December 20, 2011

Photo of the Week: Dec. 20, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Chanukah – the Festival of Lights – should be a photographer's paradise. After all, photographers are always chasing interesting light and here is an entire holiday dedicated to celebrating light, both literal and metaphorical.

Please join me for an Eighth night Photo Walk around the Jewish Quarter. See details below.

This photo of a dreidel at rest was taken as part of a photo essay I shot a couple of years ago. I had been shooting fine art glass and metal tops and experimenting with different light sources to capture their form. In the end, the sun, old faithful, performed best, and I found plenty of good light on this wall right outside my home.

It's a very sparse photo, held together by the elongated shadow, which fills the foreground, and the opposing triangles, one at the base of the dreidel and the other at the corner of the wall. The strip of blackened background, running at an odd angle to the edge of the wall, adds a bit of tension to a very calm image.

The only minor technical challenge to overcome was ensuring the face of the dreidel was bright enough for the words to be readable. I used my exposure meter on the spot setting with the center dot pointed at the words in order to expose that part of the photo correctly. I knew that as a result, the brightest areas of the photo would over expose, but that would give me the dramatic effect I was seeking.

May we all merit to be enlightened by the more mundane miracles which occur daily in our lives. Chanukah Sameach. Happy Chanukah.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 28-105 zoom at 56mm, f4.5 @ 1/800th sec., ISO 200.

November 14, 2011

Photo of the Week: Nov. 10, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: This photo can only be described as "rescued from the rubbish bin." The conditions of the day seemingly defied any possibility for success, so I had resigned myself to a pleasant walk amongst the vines. Only later – in fact several years later – did I rediscover this image with fresh eyes while researching a book project. The reason for my initial rejection, I believe, is that the photo lacks a strong center of interest and appears to be nothing more than a random snap of a mountain valley.

On closer inspection and with the wisdom of hindsight, I realized just how rare was this moment. Landscapes seldom repeat themselves, and subsequent autumns have just not lived up to the fall of 2005 in the Judean Mountains south of Jerusalem, where I shot this image.
In this photo, I sought merely to include the breadth of the varied color and texture of the valley, ablaze at the peak of nature's finest seasonal magic. I worked in a smattering of dark green trees and brush, which help to define the crop and contrast with the brighter colors of the vines and fruit trees. There wasn't much else to do, except maybe stand and applaud, which I often do when witnessing a marvel of creation.

Technical Data: Nikon D70, 28-105 zoom at 100mm, f13 @ 1/25th sec., ISO 400.

October 28, 2011

Photos of the Week: Oct. 27, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Leave no doubt about it: Fall is in the air. And hanging out in vivid color on branches everywhere. I love this time of year, not only because the temperature is more tolerable but also because I get to proclaim loudly to disbelieving ears that Israel has spectacular fall foliage. Sure we can't compete for sheer drama with New England Sugar Maples. But who cares? Open your eyes and breathe in the beauty that surrounds us.

I selected two images for this week's dispatch that paired well in terms of content and technique. It's easy to spot the grand landscapes but much harder to hone our vision on delicate details often hidden amid thickets of visual chaos. In both photos, I began by searching out a suitable, dark background that complements the strong colors, already enlivened by beautiful back lighting. I also played with my camera angle so that the backgrounds appear completely empty, with nothing to divert the eye's attention from the foliage. I also like the blemishes seen in the insect-eaten leaves, a trait shared by both photos. Nature is always magical and miraculous, but rarely is she perfect.

Technical Data:
Upper photo: Nikon D70, 70-300 zoom at 240mm, f5.6 @ 1/500th sec., ISO 200.
Lower Photo: Nikon D300, 18-200 zoom at 200mm, f5.6 @ 1/1250th sec., ISO 200.

October 09, 2011

Photo of the Week: Oct. 5, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I stepped out of my local mini-market last week and stood under Efrat's big sky gazing momentarily at the sunset. A friend spotted me and asked, "Don't you wish you had your camera?" In truth, I didn't. Though it has taken some hard work on my part, I'd rather enjoy the moment in real time than delay gratification for the virtual pleasure delivered by a photograph. That is in no way to diminish the value of photography, but it is also important to have that choice.

This week's photo was taken in a roadside orchard not far from the town of Kiryat Malachi. Anyone can stop and hop the guardrail into the field, yet few people make that effort, preferring instead to whiz by unaware at 100 km per hour. In our urban-centered lives, nature rarely comes to us. Walking through this pomegranate grove, I marveled at the trees' ability to hold the heavy fruit without the branches breaking. I wanted a shot that showed the abundance of fruit just before the harvest and found this angle, with a bountiful tree framed nicely by the mature fruits suspended in the foreground.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 28-105 zoom at 32mm, f5.6 @ 1/1000th sec., ISO 200.

September 27, 2011

Photo of the Week: Sept. 27, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: It takes a tiny bit of chutzpah to walk into a small Judaica shop and start photographing items for sale. Nevertheless, I follow the rule that flattery will get you everywhere. By taking a sincere interest in my subject, in this case a table strewn with shofars of various sizes, colors and shapes, I opened the door to photo opportunity. This tactic works especially well when seeking permission to shoot a human subject whom you don't know. By first taking an interest in their activity and observing without photographing, you communicate that your intent is genuine and not merely exploitative.

I like this shot because it veers from the traditional image we see at this time of year. In fact, there isn’t a single shofar in this photograph which is clearly visible in its entirety. At the same time, there are plenty of visual clues which clarify the subject. I chose to focus on the midsection of the large shofar which cuts across the middle of the frame to accentuate its textured surface. This shot was taken indoors with minimal available light, forcing me to use a wide aperture and squashing the depth of field. Yet the soft focus in and around the photo's central horn does not hinder the viewer's ability to wander the frame and ponder the inner composition – Kind of like what we do on Rosh Hashanah upon hearing the blasts of the shofar.

Shana Tova Umetuka. Wishing all of Am Yisrael a year of peace, blessings and the ability to appreciate the bounty in our lives.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 18-200 zoom at 95mm, f6.3 @ 1/100th sec., ISO 400.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 15, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Had I been wandering the desert with Moses and the Jewish people, I'd likely have stayed in the back of the pack, enjoying the new scenery in quiet contemplation. To me, the best route between two places is the one unexplored. And so I often find myself taking random turns onto dirt roads that lead in the general direction of my destination, frequently getting lost but often rewarded with new vistas to satisfy my creative thirst.

The road that climbs from Ein Boqeq and the Dead Sea to Arad is curvy and steep and one afternoon, stuck behind the ubiquitous, slow-moving Israeli truck, I spotted an intriguing sign pointing toward Masada and directed my car off road. I bumped along a rocky plateau for about 10 minutes when I came upon this majestic mountain stretched out before me with a perfect canopy of cumulous clouds. I found the high ground and grabbed my widest angle lens in order to capture the vastness of the setting. I would have preferred the whole rock formation to be sunlit, but the position of the sun that day caused a shadow to be formed by a nearby mountain. Sometimes, getting lost is the best path to a new discovery.

Technical Data: Nikon D70, 12-24 zoom at 12mm, f13 @ 1/80th sec., ISO 200.

September 13, 2011

Photos of the Week: Sept. 8, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I often tell people that I practice photography, like meditation or Tai Chi, in order to elevate my awareness of subtleties in nature that often go unnoticed. As a professional who strives to continually create original and inspiring images, I frequently return to old subjects and attempt to shoot them anew. One technique I have used successfully involves building unconventional relationships between the subject and its immediate environment to give a fresh face to the familiar. The two photos I am sending this week are excellent illustrations of this concept.

The upper image features ripe sabra fruit which had toppled into a field of dry grass. Sabra fruit and flowers are normally seen as part of the larger, green and spiny cactus plant, so this image offers an alternative to the traditional view. The blurred blades of grass don't impede the viewer's eye as it searches for the photo's subject. Instead, I think they add a bit of realism to the photo as the fruit appears in a natural state, exactly as it was found on the day I walked past it.

The second image emerged while pursuing a shot of black grapes. In the end, the grapes take a back seat to the leaves and the beautifully textured vine, which comes to dominate the photo. I left just enough of the grape cluster visible to help the viewer identify the subject. Here, too, by altering the proportion or the position of the main subject, a new perspective is unveiled, and an old subject is reborn.

Technical Data:
Upper Photo: Nikon D300, 18-200 zoom at 75mm, f6.3 @ 1/640th sec., ISO 200.
Lower photo: Nikon D300, 28-105 zoom at 62mm, f9 @ 1/200th sec., ISO 400.

Photo of the Week: Aug. 31, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Nature in motion, not unlike poetry, reveals its beauty in evanescent bursts. You cannot photograph something without first seeing it. Yet some images don't really exist, except in our imagination, until the still camera freezes the rushing tide and uncovers a hidden pearl in a few scattered, battered seashells. Seconds later, grace and elegance are wiped clean by another wave.

On the shore of Nizzanim Beach, between Ashkelon and Ashdod, I noticed these shell fragments during a casual late-afternoon stroll. I stopped to study the wave action and marveled at how each shell left a kind of footprint in the receding tide. I like this shot for its minimalism. Just sand and a few shells, yet each one gains prominence and invites individual examination. The falling sun elongates the shadows. Another click and a moment unseen is captured for eternity.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 28-105 macro zoom at 44mm, f8 @ 1/320th sec., ISO 400.

Photo of the Week: Aug. 4, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: As an Ashkenazic Jew, I have always admired the Torah scrolls used by our Sephardic brethren, simply because they are different and I encounter them less frequently. Sephardic Torahs are carried in a round case fashioned from either wood or metal and read in the upright position, as opposed to lying flat on a table in the Ashkenazic tradition. Although this makes photographing the reader more complicated, the scroll cases are often quite colorful and ornately adorned. In addition, they always have a piece of material hanging from the top to allow the oleh to mark the place where his reading begins and ends.

I photographed this Torah during a bar mitzvah reading at the Kotel. The case is crafted entirely from wood and was so large and heavy the bar mitzvah boy could barely lift it. A brightly colored tallit was clipped to the top and draped beautifully along one side. Normally, I might shy away from mixing the earth tones of the wood with the bright rainbow colors of the fabric, but here the two strong symbols of my heritage merged comfortably into visual harmony, helped along by the soft, diffuse light of early morning.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 18-200 zoom at 105mm, f8 @ 1/125th sec., ISO 400

July 20, 2011

Photo of the Week: July 20, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: In my humble opinion, photographs can reveal deep truths or they can mislead, even deceive. And sometimes they can do both at the same time. Allow me to explain: A few years back, I visited Gan Yehoshua, the largest public park in Tel Aviv, during Passover, when it was teeming with visitors. My children were eager for a paddle around the small pond that is one of the park's main attractions, but the 90-minute wait scuttled that plan. As we stood amid a throng of hot and annoyed parents and children and plotted an alternative activity, I caught sight of these boats, rocking softly in the pond's gentle wave action.

It took me only a few seconds to corral these three boats within the frame. My eye was drawn to the bright colors and repetitive pattern formed by the portion of the side panels visible from where I stood. The reflections on the water add a nice touch and help fill the dead space in the lower right corner. But wait a minute, this calm and quiet photo says nothing about the undulating energy just a few meters away. It's an abstraction of peace from a scene of chaos and tension. And yet, in that moment, when the stress of the holiday crowd reached its peak in our disappointment, I could gaze upon this scene and inhale a breath of truth.

Technical Data: Nikon D70, 70-300 zoom at 702mm, f13 @ 1/640th sec., ISO 400.

July 13, 2011

Photo of the Week: July 13, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: When the mercury rises in the Middle East, our thoughts turn to water, a scarce commodity at any time of the year, but especially in summer. Fortunately, the myth of the desert oasis is not fiction at all. Spring-fed streams, like the one pictured here at Hidden Falls in the Ein Gedi Reserve, run cool and clear 12 months a year, rewarding parched hikers with refreshing relief before their return to the dusty trail.

The name is a bit of a misnomer, as on more than one occasion I've been joined at this site by several dozen students. Nevertheless, they generally move on quickly, leaving behind an even deeper quiet created by the absence of their chaos. This shot downplays the falls, which are about five meters in height, but still follows basic rules of composition by using a strong foreground element as a jumping off point to finding the main subject. I chose camera settings that allow for a long exposure to give the water a milk-like color as it makes its way to the Dead Sea. Israel indeed flows with milk and honey. You just have to know how to look.

Technical Data: Nikon D70, 28-105 zoom at 32mm, f16 @ 1.6 sec., ISO 200.

July 07, 2011

Photo of the Week: July 6, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The following anecdote has nothing to do with this week's photograph. On the other hand, it may be the only thing that matters. Last Thursday I worked an event in downtown Jerusalem. The evening began with a maddening traffic jam that turned a 10-minute ride into an hour of frustration and I arrived late to a job for the first time in my professional career. I then worked seven hours standing on my feet, packed up my car and headed home. As I pulled onto the tunnel road, which connects Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood with my home in Gush Etzion, I brought my car to a halt in an endless line of traffic. For the second time that day, at 12:24 a.m., a 10-minute drive became a slow and painful crawl home.

With one lane closed for construction, traffic moved about a quarter of a mile at a time with seven-to-eight minute standstill delays. At 12:52 a.m., now halfway through the second tunnel, the horns started. Miserable drivers, no doubt similarly exhausted, began blaring their horns in disgust. First one, then another until at least a dozen joined the fray. I turned up the music in my car and closed my eyes. When I opened them again a moment later, I spotted a van that had pulled into the service bay of the tunnel. The slider opened and out jumped a man, than another and another until eight men, charedim in black coats and hats, joined hands and danced in a joyful circle to the midnight din. We always have a choice. Life is short. Live every moment.

This week's shot was taken in the desert north of Eilat, on a trail connecting the Black Canyon with Amram's Pillars. Near the end of my hike, I climbed a small rock formation and discovered this window overlooking the section of trail I had just completed, a thrilling conclusion to an afternoon of peace and quiet, no disgruntled drivers, no traffic and no jams.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 18-200 zoom at 135mm, f16 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400.

July 01, 2011

Photo of the Week: June 30, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Israelis love their "garinim," their seeds, and every spring and summer vast swaths of fertile farmland buzz with these monster yellow blooms. Standing a dozen rows deep in this flower forest, I felt as if I had entered a science fiction movie, as some of these giants towered above me at over nine feet tall. That, of course, wreaks havoc for photographers, who often prefer to be eye-level with their subjects. Predicting this predicament, I had planned to bring a ladder, but that thought remained stranded somewhere in a senior moment.

I never cease to be amazed by the creative process. A dead end in one direction leads the mind to re-chart its course. Having scrapped my vision of a high-angle shot of the entire field, I narrowed my search and discovered these flowing petals, brought alive with texture and motion injected by the back lighting. It is the somewhat unusual composition, however, that distinguishes this shot. The subject is familiar to most viewers, so tight cropping draws attention to the petals without the feeling that something is missing. This is a technique I learned from shooting portraits, where a very tight crop on a person's face can deliver great feeling and intimacy without rendering the subject's identity unrecognizable. Finally, the background, although severely blurred, provides context for the setting and a nice color complement to the photo's center of interest.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 28-105 zoom at 105mm, f5.6 at 1/500 sec., ISO 200.

June 25, 2011

Photo of the Week: June 22, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One measure of success of a photograph is how much the viewer desires to be in the place depicted in the image. With the heat of summer upon us, who doesn't long for a lazy day at the beach? Israel is blessed with many miles of beautiful Mediterranean seacoast. This week's photo features the beach at Habonim Nature Reserve, located about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. I had been camping there with my family which gave me the freedom to explore the area with my camera during the optimal late afternoon sunlight.

Photographing wave action on the ocean's edge is akin to trying to hit a formless and fast-moving target. Waves, like snowflakes, are infinitely variable but it's free and easy to fire off 15-20 shots in quick succession and sift through the results later. The rocks on either side of the photo determine the composition, but the appeal of this image begins with the streak of sunlight cutting across the water and casting a golden glow on the wet sand. The light sets the mood and feeling for the entire scene: warm, refreshing and inviting. Nothing left to do but dive in.

Technical Data: Nikon D200, 12-24 zoom at 12mm, f9 at 1/800 sec., ISO 400.

June 16, 2011

Photo of the Week: June 16, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The walls and gates of the old city are quiet. Built to protect those who dwelled within before the modern city arose, these days the ancient stones often serve as artistic complements to a variety of civic celebrations. Beginning June 15 and continuing through June 22, the old city will play host to the Jerusalem Festival of Light, now in its third year. For anyone who already appreciates the old city in its never mundane, day to day look, this is a chance to stroll the historic alleys with an electric accent provided by several world renowned light artists and designers.

This week's photo shows the Damascus Gate in one of its illuminated incarnations from last year's festival. The old city's most intricately designed gate was lit with a 10-minute changing light spectacle that combined colored gel washes and spotlights to highlight the gate's ornate features. The low level of projected light called for the use of a tripod, which I set up atop the stairs directly front and center of the gate, as far back as I could stand. I used my widest lens as well to encompass the full breadth of the majestic structure. As the show progressed, I fired off several shots to capture the different dramatic renderings.

The festival runs from 8 p.m. to midnight and is mostly free (there are some exhibits which require a fee to enter) and well worth a visit.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 12-24 zoom at 12mm, f8 at 1/3 sec., ISO 400.

June 10, 2011

Photo of the Week: June 10, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: There are advantages to getting up at 3 a.m. and pointing your car toward the Judean Desert: no traffic in Jerusalem and the temperature is still bearable. The biggest reward for the effort, however, is arriving at sunrise to watch the light show on the rocky hills. It only lasts for about an hour, with the peak colors hanging on for just a few moments. Nature, like photography with human subjects, also has its decisive moments, and being ready to shoot through a small window of time is critical to success in the wilderness.

This shot was taken at the entrance to Mishmar Canyon, on the Dead Sea highway between Ein Gedi and Masada, at 5:40:29 a.m., according to the file's metadata. Arriving in the pre-dawn darkness, I immediately searched the area for something prominent to anchor the composition and settled on this peak, the tallest in the area. The remainder of the image, the lower half, contains the view across the dry riverbed, the outlet for the canyon I was preparing to hike. Somehow, even in mid-September following several months without rain, the sparse vegetation had held on to its green color and seemed to be thriving in the harshest of settings. For the photographer, with plenty of water in my pack, there was nothing left to do once the sun had climbed high but enjoy the hike.

Technical Date: Nikon D70, 28-105 zoom at 38mm, f18 at 1/15th sec., ISO 400.

May 20, 2011

Photo of the Week: May 19, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: There are several possible derivations for the name given the sea which separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula at the southern tip of the Negev Desert, but none derive from the color of the water itself. For most of the year, the Red Sea is a vibrant blue-green, with darker and lighter hues appearing where the depth of the water changes. Captivated by the rich turquoise and indigo of the deeper waters, I noticed additional colors along the shoreline which nearly complete the full color spectrum or a rainbow, from red to deep violet.

This shot was taken in the early afternoon, a time of day I normally shun for the high contrast light, but my greatest obstacle here was finding a path to the middle of the sea that steered clear of the sporting activity on the water. Kiteboarders, swimmers, snorkelers, windsurfers and jetskiers all ran amuck along Eilat's southern coast, but with a little patience, I managed to secure a shot devoid of human life. I debated whether or not to include the strip of white surf and shot images where the sea is both placid and foaming. After reviewing the entire shoot, I decided this added feature gave a small burst of life to the photo without distracting from the beautiful progression of color from red to deep blue.

Technical Date: Nikon D700, 28-105 zoom at 46mm, f8 at 1/1000th sec., ISO 400.

May 12, 2011

Photo of the Week: May 12, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: A few years ago I borrowed an American flag from a former Navy SEAL who gently cautioned me to return the flag in the same pristine condition in which I was receiving it. The shoot also required an Israeli flag and I couldn't help but notice the difference in quality between the two flags. Made in China, the Israeli flag was thinner and duller in color, and, for what it represented, a lot less distinguished.

During my years living in the United States, I don't recall ever seeing a flag displayed that wasn't in perfect or near-perfect condition. It may even be illegal to display an American flag that is damaged, I don't know. Here in Israel, for the past decade, I have been collecting pictures of torn and tattered flags, battered by wind, rain, and sun, some barely recognizable.

I am myself torn about what to do with these pictures. I don't like to think that they symbolize the state of the nation as we celebrate our 63rd year of modern statehood. Rather, I prefer the "glass is half full" view, as depicted by this photo, where the flag's main elements are still vibrant and intact. Although Israel's history has been fraught with tragedy and challenge, and we remain an imperfect nation, still, we are a nation of laudable character and integrity, a bright-burning light unto the world.

Chag Sameach - Happy Independence Day. Click here to view a gallery of Israeli flags in all manner of beauty and decay.

Technical Data: Nikon F3, 135mm lens, f8 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 100.

May 05, 2011

Photo of the Week: May 5, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I asked myself an intriguing question this week: Can a nature photographer also be considered a photojournalist if his pictures are made to document the natural world? I think the answer is yes, as I often find myself recording images for no other reason than that they define the locations where they are shot.

So to some, this week's image may appear to be just a pile of rocks. To me, it is representative of the vast undeveloped stretches of the Golan Heights where it was taken, an area that, although relatively small, still maintains an aura of being untamed and wild.

Although this rock wall is clearly manmade, there is an artistic randomness to the arrangement of the stones. I like the way the lichen patches complement the splotches of clouds in the sky. I chose a low camera angle to make the wall appear a bit more imposing. The sun was at my back, and if you look closely, you'll see my shadow in the grass. After all, art is always a reflection of the inner artist. Or maybe it is nothing more than a pile of rocks.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 135mm lens, f11 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400.

April 29, 2011

Photo of the Week: April 29, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I drove past this site last week and noticed surveying stakes and bulldozers moving earth. I am accustomed to nature's disappearing act and am grateful for the photos which have captured moments never to be seen again.

Although we've almost turned the calendar to May, Israel continues to see occasional late spring showers, which provide sustenance to the greenery and flowering of the season. This shot was taken at the height of the spring bloom two years ago, in a field adjacent to the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway at the Sha'ar Hagay junction.

Prowling around at midday, when normally my camera would be tucked safely away, I continued shooting because the impressive cloud cover saves this photo from the drudgery of high-noon brightness and harsh shadows. Often, sky shows such as this will motivate me to go out and shoot, even without a subject or destination in mind. The combination of the purple Egyptian Campion accented by the red anemones provides a perfect complement to the soaring sky to complete the composition.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 12-24 mm lens at 12mm, f16@ 1/320 sec., ISO 200.

April 17, 2011

Photo of the Week: April 13, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Jerusalem's Wohl Rose Garden, opposite the Knesset on Givat Ram, is one of the city's most beautiful parks. At its peak, there are hundreds of flowering rose bushes, beautifully landscaped and identified for the amateur botanists among us. I photographed the park two years ago for a project paying tribute to the donors and I have returned there on occasion to enjoy the peace and tranquility.

As part of my approach to this assignment, I looked for rare flowers as well as examples of unusual lighting and composition that make the flowers look their best. The orange blossoms are from a rose plant known as the Anne Harkness, introduced by English breeders in the 1970s and characterized by apricot-colored petals with shadings of yellow at its base. Soft, diffuse afternoon sunlight gently enlivens the petals while the use of a long telephoto lens compresses the depth – making the background flowers appear closer – while throwing them out of focus just enough to remain identifiable.

The white and pink-flecked rose is fittingly called a Sierra Sunrise. Oddly, I found these roses growing intertwined with an unidentified, small yellow rose. I felt the curious placement of the smaller yellow rose inside this flower resembled an actual rising sun, and until I looked up images on the internet, was sure this is what gave the flower its name. Apparently not, but just the rare and unusual discovery I relish. I visited the park again this week and it is just beginning to bloom, with the flowering peak occurring in late April, May and June.

Technical Data:

Upper: Nikon D300, 70-200mm lens at 135mm, f3.2@ 1/1600 sec., ISO 400.

Lower: Nikon D300, 28-105mm macro lens at 105mm, f5@ 1/1600 sec., ISO 250.

April 06, 2011

Photo of the Week: April 6, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The greatest joys of photography are most often in the doing and only rarely in viewing the results. I don't specialize in wildlife photography, but I do understand the thrill of the hunt that drives this genre of photographer. I also know that horses don't qualify as wildlife, but anyone who has spent time with them knows they are among the gentlest and most emotive members of the animal kingdom.

And so I gladly pulled off Route 91 on the Golan Heights to admire a quartet of horses grazing on fresh spring offerings. Animals, like people, can deflate the best candid moments once the photographer gains notice. I approached the group slowly and silently and took a series of shots with a long lens. Sure enough, after a few moments, the horses looked up, broke their symmetry, and wandered over to say hello.

The backlighting worked well and this pair of animals posed without complaint, but the pleasure of those moments spent just watching them enjoy their floral feast filled me with a deeper satisfaction than this photo ever will. Happy birthday to my daughter, Liora, 20 years beautiful today.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 70-200mm lens at 175mm, f8@ 1/500 sec., ISO 200.

March 30, 2011

Photo of the Week: Mar. 30, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: In my workshops, I instruct students how to build a photograph by assembling elements around the subject. A strong subject can stand on its own, but carefully incorporating foreground and background features can elevate an image to a higher level of sophistication and, hopefully, create a greater impact on and appreciation by the viewer.

This week's photo of a blue lupine amid a field of yellow mustard is another in the "If at first you don't succeed" series. On Givat HaTurmosim (Lupine Hill) in the Ela Valley, the inaccurately named blue lupines (I hope they look purple to you as well) grow abundantly amid mustard on the hill's southern slope. I've tried in the past to take a shot of a single purple flower floating in the sea of yellow, knowing that these complementary colors will bring out the best in each other. This image exceeded my previous results for several reasons.

First, by using a very shallow depth of field, the mustard flowers closest to and furthest from the point of focus fall into an extreme blur, filling the entire frame with a soft yellow wash. Secondly, by a small stroke of luck, the nearest mustard flower occupies an area in the center of the green leaves of the plant stem, so that the leaves remain visible but slightly obscured, perfect for their reduced level of importance in the photo. Finally, the angle of the main flower and her supporting cast conveys a sense of swaying in the breeze, which is often the case. The pieces all fall into place to deliver their visual punch.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 70-200mm zoom lens at 170 mm, f4@ 1/2000th sec., ISO 320.

March 24, 2011

Photo of the Week: Mar. 24, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The fleeting colors of spring – red, pink, purple, yellow, white, orange and even blue, if you look carefully – are merely a distraction from the real show. "Green is the color of spring," crooned Van Morrison, and later Kermit the frog. And it is, in fact, "not easy being green," because it is everywhere, overly familiar and dare I say, "boring?"

Fortunately, the ascent from Route 90 up to Belvoir, just south of Tiberias, offers a host of interesting views. In late winter, when this photo was taken, the hillsides are a scintillating emerald green, though the colors fade quickly as soon as the rains subside. This image is an abstraction of the larger area. Using a long telephoto lens to cut through some of the haze, I honed in on a small section of the rolling hill that featured odd bumps and gullies that accentuate the contrast in light and textures of the shrubs and grass. I also kept the camera angle level to the horizon in order to convey the steep slope of the hill.

Sometimes we have to fight our way through the familiarity of the visual landscape, through the things we see so frequently we begin not to notice them at all. But as the song says, "green can be cool and friendly, big like an ocean, or important like a mountain." We just have to stop and take it in.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 70-200mm zoom lens at 135 mm, f8@ 1/800th sec., ISO 400.

March 17, 2011

Photo of the Week: Mar. 16, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Purim is Israel's candy holiday, a day of frivolity underscored by obligations of recalling our miraculous history and giving gifts and charity. The gifts often include candies and baked goodies to sweeten the joy of this celebration. The candy vendors at Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market use an ancient and not-so-subtle form of salesmanship: their product is eye-catching and mouth-watering, especially to the children who prod their parents to buy it.

This subject has a built-in appeal of diverse color and form, not to mention that it charms the child in all of us. I chose a wide angle lens to encompass as many of the different candies as possible. The only other choice I made was to compose the image so the candy bins move diagonally across the frame. This slight tilt gives the photo just what it needs to break up the monotony of seeing all the bins in similar shapes and sizes. Chag Purim Sameach!

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 20mm lens, f8@ 1/60th sec., ISO 800.

March 10, 2011

Photo of the Week: Mar. 10, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The power of suggestion runs deep. With our local weatherman predicting a real winter storm this week, I had visions of white fields and ice-encrusted spring blooms. So as I hiked into an almond grove in the Ela Valley late one afternoon, my mind turned from the gloriously flowering branches to drifts of fallen blossoms that had accumulated on the ground in soft, pink and snow-white piles.

My students will confirm that I drum into their heads the idea of photographic opportunity, of picking up your camera and shooting when the best moments present themselves. Often, you may have another plan in mind, but the key is to remain open to something new which may unexpectedly reveal itself.

This week's image is a case in point. I had no idea what lay in waiting as I approached the grove. As the sunlight slowly slipped away, I lay down on the ground and snapped a few quick shots of blossoms blown against pruned branches and gathered amid clumps of grass. Unlike fall foliage, which decays on the tree before dropping, these blossoms fell to the ground while still in peak form. I used a close up lens (macro) to capture the color variations and textural detail in the petals. To paraphrase the saying, if you don't like the weather, go out and make some of your own.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 28-105mm macro lens at 80mm, f8@ 1/60th sec., ISO 800.

March 03, 2011

Photo of the Week: Mar. 3, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Soggy, foggy and groggy. That about sums up this photo op. I normally try to avoid exposing expensive electronic gear to even a single drop of potentially fatal moisture, but the holy, mountaintop city of Tzfat in Northern Israel runs on miracles, so I figured I was safe shooting outside in the late-evening drizzle. I grabbed my tripod, winter coat and a small towel and ventured out along the medieval, cobblestoned alleyways of Tzfat's old city.

Despite many signs that it has entered the modern era, the old city of Tzfat transports visitors back to the 17th century. I was looking for a shot that would somehow convey this feeling of having stepped into a time warp. I found it in the musk-yellow streetlights, whose color resembles the old-fashioned sepia-toned prints and adds to the sense of having entered antiquity.

What drew me to this spot, however, was the rain. Water has tremendous reflectivity. Any light source will bounce back at the camera in often magical displays of glitter and sparkle. In this image, a single street light casts its glow on the damp branches above, the street below and the sides of the stone buildings. I never let bad weather rain on my picture parade.

Technical Data: Nikon D700, 28-105mm lens at 38mm, f16@ 1.6 sec., ISO 800.

February 24, 2011

Photo of the Week: Feb. 23, 2011

"To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Hard to disagree with the poet Emerson, especially since I beheld this field earlier in the week and found it was devoid of flowers. Now the only way back is via the pictures I shot four years ago. Still, it is a way back.

I discovered this field of anemones in Emek HaEla about one month after and 100 meters away from the photograph I featured two weeks ago. So much effort goes into scouting locations for good landscapes that I often return to places where I had earlier success, hoping to tap the treasure trove again. I am not always so fortunate.

This shot is an example of how to layer a scene with zones of depth that enrich the composition. While the area had great shooting potential in several directions, the photograph needed a strong foreground element to anchor the viewer and clarify what is seen in the distance. This cluster of flowers worked nicely and had the added attraction of the pair of pink-petalled anemone.

Using an extreme wide-angle lens (12mm) while standing upright, I pointed the camera slightly downward which had the effect of bending the foreground just a bit so that it pops out the frame. This is a delicate process, as too much distortion will give the photo an unnatural look.

Again I saw, again I heard;

The rolling river, the morning bird;—

Beauty through my senses stole,

I yielded myself to the perfect whole.

From Each and All by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Technical Data: Nikon D200, 12-24mm zoom at 12mm, f11@ 1/320 sec., ISO 400.

February 16, 2011

Photo of the Week: Feb. 16, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The human mind has a great ability to conjure images, including things we've never actually seen. In photography, this technique is called previsualization and it is of great help at times when you have an idea floating around in your head but haven't quite found it in the field. By imagining certain images I want to create, I improve my chances of seeing them when I am out shooting.

In this week's photo, previsualization helped me in two distinct ways. The shot was taken as twilight merged with night. It was so dark where I stood above Achziv Beach on Israel's northern coast that I could barely make out the forms offshore that I had seen earlier in the day. Darkness prevented me from seeing the image, so I had to rely on my mind's eye. Likewise, my camera couldn't see well enough to lock on focus, so I switched to manual mode and turned the focus ring to infinity.

I waited until nightfall because I wanted a very long exposure to smooth out the tidal action and give the image a lustrous, more serene feel. I also knew from experience, and I could see in my mind, that the long exposure would whiten the moving water and boost the contrast between the rolling sea and the rock silhouettes, thus making a more dramatic image. Even when there is very little light, we are not limited to simply shooting in the dark.

Technical Data: Nikon D300, 28-105mm zoom at 32mm, f13@30 seconds, ISO 100.

February 09, 2011

Photo of the Week: Feb. 9, 2011

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: My passion for photography motivates me to invest a lot of energy chasing after new pictures. Yet photography can also be a very grounding practice because focused attention is critical to seeing important subtleties, especially in nature. It's hard sometimes to separate from the incessant inner urge to create, but in the process I've learned how light moves, seasons evolve and where to look for a rainbow. I've learned to slow down and smell the roses.

Or the anemones, as presented in this week's photo from the Ela Valley. Although I like to keep my weekly selections in sync with what's happening out in the field, this picture is a few weeks premature. Nevertheless, it is an excellent example of the compositional tool known as the leading line – in this case an "S" curve. The leading line pulls the viewer along a specific path before arriving at the photo's center of interest.

The small grouping of sunlit flowers in the lower left corner catches the viewer's eye and from there it's around the rock and off to the races, spiraling through the light into the depth of the photo. Springtime in Israel is almost upon us, the perfect time of year to wander into the forest in search of another field of dreams.

Technical Data: Nikon D200, 28-105mm zoom at 32mm, f11@1/200 sec., ISO 320.