Archive for the 'travel' Category

Jul 29 2009

feeding frenzy at the flat creek ranch

There is this esoteric part of fly-fishing where it is important to match your fly with the current hatch of bugs on the stream. With a mix of skill and luck the goal is to toss out bomb-pops just as the trout are running up to the ice cream truck. I witnessed this amazing feeding frenzy for the first time on this trip. Rather than casting a fly to where a fish should be swimming it was possible to be standing a few feet away as the fish were leaping for the current hatch of flies.

The same spot at a different time of day only revealed flowing water. When I’m shooting for myself I go through similar periods of feeding frenzy mixed into periods of stillness.

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The mountain lake at the ranch

On trips to exotic locations I want to shoot up a storm and have to work to balance being social and being a photographer. On shorter trips I give myself permission to keep the cameras in the bag and take a break.

Over the 4th of July weekend Anne and I visited the Flat Creek dude ranch outside Jackson, WY. This was exotic enough to haul my camera bag and computer on the plane, yet the location was familiar enough to make shooting optional. It was also far enough off the grid to ignore any work and just read, ride and fish at the ranch.

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Carved door and porch at the main lodge

I admit to being a bit disappointed that there wasn’t the inspiring views of the Grand Teton peaks that could always be seen on a previous trip. They could be viewed though after hiking through mosquito infested forests. (Some people consider this to be fun.)

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Classic bathtub in our cabin

But in the middle of the night a simpler vision of the beauty that did surround me came to mind and I crawled out of bed early and fired off this series of photos of our cabin and the near-by lake.

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The amazingly well-trained ranch dog at the lake

That was it. One early morning flurry and then back to searching for the cut-throat and brook trout churning in their own feeding frenzy at a new hatch of flies. I returned to my vacation, relaxing, and waiting for the next idea to hatch.

Mark Harmel

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Jul 01 2009

i love a parade

We have your stars and your stripes and a Holiday weekend to celebrate. Pull out those lawn chairs and cheer the band coming down your street…

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Flag bloused friends in Pacific Palisades, CA

…or show your patriotic spirit all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

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Neighborhood celebration in Manhattan Beach, CA

I’m off to catch some fish…

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Real cowboys fish with their hat on

…and ride some horses near the Grand Tetons.

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Ranch horse stretching at the end of the day

Have a great Holiday weekend!

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Apr 30 2009

highway 395 revisited

Back in the fall I traveled to he Mono Lake area with my friend Eliot Crowley. He is working on his MFA thesis project titled “Highway 395 Revisited” that involves taking portraits of strangers that he meets along the Eastern Sierra road. Eliot is an accomplished commercial photographer who is getting his Masters degree to allow him to teach higher level classes at Brooks Institute.

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Eliot in a grove of Aspens with the Airstream in tow near June Lake

This portrait of him also became a teachable moment for my Photo 1 class I was instructing at the Julia Dean Photo Workshop. I had just scrambled back from the road with Eliot and I used his portrait to demonstrate some of the planning and background knowledge that goes into what looks like a snapshot.

Part of the spontaneous look comes from standing in the middle of an active road with no control over the traffic. I’m using no external lights, but I have the knowledge that fall leaves look better backlit and that the aspens behind me will be a great source of bounce light that will illuminate Eliot’s face as well create a great reflection in the truck and Airstream.

I found a spot where the trees looked great behind he truck as well as showing the highway stripe and the peak in the background. The class saw all the scouting test shots and preparation that led up to this 30 seconds of a planned snapshot.

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The beauty shot of the Airstream

The scouting was for two shots not one. I first looked for this long shot and then repositioned myself for the portrait.

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My "I love Mono Lake" pose - Photo by Eliot Crowley

I was also able to help Eliot with his project by flagging down potential subjects, wrangling with equipment and serving as a test stand-in. All of the activities of a normal photo assistant – except when I was an assistant I was either clueless, or a bored know-it-all. Now when I help friends I’m able pick up on the small nuances of working in a different way with subjects – and on this trip I also learned Eliot’s secret lighting technique.

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My slacker wood-cutter look - Photo by Eliot Crowley

Visit Eliot’s blog and see the real people (my posing will also make more sense) that we found for his portraits and ask him to reveal his secret. It’s really a mixture of a way of thinking about light that is easier with digital capture, blended with the lighting technique in Photoshop. In addition to having a great photo-adventure and camping trip with a friend. I pick-up a new trick that I used on a recent group portrait of a company’s Board of Directors.

Mark Harmel

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Apr 16 2009

most photographed places-washington d.c.

I recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C. to visit colleges and in-laws. I go there often enough, but I’m normally not in either a tourist or shooting mode and I end up squeezing in some shots in-between other activities. Even with those restrictions the freshness of the city allows me to see the Capitol in ways that haven’t been recorded before. As an example the mystery to me is why no one else has taken this photo already? All the way over from the Jefferson Memorial I spotted the flags surrounding the Washington Monument and I knew that I want a wide angle shot from the ground. To me that was the shot.

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Flags surrounding the Washington Monument

I had two reasons to visit the National Gallery of Art. One was to see the Robert Frank’s Americans exhibit. and the other was to see the East Wing designed by I.M. Pei. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet both artists and do a formal portrait of I. M. Pei when he was working with his sons on the new UCLA hospital.

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Lobby of the National Gallery of Art designed by I. M. Pei

Sometimes the surprise seeing a familiar landmark from a view that you have never seen before – and wondering why this view hasn’t shown up in a movie or TV show yet. On a Christmas visit years ago I was shocked to see a greenhouse so close to the Capitol Building. It is a great visual and could be used to talk about government transparency.

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Capital dome behind the greenhouse windows of United States Botanical Garden Conservatory

Much of the time I’m simply a tourist as well viewing the sights. I just have a bigger camera and a trained eye and and see to shoot above the crowd for a classic view of Abraham Lincoln.

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Lincoln Monument with classic window lighting

Washington D. C. is full of statute and domes, yet I had never seen this configuration until I took the shot.

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What every Capitol needs domes and statutes

One more time looking into the sun at the Washington Monument experimenting with the video capabilities of my new camera.

Click here for other examples of photos from other “most photographed places” – Moulin Rouge, Joshua Tree National Park, Angkor Wat, New York’s Central Park, Monument Valley,Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower.

Mark Harmel

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Apr 09 2009

up in the air with the iPhone

Published by under iPhone,process,travel

I’ve been pondering when to use my iPhone to take a snapshot and when to use my real camera. This photo taken on my flight back from Washington D.C. yesterday is an example of of good time to use the iPhone.

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757 with plane reflected in engine housing

As we were flying into the sunset our plane was illuminated but the back side of the engine housing was not. That lighting condition made  the engine a perfect mirror to reflect the plane. I could see this because I had the window seat, which also meant that there were two people between me and my camera bag in the overhead storage compartment. All that sunlight also was highlighting the dirt on the window which meant it would never be a great picture, but it was at least an idea worth filing away.

The iPhone camera was a perfect compromise. No one had to move and I’m now able to share a memory.

Mark Harmel

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Apr 01 2009

this town ain’t big enough for the two of us

The old town has a showdown between the reenactor clan and the thespian clan in a shoot-out for the tourist dollar.

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Sunrise on historic Allen Street in Tombstone, Arizona

However the battle turns out it is a fun historic silver town to visit in South East Arizona. Be sure to visit the neighboring Bisbee,  an old copper mining town that has been taken over by hippie artists. And consider staying in the Shady Dell Trailer Park where you can stay in vintage travel trailers.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 29 2009

the westons at big sur

There is a wonderful feature in the New York Times today on Edward Weston where Kim Weston serves as a tour guide for some of his Grandfathers’ great photos of Point Lobos.

In the narration Kim retells Edwards advice on seeing and being in control of your equipment. ”You should be able to point your camera down to the ground and see a photograph”

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Sea kelp on a multi-colored sand beach

What I learned most from Edward Weston’s photos and writings was that there was an aesthetic of nature photography that went beyond the beautiful scenery and grand vistas that was practiced by the Ansel Adams school. He influenced my to see in a more respectful way. I didn’t always have to get into the photo to show my point of view. Sometimes it was more about getting out of the way to transmit the essence of the object in front of the camera.

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Rock and trees in the fog

There is a link from the multi-media section in the Times to a more traditional travel feature. What isn’t mentioned is that you can participate in various nude figure or lanscape workshops with Kim and even stay in a house on Wildcat Hill.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 29 2009

forgot my camera – shot with my iPhone instead

Benjamin Franklin taught us that: “In this world nothing is certain than death and taxes.” In the photography world the other certainty is the need to do marketing. With that in mind I just returned from my annual “Marketing and Taxes” visit to San Francisco. (My tax attorney is in SF.)

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Checkerboard building in Oakland

In my rush to gather up all of my tax info and marketing materials I left my camera back at home. This made me a bad student of Jay Maisel who advises photographers to always carry a camera(there is a great video of him talking by following the link with his name) – until I realized that I had my little used iPhone camera with me.

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Emerging from the BART station on Market Street

I have been a fan of plastic Diana cameras in the past and know that its better to have a good eye behind a simple camera than a have an untrained eye behind a professional camera, and I enjoyed the freedom of simply playing and recording some the new sights I was experiencing.

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Water delivery truck

There best part about the camera on the iPhone is that it is always with me and it will make a photo in just about any quantity of light.

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After an appointment in Foster City

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Shooting through a dust barrier at a construction site

And unlike the Diana where the viewfinder was more of a guess, the iPhones displays a video preview. It is still hard to be precise with the framing since the shutter release button in on the front of the camera and not the top of the frame.

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Stoplight shadow

It has an amazing ability to shoot in very low levels of light. The photos have digital noise in them, but I find it amazing that it is possible to hand hold the camera and still record anything.

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Couple walking past the Old Federal Reserve building

And it still has good color.

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The red cover of the pool table is still vibrant

After doing my iPhone exercise I read that there is a new camera/phone called a Pixon that is more of a camera with a phone added than the iPhone. Samsung sent a photographer around the world to take picture with this devise. Hey – my passport is current. I’m ready to take my close-ups.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 19 2009

when is cheating fair-1?

Some of my students recently were appalled that I would ever alter any part of a photo. They were beginning students and still very new to working with photos on a computer.

Normally I limit myself to cleaning up faces and removing power outlets from the background, but every now and then I allow myself to think more along the lines of a photo illustration.

A few years ago I was renting an apartment in Paris up the hill from the Moulin Rouge and I knew of a photo my travel photographer friend Glen Allison shot of the famed club through the art nouveau archway of the metro stop.

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The two elements of the final illustration

I didn’t quite know how to make it different. I was both frustrated that the lights on the archway were out in the evening, and didn’t like a big Coke billboard that was in the frame. Then I noticed that a famous painting in my tour book and that many of the artists selling their work on the street had moved some famous landmarks around to suit their compositions.

I decided that I could do the same – it just required me to move the metro stop. I wasn’t sure I had the compositing skills to do this, but I have friends that can.

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The final composition with everything in the right place

I shot the individual pieces and asked my friend Dennis Dunbar to use his Photoshop skills to help me execute my original vision. This was my first big step into more of a photo-illustration look. I still prefer to capture what is actually in front of the camera, but this experience opened me up to the idea of creating an illustration.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 15 2009

i’m steamed!

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Geothermal plant on the shore of the Salton Sea

Even out in the wilds I’m as drawn to the beauty a power plant as I am to  a majestic shoreline or a graceful cactus. But it hasn’t been until recently that it has dawned on me that there are companies that are behind the design and construction of these structures. A while ago I was asked to shoot a HNTB design engineer that worked on the expansion of the south runway at LAX so that it could accommodate the new Airbus A380.

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Sean Naismith redesigning a runway at LAX

I hadn’t heard of the either the company or noticed the profession before and when I visited their website I discovered that they design and build the sorts of structures that I consider man-made art. They create freeway interchanges, parking garages, ports and skyscrapers.  I organized some of these photos into a mini-portfolio and started to show them to some of these firms and it has landed me some commissions to make portraits of their executives, but I want to shoot the structures.

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Two views of steam hiding the sun

We are once again in a national conversation about infrastructure, perhaps we can talk about the beauty of it as well.

Mark Harmel


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