About Me

My photo
Ansel Adams once said that a true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words. He then went one to write volumes about his photographs, and he would apparently talk about them to anyone who would listen. So much for pithy quotes. Since this is my blog, I will ignore Ansel Adams, and I will use this space to share the stories behind some of my favorite photographs: what I saw when I created the images, how the photos came to be, and why they are important to me. Consider this a behind-the-scenes look at my creative process. If you like what you see here, please visit my photography website: RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Monday, July 5, 2010

Grand Canyon Light and Shadow 7-16-07

As a photographer, I am drawn to contrast, which is basically the difference in light intensity between the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights.  In this photo, the contrast is not quite as intense as it is in those photos taken closer to sunrise or sunset.  Here the sun is almost directly overhead, which would typically render the light dull and flat. But the overlying clouds cast shadows on the canyon floor, resulting in a dappled pattern that adds drama and interest. Canon 20D f/22 1/25 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @110mm To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Grand Canyon in Morning Light 7-20-07

This photograph from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon taken in Golden Hour light typifies the interplay of light and shadow that excites me. Two shafts of light draw the eye to different areas of the photo. Further exploration reveals a gradation from foreground shadow to mid-ground mid-tones and finally background highlights. The combination of light, shadow and atmospheric perspective creates a feeling of depth, and it evokes in me a quiet, moody sense of awe. Canon 20D f/22 1/8 sec. ISO 100 75-300mm lens @300mm 6:31 AM  To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Mount Hayden at Sunrise - Grand Canyon N.P. 7-19-07

Artists often use a technique called Atmospheric Perspective to create a feeling of depth by depicting distant objects in hazy details and faded colors and tones. In this photograph, Mount Hayden, which is actually a butte, is side-lit by the Golden Hour sunshine, giving it the appearance of facing left into the photograph. The atmospheric perspective is obvious in the background buttes that roll gently from right to left, creating a repeating visual rhythm until they eventually disappear in the morning haze. Taken at Imperial Point, Grand Canyon National Park. Canon 20D f/22 0.5sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @28mm 5:56 AM To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Grand Canyon in Morning Light 7-15-07

The Golden Hour refers to the first hour and last hour of daylight. Also called the Magic Hour, this is the time of day when the sun is low in the sky, and its golden light can make even the most mundane subject extraordinary. In this photograph, taken about 15 minutes after sunrise, the Grand Canyon is illuminated by Magic Hour light. The side-lighting adds more texture to the rock formations, and the warm light results in a richer color palette. The canyon shadow creates a sense of depth. And the clouds, lit from below, make for a more dramatic sky. Canon 20D f/22 0.5sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @28mm 5:44AM To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Sunrise at Grand Canyon 7-17-07

There is nothing that I have ever seen that matches the light show in the floor of the Grand Canyon at sunrise. In a matter of moments, the canyon goes from total blackness to a spectacular display of light and shadow. Once it gets started, it changes so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. On this morning, I would often find a compelling subject and establish my composition, only to see the light move to another place before I could capture the scene. But when one door closed, two more would open, and there was no shortage of great shots. Here the repeated diagonal patterns of the eroded buttes is broken up by the uneven lighting of the morning sun. Canon 20D f/22 0.4 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @100mm To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Sunrise at Grand Canyon 7-17-07

As I mentioned in a previous post, sunrise at the Grand Canyon is an eerie and beautiful experience. As the sun clears the rim, it illuminates the buttes in the canyon floor.  Taller buttes act as foils, resulting in an uneven distribution of the sun’s rays. The interplay of light and shadow is a spectacle that rewards the early visitor to the canyon’s rim. By midday, when most people view the canyon, the overhead light is flat. Although any view of the Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring, nothing matches the quiet resplendent glory of this early morning light show. Canon 20D f/22 20.3 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @135mm To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Sunrise at Grand Canyon 7-17-07

If you ever go to the Grand Canyon National Park, I highly recommend viewing a sunrise from one of the many viewing sites within the park.  If you wake up early enough to arrive at dawn, this is typical of what you will see. Notice that the canyon rim is not visible from this location. Large buttes in the foreground project upward, partially obstructing your view of the rising sun. Also notice the clouds, which come into play as the sun rises higher in the sky. Take a minute or two to enjoy the sun playing peek-a-boo with the buttes, then spend the next several hours watching the spectacle of light and shadow in the canyon below. Canon 20D f/8 1/50 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @64mm 5:29 AM To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Grand Canyon at Twilight 7-18-07

In July of 2007, I spent seven days at the Grand Canyon: four days at the south rim, and three days at the north rim. Previously, I had seen plenty of photographs of the Grand Canyon, most of which were taken in midday light. But nothing prepared me for what I was about to see. In preparation for my trip, I read as much as I could about Grand Canyon National Park. I was surprised to learn  that the average visitor to the Park spends only about three hours there. I am guessing that most of those visits take place at the wrong three hours. From a photographic point of view, just about everything happens within the three hours around sunrise and sunset. In July,  sunrise occurred around 5:30 a.m. Even though I went out to shoot sunrise by myself, I was never alone. Even at some of the more remote sites, there were always a few people who had come out to see the the canyon sunrise. Those who rose early were treated to a magnificent sight. Prior to dawn, it was pitch black (at least on the moonless mornings that I was there). It was so dark that it was somewhat disorienting. Any nearby lights were not powerful enough to reach and illuminate the canyon, so attempts to make out any detail were futile. It was like there was nothing there. With the twilight came a faint glow in the eastern sky. Shapes gradually became discernible. In this photograph, taken before sunrise at 5:07AM, the Colorado river shimmers in the reflected skylight. It was as eerie as it was beautiful. But the best was yet to come. Canon 20D f/5.6 2.0 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @200mm To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Morning Mist and Light - Cades Cove 10-12-08

I displayed this photograph at an exhibit whose theme was “a moment in time.” I was discussing this image with an attendee, and I mentioned that I happened to be at the right spot at the right time to capture the mist and sunlight. That was a poor choice of words, because it implied that it was a lucky shot. “Don’t you think that most good photographs are mostly a matter of luck?” she asked. I quickly said no. I had been shooting in this area of Cades Cove for several years, and I knew that if I arrived at that spot in the early morning just as the sun was rising, I stood a good chance of catching the sunlight scraping across the landscape, interplaying with the fog and trees. This photograph was the result of knowledge accumulated over five years. And it required waking up early, driving to Cades Cove in the dark, waiting in line for the park gate to open, going out to my spot, setting up my camera and tripod, and knowing what lens and camera settings to use. When the magic moment occurred, I was ready. Canon 20D HDR Image from three exposures Photomatix Pro f/8 ISO 100 28-200mm lens @80mm To see a larger version of this photograph, click here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sandra at Sunrise - St. Simons Island 6-7-06

On June 7, 2006, I was fortunate enough to produce three of my favorite photographs of all times. Two are contest finalists, and all three are framed and on display in my home. This photo of my wife Sandra was taken at 6:24 AM. Sandra doesn’t like to have her picture taken, but she has never refused my request to pose for one of my photographs. For this photo, we went out to the beach before sunrise so that I could set up the shot. To capture her entire silhouette, I had to lie face-down in the sand. I asked her to open her stride a bit and to hold her hands out from her side. To add interest, I had her hold a starfish that I had purchased at the local shell shop. We practiced the pose so that when the sun started to rise, we were ready. I just had to wiggle around a bit and reposition my tripod to capture the composition that I wanted. Months later, I was talking about this image, and I made the observation that there were two stars in the photo: the starfish and the sun. Someone made an even more astute observation that there were actually three stars: the starfish, the sun, and Sandra. How true. Canon 20D. Cropped vertically from an original horizontal composition. f/8 1/60 sec. ISO 400 10-22mm lens @ 16mm.

Flowers in the Breeze - St. Simons Island 6-7-06

On June 7, 2006, I was fortunate enough to produce three of my favorite photographs of all times. Two are contest finalists, and all three are framed and on display in my home.  Impressionistic photography attempts to convey the essence of the subject, rather than an accurate representation.  To be perfectly honest, photo impressionism is a somewhat risky endeavor, because not every viewer likes this sort of thing. And there is always the possibility that it can be seen as pretentious and self-indulgent. If I’m lucky, the impressionistic photograph will elicit in the viewer an emotional response. However, it is imperative that the photograph elicit a reaction in me. This image is a blended exposure of two photographs taken at about 7:11 PM. It was a windy evening, and the sea grass was being whipped back and forth. A shutter speed of 1/4 sec. resulted in a pleasing blur that captured the energy of the moment. The diagonal lines add excitement, and the grass adds texture. Whenever I view this photo, I feel the warm evening wind, I smell the sea grass and flowers, and I taste the salt in the air. This was a finalist in the Sheperd Spinal Center’s photo contest. Canon 20D f/20 1/4 sec. ISO 100 10-22mm lens @ 22mm.

Morning Star - St. Simons Island 6-7-06

On June 7, 2006, I was fortunate enough to produce three of my favorite photographs of all times. Two are contest finalists, and all three are framed and on display in my home.  I had previously purchased this starfish at the local shell shop with the intention of using it as a prop in some of my beach photographs. “Are these shells from around here?” I asked the proprietor. “No,” she replied, “We don’t get shells like these on our beaches. These come from the Philippines.” A day or two later, with my Philippine starfish still in its original bag, I headed off to the beach with Sandra, where I photographed “Sandra at Sunrise” (see separate post for details). Thirty minutes after making that photo, I shot the starfish by itself lying on the sand, with the low morning light raking across it and the sand ripples. I had already spent several days at St. Simons, and I was frustrated by the clear blank skies that imparted dull lifelessness to my landscape efforts. But when I got this shot framed, and I looked through the viewfinder, I knew I had a winner. The starfish provides the entry point for the viewer's eye. The sand ripples and the shimmer of light take the eye to the horizon, where in the absence of clouds, there is a lovely gradation of color, repeating the blues, browns and oranges of the starfish and beach. While shooting this starfish, I heard excited footsteps heading my way. I looked up to see a young boy pointing at me while crying out to his mother, “Look what he just found!” I quickly told him the truth about the starfish’s origins, and then I went back to shooting, before I could gauge his reaction. For this shot, I had to lie face-down in the wet sand. This was a second-place winner in BetterPhoto.com’s photo contest. Canon 20D f/8 1/13 sec. ISO 100 10-22mm lens @ 10mm.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cades Cove is one of my favorite places to photograph. The park service has preserved original homesteads and churches, and they make good photographic subjects. I usually don’t know how a particular site will look until I get there, so I just move from location to location, until I find something I like. On this morning, I arrived to find the John Oliver cabin bathed in golden early morning light, and I knew I was in the right place at the right time. In this image, I chose to place the fence in the foreground to draw the viewer’s eye into the photograph, leading it to the cabin. The fence also serves to frame the cabin. The surprise was the beam of light that streaks across the fence, also leading the eye to the cabin. The dogwoods in the forest are subtly illuminated, providing a nice touch of balance to the photo. The criss-crossed diagonal wood beams, and the shaft of light add energy and visual tension to this otherwise peaceful scene. This photo was a finalist in BetterPhoto.com’s contest for February, 2010. HDR photo from three images processed and tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro. Canon 20D f/22  ISO 100 28-200mm lens @35mm To purchase this photo, click here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Grand Canyon in Morning Light 7-16-07

This photograph was taken at Grand Canyon National Park at 7:55 AM. A bristlecone pine on the canyon’s south rim frames the Colorado river which winds in and out of the early morning light on the canyon floor below. This photo was a finalist in BetterPhoto.com’s contest for February, 2010. Canon 20D f/29 1/8 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @64mm. To purchase this photo, click here.

Rental Bike - Mackinac Island 9-10-16

I am currently taking an on-line course on High Dynamic Range photography, and this week’s lesson is on black-and-white imagery using  double tone-mapping techniques. Here is one of the results of my efforts. I like the gritty feel that this technique has imparted to this photo. No sharpening was applied, yet the details are exceptionally crisp. The texture of the wood grain, tire tread, and bird poop is exaggerated. The depth of this image is remarkable, considering that it is just a bicycle leaning against a wall. Technical aspects aside, I like this photograph because of the unanswered questions that it poses: Who placed this bike so carefully against the wall with the kickstand down? What is in the box with the name of a California winery visible across its bottom? The box is obviously water-damaged, and it has been exposed to the elements. It is warped and seems to have dissolved into the basket. So how long has it been in this spot?  Is it abandoned? Is it forgotten? Unlocked and unattended, this bicycle is captured here, resting in this spot forever, waiting for its rider to return. Canon 20D Single photo processed as a pseudo-HDR image in Photomatix Pro, then tone-mapped twice using extreme settings to produce a grunge look. Desaturated in Photomatix Pro to convert to B&W.  Nik CEP Darken/Lighten filter applied. f/8 1/200 sec. ISO 400 28-200mm lens @ 57mm

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Red Vine on Green Wall 10-3-07

What do you see when you look at this photograph? Do you see a red vine climbing a green wall, as the title suggests? Look again. Notice that the leaves on the vine are dry and withered, barely hanging on in their final days. Many of their companions have already departed. The green wall is losing its vibrancy. The stain is fading, leaving large gaps of exposed cedar. The window is covered with a shade that displays a faded floral print, a whispered memory of better days. Now look again. The house, though abandoned and neglected, is still standing. The vine will be reborn in the spring. Exposed cedar is prized for the beauty it displays as it ages. There is a wistful feeling of endurance and hope here. You just have to look for it. Canon 20D Photo taken at New Harbor, Maine on 10-3-07.  Single photo processed as a pseudo-HDR image in Photomatix Pro, then tone-mapped twice using extreme settings to produce a grunge look. Nik CEP Darken/Lighten filter applied.  f/16 1/25 sec. ISO 400 28-200mm lens @ 64mm Click here to view more pseudo-HDR grunge images.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Waiting for Customers - San Francisco 7-31-09

This is another one of my rediscoveries, or “rescue photographs” as I like to call them. Last summer, my wife and I traveled to San Francisco, and I decided to do some street photography in China Town. Walking along the back alleys, I encountered this barber reading the newspaper during a lull in activity. I liked the composition, although I ended up cropping it just a bit. The original showed the entire sign; the crop is a bit more intimate. However, I thought the light was too flat, and so I abandoned the photo and focused my attention on other photographs that excited me more, like those of the Golden Gate Bridge. Using the pseudo-HDR grunge technique on this photo has been revelatory, to say the least. If you are saying to yourself that this looks more like a painting than a photograph, then I agree. I always considered this photo to be a Norman Rockwell moment, but until now, I had not realized its full potential. Notice the details in the newspaper and the shoes. The colors are unrealistically vivid. The shadows are deep, and the lighting is dramatic. The grit of the back alley is palpable. For me, this slice of ordinary life is ten times more exciting than the Golden Gate Bridge. Canon 50D  Single photo processed as a pseudo-HDR image in Photomatix Pro, then tone-mapped twice using extreme settings to produce a grunge look. Nik CEP Darken/Lighten filter applied. f/8 1/13 sec. ISO 100 24-105mm lens @ 35mm Click here to view more pseudo-HDR grunge images.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Abandoned Truck in Field - Dayton, Tennessee 9-24-05

For the past week or so, I have been taking an on-line course on High Dynamic Range Imaging. As mentioned in an earlier post, I am currently revisiting past photographs and using HDR techniques to re-imagine them. I recently learned a new technique for creating “pseudo-HDR grunge” images from single photos. This technique doesn’t work well for all images, but when it does, the results can be spectacular. This photo is one of my rediscoveries. I originally went to Dayton to shoot apple trees at harvest time. A friend took me to one of the orchards and introduced me to the growers. While there, I photographed this old Ford pickup truck rusting away in a nearby field. If I were making this photo today, I would have taken at least three exposures and tried HDR processing to capture the full dynamic range of the scene. Instead I was stuck with this single-exposure photo, which until now was languishing on my hard drive. I had always liked the composition. It has that little “gotcha” moment when you discover the barn reflected in the chrome of the passenger side rearview mirror. However, I didn’t like the lighting. The grunge look suits this photo. The rust really pops. And that barn reflection has never looked better. Canon 20D f/5.6 1/400 sec. ISO 400 18-55mm lens @ 35mm. Click here to view more pseudo-HDR grunge images.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Iris 3-2-04

This is one of my earlier photographs, and it has a special significance for me. I had set up a small studio of sorts, consisting of a card table and a single Photoflex studio light. I obtained this iris from a local florist, and I placed it in a small vase with a piece of black poster board as a backdrop. My Canon Digital Rebel was mounted on a heavy metal tripod, and I experimented with angles and lighting by rotating the flower and repositioning the light source. In this photo, the light was to the left, angled from above and slightly behind the flower. If I were shooting this photo today, I would use a reflector to bounce some light onto the right side of the flower to fill in some detail in the shadows, especially those of the stem. But I really didn’t know about such things back then, and I didn’t yet know how to see a subject the way the camera sees it. I will never forget what happened next. After I finished this set-up and looked through the viewfinder: I gasped. Yes, it was an audible gasp. There I was in this dark room breathlessly admiring the luminous beauty of this flower, and I had yet to press the shutter release. Since that time, I have experienced similar rushes when composing a photograph that I knew was going to be special. But this was the only time I gasped, and I will never forget that moment. This is what I saw, with very little manipulation in Photoshop. Canon Digital Rebel. Photoflex light. f/22 0.3 sec. ISO 100 28-200m lens @110mm RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fishtown - Leland, Michigan 9-12-2006

In the past year or so, I have been experimenting with High Dynamic Range photography. HDR is a technology that allows the photographer to capture the full dynamic range of a scene, including details in the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights. Currently this technique is employed by shooting two or more images at different exposures, then combining them into a single tone-mapped photo. The results can be quite amazing. It just so happens that I have at least four years of photos that were shot using exposure bracketing, consisting of one normal exposure and two or more underexposures and overexposures. I am currently revisiting these earlier photographs and subjecting them to HDR processing. This photograph of Fishtown is a surprising result of my efforts. HDR imaging has rendered eye-popping detail in the cedar shakes, the mossy docks, and the rusty boats. The skies would have been blown out in a regular photo, unless a graduated neutral density filter had been employed to hold back the brightness of the sky. The alleys and the space under the docks would have been rendered pure black in the typical situation. But HDR has captured so much detail in these areas, that the resulting depth draws the viewer into the image, inviting the eye to linger and explore. Canon 20D HDR image from three exposures processed and tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro. f/8 ISO 100 10-22mm lens @20mm RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Portland Head Light (Maine) 10-3-06

Ansel Adams once said that there are two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer. The viewer of a lighthouse photograph often experiences a visceral reaction based on whatever meaning he or she attributes to the subject. Depending on one’s perspective, a lighthouse can be a metaphor for God, a spiritual leader, a teacher, a mentor, a parent, a trusted friend, a set of values, a guidepost, a ray of hope, a beacon of safety and stability, and even a symbol of male fertility.  As a photographer, I am a bit more pragmatic. I see a lighthouse as a visual focal point: an element of the photograph that is guaranteed to grab the viewer’s attention. A lighthouse is usually constructed and placed so that it towers above the surrounding landscape. This ensures that it captures, unencumbered, the first rays of the rising sun and the last rays of the setting sun. In this photograph, the late afternoon sun illuminates the lighthouse and makes it stand out from the surrounding landscape. Because the lighthouse is the brightest element in the image, the viewer notices it first. From there, the eye follows the S-shaped curves of the rocky coastline to the bottom of the photograph and then back up toward the lighthouse. The S-curve pattern is repeated in the clouds, mimicking the pattern of the shoreline. This is an HDR photo from three exposures processed and tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro. Topaz Adjust Mild Color Pop filter applied at partial opacity. Nik CEP Sunshine Filter applied at partial opacity. Final image adjusted in Photoshop. Canon 20D f/8 ISO 100 28-200mm lens @32mm. RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse at Sunrise (Maine) 9-30-07

The composition of this image is deceptively simple, consisting of four elements: lighthouse, fence, sky and sea. But for me, it is all about the light. As I was making this photograph, the late September sun was rising to my left, bathing the scene with a warm amber glow. The resulting shadows in the window and cement add texture and depth to the lighthouse. The color palette, which is limited to shades of white, gray, blue and yellow, is reproduced in the sky, where the clouds form a mesmerizing back-and-forth pattern that grabs the viewer's eye pulling it into the picture and gently sweeping it out toward the horizon. Canon 20D f/16 1/15 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @ 40mm  RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Mackinac Island 9-10-06

Here is another take on the Man vs. Nature theme. In this photo of two lighthouses at Mackinac Island on Lake Huron, Michigan, I placed the lighthouses at the bottom of the photo. Here the dark clouds dominate, rendering the lighthouses tiny and insignificant. For me, this scene evokes a feeling of isolation.  The early morning sun wraps around the mechanical lighthouse in the foreground, giving it a three-dimensional quality. The clouds are lit from below, adding depth and an ominous tone. Canon 20D f/10 1/160 sec. ISO 400 28-200mm lens @ 90mm RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Portland Head Light 10-4-06

Lighthouses were constructed to guide ships through treacherous seas. In a way, they symbolize the age-old theme of man vs. nature. In this photograph of Portland Head Light, I placed the lighthouse in the upper portion of the photograph to emphasize its position of dominance over the rocky Maine coastline. It has been situated here since 1791, and it is still functional. I took this photo at 6:28 AM, approximately 14 minutes before sunrise. It was a magical moment. There were a few locals and tourists strolling or jogging. But for the most part, I had the lighthouse and this overlook to myself.  Five minutes later, the pinks and lavenders changed to shades of blue, and the moment passed. I felt fortunate to have witnessed this glorious spectacle, and even more fortunate to have captured this photograph. Canon 20D f/8 0.6 sec. ISO 100 10-22mm lens @15mm RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Laura at Graduation 5-16-05

I took this photo of my daughter on the day of her graduation from Emory College. The university ceremony had just ended, and the college commencement ceremony was to follow in about thirty minutes. To help me locate her, she called me on my cell phone, and she stood on one of the folding chairs so that she could be spotted above the crowd. I already had my 75-300mm lens mounted on my Canon 20D, and I told her to put down her cell phone so that I could take her photo. She beamed this smile of joyful exuberance and pride. It is that look of confidence and infinite possibility that makes this one of my favorite photos.   f/8 1/400 sec. ISO 400 75-300mm lens @300mm. Hand-held. Photo cropped, face lightened, surroundings darkened in Photoshop. RobertBurnsPhotography.com