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OK.  Four months after my last blog – see below - I have (nearly) finished my project (projects are never completely finished).  The road was not straight.  I am interested in the plains, Indian and pioneer history, Buffalo Bill and outlaws, cowboys and horses.  However, not so much as a photographer.  Then in June I took a workshop photographing mustangs in that region of the country.  I had never taken wildlife pictures before, but mustangs on the plains had a definite appeal.  I did take pictures, met a remarkable woman (Karen Sussman) who is president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, read some books, learned something about DSLR video, GoPro video and point & shoot video, wrote out a story board, learned something about sound systems (not enough it appears), went back to take some video clips, learned video editing and finally sat down to put that puzzle together.  My result is linked at this end of this discussion.  Wild horses in the western US raise concerns that shouldn’t be ignored.  Please take time to view the movie (22 minutes – you may need popcorn).  Besides the interview with Karen, I managed to highlight some of my pictures of the region and strung together a nice set of my horse pictures that hopefully you will enjoy.  I also hope the video will raise awareness of the pressing issue of wild horse management.

For those of you who wish to go back and see just my horse pictures, I present only that clip in the second video.

Finally, in September I did a trek through the Southwest and will be posting some of those pictures soon, now that I have time.  Here are a few.
 
 
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New Pictures Here

They say the only obstacle to the unremitting winds that sweep down from Canada and blanket the prairies of South Dakota was a barbed wire fence, and it blew down.  There is a sign along a main road in the west-central part of the state, an “homage” to the people who live there - The People of the Prairies: 

“(They)…are like the land they love.  They draw strength from the winds that blow across their plains and they draw warmth from the sun that melts the snow or beats mercilessly on the parched earth of summer.  (They are)…as determined as the blizzard that drives all before it.”

Eva K. Aglesburg wrote:

“For where land lies level as far as the eye can see;
Where nature’s moods are so diverse,
Where so tremendous is the spanning sky
That one seems centering the universe,
It is not strange the prairie’s sons have grown
To be like her, have virtues like her own.”

Do you get the idea?  I don’t want to live there, but I wanted to go there.   These plains hold history, important American history.   A circle on a map, the center of which lands on Rapid City, SD with a radius hitting Eagle Butte, will contain sacred Indian sites including the Black Hills, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, Bear Butte and the Badlands, along with parts of the Oregon/Pioneer trail through Nebraska, and cut very close to the battlefield of the Little Bighorn River, where Custer made his last stand.  It also will capture a small part of a large Lakota Indian Reservation, and include small herds of wild mustang horses genetically related to those brought to New Spain by Cortez and subsequent explorers/settlers.  Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument lie within the circumference as well.

Indian stories or myths vary depending on the tribes.  A bear chased young girls up a large rock in Wyoming, leaving scratch marks on its sides (Devil’s Tower).  The bear moved on to the Badlands where it was wounded fighting a dinosaur.  Subsequently it moved on and became today’s Bear Butte.  If it is awakened it could foretell the end of the earth.  Indians climb this sacred rock and leave colorful ties of honor. 

I climbed that rock, feeling spiritual, and thought of friends and family, living and deceased.  I visited the other sites.  I experienced rain, hail and lightening.   I became worried about the survival of the mustangs, the last link to our US western heritage.  I hiked the Black Hills.  Woke up early in the Badlands.   And so on!

I have started a photo project that includes much of the above.  Eventually this will become a story in pictures, videos ad text.  I am early in phase one of this assignment.  The link here is to the “trailer.” 

 


 
 
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Required reading:  To fully understand the following, please review my previous blog item “Light, Tides & Tics" on the Announcements page or just below this post.

Armed with a knowledge base acquired during multiple, mostly unsuccessful, trips to Bowling Ball Beach, I set off again following my destiny. 

Known facts:
1)            Tics hurt, burrow deep and fast.  Avoid them!
2)            Photography is “painting with light.”  Fog blocks light.  Avoid it!
3)            The “perfect” tide for my purposes is between 2’ & 2 ½’.  The time is now!
4)            The weather prediction for today is partly cloudy, with full sun tomorrow.  Clouds add interest but can block the light.  Chance it!
5)            Outgoing tides are difficult to work with.  Although they eventually may reach the desired 2 ½ feet, until then (and even then) you are at the mercy of the ocean, surf and waves.

Facts to file away and possibly consider (I didn’t):
1)            When evaluating tides, think calculus, i.e. tidal flows have slopes.  They can linger, or they can rush in or out.
2)            A steep slope on an incoming tide was waiting just for me.

I arrived two hours before sunset.  Interesting clouds with clear horizon brought with it the likely possibility of good light just at the right time.  I was able to walk quite far out into the “bowling balls” and snap off a few pictures for fun while awaiting the ocean water to perfectly fill the bowling lanes.  During that quiet time I was not thinking, “rush in,” “onslaught,” “panic,” “race,” – those kinds of words.

So the sequence was: a cloud decided to linger near (not on) the horizon, blocking the sun such that the balls and the shore and cliffs remained untouched by the direct warm sunlight that I so desired.  Seeing my anxiety (about ½ hour before sunset) the tide burst out of the starting blocks and rolled in with a vengeance.  I am standing in ankle-deep water (as I have for the past 2 hours), but now with waves hitting close to my knees.  I can take it!  My tripod can’t.  The cloud taunts me.  It finally relents, but the water keeps coming fast.  I’m aware of my toes (cold) – affects my thoughts, my creativity. 

Well, I did get some interesting pictures.  A softer tide, a more gentle and loving tide, or a more generous and caring solitary cloud would have allowed me to take a few more.  I guess they want me to come back.

I have updated my BB beach slide show to include shots from all my trips.  They are in order of capture so the latest are at the end.


 
 
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Light, Tides and Tics

Bowling Ball Beach is elusive.  It hides from you.  Then gets aggressive.  There is no El Capitan or Watchman, always at attention, ready to be photographed.  No!  Here the trio - the beach, the bowling balls and the ocean – conspire with the sun and costal fog in a five-way dance, with each member assuming an equal role to make a photographer’s journey, if not miserable, then at least difficult, wet, frustrating and photographically Blah. 

My last several trips to the beach went thus:
1)   Couldn’t find it.
2)   Found the beach (I think), but bowling balls way deep under very high ocean tide.
3)   I got the message – went at low tide and found, stranded far from the beautiful ocean waters, hundreds of bowling ball-sized rocks mixing with all the beach crud normally seen along ocean shore lines.  The chaos of this mixture of large/small, organic/non-organic, conflicting colors, wet/dry was too much for me, at least, to turn into anything pleasing (except for a few generic close-up patterns).   The sunset light decided to tease me, glowing wonderfully on this scenic disaster.
4)   Trying to hone in, picked a lesser (higher) low tide.  I was getting close, so the fog came in, blocking much of the sun.  A few of the bowling balls stayed half-submerged, but far too many remained stranded at the end of the lane (beach), not yet having been returned to sea for the start of the next frame.  Minimal photographic success.
5)   I think I’ve got it down.  Picked a 2.75 – 3.0 low tide at sunset.  Now the players all got mad.  Day was to be nice – instead thick fog and absolutely no color into the early evening.  The rocks were mostly partially submerged – perfect – but SLICK.  Nope, refused to hold my tripod.  The ocean?  Hung back nicely while I set up, screwed on my ND filter and opened the shutter for a 2-minute exposure.  After 45 seconds came crashing in on me, up to my knees, grabbing tripod, wasted effort.   It knows. 

What about the tic?  Having struggled down the trail and ladder carrying my equipment, setting up and beginning the saga, my forearm began to hurt quite intensely.  I “un-layered” and OMG – a big-A tic was burrowing into that sweet soft tissue.  I got him out with difficulty, wondering how the heck he got in there.  Did he have brothers?

Still I have one last trip in me (or maybe more).  I think a 2-2.5 low tide at sunset (a “real” sunset if possible) – will do it.  I am waiting.  Maybe the dancers, now that they know me better, will show some mercy.

I have decided to put up some up my shots to date (just updated), and as I get better ones I promise to replace my current group, 1 for 1.  But seeing my failures somehow gives me the motivation to go back, go back, go back………..

PS - I'd appreciate any comments about successful excursions to BB Beach, or any helpful Tic advice.


 
 
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The 50th Anniversary of the Point Reyes National Seashore (2012)

Over the past several years I have had the good fortune to visit and photograph some of the most beautiful spots on the planet, primarily, but not exclusively, in the western US.  If asked for advice, it would be easy for me to simplify the process to “go to a beautiful spot, wait for good light and perhaps a “moment” (e.g. weather) and snap away.”  So it is about me and the weather and some artistic vision and some luck.  

Not quite.  It is really about “the most beautiful spots on the planet,” and the realization that to keep the spots pristine and accessible, vast numbers of employees and volunteers expend huge efforts, often unnoticed and under-appreciated.

This is certainly true at the Point Reyes National Seashore, where I have hiked, taken classes and photographed many times.  Fifty years ago a few volunteers and thousands of hours of effort resulted in the creation of this National Seashore designation.  Today, the National Park Service and its partner, the non-profit Point Reyes National Seashore Association, work in concert to maintain this incredibly valuable resource in Northern California.

This blog then, is a commercial.  Come and visit, but also donate.  I took the following off the PRNSA web site:

“PRNSA is the primary nonprofit park partner working with the National Park Service at Point Reyes. As the only federally protected seashore on the West Coast, PRNSA's partnership in helping to fund critical preservation and restoration projects is both crucial and unique. We can't do this alone! The support of PRNSA members directly contributes to endangered species recovery and wildlife protection, habitat restoration, preservation of cultural and historic legacies, and environmental education programs for people of all ages. As a member, you will be protecting Point Reyes as a critical part of a healthy Bay Area ecosystem and as a beautiful park, rich in history, for you and future generations to explore and enjoy.”

Of course, all of our parks need support.  As the New Year comes in (tomorrow) it is a good time to reflect on how lucky we all are to have such resources for our children and ourselves. 

Check out the following web links:

http://www.ptreyes.org/index.shtml

To donate:

https://npo.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=1002123&code=Home%20Page&utm_source
=Year+End+Message+2012&utm_campaign=50th+anniversary+August+2012&utm_medium=email

And the NPS site:

http://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm


 
 
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"The Wall" at Dinosaur National Monument
I am embarking on a yearlong project that will encompass pioneer and Indian historic sites along the Oregon Trail, with a little paleontology thrown in as well.  Recently I left on a 3-week trip to do some initial research, driving through parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.  Unfortunately (mostly for the people in those areas), summer fires seemed to be everywhere, with smoke engulfing entire regions.  Crater Lake and the Sawtooth Mountains were essentially invisible; most of Wyoming was affected, but a bit less.  Sunsets and sunrises were much worse photographically as a result.   Still I learned a lot, visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial, Black Hills, Independence Rock, multiple forts and battlegrounds from the late 1800’s, and much more.  I have a concept in mind that will require several visits, and I hope the result will be unusual and successful.  I will add updates to my site as appropriate. 

But I had to be flexible on this trip due to the atmospheric conditions, and found two real pearls – Craters of the Moon National and Dinosaur National Monuments.  I am putting up a few pictures.  Both are worth visiting.  Pictures from Craters of the Moon are not obvious, until you begin to visualize the area as a real moonscape.  Dinosaur has tremendous variations – paleontology, petroglyphs and canyons.  The weather was too hot, and sky too clear, but you can see the potential.  Here is a slide show, which includes a couple of pictures from the Indian spiritual site Devil’s Tower. 

 
 
Death Valley (picture portfolio here) grows on you – but it takes awhile.  The largest National Park in the lower 48 states, it is also the lowest, driest (?) and hottest, and I might toss in the fact that winds can be unremitting and fierce.  Small and large sand storms are common, making photography difficult if not impossible, and not just near the classic dune sites for obvious reasons, but elsewhere because of extreme camera shake.  In spite of those obstacles the variety of landscape and topography and the deeply saturated color palette are reasons to return.  The winds clear the dunes of any evidence of human activity, and the low light of dawn and dusk produce an explosion of color.  Death Valley can be viewed from high up or low down.  Daytime hiking in the various canyons can be comfortable.  But of course we are talking late fall to early spring here. 

We faced all these elements there in late March – especially the winds.  Looks like my camera sensor held up well, with only one obvious dust spot that I have to have cleaned up.  Even had a storm.  Temperatures from 92 – 70 (!!) during the day.  My favorite shoot was at the Mesquite dunes one morning; the Eureka dunes were a close second.  There was a late afternoon storm over Zabriskie, which is usually an early morning site.  We also caught some pictures looking back toward the Zabriskie overlook from the Golden trail in late afternoon against a very dark sky.  Dante’s View is gorgeous, but the winds had stirred up a general haze in the distance.  I have been told the wild flowers this year might disappoint because even by Death Valley standards moisture has been very low.  But keep an eye out.

Check out the Death Valley pictures here:

If you have questions regarding photographing and staying in the Valley, contact me.

 
 
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This will sound self-serving.  Maybe it is.  I was looking at some books of Ansel Adams’ pictures at a local bookstore, and came across several photos taken at Yosemite National Park from Tunnel View (plus a lot of other pictures of the Park).  I have seen more on the Internet: Here and here.  Without a doubt Adams’ pictures are unbelievably fabulous, but there are many other great pictures out there as well.  In particular I would draw your attention to Michael Frye, whose series of Yosemite images are consistently stunning. 

So I was in Yosemite twice in the past four months, and lucked into two unanticipated unstable weather conditions that brought autumn snow to the valley on one occasion, and a mild rain/snow dusting on the other that resulted in the coveted “clearing storm” opportunity.  On each occasion I photographed the valley from Tunnel View with very nice results.

Are they better pictures of Yosemite than those of Ansel and Michael?  That is definitely not the point (A: No).  Because Ansel did not create a picture of Yosemite, but a “feeling” of Yosemite.  It is a picture with much more – “something else”.  In my opinion it doesn’t even matter that his pictures were take in Yosemite (although this probably is a stretch because there is no getting around the fact that Yosemite is glorious).   The place is not the point.  The goal – my goal – is not to have a better picture “of,” but to add my own experience, the “mystery” in the shadows, the “fantasy” in the colors (or shades of B&W), the “unsettledness” of the spirit, the “trepidation” of walking down the valley and disappearing into the distance.  I was there – I felt.  I hope you enjoy my interpretation of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View.

 

New Video

10/17/2011

1 Comment

 
I just returned from northern New Mexico.  Light was "okay" - check out some of the pictures from that shoot using links on the Home Page.  I also created a new video entitled Night Dreams.  Please offer comments.
 

The Wave

08/26/2011

0 Comments

 
Reaching the “The Wave” is very doable, but you need a permit.  For 12 strait months my application was rejected by the BLM (I lost the lottery).  So @ $5/month I was out 60 bucks – okay, not a lot, but now I was getting mad.  So I applied for July – and received a two-person permit.  After waiting so long I was expecting a “congratulations” note from BLM; instead I received a warning letter on red paper – “it will be 110 degrees, people die, rescue will be slow if at all, carry at least a gallon of water.”  Now I’m nervous.  I optimized my backpack (25 pounds exactly) and took brief practice walks.  Still nervous. 

My partner/guide was slightly older (I’m older too, but he beats me), a great photographer with a young man’s enthusiasm.  This was to be his 42nd trip to the Wave so he knows the way in (no trail or markers exist).   He said July was a good month to go - Arizona’s monsoon season might give us some special picture opportunities. 

We started walking at sunrise – first hikers out – but were eventually passed by the other 12 people who went in that day.  I became more worried when they all passed us on their way out, before we reached “the end” (meaning to become clear).  Our water was holding (I brought 5 ½ liters), but the morning temperature was north of 95 and reflecting off the slick rock.  Our pace was not good.  My partner frankly had overestimated his ability, and although I appeared to be doing okay at 4 hours in, I wasn’t sure how I would be at 6 or 8 hours. 

We reached the final climb to Wave after 4½ hours.  The climb is in sand and difficult, and seeing my friend take one step and pause for a minute to rest, I knew we were done.  So I took the initiative and made us turn around within site of its entrance.  The walk back of more than 4 hours was slow (understatement), and my anxiety level was climbing.  When we finally reached the wash which leads to the trail head and parking lot, my guide found some shade under a short bush and fell asleep while I hiked the last 30 minutes alone, coming back to pick him up with his 4X4 jeep (after a brief argument with the BLM agent about a humanitarian rescue).

So 1 year and 60 bucks and no Wave picture – not one.  But it was a caper.  I am proud of my fitness (8 ½ hours at 100 degrees and 25 extra pounds on my back) and my decision to quit when I did (maybe I should have done so earlier).  My friend will take great pictures for many years to come, but he has agreed that the Wave will not be one of them.  He remains an inspiration.  I have begun the application process all over, and SOMEDAY!!!!!

 

Richard Gaston Photography