Against the Traffic: Rhyolite, Nevada – The Ghost town


It’s been a long hard week in Death Valley and it is time to pack it in. I only introduced you to some of the many wonders that the area has to offer. It is really something that needs to be experienced personally and in your own way. On a great tip, I headed towards Rhyolite, Nevada on my way back to the airport in Las Vegas. I have an affection for architectural decay and this old town does not disappoint.

Located in the Bullfrog Hills in Nye County, Rhyolite is about 120 miles (190 km) northwest of Las Vegas near the eastern edge of Death Valley. The town started in 1905 is response to the discovery of gold in the nearby hills. It is reported that the population rose to near 5,000. Unfortunately, by 1911 the mine closed and the town soon died out.

With a few more shots in my pocket, it is time to head home. Thanks for joining me

Happy Shooting!

http://www.richsmuklerphoto.com

 

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Against the Traffic: Death Valley – Dante’s Peak and Zabriske Point


It’s 4:30 AM and a few hearty photographers are starting to set up their tripods and await the dawn. It is quiet, very quiet. It is windy and cold. I struggle to keep the tripod steady. I’m already dreaming of my first cup of hot coffee. I attach my headlamp to see the way. I’m fearful that my lens or camera has seized up. Without my gloves this would be a fool’s errand. I panic, return to my car and reset. I do not want to miss the sunrise. It comes and goes so fast. Maybe 30 minutes tops, then it is over. This can be said for both Dante’s View and Zabriske Point, though Dante’s Point was much colder. I shoot them on consecutive days, but will discuss them each in today’s Post. They are both magnificent and should not be missed.

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Dante’s Peak, Death Valley is a viewpoint terrace at 1,669 m (5,475 feet) height, on the north side of Coffin Peak, along the crest of the Black Mountains, overlooking Death Valley. Dante’s View is about 25 km (15 miles) south of Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park. This spectacular view is named from Dante Alighieri, who wrote the Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy), in which there are described the nine circles of Hell, the seven terraces of Purgatory and the nine spheres of Paradise. For those of you who might be Star Wars junkies, it is a filming location in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Zabriskie Point is a part of Amargosa Range located in eastern Death Valley Valley and noted for its erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from  which dried up 5 million years ago, long before Death Valley came into existence. This location was used to represent the surface of Mars in the film Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

The photographers line up on their selected vantage points and wait. An occasional test shot to see where the light is. Then it sneaks up slowly and BANG!!!! The cameras jump to life, like a bunch of fishermen waiting for a strike. And here it is. Have everything ready to go. No room for mistakes. The slowly awakening sun kisses the landscape, rises, and the majesty soon disappears, hidden for another day.

That’s it! Off to find some coffee and breakfast. I have a couple of afternoon locations in mind, so stick around.

Happy Shooting!

Rich Smukler

http://www.richsmuklerphoto.com

Against the Traffic: Stovepipe Wells and Mesquite Flat Dunes


For the rest of the week we will be bunking at The Hotel at Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley. This is not The Four Seasons Hotel, make no mistake! In fact, the movie “Mad Max” comes to mind. The rooms are clean, large and extremely basic.  Wifi is spotty at best. Telephones are non-existent in the rooms and there is essentially no cell-phone coverage (calls must be made from the spare number of phone booths on site). There is a restaurant and bar. I will be polite about the food in the restaurant. The burgers and beer at the bar are just fine, especially if you want to shoot a game of 8-ball. Across the road is a general store and gas station where you can stock up on water, snacks, food and fuel. If you are truly looking for top-notch accommodations, consider The Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort around 26 miles down the road. You will pay substantially for this luxury, however.

A brief thought on the issue of no phone or computer service: It can make you a little nervous at first, especially if you are addicted to these electronic toys, as I am. But after you get over the fear that the world will somehow come to an end if you are not tuned in, the world gets more serene and beautiful. You can see better. Your photography will soar, if you allow it to do so.Image

Just down the road is Mesquite Flat Dunes. These dunes are the best-known and easiest to visit in the national park. They are located in central Death Valley and accessed from Highway 190 or from the unpaved Sand Dunes Road. Although the highest dune rises only about 100 feet (compared to 680 feet at Eureka), the dunes actually cover a vast area and provide quite a different subject matter. Many first time visitors to Death Valley are surprised to find that it not covered with a sea of sand. Less than one percent of the desert is covered with dunes. It just so happens that the first two locations of our tour of Death Valley are duned areas. The benefit of Mesquite Flat over Eureka is its proximity to your room back at Stovepipe Wells. It allows you to make return visits to shoot based on your decisions over lighting, cloud-layer, etc. The remote location of Eureka Dunes pretty much kills off this flexibility, unless you are willing to set up camp. The suggestions I made about dune-shooting at Eureka in my prior post applies similarly to Mesquite.

Happy Shooting

http://www.richsmuklerphoto.com

View RICH SMUKLER’S work at The 101st Exhibition of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts


See Rich Smukler’s work “Jessie” at The Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts 101st Annual Exhibition (CAFA).

“Jessie” was also exhibited at the (SDAI)  San Diego Art Institute / (MOLA) Museum of the Living Artist (San Diego, California 2009) and is currently part of  The American Juried Art Salon: Fine Arts Show 2011 (on-line).  It is also published in Photographer’s Forum Magazine / Best of Photography 2011 (Serbin Communications), and was exhibited at The Elliott Museum (Stuart, Florida 2012) and The Saco Museum Mill-ennial 2012 (Saco, Maine).

The CAFA OPENING RECEPTION AND AWARD CEREMONY  is scheduled for the evening of Thursday, JUNE 7, 2012 from 6 to 8 PM at the Mystic Arts Center located at 9 Water Street, Mystic, Ct., 06355. Phone: 860-267-6023 for further information.

Rich Smukler’s works can also be seen at www.richsmuklerphoto.com

HOW DO YOU DEFINE A FINE ARTIST?


 

 

Over the years I have gone to hundreds of museums and galleries, studied the works of the masters, read the analyses and opinions of critics, seen and opined on the works of my fellow students and mentors. All the time, I am searching for a thread, a common denominator. What makes a piece of art wonderful, memorable or just plain awful? And within that question, I try to evaluate the body of work of that particular artist and ask whether or not this is the work of a fine artist?

 

 

George DeWolfe, in one of his master classes, fascinated me with his revealing analysis of paintings of the masters, such as Rembrandt, Degas, Cezannes, Pollack and others, as they related to development of the fine black and white photo. He took images of these paintings and reduced them to grayscale to better view the breadth of tonality in each of these pieces of art, even before photography was on the map. This was done to demonstrate some of the amazing qualities of these painters, all painting with color, but somehow fully understanding the quality of composition in its underlying tonality. They knew how to see well. Dewolfe went on to say that,

 

  “The masterful articulation of the grayscale in these paintings is not only the key to good color, but also the essential key to creating presence in the work – the foundational element of a masterpiece.”

 

 

This is as good a place as any to start our thought process.

 

I confess that often I’ll go to a museum and wander through the exhibits and unfortunately, not get it. I mean that I am not moved, wouldn’t want to own it, in fact, I am angry that I am wasting my time! And yet, these exhibitions, installations, or pieces of art are often heralded by the museum, or someone of credibility, as being significant and noteworthy. I shrug my shoulders.

 

What does impress me however, is when an artist has over the years developed a unique and consistent body of work; pieces that would be recognizable as being that artists’ artwork years after being produced, yet, in some way, different from the earlier work. I am sure we are all familiar with some exceedingly successful artists who have a signature style that is forever recognized as being special and unique. Some of these artists, unfortunately, get caught up in their success and are fearful of leaving an established comfort zone. Others display the guts and artistry to move forward with newer and more challenging work. I say SHAME on the former, and HATS OFF to the latter.

 

 

I am willing to allow the definition of a fine artist to remain somewhat undefined for the moment. I am steadfast, however, in my belief that a fine artist will create a unique and recognizable body of work that continues to evolve as the artist explores and builds on the past. We owe a debt of gratitude to those of you that adhere to these convictions. What are your thoughts?

HAPPY SHOOTING!

You can see works of Rich Smukler at www.richsmuklerphoto.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Against The Traffic: PIETRASANTA (Michelangelo’s Marble Mines)


 

Pietrasanta is a marvelous artists’ community located in northwestern Tuscany. It is less than 3 km from the coast, 32 km north of Pisa and part of Versilia. This jewel was founded in 1255 and was recognized by Michelangelo for the quality of the marble mined from the nearby Apuan Alps. Artisans by the dozens populate the area and draw fellow-artists and collectors world-wide.

By day, this town has a quiet, sleepy quality with exciting cathedrals, towers and museums to be taken in. At night, the excitement is rolled out! It’s as if the movie “Night at the Museum” is being played out in real life. The lights from the many restaurants, shops and galleries sparkle. In the Center Square you are treated to street musicians, mimes, and more. This is a wonderfully lively setting for those of us into night street shooting. The colors, action and energy explode!

For me, however, the true excitement is traveling into the nearby alps to search out its many marble quarries, some active, some not. It is easy enough to Google “quarries near Pietrasanta” for some guidance on locations. I preferred just driving around and hoping to stumble upon something interesting. I was fortunate enough to find one quarry no longer operational. Yet, I was able to walk through and marvel at this natural masterpiece. It was peaceful and oh so quiet. I will never forget it!

This is where you will have to remember to make the appropriate adjustments for exposure. Inside the quarries there are often strong reflections and bright glare, much like you would find in snow-like environments. My first outing into a quarry some years prior left me with most of my images being near pitch black and under-exposed when first opened. I was only saved through post-processing in PhotoShop. For the best way to handle this technically, I commend you to Jim Zuckerman’s discussion on white balance

 

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“Use your in-camera or hand held reflective meter to read a middle toned, or medium-gray, subject: a gray camera bag, a pair of jeans, a tree trunk or perhaps a rock outcropping. Any middle-toned object will work (regardless of color) as long as it’s receiving the same light as the scene before you. Once you’ve determined this reading, manually set the lens aperture and shutter speed and don’t use the automatic exposure mode to make the shot.” 

Pietrasanta is this photographer’s delight:  The combination of so many photographic challenges: indoor, street and natural shooting, makes this one of my favorite excursions against the traffic.

HAPPY SHOOTING!

You can see other shots taken in Tuscany at www.richsmuklerphoto.com

Against the Traffic: The Road From SAN QUIRICO D’ORCIA To PIENZA


Both San Quirico and Pienza are magical, ancient Tuscan towns that merit comment and will be the subject of future articles. Today, however, we will visit the extraordinarily exciting road that connects these two towns and strums the true sounds of Tuscany. For years I have driven the 6.25 miles of this amazing highway and never tire of it.

SP146 / Strada Provinciale di Chianciano ribbons through the Tuscan countryside and is the stuff that Lamborghini and Ferrari must have had in mind. Go as the sun rises or as the sun is stretching its long shadows from the west. Any time of year will reveal the many facets of this magnificent countryside. There is one lane in each direction with multiple winding curves that provide a bonanza of sight lines. At a decent speed the entire ride is about 15 minutes. Downshifting into one of the many hairpins is just plain awesome!

MAJOR RULE: DON’T FORGET YOUR TRIPOD! (Say that at least three times). I know it is a pain schlepping it across the world, but you won’t regret it. Your images will be infinitely better. Also, be prepared for some atmospheric challenges. This part of Tuscany is rural and agricultural. You may  find some dust kicked up from the tractors and such. That can be also be great news for your shots, as the combination of light and dust can produce wonderful results. Be ready to clean your lenses regularly while out in the field. If you are carrying a backup camera body, I suggest you select your two favorite lenses, one for each body, and refrain from removing your lenses from their bodies while the dust is swirling. Or, you can always retreat to the car.

For a little extra delight, as you approach Pienza, look to your left for a sign to Santa Anna Comprena. This back road will take you to the 15th Century Monastery where Director Anthony Minghella shot many scenes from his movie The English Patient starring Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fienes. The setting is both serene and haunting. It has been turned into a B&B and you will be able to shoot inside the church, both memorable and challenging.

Happy Shooting!

You can see more of my images from Tuscany at www.richsmuklerphoto.com

TRAVEL TO SHOOT? THE MEANING OF TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY


Having returned from a photography trip to Kenya and Tanzania, I was brimming over with pride at the many exotic images I captured: Kilimanjaro, the Maasai tribesmen, the Serengeti and all that Africa has to offer. I was living my dream. That’s when a cold towel slapped me across my face! At our monthly photo-group meeting I was itchy to show some of this new work. Meanwhile, one of our members was displaying some truly great images that he had just taken in his backyard! An interesting point-counterpoint crossed my mind.

What is the concept of TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY all about? Travel for me isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I’ve shot world-wide and have seen many of the wonders the world provides. Air travel has presented new challenges. My old bones aren’t what they used to be. Yet, there is still a rush that I get when plying my craft in new and unique locations. I see things with a fresher eye. My hometown is Boca Raton, Florida, replete with many exotic sights. However, I wouldn’t consider shooting in my hometown as TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY. Ironically, someone who has traveled from Africa to Florida to shoot probably WOULD. So, if it isn’t the travel that lures me, and if locations can be treated as fungible widgets, then perhaps it is something else? Perhaps it is the mindset or dedication to the craft when you are on a new location (wherever that might be)? Perhaps it is being totally focused and immersed in all things photographic when you are situated in a location that is conducive to your full attention?

Some years ago I was part of a workshop sponsored by TPW (Toscana Photographic Workshop) and led by Arno Minkkinen. Arno is the consummate instructor. He tirelessly challenges his students to be as creative and innovative as possible. One of his exercises, which caught my imagination, was a road trip that we took to Lake Bosena, situated in the Lazio region and close to the boundaries with Umbria and Tuscany. There were only about eight of us and we decided to take three cars. And though we had an end destination in mind, it was decided by Arno to stop every fifteen minutes and shoot for about ten minutes per location. We stopped once on the side of a barren field, a commercial site and a location in some hillside area. None of these locations would have typically caught my eye or called out to me to stop and shoot. Yet, the images gathered by our group from these locations were exceptionally interesting and memorable. Lesson learned: Perhaps the setting isn’t as important as the photographer and his will to see well.                                  

Another unintentioned lesson was learned in Arno’s class. One member of our group was a young woman who was seriously injured and permanently confined to a wheel chair. Only through her sister’s love, was she able to travel thousands of miles from the United States in order to fulfill her dream of shooting in Tuscany. An amazing feat! She shared her portfolio early in the workshop with the rest of us. The main body of her work was comprised of a series of images taken from her basement apartment. Being wheel-chair bound as she was, she had a single view from a window which looked out and up on a street in New York City. The view was limited, yet her pictures were fascinating and multidimensional. She also had invited people to come to her cramped quarters and photographed them against a single wall where she produced a series of intensely moving portraits. The lighting and composition were astounding. I will never forget them or the lesson she brought to us.

I love the whole concept of TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY and am proud of many of the images captured over the years. Yet, I have grown to believe that it is the mindset that comes with travel that is most important. I ring this thought up each time I dust off my camera for another shoot.

Happy Shooting!

You can see more of my images on my website at www.richsmuklerphoto.com.

I HATE MY CANON D5 MARK II CAMERA!!!


NOT REALLY! I’ve been a satisfied Canon user for years pre-dating digital: from the AE-1 35mm SLR Film Camera, 20D, EOS T2i, 40D and now the D5 Mark II. I have to say that I am thrilled with the D5 and am amazed at its power and versatility.

I know that some of us out there are Nikon enthusiasts and others are Canon. It just so-happened that when I was converting to digital some years ago, most of my instructors were into Canon. I started down that path and saw no reason to change, especially due to the lens interchangeability feature.

Some months ago I was shooting out in Santa Monica, California. Typically, I carry the camera with the strap around my neck (either over one shoulder with my camera to the side, or with the camera hanging in front of me). I am recovering from recent neck surgery and after several hours the weight of the camera begins to take its toll. I sought advice from a friendly neighborhood camera shop.

They came up with a two-part solution. The first was a Tamrac Neoprene Shock Absorber Strap. It a tough stretchy neoprene rubber strap that holds most digital SLRs and absorbs the weight of the camera for hours, or so they claim. It acts like a bungee cord and really does the job. The second solution was a carry bag which is big enough to hold the camera and can be worn with a built-in belt around your waist or a built-in strap that you can carry over your shoulder. I purchased a second Tamrac strap to replace the strap that came with the case. I find that the camera, when in the case, isn’t nearly as accessible for quick shooting in comparison to the camera being around the shoulder.I chose a Canon carry case. It has a front-ended pouch which can hold a couple batteries and memory cards. There is another interior compartment for whatever else you miight choose. I know that there are several brands of these cases and recommend you select the best for your particular needs.

This system works for me and I hope it is of some value to you as well. By the way, I own no stock or have any financial interest whatsoever in any of these products.

Happy Shooting!

You can see more of my images at my website at www.richsmuklerphoto.com.

View Rich Smukler’s Works at Boca Raton Museum of Art School


See Rich Smukler’s award winning photograph “This Way” along with “Squared” currently on display at The Boca Raton Museum of Art School (Boca Raton, Florida), running through January 11, 2012. These pieces were previously exhibited at The Robert Rauschenberg Exhibition at The Museum of The Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, Texas (home of Rauschenberg’s birth).

Raschenberg is one of America’s most prominent artists (October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008), known for his works as The Abstract Expressionist Movement morphed towards Pop Art. Not only a painter, he worked also in photography and printmaking.

You can see more of Rich Smukler’s works at www.richsmuklerphoto.com.

Against the Traffic: BAGNO VIGNONI, ITALY



Every photographer has their own rhythm, their own beat. It’s the way you prepare for your shoot, the ritual you run through readying your mind, your equipment, everything you do to assist in a successful outing.

 I for one enjoy the quiet of my mind and draw within when I get out there with my camera. Some, I know, prefer the companionship of comrades as opposed to the solitude that I so much enjoy.

 When traveling to new countries or locations for the first time, it is only natural to seek out the most traveled or noteworthy sites. As an example, your first time to Italy will most likely draw you to Rome, Venice or Florence. They are wonderful and have infinite photographic possibilities. But this series of articles will explore some of the lesser known locations that I found along the way. They are remarkable photographic opportunities.

 BAGNO VIGNONI is an ancient village in the heart of Tuscany situated in the Val d’Orcia National Park. I was first introduced to it years ago when studying at TPW (Toscana Photographic Workshop) as it had become a favorite evening hangout for many of the students.

 Thanks to the Via Francigena (which was the main route followed by pilgrims in antiquity who went to Rome), … thermal waters were found and have been used since Roman times. At the heart of the village is the “Square of sources“, namely a rectangular tank, of 16th-century origin, which contains the original source of water that comes from the underground aquifer of volcanic origins. Since the Etruscans and Romans – as evidenced by the numerous archaeological finds – the spa of Bagno Vignoni was attended by eminent personalities such as Pope Pius II, Santa Caterina da Siena, Lorenzo the Magnificent and many other artists who had elected the village as main holiday resort. … Bagno Vignoni, … despite numerous incidents of war, devastation and fires that involved the Val d’Orcia in the Middle Ages, remains essentially unchanged. … From Bagno Vignoni, you can easily reach the historical centers of nearby Pienza and Montalcino, and the general Val d’Orcia area, including the Park of Mount Amiata. (Wikepedia)

 The village provides exceptional photographic challenges. By day, this sleepy village hosts wonderful hillside and mountain views of the valley below. You are also treated to a haunting scene of Rocca d’Orcia (subject of my next post). The thermal waters course through the hills and carve fascinating archeological dig-like opportunities. A small park with children, the occasional hardy biker, folks staying at the nearby hotels and spas, dipping their feet in the waters, are all click-worthy. But at night, it all begins to happen! The holiday-like lights throughout the village take over from the long Tuscan setting of the sun. The Square of Sources captures the reflections from the surrounding shops and restaurants. Its’ glow is magical and tempts your skills for night shooting.

 Hotels, spas and B&B’s sprinkle the area. With a little luck, you can find one just outside of town, down by the rolling Tuscan Hills. I can provide some recommendations, if you are interested. The restaurants are of typical Tuscan delight and my mouth is drooling at the very thought of the incredible red wines made in these very hills.

Happy shooting!

How to reach Bagno Vignoni: From Siena, direction SS2 Isola d’ Arbia, reach San Quirico d’ Orcia, remain on the Cassia Road (SS2) direction Rome, only 5 Kms.

 You can see some of my shots from Tuscany at www.richsmuklerphoto.com

WAIT FOR THE LIGHT: OR PASS ON BY


Sometimes my mind sees a potential image better than it really is. I am afraid that my previsualization is occasionally on steroids and the end result can be a disappointing capture whose time has long past.

Example: Recently on a trip to Ravello, Italy, an absolute jewel of a town on the Amalfi Coast, I was walking down a picturesque road and came upon a fabulous antiquated church. It was bathed in ivy and had a wonderful mountainside as a backdrop. Another sucker shot I thought. This was too good to be true. And of course, it was. The composition and texture were magnificent! One problem. I forgot about the light! Feh! I saw it in my mind, but forgot to transpose it in reality. The result, a dull, flat and uninteresting image that was beyond post-processing first aid. Dead on Arrival!

 Sandro  Santioli is thought by many to be the quintessential Tuscan landscape photographer. Some years ago I had the pleasure of participating in one of his workshops, an experience I will never forget and be forever grateful. Our group started the day before sunrise, tripods in hand and cappuccino consumed, fearlessly planted in the midst of a beautiful field outside of Pienza. We waited for the sun to appear. And it did. As it moved through the sky, clouds moved in and out of the eye of the lens. Shadows changed, images appeared and disappeared and reconfigured upon the rich, lush Tuscan countryside. And for hours I barely moved my tripod, much like a patient fisherman waiting for the catch.

 By Noon the sun was too high. We retreated to one of Tuscany’s many ancient mountaintop towns for lunch and more shooting. Architectural shots can be pretty successful when the sun is high as the buildings block the direct rays and can create some wonderfully sharp and interesting images.

 Not to be daunted, by afternoon we returned to the fields to yet again track the sun, this time as it moved to the west. If you have ever been to Tuscany you appreciate the long late and early evening light, so rich, colorful and warm. Same location, different results, stunning in many ways.

 That evening, the sun now gone, we changed locations to inside Sienna, another wonderful feast for the eyes and lens. This time we concentrated on night street shooting with the added benefit of a little atmospheric eye-candy as a light rain provided a memorable challenge with eye-popping results.

 I learned that day about patience and the light. I hope to remember that lesson the next time I come upon a sucker shot.

Happy Shooting!

You can see some of my Tuscan images on my website at http://richsmuklerphoto.com

PHOTOGRAPHY WITHOUT CAMERAS


An unlikely premise, I know. However, after many years as a photographer, I am beginning to sense a change in the way I approach photography and also the way I see life.

As a young man, goofing around with my Brownie Hawkeye camera, I would only see what the camera lens had to offer when I was actually in the process of looking into the camera and trying to take a picture. Many years and thousands of images later have led me to a totally different approach to my craft.

Wandering through the swamps, or over mountains or through the cities looking for interesting shots to take, has re-wired the way I look at things, searching for what I consider a well-seen image. I find myself driving along in my car saying to myself, “what a great shot that’d make,” or “look at the wonderful glow rim-lighting that tree!” I’d often think to myself that I wish I had my camera with me. Often I do, but sometimes I don’t.

There is still nothing that quite beats the hunt of the shoot, that is, going out and physically taking the shot and transferring it into an electronic or print image. Yet, the sadness or upset of not having my camera when a perfect moment appears is not quite as painful as it used to be. Now, I AM THE CAMERA and exhilarate in the experience. I find myself looking at most everything as though I’d be framing it in an artistic composition, making split-second, automatic decisions as to whether the light is right, depth of field requirements, etc., all the elements on my checklist as if I actually had my camera in hand. It is a somewhat soothing effect. I wonder if you feel that as well?

Happy Shooting!

you can see some of my images on my website at http://richsmuklerphoto.com Continue reading