Visionary Wild, LLC • 2200 19th St. NW, Ste 806, Washington, DC 20009

E-mail: info@visionarywild.com    •    Tel: 1-202-558-9596 (9am to 6pm, EST).    •    Justin Black’s iPhone: 1-202-302-9030

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Special Trips: High Sierra and Africa

Moonset at sunrise over Moonlight Lake and Picture Peak, High Sierra, California, by Justin Black

On occasion, we offer special photo expeditions outside of the “regularly scheduled programming” listed in the Workshops section of this website.

High Sierra Mule Pack Trip

This September 20-26, we are offering a photo trip into the beautiful alpine High Sierra backcountry west of Bishop, California, for a small group of nine participants. The instructors on this trip are renowned Sierra Nevada landscape photographer Jim Stimson, and Visionary Wild’s Justin Black. Our good friends Mike and Tess Anne Morgan of Bishop Pack Outfitters will support the trip with expert mule packing service to carry all our gear into and out of the mountains, and guided riding mules to carry us! Our expert backcountry chef and camp manager will take care of meals so we can focus on photography. CLICK HERE for more information from our online newsletter.

“The Sierra Nevada has been my backyard and playground for over 35 years. There are few landscapes on the planet that are so gloriously appointed with soaring granite spires, crystal clear lakes, vibrant green meadows, rich beds of flowers, and autumn splashes of color, so I consider myself very fortunate to call the Range of Light my home. I enjoy the inspiring challenge of photographing the grand landscape or the intimate details at my feet. It’s one of the best places I can think of for an adventure with a camera.” –Jim Stimson

African Safari: Etosha – Chobe – Victoria Falls

June 3-20, 2013, we are offering a wildlife-oriented African Safari led by Justin Black for an even more intimate group of five photographers to visit Etosha National Park in Namibia, Chobe National Park in Botswana, Victoria Falls, and cheetah and white rhino preserves in South Africa. As of June 30th, 2012, only two spaces remain available. Our group will work with some of the best guides in the business and will use new, heavily customized safari vehicles at Etosha, and a highly specialized six-seat photo boat on the Chobe River. These platforms offer the best photographer positions available anywhere in Africa, with each photographer having his or her own 360-degree rotating photo chair with 360-degree revolving camera mounts that make working with big lenses a breeze. To top it off, we’re providing loan of big glass through Nikon South Africa, so you don’t have to lug it to Africa with you. CLICK HERE for more information.

Expedition Report: Arizona Overland

Around the campfire, Visionary Wild Arizona Overland Expedition. © Justin Black

 There is nothing like exploring sublime landscapes with a group of friends who share a love for photography and wide open spaces. Immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday, Jack Dykinga, Jeff Foott, and I led a week-long overland photo expedition with nine other passionate photographers, visiting some stunning backcountry areas in northern Arizona. As the guest of a gracious Navajo elder, we first explored and photographed a very special location characterized by dramatic red rock sandstone hoodoos and dinosaur footprints 200 million years old. We then traversed over twenty miles of sandy 4WD jeep trails to one of our very favorite Colorado Plateau locations, a photographer’s paradise of swirling petrified sand dunes, intimate abstract designs, and grand vistas overlooking the Grand Staircase leading down to the Grand Canyon. Our merry band was joined by Chris Collard, Editor-in-Chief of Overland Journal magazine, Laurie Rubin of Nik Software, and Tom Hanagan of Four Wheel Campers.

Visionary Wild photographers, Arizona Overland Expedition. © Chris Collard

 The days were so full of photographic opportunities that many of us had to force ourselves to take a break in order to get some food and a nap, and the photography didn’t end at dusk. Working by the light of our headlamps, we set up Nikons with MC-36 intervalometers to shoot five-hour multi-exposure star trail images, the results of which can be seen in Jack Dykinga’s stunning image in the gallery below.  After a week of intense photography and fulfilling camaraderie, we exchanged hugs, said our farewells, and set off toward home.

The Arizona Overland Expedition was a prototype, testing a model for more overland adventures to come. Stay tuned for exciting overland trips in 2012.

–Justin Black

Here are some highlights submitted by the group.

Evening light on hoodoo garden, Navajo Nation, Arizona. © Julie Furber

Colorado Plateau, northern Arizona. © Sean Stuchen

© Sean Stuchen

© Ed Kenney

"The Beast." © Laurie Rubin

© Wally Reichert

Teamwork while photographing 200-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. © Chris Collard

Dilophosaurus dinosaur tracks, 200 million years old. © Jack Dykinga

Hoodoos beneath the Milky Way. © Jack Dykinga

Colorado Plateau details. © Jack Dykinga

Petrified sand dune sculpture, Colorado Plateau, Arizona. © Justin Black

Morning on the Colorado Plateau, Arizona. © Justin Black

 

Hoodoos in last light, Navajo Nation, Arizona. © Justin Black

Moon over hoodoos, Navajo Nation, Arizona. © Justin Black

Sandstone sculpture, Colorado Plateau, Arizona. © Justin Black

Petrified sand dune detail, Colorado Plateau. © Jeff Foott

Eroded sandstone "fins," Colorado Plateau. © Jeff Foott

Visionary Wild Arizona Overland Expedition. © Chris Collard

Iceland Expedition Video

Visionary Wild instructor, Polar explorer Chris Linder produced this stunning video featuring his photographs from his latest expedition to Iceland this past August with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute researchers. Chris and landscape photographer Justin Black will lead a photo expedition for nine passionate photographers August 12-19, 2012, which will visit Iceland’s puffin colonies, coastal landscapes, glaciers, iceberg-filled bays, and dramatic volcanic interior. Click here for more information about this exciting expedition!

Iceland: Expedition Scouting


Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at Laetrabjarg in the Westfjords

Polar explorer and photographer Chris Linder traveled to Iceland In mid-August with a group of fellow Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute associates, in part to scout locations for next year’s Visionary Wild expedition, tentatively scheduled for August 19 – 26, 2012. In the following report from the field, Chris has kindly shared his thoughts and a few images from the trip. Watch for details about the 2012 Iceland Expedition in the coming weeks.

Misty mountains in Snaefellssnes National Park

Scouting Iceland

or… In the land of Gore-Tex and Speedos

by Chris Linder

As I lounged in a geothermally heated river watching the last rays of sunlight play across tan and maroon rhyolite hills in the Icelandic highlands, I pondered how to characterize a workshop here without resorting to the “fire and ice” cliché.  Even after multiple visits to Iceland’s most photogenic destinations over the last ten years, I was about to concede defeat: the cliché has its merits.

Rhyolite hills at Landmannalaugar

Iceland sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart.  This causes the “fire”—geothermally active areas comprise nearly a third of Iceland’s land area (including the soothing pool I was relaxing in).  This geothermal activity, manifested in steaming fumaroles, spurting geysers, and bubbling mudpots, is one reason why the Icelandic landscape has such an otherworldly beauty.  Couple this heat with the “ice”—sprawling glaciers like Vatnajökull (the largest ice cap in Europe) and iceberg-filled lagoons, and there you have it…  In my humble opinion, one of the most photogenic countries in the world.

Crevassed glacier ice at Kverkfjall

This scouting trip was an intensive journey through nearly all of Iceland’s landscapes, from puffin-encrusted cliffs in the Westfjords to the remote and rugged Highlands.  With our trusty Jeep Cherokee, my companions and I drove many kilometers of two-track and forded more rivers than I can count – most routes through the Highlands are not bridged.

Crossing a river on the way to Landmannalaugar

14,000 photographs later, I’m ready to plan out an adventure in August 2012 for a select group of photographers to my favorite places in Iceland.  Stay tuned to the Visionary Wild site for more details.

Lake Öskjuvatn in the Askja caldera

So what to do about the cliché?  As I watched bathers scamper across the boardwalk to the hot spring under a spattering of cold rain, a thought came to mind: land of Gore-Tex and Speedos?  I think I’ll have to keep working on it….

Pro Tip from Jeff Foott: “Shooting the Scene”

There’s a story behind every image. A combination of visual cognition, emotional response, thoughtful investigation, composition, technical judgments, and timing (among other factors) play into the creation of the best photographs. It’s a process of purpose.

Visionary Wild instructor Jeff Foott recently shared with us a series of teaching images that he uses to as part of a lecture designed to shed some light on the process of, as he calls it, “shooting the scene.” While walking along a stream near his home in Moab, Utah, Jeff’s attention was captured by this frozen puddle among the rocks. His first reaction was to make a record photograph of the scene as he saw it at first glance – “frozen puddle among rocks” – isolated within the broader landscape.

Recognizing that it was the graphics, tones, and textures of the puddle itself that were what appealed to him visually, Jeff chose to make it a close-up, isolating the frozen puddle from the rocks.

The scene then became the puddle itself, and Jeff sought out compositions within it. He points out, “This is the kind of thing that you can shoot all day, looking for the new compositions and treatments. If you’ve got a great scene to work with, stick with it.” We would add that when looking for abstract close-up compositions, it can help to let go of preconceived notions of what the subject is supposed to look like. Be open to reframing the nature of the subject in new ways.

A good exercise in this sort of situation is to speak out loud what it is that you want to make a picture of, and then gradually modify that statement through a series of images. In this case, that statement started with the very literal “frozen puddle among rocks,” and ends with “abstraction of form, tone, and texture.”

All photos © 2010 Jeff Foott

Bioluminescence on the Sonoma Coast, by Jerry Dodrill

Bioluminescence

For years I’ve heard unbelievable stories about people’s surreal night time experiences in the ocean with glowing plankton blooms, but until recently I’d never seen it myself. The tip off came from Ellen Cruz, a friend from Bodega Bay who sent a note about an experience she’d just had on the Sonoma County coast: 

…the ocean was illuminated as if under a black light…so awesome, cannot describe in words…no need to drop acid on this one…every white particle of wave was iridescent, florescent, glowing like you can’t believe…step on the sand and your footprint glows and sparkles… there were banks of waves coming in, white caps in the distance just glowed, and when the waves connected it was elongated strips of fluorescent green stripes across the water… whew…

This strange oceanic occurrence is likely the root of ghost stories told by early sailors who saw the mysterious green fire in the water but failed to comprehend what they were seeing. Documented as far back as 500 B.C., most bioluminescent light occurs in tiny plants called dinoflagellates which live in the sea and gain energy from the photosynthesis of sunlight. In darkness they emit a blue light in response to movement within the water. The intensity of the light peaks about two hours after dark and is simply amazing to watch. During the day they turn red and can be the source of the neurotoxin that poisons shell fish during Red Tides.

After receiving Ellen’s note, and being somewhat fascinated by natural optical phenomena, my mind immediately began pre-visualizing how I could make an interesting photograph. I often try to imagine best-case situations that might occur in nature. The trick is to carefully consider the conditions which would be necessary for a scenario to occur and then consciously reverse engineer it and attempt to put yourself on location at just the right time while being prepared to capture the moment. Something magical often ends up happening, even if it is somewhat different than what you had imagined.

As I pondered the complexity of making an evocative image of the psychedelic tides I felt that the images would look very alien if there wasn’t an earthly land form with which the viewer can easily identify. I started piecing together two ideas that I thought I could achieve in the same night. I’d seen the first sliver of a moon the night before, just after sunset, and knew that the next day it would be about fifty minutes higher in the sky. So I wanted to first make an image of the crescent moon setting at twilight above the breakers and Arched Rock near Jenner. The second image I was visualizing was a long exposure at the cusp of night where I would have just enough light to see the arch, and enough darkness for the dinoflagellates to show up in the water.

I checked the wunderground.com weather satellite which showed crystal clear skies, then double checked the angle of the moon relative to the arch by using a very useful software for such things called The Photographer’s Ephemeris. All the elements seemed to align and it looked like a promising evening.

I pulled up at Goat Rock Beach in Sonoma Coast State Park right about sunset, (which-oops!- is when the Park closes), geared up in rubber boots and wind gear and headed south down Blind Beach in gorgeous light that I would normally have been shooting. This time I was on a mission for something more mysterious than a sunset but at one point I did stop and made a few exposures of boney rocks protruding from the sand with crazy beams of light coming over the horizon. This was an early and unexpected bonus shot. As the light diminished I came to where the convergence of the setting moon and the sea arch were just perfect.

The first set of images were exactly what I expected. In years past I’d made similar images here with the full moon setting at sunrise into the Earth’s shadow. What I didn’t expect this time is that my camera’s sensor was picking up the Milky Way directly above the Arch! This added a layer of intrigue to the image that was far beyond what I’d imagined. Soon the starry night was fully visible to the naked eye.

If the moon had been larger or higher I believe its light would have polluted the clear, cold night sky and blown out the reflection in the water. But it was just slight enough that the relative contrast between the starlight and reflections fell into a range which could be handled if I was careful. But it was the bioluminescence that was most incredible. Each waved rolled in looking like a million neon glow sticks had been dumped into them. The blue-green light shot across the breakers as they crashed, the more wave energy released, the more light emitted. The backwash on the beach left momentary trails of light which resembled a million little galaxies.

I was in “the zone” watching wave sets, adjusting exposures as it got darker and darker, moving south down the beach as the moon traversed to the north, trying to keep my juxtaposition with Arched Rock in alignment. It was a bit ridiculous to realize a shot like this had come together: crescent moon shining through the arch under the Milky Way with the glowing ocean. Then as if in a nod to affirm all was okay in the universe, I watched in awe as a brilliant shooting star streaked across the sky above the arch while I had the shutter open. All the while I was very aware that I should not have parked my car in the heavily patrolled parking lot.

The moon was finally setting so I packed and hiked across the beach toward the car, arriving just as two park rangers stepped out of their cruiser with spot lights on. “Hello!” I called out of the darkness in attempt to not get myself Tazed as I stepped into the blinding beams with a big tripod on my shoulder. I received the full lecture from them (the park closes at sunset…we don’t want to have to come looking for you…) and apologized sheepishly. They wanted to know what I was doing out there. Still buzzing from an incredible experience, I pulled out the camera and offered to show them. The three of us huddled in the wind with our heads close to the back of my Nikon’s LCD and looked through the entire image set frame by frame while dispatch ran my plates and ID. The officers have one of the best office views in the state out their front windshield and were excited to see my photographic interpretation of what they see every day. As it turns out we share mutual friends and a deep connection for preserving California’s wild coast. I didn’t get a ticket that night. Instead I walked away with a couple of new friends, some images with which I’m really happy, and the good info on where to park the car for my next outing.

-Jerry Dodrill

Sebastopol, CA

Visionary Wild instructor Jerry Dodrill will co-lead two workshops on the California coast with Justin Black in 2012, at Point Reyes National Seashore in March and on the Sonoma Coast in September. We hope you can join us.

http://www.jerrydodrill.com

More info:

Bioluminescence: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioluminescence

Sonoma Coast State Park: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=451

 

Photo Salon: The Value of Critique

by Justin Black

 

The lone-wolf photographer is a concept with which we are all familiar. Many of us like to think of ourselves as self-reliant and passionately free-spirited, driven only by an innate creative vision. In my experience, however, most of the people I know who have mastered anything haven’t done it on their own. They’ve done it through interaction with others.

One of the most important experiences in my formative years was in George Washington University’s small but excellent photography program, founded by a landscape photographer named Jerry Lake. Professor Lake treated his students like family and regularly joined us on weekend photography outings, an act of “above and beyond” generosity to be sure. Back in the studio, students and professors alike would regularly pin up prints in a common area and critique each others’ work. The atmosphere was open and supportive, and everyone felt free to share their work and honest opinions. We all benefitted tremendously from the process of peer review and constructive critique.

One of the many prints that benefitted from critique by my peers in the GWU Photo Dept. "Dawn at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia." © 1994 Justin Black

 

In the early days of my photography career, I began to miss the honest and constructive feedback of other photographers, so a friend invited me to participate in Photo Salon, an informal group of serious photographers who met each month at a photo studio outside Washington, DC. Work prints were spread across a huge table, everyone would circle around, look them over, ask questions, share impressions, and offer suggestions.  Each of us would have the opportunity to say a little bit about what we were working on and what challenges we faced as we developed our body of work. There was a documentary photographer following the stories of cancer patients, a portraitist doing a book project on transvestites, a fellow who created beautiful abstracts in abandoned industrial sites, and my landscapes among several others. With so many different genres coming together in one place, we each left our comfort zone and benefitted from the insights of professional peers who were all sophisticated visual communicators despite coming from differing interests and backgrounds.

These experiences taught me the art of constructive critique that I regularly apply to this day as a workshop instructor, and they drove home the tremendous value of gathering with other serious photographers in a spirit of camaraderie to discuss aesthetics, themes, techniques, ethics, potential outlets and markets, and myriad other topics. As much as I value creative independence and cherish solitude when I can find it, it seems to me that engaging with a community of passionate and insightful peers is one of the most personally and artistically rewarding activities any photographer can undertake. It is with this knowledge that I look forward eagerly to every workshop critique session and the happy déjà vu experienced every time a participant tells me that they learned far more from the critiques than they ever imagined possible. I have indeed been there before.

Scouting the Olympic Peninsula

Last week, I joined my good friend, photographer Pat O’Hara, to scout locations in Olympic National Park in preparation for our Advanced Workshop in Port Angeles, Washington in July 2012.

With 200% of normal snowpack for this time of year, the Olympic mountains were positively stunning. Though Mt. Olympus, the tallest, is under 8,000 ft. in elevation, it seems like a much bigger mountain, supporting large glaciers and towering above the surrounding landscape. The old-growth temperate rainforest, lakes, waterfalls, driftwood strewn beaches on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and dramatic weather make for tremendous variety of landscapes in a compact area. It would be obvious to anyone why Pat and his family have chosen to live in this exceptional place.

Time was tight and I was there for logistics more than photography, but I managed to make a few images at some of the field locations that we will likely use during the workshop, like the one above at Sol Duc Falls. It will be a great pleasure to return for the workshop with Pat during the height of wildflower season next summer.

For those interested in technical details, the Sol Duc Falls image is from a 25-megapixel file created very easily using an old manual focus, manual aperture 35mm f/2.8 PC shift lens on a Nikon D700. A polarizing filter was used to cut glare on the foliage. Without moving the camera, the lens was shifted to expose three frames for the top, middle, and bottom of the composition. Toss the files into Photomerge in Photoshop, and voilá, you end up with an extremely high-quality image file with a field of view close to that of a 24mm lens, and format proportions close to 4×5.

My traveling camera kit on this trip consisted of my D700, 20mm f/4 AI , 35mm f/2.8 PC Nikkor, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor, 135mm f/2.8 AI-S Nikkor, and Gitzo G1028 with Really Right Stuff BH-25 ballhead. Using the power of three-frame stitching to increase resolution, I could effectively cover a focal length range of 14mm to 90mm at a level of quality that equals 200MB drum scans from 6x7cm medium format transparencies, with the benefit of the D700′s excellent high ISO/low-noise performance. The fact that this level of quality can be achieved so easily with such a limited array of compact, affordable gear is truly astonishing. The total weight of my photo kit including the tripod was  3.046Kg, and the camera and lenses all fit inside a small waistpack that stashed neatly into my carry-on. I was able to travel for a week with only a Patagonia shoulder bag and a slim laptop case, and still make landscape photographs that could produce top-quality prints without feeling like I was hindered by my lens selection. What a wonderful time we live in.