Fireworks and Smoke

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It’s warming up ©2019 Michael E. Gordon

A challenging reality on the desert is heat. If each year it did not occur like clockwork, it would be rather difficult to pry me from this habitat. I’m the shrubfly on the lone stool in the distant stand of creosote; they have to kick me out when its time to close up for the season.

May 2019 was unseasonable on the California desert. Temperatures remained low and precipitation remained high enough to keep things cooler and greener than would be normal for this time of year. Early June temperatures were not quite yet deadly, so I decided to make one last chase: Smoke Trees (Psorothamnus spinosus). The beautiful Smoke tree can be found in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico deserts in dry, low elevation (<1500′) sandy washes. For much of the year they are nondescript and scrappy looking compact trees. In late spring – following a bountiful winter – they can explode with brilliant blue fireworks. After the heat has fried the flowers, they revert to their common appearance: like whisps of smoke rising delicately from a desert wash.

While the photographs may be enjoyable to view, they omit a few important sensory details: the baking heat (if it wasn’t cathartic we wouldn’t spa nor sauna); dry desert winds moving through the wash; and the cacophony of millions of bees (video) and other happy winged insects who gather this bounty (see the attached close-up). This is a living desert.

 


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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New Collection: Tranquil Waters

I am happy to announce the release of my new collection of work: Tranquil Waters. Featuring horizon-less waterscapes filled with color, these images evoke peace and tranquility and were made as personal meditations on moments in time. Water movement is the hallmark of this series. Wind played a significant part in most, and I played an important role in several: I disturbed the water surface. In addition to water movement, the camera was panned during some of the images and a handful were made from moving watercraft. This body of work has involved lots of fun and experimentation to achieve the look I was after. As with most of my work, this series will never officially conclude and will continue to grow in number over the coming years. Enjoy!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. Please visit his official website  for more information.

Mojave Mound Cactus (photo)

Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

I found the granddaddy of all Mojave Mound cacti (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) this weekend in California’s Mojave National Preserve. This was the largest, healthiest, and happiest Mojave mound I’ve ever seen (sure, I’m anthropomorphizing, but it’s my blog :)), and it had no less than approximately 100 buds and flowers on it. The plant was at least 36″ across and about 30″ or more inches tall. Chances are that I’ll be heading back to it in about a week to catch it at its fullest bloom.

It’s not what most would consider a “great year” for wildflowers in California’s Mojave Desert, but if one gets out there with open eyes and willing legs and feet, one will find an incredibly lush, vibrant, and yeah, happy desert! So get out there before it gets hot!

Info for photographers: I made this photograph during the middle of the day under hard light. Why then does the light look so appealing? A 32″ Adorama-brand 5-in-1 (now branded “Flashpoint”) lives in my truck and allows me to shoot small scenes like this under any light. I typically use the diffuser most during middle-of-the-day light such as this. No nature photographer should be without this useful tool!

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

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.

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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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The Maze

Glowing Cottonwood

Glowing Cottonwood

I just returned from ten days in Utah, mostly spent exploring and adventuring in The Maze district of Canyonlands National Park. My companions were my good friends Guy Tal and Steve Cole, and together we explored deep canyons and exposed rims and ridges; visited ancient rock art left by the natives; and lost ourselves in the silence and remoteness of this magical place. Not surprisingly, re-entry into civilization and daily life has since been difficult.

The Maze is still considered one of the more remote places in North America, due to the difficulty of access (one must either have a 4WD and challenging off-road driving experience, or be prepared to walk or mountain bike upwards of twenty-five miles from where the easy roads cease). I’ll be posting photos from my trip over the next couple of weeks, so please stay tuned to this blog for more.

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