Sunday, July 30, 2006

Waimea Canyon in Color

On the heels of my prior post (Kauai in B&W), comes an unabashed about-face (at least regarding this particular photo!) and the "almost self-evident" observation that some pictures are destined to be captured and expressed in color.

As "proof by demonstration" (as a mathematician might say) I present the image above. This was captured at the Waimea Canyon lookout on Kauai. While I do have a B&W version of this photograph, I am unhappy with it, as it fails to convey what I really felt as I stood - mostly in awe - gazing into my viewfinder. As any honest photographer will tell you, if your image does not communicate at least something of your inner state/vision at the instant of capture, your image is, at best, a banal "postcard"; and, at worst, a failure (as an artistic expression). In these terms, I therefore confess that, to the best of my current ability to work in the digital darkroom, I simply cannot create a "successful" B&W print from any of my RAW images of Waimea Canyon!

The colors, in this case, cannot be ignored. They are Waimea Canyon! To try to collapse them onto a grey-scale tonal range (and desperately try to make up some of the lost aesthetic ground by selectively dodging and burning) seemed to me, in the end, to be carelessly blind to what I really want to convey about this magnificent spectacle. And to try to do this, haphazardly, without having first previsualized (ala Ansel Adams) what I wanted to do with the image before I pressed the shutter, was encroaching uncomfortably close to the land of "false" art. Indeed, I will further confess that Waimea Canyon is so spectacularly, and colorfully, beautiful that it is a rare instance of a scene where I did not (could not!) first previsualize it in B&W! While for most non-fine-art-B&W-photographers such a statement is either silly or meaningless, I can assure you that it is a very strong statement for a fine-art B&W photographer to make (and is never made lightly)! ;-)

Keep in mind that even the color version you see here - though I hope many viewers will enjoy it - also falls short of communicating the true spectrum of colors that the "real" view consists of. In posting to the web, I have converted the image's color space from Adobe RGB (my usual work space in Photoshop) into sRGB, which has a relatively muted palette; and in any event, I cannot account for different kinds of monitors and calibrations.

For the best view of what is truly one of nature's wonders, you must go to Kauai, rent a car, and drive the 50 or so miles from Lihue airport along Highway 50 west toward Waimea. Take Waimea Canyon Drive, which appears right after mile marker #23. The winding road weaves its way though the canyon area and will eventually deposit you at Pu'u o Kila Lookout. Enjoy the view!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Kauai in B&W

The island of Kauai (in Hawaii) is arguably one of the most beautiful islands on earth. Words alone certainly cannot do justice to the extraordinary beauty that awaits the lucky visitor; images, even superb ones, also invariably fall far short of communicating the experience of seeing, feeling, breathing, hearing, tasting and simply being with Kauai, as its sweet gentle rhythms slowly embrace your mind and soul and lift you into truly another dimension of light and form.

Why B&W? Kauai (indeed, all of Hawaii!) is nothing if not fantasmagorically colorful!?! So why present images of Earth's natural gift that are devoid of color? My answer is that, as a fine-art photographer, my eye/I responds most strongly to light and form (followed by texture); color, while undeniably enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing, more often than not (at least for me!) diverts my attention away from the core beauty of a composition. Ironically, Hawaii is so intensely colorful that when color is present in a photograph, it is hard (sometimes impossible) for me to visually penetrate the deeper layers of a scene (and it is precisely those deeper layers that drive much of the "art" in my photography). When there are too many blues and greens and reds, I am effectively blinded! (On the other hand, if I am to be completely honest, my propensity for B&W may stem simply from an inability - thus far - to faithfully render the color I remember "seeing" with my camera on my computer and by my printer. Perhaps in time I will learn to do this to my satisfaction and actually start enjoying natures joyous colors!)

In the meantime, here are a few images from Kauai (and only a few, as it will likely take me six months or more to finish processing even the first drafts of all the images I captured on our Hawaii trip!). The image at the top is taken from the first of two Kalalau Valley lookouts that reward the patient driver who has managed to make it to the end of Waimea Canyon Drive on the western end of Kauai, as are the first and fourth images that follow. The others are assorted images from the northern coast (horse scene and water) and a view along Waimea Canyon Drive itself (last image below).

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Frozen Impermanence

On Oahu's north shore is an extraordinary little beach called Laniakea Beach. It is also called Turtle Beach because visitors are usually treated to the amazing sight of green sea turtles swimming close to shore to feed on seaweed growing amidst the rocks. More often than not, visitors will also find several turtles basking gently on the sand, alongside tourists and locals (who are all doing pretty much the same thing).

The photograph shown above was taken in July, while my wife and I were on a much-needed rest-trip to Hawaii, and were (on this day) utterly mesmerized by these magnificent (and somehow, inexplicably, at least to me, magnificently regal) creatures. What caught my photographic (and philosophical) eye as I was watching "Russell" (which is this particular turtle's name; since they frequent the beach so often, they inevitably interact with their human counterparts on a first-name basis;-), beyond Russell's obvious innate beauty, is how wonderfully this tranquil beach scene illustrates the "paradox" of the permanent transience of nature.

The exposure here is quite long (~30 sec or so, made possible by stacking a polarizer on top of a six f-stop neutral density filter and gently frightening the beachcomber onlookers out of the viewfinder by placing my camera on a rather imposing tripod). The result is that while Russell remains tack sharp (indeed he did not move at all during the two hours my wife and I were observing him!), the water has been rendered as an ethereal fog.

The image thus represents an interesting blend of disparate time scales: the hint of waves, lapping on to shore every few seconds (along with the implicit rise and fall of the associated tide), the day-long silent but ostensibly "frozen" basking of the turtle, and the much-longer times during which the rocks themselves appear to be unchanging and anchored to the sand (which, too, in the spirit of our musing on the illusions of permanence, we know will eventually fade away with time). To which we can also add the ~1/40th sec worth of intuitive-mind "processing" that took place behind the lens, during which yours truly saw Russell, the water, and the rocks (and felt the ever-present "push" of Oahu's strong trade-winds) and immediately thought, "Ahh! What a lovely, lovely self-contained universe of frozen impermanence!"...and clicked the shutter.

For another glimpse of frozen impermanence, and another clue about the nature of illusion and reality, my wife and I visited the western shore of Molokai, which is where I suspect infinity goes to rest every once in a while...