Thinking About Icebergs

I recently created an exhibition of my images of icebergs, mainly from my recent trips to Greenland.  This is a place that has surprised me every time I go with its unexpected swirls of ice and the incredible play of light on surfaces.  I even had a moment at the opening of this exhibition, where someone looking at one of my images pointed out the the reflection in the water of an iceberg was different than the iceberg image that was being reflected. 

It looked as though the iceberg itself had no definition towards the ground.  But in fact, both the light and the angle captured the reflection above this area.  This may have been because this seemingly immense lake was actually a rather small pool of water and my camera angle was from the ground.  Amazing how the smallest shifts in light, reflection and angle can create an incredible image and curiosity at the same time...

My photographs of Icebergs were made in the spirit of revealing the awesome beauty of these massive ice sculptures. Although the photographs represent moments in time, I seek the infinite within the finite, the eternal moment.  Icebergs reflect our own transient state. We are born, continually grow and evolve until we finally leave by reuniting with where we came from. We are all linked to the mysteries of our universe.

Exploring the Mystery of Infrared

For me, the beauty of photography is in the interpretation of subject matter, not in the attempt at representing the “reality” of subject matter, an impossible goal. 

I chose to make this image with my IR camera to lighten the leaves on the trees, at Saqsaywaman in Cusco, Peru, in order to give a feeling of separation between the trees and the distant mountains. If I had been shooting color or regular black and white, the trees would have reflected the same quantity of light and therefore would have been the same tonal value as the hills behind. With IR for this image there is a definite foreground (the darker stone walls), a middle ground (the trees) and a background (the hills).

I feel that this image, interpreted through IR, is more powerful than a straight print in color or black and white would have been, and it is always the final photograph that matters. Finding the right vantage point is extremely important. I recommend looking through the camera from various vantage points.  Choosing the place to stand is the beginning of the editing process.

I have a Canon 5D Mark II that Life Pixel converted to a 720 nm infrared camera. I chose 720 nm because it gives me the most latitude for interpretation. For me, the final photograph represents my feelings at the time of exposure.

Machu Picchu should be listed as one of the wonders of the world.  After several trips I have this one image that works for me.  When I shot in color, my images felt a little to documentary.  The problem is how to bring up the mystical quality of the ancient buildings.  Aside from going back in time 400 years, I had to somehow plug into the un-seen aspect of Machu Picchu.  For all photographers who have the opportunity to work there, I’d like to share some of my experiences.  Early morning is best.  The mist and fog seems to lift around 9:30 a.m.  Finding the right place to set up your tripod can also be problematic. For starters, you just have to accept that where ever you stand, you will have to clone out other tourist.  I find there is a certain mystery that comes through with Infrared that I don’t find with color or traditional black and white It’s an other lever of abstracting from the known into an other realm.

For me, I’m drawn to the mystery and miracles that I feel are always around us.  Occasionally I make a photograph that has a life of it’s own.  Ansel Adams had said that if he made ten good photographs a year he considered it a good year.  We all expect far more, but the quality of our work would be much improved if we were able to edit to Ansell’s formula.

This blog post was re-published by permission at www.lifepixel.com

Let Me Tell You Why ...

I have been loving being a part of Alive Photo which allows me to teach and answer questions from photographers and photography enthusiasts all over the world.  It's a great platform for learning, and recently I received a great question that I want to share ... 

Why do I love Nature Photography?  This has to be my favorite question because I have a very strong feeling about this and love any opportunity to share it.

Let me use some of the same words, nature photography is LOVE!  Since the very beginning of our species starting to walk upright, we have been recreating nature in various art forms, from cave paintings to digital photography. Technology has changed, but what is most important, hasn’t. The worlds' greatest artists have received their inspiration from nature. We are as much a part of nature as nature is a part of us.  For those of us that take the time to smell the flowers, it’s so much more.  Poets put their feelings into words, painters paint and we photograph.  Each image we make is showing us on a deeper level, who we really are.

Listen, my heart, to the whispering of the world. That is how it makes love to you.
— Tagore
Icebergs in Greenland, Ron Rosenstock 2015

Icebergs in Greenland, Ron Rosenstock 2015

Icebergs remind me of Buddhist sand mandalas. Fleeting moments of incredible inspiration.  As our planet warms, there are more and more tremendous icebergs floating by the coast of Greenland, and on to warmer waters only to become part of the ocean once again.

Why do I Talk About the Light Within?

The Light in Balintubber Abbey, Ireland

The Light in Balintubber Abbey, Ireland

As a teacher of photography I have several goals: to ensure that my students become technically competent as image makers regardless of camera and materials used or individual approach to subject matter chosen. My further goal is to inspire students to discover for themselves the creative potential of photography.

A meaningful photograph is not a photo of something but is something in itself.  A photograph that is only subject matter is seen and quickly reduced to a memory of the chosen subject.  A meaningful photograph is so much more. As with a meditative experience, there is no end to its possible depth. Not only is such a photograph an interpretation of the light that falls on the original subject matter, it is also a magical combination of that quality of light and a delicate balance achieved by light and dark areas in the image.  

Perhaps there exists an ancient formula for the proportions of light and dark areas within a print required to evoke in the viewer a profound depth of meaning.  As with other forms of art through the ages, photography can connect us with this deeper meaning. Each of us seeks a direction in life without knowing the final destination. As artists and seekers we are drawn by a creative force to the Light within and so begin our life’s journey.

The Early Days

The poet W.B.Yeats would have been 150 years old today, June 13th. He was born in 1865 and in 1917 he purchased a wonderful castle, Thoor Ballylee, where he wrote some of his best know poems. I made a photograph of Thoor Ballylee on my first trip to Ireland in 1971. It was actually the photograph that began my career because it caught the very intense attention of the man who would be my teacher.

I have been asked quite often how I got my start in Photography.  I'm sure every photographer gets asked this question, and my answer is one that many photographers mention, because it is so vitally true.  It started with my love of nature.  This is such an inherent love, that for me it is one of my earliest memories.  It is a vivid memory of a time when I was just a few months old. I was in a carriage in the back of my grandmother’s house in Monticello, NY staring up at the clouds in a beautiful blue sky.  I was mesmerized by the beautiful shapes that slowly formed other shapes, endlessly.  I know people say we don’t have memories from our infancy, but I have a few for sure, including the day my family moved to the Bronx when I was seven months old but that’s an other story.

As a child of about six or seven I always wanted to take the family photos. I was good at it so my parents encouraged me.  When I was twelve I made my first darkroom where I could develop negatives and make contact prints.  I had what could be called "a calling" from the very beginning of my consciousness.  

My photograph of Thoor Ballylee castle, Ireland

Then skipping ahead a number of years, I was working in a camera shop in Harvard Square part time while I was a student at Boston University in the 1960’s.  Minor White, who came to teach photography at MIT in 1966, came into the store and left a stack of brochures about a workshop he was offering called ‘Six weekends with Minor White.”  I took that workshop and stayed on with Minor as a private student.  A few years later I went to photograph the west coast of Ireland with my 8 x 10 view camera.  When I returned I showed Minor my photographs.  There was one photograph in particular that he held in his hand for sometime as if it spoke to him and he was listening.  

It was a photograph of Thoor Ballylee.  After a while Minor looked at me (he had an inscrutable smile!) and said he would like to give me an exhibition in his gallery at M.I.T.  The exhibit was titled 8 x 10 Contacts.  That was my very first exhibition and it started a ripple effect that became the rolling wave that has carried me ever since.

Coming Out of the Darkroom

An important "development" in photography has been the conversion from the darkroom to the digital world. It's not an easy road for those of us with long experience doing our own processing. However, the attentiveness required in the darkroom transfers easily to digital work.  Recently I had a note from a friend that is at this crossroads, and I thought my advice to him may be great advice for many...

"I’ve totally switched the way that I approach making an exposure since the film days.  For starters, with film, we had limits.  Minimal detail in Zone III on the dark end and minimal detail in Zone VII on the bright end.  With digital we have no limits with the range of contrast.  I’m going to paste in three images to show you how it works.  Image #1 was greatly underexposed, Image #2 was  greatly over exposed.  But once I put both images into HDR I created image #3.

If I didn’t use HDR, with such a vast range of possible contrast, I would have had to settle for either exposure #1 or #2 or the trash can.  With digital photography, the range of tones/zones is actually infinite.  Zone 1 to 1000,  not just Zone 1 to 10.

Shooting in RAW means that even though you can’t see any detail in the low/dark areas, it’s there if you dodge that area.  Totally different from film.  To shoot digital requires a mind shift. Let me give you a visual image to contemplate.  Let’s say you have a beautiful model T Ford in excellent condition.  It goes up to 50 MPH (with a tail wind).  Starting it requires first setting the spark, then cranking the engine by hand.  

Time has passed and we have cars with electric starters and automatic transmissions!  The purpose of the car is still the same, just to get from point A to point B.  You can get there with the Model T Ford, which may take longer and require a different technique to drive it or you can get there faster leaving more time at your destination with the newer car (and your shoulder won't hurt as much).  If you had NEVER driven a model T Ford and instead started out with a car that had an electric starter and automatic transmission, it would be MUCH easier for you to master a newer model than if you tried to switch from your extensive knowledge of driving a model T Ford to a brand spankin' new car.

Now granted driving the model T you went slower and developed an appreciation of the country side that we often don't have as we go 70 MPH on our interstates.  All that appreciation that you have developed while in the darkroom and struggling with zones has developed in you a vision and appreciation of balance and composition that is unique and immensely creative.  Because of the darkroom, you will photograph more carefully, more precisely, and create astounding images even in the digital universe. 
 

The Escape of the Suitcase

I have been on the go so much lately and through so many time zones that it becomes difficult to keep my focus, literally!  Today my wife and I were packing the car for our run to the airport to catch our flight to Ireland.

I was bringing out my suitcase to the car, opened the trunk and then noticed that our beloved birdbath was missing from the yard.  So I set the suitcase down and ran in to tell her that the birdbath had been pilfered from the yard!  But in fact, she had brought it into the garage!  I clearly informed her that the birds were already missing it and it was unfair to deprive them of their birdbath just because the weather was a bit cooler and we were going to be away.  

So I obviously needed to rectify this erroneous situation, and dragged it out of the garage and placed it back in its spot with its little feet in exactly the correct spot to the side of the driveway. Now I was happy that I had restored the birdbath to its proper location and returned to the back of the car only to discover that while I was doing this, someone had stolen my suitcase!  Right out of my driveway!  I looked everywhere, and discovered much to my dismay that it was face down at the bottom of the driveway, half out in the road just waiting for some car to come screaming around the corner and flatten it.  

So the moral of the story is either get more sleep so you can keep your focus on what you're doing, or make sure you don't repave your driveway so there are sufficient ruts to keep your runaway suitcase from becoming an attractive pancake.  

How Many Hats Can One Man Wear?

Recently I flew from Kulusuk, Greenland to Reykjavik, Iceland, and spent some time in the Kulusuk airport prior to my flight which really defined the word "small" when applied to an airport.  I was with a small group of photographers just finishing an incredible photographic adventure in Greenland and ready to return to share our incredible images.  So when we arrived at the airport around noon, food seemed to be the first order of business.  After all, excitement and adventure make you hungry!  

Now in Iceland you have the N1s along the ring road which are famous for their hot dogs, not to mention Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur and their Bill Clinton hot dog in Reykjavik.  This tradition seems to have extended to the Greenland airport because the only choices for food for famished photographers were either candy bars or hot dogs.  The man working behind the counter reminded me of Buddy Hackett (age disclosure here) making it a bit difficult to take him seriously as a hot dog vendor.  However he made the hot dog with the greatest of care, turning it on the grill until it was just right.  He then demonstrated the Greenland custom of hollowing out one end of the bun instead of having it slit down the middle.  This way you could fill the bun from the end with all of your condiments.  Once you've filled the end of your bun to bursting with ketchup, mayo or mustard (mixing seems to be frowned upon) then he would carefully insert the perfectly grilled hot dog into the small opening using tongs.  

Now I'm new to Greenland, so this entire process was utterly fascinating.  Now that we had our nourishment, we were herded into a smallish room with tables and chairs to wait.  Once the announcement came to head to security prior to the gate, off we went.  We all lined up at the Greenland equivalent of our TSA check point.  To my great surprise, who should be the one and only officer running the check point, but Buddy Hackett hot dog man.  So no stern looking official with a badge here and now I'm having even more trouble taking him seriously than I was when he was grilling my hot dog.  

So we removed our computers, emptied our pockets, took off all our metal and put everything on the conveyor belt to be scanned and then one at a time we were ushered through the metal detector by Buddy Hackett while he was watching our assorted hand luggage go through a scanner that didn't seem to be on.  I mean there were no lights whatsoever on the scanner, the metal detector, not even a TV monitor to show him what was hidden in our bags.  Not that I hide anything, but I inevitably end up giving up something at security, usually a roll of gaffer's tape. 

But I have to say that all in all, the hotdog man played the role of security official quite well, despite the lack of working equipment.  But I am happy to say that once we were through security, we did have the good fortune to spy a small duty free shop with a selection of wines, spirits, T shirts, native bead work, hats, gloves, etc.  I noticed a map of Greenland that I thought would be good to take back and whisked it with me to the cash register to pay.  Who to my surprise was just finishing turning on the lights and warming up the cash register?  You guessed it, Buddy Hackett hot dog vendor security official and now cashier/store manager.  He was more than happy to put out his hand to take what little Danish Krona I had left.  

Our guide mentioned that his official title is "The Airport Manager" which also included janitorial services once a flight leaves.  I never thought I would leave somewhere with a mental image of Buddy Hackett sweeping up crumbs from my hot dog bun.  

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Today is my last full day in Greenland.  We have agreed to make the most of it by meeting at 7 A.M. down at the dock by the filling station.  We traveled by boat for almost an hour and a half in order to arrive at the moraine of a very large glacier.  The moraine of a glacier is the accumulated debris that the glacier has picked up on its journey.  Often, at the edge of a glacier, melting is taking place and the debris becomes freed from the glacier itself.  This can create stunning visual shapes and colors in the ice, along with boulders, volcanic ash and even soil that can be ancient.  Debris can be frozen within a glacier for centuries, so the melting edge can expose things that have not been seen by man ever.  

Moored near the melting edge, we witnessed huge crashes as tremendous floes of ice broke away from the glacier causing a sea swell that continued for miles.  Always wanting to get the best images, it is important to know your limits.  Given the unpredictability of any glacier, we made sure we could get as close as possible without risking our safety or our equipment!  But it is an experience that is hard to describe.  

From there we went to another small Inuit settlement and spent the rest of the day exploring and experiencing this frontier life.  After a picnic lunch we relaxed and then made our way back to the boat for the trip back to our own settlement, Tasiilaq.

So much of this trip has been indescribable.  I can only hope my images provide the words that I cannot find.  

Source: http://www.greenland.com

The Final Frontier

This morning I was thrilled because we had scheduled a day of photographing from a helicopter, and we all rushed to wolf down our breakfast and get our gear ready.  But as often happens the further you are from a clock, we didn't actually get airborne until 12:30!  Whatever the reason, it absolutely didn't matter at all because even the first few minutes took my breath away.  

I felt as if I were seeing the final frontier on our planet.  Fjords, mountains, glaciers and not one village.  We saw barren cold landscape that had a singular beauty all its own.  A beauty marked by patterns of ice and rock centuries old.  It was almost too much to even photograph.  You are so taken over with the experience that you can't even think to lift your camera.  It is something that is rare on our planet and deserves our complete attention. 

Return to Basics

Sunday started out calm with a gentle fog covering the sea. We went out in two motorboats with four photographers in each boat.  Seeing tremendous sculptures of ice slowly emerge from the dense fog was enthralling.  My first thought was, ‘Who is the sculptor?”  He or she must have created these enormous ice sculptures just for the sheer love of doing it, asking nothing in return but gratification of making something that is truly beauty itself.  All morning we roamed in the land of giant ice sculptures, each one more magnificent than the other. 

Later we went up a narrow fjord packed with small sea ice.  We wove our way around the ice floats, occasionally bashing into one with a thump.  Around one more bend was a small house that was built by the owner of our boat, essentially a camp that was as close as you can imagine to the main glacier of Greenland.  We landed just in time for lunch and a bit of exploring of the rock-strewn area.  The plan was to go to the moraine of the glacier but there was far too much sea ice for that.  So as photographers often do, we had come up with a Plan B which was to visit a small community that was ended up being more than 50 miles from our Greenland home and only accessible by boat, a very long difficult walk over the mountains, or by dog sled in the winter time. 

Of the 20 or so houses we saw there, none had anyone inside.  It had become a beautiful day and the entire community was out hunting for food.  It is amazing to realize that communities still exist that not only have to provide food for their families, but have to do so in time honored ways.  In Greenland this means not just the people in a family, but also the dogs because without them travel becomes very limited.  It's a very humbling realization.  

We spent so much time photographing the town and the stunning views, particularly from the local cemetery that we had to return to Tasillaq at full throttle, which still took us 1 ½ hours.

The Thrill of Discovery

I would like to tell you about an incredible trip I am on.  It isn't often that I get to travel to a completely new location, since I lead tours to so many of my favorites, so I'm truly excited to be on my way to Greenland.  I arrived last night at the airport in Keflavik, Iceland which is the jumping off point for flights to Greenland.  I went directly to my hotel which this time is just a few miles from the airport.  But this morning I am totally refreshed simply by opening the curtains in my room and looking out at peaceful water, mountains and sky all seeming to merge in soft shades of gray and white. This is but one aspect of the land of fire and ice and gives you a sense of why I love to come to Iceland in any season. 

The Flight to Kulusuk airport in the eastern part of Greenland is only an hour and fifteen minutes.  I tell you this because of the amazing fact that we arrive in Greenland 45 minutes before we even leave Iceland.  That is the beauty of time change around the globe.  Where else do you gain time like that!  That extra 45 minutes may have not seemed like much, but it was enough to give us all afternoon to have our minds blown away by icebergs as tall as apartment buildings and glaciers that seem to go on for miles.

We arrived in the town of Tasiilaq at about 5 p.m. hungry and tired.  Why do all photographers seem hungry all the time?  It must be the creative process.  Well, our appetites can't go too far in a town that has a post office and a super market … the end.  But the isolation has encouraged the local people to continue living off the ocean just as they have for centuries. 

As I write this, morning has dawned, and now from my bedroom window my view is of an iceberg that apparently floated across the small bay during the night and into sight of my lens.  The day may be overcast, but beginning at 9:00 we will be going out in search of more icebergs and exploring the coast of the inlet.  There is nothing like stretching your legs after traveling so far!  

Vision and Craftsmanship

“There are no rules for Technique, only solutions. Today’s Darkrooms may soon be replaced with electronic consoles. Yet after thirty years, Steiglitz’s advice to me remains constant: ‘The only thing that matters is the finished photograph.’ “

Arnold Newman, 1965.

As a teacher of photography, I often quote Arnold Newman because he is speaking about the essence of creating a meaningful photograph.

My background is in the traditional, large-format, black and white school of photography of Edward Weston in the 1920s, and later of Ansel Adams.  I worked with a camera similar to that used by Weston and Adams, an 8” x 10” view camera, so called so because the film was 8  x 10 inches.  My camera, ten film holders, and tripod together weighed 40 pounds. Cumbersome equipment, but that was just the way it was if you wanted to make high quality images. Back in the 60s and 70s it was called fine art photography.

Many years have passed but the basic principals are the same. In the dark room we could crop the image, increase or decrease exposure, increase or decrease contrast, burn and dodge areas to lighten or darken those areas selectively. We can do all this and more now with more ease than ever before. 

The terminology has changed slightly. Some of the same words have taken on a different meaning, and we also have brand-new words.  Structure, clarity, and definition, referring to increasing local contrast in specific areas of the image,  all mean the same thing, but are used by different software companies.  Vignette now means edge burning. Which in film days meant the unintentional cutting off of the corners that resulted when using too small a lens shade or when using too many filters at the same time.

Despite the new words, phrases, and technical approaches, we photographers have the same, and more controls that we had when working in the dark room.  With film the only way of removing a power line would have been by air-brushing the negative. Now we can use Content Aware if we have PhotoShop, or just clone it out with any other software.

Yet, despite the efficiency of the digital darkroom, there are few images made today that reach the emotional height of an Edward Weston or Ansel Adams print. As photographers we must have a mission, a purpose. Knowing the tools required to improve a photograph isn’t a guarantee of making a great photograph. A great photograph is the marriage of vision and craftsmanship.

Below is an example of a work print and the finished image. Monks’ Robes, Abbey of Sant’ Antimo Italy.  The original image only hinted at my original experience.  Cropping, burning and dodging resulted in an image that conveys the feeling I had at the time of exposure. Ansel Adams once said, “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

Original Image taken of Monks' Robes in Sant'Antimo Abbey, Italy

Original Image taken of Monks' Robes in Sant'Antimo Abbey, Italy

Finished image of Monks' Robes

Finished image of Monks' Robes

Photographing In Vinalhaven

I first came to Vinalhaven thirty years ago for a family vacation.  Our children were young and it seemed like a great place for kids with plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking and swimming.  Little did I know at the time how much I’d find to photograph on this small Island.

Much of the beauty of this Island can be photographed within an easy walk from where you park your car. The morning I made this image was a typical Vinalhaven morning with lots of fog. When I first arrived the fog was so thick the trees weren’t visible at all from the road.  I walked around trying to find an image for over an hour. Just as I was leaving, the fog began to lift and I made this exposure.  The changing light made the photograph.

I find that wherever I go, if I can be aware of the light and the patterns created by contrast, there is an image to be made.  On a different morning I was walking along one of the many hiking trails on the Island created by The Vinalhaven Land Trust. The trails often go through old spruce forests.  I had my infrared camera with me at the time. Using my infrared camera, I can use the subject matter as my original inspiration; the photograph is then my interpretation. Green pine needles become very light and tree bark very dark. Knowing that I can pre-visualize images that only can be seen in Infrared.

After working with a large format camera for many years, about ten years ago I ventured into the world of digital photography. It was daunting to say the least. I have to admit it took me a few years to find my vision through the new technique.  Once I learned how to do everything on my computer that I once did in the darkroom, I felt far more at ease.  Now I could get back to the business of photographing and not be consumed with feelings of computer frustration. There will always be a new and improved version of a soft wear product. I question if that will make for new and improved vision.

My way of working has always been more in line with the masters of photography that originally inspired me, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White and Paul Caponigro just to name a few.  Not to diminish the need for mastering one’s craft, but the need to work on “awareness” and sensitivity to the moment I find equally as important.

As Ansel Adams once said, “happy accidents happen to those who are out there the most.”  You have to make the effort without expectations.  Being thankful for the gifts received will lead to more and more as the years roll by. I find the photographs I’m most pleased with I feel I just had to be there, nothing more!  To be ready for the moment.  Cartier Bresson called it “the decisive Moment.” Edward Weston called it I call it “The flame of recognition.” I call it “the eternal moment.” If you don’t know what you are looking for, you will never find it.  It is of the upper most importance to keep in your mind and your heart that feeling of what is most important to you.  Ask yourself as to what you want to express and what you hope others will find in your photographs. As Meister Eckhard (1260-1327) the German Theologian once said, “ Art is not just for special people but everyone is a special kind of an artist.” We have to learn to listen to our heart more.  Creating beautiful photographs is the same process as creating beautiful music. It takes many years of practice to be a concert musician. The same dedication to practice is required to produce meaningful and heartfelt photographs. 

Now that my children have all grown and have families of their own, my wife, Cathy, and I continue to return to Vinalhaven where I am writing now.  My ability to appreciate all the wonderful gifts in my life has grown as the years keep passing by. It is fitting that I will be celebrating my 70th birthday on this beautiful Island that has given me so much of its beauty to enjoy.

The Magic of Morocco

I started taking small groups of photographers on photo tours to Morocco about fifteen years ago. The first trip was an eye, mind and heart opener!  From a photographic standpoint, Morocco offers more variety of subject matter than any of my other photo tour destinations. As my friend and Moroccan guide, Ismail, said to me, “Morocco is the land of contrasts.”

We start our trip in Casablanca at the Hassan II Mosque, shown above. The floor is polished marble and has wonderful reflective qualities. The enormity and serenity of the space inside the Mosque is awe-inspiring. I once said to our Mosque guide that I could feel the power of the prayers that the thousands of the worshipers have uttered there.

Leaving Casablanca we drive south to El Jadida, the old city.  Here we photograph an old cistern that was built by the Portuguese hundreds of years ago. The vaulted ceilings are perfectly reflected in the still water that covers most of the floor.

It seems that there is one fantastic location after another in Morocco. One of my favorites is the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech. The French painter, Jacques Majorelle, created the gardens in the 1920’s. It was completed over the course of many years and has been open to the public since 1947. It is a striking, colorful site. The buildings are painted with “Majorelle blue”, an intense ultramarine, cobalt blue that the artist felt invoked Africa. In 1980 the site was purchased by the French designer, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé to save it from becoming a hotel complex. The 12-acre botanical garden also hosts the largest collection of succulents in the world.

Marrakech is also known for Jemaa el-Fnaa, the large square and marketplace in the medina quarter of the city. Here photographers can find an incredible amount to photograph from snake charmers, water carriers, musicians, fortune-tellers and much more. By four o’clock in the afternoon, the food courts are ready to cook and serve traditional Moroccan fare. Hundreds of hibachi stoves are fired up and create lots of smoke. I always enjoy photographing the activity in the square through the charcoal smoke.

Leaving Marrakech, we cross the high Atlas Mountains on our way to the Sahara desert.  In the Sahara, we stay in a lodge located 40 miles into the dunes. To cross the rugged desert terrain we use special four-wheel drive land cruisers. Given the remote location, the lodge was an incredible surprise. It is more like a four-star hotel, complete with swimming pool and gourmet cuisine, than a rustic desert dwelling. Here we have the opportunity to photograph the ever-changing sand dunes. We spend two nights in the lodge so there are a number of opportunities for sunsets and sunrises.  When the sun is at a very low angle, the shadows create wonderful shapes and patterns in the sand dunes. Before leaving on the third morning, we get a look at the dunes from atop a camel. The camel ride is truly unforgettable!

Another fascinating area in Morocco is the Valley of 1000 Kasbahs where traditional buildings made of mud and stone can be found. The word kasbah has several meanings, but it generally refers to the old, central part of a North African city. It also is used to mean citadel or castle and the area around it. These structures once housed hundreds of people who traveled by camel caravans across the desert. Mud and stone construction requires constant maintenance or the forces of nature will destroy the buildings. We get to photograph a number kasbahs, some of which have eroded and are little more than ruins. 

There seems to be no end to the wonderful photo locations we come across in Morocco. Below is a photograph I made in a market in Rabat. The vendor created an eye-catching display of his oranges. Morocco is not only a land of contrasts; it’s a photographers delight!

What Are the Essentials ...

I am often asked what are the essentials that I need for my craft, especially with all the traveling I do.  I've often said that many of the essentials are within, but there are some essentials that are along for the ride.  Truthfully I am an old-fashioned photographer who switched to digital directly (and somewhat reluctantly) from Large Format so I still have a "Large Format" mentality.  So the first essential for me is the camera itself.  You might think this is taken for granted, but your camera is never taken for granted.  You need a camera that can produce high quality results for YOU.  That means you have to really know your particular camera.  It needs to fit in your hand well, not be a burden, and will give you all the range you need in this digital age for your post-capture work.  I love the Canon 5D Mark III.  I'm a Canon guy because that's the camera that fit my needs from day one of my digital life.  

Now for my way of working, the second essential is a sturdy tripod.  Sturdy is my first criteria because I've been swept into the ocean in Iceland, been caught in storms, had my luggage end up in another country and return to me looking like an elephant stepped on it.  It must also go to at least eye level, which is obviously different for everyone!  A sturdy head is important but it can't weigh too much since you are lugging this appendage up cliffs and down canyons.  I think most of the carbon fiber tripods fit the bill from Benro to Manfrotto to Gitzo.

The last thing is just the right size camera back pack.  Now it needs the right amount of space for the necessities and no more.  I've seen people on my tours lugging three cameras, 6 lenses, two tripods and more polarity filters than fill the cases at Hunt's.  You need it lightweight and comfortable, easy to get things into and out of, especially if you're doing so in a hail or sand storm (not kidding here!).  Tamrac or Lowepro are great and you want them well padded.  I have recently invested in a waterproof case for transporting equipment to a location, since I have now twice had a camera end up in the ocean while still inside a camera case.  So depending on the places you go and the challenges of the environment, there will be just the right case.  And last, don't forget that you need it to fit easily into the overhead compartment on a plane without arguing for 20 minutes with three attendants and pulling out your tape measure while pointing to the written guidelines for carry-ons.  

But the most important essential is peace of mind.  Without that I find, the image can be quite elusive.

Iceland: Fire & Ice

Iceland is the land of, mountains, glaciers, reflections, waterfalls and rainbows. Its landscape is unlike that of any other country in which I work. I’ve often said that photographing in Iceland is like photographing our planet soon after its formation millions of years ago.

With its steep mountains and large glaciers, Iceland has an abundance of dramatic waterfalls. One of my favorites is Skogafoss. If I get there at the right time—usually around 4:00 p.m.—I typically can capture a double rainbow at the foot of the falls.

I generally lead two photo tours a year to this amazing country for Strabo International Tours. The first trip is at end of January and the second takes place in the beginning of May. Most people assume that January in Iceland would be much too cold for photography. Surprisingly, the winters are more moderate than one would expect given its northern latitude. That’s due to the warming effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream that flows along Iceland’s south coast. When I’ve photographed there in January, the average temperature has been around 34°F. Although the days are short, the winter is a perfect time to find swiftly changing cloud formations and great lighting situations. I’ve seen the light change from thick fog to the sun streaming through the mist in a matter of minutes. The most exciting part of the winter shoot is a chance to capture the Aurora Borealis. There are never any guarantees that the northern lights will appear, but so far I have been lucky. On the tours, my job is to get people to the best locations at the best times. It’s not always easy to predict the weather conditions. One thing for sure, it’s not unusual to have all four seasons in the same day!

Iceland is famous for its dramatic black lava formations as well as its black sand beaches that stretch for miles. Above is a photograph I made of a lava formation called Hvitserkur Rock. On the cliff right above the formation there is a viewing platform that offers wonderful photographic opportunities. For ground level photography, a 15-minute walk down the path to the beach is all that is needed. At one time, Hvitserkur Rock was a tremendous mountain of lava. Over the centuries the wind and ocean have whittled it down to a four-legged, three-story high natural lava sculpture. Only nature could create such splendor.

Other lava formations are found at the beach at Vik. Vik, in Icelandic means bay. I always take my photo tour groups here to photograph the rock formations, the beach, the nesting birds in the cliffs, and the small church on the hillside.

The black sand beach at Vik is one of the most beautiful in all of Iceland. Arriving at low tide is not always possible, but whenever I am there, I always find great subject matter with which I can compose a photograph.

Vik is also the home of a company that produces some of the best outdoor clothing, called Icewear. Not that I’m much of a shopper, but getting just the right jacket for warmth and flexibility is important for ease of working with a camera.

I work with two cameras on most trips.  One is a Canon 5D Mark II camera converted to IR (Infrared) a Mark III that I use for color or black and white. I generally keep a 17-40 mm Canon lens on the infrared camera, and use a 24-105 mm lens on the other camera. I also work with a 70-300 mm lens. I made the image of the church on the hill, from the beach, with the 70-300 mm lens.

With its amazing diversity, Iceland is an amazing destination for anyone interested in landscape photography at any time of year.