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Sitting pretty

Dog Track Black Canyon City Arizona

We go back to the dog track from our December trip up to Black Canyon City (you can see all photos in the series here).

Again…one of my favorite things about the time we spent at this amazing, decayed and lost building…was the afternoon light. They aren’t solid, or in your face, but you can kind of see the shadows streaking from right to th left across the old, broken floor. In the foreground you can make out some square tiles that still remain intact, but most of them have fallen apart. In fact, you could hear cracking as you walked across the room where tiles broke solely from our footsteps.

I shot the image from a good 40-50 feet away I believe, using the 50mm to focus right on the chair off in the distance. I don’t think it takes much explanation to figure out why I loved this scene. Isolation is a key element in my compositions, be it urbex or storm chasing. Not always of course, but there is something beautiful about a singular object that is either different or somehow stands out from its surroundings.

(exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/2.2, iso100)

Junction

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35 2.8, 17mm, iso100)

I’m out in Henderson, Nevada for work this week and of course dragged my gear along with me. I used to hate carrying a lot of crap with me back in the day, but now I take along my personal laptop, camera bag and tripod if I’m gone longer than a day or two. It certainly makes things more difficult, but then again, I’d miss out on stuff like the above image.

I had no idea where I was going yesterday, but I decided to take a drive after getting done at the plant. I headed south on the 515 which turned into the 95 and then took the 93 towards Lake Mead. Not sure what I was looking for…I just knew the sun was going down and I wanted to get a cool picture of something.

I passed by this building off to the left and saw a bunch of broken windows. Bingo. It was close to the road, no fences, so I flipped around and parked at a pullout right by it. Was almost like it was an overlook to view this place (link to it here from Google maps).

Now, there is something about a building being abandoned, windows broken…the oldness, the quiet…that spooks me. I mean, this thing was only a few hundred feet from the road but I still kept looking over my shoulder. I need to get over that.

I slowly explored the area and was amazed to find the door to the above room open. I didn’t have to work hard to slide it all the way which allowed in a bit more light and let me setup the tripod.

The site itself was interesting. It looked like a power generation station but also a small water reservoir storage system. This set of pipes is some kind of junction for the process…I count at least five valves in the picture. I love old, worn, decrepit stuff like this…and I seriously love how the HDR process brings it to life.

I took a few more shots from around the place and will post them at a later time. Below is kind of a quickie image that gives you an idea of what the outside area looked like (posted it on Twitter last night).

The Shadow

There was really only one choice for this week’s Movie Title Wednesday when it came to this picture. I actually don’t remember much about The Shadow other than it was a sort of old 1940’s superher noir kind of film and it had Alec Baldwin.

One scene that did stand out to me was that hidden building on some corner…the lot looked abandoned to anyone walking by, but that was just masking this giant skyscaper. I also remember thinking the Shadow’s powers were kind of cool…but darn it I’m writing this fast on the road and haven’t had time to get the plot refreshed in my mind.

This image was taken during this past weekend’s photowalk in downtown Phoenix. Part of the fun of a photowalk is just observing what’s around you and snapping shots without any prior planning. While I was paused taking a picture of a doorway, I looked over and saw this. In fact, I wasn’t the only one because I was asked by at least two other photogs to FREEZE in place so they could snap a few shots of my shadow.

Air Produce

Downtown Phoenix Urban Building Airplane

The day before our chilly, 6am Urban Phoenix Photowalk takes place, figured I’d drop one more image from one of my excursions down there before Christmas. We’ll probably be walking by this building once again and I’m hoping to find something new and different about it that I missed before.

Before I go on…I figured I’d talk a bit about clouds. Not a surprise right?

My buddy Bob Lussier (whom I apparently am in love with since I’ve now linked to him twice this week) is just finishing up a series he calls “Off-Season.” It’s a fantastic look at what the wintery season looks like up in Massachusetts and the New England area when things close down. Check out one of his latest shots.

The reason I bring it up is because without the moody, cloudy skies, I don’t think he’d get the same “abandoned, off-season, winter” feelings that he conveys through those shots.

Clouds are important to the photography I enjoy. I hate blue skies. If I find a building or structure that I’m dying to shoot…I’m going to wait until I get the skies to go with it. The entire reason I was out the morning I took the above shot was the clouds. There is something magical and beautiful about the morning sun creating textures and depth in clouds like this. It draws me and moves me.

While I was setting up to take this shot, I noticed how close the airplanes were on their decent into Sky Harbor, so I waited to snap my brackets until another one was flying over. I like the image with or without the airplane, but I think it just adds something extra.

(exif: rebel xsi, tamron 17-35mm, 17mm, f/8.0, iso100)

Good luck

I’ve been posting a lot of black and white lately, so I didn’t want you guys to think I was totally devoid of seeing in color.

This is another image from our Phoenix photowalk we did back in late December. We have another one coming up this Saturday and the group size is around 15 people…although I expect the chilly temps and 6am start time will end up trimming our numbers down when it’s all said and done!

Another photo from my 50mm 1.4 renaissance that week…I loved using this lens to find the subtle, cool little details instead of the wide angle approach to everything. It’s seems hard to train your eye to see both at the same time. While it’s obviously not horrible to shoot wide angle…if you are so focused on one that you can’t see the other…then you miss out. I myself still have a hard time with it. That’s why that morning I intended to go out using nothing but the 50. If I left the 17-35 on, I’d probably get in the wrong mindset.

This weekend I hope to go out and see it all at the same time. Of course, now you have to throw in the new full frame to really add a challenge, but I can’t wait.

Oh…so you  may be wondering what the heck the title of this blog post means. It’s simple:

You want to get some water from that spicket?

Good luck!

(exif: rebel xsi, 50mm 1.4, f/2.0, iso100)

The Notebook

Chair and Notebook from the Dog Track

I could have gone with another movie here guys, but I didn’t think anything else worked as well as The Notebook. Sure…Shattered Glass starring Hayden Christiansen is probably more manly…but truthfully? I think Christiansen is actually a bit more girly than a girly movie.

I’ve been married for almost 13 years. My wife is from a family of criers. Before we ever got hitched, I remember sitting in a theater watching one of the biggest sob fests of all-time, My Life (Michael Keaton, Nicole Kidman) with my wife, her parents, her sister and her sister’s husband. I looked down the aisle during the movie and they all had tears down their faces. I was like…really?

Flash forward to now and I’m officially part of the family because I get choked up at everything. Having a daughter has even made it worse. Too many father/daughter moments in TV/movies just totally ruin me now.

The Notebook was a great film and an amazing story…one that hits close to home with  my now deceased grandfather who suffered from Alzheimer’s. I wasn’t super close to him, but I remember always reminding him of my name when I saw him those final years. And I’m sure my grandma went through more than anyone knows.

With no real way to segue from that, the movie title is also a main subject of the photo above, one of my favorites from the dog track. This photo was kind of like The Notebook for me…it almost made me cry. Ha! Okay, not really, but when I took it, I showed it to buddies Rick and Scott and told them “This is probably the best photo I’ll take the entire time we’re here.” And I meant it. And I still feel that way.

As photographers, we can take a picture, look at it and feel like we totally nailed it. Best.Photo.I.Have.Ever.Taken. But I’ve had a number of occasions where a photo of mine that I felt was my best work just didn’t get received the way I thought it would. We have all probably dealt with that because it’s hard to be  completely objective when it comes to our own stuff.

I love this scene from top to bottom. The chair amidst shattered glass with a notebook sitting on it. An open doorway letting in an intense amount of light from the setting sun. Rich shadows. This was one of the first shots I processed from the dog track but it took me this long to post it to the blog. I was almost fearful of putting it out there and getting hit with the stark reality that it’s just not as good as I think it is.

But that’s photography really isn’t it? I mean, not all of it…but we want our photos to be seen by people and when you do that, you are welcoming in all comments and critiques…good, bad, indifferent. And that’s just part of being what we are. And the truth is…the more I shoot, the less I care about what people think because this is WHO I am…this is my style…and I’m confident in it and proud of it.

Now excuse me, I’m sure my buddy Bob Lussier is going to ask me for my man card at any moment, but the joke’s on him…I gave that thing away a looooong time ago.

Diagone Alley

This was a popular scene on our photowalk in late December. I had found this alleyway about a year prior to that when I was so hungry to shoot anything that I left home without much direction and ended up in downtown Phoenix. After daring myself to walk down it despite the very late hour, I ended up loving the back of this particular building. It’s a small section of an entire block and it kind of stands out…almost like it’s the entrance to the magical Diagone Alley from Harry Potter.

One of my co-horts Adam Schmid really got a nice view of this same building with an ultra-wide angle, which you can see right here. Gives you an idea of what I mean about it “standing out.”

What’s remarkable and fun about this spot is the eerie green glow that comes from above and on the opposite side of the alley. You may not notice it at first, but after doing a few long exposures, the green really pops. You can see in my image, the link above and some of the ones below from the other guys that the greenish tint is everywhere. And it casts some heavy shadows too.

Hence…while it’s probably a nice place during the day to shoot, at night you get something a bit more unique.

Photo Walkers

Green Alley

Lockdown

The Shawshank Redemption

Bars Urban Urbex Downtown Phoenix Windows

I was scouring some of my images last night looking for the right one to post for Movie Title Wednesday. Usually I save my best work for these days (in my eyes of course), but the ones that I really, really loved just couldn’t be connected to a movie for some reason. But then I saw this one, thought “Shawshank” and immediately knew I had today’s photograph. And I actually really like this image.

What can I say about The Shawshank Redemption that most of you wouldn’t know already? I mean, it’s in a lot of people’s top 10 favorite movies list (including mine), it was nominated for 12 Oscars (I’m amazed that it didn’t win any now that I look back) and it had one of the best little plot twists in recent memory. You got emotionally tied to the characters…and end up feeling their struggle when it comes to suddenly being in the outside world after 30 years in prison. But the message of hope was key to me…it’s something that no one can ever take away from you. What a great scene that was between Andy and Red:

Andy Dufresne: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you… Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?
Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn’t make much sense in here.
Andy Dufresne: Here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.
Red: Forget?
Andy Dufresne: Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.
Red: What’re you talking about?
Andy Dufresne: Hope.

Gives me chills just reading it again. What a fantastic film.

This image had the feel to me of an old prison…mangled bars, fading metal mesh…stained, dirty glass…worn and weathered bricks. Shot this back in late December during our downtown Phoenix photowalk. Once again, it’s an image using my 50mm 1.4 and I played around with it in live view to find the place I wanted to focus on the most. It wasn’t too hard to quickly spot the kind of “cross” in the middle that appears to be bound together with a piece of rusted wire.

Excited to go explore the urban areas of Phoenix once again…the February 5th photowalk is packed with people, we’re up to 13 and if you are interested in joining us, check out this blog post.

(exif: canon rebel xsi, 50mm 1.4, f/2.5, iso100)

Inside Out

Dog Track Black Canyon City Chairs

After wandering around the dog track for an hour or so, I ended up coming back to the rows of seats with a new perspective and a new lens on my camera. As I’m prone to do, I started with the 17-35mm because I wanted to capture the vastness and enormity of the place. But later I realized I was missing out on the subtle nuances everywhere you looked.

One of them was the weirdness of standing inside a building but still feeling like you were outside. All the giant windows were broken, bushes were growing inside and occasionally a breeze would float through. The panes of glass would wobble from the wind…a few ropes hanging from the ceiling would swing…you get the idea.

My goal here was to use the 50mm 1.4 to focus on a small area of the row of chairs, but still capture the way the windows beyond led right to the desert outside. Probably my favorite element of this shot is the low angle of the sun and the way it highlights the top portion of the chairs. Now I know I haven’t explored tons of these urbex locations, but I can’t stress enough the importance of natural light in places like this.

I think this is one of my favorite images from the trip. And while I don’t tend to talk about the processing as much these days, I just want to point out how great HDR is for situations like this. You get to see the clouds in the distance despite maintaining the light and shadows on the chairs. It wouldn’t be as easy to get all of this in a single shot without possibly a few filters and even then you may do exposure blending in Photoshop.

And despite some of my urbex shots where I take liberty with the processing and stylizing…this one has to be as close to how I remember it in person as any HDR shot I’ve done.

The Birds

Sometimes when you look at a photograph quickly, you may not notice the subtle nuances about it. My buddy Mark Garbowski recently posted a shot called The Bowl on the Cobblestone Street…because the shot was so wide, so expansive, you might have missed a curious little bowl sitting in the middle of the road, which for me, kind of made the image unique.

Well, today is Movie Title Wednesday and I dubbed this photo The Birds, just in case you missed them on first glance. I left the image clickable to a larger size so you can see them better.

Alfred Hitchcock was a genius when it came to thrillers and scary movies, and The Birds was no exception. Terrifying, creepy…it’s probably up there with Jaws in how a couple of films caused an entire generation of people to freak out whenever they see a large gathering of ravens or a fin in the ocean (although, a fin in the ocean is good cause to freak out).

I saw that movie as a kid and the scene that always stands out is the end when all the birds are just sitting and watching them leave the house. It’s awesomely eerie.

So this is yet another image from the dog track, taken about 20 minutes or so before the amazing sunset we ended up with once we walked back inside. We had already explored the interiors of the place, then circled around outside. The overhang is what used to be the entrance to the place.

These freaking birds kept flying around randomly, and they looked so awesome against the clouds that I just waited until they appeared again to fire off some shots.

As I continue to go through these dog track shots, I can’t tell you how much fun I had being there that day with Rick and Scott. But what’s cool is that I get to keep processing images weeks after it happened…and so it’s kind of like getting to go back over and over.