The Latent Image

Fresh snow on fall aspens along Bishop Creek, Inyo National Forest, California
Fresh snow on fall aspens along Bishop Creek, Inyo National Forest, California

Twelve years ago after shooting film for over 25 years I made the switch to digital and never looked back. The year was 2005 and it wasn’t without a great deal of hesitation, but I knew I wasn’t alone and that the time was right. Not long before National Geographic had started accepting digital files from the Nikon D100, and if the quality was worthy of their hallowed pages then it was good enough for me.

The biggest concern for most outdoor photographers at the time was preserving that classic “look” of film that the world had embraced from the early days of Kodachrome and later Fuji Velvia. We were told that if you shot RAW files, profiles and presets could be applied that would mimic any type of film. At the time it was all Greek, but in the years since it’s become standard practice in post production. The lightbox and loupe were traded for hi-resolution monitors and software, but the holy grail of image making was still dynamic range.

Cameras have advanced at lightning speed since then delivering better resolution, wider dynamic range, higher megapixels and price tags to match! But one thing hasn’t changed – the powerful RAW image file. This digital negative can never actually be touched or manipulated, but utilizing RAW processing programs like Lightroom can produce files that match any conceivable style or vision by applying those magical profiles and presets all while retaining the highest image quality.

One of the best features of shooting RAW is the fact that software manufacturers are constantly improving the programs to better utilize all of the image data captured by the sensor. I recently revisited a selection of images from my archive that were made just shortly after I switched to digital. They were made on one of those early bodies, but because I had used a high-quality lens and created RAW files I was now able to create much finer images from those files than the original software would allow.

In a side-by-side comparison I was amazed at the clarity and definition that had been hiding in those images just waiting for a future application to release them. So if you’re still shooting JPEGs you might want to consider switching to RAW. Though each camera manufacturer makes their own proprietary file, Adobe, the creators of TIFF and PDF, developed the DNG (or Digital Negative) – a great format that preserves your RAW file and a JPEG preview eliminating the concern of proprietary files and software going the way of the 8-Track stereo and Betamax.

One thing is certain, change is inevitable and technology will continue to evolve. It’s a wonderful time to be a photographer and reassuring to know that the images we make today can not only be enjoyed long into the future, but like a fine wine will likely improve with age.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Grand Staircase-Escalante

Slot canyon in Spooky Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah USA (Russ Bishop/Russ Bishop Photography)
Spooky Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

One of the largest yet least explored parks in the country, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a vast desert landscape of mesas, slot canyons, petrified sand dunes, archaeological treasures and American history. Divided by a single long ridge called the Kaiparowits Plateau, this remote region was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped and is a wonderful destination to find that desert solitude that Edward Abbey so passionately wrote about.

From the south, the Vermilion, White, Gray, and Pink cliffs rise to form the giant multi-hued terraces of the Grand Staircase. And to the east the Escalante Canyons are a labyrinth of geologic wonders slowly winding their way down to Lake Powell. Together these escarpments expose 200 million years of the earth’s history in a visual feast for the eyes, and contain the most continuous record of Late Cretaceous terrestrial life in the world.

For the photographer, the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument is a sublime location where the possibilities are endless and the light, which seems to glow from within, is worthy most anytime of day. I’ve often said you could spend your whole life in southern Utah and not see it all, but that might just be true of this very special park. The temptation to try is always present.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Pele’s Realm

Lava flow entering the ocean at dawn, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, The Big Island, Hawaii
Lava flow entering the ocean at dawn, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

For more than a quarter century the lava on Hawaii’s Big Island has continued to flow from the Pu’u O’o vent on the flanks of Kilauea down into the Pacific Ocean. A mesmerizing river of molten earth that is equally beautiful and terrifying as it slowly devours everything in it’s path, while adding acres to Hawaii’s newest Island.

Since ancient times Pele, the Goddess of Fire, has been a central figure of Hawaiian lore. “She-Who-Shapes-The-Sacred-Land” is often recounted in ancient Hawaiian chants, and today is the most visible of the Hawaiian deities.

In 1990 I witnessed the slow destruction of the nearby village of Kalapana and watched in amazement as the locals rolled the historic painted church down the road to safety, while the palms on the famous Kaimu black sand beach went up in flames. Pele is known to be a passionate goddess, yet volatile and capricious as evidenced by her destruction of the modern Wahaula visitor center while completely avoiding an ancient heiau in her path.

I’ve been back many times over the years to pay homage to Pele, and I’m always in awe of her powerful hand in shaping these Islands. Will Rogers once said, “buy real estate, they don’t make it any more”. But clearly he had never been to this part of the world!

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Nature as Medicine

Trail through moss covered forest, Fort Cascade National Historic Site, Washington
Trail through moss covered forest, Fort Cascade National Historic Site, Washington

A recent article in the Washington Post illustrated an interesting phenomenon that is occurring in the medical profession these days and perhaps the timing couldn’t be better. Just when the cost of health insurance has skyrocketed, doctors across the country are telling their patients to “take a hike” to fix what ails them.

They’re not trying to lose customers, but instead are medicating their patients with nature to treat everything from heart disease to attention deficit disorder. Detailed prescriptions are often written to include park or preserve locations, specific trails and mileage. In many ways, as Ken Burns pointed out in his excellent series “America’s Best Idea”, our national park system can and should be an integral part of our healthcare system.

As a landscape photographer, I spend a great deal of time on and off the trail and I feel fortunate that my work not only helps to protect these special places, but promotes my health in the process. Photography and outdoor recreation have always been an ideal match, and now they might just lower your medical bills as well!

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”    ― Rachel Carson

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved