Art

Monday, March 18, 2019

North Coast Night Lights: Here at the Edge

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2019 at 10:57 AM

DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
The vastness of things often comes home to me while I’m photographing at the edge of the continent or beneath the stars. To the east is the grounding solidity of the great North American land mass, to the west the immense Pacific Ocean stretches far beyond the horizon, and above, the field of stars. And there I am, just a tiny thing standing unnoticed.

Right next to that thought is the realization that it’s all relative. How very small these things are, like landmasses. Or the planet itself. Think about it: If you stood far enough out from our globe that the Earth was about golf ball size in your view, how small would be that film of atmosphere clinging to its surface? Could you even see it? At that scale, it wouldn’t take much to wipe it right off …
Lights from shore illuminate this great chunk of rock here where the wild coastline intersects with humanity. Above, a satellite’s eye in the sky so high crawled slowly past Orion. Humboldt County, California. February 22, 2019. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Lights from shore illuminate this great chunk of rock here where the wild coastline intersects with humanity. Above, a satellite’s eye in the sky so high crawled slowly past Orion. Humboldt County, California. February 22, 2019.
It’s easy to get lost in a feeling of tininess when I realize that everything we understand about the universe is, in fact, a ridiculously minuscule amount of information next to what’s out there not yet understood, most of which will never be known by us. We learn and grow in our understanding of the universe around us all the time as we observe and experiment, but we will never be able to fit into our heads, nor into all the computer banks our civilization will ever produce, a complete model that describes it all. There are a lot of variables.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

North Coast Night Light: Freshwater Lagoon

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2019 at 5:00 PM

Sept. 2, 2018, at Freshwater Lagoon. - PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON
  • Photo by David Wilson
  • Sept. 2, 2018, at Freshwater Lagoon.
Sometimes a creative urge will drive me nutty unless I can find a way to make something. I’m an artist but I am only interested in one medium: photography, which of course includes working with photos after taking the picture, whether with current digital tools or in the darkrooms of old as I started out. At the moment I am driven to take nighttime photos. I don’t know why. I just go with it.

But it can conflict with my highly developed inclination toward self preservation when it comes to places I don’t feel safe to be alone at night. There are times when I want terribly to go photograph but can’t find anyone to accompany me. Family and friends are wonderful companions, and they have given me many of their nights to come out with me to make long exposures or paint with light in the dark of night. I am grateful for the time they’ve given me and for the times yet to come. Thank goodness for them.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

North Coast Night Lights: Grandmother Rock

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 3:07 PM

Beneath the stars and the Milky Way, Grandmother Rock gazed out across the Pacific in her endless contemplation, while the stars wheeled about Polaris above. The crescent moon, invisible past the left edge of the photograph, provided some of the landscape illumination as it set into the mists, while from inside College Cove some kind of light emanated, throwing light on Pewetole Island. The bright light on the horizon was one of five or six fishing boats out at sea that evening. Occasionally they would train their powerful beams toward shore, bright enough to cast shadows. - Trinidad, Humboldt County, California. February 6, 2019. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Beneath the stars and the Milky Way, Grandmother Rock gazed out across the Pacific in her endless contemplation, while the stars wheeled about Polaris above. The crescent moon, invisible past the left edge of the photograph, provided some of the landscape illumination as it set into the mists, while from inside College Cove some kind of light emanated, throwing light on Pewetole Island. The bright light on the horizon was one of five or six fishing boats out at sea that evening. Occasionally they would train their powerful beams toward shore, bright enough to cast shadows. Trinidad, Humboldt County, California. February 6, 2019.
It was nearly dark when I arrived at the Trinidad Head parking area. Sunset gazers had seen the sun set some 45 minutes earlier and were heading for their cars when I struck north up the beach. Night was descending and in the waning light I could see the footprints of the evening’s activity in the sand. Low tide would be in a little over half an hour. My destination was Grandmother Rock, a huge rock in the apparent profile of a figure forever staring out to sea.

Only a faint glow remained over the western horizon, and stars were beginning to show all over the sky. The crescent moon hanging over the Pacific would set in about an hour and helped cast a delicate glow on the world. The retreating tide’s fresh sand was a faint lightness stretching out before me, and I was making the only marks in the new smoothness. Rocks and driftwood slipped by as shadows beside my soft tread. It was dark enough to tempt my flashlight but to do so would have set back my night. I continued without it.

I think about mountain lions when I’m out there at night, particularly if I’m alone. It freaks me out. But for some reason I reasoned they wouldn’t be looking for me at the beach. I’m not sure there was any reason in that at all, really, but I did note that the wind was coming from the shore, so I knew they wouldn’t smell me. I didn’t read all those Tarzan books for nothing.

I heard water ahead. I’d forgotten about the creek. I could make out its shape as I approached. Close across the stream loomed the towering form of Grandmother Rock, but I needed to cross to get the angle I wanted. Mill Creek isn’t especially large but in early February it was certainly in healthy condition and was too wide to jump across. I looked around. Maybe I could find a way over there.

Splash!

My heart slammed into my chest and I froze. The splash was close. A fish? It seemed too large. I had been walking without my light, and I saw little more than shadows as I peered toward the sound.

Splash!

It didn’t sound like a critter’s splash this time. I turned on my light, already figuring what it was: the sandy sides of the creek caving in as the stream eroded them. You know the miniature cliffs that are fun to help cave in when you’re a kid. I might still be one.

With the light on I saw that I wouldn’t be able to cross without getting wet, and there was no way to line up the shot that I wanted from this side of the creek. There were some rocks I could have used to hop across but not all by myself in the dark, carrying a camera bag, a large tripod and wearing a pack. That seemed like a bad idea easily avoided, the kind of thing one might read about in the news blogs the next day.

So I would ford the stream. I took off my shoes and socks, rolled my pants up over my knees, and waded across. This had not been in the plan. It was about 40 degrees out, and don’t tell the Midwest folks, but it felt cold. And now my feet were going to be wet and my socks were going to have sand in them and I would have to do it all again on the way back, too. Ah, photography!

I set up just on the other side of the creek.. Grandmother Rock sits atop a pile of huge rocks, the chunks of stone that Mother Nature had chiseled away from what once had been a gigantic boulder as she sculpted Grandmother’s contemplative figure.

I had one idea for a photograph in my mind for this trip: a long exposure with the north star Polaris above Grandmother’s head. In a long exposure from that angle, the trails made by the stars would create rings around her that could represent different things to different people. I also wanted Pewetole Island in the image if possible. I found a single spot that would give me that angle: it was on the steep side of a sloping boulder but from there it would all fall into line. I climbed up, wedged my tripod in and perched there next to it.
The Grandmother abides. In this much shorter exposure, the stars and other celestial objects have been stopped. Sister Galaxy Andromeda is the bright, smeared “star” near the top to the left of the Milky Way. Trinidad, Humboldt County, California. February 6, 2019. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • The Grandmother abides. In this much shorter exposure, the stars and other celestial objects have been stopped. Sister Galaxy Andromeda is the bright, smeared “star” near the top to the left of the Milky Way. Trinidad, Humboldt County, California. February 6, 2019.
I stayed in that spot for almost an hour and tried different exposures and slightly different angles, some zoomed in, some zoomed out. The lights of half a dozen fishing boats shone across the horizon, sometimes themselves directing beams of light toward me bright enough to throw shadows. The fading moonlight and the final vestiges of dusk’s glow on the horizon cast the softest of light onto the shore.

The star trail image I’m sharing here was a 699-second exposure. The star trails you see show how far the stars moved across the sky as Earth’s globe rotated beneath me. Watching the stars turn I could feel I was on the surface of the Earth, the light of their myriad billions falling upon my face as the planet revolved beneath me.

I would have stayed longer to make more images but for a couple of considerations. One was that by then the tide had been coming in for half an hour and was beginning to send waves up the beach to the rock I was using, and the other was that I’d told my mom I’d come watch the second half of Warriors game with her. I packed up, climbed down, removed my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants, forded the creek again and headed back down the beach.

(And the Warriors won.)
This animation alternates between two frames, one long exposure in which the stars became streaks, and one shorter exposure from moments later in which they are still points. The smudgy “star” at the top to the left of the Milky Way is our sister galaxy Andromeda. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • This animation alternates between two frames, one long exposure in which the stars became streaks, and one shorter exposure from moments later in which they are still points. The smudgy “star” at the top to the left of the Milky Way is our sister galaxy Andromeda.

To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx or his website mindscapefx.com, where you can also contact him, but which Wilson says he updates less frequently.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

North Coast Night Lights: Eel River Delta From Table Bluff

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2019 at 11:07 AM

A bench looks south from Table Bluff across the Eel River delta, where lines converge beneath the Milky Way at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The sun had set at 6:30 p.m. and this photograph was taken at 7:58 p.m., just catching the tail end of a colorful sunset along the horizon on Oct. 17, 2017. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • A bench looks south from Table Bluff across the Eel River delta, where lines converge beneath the Milky Way at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The sun had set at 6:30 p.m. and this photograph was taken at 7:58 p.m., just catching the tail end of a colorful sunset along the horizon on Oct. 17, 2017.
If you have ever driven to the South Jetty of Humboldt Bay, then along the bluffs just before the road descends to the ocean level, you will have passed by Table Bluff County Park. The park is graced with trails, a broad field, trees, benches and, of course, great views over the Pacific Ocean and out across the Eel River delta. Information signs provide historical and ecological context. And at night you can see the Milky Way.

The clearest skies for stargazing usually aren’t along the coast, but coastal folks aren’t left entirely in the dark. I have found many a night sky crowded with stars along the Pacific, and when the Milky Way is out it is plainly visible, once one’s eye has become accustomed to the night.

On the evening that I took this photograph it was my pleasure to accompany Erica Botkin’s Digital Photography class from College of the Redwoods on a field trip to share my nighttime photography expertise as a guest photographer. We chose Table Bluff for its proximity, with the hope of catching a view from the bluffs of the stars over the Pacific.
Google Earth view looking south from Table Bluff County Park, in the foreground, with the Eel River delta in the distance. Google Earth screen shot fall 2017. - GOOGLE EARTH
  • Google Earth
  • Google Earth view looking south from Table Bluff County Park, in the foreground, with the Eel River delta in the distance. Google Earth screen shot fall 2017.
Much about night photography is different from shooting in the daytime, and there is a good deal of seat-of-the-pants estimation during shooting. I won’t attempt to teach the whole of it in these few words but I’ll mention some of the things that came up for us.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

North Coast Night Lights: A Bit of Whimsy

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 12:29 PM

2018-11-10_bill-david-moon-milkyway_10-amanita_1500px.jpg
It’s not for everyone to take the world seriously all of the time, though some people probably need to, at least a little bit. But I don’t think I’m one of them. I surmise folks like that need people like me to keep things in balance, so this week I am taking creative license to present a handful of images of our North Coast through the looking glass of whimsy. Or is that mimsy?

Taking an early morning walk in the woods after the first rains, one finds mushrooms in many forms and colors pushing up through the debris on the forest floor. Some are small, some are large. Once while hiking with friends after sunset along the continent’s edge where the forest overlooks the broad Pacific, we spied a mushroom taller than the rest, a veritable tree it was. I joked that we could climb to the top of it, though I’m not really fond of heights. But when my friend Bill from SoCal began scrambling up a tuft of moss leaning on the mushroom’s side, there was nothing for it but to climb up with him. From the mushroom’s summit we watched as the crescent moon set into the ocean. Friends Morgan and Miranda stayed below and spoke in whispers over a glowing orb. I think they kept us safe.

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

North Coast Night Lights: The Changing Milky Way

Posted By on Thu, Dec 27, 2018 at 10:58 AM

On Feb. 21, 2018, the Galactic Core (I think of it in capitals) rose at 02:57AM, appearing just a little south of east. By 05:00 when I photographed it, it was 18º above the horizon, and the dawn would soon chase it away. The streaks of light in this self portrait are from my light as I walked up the hill during the exposure. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • On Feb. 21, 2018, the Galactic Core (I think of it in capitals) rose at 02:57AM, appearing just a little south of east. By 05:00 when I photographed it, it was 18º above the horizon, and the dawn would soon chase it away. The streaks of light in this self portrait are from my light as I walked up the hill during the exposure.
I think many people take the night sky for granted, not realizing all that is happening in our view. It’s the night sky, what is there to think about, right? When the weather is clear, it is full of stars, there is a moon, which is probably full or else it’s a crescent, and maybe the Milky Way. Oh, and some of those stars could be planets. And, hey look, isn’t that the Big Dipper? But as I have been photographing and observing the heavens, my own appreciation has grown.


Admittedly, I’m no authority on the subject of astronomy. But my nighttime photographs do serve as studies of the sky. And, though, while taking them my thoughts are mostly on the aesthetics of the shot, examining the images I’ve taken over the last year does reveal to me some of the ways our night sky changes through the months and seasons.

In particular, the portion of the Milky Way that we can see shifts dramatically through the year as Earth’s night side — our window to the stars — changes its angle of view night by night in our journey around the sun.
By mid-May, catching the Milky Way’s core is no longer an early morning activity. Its position above the horizon a little after 10 p.m.is similar to where it was in February at 5 a.m. This photograph is from somewhere on Monument Road outside of Rio Dell with model Morgan Crowl, May 14, 2018. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • By mid-May, catching the Milky Way’s core is no longer an early morning activity. Its position above the horizon a little after 10 p.m.is similar to where it was in February at 5 a.m. This photograph is from somewhere on Monument Road outside of Rio Dell with model Morgan Crowl, May 14, 2018.


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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

North Coast Night Lights: Cooks Valley Bridge

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2018 at 1:30 PM

DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
In 1993, I spent a year in Chicago. Even then I loved photographing at night; I have always been drawn to it. I would use either available light or introduce light of my own, painting it into a scene much as I do now. I wasn’t comfortable photographing with models then, confining myself mostly to scenes without people and making them interesting with unusual angles and lighting. I had a couple of photography shows while I was there, both in small galleries. After those two shows, I was charged up and submitted my portfolio to a larger gallery. But I ran into a curious thing.

“They’re interesting,” the curator said, “but you need figures in them. Figures lend a human element and a story to an image.”

I was abashed, and somewhat offended, I have to admit. But as time passed, I realized she was right. Photography is a visual language that can convey feelings, messages and stories. But there is only so much story you can get out of a sunset, or a flower or interesting lighting when there are no people present. A pretty picture can be very attractive, no doubt, and I was proud of my photographs, but when you put a person in there, tales will pop out.

Each person viewing an image will have a different experience of it, which will sometimes make it difficult for the photographer to convey specific ideas or messages. Someone might chuckle where another gasps. Individual experiences people have in their lives shape how they view the world and one person’s reaction to an image may be very different from the reaction of another person. At one show I had, a woman simply could not look at a photograph of my young son’s face that I had blended with leaves. To me it was a soothing image. But she had to turn away from it, telling me it was painful to see. I don’t know what experience she had had that could give her that reaction to the peaceful image of my little “Forest Spirit,” but it was very real to her.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

North Coast Night Lights: The Tower

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2018 at 12:31 PM

The Tower standing at the end of V Street in Arcata, near the Marsh. Photographed in 1991. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • The Tower standing at the end of V Street in Arcata, near the Marsh. Photographed in 1991.
The tower once stood silent sentinel in the quiet fields near the Marsh in Arcata, lonely and abandoned when I discovered it. Long disused, it rose above the tall grasses and blackberry brambles covering the broken concrete rubble of the bygone structures once surrounding it. Its floor was piled deep with broken chunks and slabs, sloughed like skin from the walls of its own insides.

I think what it once was must be apparent to many people, but I have never been sure, and I’ve avoided certainty. I have relished the mystery, for it allowed my imagination to run free when I photographed it, and in my thoughts of it since. It is The Tower and inside it lives the Guardian. It’s no longer there for you to see but for me it will always be available, one of my Avalons in the mists.

“The Tower” was the first of this pair of images that I photographed. I don’t recall how many nights elapsed between the two photographs. I had noticed in The Tower that I had captured the Celestial Equator, which is the division between the northern area of the sky in which the stars appear to revolve around the northern polar axis (which was above and behind me) and the southern part of the sky where the stars are revolving around the southern polar axis, which lies beneath our horizon. Upon observation one can clearly see that the arc of the stars is upward near the top of the photograph and downward in the lower portion of the image. Capturing the Celestial Equator was purely unintentional, and it fascinated me. In fact, the idea of it had never occurred to me and the phenomenon puzzled me at first. But after finding it through my photography and thinking about the processes behind it, I understood how it came about. Now I can reliably find the Celestial Equator in other parts of the sky.
Exposure notes for negative No. 15, “The Tower”, written in 1991. In those days one couldn’t see the photograph until the film were processed. Neither did the camera record the exposure information, so keeping a record was crucial in building my understanding. That 24mm lens from the notes was my favorite then, and I still occasionally use it on my current Nikon. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Exposure notes for negative No. 15, “The Tower”, written in 1991. In those days one couldn’t see the photograph until the film were processed. Neither did the camera record the exposure information, so keeping a record was crucial in building my understanding. That 24mm lens from the notes was my favorite then, and I still occasionally use it on my current Nikon.


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Saturday, December 8, 2018

North Coast Night Lights:The Covered Bridge of Elk River

Posted By on Sat, Dec 8, 2018 at 3:39 PM

Berta’s Ranch Covered Bridge is a couple miles out Elk River Road on Berta Road. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Berta’s Ranch Covered Bridge is a couple miles out Elk River Road on Berta Road.
Humboldt County is home to a number of noteworthy bridges, two of which are wooden covered bridges built in the 1930s. Both of these are still in service out Elk River Road and I’ve thought for a while that catching an unusual view of them beneath the stars would be interesting. Earlier this year I visited the pair, hoping to find angles that would include the Milky Way flying over them. Yes, you know I love to include it over my landscapes. The Milky Way’s structure is the most visible reminder of the vastness of the cosmic space in which we drift and it comforts me to know that we are really too tiny down here for our problems to matter much in the true scope of things.

It’s quiet out Elk River on a week night. I photographed both of these bridges at about 10:30 p.m., just a few days apart in July of 2018. Only a couple cars passed by either night and I was probably photographing for about an hour both times. Humboldt has a third covered bridge, built in the 1960s, out past Jacoby Creek but I have yet to work out an angle for that one that could also feature the Milky Way.
Also off of Elk River Road, Zanes Road covered bridge is another half-mile or so past Berta Road. The red light at the end of the tunnel is me holding my headlamp. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Also off of Elk River Road, Zanes Road covered bridge is another half-mile or so past Berta Road. The red light at the end of the tunnel is me holding my headlamp.


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Thursday, November 29, 2018

North Coast Night Lights: Milky Way over South Fork Eel River — Painting with Light

Posted By on Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 12:29 PM

South Fork Eel River beneath the Milky Way at the California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove on the Avenue of the Giants. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • South Fork Eel River beneath the Milky Way at the California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove on the Avenue of the Giants.
The word “photography” literally means “light painting” and there is something about taking that idea and actually adding my own strokes of light that appeals to me. Nighttime gives me the opportunity to make images that are illuminated in ways we don’t usually see, whether from moonlight, artificial ambient light sources or light that I may apply to an area myself. Let me share with you one such light-painted image from a dark summer’s midnight in Southern Humboldt.

Coursing among giant redwoods, the South Fork Eel River slipped quietly by the California Federation of Women's Clubs Grove, while the Milky Way made its silent passage across the sky. Not a human soul was about that night after midnight, though during the day this Humboldt Redwoods State Park spot on the Avenue of the Giants is very popular. I had seen many people enjoying the river and day use area of the Grove when scouting here that afternoon to see how the Milky Way would lie at night.

One of the reasons I am drawn to photographing the night is for the opportunity it gives me to add my own touch in the form of painted light to create something unique. Because it is dark, I have to leave the camera shutter open for extended periods, and that gives me time to apply light selectively to areas of a scene, often using a flashlight. Such was the case with this image.

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