Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bass Harbor Boogie-Woogie

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: No cry of, "Eureka!," as a modern day Archimedes slides the green boat from its Platonic universe and zooms me into the present, but the spirit of Leger still rules over the boogie man's reflection in the water below.

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: ...and I like the way he stirs my paint.

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: As boogie-woogies go, Bass Harbor's is clearly fog-bound. It's probably at its most active when a seagull finds a bit of food that needs cracking and "throws" it repeatedly against rock.

The shutter speed should have been doubled to freeze the seagull, but the pose is so good, the reflection off the port side wing so strong, that I much prefer it to a stilled gull in a less revealing pose. Besides, I was delighted to catch the gull right where I needed him.

I think I need to do a trip just for gulls. Many times gulls glided frustratingly through images when I wasn't ready for them. The alternative is get set and be prepared to wait 30 minutes by which time the light may have changed. Yes, there's always Photoshop.

As always, vertical images come out too small for computer screens. However, if you can zoom in on the pilings, I think even the reduced resolution jpg image of this post reveals clearly a menagerie of sea life temporarily marooned until the tide comes in. Had I known this texture would be revealed so sharply, I would have tried for closer images.

At ISO 400, f10, and 1/125 sec. this probably should have been also shot at ISO 800, 1/250th sec. Yeah, right! Shoot it twice! ...and I can bet the community on the piling would not have been as sharp.

#2 Bass Harbor Blues

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Taken four minutes earlier, the Platonic melody anchors this shot, and low tide elongates the lobster dock into a blues riff. Behind the fog, the port of Bernard, across Bass Harbor, is barely visible.

ISO 400, f10, 1/80th, 34mm

#1 Bass Harbor Melody

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Sometimes it seems almost like a set-up, pure color and form in the process of abandoning their material selves and finding some sort of Platonic identity. Almost a miracle to find it midst the chaos of Bass Harbor.

Special thanks to Sandy & Esther at the Inn at Southwest Harbor for a year ago pointing me this way.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wharves at Dusk

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - Eleven minutes after yesterday's TODAY'S I turned 90 degree left, extended my long lens out to 230mm, and took this photograph. I had earlier decided that the evening was done for photography, and I was engaged in conversation with another photographer. Small world! She and her husband live almost next door in Watertown, Connecticut. When we stopped talking, I made four more exposures. I'm not sure why.

The time was 8:21, the exact time of sunset although the sun had disappeared behind hills some time earlier. I'd tried shooting these wharves a number of times before. Those shots were in the clarifying, low, sidelight of sunset. Golden light! I had had high hopes for those shots, but none of them had pleased me much, and I wasn't expecting much from these.

Sometimes it is the even light of an overcast sky or just after sunset that allows the forms to speak for themselves through an evenness of tonality. Here the soothing blues and greens set the tone, and the evenly spaced accents of red give it life. The other shots... a little too far left and a little too far right... don't end properly. They might have been cropped into a satisfying whole, but somehow this one is already self-contained. A few harbor lights have come on as the last of the sail boats return to port. It is a quiet, Saturday evening on the wharves in Southwest Harbor. [ISO 400, f14, 1/6th second. 230mm]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Southwest Harbor, Gunmetal & Silk

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - Why am I back here? The story of the shot I missed two summers ago is hinted at through the series of TODAY'S that concludes with a photo taken from this same spot almost a year ago.

Well, I'm here to "debrief," and process whatever energies or ideas have been generated by the workshop I just took - to use it as a springboard and a guide to new photographs. In this case it includes the intimidating example in Neal Parent's photos - his determination to push the edges of his art, to grab at experiences almost beyond photography.

I'm here also for the ever-changing water and sky and the fishing villages and this magical bay that catches light like no other. I'm here because it has always felt right to immediately take the experience of a workshop into a setting very different from my usual shoots, and because last summer I only began to explore what is here; I'm here with keen anticipation and eager to begin. I'm also here because these annual jaunts set a marker for reexamining my photography and seeing what a year has wrought.

The bay has not yet produced that frothy whipped cream head that I saw & failed to capture on my first serendipitous visit. This year the bay did not quiet until after the sun was nearly set, so no masts gleam against the water, nor is the bay so pink as I've seen it. I should be disappointed - another summer without catching the shot I'm after. However, the slight agitation still simmering on the surface of the bay is all gunmetal and silk. Lights on the dock are coming on, and this is the last of the evening's light. What a palette of colors! I'm certain I would have passed it by a year ago. As I processed the image I tried a dozen different ways to make a more conventionally "pretty" image, to unmuddy it, but no matter what I did, some vital quality in the light as caught by the camera was lost. If you can blow this up to full screen size, turn down your lights and spend a moment looking at the colors... That's what brings me here.

ISO 400, f14, 1/60th, 102mm

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sea Breeze

HERBERT KAUFMAN: "Dreamers are the architects of greatness, hearing the voice of destiny calling from the unknown they peer beyond the mists of doubt and pierce the walls of unborn time."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I never expected it. I knew shooting aboard the Wanderbird would be refreshing, even revitalizing, but not that shooting from the boat would be so totally different than shooting on land. At sea, especially, I am a total novice with much to learn.

A few hours out of Belfast, Maine, we found ourselves in a large bay or basin encircled by small islands. Through the mists on the far horizon the sails of a tall ship appeared, and I mounted my long lens to have a better look. It was a schooner, two masts with large orange sails. Just then Captain Rick announced a change in plans; we would drop anchor and spend the night here. Seven windjammers were heading into the bay that would tie up together and also spend the night. We scrambled for good spots to shoot as the show began.

I set up on the aft deck and started framing images. This was the wrong moment for my tripod to malfunction. Every time I got my image framed, my heavy, long lens would dip, and I'd have to reframe the shot. My expensive ball head was never subject to such slippage, and nothing I could do would make it right.

First lesson: The longer the lens, the more useless a tripod is aboard a boat. I tossed the tripod almost overboard and reconsidered camera settings. Shooting hand held, in spite of bright sea and sky, required compromises. The shot above was taken with my short lens zoomed out to 70mm. To hand hold, the rule of thumb would indicate I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/70th of a second, but if I planned any sort of enlargement later I wanted to get as close to 1/250th as possible. I dialed my camera up to ISO 800 (after that graininess gets excessive) and settled on f16 at 1/200th. How nice to discover my hands as a forgiving counterbalance to the roll of the boat!

Lesson two: It's not just the mechanics of shooting that are different; the nature of composition changes as well. On land I can wander where I choose and position myself to catch the best light. I am captain. When I see a shot, I know to look around for supporting characters for my composition, and to shift forward, backward, right, left to get light and relationships right. Aboard a boat my movement is constrained and most of the supporting characters must be found among the rails, ropes, masts and sails of my own vessel. Even after the shot is set up, the tossing of the boat makes every shot an action shot, and I often snapped five or six times in the hope that one exposure would get the margins right and the horizon level.

Lesson three: At sea the horizon dominates, seascapes can be sparse. It's not that on land one is never faced with large areas of empty sky or a deep foreground with little of interest, but at sea as soon as the lens is pointed away from one's own ship such situations are common, and one must contend with long low stretches of shoreline or a limitless horizon. On land I like to fill the frame of my camera, and I avoid cropping later if possible; at sea I often need to see in cinemascope.

Lesson four: Even when cropping to a panorama, sea and sky can become flat, unvaried slabs. On land, unless an event marked the moment, I'd return when the weather offered more to work with. There was no way I would be back aboard the Wanderbird or similar craft any time soon, and so what the weather didn't provide must be invented in Photoshop. While I have no philosophical objection to such manipulations, I like to keep my shots as natural looking as possible.

Lesson five: The jokes they make everywhere about the weather are true in Maine. Inland, I time my shoots to weather events. Along the coast I've learned to stand and wait, and this is even truer at sea. When the boat is moving the weather can be even more fleeting. As ocean weather hits land, clouds form and clouds melt, and one must watch closely to see what they're doing. Later in the week while shooting at Seawall, I waited for a line of wispy cloud to pass only to realize twenty minutes later that the moisture was condensing as it hit cooler shoreline temperatures and new clouds were piling up at the shore line like fresh taffy. Everything was changing, but the view was staying the same. I've learned to watch closely to see what is really happening.

Lesson six: The expressive beauty of the Maine coast viewed from a small boat fits my lens... How could it not? ...and I plan to go back.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Maine Lobstermen

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Upon Returning from a Week in Maine

Thanks to those who inquired about my absence. I remain alive and well. My annual summer jaunt to the coast of Maine has proven to be more than refreshing. A workshop aboard a converted fishing boat, "The Wanderbird," with photographer, Neal Parent, is a privilege and an adventure. His maritime photography is the finest I've seen. I especially love his ability to catch the ocean's fury, but his photos have many moods. My regret is that I didn't have longer to spend with the beautiful prints in his gallery in Belfast, Maine. I'll be back.

That Neal was also my roommate might have been privilege had it been possible for both of us to be physically present in the room at the same time without one of us either bunked or in the tiny privy. However, on this tiny boat, 11 workshop participants total, there was plenty of time outside the privy to work and talk with Neal and his daughter Lee, a Photoshop pro. A computer projector is planned for the next outing, I'm told, but we managed okay passing laptops and in demos from Lee and Neal once black trash bags were taped over the coach house windows. Even the boat was an adventure, and looking back I should probably have spent more time photographing it. Lee gathered a wonderful collection of texture shots while I sat watching the horizon, but I'm a novice at sea.

As you may guess, this was not a luxury cruise though we were fed and cared for luxuriously. The Wanderbird is the project and passion of mariners Rick and Karen Miles. It is a 1963 North Sea fishing trawler converted according to Rick and Karen's specifications for its current use. Our cabins lie approximately where the fresh fish were once tossed. A twisting ladder of Karen's design (by winter she is a furniture maker) leads to the coach house where we met for workshops and meals. Rick, Karen and a crew of three sleep in a salon, aft. Details, photos, and more are on their web site. The Wanderbird also carries two aging black labs (one blind from birth), an aging and affectionate cat named Hector and, of course, a parrot. The parrot assists Captain Rick in the wheel house above the galley, while the dogs and cat patrol the deck but are trained never to enter the coach house.

We had spent the night anchored off an uninhabited island, just rock and brush, where the Audubon Society is protecting reintroduced puffins. We had sailed three hours the previous day to get there. I hadn't yet had coffee at 7AM when I came out on deck just as these lobstermen had arrived to tend their traps. The pattern of their work and the gulls' dives were observable before the lobster fisherman reached the trap beside our boat, but I had just enough time to get my settings right (f10, 1/800th, ISO 400). Well, I probably could have halved the shutter speed for a bit more depth of field or an ISO of 200, but it would have made little difference. I got off twelve shots, but in only one did everything come together so perfectly. You can almost count the scales in the tail of the lobster, and I much prefer mist to soft focus. I receive such photos as gifts of the gods. Someone recently tried to convince me that good photos must always pass the B&W test. Nonsense! Were the lobsterman's hip waders any color but orange, the photo would be that much weaker.

You've undoubtedly noted that the photo above carries a new copyrighting watermark that proudly announces a new father-daughter venture. Melissa and I have entered into a business partnership, Lenscapes, LLC. You can preview the web site and learn about Melissa's portrait work and our digital field trips at the url below. Is it a coincidence that I met Neal and his daughter Lee co-teaching just as my daughter and I begin a similar venture?

Lenscapes Photography:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


ARISTOTLE: “Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.”

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Like the previous photo, this one also tries to embrace a significant portion of the Collinsville mill site. However, this one does so from a bit of a distance and through a long lens. In that way it brings together a variety of forms that most people passing would not see as related and heaps them on top of each other. The resulting image is, for me, less about Collinsville and more about industrial New England. For that, I prefer it.

The spot from which this was shot is very particular. It was taken just where the old railroad came down off the bridge over the Farmington River. I made a number of experiments moving right, left, up, and down. There were some interesting options that included the railing of the old bridge, but the balances and echoing forms clicked just here. Similarly, it is only late in the day that the sun penetrates the buildings to make the windows come alive. Now the leaves are on the trees, they are no longer scarecrows, and the force of the industrial forms is softened. Photos can be quite specific in these ways. I'll continue to visit this spot through the seasons ahead, and maybe I'll see something new or something better. It's sometimes hard for me to know when a shot will be superseded, but for now this one seems to have achieved my goals. The wanderings of the sun and it's effect on the land are hard to predict until they have been seen.

Statistics: ISO 400, 1/30 at f25, lens zoomed to 165mm

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I think it may have been photographer John Shaw who wrote that the best shooting often happens at the transitions: night to day. summer to fall, fair to foul. Spring has been fully unfurled for at least a week now; the transition is over here in Connecticut. The fragile textures of first budding are gone, red leaves have reached their full green, and I have lost the urge to catch every moment of the unfurling. It is an excellent time to revisit past photos.

In mid March I posted five shots of the factories at Collinsville. My preference then was for shots that abstracted elements rather than shots which sought to embrace some significant portion of the whole. I confess that I prefer the open-endedness and suggestiveness of those shots to the directness of this. That doesn't lessen the difficulty in this of positioning my lens to properly overlay foreground on background. I remember the odd way I was compelled to position my tripod and subsequently my head to get it all composed. Never-the-less, I was pleased to give this commonly photographed face of the factories a bit of a twist by shooting through the structure that protects the old engines that used to power some of the locks, and I was delighted when the wind calmed enough to let the water reflect the facades crisply. In retrospect, I've decided to post this one too. I'm happy to think some of you will even prefer it.

You can view the earlier shots at the following links:
Manufactured in the U.S.A.
Water Power
In Time
Concourses of Time

Photo blog:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Water Music

GARL RIZBUTH: "Nature is always repainting. The photographer must find the canvas. Even more so than painting, photography is an art of edges"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Colorfield #2

JOHN B. WELLER: "Somewhere stored in my memory is a physical description of most objects I could encounter in the outdoors. When I photograph, I consciously try to wipe that slate clean. I don't see sand; I see abstract patterns of light. The best photographs are said to have a design. Essentially this means if you were to forget the identities of the subjects, the patterns of light and shadow, color, texture and form - [the design] would still communicate the spirit of the piece."

Be sure to click the picture to see it enlarged.

Have you visited, "Dandelion's Revenge"?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cornfield in Dandelions

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: This field of dandelions by Angevine Farm was so dazzling I stopped my car and went back to catch these shots before continuing to my destination. By the time I passed this way in the afternoon, the farmer was on his tractor, turning the soil to prepare the way for the new corn crop.

COMMUNITY BULLETIN BOARD: The dandelion: a wild and feral plant with a long, fleshy root; an apomictic home wrecker that flaunts its shameless yellow flowers then spews its seed to sully every honest lawn. The teeth of the lion also make their way under the pseudonyms, "monk's head," "priest's crown," and "blowball."

The following is quoted from the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticide web page:

"Dandelions can be beneficial to a garden ecosystem as well as to human health. Dandelions attract beneficial ladybugs and provide early spring pollen for their food. In a study done at the University of Wisconsin, experimental plots with dandelions had more ladybugs than dandelion free plots, and fewer pest aphids, a favorite food of the ladybugs. Dandelions long roots aerate the soil and enable the plant to accumulate minerals, which are added to the soil when the plant dies. Not only are dandelions good for your soil, they are good for your health. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a serving of uncooked dandelion leaves contains 280 percent of an adult's daily requirement of beta carotene as well as more than half the requirement of vitamin C. Dandelions are also rich in vitamin A. Dandelions are also used as herbal remedies. The white sap from the stem and root is used as a topical remedy for warts. The whole plant is used as a diuretic and liver stimulant."

Friday, June 6, 2008


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: From east to west the year flows out, a wave upon the shore. On May 9th the dandelions roared, even before the grass was emerald. "Weeds!" they're called because of their crabbed doggedness. Despised by golfers and greenskeepers. To me they are a color field of bliss, a visual hosanna tossed by spring winds against the abyss of the unconscious.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hiddenhurst from the Top of Hiddenhurst Hill

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: This photo reverses the view shown in the last photo. Behind these barns the land slopes down to a stream and then back up across the fields of Sunset Ridge that Kevin was plowing in the last photograph. We are looking north toward Massachusetts where the foothills of the Berkshires become the Berkshire Mountains. While I was eager to show a reverse view, my goal is never to document the landscape, but to create images that capture my own feelings about a place. Sometimes I'm so sure of myself that others' opinions, while interesting, probably won't sway me. However, I wondered if this shot was up to the level I have strived for in past shots, and I'm interested in the honest thoughts of all who view this.

Monday, June 2, 2008

HIddenhurst from Sunset Ridge

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The previous image was of Hiddenhurst from Wheeler-Collins Farm to the northwest. That's at least one or two hills, depending on where you count hills, to the right of this image. I never pass Sunset Ridge Farm when Kevin isn't busy around the barns or at work in the fields. On this evening he was in the middle of raking hay.

As he reached us he stopped his tractor for moment of talk. I made the mistake of admiring the stripes painted on the hillside by the newly cut grass, and he observed we must be waiting for the light to shift. There were distant beams that might pass our way. As Kevin drove off, the first bit of the pattern was gone. A few minutes later we heard his tractor power down at the end of the row to wait with us as two darts of light slowly moved across the hills, lest he disturb another blade of grass in the great design.

The beams were in no hurry. The silence around the bird chatter grew deafening as we waited for the clouds to carry the sun into position. Kevin's pause was a gesture of friendship that I will treasure, and the shot I got with the sunlight on Hiddenhurst with a secondary beam on the remaining unraked grass rows in the foreground was good. However, waiting there, Kevin parked at the end of the hay row and us standing, ready to shoot, at the beginning, I knew we would miss the best shot. I wanted to tell him to start his tractor and drive it down the grass row and through the beam of light as it reaches the hill. Sadly, by the time the tractor snatched the next stripe of cut hay, the spotlight had moved on to another hill.

The hills in the background of this shot mark the southern edge of a historic farming district that probably supplied the Sheffield Company with the milk I drank as a child growing up in New York City. Sheffield is long gone and most of the dairy industry with it. Also gone is the train line that carried the milk to Sheffield's New York City plant near Columbia University.

However, most of the large tracts of land in the historic district remain intact with the original 18th and 19th century farm houses and various barns. Most of the land still serves some sort of farming. There's an organic farm with a market on the main highway. I've photographed the Highland Cattle at Wheeler-Collins Farm. Across the highway is a farm raising sheep, and everywhere they're growing corn. Unfortunately, Sunset Ridge is the only farm with a large dairy herd.

The area is easily 4 or 5 times the size of the Great Hollow with that feeling of vast space already mentioned. Hiddenhurst falls as close to dead center as one can imagine. What must it have been like back when the Hidden brothers raced their stallions on the hill over there? Did the bovine herds on neighboring hills stroll to the pasture fence to watch the thoroughbreds?