2016 Honorable Mentions

After years of gawking and admiring from the shadows, I’ve decided to finally participate in the annual Jim Goldstein “Best of…” photo project. This is a really cool opportunity for photographers to showcase their work while networking, discovering, and drawing inspiration from that of others. It’s a pretty simple concept. Each year, photographers submit what they feel are their best 5-10 images from the preceding 12 months. Mr. Goldstein then compiles a list of all of the photographers who have submitted, and posts links to their galleries or blogs. Photo lovers can then spend hours or even days clicking through the many excellent showcases; marveling at all of the beautiful captures.
As I’ve tried this past week to select what I feel are my years best images, I’ve realized that this in itself is no easy feat. I’ve been pretty fortunate this year in getting to travel to some amazing places and I’ve taken in some truly wondrous sights. It’s difficult to narrow the thousands of resultant photos down to so few, especially with the emotion of experience involved. I think I’ve finally settled on my selection, and I’ll be sharing that post on New Years Eve. However, it has been awhile since I’ve released any new work (online, anyway…) or written on this blog, so as a little primer here is a collection of 2016 images that were in heavy consideration, but finished just outside of my top ten.

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Little Corona del Mar, Newport Beach, California

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Rock Creek, Cedar County, Iowa

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Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

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Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

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Lanesboro, Minnesota

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Glacier National Park, Montana

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Banff National Park, Alberta

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Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

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Swift River, New Hampshire

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Acadia National Park, Maine

Earth Day 2016

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I shared this “dandelion”* photo on Facebook a few years back as part of an impromptu Earth Day post. Soon after, a friend questioned its appropriateness.

“Really?!!! A dandelion on Earth Day? Think about all the chemicals people pump onto their lawns trying to get rid of these things…”

This reaction caught me off guard. I’d chosen the image because I felt it portrayed a certain beauty and fragility emblematic of our natural world; and under the working title “Make a Wish…” I thought of it as a symbol of hope for a more sustainable future. I honestly hadn’t considered the extensive environmental damage caused by efforts to control what so many people consider a noxious weed. In my friends defense he wasn’t advocating these practices, but instead reminding me of this attitude and what results. And he had a point. Each year the mere sight of dandelions contributes to millions of gallons of herbicide being unleashed on the environment.

I’ve thought of this often in the years since, and have come to the conclusion that this actually IS a really good Earth Day image. Not just for the reasons I stated above, but for what my friend alluded to as well. Dandelions are actually extremely beneficial plants. They are edible and contain high nutritional value, and also contribute to soil health through nitrogen fixation. Yet most people fail to see this. Instead, they’ve been told that these are wretched weeds- something that cannot be allowed in a responsible homeowners lawn. Thus we must take any and all measures to eradicate them.

Why?

Because somebody said so? As children most of us loved dandelions. They emerged on those warm spring days when after a long winter we could finally run outside to play without need for jacket, hat and gloves. We smeared the yellow flowers on our faces, blew the seeds and watched with innocent wonder as they drifted off on the wind. But as we grew old, our attitudes were expected to change. Nature became something to be marginalized and controlled. Flowers were for window boxes and designated gardens, but shouldn’t dare emerge in our well-manicured lawns. Reasoning and truth and childhood sentiment didn’t matter. That’s just the way it was.

So much of what we do, so many social norms, come as a result of following blindly. An appliance quits working we send it to the landfill. That’s just the way things work. The same fate comes for clothes we no longer wear or toys our kids no longer play with. It’s just the way things are handled. We need a gallon of milk we drive two blocks to the grocery store, that’s just how things are done. Our work places are left to sit vacant overnight but still suck power for security lights, printers, microwaves and coffee makers on the ready. That’s just the way it goes. We get thirsty we buy a bottle of water. That’s just the way it is.

The way it is has got to change. Acknowledge it or not the way it is, the way we are living, has got us into a heap of trouble and it’s going to take a drastic and immediate shift in attitude to get ourselves out. It’s not about saving the Earth. The Earth will be just fine. This is a matter of respect and appreciating the opportunity we have to live here; and giving our children and grandchildren so much as a fighting chance to do the same.

This Earth Day, please take a moment and think about the world you wish to leave for future generations, reflect on your own daily choices and make the necessary changes to bring about a better end.

 

Iowa-based writer Catherine Haustein recently wrote an excellent piece celebrating the value of dandelions, and used this photo on her blog. Check that out here.

*I try to make it a point to acknowledge that this photo is not of a true dandelion. It’s actually a plant called goats beard, which looks almost identical only a bit larger. Sometimes the impression a photo gives and the emotion it stirs is all that really matters, so I call this one “Make a Wish…” and leave it at that.

Maroon Bells

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This sun-soaked mountain scene comes from the Maroon Bells Wilderness of White River National Forest, just south of Aspen, Colorado. The Maroon Bells (the peaks on the right) are said to be the most photographed location in Colorado, and by some accounts possibly even all of North America. The vast majority of these photos depict sunrise reflections of the mountains on Maroon Lake; a gorgeous sight and what I had come to witness myself. (See photo below.) However, with the need to get to the lakeshore around 3 a.m. to stake out real estate (literally hundreds of photographers line the shore each morning during peak season) I arrived the afternoon before and spent some time scouting. It’s always kind of nice to visit well known “trophy shot” type locations like this in less than ideal light, because it forces you to look around, work different angles and take your own approach instead of shooting the obvious standard vantage that has been done thousands of times over. I did enjoy the more traditional Maroon Bells shoot the following morning and was pleased with the results, but was also happy to walk away with a handful of photos like this one which I felt were a little more my own.

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As mentioned in previous posts, this week I’m conducting a little experiment. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!

 

And here is the more famous view of the Maroon Bells…

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Bryce Canyon National Park

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Today’s shot comes from Bryce Canyon in beautiful Southwest Utah. I shot this one in early 2013 and really like the repeating pattern in the photo of fins and hoodoos, contrasting with the shadows of the canyon and glowing orange in the late afternoon sun. As I’ve mentioned before, Bryce Canyon is said to be as spectacular at sunrise as it is sunset. I’ve yet to visit here in the early morning, but I definitely want to. It also offers some really unique hiking, another venture I long to experience but in my limited visits have only had time to barely scratch the surface.

In short, I desperately want to get back to Bryce Canyon, and I hope on my next visit I can give it the time it deserves. It’s crazy how the more I travel not only does the list of new places I want to see grow, but the list of those I want to return to does as well!

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As mentioned in previous posts, this week I’m conducting a little experiment. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!

Mono Lake

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March 28-

I’ve long been fascinated by other worldly images captured on the shores of Mono Lake near Lee Vining, California. With vistas across the ancient lake basin to distant mountains and the odd mineral deposits known as tufas jutting from the water and lining the lakeshore, photographic opportunities abound. I finally got the chance to visit in the fall of 2014 while participating in Gary Hart’s Eastern Sierra Workshop, and as you can see on the evening this was shot we were blessed with placid waters and pastel colors at dusk. It was a very enjoyable shoot, one of my favorite evenings of the entire workshop (and though it hasn’t performed so great sales-wise, this is personally one of my favorite photos from that trip as well.) I look forward to one day revisiting Mono Lake as I believe it’s the kind of place that can drastically change in appearance based on conditions; and I would love to get a shot contrasting this one with a storm rolling off the nearby Sierra.

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As mentioned in yesterdays blog post, I’m doing a bit of an experiment this week. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!

Below the Fold

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March 27-

Getting back to my Photo of the Day posts with this shot from Orange County, California. I’ve shared a few versions of this before, but it continues to mesmerize me as I work through minor adjustments on this and other images, trying to decide on some new releases for the upcoming season. This one is especially poignant in that regard as I feel it’s very reflective of time. There’s just a certain mystique about it; a mix of something tangible yet really unknown. Kind of like standing in the present and trying to make sense of what’s in the future or what has passed; drifting through tangents of consciousness at the peril of missing out on the beauty of the moment. Such is time and such is life, and if you’re not careful either can get away from you.

On a lighter note, you might be wondering about the title of this post- “Below the Fold.” This is in reference to an old newspaper term, and the practice of putting the most eye-catching images or headlines on the top half of the front page, or above the fold, where it would be visible on the newsstand and enticing to potential readers. In this case, however, I’m curious how many of you actually look beyond.

The reason I’m wondering is lately I’ve been kind of reevaluating my online efforts and looking a little closer at the analytics that accompany this blog and my social media accounts. With this page in particular I’ve noticed some discrepancies that I’m trying to figure out- namely the fact that somehow my posts seem to receive more “likes” than “views.” For those of you not familiar with WordPress analytics, bloggers have access to limited information which provides a glimpse of how people are engaging with their sites. This includes various stats, but it’s primarily centered on how many times people have viewed blog posts and how many have expressed enjoyment by clicking a little star icon to indicate that they like what they see. (Much like the little thumbs up on Facebook, a heart on Instagram, etc.)

So how is it possible that people are liking my posts without viewing them? It’s not exactly a chicken or the egg scenario. I mean a person has to first view a blog post before they can decide they like it. Or do they?

I kind of have two theories as to what is going on here. A) The WordPress analytics are inaccurate or B) Other bloggers just go through and randomly “like” posts without actually viewing them.

As for the latter, WordPress has this thing called the Reader to help you find new content or follow the work of other bloggers. Basically it will show you the title of a post, a lead photo if there is one, and the first couple of lines a blogger has written. For whatever reason there is a “like” button attached to this preview. I’m not well versed in all of the functions of WordPress, but I’m assuming that a blog post only gets credit for a view if a person clicks on it to read beyond the preview, whereas it can get likes right on the spot.

So what does it matter? Nothing really, but it is a little bit frustrating to spend time on a blog post and realize that very few people are actually reading it. Beyond that, it seems kind of insincere to me that other bloggers would take this fly-by approach and I can’t help but wonder why. The only explanation I can think of is they’re “liking” the previews in hope of others turning around and actually looking at their own sites. Views and visits are important in this online world, arbitrary as it seems, especially if the occasion should ever present itself (jobs, sponsorships or freelance opportunities) where you need to demonstrate your digital relevance. There have been times when I’ve put out a 1,000 word blog post and within seconds of it going live I already have 12 likes, much faster than a person could have possibly read it. Even if those on the other end mean well, it’s always demoralizing to pour yourself into something and have someone brush over it and say “yeah, sure, that’s great…” without giving it a second thought.

So this is all my roundabout way of asking for your help. Like I said, I’m wondering how many people view my blog to read these posts in their entirety (aka below the fold) and how that compares to how many “likes” I get. If you’ve made it this far, please leave a comment below and let me know that you have. You don’t have to say much if you don’t want to… just write “Yes” or “Read it” or something to that effect. And if you have thoughts, insights or similar experiences you’d like to share, please feel free to mention those here as well.

It’s just a little experiment I’m conducting, and I’ll discuss what I learn in a post to come soon.

Lake Louise Bouquet

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March 24-

It seems this wild bouquet might be a good share on an otherwise nasty day here in Eastern Iowa. It’s especially frigid where I sit; as I listen not only to the driving rain against winter plastic still covering the windows of our old farmhouse, but also to clanging in the basement as the furnace repairman tries to get us heat again. It could be much worse- better the furnace go out during a 35 degree March cold snap than one in January when it’s 35 below! Still, if I thought I could type while wearing gloves I’d have them on right now…

This photo was taken in August 2011 while my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Canada’s Banff National Park. Truly one of the most beautiful places in the world, and a spot we hope to return to soon. I mentioned in a previous post that I have a number of files that were shot long ago that are in need of revisiting, as they’ve never been properly processed. Those from this trip, which included stops at four of Canada’s National Parks, are among them. At the time I was just beginning to learn the ins and outs of digital photography, and while I didn’t yet have editing capabilities (i.e. computer and software) I knew that I’d eventually go in that direction. Therefore, I shot in a mode called JPEG + RAW which saves two file versions of every photo.

When the camera saves a JPEG file it basically makes the editing decisions for you, providing a fairly polished, fairly final product. When you shoot in RAW the camera basically saves a whole bunch of conditional information, leaving it up to you to edit and process to your liking. This gives the photographer far more control over their final image.

There’s a little bit of a stigma people have toward “computer enhanced” images. In reality, all digital photography is computer enhanced to a degree, it’s just a matter of if it’s done by the photographer or by the processor inside a camera. People hear of photographers editing or processing and jump to the conclusion that this somehow means we are manipulating our images. The term “Photoshop,” while itself a popular editing software has become synonymous with acts like patching a giant purple moon above a rainbow spanning a backlit waterfall. (Unicorns and stardust optional.) While it is true that modern technology makes such creations possible, it falls on the photographer and his or her own sense of ethics and integrity to decide where to draw the line.

Personally, I believe in presenting photos that are as close to how the scene really looked as possible. I believe there is abundant beauty and enchantment in the natural world as it is without alteration. In a photo such as this one (which has been processed from its original RAW file) I made adjustments to brighten and add some contrast to the overall scene. I also made the decision at the time it was shot to use a slightly longer exposure to allow motion blur in the stream. Without these choices, the image would appear flat, lifeless and dull, which is in no way representative of how things appeared in real life.

Just something to think about next time you hear a photographer speak of editing, and something I’ve been wanting to clarify in case anyone has questioned times I’ve mentioned it myself. All digital photography, from that shot on top end DSLR’s to what you shoot on a cell phone is computer enhanced. It’s all a function of processing, just as it was in the days of film. The burden falls on the photographer to decide on the level of honesty in their work.