In Search of Horse Tail – Yosemite NP

This trip was my “firsts” in many ways. First trip to Sierras in the west, first photographic workshop spanning 3-4 days, and first time venturing into the domain of landscape photography in a dedicated way – might I dare say in a contemplative way. It was a thrilling experience with Gary Hart and Doug Otto. Gary, who led the workshop knows Yosemite extremely well. And his photography skills in Yosemite could only be matched with his friendly and patient demeanor which made my first experience with him truly a memorable one. Not to forget all the lovely people I could spend the days with.

My trip began with exactly “not doing” things that all books and wise people recommend. While I had my basic camera gear, once I reached there I realized that I had some other basic stuff missing like – how to protect myself and my gear from rain. Also, I did not do any research on the park or the place. My knowledge of the place was literally limited to the few pictures of Ansel Adams I have admired. But that did not take away from my thrill – automatically it lit up the curiosity of a child in me that many photographers (like Eddie Soloway) would say needs to be generated to cultivate the art of seeing in photography.

So with this curiosity I quickly learned within the first few hours that one of the prized pictures from Yosemite in winter is that of the Horse Tail. Gary has his own prize which seems unreal until I learned the history how photographers in Yosemite have spent countless hours to capture that light since Galen Rowell popularized it 1970s. I was also pleasantly surprised that it happens only in the period we were there. What can strange luck ask for – being in the right place at the right time!

We ended up not having the full red fire on the Horse Tail. But there was some glow and I was quite pleased with that. The weather was spectacular for photography, which was learning for me as well – blue sky days are not really my friend. Clearing storms, streaming magic light through the clouds, controlling exposure and reading light, playing with composition, contemplating over what I saw to make a composition, and getting comfortable with the digital workflow (although I had a bunch of really cool B&W medium format, which I might scan and post later) were just a few of the take-aways.

More than anything else, the biggest take-away was this. I have been struggling to figure out what should I photograph more – how do I take the path to get and develop a voice of my own – how do I see the world and map into a two-dimensional picture – how do I pre-visualize. And I could not figure out a pathway towards getting anywhere. I feel that I have got some direction on that. All these apply to streets as wells as in nature photography. And that is the biggest joy which lives with me as I look forward to my next workshop. Who knows when I can make that happen! But I can’t wait too long.

Taking the streets of Los Angeles w/ Keith Skelton

I was looking forward to working with Keith Skelton for quite some time in the streets of Los Angeles.  Los Angeles is a big city with a lot of things happening.  Keith chose a day with Chinese parade in the afternoon.  In the evening, the plan was to go to Hollywood.

Street photography is more than just taking pictures of a place and its peoples.  It is is about capturing the right moment along with the usual parameters that goes on to getting the right picture.  What distinguishes between the good from the ordinary is the “eye”.  What would look nice in a picture – a two dimensional frame.  An ongoing debate on this topic – is that what the eye saw? I will share my view in another post.

The composition brings the feel and form that connects the viewer to the point the photographer has captured.  Sometimes, this feeling is intuitive — coming in a blink.  But, as the noted cognitive scientist Herb Simon and popular writer Malcolm Gladwell both reckon — such intuitive decision making ability comes to the trained eye in this case and not to the novice.  It comes with practice.  Spending few hours watching Keith Skelton go about doing his stuff gave me the opportunity to see this clearly.

Street photography is also about personality.  So much about being in contact with people.  And it is not so much being chatty and friendly.  It is about making others comfortable, so people keep doing their own business.  Shop owners keep looking for customers, and customers keep on with their transaction.  The photographer is just a silent non intrusive entity who keeps watching.  And when a prey-like subject appears or about to as in the case on the umbrella/hat store in Chinatown, he shoots it.  Keith says – do not stalk.  Well, I am not sure that I agree with that.  If I am unobstrusive, undisclosed, and following all the laws, whats wrong.  I observed how Keith handled the situations.  In many ways, he was up there, when I was a bit slow, like the girls who dressed up like divas.  Later, he was there with the tableau before others.  He, for once, appeared like that obnoxious photographer who jumps on everything unless pushed back.  But I got – that is what it takes.  If I did not see him working like that I would have considered my time wasted.  The other important learning was the camera to use.  He was using the Nikon D300 which by no means is a slealth street camera.  He also had a compact.  During the event, when there were a million people with cameras, there was no issue in people being photographed.  He used the D300 and it was slinging loud and clear.  He did the same when he was in Hollywood later in the evening  — when there were crowds and the place was touristy, he had the big camera.  But then, where taking pictures can land someone in trouble, he was using the compact.  This is an art that needs to be mastered.  Just like anything else, practice is the key to mastery.

Once back from Hollywood at dark, I was dropped by a guy named Danny at the Westin.  The Motion Pictures Reel awards were going on.  I had a drink and walked out to the LA live where after a couple of strides, I ended up in Rock and Fish.  Not so much of picture taking.  It was a moment of reflection — what the day was, what were the moments of lost opportunity.

The day had began with Keith going through a book by Henri Cartier-Bresson in Amtrak station of LA.  To perform and capture the “decisive moment”, there is much work and training of mind is required off-camera.  This was what I was wondering.   Street photography requires mastery of composition and speed to an extent that it comes second nature.  With that thought, I was slowly setting my mind to Yosemite.  In a few hours, I was about to take the bus with moments captured from my few hours spent in LA.  Thanks Keith.  Thanks to all you who were such a great company.