Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shooting the Cold (I)

Twenty years on and I still can't let it go. I was California dream'n with those sunny December days and January rains. It was my winter-free life, a perfect weather world that I admit to occasionally missing. I was young, a college student, a researcher and a photographer. I could motor to the bay on my Vespa, collect some data on foraging shorebirds and snap a few photos without ever needing a jacket or long-sleaved shirt. If I wanted to see snow, I could drive into the Sierra's, strap on the skis and pretend to be cold. Life was good, but it was also a bore. 

The West Coast has a homogenous climate that can be too good to be true. While I never had to endure the ├╝ber-cold that I now suffer in the midwest, I craved the diversity of life and landscape that defines seasonal change. In California I had to drive to the mountains for snow, to the beach for water, and to the desert for drama. In contrast, the drama now comes to me as summer gives way to fall, fall to winter, and winter to spring. Each season ushers in renewal, diversity and change. 
Minnesota is a cold place to live with subzero temperatures that stretch into the negative double digits. These extremes create a unique landscape that is anything but static. The frigid air impacts the movement of wildlife, the texture of the land, and the light that illuminates.  

On one magical Saturday, the effect of microclimates was visible across the landscape. It was bitterly cold, but the radiant heat from below caused moist air to rise, condense and freeze as it collided with the cold air aloft. The hoar frost clung to the branches and sparkled like fine diamond jewelry. To capture the magic of this moment, I focused my 300mm lens on the crystal-laden trees, set the aperture to f/5.6 and spot metered the most reflective part of the landscape. Had I accepted the meter's reading, the sparkling frost would have appeared as tones of gray. Knowing that I wanted the trees to glow against the darker background, I increased the metered exposure by one stop from 1/320 of a second to 1/160. By exposing for the lighter tones, I was able to capture the reflective frost and add contrast to the foreground. 

While I am challenged by the long Minnesota winters and the bitter cold that defines these months, I embrace the opportunity that the inclement weather offers. The cool winter light, crisp air, and precipitation events open the door for a type of creative expression that was never possible during those winterless California days. 
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Kenya 2010: Final Thoughts

Photography is much more than a record of some fleeting moment in time. The images we produce are a reflection of our experiences and lives. The well known author and travel photographer Rick Sammon, claims... "the camera looks both ways." In short, the final image is more than reflected light striking a sensor or piece of film, it is an expression of the artist, photographer, and seer. It is a purposeful interpretation of the moment.
While the tools required to produce todays' digital images are more sophisticated than the light-tight boxes that once clung to sheets of film, it is the intent of the image-maker that continues to define the final photograph. The modern camera can suggest an exposure, composition, and final processing, but the photographer still gets to choose the moment... the perspective... the time in which the shutter is released.
All of this modern technology simplifies and complicates the photo-experience. The dichotomy can confound the novice and experienced shooter, and enable a paralysis that blocks creativity. While modern cameras are more capable than ever, these capabilities can obstruct the seer from seeing. When the tools cloud our vision and stifle our potential, we must seek a new balance... we must learn to manipulate the tools rather than allowing the tools to manipulate us. 

Immerse yourself in your image making experience; be the vision maker. 
Travel with your gear, take a photo walk, and carry the camera. Use your tools to imprint your mark on the fleeting event and seek to do more than document the occasion. Our time in Kenya was about being there... living the moment... telling a story... sharing a vision.
©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Just Can't Stay Inside!

Tough... resilient... hardy... ignorant?
It snowed for two days and an ice pyramid now sits outside my front door. 
It was a sultry minus 12 degrees during my morning drives to work this week. 
The wind and damp air penetrates layered clothes every time I dare to venture out of doors.
We are Minnesotans... we are tough, resilient, hardy and... ignorant. 

We have to be ignorant to live here. To survive the long winter that begins each fall, one must ignore the fact that there are warmer places to live. Our collective existence requires that we ignore the cold and unpredictable weather. Furthermore, to combat the inevitable slide into depression, we must all ignore personal safety and venture outside every now and again.

Find something to photograph... much like a dog searching for a tasty morsel, this is the stimulus that keeps me going forward during the long winter months. This Saturday was like every other cold Saturday morning. The internal and external alarm buzzed the brain at 5:30, and the debate began. Should I get out of this warm bed? Really!? At some point, I lose the debate and give into my desire to taste adventure.

On this particular Saturday, I managed to convince Tamy to join me. She was reluctant, as our work week was nothing short of dreadful, but she too relented to our calling. We must try to enjoy the winter, we must try to enjoy this experience, we must distance ourselves from the oppression. 
The light sucked. It was overcast and the air was both dry and damp at the same time. The cool breeze sucked the moisture from our faces and hands, but the birds kept flying in. We could not stop our desire to document the moment. Swans who were too ignorant to realize that that warmer weather was just a flight away soared into the Mississippi river in search of shelter and food. As the sun rose behind the overcast sky, Tamy and I panned flocks of birds as they flew by. The wind hammered at our fingers and toes, but we were too ignorant to care... we were living the winter, enjoying the adventure, and running from depression.
©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Day After

On October 31, 1991 it snowed continuously for two days. Tamy and I were new residents to Minnesota... transplants from sunny Southern California. By the time it was all over, more than twenty inches of snow fell from the sky. Our Toyota pick-up truck was no match for the event, and we slid through every stop sign and traffic signal in an attempt to get to work. We were cold, miserable, and longed for the intensity of the West Coast sun. That was two decades ago, and this is today. 
History repeats... more than a platitude, it is a truth. It began to snow Friday evening and continued throughout Saturday. Armed with a Subaru Outback I navigated the blowing and drifting snow in attempt to ferry Tamy to work once again. Seventeen inches of packed snow accumulated in our driveway and now forms a mountainous pile that rivals an Everest Summit. It's cold... 5 degrees Fahrenheit... minus 20 windchill... Yes, history repeats... I now long for those warming rays of that West Coast sun.
About the Image:
This is "The Day After." Shot on Sunday at dusk, the wind was blowing from the North and I am standing in three feet of snow. The outside temperature is 5 degrees F w/ a minus 20 degree windchill. The Canon 1DsII is a remarkably resilient camera. Shot with a 50mm lens @ f11, I waited for the breeze to subside to produce a blur-free image. It was so cold that I could only managed to shoot four frames before packing up the gear and retreating to the warmth of my Subaru!
©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kenya 2010: Taking in the Long View

Safari is to adrenaline as waterfall is to tranquility... 
The rush of being face to face with the giants that inhabit the African savanna is a challenge for me to articulate. While our images often convey the majesty of these animals, they can lack my emotive response to the experience. The same can be said for the vastness of the African wilderness. 
A wildlife safari is the antithesis of a landscape expedition. Participating in big game safaris limits mobility, perspective, and point of view. Restricted to a vehicle and roads that cut through vast wilderness, this is no place for a tripod carrying photographer. With predators looking for easy prey, the soft flesh of a plump human might be an irresistible hors d'oeuvres for a hyena lurking in the bush. As a result, our African landscapes are often feeble attempts to document a sense of place. They, sadly, are made as an afterthought, a brief opportunistic moment, and during the waning seconds before meals.
After leaving Africa for the second time, I could not help but think about the missed opportunities. "What about the landscapes"... another error in judgement... another time?
I love landscape photography... 
In fact, I like to think that our photography is more about the place than about the animals who live there. It's the ecosystem that motivates my own vision. I strive to illustrate the tension between flora, fauna, and geography in an attempt to portray the conflict and harmony inherent in every living landscape. The way I see it, life exists on the edge defined by adaptation, change, and unpredictability; it is in the greater landscape that we can all peer into this reality of a vibrant and diverse natural world.
©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission