Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Light Finds, Inc

Paul Hassell Photography has become Light Finds.

See the new blog at LightFinds.us/blog

Friday, March 30, 2012

The North Face - Grand Teton

by Camp 4 Collective

Another gorgeous feat of artistry, storytelling and athleticism by Jimmy, Renan, and Tim of Camp 4. Without further adieu...

Friday, March 2, 2012

March 2012 - "Cliffhanger" Torres del Paine, Chile

This month’s installment will read more like a tutorial for photography enthusiasts than an adventure story. I will explore the raw tenacity of wild places, and then discuss—through the medium of photography—how to effectively communicate that wildness.

This month’s image shows the abundant density of vegetation that covers this glorious Chilean park while highlighting one of nature’s great miracles—trees that grow from tiny seeds through rocks against impossible odds and pounding Patagonia winds.

My group had 1 short trail-mile left before reaching our destination for the next two nights—CabaƱas Cuernos. I was bringing up the rear. No one had noticed this gem of wild wonder emerging from the rock. In fact, I almost missed it too. It blended into the rock and the dense vegetation around it. I backpedalled to confirm what I thought my periphery had seen. It was!

I called out to Kathy who was immediately in front of me. The others were just out of earshot in hot pursuit of the dry cabin, warm showers, even a backcountry hot tub that awaited us from the windswept drizzly day of hiking and photography. Kathy now saw it too. She smiled from ear to ear.

For the next half hour, we climbed rocks on and off the trail, lay on our bellies, and moved all around to get the perspective that might show off the greatness of this natural bonsai tree miracle. The infamous Cuernos Paine with its sharp lines and dark, contrasting, sedimentary rock layers loomed in the background.

Years ago, when I was just getting started in my career, a well-respected European photo editor told me something I’ve never forgotten.

“Paul, success in photography is not about pictures; it’s about ideas.”

I’ve never forgotten his words. Literally thousands, if not millions of people can take great pictures. That’s one of the glories of modern technology. If a person aims their little metal machine in the right direction, they’re going to—at the very least—accurately render what they see in front of them. If they’re repeatedly at really impressive postcard destinations, then people will ooh and awe them for autographs.

But my European friend would say they are only trying to record and sell what they see. This is fine, but thousands of others are doing the same thing.

So what’s this about ideas?

“Kathy, let’s stop for a minute and consider what it is you feel when you look at this scene.” I am always on alert to explain this concept to my clients when the unique teachable moment presents itself.

It was the tree’s resilience, independence, isolation, and fierce tenacity that spoke the loudest. These were the ideas we wanted to communicate. It was beyond what we saw. Considering all the environmental factors of temperature, moisture, wind-speed, and even the smell in the air… it’s what we felt.

“What if we position the tree against open space—alone, but anchored visually between Cuernos Paine and its nearby wall of granite?” We agreed this might do it.

Together, Kathy and I shot over 300 images of this tree (I alone shot 233). It was glorious. We were in the zone. Appreciating the beauty in that unique way that only photographers and John Muirian philosophers can. But there was still something of the atmosphere that was not being communicated in the images. Texture.

The small tree was still being lost (visually) in the density of the textural vegetation leading up to it. This is because we were shooting at the classic landscape aperture of f/22. (think: small opening, small amount of light, large depth-of-field).

Photography is about breaking conventions. You can shoot a portrait like a landscape or a landscape like a portrait (in terms of depth-of-field, or "how much is in focus"). That’s what we’ve done here by shooting the scene with a 50mm lens @ f/1.4 as if it was a model in a studio. The viewers eye is drawn across the image from the bottom corners up to the top left-center where it lands upon this natural wonder.

Did we communicate the ideas we hoped to in this image? Does this image say something else to you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Have a great March!


NOTE: We’ll be returning to Patagonia in March 2013 to venture again into the wildest places on earth. For more information, stay tuned HERE.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Feb 2012 - "Ice Age"

Occasionally life unfolds a bit like a fairytale. Other times more like a nightmare. This unforgettable day was something of a fairytale, wrapped in a nightmare, with a great big bow of luck on top.

Patagonia: It was Day 8 of our April 2011 photo tour.

We were on the trail and, in every way, ready to be off the trail. We were to conclude our trek at Glacier Grey where the boat captain would arrive to ferry us across the lake, to our van driver, then on to our swanky hotel along the Carribean-blue waters of Lago Pehoe.

Though the trail was laced with joys and epic experiences of all kinds, the group was desperately ready for that hotel, a slow dinner, and maybe a fine glass of local Chilean wine.

Few moments in that final mile involved thoughts of the beautiful glacier in front of us. In fact, the only words from my ever-optimistic mouth were “you can do it” and “we’re almost to the boat.” The boat ride out of the park couldn’t possibly arrive at a more perfect time in our journey. The group was ready for it.

“Are you Paul Hassell,” said a tall Chilean man upon our arrival at the small outpost along Lago Grey.

“Yes,” I replied hesitantly.

Please note that having your name summoned upon arrival to a distant wilderness destination in a foreign country is, well… not comforting.

The man motioned me away from my group. The news he shared with me in private was met by denial. All nightmares should be met by denial. A fierce, fiery denial.

“The boat is not coming.”

Apparently the gusts of wind that day were in excess of 140Km/hr. Understandably that keeps captains off the water for safety. I was unaware that not being picked up was even a possibility. Well, now I knew.

Breaking the news to my group was going to be interesting.

I took a moment to myself along the lake while the group broke into their packed lunches. This is where the fairytale stuff happened.

I kneeled to the ground, desperate for denial to pass, wisdom to well up within me, and a good sound decision to be made. God knew. He really knew. And in the moment, I kid you not, a rainbow was drawn from top to bottom across the sky and touched down to the lake where I knelt. It was bizarre. And incredibly comforting. So, in that unspoken way God spoke to me the words, “I’ve got it.”

I grabbed a grabbable-sized chunk of iceberg from the water's edge, marched back to the lodge, set it on the counter, and broke the news to everyone. It was a bit like when my old university would tell a senior student the week of graduation (which they were famous for) that they actually needed one more class to graduate. It was a hard few moments. We'd be staying here for the night.

The quality of light that unfolded later that evening at the base of the lake was something I’d never even dreamed we’d get to see. We were supposed to be at a different lake, without a glacier, on the other side of the park by now.

Because our plans had radically changed, we had the entire afternoon to sit and watch the light break in and out of stormy clouds out over this massive expanse of glacier.

This was the beautiful bow of good luck on top. Hands down, the light display we saw that afternoon was a photographic highlight of the entire trip.

Pillows of cloud hovered low over giant mountain summits. A mile-long glacier breaks off into fragments where freshly sculpted black rock cut steeply down to the lake. Back-lit blue icebergs, within our reach, floated taller than a two-story house. Light pierced through it all and gave it luminance.

Light pierced through it all.

(this continues the series "Stories Behind the Image" appearing each month on this blog in correspondence with the monthly image in your 2012 PHP wall calendar).

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jan 2012 - "Grandfather Cloud"

We were in route to Yosemite National Park from Bishop, CA. We'd just left the Mountain Light photography gallery of the late adventure photography mentor I never met. His name was Galen Rowell.

Beholding his images as fine art on the walls of his small-town CA gallery was something I'd hoped to do since first reading his adventure photo articles in National Geographic as a boy. Our visit was, in a word, transformative.

My friend Nora (now my wife) and I had a particularly profound experience there in the presence of his art and the dialogue that followed. With a burning passion for all things wild and the inspiring art of photography alive in our hearts, it was no surprise when this scene unfolded before us on our drive north to Yosemite.

A solitary swirling cloud was struck by the suns last light in an expanse of blue sky. It hovered, and spiraled horizontally over the contour of the mountain. It changed shape and form by the second. The thoughts provoked by that night's spectacle were the inspiration for page 32-33 of Pilgrim Walk in the Woods entitled "Clouds."

"Despite all our talk about the sun rising and setting, it never moves. It never changes. By contrast, we humans move, shift, and realign constantly. We resemble clouds.

Clouds are the tool that God uses to reveal new facets of the sun. [You may choose to read
—Son]. Clouds reveal the sun's many textures, shapes, and colors, and without clouds, sunsets are unremarkable. Notice how the darkest storm clouds transform when sunlight strikes them. They reveal explosions of color and light. We celebrate sunsets for their stunning beauty, yet our appreciation and knowledge of the sun's character draw strength from unglamorous helpers—clouds.

The abundance and texture of the clouds around us deepen our fascination with the sun. Look for them. Wait upon the sunlight to spread their paints across the deep azure."

~ from Pilgrim Walk in the Woods by Susanne Hassell and Paul Hassell

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Great men die in the Fall

Bob Epperson’s life ended today.

I took a long walk by the river this morning when I heard the news. Yellow leaves glistened in sunshine through fog at the tips of tall flowing trees above me. I began to grieve. I remembered the last 13 years of life since I met Bob, and I thought about the timing of things.

The river decided to speak a bit—or the trees; I’m not sure.

Great men are connected to the land, I thought. Like trees, they dig deep into the soil of their home. They root themselves in the community of their beloved families. They cherish their wives.

Great men go down shining with color.

Great men know winter is not the end. Without fear they shed the year’s growth in a glorious display, brighter than a rainbow, and settle down to rest. They don’t fret the cold that will soon grip them.

Great men know spring will come. New life is certain.

Great men have faith in Jesus.

Each year of their lives builds upon the next. Annually, the tree-rings of memories compile, one after the other. They bare the stories of each compounding year in their countenance. They shine with joy.

You must sit with these men for a while to get far enough into the trunk to hear the early stories. But they’re all there. They wouldn’t be the men they are without them. They live as naturally as a tree grows. They live from the fullness of their collection of experiences.

I heard about Bob and Gloria Epperson when I was 12 years old. The men at Thompson Photo Products spoke of them each time I dropped off my film or picked up my 4x6 prints of the Tennessee River near my home. At the encouragement of Charles Garvey, a pro photographer and Troop 6 scouting dad, I hunted them down at a local camera club meeting. The rest is a long history of smiles.

Bob was always celebrating he and Gloria’s decades of adventures—his big bear stories, big canyon stories, trophy horse stories, and Alaskan hunting stories. He was always living from the present acknowledgment of the overwhelming blessings all around him. You always felt this when you were with Bob. His life was a quiet but steady encouragement for me to live the same way.

Bob was always in awe of nature’s miracles. Whether in the far corners of our country’s national parks, or his gorgeous backyard above the Tennessee River, he photographed the wild scenery painted out before him. He noticed these sights were miracles. Every single one of them. This is rare today.

This spring, racket-ball sized hail fell from the sky. Some hailstones were spiked with razor-sharp barbs. Bob and Gloria’s windows were shattered. Their roof was torn up. Even their birdhouses were demolished. I think this actually bothered Bob more than the damage to his own house.

Bob collected the hailstones and stored them in his freezer in a silver pot. They filled his open hand, jittering back and forth. He insisted they were even bigger—that they’d dehydrated a bit. Our eyes were wide together with awe. We’d never seen anything like it in all our lives.

The day after Nora and I got engaged, we drove over the river to see Bob and Gloria. We hugged and celebrated a bit, then sat with them to hear stories of their early romance. We could’ve stayed for hours more.

It is with sadness and celebration today that I remember the one wild life of my dear friend and first mentor in the art of nature photography. I remember with steadfast hope that our friend’s journey has only just begun. That heaven is no longer a place beyond the mountains, but a living reality for a living Bob Epperson.

Great men die in the fall.

Bob Epperson was a great man.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wildlife Photographer of the Year - Awards Ceremony

Some highlights from last night's awards ceremony in London at the Natural History Museum. 1) Nora and I view the skeleton of Bruce Chatwin's (author of "In Patagonia") famed Melodon. This giant prehistoric cave-dwelling sloth is the mascot of our beloved city Puerto Natales in southern Chile.
2) A huge congratulations is due to Daniel Beltra for his winning image, "Still Life in Oil." It's sure to be an icon for the environmental impact and true price of oil.
3) Being among the world's most gifted wildlife photographers--a group of professionals who roll in the mud and stalk animals for a living--and wearing suits.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fall Color Report - Great Smoky Mountains

October 13, 2011 - Peak color from approx 3,500-5,000 ft.
Rainy conditions today provided wonderful windows into the ridges and valleys of America's oldest mountains. Nothing can show off Appalachia's autumn color like a clearing storm.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Panning the Horizon - handheld!

Exposures: 1/2 sec @ f/16

Friday, September 30, 2011

Balance: Earth, land, and sky

Where do stormy clouds meet mountains, mountains meet lakes, and waters meet beach?... Alaskan wilderness. Notice the lines in this image. There is a line of movement along the edge of the darkest storm cloud. There is a similar line on the furthest reaches of the water where it meets the beach. These mirrored movements provide balance in the image and allow the viewers eye to move within the scene for awhile.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Alaska Brown Bear - Free Wallpaper for your desktop!

Enjoy this free gift. Click on the image below, then right click and select "save image as" to your desktop. Enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Alaska Brown Bears - Get down!

Tired of your typical images? Get down as low to the ground as possible for a new perspective. If you're on one of my tours, I'll be there to help you get up again : )

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Alaska Brown Bears - The Crew!

Allan, Josh, Teresina, Milton, and Paul

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Heading home from ALASKA.
Amazing encounters to share!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Speaking in London: Wild Photos Conference 2011

Pretty honored to speak alongside the most elite group of Wildlife Photographers in the world! Click on the image for a list of the speakers. I'm on Saturday, Oct 23rd.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How do I photograph fireworks?

Scout it out before dark!

Pick your vantage point purposefully. Think of your foreground.

- Local buildings or landmarks. Sunsphere! (call a Knoxvillean, and they will explain).
- Try silhouettes of people (Be careful here. Slow shutter speeds means blurry people. Well, unless they're glued to a lawn chair. Likely on the 4th of July actually. God bless America!)
- Reflective surfaces such as water, car hoods, glass, etc.
- Be careful about wind direction (choose cross wind or up wind but NOT downwind or the smoke will be a problem)

Keep it Steady!

Use a tripod and remote/mirror lock-up if you can

Shoot Manually!

Set camera to "M"

Start with
- ISO 100
- Aperture = f/11
- Shutter Speed = Bulb (leave it open approx 4 seconds to start)

Check your results and adjust accordingly.
- Look at your histogram and check for "blinkies
- Use white balance to suit local lighting if including a lit foreground element.
- Daylight white balance may work best for fireworks-only shots
- Don’t use flash unless you intend to light a subject very close to the camera.
- Manual focus set to infinity

- Choose your focal length for composition – wide for strong foreground, telephoto for close up detail of the bursts.


If there isn’t wind, your first shots will be the best (smoke builds and detracts from later shots). If there is, position yourself upwind where the smoke will blow away from your vantage point.

If the sky still has sunset color, adjust your exposure accordingly (meter off the sky, time your shutter releases carefully).

Take tons of pictures. It's digital. Folks, here's some simple math... Digital = FREE!

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy your friends and family!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Alaska Adventure Photo Tour is FULL!

We're all aboard for a great adventure to Katmai National Park this September. It's really going to be an adventure to remember for Josh, Allan, Milton, and Teresina. Here are some images of what we'll see where we camp, where we fly, and where we encounter the Griz!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Photo Tip: Show Depth in the Landscape

In Fitz Roy last month, I placed my camera on this colorful lichen-covered rock and set my aperture to f/22. Aperture, also referred to as f-stop, controls how much of your scene will be in focus from near to far. This setting of f/22 allows nearly everything in the landscape to come into focus. Try setting your camera up this way in the Av mode (Canon) or A mode (Nikon) and shooting landscapes while having one prominent foreground element close to the camera.