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The Meditative Look

 (DavidRaboin)

Photography is the art of seeing.  Over time, anyone who practices photography becomes attuned to light, shadow, colors, shapes and gestures.  This super-sensitivity to the visual world can lead photographers into beautifully transcendental moments.  That’s probably the biggest reward for practicing photography.  I try to express what it feels like to have one of these glorious moments of seeing with dramatic photographs of our everyday world.

 (DavidRaboin)

Maybe I’m not the right the right messenger because my photos almost always come out loud, and the art of noticing is actually quiet, requiring whatever you’d call the opposite of effort.  Good photography is a playful process.  Possibly a better way to explain this state of attentive bliss is through a video I came across yesterday (sometimes having little kids opens one to new insights).  This video is about listening but it could also be about seeing, or any other sense for that matter.

*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

Big Sur (Day 1)

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After an hour driving south on the 101 from the Bay Area, Silicon Valley’s sprawl gradually opens up to farmland.  Tesla Roadsters and shiny Mercedes are replaced by pickups.  Eight lanes of traffic dwindles to just four and vegetable stands pop up along the roadside.  South of Gilroy, my grey VW wagon, with the empty child seat in back, streaks by some ancient Mexican adobe ruins and follows the highway as it starts climbing the coast range.  The valley narrows towards the pass and the grassy hillsides steepen to form canyon walls thick with live oak and stands of eucalyptus.  At the crest of the pass, the highway twists around a few massive boulders and then we start back downhill in the general direction of the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve made our escape.  Maria and I are taking our first trip without the kids in three years.  We’re on our way to Big Sur and the Central Coast.  We exit the freeway and take a two lane highway to the ocean. Then, we merge onto California’s famous Highway 1 where it skirts the massive wall of dunes that ring Monterey Bay.  Sand drifts like snow on the pavement.  Angel white gulls with snapping beaks careen across the sky.  In the distance we see the piney ridge that forms the spine of the Monterey Peninsula.  The surf is up and a misty layer of sea-spay fogs the lower elevations.

From my experience, there is no other place in the continental United States that can immediately alter your state of mind like the Big Sur Coast.  Though technically not yet Big Sur, passing the roadside Jolly Buddha statue on the downhill run towards Carmel is where the mind warp begins.  Here, where the coastal fog gets tangled in the pine bows, a measurable amount of mental sludge evaporates.  This is only the first step towards a deeper unraveling.  A few miles further, after curving around rocky bays and passing several misty redwood canyons, the landscape of Big Sur opens up.  You see the jagged, raw hills, lifted by tectonic activity, standing tall in the sun above the turbulent sea.  Wind and surf pound the exposed bedrock.  Down on a rocky beach a sea-lion basks in the late afternoon sun, a scar in the shape of a shark’s jaw marks his belly.  In Big Sur, all the planet’s forces are on clear display and one automatically feels small and insignificant.  But then, as you gradually remember that you too were built, body and mind, for this wild world, a deep calm sets in.  You stop at the first pullout, unbuckle your seat-belt, and scamper down to the beach like dog that’s finally let off leash.  Big Sur takes you from zero to relaxed in 3.5 seconds.

That’s the ideal way to experience Big Sur, but Maria and I are in a hurry to get to our motel.  We don’t even stop when I spot a pod of whales.  It’s possible that after years of raising children while trying to keep pace with the great California suburban rat race we’ve forgotten how to slow down.  Even a slap in the face from this sacred landscape doesn’t slow us down.  Rushed is our identity, our habitual state of being.  Also, this is the first time we’ve left our two-year old, Holden, home without one of his parents for more than a day.  He’s in good hands with his Grandma and Big Sister watching him, but he had a cold when we left, and now, both of us are feeling a certain helicopter parent’s form of guilt.  For two days, we actually debated cancelling our trip because of Holden’s runny nose.  In the morning when we were scheduled to leave, we delayed and took Holden to the doctor instead.  We made excuses that we were concerned about a persistent fever, but I think we were just looking for a professional endorsement that our drippy nosed toddler would survive his parent’s absence.  The doctor said Holden would be fine and we ended up leaving four hours late.  Then, halfway down the 101, Maria remembered there isn’t cell phone service in Big Sur.  That’s why were in a hurry to get to the hotel.  They have WiFi and we want to contact Grandma to see how the kids are doing.  Maria and I aren’t good at taking vacations.

A few miles before our hotel we pass Point Sur Station.  A herd of cows grazes near the fence.  I make a note that this might be a good spot for a photo.

We check in at the motel, send Grandma a couple of messages, and then I talk Maria into heading back up the road for some sunset photos.  We arrive back at to Point Sur when the sun is just a few degrees above the horizon.  It’s a cloudy evening and the light is not so great but there is hope.  I show Maria that there is a gap in the clouds just above the horizon.  If the sun drops into that open slot, the entire sky will light up.  And for once, my prediction comes true — the sun slips into gap at the horizon.  Knowing time is short, I scramble around with my tripod.  First, I shoot west.  Then, I cross highway 1 and shoot the cows on the hill above us.  While crossing back I take a couple of shots of Maria.  I’m acting like a madman.  Maria, takes a look at my LCD, she’s never been interested in the picture-taking process, but today she finally has a suggestion.

“In all your pictures you have that whole blob of rocks. Why don’t you cut it in half and focus more on the lighthouse?”

Ah, the genius of the beginner’s mind!  Of course, why didn’t I think of this myself?  A simple rule of thirds lighthouse photo!  I try to make my photos so complicated these days that I didn’t once think to take the obvious shot, the right shot, the shot you see at the top of this post.  Thank you Maria.  And this was where the vacation started for me with the reminder that sometimes simple is best.

 

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*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

South Florida Sweet Dreams

 (DavidRaboin)

The W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale is hosting a Pharmaceuticals convention.  The place is packed.  My crew slumps in the lobby as we wait for our turn to check in.  I talk to one of the convention goers as we wait in another line for the elevator.  This guy is very careful to not use the word “sales”.  He likes the words:  facilitate, health, and education.  No one is calling this a “drug sales convention”, that’s for sure.  I’m hoping another elevator arrives before I come down with an incurable, but manageable through modern medicine, case hypochondria .  Also, the light outside is fading.  I want to get out with my camera.  When I finally exit the building with my camera bag over my shoulder, I find the hotel is surrounded by chartered buses, ominous chartered buses.  I guess this is how all those facilitating educators roll.

 (DavidRaboin)

Out on the streets I find myself in a daze.  Flying a west to east transcon in winter means you lose three hours of already scarce daylight.  I feel like it’s mid-afternoon, but the sun is setting.  The sidewalk is crowded and the streets busy.  Florida has a strange vibe.  It’s the Jersey Shore, mixed with the Caribbean, and old Dixie.  Also, the entire place, with the exception of  the man-made beaches and the impenetrable swamps, is completely paved over.

 (DavidRaboin)

South Florida can’t live up to our wintertime expectations.  It’s too far north.  This time of year, the sun is up only ten hours a day and the wind carries that familiar northern bite.  Everyone dresses like it’s summer anyways.  It’s hard to give up on those tropical dreams.

Me, I’m dreaming of a gallery full of my tripod street photos.  This photo is just one exposure.  No Photoshop trickery.  You really couldn’t create this authentic creepy feeling in Photoshop anyhow.  Look how those walkers turn into ghosts and the girl, mesmerized by her phone, is still as a statue.  I think this is the most realistic photo I’ve ever made of South Florida.

 (DavidRaboin)

*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

Giant Easter Eggs Hidden in Plain Sight

 (DavidRaboin)

Here are a few more photos from my night in Seattle.  For some reason I found myself wandering around the waterfront.  This area is tourist infested and over-shot.  I usually try to find a more unique location, but  it was the end of the day and I was tired.  I kind of just drifted downhill from our hotel.  Also, I was excited to have a little time alone with my new Canon 16-35 f4 L IS and my new Canon 85mm f1.8. What would image stabilization and a wide, light-snatching aperture do for my nighttime street photography?

 (DavidRaboin)

Old habits die-hard.  What did I do with that fancy “four stop” image stabilization?  I turned it off and mounted my camera on my trusty Benro carbon fiber tripod ( whose carbon fiber looking tape is pealing back revealing that this Chinese knockoff is actually made of aluminum and not carbon fiber).  I then took some long exposure photos of Seattle’s giant ferris wheel.

Ever since London got its Eye, cities around the U.S. have raced to install their own mega-ferris-wheels.  There’s one really cool aspect of these modern ferris wheels that isn’t receiving much publicity:  they have computer controlled lighting that’s programmed to make patterns that can only be seen in long exposure photography.  To the naked eye, this slow turning wheel looks like random blinking lights, but when smeared across a six second open shutter, the wheel paints a football against a field of Seattle Seahawks colors.  The Hawks were engaged in a playoff battle with the Carolina Panthers while I was taking these pics.  Below, you can see a giant Seattle Seahawks “S”.  Without a camera these patterns are invisible.  It’s like the architects hid a 187 foot tall Easter Egg for us night photographers smack in the middle of downtown Seattle.  And, there are ferris wheels like this popping up all around the world.  I’m surprised that every photography forum and feed isn’t already choked with long-exposure ferris wheel pics.

 (DavidRaboin)

This is why I didn’t want to come to the waterfront.  I’ve done this type of photo before.  Want to copy my style?  Put a prominent, bright object of interest in your night photo. If you can, try to get those lights to reflect in some water.  Then, add some people in the foreground who are moving just enough to blur but not so much that they turn into ghosts.  It’s not as hard as it sounds.  Any group that’s gathered in conversation will do the trick.

I tire of my work.  I think it’s good to throw it all away and try something new.  This is where I folded up the tripod and went to work on some nighttime, handheld street photography — a new frontier for me.

 (DavidRaboin)

Here’s the first innocent victim of my new, stealth-assassin Canon 85mm f/1.8.   I feel myself becoming fast friends with quick little lens.  Why didn’t I get one of these lenses years ago?  They aren’t all that expensive  and 85mm might be the sweet spot for my style of street photography.  85mm gives me a little distance without adding too much voyeuristic telephoto look.  For most of my photography I prefer zoom lenses and the perfect crop, but street photography is a different animal.  I find that zooms are too slow.  And when I say “slow”, I’m not referring to aperture or focus speed, I’m talking about my brain’s ability to asses the framing.  Things happen fast on the street and when I’m doing street photography I have to know the focal length before I put the camera to my eye.  When I use a zoom lens for my street photography, I find that the lens is always zoomed to the wrong focal length,and by the time adjust the zoom my shot is gone.  Yes, prime lenses limit what you can shoot but limitation keeps you from be overwhelmed by possibilities and frees you to find something that works.

 (DavidRaboin)

Here’s where my night got interesting.  I decided it was time to put all this modern camera technology to work.  I changed back to my 16-35, turned on the image stabilization, and cranked my Mark3’s  ISO into the thousands.  What’s the point of paying for all this tech if you’re going to shoot photos like it’s forever 2008?  And now, just one paragraph after I explained why I like using primes for street photography, I’m going to state that this 16-35 f/4 L is my new favorite street photography toy.  I’m not backpedaling on my prime lens statement.  Instead, I’ll argue that this lens is so wide that the thought process and framing decisions happen as quick as when I shoot with a prime.  Heck, this shot was taken without even looking through the viewfinder.  My brain just thinks in wide-angle.  Is wide-angle gimmicky?  Maybe.  Let’s not judge until we look at this blog’s feed six months down the line.

 (DavidRaboin)

On the way back to the hotel I stop for one more tripod mounted shot.  I love a big slick city and some lights in the dark.

 

*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

Wet Neon Nights in Seattle

 (DavidRaboin)

When you build a city this far north, you’ve got to do something about all that wintertime darkness.  Or, maybe you put up these lights because you know that they’ll look great against a black background?  Here is art born of market forces and human ingenuity.  Wet cobblestones bathed in neon under the black Puget Sound fog.  It all comes together by accident perfectly.

 (DavidRaboin)

I’ve got all night, and nothing better to do, so I’m going to work this corner until I get an iconic shot or two.  I decide what elements give this storied corner its unique feel and try to organize them in one frame.  Tonight that means I shoot blind, holding the camera close to the ground and aiming between the feet of pedestrians as they hustle through the intersection.  Five, ten, fifteen walk signals pass before I get the photo I need.

*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!
Support this site by using our links to Amazon.com