Quiet Cold

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Abstract / Inspiration / Landscape / Photography

I’ve been thinking about cold recently.

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As with all things, cold is relative. The landscape above shows Fox Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand. That’s cold. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the mid-40s in the daytime is cold for most of us. But I do know cold: I grew up in western New York State, where cold is cold. Sub-zero cold. Quiet cold.

What got me thinking about cold was some recent blog posts by a writer-photographer, a photographer-haiku poet, a nature photographer, another nature photographer, an urban photographer, and awatercolorist. On a few of them I commented that I could hear the silence.

I have childhood memories of getting up in the morning after the first deep overnight snowfall. Complementing the quiet beauty of freshly fallen snow unblemished by human activity, there was an audible quiet. Not silence in a literal sense, but silence nonetheless. A quiet I could hear. A hush. A stillness. The quiet you hear when a blanket is over you. There is sound, but it’s soft. It soothes. When the cold is deftly shown visually, the quiet comes along with it. Check the links above and tell me you don’t hear it.

The first time I was struck by this silence in the visual arts was many years ago when my wife gave me a Japanese print as a gift for my birthday, which falls in a winter month.

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Here are three horses running through a snowy meadow by a wood. Running horses make a noise. But not in this scene. Here you sense, at most, a faint breeze. As my wife and I admired it together, I said to her, “You can hear the silence.” She heard it too.

I’ve been pleasantly aware of it ever since.

Then came these blog posts, all within a few days of each other. As I said, they got me to thinking.

In the early-morning darkness I realized there are two cold silences. There is snow silence and there is ice silence. Soft snow silence comes from the fluffiness of a fresh snowfall. The fluffiness absorbs high frequencies. You hear a muted murmur. Ice silence comes from the long-wave flexibility of sheet ice absorbing low frequencies (a large sheet of ice will bend slightly) while the surface hardness reflects faint high frequencies. You hear a tranquil cold crinkling.

I found myself wishing I had cold silence images of my own to share, and it turns out that despite being a Northern California guy, I do. Listen to these.

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This one, a small rivulet on Fox Glacier, has snow silence. (Yes, Georgia—O’Keeffe—was on my mind as I composed the shot.) As I post-processed this photograph, I felt a soft chill.

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This image, a slight abstraction of a shallow crevasse, has a soft snow silence and a hard ice silence. Between the two, I can barely hear a thing. As I worked on it, the freeze went to the bone.

I hope you heard them.

Thanks to the bloggers who inspired me. I don’t often get to experience the cold that some of them do. But I have my blessings: It’s 55 degrees and partly cloudy right now.

(Nikon D850; Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2, Tamron 100-400 F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD. RAW processing in DxO PhotoLab 2; final editing in Adobe Photoshop.)

Kiting and Flying Kites

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Photo Log / Photography / Wildlife

February 17, 2019, San Joaquin River Delta; February 10, 2019, San Francisco Bay. I’m lucky to live in an area where White-tailed Kites are relatively common. Yesterday we went on a birding trip through the San Joaquin River Delta with naturalist David Wimpfheimer on a boat operated by Dolphin Charters. I recommend both. Along the way we saw about sixty species. One standout was this beautiful and cooperative white-tailed kite. He watched us as we slowed to watch him and then, bored with us, he took off. He flew out about two hundred feet and then wheeled around for what I’d like to think was a fly-by for the camera, but I know he was looking for lunch. If he’s anything like his cousin who lives by the San Francisco Bay, I’ll bet it was a good one.

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Last weekend we were walking on the levees in the marsh area by the bay in Sunnyvale. The walk was ostensibly for exercise, but we brought cameras too. We always bring cameras. (The weight of the big lens makes for better exercise. That’s what I tell myself. Of course, there just might be birds . . .) The kite you see below was kiting — hovering — for more than three minutes. During that time, his position over the marsh didn’t vary by more than five feet as his eyes swept the ground. Then down he went. Lunchtime.

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If anybody tells me to go fly a kite, I’ll tell them that these raptors do it better.

(Nikon D850; Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR. RAW processing in DxO PhotoLab 2, final editing in Adobe Photoshop.)

Distant Shores

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Abstract / Impressionism / Inspiration / Photo Log / Photography / Seascapes

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December 7 and 8, 2018, Point Reyes National Seashore. Horizons are beautiful in their simplicity. Engaging in their subtle complexity. Their moods are varied. They have endless color and texture possibilities. For all these reasons I never tire of them. But there’s another reason as well.

Horizons are calming. Soothing. Stabilizing. Horizons are therapeutic. Stand on a bluff looking outward over the sea for only a few minutes, and if you’re like most people you’ll feel both rested and invigorated. Gaze longer and a reassuring sense of stability will develop. The turbulence of life calms and a sense of order is restored. Stress dissolves. The space does that.

Space ceases to be just the horizon’s and becomes your own. The space is real. At sea level, the horizon is about three miles (almost five kilometers) away. When you stand at one hundred feet (thirty meters), as in the seascape above, the horizon is about twelve miles (almost twenty kilometers) away. That’s a lot of space to take virtual ownership of. Extend your line of sight and there’s even more space. From the vantage point of the shot at the top of this post, the nearest landfall would be somewhere in the Philippines. But if you extend your line of sight straight out and don’t follow the curvature of the Earth your gaze is measured in light-years.

Then there is stability. On a clear day, the horizon is faithfully the horizon. It’s not going anywhere. You can count on it, and in this world it’s good to have something you can count on. (On foggy days, the deal might be off — so if you’re feeling foggy yourself, the therapeutic value diminishes. Unless you get fascinated with the constant shift of patterns in the fog, in which case that’ll chase your blues away.)

Photographs of horizons can have similar effect, especially if they’re large.

Recently I’ve been shooting nearer shores. In this one, the other side of Tomales Bay is less than a mile away. It’s a composite of two intentional camera motion shots made with different rates of motion. The only other bit of post-processing was a bit of selective sharpening. The color is as it was on a moody December dusk.

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The next evening, we went out to the Chimney Rock trail in search of the setting of a crescent moon, but it turned out to be such a tiny sliver that the thin fog completely obscured it. There was a consolation prize, however: the alpenglow on cliffs on the far side of Drake’s Bay was soft and inviting. A long exposure and a twist made it ethereal.

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It seems the horizon doesn’t have to be that far away to be magic. . .

(Nikon D850; Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2. RAW processing in DxO PhotoLab 2, editing in Adobe Photoshop)

Unfinished Turner / Unfinished Turn

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Abstract / Impressionism / Inspiration / Photo Log / Photography / Seascapes

June 14, 2011, the Tate Britain, London. If I had to pick one favorite artist, it would be J.M.W. Turner. I think of his work as the bridge between Romanticism and Impressionism and in my opinion he often outdid both. I find his later work, especially, to be transcendent.

Norham Castle, Sunrise c.1845 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Norham Castle, Sunrise
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In June 2011, my wife, nephew, and I went to Europe to visit family, surf (one of us), hike, and absorb culture. The first stop was London and among the many museums we visited were both Tates. In the Tate Modern I bathed in Rothko. In the Tate Britain I basked in Turner.

Of course we saw all the famous Turners — which tend toward the Romantic — and while my eyes absorbed the glow, another sense was denied: it took tremendous willpower to resist touching the almost mystical brushwork. I was reverent. Motionless. But a bit of a draft caught my attention.

I followed it to a small gallery off to the side and there was the most memorable treasure of all: a generous selection of unfinished works whose swirling, twisting, billowing, multi-colored motion did things to time and space that can only be shown; never spoken. My nephew and I were the only two in the room. We sat in silence as the brushstrokes became vanes that seemed to move the air around us. But there was not a sound.

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My wife captured the moment.

It seemed sacrilegious to photograph the strokes close-up, but I had to see and preserve them for later study of how he did it — so I did make a few clicks. Folly. I’m not Turner. Never will be. But I can admire.

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Norham Castle, Sunrise — Detail

September 6, 2018, McKinney Bay, Lake Tahoe. The post-sunset alpenglow was a perfect opportunity to shoot some intentional-camera-movement abstracts. Many were shot; few were chosen. Most were shot with a full 180-degree turn, but on this one I stopped halfway. An unfinished turn. A streak of light from the marina next door followed the sweep, providing a just a bit of counterpoint.

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I was reminded of Turner and wondered what he would have done with a camera.

(Museum shots: Canon S95. Tahoe shot: Nikon D850; Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2.)

Gulls

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Photography / Seascapes / Wildlife

Gulls are everywhere. Gulls are a dime a dozen. They’re not special. They’re not particularly beautiful. They’re not evocative. Gulls are a waste of time. I don’t shoot gulls.

Yeah. Right.

The only statement above that’s even partially true is the first one: they do seem to be almost everywhere.

Meet Spot. Spot is a Western Gull of a certain age who hangs out in the vicinity of Tomalas Bay in California. Spot was given his name by the owner of a vacation house we rented on a recent weekend.

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The information book in the house said that Spot has been hanging around for many years, charming guests out of treats. Years? We looked it up: Western Gulls commonly live fifteen years and can live up to twenty-five years. Clearly Spot deserved respect. And a treat.

Since gulls are scavengers, we figured a few oyster crackers wouldn’t hurt. He readily agreed, as my wife made the offering.

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A few weeks before, I was shooting brown pelicans near Monterey when this gorgeous gull swept by (sweeping my attention as well) and did a dramatic fly-by in front of a breaking wave. Backlit. Spectacular.

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A little more than six months earlier we were marveling at Fur Seals on the Otago Peninsula on the South Island of New Zealand when this graceful Black-Backed Gull glided by, framed by creamy clouds. Yeah. Right. Gulls aren’t evocative . . .

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(Nikon D850, Nikon D500. Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2, Tamron 100-400 F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD, Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR zoom.)

Wildlife: A Matter of Viewpoint

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Photo Log / Photography / Wildlife

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January 17, 2019, Point Reyes National Seashore. There he was. Coyote. There I was. Human. As we warily watched each other it occurred to me that each of us thinks the other is wild, unpredictable, and dangerous. We stared. I got my shots. He walked off—impatient to get on with life, but unscathed. I thought he was handsome. I don’t know what he thought.

(Nikon D500, Tamron 100-400 f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD)

Rothko/Reflection

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Abstract / Inspiration / Photo Log / Photography / Seascapes / Uncategorized

April 10, 2015, Hurricane Point, Big Sur Coast. My dog and I decided that conditions were right for a ride down the coast. Travels with Chewy. And Nikon.

We made it as far south as Hurricane Point. Crystal clear. The horizon went halfway to Hawaii. And so did the sunbeam. Chewy and I looked out to sea. He turned and looked to me as if to say, “this is special.” A sea dog. A wise one.

Aided by a neutral density filter, I exposed to preserve the highlights. Back home, post-processing brought out the wispy clouds. I cropped in homage to Rothko.

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Fast-forward to earlier this week. I was looking through Mark Rothko paintings while preparing the last blog post and this jumped out at me. I had no idea that this particular painting existed.

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Mark Rothko, Untitled (Black on Grey), 1970, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

That muse gets around.

(Nikon D750,Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR)

The Blue Muse

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Abstract / Inspiration / Photo Log / Photography / Seascapes

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This is one of my favorite seascape horizon photographs: How Blue Can You Get?

Some photos present themselves to me on a platter. Some are made. This is both—although in this case the platter was more of a blue plate special.

February 7, 2013, Sonoma County Coast. I was driving up the coast with my wife, looking forward to a winter weekend on the bluffs. The driver in me was trying to beat an impending storm. The photographer in me was hoping we’d hit it square on. The photographer won. Just north of Jenner it was almost upon us, majestically rolling in. I stopped at the next turnout.

All my camera gear was securely (and utterly inconveniently) packed away, so I grabbed my small but very capable Sony RX100 and forced the door open into the wind. I stood on the side of the road and watched the storm approach. While the gusts were increasing in strength, the clouds were like floating castles—getting bigger by the minute. And the whole scene was . . . blue. I made several shots as the storm front grew in the sky and dashed back to the car just as fat raindrops began to pelt me in earnest. I asked my wife, “did you see that?!” She confirmed that I was not hallucinating.

When we finished the drive and I unloaded the photos into my laptop (which had a meticulously color-calibrated screen), there was the scene. Blue. Not a camera color-balance error either. It was blue.

As I explored the shots at various magnifications and savored the possibilities of the photograph I was going to make out of this, I was visited by the muse of Mark Rothko who, characteristically, spoke only a few words—but the right ones. I extracted just the heart of the scene. The simple essence. Balance and texture. Voila.

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No. 14 White and Greens in Blue — Mark Rothko

Some time later when I decided to title my photos I was visited by a very different muse. This time it was B.B. King singing, How Blue Can You Get?  The original lyrics (written in 1949 by Leonard and Jane Feather) transformed into new words where the ocean sings to the cloud:

I gave you a billion raindrops
And now you want to give them back.

There was the title. In that state it lived for several years, inspired by Rothko and named after a blues song. But there was still that unanswered question.

In mid-2018 I took another look at the original scene. This time I was inspired by the majesty of the panorama. I made a new version. Rothko lives in this one as well, joined by maybe just a tiny breath of Turner and O’Keeffe. Now the question is finally answered. How Blue Can You Get? This Blue.

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Constable Clouds

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Inspiration / Photo Log / Photography / Seascapes

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December 24, 2018, Sonoma County Coast. I took a walk on the bluffs on Christmas Eve. A little while before sunset, sunbeams drew a broad “A” behind a rapidly moving, billowing cloud bank. It looked promising. “Don’t quite like how it looks? Think it could improve?” I asked myself rhetorically. “Wait five seconds.” I did—and it just kept getting better.

Over the next few minutes, many exposures were made. One was chosen. On this Christmas Eve it seemed that Impressionism was not in the offing. It was Romanticism.

In post-processing, the clouds leapt out of the monitor. It seemed like they came through the centuries, straight from the works of John Constable. I emphasized the cloud forms with a tiny level adjustment and softened the ocean just a bit, but it didn’t take a lot of work. The picture was already there. Mother Nature gave it to me complete.

This seascape has been added to the Weather gallery of my AMAGA Photography website.

(Nikon D850, Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2. DxO Photolab 2 and Adobe Photoshop.)

Seascapes

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Photo Log / Photography / Seascapes

I spent some time on the Holidays going over work from years gone by. I find that when I do this, I come across treasures that were overlooked the first time around.

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The first two were taken in 2014 on the Sonoma County coast north of Jenner and the third was taken in July 2018 on the San Mateo County coast near Pescadero.

I wasn’t particularly in search of any of these scenes on the days they were taken. I was just on my way from one place to another and there they were—hence the fact that they were all taken on (good) pocket cameras rather than on pro gear. This once again proves that the best camera is the one you have with you.

All of these have been placed in the Horizons galleries on my AMAGA Photography website.

(Sony RX 100 and Canon G7X II. Shot RAW and post-processed in DxO Photolab 2 and Photoshop.)

Ab • Stract

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Abstract / Inspiration / Photography / Seascapes

Abstract comes from Latin abstrahere “to pull away, detach.”

Abstraction pulls away and detaches from the representational and moves into the conceptual.

These were taken at Point Reyes near Chimney Rock. The views are 180° apart, taken within minutes of each other. One looks back toward Drake’s Bay and the hills of the Point Reyes peninsula. The other looks out to sea.

(Nikon D850, Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2.)

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Beak to Beak

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Photo Log / Photography / Wildlife

Saturday, December 8, 2018. Point Reyes National Seashore. I probably shouldn’t give the secret away, but the Tomales Point Trail is one of the best walks it’s possible to take—anywhere. Best known for its Tule Elk preserve, the trail will also put you under the flight paths of Red Tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, Osprey, and more.

Here we have a Raptor on a Rock surveying its realm, which includes Point Reyes itself, some twenty miles to the south.

(Nikon D500, Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR zoom.)

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Helpful Hummingbird

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Photo Log / Photography / Wildlife

Sunday, April 29, 2018. It was an overcast Sunday morning. The echium were in bloom and the hummingbirds were ecstatic about the easy pickins. The low clouds softened the light enough to reduce contrast while still letting the colors glow. A perfect time to try out my new 200-500mm lens.

One particular breakfasting bird was darting from flower to flower on an echium branch that was set before a deep shadow cast by a nearby oak. Ahhhh . . . she was moving too fast for me to follow, frame, and focus. Click. Missed. Click. Missed. Again and again. I was tiring from hand-holding seven pounds of camera and lens (I’d already been muscling this optical beast for 45 minutes) and was just about to give up when she disappeared.

A moment later I heard a buzz behind me. I turned and there she was, hovering just above head height about six feet away. Watching me.

We locked onto each other and held our gaze long enough to be in sync before she flew a wide, slow circle back to her echium stalk and held her position against the dark background long enough for me to compose and focus. One. Two. Three. Four. Five shots. Then she turned toward me as if to say, “Got it?” I whispered, “Thank you,” and she resumed her floral buffet. Here’s the best of the five.

(Nikon D500, Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR zoom.)

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Happy Hunting Harrier

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Photo Log / Photography / Wildlife

Thanksgiving morning. November 22, 2018. On the first morning of clear air after the smoke from the recent Northern California fire washed away in very welcome rain, my wife and I took a walk by the marshes at the south end of the San Francisco Bay. As we discussed our immediately upcoming Thanksgiving chef duties, I tracked this Northern Harrier hunting for her own Thanksgiving meal. This series was shot over the course of about seven seconds. Harrier ended up happy. Photographer too. (Nikon D500, Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR zoom.)

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