The long and winding road, the sequel

Winding Road in Backbone State Park, near Dundee, Delaware County, Iowa

The obvious Beatles reference notwithstanding, I do seem to be on a winding road kick the last few posts.  That’s ok.  A good photo is a good photo.

Anyway, right after I moved to Iowa I asked around for some good places to shoot.  Backbone State Park was a common response.  So I packed up the gear, looked it up on a map, and took off for the park.

This was back when I still had film cameras, and this shot was done on film.  With my Pentax 67II medium format film camera, to be specific.  I sold it along with all my film equipment several years ago as I felt I was becoming a “jack of all photo trades, master of none”.  I felt that by trying to do too much I was losing my focus (no pun intended).  Hence, I decided to take the financial loss and focus solely on digital.

I do not regret my decision one bit, but I will admit that I do miss this camera and a couple others I had.  Sometimes I feel like I should buy another film camera because I feel it would help me keep my skills sharper.  It’s easy to get lazy with digital.

And here I am… all digital and going through older photos and finding some nice ones that, for whatever reason, I didn’t do anything with before.  I guess you could say that this is a Reader’s Digest version of my own photography long and winding road.

Peaceful, easy feeling

Stewart Lane, Montezuma Hills, near Rio Vista, Solano County, California

“Peaceful, easy feeling” is how this photo has been described to me.  I think that fits.  It does have a certain calmness to it.  The muted colors, the openness of the countryside, the sense that time moves more slowly here than in the rest of the world… all serve to reinforce that calm, peaceful, easy feeling.  Every time you go by it you want to stop and follow the road around the bend.

The Montezuma Hills are in the southeast corner of Solano County, along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, just south of Rio Vista.  Historically the area had been used for what is called “dry farming”, and there’s pretty much no other reason to go there.  There are no state highways into the area, nor do any bridges cross over into the area.  If you find yourself in the Montezuma Hills it is because you went there purposely or you’re lost.  Option C does not exist.

California, in general, is known for its wonderful scenery.  A photographer’s paradise.  California is also known for its smog and air pollution.  And this day was one of those days.  I actually went out to shoot this road in the other direction, where there is a barn in a valley.  Problem was, the sky was so brown it ruined the shot.

I took a few shots anyway, then as I was packing up I turned around and saw this.  This spoke to me.  I composed the shot, purposely cropping the sky out of the picture, and here’s the result.  What’s ironic is that the smog acted as something of a diffuser and gave the scene the muted look that you see.  In this case the air pollution actually aided the photo.

I guess the moral of the story is to always keep an open mind and an open eye.  And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have this one on my wall.

Let the Road Trips begin!

Gravel road and tree, near Andrew, Jackson County, Iowa

Yesterday was the first official road trip of 2017, and I have some random thoughts about it.

Random thought #1:  Being from California, I am used to spring starting in February.  Weather-like, I mean.  By the time April comes spring is in full bloom, literally and figuratively.  In Iowa, in April you’re still prone to be in winter mode, and even possibly have another big snowstorm lurking around the corner.

Gravel road and tree, near Andrew, Jackson County, Iowa

Random thought #2:  Here in Iowa, this is probably the least pleasing time of the entire year, aesthetically.  Everything is boring and stark and dull.  Downright unattractive, really.  You don’t have the subtle hues or the soft lines of winter, and you don’t have the blooms and the greens of spring.  You’re in-between.  It’s just… blah.  Hence, there’s not much to shoot, although you do occasionally stumble across something worthwhile, and that’s exactly what happened yesterday.

Missy and I, after attending a Toastmasters Contest earlier in the day, are tooling down Hwy 62 in Jackson County and I spy this scene down a rural gravel road.  I immediately have visions of a stark black-and-white image flash in my mind.  So, I turn around and head back.  While Missy is walking Wesley I get out the gear and take a few shots with specific post-processing in mind.

As I’m doing the post-processing I get my black-and-white version and it looks good.  Then, just for fun, I start playing with a color version… and I like that, too.  It was overcast, which I didn’t think would matter in black-and-white, but it’s fine in the color version, too.  So I am publishing them both.

Please tell me which one you like better and why.  Same photo, just one color and one black-and-white.  Which one appeals to you over the other?

 

The Old and the New

The old and the new, near McCallsburg, Story County, Iowa

This photo has always been a favorite of both Missy and I.  We took this about three years ago near McCallsburg, Iowa, in Story County.  The image evokes kind of a nostalgic feel and nicely contrasts the old and the new.  That and the quality and richness of colors is what makes it so appealing, I think.  This photo is yet another example is stumbling onto something when you least expect it.

In our case, we had attended an all-day Toastmasters meeting in Ames.  We chose to take an indirect route home, avoiding the main highway and using still-nice, but rural, county roads.  Took longer, but we had the luxury of time, and we did purposely want to see new places both with photography in mind and simply just to see new things.

What’s strange, to me at least, is that in spite of how much we like this photo, we haven’t done much with it, and I cannot explain why.  I’ve never put it up on my website for sale (that will change soon).  I’ve never really displayed it, except a couple incidental publishings, and I think I entered it into a club contest once.  This needs to go on my wall.

Winter: Goodbye to you!

Stacked firewood in snow in winter

Who remembers a 1980s rock band called Scandal?  They did a song called Goodbye to You that was actually pretty good.  That song echoes my sentiments regarding winter precisely.  We just had our first snow storm in a couple months this past week.  It wasn’t much, but enough to cause some minor havoc.  And with that I am officially done with winter.  I say, “Winter… goodbye to you!”

This time of year is the toughest time to shoot, in my opinion, because everything looks so dull and dreary.  The snow that is on the ground is lackluster and unappealing.  It’s really the best time of year to catch up on photo processing, since there’s not a whole lot to shoot.

I also like the idea of doing some indoor experimenting with still life, cut flowers, and so on.  I have some ideas that involve props and backgrounds that could come out quite nicely.  I also want to do some experimenting with photo stacking.

This shot was taken near Palo, Iowa, on a back road.  One of those days where I was driving along and had to stop and see what I could do with the scene.  Chances are that I will never sell this shot, and it will probably never end up on my wall, but it does have a nice look to it regardless.  Sometimes the lesson is simply the enjoyment of the art.

Goals, new stuff, and 2017

Trees along ridge near Ely, Linn County, Iowa
Trees along ridge near Ely, Linn County, Iowa

New beginnings.  Not only is that the monthly contest theme for my photo club this month, Linn Area Photo Club, but it is a good theme for today’s entry, and a good way to kick off the new year… and we’ll talk about the featured photo, too.

The photo:  I realized last night that the last NINE featured photos are from Michigan.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Michigan is a beautiful place, and Missy and I have been spending a lot of time there the last half of 2016.  It only stands to reason that many of my more recent photos would be from there, and let’s be honest, it’s easier to be excited about more recent shots than it is about something from eight years ago, no matter how good that old shot is.  Plus, we are IOWA Landscape Photography, so here you go.

The coming year: Some random thoughts…

  • I have updated both my website and my blog.  It needed a refresh.  Now, all I did was change the colors around a bit, went for a lighter background.  I didn’t get all crazy and change everything up.  I reserve the right to do so at any time, though
  • I am going to start marketing in a couple new areas.  Postcards and office wall art.  I feel that my work is well-suited to tasteful Midwestern-themed wall art, and this could work well.
  • I have already started to a small degree, but I am going to dedicate 2017 to reviewing and re-working all my images.  I have scores of images that have never seen the light of day.  Some will be brought out, and some will be permanently deleted.  That last part I know will be tough.
  • And, of course, more shooting.  A couple dedicated photo road trips.  Not sure where yet, but I’d like to expand my spring and winter options, especially.  Plus some Iowa waterfalls, etc.  Missy and I are also talking about a long weekend in Chicago, and do some exploring and shooting in an urban environment for a change.

Back to the photo and the present:  The above photo was on a day trip that I took locally in August 2015.  This one is one that has never before been published, and it needed to be.  It has a minimalist quality that appeals to me.

I have an almost identical photo of the same trees from the same vantage point in winter from a few years prior.

The Square Format

Tree and field along US Hwy 75 in Omaha Indian Reservation, near Macy, Nebraska
Tree and field along US Hwy 75 in Omaha Indian Reservation, near Macy, Nebraska

I love the square format.  It is a little harder to compose at times, but when it works it really works.  In fact, sometimes it saves a photo, as it did here.

When I look at the 3×2 format as shot, it’s lackluster.  The fringes detract from the image and basically ruins it.  On a whim I decided to crop it to square and see what happens.  That, plus a little HDR with some tonemapping thrown in for good measure, and it really pops!

Several things speak to me in this shot.  The richness of the colors.  The colors split into defined layers, giving a sense of depth.  I feel like I can reach right in.  The opening in the bushes in the foreground act as a “leading line” to draw you in.

The Tree in the Intersection

Tree in rural intersection, Cass & Audubon Counties, Iowa
Tree in rural intersection, Cass & Audubon Counties, Iowa

Missy and I did another road trip this weekend… 20 hours and 591 miles… with Wesley… specifically to go see this tree.  The unofficial story behind the tree goes something like this…

Back in 1850 a surveyor cut a cottonwood sprout to use as a walking stick, later planting it in the ground to mark a section corner.  The roads were no doubt not there in 1850, but since roads are commonly laid out along section lines, the tree ended up in the intersection.  Why the tree was allowed to stay is a mystery, but allowed to stay it was.

It grew into the massive tree that still stands there today. The trunk is roughly 12 feet in diameter.  There are no markers, no signs directing you to it, but it is not all that hard to find.  I will say that the quality of the roads are questionable, though, especially after a rain and doubly especially after a rain and at 3:30 am.  It is at the intersection of 350th Street and Nighthawk Avenue, on the county line that separates Cass and Audubon Counties.  It’s also only about an 1/8 of a mile from I-80, and Nighthawk Avenue crosses the interstate, but there is no interchange.  You cannot see it from the interstate, though, as there is a hill in the way.

As far as layout, it is not conducive to good composure for photography.  We made an effort to get there before sunrise, not really knowing what we would find, and I got some decent shots, but nothing that really wowed me.  This shot was done with my 15mm rectilinear fish-eye lens.  It has the obvious curved perspective, which in this case I kind of like, so I left that part alone.  It helps add a sense of presence and location that is otherwise missed with “normal” lenses that I also used.  With this shot you really can see that the tree is truly in the middle of the intersection.

I’m going to have to think about this location and the shots I took for awhile.  I may decide to re-visit some more shots and thoughts here in the future.  And, please feel free to leave some feedback.  I’d be interested in your thoughts and perspective.

 

A Blast from the Past

Red Barn near Calaveritas, California
Red Barn near Calaveritas, California

As we end August let’s go back to April… 2004.  I was still living in California.  I was into my photography.  I had another website that I allowed to go defunct a couple years ago (I don’t even own the URL anymore), and this was one of the premier photos.

Now, California is known for its awesome beauty.  The Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park, the redwood forests, the coast, and yes, even the desert.  So much to choose from.  And yet even within all that splendor, you can find little nuggets like this.

This photo has always been one of my all-time favorites.  I shot it several times from varying angles, and was never disappointed.  I spoke with the owner one day… an extremely nice gentleman… and he told me that its even better in the winter with snow on the ground.  I can believe it.  I would be willing to make a special trip back just for that.

I plan to incorporate some of my better west coast photos into my blog and website, though they will remain primarily Iowa and the Midwest.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, this photo is still literally a “wall hanger” in my home.

Always take your camera with you

Calvary Cemetery, near Ryan, Iowa
Calvary Cemetery, near Ryan, Iowa

Leave early for work or your appointment, especially if you’re going to be driving around sunrise and/or sunset.  Always take you camera gear with you.  Maybe not everything you own on every trip, but the basics… camera body, tripod, a couple lenses and/or a versatile zoom lens.  A polarizer filter is always handy when you need one, as is a remote release of some kind.  Personally, I also like to carry a bubble level that attaches to the hot shoe to help me keep things level.  (Tilted horizons are one of my two biggest pet peeves.)

Because, if you do, you can get shots like this when you see them, instead of driving on by figuratively kicking yourself for leaving your gear at home.  And trust me, I have certainly done that more times than I care to count.

I shot this series handheld and bumped the ISO up to 800 purposely to get a slightly grainy effect.  I thought that would help with the moody feeling of the scene.

This particular photo was taken just after sunrise on a nice foggy morning.  It is the Calvary Cemetery just south of Ryan, Iowa, on State Highway 13.  I will have to stop there more often.  It’s a neat little cemetery.