Archive for July, 2011

Ramadan 1432 Begins!

Ramadan Light

Ramadan Light

Well it was a long night.  Reports came in from many locations and they needed to be tracked down and confirmed.  Reports came in from as far away as South Africa, and several locations in the Caribbean and South America.

Here in the States, the best location astronomically was in San Diego, which by the way suffered like we did in the Bay Area with cloudy or foggy skies.

Fortunately there were two separate sighting groups in south Texas that helped us confirm the beginning of Ramadan this year.  In one case there was a group of 16 individuals that saw the moon initially with binoculars and then of the 16, 3 were able to see it again with the naked eye.  In the second case we had four individuals that saw the new crescent with their naked eyes alone, not far from the the other group but completely independent.

Here in the Bay Area, the day played out nicely.  Fog in the morning that burned off by mid morning and mild temperatuers and clear skies for the remainder of the day…that is until the temperature started to drop.

We headed out with a group of nearly 40 adult individuals and counting the children we had to number well in to the 60′s.  We headed up to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve hoping for clear skies there, but as we neared, the fog started to climb up from the coast and covered us over.  The marine layer had to be nearly 2700 feet thick!

The above photo shows the full extent of the light we saw on Borel Hill, the highest hilltop in the Bay Area’s Peninsula region.

Nonetheless, we managed to get the sighting confirmations we needed to mark the start of Ramadan.  To all my Muslim readers, Ramadan Mubarak.

Peace.

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Sparks of Light – 7/27/11

In this ever growing Social Media game – Envy will rob you blind of all your blessings. Showing off will turn you into a fool devoid of sincerity. And Obscurity will turn you into a cynic. Pick your poison.

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Book Review – Intimate Portraits of the Colorado Plateau

Copyright Guy Tal

Reproduced with Permission

Among the Sacred Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad it is reported that he said “that to truly know someone you must have four interactions with said person: travel with that person, share a meal with that person, sleep in the same room with that person and engage in a business transaction with that person.  Then you would know that person on an intimate level”.

I wonder if the same could be said of the Earth or a region of it.  I guess you could travel through a region of the Earth.  I suppose eating a meal from what that region of the Earth provides or even sitting down and eating in a specific place could meet the sharing a meal criteria.  Sleeping out in the wilderness would clearly meet sleeping in the same room, especially if sleeping under the stars tent-less.  And I suppose if we donated some money towards the preservation of a region of the Earth, or even selling something taken from the Earth or even expending of your self in its preservation would suffice in meeting that last criteria.

In any case, for those of us who spend time out in the wild areas, and especially so of photographers, we do develop a certain intimacy with the Earth.  This intimacy does not develop over night, which is indicative of trying to establish all four of the above-mentioned criteria.  It takes time to become intimate with a region of the Earth let alone the Earth herself.  When that intimacy is established, the Earth will then start to show you things from her that most people will never see even if they were standing right in front of it.  Happen to be a photographer in this state, and you are truly blessed, as now the photographs that you make will go way beyond mere documentation.  The photographs will move the heart of the viewer and will establish a longing to not only stand where you as the photographer stood, but yearn to experience exactly what you as the photographer experienced.

Such is the work of Guy Tal in his new eBook “Intimate Portraits of the Colorado Plateau”.  It is evident from the opening page that Guy has a very special relationship with our Mother Earth.  He lives and works in the heart of the Colorado Plateau and clearly captures the very essence of that place.  Looking at his photographs contained in this wonderfully designed book is transformative.  Rarely do I find photographs, or photographers for that matter that make me want to visit a location.  Not so in this case.  The more I read, the more I longed to visit those places.  I hope the Colorado Plateau will be able to handle the influx of visitors once they have read this book!

Guy opens the book with some information about the Colorado Plateau itself and premises the book not on the iconic features found there, but rather on the intimacy of the Plateau, an intimacy that only one who has such an intimacy can provide.

Guy then introduces the reader to the genre of intimate landscape photography pioneered by Elliot Porter and to the importance of that style in establishing a stepping-stone for developing intimacy with the Earth or region of it.  I resonate with what he writes in this short introduction as my work clearly falls into that genre.  And with my appetite sufficiently whetted I eagerly poured into the book.  However to my amazement, I could not power through it.  The photographs presented were nothing like I had seen before that typically come from the Colorado Plateau.  It was like I had stepped into a whole new world.  Each photograph grabbed me and forced me to spend time with it examining its construction, its elements, its colors, its light, and the very essence of not only the land in which it was made but the very moment captured when that shutter was tripped.  What I thought to be a simple afternoon of reading turned into nearly a month long affair.

Copyright Guy Tal

Reproduced with Permission

One of the hallmarks of the Colorado Plateau is how desolate it is and Guy remarks about this in a profound way.  Even though we as humans have impacted all regions of our Earth, the absence of humans on the Plateau, as is probably the case in most desolate places, impacts our souls even more.  All great people who have tread upon this Earth, were at one time in their lives in a state of seclusion for a significant period, where they were afforded the luxury of deep contemplation to discover themselves and to see reality for what it is.  Venturing out into desolation, like that of the Plateau, can only produce similar contemplation and when coupled with the visual power inherent in a camera, the results are quite moving.

The book is broken up into several chapters, with each chapter covering one aspect of the Region.  The Plateau is a diverse area, one that I was not fully aware of.  Although I have visited twice, I was unfortunately sucked into iconoclastic image making by following the typical guidebooks leading me along to the locations that have made the Plateau so famous.  What Guy brings to the table is far and above anything typical, something that only someone truly intimate with the Plateau can bring.  One of the aspects that I love most about the book is that aside from the general chapter descriptions of each region of the Plateau, Guy gives us NO location information whatsoever.  Some might take offence to this and might even contact Guy after reading the book asking for directions to the places where he made the photos if not the exact GPS coordinates.  But by leaving this information out, Guy has managed to bring to the reader the very mystery that is the Plateau and forces those who wish to make similar photos the task of venturing out into the Plateau on there own to discover the magic that can only come in solitude with that place.

Copyright Guy Tal

Reproduced with Permission

In addition, each photograph in the book has a short caption giving the title and a small tidbit of a thought about it.  It gives us a glimpse, but only a glimpse, of what was going on inside of Guy when the photographs were made.  The other very interesting and interest piquing aspect of the book is that the essays, captions, and full color photos are set on a muted and faded color image not shown among the other full color images.  It builds a mystique that the Plateau has much more to offer than just what is presented in full.

Copyright Guy Tal

Reproduced with permission

Guy starts to close the book with a reflection on the people who lived on the Plateau from centuries long passed by presenting images of their dwellings and their art work left behind to tell a story that we will never fully know.  From there Guy leads us on a visual enigma that only nature can conjure up by showing us an abstract realm of beauty.

Guy weaves an amazing visual story that truly moves the soul.  The final image in the book, once you have seen everything in an intimate sense, brings us back to the grandeur that is the Colorado Plateau.  I was awe struck as I looked at that last photo, longing to visit the Plateau again, only next time allowing enough time to really start knowing that part of my Mother in an intimate fashion and without any guide other than my own eyes and heart leading the way.

Copyright Guy Tal

Reproduced with Permission

Do I recommend this book?  Whole heartily!  And, if you have not already purchased your copy I don’t know what you are waiting for.  Visit his eBook store today and get your copy.  You will not be disappointed.

My only wish would be for a similar offering as a real-in-your-hands version, that I could proudly display when visitors or friends come over.   Any publishers out there willing to back this idea?

Peace

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In The Blink of an Eye

Totem Drop

Totem Drop

About two years ago I became interested in filming things using a high speed camera.  This type of a video camera takes video at very high frame rates, 300 fps and above.  At about that same time Casio introduced a consumer level camera the EX-F1 that had the capabilities of taking high speed video at 300, 600 and 1200 fps!  In addition to that, it can take full 6MP frames at 60 fps with a unique buffer system that captures the first 0.5 seconds before the shutter is tripped and the 0.5 seconds after the shutter is tripped allowing the decisive moment to be captured, almost guaranteed.  I made many short experimental videos using that camera of things to fast for our eyes to normally see.  And while it was interesting I became preoccupied by other things and set that work aside.

Coronet

Coronet

In the last few months the interest has had a resurgence.  I saw a short video segment of a Discovery Channel show titled Time Warp where they filmed water drops falling into a shallow pool of water.  It was incredibly fascinating and piqued my interest to go back and do more high speed photography.  I also have been very fascinated with the nature of water for several years and so the two desires met and I embarked on trying to photograph water drops in the midst of the interaction between the water drop and water pool.  I tried many different techniques using natural light but none were successful, forcing me to succumb to using strobe lighting in the studio.

Suspended

Suspended

Now I have nothing against using strobes, so don’t get me wrong.  Studio work is fun, but its studio work.  The added variable of changing light is gone and so is the magic, for the most part, when some great light appears illuminating the subject for that brief few moments and forcing you to work fast to capture it. Those moments bring a great sense of satisfaction.  Unlike that, studio work is more predictable and once the test photos are done and the lighting is set, its just shutter work from there on out, well almost.

Don't Blink

Don't Blink

Enter in a new variable – time, or should I say timing.  Trying to capture a water drop in the midst of its interaction with a pool of water is to say the least an activity that requires great patience and perseverance.  Once I managed to set up a working light arrangement, I spend the better part of a day watching water drops fall over and over and over and over, tripping the shutter again and again and again.  One image after another comes up missed and I would delete and delete and delete…oh wait that one is good.  In my most recent attempt I made over 500 exposures and only 20 frames captured some form of interesting interaction.

Collision

Collision

The most interesting by far is when one drop of water is rebounding as a jet or totem and a second drop collides with it.  In 500 frames I only managed to capture 4  frames with a collision.  The drip rate of the water has to be timed perfectly and only two drops can be allowed to fall otherwise the water surface become much to turbulent and chaotic.  Its definitely a challenge and one that I will keep tackling until I get something spectacular.  The quest goes on.

This crop of images was just the first round and I plan on making many more.  I am not sure what I will do with these, or if people like this kind of stuff, but it is most certainly fascinating and something that I can do almost any time I have nothing else to do, day or night, sunny or rainy.  I am still interested in making these photos using only natural light so if any of you have any ideas on how I might be able to do that, I would love to hear them.  In the mean time enjoy these and I will keep you posted.

Peace.

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Sparks Of Light – 7/21/11

Sometimes I get these thoughts that just come out of nowhere.  I find them interesting and think they would make a great blog post but I either don’t have the time to develop the thought or I just don’t know what else to say about it beyond that.  So I think I will just post it here as a “Spark Of Light” thought for that given day.

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The Gathering

Stones Gathered Together

The Gathering

Last month I ventured out with my four photo assistants to one of our local beaches to beat the heat brought on by a strange early summer heat wave.  When we arrived at the beach we found the typical summer northern California coast pattern of fog due to the upwelling that takes place along the coast this time of year.  We came donning summertime attire expecting sun and fun…oh well.  However the temperature at the coast was well into the 70′s and a bit humid due to all the fog, so even though we did not see the sun we were not worse for the wear.

This particular beach is situated about a half mile from the highway and the walk takes us across a wonderful coastal plain.  I think because of this walk, very few people make the walk out to the beach as we rarely find anyone there, this afternoon was no different, and we had the beach to ourselves.  The overcast light and foggy sky left much to be desired in the way of seascape photography and I decided to not even take my camera out.  I just walked along soaking in the full bouquet of the ocean air and reveling in the light sea spray the kissed my face.

Then one of my assistants rushed up to me gleefully and urgently trying to show me the amazing stone that they had found.  And the idea was sparked…This would make a great photo.  I instructed my assistants to find as many unusually colored, marbled, or shaped rocks as they could find.  Soon we all were wading in the surf watching for the glimmer of a hidden “gem” to make its way to the surface of all the small stones that riddled the beach.  After about two hours of searching and arranging I finally pulled out the camera and composed this photo.

It was a memorable day.  But in hindsight it was much more than that.  Many things need to come together for something great to take place.  We sometimes try to rush greatness into existence before all the necessary ingredients are present and instead we find mediocrity or worse, failure.  We also never know when an opportunity for greatness will emerge and how we need to coax it along in its emergence.  However it appears, we need to be aware of it and grab hold of the reins and lead it on to its full fruition.  If we allow it to pass us by we may never get a second chance to make it happen.  I guess this rings of the notion of carpe diem - seizing the day or living in the present.  If we can live in the moment, seizing it and living it to its fullest, then later in the future we can look back at the past and feel no regrets, no remorse, and no sorrow for not capturing, if nothing else, a memory in our heart that will be a story that lives on forever.

The Gathering, for me, was the coming together of five hearts enamored by the marvel that is our world where Earth meets Water and the special interaction that takes place between those two elements.  It was the coming together of love, wonder, effort, toil, and hope in the hearts of five individuals that gathered together on one intention of showing the world the marvel of our Mother.  In that I found a great thing.

Peace.

Oh, P.S. Which is your favorite stone?

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Shabaan 1432 Begins

Shabaan 1432

Shabaan 1432

This evening the new crescent moon of the 8th month of the Islamic calendar known as Shabaan was sighted marking the beginning of the month.  It was not a very young moon, thus making it very easy to see, but none the less it was a beautiful moon.  Every month has its appeal and its beauty, and this moon is no different.  The light was sublime and thankfully again, I did not need to go far to see it.

Shabaan is also known as the Month of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) and it was in this month that he fasted the most of any of the months other than Ramadan, which begins on the next new moon.

Make this a special month of remembrance and peace.

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