Thousands of Ross’s geese fill the dusk sky above California’s San Joaquin Valley
The light and the photographic subjects pass through a series of stages at the end of the day in these wetlands areas. The nondescript late afternoon light takes on a warmer tone as the sun drops toward the horizon and shadows lengthen, and often clouds in the distant west may momentarily mute the light. There is still plenty of light for traditional bird photography, as the direct sunlight has not yet disappeared. Before long comes the last bit of direct sun, golden in color on the bodies of white geese, and then it is twilight.
At this transitional moment all sort of light magic can happen. As flocks of birds wheel around in the night sky they take on different colors — the gold of reflected sunset, the blue of the eastern sky that is transitioning towards night, and sometimes they simply are black against the sky. And the sky shifts colors, too. Sometimes the effect is wild and gaudy, but more often it is subtle, with tones of pink and blue and purple and more. By the time I made this photograph the light was becoming quite dim, and it was dark enough that I could no longer maintain a shutter speed that would stop the motion of the birds. So I no longer tried! I use a longer shutter speed and pan, watching for the flocks to compose themselves in interesting ways, always in constant motion, and against the colors of the evening sky.
Ross’s geese in flight above San Joaquin Valley wetlands in dusk light
This was a beautiful mid-winter day in the San Joaquin Valley. It began with a two-hour pre-dawn drive from home, starting earlier than a month ago now that the days are beginning to lengthen again. I drove in clear weather and it remained so as the sky began to brighten as I entered the valley, but as I got closer to my destination I was pleased to encounter for — thin at first but within minutes so think that I had to slow and turn on fog lights. I arrived at my destination a half hour before sunrise, and began photographing, working all morning before finally taking a break for lunch.
My friends Claudia and Michael had dropped a hint in an email that they might be out that way later in the day, and I was pleased to find them there when I came back from my break. We greeted one another, took a quick trip around the area to scout the birds for evening photography, and then ended right back were we started. Big groups of sandhill cranes and geese (mostly Ross’s but with a few other interlopers mixed in) were active in newly turned fields nearby, so we found a good vantage point and watched as the evening light came on. Eventually the light became so dim that it was no longer really possible to make sharp stop-motion photographs of birds in flight. This is, in a way, one of my favorite times of day, when I switch over from a more typical kind of bird photography and begin to go with the darkness, using slow shutter speeds and panning along with the motion of flocks, and making photographs that work with the motion blur of low light and slower shutter speeds.
A hazy late-summer day at a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake, Yosemite National Park
With all of the recent urban and street photography I have been posting — which is a bit seasonal pattern, given my travel tendencies — I’m also making an effort to go back through some older photographs from last year to find landscape photography that escaped my notice on the first pass. This always happens with photographs — for some reason certain images don’t make sense right after I make them, but when I come back to them later on with a fresh eye I see potential that I missed. Right now I’m revisiting late-summer photographs from a week-long backcountry stay at a Yosemite lake.
For me, this photograph holds many of the subtler elements of the High Sierra experience — not the spectacular grand vistas, but something deeper and ultimately perhaps more powerful. In this beautiful late-season time of year, the meadow grasses around this quiet lake have finished the wild growth phase of summer and have already turned golden-yellow in preparation for autumn and then winter. Lower angle light comes over the shoulder of the granite ridge whose base is visible beyond the trees. Widely spaced trees stand at the edges of the meadow and even trace weaknesses in the granite slabs on the higher slopes.
A free hour or a bit more, so we took a quick walk out on the Brooklyn Bridge on a cold and windy day that was trying to rain — to join the surprising number of other people with just the same illogical idea. This bridge is a great place from which to watch many things: boats on the east river, the buildings of Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn waterfront, the bridge itself and, of course, the people walking past by the hundreds or thousands.
The people provide a lot of photographic possibilities, but those possibilities come and go quickly. Our of an amorphous crowd so thick that I can’t see ten feet ahead of me, an interesting subject might suddenly appear. Of someone might do something surprising and interesting, but only for a brief moment. And then there are the selfies… It is no news that they have become a “thing.” The camera/phone is held at a high angle pointing down, and the subjects’ faces are almost invariably tilted up. Participants in the ritual usually lean their heads together and tilt them to one side. And then there is that smile — I wonder sometimes what it is supposed to be: a bit edgy/wry and highly posed. A moment before this group was simply walking towards me like all the other groups, but suddenly a phone came out, the arm went up, the heads turned, and there it was.
Morning light and reflections on the rocky shoreline of a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake
A wonderful thing about making photographs is that I get to travel backwards and forwards in time almost at will. Here it is in the middle of winter, and by looking back a few months in my archive I can go right back to a beautiful late summer week spent photographing around a Yosemite subalpine lake with a couple of friends. All of the sensory memories come right back: the stillness of the morning lake as the first sun worked its way through high clouds and haze, the memory of carrying my camera around the perimeter of that lake every morning as I looked slowly of subjects, the first colors of Sierra autumn.
We camped here for a full week, working intensively to photograph in and around one small area. If you haven’t done this you could be forgiven for wondering how in the world one could spend an entire week in area not much larger than a mile or two across. In fact, I still have those doubts at the start of any trip like this. All I can say is that, inevitably, the end of such a week comes too soon, I depart with many things left unphotographed, and I often return to these places again and find even more to see and photograph.
A small portion of a colorful graffiti covered wall, Brooklyn
I used to have a firm policy of virtually never photographing graffiti, and when I couldn’t avoid it I would remove or modify it in post so as to not be part of the sharing that might encourage the sort of graffiti that is really simple vandalism. I still avoid photographing simple “tags” in most cases, especially when they offer little more than the evidence that some anonymous person wrote on a wall. I also have this nagging feeling that photographing graffiti-ridden cityscapes can too easily become a street photography cliché.
However, I’ve become more open to the idea of finding and photographing the accumulative juxtapositions of layers of drawing, painting, posters, and weathering that show up on some urban walls. That’s my way of explaining why I stopped to photograph this Brooklyn wall, moving in close to find compositions among the colors, lines, and shapes that have built up over time and which have been revealed as time has weathered away later layers.
If you wander about in New York City with your eyes open, who knows what you might see? We had an extra hour or so, and since we had been staying nearby for about a week and were only a short walk away, we decided to make a quick amble out onto the Brooklyn Bridge, even though it was cold and raw and trying to rain. The bridge, of course, was crowded with walkers, even in this uncomfortable winter weather. That meant that there were lots of opportunities of people watching and people photographing.
Most people go by so fast that only a quick photograph works, especially when crowds obstruct the view past the closest figures. Oddly, at this spot in the bridge the foot traffic seems to momentarily thin and break, and I could see this small group — perhaps a father and sons? — posing for a rather unusual Brooklyn Bridge photograph. Each of the kids was in a costume and mask of some sort, and the juxtaposition of these “little monsters” with the bridge was a surprise.