Mel Mann Photography: Blog en-us (C) Mel Mann Photography (Mel Mann Photography) Wed, 23 Nov 2022 03:34:00 GMT Wed, 23 Nov 2022 03:34:00 GMT Mel Mann Photography: Blog 90 120 Flower flying OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Christmas cactus is starting to bloom.  Amazing how fast the little buds turn into these complicated floral displays.  This image was made using light painting techniques.  I held the shutter open and waved a small LED flashlight over the bloom from different directions.  Then in Photoshop I stacked two of the images with the most interesting lighting and blended them together to create this image.  The texture, color and dimensionality of the bloom makes it look like a strange insect was caught in flight.

(Mel Mann Photography) Wed, 23 Nov 2022 03:34:19 GMT
Turning Leaf Spotlight Can you imagine early man, migrating northward into Europe, encountering their first autumn.  All these trees, so green during the warm summer, now suddenly changing color and leaves dropping off in the wind.  The thought of death must have passed through their mind, this strange country where the wind has a chill and the vegetation dies as the sun slowly gets lower in the sky with each passing day.  What brave individuals lingered on through winter, to see the green return with the warming.

The image below was a surprise, fall coming much earlier than expected.  I'm walking along a path under a green summer canopy only to look down and see this yellow leaf on the ground.  Looking up I see many other yellow leaves waiting to drop.  Fall here already?  Where did that come from?

The dappling sunlight caught the leaf in a spot of light, highlighting it against the grass and ground.  I elected to put everything not in sunlight into dark shadow, keeping as much detail on the leaf as possible.  The resulting image is what I wanted - a mostly dark, shadowy image with just a few points of light, the main focus being on the leaf and its color.  With this effect it's almost as if the leaf is illuminated from within, providing light to the surrounding ground and objects.


Fading SummerFading SummerFading Summer

(Mel Mann Photography) fall leaf shadow Mon, 07 Sep 2015 02:56:05 GMT
Colorless appeal I've been ignoring the reason I blog here for quite some time.  Been too interested in simply putting images up on my other blog.  But here is where the rest of the story comes out so I want to get back to talking about the images.

This is becoming one of my more favorite B&W images.

Details in light and darkDetails in light and darkDetails in light and dark

It's a crop of a larger composition and as I look at it I understand why I selected this version.  First, the details in the flower are very nice, with plenty of texture and dimensionality in such a bright object.  As a subject, it is balanced by the curve of leaves in the upper left, its brightness countered by the dark area the curve encircles.  That curve has a nice light on it, bringing out the edges of the leaves to display their shape and depth.  Both of these subjects, the flower and leaf curve, stand out against the darker, less detailed background.

When I saw this setting (around springtime at Heron Haven in Omaha), I liked the light/dark contrast and the arrangement of the subjects.  For me it constitutes one of those intimate landscapes I've been pursuing.

I usually expect to get this amount of dynamic range with B&W film so I was pleasantly surprised to find it is a digital image.  The capture contained enough information for post processing to bring out details in the light and dark areas I wanted.  I haven't printed this one yet because I'm concerned it will never look as good on paper as it does on the screen.  It would make a very nice large print, though.

Close behind on my list of B&W favorites is this image:

Organic architectureOrganic architectureOrganic architecture

This one was made intentionally to be infrared (special filter, long exposure, specific post-processing).  In addition to the typical IR cues, what I like about this one is the detail in the bright leaves in the center and in the shadow of the post above them.  The gradual change from very bright to deep shadow, all while displaying the details in each, is a very pleasing effect.  It's very close to what your eye would see standing there at the time.  To me a great photograph, especially B&W, looks so natural in all aspects that you start to forget it's a photograph.  Many of my images don't have this natural transition from dark to light and end up looking like a photograph posing as a natural scene.

Another aspect of this one is the vine curving along the surface of the pole, casting a shadow on the pole that looks like another vine.  I didn't notice this in the original composition but am glad it's part of the final scene.

I have to admit this image starting becoming a favorite as I was processing it.  The infrared image is hard to really see on the back of a camera, or even on a computer screen.  By that I mean it's hard to realize the potential until you work on it and bring out the IR nature.  I knew I'd exposed it well and had everything in focus, but once I saw how the tones were developing it really started to grow on me.

The lesson I'm learning is how B&W can elicit emotions about a composition.  Rid of the colors our brain is so used to seeing, the image seems to act on our perception in an alternate way, causing a reaction to an un-natural scene that is different than what we encounter all the time.  Not shocking or jarring, just odd enough to make us pause and consider.  Still not sure what I'm considering but it feels pleasing.

(Mel Mann Photography) black and white composition flowers infrared Sun, 30 Aug 2015 23:58:27 GMT
The Texture of Things Rock Ghosts

While in Colorado during a photo tour for sandhill cranes we took an afternoon to explore a local canyon, looking for some interesting sunset exposures.  I was hiking back to the vehicles when I saw this grove of aspens next to the rock wall, the mottled surface of the trees mimicking the various tones of the granite and the trunks complementing the cracks in the stones.  There's no direct sunlight here as the sun had already set behind the canyon walls - the bright areas are reflecting the clear sky above.  When I saw the scene I knew it would be a black and white image, that any color would be superfluous to the scene.

As much fun as photographing wildlife can be, given the challenges of finding, approaching and composing quickly while managing the right gear, much of my most pleasant times behind the camera are with the quiet, unassuming areas of the outdoors.  The grand landscape is awesome and breathtaking, but the smaller, more intimate views can be equally thrilling if you slow down and search them out.  I could have easily walked right by this scene - it's just a few trees next to some broken rocks - but there was enough glow and depth as I glanced at it to stop me and make me take a longer look.

My quest for dimensionality in my images requires this type scene with layers of tones and textures I can use to compose intentional foreground and background subjects.  The even lighting with just the right amount of shadows and highlights isn't as dramatic as a Grand Canyon sunset; it provides a less - shall we say - jarring impact when seen and offers a gentler invitation to the viewer to look around and explore all the aspects of the scene.  As I worked on the composition and final image I saw how emphasizing the various textures found in the image really helped explain all the smooth to rough textures, why they were important to the overall image and how they describe such a world.

I used to wonder why the black and white images of the early masters were so compelling to people.  I was fascinated with high contrasts that would scream out the detail in an image and the colors that dazzled the viewer.  I've learned these were effects I wanted to have in order to hide my image's lack of content or story or character.  The masters are teaching how the simpler images are harder to create, how you really have to study a scene to find the meaning that attracted you and that can be turned into a photograph equally enticing to other viewers.

It has never been an interest of mine to create startling or provocative images, much less photojournalism images of war or crime or terror or drama.  My desire is just the opposite - the scenes people turn to in order to remove themselves from the startling or jarring or agonizing.  To show there are still parts of the world we can turn to in order to find our balance once again.

(Mel Mann Photography) aspen black and white quiet rocks sunset tones Mon, 25 Feb 2013 20:30:45 GMT
Dawn on ridge line Waking Giant

Part of the enjoyment I get from the mountains is the awesome immense presence they have, a permanence that requires you to acknowledge they have seen so much more than you will ever imagine.  Capturing this in a two dimensional image has always been a challenge for me.  I used to think a composition showing their size or span conveyed that spirit but I've come to realize it's not that I'm admiring.  It's the details of their construction, the ridges and columns that go on forever to make up the whole. 

We were out early one morning in the Tetons waiting for the sun to come up and the fog over the cliffs was just breaking up, revealing this ridge line.  As the sun peeked through the breaking clouds it swept across the face of the rocks, lightening some and leaving some in shadow.  I suddenly realized this was the three dimensional look I wanted to capture and that the light was almost perfect to convey that in two dimensions.

Watching the sunlight play on the mountain was like a private light show as nature showed off one spectacular sight after another.  The fog would reveal a part of the ridge and the sun would spotlight it, then the show would move to a new part of the mountain to repeat the sequence.  it was a great revelation for a photography student, a wonderful lesson right where the application could be made.

(Mel Mann Photography) fog mountain ridge sunlight teton Mon, 18 Feb 2013 04:50:52 GMT
Window on Wood Window on Wood

I am fascinated by the texture of natural things.  Our world is three dimensional at all levels of size and our senses are well adapted to immerse ourselves in the varied textures around us.  Walking in the woods one day aching with no other reason than to play around with a new lens I noticed this scene.  The snow was very new, just fallen that morning and the sunlight was slicing through the woods at a very low angle.  A single sunbeam opened through the tree trunks and put this log in the spotlight, revealing not only the hidden world under the snow but also the fragile texture of the powder itself as it blankets and softens the objects where it accumulates.  With only light and shadow we change our perspectives and see the world from a different frame of mind.  Although I knew the snow was covering a limb in front of the log it appear instead as if the snow blanket was wrinkled as it draped over the tree.  Although I realized the warming sun found a dark patch of the log and was melting snow away it looked like some fairy creature had pushed open a window in the white wall covering its dwelling in order to look out on the winter world.  A picture window to allow the warming sun to come in and start lighting up the inside for the short day.

(Mel Mann Photography) log snow sunbeam texture winter Tue, 12 Feb 2013 00:31:21 GMT
Turn back and see what you missed Fuzzy Trees I almost drove by this scene without stopping.  Traveling back home from a photographer's conference I was wondering about the conditions of the road ahead of me but just as I passed this line of trees faint sunlight came through the overcast and made the highlights in the trees glow.  It was a mile or so down the road before my conscious brain reacted - what did I just see?  Turned the car around, drove back to this strip of windbreak and pulled off the road just as the sun came out again to remind me.  Conditions the previous night were just right for hoarfrost formation and the wind had coated the leaf-less limbs with ice, which captured the subsequent snow to put icing on the scene.  Had the sun not hit at just the right moment I would have disregarded the landscape but part of my mind was still working through exposure lessons I'd learned just that day and the combination of highlights on the tips of the limbs and the dark bark of the trees enabled me to see what it ought to look light through the camera.

I set up my gear on the edge of last year's corn field and worked the composition to get the right elements in the scene.  Then I waited for the right sunlight to come back, to revisit the impact that had originally intruded on my consciousness.  The wait was worth it.  Behind me cars were whizzing by on the highway, drivers as intent as I'd been on reaching their destinations safely, or at least quickly.  But I was entranced by the scene, the mystical nature of how water can transform the basic elements of life on the plains into a wonderful portrait of the season.  I was thankful to the settlers who had the foresight to plant these trees and marveled at how well they performed their function.  Wind brought the ice and snow to them and they received it effortlessly to provide me with a fairy tale image.


(Mel Mann Photography) frost. glow prairie snow trees Mon, 07 Jan 2013 04:38:57 GMT
Lines in the snow Winter Tree Farm

Just about any photography book describing composition will talk about leading lines or other design elements.  These are tools used to guide your eyes as you scan an image and explore what it's showing.  These tools help bring order to an image, helping it fit into our need for symmetry and boundaries.


The park near our house was simply agricultural fields years ago, rolling hills of furrows and crops.  As it has been converted to a public space trees have been planted in various areas to provide a sense of forest.  Following the sensible nature of Plains land managers, the trees are all planted in rows.  There's no productive reason for doing it this way; these aren't fruit trees that need tending or harvesting.  I think it's just the way land managers here think.  I doubt the deer and turkeys mind - they are just happy to have some shade and hiding places.


I do like photographing in this park and one reason is the way the trees line up.  I can use these lines for a variety of purposes in my compositions but mostly they give a clear indication of this being a park, not a forest.  Sometimes in the few real forests around the area I find myself searching for a way to bring order to the composition.  Trees in real forests have no need to line up nicely, dropping their seeds at random around their roots.  Or having their progeny spread by birds and animals to farther reaches of the woods.  They thrive on chaos, creating chaos with each spring.  Survivors are those able to grasp sunlight, nutrients, rainwater from among all the competitive siblings.  How to order that struggle in a single frame?


No, parks are much better behaved, where each tree has its allotted space with no need to wrestle with a neighbor for survival.  Clones all growing at the same pace, each mimicking the other to provide a graceful span for the observant photographer.  What attracted me to this scene is the way each trunk leads to the next one, creating a horizontal line of vertical elements.  And how this orderly flow moves upward in the image to the chaos of limbs tangled one among the other.  So much like our plans for living - we start out so clear in our direction and then later find ourselves bent this way and that as life happens to us.  But isn't success in life predicated on a firm foundation, an anchor in the soil of our heritage, culture and ethical instruction?  The tangle of limbs above wouldn't exist without the ordered line of trunks below.  And the truck is dependent on the limbs (and leaves) to capture sunlight and convert food into energy for survival.  Our past directs our future, and our present rests on our prior growth.  Who knew that could be captured in a photograph?

(Mel Mann Photography) lines snow trees Sun, 30 Dec 2012 18:15:34 GMT
Nostalgia without the inconvenience The Barn Next Door

Part of a local workshop a couple of years ago was an opportunity to visit a farm where barns and work buildings are being refurbished, the intent to offer visitors a view of what life there was like when it was a working establishment.  We photographers were granted permission to wander around the grounds and buildings without other visitors being present.  There were maybe half a dozen of us so each got plenty of quiet time in the buildings and on the grounds.  As you see in the image there was plenty of snow around that really muffled any sounds present, giving the impression we were far out in the rural area.

Since the refurbishing was in progress, many of the buildings retained a worn look to them, years of service showing in their joints and beams.  The scene above came after I glanced out the window across the yard and noticed the contrasts in the barn across the way - white surrounding all the openings and edges against a dark painted surface.  I made the image from here because I liked how the dirty window gave a sense of utility, that this isn't a museum yet where surfaces have to be pristine and protected.  It could be a scene from many working places across the Plains and upper Midwest, and anytime in the past century. 

As well as dirt on the window there was the haze formed by the condensed, warm air hitting the cold glass plate.  Looking through that gave me a sense of comfort, of being in a construction designed to keep the winter weather out and protect all that was inside.  Part of winter's challenge is how you deal with it, whether it be synthetic fabrics, stone walls or roaring fireplaces, and farmers have probably tried just about all of them in order to secure their families and livestock against the northern assault of winter's elements.

Eliciting a sense of coziness is probably easier with a fireplace scene or candles in the windows of a cabin in the woods, but I like using this type of contrast, looking out from inside and letting the viewer arrive at the same feeling when they realize keeping "out there" where it should be is the purpose of our search for shelter, home and hearth.  Peering through a frosty window where the cool air drafts across your face can offer a cozy feeling as you realize that by turning around you can walk into shelter and away from the harsh conditions just outside the glass. 

(Mel Mann Photography) barn building glass snow window winter Mon, 03 Dec 2012 00:27:26 GMT
Glow in the forest Sometimes what I see on the camera's screen simply surprises me, enough to wonder what alien device I'm holding that it perceives what's right in front of both of us so differently.  Many times that surprise leads to a more thoughtful examination of just what am I seeing.

Shadow Blooms This image was made on a cloudy, slightly rainy day right on the edge of the woods.  I liked how the flowers were bright against the dark background so I composed this and pushed the shutter.  How amazing to see on the back of the camera these glowing pieces of spring jumping out at me.  I liked the intensity of the composition.  Then when I experimented with turning it into black and white, the combination of flowers and leaves against the darker setting was almost three dimensional.

What drew my attention to this scene initially was the light color of the flowers and I knew that could be a prominent part of the image but I was very taken aback with the leaves.  Their soft light against the deep background.  Their smooth surface, some dotted with raindrops.  The way their veins dimpled the surface to show just a little shadow and relief.  It's an image that helps me realize the beauty black and white photographers talk about when an images is stripped of color and relies only on the shades of grey to produce the appropriate shapes and luminosity.

Through the years I've looked at photographs the appeal of grey shades has eluded me but I realize now I was simply bemoaning the lack of color and ignoring the subject shape and textures offered by this way of creating images.  I'm understanding how it distills to the essence of the subject, forcing the photographer to pay attention to the details that make or break wonderful images and not hiding lazy technique behind vibrant colors.  This is an OK image of white flowers on what is essentially a sea of green, the original contrast that caught my attention.  But now I see it as a true subject standing out from the blurred background and taking center stage for the viewer to admire and examine.

And what else but that could have been the intent of those giants of photography all those decades ago?

(Mel Mann Photography) black and white flower tones Mon, 26 Nov 2012 06:25:58 GMT
Stuggling for a new perspective Professional photographers - that is, photographers who make a living from their photography - consistently tell me people who want to buy or license or display my photos are not interested in the story of how they are made.  The amount of effort or time or expense needed to make an image is irrelevant to them; all that's important is whether the image will be effective where used.  I understand.  They are busy people who have thousands of images thrust upon them weekly, from which they must retrieve those few truly useful for their needs.  A poor picture is just that regardless of the sweat required to make it; a great photo possibly the snapshot of a moment.  Still, I think where the photographer fought to get the shot because it had such an emotional impact the effort does come through and the image would be less without it.  As examples I urge you to search out and look at the Pulitzer Prize images.

Mountain Sailing

I've talked about this image on my blog ( so I won't repeat the story of my efforts to make it here.  Suffice to say I'm not good at pre-visualization but this image resulted from my doing just that, knowing what I ought to get when the conditions (light, weather) were what I wanted them to be, seen from a specific location.  Mostly, though, it's an image attempting to capture the emotion of the moment when everything came together.

Light playing across mountainsides is magic to me as it brightens some areas and darkens others, revealing the definition of the slope, rocks and vegetation.  The right light, pointing out features and bringing depth to an image, enables a photographer to think like a painter, pointing out certain features with brilliance or outlining others with the negative space of shadows.  And where the two contrasts meet - light and dark - defining lines and shapes intrinsic to the landscape.  Light playing across a seemingly static landscape can take your breath away at the beauty of the location.

By the way clouds were sweeping across the sun it was obvious there was potential for such a scene once I reached the spot where I decided to shoot.  But would the fickle wind place the clouds where I needed, allowing the sun to spotlight the island, sandbar and cliff faces while keeping the other elements in the dark as a background canvas?  Frustration and joy are the landscape photographer's devils and angels.  The inability to make the light do what you want means long moments watching, waiting, stamping feet and clenching fists in resentment at the spirits preventing you from simply getting the composition you want.  But then, as you see what you envisioned starting to emerge in the scene before you, all those negative emotions turn to rapture as you revel in the creation you have been waiting on.  Will it materialize complete as you've seen it in your mind?  Will some elements be out of place?  Will you accept only 80% of what you want or wait for the 100% complete scene?  Are conditions getting better or worse?  Am I in the right place? 

Wait, look, it's all coming together!  That shaft of light is moving right into place on the mountainside, the shadows around it taking their position to envelop their assigned spots.  The wind is picking up nicely and whitecaps forming on the wavelets around the island.  The sun is penetrating the water enough to bring out the deep blue color that complements the sky and clouds.  Finally a beam of sun spills down onto the island, just wide enough to spotlight the trees while leaving the surrounding lake somewhat darker.  Another ray glances on the white beach behind while a small streak touches the peak of the mountain to brighten the edge against the sky.

Wow, it looks just like I expected, a marvelous symphony of wind, water, light, rock and foliage.  What a great place to be and to enjoy and to capture so it can be shared with others.  It's the perspective I wanted, worthy of the struggle to find and capture it.

Perhaps it is just another photo to many, one to be glanced at and moved aside.  For me it's a memory of a place and time and effort that merged into a creation of my own.



(Mel Mann Photography) glacier island lake park sunlight waves wind Mon, 22 Oct 2012 03:52:21 GMT
Table Salt Table Salt When you drive from Salt Lake City west toward Reno, you pass along the edge of the Great Salt Desert, near the Bonneville Salt Flats of speed record fame.  There's a rest area off the interstate where you can walk right out onto the desert, like onto an iced over lake in winter.  It's an eerie place for someone raised in the east around forests and lakes, a place incongruous with even the surrounding terrain of mountain ranges and basins.  Behind you is the roar of traffic speeding westward to the Pacific; in front of you the silent, white expanse drawing your eye to the distant mountains.

My immediate question was why?  Not why this desert is here but why does it exist?  Apart from the geological and meteorological explanations, the science of the salt desert, I wondered why would the planet need such a place to happen.  A reservoir of salt in anticipation of some biological need?  Nature's gift to dining tables the world over?  A raw material for integral chemical reactions feeding a myriad of life sustaining processes?  There's no immediate answer while standing there on the glistening surface.

I made this particular image to reflect the contrasts I saw that day:  clear blue sky with clouds hinting at rainfall, the distant mountains laughing at the flat, salt surface, the ridges in the incrustation pointing off into the distance as if to entice the naive traveler to visit far away destinations that could never be reached.  At a glance all the elements seem to belong together at this place; a longer examination ponders the question of how they actually co-exist.

Much of nature seems to make sense in how it all fits together but every once in a while you stumble upon a small enclave that managed to stand apart from the perceived structure, a rogue environment defiantly making its own way through the world around it.  Sometimes for a landscape photographer it's the rogue element that gives the most interesting images.

(Mel Mann Photography) clouds desert mountains salt sky utah Tue, 16 Oct 2012 19:30:46 GMT
The totality of being Awaiting the Harvest The Great Plains stretch out to the horizon and just keep going from there.  Sunrise and sunset really emphasize the vastness of the area as the sky changes colors from horizon to stars.  The line separating ground from heavens serves to horizontally frame any subject rising above it.

I drove around one afternoon looking for a sunset composition that gave a sense of this bigness but in a context appropriate for this part of the country.  I saw the cloudless sky starting to give this range of colors from warm to cool at about the same time I spotted these grain bins.  It was the type of image I was thinking about.

So here's the scene.  A field that has been harvested, shown by the furrows empty of crops.  Grain bins that ought to be full but are empty - why?  The leafless tree, leading role of a windbreak line stretching behind it to protect the fields, just as man-made as the bins and plowed field.  The huge bowl of sky that everything is silhouetted against with two contrails sketching across it, emblematic of people who consider this the fly-over territory.  It's a cooling, autumn evening anticipating the time when all I see will be snow covered, crisp with the understanding of its role between summer and winter.

I got all my equipment set up and then waited for the light, wanting the last rays to just cut across the top of the ground.  As I paused for those minutes urging the sun to position itself to my designs, it was a moment of Zen as all the elements in the image came together in my mind to deliver an understanding of both the vastness I could see and the connection I was making.

(Mel Mann Photography) barn contrail field sky sunset tree Mon, 24 Sep 2012 04:36:13 GMT
Watching nature's actions Shore Patrol

After a couple of days photographing Lake Tahoe I realized all my images were looking the same - the grand landscape of water, mountains, trees and clouds.  It was time to stop doing that and start looking for a new perspective.  I decided on the more intimate view.

There's not many truly sandy beaches around the lake, just pebbles resulting from the water pounding large rocks into smaller ones.  I sat down on one of these shorelines just to watch the water lapping and noticed the larger rock just away from the water's edge.  As the different sized waves came up, they would roll over this rock and coat it with a glistening layer of water.  The waves were coming fast enough for the rock to almost always be encapsulated in this watery sleeve, smoothing out the remaining irregularities in the rock's surface and making it glisten in the bright light coming from the sky.  Each little wave would lap over the rock on its way to shore, leaving a little of itself behind to cloth the rock in a transparent coat.

In contrast was the smaller rock on the shore.  Above the line where waves consistently covered the shore, it showed me a dry surface, a view of what its partner further in the water would look like were it not for the constant rolling waves.  A contrast of conditions - the rock in the waves would feel the continual impact of water whereas the one on the shore would be preserved from it.  An that difference would make all the difference, as Frost would say.

I watched this action for a while, marveling at how the simple movement of water on the large rocks would eventually catalyze a change in size and shape, delivering the smaller pebbles of which the beach was composed.  It was a gentle action (little wind that afternoon), rhythmic and consistent that didn't seem to delivery much power against the sturdy, solid nature of the rock but there I was sitting on the result from many waves working on many rocks.

The grand landscape awes and amazes at its size and scale; the intimate one shows us how the two are related through time and space.

(Mel Mann Photography) beach lake pebbles rock tahoe water waves Mon, 17 Sep 2012 03:37:21 GMT
Colors in the Sky Prairie Rainbow

Photographers love rainbows.  What a great way to accentuate what would otherwise be a dull, grey sky.  It's almost as if rainbows were made to help landscape photographers create images on dreary days.

Traveling in the Great Plains means two things:  the odds of a spring thunderstorm is pretty good most of the time and predicting where a rainbow will appear is easier than you think.  For this one, driving into the sun away from the dark clouds meant all I had to do was turn around and look behind me to see the rainbow, and then drive to where the composition would be interesting.  With the rain and clouds off in the distance, and the foreground in the sun, the colors come through nicely.  I remember the day every time I look at this image.

You see these types of photo all the time as people capture them and share them widely.  There's obviously some sort of collective joy at seeing rainbows, for the individual at the time and for people the images are shared with.  For me such pictures give a positive sense of the place and time.  Maybe it's because of the colors splashed onto the dark, ominous clouds, or the way the arc connects sky with earth, or maybe it's just all the good stories that surround rainbows in general.  We haven't seen our fair share of them this year, unfortunately, as the drought just keeps the rain away where it's needed most.  Odd, just when we need their positive presence the most they stay away from us, gracing other places with their energy.  I hope they come back soon.

(Mel Mann Photography) colors grey prairie rainbow sky storm trees Sun, 09 Sep 2012 23:21:51 GMT
Palouse in Autumn Wood Grained Fields I'd seen many photographs of eastern Washington's Palouse region before knowing where it was.  Rolling hills covered with terrain following furrows, lit from the side by rising or setting sunlight - scenes from here have graced calendars, post cards, screen savers and even movies.  I'd even heard the name - Palouse - but just assumed it was in Europe or some distant Asian landscape.  Once I was enlightened on the location it became one of my destinations for a trip west.

The usual photographs of the Palouse show it in spring, verdant hills covered with multicolored crops in bloom, a velvet landscape of illuminated hilltops and shadowed valleys.  I'm an autumn person - browns, reds and yellows are my preferred palette.  Being in Montana one fall I took the time to visit the Palouse to see what that season would offer.

Harvest season, that's what.  The cut fields show off the rows where crops once stood, following the curvature of the hills like a relief map.  It's as if someone laid a topological atlas on the ground and you could see the rises and falls in three dimensions.  Wait for the right light and it jumps out at you.

There are only a couple of places you can get high above the farmland, ancient buttes left by volcanic activity thousands of years ago whose cores are resistant to the erosive force of rain and wind.  These are gathering places for photographers, much like the California beaches are havens for sunset watchers.  Pick a spot, pick your lens, compose, set exposure, and wait for the light to paint your image.

Sometimes, even standing there, it's hard to not believe it's all a painting, the creation of an artist working at the junction of realism and impressionism.  Broad strokes interleaved with fine details, with the occasional man-made structure to provide perspective.  Notice the barn on the left casting a shadow onto the field?  It would house two of those great big tractors you see in corn, wheat or soybean fields on the Plains.  I placed it there, along with its shadow, to give a sense of size for the surrounding fields.

I love the way the late afternoon sun highlights the crest of each hill, drawing a bright line right at the top as a way to distinguish it from the valley behind.  I love how the fields are variegated, even where the same crop was growing, showing the differences in soil types across the hills.  I call this image Wood Grain Fields because it reminds me of the items you see at art fairs, the product of the woodworkers who laminate different woods and the cut, carve and polish them into fascinating shapes.  An example of man's mimicry of nature.

(Mel Mann Photography) Palouse autumn colors fields sunset textures Sun, 12 Aug 2012 23:36:38 GMT
Joyful Noise Joyful Noise This is one of those photographs you want to make, don't expect to be able to, and then are surprised with the result.  It's one of my favorite images from the time I spent as artist in residence at Homestead National Monument, wandering the small prairie and getting to know the residents on a daily basis.

I love to photograph birds.  It's an extension of the feeling I've had for them as long as I can remember.  They seem to be so complete in themselves - going where they want, living where they want, taking things as they come.

Prairie birds are always on the go.  Looking for food, mates, nesting sites, finishing a migration or getting ready to go on one - these guys have a full day and rarely sit still.  A typical songbird of the prairie, this dickcissel is in full mating plumage and letting females know he's available through the sharp sounds he makes from his perch.  It's apparently the only time he takes a break from hunting for seeds and insects.

The prairie being restored at Homestead is small, just a part of the 160 or so acres representing the original homestead.  I found simply wandering through the tall grasses, watching the wildlife around me and listening made me familiar with the more common residents.  Of course it helped to have a staff biologist to tell me what I was seeing!  Frustratingly the vast majority of birds are pretty small and very skittish - getting close was mostly out of the question.  Like much of life, however, it turned out if I stood still and waiting, they would get close to me.

Out in the field away from the visitor's center (that's the brickwork in the background) I watched this guy flying around singing.  He'd stop on one twig and give voice for a short time, then fly to another and start over, never spending more than a couple of minutes in any one place.  Even with my longest lens it seemed there would never be a composition close enough for the details I wanted.  Nonetheless, it was relaxing to watch him make his rounds through the grassland.

I guess he decided I wasn't going to be a threat because his pattern of landing sites started getting closer and closer.  Maybe he was getting some positive feedback from potential mates in that particular area or maybe he thought the acoustics were better nearer to me.  For whatever reason, he landed on this branch not more than ten feet away and started his song again. 

One lesson I'm learning with wildlife photography is you can be excited later - at the moment it's time to get the technical stuff right and make the image.

The sun was behind him providing a wonderful rim light on his body and the clear sky was radiating plenty of light to make him easy to expose against the darker background.  I had my settings on open aperture because I wanted a fast shutter speed and that gave me the shallow depth of field that would put the background out of focus and make him the obvious subject in the frame.  He pretty much ignored me as I fired off several shots while he sang, then hearing something attractive over by the tree line he left me looking down at the back of my camera to see what I'd made.

This was the best of the bunch.  A little cropping to make him the star of the image, a little sharpening and here he is - another guy in the world just happy to be there and letting everyone in the area know about it.

I never got a better opportunity the rest of the time I was there.  Perhaps he took pity on me as I hopelessly watched his colleagues zip around me or maybe he just one of those animals that loves to have his picture taken.  I can't say for sure but I do know it was a great experience to be there and share the moment with him.  After seeing the final image I felt like throwing my head back and singing as well!


(Mel Mann Photography) bird dicksissel joy prairie sing Mon, 06 Aug 2012 02:37:39 GMT
Dramatic Weather Here in Nebraska weather is an integral part of our landscape, whether you're a farmer or a photographer.  In a mostly horizontal world it's nice to have something interesting above the horizon at times.

One day the weather report indicated a front moving slowing across the area so I drove away from the city to find a place where I could see the "big picture" away from the close proximity of houses, trees, etc.  There was this small country road running by cornfields that gave the best perspective so I set up and waited.  Watching the clouds moving and the sun setting I believed there would be a time when the light and shapes would be very interesting.  A great dance slowly happening above me as i waited for the players to assume just the right positions.

There's something grand about weather formations.  It's a scale we just about can't grasp as county-wide clouds stretch to the horizon and light plays around in areas bigger than sports stadiums.  From airplanes you get a sense of endless architecture; seeing it in the context of more earthbound structures you realize immense can often trump endless!

A great photographer once told me to wait until the scene "clicks" into place, where the elements reach positions that seem right for the composition.  I fear sometimes waiting too long, delaying my shutter action until the moment passes.  It means I end up taking a lot of images but in the end he's right - looking back over them all only one or two truly seem right for the moment.  With experience hopefully I can anticipate those moments and reduce the number of images I have to cull through!

As it turned out, the image below is what "clicked" for me.  It has dimensionality as the light draws the eye along the stream of clouds to the back of the image only to return through the cornfield to the fence and near grass.  It has detail throughout - from clouds to grass to distant trees.  The arrangements of elements looks natural and the lighting portrays objects as I saw them.  I look at this one and can immediately recall the moment. 

Storm Front

One thing I've learned with digital photography is to shoot in RAW, capturing the information that comes right off the sensor without any processing in camera.  The second thing I've learned is that RAW images will look flat when properly exposed so judging the image at first glance is not a good idea.  You have to "develop" the image to get the look you intend.  When the above image first came up on my computer it was pretty flat with little contrast in the clouds and not much drama in the lighting.  But with a little work you see what came out.

I started developing the image by separating the part above the horizon from the part below.  Different software handles this in different ways - in Photoshop I selected all the image above the horizon and created a mask.  A mask is a device that lets you selectively process parts of the image rather than the whole image.  For my mask I blocked off all the image below the horizon so I could work on the upper part.

By increasing the contrast I brought out details in the clouds and also increased the difference in appearance between the lightest and darkest areas.  This immediately gave me more drama, especially in the part of the image near the horizon where the clouds are trailing off into the light.  I also decreased the brightness of the sun in the upper right to bring out some detail in that area.

I reversed the mask so I could work only on the part of the image below the horizon.  Here I increased the brightness just a little, to bring it more in line with the brightest part of the sky.  I also increased the contrast some to bring out the texture in the grass and cornfield.

Light and dark - those are the hallmarks of dramatic weather and usually what our eye notices immediately in such a scene.  My goal was an image that looked very realistic, just like what I was seeing when I made the image.  This one is pretty close.

(Mel Mann Photography) Sun, 29 Jul 2012 19:07:15 GMT
Shyly curious Shy Spy I've always liked this image, both for the subject and the composition.  I made this way back in 2007, soon after purchasing my first "real" digital camera system.  Following some good advice I invested in lenses that gave me my desired focal range as well as sharpness because I knew I'd be photographing wildlife.  One frustration from earlier photography years was looking at an image and seeing that the animal I wanted to be a bold statement in the picture only took up a small percentage of the overall image.  With longer and sharper lenses I expected to remedy that problem.

Near our house there's a local park that surrounds a flood control lake and the whole thing is big enough a herd of deer pretty much make it their home.  They're only partially wild - carloads of people cruise the park roads in the evening to watch the deer graze on the edge or up on the hills and they rarely give the vehicles a passing glance.  Stop and get out of the car, though, and they will trot away pretty quickly.

Which made me feel very lucky this day.  I'd parked at one of the picnic areas to just walk around and see what might show up.  It was autumn and the prairie grasses were very tall, almost over my head.  I was literally standing at my car getting the camera gear together when I saw this doe slowly sauntering along the edge of the parking lot, periodically glancing through the grass to see what I was doing.  She wasn't particularly perturbed at me being there as long as I stayed by my car.  Fortunately I'd mounted my long zoom lens first so I was ready to reach out and touch her - the focal length was around 250mm for this shot.

This was before my summer in photo school but I did know enough to set a somewhat wide aperture (f/5) to get most of the grass in front of and behind her to be blurred.  My shutter speed was 1/30 sec. and I was concerned she'd not stop - that's not fast enough to prevent blurring of a walking animal.  Lucky for me as I rested the lens on my open car door she stopped to see what I was doing.  I made 4-5 images and this one was the best, catching her eyes through the stand of grass with just a hint of the rest of her body fading into the prairie.  I remembered to place her face in the upper right third of the frame.  As her eyes are at one of the "power" spots of the composition and about the only element sharply focused, the viewer's eye goes right to her face first.

It was a late fall afternoon and with my white balance set to sunlight the original image was pretty cool in appearance.  I warmed it up in Lightroom to give it a more natural appearance, did a little sharpening and very little cropping to make sure the doe was the obvious subject (no more small animals in my photos!).  And that's all that was done.

What a joy to download the image and see it on the computer screen.  I'd intentionally purchased a camera system to photograph wildlife such that the subjects would be a big part of the composition and now here in front of me was the fruit of those decisions.  I felt putting my camera on the shelf out of frustration would no longer be happening.


(Mel Mann Photography) deer portrait prairie Mon, 23 Jul 2012 22:37:54 GMT
Film has benefits Emerald Bay Summer Here's an image that is NOT digital.  This was made with a 50+ year old folding view camera using 5x7" Fuji Velvia 50 slide film.  What you see here is pretty much what you'd see looking at the slide directly - little post-processing after scanning the slide.  Definitely not a point-and-shoot; setting up for this shot took about 15-20 minutes.  Patience is a virtue for landscape photographers!

Emerald Bay is located in the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe, one of the few completely enclosed inlets around the lake.  It's probably one of the more photographed scenes of this area because it is easily accessible from the road circling the lake.  I visited this area at least three times during the week spent photographing the lake and realized quickly I would be unable to get a truly unique perspective.  Not that I didn't have options.  Behind where I've set up here is a steep, rocky slope I could have climbed for a perspective looking more downward, but the gear I used for this shot is clumsy and difficult to hike with.  There is an easier trail leading down from this spot to the bay's edge but I wanted this seen-from-above perspective.  All in all this was the best spot for the image I wanted, which was to be more of a postcard view of the bay. 

I wanted the full view all in focus, from rocks in the foreground to the distant mountains.  I especially wanted to get the color of the water, which is why this was made in the early afternoon.  With the sun high in the sky it's light penetrates deeper into the lake, reflecting back as this deep, cobalt blue.  And this perspective gives more layering than the more traditional view looking right out the bay.  Here I've got the foreground, then the bay, then the sloping shoreline beyond, and finally the distant mountains.  The perfect final element for this image would be big puffy clouds in the sky but the whole week all I got was clear, alpine air.

What probably made it unique for the people around that day was the equipment.  I got several intrigued comments from the tourists milling around - you don't see many people with view cameras these days, photographers with a black cloth draped over their head and a magnifying glass in hand to check the focus on a ground glass screen.  You actually don't see many photographers using film - digital is the convenient tool of choice for the casual image maker.  I use film because I know it forces me to think more about a scene (do I really want to haul all that gear out for this?), it provides a tactile connection to the process of photography (setting up, focusing, adjusting exposures, etc.) that helps engage the creative side of my brain, and the resulting image provides me more detail than I would ever get from my digital equipment.  It also connects me to the photographers of the 19th century, people who designed and developed the craft we so casually take advantage of today.  Being a part of that heritage is important for my photography.


(Mel Mann Photography) bay film lake tahoe water Tue, 17 Jul 2012 17:08:26 GMT
Welcome to my website I hope you enjoy the images you find on my website.  This blog will be where I give more details about individual images and why I've put them on my website.  It will be less of a technical discussion and more of a background on why THIS image exists and the reason I'm sharing it here.  Photographs capture stories whether we intend for them to or not and I've learned the stories can make the image more meaningful at times.

(Mel Mann Photography) Tue, 17 Jul 2012 16:24:20 GMT