A couple of weeks ago I wandered to the east side of the Sierra Nevada in California to lead a private photo workshop, meet some long-time photographer friends, and make some photos of the fantastic fall color the eastern Sierras are famous for.
The photo workshop was a great success, with my client declaring after the first morning that the trip had already paid for itself; we were treated to a spectacular sunrise at Mono Lake with a fresh dusting of snow on the mountains and colorful clouds floating in the sky. We went on to work Alabama Hills, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Milky Way photos from Mammoth Lakes, weathered wood and rusty metal at Bodie ghost town, and, of course, lots of brilliant fall color around the creeks and lakes between Bishop and Lee Vining. I really enjoy sharing such spectacular beauty with others, particularly those who are enthusiastic about developing their photographic skills.
The rendezvous with old friends was also great. I first met a couple of these folks twenty years ago in this same area as part of a meeting of shutterbugs from the old Compuserve Photo Forum. Photographing alongside these people at places like Bishop Creek, Mono Lake South Tufa Reserve and Bodie State Park is wonderful as they are amateurs in the original and best sense of the word: those who do something just for the love of it. Their enthusiasm and joy in being in a beautiful location and exercising their creativity is truly inspiring. What good fun to explore a scene when one photographer is shooting with an infrared-converted DSLR, another alternates between shooting black & white IR, winding film through a Holga and straight captures with a digital camera that he will later process with various artistic and alternative effects. A third photographer works his DSLR with the intention of later producing paper negatives and then contact printing them on his hand-made, hand-coated paper. Hanging out with these folks, I’m motivated to try and be a little more creative in my own photography.
Icing on the cake for this trip was a dinner get-together with photographers Jack Graham and Guy Tal. I met Jack several years ago at a NANPA Summit, and we’ve kept in touch via phone, email and Facebook since then. Jack has helped me out several times, including contributing some of his photos to my book Photographing Washington. If you’re not familiar with Jack, it might interest you to know that he’s been leading photo workshops for over 20 years, and Jack’s workshops are consistently sold out, with a huge percentage of repeat attendees. He is very, very good at educating photographers and helping them attain new skills.
I was most pleased to meet Guy Tal, a man whose photographs and words have both intrigued and inspired me for several years. Few people can craft such wonderful words to go with their photographs. Eloquent is the operative term for both. I sometimes fancy myself a writer, since I have written two books that won awards for editorial content, but my writing is usually a very literal “I went here, if you go there, this is what you’ll see”, and often when I read Guy’s posts on his blog I think to myself, “Damn, I wish I could write like that”. Guy doesn’t talk about gear much, delve into the camera, lens and f/stop he used, or how he processed a particular image, but he expresses well the reason for making an image and the emotion behind it. Even if you don’t consider yourself an Artist with a capital A, as photographers that’s something that we should all strive for.
One of the things that attracts me to Guy’s photographs is that they are often rather quiet images. Although some have vibrant color, he doesn’t crank that Saturation slider as some photographers are wont to do these days, nor are most of his images composed of bold graphics. Rather, they are highly detailed, quiet studies. The kind of images that you can stare at for a long time, that you wouldn’t tire of seeing on your living room wall. Photographs that invite meditation and contemplation.
Interestingly, of all the photos that I made myself during this trip to the Sierras, the one that pleases me the most at this point is not one with the brilliant oranges and yellows of sunlit aspens in their peak of fall color glory, but rather a photograph made in the shade, with aspens that weren’t quite in their prime. Tree trunks and leaves against the texture of a granite wall. A rather quiet image, and one that resonates with me and reminds me of what I enjoyed about my wander in the eastern Sierras.