimate things I'll be the first to agree with those learned souls. I don't believe for a second that my Subaru would plot revenge when I forget to change its oil and spite me by breaking down on some desolate country road. Well,  it might slip through the synapses of my brain, but just for an instant.
  When it comes to animals with intelligence , I've come to my own and somewhat different conclusions.  If you tell someone that your dog gets worried and upset when you leave the house, an educator might tell you that you're assuming that the dog has the same feelings as a person and that's not possible.  Why?  Because it's not in the animals' realm of thought. The mass of cells in their heads and ours just to think alike. Personally I've never been in the brain of a dog, cat, elk, coyote or elephant. I sure as heck  haven't experienced  their thoughts first hand, but some of my observations as I take pictures has me thinking outside that conventional box of wisdom. 
Is experiencing  joy, love fear, hatred and a myriad of other feelings uniquely human or are they shared by other creatures on the planet? We've all read stories about the extraordinary  feats of dogs protecting and saving the lives of their owners.  Watch gorillas in the zoo  and think about who's checking who out. Look into  their eyes and you'll  know that's exactly what they're up to. It's pretty incredible to see  them nurture their babies and it certainly looks like love to me when they cuddle them in their arms. Research on elephants has yielded many intriguing  similarities to us including the close bonds they form with family members, communication, emotions and care of their young. Scientists know they are capable of joy, love , jealousy, sadness, grief  and compassion. Herd members  take care in the burial of their dead and have been observed year later revisiting the site where one them died.  They have remained  there for days mourning the loss. 

  I've been lucky enough to have spent several days in the field with the same animal and know beyond doubt that they have emotions. It's trying to capture them in a printed image that's hard but with patience , perseverance and a little  luck  it does happen.  Experience is a wonderful teacher but I've learned that I'll just  have to agree to disagree with those teachers  that defined  anthropomorphism to me so long ago. Click

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Our Moab Adventure

     As you probably all know by now, Moab, Utah and the surrounding area is one of my favorite places to photograph.  The rugged terrain of Canyon Lands National Park and Arches National Park are within just a few miles of the town.  There’s also Dead Horse Point State Park and miles upon miles of hiking and biking trails in some of the most beautifully rugged scenery in the world.  Last week was my umpteenth trip to those places and the more days I’ve spent there the better the pictures.  Exploring a place time after time allows for familiarity and that gives one the ability  to find hidden locations off the beaten path and use creativity to compose better images. 
     After a seven hour trip, Wayne and I arrived at Arches about six in the evening.  I found some out of the way petrified sand dunes to photograph, but more importantly, as it was getting dark,  we spied some small collection pools left over from a heavy rain storm two days earlier.  The water would make for perfect reflections of the surrounding cliffs and sky if we got a great sunrise the next morning.  The photo hint here is to always be looking for places that might give you better pictures under different circumstances.  About 8:30pm we found our way into town for dinner and after a short night of light sleep, I was on those pools with camera and tripod at 5:30am. Giving myself forty five minutes before sun up allowed me the time to see which puddles would set up for the best reflections.  The dawn broke without a cloud in the sky and my hunch paid off perfectly.  The mauves, burnt oranges and yellows of the massive sandstone monoliths and cliffs were captured brilliantly in those little ponds. 
     That afternoon we met up with a friend who mountain bikes regularly on the hundreds of slick rock trails around Moab and got some great pictures of him using incredible daring and skill on his cycle.  If you can capture adventure scenes among the cliffs, you’ll get some great perspective of the size and majesty of the scenery.  Use a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second to freeze the blazingly fast action. 
     Our third day, the thermometer reached ninety which is still pretty mild when considering summer temperatures can reach over 100 degrees for days at a time.  We had a guide (required) who led us on a four hour hike into a place called the Fiery Furnace.  Inside the maze of three hundred foot cliffs, canyons, dead ends, poison ivy, slot canyons, reflecting pools and arches we found some spectacular photo opportunities.  There were some pretty tricky trails to navigate for yours truly and I must admit that some puckering was involved when teetering on narrow, sandy ledges looking into dark crevices at my feet.  Obviously and lucky for me I made it and was able to write this column.  Off to the next adventure!  Click 

Chasing Turkey

For several years I’ve tried to photograph wild turkeys with very limited success.  Following up on hints from my sources, it’s been a turkey chase of biblical proportions to say the least.  Jackson reservoir, out east,  has been on my tracking radar many times, but as fate would have it, it’s always the same old story. “You should have been here yesterday.  There were three big Tom’s (that’s a male bird)  strutting (that’s when they spread their tail feathers to impress the girls)  but who knows where they are today.”  More research  has taken me  to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Last year after much hiking and driving, we found some Toms on private property.  We talked to the land owners and they promised us that if we showed up at sunup the next morning, Mr Turkey would be strutting  his stuff just off their back porch.  Well, that night it rained like cats and dogs and after an hour drive in the dark and arriving at the appropriate  time, the old birds had vanished.  Several people have told me that the old strutters hide out around Masonville, but after many forays into that neck of the woods the results have been zero.  I did find them once about ten miles up the Poudre Canyon, but they saw yours truly first and made for a hasty getaway up a steep hill and through the timber.  Here’s a big hint: Don’t try chasing turkeys!  They’re  faster than us and by the time you get set to take a picture they’re gone. 
     Sometimes if you put in enough hard work, the odds start to swing in your favor and lady luck  might help out as well.  Last month, after a bunch of research on the internet, I found a little gem called Rattlesnake Springs in southern New Mexico.  Arriving on the scene about 4pm, several old guys were strutting right on the road and for the next three hours it was if all the turkey gods had placed a bunch of the birds right there for me to photograph.  Heck, for the next two days it was the same and after years of frustration I was able to add some good pictures to the portfolio. 

     When it rains, sometimes it pours.  Bruce Miller, a friend of mine here in Fort Collins and a buyer for Cabela’s  was watching out for me.  He happened on to a property in western Nebraska that was chucked full of  turkeys and invited me up for a day.  Sure enough, I hadn’t been there 10 minutes when a whole herd of the big birds trotted across a field in front of us.  They strutted up and down the place for most of the day and by sunset the camera and I had bagged a bunch more pictures.  Next week we’re heading back for more!  Thank you Bruce!  To all you photographers, be aware that sometimes fate hands you nothing and once in awhile  it sends you a turkey.  Click

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day 2014

On Mother's Day, we are made aware of the one person who has played such an important part in our lives.  Our mothers brought us into this world and sacrificed many of their hopes, dreams and desires for us.  We all take pictures, but nothing is more important than taking photographs of the people we love.  On this day, try taking a picture of your mom that celebrates and honors all that she means to you.  Here are some of my suggestions that might help.
     We've all seen images of people giving their best forced smile.  They just don't show the real character of the person.  Get your mom to relax and try to capture the spirit of what makes her so incredible.  That sparkle in her eyes or maybe a certain look you always seem to remember.  Don't have her sitting in a chair and posing for the camera. That's absolutely the best way to make someone feel totally uncomfortable.  Don't have her look up from the table with food in her mouth and say "smile"!   If you have a zoom lens, stand back and capture her true essence while she's involved in one of her favorite activities. There are so many ways to be creative here.  Photograph her in a conversation with someone else, especially other family members who are the love and pride of her life.  Doing something with her children usually produces  a special smile or just catch her in a quiet moment when she knows you're  not looking.  Playing her favorite sport or doing something she loves can be great too.  Don't forget to step out from behind the camera once in awhile and have someone else take a picture  of the two of you together.
     Sometimes I take hundreds of photographs of the same subject before I find the one that's best.  It gives me lots and lots of choices to choose from and shows me what really works and what usually doesn't.  Try doing the same and you'll be surprised  with something incredible.  More importantly, it will provide for many, many good memories. 
     Work on your lighting.  It can make or break a good picture.  Watch out for those mixes of  ugly light and shadow crossing  her face and don't burn those beautiful features out with a flash.  If you're indoors, look for places that have naturally soft light filtering through windows or bouncing off walls. 
     Try and  remember that you're taking pictures that honor your mother. They capture  moments in time that you'll enjoy now and will serve as a part of your family's  history.  Take photographs that show all that is special about her and realize that they might be passed on to future generations.  I've certainly spent hours at my parents house looking at the old family albums.

     Most importantly, let me say “Thank You” to my mother, Joanne Schendel who has given so much of her life for her children and made mine so special.  I love you Mom, with all my heart!  Happy Mother's Day.  Click

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Carlsbad Caverns near Alamogordo New Mexico

One of the most interesting places to visit and the hardest to photograph is Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico. It’s 662 miles from Fort Collins and takes about 10 hours to get there, but worth every mile and minute. The cave itself lies tucked in the Guadalupe Mountains and there are more than 100 other caves that have been surveyed inside the boundary of the National Park. Formations within it’s known grottos include dazzling gypsum chandeliers, huge towering columns, sheet-like draperies, domes, millions of stalactites and stalagmites and even a bottomless pit. The BIG ROOM is 370 feet high and 14 acres in size. It’s the largest cave cave chamber in North America and the whole place is so incredible that it has been designated as a World Heritage Site.

You can enter the cavern by way of two self guided routes. The natural entrance is a one and a quarter mile steep trek that descends the equivalent  of a seventy nine story building. I’d highly recommend taking it because it gives you a unique perspective of discovery and allows time to adjust to cave photography. The Big Room can be accessed using an elevator or from the bottom of the natural entrance trail. The climate is cool and stays a constant 56 degrees. I took a jacket, but with all of the hiking and maneuvering while taking pictures it was just to much. Good boots are a must because of the steep and wet trails.

The entire place is beyond any words I could find to serve it justice.  It seems impossible to capture the full grandeur of the place on any but the smallest scale. Flash photography is pretty useless because the light is lost in its deep, ultra indigo vastness. The rooms are dimly lit and do provide enough light to take time exposures and yet that’s difficult too. A good tripod and cable release are the only way I found picture taking to be effective.  The cave lighting works to the photographers advantage and disadvantage.  Without it, there wouldn’t be any pictures to be had and you’d never find your way around the place.  On the other side, exposures necessary to capture the incredible formations are in the 10 to 30 second range.  Even the smallest amount of light in certain areas seem to be magnified and will burn out sections of an image.  I found that I had to stop down my Canon 7D two to three full stops in order counter burnouts. Hit and and miss were the order of the day so taking several exposures using different combinations was always necessary.  It was hard to change the settings on my camera because of the dim surroundings.  As always, practice with your photo gear and know how to make adjustments before taking on a big trek.  All in all, I took almost 1000 pictures in the course of the day with mixed results. There were however, a few keepers. Click

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Great White Sand Dunes National Monument

White Sand Dunes - tricks to photograph

     Six hundred and twenty six miles south of Fort Collins, there's a place like no other place that I've photographed. The pristine white dunes of gypsum sand have covered about two hundred and seventy five miles of desert and when we arrived at White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico last week to take pictures, we were blown away, sometimes quite literally.
      After a long drive, we arrived at Alamogordo about six in the evening.  Forty mph gusts were stirring up waves of dust for as far as you could see (which wasn't very far) and it looked like brewing thunderstorms on every horizon. Wayne and I decided to sit tight, check into a motel and grab some dinner rather than head out to the dunes for an evening sunset that didn't look very promising.  Although the monument's website said it opened at 8am, I thought it would be good to get there at sun up for some stunning sunrise images.  The alarm was set for 5:30 and the next morning dawned clear and windless.  Off to the dunes, but unlike the other parks I visit, this one locked the front gate.  There we sat for an hour and a half imagining how good another few winks of shut eye  would have felt.  It had rained violently during the night, and the dunes were pock marked with tiny craters that made for interesting pictures. The sky was a deep cerulean blue and the snow white gypsum painted a fairyland of waves against it.  In low lying areas, and occasionally on the dunes themselves, Soap-tree yucca plants grew and when photographed against the starkness of the environment made for incredible, artistic compositions. 
     Being the last of March, you wouldn't think that a desert could be so dry, especially with a hard rain the night before.  About 10 in the morning a light breeze began to stir from the west and the dunes began drying out.  The temperature eventually rose to seventy, but the wind steadily increased until gusts reached 40mph once again. We'd walk across the sand  and within a few minutes our tracks disappeared. I couldn't drink water fast enough and my lips, well let's just say Candi wouldn't have wanted to kiss them.  The place was incredibly hostile, but it was more beautiful than beautiful.  Every few steps seemed to create a new canvas and during the day I shot more than a 1000 images.   My photo hints  for a place like White Sands are to make sure you use a circular polarizing filter for contrast and let the waves in the dunes lead you into the picture.  Try to use interesting patterns of clouds to break up the expanse of sky and look for single plants trying to eke out a living as contrast to a never ending expanse of white.  Empty your hiking boots often, drink lots of water, use sunscreen and visit during the spring or fall when temperatures aren't too severe.  Click

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Africa with Will

An old friend of mine who passed away several years ago told me once that "all we are and all that we have are given as a gift of love to be celebrated fully and with absolute joy. Upon our parting from this incredible adventure called life, we'll stand before the old master and he'll ask us how we enjoyed his great gift? Our thankfulness will be in the acknowledgement that we loved and truly lived every second of it"
  A few years back, that old friend, Wayne Morine and I had the chance to visit the countries of Namibia and South Africa and the trip utterly changed my life. One morning, while driving through the backlands of termite hills and thorny scrub, we chanced upon two native women dressed in their finest, slinging babies and packing gathered firewood on their backs so they could cook breakfast. Others made the quarter mile walk to the local well and carried water back to the village in buckets balanced on their heads. Meat, drying in the trees was collected and cooked over open fires as black flies and dust filled the air.  Later, children were whisked away to school in an old wooden cart pulled by a couple of donkeys. There were no electric ranges, refrigerators, dish washers, running water, televisions, cell phones, fresh cleaned clothes, cars or school buses.  At night, we could hear the entire village singing beautiful songs in perfect harmony around the campfires. Of all the sites I saw and tried to take in, the thing that struck me most was that in their simple lives they were genuinely happy.
  Two weeks later, as we traveled down the highway between Cape Town and the airport in our luxury BMW taxi to fly back home; we had the chance to see a South African township. On our right, was a beautiful country club and golf course manicured to perfection. On our left was a slum of one million souls living in abject poverty. Their homes were made of rusted tin and patched up cardboard and every hundred yards or so was one electric light on a high wooden post so they didn't have to live in the dark.  I have no idea how they ate.  The irony of being at the very center of such diversity struck me dumb.
  Over the years I've tried to simplify my life and enjoy the sheer joy of being outdoors and pursuing my passion of taking pictures and sharing them with you. Like the villagers, simple experiences seem to be the most rewarding and seeing so many people struggle has made me realize just how much we have to be thankful for.  I often think of the folks who say "If I just had a little more, then I'd be satisfied". In Africa I found that if you're not fulfilled with what you have you'll never be happy. We can talk all we want about our incredible blessings, but how we live them each and every day is the real measure of what we are thankful for.