Visualize Candlesticks And Clouds

Candlestick Tower in Fog

I recently re-read a blog post written by my good friend Guy Tal, titled “Visualization (aka Postprevisualization)”. Guy is a nature photographer and writer based in the tiny town of Torrey, Utah.  Actually, it really isn’t accurate to call Guy a “nature photographer and writer”.  He is both of those things.  But his talent for both is on a level so far above that which most of us will ever reach simply calling him a “photographer and writer” may well be the understatement of the decade.  He is also one of the most humble, passionate, compassionate, articulate, giving and just downright genuine people you’ll ever meet.  I kind of hope he never reads this because if he does, he probably won’t be all that happy with me for gushing about him for all to read.  Sorry, Guy!  I’m in kind of a reflective mood so I’ll blame this entire post on that.

Guy’s post is a bit of a warranted rant on the misuse of the term “previsualization” to describe the act of  ”anticipating a finished image before making the exposure”.  (Thanks, Ansel!)  In reality this is visualization, not previsualization.  I recommend that you read Guy’s post to understand the difference.  While you’re there, pour yourself a nice cup of coffee and surf through his entire blog/journal.  You’ll find it to be an amazing literary adventure.

For two years I had an image in mind that I wanted so badly to make but it required a combination of elements that don’t exactly coincide on a daily basis.  Candlestick Tower in Canyonlands NP is a prominent sandstone tower that soars several hundred feet above the desert floor.  The image that haunted me was that of Candlestick Tower looming large above a sea of low lying clouds.  Perhaps now you can see why one can not just show up at any given time and make this image.

So, I kept it there in my tiny little mind consuming memory that likely should have been used for something else.  My wife constantly reminds me that I am forgetful.  I think it’s because I have so many future images stored in memory that other, less important things, are automatically purged.  I cycle through these images occasionally, usually at night when I’m struck with a bout of insomnia.

On Dec. 31, 2009 I awoke early and looked out the window and saw…nothing.  A beautiful, white nothing.  Thick fog encircled the building to the south and I could barely make out its outline.  I had a gut feeling that today was the day.

I quickly dressed, grabbed my camera gear, kissed my wife and son good-bye and headed out the door.  I drove through fog in the darkness as I ascended to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands.  Once on top of the mesa the fog slowly dissipated until finally, stars shone brightly above.  Oh yes, today was in fact the day I had been waiting for.

I made it to the small, unmarked pull-out from which my favorite view of Candlestick Tower is accessed.  The temperature was 4 degrees.  I had been here before and I knew the image I wanted to create would require a long lens.  I swapped my 16-35mm lens for the 100-400mm monster, threw on my down coat, fleece hat and…gloves, where are my gloves?  Ah yes, they are at home sitting on the printer, right where I left them.  Undeterred, I opened a package of chemical hand warmers and started walking through crunchy snow to the edge of a cliff where I would set up my tripod and wait in the waning darkness.

As the sun began to rise I watched wisps of fog slip over the canyon rim, encircling me, and then disappear back into the canyon.  The handwarmers kept my fingers toasty in my pockets until the time came to trip the shutter.  Sunlight diffused through thin clouds warmed Candlestick Tower and it cast a long shadow onto the surrounding clouds.  Click.  Click, click, click.  I made several images in no more than a couple of minutes.  Some with a neutral density filter attached for a long-ish shutter speed that would smooth the slow moving fog and some without.  I knew before even seeing my images that at long last my vision had been realized, and I smiled.

I packed up my camera gear and stood in place for 15 minutes, watching the clouds ebb and flow.  Despite the cold it was a very relaxing and fulfilling moment.  I heard a car door shut and looked back to see another photographer exit his car.  It was time for me to go.

I walked back to my truck, climbed inside and started the engine.  Warm air issued from the heater.  I took a swig of tea, put the truck in drive and headed home with one less image nagging in the back of my memory.

I know I’m not the only one who has been thrilled to fulfill a creative vision through photography.  Let’s hear your story.  Be sure to post a link to the image that dogged you for weeks, months or years.

11 thoughts on “Visualize Candlesticks And Clouds”

  1. Awesome, Bret! I’m not much of a visualizer. I generally like shooting completely unknown locations, often quite a ways off pavement. Of course I plan with maps and Google Earth, but these won’t tell you anything about intimate scenes or foregrounds. So for me, it’s generally a matter of getting to a promising location and hoping things work out.

    One that I’d wanted for a long time is a shot of the Impassable Canyon on the Middle Fork of the Salmon from a high perspective. I’ve seen it from the river plenty, and it’s awesome, but you don’t sense the full depth from the bottom: peaks well over 9,000′ falling straight down to 3,000′ at the water. I finally found time last summer to backpack up the notorious and gorgeous Stoddard Trail, found a promising viewpoint, and got no decent light at all that evening. Early morning wasn’t much better, until well after sunrise when I was ready to pack it up, a couple low beams broke through and shone right up the canyon. Here it is. Can’t wait to go back for more!

    1. Oooooooooh, that is a sweet photo. It’s always amazing to me how a little shaft of light can transform what might otherwise be a ho-hum photo into something totally dramatic. That looks like some wickedly rugged and remote country, Jackson. I’m envious that you get to see so much gorgeous terrain on your river trips. I’m hoping to raft through Cataract Canyon in 2011 but I don’t really want to do it on a guided tour as I’d rather take my time and photograph the adventure.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your beautiful image.

  2. Loved this entry (and photo, of course) because I can definately identify with what you’re describing. Everyone knows about Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. Well, I wanted to take a similiar type of photo along a local river but in a winter setting. I reviewed topo maps and scoured Google Earth to find some possible locations.

    I finally made it to one of the locations and took some shots but they weren’t quite right (too many distracting elements in the FG):

    http://www.scolephoto.com/photos/781266085_o4prA-L.jpg
    http://www.scolephoto.com/photos/448126787_yRkNu-L.jpg

    Not satisfied, I kept looking for other locations. Later that winter, I happened to find another location that was even easier to get to than my first attempt. FINALLY, my payoff!

    http://www.scolephoto.com/photos/492426505_vgb2H-L.jpg

    A wise person over on NPN suggested a black & white conversion and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Even better- this photo has been accepted into two different juried art shows.

    Perseverance pays off!

    Steve

    1. This looks like a super cool location, Steve. I like that you included a series of photos as it shows how your vision slowly came to be realized over several attempts. It’s a very peaceful image, and I commend you for your persistence. It paid off!

  3. Striking image and excellent blog Bret. I tend to be more of a visualizer, often shooting images with the thought of how I’m going to process them to arrive at a specific finished product. For example, a few years ago I was sitting in a seminar in San Francisco and the instructor showed us a nifty technique in Photoshop to create images that have a similar look to hand colored B&W images. Immediately my mind went to the boats at Fisherman’s Wharf thinking that an image from there would be perfect for this technique. During the lunch break I jumped on a cable car to the wharf, shot the image, then blazed back to the hotel to process it. The result was exactly as I visualized it. Here’s a link.

    http://www.wcbeanphoto.com/Images/miscphotos/boats.htm

    1. That is a seriously cool image, Bill! I love it. You visualized the image you wanted to create and then made it happen with a little help from Photoshop. Good work!

  4. Bret: This image is terrific as is your story of capturing it. I was in Mammoth Lakes, CA over the 2009 holidays, which I have gone to for years, and always wanted to wake up for an early sunrise shot. Well, being a product of Los Angeles, where anything below 72 degrees is majorly traumatic, I made the big plunge in December. I woke up 3 mornings and braved the 16 degree weather, gloves in hand, camera set up and got some terrific shots. Well, not National Geographic, but I was happy and will proudly print one for my wall. but you are the renaissance man to brave 4 degrees and glove-less! Congratulations on a great photo. BTW, I have a photo similar to yours of landing in Los Angeles on an early morning a couple of years ago, and two downtown buildings were barely pushing through the fog level. I loved that shot and the only problem was that I had my ISO set to 1600 from the prior night and it is very noisy. Software helped to tone it down, but I guess that is a subject for another post.

  5. wonderful story and resultant image. I had a very similar experience this week capturing an image that has escaped me for nearly 10 years. If I knew how to post it I would! Love your entries – read everyone one. Keep it going!
    Debra

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