Throwback Thursday No. 9


Images from the Film Archives 2010

Winter Oak at Hortons Creek — Wake County, NC © jj raia

Winter Oak at Hortons Creek — Wake County, NC © jj raia

After moving to North Carolina in the late summer of 2010, a storm came through the following winter with some very wet snow, coating every trunk and branch of the woods in the neighborhood I now called home. One of the bonuses of the town was the web of greenways throughout the county, so I followed one of them looking for something that would serve as a focal point in the otherwise solid white of the woods. Since oak trees generally hold on to many of their leaves through winter until they are replaced in spring, the hope was to find one that could be isolated, but they seemed to be too plentiful for isolation, or the tangle of branches just wasn’t balanced within the frame.

So I kept walking until this singular oak, whose leaves themselves were coated with snow, seemed to fit the bill. The exposure for snow is generally about 2-stops greater than what the meter may show, because it is trying to make everything mid-toned gray. But without the instant feedback of digital cameras, several differing exposures were taken to be sure that at least one would be correct.

The telephoto (210mm) lens was used to narrow the angle of view and eliminate any gray sky or foreground, and several compositions were tried, but this was the only one that seemed to really communicate the conditions of the first snowfall experienced in North Carolina.


Throwback Thursday No. 8


Images from the Film Archives — 2002

Riparian Growth along Calf Creek - UT © jj raia

Riparian Growth along Calf Creek – UT © jj raia

This photo is from one of those trips out west that began in 1999, and wasn’t chosen for any particular reason other than it hasn’t seen the light of day for almost 20 years, as will most of the others that follow in this series. It was taken in the fall of 2002 in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I pulled over into a small parking area off Utah’s famous Scenic Byway Route 12, just north of the Escalante River, looking down at the riparian growth along Calf Creek. I was there to hike the roughly two miles along the creek, through this lush canyon to Calf Creek Falls, one of the most beautiful falls in the desert I’ve seen. The growth in that canyon was stunning, and being early morning, it was in the shade of the surrounding cliffs and completely still. Much of the growth in the high desert is juniper and sage, which are a bit turquoise themselves, but being in the shade made the color even more intense because of the clear sky above. I noticed a singular tree that seemed different from any of the others in the area, having almost bleached leaves, while some others had already put on their fall colors.

Intimate Encounters — Trees

Spring Buds — White Oak Marsh, NC © jj raia

Spring Buds — White Oak Marsh, NC © jj raia

A new experiment has begun. I spent some time recently digging a bit deeper into what is possible in this digital world, a little late to the dance I admit, but nonetheless came across an opportunity to explore another avenue for artistic expression. In preparation for a recent talk on a trip to Iceland in May of 2019, I discovered iMovie, used it for the talk, and have just begun to scratch the surface of what this software offers. For me, it is a way to better express, in a more meaningful way, my connection with the unspoiled landscapes throughout the U.S. I’ve been fortunate to visit over the years, and hopefully convey that through these short clips.

The intention going forward, is to create a few more short videos which include  images that correspond to a particular theme, which change with each additional video. They will all be under the umbrella of Intimate Encounters; at least that’s the plan for now. Since so much of my work centers around trees, that seemed to be the most logical subject to select for the inaugural movie.

Because I cannot include movies within this website, I can only leave a link to where this movie resides within my You Tube channel (another deeper dive into digital). If you choose to view this initial clip, a subscribe button is available for notifications when new clips are added (at least that’s how I hope it works). Comments are especially welcome, including critiques which will be helpful to make those in the future the best they can be considering my current level of expertise (namely none).

To view this first foray, Intimate Encounters — Trees, please click here.

Also, if you wish to view the previous web site with over 200 blog posts covering a range of topics and adventures, please click here.



Throwback Thursday No. 7


Images from the Film Archives — 1998

Hoh Rainforest — Olympic National Park, WA  © jj raia

Hoh Rainforest — Olympic National Park, WA © jj raia

I hadn’t been to the Pacific Northwest since 1978 during one of the three cross-country drives I made in my 20’s, so in 1998 when my wife was attending a conference in Seattle, I joined her after the conference for a few days vacation together before she returned home. I stayed for a few more days on my own to explore Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks. Mount Rainier turned out to be a bust again as it was in 1978 because I still had not set eyes on the mountain itself because of continual cloud cover. And Olympic wasn’t much better; mostly rain there. But I did come away with a few shots there in between the rain drops during a walk in the Hoh Rainforest. It was very dark under the cloudy skies and the dense forest itself, and in most places, the camera meter wasn’t even able to give me an exposure reading. But I did find a slight opening in the canopy where enough light registered with the meter to give me an exposure, and I recorded what is above.

What drew me to this were the two trees covered in thick moss and the line through the tangle of thin branches that sweeps in a semi-circle at the bottom that seemed to frame the trees. It was cold enough for some of the rain to be snow that lingered on the forest floor, and the orange/brown large leaves stuck in the branches offered a respite from the all green palette. It was the only composition that seemed to work in the chaos of the forest that day.

Throwback Thursday No. 6


Images from the Film Archives – 2001

The Wave - Coyote Buttes, AZ  © jj raia

The Wave – Coyote Buttes, AZ © jj raia

For many years, Coyote Buttes was a place known to only a few photographers who never divulged its location. But after quite a bit of research, I was able to discover where it was, the difficulty in reaching it, and most importantly, that a permit was required to visit this wonderfully magic place that I had only seen in photographs. Word was slowly getting out, and obtaining a permit required visiting an online application portal for specific dates 6-months in advance, beginning at 12 noon on the first of every month!! Luckily, I was off from work on that day, and I was home, ready to apply as soon as the screen said permits were available. I got a permit right away and I thought I would immediately try for another on the day following my successfully acquired permit, but in those few minutes, all the permits for the entire month were gone, being only 10 were allowed for each day!! Amazing!!

By the time I left on the trip to that area on the border between Utah and Arizona, I had found more information, and even a map showing the long drive over dirt back roads to get to the trailhead. Stopping in at the ranger station on the day before my permit, I was shown pictures of certain landmarks to look for along the 3-mile, overland (no trail) desert terrain to find it. He said it was a somewhat dangerous hike and pretty easy to get lost out there. In fact, several years later, I read of an older husband and wife who never made it back to their car; their bodies found a few days later. Now, permits are distributed strictly by monthly lottery to applicants, but still only 10 per day.

After the serious talk from the ranger, it was with a bit of anxiety that I headed for the trailhead the following night/day. Driving there in the dark hours of early morning, it was an ominous sight to see an 18-wheeler laying on its side along the curve in the highway where the turnoff for the 8-10 mile dirt road led to the trail. Filled with just a bit of trepidation, I drove slowly by the wreck, and headed into the unknown wild desert lands, bumping along the dirt track, not knowing exactly where the trailhead was, just keeping an eye on the odometer to look more intently as I got nearer to where it should be, and not drive past it. But I did find it, packed up my gear and signed in at the trailhead. I wondered to myself if anyone really checks each day to make sure everyone who has signed in was accounted for at the end of the day. If I did get lost, would anyone really come looking for me any time soon? As I began the hike all alone, I could hear the loud crunch of gravel underfoot in the dry wash, yet the quiet was almost overwhelming as I hiked in near darkness, my headlamp throwing out a beam in search of whatever lay ahead. As per ranger instructions, I eventually made my way up a canyon wall that topped out to a broad, shallow valley of mostly pink sand and sandstone. Still a long way to go, as the day brightened slightly, I spotted the last landmark at least another long mile away, and made my way toward it until I found what was the final climb up a rock slope to discover I was actually at the Wave, one of the crown photographic jewels at the time!!

A Day in Fog

Young Oak in Fog — Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Young Oak in Fog — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

It isn’t often that fog greets us in the morning, so when I looked out the window the other day, I saw thick fog and wanted to race out to capture all the mood it can offer before it eventually burns off. It was a late start being 8:30 already, but it only takes 13 minutes to get to a bridge overlooking Jordan Lake. That was the first stop, but not much came of it, so I was off to another spot, but slowed down along a road with some open forest and a few young oaks still holding on to their autumn leaves.

Woodland Thicket — Chatham County, NC — © jj raia

Woodland Tangle — Chatham County, NC — © jj raia

I parked the car and spent quite a bit of time walking along that stretch of road, trying to find something of a focal point, and found several. Each time I set up for a photograph, I needed to be aware of the traffic, because the camera needed to be set up on the roadway (no shoulders) to get the most advantageous angle. So there was a lot of composing, and moving out of the way several times without tripping the shutter because of the cars whizzing by. But I did find this singular tree (top), and if the tripod was placed just right, one of the grasses curved up and led directly to a few curved branched on the tree to form a sort of s-curve. It’s just a gentle line that the eye might follow through the frame. That’s why it’s important to move around the chosen spot to determine the optimal camera placement (left/right and up/down) for your shot. Additionally, the sun may shine through the fog from time to time as it did for the image above, so patience can also help when working in fog, because conditions are always changing.

For the image at the top, I needed to make two separate frames, one focused on the nearer grasses in the lower part of the frame, and another focused on the more distant reddish/brown oak leaves. Needless to say, each frame needed to be taken without moving the tripod, and there just didn’t seem to be enough time between cars to get both done without interruption. At times, the camera had some difficulty focusing in the fog, and I had to focus first, switch to manual mode to not lose the focus point, and then compose, before taking the shot; the reverse from the normal procedure. Then refocus and take the second frame. And the dense fog made visibility down the road for oncoming cars sketchy at best. I would often hear them before actually seeing them!

After dodging the traffic a while and getting a few images, I was back by the car ready to go on to another location, when a car pulled up with (surprise!!) two friends out to capture the fog as well. When something unexpected like that happens, the day immediately becomes more memorable and fun in the shared experience, so it was a pleasant surprise. They were the same husband and wife team I spent a week with in Acadia National Park in the autumn of 2018 that completely changed my outlook on photographic trips.

Throwback Thursday No. 5


Images from the Film Archives — 1999

Young Cottonwood - Zion National Park, UT  © jj raia

Young Cottonwood – Zion National Park, UT © jj raia

After several years of taking one week autumn trips within shorter driving distances from my home, the drives eventually lengthened to 8-plus hour drives to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and to Maine’s Acadia National Park. It dawned on me later that I could fly somewhere out west in less time, without losing two days of photography driving. Flying east to west, I could arrive mid-morning and have plenty of time to get to the first destination for sunset. So in 1999, not having researched much for the usual annual autumn photo trip, I tried my luck with Priceline, and actually had my offer accepted!! I had to pack fast because the very next night, I was off to Las Vegas for 9 days of photography in my first revisit to America’s southwest since 1982, when my wife and I made a cross country trip in a jammed packed tiny Datsun (for those old enough to remember, Datsun changed their name and is now Nissan).

It looked like the trip would start off great, arriving in Las Vegas around midnight, I would have plenty of time to get to the Grand Canyon for sunrise! NOT!! The connection in Atlanta was over two hours late, and by the time I got my bags and rented SUV, it was a little after 3am. Add getting a little lost (this was before navigation appeared in most cars), finding myself in some town instead of a highway, and sunrise ended up being about an hour from the south rim. It was a great trip though, revisiting the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, seeing Antelope Canyon and the Paria Canyon for the first time, and finally getting back to Zion after 17 years.

Wanting to explore outside Zion’s main valley, I drove through the tunnel to the high country where sandstone cliffs, checkerboard eroded mesas and narrow canyons awaited. I explored one of those narrow canyons that I would later learn was Pine Creek Canyon, a dry wash with water only when it rains, that flowed into the Virgin River that runs through Zion. Wandering through the narrow canyon during an afternoon, I found a young cottonwood growing out of a crack in solid sandstone. The orange rock face behind it was crusted with lichen and had a dark erosional depression that, by positioning the tripod, fell directly behind the tree framing it, and made the yellow leaves pop a bit more. A simple, straight forward, normal (80mm) lens shot, with no breeze to blur the leaves; and so quiet, I could hear my own breathing.

The following year, to celebrate my half century on the planet, my wife suggested I actually plan another trip of two weeks, to a destination of my choice. And so began an almost ten year string of trips to some of the most beautiful parts of our country, where much of my photography took place, in addition to the usual day trips and family vacations in and near NJ.