Pothole Paramour


I recently posted this photo on my FB page announcing that I’d submitted it to my first “contest” in over 4 years. Nikonians, supported by Lensculture selected it for their Competition Gallery. My friend Gil sent me a note asking for a look “behind the curtain” as he could not quite believe it was made from a single image.

As I really like this image I’m going to take him up on it…..and here we go.

First and foremost, this image, like I hope all others I make, is steeped in a love and familiarity of place. This is certainly the case for the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. It is the home of my soul. That being said I rarely take the walk out on Pothole Point, a scenic walk and picnic place on the paved road to Big Spring Canyon. On this day I was scouting workshop sites for the Terrific Trio Workshop that I conduct with @Colleen Miniuk-Sperry and @Guy Tal as part of the annual @Moab Photography Symposium, which I own and direct.

It was a cloudy day and we (girlfriend) were returning from Big Spring when I decided we should check out the point. I had my gear and off we went. It was late afternoon and the storm sat heavily across the region. The clouds were low, the air was dry and there did not seem to be any rain in the dark clouds. The light was pretty flat which would have made COLOR imagery pretty dull, but it created some good opportunities for B&W should one find the right image.

When I walk with B&W on and in my mind that’s all I see. I see the land with increased contrast and a range of glowing tones that immediately have me walking in the naturally abstract world that is B&W. There is also a strong NO NOUN filter. I like and practice seeing in terms of line, form, pattern, texture and the rest of the visual art dictionary. I really do not make images “of” something. I’m not reporting on my escapade, rather, I walk in conversation with the land and make photographs when we can mutually agree on a topic or when we might even tease, argue, joke or arrive at an impasse.

I rarely “plan” an image by using Google earth to search it out, employing apps to know when the sun rises and sets and all that stuff. I go out. I’m aware of the current conditions. If they favor B&W then I dial in my B&W brain filter. On this day that’s what I did and it was almost an after-thought to visit Pothole Point. I’m sure glad I did though!

The point is named for the large number of potholes, depressions in the sandstone that hold water and all sorts of small life. I wandered west from the road. The “trail” is a series of rock cairns that lead you past some large boulders to the pothole area that overlooks tributaries of Big Spring Canyon and beyond is the massive sandstone wall of spires for which the district is named. I’d only been walking for 20 minutes or so when I came across “the pothole.” I glanced at it but was intent on going further. I made just a few more steps past it, with it behind me, and then in mid-step, it seemed like a hand grabbed my shoulder and turned me back around. I was stopped cold, and could see that here was a place to work.
This is the raw capture. Though it is what the camera recorded, what I had already seen in my mind was closer to the B&W image I present as the final. I only had to GET THERE!


This is the RAW IMAGE.


This is the image with some GLOBAL ADJUSTMENTS.

Please note that I believe that preparation is both physical (Got camera? Gas? Lunch? Map? Spousal blessing? Other THINGS?) and mental (are you in the mood? In the Zone? Is your mind free?) Unfettered is an excellent word and state of being.

This image was made on a Nikon D810 and my 24mm PC Nikkor. Exposure was f16 and the required shutter speed. There may have been a graduated neutral density figure on the sky. Can’t recall. The composition hinges on the interplay between the broken pieces of dry dirt (just recently covered in water) in the pothole bottom and the reflected cloud forms on the water’s surface. I eliminated the rim of the pothole at the bottom of the image to land our eye in the most important part of the image. I was fairly low and close with the purpose of emphasizing and exaggerating the content at the bottom of the image. The top of the image rather set itself and I was thankful for the clouds as they really make the image. I also find that VERTICAL images help to abstract an image. We spend much of our lives seeing horizontally. Our eyes are set that way, as are our monitors, TV screens, windshields, the way we read, billboards and the horizon! This image moves vertically. So, composition set, f/16, tilt-shift adjusted. I then made a backup beginning exposure and sat with my finger on the cable release and watched subtle changes of light grace the scene. The distant horizon would shadow then gain light, a few light rays would spotlight certain areas and finally a soft caress of feathered light raised the tones ever so slightly on the pothole. Click! Back to the truck and a beer!

We are now home and processing. NOTE TO GIL: All the information needed to make the final B&W image is in the RAW capture. It is our job as photographers to use, manipulate, plead with, pray to and reveal that information in a manner that correlates to what we saw and felt at the time of “capture.”

I brought the image into LIGHTROOM and performed some basic tweaking on the entire image and in the sections shown here.





The image then went to PHOTOSHOP where it received local area work.


To wrap this image up I took it back into LR for a little tweaking and then I printed it! I work on plenty of images, but none of them feel finished to me until they are printed.


So with all that said it’s time to get out for a snowy hike!

Yucca Dreams

Have you ever had the burning desire to photograph and have it be so strong that it consumed you, blinded you to everything else and even paralyzed your ability to act because the urge to merge with the landscape with lens and light was so paramount in your mind and body that it controlled and intimidated your very being?
No? Well, ok. I have and often do and was under that influence on this day.

I’d driven down an eroded sand road on Cedar Mesa to a point of land overlooking a string of deep side canyons with the intent of walking their rim and finding a few archaeological sites to photograph. No such luck. The sandstone shelves were bare. I felt this strong need to consume my time with photography, to actually make one image that moved me. The previous days’ long hikes had left my legs tired. I was slothful.

A secondary, likely woodcutting road, led further out to the point than I’d stopped. I followed it driving and walked to the far point of land overlooking Valley of the Gods. It was Memorial Day, 3 pm and the sky was clear and blue. Not exactly prime conditions for quality landscape photography. I was an image-addict in need of a fix. I made a few iPhone remembrance shots and feeling unfulfilled dragged myself into my truck to drive home. I drove slowly over rocky sandstone outcrops.

My visual and mental search for sites had blinded me to the bloom taking place. Claret cup and prickly pear cacti. Ricegrass. Peppergrass. Blue lupine, penstemon, scarlet gilia, paintbrush and several versions of yellow sunflowers were all showing their colors. I stopped, gathered equipment and followed the voice inside me saying, “photograph desert flowers,” and began to collect cactus blossom images. One amongst spines. Three amongst spines. I’d seen these compositions before, and not by me. I stopped. A breeze had come up making photography of the slender dancing flowers difficult. Out came my flash, extension cable and a switch to rear-curtain sync.

After that rather furious and fruitless session I drove again and was stopped by a few prickly pear blossoms nestled under a small narrow leaf yucca with its strong radiating lines. I like contrast like this – still flower, dynamic lines. Soft petal, sharp spines.


I’d added my large, 48-inch, collapsible diffusion reflector to my gear. It was leaned over my little scene making the light even and luminous. The breeze blew it off. As I reached for it from my stooped position I turned my back towards the yucca so I wouldn’t puncture myself on its sharp ends. Turning back to work my unfocused gaze was shaken as I peered into the yucca and the random pattern of hair thin filaments that curled and curved away. I was startled and then transfixed.


Here! Here was todays dance in the desert. Each spear had dozens of these delicate spirals attached to it. I was lured in by their movement. Time for the 105 macro!

For the next 2 hours or more I gloried in making a few images deep in the yucca. Georgia O’Keeffe said, “I paint the inner world of flowers, color and light, and paint them large so people cannot ignore their beauty.” I was going into this world as I had not done before. As I peered into the viewfinder and changed focus ever so slightly I felt like a one-person audience at a great modern dance. Even the slightest shift brought new dancers to the front of the stage.

It took quite a while to make the first good images as small camera and tripod adjustments made major changes in my general composition. I was glad for the extension arm I’d brought as it allowed me to swing and angle the camera to more workable positions. I do little macro work and so don’t own a focusing bar, but I certainly understand their worth now.

The first photo left me almost breathless and I stood slowly to relieve the tightness in my knee and ankle joints. Whew! I thought about moving on – but where? I admonished myself. It’s happening right here. Right now. Yep! So I better prepare. I collected my sleeping pad, snacks and water bottle out of my truck, tethered my diffuser and gathered my camera bag close by so I would but reach for what I needed. I’d formed a little creative cluster of comfort and equipment.


I then sat on the pad, pulled the reflector into place so I and the yucca were shaded and stilled myself by openly gazing into the plant. I’d single out one particular curling filament, consider its movement, squint at it to get the out-of-focus feel, and alter my angle by leaning slightly side-to-side. I did this for about 20 minutes until I felt I was in that world and knew what I was responding to. At the forefront of my perception were the delicate gestures that each filament made. Curl up. Curl down. Embrace another. Spiral away. I would isolate and position it in my frame while all the while considering all the out-of-focus movement behind and in front of the principal dancer. In macro, objects between the lens and the main object area as important as those behind the subject.

There was a growing breeze and an oncoming cumulous system. ISO went to 400 from 100. Aperture in this situation is of great importance as the amount of content in focus can make or break the image. Too little and your primary subject is not well defined. Too much and you may have visual chaos and not be able to determine subject from content. Just right and the subject moves and connects to the rest of the frame in a most pleasing way. All 3 of my “keepers” were at f8.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time concentrating on such a small portion of land. My subject was not even a whole plant, but a small portion of the deep and marvelous world within! Feeling finished I leaned back, stretched out on the ground and felt quite relaxed, refreshed and content. A good session within the glass will do that.

At home adding contrast and clarity, reducing highlights and making a slight color adjustment in Lightroom returned me to the essence of the experience. These were a new kind of image for me and I remain thrilled! My ‘idee fixe’ of stone structures had nearly blinded me.
Slow down.
Let go of photo intentions.
Allow images to find you.

Season’s Greeting

The colors have come and gone and I was glad to have driven to Warner Lake in the LaSal Mountains, just 30 minutes from my Moab home late last week. Work and other distractions had taken me elsewhere. Cold weather was approaching and from my driveway I could see that the colors were peaking. Warner Lake is easy access and as clouds rolled and roiled over the mountains and desert below and to the west I had the feeling that something fine could happen. I drove in a blue-grey shroud to the lake and walked to its edge. Colors, brilliant. Parking lot, empty. I’d passed a few flintlock hunters below but had the lake to myself. The open setting allowed for some straight on compositions across the lake of the stunning color. The challenge was to actually say something other than “pretty colors on trees,” with any of my compositions. I walked the edge of the lake slowly for a good 20 minutes scanning the far bank and the slopes beyond. Finally and joyously I found and made “Apart.”


I like the way the one pine stands apart from the others. It seems to be stating its independence, but not too much as it’s still a pine! As you look at it you’ll notice that the single “apart” tree is actually composed of several trees lined up above the main trunk. The tree that stands apart appears to be in parts! It’s position offers balance. The weight of the stand of trees on the left is balanced by the single tree to the right and the attention we give it by it being singular; and the its surrounding aspen color. ATTENTION is a compositional element that has “weight.” Attention can be accomplished by ISOLATION, COLOR, CONTRAST, SIZE and other means.

Sundown was approaching and I knew that if I drove back down the mountain a few minutes that there was a dirt track leading to a small bald mound that was perched over an aspen-rich canyon that led visually up to the peaks beyond. Good choice! The descending drive revealed a mass of storm clouds slowly blanketing the LaSals from the south and east. I waited and watched a small gap in the western cloud bank open and allow a band of crimson light to finger-brush the low side of the mountain where a diverse array of colored aspen waited to embrace it…..for just moments. It was in these few moments that I made the captures that led to “Season’s Greeting.” (below)


The composition I quickly settled on featured the mass of mountain being coldly taken over by the approaching storm and the strip of warm sunset light marking the end of fall color. (Two days later the storm winds has stripped the trees of most of their colored leaves.) The light came and went and I stayed and watched the clouds roll over as the air temperature continued to drop. It was cold, quiet, glorious end of the day.
While driving home I found myself thinking of titles. Titles can sometimes direct processing. The word “weight” kept returning. “Winter Weight.” “The Weight of Fall.” Though I eventually settle on “Season’s Greeting” (as in Winter greeting Fall as fall walks out the door) the idea of WEIGHT certainly guided my processing.

Upon opening the image in LIGHTROOM I immediately used the HIGHLIGHT slider, moving it left to see what details would appear in the sky. I selected what would work for me and made that general adjustment and then worked solely on the sky area adding some CONTRAST, CLARITY, and opening up the SHADOWS, especially among the trees on the mountain. I also played with the color of everything above the colored aspens, choosing to use the WEIGHT of BLUE to say cold, winter, heavy and to set up the contrast with the warm colors on the sun-graced trees. I warmed the aspens just a bit (as there was a blue cast to their color), and added a little CLARITY, CONTRAST and EXPOSURE. I’m quite happy with the final image and spent part of today (Saturday) printing it to 10×15 and 14×21. Season’s Greetings!

Sleek n’ Sweeet!!!! – a personal encounter with Sleeklens

I just returned from a month-long photographic road trip along the Oregon Coast and a few places in between there and my hometown and landscape of Moab, UT. It’s taken me about 2 weeks to filter out the images I want to pursue with processing. There are a number that lent themselves to my “normal” workflow of making global adjustments and performing some brushwork in Lightroom, then moving into Photoshop to perform select area work with curves and to use the healing and cloning tools to clean up the image. Sometimes I return back to LR for additional processing.

Let me just say for the record that I have been a large-format, wet darkroom B&W and color photographer for several decades. I like to have personal creative control over my work. I have produced interpretive slide shows for the National Park Service and my photos appear, exclusively, in a dozen trade books. I consider myself an artist who employs the camera to do his work. In addition to creating book and personal work I also own and direct the Moab Photography Symposium, an annual gathering of photography enthusiasts to come to Moab for feature speakers, field workshops and camaraderie. I am (overly) cautious about which products I endorse. I am also fiercely interested in spending as much time as I can in the field rather than at the computer processing imagery and watching my butt grow larger.

In this new work there were a handful of images that I knew had potential but I was scratching my head as to how to approach them. Enter Sleeklens Lightroom Global and Brush Presets! Sleeklens is a fairly new (2015), photographer created company that “works ‘with’ you, not ‘for’ you” in creating useful tools for the digital photographer. I was approached by them to test drive one of their collections, and though I usually ignore such requests something suggested I should. Maybe it’s that they are based in Denmark, which makes me think of being relaxed, thoughtful and the birthplace of Legos!

I chose a few problematic images and got to work on them. Here is the before and after of one of them. I’ve outlined its creation here so you can understand how I employed Sleek Lens Landscape Presets and Brushes. To use baseball analogy, Sleek Lens will get you in the ballpark. It will help you get on base easier. But it is still up to you to score!



Image Information –
RAW Capture – Looks quite dull, but all the colors are there! It’s our job to coax them out.

with Sleeklens –
I could readily see that the image had basic compositional elements that appealed to me. Water flow with some texture. Low clouds partially covering the sea stacks and an overall abstract mysterious quality.

I first applied the WATER DEFINITION BRUSH to the bottom of the scene up to the horizon. This got me close, but I then made two additions to the water to make it more to my liking. I created a brush of Exposure +23 and applied it to the left bottom of image and the ripple. I also applied a second brush of Exposure -21 and Highlights -30 to the mid-right area of the photo. I then tweaked the mid-photo water highlights by creating a brush of Highlight +76 and Exposure +14.
That pretty much took care of the bottom of the photo and by doing that work it was immediately obvious that the sky needed work. Now we all know that when there are clouds in the sky that most of us making landscape photos do the happy dance with our tripod. The actual scene had some great low clouds but they were lost in the initial capture. The CLOUDY SKY DEFINITION BRUSH solved that. To continue with the baseball analogy this brush got me on base. Pulling back on the effect using the sliders put me in scoring position.
The overall image was still missing some of the inherent color I both saw and felt while standing on the beach. I chose the DAWN RISING PRESET and presto! My heart jumped as I was transported right back to the time, place and emotion of the original encounter. Sleeklens does not replace any of your current workflow, rather it provides a well thought out set of tools for a wide range of image types that will help you, the creative photographer, to arrive at the image you most desire. Check ‘em out. I’m glad I did.