The Joshua Tree Fine Art Folio

The Joshua Tree collector's folio - Michael E. GordonI am very pleased to announce the official release of my new The Joshua Tree collector’s folio. This beautiful folio features twelve of my photographs from The Joshua Tree collection and measures 11×14” – conveniently sized for easy framing – with each image measuring approximately 8×10”. These beautiful prints are a delight to hold in the hand and they’re made using the same archival materials and techniques as all of my gallery prints, featuring rich warm/sepia tone carbon pigment inks on delicately textured fine art German Etching paper (a perfect match to the texture of the Joshua tree). Each open-edition folio is sequentially numbered with a title page, artist statement, and all twelve photographs arriving in a handsome embossed die-cut art paper enclosure.

My good friend and fellow photographer Guy Tal had some flattering things to say about this new folio on a recent blog post“I can say without hesitation that this collection is among the most beautiful things I own…If you are one who appreciates the power of an exquisitely conceived and printed photograph, you will cherish this portfolio.” Thank you, Guy!

The Joshua Tree and  Desert fine art folios make wonderful holiday gifts for those who appreciate fine photography and the well-crafted print. Order yours today in time for the holidays!

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, Google+, and  Twitter.


Air Travel with Large Format Sheet Film, Post-911

One of my recent Large Format workshop attendees emailed today with a horror story:

I had a horrifying experience a few days ago when I had asked TSA at the Rapid City, South Dakota airport to hand inspect my 4×5 sheet film. I had the boxes taped shut and the stupid idiots opened each box in broad daylight. At this point I don’t know how much was ruined, but certainly some was. I had spent two days shooting in the Badlands, part of which was in a violent thunder and lightning storm, which was a wonderful time for photographing.

I am lucky to have never shared Ken’s misfortune, but my rule is to always travel prepared and to expect the worse. Take comfort in knowing that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has published policies (available online) regarding traveling with film. In short, “[s]heet, large format and motion picture film” are “Specialty Films” for which a hand-inspection can be requested. Bear in mind that the TSA protects only U.S. transportation centers, so do not automatically expect pleasant and cooperative assistance when requesting hand checks abroad. Accordingly, the following recommendations may be of little use at the airport in Nice, France (this airport is not mentioned at random!)

Here’s what I do when traveling through U.S. airports:

1. Print out and carry with you at all times the TSA ‘Traveling With Film‘ document.

2. Make sure you understand the contents of this document and what protections it affords you.

3. When the TSA advises you that it’s perfectly fine to run your ISO100 film through the scanner, politely decline and request a hand-check. No matter what you are told regarding film speeds and scanner strength, the best precaution is to avoid ALL scanning ALL the time. The best policy is to not assume that there are a certain number of safe passes before your film fogs: Do not allow your film to be scanned! Be assertive and request a hand check or a supervisor if necessary. Refer to the TSA’s own document when they tell you it is safe to scan.

4. I highly recommend carrying in the airport with you a changing bag or changing tent. If you request a hand check for an OPENED box of cut sheet film – one on which the seals are broken – the TSA will likely want to open and inspect/swab that box. This is what the changing tent/bag is for. If they insist on open-box inspection, explain to them the nature of accidental exposure and then proceed to set up the tent. My experience with TSA and sealed/unopened boxes is that they’re OK with swabbing the outside of the box and and will not ask to open it. Your experience may differ.

4. Should you still posses and be traveling with Quickloads or Readyloads (remember those?), TSA can safely open the box and inspect the film packets, but make sure that they don’t pull on the metal clip sealing the packet end and accidentally expose your film!

5. When you’re done at security check, thank the TSA for their courtesy and cooperative hand-check. Feel free to ignore silly comments that ask why you haven’t yet switched to digital.

If this all sounds to be a bit of a headache, you might consider FedExing your film to and from your shooting location. According to FedEx, undeveloped film can be safely shipped with prominently marked packages and special labels. Ask your FedEx courier or call 1.800.GoFedEx 1.800.463.3339 (say “order shipping supplies”). Contact FedEx for more details about shipping professional large format sheet film.

I hope this information helps you and your film to travel safely and effortlessly. Happy large format shooting!


Want to learn Large Format photography? My next Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop takes place November 16-18, 2012, in Death Valley National Park.  NO PREVIOUS LARGE FORMAT EXPERIENCE IS REQUIRED! Please click here for more information and to register.

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

Par Excellence

I have always been a competitive individual. In my earliest years, I dreamed of making the annals of baseball history. In my early adult life, as a guitar player of many years and co-writer in an original band, I loathed the idea of sounding only as good as other guitar players and writing average music. In later years, I chased challenging routes in rock climbing and mountaineering and aimed to have endless stamina and climb in good style. I haven’t yet discovered what drives my competitive nature, but being second always seemed like not winning to me. Call this character trait what you will, but I believe without a doubt that it has fueled my drive for photographic excellence. Whether anyone else believes in my excellence is irrelevant. My goal has never been to be a “better” photographer than others, but to instead always be continuously pushing my photographic boundaries and striving for excellence.

As we watch the 2012 Olympics and the world’s most incredible athletes dig their deepest and fight their hardest – and breaking numerous world records while doing so – we are reminded that there will never be any substitutes for vision, hard work, and dogged determination. Those “overnight” sensations you only recently learned about have been quietly training for years in the background, while others have managed to effectively use smart marketing and social media to immediately convince others of their excellence. Even if there were a metric by which your work could be judged, whether anyone else believes that you are the “best” at what you do is not the point, but the moment you lower your standard and settle for “good enough”, you deny your creativity and greatness.


I’m not the most prolific blogger, I know, but this post marks #199 since this blog’s humble beginnings on September 20, 2006. 200 is no special number, but it’s a nice even number which took some time for this blog to reach. What should I discuss? I humbly request your topic suggestions for my 200th blog post.


There are only two spots remaining in our November Visionary Death Valley workshop. Guy Tal and I invite you to join us for more in-depth discussions on excellence, creativity, style, and more during this exciting adventure.

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 TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

The Heart of the Matter

Creosote Dreams

Great photographs transcend place and time. Celebrated American photographer Minor White well understood this concept when he wrote about photographing “things for what else they are.” While there are numerous variations of this quote attributed to White, the message is definitive: Powerful and timeless images occur when the photographer reveals something about his subject that we cannot or might not see with our own eyes. This concept underscores why a photograph like Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30 is regarded as one of photography’s masterpieces. Although it literally is, critics, curators, and viewers concur that this is no simple portrait of a bell pepper. Similar is Weston’s portrait of a toilet. But is it merely a toilet?

Photographing things “for what else they are” has become a fundamental aspect of my work. After spending a sufficient number of years chasing locations and light, I essentially grew tired of the formula and my subsequent results. It was too easy and creatively unfulfilling: Pick a scenic location, point the camera reasonably well, and hope for sweet light and clouds to transform it into something more meaningful. Yet I would repeatedly return home and develop my film only to realize that the photographs I’d made did not live up to or even remotely equal the experience of simply being there. Location-based photography leaves most everything to chance – find an awesome landscape, scramble for a foreground anchor, and pray for clouds and light – but little for your viewers to ponder and contemplate. One eventually yearns for more when the most common refrain regarding your photographs is “oh, that’s pretty”.

Have a poke around some of the web’s most popular photo-sharing forums to see how well you can differentiate one photographer from the next, or if you can differentiate one Icelandic or Patagonian landscape from another. In his ‘Letting Go of the Camera’, Brooks Jensen suggests that “[a] great deal of what passes as fine art photography today is not based on vision, talent or craft; it is based simply on access.”

I’ve had life-long love for the geology, plants, and animals that make up the grander landscapes about which I am passionate. I have studied academically all of these subjects and at one time even fancied a profession in wildlife biology or geology (someone once mistakenly told me that photographers were better paid). I’m enthralled by geological processes, interrelations of plants and animals, and the way they have all adapted to each other (and to other forces), so it’s no accident that I spend a lot studying and photographing the smaller and deeper details. Most everyone already knows how beautiful and extraordinary our planet is. I feel no artistic compulsion to reinforce the obvious, so I’ve focused my work on sharing the unusual and fascinating aspects of my world. Not everyone can or will share my love for my subjects and photographs, and I’m perfectly okay with that. This is precisely what defines ones work as personal and unique.

Photographers that are sensitive to the environments and subjects which they photograph create images that offer opportunities for insight and contemplation, and great photographs should always tell us something about their maker. When the photograph is about location, we often learn more about geography and the quality of light and clouds than we do about the photographer. Make your photographs about you. Show us something about your subjects that we might not perceive with our own eyes.

Guy Tal and I invite you to join us for inspirational and in-depth discussions on style, creativity, and other philosophies during our Nov 2012 Visionary Death Valley workshop. Only a few seats currently remain…

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 TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

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.

Photo: Salvation: The Joshua Tree

Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia); Mojave National Preserve.

I’ve lived within a short drive of Joshua trees my entire life. Only a handful of years ago did I begin to consider these “trees” (it is a Yucca plant, not a tree) as something more than ordinary blips on the landscape – they are very common throughout the Mojave desert. I began to observe tourists posing with beautiful specimens, and realized that all along I had been taking for granted the remarkable Joshua tree. I’d spent years walking among them and recreating and photographing in their shadows, yet I had rarely trained my camera on the Joshua tree itself. They all looked ordinary and the same. And then one day my eyes were suddenly opened to their incredible uniqueness and individuality, and I began to seek out extraordinary specimens to photograph.

It’s quite difficult to find unique qualities in individual pines and aspens, for example; they all look very similar, and the unique aesthetic qualities each tree might possess are primarily hidden by their sameness. Quite the contrary with Joshua trees. Take a walk in any Joshua tree woodland and you will immediately observe that almost no two trees are alike. My wandering imagination got the better of me, and I began to see these specimens as individuals like humans, and sought to capture them in a portrait-like fashion. The Joshua Tree series was born.

Technical details: The Joshua Tree photographs are made with a 4×5″ view camera and black and white sheet film. Almost all the photographs have been made with a century-old Wollensak Verito lens which lends a soft-focus pictorial quality to the photographs. Why this approach over a modern lens and complete sharpness throughout? I like to involve and engage viewers. Sharp and detailed photographs don’t often leave much room for the imagination; there are no spaces to fill, no questions to ask, no thoughts to ponder. Easy ingestion and easy abandon, if you will, with one quick sweep of the eyes. I find that combining a mixture of sharp and soft elements side-by-side keeps my eyes and mind engaged; collectors and fans of these photographs seem to agree. I hope that you’ll enjoy them, too.

Purchase a print of this photograph for as little as $39…

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

SOLD! Wollensak Verito 9″ Soft Focus/Portrait Lens

THIS LENS HAS BEEN SOLD. Includes Wollensak Verito 9″ lens (focal length is approximately 229mm), 4×5″ Technika-sized lensboard, original Wollensak shutter, and one Canon press-on lens cap (indeed, it fits).

Who is this lens for? Anyone who works with a 4×5″ view camera (or larger) and who seeks a different look than you can achieve with modern lenses. I’ve made many of my favorite photographs with this lens, and I’m selling only because I picked up a slightly wider focal length in a more accurate shutter. Check out these beautiful samples from the VeritoYou’ll also find on my website numerous photographs that were made with this lens.

The glass is in nearly perfect condition: no scratches, pits, or fungus. The shutter has been CLA’d by Flutot’s Camera Repair as best as it can be, but is still lacking the critical accuracy necessary for the narrow latitude of transparency/slide film. According to speed tests, 1/5 = 1/8; 1/2 = 1/5; 1sec = 1/4; 100 = 20; 50 = 20; and 25 = 10. B & T settings work fine. The fastest possible shutter speed is 1/20th, but this is not a big deal for anyone shooting color or b/w negative film (it has never been for me). I had the lens custom-adapted by SK Grimes to a Technika-sized lensboard for use on 4×5″ (will work as-is with Ebony, Linhof, Shen-Hao, Chamonix and others). If you know how much Grimes charges for their work, you’ll know that this was not inexpensive.

Due to the finicky nature of the shutter and the age of lens, it is sold AS-IS. PLEASE ask questions before committing to purchase.

The lens is located in Southern California and is available for immediate shipment. I can accept ALL forms of payment. I am asking for $700 OBO. If interested, please reply to this post or send an email to info AT Thanks for looking!

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

Upcoming Workshops

Come join me in the Eastern Sierra for two exciting workshops!

October 5-8, 2010 Eastern Sierra Autumn Color Tour
All camera formats and experience levels welcome! Limited to only six photographers. Join me on this incredible and photography intensive three-day tour of California’s Eastern Sierra, Owens Valley, and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Come enjoy and photograph California’s finest autumn colors in one of the most breathtaking settings on the planet! For more information and registration….

November 6-7, 2010 Introduction to Large Format Photography
Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra (just outside Lone Pine, California). Limited to only 5 photographers. NO previous large format experience required! My teaching methods and techniques are direct and easy to comprehend. At the completion of this intensive two-day workshop, you will be able to efficiently and confidently compose, focus, and expose your own large format photographs! For more information and registration….

I am happy to answer any questions you may have regarding these workshops/tours. Previous workshop participants can enjoy a 10% discount on tuition! 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.

Valley Portal

I made this photograph on Monday, December 7, during a beautiful winter storm in Yosemite Valley (see this post for more info). Frankly, I haven’t worked in such poor conditions for some time! When I first spied this scene, it was windy and snowing heavily. I did not let this stop me from setting up the camera, yet for nearly an hour following the setup, I fought to expose a sheet of film. The snow was deep; my dark cloth was blowing around; my ground glass and lens kept fogging; snow kept landing on the front element of the lens; I was covered in snow; and ultimately, it was simply snowing too heavily to make the photograph I had hoped to make. But I couldn’t quit it, as the idea of this image gnawed at me. So I fought the conditions for an hour, using randomly placed expletives along the way, and finally got my negative exposed. And then the idea of the image once again bugged me and bugged me until I finally got the chance to develop film a couple of days ago.

And now I am at peace. When I have business to attend to and can’t get away, this photograph will serve as my magical portal to the Happiest Place on Earth.

Happy Holidays, folks! Thanks for staying tuned to my blog during 2009!

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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