Harvest Festival Las Vegas

Earlier this month I participated in my first Harvest Festival Original Art and Crafts Show. The Harvest Festivals are juried festivals that have been held for the last 45 years, so it was an honor for me to participate in my first one. In the days leading up to the festival, I appeared on a couple of local TV programs. Here are some behind the scenes images from those appearances as well as links to my interviews.

KTNV The Morning Blend 9/6/2017

KLAS News 9/8/2017  (I come on about 5 minutes into this video.)

After the show photo-op at KTNV

It was a lot of fun going to Channel 13 KTNV in Las Vegas to be on “The Morning Blend.” Click here to see the first part of the interview. The photograph below shows the setup featuring some of my landscape work.

One of the exciting parts of appearing on “The Morning Blend” was that Las Vegas comedian/celebrity impressionist/ventriloquist Terry Fator was on the show just before me, and I took this photograph of him while he was live on the air!

A couple days later, I woke up very early in the morning to be at Channel 8 KLAS for a 5:50 AM appearance on the morning news. Click here to see that interview. I come on about five minutes into the video.

The sets at KLAS were really neat. They had a full working kitchen set on the other side of the room. Here are a couple of phone photos I took of the display of my work.

I hope you enjoyed these behind the scenes photographs. I really had a lot of fun doing these interviews, and they also helped make the Harvest Festival even more successful for me. Thank you to Brenda and Chris Meehan of Meehan & Associates as well as KTNV and KLAS in Las Vegas for the great coverage they gave to the festival and to me.

Creating a Black and White Photograph: The Selection Process

As a follow-up to my first post on black and white photography, I wanted to write about the selection process for choosing photographs to develop in black and white.

The Watchman, Zion National Park

In the past, black and white photography was the only option. Today, when digital cameras easily capture full-color images with no additional effort on the part of the photographer, black and white photography may seem like an old technology. But some of the most dramatic and compelling photographs made today are black and whites. Why? The absence of color requires the photographer to express emotion and tell a story in a different way. Creativity is forced from the artist, or the result is a bad photograph. In the end, the black and white photograph benefits from this extra creativity, and it is a much stronger image.

We now have a choice in whether we make a color or black and white photograph. We choose to make a black and white because of the drama it conveys. But when deciding to make a black and white photograph instead of color, what drives that decision? How do we select a particular photograph to be black and white?

As I mentioned in my earlier blog article, the selection process should not be something like the following: "The colors in this photograph aren't that good because the light was bad. I'll just make it a black and white." Wrong--if the light was bad, it's a bad photograph. Period. It shouldn’t be a color or black and white photograph.

London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, AZ

I am primarily a color photographer, so when I have an image with beautiful color, I want to create a fine art color photograph with it. So the starting point for my process is usually to evaluate the color. If I can't make a good color photograph, then I will consider whether it will make a good black and white photograph. It's not an automatic decision, however, and 90% of the time, I wouldn't do anything with it at all.

So if I look at a photograph and feel it’s a great subject and composition, and it communicates a simple, clear message, then if the color just wasn't there, I would likely consider converting it to black and white.

Mossy Cave Falls, Bryce Canyon National Park

When I am deciding whether to create a black and white version of a photograph, I also look at the elements in the frame to see if I think they will work in black and white. In general I prefer simple, graphic compositions without distractions. I think simplicity is even more important in black and white. I don’t think high frequency and random patterns look good in black and white. I prefer smoother, more gently changing shapes and patterns. An area of high frequency is one that has lots of small areas with different light levels. For example, the surface of a body of water has many small reflections. It’s like a disco ball of tiny bright and dark reflections. I avoid this pattern in black and white photographs. Black and white is about light and contrast. It’s difficult to establish a higher level of light and contrast when the effort is constantly interrupted and disturbed by these high frequency variations.

The photograph above of the London Bridge does include reflective water. But the water was very still to begin with, and by using a longer exposure I have eliminated any high frequency variations in the reflection. The reflection is more pure, and that simplicity makes it work in the black and white photograph. The same goes for the photograph of Mossy Cave Falls, directly above. Here the water is in motion and would normally appear very choppy with lots of high frequency variations. Again, I have made a longer exposure to smooth out those variations and simplify the photograph.

Old La Concha Motel, Las Vegas, NV

The Riviera, Las Vegas, NV

Another deciding factor can sometimes be the subject matter itself. Particularly with older buildings, I sometimes like to make black and white photographs, because they help communicate the era of the buildings. For example, these old Las Vegas hotels benefit from the black and white treatment. It helps tell their story and communicates the classic nature of the buildings.

There are additional factors, but evaluating the color content and the graphical nature of the composition along with the subject matter are some of the primary ways I decide whether or not to make a black and white photograph.

Wind Power in Palm Springs

I once wrote about the power of the wind in shaping the landscape, and during a recent architectural photography project in Palm Springs, I gained firsthand experience with wind power.

Wind turbines in Palm Springs, CA

High winds are a common condition at the north end of Palm Springs. Consequently, a large wind farm resides in the area. The wind turbines are large, numerous, and constantly in motion.

Wind turbines in Palm Springs, CA

Another feature of this area of Palm Springs--a city known for its distinctive architecture--is a unique house inspired by Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome.

The site of the house puts it right in the middle of the wind farm, and you can view the turbines from most of the many windows in the house. The house did not always have all these windows, however. California architect Pavlina Williams, AIA bought the house a few years ago and redesigned it, making it into the beautiful home I’m sharing with you here.

Geodesic Dome House, Palm Springs CA. Architect: Pavlina Williams, AIA

During my last night at the house, the winds were particularly strong. I believe they were 40-50 miles per hour steadily, with gusts even higher. As I worked outside, at times fighting the wind to stay upright, I understood why they chose this location for the wind farm. It was actually difficult to remain standing in the gusts, and I worried that my photography would be affected. Fortunately, my tripod withstood the high wind and allowed me to produce very sharp photographs.

I continue to be amazed by the power of the wind. Not only does it help shape the desert landscape of the Southwest, but it also provides a steady source of power in some places. I enjoyed the opportunity for a short time to reside among these huge wind turbines as they harnessed the power of the wind.

If you’d like to see additional photographs of the house, including some interior images, take a look at this blog post on my architectural photography website. And if I’ve inspired you to visit Palm Springs to see the house for yourself, you can book it through Airbnb at this listing. (Please note: Some of the photographs in the Airbnb listing are by me, but many are not.)

Geodesic Dome House, Palm Springs, CA. Architect: Pavlina Williams, AIA

The Best Time to Enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park

As a landscape photographer, I find myself working mostly around sunrise and sunset. In general, these are the best times to make landscape photographs because of the beautiful and colorful light they provide. At Bryce Canyon National Park, however, I mostly prefer to work around sunrise.

Shadows and Light at Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park

The main reason I prefer sunrise is because more of the Bryce amphitheater gets the earliest light. At sunset, except in a few areas, the entire amphitheater is in shadow well before the sun has set. Under these conditions, the light is flat and dull. We really want that rich, golden light to fall on the rock formations to help bring out their deep orange and red colors.

Here’s an example, which I made very shortly after sunrise. The sun only shines on the right side of the highest formations. Another benefit of this time of day, which you can see here, is that a lot of the golden morning light reflects around and helps bring out the color of the surrounding hoodoos. It creates a glowing effect. This photograph has depth because of the play of light and shadow, and these kinds of scenes are more plentiful in the morning.

Morning light begins to illuminate the hoodoos, Bryce Canyon National Park

There are certainly good opportunities at sunset as well. Here’s one example from the first night of my trip last month. Here, the last bit of light on the landscape lights up the features in the distance, opposite of where the amphitheater is located. The sky, of course, is still getting light, which provides the benefit of having the sunset colors bouncing off the clouds in this photograph.

Evening Clouds Over Bryce, Bryce Canyon National Park

It is easier for me to find great photographs to make at Bryce during sunrise, however, so I prefer that time. This photograph, which I made from Bryce Point at sunrise during a previous visit, best illustrates my point. Look how much of the amphitheater on the left side of photograph is illuminated in the early morning light. To see the corresponding photograph at sunset, take a look at this blog article, and you will see exactly what I’m talking about.

Black and White Photography

Art thrives on limitation. When an artist is constrained in some way, he is forced to create something in spite of that limitation. It makes the work more challenging, and the challenge helps generate inspiration and new or different ways of expressing an idea or an emotion. One way to impose a limitation on photography is by excluding color, and that’s why black and white photographs, when done well, can be dramatic and compelling images.

Half Dome in Black and White, Yosemite National Park

Color contains a lot of emotion. The color of an image can sometimes overwhelm us with different feelings about the photograph. So when we remove color, we take away one of the primary and defining characteristics of the photograph that carries a large portion of its emotional content. Despite the resulting limitation, we still must generate the same emotional response.

What I'm saying is that it is very difficult to do black and white photography well. First, it is important to start with a very strong image. You need a composition that tells a story or communicates a simple idea, concept, or message. These are critical aspects of any fine art photograph, but even more so for black and white. I can't look at a photograph that has dull colors because the lighting was bad and think, well that's OK--I'll just make it a black and white. That won't work. If the image is otherwise very strong, then it might work well as a black and white, but if it would not make a good photograph even if the colors were good, then it won't make a good black and white photograph at all.

Natural Bridge, Death Valley National Park

So assuming we start with a strong composition, where do we go next? What's the process? I'll tell you what does not work. Simply removing the color from the image won't do the job. Sure, you'll have a black and white image, but it will have no meaning or value as a fine art photograph. When I first started experimenting with black and white, I thought that if I developed the image in color to optimize it as a color photograph, perhaps removing the color at the end of the finishing process would result in a compelling black and white image. Wrong. Black and white is simply a different kind of photography that requires different techniques to get the best result.

The Stratosphere, Las Vegas, NV

I started to get an idea of how different my finishing process is for color vs. black and white when, after having completed a black and white photograph, I reintroduced the color into it. The result was a color photograph I never would have created. The contrast was all wrong, the colors were much too vibrant in some places, some parts were completely blown out and others were much too dark. When I took the color back out again, however, I restored my beautiful black and white just the way I wanted it. So again, just as you can't simply remove the colors from a photograph to attain a great black and white photograph, neither can you develop a photograph into a beautiful black and white and then add the color back in and have a great color photograph. They are two separate types of photography, each requiring its own unique approach.

Color is such a strong element in visual arts that its presence or absence significantly affects how we respond to a photograph, both in creating it and later in viewing and appreciating it. And that is, after all, the whole point of fine art black and white photography. We work within the constraints of a world without color and struggle to create beauty and meaning from that limitation. I'm still learning, but I hope you enjoy and see the beauty in my early efforts.

The Sands of Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve

Sunrise, Sunset - Bryce Canyon National Park

I last visited Bryce Canyon National Park almost three years ago. Bryce is an other-worldly place of hoodoos and other colorful, sculpted rock formations. When I make landscape photographs, I especially like to photograph at sunrise and sunset because the light is best at those times. During this trip to Bryce Canyon, I decided to create two panoramic photographs from the same location--one at sunrise, and one at sunset. Here’s the sunset photograph, which I made first.

Bryce Point Sunset, Bryce Canyon National Park

When I arrived at the viewpoint, the sky was cloudy and mostly blocking the sun. The entire landscape was in shadow, and these conditions were not good for the photograph I wanted to make. One thing I’ve learned from landscape photography, however, is to have patience. I’ve also learned that the sky conditions can change quickly, especially at sunset. It wasn’t completely overcast, and if the clouds broke enough to let some sunlight through, it would be a really good opportunity for a beautiful photograph. After an anxious wait, while the sun was still just above the horizon, the clouds started to break and the sun came through. The clouds above were lit up creating a beautiful sky, and the landscape on the southeast side of the canyon was glowing a deep orange color. My patience paid off, and I was very happy with the photograph I was able to make.

The next morning I returned, but unfortunately the clouds were completely blocking the sun. I couldn’t get what I wanted that morning, but I returned the following morning. It was perfectly clear that second morning, and now the sun was casting its early morning golden orange glow on the Bryce Canyon amphitheater to the northwest.

Bryce Point Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park

It’s really interesting to me to compare the two photographs. I like them both for different reasons. I like the way the sun lights up the landscape at sunrise. At sunset we get some of that light, but we also have a much more dramatic and interesting sky. The feel of the photographs is completely different, which I find fascinating. If you think about it, what’s the difference between sunrise and sunset? At both times, the sun is low in the sky, and the landscape fills with yellow, red, and orange colors. But when I look at these two photographs, they feel completely different. The sunset photograph feels like sunset. That couldn’t be sunrise. I don’t know why. And the sunrise photograph feels like sunrise. It feels like the start of the new day. Maybe it’s just me because I was there, but when I look at these photographs, those are some of the feelings I get from them. Whether you get those feelings from them or not, I hope you enjoy viewing these photographs.

Why Am I In Business?

I’m in business to make money, right? It sounds like a silly question. The purpose of a business is to make money, but as a fine art landscape photographer, is money really my driving force?

Bridge to the Sentinel, Zion National Park

For me the answer is no. I’m in business because I feel I have something to share with people, and I want to share it. I love making landscape photographs, and I love presenting the results of my work and everything that goes into it. As a business, I want to be compensated for my efforts, and my compensation should be sufficient to cover my expenses and provide a reasonable profit. My goal is to continue growing my business, but I never want to lose sight of what brought me to this point: sharing my art with others.

There are many ways to share my photography without being in business. I could set up a website. I could post photographs on 500px, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites. In fact, I do many of these things. But I find this online way of sharing to be unsatisfying, even if appreciated by many people. When someone sees my photograph on a social media site or other online location, they see it along with hundreds of other photographs. Even when viewing a photograph on my website, they see it and then it’s gone. They may never think about it again. I value permanence in art. I want people to take time to explore my photographs, not just click through them. I invest much time and effort in creating my photographs, and I want people to have the opportunity to take time to appreciate them and extract value and enjoyment from them.

Cascading Falls in the Virgin River, Zion National Park

The best way for me to accomplish that goal is with a print. I believe the primary outcome of fine art photography should be a print. That’s the finished product. The digital image on screen is fleeting. It’s not real. It’s just a representation. A screen cannot communicate my vision because I can’t control your settings--are your colors distorted? Is the brightness and/or contrast wrong? The print accurately communicates my vision exactly as I see it. Ansel Adams referred to the print as being the performance. Everything else just leads up to that performance. Yes! It’s a performance that lasts and lingers, and you can come back to it either casually or with serious intent to study it. You can observe it up close or from a distance. It’s physical. You can hold it in your hands and feel it.

So why am I in business? I’m in business because I love making prints of my photography and sharing that permanence and artistry with people who appreciate my work. I want to give that performance for people. Through my blog and any personal interaction we might have had at art festivals and other events, I hope you can sense the excitement and passion I feel for my work, and that’s why I enjoy it so much. That’s why I’m in business--because I love what I’m doing. The money, when it comes, is just a side benefit.

Navajo Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

The Art of Simplicity

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a photograph can certainly communicate a lot of information in a single image. But simple ideas are the easiest to communicate, and a simple image most effectively accomplishes that communication. In my artist statement, I write that I prefer simple, graphic compositions because I want my photographs to communicate something--an idea, a feeling, or a story. In a single photograph, complexity can get in the way of this goal, so I keep things as simple as I can. Take this photograph as an example.

Rock, Sea, and Sky, San Diego, CA

This is a photograph of a rock in the ocean at sunset. It’s as simple as that. The composition itself is uncomplicated because there is nothing else in the frame, but I have taken additional steps to simplify the photograph further. Unlike its appearance in this photograph, the ocean is naturally turbulent. The water and waves have a choppy appearance to our eyes. In my photograph I have eliminated this complexity by making a longer exposure. The water becomes smoothed out, and the scene appears much more calm. What I’ve done is create an abstraction. The water is a more abstract concept, and it does not distract the viewer with its natural, inherent complexity. This simplification allows the message of the photograph to come through in a clearer way.

Here is another example where I created a very simple composition and again used a longer exposure to simplify the complexity of the water in the ocean. The viewer’s attention is focused on the color and the feel of the photograph rather than being distracted by complex, choppy water.

Imperial Beach Pier at Sunrise, San Diego, CA

At a recent art festival in Palm Springs, I was speaking to a woman who commented on the simplicity of many of my photographs. She quickly followed up her comment by saying she meant it as a compliment. I assured her that I took it that way. I strive for simplicity in my work because my aim is to communicate a message or a feeling, or to tell a story with each photograph. For people to get it, it is best to keep it simple.

Snow in the Mountains at Red Rock

This past January I was supposed to be going to Cathedral City, CA for an art show, but they canceled the show because of heavy rain that weekend. Cathedral City is just outside of Palm Springs, which is relatively close to Las Vegas. We also had a lot of rain here that weekend, and we got snow in the mountains of Red Rock Canyon.

Winter Morning at Pine Creek, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Although I missed not having the art show, it gave me an opportunity to explore the mountains of Red Rock Canyon covered in snow, a rare event. Another uncommon event is to have the normally dry streams filled with running water. The streams flowed for several days following the storms. I’ve seen some of the runoff streams gushing with water before, as in this photograph.

Red Rock Runoff, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

But that was during a heavy rainstorm, and it was accompanied by flash flooding. The recent rain and snow were a light, steady precipitation that built up over multiple days. And because a lot of the precipitation was snow, the streams continued to be fed as the snow melted in the higher elevations and worked its way down the mountains. So in the end, I had an extended period of time to make these photographs. After only a few days, however, the flow of water in the creeks slowed considerably. That extended period really was only a short window of time to capture the maximum flow of water.

Things don’t always work out as we plan. In this case I missed my art show, but the consolation was the opportunity to make these unique photographs.

Gray Winter on Pine Creek, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The Personality of a Cactus

The saguaro cacti are one of my favorite features of the Sonoran Desert. These tall giants each seem to have an individual personality.  For example, these two saguaros look like they’re waving goodnight to the setting sun.

Good Night Saguaros, Saguaro National Park

It’s easy to anthropomorphize the saguaros because their shape is so human-like. Their trunk is like the torso, the top of the cactus is like the head, and their arms gesture in different ways just like human arms. Like looking for shapes in clouds, it can be fun to imagine the personality of different cacti based on their gestures. As I traveled around Saguaro National Park in Tucson, AZ, I found several common themes among the cacti. Here are some of the classifications I came up with.

The Fighter, Saguaro National Park

The Fighter is a very common one. The cactus has its fists up, ready to fight.

The Dancer is a little more unusual because the arms have to grow in an abnormal direction. But I saw several examples of these dancers.

The Dancer, Saguaro National Park

The Diver, Saguaro National Park

The Diver, about to disappear below the surface.

The Hold-Up Victim, Saguaro National Park

The Hold-Up Victim is another common one. Sometimes they have more of a happy-go-lucky demeanor, but this one looked like it was getting held up to me.

The Surgeon, Saguaro National Park

The Surgeon is operating on the other plant.

The Opera Singer, Saguaro National Park

The Opera Singer is somewhat common, but this was a special one. When I saw the round hole at the top, which looks like the open mouth of an opera singer who is holding a long note, I knew I had found the best example I could!

There are so many others, too. Like the Saguaro of Liberty, which looks like it holds a tablet in one arm while raising a torch in its other arm, the Walmart greeter, and many others. It’s not that hard to imagine all kinds of personalities and scenarios, and it’s a lot of fun.

Here’s one more saguaro photograph I made. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the personality of this one. For me, it was the perfect subject in some beautiful light. That’s a recipe for a great portrait--I’m sure the cactus would be proud!

Saguaro in the Setting Sun, Saguaro National Park

Jumping Into Commercial Photography

As many of my blog subscribers know, I have been working to take my architectural and interior design photography to the highest level of quality and expertise. For some time I have been learning and gaining more experience with architectural photography. My capabilities have developed, and I am ready to do some real work in this area.

I am a fine art landscape photographer, and I want to continue creating and selling my landscape photographs. I am now entering a second area of professional photography, however. I have had a strong interest in architectural and interior design photography from the beginning of my photography career, and I am now expanding my business to provide these services to commercial clients. To me, these two areas of photography--landscapes and architectural--compliment each other well. I approach each of them as an artist, and I try to create photographs that express my vision. In the case of architectural photography, I also balance my vision with the vision of the architect and/or designer.

Commercial photography is a completely new endeavor for me, and I was at first concerned about adding commercial photography services because I did not want it to affect my business of selling fine art prints of my landscape photographs. That concern was unfounded, however. In fact, I know I am in good company. For example, Ansel Adams, one of the greatest landscape photographers, made most of his income in his lifetime from commercial work. I know of many fine art landscape photographers today whose primary income comes from wedding photography, portrait sessions, or other commercial work.

It is very difficult to make a living as a fine art landscape photographer, and that is why most landscape photographers--both in the past and today--rely on commercial work for their primary source of income from photography. I want my business to succeed, and to do that I must have a reliable and significant income from it. So my commercial work will feed my fine art landscape work, and I will continue to create and offer for sale my landscape photographs.

Of course there is another motivation for me. I love photography. I love both landscape photography and architectural/interior design photography. My fine art landscape photography business has necessarily been a side business for me because it would not support me independently. By making the move into commercial photography I will eventually be able to devote all my time to photography and make it my full-time occupation.

I am looking forward to seeing that happen. I will continue to focus this blog on landscape photography and art. If you’d like to learn more about my architectural and interior design photography, see more great samples of my work, and follow my business as it develops and grows, head over to https://tesslerphotography.com where you can view my galleries and follow the separate blog I will be maintaining on that site.

Thank you for reading, and thanks for supporting my art!

The Colors of Sunset

One of the most enjoyable aspects of watching a sunset is experiencing the different colors that appear in the sky. I made the photograph below from the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park a couple weeks ago.

The Watchman, Zion National Park

Many sunsets are orange, yellow, and red, but other colors are possible depending on the sky conditions. Because of the arrangement of clouds this night in Zion, the sunset featured the colors pink and blue. I was excited to be going to Zion on this day because the skies were partly to mostly cloudy. On days like that, the sun may have an opportunity to light up the clouds from below just after sunset. In this case, the distribution and thickness of the cloud cover created these interesting colors.

Around the Watchman itself, the clouds were thinner, and the pink sky of dusk illuminated the clouds from behind. Meanwhile, the other half of the sky had thicker cloud cover, and that’s where the sun was setting. Not much light was shining through those clouds, and the deeper shadows created the blue color in that part of the sky.

Clouds make all the difference in landscape photography. Here’s a photograph I made a couple years ago from a similar location. This photograph has a completely different feel to it because of the different light and colors created by the clouds.

The Watchman over Springdale, Zion National Park

Without the clouds and the beautiful colors they help produce, I had to create interest in my photograph in other ways. For example, that night I chose to make my photograph a little earlier so I could include the sun in the frame. As a result, the photograph has a completely different color pallette from the one above.

That’s another one of the great things about landscape photography. Returning repeatedly to a beautiful place creates opportunities to make different kinds of photographs of the same subject. I was very happy to return to the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park to make a new photograph of one of my favorite mountains in the park.