Tag Archives: film

Mt. Vision Moon & Pacific Sunset

Twenty-five years ago this month I stood behind my tripod-mounted camera on a rock outcropping near Mount Vision on the Inverness Ridge. As I gazed to the east, a spectacular full moon rose above the knuckle-like creases of Black Mountain.  In the valley, a thick luminous fog rose, gradually swallowing the mountain’s sensual folds.

This was the second consecutive evening that I had ventured to that high ridge in search of a magical moonrise photograph. On the first evening my timing was wrong, but I ended up witnessing and photographing a spectacular sunset before leaving the mountain. My return to Mt. Vision the next evening almost didn’t happen, but somehow I managed to make it to the top. It turned out to be one of the most memorable of many photographic adventures I’ve had in the Point Reyes National Seashore. I commemorated these two evenings in my book, Point Reyes 20 Years. Here are the essays I wrote about the making of Pacific Sunset and Mount Vision Moonrise. These two photographs are forever connected and etched in my heart and mind.

Pacific Sunset, September 1989
From atop the Inverness Ridge on Mount Vision, you can look into two worlds—westward to the calm esteros that spill past rocky headlands to the Pacific Ocean, or to the east where you’ll see the fat knuckles of Black Mountain protecting the Olema Valley.

On a late November day in 1989, I went to Mount Vision to photograph the full moon. I hiked the trail north to the overlook from where I’d photographed Snow on Black Mountain. The sun had not yet set as I scanned the eastern horizon for the predicted location of the moonrise. As my eyes adjusted to the still bright sky, I saw that the moon was already up; its ghostly form was disappointingly high above Black Mountain. By the time the sky darkened enough for a good photograph, the moon would be hopelessly out of my composition. My shoulders slumped. I sighed audibly and then packed my equipment to trek back up the trail. I loaded everything into the van, and slowly drove out from the trailhead parking area.
To the west, a fiery sun was poised above a bank of Pacific fog, illuminating it and the icy cirrus clouds above it. I pulled over abruptly, as there were only minutPacific Sunsetes left before the sun would plunge into the sea. Abandoning my custom of measuring the light with my spotmeter, I made a wild guess at exposure and took several frames of this remarkable scene. The result is Pacific Sunset from Mount Vision.

As I left the mountain that evening, I knew that I’d return the next night to try to shoot the moon again, but I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams what an incredible sight the next moonrise would be.

Mount Vision Moonrise, September 1989
As I loaded my car the next evening, I felt discouraged about my chances of making a worthwhile moon photograph. A heavy wet fog had settled into the valley where I lived. Pulling onto the highway, I had to switch on my windshield wipers in order to see, and the fog thickened rapidly as I drove up the mountain road. Halfway to the summit, I considered turning the van around and returning to the warmth of my cabin. But something kept me going up the mountain—the fog so dense now I had to put the wipers on high.Mount Vision Moonrise

I was nearly to the top of the ridge with about 100 feet of elevation to go, when it happened. I drove right out of the fog. The darkening sky was clear, and a radiant full moon rose directly above Black Mountain. My heart quickened. And although I didn’t think about this until later, the very fog that had seemed my enemy became a generous partner. The moon shone brightly and magically. Below the mountain, a blanket of luminous fog filled the valley.


Olema Hill Triptych

TOMALES BAY & BLACK MOUNTAIN click for enlarged version

click for enlarged version

In the 1990s my wife and I lived in the village of Olema. A half mile from our home, on Olema Hill, is the northern terminus of the Bolinas Ridge Trail. The trail rises steeply past beautiful northern overlooks of the valley below. I’ve spent many happy afternoons hiking there with my camera. When I think of a view that says “summer hills and Marin County,” I think of a photograph I made there on a June afternoon in 1998.

One day, around the summer solstice in 1998, the evening light beckoned me. I gathered my photo gear and drove up Olema Hill to the trailhead. A short hike up to my favorite spot, a rocky out-cropping, provided the panoramic view I sought. Spread out before my camera’s lens was the valley, bordered by Tomales Bay and the Inverness Ridge to the west and the lush knuckle-like folds of Black Mountain to the east. The light was gorgeous and I was in my favorite spot! As the sun dropped lower it back-lit the undulating hills, adding drama and dimension to the scene before me. I made several exposures with my view camera. Later after proofing the film in my darkroom, I identified negative #17 as the most evocative of these exposures. This piece of film was beautiful. It captured many of the feelings I have about the splendor of these rolling hills we live among. I titled my new image Tomales Bay and Black Mountain.

Making a print that expressed the beauty of this moment turned out to be daunting. Over the years, I’ve worked hard in my darkroom, laboring to express the beauty I saw that day.  I made several good ones, which collectors acquired, but many more went into the recycle bin. After a while I gave up trying to make that print and stopped showing it in my gallery.

OLEMA HILL TRIPTYCH click for larger version

click for larger version

Flash forward to 2012. That year I re-tooled, changing my printing methods from the wet darkroom to digital pigment prints made in a fully lit room. I began scanning my original film negatives. As I became more experienced with the new technology I discovered that these new scans were yielding much more expressive prints than were possible in the darkroom. My spirits were buoyed when I revisited the scan of Tomales Bay and Black Mountain. The scan revealed subtleties in the film never before visible. Finally I was able to make the print I always wanted, true to the lighting I saw and the feelings I had on that summer evening in 1998.

Recently, one of my clients requested a large triptych for her new home. The design required we work from one of my existing singular images and divide it into three large vertical panels that would be framed separately. In searching through possible candidates, we settled on Tomales Bay & Black Mountain. There was no question that it was the strongest option. It worked fabulously as each panel has a strong element of interest, yet together it flowed as one piece of art. Her version hangs proudly in her Manhattan home. This week, I made the first version for display in my gallery. This one is in a single large 30×40″ frame, with a triple window cut in the mat. I call the triptych Olema Hill Triptych, but it’s also known as Tomales Bay & Black Mountain Triptych.

Although the single image version is still one of my favorites, personally, I prefer the triptych view – – it makes it feel more expansive and draws me to look at each panel in detail while still retaining a sense of the overall image. As always, I welcome your comments. Please let me know which of these versions is your favorite and why.



Does the Print Matter in the Digital Era?

There’s been much talk lately about the demise of the photographic print and the rise of its would-be replacement, the electronically presented digital image. Some will tell you that the battle is already over and that soon there will be no printing and no prints. After all, they say, we already view most of our photographs on laptops, tablets, or, lordy-me, our smart phone screens.  I’ll admit that back-lit, digital photographs viewed on today’s lcd screens are stunning, but I’m not ready to write the obit for the traditional photographic print.

Although the trans-illuminated image and the photographic print each inform and communicate, they affect us in fundamentally different ways. The electronic image is powerful but transitory, depending on electrical charges to exist. It’s elusive, like a dream that’s gone when we awaken. On the other hand, the photographic print is tangible and persistent. We can feel it’s solidity, sense it’s presence. It is there when we want it, accessible as long as there is light. Each serves different purposes–one represents art, the other is art.

Prints are a feast for our senses, whether framed, jewel-like, behind glass, or available to hold and touch from their folders and boxes. I love the way they feel in my hands, their weight and texture. I even enjoy their signature scents. It’s good that they’re still there when I walk in a room and look up at the wall. I also like knowing that I am looking at the image the way the artist wanted me to see it. I just feel more connected to prints than I do to the digital images that appear and disappear on my computer screen.

Nevertheless, digital images on my lcd screen are indispensable to my work. I use digital imaging both for the creation and representation of my artwork. I know that these electronic images are not the actual art, but rather the processing tools for the finished pieces, my  prints. And it is deeply satisfying to express my feelings and thoughts using this technology to create real and enduring artifacts. I keep clear the distinction between digital image and print, not confusing one for the other.

I love the fact that these digital images do become tangible–appearing in a book, a folio, or a frame–for us to see, hold and touch. And, over time, the enduring presence of a tangible print on our wall, will grow with us in a way that a fleeting image can’t.

So, the next time you reach into your wallet to fish out that precious photo of someone you love, be glad that we still have and can make photographs on paper. It’s a tradition that isn’t going to go away anytime soon!

A Favorite View Disappears

The other day my wife, Jean, and I took a ride up Mount Vision Road to look for the view I had recorded over 20 years ago in my photograph, Point Reyes Sunset. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

I’ve been smitten with grand overviews since I was a little boy. I’m sure I got this fascination from my dad, who took our family to various overlooks to share the views that impressed him. Near our home in Connecticut, we observed the splendors visible from East Rock, a mile-long trap-rock ridge overlooking New Haven and the waters of Long Island Sound. Then, on a family trip to his brother’s place in El Paso, our whole family marveled at the magnificent view Dad showed us from the top of Scenic Drive. We were easily 10 times higher than the East Rock viewing spot.

Years later, when I first came to Point Reyes, I began exploring, searching for the most splendid views near my new home. When I discovered the main overlook of Drakes Estero and the Point on Mount Vision Road, I was bowled over. It quickly became one of my favorite vistas. I was amazed to see in one sweeping view, the magnificent land mass from the Limantour Estero to the south, across the rugged headlands of Point Reyes to Abbotts Lagoon in the north. The Park Service had cleared a little parking area and erected a sign to make it easy to find. I would bring my out-of-town guests there to share the beauty of Point Reyes from this expansive overview.

In the late 1980s I began photographing the view there. I drove to this outlook scores of times with my camera, seeking the best light to express the majesty there. I discovered that late afternoons were best. And so it was on a winter afternoon in January 1991, that everything came together. A storm front was moving out of the area, leaving broken skies and cloud remnants to the west. I walked to my favorite location and set my camera on the tripod. The sun was hidden behind a long ropy cloud. I felt hopeful that I would get my photograph as the sun dropped lower and emerged into the clear sky near the horizon. But before it did, I was surprised to witness god rays bursting in all directions from behind the cloud! I made several exposures and after developing the film, I found one negative that captured the moment perfectly. I titled that photograph, simply, Point Reyes Sunset, which has become a favorite among collectors of my work.

Point Reyes Sunset

Point Reyes Sunset – January, 1991 – Please Click for enlarged view

Now, some 20 years later, I wanted to show Jean where I had set the camera when I made Point Reyes Sunset. As we drove to the top, I also wondered if things had changed much since the Inverness Ridge Fire of 1995. We drove the switch-backed road up to the parking location. The park service sign was gone. Coyote bush had spread more than man tall everywhere. New-growth pines and a thicket of brush blocked the full panorama. I eventually found where I had stood to make this photograph. I felt grateful that I had recorded Point Reyes Sunset before the fire. Only fragments of my original view remain.

Here’s what it looks like now:

Looking north from Point Reyes Sunset location

South view from same position Point Reyes Sunset was exposed.

Looking south from Point Reyes Sunset location

Moon Photography at Church Hill

Catching the moon before the sun goes down

Last night, I went with two other photographers to photograph the moon as it rose above the hills east of the Nicasio village square. In a break from my normal routine, I had agreed to take my students out two full days before the day of the 100% – illumined moon. In the past, it had been my custom to teach the moon workshop just one day before full. Going out a day earlier meant that the moon would clear the tall hills behind St. Mary’s Church before the sunlight disappeared from the foreground.  With the small class, I was able to find some time to capture some images of this strikingly photogenic moon and place. Click on the images for enlarged versions.

For those who like to know some of the technical details, I used my Sony Nex-7 with its kit zoom lens (18-55 focal length). Also, because a student needed to borrow my tripod, I did something that I never recommend: I shot hand-held with SteadyShot turned on!

Wetlands Barn Interiors folio released

Last night’s moon photo session was a welcome celebration as I had just finished printing the first signed, numbered copies of my new Wetlands Barn Interiors folio. This 12-print fine art collection had taken up many hours over the last several weeks. There’s special discounting available for you until May 15th, more info, and ordering page at the link above.  Also, I’ve put together a free downloadable PDF Folio version for your preview. It too links back to the main folio page. Enjoy!

Oak and Moon, Church Hill 226During the day of the actual full moon, the moon would’ve been hidden behind the hills until well after the sun had set. Going out an evening earlier made all the difference.

Parabolic hill and moon 237Church Hill Moonrise 246Church Hill Moonrise 233

Marty Knapp – a film by Logan Kelsey

Logan Kelsey short film on Marty Knapp posted
I just got an email from my friend, Logan Kelsey, telling me he posted the film he made of me photographing Point Reyes. I hope you enjoy this nearly 4-minute-long journey as Logan uses his photographic art to masterfully show how I create mine:

A Personal, Creative Project
This January, Logan Kelsey, a San Francisco Bay area film editor and director, visited me at my gallery to ask if he could make a short film about me. He told me it would be a personal project, one that would mean much to him because of his deep connection to Point Reyes and my photography of this place. Logan, who now lives in Mill Valley, had lived in Point Reyes for several years when he was a young boy, and as he later told me, his most cherished memories came from those years. How could I resist?

The timing was perfect for me, as things had slowed down at the studio after the holidays. and the idea was fascinating. He explained we would get together several times including a sit-down at my studio where he would interview me, and then a few times at landscape locations which I had previously photographed, so he could film me at work.

A Surprising Coincidence
As we worked together, traveling to and from several iconic Point Reyes locations, we became friends. The experience was enriching for both of us. While driving back from Drakes Bay, Logan told me about some of his memories of living in Inverness. We took a little detour so he could drive past his childhood home.  As we turned off the main road, my own memories were sparked. I had also lived on this street myself, very long ago. He slowed down, and, as I looked up at the house where I had lived, he pulled over and pointed toward the very same house. “There it is!”  We were both speechless. At different times, both his family and mine had lived in the same house! We both have cherished memories of living here.

I told Logan that  while living there, I had made what I considered to be my first truly good photograph. Inverness Porch, was captured on a Saturday morning in 1974 from my kitchen doorway. The fact that my creative photography had begun, there, at this house we both knew so well, became a touchstone. I believe this is reflected in the intimate quality and mood of Logan’s filming of me. The music, composed and scored by Dexter Britain, melds perfectly with the flow of images and narration. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

About Logan Kelsey
I learned that Logan not only cares deeply about the quality of his work,  but that he is passionate about the people he works with whose creative efforts strike a chord with him. He lately has been working with smaller creative businesses, making films that help establish the brand for these companies. This current work balances the rigors of his ongoing film and editing work with larger, household name corporations. You can learn more about Logan and his company, Vertical Online when you go to his blog about the making of the film here:
Logan Kelsey’s blog about Marty Knapp film

Scenes in the film
Logan’s film begins and ends on the rocky bluffs that form the headlands near Chimney Rock. If you look closely, near the end (3:05), you’ll see a congregation of Sea Lions on the beach below. They barked continuously, amusing us with their animated conversation, as Logan and I worked on the wind-swept bluffs high above them.

Here’s a list of some of the other scenes you’ll find in the film:

0:26 Horseman 985 View Camera, my only film camera used between 1998 – 2011            0:35 Family album, Marty childhood through high school portraits
0:54 The Great Beach, Point Reyes
1:01 Tomales Bay scenes
1:07 Point Reyes Lighthouse
1:22 Album – Point Reyes friends, 1970s
1:30 Marty & Jean family photos
1:38 Wetlands Barn near Knapp family home
1:45 Drakes Beach
2:00 Various Marty Knapp black & white landscape photographs
2:59 Chimney Rock
3:05 Sea Lions

Photo Tips: Getting an Angle on the Sun

On Sunday, I was at my gallery, working on the essay you’re reading now. A visitor came in. He looked at the photographs surrounding him, and then turned toward me. Smiling, he said, “It’s all about the light, isn’t it?” I felt he was reading my mind, and agreed, “Exactly… nothing is more important… You know, I was just writing about that.”  When he left, I reflected on just how essential the sun’s angle is to the effectiveness of our photographs.

The challenge we have is how to portray our 3-dimensional world with a 2-dimensional medium. Blessed with two eyes we have true stereoscopic, 3-D vision. The camera records all with just one eye and so we must help it by using light to our advantage. To help create the feeling of depth, you must adjust the direction you point your camera in relationship to the angle of the sun on your subject. By picking an effective angle, you’ll include the all-important shadows needed to create a sense of depth in your image. Position your camera toward your subject so that sun is either cross-lighting or back-lighting it. Then, textures will be revealed and depth will become apparent. Without shadows, visual separators and indicators of the light’s direction, you’re left with flat, unexciting photographs.

Next time you’re thinking of making a photograph, make sure the sun is NOT directly behind you. Flood light where your own shadow points at your subject is the worse light to render your subject dimensionally.  I have many photos to prove this, mostly ones my dad took of the family where we all are squinting toward the camera (and the sun!), our faces, flattened moons of light.  By the way, this is as true for the landscape as it is for people or objects.

If you can’t position your camera and the sun with a favorable cross or backlight to the  object or landscape of your desire, than consider coming back at a different hour and/or season. When I’m confronted with disappointing light on my intended subject I look around to see what  else is being beautifully lit. I photograph that. I call this “taking what is given.”   Believe me, your photographs will start looking a lot better if you pay attention to where the good light is coming from. Later at your computer you’ll have far fewer images to delete.

Below are three photographs I made of my wife Jean and our dog Lily. Each is labelled according to the sun angle chosen when I made the image. Pay close attention not only to my main subjects, but also to the grass and backgrounds which are also being effected by the lighting. I use these images in my workshops to help photographers understand and see the effects that the sun angle can have their own photographs. I think you’ll notice dramatic differences in the dimensionality of the different approaches.Front Lighting Jean & Lily

Side Lighting Jean & Lily

Back Lighting Jean & Lily

I coach individuals and teach small group classes how to recognize and use light to make more expressive photographs. I’ve just announced several half-day classes taking place on Saturday afternoons in Point Reyes. Sign up or read more about these here:
Saturday Photo Walk with Review