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.

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Gear Review: Gura Gear Kiboko backpack

Kiboko with a box of Quickload's in the outer accessory pocket

Holy cow! A gear review here? Indeed, you’ll notice that in the three-and-a-half years of this blog’s life, I have stayed far away from gear discussions and/or reviews because many other websites and blogs discuss these things at great length and with much more enthusiasm than I ever will. This being said, I offer here a brief review of the Gura Gear Kiboko backpack. I believe that this pack may prove as useful for other 4×5″ view camera users as it has so for me.

My chief complaint about ANY backpack (photo or backpacking/climbing) is that they tend to be grossly overbuilt and overweight. With more than two decades of experience in backpacking and technical climbing, my preferred packs have always been stripped-down, lightweight, and hopefully made of ballistic materials (I’m rough on gear because that’s what it’s for). The rucksack system has always worked just fine for me; shove it in a top-loading mouth, draw the cord, and call it good! Bells and whistles are nice for those who like bells and whistles; I’d rather cut them off to lighten the load.

I’d recently had my two LowePro packs (primary and backup) suffer from complete zipper failures, so I was in the market for a replacement. Lowepro’s packs have always been heavy and overbuilt (Lowepro calls their 7.2lb/3.3kg Pro Trekker 400 AW “lightweight”), so I began looking at alternatives. Well, there aren’t a lot of good alternatives for the photographer who does his photography off his or her back. And then I remembered my friend Andy Biggs and his company’s offering (Gura Gear): the Kiboko backpack. Given that Andy is primarily a wildlife shooter who leads acclaimed African photo safaris, I had assumed that the pack might not work for me and was best intended for D-SLR’s and long lenses. Boy, was I was wrong.

The unique butterfly lid design on the Kiboko

Because the Kiboko utillizes a unique butterfly opening (left), I first had to submit my camera measurements to Andy to make sure that the camera could safely fit inside the pack without stressing the zippers. Andy assured it would work, and indeed, my Chamonix 045n-1 fits effortlessly and well (that’s the Chamonix in the bottom).

I doubt that Andy had considered large format photographers when he designed this pack, so he may be surprised to learn how well it can work for 4×5″ users. Seen in the photo at top, a box of Quickloads fits very comfortably in the outside accessory pockets, with cut-sheet film holders working equally well (there are five holders in the red pouch in the photo at left).

The Kiboko is made of outstandingly durable and lightweight material (Gura Gear calls it “sail cloth”), which greatly reminds me of the very same material used in my lightweight Wild Things Andinista climbing pack. Especially great is that the pack fits any North American flight’s overhead storage, and the unique harness system can be stashed away inside a zipped compartment. You’d think that a modular pack like this might have an unworthy harness system; not so. The shoulder straps, back, and waist belt are all sufficiently padded and quite comfortable.

Seen here: Quickload holder, filter pouch, four lenses, and lots of accessories

Despite the great storage capacity and physical size, this trim pack comes in under four pounds. I doubt you’ll find another pack that even comes close to being made this well, with these materials, and with this capacity. Andy was thinking ahead when he designed this pack: the zipper pulls are quite unique and can be operated by a gloved hand and single finger; it comes with a rain cover that has its own zipped compartment; and again, the hide-able harness system was a great inclusion for travel purposes.

I can’t say enough good things about this pack. I worked from it yesterday while on assignment, and look forward to taking it on its first long hike next week. Andy, THANKS so much for a great pack! You can read more about the Kiboko and see more photographs at the Gura Gear website.

The apparently necessary disclosure: Andy is my friend, but I paid for the pack and he did not bribe me for this review (retroactive bribes will be considered, Andy :)).

Michael wears the Kiboko along the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.

UPDATE – 07 June 2010: Having now used this pack for a number of lengthy hikes, peak ascents, and a 16-mile bicycle ride (yes, I bicycled while wearing my camera pack!), I can heartily recommend the Kiboko as a comfortable and durable photo pack. Despite the lightweight-looking harness system, it is a surprisingly comfortable carry, even while bicycling. I have absolutely no issues with the fit or function of this pack. The one downside I can think of? You’re not going to find a much higher priced photo pack at $399. It’s a steep price, to be sure, but if lightweight, durable, comfortable, and functional are necessities, then you might find this pack to be priced just right for you.

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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Making the Photograph: The American Dream

The American Dream

The American Dream

The California desert is littered with the abandoned homes of prospectors, vagabonds, and dreamers. Some came to strike it rich; some came to escape the city; some came to get away from others. All became too familiar with the trials and tribulations of living on the desert – it ain’t easy. The money runs out, the water runs out, or the patience runs out, and what’s left long behind are the forgotten possessions and stories of those who tried but failed.

A few years back, during the midst of the summer monsoon on the Mojave Desert, I used the often useful WWW (indeed, there is more to it than just Facebook and Twitter) to watch radar and satellites to determine the locations of the fattest thunderheads. And then I went chasing.

Some have assumed that this photograph is a composite. No way! This was the scene as I found it; I have not digitally added or changed the clouds. The unusual lighting adds in some part to the suspicion, I suspect, as the entire foreground is in open shade, while the cloud structure receives full sun. This beautiful Cumulonimbus cloud structure was fortuitously “parked” behind the abandoned structure and building in volume, and the addition of the Joshua trees on the left side made me excited (the desert equivalent of an old oak tree in the yard!). I used my 4×5″ large format view camera, black and white film, and an orange filter. The final look of this photograph came at the printing stage, where I turned the sky black for maximum impact and imparted the overall look and feel I was after.

Just in time for the holidays: purchase a beautiful 8″ Mini-Print (made with pure carbon pigment inks on archival cotton rag, mounted/matted to 11×14″) for only $50. Larger prints are also 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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