The Ten Commandments (for Outdoor Photographers)

I am part of two communities who exhibit behaviors on public lands that I am often angered by and find myself at odds with: climbers and outdoor photographers. I suspect that many have never experienced trailhead or public lands closures caused by improper/unethical/illegal use – I have.

Many climbers trample vegetation at the base of crags and boulders; they leave athletic tape, food wrappers, and the tape from rope ends wherever they fall. The rock and the climb take first priority; concern for vegetation, trampling, wildlife (including ants and all sorts of small vertebrates and invertebrates that we can’t even see), and wildlife habitat is secondary (or doesn’t matter). Sadly, this sort of behavior has now become commonplace in the outdoor photography community. In this Instagram-era, a staggering number of landscapes have now been subject to the onslaught of careless humans and an uncountable number of popular photography locations have been drastically altered by the photographers that use them. It’s wrong, disappointing, and has to end before photographers find themselves locked out of locations that they’ve commonly been able to enjoy. If you think this can’t happen, just have a chat with a member of the MTB (mountain biking) or OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) communities for their angle.

A little more than a week ago I guided my sister, nephew, and brother-in-law through an Eastern Sierra camping/roadtrip. One of our first stops/camps was Alabama Hills below Mt. Whitney and the High Sierra crest. You Western film buffs and photographers know this place well. What you probably don’t know is that the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group has vastly improved the condition and quality of experience for visitors and photographers over the last dozen years by removing graffiti and rubbish; breaking down numerous fire rings; obliterating excess and illegal roads; and planting native vegetation to rehabilitate the abused. I’ve watched the Hills become cleaner and even more beautiful over the last twelve years. During this period digital photography has exploded – especially night sky and astrophotography – and ironically, I’ve watched its photographic ‘hot spots’ deteriorate at the very same time.

AHI took my sister and family to a lesser known arch in the Hills (but still popular with night photographers) and was dismayed by what we walked into: it looked obliterated by grazing cattle (there are no grazing cattle here). Although from different angles, perspectives, and focal lengths, a comparison of the two images will reveal missing, damaged, or dead plants. And I am dumbfounded by this. The other side of this arch does not look like this; it’s not the preferred angle for photographers. This is not from drought, fire, or cattle, and this is not a dense landscape – the shrubs could have been very easily avoided or worked around. Instead, the land before this arch has now become a micro-wasteland.

My sub-teenage nephew learned a few of the following commandments while we were in the field and I’m urging every photographer and non-photographer who uses public lands to please adopt and share these with other photographers, climbers, fishermen/fisherladies, etc. Humans are trashing virtually everything; lest we lose our access, please be the high-road user group that sets the examples others will desire to follow.

The Outdoor Photographers Ten Commandments

1. I don’t own this planet or this particular landscape. I’m a visitor here and my needs and wants are secondary to its primary inhabitants. I’m thankful that I get to share this space with them.

2. I will step around or over EVERY plant I encounter, no matter whether dead or alive.

3. If a plant, boulder, or other natural object is in my composition – no matter what – I will recompose instead of altering or damaging the landscape.

4. I will avoid herd mentality and behavior. I will do my very best to not travel in photographic packs, but when I do, I will be very mindful of my steps and actions as well as those of my fellow photographers.

5. I will not covet the photographs or locations of other photographers. I understand that popularity has led to the ecological decline of many ‘hot spots’ and that great photographs can be found just about anywhere.

6. If I specialize in night photography, I will make sure that I have adequate daylight preparation or proper nighttime illumination so as not trample or destroy ANY vegetation anywhere around me.

7. I will never take anything, leave anything, or alter anything in the pursuit of my photographs.

8. If I can’t make the image I desire without breaching these commandments, I will walk away empty handed.

9. I will educate my fellow photographers and students (if you teach/lead workshops) about the critical importance of field ethics.

10. In the existential scheme of things, me and my photographs don’t really matter. It’s never worth abusing plants or a landscape to make an insignificant photograph.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

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THANKS to My Recent Photography Workshop Participants!

I’d like to offer a big THANK YOU to my March Death Valley Photo Workshop participants: (L-R) Rina, Stacey, Bonnie, Clark, and Lupin, and yours truly. I had a wonderful time with all of you and hope that you had an incredible and unforgettable experience.

I’d also like to offer a big THANK YOU to my April Alabama Hills Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop participants: (L-R) Yours truly, Dave, Rodney, Savahna, Ken, Katy, and Ralph. I had a wonderful time with all of you and hope that the large format photography process has been demystified and that you proceed forth with confidence in the format. We had a Name this mountainbit of challenging weather all day Friday and early Saturday yet it made for glorious conditions, great photography, and sublime viewing of the High Sierra. Can anyone help me with an ID of the mountain seen here? 😉

I wish all of my recent workshop attendees the very best with their photography and hope to see everyone again in the near future!

My next Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop will take place in Death Valley National Park in late 2012 and will be announced on this blog and my newsletter in the coming days; please stay tuned.

My next scheduled workshop is Visionary Death Valley with Guy Tal beginning November 29, 2012. You can read more about our successful February Visionary Death Valley workshop and see a few images here, and you’ll find workshop details and registration information here. Our November Visionary workshop is beginning to fill, but we currently have space available.

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

Workshop Announcement: Introduction to Large Format Photography: April 14-15, 2012

Large Format Photographer in the Alabama Hills

This workshop will take place in California’s renowned Alabama Hills (featured in scores of movies and television commercials), just outside Lone Pine, California, in the rainshadow of Mt. Whitney and the High Sierra). Limited to 5 photographers only.

NO PREVIOUS LARGE FORMAT EXPERIENCE IS REQUIRED! The large format camera offers the ultimate in control over the entire creative image-making process and large format negatives and transparencies that offer extraordinary resolution. The market is flooded with plenty of used and value-priced large format gear, and new high quality yet inexpensive field cameras have made this an excellent time to move up to the format with only a moderate amount of expense. This course is designed for experienced photographers who are ready to take their photography to the next level, and for those who have previously worked with large format but have struggled with it. At the completion of this intensive two-day workshop, you will be able to efficiently and confidently compose, focus, meter, and expose your own large format photographs. Please click here for more information and to register.

I hope you can join us!

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

My 2010 Workshops and Tours

Large Format Photographer in the Alabama Hills

My first private workshop of 2010 took place last weekend (January 9-10) in the remarkable Alabama Hills and Owens Valley, California. David, Sue, and Erik Haake (David is the Program Director for the West Los Angeles Group of the Sierra Club) hired me for a day of Large Format photography instruction with Erik on Saturday in the Alabama Hills (Erik is seen in the photo at left shooting sunrise in the Alabama Hills), and on Sunday we toured a few special locations in and around the Owens Valley (concluding our tour at an incredible and hidden petroglyph panel in the Volcanic Tablelands). David and Sue are avid birders, and although I can’t currently call myself an avid birder, it is something I have spent a fair amount of time doing in the past and I do have a fair number of species on my life list (even though I don’t keep a life list!). Incidentally, the scope of my guiding was altered last weekend, and according to Sue: “you were a wonderful birding guide to top it off.” Thanks, David, Sue, and Erik, for being wonderful clients!

I am currently have one scheduled 2010 group workshop and three more in the planning stages for this year:

    Introduction to Large Format Photography Workshop. February 13-14, 2010, Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra (just outside Lone Pine, California). Limited to only 5 photographers; $349 per person. My teaching methods and techniques are direct and easy to comprehend, and I will successfully put you in full control of your camera. At the completion of this intensive two-day workshop, you will be able to efficiently and confidently compose, focus, and expose your own photographs. Click here for more information and to register for this workshop.

    March 6-7, 2010 California Desert Wildflower tour: Our “wet season” started wet (despite the name, it doesn’t always work this way!) and although we had a recent dry and warm spell, things are slated to turn again next week and the state of California should again get quite wet. This may bode well for spring wildflowers in the desert. But my intention is to only lead a tour (likely a one day driving tour) if I can *guarantee* good blooms at the best locations (desert wildflowers are wildly unpredictable). Only time will tell, and I’ll be updating this blog as things develop.

    October 2010 Eastern Sierra Autumn Color Tour: Fall color varies from year to year, but it’s always predictable enough to guarantee great photographs under incredible settings. I’m tentatively planning a three-day tour during the first week of October. The tour will range from Mono Lake in the north to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the south.

    Nov-Dec 2010 Death Valley National Park Backcountry 4WD Workshop/Tour: We will spend about a week driving, hiking, and photographing locations that most photographers have no idea even exist! I have personally driven most of Death Valley National Park backcountry roads (including the most difficult and challenging) and have hiked and photographed locations well off the beaten track. Had enough of Zabriskie Point, Badwater, and the Mesquite Flat dunes? Come tour with me. Logistically speaking, unless I can locate and work with an authorized 4WD outfitter for Death Valley NP (I am currently at work on this), each client will need to provide their own 4WD and advanced driving experience. I’ll continue to update my blog as details develop.

If you have interest in any of these workshops/tours, please leave me a reply or shoot me an email.

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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Workshop Announcement: Introduction to Large Format Photography. Feb 13-14, 2010

Introduction to Large Format Photography Workshop
February 13-14, 2010, Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra (just outside Lone Pine, California)
Limited to only 5 photographers; $349 per person

4x5 large format view camera in the field

Despite the digital photography boom, large format film photography is witnessing a resurgence of interest and an increase in users. Large format negatives and transparencies offer extraordinary resolution, and view cameras offer extraordinary control over fine focus and perspective. Simply stated, a large format camera offers the ultimate in photographic control over the creative image-making process. Further, a market flooded with used but clean large format gear and a couple of new economical yet quality view camera manufacturers have made this an excellent time to enter the world of large format with only a moderate amount of expense (a good LF kit can cost and weigh less than a professional D-SLR kit).

My teaching methods and techniques are direct and easy to comprehend, and I will successfully put you in full control of your camera. At the completion of this intensive two-day workshop, you will be able to efficiently and confidently compose, focus, and expose your own photographs.

This workshop will take place in the world famous Alabama Hills (featured in scores of movies and television commercials), just outside Lone Pine, California (in the rainshadow of Mt. Whitney and the High Sierra). We’ll be learning in an outstanding location and will have access to the Eastern Sierra’s incredible wintry mountain scenery.

Due to the decrease in available instruction, my Introduction to Large Format Photography workshops have become increasingly sought after. Please do not delay your registration, as I expect this workshop to fill quickly. For more information and to register for this workshop, please see my Workshops page. Thank you for your interest!

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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