This year marks my 23rd year as a professional photographer – exactly half of my life on Earth. In 1991, at the age of 23, I graduated Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, receiving my Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Photography, young and enthusiast, eager to set the photo world on fire…at least I hoped.  

A month later, after sending out 150 resumés around the West with no job offers in return, I figured I might as well start my own business. I pounded the payment, shot self-assignments and had a number of images published from those shoots, and through it all my business slowly grew. There were many months where I wondered how I’d cover my expenses, pay my bills, yet somehow I was able to.

 
Many over glamorize professional photography, especially travel, assuming you trek the globe simply clicking away with ease while clients pay you. Far from the truth. You suffer, sacrifice, struggle, have successes, disappointments, moments of amazement, times of loneliness, all the while wondering where your next paycheck will come from.  Doing this for over twenty years can wear on any person.  Sure you attempt to diversify your business, obtain regular clientele, and place as many proverbial eggs in the basket as you can, but with staff turnover prevalent in our industry and an over-saturated market, you consistently fight the battle to be remembered when a photographer or photograph is needed.


Through all of this, I still can’t see myself doing anything else. My hopes were always to lead an extraordinary life, and this goal continues to drive me today. I can’t wait to capture the next image, yet I’m willing to take breaks between shoots to keep myself fresh and hungry. I continue to love photography, whether I’m taking shots with my iPhone and funkifying them to share online, or produce a commercial shoot with lights, models, and a crew for a high-end client.  I’m extremely proud of the collection of work I have; to be able to look back at my career in a tangible way is rare. These days I feel I’m at my best, combining my knowledge and experience to handle any job thrown my way, and hope to build on my collection to create some of my best images in the years to come; to use the skills I’ve acquired to be even more creative and to grow as an artist, writer, teacher and businessperson.
 
As for highlights, well I’ve been lucky enough to be published thousands of times around the world on coves of magazines, books, ads, CD covers and websites. I’ve done segments on tv, captured images with Nikon’s first DSLR way back in 1995, hung out of helicopters, finished two successful books, fought for better rates and contracts for photographers, met many amazing athletes, and had numerous articles appear in most of the major photography magazines.  As exciting as these moments were, they don’t show the countless hours of planning, preparation, and execution that went in to making them happen; the stress involved or the responsibility I carried. But no career shows this, it’s part of the deal.  

Today, I received a review of my business from a recent client that hit the nail on the head as far as what I try to provide each and every customer.  It was a nice reminder of how hard work, honesty, and pride of ownership can pay off:
 
Sean is a true professional with a great photographic eye. You can’t go wrong using him for any of your photography needs. He immediately contacted me to work out a plan for our photo shoot. He is a great listener and took copious notes so that he fully understood what I was looking for with photographer services. He also interjected his professional opinion when asked, which was a big help because I was relying on his significant expertise. On the day of the shoot, he arrived promptly, set up his equipment and proceeded to execute on every shot on my shot list. Sean was able to shoot both indoor studio shot for my barbecue grill but also outdoor “glamour” shots that had a high degree of commercial appeal. Sean will travel to you, be forth coming about his services, and is very reasonably priced given his decades of experience in photography. Cannot recommend him highly enough.

I can only wonder what the next twenty three years will bring.  At that point I’ll be 68, with any luck going strong and sharing my love for the visual world with many. I’m sure there’ll be some suffering, sacrifice, struggles, and success.  Hopefully some of that success will come in the form of a great big giant lottery ticket.  🙂  But if it doesn’t, at least I’ll have something money can’t buy- a life well lived.


Now on newsstands – the latest cover of Petersen’s Photographic with my Jenny Lake, Wyoming (Grand Teton National Park) image.  

I also have eight articles and dozens of my photos inside to read and enjoy.  Check it out in stores everywhere!


Last month I had the pleasure of photographing this cool new Argentinian BBQ design for a new client, Gaucho Garcia.  We spent a day capturing studio shots (I set up a portable on-location studio with a backdrop and lighting), and later that afternoon we set up an outdoor BBQ scene.  

 Their new site is up with my all images (including the animation of the grill rolling up), and they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign as well (accessible through GauchoGarcía.com).  
 
Check ’em out- the BBQ is amazing, the design is slick, the fundraising project looks cool, and the people are passionate and dedicated to the project: http://gauchogarcia.com/
 

All images © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com (all rights reserved worldwide)


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Most of my 2014 workshops were updated and listed on our main site, with a few “dates to be determined”.  We offer live and online workshops.  Check out my workshop schedule, sign up, and come join us sometime for great photographic instruction and a day, weekend or week of fun! 

http://seanarbabi.com/workshops/

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You can also find me on Meetup (running two groups there) where we list many of our workshops:

http://www.meetup.com/Sean-Arbabi-photographic-workshops/
http://www.meetup.com/sanfrancisco-bayarea-photography-workshops-tours/

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Thanks and Happy Shooting!
Sean


Recently I was editing some of my image files from the Eastern Sierra, a wondrous place east of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks where trees grow for thousands of years, land erodes abandoning balancing boulders, and alpine snowmelt feeds ancient lakes.

 
While I reprocessed a few shots, taking advantage of new wonderful features in Lightroom 5.2 and Photoshop CS6, I came across this scene (below)- a photo captured years ago just east of Mono Lake.  A sunset road scene on a long desolate stretch of Highway 120 west of the California/ Nevada border, documented during a long February road trip photographing the US West.  As I recalled this wonderful peaceful road that led us to our final destination of Mono Lake, the name David Gaines came to mind.
Highway 120 near the California/Nevada border at sunset © Sean Arbabi

Originally part of the Great Basin, Mono Lake is a one-of-a-kind place.  Home to trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies, and over 2,000,000 migratory waterbirds, including 35 species of shorebirds, use the ancient lake as a resting, nesting, and feeding place.  When you walk along the lakeshore viewing thousands of flies fan out as they avoid each of your footsteps, touch the salty waters painted red by the abundance of tiny shrimp, and gaze in awe at the monstrous clouds rolling over the Sierra, you feel how special and unique this body of water really is. 

The southern shores of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada at sunrise © Sean Arbabi

A lake with no outlets, the alpine streams and annual rainfall that feed it remain in the natural bowl for tens of thousands of years- that is until Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power (the DWP) began searching for new sources of water to supply their ever-growing Southern California metroplex.  From 1941 to 1990, the lake level began dropping as the DWP diverted unrestrained amounts of water from Mono Basin streams.  Mono Lake dropped 45 vertical feet over 50 years, lost half its volume, doubled in salinity, and exposed previously submerged tufa towers (limestone structures that grow exclusively underwater).

Moonrise over the Eastern Sierra, as seen from the southern Tufa-lined shores of Mono Lake © Sean Arbabi

 

Courtesy of NASA

People like David, and those who worked tirelessly at the Mono Lake Committee, fought Los Angeles’ DWP from draining the lake through numerous ecological studies, court cases, and injunctions.  I 1989 I joined the cause, photographing the Mono Lake Bike-A-Thon, capturing over a hundred riders as they peddled 332 miles from the DWP offices to the shores of the lake, raising funds for the fight.  Many of the decisions that came in favor of Mono Lake and the Mono Lake Basin allow us all- humans, birds, and wildlife- to enjoy its wonders.  Sadly, Owens Lake, an ancient body of water covering 108 square miles nestled in southern Owens Valley 10,000 feet below the towering Whitney range, was not able to be saved, drained by the DWP over a span of roughly 40 years.  Full in 1913, desiccated by the mid 1940s.  Much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and today the mostly dry lake bed is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.

Looking west at Highway 136 and Owens Lake below the Whitney Range © Sean Arbabi
David Gaines (courtesy of the Mono Lake Committee)

So why did a photo of a highway remind me of David Gaines, a person I never met?  Well, David was tragically killed in a car accident in the winter of 1988 along Highway 395, south of Mono Lake, on a stretch of road similar to the one I posted above.  I drove along the road he did a few months later and captured that photo above on my first visit to the area.  Someday I will use that road to take my two daughters to the shores of Mono Lake.  I will tell them about the history of this region, about its ancient waters, and how we are still able to share it with future generations thanks to people like David Gaines.  He may have been taken far too early, but he gave far more to the world than most.


Way back in 1990 when I was 22, during my college days at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara CA, I had the chance to photograph Josef Muench at the tender age of 85 – father of David, grandfather to Mark – all great photographers in their own right, David probably being the most famous of the three.  


Josef was a landscape pioneer, many of his images gracing the pages of Arizona Highways for much of the 1940s and 1950s.  To my understanding, he worked for the magazine for roughly 50 years, and his stunning landscape images (shot with his 4×5 camera in 1936) helped place Monument Valley on the map.  He returned hundreds of times and to many, his views are some of the most memorable photographs ever taken of this southwest location.  He went on to capture images around the world, in Africa, Alaska, Asia, Canada, Colorado, Europe, and Hawaii.  Even the unmanned Voyager Expeditions, launched in 1977, included one of his photos (in a group of 117 images of Earth’s landscapes) – a snow-covered Sequoia redwood taken in Kings Canyon National Park.


Born in Germany in 1904, some say Josef once threw a tomato at Adolf Hitler, hitting him in the face.  I couldn’t verify this, but he sounded like my kinda guy.  While writing this post, I was able to find a nice quote online, Josef talking about the deserts of the Southwest: “When I first saw the desert I liked it. It was new and different. It immediately took on a meaning to me. I had heard it was barren. It isn’t. A little cactus–so delicate and beautiful, can hide from you. You have to go slowly, and look carefully.”


I can’t recall how I found his information when I was in college, but when I contacted him to fill one of my school assignments, he was kind enough to schedule a time, welcomed me into his home, sat patiently while I set up my 4×5 view camera, and allowed me to capture this portrait, even giving his suggestions on how he might pose.  

 

Portrait of Josef Muench, Santa Barbara, California – © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com

We talked for a bit about photography, and although I wasn’t old enough to really interview him the way I would today, I knew I was with an old photographic soul, so I attempted to soak up his words of wisdom during our brief time together.  Ironically we shared the same age (11) when we received our first cameras, and now I’ve had the chance to photograph some of the places he visited (although oddly enough, I’ve traveled all through the Southwest but never been to Monument Valley and have had the desire for years).


He past away in 1998 at the age of 94, but his images live on- just Google his name (Josef with an “f”) to review some of his work.  May I be so lucky as to live as long as he did, viewing the world through photographic eyes.


A fellow photographer and colleague recently posted this link on his Facebook page and it caught my eye.  A Dad and his daughter were recently rescued in Yosemite when they got trapped in this dangerous valley I once photographed – check out the article to read more: http://www.nps.gov/yose/blogs/Stranded-Hikers-Rescued-from-Tenaya-Canyon.htm
 
When in nature, one wrong decision can turn into an ordeal, a lot of extra work, stress and exhaustion, or worse- severe injury or death.


What caught my attention was the location of where these hikers were rescued from – Tenaya Canyon.  Tenaya Canyon is an area just East of Yosemite Valley, slightly rising above and gradually continuing up toward Tenaya Lake in a series of steep climbs, thousands of feet below Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, and Mount Watkins.  It’s the one area on the topographical maps of Yosemite and the Sierra labeled “Hiking in Tenaya Canyon is dangerous and not recommended”; and it’s one of the spots my brother and I found ourselves in one long backpacking weekend.

Here are a few shots of Tenaya Canyon from different vantage points:

Below: Two views of Tenaya Canyon from Cloud’s Rest, 5000 feet above – the first, a panorama of the canyon, and the second of the last section near Yosemite Valley (at bottom right)
 
Below: Two sunset/ dusk views of Tenaya Canyon below Half Dome from Olmsted Point
Below: A glacier carved Tenaya Canyon carving through the Sierra toward Half Dome (the black & white in morning light, and the color version at sunset) as seen from Mount Watkins (smoke from a distant forest fire rolls overhead)
 

John Muir wrote about this area in his story “A Geologist’s Winter Walk“, hiking up the canyon from Mirror Lake.  He writes I thought, a fast and a storm and a difficult canyon were just the medicine I needed.  It’s a good read as is any of his jaunts into the mountains.  In Muir’s words (which I edited down a bit), This canyon is accessible only to mountaineers…After I had passed the tall groves…and scrambled around the Tenaya Fall…ascending a precipitous rock front, smoothed by glacial action, when I suddenly fell — for the first time since I touched foot to Sierra rocks. After several somersaults, I became insensible from the shock, and when consciousness returned I found myself wedged among short, stiff bushes, trembling as if cold, not injured in the slightest.  Judging by the sun, I could not have been insensible very long; probably not a minute, possibly an hour; and I could not remember what made me fall, or where I had fallen from; but I saw that if I had rolled a little further, my mountain climbing would have been finished, for just beyond the bushes the canyon wall steepened and I might have fallen to the bottom. 

And then he writes a line I just love, and one that has become our silly mantra in the outdoors (and in other venues of life) was one he wrote after falling and knocking himself unconscious navigating the treacherous narrow canyon.  

I felt degraded and worthless. 

As in classic Muir fashion, he made it up through the canyon and returned to Yosemite Valley a few days later via a safer route.


By cool efforts, along glassy, ice-worn slopes, I reached the upper end in a little over a day, but was compelled to pass the second night in the gorge…I escaped from the gorge about noon, after accomplishing some of the most delicate feats of mountaineering I ever attempted.

I hadn’t read this account of the canyon before my brother and I took our August trip, but I wished I had.  We headed off on a three-day backpacking trip, not completely planned out, starting with a 7.2 mile trek up to Cloud’s Rest from Tenaya Lake.  We were either going to camp at Cloud’s Rest and return the next day, or spend another day out there somewhere – either heading to the valley or to another high country location.  Not growing up together, it was our first backcountry trip as brothers, so it was special.

Here are a few images I documented along our three-day journey.  The first (below) is a sea of smooth granite curved into a bowl-shaped depression as if from a cirque glacier, captured just down from the Cloud’s Rest trail in an area known as the First Rock Bowl.  This was after we spent a night atop 9,930 foot summit of Cloud’s Rest.  Heading back toward Lake Tenaya, we veered off the trail and cross-country hiked to get here, no designated trail leading us. 


It was a magical spot – Tenaya Creek trickling through various bowls of water we sat next to.  We plan on heading back here in the next month or so – it’s been too long.

 


At this point, we decided to head toward Yosemite Valley somehow. I had some knowledge Tenaya Canyon didn’t have a trail leading to the valley, so we headed West.  

This fourth image was shot as we head over a ridge cross-country from the First Rock Bowl to a dry creek bed just south of Olmsted Point.  Familiar with my surroundings, I had an idea where we were going, but without a more detailed topo map (mine covered the general area), I didn’t know if we’d hit a trail that would lead us to the valley.


This second day grew long and after climbing up and down a few ridges, we came to a dry creek and followed it to the edge overlooking Tenaya Canyon and across to Half Dome, Quarter Domes, and where we started our day on Cloud’s Rest.  It was a great view but we knew we couldn’t enjoy it for too long because we had to make a decision.  Filled with an adventurous spirit, my brother wanted to head down into the rugged dry river bed, packed thick with granite boulders.  But it looked steep and was the unknown.  I had a bit more backpacking experience and felt uneasy with this choice, but after some discussion of our options agreed with the route.  I told him if we reached any places we felt were points of no return (such as a place were we might be able to get down, but not back up), then we’d turn back.  My fear was we couldn’t see the entire route down, and if it appeared more hazardous than we thought, without ropes or any rock climbing experience, it could be extremely dangerous.  We were also very low on water and expected this river to be one of our fill-up spots.

The rest of the afternoon was spent maneuvering through the boulder-ridden dry river bed, passing our backpacks down to each other as to be as balanced and safe as possible.  We even past an airplane engine, crumbled and rusted from a crash in 1958.  Soon the sun set and it grew too dark and dangerous to continue- even with headlamps.  We had to settle in for the night, in a cramped sandy area too small to even set up our two-man tent.  From this vantage point, we could see Pywiack Cascade flowing 600 feet over a granite lip into Lost Valley.  The base looked to be only a couple of hundred feet down it, maybe 15-20 minute away, but we weren’t even sure we could get there.  We were tempted to continue just for the mere fact our water bottles were now empty.  Without any water for dinner, we ate what food we could and crashed for the night, our throats parched and our spirits a bit dampened.

Daybreak couldn’t come any sooner.  As soon as the first light gave us enough to see, we packed up and continued our scramble down toward the pool of water at the base of the waterfall.  All we had were potable water pills, and the ten minute wait to purify the water was torturous.  When you run out of water and you’re thirsty, boy you appreciate it all the more.  At this point there was still some descent but the valley widened and flattened out, and I was a bit relieved.



Here we stood near the bottom of Pywiack Cascade that morning, deep in Tenaya Canyon looking toward Half Dome at the start of Lost Valley (below).  The image above looking at the Pywiack’s pool and the ridge high up from where we came- little did we know what was ahead.



We played around a bit, then followed Tenaya Creek from the waterfall down into the V-shaped valley, and soon most of the creek seemed to sneak underground as the river bed turned mostly dry, which made it a bit easier to hike through instead of the thick foliage on each side.  Piles of bear scat dotted the valley, a bit unnerving since I knew these bears were probably from Yosemite Valley and less nervous to approach people.  I also had a feeling this rocky dry river bed was the calm before the storm.  I kept saying to myself, this looks easy but where ever this creek comes out, I have a feeling it might not be a good place for us.

Sure enough after a few hours zig-zagging through the rock bed, we came to a sandy area, and just beyond a few large granite boulders (most likely glacier erratics) we came to a place I call “The Gorge of Death”.  A steep drop-off where Tenaya Creek burst out and down into an overhanging gorge, unnavigable without serious climbing experience.  Any hopes of getting to Yosemite Valley, which felt all too close, were dashed.  It was Sunday mid-day and knew we had to decide what to do, but it wasn’t much of a decision – the only option was to hike back to our car at Tenaya Lake, miles away and thousands of feet above.  As we made our way back, a creek bed to our right looked easier and more inviting, but we decided against it, figuring the route we came down was the one we knew best – it was doable and predictable albeit hard.

Below: Retracing our steps back up Tenaya Canyon through the relatively dry Tenaya Creek
 


So we spent the rest of the day retracing our steps, filling our bottles at the bottom of Pywiack Cascade, and after a long hike up a few thousand feet in elevation gain, scrambling up the dry river bed, and over a number of false summits, we finally made it back to Olmsted Point – almost out of water again, beat, yet a bit relieved to have no major incidents.  Ahhhhh.  Off with my backpack, remove the boots and socks, guzzle down a gallon of water, smile, hitchhike back to our car in Yosemite Valley, and drive on home.

I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Lost Valley – maybe above it where it’s safer and more accessible, but not all the way down into Tenaya Canyon.  It was an adventure, but one that could have easily turned bad.  With a little luck, being extremely careful when my inner voice was telling me to heed the warnings, we had a special memory instead of a nightmare.

Below: A ridge above Olmsted Point at dusk

For more on navigating Tenaya Canyon, take serious caution, don’t travel alone, know what you’re doing, tell someone where you’re going, take lots of water, and see the route description at: http://www.summitpost.org/tenaya-canyon/160152


I just had to share a photo I captured yesterday while teaching a photo workshop on flowers at Calumet and the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco.  Sharing not so much to show the image I captured, yet more so the detail I’ve loving in my new Nikon D800E 36MP DSLR (and no, Nikon doesn’t pay or sponsor me).In a garden of dahlia flowers, I captured this scene with my 70-200mm f/2.8 Tamron lens – not a macro lens.  Take into account this bumblebee was visiting various flowers, buzzing in and out of each one, constantly on the move, so I wasn’t dealing with a still subject, nor was I using a tripod.  Even outside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, on the edge of the coastal fog rolling in, the flowers were catching some wind and moving themselves.

As far as my DSLR goes, yeah, I love it- it’s the camera I’ve always wanted.  The image sensor ranks even higher than the D4 (in fact DxO Labs rated it the highest DSLR on the market), and that’s a big part of why I bought it.  It’s also about the engine of this beast – 36 megapixels, which for an outdoor/ landscape/commercial photographer provides huge files to blow up nicely, tons of intricate detail, and minimal noise in a top-notch full-frame image sensor.  There’s lots of extra bells and whistles – cool new LiveView functions, an incredibly fast auto-focus (although I still manual focus a ton), and a sturdy well-built frame.

This image was captured at 1/400 sec, using f/2.8 and ISO 100 in manual exposure mode while spot metering.  You can see the detail of the bee here in a close-up.

It’s rare that a piece of equipment gets me excited about photography – usually it’s my subject, the location, the moment, the light.  This Nikon camera has energized me about the images I hope to capture in the near future!


26Jan

My image on the cover of "Running on Empty"

Finally received my copy of Running On Empty by ultramarathoner Marshall Ulrich- can’t wait to read it.  

For the cover, they used an image I captured of Marshall running in Death Valley National Park– a slow exposure with flash at dusk as the full moon rose over the sweltering California desert in mid July, temperatures well over 115°F.  When I shot this image, Marshall was roughly 20-25 miles into his epic record-setting pace of running 151 miles in 33 hours.


I photographed Marshall three times running in the Badwater 146, an amazing ultramarathon race from the lowest point in the 48 states (-282 feet below sea level, Badwater, Death Valley National Park) to the highest point in the lower 48 (14,505 feet above sea level, Mt Whitney, Sequoia National Park).  The race is run in mid-July when temperatures are at their hottest – the three years I covered the event, at 6pm, the start of the race, temperatures were recorded at 118°F, 121°F, and 126°F (note- temperatures are measured in shade or underground).  I didn’t think the human body was capable of completing a race like this, but a few dozen men and women proved it was possible.  


The year I shot this image, Marshall had a near death experience mid way through the race, and in talking to him as we hiked up the last 12 mile section toward the summit of Mt. Whitney, he described some of the hallucinations he was having as in came in and out of reality.  Most people think these athletes are out to kill themselves, but that is far from their goal – from my understanding, it’s about pushing their own limits, and finding a peace in that challenge.


I got to know Marshall over the years, covering him again in a few adventure races such as the Eco-Challenge.  I can truly say he’s a kind, caring, humble person who’s performed some of the most amazing feats of running by any human being – someone who should be a household name but isn’t – at least not yet.  This book covers the 52 days he ran across the United States – over 3000 miles, at the age of 57 – 52 days in a row that is- unbelievable.


Marshall live in Colorado and continues to run at the age of 62.  If you are into running or just looking for a good read, check his book out: http://marshallulrich.com/runningonempty.htm


On a side note, another great running book to consider is Martin Dugard’s To Be a Runnerhttp://www.martindugard.com/.  I traveled with Marty around the world a number of times covering some adventure races- he wrote about the events and I photographed them.  Another good guy as well as an experienced author.



17Dec

My article for Engadget Primed

Check out my 1st feature article on image sensors for Engadget Primed: http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/16/engadget-primed-why-your-cameras-sensor-size-matters/


Tons of info on the history of an image sensor, what it is, how cameras have evolved, and where they are today.  You’ll be an expert by the time you’re done reading the piece.  🙂


I’ll be writing more big pieces for Engadget- it’s a great web magazine/ tech blog that receives anywhere from a million to ten million hits a day.  I’m glad to be a part of their team!