The Art of Seeing Blog

Win This Print – New Image Naming Contest

Colorful dinghies n Santa Barbara harbor

What's My Name?

O.K. it’s time for another Image Naming Contest. Help me come up with the perfect title for this image and if your entry is chosen, you a win signed limited edition print of this photograph. Contest details and entry form are on my Facebook Page (don’t forget to “Like” while you’re there:) ). The deadline for entries is Nov 15 and the winner will be announced by Dec 1. This is the fourth time I’ve done this contest and it’s always been a great success. Below are the images and winning titles from the previous contests for inspiration. I’m looking forward to seeing your entry. Good Luck!

Frost coated twin trees

Forever Together

Steamboat Springs at Dusk

Steamboat Blues

Golden aspen and forest road
Aspen Cathedral

Photo Tip: It’s O.K. to Look the Other Way

A pastel pink sunrise reflects in the waters of Cachuma Lake

A pastel pink sunrise reflects in the waters of Cachuma Lake

Photographers have been shooting sunrises and sunsets since cameras were invented – we can’t help ourselves. This serene scene was my reward for rising early on a Saturday. Cachuma Lake in the heart of the Santa Ynez valley is one of my favorite photo locations in Santa Barbara county. Although I made this image at the east end of the lake near the inlet of the Santa Ynez River, I was actually facing West (technically slightly Northwest) as I clicked my shutter. This is no anomaly. Whenever I am out shooting at sunrise, I tend to focus my attention to the West. Likewise at sunset you will frequently find my camera pointing East. I do this because I usually want to see the details in the foreground of my photograph, not just a silhouette.

Sunset Sihouette

Looking west at sunset: A fiery sky but no detail in the foreground

And while it is true that the most dramatic part of the sky is often near the rising/setting sun, the sky in the opposite direction can be even more complex and subtle in its color palette, if a bit less intense. It is also true that techniques such as using split neutral density filters or combining multiple exposures in Photoshop can produce an image with foreground detail looking right into the rising/setting sun. There are many examples of these techniques accomplished with stunning effect. Other times, it can appear a bit forced or unnatural. Another advantage of ‘looking the other way’ is the gorgeous warm glowing quality of light that illuminates your foreground when you are facing away from the brightest part of the sky (i.e. the direction of the rising/setting sun). I’m really not trying to say one method or direction is better than another. As we know, every sunrise and sunset is unique. The important thing, as always is to really see the scene and then decide how to make your photograph. But you can’t see if you don’t even look. So next time you’re out  for a sunrise or sunset photoshoot, resist the urge to automatically point your camera in the direction of the sun. Take time to look the other way…really, it’s o.k.

Twilight in the Sierra Nevada

Warm sunset light makes the land "glow"

Photo of the Day: Squash & Pumpkin Patch

Yellow Squash and Orange Pumpkins in sunset light

Squash Harvest in the Santa Ynez Valley

Since we are in the middle of harvest season, I thought I would share this recent image. This field of squash and pumpkins caught my eye as I was leaving Bridlewood winery in the Santa Ynez Valley just north of Santa Barbara. I had been taking photos of their vineyards…o.k. I was doing a little wine tasting too, great Syrahs by the way. The very last rays of sunlight were raking across the field  and the warm light made the yellow and red gourds glow with an almost electric intensity. I pulled over and jumped out in time to make a handful of photographs. Just another example of the minor miracles that occur around us everyday.

Photo of the Day: The Moose are Loose



Moose drinking from a swimming pool

This moose wandered out of the woods for a sip from the swimming pool

Bull moose standing by swimming poolMoose with antlers in velvetDid you catch the  YouTube video making the rounds this week of a moose that decided to take a dip in someone’s backyard swimming pool? It reminded me of my own moose & swimming pool encounter. I was finishing up an architectural photoshoot of a luxury home in Steamboat Springs, CO a couple years ago. I had picked out a nice spot for an exterior dusk shot and was waiting for the light to get just right. I looked down for a few moments to adjust some camera settings and when I looked back up there was this big bull moose drinking from the swimming pool. After getting over the initial shock of seeing what I was seeing, I started clicking off frames. The noise of the shutter attracted his attention and he lifted his head and looked right at me. A moose may be nothing more than an overgrown deer but up close they are plenty intimidating. Thankfully he decided I was harmless and continued about his business.

According to the homeowner, moose are pretty regular visitors. He thinks they are attracted to the saltwater in the pool. Spotting a moose anywhere in Colorado isn’t all that uncommon these days, but at one time moose were hunted to virtual extinction throughout the state. Today’s thriving population is a result of a reintroduction program begun in the late 1970’s. Welcome back, boys.

Photo Tip: Use Fuzzy Logic for Sharper Compositons

Blurry Photo

What, you don't recognize Lake Aloha? Desolation Wilderness, Lake Tahoe National Forest

It’s pretty much an automatic reflex with most photographers to press the shutter button halfway to activate the autofocus as soon as they put their eye to the viewfinder. And why not, what’s the value of looking at a blurry image? Well, there’s a lot of value I think. In fact, I would say that at this point I do the majority of my composing looking at an out of focus image. As counterintuitive as it might seem this practice really helps me ‘see’ compositions much more clearly. When you look at a blurry image all you can really make out are the major shapes and tones in the frame, which are exactly the elements you want to work with when composing a picture.This technique confounds your left brain’s pesky tendency to suck you into the details and lose sight of the big picture.

In my next post I’ll be writing in depth about the workings of our left and right brain hemispheres. Suffice it to say for now that our left-brain is in love with details, instantly naming and categorizing everything it ‘sees’. Unfortunately, this gets in the way of actually seeing the things we are looking at. You need to be in right brain mode when composing images and looking at a fuzzy scene helps you make that switch. That’s because an out of focus image makes no sense to the left brain – it can’t deal with it. It can’t name its components, there’s nothing to categorize. I like to imagine that the left brain looks at the blurry picture, throws up its hands and walks away.

So next time you are composing a shot, keep your finger off that shutter button. You may even have to manually throw the image more out of focus. Then look at the amorphous shapes and tones in your frame and start making adjustments– there are no rules for this, you just have to try things until it starts to feel right. I know that’s really vague but all I can say is that a good composition feels pleasing visually and balanced while a poor composition does not. Using a tripod is a huge help when you are working this way because it allows you to make small adjustments, then evaluate, then adjust until it ‘works’.

This method is really a corollary to my previous photo tip about looking at small images when shooting or editing to get a better sense of the overall composition, what I call the ‘shape’ of the picture. It’s  just another way of tricking the left brain into stepping aside and letting the right brain do its thing.


I’d love to know what you think about this photo tip. If you found it helpful, you can subscribe to future tips & posts about the Art of Seeing on my homepage.

Good shooting,



The Price of Happiness? About $65.

Santa Barbara Humane Society Banner

The best bargains on the planet aren’t found on Groupon or Yelp. They are at your local animal shelter or Humane Society facility. Here in Santa Barbara it costs about $65 to adopt a dog or cat which includes spaying/neutering, vaccinations and even some basic obedience training (for dogs). That’s a very small price to pay for years of happiness, devotion and unconditional love. Right now Jake, Addy, Maggie, Toby and nearly 100 other lovable pooches are waiting at the Santa Barbara Humane Society to bring immeasurable joy and fulfillment into your life. I started volunteering at the SBHS a few months back, taking photos of some of the dogs up for adoption. Unfortunately since then the numbers have gone the wrong way and there are now more dogs than ever available for adoption.  Recently we took some of the pictures and created a large  (5′ X 12′) banner  which will hang at the Goleta branch library for the month of August to raise awareness of the situation. Ready to find your new best friend? Here is a gallery of photos I’ve taken for the shelter or go the the SBHS website to see all of the dogs and cats currently available. If you’re not in the neighborhood, try to locate animals or shelters in your area. Now, bargain hunting may not be the right reason to visit an animal shelter but I guarantee you this: adopting a dog or cat will be the best deal you make in this life.

New Website, New Work

Brilliant sunrise over Cachuma Lake

A brilliant sunrise over Cachuma lake

Ch-ch-ch-changes. David Bowie’s classic tune feels like the theme song to my life lately.  No more gallery (for now). Lot’s more photo workshops and traveling. And writing. Something I’ve been meaning to do more of for a long time. Oh, did I mention that I’ve relocated to Santa Barbara? Steamboat Springs was an incredible chapter in my life and I will miss so many things about it, most of all the friends I leave behind. But sunny SB seems to be calling my name now and I’m heeding the siren’s song. Steamboat to Santa Barbara. I know. Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

Maybe the most obvious outward sign of my new direction is this new website. What do you think? “Blog-centric” is the term I like best. That’s right, from now on I’m going to be a blogging, twittering, facebooking, flickring fool. I can’t believe I just said that. But seriously, folks…  Almost as much as photography itself, I’ve been fascinated with the whole artistic creative process. How does it work? Can we work it? And after twenty-some years of chasing the Muse, I feel like I have some things to say about her wily ways. Hence the blog-centric  website. I want to share my insights but I also hope to start a discussion about the nature of art and creativity particularly as it applies to photography. I think we all stand to benefit and I hope you will join me.

And last but not least, the purpose of all this nonsense, new photos! I hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail last summer with a group from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association as part of their Annual Thru Hike. Backpacking 165 miles in 15 days . Baby steps in the thru hiking world but  plenty of challenge for me. I can describe it in two words. Gruelling. Rewarding. Here are a few of my favorite images from the trip.

I made another trip to Cambodia in preparation for a photo workshop that I am leading there next year.

Revisiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples was no less mind blowing than the first time, but I also got to explore quite a bit more of the country including the tranquil coastline. Click here to see the photos.

The mountains and valleys surrounding Santa Barbara are always gorgeous in Spring but this year was especially vibrant as a result of this Winter’s epic rainfalls. I spent quite a bit of time in the Santa Ynez valley just north of Santa Barbara. Here are a few of my favorite images.

I’ve been quiet, but I’ve been busy.

Angkor Wat & Beyond – Photography Workshop & Tour

A thousand years ago the god-kings of the ancient Khmer empire organized stupendous feats of architectural engineering. Enormous reservoirs measured in miles and equally impressive monuments in stone honoring themselves and the mythical deities they worshipped. We know these structures  today as the Temples of Angkor in the country of Cambodia and they remain simply mind blowing in their immensity and complexity. Many are amazingly well preserved, others only partially reclaimed from centuries of jungle growth. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the centerpiece of an 8 day photography workshop I will be leading in January 2012 entitled Angkor Wat & Beyond. As the title suggests, temple ruins are but one of the highlights of this amazing adventure. Cambodia is a photographer’s paradise from lush jungles, abundant wildlife and unique people
Interested? Get more details in the Workshops section of this site or you can find additional images in my Cambodia photo gallery

I Hope He’s Ugly

Image of Steve Coleman's Website homepage

If Steve Coleman is good looking, then life just isn’t fair. Amazing photographer, inspiring writer, accomplished designer. When they were passing out talent, this guy didn’t just come back for seconds, he stole the whole damn buffet. See for yourself. To top it off, he doesn’t do it for the money (the photography, that is). It’s purely his passion, his gift to the world. Now that’s just plain disgusting.
I actually met Steve when he dropped into my gallery in Steamboat Springs, CO. He was kind enough to drop me a complimentary note afterwards (a nice guy too, arrgh). Out of curiosity, I clicked the link to his website. Wow. His stunning images and the beautiful understated design of the site blew me away. Recently I visited his site again and clicked the link to his blog. His latest post on “Life & the Business of Photography” really hit home for me. And you MUST read “my thoughts and feelings about photography and life”. I think my favorite quote from Steve is “I’m in awe of how beautiful the world is, which is why I love to photograph it.” Says it all, in my book. O.K., I’m officially stealing that one. Oh, and “Close your eyes…What do you see?” How artfully said and he’s got lots more. So much talent. Please, tell me he’s ugly. But he’s an Aussie, what are the chances? Well, maybe he kicks dogs… One can hope.

The Art of Seeing Weekend Workshop

Fenceline in winter snow image

2010 Aug 28 – 29  – The Art of Seeing Weekend Workshop – How can I improve my photography is a question I often hear.  The short answer is practice, practice, practice. But practice what exactly and how? What is “The Art of Seeing”? Can I develop my photographic eye or is it a talent you are just born with (or without)? These are the questions we will tackle in this intensive two day workshop. Through a combination of lectures and field sessions, I will demonstrate that everyone can learn to see ‘correctly’ and (more…)

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