Birch Forest By Bryce Mann

For more years than you, dear reader, want to hear about, those of us who were practicioners of what we chose to call “fine Art photography” struggled in the wet darkroom to create images that had subtle black and white tonalities or pure colors and clearly defined, crisp edges: clean, sharp and not muddy! We poisoned our bodies with exotic chemicals and worked long hours in total darkness or in the glow of dark, red safelights. We spoke strange jargon. I remember some color chemistry that caused me to get up and puke on cue at 2:30 AM after using it. I quit using it because it didn’t work well and most likely would have continued to barf if it gave good photographic results (Yes, I am considered stubborn!).

Now, anyone who has a computer, camera and printer, and has taken the latest two day course from xxxxx can turn out sharp, saturated prints with accurate colors (If they have ACTUALLY taken the time to observe nature carefully to get the colors correct….many, many have not) Sooooo, sharp, saturated prints are now a given and when I asked members of a camera club that visited my gallery how many had sold a print, nearly every hand went up! The result is the public is more aware than they used to be and demand more. In fact, since now sharpness and saturation are a given, there is now a more sophisticated audience that has tried to do more with their cameras and are impressed when they see something that goes beyond the meat and potatoes of sharpness and saturation.

So let’s talk about seeing. Let’s talk about what I shall call “Abstract and Impressionistic Photography”

Palouse Pattern

Palouse Pattern is typical of my best work today: while obviously still rooted in the natural world, it gives little factual information about the scene or the situation, yet the viewer has a sense of reality….of viewing something he/she could view if they went to the right spot at the right time, with the right attitude, looked in the right spot, etc. (which isn’t likely as it would be at Mount Rainier so gee whiz arn’t they glad I did go and seek this out and take this picture and print it and frame it to sell to to them to enhance their life, Huh???) No kidding, that is a big difference: They ALL THINK they will take that great picture of Mt. Rainier someday on their way to work. They have no illusions about a picture like Palouse Pattern. It is one of a kind, none repeatable and a result of my artistic mind. PERIOD!
Forty years ago, when I began selling my prints for a living, they were a novelty. People could barely believe their eyes when they saw one of my 24×30 or 30×40 inch prints. By today’s standard they were pretty bad. Today we make prints 96 inches long (I have printed Palouse Pattern to 60×24–could easily go to 8 feet!) that are tack sharp and have a 150 year minimum life span. The limit today is finding mounting material big enough to mount the prints. We currently limit ourselves to 8 feet for single pictures. Diptyches and triptyches can be MUCH larger for public buildings.

But how many literal, tack sharp, nature photgraphs do I need to put out?

Palouse Farm

Some of what I’m now doing is not as enigmatic as Palouse Pattern. In Palouse Farm the Farmhouse gives a sense of scale and distance but the compression from a long lens adds a sense of mystery and almost loses the farmhouse in vast spaces. Thus it becomes an IMPRESSION of space inherent to the Palouse country. I, personally, consider such a photograph to be IMPRESSIONISTIC art. You may disagree (even my son does, somewhat!), but I think we need to make distinctions when we depart from the literal rendition of spaces, distances, textures, colors, contrasts, size relationships, etc.

Palouse Mosaic

I think Palouse Mosaic is both IMPRESSIONISTIC and ABSTRACT because it plays with compression of distance and divides up space in such a manner that one could be convinced he/she is viewing a flat pattern rather than rolling hills stretching over several miles of distance. It does play havoc with preconceived notions of space…..yet you feel you are still in the real world!

Cottonwoods In Winter

No, I’m not trying to say this is an abstract photograph, but if you will look carefully you will see that there are only three basic tones: Black, Gray, and a White that is barely darker than the paper base. Once again, your emotional response is being elicited by letting you see what I wanted you to see: BY LETTING YOU SEE JUST THOSE TONES….the tones of a gray, cold winter day. So in a sense, I am doing the same thing as with an abstract photograph: selecting the information the viewer will see and how the viewer will see it!

Again! More to come later on this topic!!! Tune in again!!! Lee Mann


So, you want to shoot some aerial photographs but don’t know where to begin! Let’s get to the bad news first: It is very expensive! BUT the good news is, that for the time I have invested and the overall expenses involved it is the most productive type of photography I have ever done. But to make it pay off, it takes a lot more planning, calculation and judgment than simply casually getting in your car and driving to a scenic location. Here are some planning tips:

PILOT AND PLANE I only fly with professionals! Many of my photos are in narrow mountain valleys. I had an experience where a sudden temperature drop caused us to be enveloped in clouds that formed in seconds while we were literally surrounded on three sides by peaks! My pro pilot extricated us without a blink of his eye. He knew exactly what reverse heading, nose angle, etc. led to safety! If he did not have a constantly changing escape plan in his mind we might have died.

The Crater On Mount Baker

I also suggest you plan on shooting for several trips, especially if you plan on going into rough terrain. There will be a learning curve for you too! That being the case: get to know the pilot. Give him some prints from your first shoot and then ask for him specifically when you plan your next shoot if there is more than one pilot in the company and you were happy with your first experience.

At the very least, you must have a plane which has a window on the passenger side that will open. Often, the window will “fly up” when unlatched, but not always! Often you can latch it up against the wing. Note: If it has been raining, open the window and wipe the seal dry before going up. I once went up, got into position, light was perfect…..but the window was frozen shut! And I never shoot through a window. If you are away from home, clarify that when you order a plane. I once had a plane show up with a fixed window and I simply refused to go up, much to the anger of the pilot. I was not about to pay $200 an hour (The price then!) to shoot through scratched plexiglas!

Whitehorse Mountain

The best shooting situation I have ever had was with a Cessna that had a third door that accessed the rear seats. The pilot would take the door off and then bolt a fairing (scoop) to the front edge of the doorway that caused the air flow to curve out and away from the doorway. Then I put on a special harness that allowed me to lean out of the plane into that quiet bubble and shoot almost straight down without the camera being ripped from my hands or worse yet me being ripped out of the plane! It was great, because I was aft of the wing and wheels and could shoot nearly any direction. The only thing that was a bit disconcerting was when the plane banked to the right, my legs would hang out into the bubble and I could look down between them to the glaciers zipping by below! I flew with that pilot for a number of years and got many great shots with that setup. If you are lucky enough to find this setup, be sure to secure your extra gear or at the first right bank….say goodbye to your favorite lenses!

Alpenglo On Mount Baker- 6x7 Pentax/Negative Film

CAMERA EQUIPMENT With our great digital choices today and great zooms this is pretty easy. Back when zooms were terrible and I always shot with medium format I was constantly changing lenses. You will probably be happy with a zoom that goes from near normal (50mm) up to 200 or 300mm. Perhaps you may want a longer lens to avoid having to move the plane closer to a subject. But remember, the longer the lens, the more any vibration from the engine will be amplified so you will need to use a higher iso or shutter speed. You will probably have little use for wide angle lenses unless you intend to include the airplane in the picture.

In days of yore, when that awful stuff called film was used, if you used a 35mm camera, 50 or 100 iso was about the max speed because you probably shot chrome. Thus, you had to shoot with the lens wide open to get a high enough shutter speed to not show engine vibration. I wanted a greater contrast range than chrome had and made large prints so I used negative film in 6×4.5 and 6×7 medium format cameras. The larger film size meant I could use films up to 400 iso allowing me to stop down a stop or so in bright light to access the “sweeter” (sharper) center area of my lens. I also carried a few rolls of 800 iso film so I could stay up and shoot in the dimmer light toward dusk. I knew I would have to make smaller prints due to grain…..but I was there!

Ferry In the San Juans 6x4.5 Cm Chrome film

Today, digital cameras and low dispersion glass, computer generated, zoom lenses have changed all of photography. Depending on your camera, you can now use an iso of 1000 to 2000 or better, which allows you to stop down a stop or so. In any case, the edge sharpness is better today in good lenses—test—Tack up a newspaper and shoot it wide open from a tripod, stop down one stop and shoot, two stops and shoot, three stops and shoot. Look at the corners of the frames at 100% in photoshop to see how much falloff you are willing to accept.

The North Cascades

JUDGMENT CALL This you will have to work out for yourself. Vibration is the big enemy. If your shutter speed drops down below 1/500 in a chopper or 1/250 in a fixed wing aircraft you will lose a lot of shots. If you have good rapport with the pilot in a fixed wing and have voice communication you can ask him to throttle back for a couple seconds and shoot much slower. In any case you will be happier if you can shoot at 1/500 or better yet, 1/1000. Therefore, I would chose shutter priority of 1/500 or 1/1000 and then have as high an iso as needed to try to avoid shooting wide open. Keep in mind that trying to brace any part of the body against the airframe, but especially the elbows, will transmit vibrations you are not even aware of directly to the camera. Your gluteus maximus and soles of your feet should be the only contact with the airplane! Choppers are mucho worse for vibrations! This is where some learning curve is involved.

SIMPLE TIP Here is a tip from the old manual focus days that I still think is good today. I used to twist my lenses to infinity and then use photo tape (No Residue) to tape them in that position. That way I never wasted time twisting to check if I was on infinity. It is still a good idea. Put your camera on manual focus, go to infinity and tape the lens there: you will not have to wait for the lens to “search”.

WHEN AND WHERE? I don’t want to waste money! If I’m going to fly, I know it is going to cost me at least $400 per foray. Experience tells me I have to get at least one salable print from such an expense….but it may take years for me to sell enough copies of that print to actually recover my expense! I have always taken the long view, but at my current age, and viewing the “winner take all” philosophy the robber barons are attempting to once again force onto our economy, the number of flights I can take is limited! (I once spent $13,500 on a trip to Antarctica that had terrible weather and I have only printed 5 or 6 images, and yet made money on the trip….but that was a different economy)

Mountains in Fog OR The Day We Went Up But Couldn't Get Down!

Anyway, what are the considerations? My first consideration is a repeating weather pattern. One usually has to order a plane a day or so ahead. I once wanted to photograph Whitehorse Mountain late in the day with the sun setting through a veil of clouds on the horizon to create an alpenglo on the mountain (see pic). We had just the right weather pattern that repeated for a week. The second day, I drove down the freeway where I could see the mountain, said “yahoo!”, checked the forecast and ordered the plane!

Other times, I have wanted the Skagit valley to have spring greens, so obviously fall is not the season, but maybe not so obvious is that things stand out much better early in the morning or late in the evening when there is strong “cross lighting”. But tulips? Ultra early in the morning, tulips are closed and the fields look sparse, so coming perhaps at 9:00 still gets “sweet light” but the flowers look fuller.

Use judgment, know your subject, scout it out before you fly and think whether it should be a high angle shot, shoot straight into the face of the mountain or come in low over the valley and use a fairly wider angle, etc. Think before, because you will have damn little time to change your mind once you are in the air! Also, it is incredibly hard to come around and find that same spot again, even if you are with a great pilot!

Also, you will be very, very drained of energy after a productive flight. You will feel exhilarated and tired and wanting to do it again soon!

Whitehorse Mountain

From Russia With Love!

SPLAT! The grape hit me on the cheek leaving a wet spot and soggily fell to the floor. Angrily, I spun around to see who might have thrown it but not a single eye was focused on me. All the vendors were working over their produce as if I did not exist. So I went back to photographing the market in the exotic, fabled city of Samarkand in Soviet Central Asia.

The Public Market In Samarkand

It seemed a miracle to even be there. Gorbachev’s loosening of restrictions had been in effect for only about a year and we were one of the first groups of Americans to be able to travel freely without Intourist “minders” dogging our steps. Our group was headed for a trekking trip into the northern end of the Himalayas where no Americans had been before (A coming blog!) and Samarkand was a side trip. My wife, Ann, and I opted for the market this day. ClicK! Click! The big 6×4.5 Pentax was not a subtle camera to photograph people candidly!

Tough little kid mimicing the adults!

SPLAT! Another grape hit me and this time I heard a rumble….Ru#s*s#ki! What were they saying? Were we in trouble? Pretty quick there were more grapes and louder, clearer voices, and faces that were not hiding their dislike, but now I could understand what they were saying: Russki!, Russki!, Russki!, ……..It dawned!…They thought I was an ethnic Russian photographing them! And they were PISSED!

Street Smart Young Ladies

What to do? I looked at Ann and she looked a me and we both started shouting, “Nyet, Amerikanski, Amerikanski, Amerikanski!”

The Herb Seller

Suddenly there was complete silence! Then everyone started jabbering in disbelief to their nearest neighbor,”Amerikanski, Amerikanski and pointing at us! That was the end of our photography: suddenly bottles of pop, watermelons and, yes grapes, were being handed to us! And we heard, as we heard frequently during the the trip, with thumbs up and thumbs down: “America good”, “Russia bad”. It actually became rather embarrassing considering some of the dictators we have played footsie with, but from the viewpoint of minorities in the Soviet Union, we looked like saints by comparison. And oh, how they loved the ship loads of greasy SPAM we sent them during World War II ! You have to be starving in a really cold climate to appreciate greasy spam….and they had been! And they had not forgotten! And I’ll never forget that day: They loved us and I still love them!

A Veteran Of the "Great Patriotic War"

Tucson has been in the news a lot lately due the terrible murders. I happened to be there at the time, and like most Americans, spent a lot of time riveted to the TV by the unfolding drama, accusations and counter accusations, heroism and one speech by a rather peculiar Alaskan woman who did not check out the meaning of “blood libel” before she spoke.

But Tucson is located in the American portion of the Sonoran desert, and nearby are Suguaro National Park and the Desert Museum which are excellent locations to photograph. BUT, I’m afraid I have been spoiled by the low angle, misty light of the Northwest. The light in the desert is “Sharp-cutting”. A few moments after sunrise until a few moments before sunset, the light is very contrasty and harsh. Many photographers prefer to photograph in the SW during the summers when there is more moisture and often thunderheads in the sky….but often some very high temperatures! I went for a ‘Snowbird” trip! Maybe Someone can offer ME some tips! Anyway, here are a few jpegs from the trip.

Mount Lemmon Sunset

Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk On Sugauro

I Forget Cactus!!

A type of Sagauro

Tree and Statue at Mission Near Tucson

Mount Lemmon (Cropped Correctly!)

Well, you didn’t think I was going to let you get away without SOME lesson did you? Compare the first Mount Lemmon with the horizon bisecting the middle of the picture with the second Mount Lemmon where I cropped out some of the extra sky (called “Negative Space”). If you saw how bad my cropping was in the first Mount Lemmon before you saw the second one, you get to have a second glass of wine tonight as your reward! See how great it is to read my blog! If you did NOT see the bad cropping, you owe ME a glass of wine–OK? Anyway, watch those horizon lines….don’t divide into equal segments….unless you don’t like wine and in that case you are perhaps hopeless! Cheers! Lee

It started out innocently enough; we just wanted a nice safe place to eat lunch!

We had spent the morning on the short-grass plains of the Serengeti during the calving season.  Zebra, wildebeast and gazells were spotted all over the plains.  They had gathered here every year since who-knows-when to give birth while the plains were covered with short, lawn-like fresh grass that was very nutritious, impossible for a predator to hide in and easy for young calves to make escape runs without tripping.

But it was time for lunch and a chance to stretch our legs so we looked for a Kopje (Co-pea).  Kopjes are remnants of an ancient mountain range that stick up through the serengeti plains.  They are very picturesque because the are formed of hard granite and are the only place where you find trees and bushes sticking up above the plains….a good place to get some shade.   And, oh yes, a good place for a leopard or a pride of lions to laze about and survey the surrounding plains.  Caution is definitely needed!

In short order we found a nice small kopje with some shade trees and drove around it several times looking carefully for cats or blind spots.  Finally our guide decided it was safe although there was one small spot that we could not see into.

We disembarked, ate our lunches, and about half the group slumped down into the knee-high grass for a nap while the rest joined me for a photo lecture under a shade tree.  It was a drowsey scene and I was talking in a very low voice.

Peggy, is one of those people with rosey cheeks and a perpetual smile!  I’ve know her for years and never seen her in anything but the best of humor.  But she is not a lightweight and racing lions would not be something you would expect her to consider in her wildest dreams.  Anyway, at this point in time Peggy felt the call of nature and decided to trudge up toward the top of the kopje to find a little privacy.

Was there a lion there?  Or did a lion enter from the plains from the other (blind) side of the kopje while we ate?  We will never know.

The first thing I heard was Peggy’s voice screaming, “Simba, Simba, Simba”, and looking up, saw Peggy running faster than I ever imagined possible, straight down the hill and coming in at an intersecting angle was a huge male lion that it was obvious was going to get to Peggy before she even had a remote chance of reaching the vehicles!

So what saved Peggy?  Well, suddenly, about twelve hidden people jumped up out of the grass screaming and hollaring at the lion who damn near had a heart attack.  He thought he had an easy kill and all of a sudden all hell broke loose with people everywhere.  He skidded to a halt and couldn’t get out of there fast enough!  But it was close: I figure he was not more that ten or twelve feet from Peggy when he aborted.  If he had leaped, she would at least have been badly injured.

That night in camp, I asked her how she felt about the experience: she replied, “How many people can say they survived an attack by a lion?”  Pretty nifty answer, huh?  Me?  When I got home I added another two million bucks to my liability policy!

What makes this an excellent and unusual tulip field photograph?  You have seen multitudes of same-o-same-o tulip field pictures.  Why is this picture one of a kind?  Am I a genius? (Please do not ask Bryce or Tracy!)  Is it because I captured the “God rays” streaking down from the sky?  They certainly help.  Is it positioning the bright spot of the sun on one of the lines that section the print into thirds and the edge of the bright red tulips on another of those thirds?  Yes, those also make the print much stronger.  No the main ingredient is something that does not show in the print!

Ann, my long suffering wife who passed away in 2009, often said I was the “most persistent human being she ever met”.  I took that as an incredible compliment coming from a lady whom I had accused of having an army mule somewhere in her ancestry!  Anyway, I KNEW there was a great photograph to be made from Pleasant Ridge, so I got up way before daylight every morning the tulips were in bloom in order to be there the first couple hours of daylight.  On the sixth or seventh morning it looked like there was no hope and OH! DID I WANT SOME COFFEE AND BREAKFAST!  But it looked like the sun might peek through so I decided to stay another half hour.  And this is the result: one of our most popular prints!



I did once take an excellent picture while still in my sleeping bag, up in the mountains, but I have never made a great photograph while in my bedroom (tempted a few times!).  So the moral is: Get thee out of bed and get thee to the field!  There are successful photographers and slothful photographers, but no successful, slothful photographers.  Yes, there are some rich, slothful photographers that buy a little brief fame, but they move on to something else quite quickly.

If you are a photographer or nature lover planning a trip to Nunavut Territory in Canada you are taking a big risk of losing the thousands of dollars you pay in trip fees and never getting your trip.  Over the years, I have taken four trips with an outfitter named Tom Faess (Tundra Tom) who has owned Great Canadian Wilderness Adventures for 40 years in the Barrenlands of Canada.  He has had the ONLY camp in thousands of square miles of what I consider to be the North American Serengeti.  While at his camp I cannot remember ever being out of sight of wildlife. Walking from his camp I have seen, caribou (thousands), musk ox, wolves, wolverines, moose, arctic hare,  gyrfalcon, ptarmigan, and much more.  Ancient chipping from arrow and spear making, old tent rings and even native copper artifacts are commonly found while wandering nearby.

It is a wonderland where a romantic like I am finds the hair on the back of the neck begin to raise when a wolf howl breaks through the soft moan of the wind.  My best days have been when I was able to sneak off by myself to avoid the chatter of other modern people.  With just a fly rod for grayling and following the glacial striations in the rock for a compass, several miles cross-country would bring me to one of the small rivers between the many lakes, perhaps never fished before.  Being out there alone, I soon begin to revert to how we once were: you cast and then you look over your shoulder, next you scan the nearest ridgeline, you pass a soft area and glance down to see if there are any bear tracks.  In short order  you are just like all your ancestors who carried spears, and you feel so very, very much alive!

And who guarded this wilderness?  Who told us to leave every native artifact exactly where we found it?  Who read excerpts from books at the campfires at night about the First Nation Peoples and the early explorers?  Tundra Tom!  He loved that country so much that he devoted his whole adult life to it and barely made ends meet.

Then diamonds were found in NW territories and neighboring Nunavut and later huge deposits of uranium.

Suddenly, Tom was the enemy.  The world’s biggest diamond companies are now the toast of the town in Yellowknife on Great Slave Lake and Tom, who used to be a colorful character is now that awful jerk who brings in world-class  photographers and TV crews and writers who write glowing articles about the beauty and the wildlife in the Barrens.  Tom could hurt profits!

In 2007 Tom publicly made a stand to protect critical wildlife areas of the upper Thelon River In the Northwest Territories in view of proposed uranium exploration.  Within a few months he had his outfitters license he had for 40 years pulled by the government for less than justifiable reasons…..with no appeal process or other recourse available to him….a totally arbitrary action!

A year later, Tom returned to his camp in the spring to find that his lodge and fiber quonset huts had been vandalized, all his outboard motors, canoes and kayaks stolen and his generators hammered with rocks; effectively destroying his camp.  More seriously, his fuel caches began to contain suspicious amounts of water which could cause a plane to crash.  Local air charter companies from Yellowknife began “buzzing” his camps and clients and scaring off the wildlife.  While in flight, he was intercepted by fighter jets over the remote tundra diamond fields and he began to be followed by a helicopter on the barrens-even at night- for no apparent reason.

Tom decided to relocate to Nunavut, the huge first nation-run territory next to NW Territory where he had operated for 40 years and where his father is buried.

He was in his second year in Nunavut and just getting his financial feet on the ground when I and a friend decided to go up to photograph musk oxen and caribou.  Two days before we were due to leave we got a call from Tom.  The government of Nunavut had sent in a charter aircraft to Baker Lake, served a cease and desist order on Tom, herded his 15 rich Chinese clients onto the plane and took off!

Nunavut charged Tom with UNSPECIFIED violations, took his permit away and refused to reimburse his clients (US!).  They claimed it had something to do with the safety of his clients but refused to say what it was!

Several months later it came out that Tom had a dispute with a couple of clients at his old camp in NW Territory a month before.  They were to go north to see some albino musk ox but the landing area was frozen, the clients were angry, drinking apparently and apparently illegally imported the booze through a “dry” town where Tom had his base.  In any case, they filed a complaint and Nunavut used it as an excuse to shut Tom down, even though it had nothing to do with Nunavut!

Today a Canadian law firm is examining suing the Nunavut government for actual losses by Tom and for damages caused by their ridiculous arbitrary actions.  The bottom line appears to be DIAMONDS AND URANIUM which are found in great quantities in both provinces.   Approximately 37 of Tom’s clients have lost $5-6,000 each (He is now nearly bankrupt from this) which the government refuses to refund.  The letters I have received from the government trying to justify ruining out trip have been utterly silly!


OH, CANADA,  OH, CANADA………………………………..($wherethehellareyougoing?$)

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