Filling the space, Kairouan, Tunisia, 2008
The narrow street, spanned by a thin arch, seems to squeeze the huge cumulous cloud that soars overhead. The scene would be lovely without it -- it becomes surreal once the cloud exerts its pressure above the tiny figures standing below the arch.
A painter’s sky, Cap Bon, Tunisia, 2008
The massive outline of Zembra Island echoes nature’s brush strokes in the clouds that loom just off the tip of Cap Bon – where Tunisia juts into the Mediterranean, only 100 miles from Sicily. I increase the painterly look by muting the intensity of color and darkening the image slightly to bring out the texture in the billowing gray and white clouds that hover the island.
Watchtower, Sousse, Tunisia, 2008
A fluffy cumulous cloud hangs in the late afternoon sky next to a golden watchtower standing over the 9th century wall enclosing the ancient medina of Sousse, central Tunisia’s port city. I liked the way the cloud repeats the round shape of the tree below it.
Boardwalk, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 2008
I compare the scale of these dramatic rain clouds to the tiny figures of the tourists on the boardwalk below them. The tourists are silhouetted, which reveals form instead of detail – there is ample variety in their posture and gait, particularly in the man at far right who incongruously seems to be crouching. (Perhaps he, like me, is making a photograph.) The steam rising from the thermal pool behind the people defines their silhouettes by isolating them from the dark background. The hill at right is lined with dead trees – the residue of the 1988 Yellowstone fires – adding a surrealistic touch to the scene.
Mount Moran from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 2008
By framing Mount Moran vertically, I stress the flow of dark clouds that gather around its 12,600-foot high summit, as well as the reflection of its glacier in the Snake River below. A moment earlier, I photographed the same scene in a horizontal frame ( http://www.pbase.com/pnd1/image/104710882
), eliminating most of the clouds and making the mountain larger in the process. These images express their ideas in differing ways – this vertical shot draws the eye from river to sky, while the horizontal shot sweeps across the mountain range and its reflection. This image expresses its idea through a vertical sweep of moisture -- we move from the river and its reflection, to the glacier, and finally to the rain laden clouds overhead. Without those clouds, the scene would not be as expressive.
Cloud of gold, Phoenix Mountain Preserve, Arizona, 2008
It is important to remember that we are not just photographing the shapes and textures of clouds themselves, but we are also photographing the intensity and coloration of the light that may be reflecting off the clouds. I made this image after sunset, from my own backyard. The large cumulous cloud soars from its nest, bursting like a projectile through the veil of thin clouds encircling it. The silhouetted hills and circle of lingering thin clouds offer context to the huge cumulous cloud that still reflects the colors of a sun that has already slipped below the horizon. The summer night is upon us, yet the golden cloud reminds us of the day that is done.
Tulloch Mill Ruins, Knights Ferry, California, 2008
Thousands of miners passed through this town as they crossed the Stanislaus River on their way to the gold diggings during the heyday of California’s Gold Rush. The massive ruins of a flourmill still stand in a field of rusty weeds under a sky that seems to come from a Van Gogh painting. The swirling white clouds in the deep blue sky echo the swirls of pattern in the weedy field below. Effective landscape photographs will often convey meaning by combining ideas expressed by both the land and the sky above. In this case, the repeating swirls on both ends of the image provide a richly textured canvas for the ruins of the old mill.
High flyer, Kerala backwaters, India, 2008
As the sun sets on the final evening of our Backwaters cruise, a stork soared high above our houseboat. By shooting at the stork, which was well above the horizon, I removed everything on the ground, making it seem as if the image is made from a plane, far above the setting sun. The light rain clouds provide an atmospheric screen, gradually diminishing as they rise into the sky, almost embracing the stork.
Storm cloud, Kerala backwaters, India, 2008
A few minutes after making the preceding image, a magnificent storm cloud gathered behind a stand of palm trees on the horizon. It moves towards us through the glow of a setting sun with explosive energy.
Heavy cloud, Kerala backwaters, India, 2008
This image was made forty five minutes after the preceding photograph. The oncoming storm cloud is now directly overhead but the rain never comes. Instead, the day’s last light glows above the distant palm trees. The heavy black cloud gives this image its character, and sets it apart from an ordinary post-sunset image. I composed this photograph differently than the preceding shot, including less sky and more water, adding space for a reflection that echoes the pink sky and black clouds overhead.
Crown of gold, Cochin Harbor, India, 2008
The gateway to Cochin's harbor offered us an unforgettable sight just after sunset. A blue hole in the golden clouds suggests a harbor of its own. I spot metered on the brightest spot in the sky, darkening the scene and giving the circle of clouds as much room as I could in the frame, reducing the amount of water and allowing ample space for the crown of gold to work its magic.
35,000 feet over the South China Sea, 2007
Looking out of the window of our jet heading into Hong Kong, I noticed that the towering cumulous clouds were reflecting on the surface of the South China Sea and could not resist digging my camera out of my carry-on and making this image.
It was hard to define the exact boundaries between cloud, sea, and sky. It is this ambiguity that gives this image its incongruous fascination and great beauty. Shooting through the heavy plastic window of an airliner may not be the best way to make photographs, but in photographic expression, content is always more important than form. And this image works as expression.