Photography by Art Wolfe
This is taken by Art Wolfe, do you remember taking that photo?
I do, we were eating a lotta sand that day. It was out there in the desert north of Timbuktu, of all places, Mali. The sand was blowing so firmly right on that first 12 inches of the ground. So yeah, we were emptying sand in Seattle from our boots three weeks later. But it was like Lawrence of Arabia with a camera, and that's what I was thinkin' when I saw you.
And so for those of you watching, the funny backstory is that I'm shooting a picture. This is a picture of me, by Art Wolfe. I'm shooting a picture of Art, that Art has used on his webpages in promoting his classes. And so let me just tell you a little bit of backstory for the kind of significance for me. When I was in college and I was getting my degree in photography, I had my wall of inspiration, you might say. I put posters up of Nikon lenses, and I had this photo from National Geographic that had two photographers with these really long lenses, sitting on a ...
sand dune with sand blowing over them, and I thought I would love to be able to do that.
That would be cool.
Yeah, that would be really cool. And so Art, thank you very much for providing this photo for this class. Just wanted to thank you in public in front of everyone. I wanna get to your photos real quickly, but there's one question I wanna just touch on, because we worked on the TV show Travels to the Edge, Your Travels to the Edge. You have a couple of kind of new episodes with Tales by Light, is that right?
It's Tales by Light, and it was filmed by an Australian based film company. And we went to New Guinea, we went to Africa, we went to Alaska and Seattle, and we had a great time.
And they're really good, I watched them on Netflix.
Yeah, Netflix Original series, it was produced and funded by National Geographic Australia and Canon Australia. But it was a great group of people to work with, as was our crew Travels to the Edge. Which by the way, you may not know, still is broadcast in 70 countries around the world, And in 80% of the market that it was first introduced, well over 11 years ago.
Wow, every once in a while I have somebody who says they saw me on the behind-the-scenes specials.
You know, in the age of TV you never die.
You always look good from back then.
And, well I actually remember you on TV back in the '90s, doing a safari special with special guests?
Well you know it's really interesting that you brought that up, because I was on a plane recently, and I got this thing in my mind, my God, if I look back at the TV productions I've been involved in, they're just going to disappear in the ether. So I had my staff round up everything that I've ever been on, and we've now transferred it to a digital file, and I'm gonna produce a speaker's series on the life, the life that I've lived is fairly interesting, and so yeah. I had this show called Safari where I took John Denver up to Alaska and we were sneaking up on bears. I took Robert Duvall to South Africa and we were sneaking up on rhinos. Peter Strauss with orcas, and the litany goes on. And so that's funny, I looked right out of the Village People. Big old mustache, long hair, you know the whole nine yards. I looked like the Village People. (light laughter)
And so yeah, so where I wanted to go with that is that we've seen this convergence of photo and video. And there's been a number of photographers that have just like, picked up video and they're like okay, I'm gonna become a filmmaker. And you've used film to kinda promote what you do, and talk about what you do, but I don't know that you shoot that much video. Could you talk for a moment about photo versus video for you?
Yeah, I mean I still think there's a huge amount of work I could do on capturing a single salient, emotionally impactful image. I don't feel like I can let go of that and start a whole new career shooting video, which the collective of motion, it can be very inspiring. I mean, in fact it's mesmerizing even just watching a dew drop fall off a leaf, I'm totally in the moment watching that. But I'm still so hardwired to shoot stills that I forget that I have really great capacity to shoot video. So, in fact in my lecture I'm gonna show where I have been using video, and I've been more active as of late shooting video that could be incorporated into any of the talks that we give as a interlude, or to give one more layer in our communication. You're a great presenter and a communicator. You're very polished.
And so that combination of shooting stills, communicating to an audience, I've become a pretty good speaker and to be able to use inspiring photos, but also lace it with video is more impactful, more in-depth, and that's the future.
Yeah, the modern age kinda demands that extra level, but I appreciate that still philosophy 'cause that's kinda how I think as well. Alright, so you brought 10 images. And let's go ahead and take a look at 10 images from Art. So let's take a look at the first one. Now, where was this shot at, 'cause--
Oh my God, I'll never forget this.
'Cause it looks a little like Yellowstone, you got steam vents or something there.
Yeah, this was shot at 16,000 feet.
Oh my gosh.
In northern Chile, in the Atacama Desert. You took a bicycle ride down that way.
I was down through Chile in the Atacama, yes.
So it was freezing cold, it was three in the morning. And so, and this was with a 1DX Mark ii, and it's part of the lecture on technology. I mean, star shots, as you know, were just a thought five, six years ago. We didn't have the high ISOs that enabled one to shoot a really sharp shot freezing the motion of the stars. And so this not only got the stars, the Milky Way rising above and beyond the geysers, but the geysers themselves, and so that's what.
Did you add any light to the geysers, or is that just the natural starlight?
No, that's the natural starlight.
Was there a moon out that night, do you recall?
I'm too old to remember whether it was a, no. It was a totally moonless night.
Usually when you get that good a stars, usually there's no moon, but it's amazing at how much it's picking up those steam vents on there, cause that looks really good. Alright, next up, I'm guessing Iceland?
Oh ho yeah, I mean, it's really interesting to me John, that when I started going to Iceland you rode your bicycle around it, those kinda photos were kinda new and fresh to everybody. And now people on my block go oh yeah, I went to Iceland last year, you know?
Iceland's become the hot place to go.
Well not only that, but I think a big part of it is where we took the TV show. Because a year or two after the TV show started being broadcast all through Europe and Asia, whether it was Mongolia or Myanmar, well we didn't go to Myanmar with that show, but Iceland definitely, it underwent a huge influx of tourists and I feel a little responsible for it, but then there's been a lot worse.
It's gonna happen.
It's gonna happen, so yeah. This is where the icebergs come out of a lagoon and float around on the ocean's edge for a day or two before they float off and disappear, but it was an intentionally longer exposure. And so I like that depth that you create through the sharp and soft focus.
Yeah, I love that, the analogy I use in my classes is it's kinda like food. You got something soft, you got something crunchy in there, and it's kinda nice to have that mixture. If that iceberg closest to the camera was not as perfectly sharp as it is, it loses everything. The color and the sharpness of that just really hold you there with that. Even the clouds moving there, beautiful image, beautiful.
Alright, so you gotta tell the backstory, what's going on here, because this is the type of shot people will look at like, can you imagine who the photographer's thinking at that point?
You know, I take tours out to Alaska every year. And I put 'em in front of bears that are running and chasing down salmon. There's actually salmon between me and, and you actually can see a little bit of pink under the water in the foreground and a part of a tail. But yeah, it creates the illusion that the bear's about to kill you, but in fact you are safe and these bears actually are so chilled out by being around people. And I think the fact that for over 100 years, fly fishermen have been working these rivers in the back country of Katmai that they have reconciled what humans are, we're not going away, they're not going away and they're so, there's this peace that occurs between these great, amazing bears and humans in close proximity. So that's what's going on there. But I remember I took a tour, I had like five women from the Midwest, they didn't know each other, they just all unlikely signed up at the same time. And they've never been around a bear. And by the end of the tour they were so nonchalant and casual, but they got great shots.
Alright, I know some people at home probably have a few technical questions. Do you remember what sort of lens you had on, which lens you were using?
Yeah, this particular one was a 2-400. I was using ISO of about 4,
Out in the daytime.
Yeah, out in the daytime, ISO 4,000, and a good depth of field and a frozen moment in time.
Yeah, beautiful, beautiful moment, alright.
This was shot last year on the shores of Lake Natron on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. I love the color, I mean it's so unlikely occurring, that pink in nature.
Well the palette of pink and blue, with the blue background is perfect. And you know, Planet Earth 2 is coming out, and they have a video shot that's very similar that has a group of these, but it makes a beautiful still.
And these are big birds, I mean they would be around four feet to five feet tall, and the males are substantially larger than the females as you can see in this shot. But it was just that beautiful pink and blue pastel colors that really, and just perfect light.
And I know most people who were there, who would be, if they were there, they would just go down to the water and take a shot, but it looks like you got a little bit low to the water.
Yeah, I was laying on my belly in the mud and the guano to get the shot. I knew I could go back and take a shower and wash my clothes, but it was well worth it to get slightly lower.
Yeah, 'cause you got their beaks above that horizon line in the background, and they really stand out with the clean background.
You are such a good studier.
And I just want people to know how much work you go through on these sorts of shots, 'cause they seem real easy in some cases.
Speaking of which, this one took eight years to get, because it was eight years from the time I realized I wanted to go to the Congo before it was safe enough to go there. And once the insurgency that was existing in the eastern Congo died down and they signed some treaties, I went. And I went and drove from Rwanda into the Congo, and then I had pre-arranged a helicopter pilot to come in from Nairobi, Kenya. He flew across Kenya, across Rwanda, landed right where he had to land. Picked myself up and another friend of mine, flew us up to the crater rim, dropped us off. We overnighted on the crater rim and photographed the world's largest crater lake. And I think it epitomizes the doggedness that one has to have. If you see a photo that you want, you will figure out how to get the shot, whether it's economically feasible or not, you want, once you've got it in your brain, you do it.
Well, I have a little thing in my class where I ask how serious are you about photography. Level one is rolling down the window of the car. You know, cause okay? And level 10 is flying all around the world to get a single shot, and so we know that you're at a level 10. Alright, this looks like, this looks like California. I think I know where this is at.
Yeah, this is right west of Monterey, on the coast. And it's part of my technology where I'm now using filters to blur the motion and de-filters, and this is actually the, this particular photo exemplifies the fact that historically you'd have to wait 'til late in the day to get the shot, but now we can get these in the middle of the day with a 10 stop filter. So that's part of the technology.
Yeah, exactly. And I went down to Mexico and did a story on Day of the Dead, which is in Patzcuaro, Mexico. It's in a tiny mountain town about a hour's flight southwest of Mexico City. And in a lake in that district is an island where Day of the Dead, which is a big celebration of past ancestors, is held on November first. And out on the boat towards the island, these fisherman came in, beautiful butterfly nets. And I also use this as an example of how I'm doing virtually an Ansel Adams. You know, using Lightroom and playing with curves and all those kind of things, filters, to achieve something that's way more dramatic than the original color capture.
Yeah, 'cause I was gonna say, this is your first black and white of this series. I was wondering how much does black and white play into what you do?
More and more and more. You know, we live at a time now, as I keep on telling people it's a great time to be a photographer. Because we've the the technology, got the internet. We could have the world's biggest gallery on your site if you put the energy in it. And you can transform a color image into a black and white, and then further work on it in Lightroom or other post-production, what are we calling it.
Software, thank you. (light laughter) I always hesitate when you do like, you do a Porky Pig here, at any rate. So yeah, it's part of the way forward, and black and white photos can augment a color spread in a book and be really poignant. So it can be a design element that we all use.
What I think is interesting is that, from one point of view it's just a Photoshop trick, but it's a big part of our photographic history, and so it plays in well.
Well you know, people had this belief that Ansel Adams was such a purist, you know? But boy, if he had lived in today's world he would just go to town with the digital.
Yeah, alright, so I think we're back in Washington.
Yeah, is this one of mine? (light laughter) I don't think that's in my lecture, but I know where it is, I mean. When I teach workshops I take people out to the Washington coast, and I'll be doing a workshop out in the Olympics in the end of April. And so I love going out there for myself, but I love to take people from all over the country and share, share what's so great about living here in the Pacific Northwest.
I've worked a few of those workshops, they are a lotta fun.
They are a lotta fun.
Well that's a nice night there.
And this is a look back. I mean, in one of my lectures I talk about how the world is a dynamic place, that cultures are changing, landscapes are changing, for good or bad it's changing. And so I photographed this particular tribe of people in the mountains of New Guinea 25 years ago, and they had a very simple decor on their bodies. And I went to the village and now when they are adorning themselves during ceremonial occasions, look what they become. They'd become the skeleton people. So I had 'em climb those bamboo trees and shoot it in a different way than maybe I would've when I was younger.
Well I don't think you woulda been able to shoot this without some sort of light, 'cause you're shooting into the light, but you still have good light on their faces. And so technology definitely helping out there.
Nice. And I, before you even say anything I just, I looked at this and I'm just like oh. 'Cause one of the things that I love is a beautiful color gradation. And that blue and orange almost feels like the blue and orange slider that you you know, you play with in Lightroom but very nice moment here.
Oh my God, you know just moments before, the mountain was completely obscured by the clouds, and I've got a class up there. And you know, they've never been up to Reflection Lakes at Mt. Rainier. And I kept on saying if the mountain comes in you are gonna have the best sunrise ever. And it happened, and it was just such a beautiful moment. And you know, 10 times out of 11 you're up there and it's just kinda flat or the wind picks up, but on that particular morning, and it was about two years ago, it was like you guys, this is perfect, this is, shoot this, shoot it. And I was just yelling out all the things I was doing with the camera so that they would replicate it. But yeah, it was a great morning. And again, is my beloved Mt. Rainier. Ya grow up in Seattle, it's our mountain, is it not?
And you have been there to shoot, I'm sure, 100 times, and it's placing your bets. You go up there and it's not good, and it's not good and then. But you're waiting for that one, because you know when you get that one you forget about all those other ones.
And, then we have the technology to drop in a filter and even out the exposure, and yeah, it's perfect.
Yeah, nice. And that is our 10 images, and if you're thinking about learning more from Art, he's got three classes at least as of the recording of this. And that's actually the title image for your newest class, Photography as Art.