Category Archives: Iceland

I’m sticking with photography. I love it.

Morning Glory, Foliage, and Birches

As I’ve mentioned before in the blog, I’m a fan of ukiko-ee (“floating world”) woodblock prints. A friend, Matt Brown, who is a master of the medium, recently gave me the opportunity to take a workshop on how to make them. (If you are interested, you can contact him through his website, which I designed for him in the 90s (!) and still maintain in fits and starts). I had to think long and hard. He suggested that I could make my vision more special, because the woodblock prints are rarer.

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, you know, I really love photography. Maybe it is less special, since anyone has some kind of camera in their pocket. I thought, better to keep applying myself to something I can do well, instead of taking up something that will take me a long time to be as good at.

I thought about the range of my pallette as a photographer. A lot of successful photographers have a thing, one thing, that they try to be known for. But I love the range of possibilities, the whole spectrum, from the different ways that lenses draw, the tonal pallette of colors, the tones and forms and textures of black and white; from the smooth buttery blur of a classic old lens to the sharp incredible detail of a well coated and well designed modern prime lens on a state of the art sensor.

So here I’ve got two poles of this multi-axis graph of possibilities: a smooth painterly shallow depth of field blur from an old lens that does that well (the same old Olympus 50/2 that drew one of the photos from last week’s post), and a modern lens below a waterfall in Iceland. Both I like, along the “nice color and dreamy” axis — but also both representing different ends of the range of detail (though the moving water with a slow shutter speed is rather blurred in a way I love).

Waterfall River, Angelica, and Basalt Cliff, Iceland

There is so much in the range of my possibilities, and though there are many my body of work doesn’t include, when I think about the range of possibilities it brings me great joy.

Melting Glacier Chunk at Black Sand Beach, Vatnajökull, Iceland, 2017

Melting Glacier Chunk, Iceland

(this image can be seen in higher resolution and purchased as a print on its page)

I’ve recently been in Iceland, for two weeks. I’m still evaluating exposures I made. I have a lot of work to do on this as on so many other things, including hanging a show of photos soon. It’ll be a while.

With three hurricanes simultaneously in the waters off the east coast of the US, Irma breaking records and destroying Carribean Islands, about to destroy some parts of Florida most likely, with Houston still struggling to rescue people from hurricane Harvey, it seems like a good time for everyone to point out why this is happening. The oceans are warmer than what used to be considered normal. This fuels bad storms, much worse storms. The global climate is changing because of human carbon emissions. The glaciers are melting, in Iceland and everywhere.

So this glacier on the east coast of Iceland, Vatnajökull, of course is receding, melting, calving off chunks. I guess it’s usually normal in Iceland for there to be chunks of glacier on the beach nearby in summer, but on this day, I took my shoes off and the black sand of that beach was quite warm underfoot. This chunk of glacier was melting fast into the water at the edge of the beach.

It’s always funny as a photographer, or a human in general, to revisit an experience. I had been in Iceland on a honeymoon ten years ago, with no expectations. That was completely mind blowing.
(My Iceland page is so far mostly those older images, but I will be adding new ones no doubt.)
This time I was loaded with better gear and more skill as a photographer on the positive side, but on the negative side I was burdened by mind full of concepts of ICELAND to try to push past and be fresh. We’ll see if I managed to see freshly for more than a few bursts here and there.

This was made with the Contax G 90mm lens, and old and inexpensive film-era lens, adapted to my modern camera, which is one of the sharpest and most aggressively contrasty lenses I’ve ever owned, if not the most.

Of course everything was different, even though it was the same time of year. It was relatively warm in the days, and I guess we were lucky to have little rain. That also meant fewer weather-clouds. On the one hand we could walk and photograph mostly without being wet and cold. On the other the weather was a little bit less interesting. Of course the warming climate is, um, “interesting.”

I called up a friend who is a college professor in Chinese culture, literature, and I asked him if it was true that there was a Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” He told me he thought it was a myth that we think that is a Chinese curse.

Well, cursed or blessed, we are certainly living in interesting times, weather-wise and other-wise. I miss being a bit bored sometimes.

Black and White Sheep on Curved Road, Iceland, 2007

This follow’s last weeks post with a curve. Somehow this image bumped a long line of work that is jostling to see the light of day.

I had looked at this in my catalog carefully in the past, but as a color image, and I abandoned any effort to bring it to light. This morning, bumping both other photographic efforts and client web work I need to do, this grabbed me and ran with me all the way to photo of the week this afternoon.

This image can be viewed at higher resolution, and it is now for sale as a print.

Curves on Fjord Edge, Iceland

I’ve been putting together a lot of panoramas from files lately and finding a lot of gems I hardly knew I had.

I had tried putting this one together in the past, but somehow I didn’t have the chops to pull it off, or I couldn’t get my mind to visualize it properly. I thought it didn’t work. This time I think it really works!

This image is for sale and can be viewed in higher resolution here.

Iceland Panorama – Volcanic Rocks and Distant Mountain Seascape

I’ve been wrestling with some newer images — hard to decide about those. But then sometimes some older ones snap into perspective: Oh yes. I put this panorama together from the iceland 2007 trip the other day, and it’s one of those, “Why didn’t I do that sooner?”

I also have a lot of “Why haven’t I done that yet?” images. Well, it’s clear why. Not quite enough time for everything…

Moving on after the exhibition spanning the holidays — lots of work to do on the site and the images.

This photo is available for sale and can be seen at a larger size here.

Basalt Column Cliff, Infrared, Iceland

basalt column cliff iceland

Well, it’s been a while since a new photo of the week has been published. The exhibit is down. It’s been a busy time.

One thing I’m up to now is reworking a lot of my images. Hint for photographers, but not for lazy photographers: always shoot raw. As algorithms to demosaic raw sensor data evolve faster than sensors, some high end modern raw processors will do a much better job of rendering images than when they were exposed, if they’re not brand new.

In that process, I’m sorting through the catalog and making piles and piles of work for myself; older images to redo, and new images to bring to light.

This is one that has been on the list for a long time. It’s one example of an image that makes me want to print everything and not show on computer screens. It’s better a bit quiet, and if a screen is bright and cranked up to quite-bright, this image is a bit too hot somehow. The energy is all wrong. I almost didn’t publish it a few times, seeing it that way on the laptop, but when things are calibrated, it’s good. I’m confident it will be a good print.

This image can be viewed larger here.

Twin Rock Outcrop, Iceland Panorama, with Bird, reverse side

Twin rock outcrop, iceland

Sometimes the photo-of-the-week choice is inspired by something I want to write about, which helps, given how many photos I have to choose from. Sometimes the photo pops up in my face, and I have to post it, and there isn’t much to say. This photo has been trying to get itself posted for some months now.

Today I decided to post “this” image, or in any case a panorama from this side of these rocks. The other side has been online for quite a while. I had already worked on the image, so I thought it might be easy to post. Oops.

This was late in the day. It was cold; we were cold, and I’d already been spending too much time at this spot. The light was failing and I was hurrying. Instead of digging out my tripod and working slowly, I pushed up the ISO a little bit and underexposed a bit in order to be able to make hand-held exposures. The original panorama I had made had some noise problems in some of the images. Luckily those weren’t the only ones I had made, and another series was able to work out too. Always slow and fiddly work to make these panoramas. It’s crazy, but they are so glorious when printed large.

Iceland seems to suddenly be a huge destination for photographers. In keeping my ear to the ground, I hear “Iceland” all the time. So for all you traveling-to-iceland photographers: enjoy and be careful. Take your time even if you’re freezing. Use a tripod more than you want to. You won’t be back for too long, this is your chance. It’s just like the rest of life, really.

This photo can be seen larger here, and it is for sale.

Not Too Tight, Not Too Loose; Barack Obama and Kandinsky; Two New Iceland Photos

This print is for sale and in more detail here.

A short, very helpful story goes like this:

A musician asked the Buddha, “How should I meditate?”

The Buddha asked, “How do you tune your instrument?”

The musican replied, “Not too tight, not too loose.”

“Just so, you should work with your mind.”

OK, so what does that mean, and why am I writing about it on a photography blog with Iceland photos featured this week?

My take on the very simple, but not so simple, instruction by the Buddha is that he was talking about how much effort to apply to mindfulness — which is the effort we exert to contact the already existing ground of awareness. The thing that makes this infinitely interesting is that the “sweet spot,” not too tight, not too loose, will always depend on what you are working with, on the nature of your own mind. Ken McLeod has compared this very aptly to riding a bicycle, which is never a static process. You lean a little bit one way, a little the other way, always getting back to balance.

So the way this relates to my photography is that in this mental balancing in meditation, it depends on a lot of things. For one thing, it depends on how much energy you are working with.

And in the composition of a photograph, hopefully there is energy. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. It can all work, whether a lot, a little, or in between, and it’s a balancing act. Just as in meditation, photographic composition can be quite paradoxical. When there is very little energy, connection with stillness — or in a photograph maybe a minimalist composition — there can actually then be a lot of energy as a result of that. In the meditation there might be some bliss in that stillness, or a lot of energy as one suddenly contacts fear of the vastness one might sense in that stillness. A quiet photograph can soar and sing. Conversely, a lot of energy in an agitated mind — or in a wild composition — can actually lose some kind of power, but not necessarily. It’s just a question of how to work with that extra energy. It takes skill and practice.

I’m pleased with the photo above, the black and white sheep separated by a ditch. It has balance; it’s quiet, but out of that some energy pushes out. In this case I had to make the quiet tones sing and become something more than a gray day. It wasn’t easy, but maybe it was easier than working with a lot of energy.

When I was young, I used to try to put a lot of energy into a composition, and it was hard. Of course I’ve always liked Van Gogh, who puts incredible energy into relatively simple compositions. But another interesting case, I’ve mentioned before, is Vasily Kandinsky. His compositions are full of incredible energy. I was drawn to them when I was young, and even more now. Now I look at them and say, “That is mind!” But it’s hard to do that, to work with a lot of energy. When I was young I tried and failed a lot. Now I inch my way toward full-blown expressions of energy, sometimes, while more often appreciating something quiet.

Barack Obama tours the Centre Pompidou modern art museum, Vassily Kandinsky on the walls

The different streams of meditation practice that have evolved since the time of the Buddha have evolved different approaches in how to deal with a lot of energy-in-mind. The subject goes far beyond the scope of this post, or my qualifications to write on such an exhaustive subject. But one approach favored by the Tibetans is very interesting: Space. Can you get in touch with space, with vastness bigger than the tangle of energy in your mind? Be bigger than the wild energy in your mind. It takes practice, but it can work. Interestingly, part of what makes the wild paintings work in the museum context is the space around them. The room is clean, open, white, relatively vast.

So, here’s another Iceland image with maybe more energy than the two sheep by the fjord. These vibrant beached fishing floats are within a vast space. Ahh, let them be there.

Beached Fishing Floats, Iceland

This print is in more detail and for sale here.

Single Lava Rock and Fjord, Western Iceland 2007

Single Lava Rock Fjord Panorama Iceland

I’ve been working on panoramas a bit, thinking of infrared as I prepare to send off a better camera to get another dedicated infrared conversion (still not sure whether to use Lifepixel or Kolari Vision). And, Iceland has been in the US press lately in regards to the Hidden Folk.

First, for the panorama: this has been a tricky one. Just a little bit off-vertical on a few shots, and it’s very hard to get the ocean horizon to line up. Thanks to a few new tools in my box, and mostly due to the development of patience and technique, and even more due to stubborn determination, I pushed this one through. I got the sense that it would be good, and worth it, so I spent hours and hours. I actually have a handful of variations of this rock/fjord in panorama, both with the infrared and conventional DSLRs, but I liked the way the triangles worked in this composition.

Also, I wanted to talk about the (now no longer linkable) AP article and its ilk that were bouncing around right before Christmas this year. I think this story ran because they used the word “elves” for the beings that many Icelandic people believe inhabit the landscape. Christmas. Elves. Get it? Our guidebook used the word “fairies,” which strikes me as better, more ethereal and less tangible somehow –which is what this is all about. I’ve seen many Americans in the comments section mocking the notion. Well, whether we do the usual human thing of projecting a human personification upon that which is too big to grasp, or however we try to reach out our mind into that which is bigger — it’s no matter. We do the best we can. But better to reach than to close down.

The idea is: “There’s more going on here than I can articulate or grasp. There is energy, beyond what I understand, beyond the merely human.” Call it elves, fairies, god, drala, magic, whatever. Me, I just try to make a good photograph with it as an ally.

This print is for sale here.

Horizontal Staircase, Iceland

horizontal staircase, infrared, iceland

I posted last week’s Icelandic horizontal Ladder image from a beach vacation, which was quite lovely and full of photographs. Instead of posting some of that new work, I’ll continue along this thread of ancient inspiration.

Last week’s ladder came up out of nowhere to be a “finished” work, but this week’s Horizontal Staircase image has been brewing for a long time. I see it a lot, among the images I want to work on, but until now, somehow I’ve never been able to correctly “print” it, even to screen. Interpreting, manifesting the raw image is more than half the battle in photography.

I’ve probably mentioned before in this blog what a valuable experience it was, while studying with John Sexton in 1982, (he was at the time Ansel Adam’s assistant) to see the process of an Ansel Adams print. We had the opportunity to view a series of prints, or really versions of a single print, of Ansel Adams, from straight print through several work prints, to a final print. The work prints detailed the burning, dodging, and chemistry changes, and the impact on the prints was dramatic. The original straight print was really pretty dull, until he figured out how to make it speak, until he ultimately “performed” it. Ansel used to say that the negative is like a composers score, and the print is the performance (and it may be performed differently at different times).

So, with this horizontal staircase, I’ve had some trouble over the last 6 years, since exposing it. I knew I wanted to give it wings, but I just couldn’t get it right. Inspired by last week’s image, I decided that these two are a series, and indeed they were exposed within a few hundred yards of each other. I used some technical direction from last week’s final post, and I think I’ve got this image to where it’s good enough to post. Yay!

In other news on the front, I’ve implemented, or done the technical implementation, for retina image displays in the lightbox display from the home page, and eventually for the “detail” pages. But now I have a huge amount of image resizing and image-size-code to put in place. Well, if you have a “retina” device, like a newer iPad, they will look quite splendid.

This print is for sale here.