All The Way Up

Certainly one of the highlights of visiting The Big Island was the drive up to the top of Mauna Kea. It summits at 13, 796 feet above sea level (4205 m) and it’s possible to drive all but the last 50 feet or so. It has to be one of the more, if not mo,st accessible peaks in existence. (I stand ready to be corrected.)

The Mauna Kea Road

The Mauna Kea Road

There are 13 observatories up here supported by a collaboration of 18 nations. If you’re a stargazer, there is probably no better place on earth, certainly none as open as this one, to practice your obsession.

When we left the visitor center – at 7000 feet (2134 m)  – the temperature was about 55 degrees F  (13 C) and we expected it to be much more brisk on top. It wasn’t. The temperature rose about 10 degrees F. Bright – very bright – and balmy.  It did not take long for the change in altitude to work its effects though so we spent less than an hour on top.

There are lots of things to see and do on Hawaii but this was the highlight for me.  This is on the go-back list.

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Needle Rock

Needle Rock

Needle Rock

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Eastern Sierra Rainbow

Rainbows Without Borders

Rainbows Without Borders

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Whitney

Another 6000 ft to go; time for coffee

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Mountains vs Models

When people ask about my career I generally respond that I am a photographer. That at least is my latest reinvention and since it’s stuck for the past 3-4 years, I’m going with it. I don’t make my living this way; I make myself and a few others happy in this pursuit, so perhaps it’s more accurate to characterize as an avocation. Whatever. I spend a lot of time behind a lens and increasingly enjoy exploring the myriad nuances associated with using it.

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“So, you’re photographer” she says. “What do you photograph?”

Fair question, to which I usually respond “things that don’t move or that have four legs,” meaning for the most mountains and trees and rocks and rivers – ok, water moves – and architecture and, of course, dogs and horses. I suppose what I’m trying to convey is I rarely deliberately and seriously shoot humans. Portraiture ain’t my game.

Until now.

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I recently had the opportunity to shoot an old friend of mine whose photogeneity I’ve admired for years. Her name is Renée and to most people’s eyes she is quite comely.

Well, OK. She’s gorgeous.

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She’s also uninhibited in front of a camera and, I came to discover, fun to work with. I figured that given those circumstances I’d have to work hard to screw things up. So, we met at Lake Anne in Reston one late afternoon several weeks ago and gave it a try.

I failed to get it entirely right in the camera for the most for lack of the correct lighting, which is more important than dealing with the model, which in this case was a breeze. Fortunately I’m better at post-processing than at portraiture (at moment) and managed to correct the lighting issues. I also discovered that I liked the processing more in black and white than in color although this might have been because of the lighting dealt us. I was more than a little anxious about how the images would be accepted but since they met my standard of publishable, I was happy with the work. And my anxieties aside, Renée was very pleased as were both our respective audiences.

The positive feedback heartened me and that encouraged me to spend some time studying lighting techniques. I concluded lighting was an art unto itself but for my purposes could probably be sufficiently mastered to engage in exploring this channel of photography further. I doubt it will ever supplant landscapes in my portfolio but if most of it is as uplifting as the first venture it will boost the happiness meters of everyone involved. I’ll be back in LA by the end of November and there is no shortage of lighting experts in that town. Should be easy to track down a mentor.

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Maybe next time it’ll be a model with a mountain backdrop.

Thanks Renée!

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South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe

The Pier at Sugar Pine Point

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Blue Ridge Sunset

No, I’m not back on the East Coast yet, though if I were I’d be in Lexington with David Toczko at the Rolex Three Day. It was a highlight of my year in 2012. This particular picture was a backdrop for another type of highlight in 2010, the sort that comes ones way just as they’re falling over the edge of a cliff. The good with the bad you know. It was taken in North Carolina. And like the song says, for a while falling can feel like flying.  It looks much more appealing to me today than it did in the days shortly after it was taken. Still….

I’m throwing it up because for the last couple of years I’ve been shooting craggy western peaks and the sunsets that seem to crash over them on their way to Australia and beyond. The eastern mountains that I grew up with have a more soothing effect. The peaks older and smoother and  covered with evergreens dotted with patches of deciduous trees here and there: Just enough to ensure a colorful display each autumn. The ridges interlock with one another creating corridors that zig and zag and invite you to explore further. They draw you in. This particular sunset was especially hypnotic and on the day it was taken was all but intoxicating. The results were so predictable – to everyone but me.

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I miss these vistas. They can be replicated to a degree by the mountains that surround the northern boundaries for the Los Angeles Basin, the Santa Monica hills to the northwest and the San Gabriels immediately to the north and east. Given just the right amount of haze they take on that blue aura so familiar too habitués of the eastern mid-Atlantic. But sage brush and juniper give the illusion away. They have their own appeal of course and I’d be the first to tell you that it is no less compelling an environment than the one with which I am most familiar. Just not the same.

When you stand on the Blue Ridge and look west you’re gazing at the long-held promise of America. Everything you see for as far as you can see constitutes the portfolio of freedom that has stood at the core of our existence since before we were a nation. What you see is the tangible vision that fueled our drive to explore and discover and claim and capture and hold dear. It was not always a clear vision. Not at all. Our saving grace has been that it prevailed.

When I stand on the mountaintops here in California and look west I see the periphery of the largest ocean on earth. For decades it provided a boundary that protected our endeavors and a sea upon which we could pursue more diversified interests than were available to us otherwise. But to my mind it never ever drove us to achieve the way that Blue Ridge promise did. The ocean has always been something we could take or leave – at least so far as our national identity is concerned. In fact that is not true; in feeling it is spot on.

I wound up where I am now for many of the same reasons that our ancestors did. I am working on gaining a greater understanding of the tagline Mr. Thurber provided for this blog. I’m grateful for the trails my predecessors blazed. They certainly made it easier for me to get here. But it’s left to me to figure out why. And to take in any sunset anywhere for what it’s really worth: the promise, though not the guarantee, of a new day to come.

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