Tag Archive | Winter

Happy Accidents

In life, they say it’s good to have a plan, a strategy to help achieve the goals or tasks we set for ourselves.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Without a plan, I all too often find myself orbiting around my own brain wondering what to do next.  Having a step by step, actionable list of things to do is helpful to me and essential to keeping me focused and on task.

But that’s really only feasible from the business side of my photography, not the artistic and creative side.  Sure, when a sunrise needs to be prepared for, many things can be mapped out and counted upon.  I know the sun WILL come up and I know WHERE it will rise.  I know the bridge that I want to photograph or make photos from will be there, potholes and all, because hey, this is Pittsburgh.  But there are factors that are beyond control.  Traffic getting to the city, complete drear and cloud cover (again…Pittsburgh), or my 6 month old baby needing me at 6AM so I’m late for the sunrise are a few that spring to mind.  These circumstances render a plan completely useless, causing photography to often take on  “take what you’re given” mentality.

Often times, this take what you’re given approach ends up feeling a concession.  You can’t get what you planned or hoped for so you settle for something different and presumably not as good.  In my experience though, different is better than good.

Other times, luck prevails, the weather cooperates, and the stars align.  Or in my case, the planets do.

The weather in Pittsburgh this last week of January reached record breaking lows and can only be described by most as brutally cold.  The meteorologists said stay inside but what I heard was the rivers are going to freeze.  Time to make a plan.  So I did.

And what did we just learn about plans.  They change.  The river was frozen, yes, but not nearly as much as I’d anticipated…or hoped.  I’ve seen it completely frozen over several times when temperatures weren’t nearly as cold.  Most of the river was still flowing, but with large chunks of ice slowly floating along.  So I went with a long exposure to convey the motion of the floating ice contrasting with the static ice that was building along the bank of the river.  Cool.  Pun intended.

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What I wasn’t accounting for, or expecting, is what I’m calling a happy little accident.  And I was lucky enough to catch 3 of them!

If you look at the photo, you’ll see the moon and two bright stars.  Normally I’m pretty in tune with where the moon is going to be, but I read my app wrong and was surprised, pleasantly, to have it in such a pleasing spot for my intended composition.  Happy accident number 1.  But those two bright stars, it turns out, are actually Venus and Jupiter.  This was totally unplanned for, I must admit.  They are a tiny, yet impactful, morsel of photographic tastiness that you were completely unaware of but privileged enough to not only see, but include in your photo in a meaningful AND intentional way!  Happy accident number 2!

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…and happy accident number 3?  Well, I was lucky that Uranus wasn’t also in the picture!

You can read more about Jupiter and Venus HERE

2018 – The Year of the Tree?

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* ⬇️ 😱 ⬇️

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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.

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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.

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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:

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

It All Started With an HDR

Walt Disney once famously said, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started with a mouse.” That mouse is of course Mickey Mouse and “famously” might be too strong a description of the quote unless you are a Disney dork like myself. The “it” he is referring to is essentially the Disney empire, which I could go on in detail about, but since I’ve alluded to my love of all things Disney in another post (READ IT HERE), I’ll skip that part. What I’d like to call attention to, though, is what this quote means to me: We all start somewhere. I’d like to share with you my somewhere.

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Let’s travel back a few years, somewhere around let’s say fall of 2004. I was a sophomore in college and things were going well for me. Grades were improving and I was in what at the time seemed like a perfect, serious (for a 20 year old) relationship. I was happy…until I wasn’t. Well, actually, until she wasn’t. Several hours before the stroke of midnight on February 14, 2005 – that’s Valentine’s Day, folks – my “serious” girlfriend broke up with me. Ouch. As if that weren’t bad enough, at that very stroke of midnight, we’d rip another page off the old day-by-day calendar and I would turn 21 on February 15. Double ouch. But at least I could now legally drown my sorrows in beer. But I did not.

I’d like to say what I did was take this opportunity to take a negative and turn it in to a positive.   I’d like to say it was no big deal and that “things happen for a reason.” I’d like to say those things, but I can’t and a discussion with my best friend recently reminded me that this saying is bullshit. Sometimes things suck and it’s okay for you to acknowledge that they suck. This was one of those times, even if only temporarily.

Make no mistake; I don’t recount this story for pity or feelings of sadness. By all accounts, I wouldn’t be where I am today without this chapter in my life. I am HAPPY now so I am grateful for what happened back then. It turns out that, in retrospect, this actually was one of those “things happen for a reason” scenarios. At the time, however, a void was present in my life for several months, a void that needed filling so that I didn’t sit around all day, wallowing in my self-pity making mixed CDs, which I did. I needed something to occupy my mind, to numb the pain but with a more positive influence on my life. As it turns out, that empty part of me took the shape of a camera and it was easy, satisfying, and productive to fill.

I started taking walks with my tiny little point and shoot camera, just snapping away with whatever struck me as interesting, with Point State Park being a common subject. The photos – snapshots really – were no good, but my mind was occupied and I was done feeling sorry for myself.

The void inside me began to shrink, and as it did my desire to turn snapshots into actual photos grew rapidly. Consequently, so did my camera when I bought my first DSLR in 2007. It was a used, entry-level camera – a Nikon D50 with a monster 6-megapixel sensor. It would be just perfect for my upcoming trip to St. Thomas and many trips to the zoo. But that camera just didn’t cut it. I needed more. I needed bigger. I am a man after all!

In 2009 I upgraded again for a trip to Mexico, this time to a new Nikon model, the D300, with twice as many megapixels as my last camera. At the time I thought megapixels was all that mattered, even though I wasn’t really printing photos. They’d only be seen on a small screen so resolution wasn’t as important an issue as I was making it out to be. But again, bigger means better, right? After Mexico, the camera probably spent more time on the shelf than it did in my hands – just kidding, I was a slob so it was probably in corner of my room on the floor under a pile of clothes and some empty Gatorade bottles. The point is I didn’t use it very much in ’09 or ’10.

Fast forward to 2011. I’d been using my camera a little more regularly at this point and uploading the shots to my Flickr account, a popular social photo sharing platform at the time. No one had really noticed the photos, and for good reason – they weren’t anything special or different. There was mostly wildlife and some marginal landscapes with a poorly executed Pittsburgh skyline shot sprinkled in here and there.   (I just went back in to the account for the first time in year’s today to have a look at the early stuff, and wow! It’s like looking at pictures of yourself decades ago….”What was I thinking!?!”).

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Eeeek.  This was an eye opener looking back on the ‘early years,’ but serves as a not so gentle reminder of how far I’ve come.  And thank heavens for that because except for one or two images here, it’s a load of junk!  PLEASE – don’t stare at it too long for you might hurt your eyes 😉

But then I uploaded a photo called “Winter’s Light.” This photo, oh this photo. It’s an HDR, which is short for High Dynamic Range meaning it contains fine details in both the dark shadows and the lightest lights and generally includes multiple exposures since camera sensors at the time were unable to record the detail that your eye can process in a single frame. Admittedly, it is very easy to let an HDR photo get away from you, looking almost cartoony and certainly fake. This photo is no exception. It has a painterly feel, keeping it just on the cusp of natural meets unbelievable but definitely falls beyond the range of my processing these days, which tends to have a vibrant, yet natural feel to it. That said, Winter’s Light has held up to the test of time for me, partially because I’ve yet to see comparably impressive light on the Warhol Bridge, which is the main showcase of the photo, since that cold winter day in January of 2011. Oh yea, and it still sells too!

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A few hours after uploading to Flickr, it began to rack in the ‘favorites’ which is today’s equivalent to a Facebook ‘like.’ “Cool,” I thought. And that was it. Then the photo got “Explored,” which means a daily feature essentially. Again, cool! Up to this point, most of my photos received a whopping 2 favorites and if I were lucky, a comment or two. Again, they were mostly overdone HDR landscapes or wildlife shots that didn’t deserve much merit. This one, though, made it to triple digit likes and was racking in the views. This felt like a big deal for me. It turns out that it was.

Looking back, that extra bit of exposure on Flickr really was a catalyst for me. Though it didn’t go viral or directly result in any immediate sales – selling my work wasn’t even an afterthought at this point – and didn’t bring any notoriety either, it did serve as a fulcrum allowing me to leverage my passion for photography in to something a bit more. Winter’s Light did not launch my career in photography, but it sure has hell gave me the confidence I needed to pursue it!

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For grins and giggles, I went back an re-processed Winter’s Light with my current work flow and style. I’m digging the more realistic look, but the original still tugs on the heart strings. Feel free to let me know if you like the original or this edit better!

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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What’s Your Favorite?

Not too long ago, some close friends of mine and I were having a conversation.  Generally when we speak the conversation can quite literally go any which way and change directions in an instant.  We talk about life, friends, elephant dung (don’t judge us but this is true), and everything in between.  But since we are all full-time artists, it can be all but guaranteed that the state of art industry  is going to pop up in any given conversation.  This was no exception.

As we continued musing about the highs and lows, gripes, griefs, rewards, and inspirations behind our work, we stumbled upon a question:  “What is your favorite (insert your own type of work here)?” Now this is a question I get ALL the time at shows.  Folks walk in, take a look around, enjoy the work, pick out a favorite, then ask me, “What’s your favorite photograph, JP?”  My answer is always immediately and unequivocally the same.  I don’t have to say a word.  I just point to Winter’s Light, which is always hanging…

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This is the image that started it all for me.  It’s not the image that launched my career in photography, per se, but it is the one that gained a little recognition and gave me the confidence to pursue a lifetime or creating images to share.  It features lovely light, nice foreground interest, and the composition is good.  It will likely always remain my favorite image I’ve ever taken. That is, until I heard the following.

When I asked my friend, Johno (of Johno’s Art Studio – check out his work here) what his favorite painting was, I was stunned by the simplicity and brilliance of his response.  “My last one,” he said.  My last one.  It made perfect sense.  His wife, Maria (of Maria’s Ideas – check out her work here) went on to explain, though the point hit home immediately.  We should ALWAYS be learning and improving on past works and experiences and incorporating the lessons learned into our next piece.  Simple yet brilliant.

I’d be lying, though, if I said that this revelation didn’t shake me to my core.  I just stated how Winter’s Light is my all time favorite photo I’ve ever taken.  Look at the watermark on it.  It was taken in 2011.  Clearly this is not my last photo.  In fact, it was one of my first.  Does that mean that I’ve not improved upon my photography process in the five years I’ve been taking photos?  Of course not.  This is simply a good photograph with a ton of sentimental value attached to it, so chances are it will still remain my favorite.  But that doesn’t mean there are not things I would change.  Not just with this photo, but every single photo I’ve ever taken.  Everything can be better.

And that, my friends, is the entire point of this post.  Never become complacent in your achievements.  You can be happy about them, but unsatisfied with them.  It’s okay to want more.  It’s okay to be your own toughest critic.  Every time I click the shutter I want that newest photo to be the best I’ve ever taken.  This is obviously unrealistic, as I take my fair share of “clunkers,” but I believe having that mindset will allow me to continue to learn from past mistakes and build upon current successes.

KICKSTART – I Freeze So You Don’t Have To

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.

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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.

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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.

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2014 – The Year That Was

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!

10. "Sprung Re-Envisioned" could easily be number 1 on this list.  This is a probably the most meticulous composition of the year and I think it payed off.  The image has a lot of depth and is framed quite nicely.

10. “Sprung Re-Envisioned” could easily be number 1 on this list. This is a probably the most meticulous composition of the year and I think it payed off. The image has a lot of depth and is framed quite nicely.

9. I've always wanted to photograph the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. and this year I had the chance.  "Pretty in Pink" represents the last morning where the light and conditions combined for a perfect sunrise!

9. I’ve always wanted to photograph the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. and this year I had the chance. “Pretty in Pink” represents the last morning where the light and conditions combined for a perfect sunrise!

8. "Magic Mountain" from Mount Washington in Pittsburgh represents one of the few sunset/night sessions from 2014.  Plus...what's a countdown without a photo from Mt. Washington?

8. “Mountain Magic” from Mount Washington in Pittsburgh represents one of the few sunset/night sessions from 2014. Plus…what’s a countdown without a photo from Mt. Washington?

7. "Distant Peaks" from the West End Overlook provides the best of both worlds, cityscape and  landscape scenery.

7. “Distant Peaks” from the West End Overlook provides the best of both worlds, cityscape and landscape scenery.

6. "Twisted" represents my backyard.  Not literally, but this beautiful spot is only a few my from my home and I've had my eye on these trees for some time.  The fog rolled in and provided just the mood I was looking for.

6. “Twisted” represents my backyard. Not literally, but this beautiful spot is only a few my from my home and I’ve had my eye on these trees for some time. The fog rolled in and provided just the mood I was looking for.

5. "Walt's Wish" is taken at Walt Disney World...as though that needed to be explained.  My wish for some time was to be able to photograph the nightly fireworks at Disney and I got to do so a few times this year.  This is my favorite.

5. “Walt’s Wish” is taken at Walt Disney World…as though that needed to be explained. My wish for some time was to be able to photograph the nightly fireworks at Disney and I got to do so a few times this year. This is my favorite.

4. "Steel on the Rocks" is taken from one of my new favorite spots on the North Shore of Pittsburgh.  This is another meticulous arrangement - you'll notice the rocks and reflect NEVER converge in the picture.  That is not an accident ;-)

4. “Steel on the Rocks” is taken from one of my new favorite spots on the North Shore of Pittsburgh. This is another meticulous arrangement – you’ll notice the rocks and reflection NEVER converge in the picture. That is not an accident 😉

3. "Lines and Falls" from Ricketts Glen State Park in northeastern PA is a beautiful little gem with graceful lines, colorful rocks and moss, and a serene waterfall.

3. “Lines and Falls” from Ricketts Glen State Park in northeastern PA is a beautiful little gem with graceful lines, colorful rocks and moss, and a serene waterfall.

2. "Power Surge" was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  A lot of technical know-how and preparation was needed for this photo...but I also need a lot of LUCK!

2. “Power Surge” was a once in a lifetime opportunity. A lot of technical know-how and preparation was needed for this photo…but I also need a lot of LUCK!

1. "Reflecting Pond" is not necessarily my favorite photo of the year.  However, I was chosen by Popular Photography to be featured for a piece on Pittsburgh.  This is the photo they wanted so, yeah, it's number 1 this year!

1. “Reflecting Pond” is the crown jewel of the year.  It’s not necessarily my favorite photo of the year, though. However, I was chosen by Popular Photography, the largest and most distributed photo magazine in the world, to be featured for a piece on Pittsburgh. This is the photo they wanted so, yeah, it’s number 1 this year!

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.

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Winter’s Light – Photo of the Day and TBT

Welcome to the first edition of “Photo of the Day” here on the JP Diroll Photography blog.  My plan is to write a little blurb about a photo each day (almost 😉 I’m sure there will be days here and there that I’ll miss) and post it to to my social media sites as well as here.  To that end, I want to take a minute to thank all of you for the support for this idea.  I had mentioned on my Facebook page about the possibility of doing this and the overwhelming majority of you essentially said…”Go for it” or “I’ll definitely check it out.”  So again, thank you!  I hope you enjoy this endeavor.

Winter's Light

Without further ado, here is my first photo of the day (POTD from here on out!).  As it turns out, today is Thursday, but you all know that!  What you may or may not no is that Thursday is a widely considered “Throwback Thursday,” or TBT, on many of the social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter in my experience.  So I decided I’d kill two birds with one stone and make my very first POTD my very first TBT as well.  The photo you see above is called Winter’s Light.  It was taken on a very cold, snowy Saturday in January.  The reflection is surreal.  The sky is full interesting clouds.  And that light illuminating the Andy Warhol Bridge, well let’s just say I’ve never seen light so beautiful on that bridge since then.  And I spend a lot of time on the North Shore, and I do mean a lot!  Now I’ve shared this image a few times before across my various social media outlets, and if you’ve ever gotten a business card from me then you’ve certainly seen this photo.  It’s kind of my brand, if you will.  And for good reason.  It holds a very special place in my heart.  It is the first photo I received a great deal of attention for and gave me the confidence to continue down the path of becoming a photographer.  It made me want to MAKE photographs instead of TAKE photographs.  It ultimately helped my vacation become my vocation…or is it the other way around 😛 ?  For me it’s a bit of both!   Ever since this photo, it’s been pretty much full throttle and I don’t intend on easing up off the pedal any time soon.  I want thank each and every one of you reading this for the support and I hope you’ll join me on the ride!

DISTANT PEAKS – THE PITTSBURGH LANDSCAPE

Pittsburgh is a city of many vantage points.  From the classic view from the overlooks of Mount Washington to the intimate views of the city along the North Shore, Pittsburgh is a skyline photographer’s dream.  But what about the photographer, such as myself,  who also feels very in tune with nature and loves the landscape genre of photography?

Distant Peaks Pittsburgh West End Winter Sunrise Blog

Enter the West End Overlook.  I am a Pittsburgh photographer and thoroughly enjoy the capturing the skyline on camera.  As I mentioned above, though, I very much love landscape photography and the West End Overlook affords me the best of both worlds.  I posted the photo above to my Facebook page yesterday and mentioned that this location is rapidly become my go to spot for sunrise sessions.  One small reason I love it here is my ability to include enough sky in my images to capture that beautiful color that ensues as the sun begins to crest the horizon without overcrowding the photo with that very same sky.  The main reason, however, is my ability to meld a cityscape photograph with a landscape photograph.

A good landscape photograph will, generally speaking, be composed of an interesting foreground, middle ground, and background.  The same is true of most photos.  For me and my style of photography, the foreground is paramount when composing an image.  If I can’t grab the viewers attention with a strong foreground, then what motivation are they going to have to let their eye travel around the rest of the image?  This is where the West End sets itself apart, in my opinion, from other locations throughout the city.  Notice the rocks?  They, combined with the trees and grass (or snow covered grass), make great foreground elements.  They form shapes and lines that really can anchor an image.  Take the top photo for example – the rocks jut out in two different places, each forming a triangle that points almost directly at the skyline which, though small, is the true subject of the photograph.

Distance is another important factor in my appeal to the West End.  Have you ever looked at a photograph of mountains and thought how small they look compared to other elements in the photo?  You know they are big, yet they seem so tiny.    There’s a good chance that photo was taken with a wide angle lens situated very near to the foreground element which exacerbates the perceived disparity in size.  Looking at the two photos here, you will notice a similar quality.  Obviously the rocks in my foreground are in reality much smaller than a skyscraper.  But with a wide angle lens and a careful composition, I have made the city look much smaller than it truly is.  Which is exactly what I want.  I want my foreground to mesh with the skyline taking on the role of a landscape photograph.  I want the buildings to be recognizable – present but not prominent.   I want them to take on the role of mountain peaks in the distance.

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A Love for the Zoo


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Ever since I can remember I have loved wildlife.  Growing up I wanted to be a either a zoologist or a marine biologist.  All throughout high school my passion for wildlife was present, if only a little less prevalent.  I was really good at math and physics, however, so people said I should be an engineer.  I listened.  And even though I became that engineer people recommended I become, I held on to my affinity for wildlife.  In fact, after college when I picked up my first camera in 2007, that affinity grew.  It was the zoo and its animals, not the Pittsburgh skyline, that I had a connection with as my interest in photography began to bud.  I would go 15 or so times a year and spend hours going back and forth between exhibits.  My favorite animal(s) generally speaking are the big cats so I spend the most time at their habitats – lions, leopards, and tigers primarily which is great because I have access to them.   When you spend enough time at the exhibits like I do, you’ll tend to have better luck seeing them up and moving about as opposed to laying there like a lump, which is all too often the case.  I also learned that winter is the BEST time to go.  The animals are active, the snow (if there is any and hopefully there is otherwise backgrounds for photos tend to be very….well BLEH!) provides a calm scene especially if it’s falling, and it’s empty!  I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been the only one at the zoo, or so it would seem at least.  Unfortunately, though, my trips to the zoo have dwindled in the past two years.  Life has a way of taking over and we somehow forget to make time for things that are important to us.  I wanted to put that to an end so last Friday, Valentine’s Day, I set out for the zoo while my wife was at work.  It was cold and snowy and I was all alone, just how I like it.  I figured maybe there’s no better day than Valentine’s Day to reconnect with an old friend.  I was right!

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Tigers Lounging Pittsburgh Zoo Amur Snow

Male Lion Pittsburgh Zoo Winter Snow

Amur Tiger Cub Pittsburgh Zoo Snow

Amur Leopard Rolling Snow Pittsburgh Zoo

Lazy Polar Bear Pittsburgh Zoo Snow