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.
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.
I spend a LOT of time at the zoo. On average, I visit once per month. That number used to be roughly three times per month, but alas, life has a way of getting in the way. It was at the Pittsburgh Zoo that I really found my calling as a photographer. Before I was hired for my first full time out job out of college, I’d spend countless hours at each exhibit (with an extended period of time at the big cats) just staring and snapping, staring and snapping.
The type of image I was, and still am, after is just like the one you see above: a nice, tight image of the subject animal with zero indication that the photo was taken at a zoo. The snow provides a natural, realistic backdrop for this amur leopard which lives in snowy regions of Russia. It’s a fantastic photo, but for me, it sort of felt like a been there done that moment. I needed to switch things up to get out of a creative rut. But how?
I continued on through the zoo, still searching for a theme or idea. Doing what I normally do in the winter time when it’s cold, I headed to the aquarium to breeze through the exhibits and warm up a bit. To my delight, it was empty without another soul to be seen. I won’t get in to all of the technicals of my shots, but suffice it to say that being alone gave me a lot of freedom, and time, to work on some techniques for shooting through the glass of the exhibits. I’m very pleased with the end results and next time, I might not heed the advice of our absent minded fish friend, Dory. I won’t just keep swimming. I’ll wait then shoot, wait then shoot. And hopefully I’ll swim away with some winners!
One of the most common themes I notice this time of year is that people DO NOT like the snow and ice. The reasons might vary, and to some degree, I agree. Most of us don’t like the seemingly inherent danger that follows the cold weather. Roads become treacherous if not treated properly or proactively, and if the snow (or ice) is significant enough, any amount of preparation and treatment may well end up being futile. It’s easy to see why this would be a reason to wish away the cold and relocate to Florida.
Living in Pittsburgh, where winter -and certainly snow – are not a new concept, it can be very easy to become annoyed with snow. If you look out your window and see falling snow, it’s almost a guarantee that you can jump on your Facebook Newsfeed and see no less than 37 memes and complaints about “people not not knowing how to drive” and “this is Pittsburgh, it’s snowed here before.”
You’ll also see even more dramatization about the amount of snow that’s going to fall and gripes about how the weatherman is NEVER right. I try to give the meteorologists the benefit of the doubt – they are trying to predict the future, after all – but I don’t think they do themselves any favors by naming every storm. And monikers such as “Snowzilla” and “Snowmageddon” don’t help, but I don’t believe those names come from the news stations. Regardless of where the names originate, Facebook certainly does not help contain Snowzilla’s icy breath from causing the next Snowmageddon. So, yes, Facebook drama queens and lousy traveling conditions allow me to sympathize with the winter haters.
My sympathies end there, though. My disdain, if you can even call it that, for winter does not begin or end with the cold, snow, and ice. It’s merely the other people that dislike it so much that they can do nothing but be bitter about it that causes me to sometimes, and only sometimes, wish the snow would melt.
In all actuality, I embrace the biting temperatures and the frozen stuff that falls from the sky. To me, there’s no beauty like looking out at a scene with a blanket of untouched, pristine snow. Walking along, listening to the subtle crunch of snow beneath my feet with my camera in tow…well that is euphoria for me and I forget about the cold.
I forget about the cold, that is, until the mercury busts through the bottom of the thermometer. Even when that happens, though, there’s a good chance you can find me playing near the banks of the rivers in the city. See, when it gets to be so cold that the rivers, mostly the Allegheny River, freeze I find the patterns, lines, and shapes make for amazing compositional elements in my photographs. This ice usually lasts more than a day also, and even though the it’s seemingly solid and static, the patterns are pretty dynamic which allows for unique photos with each visit, even if I stand in the exact same spot.
Usually, inclement weather is a detriment to my photos along the rivers because I almost always try to incorporate reflections for added interest. But if it’s windy and choppy, the reflections are nil and that can make for a dull subject and photograph. Frozen rivers, though, provide patterns, shapes, and lines that negate the need for a reflection. They serve as an interesting foreground and lead you right to the subject of the image. If the skyline is reflected in the ice or unfrozen patches of water, then that makes the image even stronger. Not needing calm waters expands the amount of “worthwhile” time I can spend on the shores and adds endless possibilities to what I can create. So I say bring on the snow and ice.
Now I’m not saying winter is a season without its drawbacks or that it doesn’t get unbearably cold out there. It does. It gets really, really cold. But I feel, when I’m not numb from head to toe, that after a freshly fallen snow, there’s too much beauty to be seen out there to stay inside. If I’ve yet to show you enough to convince you to take a winter excursion yourself, well the cause might be hopeless. So just cuddle up next to the fire with a nice glass of wine or mug of hot chocolate, and take a trip into the cold through my eyes. Let me show you what most choose not to experience. Let me freeze so you don’t have to.
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.
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:
Well, it’s that time of year again my friends. The end of the calendar year for me is a time to reflect upon the previous twelve months. This is done on both a personal and professional level, but the focus here will be on the latter here, for obvious reasons. You will, however, find some overlap since I had some personal milestones and moments that were more than worthy of being photographed. If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, you’ll soon see.
During my self-imposed yearly review, the most significant and challenging task is to is to choose my best and/or most memorable photos from the year. Generally, they are not always the most popular on social media or the top 10 or so selling prints of the year, but they have special significance. This year is no different.
Luckily, 2015 was a pretty darn good year if I may say so myself. It was filled with features on the news, successful social media campaigns, great shows, and even a tv interview on Pittsburgh Today Live. Most importantly, though, it was a year of great photography and I’ll let you be the judge in just a moment. What 2015 was not good for, apparently, was blogging. This is my first post of the year and it’s only 4 days before year’s end. That’s a problem I REALLY intend to fix in 2016…but why wait until then? Let’s get to the photos already!
So there you have it, my year of hard work summed up in 10 photos. Before I started this endeavor, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to come up with 10 quality shots. But as I dug deeper, I actually found it hard to select ONLY 10. So to that end, here are a some bonus photos from the year that didn’t quite make the cut.
The end of the year brings about many things. Some people think about the year to come while others like to reflect upon their accomplishments and memories from the previous 12 months. I tend to fall in between the two, but this post is more geared towards the latter. Each year I like to review my portfolio and select my finest and most memorable photos, or ones that represent a particular achievement that I am proud of.
Below you will find the 10 images which I believe best represent my photographic journey in 2014. There were many highs and not too many lows. Whittling down the year into 10 images proved to be quite difficult actually. It is dominated by Pittsburgh photos, with 6, and for good reason – it’s accessible to me, it’s beautiful, and I enjoy it! But I do enjoy landscapes and traveling (perhaps even more so!) so you’ll see some of that too. Sadly, this is the second year in a row that I have no wildlife in my top ten so I think I’ll work on that for next year. But alas, enough words…let’s get on with the photos!
So there you have it – my favorite, best, most memorable photos of the year. It was certainly and awesome 12 months and I’m a big fan reflection, but at the same time I’m pretty pumped about the year ahead. I hope you’ll join me on my journey in 2015. Oh, and by the way, just in case you’re looking for more…scroll on just a bit for 10 MORE photos that were close, but didn’t make the cut for this year.
A lot of time while I’m out shooting, I take several exposures of the same scene. Well, actually, almost ALL the time I do this. I don’t just trip the shutter repeatedly, though, hoping that something changes and creates a meaningful impact that otherwise wasn’t visible in the previous exposure. Obviously there are variables I can’t control like weather or a stray airplane, animal, or pedestrian inevitably entering the frame. When that happens, I need to wait a moment for the extraneous element to leave and continue shooting. I try to concern myself with the variables I can change. Shutter speed, aperture, perspective, and the use of filters are just a few of the variables I employ regularly to add an extra element or bit of flare to an otherwise static scene. Most often a change in perspective provides the most dramatic boost to a photo, but you can achieve greatly different photos with simple change such as a longer exposure.
Take the photos above, for example. These two photos were taken roughly two minutes apart. The camera never moved from the tripod, the position remained 100% constant. The ONLY setting that changed with these photos was the shutter speed. Photo 1 was a 13 second exposure while Photo 2 was ten 13 second exposures stacked in camera to create a 130 second exposure. You’ll notice that in Photo 1, even though it is a long exposure, the fog is pretty well defined with a lot of mid tone contrast. There is a pretty clear delineation in the wall of fog moving into the city. It feels a bit ominous and foreboding. Photo 2, conversely, has a more smooth look to the wall of fog and the clouds above. The reflections in the river are also less defined. Overall the photo has a more pleasing mood to it, in my opinion at least. I’d like to know how you feel. Which photo do you like better? Please take the poll below and also please feel free to explain your pick in the comments!