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My 10 Favorite Photos from 2011

2011 was my best year so far, so editing everything down to ten photographs has been quite a challenge.  There were some photographs that I did not want to edit out, but I’ve limited the list to just landscapes and nature to make the selection a little bit easier.

One of my favorite images of all time, I call “Red Sky at Night”.  It was a chilly, windy evening along the shore of Ebey’s Landing in Whidbey Island in Washington State.  My brother and his wife were with me as we enjoyed the stars for a few hours before the clouds had finally settled over the area.  This was a single image, ISO 2500, 20 Seconds on the legendary Zeiss ZE 21mm 2.8 lens.  The nearby city lights provided a dim amount of coloration on the clouds as the stars peeked through.  I looked at the scene with my tripod in hand and wondered how this would look with a longer exposure that would allow for more of the coloration to imprint itself in the clouds.

Clouds and fog are backlit by warm city lights at Ebey's Landing, Whidbey Island, Washington State.

Next, is a long exposure of one of the Moulton barns in Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming.  The landscape was barely lit with twilight when I kicked off this exposure that ended up expressing the blues and purples of an early morning twilight.

Purple and blue light colors the sky over the Moulton barn in Grand Teton National Park.

Another one of my personal favorites this year is an image I call “Moonshine”.  It was the night of the total lunar eclipse, and I left my home near Newport, WA toward Cascade County, Montana to find Crown Butte, which is the formation you see below.  I spent a few hours hiking from the road up to the base of the butte trying to route-find in the dark with a headlamp, nearly spraining both my ankles in the process as I looked for my choice spot to shoot my timelapse of the eclipse.  I failed to find a safe way up, and backed out to a backup location that I found on the way to the butte.  Before I left, I decided to shoot the butte with the full moon just out of the frame.  You can see the curtain of light cascading down onto the landscape from this long exposure with my 5D Mark II and Zeiss 21mm.

The moon casts a curtain of light down onto the low clouds and landscape in Cascade County, Montana.

Next, is a photo I captured along the side of the highway as I was headed out of Grand Teton National Park.  My good friend Don was asleep in the passenger seat and I happened to glance over and saw the sun shooting down out of the clouds onto the surrounding landscape.  I quickly pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and began shooting.

Bright shafts of light penetrate the cloud layer and add spotlighting to the scene in Grand Teton National Park.

The next image I call “Barnstorm”, and am happy to say I made when my wife Amber was with me on that stormy and cold day in Washington State’s Palouse region.  I nearly drove past this barn, deep and hidden within the Palouse on one of the multitudes of farming roads and paths that stretch over the region for hundreds of square miles.

Stormclouds loom above an aging barn along a stream in a remote part of the Palouse farmland in Eastern Washington.

I have a lot of bison pictures from my trips into Yellowstone National Park during the winter, but this one is by far my favorite.  A yearling buffalo and two mature buffalo stood in nearly a perfect line near the windblown trees at one of the stops on Yellowstone’s north road between Cooke City and Gardiner.

Three buffalo search for grasses to eat in the snow near an dead tree in Yellowstone National Park.

One of the truly awesome things about nature photography is that you can have experiences that others only can dream about.  Such an experience came for me when I had the opportunity to photograph this gorgeous red fox who was totally indifferent to my presence at the time.  I was lying on the road for a fox-eye view of this guy who was trotting up the road toward me.  I spent the next hour photographing him as he hunted through the snow in the forest nearby.

A single red fox slowly trots up Yellowstone National Park's North road in the winter.

 

If you’ve seen much of my work, you probably know by now that I have a special love for old, decaying houses and barns.  I found this along a highway in Wyoming on my way back home from Grand Teton National Park.

An empty, abandoned farmhouse sits in the middle of a wheat field in Wyoming.

I have not done much bird photography, but I could not resist photographing this gorgeous Yellow Warbler from Schwabacher’s Landing in Grand Teton National Park.

A yellow warbler is perched on a dry branch covered with lichen.

Last, but not least, I took this sunset shot from atop a rock at the west part of Deception Pass State Park.  The seagull in the frame was a good sport and didn’t move hardly at all as I made long exposures over the length of the sunset.

A single seagull sits on a rock during a sunset seen from the shore of Whidbey Island, Washington State.

 

There are a good number of other photographers who have put out their own list of the top ten photos of 2011.  Have a look here to see more work from other great photographers!

Well that’s it for this year!  Thank you for looking and have a great 2012!

Ben

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New Timelapse Video in Development

I’m beginning my second experiment into a mix of HD footage & timelapse footage used in a creative way.  A few weeks ago, I got a wild idea and headed up into the mountains to shoot and process some timelapse footage in a new and creative way.

Here is a sneak peak of one of the frames in one of the timelapse sequences:

 

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An element of adventure…

To my success or failure, there is one constant when it comes to what I choose to photograph.  It boils down to whether or not a particular trip I take contains an element of adventure.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I love seeing epic landscapes, wildlife in its natural element, and rural-themed agriculture scenes – but that’s not what truly drives me.  There has to be a spark of adventure to the trip, some element of risk, something that creates the environment where the unexpected could occur.  I have been on many trips where things didn’t work out photographically, but the experience was still memorable, and that is what is important to me.

A single red fox slowly trots up Yellowstone National Park's North road in the winter. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

A single red fox slowly trots up Yellowstone National Park's North road in the winter. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

The picture of the fox was taken on a trip where things started out pretty poorly.  My good friend Don Pratt and I were making our first winter trip to Yellowstone and planning on driving the north road from Gardiner, MT to Cooke City, MT.  We were on I-90 about 30 miles outside of Missoula at 3am when we started to smell something burning in the vehicle.  What that burning smell ended up being was a transfer case that was in the process of disintegrating itself on the highway.  We spent the night parked in the parking lot of a service station after waiting several hours for the tow truck.  We secured a rental vehicle and started out mid-day on about 3 hours of sleep. About a half a day shooting was lost.

I could have complained.  I could have been angry at the situation, but I wasn’t.  Why?  Simply because I have found that when there is some element of “something going wrong” or some element of danger that is present, opportunities seem to present themselves more often.   If we had arrived when I had originally planned to arrive in Yellowstone, I would not be able to get any of the fox images that I did.  Some would chalk it up to coincidence.  I’ve been photographing long enough now that I don’t believe in coincidences.

Hurricane force winds scream along the snowy hillside of Steptoe Butte with a road curving upward into zero visibility. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Hurricane force winds scream along the snowy hillside of Steptoe Butte with a road curving upward into zero visibility. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Winter photography, particularly when you’re in more remote locations, definitely has an element of adventure to it that drives me to it like a moth to a flame.  The idea of being in a blizzard with 60 MPH winds and driving snow makes my hair stand on end with anticipation.  Standing on a frozen lake looking for interesting patterns in the ice to complement some good light?  I’m there.  I want to be in the places where adventure is happening.  I don’t want to be where it’s nice and cozy – I want to be where I’m standing on the edge of my comfort zone thinking of how I want to communicate that element of adventure in my images.

Ben

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Just another five minutes…

When you’ve obtained some experience being a landscape photographer, it’s easy to assume that the great light you’re waiting for is either going to happen within 10 minutes before or after sunset, or that it won’t happen at all, because that is probably what happens most of the time. It was no different earlier this month, and I found myself standing along the edge of the river at Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park waiting for the perfect light. The clouds were right, there was sunlight making it through the cloud cover near the horizon – everything was set for a potentially fantastic scene.

A friend and I waited…and waited….until after sunset when it started to darken. Several other photographers in the area started packing up and leaving. I thought we should wait another five minutes, because I have been surprised before and I don’t ever want to miss an opportunity again. Waiting another five minutes sure made all the difference.

The sun underlights the clouds with pink and orange light during the sunset from Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park. (Benjamin Chase)

The sun underlights the clouds with pink and orange light during the sunset from Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park. (Benjamin Chase)

 My fall newsletter is now available, click here to read it!

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My Favorite Photograph

A while back, I came across a photograph in a magazine and a very short story about how it was made that just blew my mind.  I have seen tens of thousands of photographs, many of those truly outstanding, but this was different.  Somehow I lost the magazine and could never find it again after that, spending the next couple years periodically scouring the web for it.

I found it yesterday evening when I happened across the Singh-Ray blog that I occasionally contribute articles to.

If you know me, many of you might be thinking, “Oh, this must be an amazing landscape shot or a truly beautiful wildlife image…” because that is typically what I am interested in.  In this case you would be incorrect.

The visual appeal of this photograph is fantastic in my opinion, but the element that elevates it is the story behind it.

Cole Thompson is the photographer, and the photograph is called “The Angel Gabriel”.  You can find it on Cole’s site here along with the story.  In short, it is about a homeless man that Cole came across in Newport Beach back in 2006.

Here is a direct quote from Cole’s story taken directly from his website with permission:

” I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and wanted to share the money with him.  He said I should give the money to someone who could really use it; that he had everything that he needed.  Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll.”

Think about the significance of that for a moment.  To this man, a Bible and bed roll was all that he needed in life – money wasn’t useful to him.

What do I see when I look at this photograph?  I see Matthew 8:10.  A great portrait in its own right, but the short story of the man in the image is what elevates it to true beauty.

What do you see?

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Creating an Atmosphere

What are the purposes of art?  A difficult question, and one likely to elicit as many opinions as there are artists.

From my perspective, I want my artwork to “create an atmosphere”.  What exactly does that mean, anyway?

A good photograph should elicit some kind of strong emotional response.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be a specific emotion – just that the image causes the viewer to feel something, to connect with it in some way.  Photos that fail to do this are unlikely to be noticed in any meaningful way.   In fact, as a photographer, it’s critical to ask yourself the question, “Does this photo make the viewer feel something?  What is that feeling?”  Hopefully, what is felt is what the artist intended the viewer to feel!

Art is useful in today’s marketplace because the emotions that are felt help create an atmosphere.

The horizon is bathed in sunset colors seen from the shore of Portland Island near Vancouver Island. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

The horizon is bathed in sunset colors seen from the shore of Portland Island near Vancouver Island. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

How did the image above make you feel?  What came to your mind when you looked at it?  I’d love to hear your comments below, because I know what I wanted to make people feel when I made that photo.

If you own a business and are interested in “creating an atmosphere” for your customers or clients, artwork can be a valuable asset to you!

Let’s use a doctor or a dentist for example.  How can art be useful to them?

Consider the following two scenarios:

You find yourself in a new doctor’s office or dentist’s office, sitting in the waiting room as your appointment time approaches.  You look around and don’t really notice any artwork worth looking at, there are only a few uninteresting magazines, and there is no music playing.  It’s a pretty sterile environment.  There isn’t anything very warm or inviting about that place is there?  What’s the atmosphere like?  Sterile, unfriendly, and uninviting.

Let’s look at the next example.  Again, you find yourself in a dentist’s office or doctor’s office and you can see warm, colorful photographs or artwork on the walls, hear soothing music playing, and read some interesting magazines while you await your appointment in the waiting room.  Visual and audible artwork can help create a warm and friendly atmosphere.  

Warm orange light fills the air as the sun falls below the horizon on a dust-filled day in the Palouse of Eastern Washington State. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Warm orange light fills the air as the sun falls below the horizon on a dust-filled day in the Palouse of Eastern Washington State. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

In business and in everyday life it is important to try and shape the atmosphere around you.  The artwork in your home and office can provide those present with visual cues that help shape their opinions and thoughts.  Think of what atmosphere you want to create in your home or office, and then get artwork that helps you realize that atmosphere and environment.  Personally I find that canvas wraps are more visually engaging than traditional framed photographs, but both can be very effective in setting the right mood.

As a shameless plug, I sell a variety of photographic artwork to help you create that atmosphere both on this site and through my artist profile on Fine Art America.

Like what you’ve read here?  You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  Now go and create that atmosphere that you want! 🙂

 

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What NOT to do while visiting a National Park

My recent visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks taught me a few things about a false sense of security many people seem to have when they are interacting with wildlife.

Why am I posting this?  Simply because I observed so many instances of a stunning lack of common sense that it makes me wonder whether or not it is as “common” as I had assumed.

Case in point:  The Moose-Wilson road in Grand Teton National Park.

I actually read Mike Cavaroc’s post about a week before I left on my trip to the area and wondered if he was being overly sensitive to people’s behavior in the area, or if there really was a consistent problem with the behavior of tourists (and some other photographers).  Well it turns out Mike was right.  Let me illustrate one situation I observed.

There was a grizzly bear on a hillside along the road enjoying a nice salad of grass for dinner.  I pulled out the 500mm and was taking shots of him from across the road near my vehicle in the pullout.  I observed at least three people start to ascend that hillside and get within 50 feet of the bear as if they were approaching a family pet to take pictures.  In fact, as the bear started to retreat, one particularly sense-challenged person shouted to the crowd, “It’s leaving, go get it!  Go!”

I actually had to pause for a few moments to contemplate the stupidity of charging after a bear that was clearly in retreat.

Please help educate friends and family that do not have any experience with wildlife and may not know that the parks are not a petting zoo.  Here is a simple list of things to never do when interacting with wildlife.

1 – Let your child approach a bear or other large mammal.

While they are awesome to observe, bears are 700+ lb amalgamations of teeth and claws.  Bears are not for petting. Neither are deer, elk, or moose.  I’ve seen more than one person approach a moose calf with the mother present.  Engaging in these sorts of activities will not end well for you.  Stick to the distances given by the Park Service.

2 – Block an animal’s escape route.

In Yellowstone, it’s not uncommon to see a large herd of people observing wildlife (particularly bears).  It is important to keep in mind that the animal needs to have a path available for retreat in case the number of people present creates enough stress on the animal to make it want to leave.

3 – Ignore the Park Service rangers.

The rangers are there for a reason.  They’ve seen the behavior of many of these animals through years of experience and encounters in their day-to-day careers.  They are typically more attuned to the body language of animals to know when a threat is present.  Listen to what they say.

The bottom line is to avoid activities that are going to endanger others or yourself.  Having a healthy respect for the animals in the park and the park rangers will go a long way to preventing incidents.

/rant

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Watch Out Flickr, Here Comes 500px.com

In the past few months, what I would consider a large number of photographers have made their way to the Toronto-based 500px.com through word of mouth through the Twitterverse and Facebook.  While the site doesn’t necessarily have the same features and functionality that Flickr has, the site does one thing extremely well:  Display photographs.  They also provide a portfolio site for members, with more options for paying subscribers.  Many of the portfolio templates are very clean-looking and they all seem to load pretty fast.  For those of us who are selling most of our work to art directors & photo editors, this is a good thing.

There are many opinions out there about where 500px is positioning themselves in comparison to Flickr.  In my opinion, we’re in the early stages of seeing 500px.com take a nice tasty bite out of Flickr’s market.  For me, Flickr has become too much of a burden to manage.  Keeping track of groups I’m a part of and posting in them regularly is a time-consuming affair.  What I think a lot of us photographers want is something with a simple and easy-to-navigate interface for displaying photos.  500px provides that, and they do it very well.

I have started to put some of my better work on the site and will continue to do so.  My only complaint in this regard is the uploading process.  Right now, it’s all done through the web page.  What the site needs to make the next big step in my opinion is a Lightroom plugin.  Make it easy to upload to the site right from Lightroom including the ability to track and update photos from within the app.  Include the Rating, Views, and Votes as well would make it extra awesome.  Spend some time with beta testers to get the Lightroom plugin right before you put version 1.0 out.  Oh, and if you do need beta testers – sign me up! 🙂

500px – you’ve got a major opportunity here to make a hit, please don’t mess it up!

Go there and check it out!

Ben

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A Trip to Chatterbox Falls

In the late summer months of 2009, I took one of the most enjoyable family trips I can remember to a little place called Chatterbox Falls at the end of Princess Louisa Inlet along the coast of British Columbia.

I don’t think most photographers are expecting to obtain a lot of keepers when on a family trip.  I know that my own mind changes when I go on a trip like this, thinking to myself – “This trip isn’t about getting photos, it’s about spending time with family”

Unfortunately, there is no substitute for experiencing something firsthand, but good photography helps create a part of those moments in the viewers mind.  When we left Puget Sound and headed north toward our destination, I found that disconnecting myself from the “mission” of always seeking out good photos had little or no effect on how I see the world.  Instead, while it was much easier to relax, I was still unconsciously forming images in my head without actively trying to do so.

As I was sitting on the back deck of my father’s boat, the “Sea Chase”, I was compelled to capture this photo while we steamed north early in the morning.

Necky Kayaks mounted on the back of a large boat are lit by the setting sun outside Vancouver Island. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Necky Kayaks mounted on the back of a large boat are lit by the setting sun outside Vancouver Island.

I still remember sipping a cup of coffee and making some minor adjustments while in live view mode looking over the stern.  There was a warm breeze blowing and the scent of the salt water reminded me of how I often miss living near the coast.  Now, it’s about a 6 hour drive for me to get back to where I spent a lot of my youth.

This trip was different for me.  It was different in that it occurred about three months after my mother had passed away of cancer.  In a lot of ways I was not the same person I was prior to that early morning phone call on the 15th of May, and even today, I still don’t feel the same as before.

A few days after my first photo, we started through the Jervis Inlet in BC.  Again, I was compelled to make some photographs, this time in black and white, to communicate just grandeur of the scenery as you transit that passage.

The entrance to Jervis Inlet is seen from the bow of a small vessel on this bright cloudy day along the coast of British Columbia. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

The entrance to Jervis Inlet is seen from the bow of a small vessel on this bright cloudy day along the coast of British Columbia.

This is one of those places that truly is remote.  The only access is via boat and it is not a short trip.  We passed several sailboats both on the way up and the way back as well.

This sailboat is seen transiting Jervis Inlet along the coast of British Columbia on a warm summer day. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

This sailboat is seen transiting Jervis Inlet along the coast of British Columbia on a warm summer day.

Upon arrival to the docks at Chatterbox Falls, I spent a few hours exploring the area and looking for pleasing compositions amidst a lot of mosquitoes and other flying insects.  The noise of falls sounded like a gargantuan white noise generator, and in the evening I probably slept more soundly than I can remember.

 

Chatterbox Falls, a remote waterfall at the end of Princess Louisa inlet along the shore of Britsh Columbia. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Chatterbox Falls, a remote waterfall at the end of Princess Louisa inlet along the shore of Britsh Columbia.

 

Swimming in the falls, about 30 feet or so behind the bottom of the frame above, was nothing short of awesome.  While the water coming off the falls was ice-cold fresh water, the salt water at the base of the falls was warm for about the top few feet.  If you ever get the opportunity to visit this location, I couldn’t recommend it more.  There are a lot of good photo opportunities all up the BC coast and on the East side of Vancouver Island.  If you love the sea like I do, then you will not be disappointed.  Just watch out for the sea state crossing the Straits of Georgia – it can get a little dicey 🙂

This experience taught me one thing:

As a photographer, you don’t ever really stop seeing things photographically, even when you aren’t intending to.