Three days on Santa Cruz Island - returned home just last night. I don't know how to write about Santa Cruz Island without sounding trite. The emotion and wonder that I feel about this place now, however, is the same as what I felt when I first visited as a child. Maybe it is because I am a Californian, but the landscape, unique animals and the ranching history are captivating.
Subtleties characterize winter in Southern California: a little rain, cooler temperatures, maybe even a frost snap.
The cottonwood and sycamore trees are the first to change color and lose their leaves, owing to their preference for creek bottoms, where the coldest air sits in dense pockets before sunrise.
Native succulents, dormant during the summer months, plump up with the rain and reveal their hiding places high on shale cliffs (a bit of rock climbing was necessary to get these photos). Whereas mushrooms emerge on the shaded side of boulders sustained by a trickle from the creek.
It can seem dry, woody and bare, but the chaparral is full of color and surprises.
Yesterday I referred to Paul Nicklen's encounter with a leopard seal in Antarctica. Here is a brief interview with Nicklen I cam across on You Tube. My understanding of leopard seals up until this point was fairly limited, informed mostly by an account from Shackleton's expedition to Antartica (aboard the Endurance) in which a member of the crew nearly fell as prey. Nicklen'a encounter suggests these animals may be more complex than previously believed (although I hesitate to anthropomorphize here). The snout-to-snout perspective is only rivaled by the stunning clarity and sharpness of his images.
I first learned about Paul Nicklen's work in National Geographic Magazine in a series of images of a female leopard seal. The contrast of the leopard seal's teeth with the eerie blue light gave a haunting quality to what has to be one of the most incredible animal/human interactions I have every heard of, or seen documented. In a larger context, I admire Nicklen's efforts to inform people about the poles - places that few of us will ever visit, yet which play a critical role in Earth's ecological processes. You can see some of his work on NPR and hear an interview with him on NPR's photo blog The Picture Show as well as in the most recent issue of National Geographic Magazine.
I've been following recent developments in DSLR technology with an interest in the HD Video capability of some models. Although I haven't done any field tests, I am intrigued by what they might be able to offer me in communicating environmental issues . . . and the wonder of the natural world. At times I realized a sort of inner desire to show motion and interactions in a way that I a single frame doesn't do justice (although I also see these limitations as a positive component for creativity). Until I have the chance to test one of these cameras, I'll learn what I can reading about and viewing Vincent Laforet's work, such as his recent short films "First Look" and "Reverie". You can see these films here.
Transect field work with students from the Thacher School, Ojai, California.
Calculating biodiversity in two sites in the chaparral ecosystem. The first is undergoing secondary succession after being cleared by a bulldozer in the spring of 2009 in order to establish a firebreak (wildfires are frequent in the chaparral). The second represents an intact ecosystem with higher biodiversity and plant density, having reestablished after a wildfire in the late 1990s.
Sunrise on Black Rock Pass, Mineral King, Sierra Nevada, California.
You can see a time lapse of the sunrise on Black Rock Pass here.
The bivvy with the lights of Visalia and Exeter (San Juoaqin Valley).
The west side of Black Rock Pass
Noelani on Cliff Creek
Tim, the Kern River Valley and the Sierra Crest
7 Thacher Students; 6 days; September; Incomparable sights of secluded cirques, desolate passes, trout dimpled lakes, peppered with the sounds of laughter and the quiet assuredness of camaraderie.
A bivouac on Black Rock Pass, with views of the sunset over the Coast Range, the lights of Visalia and Tulare, and then sunrise over an expanse so great that Whitney and Langley are but blips on the horizon.
With colors and clarity that I have only known in the Sierra , Mineral King is among the most remarkable and varied regions of my beloved home range.
I have been exploring the benefits of shooting with graduated neutral density filters, as in the case of the above shot (Carpenter's Orchard, Ojai, California). These filters had there place when shooting with film, and in many ways they can still be used very effectively. Yet is there a compromise in quality by placing a layer of glass or resin in front of a lens? If you can do it more cleanly in Photoshop, and in some ways it may more closely replicate what the human eye sees, then does the end justify the means?
What is ethical? 1. Multiple exposures then masked to reveal what the photographer saw? 2. multiple versions of the same master, processed for highlights and shadows and then masked in photoshop? 3. Shot with a neutral density filter and left as is? As with Galen Rowell’s work. 4. Shot with a neutral density filter, then without, then painting in a mask to reveal detail otherwise obscured? 5. HDR
Galen Rowell was OK with rescanning an image for highlights in a moon, but it was the same 35 mm frame. Is this discussion moot considering the digital times? Do we use the tools available to us and be happy with the result if it is what we saw and felt? After all, improvements in technology supposedly allow the artist to be more creative. But is this true? The work produced by today’s photographers isn’t necessarily more artistic or sharper for that matter. Artistry with negative film and darkroom processes yielded remarkable results . . . and in many ways these processes are more available to more photographers now. After all, a computer is practically ubiquitous. I don't completely buy the adage that Ansel Adams's work was heavily manipulated and that makes all manipulations OK. I acknowledge that Adams worked creatively with a variety of tools in the darkroom in order that his vision come out in his final prints, but I don't believe that this fact is carte blanche for today's crop of digital photographers and digital darkrooms.
Is disclosure the only concern? If disclosed properly is their no problem? Is the public familiar enough with digital that HDR is OK?
How when you some one asks: ‘is this real, or is it digital?’ Yes! It is digital and it is real. Nothing added an nothing taken away aside from some ‘darkroom’ processing (tone, color, vibrancy).
Is film the benchmark by which all digital work is judged?
I haven’t satisfactorily answered many of these questions for myself, and I have a feeling that I may never actually reach a decisive conclusion. For the time being I am going to keep my mind open and see what the options are. My gut tells me, however, that maintaining a standard is essential in nature and environmental photography. I work hard to make the shots and I don’t want to misrepresent. One of the things that inspires me in photography and the environment is that they are entities vastly larger than myself. What I get out of others appreciating my work is important, but it isn’t the only thing or the most important. Capturing my response to the wilderness is my goal, but not by showing something that was not there."