Light Trails at the Carnival


As creatives, images have a habit of sticking in our brains. There can be lots of different reasons….. How’d they do that? What is that? Where is that? Sometimes, these images can serve as inspiration for something we decide to do later. This is a story about that.

Flashback to the early 80’s when I was attending Grand Rapids Junior College. The photo department sponsored a photo contest and as students, we were to help with the intake of the contest photos and the judging. We weren’t judging them ourselves, but we helped move the framed images around the department (there were hundreds) as the two judges paired all of the entries down to what would actually be in the show (this was a juried show, so not all entries would make it).

One of the entries was a time exposure of a merry-go-round at a local carnival. Shot on a tripod, the lights of the ride burned into the film to produce a semi circle of light as figures moved and became blurry at it’s base. It was the first time I had scene something like this photographed, and the basics of the image have stuck with me.

The Portland Rose Festival took place last week, and included a carnival along the Willamette River downtown. I thought it would be a great place to try and make some interesting images using the carnival rides to light paint, so I loaded up my camera and tripod and bicycled down to the waterfront.

I started with some static photos using the tripod and a wide angle lens. They looked pretty good, but were very similar to what I had seen decades ago in that contest. I really wanted the light to become the subject, and was hoping to make the light conceptual enough that it might not be recognizable. As I stood and watched the rides, I started moving closer and liked what I was starting to “see”. I use quotes around that word because one of my favorite things about photography is it’s ability to show you things that they human eye cannot see, by utilizing extremely fast shutter speeds to freeze action that is too fast for the human eye to see, or using long shutter speeds to allow movement to blend into shapes.

Moving to a longer lens allowed me to eliminate distracting backgrounds, and really started to allow the light to become the subject. I also brought in the legs on my tripod and used it as a monopod, allowing me to move it through the one second exposures I was using. After a few of these, I also started adjusting the zoom on my lens, adding yet another layer of movement into the image.

In the end, the lights on the ride were moving, the camera was moving, and the lens was zooming, allowing me to combine three types of movement into the one image.

Below are a few others of my favorites…..

Thanx for listening.

IMG_2485 IMG_2653 IMG_2618

Bucket List trip to Bisti Badlands


Bisti Badlands has been on my radar for a few years now. Planning a recent trip to Moab with friends (the trip mentioned in my last blog update) got me thinking that I might be able to fit a quick trip there before we headed back to our home in Portland. Looking at the map, Bisti is only a few hours south of Moab, just over the New Mexico border….so we penciled it in and headed south.

Due to time constraints we would have to cut our time in Moab a day short just to get a few hours to shoot at Bisti. It was a huge gamble as any little thing could go wrong…clouds, heat, lodging, etc…, it was adding over six hours to our two day drive home.

As we approached the border, the landscape appeared pretty bleak. Lot’s of abandoned buildings and hard scrabble farms dotted the landscape. Bisti, also known as De-Na_Zin Wilderness, is a bit south of Farmington, and adnacent to Navajo Nation land. There are no camping facilities anywhere near, so we reserved a hotel room in Farmington. We stopped on the way and dropped off our gear, then headed down to Bisti in time for sunset.

It’s always interesting trying to figure out what sunset is going to look like. I wanted to arrive with at least two hours of light left in case clouds came in and I was forced to shoot under overcast conditions. As we got closer, it seemed like it might remain partly cloudy, but there were also some rain clouds in the distance. Weather seems to move extremely fast out in these type of wide open spaces, and I was worried that I might get rained out….

Bisti is a huge place, with a couple of different entrances and miles to explore. There also isn’t a great guide to the place, so ideally one would have a few days of perfect weather to explore the entire place and plan exactly where you wanted to be in what type of light. Instead, I was going in with a couple of hours to shoot under questionable light, with no real idea of where I wanted to be. I wish I could say this was the first time I had ever been in this situation….but it happens more often than I would wish.

The weather held, and I made it to the turn off. A few miles of washboard roads with tons of dust brought me to the “entrance”. I use quotation marks because there is barely any signage, a simple gravel parking lot, and no buildings or restrooms. Just a fence, with a extremely faded photograph describing the area.

I was looking for a place called the egg farm, or alien eggs, or any number of descriptions that use the words eggs. It looked to be about a mile or so to the northeast, so I headed in that direction. As I walked, the blank plateau slowly started to morph into more interesting shapes, and the eroded sandstone, shale and lignite started to take on interesting shapes.

The sun was getting low in the sky, and I was stopping to photograph various shapes and forms as I zig-zagged my way towards the northeast. At times, i was surrounded by amazing images that I attempted to record with my camera. Often I would have to get to the top of something to see the way that I was still trying to head. Some of the hoodoos are fragile, and I took care not to step or climb anything that might be damaged by my hiking boots.

According to my GPS, I was now over a mile and a half from where I had parked, with no sign of the “eggs” section and the sun getting very low, I slowly started to head back towards the parking lot while I kept shooting. A few times, I made myself stop and take a look around at where I was. I had spent a few years thinking about being at this place, and now I was present with good light and nobody else around. There aren’t many times that I have been overwhelmed by a place that I was photographing, but this was surely one of them. The shear number of things that I saw and wanted to photograph exceeded my capabilities, time and talent by a long shot.

In the end, I came away with some great images. But…….there are a ton more there to be found, and I can’t wait to go back.

Below are some others that I like…

Thanx for listening.

IMG_1927 IMG_2063 IMG_1991 IMG_1968 IMG_1963