The fun of photography is to look for patterns, unusual situations and repetition. The theme for this week’s photo challenge is “Variations on a Theme.” This photo of a variety of beer taps is from the Pink Pony, a famous bar on Mackinac Island, Michigan. See my other post about the island.
Silence. No people, just empty buildings and cobwebs gathering in the windows.
Aside from the occasional door creaking in the breeze, there’s no place more silent than a ghost town. Travel down a rough dirt road from Utah Highway 9 to find one such place, the desolate Grafton, Utah.
Beautiful But Brutal
This ghost town was a Mormon settlement located near what is now Zion National Park. Grafton was established in 1859 on beautiful and fertile land in the Virgin River floodplain. (The Virgin River is the one that carved out the spectacular canyon that contains what is now Zion National Park and its the location of one of the world’s most famous hikes, The Narrows.)
Grafton was pretty yes, but not a top-notch place to live. These farmers experienced floods (no surprise in a floodplain) and Indian attacks as well as brutal weather in both summer and winter. Before long, most residents packed up their wagons and headed to nearby Rockville, though the last of them didn’t leave until 1944.
Serene Yet Haunting
Now, visitors may stroll around the five buildings that remain from the town’s 30-some structures. Peak into the schoolhouse/church, walk inside a home, wander around farm buildings and the old cemetery. The Grafton Heritage Partnership has restored them. The surrounding farmland and orchards are still used, but you’ll probably be the only person there.
The WordPress photo challenge this week is “rounded” which immediately brought to mind my recent trip to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Sculpted by wind, water and time southern Utah is like a geological Disneyland. It’s no wonder there are five national parks in the region (and some stunning state parks), each quite different but equally amazing.
In Arches, giant rounded rock forms have emerged over thousand of years as potholes near cliff edges grow deeper and deeper until they wear through the cliff wall below them.
We arrived in Moab during the heat of August, with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees. “Dry” heat or not, that hot! Consequently, we ducked into a few shops in the afternoon to get out of the heat. One was a terrific bookstore on Main Street in Moab, Back of Beyond Books. There I discovered the work of the revered environmental writer Edward Abbey. In Desert Solitaire, which I highly recommend for anyone planning a visit to Arches.
Regarded as one of the finest in American literature, the book recounts his time as a park ranger in Arches and his opinions of the crowds that flock to national parks. He’d be apoplectic is he could see the throngs now in many parks. Still, if you go at the right time of year and early or late in the day, you too can experience “desert solitaire.”
We trekked out into Arches at night with Moab photographer Dan Norris for a little starlight photography. Here’s Dan’s amazing photo of the the Milky Way:
Italian cities are fascinating places to visit but they’re often crowded and hectic. So, I look for places to relax in the Italian countryside. A great example is Frances’ Lodge Relais, a rustic yet elegant old farm, just outside Sienna. Hosts Franca and Franco provide great touring tips, luxurious breakfasts in the garden and, sometimes, a picnic dinner of homemade pasta under the olive trees. Best of all, relaxing “under the Tuscan sun” with wine and a book by their beautiful pool with a view of the Sienna skyline.
While I’m on the topic of travel photography….Portraits–don’t even get me going on what a challenge I have getting good portraits of people I meet while traveling. Yet, there’s nothing more interesting than faces. Portraits are worth the effort because photography lacks a greater sense of place without them. Sure there are beautiful landscapes, artistic still lifes—food!—and some fun shots of people from a distance but those close-up photos of faces are what really tell a story and give an impression of the folks who inhabit any place—from Minneapolis to Morocco.
I’m kind of chicken. It’s hard to get right up close to people you don’t know, but that’s what it takes for a good portrait. Up close, the subject may become more stiff and self-conscious so sometimes I take the photo from a distance, maybe when they’re not looking, and just crop the heck out of it later. If I’m lucky it won’t be blurry. Ultimately, it just takes a few extra seconds–and a little bravery–to get a better shot.
Also, there’s the etiquette and ethics of portraiture. I’m getting better, but it’s a challenge to ask people that may not speak my language if I can take their picture. Some people just hate to have their picture taken, sometimes for religious reasons. Often, the more exotic looking (or sometimes the more downtrodden looking) the person, the more dramatic the photo. Am I taking advantage of them or invading their privacy? In Morocco, I was told not to pay children for their pictures because it encourages them to forego school for money-making photo opps.
Happy schoolgirls in Guatemala.
This young man was slightly suspicious of the photographer at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis
I like taking pictures of people through windows or sculptures.
One way I’ve found to get good portraits is to buy something the person is selling or simply put a few coins in a street entertainer’s music case. And, if my potential photo subject is in business, like a bartender or shopkeeper, they’re usually happy to cooperate.
When all else fails, animals are usually very eager to pose for a portrait, no questions asked.
I’ve been traveling a lot lately and have many stories and pictures to share since I last posted. I’ve had adventures in quite varied places including the backroads of Missouri on the Katy Bike Trail, around central Italy, and a few spots right here in Minneapolis (more on those soon). Every time I return from a trip, I pour over my photos, delete the junk, crop and perfect the good pics and relive my experiences in the process.
I use these photos in my blog and sell them as part of article packages or slide shows, but I take pictures on the fly, more like a tourist than a professional photographer who camps out for several days to get the best light. I’m too small to lug all that equipment–several cameras, lenses and a tripod and more. Plus, I’d rather pay attention to the experience than gadgetry.
That’s why I try to keep a few basic ideas in mind to elevate my photos several notches above “snapshot.” Sherry Ott, a photographer and travel writer who as far as I can tell is completely nomadic, which fascinates me, just posted a great summary of what to keep in mind while taking pictures as a traveler. On her blog, Ottsworld, she says, it’s not about the equipment, its about composition. In fact, many of the travel writers I know take great pictures with their iPhones, though I have to say a good digital SLR makes a difference.
I’m sharing a link from her blog, my fellow travelers, for your own use and inspiration: How to Take Better Vacation Pictures. No matter what your skill level, her tips are a great reminder that it just takes a little extra thought to compose more satisfying photos.
And please share any tips you have with the rest of us by commenting here.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.