Throwback Thursday No. 25


Images from the Film Archives – 1999

Petrified Dunes — Glen Canyon NRA, AZ  © jj raia

Petrified Dunes — Glen Canyon NRA, AZ © jj raia

1999 marked the beginning of annual photo trips to the western United States rather than to the northeast. I hadn’t been out that way since 1982 when my wife and I packed up the tiny car we had and drove across the country to revisit the places I had seen on my very first cross country drive in 1977 with a friend of mine.

That first trip began in Las Vegas and was basically a circle route around the Grand Canyon, beginning on the south rim for a few days, and then stopping in Page (staying in a Motel 6!!) to experience the famous slot of Antelope Canyon the next day. But on the way to Page in the late afternoon, traveling north on Route 89, just north of the split with 89-A, where the highway climbs up an escarpment, and just beyond the sweeping curve at the top, I noticed some beautiful rocks being side-lit looking north toward Glen Canyon. I pulled over right away, grabbed my gear and scrambled down from the highway to the rocks below. There really wasn’t much time before the beautiful, blazing light on the rocks would be lost as the sun dropped and shadows would begin to creep into the area. So it was a race against time to find an interesting foreground that would lead the eye into the scene. I was lucky to stumble across some rocks eroded into layers, with each layer being both lit by the sun, and casting its own narrow shadow, leading to the next band of stone with the same textures, leading further and further into the middle distance. Fortunately, there were a few clouds in the sky for added interest, but it was the glowing rocks that were the star of this scene.

It was a difficult scene to meter with both sunlight and shade on the rocks, and it wouldn’t be until several weeks later that I would know if the shots came out properly exposed. I used the 35mm (20mm equivalent on full frame) and easily kept everything in focus by stopping down to f/22 and dialing in the hyperfocal distance on the lens. The glow on the rocks didn’t last very long, with the shadow just at the base of the solitary tree in the middle left of the frame and moving fast. But it probably didn’t matter as this spot may have been the best location since moving left would have lowered the vantage point and lost much of the overview. To the right was completely in shade from the large stone in the foreground, so I was satisfied with the camera position. A polarizer helped cut the reflective nature of the sandstone and darken the sky a bit to make the clouds stand out.

Fifteen years later, on a month-long trip in the area, the plan was to revisit the spot in the same light, and then rush to Horseshoe Bend, just a few more miles up the highway in time for sunset. Coming from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on Highway 89-A, when I reached Hwy 89, the road heading north was closed!! It seemed that the catastrophic monsoons a few months earlier, had caused a collapse of the roadway and had yet to be repaired. During one monumental rainfall, Antelope Canyon was completely flooded and the area around Page was devastated with damage. To get an idea of what that was like in 2014, Click Here to view a video from the damage in Page in 2013. The monsoons in 2014, were even worse. Click Here to see what it was like along US15 north of Las Vegas that year. Go to about 1:30 in the video to see the most frightening aspect of flash floods. This was the same rainfall that caused the damage around Page, AZ that year.

Needless to say, I never got to the spot again because of the closure, and never made it to Horseshoe Bend for sunset either, because the detour to get north of the damage and into Page was nearly 100 miles! The most frustrating part was driving furiously, constantly looking at my watch and knowing I wouldn’t make it in time, and witnessing one of the most breathtaking sunsets I had seen. The only thing I could do was stop along the highway, only a few miles away from Horseshoe Bend as the crow flies, to photograph the beautiful sunset clouds with nothing of interest in the landscape. The consolation prize was a visit to Horseshoe Bend the next afternoon with the intent of photographing it, processing it dark to appear late in the day, and blend it with the sunset from the previous evening. That the digital advantage!!

Horseshoe Bend at Sunset (2014) © jj raia

Horseshoe Bend at Sunset (2014) © jj raia





Competing Elements

Quality Container Fixed — Wilson, NC  © jj raia

Quality Container Fixed — Wilson, NC © jj raia

In post processing, “fixing” has always been part of the process, defined as taking care of dust spots, errant twigs, cigarette butts, or any other distraction within an image, generally accomplished in Lightroom or Photoshop. It can be the simple removal of a few sensor spots, or as major as removing people, cars or trees (although I’ve never done anything to that extreme). I can remember discovering what appeared to be thousands of specks of debris on the surface of a lake after zooming into 1:1 on the computer screen. Since they would be a distraction from what I saw of the smooth surface reflections in an enlarged print, several hours were spent removing every single one using Photoshop’s clone tool. And the bad thing was there were two differing images that needed that same “fixing”! To see that post and the two (yellowish) photos, click here.

Throwback Thursday No. 24


Images from the Film Archives — 1998

Tree Tops & Sky at Dawn - Troy Meadows, NJ  © jj raia

Tree Tops & Sky at Dawn – Troy Meadows, NJ © jj raia

Even though the photograph of the purple loosestrife from the previous year (1997) was no longer available because the background was bulldozed, I couldn’t resist the pull of the loosestrife, and returned to Troy Meadows again the following August in hopes of finding other areas of that wonderful meadow of previous years to photograph. As I drove around searching without success, it was getting near sunrise when I noticed some wispy clouds were beginning to absorb some color. Knowing that it wouldn’t last long, I just pulled over to the side of the road, set up the camera, and threw on the 210mm (130mm on a full frame). As I was quickly setting up on the tripod, I struggled with the decision whether to include the trees in the first shot or not, since it was likely there would only be time for one bracketed sequence before the color began to fade. Colorwise, by including them, they would be rendered black and provide a deep contrast to the brilliant pastels of pink, blue/gray and mauve. The clouds alone would be a completely abstract design; including the treetops would give the image context, while still maintaining the abstract of the sky, and add a different type of contrast in the soft clouds versus the hard edged trees. So many decisions!!

I ended up taking the first sequence with the treetops because they could always be cropped out later; and I was right in that there was no time to take another set without them.


Walt Disney Auditorium — Los Angeles, CA © jj raia

Walt Disney Concert Hall — Los Angeles, CA © jj raia

As is usually the case during a photo trip, plans can change and adjustments have to be made; and that was the case as the trip to California in 2017 was ending. The plan was to arrive at the Walt Disney Concert Hall well before sunset in order to get a good feel of how I wanted to photograph the wildly shaped architecture designed by Frank Gehry as the light changed. Because of a much longer than expected hotel check-in and car clean out, along with the horrendous nightmare of Los Angeles traffic, arrival turned out to be just minutes before sunset. There was absolutely no time to walk around the building to view the interplay of the dynamic shapes and begin to mentally frame some compositions. This shoot would be all about instinctive reaction to a subject totally different from those of the previous 20 days, and different from what usually falls before my lens.

Throwback Thursday No. 23


Images from the Film Archives — 2001

Tri-State Rock - Delaware Watergap NRA, PA  © jj raia

Tri-State Rock – Delaware Watergap NRA, PA © jj raia

Tri-State Rock was something I learned about from one of the hiking books I had that mentioned it held far ranging views of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The description of the hike was pretty sketchy, and not much in the way of maps, but I figured it could be found just reaching the cliffs above the Delaware Valley on the Pennsy side. The first thought was to go there in winter with snow on the ground and shoot down onto the Delaware River in the valley below. It was a good concept, except that the snow was knee deep, and trudging through it was an enormous, physically challenging process. Plus the fact that I had no idea of how to get to the spot!! At one point, I almost gave up the attempt, but gave it one last surge by going off trail into the woods toward where I thought the cliff might be, and found the cliff edge with a view looking south down into the valley that was great, and as a previously unknown added bonus, a wonderfully sculpted tree clinging to the cliff edge. But it had become overcast, so there were no shadows from the trees on the meandering meadows and farms below as I had hoped, and getting near the very edge of the sheer drop was not a risk worth taking because of all the snow and underlying ice. A fall would be certain doom! But I did decide it was worth a return again during the following autumn for a sunrise on a clear day since there should be some good sidelighting on the tree and forest along the Delaware River.

Fast forward to the following October; it was a perfectly clear, cool fall night as I drove several hours, and was filled with anticipation for the hike and photo opportunity. As I approached the bridge to cross into Pennsylvania, I drove into fog! Hope turned into dismay as the thoughts of distant views seemed to disappear into the mist. Continuing the drive, optimism had completely drained, and during the hike any hopes of the fog dissipating vanished as well. When I arrived at the tree that I had seen in the winter, it was engulfed with nothing to see other than the immediate surroundings. So I set up to take some bland photos of the tree in fog, and while doing so, the fog seemed to lower just enough to see the sky above and the beginnings of a sunrise just above it (photo below).

Bonsai Cedar - Delaware Watergap, PA © jj raia

Bonsai Cedar – Delaware Watergap, PA © jj raia

I snapped a few bracketed frames just before the fog rose again, totally enveloping the spot. I waited quite a while in hopes it would lower again, but the fog remained, gave up the quest, and deeply disappointed, headed back having not gotten the shot I’d hoped for. I did return another time during the following spring, though not for photography, but brought along the family for the hike and a picnic by that beautiful tree while taking in the majestic views on a joyful sunny day.

I vowed to make another attempt the following fall, and made the same drive under the same cool, clear conditions, hoping for a different outcome than the prior attempt. And as previously, when I got to the bridge into Pennsylvania, there was fog!! But I kept going and made the hike again hoping for a better result. As it turned out, the fog was not as thick as the previous year, and didn’t reach the height of the cliff. It turned out to be one of the most spectacular long distance scenes I’ve ever photographed in the NJ area.

A few years later, I visited the spot again in autumn, but this time I brought along a photographer friend of mine for another great morning shoot. Perfect conditions again, with fog in the valley and wonderful side lighting. But I was dismayed that he refused to use the tree in any of his photos, as I sensed he felt I had some kind of claim on that composition. I felt bad having dragged him up there in the wee hours, but not utilizing that wonderful tree. Afterwards, it was nice to have some company to talk about photography while having breakfast at a nearby diner. That was my usual procedure after a morning shoot, getting to know quite a few diners throughout New Jersey, and which ones had the best home fries!! Here in North Carolina, diners are a rarity, and home fries? Fogettabboutit!! 


A Favorite Tree

Buttress Tree — Sequoia NP, CA © jj raia

Buttress Tree (2017) — Sequoia NP, CA © jj raia


First, let me wish all the Moms a very

Happy Mother’s Day!!


Working on a project with a few friends of mine, I converted this color image taken in 2017 to black and white. This same basic photo was originally taken more than 40 years ago, way back in 1978 on Kodachrome 64, well before I was anywhere near being serious about photography. The conditions under which the two photos were taken could not have been more different. The earlier 35mm image was taken around 1pm, and while the roots of this fallen giant sequoia were in shade, the sunlight reflected off the nearby roadway into them, illuminating many of the darker nooks and crannies. The more recent image was taken around dawn, with any sunlight blocked by the Sierras to the east, leaving everything in shade. These were the exact conditions I wanted because it would allow for even lighting, and be better able to record the darker areas of the roots without having to wait for early afternoon to duplicate the conditions back then. This was the morning of the second day of a three week California trip, after spending the overnight photographing the General Sherman Tree in the spooky darkness under the stars, and then getting acquainted with the SUV rental that would be my home for the three weeks, for a few fitful hours of sleep. Afterward, it was off to Yosemite National Park, further north.

Throwback Thursday No. 22


Images from the Film Archives — 1999

Makepeace Wildlife Management Area, NJ  © jj raia

Makepeace Wildlife Management Area, NJ © jj raia

In a previous life before retirement, my work life revolved around Amtrak as an engineer operating trains between New York and Washington, DC. A little more than 10 years before retirement, Amtrak brought out their (at the time) new high-speed trains eventually christened Acela. Before they went into revenue service, every engineer was required to attend a one-week training in Wilmington, Delaware, where classroom instruction was supplemented with simulator time on an actual mock-up of the operating cab that was to be used, with virtual reality screens of the actual railroad, including every switch and signal between the two cities! Pretty high tech stuff!!

Since we stayed in Wilmington each night for the week, and weren’t due in class before 9am, it gave me the opportunity to leave the hotel very early in the morning, and head to a couple locations in southern New Jersey for photography. It worked out well because it was mid-summer and the sun rose pretty early which gave me plenty of time to return and get some breakfast before classes resumed. It was on one of those early morning excursions to southern New Jersey that the destination was Makepeace Wildlife Management Area, a place I’d never been to before. So it was only happenstance (dumb luck) that there happened to be a few flowers in bloom alongside a marsh where I ended up that morning, providing some foreground interest using a 35mm (20mm on full frame) lens. They grew right next to an old log used as a leading line that pointed toward the distant stand of trees. It was easy to keep everything in focus using the markings on the barrel and an f/22 aperture setting the hyper-focal distance. With todays “modern lenses” there is no absolute way to do what was so easy during the pre-historic era of film. High Tech? Once I had found this foreground, it was easy to simply wait for the sun to rise above the horizon and provide some soft side-lighting to sculpt the flowers and log.

Unfortunately, there were no clouds that morning, so the horizon was placed high in the frame, but there was one saving grace: a bit of what I thought was “ground fog” in front of the distant tree line on the right. Heading back to Wilmington, I took a short detour up a dirt road that led to the “fog”, but quickly found it was actually a small, smoldering fire. I was able to put it out with what I had on hand, and was relieved because this part of New Jersey has a history of catastrophic wildfires. At least this one may have been averted.

So thank you Amtrak, for playing a part in saving the forest from a possible wildfire that day, and giving me the opportunity to pursue my photography in places that would otherwise be difficult to reach from home on a day off from work.


Intimate Encounters — Blurs

Azalea Blur — Buck Gardens, NJ © jj raia

Azalea Blur — Buck Gardens, NJ © jj raia

It was in May of 2009 that I created my first intentionally blurred image in camera; of course there were plenty of others that were unintentional. I used a simple point and shoot digital camera (my first), and it proved difficult to create what I was after because there were very few options to alter the shutter speed the camera “decided” was correct. To get enough blur, I had to move the camera very quickly while I tripped the shutter. It took many, many tries before I finally got the image I was after, and it was actually in the frame. Afterward, the fun was being able to wildly vary the colors in a prehistoric version of Photoshop. The image above was one of many created from that single, original frame of azaleas from 2009, but with some obvious variations in the color.

Ten years would pass before I would hear that this technique had an official name rather than the simple monicker “Blurs” as I had described them. I learned it was called Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). Bit I never made another blurred photo for over five years until I had my first DSLR and spent four weeks out west, with quite a bit of that time in Colorado during the autumn spectacular! I became almost obsessed taking blurred photos of the white trunks of aspen groves and their golden foliage. From that time forward, including just a few weeks ago, the blurred image (ICM) has become a technique I use more frequently.

Click Here to view Intimate Encounters — Blurs


To view any of the previous videos in the series, click on the links below.

And be sure to subscribe to receive notifications when the next video premieres.

Intimate Encounters — Trees

Intimate Encounters — Water

Intimate Encounters — Desert

Intimate Encounters — Coast