December 30, 2010

Photo of the Week: Dec. 29, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I've been writing this blog for three years and nothing gives me greater pleasure than reader feedback and receiving a hot photo tip. My cell phone rang on Oct. 12 with an ecstatic caller on the line: "Yehoshua, you have to come out here today. I've never seen a day like this before." With nothing on my calendar that afternoon, I seized the opportunity and made the 20-minute drive to P'nei Kedem in eastern Gush Etzion.

This beautiful area is on the edge of the Judean Mountains as they descend to the Dead Sea and merge with the Judean Desert. It's also right along the rain line, the zone where desert meets more temperate, wetter climate. The landscape is virtually barren of vegetation but rich in color and form variation. Unfortunately, security – often a constraint to would-be, free-roaming photographers – is a bit dicey in this region. I was stopped and interrogated by both an army patrol and local Bedouin, who must have thought me some kind of spy with my fancy cameras and tripod.

This week's photo features a view due east across the Judean Desert. The mountains at the very top of the frame are in Jordan and a small section of the Dead Sea, normally shrouded in thick haze, is visible just below them. The empty landscape left me few options for composing with a strong foreground element, so I chose this dark section of hill to give the image depth and to convey a sense of the multicolored landscape. I carefully cropped this part of the composition to form a triangle whose lower left point emerges directly from the bottom left corner of the photo, the point of strongest visual impact. Thank you, Tamar!

Technical Date: Nikon D300, 70-200 mm zoom at 160 mm, f10 @ 1/640 sec. ISO 200

December 23, 2010

Photo of the Week: Dec. 22, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Writing this blog forces me to stop and think seriously about what motivates my passion for photography. Often, my mood of the day affects how I interpret what I see in the world around me. Late fall is nature's cranky mood, what with the weather turning cold and everything in a state of slow, inevitable decay. So what better subject to reflect that feeling than a cluster of rotting grapes, once healthy and robust yet now, for some unknown reason, left clinging to the vine, neglected.

At this stage, the grapes are halfway to becoming raisins. They have lost their moisture and translucence, so finding a point of view with soft, afternoon backlighting is no longer an option. I made a 360-degree circuit around the vine to find the next-best choice for light, and chose this side-lit angle which gives a bit of sculpting to the droopy fruit. I used a macro lens to bring the subject close up and emphasize the textures.

Despite nature's apparent weariness as it slides into winter, I find spending time outdoors is always rewarding and invigorating, no matter what pictures I bring home.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-700, 28-105mm macro zoom at 105mm, f8 at 1/60 sec., ISO 320.

December 16, 2010

Photo of the Week: Dec. 15, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Winter finally rained down on Israel this week. Sensing the impending change of season, I made a final foray into fall, ahead of the storm, to a valley a few minutes walk from my back door. Fall, more than any other time of the year, brings awareness of the passage of time. I use these emotional connections to drive my creative inspiration. A photograph conceived in feeling will be, I think, more deeply felt by those who view it.

The intense cultivation of vines in the Judean Mountains has led some farmers to build elaborate trestles to maximize crop yield. At the height of summer, these fields become wide tunnels devoid of light. After the harvest, they open up to reveal pockets of sky and air, making for interesting light and photographic possibilities. To get this shot, I ducked under a large branch and pointed my camera in the direction of the sun to produce the dramatic backlighting so complimentary to all things growing. The sun was very low so I made a minute adjustment in my camera angle to create this sun star effect as the rays bend around a single leaf.

I've noted in the past how the leaves of different grape varieties turn different colors before dropping. Most vineyards in Israel feature a mixture of vines, which results in a diversity of colors come the arrival of fall. I exposed this shot so the trunk of the vine is very dark, thus giving more emphasis to the adjacent brightly lit and beautiful red and green leaves, as well as the yellow and gold of the more distant vines. Fall in Israel? Absolutely!

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-700, 28-105mm zoom at 34mm, f11 at 1/100 sec., ISO 200.

December 09, 2010

Photo of the Week: Dec. 9, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: This Chanukah has been a difficult one for Israel. Although we did receive a small amount of the rain we so desperately need, the holiday began with an unprecedented natural disaster which took 42 lives and burned half of the country's largest forest. The fire lights of Chanukah have burned brightly but bitterly this season.

After years of trying, I finally managed a visit to the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City to tour the spectacle of Chanukah's eighth night. Throughout the Rova, chanukiot burned brightly into the evening, some glass housings holding as many as 40 oil lamps.

Firelight is soft and enchanting, either as a subject itself or the way it casts a golden glow on anything nearby. The flames themselves are very bright yet their light falls off quickly, making exposures somewhat complex. If there are no other light sources, everything a short distance from the subject turns black. Too much ambient light and the photo will lose its character.

I like this shot because I solved the problem of photographing only the chanukiah by adding an additional, subtle light source that fits perfectly the mood of the photo. The door moldings and window panes complement the shape of the glass case holding the oil lights. The result is a photo that is clean, simple, and quaint, much like the neighborhood where I discovered it. Though the lights have now gone dark for this holiday, may the light we cast in the world continue to grow throughout the year.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-700, 50 mm, f2.5 at 1/80 sec., ISO 2500.

December 01, 2010

Photo of the Week: Dec. 1, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Chanukah is a time of renewal. Significantly outnumbered, the Maccabees succeeded against great odds by combining strategy, devotion to God and a willingness to sacrifice themselves in their battle against both assimilation and religious persecution. They returned to rededicate the ransacked and desecrated temple with renewed faith and hope for the future.

This photograph was taken on the fourth night of Chanukah in a hotel I visited three years ago. The table had been covered with aluminum foil to facilitate the removal of wax drippings, and it created an interesting glow that warms the background. I chose the camera angle that best emphasized this interesting background light. I didn't have a tripod, so I bumped the ISO up high enough to be able to shoot handheld and used a wide aperture to blur the background as much as possible.

The lights of Chanukah remind us to renew our faith and courage to meet even the darkest challenges of our day. Chag Sameach.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-200, 18-70 mm zoom at 70mm, f4.5 at 1/80 sec., ISO 640.

October 16, 2010

Photo of the Week: Oct. 15, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I admit it: I remain a sucker for sunsets. And sunrises, when I can beat dawn out the door. Observing the spectacle of changing light and color – especially in the mysterious world of heaven above – makes me pause and marvel at creation. Yet these break of day/end of day shots can often disappoint because we witness them as a process. Although I strive for the absolute peak moment in every shot, extracting but an instant in time from a glorious sky show frequently leaves me unfulfilled. Now I cannot imagine watching a videotape of a sunrise as a way to relive the complete experience, but it does help when we return later to look at the photograph, to complement our visual memory with a bit of introspection prompted by the moment.

This is a winter sunrise near Eilat, looking east over the Eilat Mountains and Jordan. The light show is adorned with a sliver of waning moon in the upper right hand corner. To keep the colors at their richest, it is important to set the exposure for the sky, which means the mountains, with no light hitting them from the direction of the camera, will turn to silhouette. I kept the mountains in the image to a minimum, because they are so easily identifiable as mountains and because their jagged summits add further drama to the wispy clouds catching the first light of day. May we awaken each day to the beauty and blessings that surround us.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-300, 18-200 zoom at 31mm, f11 at 1/60 sec., ISO 400.

Photos of the Week: Sept 28, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOTS: The holidays of Tishrei come to a dancing conclusion this week with the Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah doubleheader which begins Wednesday at sundown. In Israel, the holidays occur simultaneously following the final day of Sukkot. Joyful and passionate singing and dancing with the Torah mark the conclusion of the annual reading of the entire five books of the Torah and our return to the first chapter of Genesis to start the cycle anew.

This week's photographs are taken from a celebration to dedicate a newly written Sefer Torah, held last year in Jerusalem. The ceremony began with members of the family which sponsored the writing completing the last verse of the Torah, with the aid of a scribe. Afterward, the new Torah and several others were paraded through the streets to the accompaniment of music and frenzied dancing. At the conclusion of the parade, the Torah was brought back into the synagogue where it will be used and placed for the first time in the Aron Kodesh.

The first image is a close up of the sofer as he puts the finishing touch on one of the letters of the final verse. The lower image captures much of the energy and excitement generated by the ecstatic participants. It is also a an excellent illustration of how a Torah dedication is always an event celebrated by the entire community, as this photo features both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Torahs, soldiers, and numerous individuals of varying religious custom all joining the celebration. Chag Sameach!

Upper Photo: Nikon D-300, 18-200 zoom at 112mm, f6.3 at 1/125 sec., ISO 400. Lower Photo: Nikon D-300, 18-200 zoom at 22mm, f5 at 1/160 sec., ISO 400.

September 26, 2010

Photo of the Week: Sept. 22, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOTS: Wandering around Jerusalem during Sukkot, it's hard not to admire the handiwork of the city's more creative residents. The quaint and always immaculate neighborhood of Yemin Moshe – where I found this inviting Sukkah, - is a visual feast throughout the year and a place I love to take students during a workshop. Perched atop a home overlooking the old city, the rooftop sukkah blends beautifully with the building and its setting. I'd like to beg an invite from the owner to quaff a glass of chilled lemonade and shake the lulav.

I've added to the main image three other shots which give a taste of how Jerusalem's character transforms during the seven-day festival. The obligation to erect and dwell in the sukkah is incumbent on all Jews, no matter how small one's balcony. Some very imaginative efforts, and some not so unusual, emerge from a few hours of hammering and drilling that are as much a part of the season as the cool fall air.

Photographically, these images are not very challenging, other than trying to keep perspective while pointing the camera up high while standing close to the buildings. This causes convergence distortion, seen by the vertical lines converging toward the center of the photo, a result of the upward angle of the camera and lens curvature. There are special architectural lenses which can correct this optical phenomenon in camera or one can make a perspective change in Photoshop. Sukkot is our "zman simchateinu," the season of our joy. May we all merit to be joyful and blessed for the entire new year.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-300, 18-200 zoom at 44mm, f14 at 1/400 sec., ISO 400.

September 08, 2010

Photo of the Week: Sept. 8, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One of the benefits of being a student of photography is that my powers of observation have grown and serve me better all the time, even when I'm not holding a camera. When I made aliya,I reaped another benefit: a pomegranate tree in the front yard of our home. For years, I watched in amazement as the tree moved through its growth cycle, from bare branches to buds, to flowering and ripening of the fruits to the leaves turning yellow and falling to the ground.

This week's photo features an exceptional pomegranate grown in the Judean Mountains, in Efrat, where I live. Following a brief fall rain shower, I stepped outside to inspect the tree, and found this robust specimen, covered with raindrops. Two weeks later, I harvested it, and it adorned our Rosh Hashanah table as one of the simanim, the symbols of blessing for the new year.

The fruit is round, and virtually every camera angle creates this profile view, which works well with the sharp points of the crown. I chose this point of view to take advantage of both the two leaves which drop in front of the upper part of the fruit, and which give depth to the photo, and the background foliage, which contrasts nicely with the red fruit.

We eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah because they symbolize our hope that our good deeds in the new year will be as numerous as the seeds of the fruit. May all of Israel be blessed with a year of peace, prosperity, laughter and love.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-70, 28-105 zoom at 70mm, f8 at 1/250 sec., ISO 400.

September 02, 2010

Photo of the Week: Sept. 2, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I've taken thousands of prayer-related photographs. Most of these images were taken during a prayer service, with a focus on the person praying and the various ritual objects as they are being used. These pictures make us think more about the person engaged in prayer than any other aspect of the photo. By contrast, this image features a familiar subject, a tallit or prayer shawl, found exactly as seen here on a shelf in a coat room of the enormous Slonim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

This still-life study of a tallit begs the questions, why is it here and to whom does it belong? As long as we have a previous relationship to this or a similar object, we can begin the journey of imagination that accompanies the visual experience. Both motivated my decision to stop and take the picture in the first place.

I used my zoom lens to capture the tallit up close using only the beautiful light pouring over the tzitzit from a nearby window. The composition is strengthened by the two single strings which fall through the center of the entwined fringes. Finally, because I was shooting at close range, depth of field was limited and I had to make a careful choice about where to focus. I chose the point where the tzitzit and loose strings meet, which felt like the most obvious visual center point of the photograph.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-300, 18-200 zoom at 150mm, f5.6 at 1/50 sec., ISO 1000.

August 19, 2010

Photo of the Week: Aug. 19, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: At the height of summer, I continue to seek out color and form in nature, even though Israel's two-season landscape is often listless and parched in July and August. One reliable subject is the sabra plant, known in English as the prickly pear cactus or Indian fig, which thrives in a wide range of climates, including some of the hottest, driest regions of the Middle East. I've captured these plants in more photogenic form when they blossom with an array of colored flowers in spring and early summer.
The flowers give way to the oval-shaped, thorn-covered fruit which resembles a pear.

This detail of one plant caught my attention because it is somewhat unusual to see so many fruits growing so orderly from a single pad, as the flat, fleshy part of the sabra is called. I was also drawn to the bright reds and greens, one of my favorite complementary color groupings in nature. The two smaller pads growing from the same "trunk" give a nice balance to the composition by dividing it into thirds.

Sabra fruit is grown commercially and the plants have been used as natural borders to keep out intruders, not unlike the modern usage of barbed wire. I mounted a zoom lens on my camera and went to work, shooting and admiring the plant from a respectful distance.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D-300, 18-200 zoom at 31mm, f16 at 1/200 sec., ISO 400.

August 12, 2010

Photo of the Week: Aug. 10, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Summer sunsets on the Israeli side of the Mediterranean Sea are fairly predictable. On most days, an afternoon cloud bank hovers offshore and moments before the sun disappears below the horizon, rays of golden light pour through holes in the clouds.I had seen this performance often enough to know it was coming, but I needed a little bit of luck to get one of the boats into alignment with the sun at the critical moment. I was able to control this somewhat by changing my position along the shore.

I've been asked many times to provide outtakes from my photo shoots, to bolster the written explanation to my process. For reasons of simplicity, I've avoided doing it until this week. Here are three shots from the series. The shot under the main photo, taken first, is a general shot upon arrival at the beach, when I began to pre-visualize the final image I wanted to capture: a silhouette of the boat with strong light in the sky and on the water. The lower shot taken closer to sunset shows how I was studying the main elements of the photo and waiting for them to come together at the right moment. The selected image combines the best light of the series in both the sky and on the water in the foreground, as well as a full profile of the boat as it bumps along the choppy water.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D300, 70-200 mm zoom @ 105 mm, f16 at 1/400 sec.

July 20, 2010

Photo of the Week: July 20, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I've been asked many times how I manage to travel far and wide each week to capture a new photo from somewhere in Israel. The answer is obvious, isn't it? It takes only eight hours to drive from Eilat to Metulla! In truth, I have very little time to devote to landscape photography, so I often combine a shoot with other assignments, which do take me to some of Israel's far flung locales.

This week's photo was shot early one Spring morning while driving from Jerusalem to an assignment near the Gaza Strip. Just before I reached Rehovot, a gap opened in the dark clouds and an eerie, other-worldly light spread out across the horizon. I wasn't drawn to the beauty of the moment, but I sensed something unusual and fleeting. Experience has taught me that these are the best opportunities to create photographs whose power derives from recording something in a way we rarely see it.

I didn't have much time to scout the location, so I pulled off the road into a small Eucalyptus grove and drove to where the trees opened up to reveal the view seen in this shot. The dramatic sky sets the mood of the photo, so I allotted a full third of the image to the sky alone. The wheat stalks bending in the wind also give a hint of the inclement weather. And I like the way the blue-gray of the sky complements the new green growth of spring. Much of Israel looks just like this shot, but rarely is it clothed in such flattering dress. TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D200, 18-70 mm zoom @ 18 mm, f18 at 1/8 sec.

June 14, 2010

Photo of the Week: June 14, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Driving through vast, empty stretches of Israel's deserts, I am always amazed to suddenly spy on the horizon a thriving grove of date palms amid the endless rock and sand. A brief stroll in the cooling shade of a palm forest is a welcome stop on any desert journey, and, of course, an opportunity to photograph.

With the sun high in the sky, I left the Arava Highway in southern Israel near Kibbutz Ketura and parked alongside the grove. I wandered among the towering trees for a few minutes, studying the light and looking for a good place to capture the feeling of standing among giants. I chose my ultra wide, 12-24 mm zoom lens to include as many of the frond fans as possible, in order to make the subject clearly recognizable and emphasize the feeling of standing in a forest. I pointed my camera up to the sky and adjusted my position so the sun moved behind one of the thick tree trunks, thus enabling me to shoot directly toward a very bright light source.

Date palms have been a source of food and shelter for millennia in this region of the world. The Hebrew word for date palm is Tamar, also a popular girl's name which has come to symbolize grace and elegance, and, one might add, a bit of chutzpah to grow so well in such a harsh environment.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D300, 12-24 zoom at 12mm, f16 @1/160 sec.

June 08, 2010

Photo of the Week: June 8, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I doubt whether the developers of the Ein Boqeq Dead Sea Resort considered the aesthetic impact of plopping more than a dozen sprawling hotels along this tranquil, desert seashore. Nevertheless, the virtues of man and nature do sometimes merge to display a beauty that transcends the environmental impact, if only momentarily. Like many of my photographs, this shot resulted from my observation over many visits to the area that early in the morning, the wind often subsides and the sea becomes a reflecting pool. When such conditions prevail, a photographer needs only to find a good vantage point, which on this outing required abandoning the hotel grounds and venturing onto a salty spit that appeared to stretch all the way to Jordan.

I composed the image with perfect vertical symmetry, allowing the tip of the arrowhead formed by the mountain reflection to determine the left edge of the photo. The right side was more problematic. I could have cropped out the half hotel that falls on the right edge, but it acts as a barrier to the eye's habit of wandering off the image. It also preserves the position of the highest peak roughly along one of the vertical thirds, thus strengthening the overall composition.

As I settled my tripod in the selected location, I realized two significant things about this brief excursion to satisfy my creative thirst. First, I was the only witness to this beautiful site. Most tourists sleep later than I do and few, if any, would detour onto a barren, dangerous looking, and certainly uninviting piece of land. My second insight was one I've had many times: the photo allows me to share a familiar site from a new and different perspective. A fraction of a second to record the sight, sandwiched between two hours of peace of mind watching the day come alive.

TECHNICAL DATA: Nikon D200, 18-70 zoom at 18mm, f11 @1/125 sec.

June 01, 2010

Photo of the Week: June 1, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I try not to delve too deeply into meaning in my photographs. Why a particular image speaks to me may have no relation to how other viewers see it. This is even more important when a photo contains a bit of mystery, such as this shot of a stone stairway along a trail in the Banias Nature Reserve on the Golan Heights. Words redirect our thoughts and our imagination should really be left alone to wander where it will.

The intrigue of this shot has two sources. First, there are the old stones, worn smooth by time, and which recall another era, a different world altogether. They are unlike most stairs we encounter on a daily basis, oddly crooked and meandering. Secondly, the stairs go up, disappearing on their way to some unseen destination. They are a visual metaphor for passage to something new, better, and higher.

As longtime readers of this blog know by now, no image fully succeeds without interesting light. Here the sun just brushes the tops of the stairs while leaving the risers in shadow, a perfect combination to give form and texture to each individual stone. Sometimes the sun is in just the right position to accent the landscape and reveal the beauty in something so simple and mundane that otherwise we might just tread on it unaware.

Technical Data: Nikon D200, ISO 200, 18-70 zoom at 55mm, f5.6 at 1/125 sec.

May 27, 2010

Photo of the Week: May 27, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Anyone who observes me shooting at a simcha will often see me holding my camera hip high or resting it on a tabletop or on the floor, all while continuing to shoot the action. With automatic focus, I need only worry that my zoom is wide enough to encompass the entire subject area. A little practice makes perfect, but what I like about this technique is that the bugs-eye-view camera angle injects novelty and energy into subjects normally only seen from six feet above the ground.

To get this shot of poppies growing in the Jordan Valley, I lay down on my belly and positioned the camera on a rock about five inches off the ground. Years ago I would have ripped out the foreground grass, preferring an unblemished view to my subject. Nowadays, I prefer to leave nature alone and record everything that the camera sees. The blurred foreground – which resulted from the blades of grass rocking in the wind – adds depth to the photo and creates the painterly effect I find so pleasing in many landscapes. It really did look that way, but you can only find it by "lowering" yourself to a new standard of shooting.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 28-105 zoom at 48 mm, f6.3 at 1/800 sec.

May 15, 2010

Photo of the Week: April 26, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: It is a deeply satisfying moment when one of your children reveals that he's actually been paying attention to some of what you've been saying to him over the years. And so I was thrilled when my 13-year-old son, Avishai, called to me from up ahead on the trail, "Abba, come check out the light on the trees!" We had been hiking several hours in broad daylight along the 8-kilometer, Mt. Eitan loop trail that encircles a small park near Jersusalem called Sataf. I was in parent/hiker mode and wouldn't have spotted this scene without my son's calling it to my attention.

When analyzing a textural image such as this, my primary concern, after exposure, is the composition. I normally shoot a little wide and make a final, perfected crop back in my studio using a combination of intuition and design rules. My process begins along the outer edges of the photo, where I look for any elements that will prevent the viewer's eye from wandering off the page. These elements may include some part of the photo's content or even a darkened area, which will function as a visual brake to a roving eye. If I don't have the visual elements I need, I rely on how it feels.

An excellent exercise for testing your results is to stand in front of your photo, close your eyes, then reopen them and study their movement. Where do they travel and where do they come to rest? If you wind up at the heart of the image, your intended subject, you've probably done something right!

Technical Data: Nikon D-300, 18-200mm zoom at 58mm, f16 @1/250 sec.

April 01, 2010

Photo of the Week: Mar. 31, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish year. When the Temple stood on Mt. Moriah, Jews from across the region would walk to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and participate in festivities and prayer. I can only imagine how these weary travelers felt as they crested the final hill on their long, arduous journey and saw their destination – the holy city of Jerusalem – laid out before them.

Of course it looked a lot different back then. For one, what we now call the "old city" was the entire city. And there were no electric lights to illuminate the city's ancient walls. This photograph features a twilight view of new and old Jerusalem from the Haas Promenade in Talpiot. As with many other photographs, selecting a specific time to photograph makes a huge difference in both the appearance and feel of the image. At twilight, there is a mix of waning daylight, still visible in the light blue sky, and artificial light, which only impacts the scene as the sky darkens. At this time of day, the light changes so quickly that only a photograph can capture and preserve it to be appreciated in another moment. Moadim L'simcha.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 18-200 zoom at 95 mm, f8 at 1/5sec.

March 23, 2010

Photo of the Week: March 24, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I don't have any formal training in photography. I learned at a school called, "What happens if I try this?" So often students come to me with camera in hand and ask, "What does this setting do?" While I can easily explain the answer, I usually tell them to take a picture, then change the setting and compare the results. Even without a basic understanding of the photographic principles that govern these different options, this is an excellent way to learn how to maximize the potential of your camera.

This week's photo features a technique I discovered while looking at another photographer's portfolio – also an excellent way to learn and expand your personal creative vision. In photoshop, I selected each of the individual color channels and applied a significant blur. I had to fool around a bit with the amount of blur until I arrived at something I liked. Then I made slight adjustments to the brightness and contrast. That's all. It took me less than a minute to convert the photo from a nice flower shot to a personal statement – a unique holiday greeting with an old-fashioned, colorized feel. Of course, it helped to have a few sheets of shmura matzah on hand as well. Chag Sameach Ukasher. Happy Passover.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 70-200 zoom at 102 mm, f5.6 at 1/500sec.

March 18, 2010

Photo of the Week: Mar. 17, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Waterfalls are surely one of nature's superstars. The relentless power, the roar and the cool mist perform a ceaseless sensual symphony. One never tires of watching. The most beautiful falls exist in extreme environments and finding a suitable shooting location often poses great danger to the photographer. Cliff edges, slippery rocks and water spray all imperil the photographer and his equipment while hunting for photos alongside a plummeting river.

This week's photo was taken at the base of Tachana Falls, part of the Ayun Stream which runs near Israel's northernmost border in Metulla. Compared with this shot, taken moments later on the same day last spring, this interpretation of the 20-meter falls offers a more imaginative perspective on the setting. For one, we don't see in silhouettes. Only the camera does. Secondly, the rushing water has a silky look to it, created by a slow shutter speed. Just as the constant flow of water carves a more dramatic setting for the river, the photographer can push the limits of his or her vision to create more impressive images of the natural world.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 12-24 zoom at 24 mm, f20 at 1/15sec.

March 13, 2010

Photo of the Week: Mar. 12, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I can still recall the first time one of my photographs became more than just a picture of something. It was a simple shot of a weathered, wooden fence post that I published in a local newspaper. A reader wrote me to say he enjoyed the photo because it evoked memories of his childhood growing up in Southern Oregon.

This shot reminded me of the first home we lived in here in Israel. The garden was dominated by a large fig tree which bore plentiful fruit every summer. When we visited the home prior to buying it, our realtor pulled a few ripe figs off the tree and we devoured them with great pleasure. It was an unfair sales ploy, but we enjoyed the fruit for many years. I took this shot on the Golan Heights last spring while prowling around the Ayit Waterfall. I used a rocky hillside opposite the tree as a dark background, which makes the leaves – no bigger than the upper part of my thumb – pop into the foreground. The early phases of spring growth are fleeting, but a photograph can preserve a moment that – like a childhood memory – is too quickly gone.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens at 200mm, f5.6 at 1/500 sec.

February 25, 2010

Photo of the Week: Feb. 25, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Before I moved to Israel, I don't believe I once imagined taking a hike on a trail made of water. In our desert climate, where it is hot and dry most of the year, water walks are very popular and a refreshing way to get close to places we don't frequently experience. I admit that toting $5,000 worth of equipment over slippery rocks while taking uncertain steps to unknown depths sets my heart racing, but I've done stupider things in pursuit of my art.

This shot was taken in the Snir Stream, a tributary of the Jordan River flowing through the Galilee near Kiryat Shemona. I cannot think of another photograph I've taken of moving water in which the water flows away from the camera. Waterfalls, rivers, rushing tides and gushing rain: the water always moves down and towards the camera. So I like this shot just because it's different and because the colors, especially anything in the sage family, are among my favorites. I stopped down to f22 and exposed for 1/2 second to capture both the movement of the water and turn it white, which creates a nice contrast to the surrounding brown and black rocks and tree stumps. Because many people are afraid or unable to hike through the stream, there are ample opportunities for quiet contemplation. You just may have to get your feet wet first.

Technical Data: Nikon D-300, 28-105 zoom @ 28mm, ISO 100, 1/2 second at f22.

February 21, 2010

Photo of the Week: Feb. 18, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The coffee was cold; the companionship, warm. The light: fleeting yet divine. I could watch the sun rise every morning in the desert, bearing witness to the land slowly shedding its blanket of darkness, layer by layer. I've photographed this region of the Judean Desert above the Darja Canyon on four occasions. On my first visit, the sky was full of perfect puffy white clouds, but it was mid-morning and with my family in tow, I couldn't venture off in search of the ideal view. Inspired by that day's performance, I've returned at sunrise on three other occasions, each time looking for a new interpretation of one of Israel's classical looks.

On the morning I shot this photo last month, my hiking partner and I climbed a short hill not far from the access road to watch the day awaken. The most interesting view was to the west, with the rising sun at my back. As the sun crested the mountains in Jordan, the interplay of light and shadow revealed the contours of the peaks and valleys before us. Often, I find myself making quick, spontaneous decisions in the frenetic few minutes that I know the light will be kind to the camera. In this case, as I studied the expanse of desert in front of me, my mind switched modes of thinking, from composing the photo to simply capturing the texture of the scene unfolding in the distance.

"We seldom capture in a single photograph the full expression of what we see and feel," noted photographer Sam Abell. We can, however, move closer to that ideal by following our vision to our hearts and on to a truer expression of what we are feeling.

February 11, 2010

Photo of the Week: Feb. 11, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The curtain is rising on spring in Israel as the landscape emerges from its winter watering to a drama of color that becomes an event for many Israelis. While wildflower viewing is certainly a feast for the eyes, Israelis also view the spectacle with a deep appreciation for the miracles of God's handiwork. Someone wrote to me recently that Israel is a small country with a big attitude. That's certainly true, and nowhere is that attitude more evident than in our affection for the country's natural beauty.

This week's photo was captured courtesy of a hot tip from a friend whose home overlooks this vineyard. Like all landscape photos, the effort lay in scouting the location and arriving at the proper time of day, in this case, moments before the first rays of morning sunlight struck the land. There is a softness to this first light that often lasts only a couple of minutes but which makes all the difference in producing the ethereal quality of the image. These pink wildflowers, the Egyptian Campion, grow in several regions of the country, including the Judean Mountains south of Jerusalem, where this photo was taken.

I composed the picture using two guideposts. First, I wanted to stagger the vines in a way that leads the eye from the front to the rear of the photo. Secondly, I included some trees and background to give additional context to photo's setting. For an excellent resource on Israeli wildflowers, including a comprehensive library of photos sortable by flower color plus interesting history and trivia, visit

February 03, 2010

Photo of the Week: Feb. 3, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: This week's photo falls into the category of "when life gives you lemons." Walking along the shore of the Red Sea in Eilat last month, I looked skyward and frowned at the thick clouds enveloping the region and scuttling chances for an eventful afternoon shoot. I paused to sit on a cement wall at water's edge and removed a persimmon from my camera bag, peeled away the skin with a pocket knife, and considered my options. Then I looked down at my feet.

I think the most successful artists are those who learn to see what's closest to them, and who are not in constant search of life's grandeur. I often tell my students good photographs can be found anywhere, and frequently within an arm's length of where they are standing at that moment. I hadn't thought about these thousands of colored rocks and I had no idea they existed until I chanced to spot them.

Glistening and clean in the tidal action, these rocks are a visual symphony, and it wasn't hard to find a grouping that included a pleasing range of colors, sizes, and shapes. And here's how I made the lemonade, with assistance from the clouds: Bright colors look richer on overcast days, when there is little direct sunlight to bleach their hues. Appropriately, I pulled my close-up (macro) lens from my bag, snapped it onto my D-300 and held it above this small sampling of beach, careful to keep the camera parallel to the ground to preserve edge to edge sharpness. Remaining open to something new led me to the gate of good fortune.

January 31, 2010

Photo of the Week: Jan. 28, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The heavens finally opened up over Israel during the past week, bringing an end to a long spell of weather so mild that fruit trees began showing blossoms on the first of January. Because I live in the mountains, some 900 meters above sea level, winter storms don't pass over us, they pass through us. The tail end of one storm left the region shrouded in thick fog, and I had a vision of creating a sort of minimalist photograph with snow white blossoms set against a sea of white smoke. By the time I found an opportunity to shoot, the fog had lifted, but left behind remnants of the fallen moisture clinging to the blossoms.

As the calendar turns to the month of Shevat, so must the almond trees bloom in Israel. Choosing one randomly not far from my home, I set up my tripod and camera mounted with a macro lens for close-range shooting. Finding an appropriate subject takes a few moments of scanning the tree until my eye catches a candidate, which must also survive further scrutiny for blemishes, torn petals, or, most importantly, distracting backgrounds. It's a delicate process maneuvering the camera close to the subject and several times I gently knocked an adjacent branch, emitting shock waves that scattered the beads of rain and ruined my subject.

In the end, I did succeed with several images, including this one, which I chose because I like the way the background mimics the mottled look of the flowers holding drops of rain. With a macro lens, the subject is often mere inches from the front of the lens and the result is very shallow depth of field, perfect for throwing everything out of focus, except for the main subject. As the full moon rises in the sky this weekend, we mark Tu B'shevat (Jan. 29-30), the new year for trees in Israel. May we continue to merit the blessing of rain and seasonal renewal.

January 20, 2010

Photo of the Week: Jan 20, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: If photography were a normal occupation, I would be out shooting 8-10 hours every day. Sadly though, in the digital age, many photographers now spend more time anchored to their computer than stalking the wilderness. Every now and then, I do go out into the world with the singular purpose of creating new images, as I did last week when I had four entire days to prowl Israel's southernmost desert region, in and around Eilat. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my wonderfully supportive wife, Sara, who provides this ample space for creativity, accomplishment and success in both my work and my life.

This photograph was taken in the area of Nahal Shehoret, about 10 kilometers north of Eilat. Typically, I dragged myself out of bed at 5 a.m., stole past the dozing desk clerk and motored in the darkness toward a predetermined area, though I had no specific stopping point in mind. After driving six kilometers along a bumpy, dirt road, I stepped out of my car to inhale the morning air and inspect the landscape in the first light of dawn. This range – one of the most beautiful in the world - is comprised of multi-colored sandstone peaks, the result of different oxides found in the various rock masses. The most interesting photos of these mountains are those which allow the different colors to stand alone while also helping to forge the composition as a whole. Though the various shades of sand, pink, chocolate and even black are visible in many places, pulling three or more into one compelling photo is very difficult.

I parked my car, grabbed my tripod and bag, and walked a few meters up a slight incline – always looking for high ground to improve visibility - and I discovered this small field of boulders. From experience, I knew that light hitting these rocks from a side angle would give them dramatic form and provide strength to the foreground of the picture. I aligned my tripod facing northward and waited for the sun to crest the mountains in Jordan. Not a single living, green, growing thing in this shot; only the mind-boggling beauty of the meeting of landscape, light and lens.

January 15, 2010

Photo of the Week: Jan. 12, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: This past Shabbat, we recited the blessing for the new Hebrew month of Shevat, which begins this coming Shabbat. Among the prayers for the new month is a request for rain (in its season), something Israel desperately needs. Unfortunately, the region is in the midst of a long stretch of gorgeous weather, which, while very enjoyable, has not contributed to replenishing our depleted water supplies. I chose this week's image somewhat fancifully, out of a desire to see the country blanketed in snow at least once before winter's end. When a severe weather event dramatically alters a familiar landscape, it's easy to take satisfying photos because everything we see is new and different. This photo was shot two years ago, in the morning after an overnight storm dumped about 20cm on the Judean Mountains. A few hours into daylight, the sky was already clear and the meltdown had begun. With the roads closed, I set out on foot to a valley near my home. I was drawn to the piles of fresh powder covering the rocks in the foreground. They evoke a sense of the texture that accompanies a walk in the snow and return me to that blissful morning.

January 04, 2010

Photo of the Week: Jan. 5, 2010

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: In the 1980s, one of my mentors, the incomparable alpinist and adventure photographer, the late Galen Rowell, developed the idea of image maturity – how some pictures are so ahead of their time that they are not believed to be real. Nowadays, an opposite phenomenon has taken hold, what might be called image fatigue – too many pictures of the same subject. As a professional, I fight this in my work, because more often than not, photo buyers request common images, such as the olive grove landscape, one of the quintessential visual representations of Israel.

I shot this photo in the Misgav region of the Galilee, while on an assignment for the Jewish Agency two years ago. En route to our meeting place, I drove a small road along the spine of one of the Galilean hills with a dramatic overlook to the valley below. I pulled over and admired the bright green, fresh-winter growth and how it combined with the darker foliage of the olive trees and the reddish-brown earth. The image presented here is almost full frame, but I pondered the edges for some time before settling on this crop. Because there is no clear focal point to the image, I tried to strengthen the border to keep the viewer contained, albeit wandering, within the frame.

Fortunately, nature never holds its pose too long. Even the most frequently photographed subjects provide new opportunities for novel interpretation.