I’m Sorry – An Open Letter to Mother Earth

Dear Mother Earth,

I am sorry.  When I think about what we humans have done to you I feel ashamed and embarrassed.  You have been in existence much longer than we have and yet we were foolish enough to take on the role of caretaker, so long ago, but we have proven to be unworthy of such a role.  I guess I cannot take all the blame myself, nor should I really, as when I examine my life and how I have lived it, it has been one of conscience and care.  I am sorry though for how I was misinformed in my upbringing, not by my parents mind you, as they were duped just as badly as I was, never giving thought to how you were treated.  Although there were good people out there trying to correct the wrongs being perpetrated against you, I guess the message they were sending out did not reach everyone or affect them the same way.

I recall as a little boy the television commercials of the Native American man named Iron Eyes Cody looking upon your polluted land, water and air and crying.  Those images and messages affected me very deeply and I have been careful ever since.  Nonetheless, I am sorry for my lapses.  I am sorry for my use of plastic.  I know it never goes away and that it has been stuffed into your belly and chokes your waters.  I am sorry that I never raised my voice against plastic and argued for your sake to my parents who thought nothing of it.  Had I known it was so detrimental I would have.  Now I am at a loss.  Everything comes in plastic and I do not know what to do with it.  No one ever told me that most of the plastic, even the recyclable type, never gets recycled. Nor was I told that the plastic that does get recycled is shipped off to Asian countries where poor people root through it and then remelt it into a toxic sludge that will get reused into something, but not before it poisons them and chokes the air with its noxious black smoke.  For that I am sorry.

I am sorry that as I was being educated as an engineer that I did not connect the dots and see that in the course of using science to make life better for humanity it was making things worse for you.  I am sorry that I did not realize that I could have directed my engineering fervor to find solutions that would make life better for us and at the same time not make it worse for you.  I am sorry for not questioning my teachers about the technologies they were advancing if they would do harm rather than just worrying about how to make them function.  I am sorry for not realizing that the engineering systems I studied were just smaller parts of the whole of your system and that they would affect the whole in ways that we never imagined.  I am sorry that in the course of being an engineer resources were extracted from you to make machines that brought more harm to you than good.  I am sorry that we scientists and engineers have forsaken you for the monetary gains that our technologies can bring.  I am sorry that we scientists and engineers formed alliances with greedy financiers who would rather see a beneficial technology that would be safe for you be put to death if it meant that they could not make a profit from it.  I am sorry that in our effort to extract clean energy from you we develop methods that pollute you beyond belief and that we keep how toxic those methods are to ourselves lest the public rage against us.  I am sorry that we cannot seem to understand that polluting you will kill us before it kills you.

I am sorry that in my current profession as a nature and landscape photographer concerned about your preservation that I have to drive a vehicle to the places where I photograph and to the places where I display the photographs and try to educate people about your importance that consumes petroleum in obscene quantities.  I am sorry that I even have to use petroleum as an energy source.  When as I student, I and team of 30 other students designed and built a car that worked completely and cleanly on solar energy and used it to travel over 1000 miles across the United States that I did not champion such clean energy so that today it might be the norm.  I am sorry that I have to pay taxes that help fund unjust wars against innocent people just so that the oil-thirsty nation I live in can continue to quench its thirst for oil.

I am sorry for the arrogant pursuit of poisonous radio-active alternate forms of energy that just continue to hurt you, us and all living things on your back.  We have no clue how to properly contain its power, or how to dispose of its waste and in our sheer stupidity think that if it is out of sight it is out of mind and does not exist, so we bury it deep inside of you or dump it deep into your oceans.  I cannot seem to understand why we seeing past our own noses into the future and realizing we are just digging our own graves eludes us, and for that stupidity, I am sorry.  Worse yet, we turn to using the waste as ammunition for the guns that we turn on ourselves and spray it all over the land poisoning not only the water we drink but the food that we eat and the dust that inadvertently finds its way into our lungs. We kill our selves and sentence our offspring to gross and unjust deformities that will eventually exterminate all of us, and for that I am sorry.  I find it ironically poetic that you, my dear Mother, will not clean up the mess that we make.  I hope we get the message, but I must apologize once again for our lack of understanding in how to care for the place we live, on your back.

I am sorry for our hubris to think that we have unraveled the mysteries of the genetic code and think that we can change small things to alter our food without it harming the whole of creation.  I am sorry that we produce seeds that do not reproduce themselves and then lay claim on the rights to own it so that we can profit from what the seeds produce one time.  You give us seeds that produce for us over and over in manifold gain without cause or concern for profit.  Your generosity shames us in comparison, and for that I am sorry.  I am sorry for the use of chemicals that kill your life giving oxygen-producing plants and that kill the insects that feed on the crops we grow, teaching us how to share, because we deem them an annoyance.  I am sorry that we use such toxins and fail to realize that once they breakdown into their constituent parts they cause an imbalance in the male-female populations that you so carefully crafted for millenia.  I am sorry that we have failed to learn from your wisdom and generosity.

I am sorry for the insanity that we must exhibit in striving to reach other planets and pondering on ways for us to live there while we systematically are killing you.  Maybe those madmen know we are driving in the last few nails into your coffin and they are looking for a means of escape, or a new place to destroy.  I am sorry that we do not spend our wealth amongst ourselves in preserving the beautiful home you have already provided us.  Maybe someday we will learn.

I am sorry for what we have done to you bringing you to your current state.  You ail today, your fever is rising, and yet we turn a blind eye and deaf ear to your illness because the change will cost us too much financially.  I am sorry for the nonsensical logic that we use to justify the status quo.  It is hilariously-sad to me to see the wealthy trying to hold on to something they will never get to take with them once they die and they fail to use it for the benefit that it can bring before they return to you as dust.  I am sorry for the sad state that humans have devolved to where greed above all else matters most even at the cost of severing their own lifeline so embedded in you.  I am sorry that humans as a whole have not learned how to be as generous as you have been to us for all these eons.  I am appalled that we cannot seem to understand the value of a seed over the value of the fruit bore from it.  For each fruit is of its own, while in a seed lies 70 to 700 times its self in the fruit it will bear.  I am sorry we do not give back to you in the like quantity that you give to us.  It seems that everything on your back knows the meaning of balance except us and for that I am sorry.

I am frightened that as our Mother, you are ready to discipline us with your chastisement for our wrongs.  We do not seem to hear your scolding and I fear it will not be long before the mulberry-switch comes out.

I know your chastisement will be stern, but please have mercy on us.  We are fools and know not what we are doing.

Please accept this apology from me and from those who sign on to this letter as well.  We do care and we are trying our best in a system that has gone completely wrong.



Youssef M. Ismail ~ Organic Light Photography

Tim Gray

Guy Tal ~ Guy Tal Photography

Bret Edge ~ Bret Edge Photography

Michael E. Gordon ~ Michael E. Gordon Photography

Dali Delos Reyes

Mujtaba Ghouse

Alice Gray

Gary Crabbe ~ Enlightened Images

Mark Graf ~ Mark Graf Photography

Floris van Breugel ~ Art In Nature Photography

Terese Boeck

Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill ~ EcoRebbe

Nancy Schwalen

Mary Ann Donegan

Iskandar Soekardi

Ginny Kalila

David Leland Hyde ~ Landscape Photography Blogger

Larry Kimball ~ Pronghorn Wildlife Photography

PJ Finn ~ PhotoMontana.net

Brad Mangas ~ Nature & Wilderness Photography

John Strong ~ Visual Notebook

Mark Fenwick ~ Fascinating Photography

Greg Russell ~ Alpenglow Images

Patty Hankins ~ Beautiful Flower Pictures

Alexandra Mitchell

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As a photographer, I am concerned with producing photographs that are more than just pretty pictures.  I want photos that tell a story, photos that touch the soul, and photos that make you reflect about life, about the choices that we make, about where we came from and where we will end up, photos that invoke awe and wonder.  It is difficult when such work is surrounded by an onslaught of technographers with their ubiquitous cameras in every conceivable device broadcasting a visual-cacophony of mediocre imagery.   All the while they flood the world with claims of artistry and self proclamation of greatness while presenting a mish-mash of cookie-cutter formulaic images of iconic locations coupled with two-bit “Jack Handy” styled affirmations which have nothing to do with the photo its coupled with.  I suppose these affirmations are supposed to make you think they are some deep philosophical thinkers that have figured out life and how to live it. God forbid that we should look with a critical eye upon the work of the greatest photographer alive or that we should question the king of nature as the king traipses about in his kingdom.

Never mind the decades of experience behind the lens, the years of study into the life cycles and natural rhythms of creatures, plants and ecosystems, or the nature of light itself and how it interacts with objects to produce the images we see not to mention the eye itself. Never mind the lifetime of experiences spent trying to understand ones own internal psyche through years of spiritual practice so that one would understand the underpinnings of human as well as animal behavior. Those qualities of the artist are not as important in producing art as the tool used in making that art. A tool, the modern camera in this case, so technologically advanced that the “artist” has no real understanding of how that technology actually produces the images that it regurgitates.

If you sense frustration in my words, you would be correct.  Presenting work that is either to subtle to be noticed or to sophisticated to be understood is becoming exceedingly disheartening.  I produce my work with a discerning eye.  I do not travel around the world looking for and presenting the next amazing unseen before image.  I also do not produce thousands upon thousands of photos every year.  My work is much more an internal examination of the state in which find myself physically, mentally as well as spiritually.  Any person could find themselves in these same states and could relate to them personally.  In times of difficulty and confusion, we all yearn for moments when an understanding into the circumstances that surround us is all that are needed to maintain our sanity.  For me, those moments come visually more often than not, and if I happen to have my camera with me, it is captured in the hopes that others might benefit from that ephemeral epiphany as well.

I photograph what I find appealing and I let the photos find me rather that trying to force the photo I see in my head.  Sometimes I do not know why I make a photo or what that image means at the time I capture it.  Sometimes the meaning does not become apparent to me for years and at other times it is understood even before I trip the shutter.  The photos look “real”, they feel “real” and yet they sometimes border on the surreal because whatever happens to be in the photo was never looked at in that specific way or in that flavor of light or from that certain perspective.  If a photo elicits a question in the viewer then I have achieved my goal.   The question could be as simple as “where is this?” or “what is this?”  The point is that the image has made the viewer think.  My photos are not made to be looked at in passing.  The longer they are viewed the more interesting they become as the nuances of light and detail begin to emerge and objects are seen in them that we would not have seen otherwise even if the scene was observed in person.  Since I do not follow the crowd from iconic location to iconic location, my photos are quite unique and usually buck the trends.

Trends come and go quickly.  They appear out of nowhere and vanish almost as quickly.  What is in fashion today will no longer be tomorrow.  And those who are caught up in the rush of the caprice du jour enjoy a temporal euphoria that sweeps them away into oblivion such that no one can tell where they came from and where they had gone and become nothing more than a blip in our collective memory.  At the same time, those that anchor themselves to tradition, integrity, honesty, quality and style, will find themselves apparently losing out in the race.  However, what is not seen is that while everyone else has been washed away they are still standing, as firm as they ever were and still as reliable to others as they ever were.  That is where true value lies, in that which is reliable.  So, even though you might feel surrounded at times by the world racing around you, take solace in lasting traditions and pay no attention to the flotsam whizzing by.

Spring runoff on Cascade Creek


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Disappointment Deals Delight

The Sun

The Light Source

This past Sunday was dedicated to photographing the annular eclipse of May 20th, 2012.  I had prepared for it on many levels from what exposure to use to where I would drop my tripod to how I was going to make what I captured unique, and had done so for weeks ahead of time.  The one thing that I failed to plan for was equipping my four photo/travel assistants with what they needed to view and keep themselves entertained for its duration.  Despite my earlier attempts to find solar viewing glasses I could not find any vendor who was not sold out.  In addition, the day before the eclipse I found myself in a discussion with another photographer who was making plans to photograph and produce HDR (high dynamic range) photos of the event showing both the eclipsed sun and landscape as they would normally appear to our eyes.  I contested his claim but he was insistent that it could be done.  This caused me to waiver in my plans, and coupled with the possibility of a mutiny on my hands with my assistants forced my hand to change my plans nearly entirely.   I found myslef the night before, rather than getting a good night’s rest, up late scouring various sites on what was capable while still maintaining a real look to HDR photography.  Then I happened to land on a news page about the museum and visitor center at Turtle Bay Exploration Park / Wild Bird Sancturay in Redding, Ca.  The article stated that they would be selling solar viewing glasses for $1 and the article was only written that day, the information had to be accurate, right?

Crescent Sun Ecplisped by the Moon

Crescent Sun

In the 11th hour, I changed all my plans.  My destination was now Turtle Bay Wild Bird Sanctuary in spite of the fact that there would be hundreds if not thousands of people there.  Redding was not that far off the annularity line that it would change what I actually had in mind, and park environment would placate my assistants should the need arise.

We awoke Sunday morning and prepared our supplies for the day’s drive and viewing.  We were out the door with plenty of time and the  four and a half hour drive started out pleasant, however the further we drove the more tense things became in the car.  The tide of pleasant anticipation in my assistants was starting to turn.

We arrived with two and a half hours of buffer before the start of the eclipse.  The plan, buy the viewing glasses, eat lunch, find a suitable viewing location and then wait.  Disappointment met us from the beginning.  First the museum under estimated the response for viewing glasses and was sold out the day before.  Not to worry the employee told me, they will have 500 more glasses arriving at 4 pm, and will be available at the annex store by the famous Sundial Bridge.  By the time we arrived we found a line of about 100 people standing in the hot sun in 90° weather waiting to get in to the store at 4pm.  The roving employee there let us know we were in a part of the line where we might not get any glasses as each person could buy up to 5 glasses, putting us in a risky part of the line.  So with great hope we waited.  Slowly patience began to wear thin among my crew. One wanted to light a fire just because it was so hot, his incredulous claim was he could do it with just a focused pinhole of light.  Another wished he did not leave his water in the car.  Then the other wanted to play, and sleep and be carried on my head at the same time.  My patience was starting to wane.  By 4:45 we were inside and we made our purchase – lady luck smiled on us.

Solar Eclipse Obscured by High Cirrus Clouds


We had less than 15 minutes before the start of the eclipse.  I announced that everyone should evacuate bladders and such for once I start the photo sequence there was no stopping.  No one heeded my words.  I was suspicious.  By the time we finished eating and squelching some sibling rivalry fires, the eclipse had started and I missed the initial contact of the moon with the sun and disappointment found its way into my head.

For the next two and a half hours, it was one dispute after another, one distraction after another, one question after another.  My mind was not focused at all on what I was doing.  My photos were not being timed carefully and I would miss the twenty second mark I had planned for each photo more times than I could keep count of.  I was also plagued by clouds, thin nefarious clouds that were just thick enough to keep the light levels jumping all over the place.  I could not make a sequence of more than 4 or 5 photos that had the same exposure level that I needed to make a time lapse sequence possible.  I also saw in my view finder this very odd haloing and glow around the sun nearly the whole time.  Something I did not notice in my practice photos.  It brought me great concern that I might find flares in all these photos making them useless in the end.  My mind started slipping into thoughts of inadequate equipment syndrome, something that did not torment me in more than a decade.

The Annular Eclipse of May 20th 2012 in total annularity

With This Ring

As the moon continued its encroachment of the sun, the anticipation of my assistants increased.  The arguing vanished into amazement, the prevailing thirst quenched with wonderment, and I as well was awe struck by the magnitude of what was occurring before my eyes.  Here was the moon, an entity in our sky that could not be seen if not for the light of the sun, moving in front of the source of what makes it existent to our eyes and blocking it out.  However, rather than overshadowing the sun it instead forms a ring of heavenly light as the the two wed in the sky for nearly 4 minutes in a display that had no beginning and no end.  It was as if time stood still and the world became dim and humbled in the grandeur of their union.  Being so close to a multitude of people, even though out of eyesight, we were not cheated out of hearing the cheers that belted out throughout the park as the ring became complete.  It was a spine tingling moment not to be soon forgotten.

The moon breaks the ring of light as it exits totality

Broken Light

Nonetheless, being created things that had a beginning so long ago, their nature is to end and they exhibited their primal nature with the moon breaking the ring of light as it continued on its way past the sun and ending totality.  Again a second cheer rings out among the crowd.  The event everyone came to see had happened.  In my exhilaration any thoughts I had about not capturing the eclipse the way I had intended had vanished if not for just a brief time.  I continued until the dreaded clouds that obscured the sky and mustered havoc with my exposures obliterated the light of the sun, just 10 minutes before the eclipse concluded.  A disappointing end, and one that brought question if I would have any usable photos at all.

After a long drive to Turtle Bay, and sitting square in the sun and heat for nearly five hours, I had to look forward to another long drive home unsatisfied in my work and with no hopes of a return on the investment made.  We arrived home just past midnight and my first act was to see and download the photos.  At first glance all were useless.  Not more than 4 or 5 photos in sequence were exposed at the same settings, making the probability of a time lapse sequence happening slim to none.  So I turned off the computer and retired to bed  hoping to come up with something in the morning.

The next day I started to process the photos to find almost all of them have a glowing halo around the sun that I could not remove without great difficulty.  In my desperation I start to process the photo Broken Light in a manner that I would never normally do to discover that the halo I was seeing was nothing more than the clouds that were obscuring the sun glowing in the light.  The use of the solar filter on my lens allowing me to view and photograph the sun had made the clouds so dark that they did not appear as clouds when normally processed against the brightness of the sun.  So with my modified processing suddenly the lost photos became as surreal as the momentous eclipse itself.  I searched the net for other photos of the eclipse to find that no one had anything like what I had been given.

My disappointment was suddenly transformed into delight.  Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to produce a time lapsed sequence of the moon eclipsing the sun.  However in hindsight, what I had envisioned would not have been very interesting and what I was given instead has pleased me much more.  Funny how things turn out.

Now I am looking 5 years ahead to the next eclipse that will cross over this neighborhood of the Earth, maybe then I will see my original vision come to fruition.

Peace to you All!

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Book Review – Photographing The 4th Dimension: TIME

Photographing the 4th Dimension - TiME

Photographing the 4th Dimension - TiME

Photography is a difficult medium to work in. In the real world as we experience it we are immersed in a multidimensional state – 3 dimensions of space, the dimension of time being the 4th, but then add to this the 5th dimension of sound, then the 6th dimension of scents, and the 7th dimension of touch and the 8th dimension of light itself. The difficulty involved is trying to pack the experience of all these dimensions into just two – the width and height of a piece of paper or a computer monitor.

In some instances by using composition and light properly, the photographer can convey a sense of three-dimensionality in a two dimensional photo. When this is accomplished, the photograph is deemed a great success. In fact anytime a photo can represent more than the two dimensions it is displayed on it would be a successful photo.

‘Photographing The 4th Dimension: TIME’ is a new ebook written and published by professional photographer Jim Goldstein that provides the framework and procedural steps needed to produce photographs that extend them into the 4th-dimension of Time.

When I teach classes and workshops I ask my students what they think time is. I get some of the strangest answers and in most cases very perplexed looks. Time is the interval between the start and stop of some action. If an action was very long, then that would indicate much time had passed and if the action was very short, then very little time passed.

Trying to capture the sense of action, of time passing, in a still photograph is a difficult proposition. But Jim Goldstein deftly provides the necessary foundation for doing just that. His ebook begins with the basics needed for any good photography – exposure. From there Jim dives into several topics from capturing motion to star trails to time lapse photography. Each section discusses the techniques and equipment needed as well as giving a set of step by step instructions. The ebook also comes with a foldable field guide that photographers can print out and carry with them in the field.

‘Photographing the 4th Dimension – Time’ is a great introduction into expanding still photography into the realm of and showing the progression of Time.  Jim Goldstein has done a wonderful job of concisely giving instructions and examples that will introduce photographers to this exciting field. If you have been looking for information on how to do time lapse photography or star trails or any of the other topics covered in the book, like I was, then this is the book to get, read, and use.


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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?


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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.


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

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Old Cameras, New Techniques – New Cameras, No Techniques

I recently exhibited my photographs at the La Jolla Festival of the Arts in beautiful La Jolla California.  It was a pleasant show and the quality of the work of other artists was top notch.  At such venues where the show is not held on the street, the environment is more relaxed and I like to set up my 4×5 wooden field camera as part of my show display.  It really is a conversation starter and the visitors to my booth are mesmerized by the camera and then even perplexed that I actually use such an old camera.  I don’t know what shocks them more, the fact that I use it or the fact that the camera is only about 6 years old while it looks 150 years old.

The funny thing is that they think because it is an old styled camera that I photograph using wet glass plates!  I have never touched a glass plates in my life.  When I tell them I use film I get this perplexed look.  I then explain to them how the camera works.  I take off the lens attached to its lens board and show them that there is nothing inside the bellows and that a camera is nothing more than a black box with a light focusing element on one end, the lens, and a light capturing medium on the other end, the film or digital sensor.  I explain how the camera is focused by moving the lens closer or farther from the film, how the tilts and swings help in choosing the plane to focus on and how the shifts help in correcting distortions.

I then explain how I scan the films and prepare them to be printed digitally and suddenly this somehow seems incredulous to them.  I then point out that with scanning film at even moderate scan resolution I end up with raw image files that hover around 500MB and that even the highest resolution digital cameras available still only produce files that are about 240MB.  We then walk over to a large 20×25 inch photo hanging in the booth and I point out all the fine detail that is retained and then they start to see the light.

They start to understand that making a photograph is serious business and not as easy as it is made to seem with todays automatic cameras.  They comment to me that I must really be invested in a scene to haul out and use such a big camera.  They are correct of course.  They comment on how I must know a lot about light and camera operation, not to mention processing and printing techniques and again they are correct.  Even though I use an old camera, I employ many new techniques to maximize the amount of information in my photographs so that the finished image on paper is as close to how I experienced it and hopefully so that they can experience that moment as well.

When making a photograph I use a top-down / bottom-up workflow.  It starts with seeing something that moves my heart.  That is the peak of it all, the scene has to move the heart somehow for some reason sometimes beyond our understanding at the time it is seen.  From there artistic decisions about perspective, composition and lighting come into play followed by technical decisions about focusing and focal planes, apertures, light levels and shutter speed.  Only then can the shutter be tripped to capture that light.  The process does not end there however.  The latent image on the film, or RAW sensor data, then has to be developed and then printed on to paper using a myriad of techniques in either a wet darkroom or a digital darkroom on the computer.

Over the years cameras have steadily become more sophisticated while becoming easier to use and taking over many of the decisions that a photographer has to make in the photographic process.  Starting out with built-in light meters and moving to auto exposure and auto focusing.   The sophistication continued into the digital era as well and now photography is instantaneousness.  Modern technology has taken a difficult time-intensive process and has rendered it to as simple as pushing one button.  Gone are the technical decisions about how much light is available, what aperture-shutter combination to use, and to some extent where or what to focus on.  Focus, even though taken care of automatically, still only focuses exactly at only one distance from the camera, and without a proper aperture setting, important elements in the composition are rendered out of focus and hence the photo is considered “bad”.  Focusing and aperture selection were the last technical decisions that photographers still had to make as the camera had no idea what the photographer was aiming at.  So even though the modern camera was loaded with auto-everything, good technique was still important.

Enter the latest contender to simplify photography.  The Lytro camera was recently announced with the ability to capture an image and choose what to focus on afterwards entirely in software.  In other words that camera  has eliminated the need to focus or choose an aperture entirely.  Photographic technique has now been laid to rest and operating a camera has now been completely rendered to pushing a single button.  Don’t get me wrong, the technical sophistication that goes on in the background is truly amazing and the science behind it is even more fascinating, but where does that leave us as photographers?  The ability to make images is now so ubiquitous with “cameras” on almost every device imagined that the demarcation lines have been blurred between the photographer and everyone else.  Today’s cameras require no technique at all.  Just point and press a button – you can focus later, set exposure later, and mimic whatever aperture desired later.

Photography, writing with light, requires technical proficiency in understanding and working with light.  Yet the majority of  today’s “photographers” have no clue about light the very medium they work with.  They don’t need to as they have a machine that does everything for them.  I wonder what authors would think if there was a device, perhaps called a Scribbler, that produced novels at the press of a button.  Would they be as accepting as photographers are about the technique-less camera?



Hone your photographic technique and be that writer of light that moves the hearts of those who take the time to see what you saw and feel what you felt.  The camera cannot do that for you.


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Try This (5/15/11)

Cameras are a wonderful tool for expressing your thoughts visually provided that you know how to get your camera to “say” what you want.  The most basic step in getting the camera to speak for you is making sure it captures the “correct” amount of light to convey whatever it is that you want to “say”.

To that end one must learn how to control the camera with regards to how much light is captured.

Try This:  Place your camera on a tripod.  Point the camera at something with a fairly uniform tone, like a fence or a lawn.  Zoom in so that only that tone is seen in the viewfinder.  Next change the camera’s capture mode to Manual, yes – Manual.  For some this might be daunting and downright scary.  But believe me your camera will not be harmed and furthermore, if you make a “mistake” you can just delete it.  However what we want to see here are the mistakes and learn from them.  You might need to consult your camera manual.

Now that you have the camera in manual mode, consult the camera manual and determine which buttons or wheels control the adjustment of the Aperture and Shutter.  I know for example on most Canon DSLR cameras, the aperture is controlled by the large thumb wheel in the middle of the back of the camera just to the right of the LCD and the shutter is controlled by the small finger wheel in the front of the camera just under the shutter release button.  On Nikon DSLR cameras, the aperture is controlled by a small finger wheel on the front of the camera just under the shutter release button  and the shutter is controlled by a similar wheel on the back of the camera at the top right, behind the shutter release button.

With the camera now on a tripod and in manual mode, adjust the aperture to its largest setting, i.e. the smallest f-number something like f4, f3.5 or f2, and set the shutter speed to its longest setting, for most cameras 30 seconds.

Now press the shutter release button, you will need to wait 30 seconds for the exposure to complete and then look at the LCD.  What do you see?  If everything went as described, you should see a completely white screen, and possibly blinking black to white.  This is extreme over-exposure.  In other words too much light got into the camera.

Now, start reducing the aperture size by dialing in larger f-numbers.  For example if you started out at f3.5 now go to f5.6 then f8, f11, f16, f22 and so on until you run out of f-stop settings.  Each time making that 30 second exposure and examining the LCD.  It is possible that even at the smallest aperture opening, like f22, with that 30 second shutter speed you won’t see much difference.

Now dial in the next shorter shutter speed, most likely 15 seconds and then make photos with increasing aperture sizes going from f22 back to f3.5 or whatever your maximum aperture is.  Examine your LCD each time.

Continue to repeat this with every shutter speed setting you have 8 seconds, 4 seconds, 2 seconds, 1 sec, 1/2 sec, etc.. until you reach the shortest shutter speed probably 1/2000 sec or 1/4000 sec.  At least one if not several aperture-shutter combinations will give you a photo that will resemble the uniform tone you have your camera pointed at.  In fact the photo that closely resembles that tone will probably be the one you like least as it will probably be not what you thought you “saw”.  A series of these photos that I made is shown below.  Oh, and for the record, I liked the f11 @ 1/60 sec exposure best, even though the camera indicated that it would have given me the f11 @ 1/125 sec exposure.

This is the first step to mastering your camera to convey what you want it to, learning how to take control of exposure.  To learn more about photography consider taking an Organic Light Photography Workshop.  You’ll learn more about exposure and a whole lot more.

Exposures in Manual Mode

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Spring Sprung

Each year as winter approaches the world prepares itself to go dormant and fall asleep.  Trees lose their leaves and become only skeletons of what they were.  The land dry and hard awaits the rains that will make it supple once more and fertile for the seeds of the summer to finally take root.  In the winter, everything goes to sleep.

So too should we take a lesson from it and learn how to look inwards and take stock, find a respite, and let go of those things that drive us so that we can rejuvenate ourselves.

However, this past winter I did not see it in that light.  This past winter had to have been one of the least productive times I have ever had as a photographer. Had it not been for the new moon each month I do not think I would have even ventured out with the camera at all.   All the while I questioned my worth as a photographer as no matter what I looked at I could not see anything in such a way that appealed to me to make a photo of it.

Yet when I allowed my auto-pilot to take control, I found that great photos were still coming from me even if I could or would not see it.  ‘Washed’ was the only fruit that was harvested all winter.

Stones on beach washed by waves


I guess what I did not see happening was exactly what I needed.  I too had gone dormant for the winter.  I needed to take a creative time out to allow for new growth to emerge.

Spring entered and something sprung inside of me.  In early April, still thinking I was in my slump I geared up to go out to photograph the Moon of Jamad Al-Awwal.  Then just as I was about to leave, an emotional train wreck occurred that derailed my outing completely.  Without the time left in the day to make it to my quite place in the mountains to see and photograph the moon in peace, as I normally do, I had only enough time to walk down my street to an opening amongst the trees to see and make a record of my celestial friend the Moon.

The new moon cradled amongst tree branches


When I saw the moon just nestled there amongst those branches appearing safe and protected, something inside of me suddenly opened.  My heart saw everything anew and I felt that Spring had finally sprung in me.

The flowers were soon to be blooming and I could barely contain the excitement in me to be out there once again finding light and bringing it back for others to see as well.  The time had come and I made my trek in search of the wildflowers.  I visited all my old haunts to find that even though my spring had sprung this year, for the flowers they decided to take a year off.  I suppose they deserve time off as well.  With just under 1000 miles of driving this year in search of those elusive gems of color, I found only one patch that conveyed my sense of coming to life again.

Miles of Tidy Tips

I Can See For Miles

Standing there in Carrizo Plain I could see for miles.  The elation and disappointment coupled to move me in such a way as to not let the absence of flowers keep me from enjoying Spring and I gave up on the preconceived notion of finding wildflowers and I just went wild.  Photographing things for the shear joy of it.  My creative juices were flowing with such fervor that I did not know when to stop.

I returned home to lead a private workshop and I took my client to all my familiar spots in the Santa Cruz Mountains and along the San Mateo Coast.  I had no preconceived ideas of what I would find and I expected to just stand around most of the time directing my client at all the things that I had photographed more times than I can count without having the desire to do the same again.

The funny thing was that everything looked fresh and new, as if I had never seen them before.  I took more photos in that one day than I had in possibly the last six months!  I was seeing light in a very new way and I liked it.

Deer Fern Frond in Sunlight

Ladder of Light

Then the day came to a close and my elation was given a good stiff clocking to the jaw.  On a beach that I have worked on for years, among hard stone sculpted over the millennia I saw what Mother Earth wanted me to see.  Even though it was a spectacular day, with a slight sea breeze blowing, seagulls calling, the sound of crashing surf, the scent of the redwoods and the sounds of a babbling creek still fresh in my mind from earlier that morning, here was Mother Earth shedding one black tear.  A stark reminder that she is in pain.

Mother Earth sheds a black tear.

Black Tear

Even though my creativity and vision came back to me this spring, Mother Earth did not let me forget why I make portraits of her: to remind others of just how fragile she is.  She also reminded me that she goes through cycles for a reason – so that growth can continue.  Down time, rebirth, growth, vigor and waning are all part of a precious cycle that we must adhere to as well if we are to grow.  We also must take heed in understanding that we do not make our own fate as that is in the hands of the Divine.  We cannot produce whatever it is that we preconceive in our minds and that sometimes we just need to be grateful for what is given and appreciate it as much if not more than what we originally wanted.  In the end, we will find that what we do come away with was much more valuable.

Enjoy the rest of Spring, it will be gone before we know it.


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Longing For Peace

It has been difficult for me in the last several weeks.  The new moon came and went, and even though I photographed it and made a beautiful composition of it I found it difficult to post anything about it.  I have been thinking quite a bit as well, and unfortunately returned to listening to the radio news and talk shows.  I really must learn to leave that nonsense, however I sometimes need to know what is happening in our world.  Let me tell you… what you hear is very depressing, so much so that it pushes me closer to being a cynic, which is never a good thing.

From the earthquake in Japan and the resulting nuclear catastrophe to the charlatans setting up fake aid organizations duping sincere folks wanting to help to the impending world contamination with radioactive iodine and cesium, the whole thing is infuriating.  We really can’t find better ways to boil water to turn turbines to spin generators to make electricity…really?

Then there is the unfolding war in Libya that is so unfortunate.   It is very frustrating.  But hey, call it support for the freedom fighters and everyone is on board.  Never mind that the citizens of Libya had free housing and free education and health care for everyone!  Now lets drop depleted uranium munitions there as well.  Argh!  We don’t have enough deformed war babies being born in the world.

But wait there’s more.

Let’s tax the poor and give the rich a tax-free pass so that we can turn our nation in to a dysfunctional third world country governed by an oligarchy rather than a democracy.  I could not believe this when I heard it. The top 1% of the U.S. population control 42% of the financial wealth! Huh?

And lets abolish Medicare and Medicaid so that our elders and children who can’t afford health care just vanish so we don’t have to worry about them anymore. And don’t even get me started on education.

Now I could go on and on venting about all that is wrong in the world but that would be wrong in and of itself because it does not do anything to constructively fix any of it.

So instead, in my longing for peace in our world, I asked myself what do we need to do so that we humans can be at peace with ourselves as well as with the world.

I think we need to foster 7 things in ourselves to see change take place in our world: Truth, Repentance, Resolve, Gratitude, Mortality, and Remembrance.

I expressed my thoughts with this short video.  I hope it will make a difference.

If you like it, please share it with your network of friends.  Maybe, just maybe it can affect a change.

Enjoy and as always, Peace!

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