Half my life as a professional photographer…

This year marks my 23rd year as a professional photographer – exactly half of my life on Earth. In 1991, at the age of 23, I graduated Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, receiving my Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Photography, young and enthusiast, eager to set the photo world on fire…at least I hoped.  

A month later, after sending out 150 resumés around the West with no job offers in return, I figured I might as well start my own business. I pounded the payment, shot self-assignments and had a number of images published from those shoots, and through it all my business slowly grew. There were many months where I wondered how I’d cover my expenses, pay my bills, yet somehow I was able to.

Many over glamorize professional photography, especially travel, assuming you trek the globe simply clicking away with ease while clients pay you. Far from the truth. You suffer, sacrifice, struggle, have successes, disappointments, moments of amazement, times of loneliness, all the while wondering where your next paycheck will come from.  Doing this for over twenty years can wear on any person.  Sure you attempt to diversify your business, obtain regular clientele, and place as many proverbial eggs in the basket as you can, but with staff turnover prevalent in our industry and an over-saturated market, you consistently fight the battle to be remembered when a photographer or photograph is needed.

 

Through all of this, I still can’t see myself doing anything else. My hopes were always to lead an extraordinary life, and this goal continues to drive me today. I can’t wait to capture the next image, yet I’m willing to take breaks between shoots to keep myself fresh and hungry. I continue to love photography, whether I’m taking shots with my iPhone and funkifying them to share online, or produce a commercial shoot with lights, models, and a crew for a high-end client.  I’m extremely proud of the collection of work I have; to be able to look back at my career in a tangible way is rare. These days I feel I’m at my best, combining my knowledge and experience to handle any job thrown my way, and hope to build on my collection to create some of my best images in the years to come; to use the skills I’ve acquired to be even more creative and to grow as an artist, writer, teacher and businessperson.

As for highlights, well I’ve been lucky enough to be published thousands of times around the world on coves of magazines, books, ads, CD covers and websites. I’ve done segments on tv, captured images with Nikon’s first DSLR way back in 1995, hung out of helicopters, finished two successful books, fought for better rates and contracts for photographers, met many amazing athletes, and had numerous articles appear in most of the major photography magazines.  As exciting as these moments were, they don’t show the countless hours of planning, preparation, and execution that went in to making them happen; the stress involved or the responsibility I carried. But no career shows this, it’s part of the deal.  

Today, I received a review of my business from a recent client that hit the nail on the head as far as what I try to provide each and every customer.  It was a nice reminder of how hard work, honesty, and pride of ownership can pay off:

Sean is a true professional with a great photographic eye. You can’t go wrong using him for any of your photography needs. He immediately contacted me to work out a plan for our photo shoot. He is a great listener and took copious notes so that he fully understood what I was looking for with photographer services. He also interjected his professional opinion when asked, which was a big help because I was relying on his significant expertise. On the day of the shoot, he arrived promptly, set up his equipment and proceeded to execute on every shot on my shot list. Sean was able to shoot both indoor studio shot for my barbecue grill but also outdoor “glamour” shots that had a high degree of commercial appeal. Sean will travel to you, be forth coming about his services, and is very reasonably priced given his decades of experience in photography. Cannot recommend him highly enough.

I can only wonder what the next twenty three years will bring.  At that point I’ll be 68, with any luck going strong and sharing my love for the visual world with many. I’m sure there’ll be some suffering, sacrifice, struggles, and success.  Hopefully some of that success will come in the form of a great big giant lottery ticket.  🙂  But if it doesn’t, at least I’ll have something money can’t buy- a life well lived.

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2014 Photographic Workshops with Sean

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Most of my 2014 workshops were updated and listed on our main site, with a few “dates to be determined”.  We offer live and online workshops.  Check out my workshop schedule, sign up, and come join us sometime for great photographic instruction and a day, weekend or week of fun! 

http://seanarbabi.com/workshops/

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You can also find me on Meetup (running two groups there) where we list many of our workshops:

http://www.meetup.com/Sean-Arbabi-photographic-workshops/
http://www.meetup.com/sanfrancisco-bayarea-photography-workshops-tours/

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Thanks and Happy Shooting!
Sean

Just updated my DxO software

Just updated my DxO software: DxO Optics Pro 9, DxO Film Pack 4, DxO ViewPoint- great software from a French-based expert photo testing company- you get incredibly accurate results- check ’em out: http://www.dxo.com/intlDxO Optics Pro 9: Enhance your photos, remove noise, optimize exposure and contrast, magnify colors, and boost details, regardless of shooting conditions: http://www.dxo.com/intl/photography/dxo-optics-pro

DxO Film Pack 4: Reproduces the quality, style, colors, and grain of legendary analog films. In black & white or in color: http://www.dxo.com/intl/photography/dxo-filmpack

DxO ViewPoint 2: Great for your wide-angle lens, fixes perspectives and restores the natural shapes of the subjects located along image edges – a standalone application and a plugin: http://www.dxo.com/intl/correcting-distortion-dxo-viewpoint-2

Above: Non-corrected HDR capture of the College of San Mateo, San Francisco Bay Area – © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com (all rights reserved worldwide)
Above: Corrected HDR capture of the College of San Mateo, San Francisco Bay Area (corrected building perspective – I could have corrected it perfectly straight, but went for a real look and didn’t want to lose the edges of the image) – © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com (all rights reserved worldwide)

The legacy of David Gaines

Recently I was editing some of my image files from the Eastern Sierra, a wondrous place east of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks where trees grow for thousands of years, land erodes abandoning balancing boulders, and alpine snowmelt feeds ancient lakes.

 

 While I reprocessed a few shots, taking advantage of new wonderful features in Lightroom 5.2 and Photoshop CS6, I came across this scene (below)- a photo captured years ago just east of Mono Lake.  A sunset road scene on a long desolate stretch of Highway 120 west of the California/ Nevada border, documented during a long February road trip photographing the US West.  As I recalled this wonderful peaceful road that led us to our final destination of Mono Lake, the name David Gaines came to mind.

Highway 120 near the California/Nevada border at sunset © Sean Arbabi

Originally part of the Great Basin, Mono Lake is a one-of-a-kind place.  Home to trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies, and over 2,000,000 migratory waterbirds, including 35 species of shorebirds, use the ancient lake as a resting, nesting, and feeding place.  When you walk along the lakeshore viewing thousands of flies fan out as they avoid each of your footsteps, touch the salty waters painted red by the abundance of tiny shrimp, and gaze in awe at the monstrous clouds rolling over the Sierra, you feel how special and unique this body of water really is. 

The southern shores of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada at sunrise © Sean Arbabi

A lake with no outlets, the alpine streams and annual rainfall that feed it remain in the natural bowl for tens of thousands of years- that is until Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power (the DWP) began searching for new sources of water to supply their ever-growing Southern California metroplex.  From 1941 to 1990, the lake level began dropping as the DWP diverted unrestrained amounts of water from Mono Basin streams.  Mono Lake dropped 45 vertical feet over 50 years, lost half its volume, doubled in salinity, and exposed previously submerged tufa towers (limestone structures that grow exclusively underwater).

Moonrise over the Eastern Sierra, as seen from the southern Tufa-lined shores of Mono Lake © Sean Arbabi

Courtesy of NASA

People like David, and those who worked tirelessly at the Mono Lake Committee, fought Los Angeles’ DWP from draining the lake through numerous ecological studies, court cases, and injunctions.  I 1989 I joined the cause, photographing the Mono Lake Bike-A-Thon, capturing over a hundred riders as they peddled 332 miles from the DWP offices to the shores of the lake, raising funds for the fight.  Many of the decisions that came in favor of Mono Lake and the Mono Lake Basin allow us all- humans, birds, and wildlife- to enjoy its wonders.  Sadly, Owens Lake, an ancient body of water covering 108 square miles nestled in southern Owens Valley 10,000 feet below the towering Whitney range, was not able to be saved, drained by the DWP over a span of roughly 40 years.  Full in 1913, desiccated by the mid 1940s.  Much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and today the mostly dry lake bed is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.

Looking west at Highway 136 and Owens Lake below the Whitney Range © Sean Arbabi

David Gaines (courtesy of the Mono Lake Committee)

So why did a photo of a highway remind me of David Gaines, a person I never met?  Well, David was tragically killed in a car accident in the winter of 1988 along Highway 395, south of Mono Lake, on a stretch of road similar to the one I posted above.  I drove along the road he did a few months later and captured that photo above on my first visit to the area.  Someday I will use that road to take my two daughters to the shores of Mono Lake.  I will tell them about the history of this region, about its ancient waters, and how we are still able to share it with future generations thanks to people like David Gaines.  He may have been taken far too early, but he gave far more to the world than most.

Instagram’s shady terms just having changed enough

I definitely enjoy social media, but it’s time to start a big discussion about Instagram.

Reading blogs like this one below, from the well-known amazing photographer Daniel J. Cox, not only confirms my thoughts about Instagram’s lack of “changes” to their photo-rights-stealing terms, but has prompted me to start this talk online and reconsider dumping my Instagram account again.  Read Daniel’s point of view here: http://www.naturalexposures.com/corkboard/instagrams-new-policy-to-steal-your-photos-returns/

Here’s another great blog from Beate Chelette, the PhotoBizCoach, discussing the matter: http://www.photobizcoach.com/2013/01/23/instagrams-fake-changes-to-your-image-rights/?goback=%2Egde_4774947_member_20772942

I have to say though, when Nat Geo came back to Instagram earlier this month (after closing their account back in December with over 600K followers – their new account has over 870K), to me, it was a barometer for Instagram’s supposed change to their recent heavily criticized policy.  I thought, “Well, if Nat Geo isn’t worried about Instagram using their images – a company that prefers strict controls on their photographs to the point that they themselves co-own copyrights to the images their hired photographers have captured, then why should I be concerned?”  That got me wondering.  Is Nat Geo just not worried about their Instagram’s new terms?  Or maybe they set up some deal with Instagram- there’s lots of that going around these days with large internet companies.  Or maybe we’re all just getting fooled here.

What about other companies like the San Francisco 49ers, who I follow, and have over 250K in followers?  Or Coca Cola (only 3500 followers), or eBay (only 1900 followers), or the New York Yankees (85K).  What do they think about all of this?  They are still using the app.

When you read Instagram’s Terms of Service (which they also call their Terms of Use), you may begin to see my concern.  Here is part of it in their words:

These Terms of Use affect your legal rights and obligations. If you do not agree to be bound by all of these Terms of Use, do not access or use the Service.

you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy

Doesn’t sounds like change to me….or at least change that photographers would agree to.  But let’s say you’re not a photographer, or you don’t make money from your photographs – why should you care?  Well, maybe you don’t want someone to use your personal photos for an ad without your permission.  What if that funny instagrammed photo of grandpa was used for a smoking ad, and grandpa happen to die from lung cancer?  Or it was used to see Depends undergarments?  Or they took a photo of your child and sold it to Dupont or Halliburton?  Remember it says “royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post”.  They can do any of this if you follow their words.

Having dealt with this before, I’m not a fan of giving my work away for free to mega-rich (or soon-to-be rich) companies.  Art is a commodity, as is photography, and we as photographers have watched our industry spiral out of control as business people, who realized how much money they could make off of our images, began to control the photo industry more and more.  Stock agency contracts changed with the photographers receiving less and less percentages, editorial rates stagnated and magazine contracts became another rights grab, all the while these companies made more profits that ever before.  

This all reminds me of the old line, “Everyone has learned how to make money off photography, except for photographers”.  

But I’ve refused to be a part of it in the past, and I will continue to pass on companies trying to use underhanded legal wording to get valuable photography for free.  Where has this gotten me?  Well I’ve been a full-time working pro for over twenty years, and I own all the rights to all my photographs – every single image.  Maybe my collection of work will be monetarily valuable to me or my family when I’m old or gone (I know it will be sentimentally valuable), maybe it won’t, but at least we’ll be able to control how my images are used when its time – because I own all my work and anyone who wants to use it needs written consent to license the rights from me for a fee.  See how the “r” is missing from that last word – not “free”, “fee”.  

By the way, if you want to follow me on Instagram, my user name is “arbabi” – but I might not be there for very long.

“Born from Fire” – Granite, Campfire and Stars- my new favorite image

Last month my older brother and I planned a long overdue backpacking weekend up in Yosemite, to retrace some of the steps we took 19 years ago in Tenaya Canyon.  It was a fun badly-needed three days of nothing but hiking, camping, and photographing amongst granite and pines.

We spent the first afternoon in thick fog, backpacking our way up a steep granite dome near Olmsted Point, the second day cross-country backpacking down its wide, long arête then navigating down another steep granite wall into Tenaya Canyon.  We sat and ate lunch on a granite slope dipping our feet in a small pool of rainwater, and as the afternoon light began to fade, we set off searching for a campsite for our second night out.  Working our way through a dense forest and criss-crossing the almost dry Tenaya Creek, we decided to each take a side and see who might find the optimal location to set up camp.  After a few minutes my brother yelled out, “this looks like a nice spot”, and I meandered over to inspect it.  The campsite was perfect – just 25 feet or so from Tenaya Creek, one flat area next to some pines perfect for a tent, a few logs positioned nicely as chairs, and a round glacial erratic granite boulder with a small fire ring built into the side- ironically the only evidence of a past campsite we found in the canyon, yet easy to overlook.

After setting up camp, building a fire, shooting sunset over Half Dome, and cooking dinner, the stars began to appear at twilight.  As we sat cooking apple sausage over the first, I broke out my gear again to see what I might capture that evening.  I soon realized the scene I wanted was to include the campfire, the granite boulder, and the stars, but I wasn’t sure which angle would work best.  After setting up a few shots moving around the erratic, and settled in on a view that would include the campfire.  Understanding exposure well (having written a book on the subject), I knew I’d have to wait for the fire to dwindle down to a small glow in order to have its exposure match the faint glow of ambient light from the stars above.  

When that moment came, I mounted my Nikon D800E DSLR onto my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and Acratech GP ballhead, attached my 12-24mm lens, framed a vertical composition, and began shooting, alternating between ISO 800 all the way up to ISO 3200.  The campfire was still too bright, so while waiting patiently I thought of another idea – to use the light from my headlamp to illuminate the area surrounding the boulder, to add depth and dimension to the foreground.  Firing my shutter for the long exposure, I would move to the right of the boulder, turn on my headlamp, “paint” the area quickly with light, shut it off, then wait for the exposure to complete.  With each frame, I fine-tuned my light painting to make it look as natural and subtle as possible.  This was the result:

The orange glow of a campfire blazing against the granite boulder glacier erratic, below the star-filled night sky including The Milky Way, Pleiades (bottom right- also known as Seven Sisters, Messier object 45 or M45, an open star cluster), Cassiopeia (upper middle left –  a constellation in the northern sky), and the Andromeda Galaxy (upper right – a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth, also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224).  I exposed this scene with my lens set at 18mm, in manual mode, spot metering, for 15.0 seconds using f/4.0 at ISO 1600.

Granite is my all-time favorite type of rock.  There is an energy it gives off that makes me feel so happy.  If I had a previous life, I must have slept on it staring up at the stars because it always feels like home.  Fittingly, granite is an igneous rock, which means “born from fire”, red hot fluid rock that cooled slowly allowing crystals to form within it. So maybe a mimicked nature’s creation with my own creation.

I call this image my ode to Stephen Lyman.  Stephen was a painter who works I greatly admire.  I recall falling in love with his romantic rugged scenes of the Sierra, small campfires glowing at twilight surrounded by granite landscapes.  Sadly he died what he loved doing, off on another trek to find new inspiration, his body recovered from a rocky ledge near the Cathedral Rocks area of Yosemite National Park in 1996.  An experienced outdoorsman, he was only 38.  If you’d like to view some of his great works of art, visit: http://lymanprints.com/

I look forward to making a very large print and matting and framing it for our living room.  Hopefully the photo will sell well in my image library, maybe as a magazine cover someday, definitely as a fine art print.  Regardless, it’s one I’m proud to have captured, and a memory with my brother I’ll never forget.

For more on experiences in Tenaya Canyon, check out my September blog post talking about our trip 19 years ago: http://www.the-photoguru.blogspot.com/#!http://the-photoguru.blogspot.com/2012/09/into-tenaya-canyons-abyss.html

Kolo Content- write a book review, receive a free frame with your own image printed inside!

KOLO CONTEST for all my photo friends, fans, followers!  
 
 
I put this out to all my Facebook, Twitter, & Google+ photo friends last week, but no one has added a review for my current book, so I wanted to blog about it as well.

 
The first TWO people to post a review of my book on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-Nature-Photography-Professional/dp/0817400109) will receive a coupon code for a free 11×14 Kolo frame.  You can personalize by adding a photo, which Kolo will print (at roughly 8×10), mat, frame (in the 11×14 frame of your choosing) and ship to your home- about a $50 value.  This is only valid for US and Canada customers.  
 
 
 
I printed one myself, a photo of my wife and I (taken with my iPhone), and I love the results. Check it out below: 
 
 
So if you’ve read my new nature photography book (The Complete Guide to Nature Photography- Amphoto/Random House) write a review now and win!  Here are details and links again:
 
 
I will see your name and will message you through Amazon – then email me your information and Kolo will email you providing a coupon code.
 
Pick your Kolo frame and personalize it by uploading one of your photos (the Dearborn or Holden frames to personalize): http://kolo.com/mykolo/shop/products/frames/


If you are interesting in purchasing one of my how-to photo books (great for holiday gifts), The Complete Guide to Nature Photography, or, The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure, go here: http://www.seanarbabi.com/products_books.html

Thank you!

Into Tenaya Canyon’s abyss

A fellow photographer and colleague recently posted this link on his Facebook page and it caught my eye.  A Dad and his daughter were recently rescued in Yosemite when they got trapped in this dangerous valley I once photographed – check out the article to read more: http://www.nps.gov/yose/blogs/Stranded-Hikers-Rescued-from-Tenaya-Canyon.htm

When in nature, one wrong decision can turn into an ordeal, a lot of extra work, stress and exhaustion, or worse- severe injury or death.

What caught my attention was the location of where these hikers were rescued from – Tenaya Canyon.  Tenaya Canyon is an area just East of Yosemite Valley, slightly rising above and gradually continuing up toward Tenaya Lake in a series of steep climbs, thousands of feet below Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, and Mount Watkins.  It’s the one area on the topographical maps of Yosemite and the Sierra labeled “Hiking in Tenaya Canyon is dangerous and not recommended”; and it’s one of the spots my brother and I found ourselves in one long backpacking weekend.

Here are a few shots of Tenaya Canyon from different vantage points:

Below: Two views of Tenaya Canyon from Cloud’s Rest, 5000 feet above – the first, a panorama of the canyon, and the second of the last section near Yosemite Valley (at bottom right)

Below: Two sunset/ dusk views of Tenaya Canyon below Half Dome from Olmsted Point

Below: A glacier carved Tenaya Canyon carving through the Sierra toward Half Dome (the black & white in morning light, and the color version at sunset) as seen from Mount Watkins (smoke from a distant forest fire rolls overhead)

John Muir wrote about this area in his story “A Geologist’s Winter Walk“, hiking up the canyon from Mirror Lake.  He writes I thought, a fast and a storm and a difficult canyon were just the medicine I needed.  It’s a good read as is any of his jaunts into the mountains.  In Muir’s words (which I edited down a bit), This canyon is accessible only to mountaineers…After I had passed the tall groves…and scrambled around the Tenaya Fall…ascending a precipitous rock front, smoothed by glacial action, when I suddenly fell — for the first time since I touched foot to Sierra rocks. After several somersaults, I became insensible from the shock, and when consciousness returned I found myself wedged among short, stiff bushes, trembling as if cold, not injured in the slightest.  Judging by the sun, I could not have been insensible very long; probably not a minute, possibly an hour; and I could not remember what made me fall, or where I had fallen from; but I saw that if I had rolled a little further, my mountain climbing would have been finished, for just beyond the bushes the canyon wall steepened and I might have fallen to the bottom. 

And then he writes a line I just love, and one that has become our silly mantra in the outdoors (and in other venues of life) was one he wrote after falling and knocking himself unconscious navigating the treacherous narrow canyon.  

I felt degraded and worthless. 

As in classic Muir fashion, he made it up through the canyon and returned to Yosemite Valley a few days later via a safer route.

By cool efforts, along glassy, ice-worn slopes, I reached the upper end in a little over a day, but was compelled to pass the second night in the gorge…I escaped from the gorge about noon, after accomplishing some of the most delicate feats of mountaineering I ever attempted.

I hadn’t read this account of the canyon before my brother and I took our August trip, but I wished I had.  We headed off on a three-day backpacking trip, not completely planned out, starting with a 7.2 mile trek up to Cloud’s Rest from Tenaya Lake.  We were either going to camp at Cloud’s Rest and return the next day, or spend another day out there somewhere – either heading to the valley or to another high country location.  Not growing up together, it was our first backcountry trip as brothers, so it was special.

Here are a few images I documented along our three-day journey.  The first (below) is a sea of smooth granite curved into a bowl-shaped depression as if from a cirque glacier, captured just down from the Cloud’s Rest trail in an area known as the First Rock Bowl.  This was after we spent a night atop 9,930 foot summit of Cloud’s Rest.  Heading back toward Lake Tenaya, we veered off the trail and cross-country hiked to get here, no designated trail leading us. 

It was a magical spot – Tenaya Creek trickling through various bowls of water we sat next to.  We plan on heading back here in the next month or so – it’s been too long.

At this point, we decided to head toward Yosemite Valley somehow. I had some knowledge Tenaya Canyon didn’t have a trail leading to the valley, so we headed West.  

This fourth image was shot as we head over a ridge cross-country from the First Rock Bowl to a dry creek bed just south of Olmsted Point.  Familiar with my surroundings, I had an idea where we were going, but without a more detailed topo map (mine covered the general area), I didn’t know if we’d hit a trail that would lead us to the valley.

This second day grew long and after climbing up and down a few ridges, we came to a dry creek and followed it to the edge overlooking Tenaya Canyon and across to Half Dome, Quarter Domes, and where we started our day on Cloud’s Rest.  It was a great view but we knew we couldn’t enjoy it for too long because we had to make a decision.  Filled with an adventurous spirit, my brother wanted to head down into the rugged dry river bed, packed thick with granite boulders.  But it looked steep and was the unknown.  I had a bit more backpacking experience and felt uneasy with this choice, but after some discussion of our options agreed with the route.  I told him if we reached any places we felt were points of no return (such as a place were we might be able to get down, but not back up), then we’d turn back.  My fear was we couldn’t see the entire route down, and if it appeared more hazardous than we thought, without ropes or any rock climbing experience, it could be extremely dangerous.  We were also very low on water and expected this river to be one of our fill-up spots.

The rest of the afternoon was spent maneuvering through the dry river bed, passing our backpacks down to each other as to be as balanced and safe as possible, and soon the sun set and it grew too dark and dangerous to continue- even with headlamps.  We had to settle in for the night, in a cramped sandy area too small to even set up our two-man tent.  From this vantage point, we could see Pywiack Cascade flowing 600 feet over a granite lip into Lost Valley.  The base looked to be only a couple of hundred feet down it, maybe 15-20 minute away, but we weren’t even sure we could get there.  We were tempted to continue just for the mere fact our water bottles were now empty.  Without any water for dinner, we ate what food we could and crashed for the night, our throats parched and our spirits a bit dampened.

Daybreak couldn’t come any sooner.  As soon as the first light gave us enough to see, we packed up and continued our scramble down toward the pool of water at the base of the waterfall.  All we had were potable water pills, and the ten minute wait to purify the water was torturous.  When you run out of water and you’re thirsty, boy you appreciate it all the more.  At this point there was still some descent but the valley widened and flattened out, and I was a bit relieved.

Here we stood near the bottom of Pywiack Cascade that morning, deep in Tenaya Canyon looking toward Half Dome at the start of Lost Valley (below).  The image above looking at the Pywiack’s pool and the ridge high up from where we came- little did we know what was ahead.

We played around a bit, then followed Tenaya Creek from the waterfall down into the V-shaped valley, and soon most of the creek seemed to sneak underground as the river bed turned mostly dry, which made it a bit easier to hike through instead of the thick foliage on each side.  Piles of bear scat dotted the valley, a bit unnerving since I knew these bears were probably from Yosemite Valley and less nervous to approach people.  I also had a feeling this rocky dry river bed was the calm before the storm.  I kept saying to myself, this looks easy but where ever this creek comes out, I have a feeling it might not be a good place for us.

Sure enough after a few hours zig-zagging through the rock bed, we came to a sandy area, and just beyond a few large granite boulders (most likely glacier erratics) we came to a place I call “The Gorge of Death”.  A steep drop-off where Tenaya Creek burst out and down into an overhanging gorge, unnavigable without serious climbing experience.  Any hopes of getting to Yosemite Valley, which felt all too close, were dashed.  It was Sunday mid-day and knew we had to decide what to do, but it wasn’t much of a decision – the only option was to hike back to our car at Tenaya Lake, miles away and thousands of feet above.  As we made our way back, a creek bed to our right looked easier and more inviting, but we decided against it, figuring the route we came down was the one we knew best – it was doable and predictable albeit hard.

Below: Retracing our steps back up Tenaya Canyon through the relatively dry Tenaya Creek

So we spent the rest of the day retracing our steps and after a long hike up a few thousand feet in elevation gain, scrambling up the dry river bed, and over a number of false summits, we finally made it back to Olmsted Point – almost out of water again, beat, yet a bit relieved to have no major incidents.  Ahhhhh.  Off with my backpack, remove the boots and socks, guzzle down a gallon of water, smile, and drive on home.

I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Lost Valley – maybe above it where it’s safer and more accessible, but not all the way down into Tenaya Canyon.  It was an adventure, but one that could have easily turned bad.  With a little luck, being extremely careful when my inner voice was telling me to heed the warnings, we had a special memory instead of a nightmare.

Below: A ridge above Olmsted Point at dusk

For more on navigating Tenaya Canyon, take serious caution, don’t travel alone, know what you’re doing, tell someone where you’re going, take lots of water, and see the route description at: http://www.summitpost.org/tenaya-canyon/160152

A photographic gift

My 82 year old neighbor invited me over yesterday.  We’ve lived across the street from each other the past ten years, share the same birthday (different year of course), and had talked from time to time about life’s happenings.  To my surprise, I come to find out he’s a photography buff like myself.  I knew he was into photography- he picked up both my books and asked me to sign them- but I didn’t know how much.  So yesterday, he wanted me to come over and check out his collection of cameras – over 110 in all.

His wife of 60 years past away earlier this year, and he’s moving to a retirement community in a few months.  He hoped to donate his collection to the local museum, but they said they didn’t have enough space.  So I walked into his office to view his collection and we talked shop about various cameras, many of which were his personal cameras that he snapped photos with, dating all the way back to 1956.  Kodak brownies (even a cool red one), a few movie cameras, even an old sleek black Viewmaster.

I told him I’d help him look around to find an organization that might be interested in the collection.  Then he turned to me and said, “Sean, I asked you over to let you pick out any camera you want”- totally caught me by surprise.  I told him I couldn’t accept the offer, but he insisted.  So instead of taking one of the cameras, or finding the most expensive one (which I’d never do), and decided on something else.  

He had what looked to be an old wooden film plate – what I thought might be a plate photographers coasted with chemicals and slid into the backs of their 4×5 or 8×10 field cameras to produce a glass plate image.  It looks real cool and seemed original.  Although I didn’t chose it, he knew and liked it, so he pulled it off the shelf and gave it to me.  I accepted his kind gift and told him I’d work on getting the rest of his collection into a place that could educate future generations on some of the history of photography.  I also took a few old photos of him to restore as a trade for the wooden plate.

 
 

I went home, did some research, and came to find out the wooden piece was a “camera print hinged wood plate holder frame – spring loaded” – I assume to be used to frame still photographs from the day.  Anthony and Scovill Co was printed on the back, the manufacturer of the piece of photo equipment, with “patented Aug 12 1880″ pressed into the wood.  It features a double spring hinged back with early type time indicator (not sure what that means).  The frame measures 6 1/4″ x 8 1/2” and apparently “will accept up to a 4 1/4″ x 6 1/2″ plate”.  Not an expensive piece by any means, but a very nice antique photography collectible over 132 years old.

It’s a very cool piece. I put a family photo inside and added it to our living room decor.  I wonder where it’s been and who used it. I’m sure someday I’ll give it away myself, trying to remember this story.  I hope my neighbor enjoys the last part of his life- I can’t imagine how hard it must be to not have his wife by his side.

The boathouse at dusk, Inverness, California

Last Saturday, I was teaching a photo workshop in Point Reyes National Seashore through the Point Reyes Field Institute. I’ve taught 2-4 workshops a year over the past 13 years, and wrote an article in Outdoor Photographer a couple of years ago about photographers past and present capturing images along this beautiful coastal region north of San Francisco – it’s a joy and a privilege to be part of the group of past and present image-makers.

So on July 28th I headed out from my home in the East Bay and drove an hour and a half to lecture at the Red Barn classroom near the Bear Valley Visitor Center – great place to teach.  We started at 1pm, I lectured about photographic exposure ’til about 5pm, and then after a break we drove up to Pierce Point Ranch, parked at the lower lot and hiked down to McClure Beach.  My hopes for nice sunset were a bit dashed as we drove through the park since waves of fog and wind were battering the coast (it was fairly sunny back at the Red Barn).  After a couple of hours talking shop on the beautiful storm beach we hiked down to, I thanked my students and we all headed on our respective ways.

Driving back to the Red Barn classroom to pick up some of gear, I passed back through Inverness- a small quaint little town along Tomales Bay.  The light dimmed, cabin and home lights began to glow, and my photographic mind began to turn.  I love the time between dusk and dark – twilight – that ethereal deep blue light that casts across the land – add the artificial lights of a cabin, a building, a tent and the combo makes for a nice moody image.  So I parked my car just off the road, grabbed my DSLR, tripod and a 12-24mm f/4 lens and hiked down a few feet into the bushes near the shore.  As I metered, I waited for the artificial light to balance with the ambient light, then shot a number of compositions.  The scene felt mysterious and magical, and after a long day it was like a little gift.

Wish the web offered more colors, but it’s limited – especially for tones like this deep blue- so the original looks better (as probably the case with most images on the web).

The caption reads:  USA: California: Marin County: Inverness: Lights shine on a pier,  “Launch for Hire”, Brock Schreiber’s boathouse at dusk along the shores of Tomales Bay, as seen from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (preserved as prominent local landmark)

Exposed for 30 seconds at f/10 using ISO 200, at 24mm, spot metering with my trusty new Nikon D800E DSLR – my 36MP beast of beauty as I call it.  Processing the RAW in ACR, I recovered very little of the bright lights of the boathouse – that was about it.  You can see a larger copyrighted version here: http://twitpic.com/afi2b5/full