And oldie but goodie.
Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway brought us to many magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, one of the characters Red (Morgan Freeman) after getting out from prison and going to visit his friend had said: "I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams." - After that they showed Tim Robbins' character Andy Dufresne driving along The Big Sur, in his convertible, and they showed the Pacific Ocean, in all its glory, and it was, indeed, blue and vast. Ever since then, I've been wanting to drive the Big Sur and the entire Pacific Coast Highway. I got my chance, and I can say that its everything I imagined it to be. I didn't have a convertible, but with the windows down and the music blasting, it was pretty damn good. Having been in the US east coast majority of my time, its a different feeling than looking into the Atlantic Ocean in the east coast - I really can't explain it - it was much more spiritual - or maybe because I was on vacation. Its probably that. One of the place along this route is the Face Rock, in Bandon, Oregon. This is a bizarre attraction along this otherwise spiritual drive - it is basically a face, looming out of the ocean. There is no obvious way to the beach, but there is a well-kept secret way. In support of local preservation, I am choosing to keep it secret. However, the view is much better from the top, near the actual viewpoint in the park. There is a legend behind this that the locals believe:
Many, many years ago, the legend begins, Chief Siskiyou from the far mountains traveled with his family and other clansmen to the coast to trade goods with the four tribes who lived by the sea they called Wecoma.
In his honor, the four chiefs planned the greatest feast in all memory. They roasted bear,salmon, elk, and deer. Huge quantities of clams and mussels were steamed. Cedar back trays were filled with honey and red and blue huckleberries.
It was feared that Seatka, the evil spirit who lived in the sea, might cause trouble for the people and their guests. Armed warriors stood guard on the high bluffs.
The sea enchanted Princess Ewauna, the beautiful daughter of Chief Siskiyou. After the feast, when the people were sleeping, she slipped away from camp, carrying a basket with her cat and kittens nestled inside, and followed by her faithful dog.
The moon was full and the Wecoma ran silver. Ewuana, who did not fear Seatka, swam in the sea, farther and farther from shore. The dog barked a warning but it was too late.
The evil Seatka had captured the beautiful princess. The dog carrying the basket of kittens swam to his mistress and buried his teeth in the hand of Seatka.
Howling, he shook off the dog and threw the cats into the sea. Seatka tried to make Ewauna look into his eyes, but she refused to look away from the great, round moon.
When her father awoke, he raised the alarm. Everyone rushed to the shore of Wecoma. There they saw the lovely face of Princess Ewauna gazing skyward. Her dog was on the beach howling for the princess, and the cat and kittens were in the sea. In time, they all turned to stone, frozen forever, as they were that long ago dawn.
The Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley is trapped inside the valley by a bunch of geographic features, and cannot blow over somewhere else. For someone as out of shape as me, walking on sand is tough, and as mentioned in another post about the dunes, I decided to go in the evening, when I could see the snakes creep up to me. The walking was not any easier in the evening, and after getting a little tired, the view starts getting a little deceptive. The Mesquite Sand Dunes don't really cover a large area, but when you are at the top of a dune, the next dune that seems so close is really not that close. So the movement necessary in order to get a good vantage point becomes increasingly harder. Anyhow, there weren't too many people around, so I was able to get most shots without any interference.
In the danger of creating yet another cliché, I decided to try a different form of editing for this shot. But according to the article, a cliché is relative to ones interpretation and exposure to the same line of representation. The Mesquite Sand Dunes have definitely been photographed every which way to sunday, and being original becomes harder as time goes by.
This shot at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse took a while to get. Lighthouses, like benches, are a motif that shows up a lot in my pictures. The concept of a lone lighthouse and its keeper has always been fascinating to me. So given the chance to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, I marked off every lighthouse that I could get to. I think from Morro Bay to Portland, I left out only two. But alas, I wasn't fortunate enough to get to all of them. The first one, was under construction. The second and the third one was closed. I got one or two in between, and then headed to the last one, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. As soon as we got there, it started raining. Hard. Determined to get a good shot of at least one lighthouse, I refused to leave. A park ranger came around and asked us when we were going to leave, because everybody else was gone, but the park wasn't closed yet. I assume if we left they would close the park. Disappointing the ranger, we stuck around, and eventually we were rewarded with this beautiful sky.
Every photographer has a bucket list of locations they would like to get to - a frame they have seen time and time again, that they would like to capture themselves. This can be good and bad. Its good because those locations are usually iconic, and instantly recognizable - majority of the people looking at the picture will recognize it. Its bad because sometimes for me personally, I tend to get locked into the frame that I've seen over and over again, and can't seem to frame anything else. But for a first time visit, I think its important to get this out of the way, so you can move on and execute your own vision.
Such is the Horseshoe Bend, in Page, Arizona. Horseshoe Bend is the name for a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River in that town. There is no official location establishment, or signs (although now there may be). The only way I found it was get the coordinates and punch it into the GPS. Once you are there, there is a dirt road which you can identify by following all the other drivers. The path from the parking area to the actual canyon is a good 20 mins walk, and its all on sand and inclines, so its not an easy walk. Although given that I when to the Arches previously, it was relatively easier. But there are zero lights, and if you are going near sunset, carry some flashlights on your walk back.
The canyon is about 1000 feet drop (scary). In order to get the whole canyon, you need a very wide lens, and have to stand pretty close to the edge. There is tremendous wind, and holding onto the tripod and the camera and leaning over the edge was pretty daunting, and I'm not sure how I ended up doing it. After I told a few friends about it, they mentioned that they both lied on the rocks, and just extended the tripod over the edge (now, why didn't I think of that?). Next to me was another photographer, who had a really expensive digital medium format camera, and he was leaning over the edge just as I was. Every time I looked at him with his $26,000 camera, leaning into the canyon, I had a heart attack. All it takes is one slip. Ouch.
Horseshoe Bend - crossed off my bucket list.
As promised in my last post about Antelope Canyon, here is the bombardment of orange. I purposely picked the pictures with the most curves and lines, to show how smooth and flowing this place is. The waters from flash floods over time has created magnificent lines, and really narrow walkways, through which I could not walk straight. I had to walk sideways most of the time, with my tripod and camera over my head.
Antelope Canyon is not like anything you've ever seen before. Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways are eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic 'flowing' shapes in the rock.
I found it very daunting to photograph Antelope Canyon. Before I went, these are shapes and textures that I've never seen before and other than pictures seen on the web, I didn't really have any pre-conceptions of what I wanted to get. This was good, it seems, and I am pleasantly surprised at the pictures I got, and is a rare set of pictures (of mine) that I actually like.
The thing that gets you here is the color - hence the title. There is very little vegetation, and tons of sand and rock. The orange is overwhelming, and it makes for amazing pictures. Its easy to get lost in the color, and you could lose the silky smooth flowing textures. This is why I chose to make this picture black and white, before I posted a few more of these with mind-blowing colors.
My foray in to the west coast of US has been very little. I've heard plenty of stories about the lifestyle of the west coast, which is supposed to be much more easy and carefree compared to the life in the east coast. With the pacific coast, the warm weather and the sunny disposition, its easy to imagine why one would think that. Places like Napa Valley I guess seals that deal. Maybe because it was a vacation but everything that has been romanticized about Napa Valley seemed true to me. The winemaking culture in itself is a very romantic lifestyle (hard work as it is) and everything that surrounds it supports that perception - from the food, to the places that supply that food, to the little neighborhood stores that carry the food, its a very idealistic life. To top it off, if you add a ride on a hot air balloon, well - then that just takes the cake.
It was a good thing California time is 3 hours behind NY - that was the only way I could wake up for the ride. But once you get on the ride, you know why it has to be in the morning. The sunrise over the Napa Valley vineyards was breathtaking. Our balloon company, Napa Valley Balloons was top-notch. They had the morning planned out perfectly. First it was a meet-n-greet session with coffee and juices, then the flight, and then a post-flight breakfast with champagne at the Domain Chandon's etoile restaurant. The lifestyle of Napa Valley was on full display from above, and I captured it as well as I could.
When people say that 'everything has an element of luck', it always starts a debate. It's impossible to say whether something that occurs is destiny or coincidence. But sometimes, I do believe that luck plays a role in a lot of things, starting from the family you are born into. Anyhow - the reason I bring this up is because I do believe luck plays a role in things in like photography - sometimes. I can't say how big or how small of a role it plays, but sometimes it switches a good photo moment to a great photo moment. I'm not saying that a great photo is the result of luck, but a brief of moment of luck does help an amateur photo enthusiast like me.
I thought about this whole luck thing because while driving into Seattle during the last long leg of the road trip, I was a little ticked off that in certain awesome places I didn't get the conditions I wanted. Great photographers can get a great photo in any condition and I would love to work my way up to that, but for now, I need mother nature's help for my landscape photos. What I really missed was some clouds in some locations in California, and while driving into Seattle, I was hoping its famous rainy weather would kick in. And it did (only for the drive in, thank goodness). Not the best photograph I've taken, but is definitely better with the stormy clouds added in.
Death Valley is a prime venue for snakes. The heat and the terrain are perfect factors to make them feel very comfortable. There are many different types of snakes in Death Valley, and one of the most ideal places for this is Mesquite Sand Dunes. These dunes are near the Stovepipe Wells Village, and its a short drive from the hotel in the village. It covers a pretty big area, and a lot of people visit, so to get a nice dune with no foot prints, you have to go out pretty far. Unfortunately, walking on the dunes is pretty difficult, especially in the heat, and even more so if you're not completely in the best shape (as I am not). Given that, most people opt to go in the morning, because the sun is behind them, and makes better pictures. However, morning dawn is party time for sidewinder rattlesnakes.
I used to live in Malaysia, where they have a special 911 for snake problems. Snakes are pretty regularly found in houses and urban areas. When we lived there, we had to deal with a few of them in house. I've always had a trauma with snakes, and knowing that they could creep up on me at the Mesquite Sand Dunes did not really sit well with me. Even though many people keep saying that 'snakes are more afraid of you then you of them' - there was no way I was going to the dunes, by myself, in the morning, in the dark not being able to walk very fast in the sand. So - I convinced myself that it would be more crowded in the morning anyway, since most people would prefer the morning light and decided to go in the evening. It was hotter, but small price to pay for not encountering any of the slithering serpents.... and as you can see, the light isn't too bad at all.
Death Valley is something else. From the time you enter to the moment you leave, the scenery is nothing like you'll find anywhere else. As such, a million photographers go to Death Valley every year, and one of the most popular locations is Zabriskie Point. Zabriskie Point was also the location of a 1970 movie with the same name, and made infamous for being one of the worst movies of all time. However, the location got a lot of exposure, and became very popular thereafter. It's a favorite because its a very easy location to get to. Its very close to the Furnace Creek Resort, and the location is right off the main street. A few short steps, and you are here.
As with so many of the locations I visited during this road trip, this was daunting as ever to photograph. Part of photographing is trying to be better, and the other part is to be original and create something nobody else has created. Its the dilemma that I faced in this trip many times. At some point I had to abandon this thought process, because it wasn't any fun. I got to Zabriskie Point on the third morning after being in Death Valley, and I was tired and hot. I had left it for last since it was the easiest to get to, and realized that was the right decision. There is a ton of wind on the top of the viewpoint here at Zabriskie Point, and in the early morning, it actually felt cooler (relatively speaking, of course). So in the cooler wind, while everybody else was photographing the Panamint Mountain Ranges, I decided to turn to the Elephant Feet. There were much less people photographing this frame, and so I got to go down from the viewpoint a little bit and get this shot.
We had arrived to Death Valley National Park at a time when they were having record breaking temperatures. All of the routes that we wanted to take were closed off, or we were told not to go without at least few days worth of food. We decided to go on a few trips anyway - but thats a different story. This view is on our way out of Death Valley National Park, looking at the Panamint Mountain Ranges - which is the main mountain range that surrounds the Death Valley, and is the reason for the weird geo climatic nature of Death Valley. It was boiling hot, and we were a little relieved to leave, with our next destination being the cool and serene Mono Lake. As you start to drive away from Death Valley, the temperature winds down, and the altitude goes up, and the roads angle up, little by little. As you drive, the view in the rear view mirror starts to shape, and you almost want to turn around and drive back, because the view of the Panamint Ranges from the top is so much more majestic.
When we first started on this road trip, I already had an idea that I would get many frames like this. A wide angle picture of the road conjures up romantic ideas of what a road trip must/will be like, and is the idea I guess most people have in mind. This is a perspective that many movies, films and photographers use, because I think it gets you up close to the road. I later learned that this style of photography with this perspective is called the vanishing point, and it was pioneered in the 1960s by photographers like Winograd, and other travelling photographers, who discovered the open roads of America, and I guess this style appealed to them. Majority of the images I've seen of open roads that gloried road trips resembled images like this - so this, in fact, is an homage to all those photographers.
This was taken at around 5am At the Mono Lake in Mono County, in the Eastern Sierra region of California. This lake is instantly recognizable by its 'Tufa Towers'; Tufa is essentially common limestone. What is uncommon about this limestone is the way it forms. Typically, underwater springs rich in calcium (the stuff in your bones) mix with lakewater rich in carbonates (the stuff in baking soda). As the calcium comes in contact with carbonates in the lake, a chemical reaction occurs resulting in calcium carbonate--limestone. The calcium carbonate precipitates (settles out of solution as a solid) around the spring, and over the course of decades to centuries, a tufa tower will grow. Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, and some grow to heights of over 30 feet. The reason visitors see so much tufa around Mono Lake today is because the lake level fell dramatically after water diversions began in 1941.
This lake is an extremely popular tourist attraction, and is highly photographed by photographers. Usually the pictures you will see of the Mono Lake is rich colors and a lot of dynamic contrasts, most times, an HDR. Not wanting to make a cliche photograph decided to give this a b&w treatment. This place is really surreal, and the colors of the lake and the tufa towers gives a feeling that you are not on earth anymore. Giving it a b&w I think seals the deal, and really makes it look like something else outside of our realm.
Posting here sometimes I feel guilty - like going to a confessional. Father, its been 6 months, 12 days since I last made a post. During the lifetime of this blog, I go on spurts where it gets absolutely no love from me. And then I will post something to kick it off, and then try to revive the blog a little bit. So far, it hasn't really worked that way, and I haven't been able to figure out why. This spurt of posting comes and goes, and for whatever reason I just cannot sustain it. I also spend a lot less time in front of the computer these days, and so just haven't been processing enough images (more on that below). Lets try one more time - I hope you're still with me...
I have been doing a lot of travelling recently, and the highlight was a cross country road trip for 3 weeks across the United States. Only one thing to say in short: the landspace of this country is gorgeous. I amassed about 8000+ pictures from the trip, and going through it has been a daunting task. I went through it once to just check the pictures, but the thought of going through it with a fine tooth comb has scares me, and I've had a mental block. After 6 months, I finally started and decided not to go chronologically, as it felt too restrictive. So here is the first shot, from Portland, Oregon, almost the tail end of the trip.
This is the Japanese Maple Tree at the Portland Japanese Garden. The Portland Japanese garden has been proclaimed the most authentic Japanese Garden outside of Japan, and a short walk around the garden will tell you why. The maple tree has greater symbolism among Japanese culture, embodying grace and serenity, among other things. This maple tree is pretty famous in the US amongst photographers, and is heavily photographed. I told myself before visiting that I wouldn't make a cliche photograph of the tree, but I couldn't help admire this famous angle once I saw it. The leaves turn really cool colors in spring, and I imagine the red leaves of the maple tree in the fall (I was lucky to get a few) must be absolutely beautiful. My only regret is that I couldn't get this shot with my medium format.
During their lifetime, Churchill and Gandhi, amongst others have stated that: "You can learn a lot about a culture by how it treats its' old". When I first heard it, I didn't really understand what it meant, as I wasn't around old people much. My parents at the time were young and my aunts and uncle were all very young, and two of my grandparents had passed away before I was born while the other two passed away while I was too young to remember. As my dad passed away, and my mom started getting older, I started to notice that the young (including myself) as a society does not really pay much attention to their elderly. It used to be more apparent in Western cultures, but nowadays it is more existent in eastern cultures as well. More and more old folks homes are popping up, to take away the burden of caring for older loved ones. The elderly often become invisible because they are tucked away out of sight, out of mind. When people grow old in traditional villages in Fiji, family and friends care for them at home until their dying days. In America, the elderly are more typically sent to nursing homes — I understand the demands of a typical workday in the US, and I understand what leads someone to make that choice, but by contrast it appears unfeeling, even cruel. What is really intriguing is that it varies a lot culture by culture, as to how the last generation grows old, and what the younger generation dos to care for them. In Europe and US, older people are much more independent, and there are facilities for them to be independent, so you end up seeing more older people live by themselves, and have a life on their own. Observing this passage of life is very interesting to me, because I feel it is a chapter with a lot of stories. Older people live their lives slower, with majority of their actions based on their life experiences and wisdom earned over the years. One day I would love to do a project, to focus on how the older generation embrace the wonders of aging and deal with its challenges.
It also seems older people like to take the bus a lot.
This was taken in The Cathedral and former Great Mosque of Córdoba, locally known as Mezquita-Catedral. Originally a temple, it was converted into a Mosque by the Ummayad Moors who occupied that area. They added to it, and eventually became - and still considered by some - to be one of the most impressive Islamic Architectures in the world. After conquering Cordoba in 1236, Ferdinand III king of Castile consecrated the Great Mosque as the city's cathedral. It was was used as a Church for a long time after that, until the 16th century when the Bishop and Canons of the cathedral proposed the construction of a new cathedral, and proposed to destroy the mosque to build it. Given the attachment the townspeople had to this building, they staged a huge protest, and eventually got the blessing of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to insert an entire Gothic "chapel" into the very heart of the former Great Mosque. This was an unprecedented decision at the time - some would say even now - and required a lot of planning. The result is nothing short of stunning, as the architects and engineers enacted a church that is so in sync with the mosque, that it is hard to tell where the mosque ends and where the church begins. The walls and floors of the church seamlessly flow into each other, and statues of Christ adorn the pillars that support the Islamic arches. It's a very peaceful place, and walking there made me forget about all the hate that you get to see these days. It was a perfect example of how two different groups can co-exist, and I wondered why it couldn't happen elsewhere...
This was taken in in Ubeda, a small town near Cordoba, in the south of Spain. The town is really small, and at night the smaller streets are lit up using halogen lights, which give it a really nice orange glow. But its not lit up in all spaces, and in combination with the smaller streets, sometimes gives a very dramatic feel. If you are familar with Edgar Allan Poe's writings, it gives a very similar vibe (but maybe not so macabre). The high contrast lighting this provides is what I was after, and the shadows of the two people walking completes it.
The Occupy Movement, and protests of that nature did not originate in the US on Wall Street. It was probably one of the more covered by the media, being where it is, but various other nations have been doing it for a while. The first of these, is Spain. The Spanish Indignados movement started sometime in May 2011. By the end of the month, there were hundreds of camps in Madrid and elsewhere. By the time I went to Spain around June, Some of them had begun to die out. In small town like Burgos, the protests were dying down faster than the big cities. The above shot is from the town square, where there is just few camps left, with very few people. This long guy playing the drums are one of few that are actually active in some way, but in the end looks sort of demotivated.
Scenes like this are common place in Spain, especially in the smaller towns. A midday break to grab a small drink and some tapas are the norm, and most people enjoy this perk. This one stood out to me, as I saw the guy on the left totally stare down the guy on the right reading the newspaper. Its almost like he was thinking 'dammit - just put the paper down and enjoy the smoke and drink'.