SHADOWS

Moon shadows. Sun shadows. Street light shadows. All it takes is a point light source that reveals the world to our eyes, while casting into shade those places not illuminated. The light examines, while the shadows add mystery. And definition. And design.

I have worked extensively with shadows as a compositional tool during the last few years, and here I present some of my favorite photographs from this era of my life.

GINGERBREAD

On the end of a sunny day in March, the sun was shining warmly upon the land, with trees casting their organic shadows across the faces of buildings. I especially liked this old farmhouse, which had just a touch of gingerbread trim left from an earlier era.

LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA

SHADOW PLAY

Spring shadows crossing a snowy field, then gliding up the front and roof of a house. These are the kinds of compositions I notice, putting a subject in a whole new light.

LOCATION: Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA

SNOWSTORM IN A REMOTE VILLAGE

While visiting Newfoundland in midwinter, we stayed in a cozy home once used as a cod fisherman’s residence. I walked out at night during a heavy snowstorm and photographed homes and a church in the village. The falling snow leaves a slight texture in the sky, and the warmth of lights coming from inside the house lend a human touch. There is an air of mystery in this photograph that encourages repeated viewing.

LOCATION: Dunfield, Newfoundland, Canada

WINTER NIGHT BY THE SEA

On a February trip to Newfoundland we stayed at an old house right along the Atlantic shore in a tiny fishing village. It was magical. Then it started snowing. I took this picture with a very long exposure to blur the snowflakes, which adds an interesting texture to the dark background.

This picture is one of the rare pictures where I worked on the scene extensively using Photoshop. I modified the color that came from the sodium vapor street lamps and chose instead to bring the red colors and the snowy landscape back to what they look like in the daytime, and I think it looks painterly. It is my interpretation of the scene, and I like the feeling of it.

LOCATION: Dunfield, Newfoundland, Canada

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN

Returning late from a snowshoe trip to the Mount Baker area, we stopped in the small town of Maple Falls to get a sandwich and gas. It was quiet, and the darkness beyond the brightly lit gas station reminded me of the paintings of Edward Hopper–one of my favorite American artists. I carefully composed the photograph in several ways, and this turned out to be my favorite. The name for the photograph comes from a Bruce Springsteen album, which has some of the same thematic elements as this photograph: the power of darkness, the lure of the open road, and the magic and threat of night.

LOCATION: Cascade Mountains, Washington State, USA

PASSAGE

Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon is known for the petroglyphs and pictographs along its some forty mile route. But on this autumn day, an old cabin captured my lens. The mind has to puzzle out what is going on here, and that is part of the mystique of this picture.

LOCATION: Nine Mile Canyon near Price, Utah, USA

CURVE IN SPACE AND TIME

At the end of a spectacular Great Plains sunset, I had just finished photographing a grain elevator with a wash of sunset warmth. Leaving, I immediately crossed these railroad tracks, which reflected the orange and magenta colors in the sunset. I quickly turned the vehicle around and returned to photograph this wonderful curve in the universe. Grace in steel and light and darkness.

LOCATION: Boise City, Oklahoma, USA

STREETLIGHT SHADOWS ON SNOW

It was the dead of winter with a fresh layer of snow upon the ground. I was tired from driving home at night, and stopped at a rest area for a few moments of respite. There I noticed the orange sodium vapor lights casting their eerie glow upon the snow, with tree shadows adding grace and lines to the scene. I spent a long time trying to get the perfect composition without disturbing the snow, and this was my favorite for its organic lines and rich color.

LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA

TULIPS IN SUNSET GLOW

On a spring visit to Alaska, where my brother and his wife have raised a family, I noticed the warm sunset light glowing on the walls. I picked up a camera and began photographing the shadows and patches of light all over the house. When my sister-in-law saw what I was doing, she held up a vase of tulips to create these shadows on the wall.

LOCATION: Chugiak, Alaska, USA

BLUE WINDOW AND ADOBE SHADOWS

I like visiting Taos in October, when the warm, low angle sun sets the adobe afire with color. In this photograph, I captured a classic blue-framed window at the end of a crystalline day, with delicate leaf shadows adorning the adobe, as if painted by an artist.

LOCATION: Taos, New Mexico, USA

OCTOBER IN SANTA FE

With the aroma of pinyon logs burning in fireplaces, the cottonwoods sifting golden light through autumn leaves, and the piercing blue sky, Santa Fe is a special place in October. While browsing the art galleries along Canyon Road in late afternoon, I came upon these flowers and their shadows at an adobe house. This photograph brings back fond memories of a wonderful place and time.

LOCATION: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

RAINIER AUTUMN

I was high on a ridge at sundown, when the sun was casting long autumn shadows on the colorful autumn meadow. The fir trees, with their pointed tops, create a strong graphic statement.

LOCATION: Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington State, USA

NIGHT SHADOWS ON AN ADOBE CHURCH

San Francisco de Asis Mission Church is one of the finest photographic subjects I have ever encountered. In the course of one October day, I returned three times to photograph the church under different lighting conditions. This photograph is among my favorites: taken at night, the adobe walls are graced with shadows cast by a streetlight shining through cottonwood leaves. It has an interesting juxtaposition of shadows and shape and the texture of adobe, and even has stars overhead.

LOCATION: Taos, New Mexico, USA

SHADOWFAX

Shadow of a car moving fast on a Michigan highway in the late light of an early autumn day.

LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA

DANDELION TWILIGHT

While camping in Hell’s Gate State Park, I noticed how the occasional vehicle passing by my tent illuminated the dandelion seedheads in the grass. I loved the backlit look of the dandelions and the shadows cast by the trees, so I employed my van as a photo prop and set up this picture at deep twilight.

LOCATION: Lewiston, Idaho, USA

AMISH BARN IN WINTER

This is a recently built Amish barn in Michigan. I love the simple lines of it, suitable for the people who built it, with functionality foremost and certainly no embellishment. Look at the lines of the walls and roof and shadows: how they intersect each other and how they define the blocks of red and blue colors. This is another in my series studying how light falls on buildings, inspired by Edward Hopper’s paintings that worked with this theme.

LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA

BLUE SHADOWS

Amish homes near my Michigan winter home are austere, with white paint and no superficial adornment, including flower beds or foundation plantings (interestingly, many have bird feeders outside the windows to bring color and life into their lives). In this photograph, I saw the blue shadow at the end of the day crossing the simple white house and thought it added a gaudy and unexpected touch.

LOCATION: Central Michigan, USA

All of my photographs are available for sale as prints, either on cotton rag paper or on metal. Go to http://leerentz.com to see my entire catalog. If you would like one of the photographs shown here in the size I have listed below, you have the option of ordering it through PayPal.

SHADOWS PHOTOGRAPHS FOR SALE

The photograph shown to the left is simply an example; any of the above photographs are available for ordering. Please indicate which of the above photographs you would like to order. This is a 16 x 24″ metal print on aluminum with high gloss surface and incredibly rich and accurate color, ready to hang with no picture frame necessary (slightly rounded corners, stands about 3/4″ out from the wall for a floating, modern appearance). You can see a much larger selection of print sizes and types at my website: http://leerentz.com. Shipping is free; sales tax will be added for Washington State residents. I am glad to answer any questions at lee@leerentz.com

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OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: Crab Chaos and Human Creativity

The coil

Nature is rarely orderly and tidy–and to a naturalist, that is part of its charm. On the other hand, an artist can sometimes use natural materials to bring order to that chaos, with marvelous results.

As we walked down sandy Shi Shi Beach among the beached seaweed, swarming sand fleas, a dead and stinking sea lion, and a zillion crab carcasses, two National Park Service rangers greeted us.

Crab parts on the Shi Shi Beach, with the dramatic sea stacks of Point of Arches in the distance

One said “Everyone is asking about all the crabs along the beach. They aren’t actually dead bodies; they are the molted shells of crabs that have outgrown their old bodies and discarded them.”

Dungeness Crab parts rolling in and out with the waves 

So it wasn’t mass suicide or a toxic oil spill or global warming that killed a million crabs. In fact, it was just an ordinary yearly molt that we were privileged to see, and the crabs of the deep were still alive and enjoying a growth spurt as they muscled their way out of their old exoskeletons and ate their way into new and larger clothes. Meanwhile, the discarded crab parts moved gently in and out with the waves in a spectacular jumble that left every beach visitor wondering–until they learned the truth,

I had thought about putting a few of these crab carapaces into an arrangement to photograph, but someone with grander ambitions and more time beat me to the punch. On our way back up the beach, we encountered a spiral of crab backs (known as “carapaces”) that looked at first like a giant ship’s rope that someone had neatly coiled. When I walked up to it, I stared in utter amazement and surprise at the fleeting work of art that someone had created. Executed with technical perfection and a fine artistic vision, the crab spiral celebrated nature, yet it did so within the very human needs for order and art. Line, texture, and repetition of forms were among the artistic elements employed. The crab spiral was an ephemeral masterpiece by an unknown artist!

The crab spiral as we found it, left by an unknown artist

Detail of the arrangement of crab carapaces

It would have taken the artist hours and hours of exacting work to create this ephemeral work; notice how uniform the crab backs are in size and shape

The setting, with Point of Arches distant

Karen Rentz repeated this backpacking trip two weeks later, and found that the Crab Spiral was no more. High tides had claimed it. Nature’s love of chaos beat back the human need for order, but I got the photographs that illustrate what the human imagination is capable of, even on a remote wilderness beach.

For those interested in the intersection of nature and art, the acknowledged master is artist Andy Goldsworthy. You can see an excellent selection of his work at Andy Goldsworthy.

With the careful placement of these barnacles growing naturally on a molted crab shell, nature looks to be playing the trickster!

Shi Shi Beach is a wilderness beach within Olympic National Park. It stretches over two miles in a gentle, sandy crescent, ending at the dramatic rocky sea stacks and arches of Point of Arches. We backpacked along the beach, and on this Fourth of July weekend we guess that there were 60 tents sharing the beach and the adjacent forest. Hikers need to be aware of the tides, which can have an amplitude of over ten feet and can affect hiking and tide pool exploration schedules at Point of Arches. Hard-sided food containers are required for backpackers (to keep away marauding Raccoons), as is a wilderness permit from the National Park Service and a recreational permit from the Makah Indian Reservation. Parking for backpackers is $10 per day at a private residence near the trailhead.For more information about Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches, go to Olympic National Park: Shi Shi Beach.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

YOHO NATIONAL PARK: Autumn Ice Fantasy

A plant covered in ice formed from the spray of a mountain stream

Clear autumn nights bring freezing temperatures to the high country, which adorns tarns and mountain streams with fanciful shapes sculpted in ice. In this series of photographs, taken in Canada’s Yoho National Park, I photographed these ice patterns and sculptures, many showing a touch of autumn color.

In recent years there has been a creative explosion of glass sculpture by Seattle’s Dale Chihuly and other artists. With vivid colors and decorative surface textures, these human creations have a clear precedent in the ice sculptures found in nature.

The following photographs show plants encased in ice along a mountain stream. The tumbling stream sends up a fine spray of clear water that coats the plants in an ever-thickening blanket during the night–until the sun melts the ice as the morning progresses.

These photographs were taken of a mountain tarn (small pond), which had frozen over the night before. The patterns of ice crystals on the surface were projected by the sun onto the shallow bed of the pond, creating some unexpected textures and patterns on the rocky bottom.

The next group shows the surface of a tiny pool that had frozen over, with large crystal splinters of ice covering most of the pond’s five foot long surface. Several of the photographs show tiny autumn leaves trapped under the ice.

Finally, the following photograph is of snow surrounding a rock. Sunlight had warmed the rock, melting the snow immediately around it, revealing a fringe of exquisite and tiny autumn leaves.

For information about Yoho National Park, go to Yoho.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

February 11, 2009: Jogging at 175 Photos Per Hour; Part 1

I occasionally jog along the Clear Creek Trail in Silverdale, Washington. Although I am a poor jogger with knee and muscle problems, it has been my primary form of exercise for 35 years and I still enjoy each outing.  Sometimes I take a small digital camera with me and grab some photographs along the way.  This day was special, in that I took 295 photographs along my 4 1/2 mile route, stopping every time a potential photograph grabbed me.

These impressionistic photographs were not created by using filters or Adobe Photoshop tricks.  They all look pretty much as they came from the camera, with just a few tweaks of contrast and brightness and color to make them look a bit better on the internet.  They are experimental, and I intend to experiment with this technique in the future, since it gives such a transformative look to an everyday scene.  I will discuss my technique here in the future, but for now you can just enjoy the view.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

 

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August 15, 2008 Reading a Photograph

Most of my photographs are straightforward views of landscapes, wildlife, small towns, or whatever else catches my eye.  I love taking these pictures; they are part of a long tradition of photographers seeking out the best light and working with finely tuned technical skills.  Sometimes, however, my work takes a step beyond, to where the subject and intent can be “read” by the eye in several ways.  Here are a few examples, using the names I gave each picture.

 

AMERICAN ICON 1: Log Cabin

While photographing an old cemetery in central Pennsylvania, I was first interested in the 200-year-old shale gravestones and took several pictures portraying the fascinating hand-carved shapes of these memorials.  Then I photographed several gravestones with the log cabin as a background. Then the cabin’s windows caught my eye and I took a few detail photographs showing the combination of logs, chinking, and windows.  Then it struck me like a thunderclap:  the flag icon was right there in front of me.  At that point the adrenalin started pumping and I took one of the best pictures of my life.  Your eyes can read it either as a log cabin or as an American flag:  either way, it is a strong and iconic symbol of American life.

 

We Are As Spirits

While visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I carried only a pocket film camera, hoping perhaps to get a few snapshots.  I didn’t use it much, but when I entered the chamber where these people were standing, mesmerized, in front of a giant tank with tuna and sharks and other huge creatures, it cried out for a photograph.  I loved the blue light and the human forms, so I stood back and took a dozen or so pictures, with exposures ranging from about 1/4 second to 1/2 second, hand-held.  For the first picture, I had left the flash on by accident, and it turned out that this picture was the best because of the ambiguous shapes the flash reflection added to the dark human forms.*  Most people realize that this is an aquarium picture, but when I view it–even knowing exactly what it is–I see spirits living among us.  Others see it as humans lined up during a UFO appearance.  Whatever the interpretation, it is ambiguous enough that it invites repeated viewings.

*So often, mistakes in photography are useful, because they can lead to a whole new interpretation of an image.  Perhaps it says something about my photographic skills, but I make plenty of mistakes–and end up liking some of them.  

 

LAYERS 3: A Parallel World

While photographing the interior of a ghost town building in Bannack State Park, Montana, I found some of the small details fascinating–such as these crackled paint layers on a wall.  It wasn’t until I looked at the slide on the light table that I realized that this photograph looked like a map, but not a map of any world that we know.  It could well be a parallel world, and it reminds me for all the world of the colored maps on the classroom walls of my youth.

 

When Rocks Dream

While visiting Joshua Tree National Park, I took lots of beautiful pictures of the Biblical-looking Joshua Trees, lizards, desert tortoises, and granite cliffs dangling climbers.  But when I came upon this formation, I actually laughed out loud at the Mojave Desert’s dry humor.  The rock was about life-sized and the lighting was “just right” for my formal portrait.

At a recent art show I found myself seriously explaining to a nine-year-old boy about how some pictures could be understood in several different ways at the same time.  I pointed out the log cabin and aquarium pictures and how they could simultaneously mean different things.  I’m not a teacher, and I wasn’t sure if I was getting through to him.  But then he smiled and pointed at my rock photograph and said “like that picture.”  Yes, he indeed got it!

 

For more examples of my work, visit my web site at LeeRentz.com

June 27, 2008 Straight-line Winds Rip Omaha Artists

For the past decade I have traveled extensively across America, selling my photography at art shows and photographing details of the landscape between shows.  During this time it has been the Great Plains that have made me the most nervous because the weather can be so intense.  During one show in Fort Worth, Texas, I remember seeing a skyscraper that had all of its windows blown out by a tornado, leaving small shards of glass in every garden downtown.  That storm didn’t occur on an art show weekend, but the cars around Texas deeply dented by grapefruit-sized hail were a reminder of what could happen.  So it was with some trepidation that I came to Omaha for the Omaha Summer Arts Festival in the stormy early summer of 2008, and set up my booth with about 130 other artists.

The first day of the show started nicely, with warm temperatures and mild gusts, but there were just a few clouds in the sky.  Then, in late afternoon when the weather was still pleasant, a tornado siren started blaring continuously nearby.  Soon a staff member came to each booth and said that 70 mph winds were about 25 miles out and were headed our way–and to get ready for the storm.  I didn’t hesitate; I hauled all my boxes and other gear inside the tent and “battened down the hatches” (I had been hit by straight line winds in Omaha several years ago, and knew what they could do).  Then the staff person said to take refuge in the Landmark Building immediately, so I headed that way, snapping a few cell phone pictures of the oncoming storm.  The dark clouds were ominous.

Inside, we were herded (or as much as artists can be herded!) down into the basement of the building, where we waited, and waited, for the storm to pass overhead.  We heard reports of 90 mph winds and golf ball-sized hail nearby, then someone said the huge beer tent outside had toppled.  One artist said he had gone up and looked out and his booth had been destroyed.  I called my wife on my iPhone and told her the situation, and virtually everyone else was chatting with family and friends on their cell phones.  

Finally, after about an hour, and rumors of another storm approaching, we trooped outside to assess the damage.  It was extensive in some areas of the show, with a great many artists losing weeks or months of work.  Tent poles were twisted and display panels collapsed and tents torn up and artwork soggy and broken.  It was so sad.  Most of the artists have insurance that will cover the broken display structures, but generally it only covers the cost of art materials rather than the retail price of the works of art, so the cost of labor is not compensated.  For those artists who lost nearly everything at the show, it means a major loss of income.  Those of us in this profession live on the edge, often unable to afford some of the benefits that most workers are accustomed to, so a storm like this can be devastating.

By the way, I was lucky; my booth survived, mostly because the location was perhaps a bit less windy.  The straight-line winds from the thunderstorm were clocked at 80 mph.

The staff and administration and volunteers at this art show did an excellent job of warning people of the incoming storm.  They had plans in place for bad weather and executed those plans well.  After the storm they had a meeting with the artists and laid out the plan for the night and the next day.  They handled it well, and I thank them.  Nobody at the show was hurt, thank God.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.

May 11, 2008 Homage to Edward Hopper

Today my wife Karen and I made a special trip to Chicago to see the last day of the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Chicago Institute of Arts.  Edward Hopper is among my favorite artists, and his paintings influenced my photography of classic old buildings.  He is most famous for his painting “Nighthawks,” in which late night patrons of a lonely urban diner are playing out some vague drama.  This painting is one of the best-known paintings in America and, as an icon, is much parodied.  I have a favorite Starbucks cup that features this painting–only the setting is a Starbucks coffee shop.  I also have a Christmas card that portrays Santa and his reindeer stopping for a 3:00 am coffee break in the same diner.

My favorite Hopper works are his studies of light on classic old buildings; the psychodramas that make up much of his later work are interesting, but they don’t add that much meaning for me.  I think a great deal can be implied simply by the human details (without the humans).  Besides, I think he was better at rendering buildings than humans.  

The Chicago exhibit was among the best art exhibitions we have seen.  It is over, but you can review some of Hopper’s work at the following websites.

http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/exhibition/hopper

http://www.artchive.com/artchive/H/hopper.html

On the return trip from Chicago on the South Shore Line, an interurban railroad, I photographed a woman sitting alone on the passenger seat across from me.  I think it shows how I was channelling Edward Hopper on this wonderful day.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photograph below to see a larger version.