My last photograph of 2009: The Burning Bush

The Burning Bush, Mecca Hills Wilderness

The Burning Bush

I spent the last day of 2009 and the first few days of 2010 exploring and hiking the desert region around the Salton Sea with my wife, Shauna, and our always present companion ‘Mojave‘. I dedicated this trip to Shauna’s enjoyment (she doesn’t get out nearly enough with me), so I decided that this would be a “tourist” trip for me and one where I would focus on Shauna instead of making photographs (she appreciates these gestures :)). As a result, I did not practice much photography (digital only) but we had a great time exploring and being in awe of our beautiful desert.

The last day of 2009 found us running out of light in the Mecca Hills Wilderness, so we decided to camp for the night in one of the canyons. Like everyone else, we enjoyed the Blue Moon that rose as the decade was ending, and it felt like a joyful and fitting end to 2009 and a wonderful ushering in of 2010.

Sometime around 10:30 pm, as we enjoyed the warmth of our campfire, the glow of full moonlight on the desert landscape and the glow of our campfire on this desert shrub led me to my camera (D-SLR). Compared to working with a view camera (especially in the dark!), a D-SLR is incredibly easy to use and verify/correct exposure, and the image is complete as fast as it is conceived. I’ll be sharing a few more images from this trip over the next few posts.

I hope your 2010 is off to a beautiful start! Happy New Year!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Product Review: BetterScanning.com Variable Height Mounting Station

BetterScanning.com Variable Height Mounting Station

BetterScanning.com makes custom film holders for Agfa, Canon, Epson,and Microtek scanners. Specifically, film is mounted to the ANR glass (Anti- Newton Ring) of the Variable Height Mounting Station wet OR dry, and the position of the film/holder is perfectly fine-tuned to each individual scanner for optimized and highest quality scans. For comparison, my film is “snapped” into the stock Epson film holder supplied with my Epson V700, and the holder and scan quality are both marginal at best when compared to the BetterScanning product:

    * the Epson holder plastic flexes (allowing for less-than-perfectly-flat film while in the holder);
    * while in the Epson holder, the film is supported only at the edges, permitting the possibility of ‘gravity sag’;
    * the stock Epson V700 4×5″ film holder is simply NOT TUNED to the scanner’s sharpest focus.
    * the stock Epson 4×5″ film holder CROPS all four sides of your negs/chromes (including image area!), as the film edges are covered by the “frame” of the Epson holder. If you’re like me and compose your images “to the edges” in-camera, then you don’t want a film holder to trim your image area! Let me make this cropping choice, Epson!

Please note that this is not an exhaustive review, and I’m not going to provide any scientific or numerical data beyond the visual: the scans speak for themselves. I have been using the Epson V700 and BetterScanning Variable Height Mounting Station for almost a year, and I’m consistently amazed at the quality gap between these holders. See for yourself…

I posted the photograph (just above, at left) on this blog on December 22. You’re seeing the full image here, with the crops below taken from various parts it. Please note that the cropped samples below are raw scans with basic Levels adjustment (Photoshop) and NO sharpening. The film was dry-mounted to the Variable Height Mounting Station, and the scans were made with identical settings and resolution.

50% resolution crop

LEFT: Here’s a 50% resolution crop taken from the lower left corner. I don’t think I need to say much. Striking, huh?

25% resolution crop

RIGHT: Here’s a 25% resolution crop taken from the lower right corner. Interestingly, even at higher magnification, the difference in quality is fairly slight here, which leads me to believe that my Epson holder may in fact be warped or may hold the film far from perfectly flat.

25% resolution crop

25% resolution crop


LEFT: Here’s a 25% resolution crop taken from near the center of the image. Once again, I don’t think I need to say much.


RIGHT: And finally, here’s one also from near the center, this time at 100% resolution. Again, I say STRIKING!

To my way of thinking, the Epson film holder issue is a typical Epson problem. They make great printers and inks, but Epson papers are under-developed and behind the pack; they make a great black and white printing RIP (Advanced Black & White AKA “ABW”) but it’s not been fully developed (after this many years in production, you’d think you could save and recall ABW settings by now); they make great flatbed scanners (especially for the price), but the film holders are not well conceived and not well-tuned to the scanners for which they’re fit. It’s easy enough to use third-party papers and another RIP, but until the BetterScanning Variable Height Mounting Station came along, one had to live with imperfect Epson film holders and marginal scans or outsource drum scans.

Epson flatbed scanners have always made very capable enlargements up to 11×14″ or maybe even 16×20″, but beyond that, the scan resolution appeared to fall apart. With the BetterScanning Variable Height Mounting Station, even bigger enlargements are possible. I’ll refrain from stating the maximum possible enlagement, since we all have very different ideas of “acceptable” detail and sharpness (“A variable height holder will not turn your scanner into an expensive dedicated film scanner but it will help you obtain all of the potential resolution your particular scanner offers”). However, I’ll still argue that for the most critical output at the largest sizes, nothing will outperform a quality drum scan.

The Variable Height Mounting Station is available for the following Epson flatbed scanners: 1680; 2450; 3170; 3200; 4180; 4490; 4870; 4990; V500; V700; V750. The wet-mount-only holder is only $85, while the wet/dry holder is $120. If you are serious about your scanning, this is a nominal investment to make for a major scanning upgrade. Please note that I do not have any affiliation or business interests with the BetterScanning.com company, nor was I given a free Variable Height Mounting Station or paid for my review – I’m simply an enthusiastic user. How could I not be?

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Happy Holidays!

photo, picture: Yosemite Chapel, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, snowstorm, Christmas, snow,

Yosemite Chapel, Yosemite Valley

I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Holidays with best wishes for prosperity and good health in the coming year. May your 2010 be joyful!

Download a large desktop version of this photograph by clicking the thumbnail at left. Simply right-click (Mac: ctrl-click) and select ‘Set as Desktop Background’ to save it to your desktop. Enjoy!

On December 7, 2009, I placed myself in Yosemite Valley for the arrival of California’s first winter storm of the season (see my previous post for more). And boy was it a good one! I awoke at my campsite in Upper Pines to two inches of snow, and by the time my coffee was ready (home roasted! mmm…), it began snowing again in earnest and would not let up until after 4pm.

The Valley received at least a foot of snow from this storm, and it was magical. I was alone, the roads were deserted, and all was quiet in that beautiful world. Around midday I found the Yosemite Chapel in these beautiful conditions and couldn’t resist pointing my camera at it. You can see the snow streaking across the frame if you look at the Chapel facade.

If you ever get the chance to experience a snowfall in the Valley, do it. It feels like one of those once-in-alifetime experiences.

I sincerely Thank You for your continued support of and interest in my work!

Michael

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Lucky – one month later…

Lucky3

Lucky the Cat, pre-injury

About three weeks ago I wrote a post about our cat, Lucky, who had been shot at close range and sustained a severe fracture of the front left humerus. It’s now been about one month since the incident, and Lucky had yet another follow-up appointment and more radiographs today. I’m happy to report that Lucky is doing excellent and healing as planned, so he won’t have to visit the vet again for another month. He still has another month of low-activity confinement, but we hope that for his sake the time will pass quickly. He is growing bored 🙂

THANKS to everyone for their compassion and support!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Black and White or Color?

There are now three realms of photography: black and white; color; and “this isn’t working in color; let’s try converting it to black and white”. I say this rather tongue-in-cheek, but it’s become a more prevalent tactic with today’s photographers (especially if one is attuned to some of the online photographer’s forums).

This isn’t something that occurred very often back in the “days of film”, because film costs money and developing it costs even more money and time. With some exceptions (Polaroids were useful for this purpose), the film photographer decided then and there whether they were using color or black and white. Today’s digital tools and software have made it exceptionally easy now to “experiment” by using the built-in and remarkably excellent conversion tools. But has this made us better or just lazier photographers?

Let me first get this off my chest: if your photograph is not very strong when viewed in all its colorful RGB glory, then converting it to black and white will do nothing to improve it. A mediocre color photograph converted to black and white only becomes a mediocre black and white photograph. I’ve said this many times to fellow photographers, friends, and students: strong black and white photography arises from forethought, rarely from afterthought. When Ansel talked about visualization, he was talking about a process that took place before the shutter was fired, not after. In other words, a strong black and white photograph is conceived in the mind (or mind’s eye, as some would have it) while in the field, not during post-processing. What I especially object to is the notion that black and white is ideal when the light sucks or when the image isn’t working in color. These are two lousy notions.

ColorBW

Color or Black and White?

As a photographer who practices both color and black and white photography, what approach do I take? When I’m in the field, I look for and see either in color or in black and white, but rarely can I do both successfully at the same time. Depending upon where I am – let’s say in this colorful southwest Utah setting seen in the photograph at left – I’ve determined that the color of this location is what is drawing my attention, so I begin seeing only in color. And therein lies my Photographic Rule #1,456: if the COLOR of something draws me in, then photographing/printing in color is the obvious choice. If the LIGHT, TONE, or CONTRAST of something draws me in, then black and white is my more obvious choice. The color might do nothing other than add distraction.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website

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Lucky

Lucky

Lucky (AKA SpiderMan), wearing a mask of spiderwebs

Last Tuesday afternoon (October 13, 2009), our dear cat Lucky was shot at close range with a high impact pellet gun. I believe that this incident occurred less than 200 feet from my own home, as I watched Lucky running back toward our home with a terrified look on his face (dragging one useless leg) while I stood on my porch. When I was finally able to corner him and pick him up (he hid in a deep, dark recess of my workshop), Lucky’s front left leg swung flaccidly from his body. I knew something was terribly wrong. Lucky was rushed to emergency, where it was discovered that he had a badly shattered front left humerus. The
Lucky's fractured humerus and pellet circled in red

Lucky's shattered humerus and pellet circled in red

emergency room veterinarian believed that Lucky was hit by a car (which I doubted due to lack of sufficient evidence), while the surgeon confirmed that the pellet visible on the radiograph was indeed the cause of the fracture. Lucky had surgery the following morning, during which he was implanted with a pin, a plate, nine screws, and ten staples to
Post surgery, with hardware

Post surgery, with hardware

package it all up. The second radiograph at left shows Lucky’s front left leg with its new accouterments. It’s not easily visible on these small resolution jpegs, but the repair was not perfect, and there are still bits of bone fragments floating around in there due to the explosive nature of the pellet’s impact. We’re told that this should all consolidate during the healing process. Good thing that Lucky is still young.

Lucky had his one week checkup yesterday, and the surgeon is very pleased with how things

Four shaved legs (for IV's), a quarter-shaved body, and ten staples

Four shaved legs (for IV's), a quarter-shaved body, and ten staples

are coming along, although Lucky must still endure another seven weeks of solitary confinement with severely restricted movement. As you might imagine, Lucky’s surgery and follow-up have cost us a few thousand dollars (so far). My preemptive reply to those who will undoubtedly question WHY we would spend this kind of money on “just a cat”: what dollar value do you place on life?

Shauna and I have eight cats and one loving pit bull (Mojave). All have been rescued from the mean streets and certain death. As anyone can likely imagine, our annual animal care costs are in the thousands, and a trauma like this pushes the budget way over the edge. Sometimes I think we’re crazy for taking in nine animals, but I accept the St. Francis-like events that have followed me through my entire life (rescuing innumerable domestic animals and wildlife along the way). And then I remind myself that someone has to be there (thankfully there are many of us) to speak and care for those who have been treated with negligence and irreverence by a more highly evolved(?) species.

Shauna and I have filed a report with the police and have queried much of the neighborhood to no avail. Justice will likely never be served, but thank goodness for Karma.

The most interesting aspect of this whole event has been the overwhelming compassion and generosity displayed by friends AND strangers alike. Unbeknownst to me, my good friend Guy wrote about Lucky on his blog and requested donations to help with Lucky’s care. The response has been surprising, amazing, and international in scope, and I am truly humbled by the outpouring of compassion. Shauna, Lucky, and I sincerely THANK everyone for their concern and contributions. Just when I’m about ready to give up hope for my species, this outpouring of love and compassion reminds me that people are indeed beautiful. May our beauty rid the world of the evil scourge that causes intentional harm to humans and animal alike.

I’ll continue to post updates about Lucky as they become available.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website

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The New Sierra Nevada License Plate

the NEW Sierra Nevada license plate

the NEW Sierra Nevada license plate

I’d like to let California drivers know that a new and wonderful license plate may soon be available. May be? In order to meet the legislated requirements to issue a new special interest license plate, the Sierra Nevada License Plate campaign needs 7,500 paid pledges within one year. The sales of Sierra Nevada License Plates will benefit the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Program which provides funding for conservation, habitat restoration, recreation, and other environmental projects in the Sierra Nevada (the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Program is a campaign of the Sierra Nevada Alliance). You’ve undoubtedly seen other similar California Special Interest plates such as the Yosemite Foundation and Lake Tahoe Conservancy plates; this new plate has even greater reach as it will fund environmental projects throughout the Sierra, not just in Yosemite or Lake Tahoe.

“This is an opportunity for Californians to show their support for the Sierra Nevada, and at the same time help us fund meaningful projects to ensure that the Sierra continues to be a place where we all love to go to enjoy its beauty, clean air and water, and unique communities,” said California Secretary of Natural Resources, Mike Chrisman. “Everyone loves the Sierra for their own reasons, and now we have a way of showing our support. I urge every Californian to consider making a pledge payment in support of the Sierra Nevada region.”

“This license plate campaign will fund actual projects, not operating expenses,” said Jim Branham, Executive Officer of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. “Proceeds will directly fund the Conservancy’s efforts to protect and restore the majestic landscapes in the Sierra, which includes its rivers and streams, lakes, meadows and forests, farms and ranches, and rural towns and communities.”

How can you make a paid pledge for the new Sierra Nevada plate? It’s easy! – click here.

Thanks for making a difference in the Range of Light, the Sierra Nevada.

UPDATED: 14 May 2010: Unfortunately, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy License Plate effort has been suspended due to poor advance plate sales. More information here.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Photo, picture: Mojave Yucca

MojaveYucca (Yucca schidigera)

Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)

The Mojave Yucca is one of the most ubiquitous plants in the Mojave Desert. Looking at this photograph, you might think that these thread-like filaments would make great thread, rope, and sandals. Native Americans also thought so, and that’s exactly what they did with this plant.

Is this an “abstract” photograph? A lot of photographers use this term loosely enough that they end up designating many straight photographs as “abstract”. I define as abstract only those photographs which challenge me to the point that I cannot identify the object(s) photographed. When subjects are not completely representational but easy to identify (like my photograph of this Mojave Yucca), I term them “extracts” (I “extracted” only this portion of the Yucca from the more representational full view of the plant).

What do you call it?

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Abusing Camera Gear in the Field

Photographer Guy Tal photographs The Maze

Photographer Guy Tal photographs The Maze

Outdoor photographers often subject their gear to poor environmental conditions: rain, wind, sleet, snow, blowing sand, and blowdowns. Blowdowns? My camera(s) have been blown over by strong gusts of wind more times than I care to remember. But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve yet to have anything break (beyond use) in the process, and all my gear has continued to work just fine despite its injuries.

About one year ago, while at California’s Amboy Crater, one of my lensboards was not securely fastened to the front standard of my 4×5″ view camera (my hasty mistake), and thus my Schneider Apo-Symmar-L 120mm lens went crashing onto the basalt surrounding the crater. No glass was shattered, but the front element of the lens was pitted in two locations. No worries; I mounted the lens back onto the camera, and proceeded to make this photograph. Don’t let anyone tell you that a scratched and/or pitted front element signals the end of a lens, because it doesn’t.

Moments after making the above photograph of good friend, writer, and photographer Guy Tal, we were in the eye of a thunderstorm downburst. From out of nowhere, winds kicked ferociously through our camp, sending our personal effects in all different directions. Despite having roughly fifty pounds of ballast hanging from my tripod (large rocks stuffed in my backpack), my rig was no match for the swirling winds. Guy and I watched as my Chamonix 045-N view camera, mounted with my already abused Schneider Apo-Symmar-L 120 mm lens, went smashing violently into the ground. A testament to both the camera and lens quality, both survived almost entirely unscathed. No broken ground glass, no additional pits on the front element. One of the rear standard’s rails was slightly bent, but it was perfectly usable afterwards. We then spent the next ten minutes chasing down equipment and effects that had blown in all compass directions away from our camp.

As an outdoor photographer, I don’t believe in babying my gear. They’re just tools to help me create my art, and if the tools get damaged in the process of having great experiences and making great photographs, then I’m all for it! Besides, I’d have no stories to tell around the campfire. 🙂

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Juried Photo Competitions & Exhibitions

Joshua Trees - Mojave Desert, California

Joshua Trees - Mojave Desert, California

Make no mistake about it: most photographic competitions and exhibits exist to grow the business and bank account of the host/sponsor(s). With some exceptions, they rarely exist as altruistic enterprises for the advancement of photographer’s careers. You shouldn’t let this stop you from entering them, but you should carefully select only the competitions and exhibitions which might advance your career or current project. Small cash and gear prizes are nice, but competitions and exhibitions that increase your brand exposure and put your work in front of important persons (museum curators; book publishers; gallery owners…) and potential buyers should receive more of your attention.

Given the weak economy and slowing of art sales, I’ve seen an unusual explosion of new photo competitions and exhibitions over the last year or so; some worth entering, some only worth it to those collecting the fees. With so many artists clamoring and competing for exposure, resume growth, and sales, it’s a good time to be on the receiving end of those entry fees. Most of the exhibitions/competitions I enter have seen a similarly recent explosion in the number of entries as well as countries represented.

Let’s do some very basic math: assuming an entry fee of $25 for two images (which is somewhat average although on the low end of the fee scale) with 500 entrants (also on the low end of the scale for a prestigious competition), this equals a $12,500 take for the host, minus the small amount they’ll spend on administering the competition, advertising, and hosting an opening night reception. It’s a virtual no-brainer: if you’re a gallery that is not selling much art, selling exhibition space to eager entrants makes sense in difficult times.

As there are very few fee-less competitions (and those generally come with glaring caveats; see Rights Grabbing? below), I encourage photographers to carefully investigate juried exhibitions/competitions before submitting fees and shipping work.

I enter more than a handful each year; what is my criteria for entry?

    Prestige: how well known is the competition? Is the work of consistently high caliber? Is it a respected competition?;
    Longevity: has the competition been in existence for a while or is brand new? Brand new competitions are less likely to be helpful to your resume and career;
    Jurors: a well respected juror likely indicates a higher caliber competition, and being successfully juried by a well-respected juror can do wonders for your career and ego (not to mention a nice addition to your resume);
    Exposure: is the exhibition held in a respected space? Will your work be seen by many or few? Will the work be seen by buyers or by lookie-loo’s who enjoy the free wine and cheese? Is the exhibition held in Los Angeles or New York, or is it being held in Bismarck or Topeka? (no offense intended to the latter cities, but exhibition location matters);
    Fees: are the entry fees reasonable? Are the entry fees consistent with the caliber of the exhibition? Do the entry fees cover only ONE entry or multiple entries?;
    Rights Grabbing?: you’d be amazed at just how ballsy the Terms & Conditions can be for some competitions:

      By entering the Contest, each contestant grants to Sponsor an exclusive, royalty-free and irrevocable right and license to publish, print, edit or otherwise use the contestant’s submitted entry, in whole or in part, for any purpose and in any manner or media (including, without limitation, the Internet) throughout the world in perpetuity, and to license others to do so, all without limitation or further compensation.

    Please read the Terms & Conditions carefully, and if the sponsor/host plans to use your image forever without paying you, you may want to reconsider that competition. Photographer attorney Carolyn E. Wright has been covering this issue on her blog; you may want to start following it.

Here are a few of the competitions that I enter each year:

    B&W Magazine: hosts both a Single Image Contest and a Portfolio Contest. The Single Image Contest deadline is May 18, 2009;

    Art of Photography Show, San Diego: deadline May 22, 2009;

    International Photography Awards: deadline May 28, 2009;

    Black & White Spider Awards: deadline May 31, 2009;

    Prix de la Photographie, Paris (Px3): stay tuned for the 2010 competition (2009 Winners soon to be announced);

    The Center for Fine Art Photography: hosts a number of juried exhibitions each year.

If I am considering entering a competition that I have not previously, I research the juror (their background; their taste in photographs; and the type of photographs that they have previously awarded) and view winning entries from past years. If I am nature photographer working in exclusively in color, there is little chance that I’ll be accepted into a competition that typically awards b/w photography with an emphasis on social commentary. Save your money and time, and find the competitions and jurors that are a better fit for your work.

I hope that this brief article has been helpful to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if I’ve left out anything (which I probably have), please let me hear it!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.