Details in a Country Vineyard

Outside of Healdsburg, CA, deep in a maze of unimproved dirt roads, there’s a country vineyard called TEN Springs Ranch.

It’s a steep, wild, and beautiful place.

I was there with family and friends for an annual celebration.

When I had my fill of conversation, I struck out alone to capture details that often go unnoticed. Tendrils and spears of grass, grain and mortar, trellis and wire tighteners, and other small things just waiting to be discovered.

 

Details are huge. When you add them up—poor, humble, and unknown as they are—you get amazing places. Like vineyards or churchyards or schoolyards or even backyards.

As I pondered a square bolt, one of my favorite Details in the world startled me.

Dad, she said, brightly. Look what I caught.

Turning round, I looked very carefully. There they were, five little fingers holding one bigger finger, an iridescent blue throat gulping air, and a smile as broad as the Russian River.

family portrait girl lizard bokeh

Now that’s a scene worth capturing.

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Photography as Rorschach Test?

Photography is influenced by psychology in a big way.
Take a look at these images,
Which I created over the last four years.

From image to image, the similarities are striking, right?
One person, not two—or more.
Face and eyes are largely hidden from view.
Shoulders or backsides get a lot of play.
Ratio of subject to negative space is fairly consistent,
With negative space predominating in the scene.
And of course, we’re outside, where wilderness abounds:
Sky, mountains, ocean, lakes, fields, trails, vistas, trees, and so on.
If photographs are inkblots, and they are—always!—
What do these images reveal about my beliefs and preoccupations?
And what do they reveal about your worldview, as you engage and react to them?

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Climb On

outdoor portrait boy blue sky

When I pack my camera, Gavin says, Leave it behind.
But I don’t.
When I pull it out like a rabbit from a hat, Gavin says, Put it away.
But I ignore him.
I don’t photograph him because that would be annoying.
But once in a while, Gavin will say, Hey, dad, take a picture of me,
As he did here, having climbed to the top of a large rock formation,
Between Lovers and Divorce beaches in Cabo.
I said, Smile.
And I said it again and then once more because all good things comes in threes.
Wisely, he decided to look indifferent and accomplished.
And I didn’t throw away my shot.

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Shoot, My Finger Said

Portrait photography young woman BW old-school

“What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound than a portrait.” That’s Charles Baudelaire, a French poet and an art critic, on the mysteries of portraiture. And I think he’s right.

There are a million ways to botch a portrait, even in the best conditions. In my experience, admittedly limited, a good portrait is a minor miracle. You’re not really responsible for it, neither you nor the subject. It just sort of happens, unplanned, unbidden. At best, you hope it happens. And you practice and prepare to help the moment along when it does.

Take this young lady, for instance. She was sitting near a fire in a room surrounded by windows, overlooking Donner Lake. The light in the room was perfect. And the light on her face and shoulders was even better.

Can I photograph you, I asked.

Yeah, sure, she said, a little surprised.

So I went to work with an 85mm shooting wide open, gathering as much light as possible for a high-key portrait with a studio feel, even though we were in a public space.

Most of the time, she looked off lens, this way and that, musing on snow, wind and mountains.

Then it happened.

She bore down on the lens in a way to make a cyclops freeze. She held her gaze fast, serene and confident.

A little brain in my finger said, Shoot. And my finger obliged, thankfully, because Something ageless was born in that moment.

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Call Him Anthony

Portrait photography man creative director

I call him Salty.
But his name is Anthony.
And when you’re trying capture something right and true,
It’s good to use proper names.
So this is Anthony.
One of the great gifts of photography is that, every now and then,
You witness something deep and abiding.
When that happens, it’s an incredible privilege.
The mask slips and, for a brief moment,
You catch a man reckoning with some great internal joy or pain—or both.