Throwback Thursday No. 13


Images from the Film Archives – 2002

Aspen Grove - Dixie National Forest, UT  © jj raia

Aspen Grove – Dixie National Forest, UT © jj raia

Between Escalante and Torrey, Utah, lies one of the most scenic drives in America. This small section of Route 12, a designated Scenic Byway, runs through some rugged slickrock, down to the canyons of the Escalante River and Calf Creek, back up along a steep hogback where there are no shoulders or guardrails, as you look straight down on both sides of the road!! Great views are had in both directions as you head toward Boulder, and if you continue on, the road splits; one way continues along the Burr Road into some rugged and scenic desert backcountry, while the other takes you up into the alpine reaches of Boulder Mountain within Dixie National Forest.

Autumn Aspens — Dixie National Forest, UT © jj raia

Autumn Aspens — Dixie National Forest, UT © jj raia

It was Boulder Mountain that was my destination on this sunny afternoon, hoping to find a vantage point over the surrounding deserts that lay so far below, for a sunset photo shoot. I was surprised to find mile upon mile of the highway lined with aspen trees, all wearing the golden color of autumn. It was my first encounter with aspens, being from the east, where they are few, and certainly not the full mountainsides as there were here. Since there were no clouds for a dramatic sky at sunset, I began to search for a spot where I could fill the frame with the golden leaves, with just a few of the white trunks to break up the mass of gold. After not too much searching, I found a dirt area to park right near a huge wall of gold. Even though it was a pretty high elevation, there wasn’t any wind to speak of, and the leaves of the quaking aspens weren’t moving at all. In fact, these trees were named specifically because the slightest breeze would cause the leaves to “quake”, thus quaking aspen.

So with a very small aperture of between f/22-f/32, I was able to take long exposures of 4-seconds to have the maximum depth of field using the 210mm (130mm on full frame). I was thrilled to have taken the second photo seen in the post, and felt extremely lucky to have so easily found the composition I searched for. So I decided to walk further along the road to see if there were anything else to photograph, and I came across the image at the top. I liked the evenly positioned trunks, the yellow background, and the blue tones on the trunks reflecting the blue sky above that offset the gold. I couldn’t believe the good fortune to find two (!) aspen images that completely filled the frame, that afternoon, but by now the light began to fade, and in order to continue using the small apertures necessary for sharpness through as much of the frame as possible, shutter times needed to be lenghtened considerably. Not only was I adding time to what was deemed proper by the meter because of so much white and bright yellow in the frame, but recipropocity failure was also a concern, so even longer shutter speeds were necessary to compensate for that as well. Times ranged between 8-32 seconds, using the second hand on my watch as a timer. And all the while it seemed each leaf stood completely still for every exposure.

Yet, all the next day, there was the nagging doubt that either the leaves were moving during the exposure, or I hadn’t taken enough of a spread of shutter times to get a correct exposure for any of the shots. So I committed to reattempt the same shot the following afternoon to make sure I had gotten what I needed to do justice to the scene. I didn’t think it could be as calm as it was the previous afternoon, but amazingly, the air was just as still, and I exposed quite a bit of film…again! It wouldn’t be until almost a month later that I would find out if I had gotten a useful chrome out of all those shots. As it turned out, there were plenty to choose from, and for that I am thankful.




A Look Back

Geysir — Iceland  © jj raia

Geysir — Iceland © jj raia

As I usually do from time to time, I go back over images from past trips to weed out files that will never see the light of day, removing them from the hard drive to limit the valuable space they occupy. And, as is usually the case, I linger over a few, and process them to see if any will avoid the trash heap. These few are the latest to be salvaged from my trip to Iceland eight months ago, so it’s been quite a while since I combed through them with fresh eyes.

Although my visits to Geysir, the thermal area just south of the famous waterfall Gulfoss, on the first two days of the trip was under miserable conditions, without much in the way of scenic majesty by the way, I photographed several eruptions since they occur about ten minutes apart. It seems just before the steam explodes into the air, (think Yellowstone’s Old Faithful), most times there is a large bubble of water immediately preceding the actual eruption. So capturing that phenomenon was the task I set for myself, mainly because the steam in the sky didn’t really stand out much against the clouds, and the bubble was a beautiful turquoise blue. It proved difficult to time perfectly, since it was similar to capturing a lightening strike. I set the camera to a high speed frame rate, eliminated the usual 2-second shutter delay, and rattled off several frames when I thought it would occur. But the water never reacted in the same way twice, so it was hit or miss, tripping the shutter too soon or too late, or just not getting the right amount of “bubble”. Thinking the conditions weren’t very good in the first place, I gave up trying after a while, but looking through them now, I found this one image was closest to having been timed right.

Throwback Thursday No. 12


Images from the Film Archives — 1997

Gull at First Light — N. Wildwood, NJ © jj raia

Gull at First Light — N. Wildwood, NJ © jj raia

During those film years, there was always a family vacation in late August. My wife, her twin sister and her husband and daughter, joined our two kids to spend a week in Wildwood, that wonderful motel mecca of sand, surf and boardwalk on the southern shore of NJ. Each morning I would get up, leaving everyone else asleep, and head out to photograph the sunrise. On this particular morning, I drove up to the north end of town and saw a completely empty sky, figuring not much would come of it. But when I got there and could actually see the horizon, there were just those few clouds lined up along it.

Wildwood, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is an area of very flat beaches, some stretching several hundred yards in length, making the trek to the water’s edge a tough slog if your carrying all the things that go along with a day spent on the beach: chairs, umbrellas, toys for the kids and sandcastles, frisbees, lotion, towels, reading material, and of course, food, snacks and coolers of cold drinks. I’m breaking a sweat just thinking about it. But being flat, if the tide were right, the beach could have a low water sheen reflecting the sky, and/or leave some pools of water held in by a slight sand bar. One of those pools of water made a nice curve leading toward the only clouds that morning, and it became the only real composition to be found along the beach there. So I was setting up the tripod, etc. and a gull lands right where you see it in the photo. Lucky for me to have a nice focal point at the pointed end of sand, but unlucky that the dim light made the exposure 4-seconds making it improbable that the bird would remain motionless during the exposure! Since I didn’t have a split neutral density filter then, or anytime when I shot film, I used a small piece of black card stock instead. To “dodge” the sky above the horizon, for 3-seconds the card was moved slightly while the mirror was up exposing the film, and removed during the final 1-second of exposure. It was a method that I had used for a while, but it did not always come out right since I couldn’t see through the viewfinder with the mirror up, and the dodging might end up crooked, too dark, or not exactly on the horizon. It really was hit or miss.

All I could do was cross my fingers and hope that the exposure was correct, the dodging had been done right, and that the bird didn’t move during those 4-seconds. The gull flew away after two attempts, and it wasn’t until a few weeks later until I found if there had been any success that morning.

Bald Skies

First Light at Bell's Point — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

First Light at Bell’s Point — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

It’s been a long while since I dragged myself out of bed early in the morning to get somewhere for first light. But on Super Bowl Sunday, I happened to wake up early, looked out the window and saw a bald sky. Normally that would be a deal breaker, but I thought there might be some mist coming off the lake because of the cold weather, so I headed out.

When I arrived at one of my sunrise spots at Jordan Lake, it was a rare occurrence that there was another photographer already set up. I said “Good Morning” to the silhouette in the near darkness, and as is the usual practice, respected his space, and headed a short distance away where the water level revealed a few rocks for a foreground. The rocks also provided a leading line into the frame toward the distant color along the horizon. Luckily, there was a singular rock off to the side that helped balance the frame, because without it, the frame would have been much too heavy on the left side. Unfortunately, there was no mist coming off the water, but there were just a few thin clouds along the horizon to add some interest in the otherwise bald sky. As the sky brightened, some mist seemed to form in the distance on the far shore of the lake, and since that was where the action was, I switched to the 70-300mm to fill the frame with what was happening there, and clicked off five frames for a panorama (below).

By then, the silhouette turned out to be someone I knew! So that made the morning special, in spite of the lackluster light. It’s funny that two of the last three times I’ve gone out to Jordan Lake, I’ve run into another photographer I know.

Dawn at Bells Point — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Dawn at Bells Point — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Throwback Thursday No. 11


Images from the Film Archives 2007

Sentinel Dome — Yosemite National Park, CA  © jj raia

Sentinel Dome — Yosemite National Park, CA © jj raia

On my very first cross-country trip in 1977, one of the major destinations along the way was to Yosemite National Park in California. Traveling through Colorado, to Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Death Valley, we headed north along the eastern Sierra to Lee Vining. Then west again, over the Tioga Road through the Sierra high country toward the valley itself, the drive really gave me my first experience of the majestic views among the peaks within the range, and I looked forward to a planned hike atop Sentinel Dome to see the iconic and twisted jefrey pine that so many famous photographers had previously visited. At the time, although I had a camera, it was only along to record the trip, and I have nothing to show for the hike to see this fabled tree. It was the adventure then, and not the photography. But I did marvel at the strength and beauty of that lone tree that so many came to see, and the 360-degree view of the granite domes and peaks of the Sierras. One specific, vivid memory I have from that first visit, was the sound of the wind passing through it’s needles.

It would be several years until I made the hike there again, only to be saddened and disappointed that the tree had finally lost its battle with the solid rock environment on the dome; still standing but without any needles to adorn the gnarled limbs. It wasn’t until 2007 that I returned for a third time to make the climb with the specific intention to actually photograph it with the medium format camera I was using at the time.

This last visit had the complete and utter disappointment of discovering that only the carcass of the tree remained, having fallen over during the intervening years, with most of the limbs having disappeared. I spent a couple hours there while other hikers came and went, until the very late afternoon when they had all headed back along the 2.1-mile trail to their car. I was alone as the sun reddened and shone a wonderful orange light onto the tree and surrounding High Sierra. As I hiked back down in the darkness, I was encouraged because a younger tree, with the early signs of becoming twisted like its predecessor, seen in the near distance from the trunk in the photo, was growing at another location atop the dome that may someday replace the recently departed icon, and become an icon in its own right in the decades to come. We can only hope that it does and inspires another generation of photographers to seek the solace and serenity of that special place.

Intimate Encounters – Water

Foggy Flight — Jordan Lake, NC  © jj raia

Foggy Flight — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

I had intended to have this video out by the first of the month, and then followed with another video the first of each subsequent month through most of the year. But as I had hoped, I received and sought some feedback from the initial video, and wanted to incorporate those suggestions into this second attempt, and thus a delay. Click here to see the first Intimate Encounters – Trees. Hopefully, things will continue to evolve and improve.

Discovering what is possible, and various techniques to use within iMovie, listening to a lot of appropriate, free, royalty free music (as opposed to purchasing royalty free music), to create an intended mood to go along with the specific chosen images, and make a cohesive video that goes beyond a simple series of photos, will be a very long learning curve. But the main purpose is simply to improve those “slideshows” that accompany the talks I’ve given over the past few years.

The one thing that has encouraged me in trying to improve each of those slideshows, and consequently these videos, is the discovery a few years ago, that they can actually evoke an emotional response within those who view them. I came to that realization after giving one of my earliest talks, about my month long photographic trip in 2014. When the slideshow had concluded, I noticed a woman in the audience seemed to have tears in her eyes, and after all the questions were answered, I went over to inquire. It seemed that the images in conjunction with the music, brought back certain memories of hers, and enough emotion resurfaced to well up in her eyes. That revelation almost brought me to tears as well. To know that the sequence of sight and sound had such an impact; that what was shown and heard touched her just as deeply as the sights and sounds had reached my soul in the days I made those photographs. It is truly gratifying to realize it is possible to convey our own, deeply personal feelings to others, through our photography! And I hope that at least a few who view these videos, can be touched in the same way.

Please click here to view Water, the second in the Intimate Encounters series on You Tube.

To see the first in the series Intimate Encounters — Trees, click here.




Throwback Thursday No. 10

Images from the Film Archives 2007


Autumn Hillside - Bishop Creek, Eastern Sierra, CA  © jj raia

Autumn Hillside – Bishop Creek, Eastern Sierra, CA © jj raia

In the fall of 2007, I flew into Las Vegas, picked up the standard SUV rental, stopped at a nearby Walmart as I usually did on any trip to load up on supplies, and finally headed north to make my way toward Death Valley. I just blew through there, because the initial destination of the trip was Fossil Falls further west, beyond the White Mountains along Highway 395, the north/south highway that runs along the eastern side of the Sierras through most of California. The main reason for the trip itself was to explore the mountains, canyons and lakes that lie just off this main artery in California, and included the Alabama Hills, the Ancient Bristlecone Pines, Mammoth, Mono Lake, and Yosemite’s high country along the Tioga Road.

Fossil Falls sounded so intriguing when I read about it, but turned out to be a photographic bust. Although it was an interesting area of ancient lava flows, there was no water in the “falls”; and after wandering around the area, could barely take a single image. The only saving grace was two rabbitbrush bushes adorned in autumn color which stood out against the blue/black basalt.

Basalt & Rabbitbrush — Fossil Falls Area, CA © jj raia

Basalt & Rabbitbrush — Fossil Falls Area, CA © jj raia

Later in the trip, just outside Bishop, I was following the road up along Bishop Creek toward Sabrina Lake, and found a beautifully lush hillside of autumn color and white trunk aspen trees. It was an overcast day, so the hillside was evenly lit, making compositions a bit easier to construct within the frame without any extremely bright sunlit areas. Photographically, it was the opposite of Fossil Falls in that there was an abundance of photos to take, and I burned through quite a bit of film. After I switched to digital in 2012, I scanned and printed the image at the top, and around 2015, after using Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) quite a bit on the month long trip a year earlier, I tried the same technique using the print itself instead of using the actual landscape, the results of which are seen below with quite a bit of added artistic license.

Bishop Creek Hillside, CA (ICM) © jj raia

Bishop Creek Hillside, CA (ICM) © jj raia (digital image)


Jordan Lake Zero © jj raia

Jordan Lake Zero © jj raia

It was a mostly cloudy day, but my son was interested in taking some photos down at Jordan Lake that day, so off we went in hopes of something breaking out to light up all the clouds that were around. When we arrived, there were some interesting clouds, but nothing noteworthy. However, there were a few openings along the horizon that might prove to be the difference between a “zero sunset” or an otherworldly one. The water was a bit choppy making perfect reflections out of the question, so all we could do is cross our fingers and hope. Everything was pretty dark with the heavy cloud cover, and the opening along the horizon near where the sun would set was pretty bright, but never grabbed any color; just a faint orange. Even a split neutral density filter didn’t help much with that singular bright spot. For the exposure above, any increase in exposure threatened to blow out the bright area altogether, and any color there would not be recoverable. Blending was a possibility, but since this frame had the darkest bright area, it was first used to see if the rest of the frame could be lightened enough to make blending unnecessary.

But while there, the question was what to do? The first few straight shots were only worthy of the trash can. So a 10-stop ND filter was used for a two-minute exposure to blur the water and clouds. Still nothing, but kept at it until I could get a somewhat useable file and hope processing would make a difference. As seen in the unprocessed image at the top, the clouds and water were pretty dark, while the bright sky along the horizon was useable, but certainly nothing of note. Yes, the clouds showed movement, and the water was a smooth blur, but it was still basically a zero.