Red Rock

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

To Specialize or to Generalize?

Photographers starting a new business face an important decision either immediately or shortly after going into business: whether to specialize in one area of photography or generalize and offer multiple types of photography services.

A Lazy Evening at Red Rock, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

It’s a difficult decision. I think it is better to specialize because specialization allows you to define yourself and your brand. You can establish yourself more easily as an expert in your chosen area and become known as the person to go to for that kind of photography. You can build a strong portfolio of images and use that portfolio most effectively to target your marketing to a specific customer base.

On the other hand, photographers just starting out may not yet know what they want to do, and they may have varied interests. Further, it is difficult for a new business to turn down any kind of job, because revenue is scarce and expenses are plentiful at the beginning.

As the owner of a newer photography business, I have faced this decision. I have been in business for almost two years, and for me it’s a little easier because mine is a side business. I have a separate income that supports me and subsidizes my business expenses, so I don’t feel a need to generalize and start taking all kinds of photography jobs. I still must face this decision, however.

Right now my primary business is selling fine art prints of my landscape photographs. I sell my work online at my website, at art festivals throughout the year, and in other retail venues. Before starting my business, I worked very hard to find my artistic vision and develop my style, and I continue to grow and develop as an artist. So I have specialized in fine art landscape photography.

Even at this early stage it is clear to me that I have a profitable business model as a fine art landscape photographer. Profitable, however, does not necessarily mean much. In fact--at least at this point--it is also clear that if I want my photography business to provide a living income which would free me from having to maintain a separate primary source of income, I am going to need additional revenue from my business. It’s difficult to make a living as a photographer of any kind, but landscape photography is one of the more difficult ways.

I will soon be expanding my business into a new area of photography: architectural photography. This area of photography nicely complements my landscape photography because, even though it is a commercial area of photography and has highly technical requirements, there is still a lot of artistry involved in it. My landscape photography influences my architectural photography. As I have developed my architectural photography knowledge, skills, and experience, I have also found that my architectural photography has influenced my landscape photography.

Davita Dialysis, Las Vegas, NV. Daniel S. Amster (Dakem & Associates, LLC), architect.

Although I am expanding my capabilities, I’m not completely generalizing. I really feel it is important to specialize in one or two (preferably related) areas of photography. Landscape and architectural photography are my chosen fields.

I love both fine art landscape photography and architectural photography, and I look forward to the day when I can support myself fully through photography. Stay tuned for an announcement about my new architectural photography business!

Into the Darkness - Waiting for the Light

One of the primary requirements for landscape photography is patience. It is rare to arrive at a location and create a beautiful landscape photograph within a minute of arriving. That’s called luck. Good landscape photography requires both patience and planning because we often need to wait for the best light and the best skies. We have to wait for the weather, too. Maybe we want stormy weather, or cloudy skies, or clear skies. We might need to wait for the wind to do what we want. Often all these desires mean having to return to a location multiple times before capturing the image we really want. That’s what landscape photography is about, though. As an artist, I have to present my vision of a place. For me, that vision is not going to change, but the environment is not always going to allow me to capture and express my vision. So I return another time. And another. And another. You get the idea.

Milky Way and Buttes, Sedona, AZ

But on this night in Sedona, AZ, everything was ideal for night sky photography. The weather was clear, the moon was not up, and at this time of year the Milky Way was in the sky at the right time and positioned nicely with key elements in the landscape. I arrived at my selected location before sunset. I knew the Milky Way would be in the position I desired between about 10:30 and 11:30 PM. So I had several hours to wait for the darkness to descend fully and for the light of the Milky Way to rise above the horizon and settle into the position I wanted for my photograph

What did I do in all that time? Well, first I got everything set up while I had enough light to see without a flashlight. I ensured my lens was focused properly on infinity so that the stars would be sharp points of light in my photograph. I took some time to frame my composition the way I wanted--that’s much easier to do when you can see what you’re looking at.

Preparing for night photography, Sedona, AZ

While there was still enough light, I read my book. The sunset was around 7:40, and very shortly after that I no longer had enough natural light for reading. With about three hours to go, the real waiting game now began. So what do I do at these kinds of times?

Well, this is one of the aspects I like about landscape photography. It gives me time to be alone and to think. That’s mostly what I did. I sat and I thought. A couple times I tried to lie down and nap, but the bare rock did not make the most comfortable bed. So I thought. Sedona is a thought-provoking place because of its beauty, and as night descends and you start to see the light of the stars taking over, it gives you even more to think about.

One of the brightest objects I saw in the early evening was Mars. I was amazed by how bright Mars appears in the sky. I was also excited that I could see Saturn. You can’t see Saturn’s rings with the unaided eye. I wasn’t going to capture the rings in a photograph with my 24 mm lens either, but it was exciting to see the planet in the sky. I liked the triangle formed by Mars, Saturn, and the star Antares, which were the three brightest objects in that area of the sky. So, just for the fun of it I made this photograph an hour or so after sunset.

Mars, Saturn, Antares, and Two Buttes, Sedona, AZ

Here I’ve pointed out the important objects I was looking at.

Details of previous photograph showing Mars, Saturn, and Antares

I started to think about these three objects in the sky. Mars is our neighbor. At about 140 million miles away on average, it’s less than a stone’s throw away, relatively speaking. Saturn is about 850 million miles away from us on average. Again, that’s next to nothing in the universe as a whole. Antares is 619.7 light years away. Now that’s a huge distance! We’re no longer talking in miles because miles no longer sound sensible at this distance. Who can fathom what 3,718.2 trillion miles is? It might as well be infinite. Instead, we know that the light from Antares takes 619.7 years to reach us, so we say it’s 619.7 light years away. But when you think about the size of the Milky Way galaxy, let alone the entire universe, Antares is also very close to us. Wow.

These are the kinds of things I think about when I have nothing to do but wait for the light. It doesn’t bore me. I just look up at the grand show going on in the skies above, and I enjoy it. It’s worth it because not only do I come back with a beautiful photograph, but I also come back a little humbler and more aware of my place--my very, very small place--in this universe.