Dig Deep

“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” Ernst Haas

I have walked this beautiful Death Valley canyon perhaps more than one hundred times. It is a spectacularly colorful serpentine canyon with deep, polished narrows and many potential photographs along the way.  I made all the obvious photographs over my first tens of visits. All of my walks since have produced exciting discoveries that can really only result from intimacy. I’ve not once been bored by this familiar walk (refer to the Haas quote) and I’ve never run out of opportunity or ideas. I walk with no photographic preconceptions as they act as barriers in my ability to *see* and experience.

These four geologic panels are millions of years old and found over a two mile span of the canyon. I made these photographs not because they are colorful and could compose well, but rather because I am fascinated by the geology of this canyon and the Death Valley region and have studied it extensively over the years. I now know these walls and every twist and turn of the canyon as if it were my own home.

My heart grows only fonder, the experiences and photographs get only better.

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

Death Valley Sand Dunes Photography: A How-to Guide

Capture

Consider enriching your personal and photographic experience by trying something like this: Take a long walking tour, following magical light as it evolves and caresses the sands. If direct/frontal light seems too “harsh”, examine other possibilities for sidelight and backlight; these are more dramatic and are my favorite. Deep wells, holes, bowls, and hollows in dune fields can take on sensuous and dramatic shadows during what many photographers might term “bad light”. Keep walking, keep searching, keep changing your direction of view, and don’t forget to think and see in monochrome (when saturated colors have little relevance) for stunning black and white desert photography. Golden Hour? Make it three.

My article “Death Valley Sand Dunes Photography: A How-to Guide” has been published by The Image Flow Photography Center. It’s filled with professional advice on how to make your photographic adventure on the dunes more rewarding. Thank you for reading – enjoy!

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.

Presentations & Workshops

_DSC9361-2I will be presenting Death Valley National Park: Magnitude and Mystery to the Lancaster Photography Association (Lancaster, California) on Tuesday, August 20th, 2019. The presentation includes nearly 200 photographs and a wealth of information about the Park’s natural and human history. The meeting is from 6-8pm and is FREE and OPEN to the public. Come on out!

My forthcoming Death Valley autumn/winter workshop season is filling up quickly. Seats remain open in the two following workshops:

https://lacphoto.org/…/death-valley-national-park-with-mic…/
(beginner/intermediate skills)

http://www.visionaryphotoworkshops.com/…/visionary-death-va…
(with Guy Tal; a cerebral and non-technical workshop). We’ve moved this annual workshop earlier in the season to take better advantage of late winter storms and light.

I hope to see you soon in Lancaster or Death Valley!

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.

Go With the Flow

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Sodium Altocumulus. Death Valley. ©Michael E. Gordon

Ansel Adams stated (The Negative) that

“visualization is a conscious process of projecting the final photographic image in the mind before taking the first steps in actually photographing the subject. Not only do we relate to the subject itself, but we become aware of its potential as an expressive image.”

The photograph presented here (Sodium Altocumulus) looks nothing like what I actually saw on these salt-encrusted desert mud flats. The light was flat, the mud and salt were nearly color-less, yet I instantly saw the altocumulus clouds and recognized the expressive possibilities for this “bland” setting.

This is neither high art nor a masterpiece but it was enjoyable to visualize and make. I enjoy studying it the same way I enjoy studying big sky. This is a location which I return to frequently to indulge my creative needs and practice my form of abstract landscape photography. The location can change dramatically from day to day, even hour to hour. It’s arid year round and the evaporation rate exceeds the rainfall. Regular shallow flooding through winter and spring alters the surface of the flats and begins anew the salt crystallization process. I never know what I will find and I love this.

By foregoing the preconceived singular image (forget the dang shot), I can spend an entire morning out here in a flow state, engaged in nature’s fascinating details, and make numerous stimulating images.

Just go with the flow, man.

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.

Film’s Not Dead: Introduction to Large Format Photography Workshop: Nov 15-17, 2019 – Death Valley National Park

 

I am pleased to announce my next long-awaited Introduction to Large Format Photography Workshop: November 15-17, 2019, taking place in the incomparable Death Valley National Park. This workshop is limited to only six photographers – everyone will receive lots of hands-on instruction and attention. NO previous large format experience is required and loaner gear may be available for those who do not already own. Learn more about this workshop and register here.

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.

The Visionary Image: Conceptual Development

Place two photographers side by side on the the very same scene or subject and they are likely to produce distinctly different images. Excluding the most obvious images easily gathered from accessible vistas, photographers have largely known this to be true. With any given scene of any scale, how we approach it and what we choose to most focus on is largely based on our mood and temperament of the day; our previous experience with such a subject; even the subliminal influence of other photographs and photographers may come into play.

Guy Tal and I wandered a Death Valley canyon following the close of our most recent Visionary Death Valley workshop. We stopped intermittently where we found interesting rock outcrops and healthy fruiting specimens of Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) – these wild desert pumpkins can be intriguing subjects for photographers of our ilk. I have casually photographed Coyote Melon for many years; an artful black and white image of Coyote Melon was still elusive and resided only in my head. Required to make this image was a perfect confluence of my mental state, a good visual arrangement, and unfailing vision. I still had yet to find that while in the company of these gourds.

We were now just a few miles from road’s end where we would begin a walk into desert wilderness – this is our method of rest and recovery. But Guy spotted one more beautiful Coyote Melon specimen – we stopped to investigate. It was a large enough vine to provide working space for both of us. We each identified our objects of interest and and got to work.

_DSC0713I was immediately drawn to the delicate but elaborate etchings on one particular fruit – I honed in. Space and space exploration has been on my mind a lot lately. I spend many nights each year staring deeply into it and sleeping under it and NASA’s InSight Lander touched down on Mars just thirteen days after this photograph. I like to use space and time metaphors in my images and titles. The etchings reminded me of planetary surfaces similar to Jupiter or the Moon. This became the metaphor that I forced into my approach.

My very first frame is seen at left. It’s a solid documentary image but it’s not terribly creative or exciting. I’d be happy to have it published in a plant ID guide but I can’t call it “art”.  Over the next 17+ minutes (happily mired in a flow state), using two different lenses – including a soft-focus brass portrait lens – I exposed 46 frames in total, each with slight shifts in perspective and field of view, each working towards the image that I had now developed in my mind. I already knew how the print needed to look. The camera position moved exceedingly closer to the ground in order to force the perspective I sought. I wanted the gourd to be tucked behind some of the leaves – similar to the way a full moon rises into a bank of clouds. In fact, I had photographed this very thing a couple of weeks prior. The dramatic image I had made of a full moon rising was finding its way into this image of a simple gourd. But I was no longer photographing a gourd – I was photographing a Rising Coyote Moon.

Coyote Moon Rising

Creative photographers who find such ideas and discussions stimulating and inspiring should consider joining Guy and I for Visionary Death Valley.

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.

Slashed Canyon

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Just one of many of Death Valley National’s Park incredibly twisted and narrow limestone canyons. This one found in the Grapevine Mountains, its inner beauty secluded by the challenging scrambling and climbing required to reach this point.

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

Immense, Silent, and Sacred

I have released a beautiful 46-page 8″x8″ softcover book containing eighteen of my photographs exhibited during The National Park Service:100 Years-California Dreaming exhibition at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in Sacramento, California. These eighteen images span many years of my work in Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

Books purchased through my website are signed/autographed. Immense, Silent, and Sacred can be fully previewed at MagCloud. Please note than purchases through MagCloud are unsigned/not autographed. Digital downloads are also available.

It has never been easier or less expensive to own my photographs in print form (that’s a little more than $1 per photo). Many thanks in advance for your support and purchases!

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

The Greatest Gift

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In this sunlit desolation of rock and thorn, where the sun beats down through an unending march of days and the desert silence which broods among the boulders and Ocotillos is broken only by the harpings of the wind, we can spread freely the net of our minds to gather those priceless, fundamental stirrings of the infinite which are most easily come by when one is close to nature. Marshal South

I recently celebrated my birthday in Death Valley National Park. Reasoning that all my clients are wonderful people and a joy to be around (this is no lie) – especially considered in the context of photography and Death Valley –  I chose to schedule photo tour clients on my birthday. While some opt for more civilized days or nights on the town with a fine dinner, friends, and a show, my time spent quietly in nature amidst the sun-burnished desert holly, half-billion year old canyons, and ancient night sky are among the simplest of joys – they make me happy. I don’t need any wrapped presents or candles or cake – these are the gifts I want and love.

I’m always a little hesitant to share my “methods” with my clients. I meet most of them at their lodging, where they’ve often spent a comfortable night under a roof with the possibility of evening television entertainment. They are often surprised when they learn that I forgo lodging and sleep under the stars. Not camped in a tent – literally, on the ground and under the stars (never in “developed” campgrounds). It is not a budgetary constraint – it is a choice. Sometimes the kit foxes visit me at night (sometimes walking around on and smelling my sleeping bag – “lie down, kit!”). Often I hear my coyote friends nearby reveling in their hunt. I have no fears about sleeping beautifully this way – much worse (and louder) things can happen in any city on any given night. There is no quiet like the quiet of my preferred Death Valley sleeping sites.

My “method” ceased being a choice long ago – after a great many years of doing it this way, sleeping under a tent canopy or roof feels wrong when there are planets, meteors, and a raging night sky to lull me to sleep. Rest assured, I’ve had plenty of middle-of-the-night rain drills which send my scurrying like a wood rat. My ancestors slept like this; it feels right to follow in their steps and try to understand a little of their existence and their communion with nature. It cannot be so terribly different from my own experiences.

One of Lynda’s goals was to experience and photograph the Milky Way. Any day or month of the year, I get to experience this brilliant flaming Galaxy over the Death Valley night sky. And while I don’t care so much about making photographs of  it – I observe it nightly in real-time H.D. with my own eyes – I don’t take it for granted. Never for a second.

In a world which often seems to be speeding (and spiraling) out of control, I feel eternally thankful and blessed for these gifts. The gift of sight lets me see nightly that infinite galaxy overhead. The gift of sound allows me to hear gentle desert winds rake across the hairs of my outer ear. And the gift of simply being allows me to take pleasure in the simplest joys which were enjoyed by my ancestors (and which are frequently lost on modern man).

Thank you for a most wonderful birthday in Death Valley, Lynda and Jim!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For information and photographs, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.

A Fruitful Year

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Over the course of four nights last week, I observed  the peak of the 2013 Geminid meteor shower from my private bivouac above the floor of Mesquite Flats (in what was dubbed this year as the “largest international dark sky park“). The desert silence was profound and I was reveling alone in my fortune as a very lucky man. I’m not able to mention the typical darkness, as a near full moon flooded the Valley with spectacular nightlight, making the dunes plain to see well after nightfall. I was in Death Valley National Park – my home away from home in recent years – leading my final photo workshop of 2013 and reminiscing about the spectacular year I have been privileged to enjoy. It’s been a fulfilling year of exciting experiences in nature and wilderness (alone and with a few close friends), excellent growth in all segments of my photographic business, and many stimulating exchanges with inspired photographers who sought my workshops, tours, and training – I cannot thank all of you enough!

On the other hand, I apologize to all who patiently and eagerly wait blog entries and Facebook posts. My life, business, and travel are busier than ever before which has _MG_9340left little time for social media. I admit it: I have no social media “campaign” and have never found it to be an enjoyable medium that works for me and my personality (even though most would likely refer to me as sociable). My limited time at the computer is spent doing what must be done, and I’ve never considered “chat rooms” a must-do. I’ve instead been aggressively building on what I value most: Real life experiences and photographic journeys. Neither require a cell signal, internet connection, or any sort of campaign, and yet both have been tremendously successful for me in 2013.

Over the last calendar month, I’ve exhibited in two Southern California fine art festivals and have led two group workshops. I’ve hardly been able to keep up. The photo above left is my L.A. Center for Photography workshop on Death Valley’s Mesquite Dunes, and the one below and right is my Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop group enjoying a very special canyon last weekend. My sincere THANKS to all the wonderful participants (Amr, Daniela, Graham, Joe, John, Jorge, Jovanna, Ken, Kevin, Michael, Mike, Scott – thank you!) who joined me to learn in and explore one of the most fascinating places on earth.

_MG_9192As the sun begins to set on 2013, I thank you all for being patient readers and inspirational photographers. I hope your year was as joyous as mine and I wish everyone a radiant 2014. Happy holidays!

A few brief announcements:

* Guy and I have just had a cancellation and now have one space available in our February 20-25, 2014 Visionary Death Valley workshop. All of our Visionary workshops have been sold out; come find out why!

* My next  Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop is March 7-9, 2014 and still has spaces available. Kevin J. Mellis took part in last week’s large format workshop and demonstrated his kindness by referring to me an “awesome instructor”.

* My next  L.A. Center for Photography workshop at Death Valley is March 13-16, 2014; this workshop has just opened for registration and is expected to sell out. Register now!

* New for 2014! I’ve added a Fundamentals of Digital Photography workshop for novice photographers. This short and inexpensive workshop will give you all the tools you need to understand your camera, photographic basics, and basic post-production techniques.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.