Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Focus on Nature Rocks

This past July I spent a week in Iceland with Tony Sweet and Focus on Nature. I had known for a couple years that Tony was planning on doing a workshop in Iceland and I was interested, but at the same time unsure because Iceland is not an inexpensive place to visit. Late last summer Tony announced the workshop was scheduled and with the encouragement of my wife I decided to take the plunge. I figured you only live once and I would consider this a “once in a lifetime trip”, but no longer, I fully plan to go back!

Focus on Nature is a personal project of Einar Erlendsson. The company is small but the service and attention to detail is world class. Einar has a saying, “there are no problems, only solutions”. I can attest that this is a true statement. During the workshop there were a number of requests and Einar made every one of them happen.

The general premise of the workshop is you get to shoot and learn from a world class photographer and the locals handle all of the details. That includes getting you to the right place at the right time.

The workshop started with a meeting on Sunday afternoon. We got to know each other and present examples of our work so Tony could understand our abilities. After introductions we had a presentation from a local meteorologist who provided a very accurate estimate of the weather we could expect. Until that meeting the route the workshop would take was not planned. Einar wants you to have the best possible experience and this is just one of the steps he takes to ensure a successful workshop. During the week Einar checked in with the meteorologist to keep us heading in the best possible direction. We met our guide for the week, Gudmundur Ingolfsson. We called him “GuMay”. In addition to telling us the history of the many places we were visiting, he also had a great sense of humor. We traveled in a large 4 wheel drive bus that easily took us everywhere we wanted to go including crossing several rivers. GuMay traveled with us in the bus. Einar either traveled with us or in advance to pave the way.

After our first meeting in the afternoon Einar took us out to dinner in Reykjavik, and we could not have had a better group of people. I have never laughed so hard in my life. After dinner the entire group was fast friends and it only got better as the week progressed.

Siggi was our driver for the week. Einar says he is the best driver and I have no reason to doubt it. He seemed to know every back road in the country.

With one exception, I was always the first one off the bus and one of the last to return. One afternoon I returned to the bus to discover that lunch had been finished and Siggi was putting everything away. I figured that was ok, after all missing one meal was not going to kill me. Next thing I know Gumay was pulling everything back out so I could eat.

I could go on and on. I had high expectations, after all this was an expensive trip. The experience easily exceeded my expectations!

By the end of the workshop you are part of Einar’s family. If you have any desire to photograph Iceland I recommend Einar and his company!! Tony is scheduled to lead a workshop again next year. Drop Einar an e-mail and get signed up!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Incredible Iceland!!

This past July I spent a week in Iceland with Tony Sweet and Focus on Nature. At this point I think most of my friends have given up on seeing my pictures. It is not that I have not wanted to show them, but it has taken almost 2 months to go over the couple thousand images that resulted from this magnificent trip. I’ll detail the workshop experience in my next blog but for this post I just want to concentrate on the landscape.

The interesting thing about Iceland is that the landscape changes with the terrain. The mountains, colors, clouds, lava fields, volcanoes, waterfalls, blue lagoons, farms, horses, and glaciers were all beyond my wildest expectations. One unexpected experience was our ability to shoot anywhere. We stopped at a power plant one morning looking for a bathroom and before I knew it we were getting a tour of the control room. I can not imagine that happening here in America. It seems that the Icelandic people rely on their common sense. If you get too close to the edge of the cliff you fall over, no warning signs or ropes. I love this approach to life.

I think perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself so I’ll try and start from the beginning. I waited too long to purchase my tickets and had to fly first class on the way over. What a bummer, hanging out in the first class lounge and enjoying all of the other little niceties and I think I’m spoiled. The flight was great. The only bad part was I could not see the thunderstorm that was happening on the opposite side of the plane. That would have been cool to try and shoot.

The first day on the road we arrived at a geothermal power plant. Behind some of these facilities were giant blue pools of water. The salt residue from the geothermal process made for great leading lines to work into my compositions. The next day we headed out for a very long and bumpy ride through the mountains. The landscape was forever changing. Sometimes it looked like the surface of the moon, other times it was lush and green. The volcanic landscape is like nothing I have ever seen. At times I found it very challenging to shoot and other times I could hardly contain my excitement about the grandeur in front of me.

The volcano that made news earlier this year has died down. I did get to see it, but from a bit of a distance. There was a little steam emanating from the top, but it was otherwise quite. The ash was a different story. In some places with each step I would kick up a little cloud of ash.

One night we stayed in a town called Skaftfell, in a hotel located at the base of a glacier. After dinner Tony and I headed out to shoot the glacier and stayed until midnight so we could shoot sunset. We went back to the hotel and crashed for 2 hours and then got up to shoot sunrise at the Glacier Lagoon. What a place, there are huge chunks of glacial ice that break off and head out to sea. Some of the chunks get washed up on a nearby beach and make for great subject material.

The only disappointing part of the trip was that there were no night skies, a little bit of twilight between midnight and 2 a.m. was as dark as it gets. I had hoped to lightpaint the glacier ice, but it does not get dark enough in July to do so.

At the end of the workshop I asked our driver how long it would take him to show me everything worth photographing in Iceland. I was expecting him to say 3 months, instead he told me 3 years. I suspect he is correct.

If it were not for the expense and the need to return home, I would have loved to stay another week!

Click here for a gallery.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Behind Bars Once More

This past August I joined several friends from the Warrenton-Manassas Camera Club to shoot the old West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV. The Penitentiary has a very old and interesting history. It is currently open during the day for tours. I called a couple years ago and asked about taking photos during the day and was told that was fine as long as I could keep up with the tour group. There was no way that was going to work. After shooting the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum last year during a ghost hunt, I decided that Moundsville would make an interesting subject this year.

Here is how it works. You enter the prison at 8:00 pm, get an orientation, and then tour the facility. After returning from the tour they order pizza and then set you loose to begin your ghost hunt. The group size is limited to 50 people. We rarely had any type of issue with our photographs interfering with the ghost hunters. Some time after midnight we were in an interior hallway with a bat. The bat would fly back and forth sometimes just a few inches over our heads. Needless to say we finished up pretty quick and moved on to another area.

While I really enjoy this type of lightpainting, I find it to be a huge challenge. Lightpainting the great outdoors is much easier. In an interior space your light is reflected and not always in a manner I like. But like anything else, with work I suspect I will be able to improve my process.

Click here for a gallery

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Different Type of Sunset

My first little adventure after I returned home from Iceland was assisting my friend Cory Hilz with a class on lightpainting and star trails. The class was held on the grounds of the Sunset Hills Vineyard in Purcellville, VA. Before the actual class started everyone worked on their own thing. I found the light beams from the setting sun created these incredible lines on the sides of some steel tanks. Whenever I shoot at night with Corey he is always the last one to turn off his camera. I let my camera run for 3 hours and headed home sometime after 2:00am. If my memory serves me correctly, Corey stayed out until 3:00 or 4:00am. I’m guessing the only reason he called it quits was that his camera battery died.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thunder Over The Blue Ridge

This past Saturday Greg Daily and I rode out to Martinsburg, WV to see the Thunderbirds. It was a beautiful day, but the light seemed a little on the harsh side for my taste. Of course that is something well beyond my control. The air show was small compared to some of the ones closer to home, with fewer acts flying, but it was still well worth attending. It was also quite windy and as a result the Army’s Golden Knights had to cancel their jump.