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Gods of Thunder

 (David Raboin)

You can’t count on anything in aviation.  There are too many variables.  Weather, mechanical issues, global economic meltdown — any one of them could ruin your day.  We were scheduled to leave Dallas at 7:10 AM, but before my alarm went off, crew scheduling called to tell me that our flight had been delayed until 10:30 AM because of a maintenance issue.  And, there was good news too.  Since we would be running so late, they had to drop my last leg to Chicago.  I would finish a day early and still be paid as if I’d worked the entire trip.  Sometimes things work out for the best.  I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep.  Then, a couple of hours later, as I was mopping up puddles of syrup with my free-hotel-breakfast-buffet-french-toast, my phone rang again.  Our delay was being extended.  A part needed to be flown in and our plane wouldn’t be fixed until 8:30 PM.  I went back up to my room and got to work on some long procrastinated edits and updates to my blog.

Later in the afternoon, I left the comfort of hotel air conditioning and went for a run.  The Texas heat rode me like a sweaty bear.  Clouds piled up and I hoped for rain.  I ran past the Kennedy Memorial and the city jail.  With my recent focus on color combinations in my photos, I stopped for a quick phone-snap when I noticed some blue buildings under the towering Texas sky.   The sidewalk ran out on the edge of downtown.  Dallas wasn’t built with pedestrians in mind.  Undeterred,  I changed plans and did a series of sprints up a weedy berm underneath a massive highway interchange.  The clouds coalesced into one hazy mass and rain fell while I worked my way back to the hotel.

I met the crew in the lobby at 8:00 pm.  My first officer, John, looked dejected.  He explained that our delay was making him sleep in the crew-room in San Francisco.  He was supposed to be done working at 10:00 this morning and catching his commute flight home before noon.  Instead, we’d be finishing close to midnight.  My good news was his bad news.  As we loaded our bags in the airport shuttle, wind blasted through the canyons of downtown.  A storm was moving in.  Halfway to the airport, the driver had the wipers set on high and we could hardly see the traffic the downpour.  Our California raised flight attendants marveled at all the water.  Videos were uploaded to Facebook.

When we got to our airport, we were informed that they’d given up on fixing our original plane before morning so we were now waiting on an inbound flight, and this new aircraft was stuck in a holding pattern until the storms rolled through.  I bought a burrito, enjoyed a late dinner, and hoped the weather would break before our plane had to divert to Oklahoma City or Austin for a refuel.  My luck held and our plane arrived shortly after I finished eating.  We were airborne and bound for San Francisco an hour later.

 (DavidRaboin)

On the flight across, John and I plotted and schemed but we couldn’t figure a way for him to avoid a night in the crew-room.  We would land at midnight and his flight home left at 6:10 AM.  Going to a hotel or his crashpad was pointless.  He’d get more sleep on the crew-room couch.  On night’s like this I feel a type of survivors guilt.  I used to be a commuter.  The Bay Area is just too expensive for someone on first officer’s pay, especially if you have a family.  I’ve slept in SFO and ORD.  An aviation career isn’t fair.  John worked at the largest, most well compensated, regional airline for fifteen years — right up until they went bankrupt at the height of the great recession.   Now, he’s back on the bottom of the seniority list and living the life of a reserve commuter, the worst lot in aviation.  But, it’s not all bad.  It’s hard to fall into depression as you streak across the night sky above Northern New Mexico with some storms lingering over the Southern Rockies to keep you company, their lightning flashing signals across the high desert.

*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!

Eagle Peak From Regency Gate

Morning view of Mount Diablo State Park near Regency Gate in Clayton, California (DavidRaboin)

It’s Father’s Day morning.  My gift is three hours of hiking alone with my camera in Mount Diablo State Park.  I’m trying to get out of the house before anyone wakes up, my alarm goes off at 5:30 AM, but as I’m putting on my shoes I hear Ella climbing down from her loft bed.  Even though she’s seven years old, she can she still pull a pretty good Cindy Lou Who act.   “How long are you going to be gone?” she asks with a drooping lower lip.  I leave the house feeling like a Father’s Day Grinch.

I sip coffee as I wind through the quiet early morning streets of our subdivision.  The Regency Gate to Mount Diablo State Park isn’t far from our house.  When I arrive, there is only one other car parked at the trailhead.  It’s a clear and chilly.  The air smells like dry grass and the first rays of morning sun stream across the valley floor.  I make good time across the flats.  I’m in a hurry because I want to make it up Eagle Peak while the light is still nice.  Also, I would like to get home early enough as to not ruin the day for the rest of the family.  These days, with young kids at home, I don’t get out by myself very often, and on these rare occasions where I have a few hours free of responsibility, I have a hard time relaxing.  “I need to maximize these few hours” I tell myself.  “Maybe I should’ve left the camera at home and ran the trail instead?  Or maybe I should’ve brought my tripod?  Maybe I should’ve taken Ella with me?”  My mind won’t shut up.  A red-tailed hawk screams at my as it launches out of a nearby oak.  I’m waking up the neighborhood.

 (DavidRaboin)

Up on the steep slopes of Diablo, the climbing feels good.  I work my way through a maze brush, higher and higher towards the rising sun. Continue reading “Eagle Peak From Regency Gate” »

*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!

Photographers Library

Photographer at Phieffer State Beach in Big Sur California (David Raboin)

Photography is limitless and there is no right or wrong way to approach it.   Freedom of choice and endless exploration are the reasons many of us were drawn into photography.   However, freedom in every direction can also feel the same as free-falling.  To get started, I like to have traction under my feet and a map of the known territories.   That’s where reading saves me.  We are lucky in that photography is the pastime of thinkers and writers.   You don’t have to start from zero.   You can learn from other’s mistakes, avoid the dead-end streets, get directions to the expressway, or find the road less traveled.   Through reading, you stand on the shoulders of giants.

Over the years, my hunger for inspiration has turned me into a gluttonous photo literature omnivore.  I gobble up everything from high-brow art texts to PetaPixel.com.  My imagination needs vegetables as well as high calorie snacks. I’ve been reading about photography since buying my first camera fifteen years ago.  Below is a list of my favorite photography books — the books that either taught me the most, or the books that I return to again and again for inspiration.  I start with my favorite beginner’s texts.  Down a little further you’ll find books on composition and theory.  After that, I list my favorite photo books — books of prints by my favorite photographers.  Then, at the very bottom, I include the non-photography books that have most shaped my thoughts and impacted my work as a photographer.

For the Beginners

Photography is different from other art forms in that it involves mastering a technology.  You must learn to use a camera.  These books are the gold standard when it comes to learning photography basics — stuff like exposure and f-stops.  I read both of them when I was starting out.  These books formed the foundation of my technical understanding of photography.

If you have ever watched any of his YouTube tutorials, you might think Brian Peterson is a tad eccentric, like Gary Busey with a camera, but don’t be mistaken, Brian is a master of teaching exposure to beginning photographers.  “Understanding Exposure” is in its third edition and it is still the best, easiest way to learn exposure.  Every new camera should come with a copy of this book in the box.

Ok, this book is getting pretty dated, but John Shaw’s “Nature Photography Field Guide “is a classic.  “Field Guide” covers everything a beginner needs to know:  lenses, focal length, exposure, and composition.   The reason I recommend this book (even though it’s nature based and so old that it never uses the word “digital”) is that “Field Guide” is simply the best written photography book for beginners.  Shaw presents all subjects in an easy to understand voice and he doesn’t skimp.  You’ll feel like you really know something about photography by the time you finish reading this book. UPDATE: It looks like there’s an updated, digital version of Field Guide now available. I haven’t read it, but I’m guessing John Shaw wouldn’t put his name on it unless it was a great book.

Photography Concepts and Composition

Anyone can learn how to take technically proficient photos, but learning to express your ideas through photography is much more difficult.  These books will start you down the road.

The Photographer’s Eye is a gem.  The author, John Szarkowski, was the curator of MOMA’s photography collection from 1962-1991.  He was was also an accomplished photographer.  In this book Szarkowski distils his understanding of photography down to 20 pages of potent text.  It’s short, but “The Photographer’s Eye” will light up your mind.  The short treatise on photography is bolstered by fantastic images pulled from all phases of photography’s history.  You could spend a lifetime trying to understand photography and not top the knowledge provided by this small book.  Buy it and learn the secrets of the masters!

How would you like to earn a master’s degree in Photography for just $32?  “Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art” is my all time favorite photography book.  Simply presented as a page of text accompanying a full page print, “Looking at Photographs” teaches you who the masters of photography are and how they made their most loved photographs.  Put this book next to your toilet and in two months you’ll be a better photographer.   And, after you’ve read “Looking at Photographs” you’ll be able to hold your own in conversations with any art snob.  I’ve owned this book for two years and I’ve read it at at least three times.  Get it!  “Looking at Photographs” is a fountain of inspiration!

I’ve read a stack of photographic composition books (5 at least).  Michael Freeman’s “The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos” is clearly the best.  He does it all here — rule of thirds to Gestalt theory.  Freeman’s photo examples are beautiful.  This book is that rare type that is valuable to both beginners and experts.  If you’re new to photography and graphic arts, you’ll learn just about everything that can be taught about the dark art of composition here.  For those of you with more experience, “The Photographer’s Eye” will give you some fresh insights.  Get it!  This book will not disappoint.

Here’s another great book by Michael Freeman.  “The Photographer’s Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos” is hard to describe.  In this book Freeman explains his thought process and how he approaches photography.  This book provided a lot of value to me.  Before reading this book, I felt like I had learned photography in a bubble.  I am completely self taught and I don’t really have any photography friends.  I always wondered if I was doing things right — if maybe my lack of formal training left me flawed in some way.  Well, Freeman helped clear me of all that self-consciousness.  It turns out we both approach photography in the same way.  This book made me see that in their quest to create original images other photographers face the same struggles as me.  Get this book if you’re feeling isolated.  “Photographer’s Mind” could also be helpful to beginners by jump starting your thought process.  Like the previous two Szarkowski books I recommended, “Photographer’s Mind” gives you a lifetime of photographic insights distilled into one easy to read book.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a couple successful photography pals, some older, more experienced friends to show you the ropes, to teach you the tricks of the trade? On Being a Photographer is like sitting down for a cup of coffee with your two wisest uncles and they tell you everything important that they’ve learned after a lifetime in photography. This book is simply a text of a conversation between photographers David Hurn and Bill Jay. Surprisingly, it’s very readable. David and Bill are deep thinkers but they are able to communicate their experiences and photographic philosophy in a plain spoken manner. If you’re deep into photography, this book is a fun read and you’ll also learn a lot.

Photo Books

I’m a stingy guy and my semi-nomadic lifestyle means I don’t like collecting bulky objects.  For those reasons, I resisted buying photo books for many years.  Don’t be like me.  Start collecting photo books now.  There’s something almost magical about photo books.  Even in the digital age, book format remains the best way for a photographer to communicate.

Joel Sternfeld: American Prospects influences my photography more than any other work. I love Sternfeld’s photography because his photos are both documentary and stand alone works of art. These photos won’t hit you up side the head — they draw you because they are interesting. After you wake up from the sentimental coma that Sternfeld’s photos can induce, you’ll notice that his pictures all have strong compositions and the colors work together like in a painting, but at the same time, these photos look like they could have come out of anyone’s camera. Sternfeld makes fantastic photography look easy. In this age when over-filtered images fight for our attention on tiny cellphone screens, I love “America Prospects” for it’s huge prints and subtle beauty. And, there’s also a possibility that I like it because it reminds me of my childhood.

Alex Webb’s photography is so good it will make you want to throw your camera in the trash. There’s no hope for you. You’ll never be as quick thinking as he is, you’ll never have his eye for color, you’ll never get this lucky over and over and over again. I ordered “The Suffering of Light” because I wanted to train my eye for color. I wanted to study from the master.  Webb’s photos have both amazing color combinations and perfect compositions.  Get this book and see how the quickest thinking photographer finds order in chaos and makes art in an instant.

If you travel long enough, you begin to feel that the earth is your home.  It’s not an untethered feeling like you might imagine.  Instead, a deep calm sets in as you realize you live on a plentiful planet that’s filled with life.  Our human constructions are part of the  landscape, but nature is always visible in the frame, waiting to reclaim it all.  And maybe we humans are as much a part of the natural course of things as everything else?  Maybe it all fits together? Here Far Away takes you on that long trip.  This book is travel photography at its finest.  Pentti Sammallahti takes you all the way back to the beginning of time, back before people, before animals, when it was just the ocean.  He then introduces you to the Earth’s creatures, and finally we meet civilized man.  When you’ve traveled far enough you’ll know that we don’t just live on this planet but rather we are of this planet.

Non-photography Books that Will Help Your Photography

Photography is a thinking person’s game.  The “what” and “why” of photography is more important than the “how”.  The following books are not about photography but they will definitely inform your picture making process.

I went to a state school and earned a bachelor of science degree. Unfortunately, there was no room in my formal education for art history. Therefore, Gombrich’s “The Story of Art” feels like a gift from Heaven. This is a beautiful book on many levels. “The Story of Art” teaches the broad sweep of art history from prehistoric times to modern art in a way that is both easy to read and entertaining. Believe it or not, this book is kind of a page turner. It really moves along. In a marvel of editing and layout design, the text almost always appears on the page beside the work of art that’s under discussion. This book is printed and high quality paper and the artwork looks fantastic. There are many pullouts too. “The Story of Art” is like your own personal museum resting on your bookshelf. This is a very popular book and you can find a near perfect condition used copy for half price. It’s an amazing bargain.

Most artists have a guiding life philosophy, or at least a dim idea of a direction they are headed.  Do you know why you make photographs?  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” is the book that might help explain what photography is all about.  “Zen” is a difficult book to read, but is well worth the effort.  Don’t dismiss this one because the title sounds new age.  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is a serious philosophic book.  Pirsig combines the best of eastern and western philosophy to come up with a new world view.  Even if you don’t agree with his ideas, this book makes for a great intro to philosophy.

Do you have a dim view of humanity?  Are you slightly depressed about the direction our species is headed?  Well, this book is for you!  “Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny” is my absolute favorite nonfiction book.  Robert Wright gives you the whole sweep of human history — the good, bad, and ugly.  He then shows you how the entire history of man (and life on earth) has been on a slow march towards more interconnected, mutually beneficial relationships.  Wright is a serious intellect and it’s hard to find any holes in his arguments.  This book is so good that Bill Clinton required everyone on his staff to read it.  Get this one.  You be happy you did.

Story of Philosophy made me feel small.  In this towering work, Durant not only tells the story of philosophy from the beginning of recorded history, but he also does a great job explaining the ideas of our greatest thinkers.  Durant’s writing is beautiful.  It’s exciting to know that we live in a world that from time to time gifts us such wonderful minds.

I’m a little embarrassed to recommend a Malcolm Gladwell book here.  Doesn’t he have enough book sales already?  No matter, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” is a great read for  photographers.  I had to put it on the list.  “Blink” describes how the brain makes decisions unconsciously faster than your conscious mind becomes aware of these decisions.  This book is perfect for photographer’s because it explains how humans make snap decisions — decisions like, “when is the perfect time to press the shutter button?”.  Gladwell takes you on a tour of modern brain science and makes his case in an entertaining way.

*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!

Dallas City Jail

 (DavidRaboin)

Like a comet, my career travels far but it never quite breaks free of the gravitational pull of Dallas.  I’m always coming back.  Dallas, Texas has been a central part of my aviation career since the blazing summer of 1999 when I did my initial simulator training here for my first airline job.  Since then, I’ve completed three aircraft type-rating courses and over a dozen proficiency checks in some of the many flight simulator centers that are scattered throughout the industrial sprawl that rings DFW Airport.  Adding my regular overnights to the total, I’d say that I’ve spent at least four months in Dallas.  By now, I’m familiar with all the hotels, I’ve searched out dinners while walking strip mall parking lots in 100 degree heat, and many afternoons, I’ve studied aircraft systems while sitting in a deck chair next to a bathwater-warm hotel swimming pool while billowing summer clouds pile up in the big Texas sky.

Since the repeal of The Wright Amendment, Dallas has found its way back into my life.  My current airline believes Dallas Love Field is where it’s at.  Last week, I was here one night, and this week I’m in Dallas three nights.  It’s been like that since January.  That’s a lot of Dallas.  It’s not all bad though.  The humidity, the people, and the culture make me a little nostalgic for the years I spent living in Charlotte, NC  and flying regional jets around the Southeast.  These days, instead of staying at a discount hotel in the suburbs, my airline puts us up downtown.  That’s an improvement.

Photographically, I’m still having a tough time getting a grip on this city.  I’ve only taken my camera out once since we relocated to this downtown hotel and that was only after taking several long runs to scout the area and get a better feel for this part of the city.  What strikes me about Dallas, and all major southern cities for that matter, is the wealth disparity and the proximity of the toughest neighborhoods to some of the more desirable real estate.  On one of my runs, I found myself in a pretty rough area with crack addicts stumbling down the sidewalk and businesses that looked like fortified bunkers.  Then, a few blocks later, I’m back in downtown with its gleaming monuments to finance and fossil fuels.  Northern cities blend, but in the south, you’re always just one wrong turn from danger.

If I had three weeks, I could do a photo essay on Dallas.  There’s a tension in the air.  There are thousands of stories that could be told.  But my problem is I only have a few hours.  I’m here and gone before the sun comes up tomorrow morning.  I’ve got to find a quick way to show the mean energy of downtown Dallas.  If I could just find a narrow spot in this river of ugly, a dark canyon that channels all of this city’s essence, that’s where I’d take my photograph.

 (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!

Home Stretch

 (DavidRaboin)

Here we are, floating above the White Mountains on the eastern border of California, I’m almost home.  This craggy, old ridge marks the final stretch for all my trips.  We’re less than one hour flying time to San Francisco.  Out the front window, I can see over the Sierra’s, Yosemite, and into California’s Central Valley.  If I squint just right, I think I can see the Bay Area’s fog shimmering in the sunset.  While sitting six miles above some of the most desolate, inhospitable landscape in the United States, I’m already thinking about our descent, the flow of air traffic arriving in SFO, the traffic on the 101, and the Bay Bridge.  Tomorrow morning I’ll probably take my kid to the park and the suburban moms will be eyeing this unshaven, weekday dad suspiciously.  Meanwhile, the spring sun will pour down on these desert mountains.

*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