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The City Flowers

Who out there likes flowers?  Not me.  I was never much of a flower guy.  There was never much of a need for me to like them.  Sure they were nice to look at, but…well, that’s it.  They were nice to look at.  Occasionally.  Up until last year, my only real experience with flowers was getting a corsage for my dates to prom and homecoming, which my mother took care of, and the flowers for my wedding which my wife took care of.  In my defense I suppose, I did pay for and pick up said flowers so I wasn’t completely dead weight.

Then something changed.  Last year a bought a macro lens for my photography.  This allowed me to get super close to things and photograph the fine details of an otherwise uncomplicated subject.  As it turns out, flowers were a PERFECT subject for experimentation.  So experiment I did and now I can’t seem to get enough flowers and plants in my life.  I find myself noting new ones I’ve never noticed or seeing if there is a safe place to pull off when I see a spectacular roadside bunch of blooms.  I’ve even bought some plants. What!?

The world of macro has really opened up my eyes and allowed me to see things differently.  I don’t intend for my flower photos to over take my Pittsburgh photography as my best sellers in print, but I do intend to look at things differently as a result of my foray into flower photography.  And I’ve been able to do just that.

Seeing differently, and uniquely, has always been paramount in my work.  There are a lot of photographers these days so standing out is a challenge.  With the Pittsburgh skyline being my perennial (see what I did there?) favorite subject, I wanted to incorporate it in to my newfound, ever-growing interest in flora.  But how to do that?  I think I found a unique way which you will se in the proceeding photos.  Each composition will include some sort of bud, blossom, or bloom and also a bit of the ‘Burgh.  Whoa!  Holy alliteration, Batman!

Can you tell which part of Pittsburgh is peaking through in the pictures?

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The Sun That Got Away

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We’ve all heard the term “the one that got away,” yes? Yes, of course we have. And for some of us maybe the phrase is even applicable. Not so much in my case because I’m married to the woman of my dreams and am about to have my second beautiful daughter with her. For those that are wondering, I’m not in the dog house or sucking up because my wife probably won’t read this, my first daughter is 3 and can’t read yet (yet!) and my second daughter, well the library in her womb has been closed for renovations for weeks so no reading in there either. Okay, let’s crawl out of the weird rabbit hole and get back on topic here. Focus, JP!

Now where was I? Ah, yes…the one that got away. I don’t have one. I do, however, have many many many suns that got away. See what I did there? I love puns and plays on words. I’m of course talking about sunrises and sunsets. As a city/landscape photographer the sky is my canvas and the sun provides the paint for it. Without light, a photographer has nothing. I think I’m pretty good, but I am no exception to this necessity for the suns gleaming rays.

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Sometimes the intense colors never show up.  Actually, most times they don’t.  But the light doesn’t always have to be epic.

With this dependence on light, for me, comes a constant, almost gawking and definitely studious observance of the sky, the position of the sun, and clouds or lack thereof. There is no foolproof method to predicting whether a sky will erupt with color or be a dud, but there are apps and programs out there to help predict such occurrences, but even without the technology, I usually have a pretty good gut feel for what’s going to happen. But just like the software, my gut, impressive as it might be, is not infallible.

Tracking the position of the sun, however is pretty precise and always reliable. But, just because I almost always know where the sun is going to crest or dip below the horizon, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get away from me. What do I mean? Sadly, that means I am not physically able to catch on camera every jaw-dropping sunrise or every sunset that makes the angels weep. Sometimes, when I don’t have my camera and I’m watching the sky explode with every shade of red, orange, and yellow imaginable in my rear view mirror or from my bedroom window, I sit right beside the Angels and shed a tear with them. And by sometimes, I mean this happens A LOT!

This mourning for color undocumented is usually pretty short lived once I drift back down to earth and realize if I wasn’t out catching the glow of a fiery sunset, I was more than likely spending time with my family…and maybe even able to enjoy that sight with them. So that’s the point of this kind of bizarre rambling. Take in the color. Enjoy it. Remember it in your mind’s eye. And certainly don’t sweat if you weren’t able to snap a photo of it.

That’s What I Want

 

One of the things I’ve struggled with in keeping up with this blog is what the focus should be. Time after time I’d sit down with an idea, write a couple sentences, maybe even a paragraph or two, and then abandon it because it didn’t match the theme of the blog. There was a major flaw with this: there was no theme. There was no structure or cliffhanger to make you tune in next week to see what happens. It was a random collection of stories and photos supporting the story.

I know what you’re thinking: “Boy, this guy is doing a lousy job at selling his own blog.” To that I say…”True story!” But that was the old blog. That was the old JP. The new JP is firing up his revamped blog that is going to be completely different and more exciting than ever before. The new blog is going to be…wait for it…

….A random collection of musings, stories, maybe some humor, and of course, PHOTOS (I am a photographer, after all) from the far off place of JP Land. (If you’re interested in traveling there, now is the time…nobody goes there anymore and flights are cheeeeeap!)

So why no dramatic change to the original “structure?” Because I know my strengths and at this very moment those DO NOT include the ability to write a blog that can substitute as a novel.

Instead, I want the blog and stories to be for people who have followed my work for years as well as those who are just discovering it. I want it to be for those who like pretty words, those who like pretty pictures, and those who like pretty words about pretty pictures. I want it to be where people can escape the mundane of everyday life…okay that sounds trite, I admit, but I do want to create a 5 minute retreat with each post that at least one person can relate to, even if that person is only myself. I might just even add a bit of humor – work with me on this one, I’ve only been a dad for 3 years but I’m getting the “Dad joke” down pat. I want this to be just what it’s always been, but with more regularity. I want it to evolve as I evolve.

And this time, I’m doing exactly what I want to do which is to make this blog an extension of myself. To do that properly, to share my stories, I have to examine the story of me, learn who I was, who I am now, and who I want to be. But you’ll have to tune in later for all that…oh look, my first cliffhanger!

Chasing the Cloud City

Yesterday marked 1 year to the day of chasing a dream, or in my case a cloud, and actually catching it.  I thought I had blogged about it last year at this time, but it turns out I did not.  This is my recount of one of the best mornings of my photographic life.

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Who here has seen the Jetson’s?  What’s your lasting memory?  The first thing that comes to mind every time I think of that futuristic cartoon is the way the city seems to rise above the clouds.  And ever since I’ve taken up photography, that is the dreamlike image I’ve been chasing in the city of Pittsburgh.

In pursuit of my dream shot, I’ve become a ravenous weather forecast checker always on the lookout for foggy conditions.  If there’s a chance for fog, I’m going to chase it.  Invariably, though, I’ve had prior commitments when the fog rolls in or the conditions aren’t what I want need (I’m picky, I know!).  The fog either ends up being to high above the city and clips the tops of the buildings or it is so thick that you can’t see the city at all, as in the photos above.

Saturday, January 21, 2017 changed all that…and sent me on the chase of a lifetime.

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The chase began as soon as I left my house.  I knew what the conditions were like in town and drove perhaps a little faster than one should at 4:00 in the morning.  Upon my arrival, I was disappointed at the conditions from the north but a good friend called and told me to get my…well, I let you fill in these blanks…up to Mount Washington.  The city was blanketed in fog and the chase was on.

After about half an hour of shooting the scene you see above, we parted ways…but the chase continued.  I wanted something different and it seemed like every photographer and their mother was out shooting since it was a Saturday, so I took a gamble.  The gamble paid off.  I had a “secret” spot and since it was secret, it was just me, my camera, and a dreamlike landscape that nobody else was capturing.  This next image represents my vision and also my dream…one I’d been chasing for 7 years.  To amplify the dreamy quality, I went with a 5 minute exposure to draw out the motion in the fog and clouds.

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Usually during a photo excursion, I like to stay put at one location.  I’ll work the scene and prepare for what the light of the sunrise wants to give me.  But on this rare occasion, the situation dictated that the chase wasn’t over.  I’d gotten what I wanted from my secret spot so it was back to Mount Washington.

This is where I realized just how many photographers were out, making the need to set myself apart more important than ever.  Sure I could have squeezed in between the ten or so cameras on the Duquesne Incline Overlook, but who wants to see the same shot from 10 different people?  I don’t.  I want to be unique…so I pressed on, and again my gut was right, rewarding me with pleasant results.

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Candidly, this color and cloud formation above is similar to that which would have been seen from the observation deck at the incline, but I was alone in this spot and that makes this unique to me.  That’s a quality a strive for.  I want something unrepeatable, even (dare I say “especially”) if I have to chase it.

As I was shooting from atop the “mountain,”  The wheels in my head continued to spin out of control.  “What if I went to the West End Overlook?  Those clouds to the right of the city that I can’t quite get in to the frame from here would make a perfect ‘V’ pointing right at the city.”  And with that the chase continued.

Before shooting the pink sky, I thought about leaving for the overlook because of that bank of clouds I mentioned.  Upon arrival to the West End, though, I’m glad I didn’t.  The fog was too thick and the city could not be seen.  I’m not sure that’s the case before I arrived, but I had a sure thing from Mount Washington so I played it “safe.”

Four hours after it all started, the chase was finally over…

Or was it?  I don’t like to give up to quickly, and again, the conditions were so rare and I’d been out so long, what was another half an hour?  As it turns out…that half an hour might have been the most important of the morning.  The sun rose above the fog and clouds, illuminating the tops with a texture I’ve only ever seen if photos of fog surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

At this point, I was floating just like the city I was photographing seemed to be.  But alas, the sun rose too high and nearly blinded me as I was composing a shot.  NOW…the chase was over…but not before recording possibly my favorite photograph of the morning and the shot of a lifetime!

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2017 – The Year That Was(n’t)

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     I’m just going to say it:  2017 was not my best or favorite year as a photographer.  Sure there were a few unforgettable experiences including a bucket list moment for me, but by and large I would use two words to sum up my photography throughout this past year:  coast and flat.
     Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Wow, this guy spent time along the flat beaches of the coast, why is he unhappy?”  Pffft.  I wish the beach is what I were describing.  Unfortunately, “coast” and “flat” are adjectives for my creative drive and output for about 11 of last year’s 12 months.
     January started out with such promise.  Endless tiny, white flakes of Inspiration fell from the sky littering the Pittsburgh landscape in a coating of opportunities to create.  I was compelled to seize these moments that were literally, and soon to be figuratively, frozen in time, but in a way unfamiliar to me.  Instead of my usual flirting with twilight blue hours and sunrise/sunset color explosions, I photographed under the cloak of night.  My juices were flowing and the results were favorable, both to me and those who enjoy my work.

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     After such an exciting rush of endorphins, exploration, and creativity, I was certain this was going to be THE year.  Enter February.
      February was a mixed bag of sorts.  The extreme highs of seeing my image, The Lonely Leaf, grace the covers of the Official Visitors Guide for the city of Pittsburgh were somewhat countered by the metaphorical pouring down the drain of my photographic mojo juice.
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     This is not to say, purely from the perspective of creating new work, that ’17 was a bust.  But if I’m being 100% honest with myself, throughout the rest of the year, a recurring theme emerged:  my want-to and compulsion to get out and create had flatlined, waning to the point of indifference with only less than significant attempts to inspire myself being made. I merely coasted through the remainder of the year.
   I made some solid photos to be sure, which you can see strewn about this post.  Yet, there were no stretches of Inspiration.  I was unable to build on my successes, rather I was complacent and remained satisfied with them.
    Now, this not some shameless reach for compliments or reaffirmation of my art or an attempt to beat myself up in self-loathing.  I am confident in my work and that needs to remain the case, else I’d better give up entirely.  If I don’t believe in my own abilities, then who will besides my wife and parents?  Nobody.  The answer is nobody.
     This is merely a declaration that I AM GOING to do better in 2018 and stating it publicly will be the extra nudge I will need to ensure I hold myself accountable, after all nobody wants to be thought of as a liar.

Fleeting

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It’s said that you shouldn’t stare directly into the sun because it can lead to permanent damage to your eyes. Since my eyes are literally how I make a living and provide for my family, I usually heed this advice, but only if the sun is unobstructed. If the sun is partially blocked, by say a bank of clouds, you get a beautiful array of light beams dancing gently in the sky making their way down to earth. Something so soft and beautiful couldn’t hurt, right?

Up until this past week I would have agreed. Now, I’m not so sure. But it’s not my eyes that I’m worried about. It’s my heart. I’ve heard before, and even said it myself (last night in fact), that those rays of light we see being filtered through the clouds are our loved ones watching over us. If that’s true, and I just might believe that it is, aren’t those very light beams also a reminder to us that our loved ones are no longer with us? Again, that’s true. That hurts. But the pain is temporary.

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If you’ve ever witnessed the scene I’m describing, you know these wonderfully golden rays don’t last very long. They are beautiful. They are intense. They are also fleeting. And for me at this time, perhaps these beams are a most appropriate symbol for the friend – no, brother – I’ve recently lost. His life was beautiful. The impact he had on anyone he ever met was as positively intense as his immense size. And his life, fleeting – a seemingly brief moment, gone at the speed of light. But, unlike the heartache and the light, his impact will be everlasting.

Anyone that ever met him remembered him…and they were better for it. Good journey my brother, until we meet again. And we will meet again.

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Kickstart – Playing in Puddles

As a 31 year old man, you would think my days of playing in puddles would be long behind me.  You would be wrong.  I probably play in the leftover rain more than most toddlers you know.  So I guess that “man” word is not suitable for me.  I suppose, in actuality, I am just a 31 year old kid.  And I’m okay with that.

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I’m okay with being a thirty-something man child because very near the beginning in my journey to becoming a photographer, it was playing in a puddle that taught me an invaluable lesson.  That lesson was one about perspective and just how important it is for creating a compelling image.  If you look at the photo above, my first puddle photo and aptly named “Puddles of Pittsburgh,” it’s pretty clear to see that the skyline of Pittsburgh is being reflected in a puddle.  What’s not so clear is the collection of outtakes I snapped before I was able to get “THE” shot.  Standing in front of the puddle just didn’t do the scene any just or convey the image I had in my mind.  It wasn’t until I got down on all fours, and then eventually flat onto my belly, that I realized I could include a large portion of the buildings in the reflection, creating a much more dynamic and interesting photograph, simply by changing my positioning.  I had discovered there is more to plopping a camera down, snapping a photo, and moving on to the next shot.  Work the scene.  Change positioning.  Change up the perspective.  Get creative.  I had read many books, articles, and essays on composition…but it was that puddle that taught me this most important lesson.

…and as a bonus, here are some of my favorite puddle photos:

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