2018 was another year of not getting out enough with my camera, making new but not exciting work, and feeling like I was underachieving against what I know I’m capable of. More of the same old, same old. Perhaps that is why I delayed completing my year-end wrap up until the third week of January. But that same old narrative is getting old. Really old. And when I sit down and actually review the year, I made some great photos that I’m really proud of, which I’ll summarize here. And I’ll do it briefly. Just kidding, I’m pretty wordy…but I hope you’ll bear with me. You might even see a photo or two that have never been released in to the wild. *Hint, hint* ⬇️ 😱 ⬇️
Okay, let’s jump right in. If you don’t already know, home base for me is Pittsburgh. Actually, it’s my only base. I wish I had an east coast office and a west coast office but alas….starving artist and all that jazz. Now if you remember, winter didn’t want to end last year. Ever! And most people hated that. I, on the other hand, was okay with it. Until I wasn’t. But the frozen rivers and fluffy white stuff have a way of providing an endless flurry of photo opportunities, opportunities I’m usually pretty happy to seize upon.
Perhaps my favorite part of the Endless Winter of 2018 was my incorporation of trees, snow, and the skyline. I never want to have a “thing” or something that defines my work, but if I did, my “thing” would be mixing nature and Pittsburgh. And winter is a great time to do this.
But the wintry photos were not only isolated to the confines of the city. I also took to nature to find snowy trees. There’s just something about a barren, lonely tree, maybe even stationed on the crest of a ridge against a backdrop of featureless sky that sings to me. Throw in some snow that accents the rhythm of every branch and you have a ballad worth singing out loud. In the car. By yourself.
And while we are on the subject of trees (#iliketrees – if you know, you know. If you don’t, just ask!), spring was pretty awesome as well. Once again, the opportunities Pittsburgh offers in the spring are unrivaled. I don’t have any sort of frame of reference to substantiate this claim, but Pittsburgh is pretty awesome once the blooms indeed begin to bloom. This season of new growth was also a metaphor for my approach to photography in 2018 which I continue to pursue as 2019 ramps up. Take often photographed subject matter and locations and make them fresh. Shed the old, but remain beautiful. Come back even prettier. That was and remains the goal. The three photos below, I think, exhibit this quite well. (Check out this unique look on flowers in the Pittsburgh)
Now again, the beauty of nature is easily found in between and along the edges of the banks of the three rivers, but it stretches far beyond that. This time, all the way to the far off land of Ohio!
As of late, I’ve been a little more in to photographing flowers. To that end, I wanted bluebells this past spring. So to the Googles I went. Google told me one of the best places to view such a wildflower is the UK, a place I’ve never been, and when Google talks, I usually listen. I was oh so close to booking a trip, too. Just for some flowers. Not sure how I would have pitched that one to my boss? What Google didn’t tell me, though, was I had another option. Luckily, with a little help from some friends, I was able to find a patch of bluebells in Ohio, which as you may have guessed, is far cheaper, quicker and more readily accessible to reach than England. I’m not saying I’ll never go, but for now I’m glad to have saved that airfare!
As lucrative as the spring was from a photographic standpoint, the greatest attainment was on a much more personal level, but still photographically centered. In April, I had the privilege to present my Pittsburgh photography to the Photo Section of the Academy of Arts and Science of Pittsburgh. Whew, I know it’s a mouthful. Essentially, they are the oldest continually operating club in existence in America, dating back to the 1880s. That’s right…1880s.
To say that I was honored to have been sought out to put together a program for this club is a drastic understatement. Fred Astaire was tap dancing on my nerves for two solid months. I’ve spoke in front of a group before, but never quite as long as was needed for this presentation, which lasted around 50 minutes.
In my effort to prepare a program that both educated and entertained the crowd, I put in more preparation and thought than I think I have in any other endeavor in my 34 years, resulting in a clear, concise story about my process with real life examples using actual photos I’ve taken. The reception by the crowd was humbling and I was thrilled with how taken by my work they were. However, the more impressive achievement was they laughed at every single joke. Phew. I left never feeling more confident about myself and my work and more inspired than ever to keep creating.
Not only was it a boon to my confidence and inspiration, but the preparation took me down the path of self reflection and research in to my own portfolio. What worked that doesn’t any more? What have I learned? What might be valuable to others? Which photos have stood the test of time? And what goes through my mind as I’m creating an image? This last one was the key and one in which I’ve thought about but never put on paper, which ultimately led to this series of blog posts about what makes me tick and how I begun this path to becoming a full time photographer:
- Once Upon A Time
- Be An Engineer They Said…
- Family First, Photography Second
- It All Started With an HDR
Another byproduct, for lack of a better word, was a gentle nudge from one of the members of the camera club to take a little journey out west. Through his guidance and experience, we were able to put together one hell of an itinerary for my weeklong trip through Colorado, a place that was always on my radar, but never really top of mind. If you’re reading this, Robert, thank you!
And while I’m thanking people, let’s hear it for my rock star wife who held down the fort like a seasoned pro with two girls, one of which was only 8 weeks old at the time, while daddy was prancing throughout Colorado. How she didn’t jump off the proverbial mountain is a mystery, an enigma the likes of which will never be solved!
When you hear Colorado, what do you think of? Mountains of course! Flying in to Denver, I was surprised how flat it was. Again, until it wasn’t. Once I was beyond the Denver city limits, I’m not sure my vehicle was ever perfectly level. It was kind of like Pittsburgh but on a much grander scale. There were mountains and hills every which way and they were stunning. Everything I’d imaged since I’d never actually seen a ‘real’ mountain before.
The mountains were of course jaw dropping, but for my first experience I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a touch disappointed. When I envision the mountains of Colorado, I think tall and I think snow capped peaks. During my visit, I did not see a single speck of snow. Of course, the day after I left most of the state was pounded with it, but that’s a different story. But because of the lack of snow and because of the time of year I visited (late September), the trees kind of stole the show.
Have I mentioned I like trees? No? Okay, well I do. And there were plenty of them on this trip. Aspen trees as far as the eye could see. A see of yellow nestled in every valley between every 14er (that’s what they call peaks 14,000 ft and above in CO). These aspens surely did put the COLOR in Colorado, and I won’t soon forget them.
Aside from the snow, another element that eluded me out west was the light. There were definitely challenging conditions photographically speaking. Aside from the first night in which I was treated to a stellar sunset light party, there were really no epic skies to speak of.
In fact this notion of outrageous sunrises and sunsets, the likes of which cause the angels to weep, was largely absent for me and pretty much an undertone of the images I was able to produce this year, both in Colorado and all year at home in Pittsburgh. Make no mistake I’m happy with what I got, which is a collection of SOLID images.
But by and large, the super dramatic, ultra colorful dusks and dawns (and there definitely were more than a few) remained unrecorded by my camera’s sensor, seen only out my front window or through my rear view mirror. Except for this one.
So that’s it. My year wrapped up in to a clear, concise, 1600 word, 30 photo nutshell. And what a wild year it was. WAIT! Did I just say wild?? How could I forget? It actually was wild this year. Back in early spring, I bought a new toy. A Nikon 200-500mm telephoto lens. It was bought mostly for my wildlife photos, but I’ve also found myself using it in the city for some abstract and detail photos. But, the animals look best through this lens.
Ok. NOW we are done. I promise. And if you made it this far, wow! Good for you and your attention span. You must not have little ones with you. But in all seriousness, THANK YOU! Whether this is your first time on my blog or you are intimately familiar with my work, I appreciate you and I appreciate the support. You help me to do what I do. You helped make 2018 an amazing year, so let’s do it again in 2019!
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?
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.
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.
Saturday, January 21, 2017 changed all that…and sent me on the chase of a lifetime.
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.
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.
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!
Continue towards the end of January and euphoria presented itself. I was finally out to see Pittsburgh encapsulated in fog, but only from the river up to about a third of the height of the buildings. The Jetson-like setting I had been chasing since picking up my first (real) camera was there for the taking. And take I did.
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 things I like to do with this blog is give a little bit of insight into who I am beyond photography. Each tidbit I share ultimately plays a minor role in my actual photographs, the inspiration behind the name of a photo or series of photos, the story of behind the photo, or the story it makes me want to tell. Today’s little tidbit is that I am a big comic book dork, specifically Marvel Comics. Wolverine is my favorite superhero but I enjoy all the X-Men comics. I’m also a big fan of Spiderman and the Avengers too. If you don’t know anything about superheroes and I’ve lost you already, you can give my wife a call. The two of you can sympathize together because I guarantee she’s lost too. In fact, she refers to all superheroes as “X-Mans” because she can’t tell them apart. She thinks it frustrates me but deep down I think she knows how cute I think it is. But I digress…
What does any of this have to do with photography and how do fictional heroes relate? We’ll get there soon, I promise, but for now just a bit more back story. Last month some wild storms came through the city of Pittsburgh. It’s always been a goal of mine to capture some excellent streaks of lightning over the skyline. It was my number one “bucket list shot” in terms of Pittsburgh photography. I’ve made several attempts but to no avail. My next opportunity came late one evening last month. I got a call at 11PM while I was sound asleep. Much to my chagrin, I answered. Barely. On the other line was my cousin, “JP, work can’t wait. The lightning is going crazy!” Begrudgingly I got my hind end out of bed and headed out the door. Luckily I keep my camera bag packed and batteries charged for just such an “emergency” situation. I spent the evening and wee hours of the morning atop Mount Washington with my camera set up watching the clouds illuminate ever 2 to 3 seconds. It was really cool but there was one problem. All the strikes were about 30 miles north and completely blocked by the clouds. Another unsuccessful opportunity.
Luckily for me though, I’m persistent. The very next day more storms were being called for. I was in town just leaving the Pirates game when I saw a few flashes of lightning. Aha! I called my wife and let her know I’d probably be home later than planned and headed back up the mountain. I staked out the perfect spot and got my camera situated with the right settings, the perfect composition, and a rain sleeve. I was expecting the best but prepared for the worst. Guess which one I got! A few strikes behind me really lit up the clouds and building nicely. Before the lightning moved over the city, though, sheets and sheets of rain fell upon me. My camera was mostly protected but I just couldn’t risk my gear. I was packed up ready to head home when the worst really happened. I shut my back car door and my wedding ring flew off! It was dark and raining terribly. I knew the ring had rolled into gutter where the water was rushing rapidly towards the sewer. Right about then I started wishing I myself were a superhero. What powers would I need? X-ray vision to help me spot the ring? Maybe. Super-human strength to smash through the grate to get into the sewer? Probably. The ability to control metal with magnetism? That would likely help. Deep down, though, I knew I’d need Wolverine’s power. See Wolverine has the power to heal himself and I knew that would be most helpful because, well, my wife was going to KILL ME! Out into the rain I went. I was soaked, absolutely soaked. After 1o minutes of looking in the gutter, under my car, under the car in front me, and in the middle of the road I was ready to give up. I got down on my belly one last time and looked up the road. There it was! Sitting right next to my car. Apparently in the moment I dropped the ring I did have they ability to control metal because there is no other explanation on how a round object dropped on a downward slope doesn’t roll anywhere! I wasn’t complaining though.
By this point, I was sopping wet and that wasn’t changing anytime soon. I really had no other choice but to stay out and give another shot at catching those lightning bolts. I’d been through so much already, what was the worst that could happen, short of electrocution? This is when the best happened. The rain tapered off and the lightning moved right on in. It was the most intense and beautiful display of nature’s power I’ve ever witnessed in person. I stood there, sopping wet, but happy as could be. Every few seconds there were bolts, not just one but many bolts of lightning stretching out across the entire sky. I’d open the shutter, review the image, the click then shutter again for the next bolt which I knew would be coming soon. The best of the evening are below, and if you look closely you might just see an unsuspected visitor. A visitor from Asgard, a world very far from here. A world home to Avenger and Norse God of Thunder. A world home to the mighty THOR!
Well, well, well. Look who’s back to blogging. Good grief it’s been a long time. Shame on me, I know, but it has been a crazy couple of months. But crazy in a good way – lots of shows, lots of shooting, and lots of travel. Just not lots of typing 😦 Today, hopefully, changes all of that with a kickstart to my kickstart project. Normally, I’d share photos from last Monday, but I just got back from a weekend up at Ricketts Glen State Park in northeast Pennsylvania. This place is renowned for it’s waterfalls and it certainly does not disappoint!
I started off the morning down below the falls. There were a few folks hanging out above, near the top left corner of this frame, so I opted to go below. I spent a good hour down around this spot exploring my different compositions and focal points. There was lots of foam swirling in the pool, and you can see present here, but I wasn’t quite getting what I wanted. I decide to hop on to the ledge you see to the right in the photo above. Now I have done some pretty stupid things while out taking photos, namely sitting right on the edge of the Grand Canyon. A slippery ledge above only a few feet of water should be no problem. But this made me particularly uneasy. Especially getting off. I don’t know why. The water was only about 3 to 4 feet deep so it wasn’t going to harm me if I fell in. Perhaps, though, it was because I was holding my camera in one hand and stepping onto a very slippery slope while holding onto to a very slippery rock/tree branch with the other. If I slipped, my gear would be ruined. But I didn’t slip and my camera remained dry. Phew! After all that, you can see the photo below that I got. Was it worth the risk? Maybe, but it certainly isn’t my favorite from the location.
After finishing up below, I was ready to pack it in. I hiked up the “steps” to explore a bit more. And I’m glad I did. I don’t know how, but I almost forgot about the upper falls. It was probably because there was a pretty steady stream of folks up above and I’d written off the idea that I’d get any photos without people in them. Upon steeping out onto the rock you see in the top left corner above, though, it was empty. Nobody was around so I took advantage, and with great results I think. The stone and falls at Adams Falls are simply breathtaking. There are so many lines and compelling compositions, you could spend days there and not catch them all. The light was great too. It was overcast so there was a nice even, diffused light cast upon the rocks and water. It truly is a photographer’s dream. So I took about two hours and really worked the scene. I walked away with a number photos that I’m incredibly pleased with and since words won’t do it justice, I’ll quit the chatter so you can see the beauty of Adams Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park for yourself! Enjoy!