Southwest Color

Milky Way over the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, San Juan County, New Mexico (2016)
A moonless, cold night in early October proved an excellent time to hunt for the Milky Way in southwestern skies. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, San Juan County, New Mexico (2016).
The San Juan mountain range from Geologic Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (2016)
Last light overlooking Cortez and the San Juan range from Geologic Overlook, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (2016).
Morning vista, Valley of the Gods National Monument, Southern Utah (2016)
Southern morning vista with Monument Valley in the distance, Valley of the Gods National Monument, Southern Utah (2016)
First light in Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico (2016)
First light in Alamo Wash, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico (2016)

 

Olympic National Park, Washington

HOH Rainforest Tryptich no.1
HOH Rainforest Tryptich no.1
Blue Hour, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington
Blue Hour, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington
Kalaloch, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Kalaloch, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington
Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington
Marymere Falls, Olympic National Park, Washington
Marymere Falls, Olympic National Park, Washington
Northwest Maritime Center, Port Townsend, Washington
Northwest Maritime Center, Port Townsend, Washington
Blue Hour, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington
Blue Hour, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

 

Blue Hour, Medicine Bow, Wyoming

I wonder how many things we intently search for, training every last bit of energy focusing our gaze – only to be met with darkness. Then I think about the times peripheral vision catches a glimpse of something unintended, and off we go alit, into the beautiful, dim blue.

“…the present is the most difficult period to apprehend; only with distance does the value of certain forms of photography and photo objects become clear.” – Joel Smith, curator of photography at the Morgan Library & Museum,

If only I were a poet. Or at least eloquent enough to convey thoughts and feelings regarding a photograph. There are some who feel to say anything at all about a photograph means it failed to visually convey a message. Others believe a photograph isn’t completely realized unless a snippet of information provides a point at which to enter and begin exploration. Then there are those who simply don’t care.

Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
Medicine Bow, Wyoming (2016)
John B. Crane in the Weminuche Wilderness, southern Colorado's San Juan range, 1985
In the Weminuche Wilderness, southern Colorado’s San Juan range, circa. 1986

If it’s possible to exist between these categories, that’s where I find myself.

“The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

The other night I let the dog out in the back yard. The porch light switch was broken and I listened as she ambled down the deck’s wooden stairs and stepped onto the lawn beneath a quasi-full moon. As I stood on the deck attempting to locate a brown dog against green grass with no light – I was unable to see her dim, hunched form when looking directly at her. As I looked off to the side, however, my peripheral vision was able to identity she was indeed there, and was indeed fulfilling the mission. I tried again, peering intently, concentrating my direct gaze at where I last saw her. Again I saw only blackness. Averting my eyes to the side confirmed she was there, now finished, and sniffing about as dogs do.

I wonder how many things we intently search for, training every last bit of energy focusing our gaze – only to be met with darkness. Then I think about the times peripheral vision catches a glimpse of something unintended, and off we go alit, into the beautiful, dim blue.

“…the present is the most difficult period to apprehend; only with distance does the value of certain forms of photography and photo objects become clear.” – Joel Smith, curator of photography at the Morgan Library & Museum.

Fort Collins, Colorado
Fort Collins, Colorado

Special thanks to Denver Digital Imaging Center for their E6 expertise. #believeinfilm

 

Random•osity

Frozen hydraulic hoses on logging truck after snow storm, Fort Collins, Colorado (2016)
PUMPER 3, New Raymer, Colorado (2016)
PUMPER 3, New Raymer, Colorado (2016)
Heat shields from nose cone of space shuttle Atlantis, Cape Canaveral, Florida (2015)
Heat shields from nose cone of space shuttle Atlantis, Cape Canaveral, Florida (2015)
South Delaney Lake, North Park, Colorado (2015)
South Delaney Lake, North Park, Colorado (2015)
ELEVATION 7,360 FT. Granite, Wyoming (2015)
ELEVATION 7,360 FT. Granite, Wyoming (2015)
Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Denver, Colorado
Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Denver, Colorado
Church, Briggsdale, Colorado (2016)
Church, Briggsdale, Colorado (2016)
North Omaha, Nebraska (2016)
Bank, North Omaha, Nebraska (2016)

Old Lincoln Highway, no.1

Old Lincoln Highway, outside Sterling, Illinois (2015)
Old Lincoln Highway, outside Sterling, Illinois (2015)
Morrison, Illinois, along U.S. Highway 30 (2015)
Morrison, Illinois, along U.S. Highway 30 (2015)
TRENDY, U.S. Highway 30, Rock Falls, Illinois (2015)
TRENDY, U.S. Highway 30, Rock Falls, Illinois (2015)
Old Lincoln Highway, outside Rock Falls, Illinois (2015)
Old Lincoln Highway, outside Rock Falls, Illinois (2015)
HOTPOINT, Morrison, Illinois (2015)
HOTPOINT, Morrison, Illinois (2015)
Off U.S. Highway 30, Mechanicsville, Iowa (2015)
Off U.S. Highway 30, Mechanicsville, Iowa (2015)

The 440

A few weeks ago I needed to get out – as in far away from the computer – in a big way. The weather wasn’t good along the Front Range and checking the iPhone confirmed pretty much any place within easy driving distance was experiencing the same. It looked like the only thing to do was out drive the front. I fueled up, stopped for the requisite Americano and headed into the rain not knowing what the day held. Not knowing what lie ahead isn’t just part of the fun – it’s the reason I go.

There are a number of different ways to connect with my favorite haunts – North Park/Southern Wyoming. Memorial Day this year marked the opening of Trail Ridge Road, which connects the front range with the deeper mountains through Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a bit circuitous route, but any day beginning on Trail Ridge Road is a good day no matter what happens next. I headed up to the Park, bought the annual pass and wasted no time getting high. That’s a eyebrow-raising phrase here in Colorado these days… what I mean  is quickly gaining elevation. On a week day there was little traffic – one of the wonderful benefits of being able to take off in the middle of the week instead of waiting for the weekend.

Highway 14, North Park, Colorado
North Park along Highway 14 south of Walden, Colorado (2015). Nikon F100 + Ektar

At the bottom of Trail Ridge you wind up in Grandby T-boning at the intersection of Highway 40. A right takes you towards Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling. I stopped at the market in Kremmling for a break, the weather already improving, and considered my route. I only had the day, needing to be back that night – so was somewhat limited by daylight. The western edge of North Park is unofficially bound by 40 as it winds up over Muddy Pass. From there I picked up 14 and headed east towards Walden.

White gate near Rand, Colorado, North Park, Colorado (2015)
White Gate, North Park, Colorado (2015). Nikon F4s + Velvia

A great thing about being open to the day is a willingness to detour onto new roads. There are roads I’ve driven by many times making a mental note to return someday to explore as time allows. Nearing Walden I came upon one of those roads; a dirt road peeling off across the pasture lands to the east. With plenty of fuel and a cooler full of fruit and water this was the perfect opportunity and I didn’t hesitate.

I have and shoot a lot of cameras – many of which I was carrying on this day – all loaded with different films. I think back to a story once read about Robert Frank (The Americans) who was one day detained in a small town by a police officer who noticed he had an unusually large number of cameras visibly scattered about in the car. I smile as I think about the packed Pelican crate tucked safely in the back of the Subaru, beneath a foil space blanket to keep it cooler in the high-altitude sun shining through the rear window. I also make a note to check the cooler containing extra film brought along at the next stop.

I know some people think you should only only shoot one film, getting used to its characteristics in certain light, the look it produces etc. I understand the reasoning behind this – but toss it out the window. Different films are for different light, different applications, different scenes, different subjects. A film camera loaded with roll film can only practically shoot one roll at a time. Having different cameras loaded with different films allows greater flexibility for an image that may be better suited for a chrome (slide) film, or C41 (color negative) or black and white.

There has been a great deal of rain in Colorado this year; a wonderful break from the high and dry monotony pestering ranchers, farmers and other ag-centric folks over recent past. All this rain has turned browns into greens; refilled drainage ditches, draws and ponds, and contributed to an overall pleasant aroma to the high prairie. Standing water also means lots of bugs.

Roadside drainage ditches and draws are full these days in North Park with all the standing water that's fallen.
Roadside drainage ditches and draws are full these days in North Park with all the standing water that’s fallen. Nikon F4s + Velvia
Clouds hover over Wyoming to the North of North Park, Colorado.
Clouds hover over Wyoming to the North of North Park, Colorado. Nikon F4s + Velvia

After Rand I picked up 125 North towards Cowdrey, veered left at the Dean Peak Junction and was on my way North into Wyoming.

I was eager to shoot my new F5 for the first time and had both it and the F6 on the seat next to me just in case. Sometimes things catch your eye and digging a camera out of the crate takes time. Only a few frames had been made thus far in the trip. Light during mid-day isn’t ideal, which is why that time is spent moving between places – to be in position for the edges of the day. Often times I’ll think I see a shot and head down a dirt road looking for the right vantage point. More often then not things don’t line up, or the light’s wrong, or there’s too much mud (which has happened a lot this year), or I’m met with a “No Trespassing” sign (I always respect No Trespassing signs) and the detour is chalked up to a learning experience as I head back to the main road. As I’m driving down a double track or dirt road I’m always considering my exit plan. Once while trying to turn around on a double track in Sweetwater County the car became stuck – high-centered in the middle of no where. I try to avoid this.

About the time I rolled into southern Wyoming it was later in the day and the light had improved considerably. I’d left rainy skies far behind and was enjoying fresh air, brilliant bluebird skies punctuated by dramatic, enormous cloud masses as the edge of the front just passed through quietly lumbered its way east.

Riverside, Wyoming (2015)
Riverside, Wyoming (2015) Nikon F5 + Ektar

Riverside, Wyoming is a quiet town just north of the Colorado/Wyoming state line. I pass through Riverside often, en route to other destinations. This day it marked the point I was to turn east and head home. The Trading Post sits on the corner of Wyoming 230 and 70. The tired me planned on rolling right on by – until I saw the clouds, and what the light was doing. Thanks to the high pressure system chasing the front east, the air was freshly scrubbed and crystal clear. Brilliant light screamed across a fresh atmosphere and slammed into the wood siding, red roof and white accent signage. I suppose I’ve spent enough time cruising around to notice a gas station or two – and this was spectacular.

No tripod, no filters, no nothing other than f8 and be there. 2 frames clicked off the F5 loaded with Ektar and on I went. My real goal was trying to hit peak light on Snowy Range Road and I knew I’d be cutting it close.

Libby Flats Observation Point, Snowy Range Road, Wyoming
Libby Flats Observation Point, Snowy Range Road, Wyoming. Nikon F6 + Portra 160

Snowy Range Road – like Trail Ridge Road – is closed during winters. Signs along the approach alert the traveler well in advance whether it’s open or closed. Even with all the snow the mountains received this year I knew I was safe and car churned its way up the steep grade. I spent an hour milling about looking for a good composition vantage point based on what the light was doing – but wasn’t able to line up what I’d hoped. I used to become anxious during these moments, but now I’m relaxed. If the world aligns and an image is presented – wonderful. If not – you’re up in the mountains watching this etherial scene unfold. Where else would you rather be? A scene doesn’t need to result in an image. Just relax and enjoy not being parked in front of the computer.

Undiscouraged, I packed up and headed further up the road towards Libby Flats to catch last light on the Overlook. Almost immediately after making the one frame, shadows swept up and over, engulfing the stone structure until morning. It was time to head home. I put in 440 miles that day (and I wonder why I’m chewing through tires so fast). Driving home in the dark I was satisfied; happy to have been out wandering in the west with no agenda and plenty of cameras loaded with film. The net result was, I felt rested and ready to face another day tomorrow – at my best thanks to the break.

 

 

4042n: Poudre Canyon, Cameron Pass, Jackson County, Rand, Walden

Nothing hits the reset button like a road trip with a couple of old, film cameras – even if just for the day. On this day it was my favorite home away from home, North Park, Colorado. North Park is still “old Colorado” and I enjoy that immensely. North Park sits unassumingly, tucked quietly between the heavily traveled Steamboat corridor and Poudre Canyon.

I’ve written about North Park quite a bit before – there’s just something appealing about it that draws me there time and again. The lack of people? Guilty. The grand vistas? Surely. Old, weathered buildings and funky road-side machinery with tons of character. What photographer wouldn’t be?

Miles and miles of nothingness. Quiet. No franchises or big box stores. Just enough convience stores to keep the car going. Very few stop signs. Even fewer stop lights. And plenty of high, wild mountains as far as you can see in every direction. Unpredictable weather producing ever-active skies. Wildlife. Great fly fishing when the light fails to cooperate. A hop, skip and jump from southern Wyoming.

Any time of year… who could want anything more? I’m about as happy as a guy can be when I’m wandering around North Park.

Rustic Inn vintage sign along Colorado Highway 14's Poudre Canyon. Larimer County, Colorado (2015)
Rustic Inn vintage sign along Colorado Highway 14’s Poudre Canyon. Larimer County, Colorado (2015)
Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, Jackson County, Colorado (2015)
Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, Jackson County, Colorado (2015)
North Park, looking towards the Rawah's, Jackson County, Colorado (2015)
North Park, looking towards the Rawah’s, Jackson County, Colorado (2015)
Streamliner Mobile Home along Colorado Highway 14's Poudre Canyon. Larimer County, Colorado (2015)
Streamliner Mobile Home along Colorado Highway 14’s Poudre Canyon. Larimer County, Colorado (2015)
Old Dodge Gasoline hauler, Walden, Colorado (2015)
Old Dodge Gasoline hauler, Walden, Colorado (2015)
Jackson County Courthouse, Walden, Colorado (2015)
Jackson County Courthouse, Walden, Colorado (2015)
North park home, Jackson County, Colorado (2015)
North park home, Jackson County, Colorado (2015)

Crane Hollow, Boulder County, Colorado

At the end of the day it’s light that’s the star. Great light can turn nearly any ordinary scene into something extraordinary. Those days I’m fortunate enough to be out in that wonderful, glorious autumn light with a camera are good days indeed. Making photographs is as much about the process as it is about the final image.

There’s something special about the color along Colorado’s Front Range in late Autumn. The Front Range is where the plains finally begin to rise, turning then into mountains. This transition zone has always been a special place to me. It possesses an understated beauty not found elsewhere; a gentility as one ecosystem makes room for another.

Crane Hollow Road, Boulder County, Colorado (2014)
Crane Hollow Road, Boulder County, Colorado (2014)

The fall is one of my favorite times to be out with the camera – but not for what may be considered the typical subject matter. Brilliant colored leaves tend to attract people from all over the country – and for good reason. Explosions of magnificent, bombastic color creating high drama are everywhere. I photograph these, too – and they’re smashing. The truth is though,  the time of year I look forward to the most is when the leaves fall from the branches and the people go home. Especially when we’re blessed with a beautiful Indian Summer; fall stretching out into the waning days of November and early December – sometimes beyond. The downside is of course lack of moisture. The upside is, there’s virtually nothing green left. It’s then the land turns countless shades of gold, brown, tan, ochre, beige, sienna and red – all laying dormant most of the day, going unnoticed in the high-altitude, high angle bright, Colorado sunlight.

Hygeine Road, Rural Boulder County, Colorado (2014)
Hygeine Road, Rural Boulder County, Colorado (2014)

Towards evening, however, when the sun begins its downward journey and the angle of light changes, spectacular color begins to emerge. It’s brief – the last hour of the day you can feel it building. But what happens in those final moments before the sun disappears behind the foothills west of Boulder is spectacular. Crane Hollow Road is an unremarkable dirt road in Eastern Boulder County. It’s probably no longer than a mile or so, and it travels north to south, connecting Hygiene Road and St. Vrain Road. Earlier in life I would cycle these roads back and forth from Boulder to Longmont routinely, eager to escape pavement on my mountain bike – for safety reasons as much as the aesthetics. Now I drive them, slowly in search of beautiful light. Every once in a while I get lucky.

Boulder County, Colorado (2014)
Boulder County, Colorado (2014)

Ektar is perfect film for this type of work. Its vivid color with a slightly warm bias lends itself well to reproducing dramatic light when it makes is appearance. Its fine grain faithfully reproduces subtle details emerging in the luminescent landscape. One of the unique things about photographing on film is this sense of anticipation and excitement when you think you’ve preserved a moment of beautiful light – but you’re not able to actually see the images yet. There’s a tendency to replay the sequence in your mind’s eye and go over your technique. When you find great light it’s easy to get excited and hurry through set up. Changing lenses, extending the tripod, connecting the cable release, screwing on filters… then quickly getting in position before everything simply disappears. Was the tripod on solid ground or bouncing on bending grass. In the excitement to get the camera in position and ready to shoot, did you remember to carefully focus? Shoot Mirror-Up? Did you bracket your compositions well – wide, mid and tight? Did you set the polarizer properly? Clean the lens? Choose the right lens? Use the right aperture? All these things swim through the mind’s eye as dusk encroaches and you make your way back to pavement, the car’s heater kicking in, then head home. There’s something exhilarating about that moment – when you think you got it right – but you won’t know for sure for several more days, until you’re holding the film in hand. Only then will you know.

Autumn grasses, Crane Hollow Road, Boulder County, Colorado
Autumn grasses, Crane Hollow Road, Boulder County, Colorado

At the end of the day it’s light that’s the star. Great light can turn nearly any ordinary scene into something extraordinary. Those days I’m fortunate enough to be out in that wonderful, glorious autumn light with a camera are good days indeed. Making photographs is as much about the process as it is about the final image.

New West Fest

For the past 10 years now the city of Fort Collins, Colorado has sponsored, in conjunction with Bohemian Nights Music, the New West Fest; essentially a birthday party for the city and fall jamboree for Northern Colorado, focusing heavily on live music. The scale of the event is difficult to grasp. The city blocks off the core of famous Old Town and people wander freely with children, strollers, the occasional huge stuffed animal won at a carnival game, and open containers. It’s a truly great event we’ve come to enjoy more each year.

Elephant Revival, New West Fest, Fort Collins
Elephant Revival, New West Fest, Fort Collins (2014)

This year we met friends for Saturday night’s Library Stage line up and first to play was a band from Nederland, Elephant Revival. I can sum up our feelings about Elephant Revival in one word: utter bliss. OK, two words. Elephant Revival hails from the small, mountain community of Nederland, Colorado – at the foot of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and hovering in the clouds 30 miles above the city of Boulder. Years ago while working in Boulder I had the good fortune to live in Nederland and can attest to its unique, authentic, Colorado vibe – perhaps one of the reasons Elephant Revival resonated so much with me. Surely some of you have felt this before so hopefully it’s not a new phenomena I’m trying to describe and you can all smile and nod your heads as you remember… but every so often there are bands and performances that create something really special for you. Somehow, through the combination of elements produced in a show; the atmosphere created by the actual music’s rhythms and tempos, instrumentations and arrangements mixed with the musicians and their artistry, countenance, performance, expressions, posture, dress and demeanor all – viewed through a modest use of light and a whiff of atmosphere – something  special happens – and the audience is transported to another time, another place. That was Elephant Revival for me on Saturday night. Thank you, Elephant Revival. For that brief period I forgot the rest of my life and vanished into your world.

Shatterproof, New West Fest
Shatterproof opened this year’s Behemian Night’s New West Fest.

Photographically I’d made some decisions the day before on how to approach this year’s New West Fest. Friday’s opening act, Shatterproof, also held a special draw for us. Their electric violin player T.J. Wessel’s family are friends, and we stood front row in the hot, late afternoon sun watching this band of talented young musicians go at it. As I looked around at the sparse crowd I smiled upon realizing that 1 out of every 5 had either a DSLR strapped around their neck, or some sort of electronic “phablet” held up – fingers extended – to record. Given my natural proclivity to photograph with film when it came time to plan how I wanted to record this year’s festival – it was a pretty simple decision. The follow up question was, what film. I consider myself primarily a color photographer and for many events and occasions this fits. There are times, however, when choosing black and white film feels like the right move. Don’t ask why because I don’t think I could explain. I just go with it. And so it was for Saturday and Sunday’s outings; as I happened to find myself standing in the crowd, close to the front, transported to this other world.

The Subdudes, New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
The Subdudes, New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

One of the tricky things about concert photography – especially in the evening – is low light. It’s no secret todays DSLR’s handle low-light situations very well – especially my D3s – which I can push to 3,200 and even 6,400 with confidence of getting a usable image. Film is another matter. But if you’re working with the right film in the right way, there’s potential for some unique images –  it just takes a little more thought – and work. The black and white film I revert to typically is Ilford’s Delta line. Delta 400 provides deep, rich long tones, deep blacks and dramatic contrast while also rendering smooth tonal transitions and holding sharp detail. If I were to pick one black and white film to head out with I knew would hold up in virtually any lighting conditions it would be Delta 400. It’s a beautiful film.

The Subdudes, New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
The Subdudes, New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

The stage’s backdrop is an important part of the photograph. Fortunately those who plan these sometimes elaborate, complex stages understand this. In this case it was a neutral grayish color, probably a stop less than the middle tone of a gray card. The Library Stage faced East, it’s back to the afternoon sun. This was actually good news – providing you were prepared for it. Initially one might be tempted to try and shoot manually. At first glance, light would’nt seem to change much because they’re out of direct sunlight. The problem is, once the lights begin sweeping over performers, everything changes. Spot metering or center weighted metering is the way to go in situations like this. Matrix metering would unnecessarily factor that large, dark backdrop too much while calculating exposure – and cause overexposure of the figures in front. Black and white film has great exposure latitude to retrieve blown or buried data, but it’s always best to get things right from the git-go than have to fix mistakes in post. The solution is of course spot metering and positioning the “spot” on the faces – or other middle value portions of the scene. Easier said than done when performers start moving around. And depending on what lens you’re working with and how far you are from the action – a face or head can get pretty tiny in the viewfinder, making it difficult to get that single “spot” in the right place at the right time. When musicians are stationary – like in the shot below – it’s of course much easier.

The Subdudes, New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
The Subdudes, New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

The lens to work with is the 70-200/ƒ2.8 VR. It’s fast-focusing and at 2.8 lets in plenty of light to work at reasonable shutter speeds with 400 speed film. I knew I could push Delta to 800 or higher if necessary, but I was getting between 1/80th and 1/125 typically at 2.8 and deemed it good enough, even at 200mm. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. You want to try to keep the shutter speed at 1 over the field of view of the lens you’re working with. With image stabilization (Canon calls is IS, Nikon calls it VR for Vibration Reduction) you can usually get away with another stop. So for a 200mm lens, you want to be working with shutter speeds around 1/200th sec. With VR, you can get away with 1/125. If you have VR and a steady hand, you can sometimes get away with 1/80th or so. The question you have to ask yourself is, will you get better results pushing the film and shooting higher shutter speeds, or a shooting at rated and holding the camera still. It all depends. I went with the later for Elephant Revival and the following act, the Subdudes, and was glad I did.

Richie Furay Band, New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
Richie Furay Band, New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

The next – and final day of New West Fest was the one I was most looking forward to. Richie Furay’s band was on the main, Mountain Avenue stage at 2:30 and nothing could stop me from from being there. Richie Furay is one of the iconic founders of country rock for the past 40 years and is now a pastor at a church near Boulder. Growing up, like so many others, Richie Furay’s music with Buffalo Springfield, Poco and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band were on my turntable and car’s cassette player nearly every minute of the day. He was and is the sound track of my youth – but I’d never seen him live. For this, Ektar and Delta were in order. I wanted the flexibility to shoot color and black and white depending on things. I reloaded 3 times during the 50 minute set and do believe it’s the first time I’ve ever sang into the back of the camera. Good thing the F6 doesn’t have a microphone like the D3s.

The Richie Furay Band at New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
The Richie Furay Band at New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
Scott Sellen and Richie Furay at New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
Scott Sellen and Richie Furay at New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

A quick word about metering with the F6. I was again – blown away – at the F6’s metering capabilities. There were a few shots, like the one above, I’d set exposure compensation to -.7 just in case. I knew I could bring it back in post if it were under, but sometimes the Colorado, high-altitude sun was so bright and harsh I was afraid things like light pants and blonde guitars would blow. The F6 tracked everything perfectly – I didn’t need to do a thing except shoot. Turns out the shot above was under by about 2/3 stop. If I’d just trusted the meter I’d have been fine. In camera meters aren’t fool proof or perfect. But I swear, just about every time I’ve second guessed the F6’s meter I’ve been wrong.

The Richie Furay Band, taking a bow at New West Fest (2014
The Richie Furay Band, taking a bow at New West Fest (2014
Soaking feet after 3 days walking New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
Soaking feet after 3 days walking New West Fest, Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

Hind site can teach you a lot if you’re willing to look. In hind site… I wouldn’t do a single thing different next year. Choosing the bands and performances I want to listen to – and trying to make good images around those performances – is a great way to enjoy the show and come away with something memorable. Shooting on film is a great way to produce something unique. For the first time, I went to the ‘Fest all three days and my dogs were barking when I finished – but it was well worth it. Can’t wait until next year.

Walking in Memphis

Memphis has been the subject of many a discussion between my son and I for a few years now. We love road trips and just being in the car together, so when ever we’re hunting for a just barely out of reach, crazy destination to spontaneously shoot off to in the middle of the night (from Colorado) – Memphis has been a part of that discussion. Alas, common sense has prevailed and Memphis had remained unvisited – until this past July. As we planned our route to a family reunion in Nashville I was delighted to see Memphis sort of en route on the way home. I tend to drive any place I visit not because I fear flying – though who wouldn’t these days – but because I prefer to pass slowly through places en route to any destination – not zoom over places at 300mph in an aluminum tube with wings. So it was settled: Memphis on the return leg.

It’s hard to determine the origins of my fascination precisely, but strong contributors are Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” John Hiatt’s “Memphis in the Mean Time” and of course the father of color photography, the incomparable Mr. William Eggleston – one who unbenounced to him – was instrumental in helping me shape and refocus how I approach the art of color photography. Elvis and Graceland may have a little something to do with it too, but not being quite as ardent “King” fans, they’re certainly not the strongest draw.

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)
Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)

Graceland is Elvis’ old home and no trip to Memphis is complete without at least a drive by. We didn’t feel the need to go in – but were a little curious. Vans jammed with people cruised in and out of the gates while a number of folks simply stood out front by the brick wall surrounding the estate. My wife and I agreed it was a little creepy – not sure how else to describe it… The wall was very interesting to me, containing “high-school yearbook” style insignias and drawings of Elvis along its 100 yard length. I walked it several times marveling at the influence this one, charismatic man had on so many people in his life cut short.

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
Graceland bussing people in and out of those fabled gates for a peek at Elvis’ mansion.

After Graceland we headed into the city center. It was a sunny, hot Sunday afternoon and we found a place in the shade to park near the bottom of famous Beale Street. As is usually the case on trips like this I’ll have my D3s and bunch of other gear buried beneath blankets in the car to keep everything cool, but leave it all in the car, choosing instead the F6, a 50mm ƒ1.4D and  some Portra 400 to carry while I wander. I like to minimize attention while shooting as much as possible, and carrying a lot of gear gets uncomfortable – especially in the heat. While it’s true there are times were a few extra frames would be nice to have – I find I focus much more intently while shooting when I’m working with a finite number of shots. Something I’ve discovered after years of editing – I hate sitting in front of the computer after a trip trying to decide which one of 10 or so images in a burst is the “best one.” I’d much rather decide which the better image is while shooting. This requires patience, and being willing to pay the cost: sometimes being wrong and missing a shot. The benefits include more finely tuning your process to identify and take advantage of opportunity.

Memphis, Street Photography
Street Flipper, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)

The street flipper is a great example. There were two young men providing the afternoon’s entertainment, flipping down the gently sloping grade of Beatle street. Amazing, actually. I stopped and watched the first guy and overheard another young man walking past me saying to his girl friend, “yeh, I’m pretty sure I could do that…” I thought it would be cool to get a shot of him in mid-flip, hopefully in the air, so I walked up the street a bit and found a good spot. There were trash cans lining the street, and the one across from me was brightly colored, different than the other, black trash cans. I didn’t want it to be the brightest spot in the frame and distract from this guy’s athleticism as he flipped through the frame, so moved up the hill just a bit more. Working with the 50mm produced a lot of background that I couldn’t control. I could minimize it though by shooting as shallow as I could, and ƒ4 provided me with 1/1250 sec. shooting Portra 400 at ISO200. Plenty fast to stop the guy in mid-flip were I lucky enough to time it right. Focus might have produced a problem at this point. Acquiring focus as the flipper flipped through the screen wouldn’t be feasible (he was a fast flipper), and if I just settled for what the camera wanted to do I’d have been focused on the buildings across the street – making the foreground flipper blurry.

What to do… Here’s where de-coupling your focus from the shutter release is a really fantastic idea – and I think everyone should do it. Because I usually shoot like this I was ready – to dig into the camera’s menus there on the street and fuss with CSM Settings would have taken too much time and attention away from all that was going on around me. In the F6’s CSM Menu, Custom Setting A4: AF activation: “AF-ON Only” allows the camera’s auto focus feature to be activated using only the AF-On button(s – plural if you use the MB-40 grip as I do). The camera’s default setting is “Release/AF-ON” which means if I’d used this setting to pre-focus on a certain point, the camera would try to focus again when I pressed the shutter to make the image. This would have resulted in a blurry image because the camera would have focused on the buildings across the street – instead of the flipper flipping through in the middle of the street. At ƒ4 there’s not much room to miss before the image is out of focus. Not what I wanted. Using the AF-On button I focused on the street in front of me where I suspected the flipper would land, then raised the camera to frame the shot and waited. Almost immediately the other flipper came flipping through the frame and I fired one shot, hoping I got him. A little thought, a little planning and a little camera knowledge goes a long way.

 

Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)
Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)

 

After a little asking around we found someone to point us towards one of the most famous destinations of the area, the Lorraine Motel – where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony outside room 306. The Lorraine Hotel has been turned into and maintained as The National Civil Rights Museum for all to come experience. This was one of the most powerful – yet non flamboyant – destinations I’ve visited in recent memory. People hovered around and the air was reverent; respectful – not a lot of goofing around and selfies going on amidst the large group of kids who’d gathered in the shade across the street. The depth to which I was moved at this location was unexpected and we explored for nearly an hour, taking it in. The museum’s doors were open and the air conditioning felt great, and they always appreciate donations to keep the doors open and lights on.

Lorraine Hotel, National Civil Rights Museum, Martin Luther King, Memphis, Tennessee
National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)

Speaking of the heat, I was a little concerned when I grabbed the last role of Portra 400 from the console of the car. It had become warm despite the AC running while we drove. I put it in my pocket and hoped for the best, and was delighted when processing revealed no issues what so ever. Sometimes I’ll carry a cooler for the film but most of the time I’ll simply protect the stash from direct sunlight and call it good. I’ve never had any problems, even in the extreme heat of the Caribbean.

Beale Street, Memphis, Tennssee (2014)
Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)

After the Lorraine we slowly made our way back to the car, wanting to savor as much as we could. On a Sunday afternoon there wasn’t much activity outside the Beale Street block and it was nice to casually view the architecture and decor lining our path. The musical legend of Memphis alone is worth the visit, but add to that the food, the culture, the history

BB King's Blue Bar, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)
BB King’s Blue Bar, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)

great color and geometry in signage, urban architecture, interesting people, and magnificent night light only serve to fuel my already on fire imagination with photographic potential. It was tough to leave.

Blues City Cafe, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)
Blues City Cafe, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee (2014)

We only had a couple hours in Memphis – hardly enough time to scratch the surface – but I’ll take what I can get. One of the wonderful perks found in driving across the country rather than flying over – it was fun to finally be there if even for just a short time. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to return and devote the proper amount of time and attention to such a historically rich city. Happy shooting.