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