Cracking The Code

End of The Road

About the shot:

While traveling through Death Valley on the way to the Racetrack Playa with my best friend in the passenger seat, we were thoroughly enjoying the moment with no one around for miles, no where to be at a certain time, and no exact plan or schedule.  A sunset was brewing on the horizon, but we figured we’d watch it as we drove.  But then this perfect large patch of cracked earth appeared.  We both looked at it, looked at each other, and knew we had to turn around.  This sunset seemed to last forever, and it definitely will in our minds.

The cracked earth epitomizes the desert.  It takes rain to soften the ground, and then extreme heat to bake it, as if in God’s own clay art oven.  The weather extremes here are amazing.  As one of the hottest places on Earth (and the lowest depression in North America), we experienced 95 degree days and below freezing nights.

It also symbolizes the moment we were experiencing.  Part of the plan was to decompress our lives, experience nature, and put things into perspective.  We all get stressed out and need to escape into nature to reconnect from time to time.  At this moment we were feeling like we were really settling into the groove of the trip and letting go.  We had “cracked the code.”  Its really amazing… if you’re open to what nature is telling you, there are mirrors for your inner state and messages everywhere.

What lens did I use?

“End of The Road” – Thanks, Zeiss, for making an awesome 15mm! Mother nature deserves to be captured with good equipment.

I love this lens at f/22. Everything is perfectly clear and sharp at infinity focus with no distortion. This one has been bouncing around in my camera bag for a few years now, and its still tack sharp! If you know me, then you know that three years of travel includes a lot of off road adventures, falling on hard ground, and eventually having those moments where you look at your camera bag and think, “Uh oh. Something must be broken in there.”

But not this guy. Zeiss lenses are built like tanks. Although they have come out with newer wide angle lenses, I don’t see any reason to replace this one. So if you’re in the market for a great wide angle, check this one out (Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8). You can pick them up for about half of what I paid a few years ago.

New Release, “Impending” Now Available in Print for Father’s Day

Impending, Yosemite Valley

“Impending” – Yosemite Valley

This panoramic image was made last week at the famous tunnel view in Yosemite. Light and shadow were at play big time, just before a rare summer snowstorm blew through. It was interesting to later drive by a controlled burn being implemented in the Wawona Pass by the fire department as silver dollar sized snowflakes and ash hit my windshield. It’s not every day that you see fire and ice together at the same time!

The title not only refers to the impending storm hanging overhead, just about to cover Half Dome in the distance, but has personal significance as well.  As I move through lingering grief from recent lost loved ones, nature seems to reflect my mood in this moment.  Life is full of dark and bright moments, and every shade in between, as we move through its peaks and valleys.  I believe the complexity of this scene can be interpreted differently by every viewer.  Some may see an impending storm, some may see the clouds clearing.  Isn’t life the same?  We can see the glass half full or half empty.  For me in this case, nature’s brighter light causes me to feel impending joy over the darkness of the past.

Contact us for 1 of the first 10 Artist Prints. Father’s Day discounts available.

Limited Edition sizes for this print: 8×17, 16×34, 28×60

Tech: Zeiss 85mm Planar T, 2 Image Stitch

Angel Mist

I caught this misty morning over the city of the angels recently. It gives me hope because even in our city with an exploding population, water issues, and pollution problems, beauty can still be found. I was originally at Griffith Observatory this morning to shoot the green hills from an abundant rainy season this year (finally!), but had to turn around when I saw the angelic mist. This is a three image stitch made with a Zeiss 85mm Planar T. 1/100 sec at f/8

Angel Mist

Lake Shrine Meditation Garden

I wasn’t planning on stopping by the Lake Shrine today, but something pulled me in.  If you’re not familiar with this magical garden, go there!  You will be transformed.  Having the privilege of working there for some years, it was a photography (and of course meditation) training ground for me.  I’m so grateful for absorbing the beauty of this place, to have it all to myself so many times after work, and to serve with the giving volunteers and monks.

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All photographs taken with Zeiss 2/135 Milvus

Silver Falls Memory

Looking back to November, 2014 at Silver Falls State Park, OR with Dad.  These trips are always more amazing when you have someone you love and admire with you.  My Dad is a super creative guy and sees the world like no one I’ve ever met.  He never fails to blow my mind with amazing compositions in his own photography, and has greatly influenced the work that I do.  If you like anything that I’ve done, its because of this man.

The last photo in this slide show can be found in my book, Sacred Waterfalls, and is one of my favorites.  I can recall the emotional and mental state I was in for almost every photo I have ever taken, but some, like this one, stand out.  It was a scene I had in mind for a long time.  I didn’t know I would find it here, but when I came around the corner to see the moss in the trees, the powerful water, and the morning light coming through the trees, I was in a grateful state of awe and grounded by the thunderous sound of water pouring into the shallow pool below.  Moments like these touch your soul.  To share it with Dad was a true gift and one I will never forget.

As I gear up for a weekend trip with a dear friend of mine, I wonder what dreams may become visual reality this time and present themselves in front of my camera.  All I can tell you is that capturing the moment is secondary to what’s really important… being in the moment.

Pro Tip

These images were all made with Zeiss lenses (85 and 15mm).  I can’t stress to photographers enough how important good glass is.  I have to give credit to a mentor and friend of mine, James Hickey, who taught me the importance of clear lenses over megapixels.  If you’re at the stage with your gear where you’re having to make a buying decision between a powerful camera and good lenses, I would rather have good lenses on any day.  Clarity is key.  The last photo I mentioned, which is in the book, is crystal clear and in focus, without any distortion or chromatic aberration, from corner to corner.   Their lens coatings are almost magical, and allow me to capture great color while avoiding lens flares.  These points are important because if you plan on enlarging your work, you might run into problems (that you can’t photoshop) if you don’t start with a clear image.  Small problems become big problems when enlarging.  Thanks, Zeiss!

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Planning Your Shots

Dawn at Dume

Dawn at Dume

If you’re a photographer you hear this term a lot in books and workshops.  You can probably do a quick search online and find hundreds of people talking about this concept.  I’d like to share with you what it means to me.

There are several aspects to “planning a shot.”  In the photograph here, what you see is the result of waiting for the right day (and failing on several other occasions when the light wasn’t cooperating), having the right equipment, and knowing the locale intimately.


Before I expand on these points, the most important thing here to remember is emotion.  I know how this place makes me feel, but to convey that in a photograph isn’t always easy.  I wanted to be here on a day when the light was soft and expressive.  I didn’t know exactly what Mother Nature had in store, but I had a pretty good idea that it would be a foggy morning, allowing me to create sort of a painting-like image.  I knew I wanted detail in the sand, free from seaweed, and I wanted to show the slope of the beach.  I had to wait until the right moment.  The fog kept rolling in and out, being too thick at times and too thin at others.  With words in my head I heard in a lecture from well known photographer, Sam Abell, I told myself, “Compose the shot, and wait.”  The fog finally brushed the point, allowing the peak to show through and I knew that was my moment.  I finally felt everything I remembered Pt Dume being in my memories and my dreams.

Time of day and type of light

The morning light coming from behind the point allows the rocks to be in almost complete shadow, while the soft light is slowly allowing the camera to pick up the blue in the water.  The sun had already been up for five minutes, but my previous exposures were not right.  Either the sky wasn’t colorful enough, or the clouds were too thick, or the water pattern wasn’t appealing.  Again, they key was to get there early and wait.  We all see things differently, but this has a few elements you might notice in some of my other photographs that I try to capture.  I lean toward making photographs very high contrast, sometimes almost cinematic in nature.  While the light is soft, there is great contrast between light and shadow.  The early morning was the only time of day to accomplish this.

Composition, and Equipment

Having photographed Pt Dume before, I knew exactly where I wanted to stand on the beach to show the sloping sand and to get enough of the rocks and sky in the frame.  To accomplish this I knew I needed the perfect telephoto lens that would be able to keep everything in focus in both the foreground and background without distortion.  The Zeiss 2/135 Milvus was the obvious choice.  I feel that Zeiss makes the best lenses in the world for what I do.  The manual focus is buttery smooth, allowing me to control what is sharp effortlessly.  At f/22 everything is still in focus without chromatic aberration.  I kept the shutter open for 2.5 seconds (ISO 31) to allow the water to move and blur.  For aspiring photographers I can’t stress enough how important it is to be locked down and not moving.  I almost always use a carbon fiber tripod, as I did in this case.  They are light, yet sturdy.

Thanks for appreciating this image and taking the time to read this post.  I hope it gives you some insight into how I work.

Fire In The Sky

Here are some images in development from this year’s faux “firefall” at Horsetail Fall in Yosemite.  The phenomenon occurs when certain natural elements are in play, including sufficient water flow, the dispersing of clouds to allow enough light through, and of course the right time.  The Horsetail only lights up at the end of February, just before sunset, when the sun is at the right angle.  There are several viewpoints from which you can witness this awesome spectacle.  I chose the upper clearing of the El Capitan Picnic Area.

Notice the different colors, and the way light plays here on the water, clouds and rocks, and its overall ambient nature .  These are in order, left to right, in time sequence with the sunset.  On the left, the sun is higher in the sky, lighting more of the mist and rocks.  As the sun sank lower we almost lost it behind the clouds, but it pierced through to illuminate the water perfectly.  The last image was made after the sun set, and most photographers were leaving.  It is a longer exposure and captured the magenta color cast left in the dimmer light.

Everything is Sacred

Looking through my archives, I found this little gem, and wanted to share a new perspective I have on it, without color. I feel that my eye follows the path of light better without being distracted by the potent red and magenta hues.

To create the “sand fall,” my Native American trail guide hurled sand onto the rock five or six times, and then ran out of the frame.  When we were done shooting this scene I asked him if he considered this a sacred place.  He looked at me as if I were a child and replied, “Everything is sacred.”

Everything is Sacred

Everything is Sacred

Desert Heart Limited Edition 11×14

Happy St. Valentine’s Day! 

Because you love nature, we are announcing a new Limited Edition of Desert Heart.

Desert Heart 11x14 Limited Edition Print

Desert Heart 11×14 Limited Edition

Only 10 signed and numbered 11×14 prints of Desert Heart will ever be made.  This edition is printed on a special metallic pearl paper, and is gallery/archival quality.  This is a perfect last minute Valentine’s Day gift for your partner (11×14 ready made frames are easy to find), or a great gift to give yourself if you appreciate nature and fine-art photography.

Our Limited Editions usually cost three times as much, but what can we say… we love you!

Open Edition sizes are also available below, but remember that only 10 of the 11×14 Limited Edition Prints will be made.

All prints are loose, not framed.  Prints usually ship the day after your purchase.  Acrylic facemount or matting available upon request.



Thoughts on Composition for Photographers

Disney Music Hall
Over the weekend an Uber driver and I struck up a great conversation about composition in art. When he learned that I was a photographer, he asked if I carried nature composition techniques into a cityscape situation. Essentially, do I shoot a building the same way I would shoot a mountain or a tree? The answer is yes… and no.

Don’t Be A Slave to Rules
Firstly, you can’t talk about composition without talking about the Rule of Thirds. It is one of the most common ways to line up the elements in front of you, and seems to give the image a balanced feeling a lot of the time. However, I believe it is overused by most people. If you always line up your shot the same way, are you really paying attention to the emotion of the scene? That is to say, are you giving precedence to the scene, or the rule? Don’t be a slave to the rule, because it won’t always work. If you do use the rule of thirds, ask yourself, “what can I add to this?”

Study Nature
Essentially, landscape and cityscape photography are the same thing. They are BOTH nature photography. Cities are man’s attempt to recreate nature. We have used the same electrons, protons, and molecules found in forests, mountains, and deserts, and rearranged them to create different forms, but they are still part of nature. Interestingly, certain forms found nature resemble man made objects, and vice versa. Sometimes humans consciously make these building decisions to reflect nature, and sometimes it is accidental (a topic for another post).

I have to reference “Mountain Light” by Galen Rowell. If you are a nature photographer, you have to read this book. Galen explains plainly that the reason diagonal lines are so powerful is that they trigger the brain. Over the time we have evolved as humans, we have developed a fight or flight response to danger, and those dangers are usually coming at us from a diagonal approach. The brain might not interpret a diagonal line in a photograph to be a threat, but it triggers your attention. Consider how you might find a diagonal line in your foreground. Is there a log, a rock, a tree branch? Is there a way to use these elements to lead the viewers eye from foreground, to middle ground, to background?

In leading the viewer, what journey are you taking them on? What is the story they are going to learn? Are there different stories? What will they see in the first three seconds, and is it different than what they will learn in the next 30 seconds? This is the most important part of composition. We could talk about techniques all day, but if you can’t find a natural flow to a scene where you are leading your audience on a journey, then try something else.

In the photograph here, our Uber driver’s question is answered. Architecture has borrowed from nature using diagonals and curves, creating a structure you have to look at. It is impossible to drive by the Disney Music Hall while looking the other way. Some LA architects I have spoken to surprisingly debate its relevance, but I think it is a work of art. As a photographer, I see it as a gift, as there are countless ways to view it. In this case, I found an angle that represented the emotion I was experiencing – a sense of awe; from the earth, a monolithic structure rose towards the heavens, displaying its curves like a dance of power. In this moment, I saw that I could frame the building with the Fibonacci Spiral in mind, also known as the Golden Ratio. My attempt is to lead the viewer from left to right, and then up to the sky, following the curve of the building. It is almost like the spinal cord of the building, and one of its most important features/angles in my opinion.

To Budding Photographers
“Learn the form, but seek the formless. Hear the soundless. Learn it all, then forget it all. Learn The Way, then find your own way.” – The Silent Monk, Forbidden Kingdom
While I had the Golden Ratio in mind, I didn’t follow it exactly. Practice composition techniques, use them, but then change them. Create your own unique compositions based on your own unique nature and emotion.

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