December 28, 2009

Photo of the Week: Dec. 29, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but everyone agrees when something is totally cool. I can only imagine the superlatives that issued forth from workmen at a quarry near Beit Shemesh when they accidentally blasted their way into the Soreq Cave in 1968. Although only 30 minutes from my home, I had never been tempted to visit because, frankly, as a photographer, I shun places that have no light. But a winter storm and school vacation combined to motivate our family to make the short trip during Chanukah and we were not disappointed.

The photographs of the cave I had seen prior to my visit, much like the four I offer here, do not do justice to the experience of being inside the huge cave. The millennia-old stalactites and stalagmites, ever growing and changing, are lit with carefully positioned spotlights that enhance the stunning visuals. Using this available light with my f1.4 50mm lens and ISO cranked up to 800, I grabbed a few shots without a tripod during the short walk through the cave and several more during the two-minute shooting time allotted at the end of the tour. In addition to working in extremely limited light, I had to overcome lens fogging as a result of bringing my cold camera into the humid cave. I wasn't prepared for this and was stymied for about 10 minutes until my camera warmed up enough to stop moisture forming on the glass.

These four shots represent some of the diversity found in the cave. The lower right image features what is called a wall, where stalactites forming from above meet stalagmites growing up from the ground. For all of us, bearing witness to such phenomena in nature fulfilled any need to capture a perfect image for posterity. Truly a cave of wonders.

December 15, 2009

Photo of the Week: Dec. 16, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One of the great joys of photography is creating images that cannot be seen with normal viewing. There are two ways of achieving this: by random experimentation or by pre-visualization and intent to create what one envisions. This photograph was made via the latter method, in an attempt to take a frequently-photographed subject and make something entirely fresh.

This shot required fooling the camera into shooting what it considers to be a mistake, namely a subject that is way out of focus. I have my camera set so that the shutter triggers only when the camera locks on focus. In order to throw the intended subject out of focus, I had to point the camera at a distant object, press halfway down on the shutter release button to activate auto-focus and then, without releasing the shutter, recompose the image with the closer, but now blurred, subject. May the light of the menorah shed new light on all your creative adventures. Chag Urim Sameach.

December 09, 2009

Photo of the Week: Dec. 9, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: An old man leaned in to me and whispered in my ear, "I know where you can get 10 for 10 shekels." A good price, indeed, I thought, but I told him, "I don't eat 'em, just shoot 'em." One of the cultural bumps many American immigrants to Israel seem never to hurdle is the idea that donuts symbolize Chanukah. We have too much health consciousness ingrained in our souls to ever enjoy an oil-soaked donut guilt free. Israelis, on the other hand, buy them by the box. Well, they do look good and smell delicious and kids love 'em.

This shot was taken with one of my new kit toys, a digital remake of the classic Nikon 50 mm f1.4 lens. The huge aperture allows for shooting in natural light in almost any situation, especially when you can raise the camera's ISO to 1600 or more without degrading image quality. I left the ISO at 400, however, because this tray of freshly baked sufganiyot were on display near the front of the bakery, where light poured in through a huge window looking out onto Agrippas Street in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market. I opened up to f2.8, which squashed the depth of field and formed a nice blurred background, perfect for overlaying the holiday greeting.

May the light of the menorah renew our faith in miracles.

December 01, 2009

Photo of the Week: Dec. 1, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Another foray into the desert this week with a peek at Mt. Avishai, which, at 235 meters above sea level, soars above the Arugot Canyon in the Ein Gedi Reserve. Standing on the canyon floor, at an elevation of 400 meters below sea level, one does have the feeling of looking up at a substantial peak, whose shape, curiously, resembles that of Mt. Everest!

No snow or ice here, but plenty of water flowing from the canyon's chief attraction, Hidden Falls, where I had an opportunity to lead a workshop last month. This shot was taken as we left the falls and began our return ascent to the main trail. In the waning afternoon hours, the canyon is well shaded while the highlands take a direct hit from the sun, complicating efforts to get a good photo, but also providing an excellent opportunity for instruction.

A photographer facing this kind of high contrast lighting really has no choice but to expose the shot for the mountain peak and attempt to build additional form into the composition using the surrounding shadows. The nearly-solid, black canyon walls provide a useful frame while the feathery tree in the lower half of the image is delicate enough so that the eye easily moves past it to find the main subject. Because the sky is cloudless, I included a piece of overhanging branch to complete the frame. I've also stood on top of Mt. Avishai, and while the view is spectacular, you can't see a mountain while you're standing on it.

November 17, 2009

Photo of the Week: Nov. 17, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: If I had to vote for the most spectacular and beautiful spot in Israel, Ein Avdat National Park would be it. This narrow, spring and rain-carved canyon in the middle of the Negev Desert features towering rock walls, a waterfall, reflecting pools and abundant wildlife. Photographing inside the park is tricky because the high walls create extreme contrast during the hours the park allows visitors. I tried sneaking in at sunrise one morning but was escorted out by a ranger who lectured me on disturbing the peace of the animals coming to drink from the spring. (He was right!).

This shot, taken two years ago in December, shows the approach to the park from the lower entrance. I was surprised to see a small grove of trees burning late fall colors. To my additional good fortune, a bit of sunlight managed to duck under the clouds, poke through the canyon and brighten the orange tree crowns. To complete the shot, I chose a wide view that gives perspective to the high canyon walls. For those who have never been there, this composition delivers the best impression of what it feels like to hike through this breathtaking park. Once again the desert, feared and maligned for its inhospitable climate, reveals its power and beauty to the intrepid visitor.

November 03, 2009

Photo of the Week: Nov. 3, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: In Israel, the best thing about fall foliage – besides its stunning beauty – is its longevity. The climate here is moderate and shifts gradually toward colder, wetter weather, making the transition from summer to winter more gradual than in the U.S., yet in some places just as dramatic as the autumnal color displays in New England. In the Judean Mountains where I make my home, many trees begin to turn in mid-October but hold on to their leaves until mid-January.

If I had to offer one all-encompassing tip that would serve every aspiring photographer, I would advise taking pictures as a matter of purpose instead of relying on spontaneous opportunities that arise in the course of doing something else. This week's photograph features a valley in Gush Etzion at the peak of fall four years ago. To get in position to take this shot, I had to walk about 5 minutes from the nearest road into a position where I could capture the "burning bushes" in the foreground along with an expanse of yellow vines stretching into the depth of the background. Even though I had driven and walked past the view numerous times en route to other activities, it wasn't until I set out at the proper time – late afternoon – and with the intent of getting the shot was I able to succeed.

October 26, 2009

Photo of the Week: Oct. 27, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Olives are one of my favorite foods. Although this photograph exaggerates the real size of my subject, I wish they were all this big, what the marketing geniuses have termed "Super Mammoth!" Fall is olive harvest time in Israel, where the most widespread method of collection remains whacking the branches with a stick and collecting the fallen fruit on a net or blanket. This activity helps burn a few calories that will certainly be regained when the olives are fermented and eaten.

I approached this photograph in the same manner as I would a portrait. The fruit itself is similar in shape to a human head, and I looked for a way to sculpt its features by finding a single source of light coming from any direction other than directly from the camera. Because I couldn't move the light - in this case the sun - I circled the tree until I found a pleasing angle and then searched out the best specimen to photograph. It may seem counterintuitive to look for light before a subject, but the word photography comes from the Greek words "photos," meaning light and "graphein," meaning to write. Photography, then, is writing with light. I doubt anyone would attempt any writing project without first locating the best pen available.

October 20, 2009

Photo of the Week: Oct. 21, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: "Is it a painting or a photograph?" I am frequently asked about this image. The answer, perhaps, is neither. This work is one of my rare forays into digital art. The afternoon sky was heavy and pale as I wandered the valley between two communities near my home in Gush Etzion. Though the light was dull, the vines danced with color. I shot about two dozen compositions, experimenting with different positions on the hillside, but when I returned home, all the images had the same lackluster appearance that such light produces.

One of the ways I've surmounted the digital learning curve of both camera and computer is by fooling around. What happens if I do this? Oops. Delete. What about this? Hmm. And this? Wow! And that's how this image was born. After applying a few standard corrections to enhance the color – boosting contrast and adjusting exposure – I applied a Photoshop brush strokes filter to give the image an Impressionist feel.

Finally, I cropped the photo several times before settling on this one because of how the two green triangles (upper right, lower left corners) give balance to the overall layout and emphasize the zig-zag of the lines within the photo. Printmaking has always been a highly subjective and integral part of the photographic process. Call it what you will, but I say, "I love this image. Goodbye cloudy day. Hello, masterpiece!"

October 14, 2009

Photo of the Week: Oct. 14, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Street photographers have a knack for extracting beauty from urban clutter and man's inhumanity to manmade things. Graffiti, peeling paint, and even garbage are fodder for their art. I have never been drawn to this genre, but occasionally nature's dark side calls to me. Strong color and dynamic composition will entice viewers, but nothing makes people think like a photograph featuring death and decay.

This scene of rotting plums caught my eye as I traversed the Derech Avot (Path of our Forefathers) near my home in Gush Etzion. The multitude of fruit plus their stark color set against the pale stones and shriveled leaves sent one of those creative signals to my brain that here was one of life's great paradoxes: beauty in dying. I held the camera directly overhead and shot straight down at the ground, careful to keep the plane of the sensor (or back of the camera) completely parallel to the ground to ensure edge to edge sharpness. Fall is slowly coming to life in Israel, as nature makes one final roar before acceding to the cycle of seasonal renewal.

October 10, 2009

Photo of the Week: Oct. 8, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Like a few other photographers I know, I have a folder in my picture library named "body parts." It contains a variety of images featuring hands, feet, elbows and ears, but never faces or a full body. Over the years, this folder has become quite crowded as my eyes have been drawn to human activity that seems more poignant photographically when the part of the body performing the action is isolated or cut away from the rest of the person. There is something intriguing about looking at a picture with obvious human content, but no face, and trying to imagine whom is the person in the photo.

This shot of a man examining a lulav (palm frond) illustrates this perfectly. Mingling with shoppers in the Bukharan market in Jerusalem prior to Sukkot, I found a spot where bright sunlight was sneaking through a makeshift canvas roof built to provide shade. By a stroke of luck, the man holding the lulav turned into the light in order to examine it more closely. He was wearing a black coat and stood in the shadows near a dark wall, which created a beautiful interplay between light and shadow. Sometimes less is more, as when a picture draws us in and then leaves us pondering the rest of the story.

October 04, 2009

Photo of the Week: Oct. 1, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Sukkot is a holiday that has to be smelled. Or held. The visuals, though, are not bad either. I took this shot last year at the Kotel in Jerusalem during Sukkot. Everything was already in place as seen in the photo, including the soft, diffuse light found in the open shade of the Western Wall. The camera angle provides a less familiar study of the four species while lying on a prayer stand, as opposed to the much more common view of the lulav pointed upward while being waved. All of the four species are visible, including a second etrog, but what completes the composition is the prayer book. Above all, Sukkot is a holiday of faith - that G-d will protect us and sustain us throughout our fragile existence. The color and artistry with which Israelis fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah can be seen in a gallery on my new website. Click here to have a look. Chag Sameach.

September 17, 2009

Photo of the Week: Sept. 17, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: This photograph is what I call a "spontaneously preconceived" picture. Working on a photo essay featuring a variety of shofars – generously loaned to me by their collector, Dr. Ari Greenspan, who is also a terrific dentist! I was looking for ways to vary each shot to give an essay of inanimate objects a little more life. (View the entire essay here: Shofars.) What I had pre-visualized for this shot was a set up that emphasized the texture of the horn. I knew I needed a background that would complement, but not overwhelm, the subject. Spontaneously searching Dr. Greenspan's porch, I found a round wooden stool that initially appealed to me because its shape paralleled the curve of the horn. In the end, I cropped the edges of the stool in favor of a tighter composition that accentuates the action of the lines in the wood grain. A simple and effective choice. May we all be blessed with a year of health, peace, and clear vision for all our choices in the new year. Shana Tova.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 8, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Animals are notoriously uncooperative subjects, but their behavior can offer a valuable lesson to aspiring photographers. Wild animals spend their lives occupied with two primary survival activities: finding food and avoiding danger. To stay alive, they must maintain a constant, vigilant awareness of their environment that involves all of their senses. Photographers, too, need a deep awareness to slog through the ubiquitous barrage of sensual muck and craft compelling pictures.

I took this shot at the Alpaca Farm in Mitzpe Ramon a few years ago. The camels are behind an enclosure and though not entirely frightened by humans, they keep an eye on us, nevertheless. As I tried to get a shot of one of the younger camels, an adult strode in my camera and intended subject, creating this perfect compositional frame. Because it is so obviously identifiable as part of another camel, I centered it on the image and cropped the head and hump to strengthen the frame.

A good photographer is constantly on the lookout for powerful subjects (our food, if you will) and concentrating on avoiding bad light and sloppy composition (the danger, if you please.) To carry the metaphor further, bringing in a regular supply of good images enables our continued survival in a very competitive field.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 1, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Across Israel, in the latter days of summer, fruit hangs heavy on the vine, or, in this case, on the frond. Dates thrive in the Israeli desert, from the Negev to the Jordan Valley region where this photo was taken, just outside Beit Shean. For centuries, date palms have been a source of food, shelter and precious shade in an arduous climate. This nearly ripe bunch of dates drew my attention because of the variegated colors in the fruit. As I often do when photographing fruit that grows in bunches, I cropped tightly to create the impression that there is an unseen, endless abundance just beyond the photo's edge. After harvest, these dates have an uncertain date with destiny. They may be eaten fresh or dried, crunchy or soft, or perhaps fermented into a form of Arak popular in Iraq. In the Torah, when Israel is described as a land flowing with milk and honey, the honey referred to is generally that of the date fruit. And that, of course, is the sweetest destiny of all.

August 25, 2009

Photo of the Week: Aug. 25, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: As we make our way through the new Hebrew month of Elul, the Jewish New Year and High Holy Days can't be far behind. For some residents of Jerusalem, it's time to get out the holy holiday garb, hang it on the line, and let the rarefied mountain air heighten its purity. Or at least dry it out after a thorough washing. Every place has sights that can be seen nowhere else, and this clothesline strung with a kittel and the white beanies worn by followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, is the perfect example of an image found only in Israel.

As an outsider to the Haredi religious communities in Jerusalem, I tread lightly through the streets when searching for pictures that reveal the unique character of these neighborhoods. More often than not, however, and as is frequently the case just about everywhere when I reveal my interest in someone else's life, I am welcomed and invited to photograph. The owner of these garments was sweeping his courtyard as I passed by and looked curiously at his peculiar load of laundry. Observing my interest, he called to me to come have a closer look. That proved crucial to getting this shot, because from the street, I could not see the shadow patterns formed by the row of hats hanging out to dry. By accepting the invitation to come a little closer, I gained a better perspective from which to shoot and, through our brief encounter, an enhanced understanding of a fellow Jew.

August 18, 2009

Photo of the Week: Aug. 18, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I try to keep the images in this blog in step with the current season. The summer months are the most difficult in which to find pictures that combine both beauty and impact. Sometimes, though, it's enough to find a place that just feels like summer: hot, quiet, lazy, dry. And a country road to wander along, idle, innocent and full of dreams.

August 04, 2009

Photo of the Week: Aug. 4, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I've lost count of how many times I've returned from a photo shoot with something unexpected, but that is what makes photography an ever-exciting adventure. This week's shot is sent out in honor of Tu B'Av, the 15 of Av, which falls this week on Tuesday evening and Wednesday. The full moon of Av is known as Israel's Valentine's Day and is a popular day for weddings.

I took this photo during a walk along the beach at Caesaria, while photographing the ancient Roman aqueducts for my stock library. I knew the stone arches would look their best bathed in the golden glow of afternoon sunshine, but I didn't foresee the glorious sunset which occurred that day nor the couple who arrived at the same time I did. The biggest obstacle to getting this shot was my concern that my subjects might not want to be photographed. I knew the silhouette would render them unidentifiable, so I wasn't worried about invading their privacy. Still, I didn't want to spoil their moment, so I chose a 70-200 mm zoom lens and maintained a comfortable distance from the strangers, who obliged my purpose by ignoring me. I waited until the fireball dipped below the arch and their heads and then I positioned myself so the human forms fell directly between my lens and the sun.

As with every silhouette, it's critical to set the exposure for the bright light in the background. This requires closing the aperture and/or raising the shutter speed significantly. Since very little light is falling on the arch or couple from the direction of the camera, they are rendered totally black. I also shot this image without any people in it, but placing a person in a photo gives scale to the setting and, in this case, stimulates the wistful notion that we, too, could be sitting there some day.

July 21, 2009

Photo of the Week: July 21, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Some years ago, health food proponents tried to promote carob as an alternative to chocolate. From a nutritional standpoint, carob may in fact out-duel chocolate, but I never fell for this gastronomical ruse and stood by my favorite sweet. It wasn't until years later that I encountered my first carob tree, which is native to Israel and grows widely in the warm, Mediterranean climate. This particular tree sits upon the rocky plateau of Mount Arbel in the Galilee, growing alone among the rocks and a few grassy weeds. It is known simply as "The Carob Tree," with a short trail by the same name leading to it from the parking lot.

Summer is a difficult season to photograph in any locale, but especially in two-season climates where months without rain leave the landscape dusty and parched. I arrived late in the afternoon looking for a broad shot of the Kinneret from atop Mt. Arbel's lofty cliffs, but found this shot the moment I walked past the tree and looked back toward the setting sun. I positioned myself so the bottom set of rocks, aglow with afternoon light, formed a triangle at the base of the photo. The lines forming the two sides of this triangle combine with its peak to lead the viewer straight to the subject and also form two additional triangles whose peaks all meet at the base of the tree.

Even though I was shooting directly into the sun, I managed to avoid what would have been a formless silhouette of the tree's crown, which is lit by the light reflecting off the rocks. I may not appreciate the carob fruit, but I do admire this tree's ability to take root and thrive in such an austere location.

June 30, 2009

Photo of the Week: June 30, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: It's so hot in Israel this week that I thought a refreshing image of our watery coastline might offer a tiny bit of relief. This shot was taken at Habonim Nature Reserve along Israel's central coast near Zichron Ya'akov. I had been camping for several days and had an opportunity to study the layout of the park and find an optimal shooting location. There are numerous rocky points that jut out into the sea, affording a chance to shoot the incoming waves from an unusual perpendicular perspective rather than the more typical head-on view one has when standing on the beach.

The continuous action of the ocean is similar to the dancing flames of a fire. No wave is alike and the pattern of crest, foam, and spray is constantly changing. My goal with this photo was to capture all of these elements simultaneously while also showing some aspect of the landscape not buried in rushing water. Since I was not racing against rapidly changing light, I stood quietly for a few moments and studied the scene, picking up on the rhythm of the waves and honing in on the key areas of the composition where timing would be critical. I prioritized my exposure to a fast shutter speed and clicked off a few frames, then turned off my camera and returned my mind to admiring the setting.

When photographing in nature, photographers have to be careful not to lose sight of the moment as they push themselves to create an image that will only be appreciated in another time and place. It's a challenging paradox, but I have found that without that meditative immersion in a place, its beauty will not reveal itself to me. It's nice to take home a memory, but if you never really visited in the first place, then what is the point of going?

June 23, 2009

Photo of the Week: June 24, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: A moment of silence for the death of a legend: Kodak announced this week it is discontinuing its revered Kodachrome slide film, which had fallen out of favor, first by newer films and later by the advent of digital technology. While the technical tools of photography will always impact the craft, it is the artist's vision which shapes the final product more than anything else. Fortunately for me, I received a gift in the fourth grade from a wonderful and prescient teacher who rewarded my prowess in the multiplication tables with a puzzle game called Hi-Q. The game required assembling seven odd geometric shapes into more than 200 different wholes. The game kept me busy for years and apparently I'm still playing as I seek to compose features of the natural environment into moving photographs.

This week's image comes from Mitzpe Ramon, the giant crater in Israel's Negev Desert. The crater is vast, barren, dry, and intimidating and I was looking for a way to represent these qualities while also adding a touch of grace to the image. The desert teaches the visitor respect for nature and one can only appreciate its subtle beauty alongside that attitude of respect. I tried this image as a vertical, and although the triangles lined up nicely, that composition lost the expansiveness that is so definitive of the desert. I had been watching the clouds, but couldn't find any earthly complement until I stepped out in front of the small pile of rocks that make up the foreground and give depth to the image. They are a small detail, but a crucial missing link that completes the picture.

June 15, 2009

Photo of the Week: June 16, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: There are some places, which, like people, are highly photogenic and seem never to look bad no matter when they are photographed. The old city of Jerusalem is one such place, but even after years of studying its moods and personality, it's a challenge to find a new angle on its unique beauty. The past week, however, the city has been celebrating "Light in Jerusalem 09," a first-of-its-kind in Israel artistic event. Several world renowned light sculptors and designers traveled to the city to meld their artistic vision with the city's ancient gates, walls, and plazas. The opportunity for fresh imagery was ripe.

This shot, taken below Jaffa Gate, features a solar-powered installation called Garden of Night designed by Israeli artists Gaston Tzahar and Meirav Eitan of the O*GE Interactive Gallery in Haifa. Giant lotus flowers open and close while tulips and balls of dew sparkle and all the lights change color every few seconds. But the lights in the flowers were not the only ones changing. The event began at 8 p.m. and I knew from experience that the walls would look more impressive lit against the last blue light of day instead of the dark black of night. Because the electric lights were changing color so rapidly, I fired off several shots over about a half a minute and accumulated a selection of differently colored flowers. While several were appealing, I chose this one because I like the contrast in color between the flowers and the blue sky and the walls. The event drew large crowds to the old city, so getting there early also gave me an opportunity to shoot without any human obstruction. The show continues through June 16 and is free.

June 09, 2009

Photo of the Week: June 9, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One result of my ongoing efforts to photograph the natural beauty of Israel is a heightened ability to predict where and when to shoot. One guiding principle I follow is always aim for the edges. The "edge" is where you find drama, tension, and emotional impact. Edges are found both in time – dawn, late afternoon and early spring – and space – where forest meets meadow, storm meets sunshine, or the ocean crashes onto the shore.

This image emerged at the end of a relaxing afternoon at the beach with my family. With nothing to do but contemplate the sun's descent into the sea, I began to notice the wave patterns as they rolled onto the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea at Ashkelon. My interest was piqued when the steely blue water acquired a golden, late afternoon glow. A rock jetty built to protect the beach calmed the surf and the waves followed a gentle, orderly path to the shore. I fired off about 10 frames to ensure at least one shot with a staggered separation of waves that would boost interest in the composition, which lacked any focal point besides the wave patterns to keep the image afloat.

June 02, 2009

Photo of the Week: June 2, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The giant Mt. Tavor Oaks at Horshat Tal (grove of dew) in the Galilee are about as close as I can come in Israel to the towering Redwood trees of my youth in Northern California. As straight and strong as are the Redwoods, the Oaks are wild and gnarled, unpredictable in their growth patterns and a continuous maze of photographic discovery. A friend of mine remarked to me after a recent visit to Muir Woods near San Francisco, that he found the Redwoods, among the most revered trees on the planet, boring in their uniformity, despite their enormity. He told me he prefers Israeli trees like the Olive and these Oaks, each of which seems to possess its own individual character, perhaps like Israelis.

The photographer can represent trees in their multitude, such as in last week's photo, or as nearly unidentifiable abstractions. This image appeals to me because the more abstract approach invites the viewer to let his or her imagination journey into the vast web of thought and emotion that the natural world evokes. The composition is built around the thick, curling branches, which bend and twist with a graceful asymmetry. Because my camera was pointed nearly straight up at the sky, the trunks curl inward as a result of parallax distortion and create the feeling of a spiraling funnel pulling the eye into the depth of the photo and the mind, perhaps, toward some forgotten memory.

May 25, 2009

Photo of the Week: May 26, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One of the first assignments I give students in my introductory photography course is to bring two pictures to class for discussion – one which they like and one which they dislike. In presenting their choices to the class, students begin to develop an internal language for identifying elements in their own work that succeed or fail. I came across this week's photo in my library while researching images for a book project and stumbled upon an interesting insight into how I evaluate my work.

When I first shot this photo of an orchard on the Golan Heights, I rejected it. I don't recall exactly why, but I may have been striving to create something different or I may have been emotionally disconnected from it when editing the shoot. Upon rediscovering it in my library, while perusing hundreds of files late at night in my office, the image evoked a softness, orderliness and a genuinely peaceful early-spring-morning kind of quiet that fit my mood at the moment perfectly.

One of the best times to photograph trees is late winter or early spring, when bright green new leaves or colorful buds give the tree a unique coloration which fades as the new growth matures. I stood on an embankment looking down into the valley where these trees had been planted, and using a telephoto lens, composed an image that removed all other growth save for a small errant patch toward the top of the frame.

I try to explain to my simcha clients that the real value of their investment in professional photography will only become apparent in 5 or 10 years. Sometimes pictures deserve a second look after a period of time, so that when you return to them, you are in a place to see their true value.

May 18, 2009

Photo of the Week: May 19, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The Dead Sea is without a doubt one of the strangest places on Earth. Vast and lifeless, its mineral-rich waters offer, paradoxically, life-giving therapy to a variety of human ailments. From a distance, one might imagine he is looking at the Arctic Sea, as iceberg-like salt domes dot the shoreline. And much like ice, they crunch underfoot and change form with time and the action of the water.

Walking along the shore one early morning last week, I let my camera hang from my shoulder as I admired the aquamarine colors of the water and an occasional bizarre, salt-encrusted chair or other man-made object, and luxuriated in the cleansing silence. This particular morning, a slight breeze wafted across the water, disturbing the absolute stillness which often creates beautiful symmetry between the odd salt formations and their perfect reflections. As a result, I chose a shot which plays on the relationship between the sky and land. The two sections of cloud are roughly mirrored by the pool and the salt accumulation that make up the photo's foreground.

A seascape is entirely flat, so it's difficult to gain an interesting perspective without elevation. I did manage to position my tripod on a salt dome, raising the camera over my head, first calculating the exposure and then composing and focusing without looking through the viewfinder. A few minor corrections and I had the shot I wanted. I hadn't been to the Dead Sea in quite some time and this visit restored my appreciation for this desert jewel and inspired me to return again to the lowest place on earth to record some of the highest natural beauty Israel has to offer.

May 11, 2009

Photo of the Week: May 12, 2009

This week's dispatch features a slight departure from tradition as I'm sending two photographs. There is so much more to photography than simply learning how to use a camera and pointing it at something pretty. When asked what camera I recommend buying, I invariably answer that for most people, it makes no difference. My most important tools are my boots (when attached to my feet!), my eyes, patience and motivation. This pair of spring field portraits will help explain why.

I shot these two photographs within 20 hours and within 20 feet of each other. Standing in an almost identical location, I was able to capture two vastly different interpretations of this floral field of dreams near the Sha'ar Hagay intersection of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway. I stumbled upon this site by accident after making a wrong turn en route to an assignment. After finishing with my client, I returned and spent an hour wandering and inhaling the heavenly sights and smells.

My boots: From my parking spot, I had to walk about 100 meters to the edge of the field, an easy trek but for having to ford a section of mud that eventually soaked my boots through to my socks. It was midmorning, and I fought with the bright, contrasty light, trying to get a shot of the entire expanse of purple and red.

My eyes: Failing, I trod into the thick of the growth, poking around in hip-high flowers and grass, trying my hardest not to trample even a single flower. Although I didn't get any winning shots at first, my initial observations led me to narrow my focus, which enabled me to spot a patch of wheat growing amid the flowers.

Patience: Inspired by occasional gusts of wind, I got a bit whimsical with this shot. I lowered the shutter speed as much as I could to 1/25 of a second so as to allow the flowers to blur as they danced in the breeze. I waited until the wind kicked up again and took the shot. The fluttering grass creates a strong focal point to what would otherwise be a beautiful, albeit monotonous, display of wildflowers.

Motivation: Unhappy with the lighting conditions on my first visit, I returned the following morning at sunrise, with a head full of ideas for exploiting this location. It's never easy to get out of bed in the dark, but this second photo is a reward for shooting while the rising sun is at a very low angle, casting a golden glow on the delicate red petals. I also chose to position the camera, which was mounted on a tripod, at a height just above the tallest flowers so as to maintain a view of the flowers in the distance. I pushed my wide angle lens up to the nearest flowers and pointed the camera down ever so slightly, which had the effect of adding emphasis to the immediate foreground.

Exposing in these situations is critical, so I always bracket a few shots to make sure the brightest areas are not over exposed. Many great photographs lie in wait. To find them, you have to move in, look around, and stand by until the right moment to shoot arrives. If that doesn't work, hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.

May 04, 2009

Photo of the Week: May 5, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: In my ongoing pursuit of personally satisfying photographs, I encounter the same subjects over and over again. Sometimes I walk away uninspired, but on other occasions, I look for ways to build on what I learned from working with the subject previously. This small section of farmland outside Metulla on Israel's northern border has been a treasure trove of excellent photographs for me. On my first visit, I was enthralled by the colors of the trees in spring blossom, and worked on getting a shot that emphasized that small detail of the landscape. The air quality during that first visit was so poor, however, that pointing the camera anywhere above the foreground horizon revealed only a dull, detail-less white haze. Returning again a day after an air-cleansing storm and shooting from a slightly different vantage point, I tried to build something more complex that revealed the larger grandeur of this area, set in the foothills of the Lebanon mountains.

I like this shot because it works despite the challenge of bringing together two visually unrelated pieces. As the first light of the new day creeps over the ridgeline, the blossoms and new buds begin to glow. The mountains, on the other hand, are awash in a bluish, early morning haze and back lit by the sun, which is rising behind them in the upper right corner of the frame. Exposing for the foreground, I knew I'd lose most of the mountain detail but I also knew I could bring most of it back. After uploading my memory card, I opened this image in Photoshop and boosted the contrast while reducing the exposure of the upper half of the composition in order to reveal the various ridgelines as they appeared to my eyes as I took the photo.

The final trick to bringing it all together was my choice of lens: A 200mm telephoto, which compresses the depth and makes the distant peaks look closer to the foreground. The photo's clear division into two parts creates a visual tension but at the same time elevates its sophistication and appeal. At least it works for me, and that's the only goal a photographer should seek with his or her personal work.

April 29, 2009

Photo of the Week: April 28, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Today is Yom Hazikaron in Israel, Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. Each year, the list grows longer and now stands at 22,570 names. Across Israel, in every city, town, and kibbutz, at historic sites and countless schools and public buildings, memorials are a solemn reminder of the courage and sacrifice upon which Israel was built.

I took this shot at night at Latrun, a tank museum and memorial situated on the road linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, following an emotional ceremony in which 500 new Israel Defense Forces recruits marked the completion of their basic training. A lone wreath lay at the base of a wall inscribed with hundreds of names. The unusual color is the result of the camera's rendering of the artificial halogen spotlights illuminating the wall. I could have adjusted the color to something more familiar to the eye, but the warm tone enhances the somber feeling of the picture. I could also easily have moved closer to the wall to capture one or more of the names in sharp focus, but I prefer this interpretation, in which the vast number of names is evident, but no single name is identifiable. Those who gave their lives in defense of Israel are remembered painfully and proudly by those who knew them personally, not just today, but every day. All of us, whether we knew them or not, owe them a debt of gratitude for our national existence. May we go from strength to strength!

Photo of the Week: April 21, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Standing at the base of a thundering double waterfall, spray misting in my hair and eyes, it's hard to imagine Israel has a water shortage. But return to this spot at the start of summer and you'll be lucky to see even a trickle of water dribbling over the 15-meter cliff. The Ayun Stream flows through Metulla, at the northernmost point of the Galilee panhandle. The park's canyon and highlands offer a family-friendly, two-hour hike that bypasses four waterfalls, of which Hatachana Falls, pictured here, is the most spectacular. For the photographer, this waterfall is also easily – and safely – accessible from a variety of angles. I photographed at the base of the waterfall, where I had to continually cover my camera with a handy bandana as I composed to prevent the lens from gathering moisture. I like this shot, taken right on the trail from above, because it best conveys the overall grandeur of the site. Moving water lends itself to two possible interpretations. A very fast shutter speed will capture the flying molecules in total sharpness. Alternatively, in this photo, I slowed the shutter speed to 1/6 of a second to smooth out the cascading water for a more romantic rendering. Either way, the camera captures a view of nature that remains hidden to the human eye.

April 13, 2009

Photo of the Week: April 14, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: As a parent, there is no subject which offers more opportunity for outstanding pictures than one's child. Until now, I've managed to abstain from including a photograph of one of my four children in this series, but on the occasion of my oldest child reaching the age of legal adulthood – and with her permission – I thought it appropriate to do so now. Certainly nothing better fits the category of beauty in Israel than a young, talented, intelligent woman reaching maturity.

As part of her high school certification, my daughter Liora chose to take a 5-point exam in cello, an instrument she has been playing since she was 11 years old. Part of the examination includes a public recital, where I took this photograph, just minutes after stepping off a 16-hour plane trip from California. The room was fittingly dark and the organizers chose to light the stage with one continuous hot light set back about 10 feet from my daughter. Accompanied on the piano, Liora played an emotional 30-minute set of Saint-Saƫns, Bach, Haydn and Schumann, while I quietly snuck around the stage shooting without a flash. The photo meets several criteria that I use to measure my success. First, there is interesting light. Shooting directly into the hot light, but lowering my shooting position so the light itself is hidden, creates beautiful rim lighting around her profiled head. The shot is also taken from an unusual angle with a close crop, slightly obscuring the picture's content and engaging the viewer to try to make sense of what he is seeing.

As Passover draws to a close this week, we pause to commemorate the crossing of the sea, one of many great miracles G-d performed for the young nation of Israel on its path to freedom. As my daughter crosses over into adulthood, I bless her that she may meet all of life's challenges with both faith and fortitude.

April 07, 2009

Photo of the Week: April 7, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Most of the time, life in Israel is quiet, normal, maybe even a little boring. But it never lasts very long. So when an axe-wielding terrorist entered a nearby community last week and murdered a 13-year old boy and fractured the skull of a 7 year old, we all paused from our routines to cry, mourn, rage, and then attempt to reset our balance. In these moments, Israel doesn't seem so beautiful.

At the Passover seder, we are supposed to relive the exodus from Egypt as if we were personally enslaved and then liberated via God's miracles. It's a valuable exercise in this era of religious freedom and affluence, when we can easily forget our history and take our freedoms for granted. For many of us, however, reality supplants any need for fantasy at the seder.

This is a photograph of an orchard in Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion, where Shlomo Nativ, hy"d, was killed. I drove by the area a day after the attack and noticed the pink blossoms once again lighting up the mountainside, yet their radiance was dulled by the ache in my heart. It's a picture from another time, whose beauty seems marred by the violence which occurred in its midst. There is no question that we must stop and mourn our loss. But our strength as a nation and the true exhibition of our freedom has always been our resiliency, our ability to stride beyond adversity and continue to live in appreciation of nature, of creation, of each and every one of our blessings.

April 04, 2009

Photo of the Week: Mar. 31, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Fortunately, I now have spies who send me cryptic emails like, "There's some pink stuff on the hill across from your house. You better check it out." Sounds simple enough, until you understand that the hill in question is on the opposite side of a deep valley and only accessible by foot. For several weeks now the terraced hillsides adjacent to Efrat, where I live, have been colorfully segmented into patches of green, pink or yellow enclosed by stone walls that neatly delineate each farmer's plot. And if you're me, you traipse across the valley in the late afternoon, only to discover the sun is on the wrong side of the hill for the shot you want so you decide to wake up before dawn the next morning and repeat the hour-long trek. At least the second time out I knew the trip would be worthwhile.

I pitched my camera under this almond tree, in a spot I had discovered the day before. I had been concentrating on photographing the flowers and vines, but felt dissatisfied because the layout of the hill demanded that a portion of the sky, which was empty of clouds, be included in the shot. In this photo, the silhouetted branches fill the void created by the still cloudless sky. I mounted my camera on a tripod and pointed it to the northeast, with the rising sun - off to the right of the frame - throwing soft, morning sunshine on the wildflowers and stones while the bowed almond tree and stumpy vines retain their dark and mysterious form.

March 24, 2009

Photo of the Week: Mar. 24, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I still recall the first time I set foot in a back country forest in New England and my disappointment at the chaos and debris which littered the woods in every direction. Though the petals of a rose may appear flawless, nature often falls well short of a tidy perfection. It's important to keep this in mind when attempting to photograph the grandeur of the natural world. Even as the camera is sometimes able to remove from view what the photographer finds undesirable, it still must contend with the disorder of what remains within the frame.

I spent two days in the north of Israel earlier this month, hoping to record some of the annual spring renewal. I met with some good fortune on my first morning when a heavy squall drenched the landscape, and, more importantly, cleared away dust and pollution that are a nagging impediment to good landscapes. After taking shelter in my car for about 20 minutes, I emerged to a virtual Brigadoon, a moist and magical (and very muddy) yet short-lived sunshine and crystal-clear air. With the storm still visible on the horizon, I set up my tripod in the sodden ground and composed a shot that, more than anything, was an attempt to capture the clarity and brilliance of that vanishing moment. My wide angle zoom pulled all the way back to 12mm brings together in absolute sharpness the heavy clouds, the wet sheen on the rocks, the streaking yellow mustard flowers, and the blades of grass bent by lingering raindrops. My boots stayed wet for hours but my heart danced the whole day through.

March 16, 2009

Photo of the Week: Mar. 17, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Israel exports some 1.5 billion stems of commercially grown flowers every year, but most of the farms are tucked away on far-flung kibbutzim. Occasionally, a commercial field is planted along a main thoroughfare, but they are often covered with netting to protect the fragile flowers from the withering effects of the hot Israeli sun, leaving them in constant shade and not as appealing to photograph. On rare occasions, however, a field is left in the open, such as this anemone farm I discovered on the road south from Beit Shemesh toward Beit Guvrin.

I was set up in the early morning hours and nearly finished photographing when a truckload of foreign workers from Thailand pulled up to begin their day's work, astonished to find a stranger already on the job in their fields. I shot a range of close-ups as well as wider shots, looking for one image that summed up the feeling of standing amid the small sea of red and purple flowers. I like this shot because the effect of blurring the foreground brings the viewer's eye toward the less dominant purple flowers in the middle of the frame. Alternatively, placing the red flowers in sharp focus and maximizing depth of field diminished the visual impact of the purple and yellow at the top of the photo. If digital cameras have provided any new freedoms for photographers, it's the ability to take more pictures at virtually no additional cost. I've made a habit of taking a variety of shots during every shoot, so that I have a wide range to choose from when I sit down to edit the results.

March 10, 2009

Photo of the Week: Mar. 10, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Extra sensory perception – also called the sixth sense – is the ability to foresee things before they happen. I've never been particularly adept at this, but occasionally I make photographic decisions that do make me wonder if there really is a skill to seeing things before they materialize. Returning home from Jerusalem on a wintry morning, I noticed a clearing in the sky and decided to make a brief detour to the Haas Promenade, one of the city's best viewpoints of the Old City. I was hoping to see – and photograph – well, exactly what transpired.

Photographing in inclement weather is essential to capturing unique and transient interpretations of the natural world. I am familiar with the behavior of sunlight in stormy conditions, but have never sought to isolate a fixed part of the landscape in the sun's spotlight. Instead, I have stuck to shooting whatever specific area is enhanced by the unusual lighting. I strolled around the beautiful promenade for about 10 minutes, inhaling the damp air, admiring the glistening stones and watching the light on the horizon. I moved back in the direction of my car, about to give up, but paused to watch a group of about 80 Nigerian tourists, in full African regalia, pose for a group portrait. As the colorful ensemble stood with their backs to the Old City, the sky opened up and the sun cut a swath of light across Jerusalem that seemingly recognized where the walls of the Old City stood. I snapped a few shots and then lowered my camera to admire the view, grateful for my decision to always have a camera near to hand.

March 05, 2009

Photo of the Week: March 3, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Years ago, I took one of my first truly satisfying photographs of a full moon rising above the cliffs over Drakes Bay in northern California. I had read about it in a guidebook and knew exactly when and where to shoot. Ever since that moment, I've been chasing the moon with my camera, but I've never managed to surpass my initial success. The moon is a tricky subject because it's in constant motion – and moving a lot faster than you might think– and it is most visible at sunset or during the night, when little ambient light is available to light the accompanying landscape.

The new moon rises approximately one hour later each day until the rising full moon coincides with the setting sun, polar opposites on the horizon. The best time to shoot the full moon is actually the night before it becomes full, when it rises an hour before sunset and the landscape remains lit with the waning light of the day. It's easy to find moon calendars on the internet which chart both the rising and setting of the moon each day and its position on the horizon.

Despite being a student of the moon's habits, I took this shot spontaneously as I stepped off a bus outside the Ein Gedi Guesthouse near the Dead Sea. We had arrived at dusk and the color of the sky immediately captured my attention. When I saw the moon above the surrounding mountains, I knew I could get a shot that would render the true color of the twilight sky while throwing the mountains into black silhouette. It was already quite dark, so I had to shoot at 1/6 sec, which turned out to be just fast enough to retain the shape of the new crescent. With no time to set up a tripod, I braced myself against the side of the bus, held my breath, and hoped for the best.

Photo of the Week: Feb. 24, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Look closely and you may be able to count more than 30 stripes of varying colors running across the frame of this photograph. For some unknown reason, it reminded me of a Neapolitan ice cream bar – three perfect pieces of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. I followed the evolution of this view over a period of weeks last Spring as I shuttled my son to and from a Judo class on the outskirts of Efrat, in Gush Etzion. What began as a uniformly brown terrain emerged about a month later as this candy-striped scene.

This small valley lies below the road, so I had a good view each time I drove the carpool. I waited out the grass until it reached a height that added significant color to the shot. I'm not sure why it varies in color, but I'm guessing the fields were plowed at different times or perhaps there are different types of grasses or nutrients in the soil which affect the color. I love it when I capture something beautiful so close to my home. Often we take for granted or become blind to the things we see every day. Yet in the backdrop of our routines lie many hidden treasures, not just the kind that hang on the wall in frames, but those more important blessings in our lives.

February 17, 2009

Photo of the Week: Feb. 17, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Part of my training as a journalist was to report the big picture while also uncovering details of an event that make the story unique and compelling. That experience spilled over into my work as a photographer as I always keep an eye out for the smaller details that often remain hidden to the casual observer. It takes a little time and acute concentration to see your way through the jungle of opportunities, but with practice and patience, you'll at least know where to begin looking.

The first place is always the light. Once you locate good light, you've increased your chances of making an interesting photo exponentially. The next step is finding the right subject/background combination. When these two conditions are satisfied, you can, literally, point and shoot. This shot of a peach blossom was taken on the same day I captured the bigger picture of this idyllic setting in Gush Etzion. (Click here to see the shot.) Since the advent of photography, one way cameras have earned their merit is through an ability to show us aspects of our world that remain hidden from the naked eye. Moving in close and focusing on this blossom with a macro lens, a special lens used for close-up photography, I was able to capture this shot in sharp detail, remove it from the surrounding visual distractions, and enlarge it for greater study and appreciation.

February 10, 2009

Photo of the Week: Feb. 10, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Nothing like a little geological upheaval to play the artist's muse. Unlike some of my other posts, this shot is fresh out of the can, having managed to start my week with a half-day journey to the heart of the Negev Desert. Overall, I was disappointed with what I found. Israel is suffering terribly from a lack of rain and the desert, normally a-blossom with spring wildflowers this time of year, was brown, dusty and dull. Still, I can always say about the desert that no trip is wasted as there is no comparison to the solitude and quiet found there.

I had never been to the Machtesh Katan, or Small Crater, and driving down in the pre-dawn darkness, had no idea where to stop. Following my instincts, I headed for high ground and a spot facing west, so that my subject would be opposite the rising sun and in position to catch the first rays of morning light. I composed this shot while standing on the edge of the crater, a few feet back from the edge of a precipice overlooking a 300-foot drop. Although translated as "crater," a machtesh is formed primarily by erosion and not by volcanic activity or impact with a celestial object. I chose to isolate this particular mountain, situated within the crater about a half mile from where I stood, because I liked the form of its jagged spine recessed with shadow. I also included a foreground section of darker rocks lying near the crater bottom, which give a sense of the dramatic range of colors in this region.

February 03, 2009

Photo of the Week: Feb. 3, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Having lived much of my life in a four-season climate, I am still amazed by the emergence of spring blossoms during months when ice and snow are supposed to rule. But in Israel, if it's the month of Shvat, the almond trees will be in bloom, no matter which secular month coincides with Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, celebrated the year on Feb. 9. Almond trees, likes those pictured here, appear in two forms across Israel. Single trees dot hillsides from north to south. Extensive commercial orchards have been cultivated across the country as well and are a treat to the eyes, nose and heart at the height of their blossoming.

Trying to capture the beauty of the shakedia tree in bloom challenges the photographer to merge a broad sensual experience into a two-dimensional, solely visual media. I've tried shooting from within the groves, but have not yet succeeded in doing justice to God's work. I've had more luck around the edges, and that's the approach I took here, drawn first by the emerald green of new growth in a meadow in the Ela Valley, not far from Beit Shemesh. The variegated and textured greens complement the blossoms, also shown in varying hues of pink. While my main purpose here was to record the flowering trees, the meadow grasses take up more than two-thirds of the frame. In the end, I chose this composition because I was looking for an original way to represent an over-photographed subject. Throwing it off balance in the composition seemed like one way to achieve that.

January 27, 2009

Photo of the Week: Jan. 27, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: After years of photographing people, I have no doubt that the best portraits emerge from the sessions in which I am able to forge a strong relationship with my subjects. The same holds true for landscape photography. The more familiar I become with the land of Israel, the better able I am to capture the qualities of her beauty with my camera. Does she look her best when she first wakes up in the morning or when the late afternoon sun settles over her mountains? Which camera angles are most flattering to a spring meadow or a rocky coast?

I whizzed past this shot at 100 km/hour on the road connecting Rosh Pina and the Golan Heights and drove another two kilometers before deciding to go back and shoot. The scene caught my attention initially because of the stark contrast between the bright green field and the dark patterns formed by the differently-shaped trees. Most unusual, and therefore most interesting, was the topography and how the crest of the hill juts out between two valleys and floats like a promontory in the middle of a vast plateau. At least that's how I made it appear in the final image by lopping off half the photo and cropping near the top of the front side of the hill. Shooting mid-morning, the background was very hazy, but I was able to boost the clarity by increasing the contrast. Often, a small tweak in lighting or an imaginative crop – like a slight tilt of the head or lowering of the chin –
is all it takes to elevate the average to the exceptional.

January 25, 2009

Photo of the Week: Jan. 20, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: While peace continues to elude residents of the Middle East, the intrepid traveler can easily find at least a few hours of silence and solitude in one of the country's spectacular deserts. Although Nachal Prat – the Prat Stream – is located less than an hour's drive from Jerusalem in the Judean Desert, I had not ventured there until recently. The canyon runs roughly parallel to the highway that descends from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, with springs that supply the stream with water year round. I brought my family to this spot during Chanukah. We had hiked about two hours into the canyon when we paused on a shaded rock to have lunch. Suddenly and without warning, we heard the clanging of bells as a trip of goats crested the ridge on the far side of the stream and descended en masse to drink and forage. Accompanied by their shepherd, who rode on a donkey, the goats ambled through our picnic site and up the opposite ridge, the last bell finally fading after about 20 minutes.

I jumped up from my meal and positioned myself midstream to allow both sides of the canyon to remain in the composition and to corral as many of the goats as possible within the frame. I pointed my camera up and down the valley, but prefer this shot in the direction of the sun, which adds a sparkle to the water and brightens the backs of the white-haired goats. I have spent limited time in the environs of the desert, so its landscapes and aesthetic remain fresh and intriguing to my photographic eye. In Biblical times, this stream marked the boundary between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Today, the desert remains timeless as the passage of a shepherd with his flock along ancient trails so easily proves.

January 13, 2009

Photo of the Week: Jan. 13, 2009

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Someone once asked me whether I have more success trying to make photographs happen – such as by pre-visualizing a composition or planning to be someplace at a specific time – or by simply being ready to shoot when an image "reveals" itself to me. It's an excellent question, because I've used both methods to produce some fantastic shots. This week's shot falls into the latter of these two approaches as the composition "revealed" itself to me as I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with guests in a packed room at a brit milah or circumcision ceremony last year. The father stood sideways next to me, wearing a long black coat and cradling his newborn son, who was wrapped in a white blanket. Amid the clutter and chaos, I honed in on the tiny pink feet framed in black and white. I wasn't expecting to see this, but grabbed it before the opportunity was lost.

When I'm working in a small room, I use a two-light set up. In this shot, light from my remote flash spills into the frame from the top left corner, sprinkling some gentle highlights onto the baby's toes. Back in my office, I cropped the image to a square, because the spiraling motion of the photo's outer elements – the coat and blanket - are better suited to this shape. Anyone who wants to feel the beauty of Israel should attend a brit milah here in Israel during a war. For better and for worse, opportunities for such an experience are frequent. Witnessing this ancient ritual provides the dual satisfaction of feeling the joy of parents with a new child and knowing that the continuity of our tradition is, quite likely, the ultimate weapon in our ongoing battle for survival.

January 05, 2009

Photo of the Week: Jan. 6, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: For decades, Jews outside of Israel have been contributing to the Jewish National Fund's tree-planting programs. Over the last century, according to the JNF, Israelis have planted some 185 million trees, creating 280 new forests in places as diverse as the desert and sharply-sloped mountainsides. As a child, I remember – like millions of others – putting coins into the blue and white JNF collection boxes. What I didn't understand until I came to Israel was that almost all of Israel's native forests were denuded by successive conquerors up through the Ottoman Turks, who clear cut whatever forest remained to provide timber for the trans-Arabian railroad. At the beginning of the 20th century, the country was 97% bare.

Today, the country abounds with vast and healthy forests of evergreens, such as those seen in this photo, taken in the Birya Forest near Tzfat. I took this shot spontaneously at the end of the day when I had already packed up my gear and clocked out. Driving back to my evening's accommodations, I caught sight of the last rays of sunlight lighting up this grove of mixed fir trees, each one seemingly a different tone of green. I pulled over, grabbed my 70-200 zoom and my tripod and fired off a few shots quickly before the interesting light faded. Using the "File Info" feature in Photoshop, I can easily recall data for the shot, including focal length (95mm), shutter speed (1/80 sec.), f-stop (7.1), ISO (200), shooting mode (manual) and whether or not a flash was fired. There are other ways of retrieving this information besides Photoshop and data is available from any digital camera. Reviewing camera settings is a great way to discover why a particular photo succeeds or fails. By comparing a series of similar shots made with different settings, you can begin to decipher the numerous abstruse features found on today's digital cameras and make the right choices when the next photo op arises.