The Road to becoming an Artist in Residence

My first view of Crater Lake included making a time lapse sequence of 300 still photos along the rim of the Caldera ©Kit Frost

My first view of Crater Lake included making a time lapse sequence of 300 still photos along the rim of the Caldera ©Kit Frost

The Adventure Begins in Crater Lake

What an understatement! The actual path to these two plus weeks as the Artist in Residence began long ago.  As I retired from teaching, moved to Durango and built up my Chase the Light Photography Adventures, I planned and envisioned a life of travel, art, photography, and exploration.  One of the dreams I’m pursuing is to spend serious time in our National Parks, as a Resident Artist.  Many of our National Parks have an application process available to established and emerging artists. The program offers time and accommodations in the most beautiful places. These are not paid gigs in the formal sense, but a real opportunity to spend quality time and follow my bliss.

In 2013, I began the process of research and writing necessary to apply.  The first priority: establishing a timeline for applications, organizing site specific portfolios, writing essays and gathering letters of recommendation.

Here’s an online site listing all the National Parks offering art residencies.

After review of each Park’s program and taking a look at my motivations to be at a specific park, I set deadlines and began writing proposals. Each application is a challenge to write, demanding of time and is a huge commitment, requiring a thorough examination of my portfolio for the “right” kind of images to send.  Most of the applications require a 1-2 page statement of intent, a small sampling of  4-8 images, letters of recommendations, and curriculum vitae.  And all applications include a proposal for the project to be completed during the residency.

The residencies provide an opportunity to devote 2-4 weeks’ time in a cabin or other rustic accommodations, time devoted to making art, and sharing that process with visitors.  Artists chosen for this prestigious and competitive award are also required to make a public presentation while at the park, and to donate one piece of art within a year of their residency.

A list of current and past applications:It helps to be “thick skinned” and not take the application process personally.  Just as with juried exhibitions, there is a standard of excellence in the level of artists applying, and the “right” person for each residency, the right image to fit an exhibition theme. Some review committees will provide comments, while others just don’t have the time to respond to the more than 250 artists competing for a few residencies a year.  This process is highly competitive and responding to deadlines and following the procedures is imperative.  One reviewer told me that the additional letters of recommendation I submitted were cumbersome and too much for the committee to read. Other park’s do not respond other than a letter of thanks (no, I’m not calling it a letter of rejection)

I’ve applied to all the following:

  • Acadia NP
  • Crater Lake NP
  • Glacier NP
  • Grand Canyon NP
  • Great Basin NP
  • Great Smoky Mountains NP
  • Isle Royale NP
  • Joshua Tree NP
  • North Cascades NP
  • Petrified Forest NP
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
  • Zion NP

And in 2015 I’ve been offered residencies at Crater Lake and Acadia.  I gladly accepted.  I have submitted 2016 applications to Joshua Tree, Durango, and will meet the deadline for Zion in July.  In 2016 I was offered residencies at Bighorn Canyon in Wyoming, Glacier National Park, in Montana and Mesa Verde in Colorado.

I’ve posted some images and blogged about my experiences and inspirations while a visiting artist. Join me on this wonderful, creative, journey

Learn to Edit your RAW files

Capture the best information

When I capture an image, at the location, I pre-visualize the post production.  I learned when studying Ansel Adams, the Weston Family and John Sexton.  In the camera, we capture the detail needed to create an interpretation of it later.  In the past, using film, I used the mantra “expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights”.

Digital cameras do a great job of recording a broader range of tones than black and white and color film, but it’s still important to remember that if you are lacking detail in the file, although not impossible, it’s harder to “get it” later.

My thinking process in the field runs something like this:

On location, in the camera

  1. Seduced by the light, I choose the proper lens for the composition.
  2. Many times my hot spot on the lens is somewhere around f16-22.  I like deep depth of field when the subject calls for it.
  3. Evaluate the highlights and see how much underexposure they will need. Clouds in particular need quite a bit of underexposure to hold detail.
  4. Let the shadows fall where they will.  Oftentimes the LCD view of the images will show and image that looks too dark and lacks shadow detail, but this is where digital captures really shine.

Upload and Process the RAW files.

In the LIGHTROOM, I still use the important technique of proper edit, exposure, development.  Mike Yamashita, a National Geo Photographer once told me that if I get any more than 4 good images on a roll of 36 exposures, my standards are too low.

Using Adobe Lightroom:

  • Import from SD or CF Card, add keywords, copyright, organize.
  • Run through the first edit for out of focus, overexposures, boring images. (x-mark for rejection). Be honest but not brutal.
  • Create Collections of my favorites from that photo adventure.
  • Begin using the Develop Mode.
  • In Develop Mode I open the panel (Command/Control D)and usually begin with exposure, white balance and contrast adjustments, saturation and clarity are also important.
  • These days I like the fine tuning available to me in the HSL Panel.  Sometimes when warming up and image the sky turns a bit aqua so HUE is the adjustment. Specific saturation is then applied to hues in the image, and I really like the ability to adjust LUMINANCE at will on individual colors.
  • Compare these adjustments to those we used to employ in the DARKROOM, like dodging, burning, edge burning, contrast filters, etc.
Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 12.11.38 PM

Before edits, RAW. 1/8 second at f22, -1/3 EV

Canyon hiking, Zion National Park

After editing in Adobe Lightroom. I underexposed the image in the camera to hold detail in the highlighted sandy floor of the canyon. ©Kit Frost

As you can see from this example, the RAW file looks bad, boring, and dark in the shadows while overblown in the highlights.  But since I underexposed by 1/3 EV, the highlights maintained detail as I had planned.  I knew it “felt” like a warm subject, so I interpreted it with a bit of saturation, clarity, highlight recovery and added a vignette. I often use a vignette to create a subtle or not so subtle darkness at the top of the photo.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 12.12.24 PM

Before Lightroom, 1/8 sec at f22, ISO 100, 1/3 Exposure Bias

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 12.12.14 PM

After Lightroom adjustments, warmed up the sky, Contrast, Opened up the shadows at the bottom, added a vignette.

In the case of stormy weather, the white balance tilts closer to cool.  And I tend to respond to warm tones better so I often adjust the white balance and tint accordingly.  Interpreting landscape to “feel” like it did to me at the capture is my constant challenge, and when I achieve it, my great joy.

Camera Settings:

  • Most of my photos are either under or overexposed to hold shadow or highlight detail. I use Aperture priority mode and the exposure bias button.
  • I use AUTO White Balance and if I need more warming or cooling, I use Lightroom’s develop mode.
  • In the camera menu I set the picture control to VIVID, this gives me a tad more saturation and contrast in my jpegs (choose high quality jpeg if you don’t care for post-production)
  • I prefer ISO 100 for large prints, but will sometimes photograph using higher ISO when I’m not pre-visualizing a print.
  • I photograph using RAW and normal jpeg
  • I edit the RAW capture using Adobe Lightroom



Learn to work with Shadows in your Photos



In the two examples I used the shadows to form a frame around the subject. I asked a friend who was hiking ahead of me to stop in the light, so i could show scale as well as shape in the photo. In the other example, late day light, or lack of, in the canyon, gave me an opportunity to play with the abstract forms of dark, light, blue sky, and contrail too. Try it. The late afternoon light and short days gives us lots of chances to practice. Meter for detail in the highlight and underexpose, that will give you deep, dark, shadows and you can always choose to “open up” using the fill light or shadow fulchrum in Lightroom if you want more detail visible.

Tips on honoring the Creative Process

Thanks to the folks at the Nutter Crew, we can see a realistic approach to the Creative Process.

The Creative Process, shared by the Nutter Crew

The Creative Process, shared by the Nutter Crew

Pardon the language but I agree with this timeline.  Right now I’m in the Panic and All the Work while Crying stage, two days from the Deadline.  I have a few suggestions for the times when you know that work has to get done, but it seems like you have PLENTY of time when you’re in the Fuck off stage.

  1. Clean the Studio.
  2. Write your blog.
  3. Visit your homies on facebook.
  4. Watch your favorite Netflix series (Downton anybody?).
  5. Talk on the phone. A good time to catch up with the news.
  6. Go to the movies.
  7. Eat out every night.
  8. Send out invoices so you earn the money to move ahead with the project.
  9. Wait till the last minute to make the money to do the following:
  10. Order the frames.
  11. Order the mattes (32×40 sheets are the biggest bargain).
  12. Order the glass (who is cutting it to size?).
  13. Order the printing paper and cartridges.
  14. Make the prints.
  15. or Better yet, send them to a service bureau and wait for them to arrive.
  16. Do all your ordering with 2-3 day shipping and get reamed.
  17. Start the project.
  18. Edit the portfolio
  19. Choose final images
  20. Mess up the studio with the packaging from all those deliveries.
  21. Have the fun of making your art important.
  22. Remember that you love to work on your art.
  23. Lock the studio door.
  24. Turn up the volume.
  25. Burn the midnight oil.
  26. Get er done.
  27. Repeat.

I have an exhibition set for delivery this coming Saturday, but I can stretch the deadline until Monday.  Another delay tactic? I’m excited to be showing black and white prints of explorations in the Canyon Country and the Colorado Plateau.  I live in Durango, and as you may know, I travel to Arizona, and Utah often.  My collection of images from the Four Corners is large and editing the portfolio has been the most difficult.  This exhibition is by invitation and I feel honored to be chosen.  One of my favorite writers, Craig Childs, will be at the opening reception, and these images are to complement his slideshow and lecture about the Colorado Plateau, Land of Ghosts, Travel in Ancient Places

With two days left to complete the portfolio, I’m on target.  All the images are scanned from 4×5 negatives and chromes, the color images have been edited for grayscale in Photoshop.  I round-tripped from Lightroom to Photoshop in order to mix the red and green channels to my liking.  The black and white negatives were scanned and edited directly in Lightroom.  Each scan was about 190MB, 400dpi (so I could crop if needed) and output to 16×20 prints, matted to 20×24 frames.

Bears Ears, or Honey I'm Home!

Bears Ears, or Honey I’m Home! ©Kit Frost

Photographing in and around the Southwest’s Four Corners

Although the sky can be frequently obscured and hazy from the Navajo Generating Station, the road to Wahweap has some "big" views this one shows Navajo Mountain in the background. © Kit Frost

Although the sky can be frequently obscured and hazy from the Navajo Generating Station, the road to Wahweap has some “big” views this one shows Navajo Mountain in the background. The “yellow, green, tone is the outcome of the coal fired generating station. Nuf said. © Kit Frost

The drive from Durango to Page is beautiful, through some great locations for Southwest Photography.  the Four Corners Monument, Petroglyph Panel at Sand Island Campground, Comb Ridge, Monument Valley and Tsegi Canyon are all along the way.

Comb Ridge at Sunset, with frozen pond. ©Kit Frost

Comb Ridge at Sunset, with frozen pond. ©Kit Frost

I’ve driven the Comb Ridge Road from Bluff to Blanding, Utah many times, but this was the first time I encountered a frozen pond.  I love to play with reflections and this location proved to be lots of fun.  The challenge is to hold detail in the exposure of the well lit walls of Comb Ridge, while at the same time properly exposing for the reflection.

I underexposed this reflection by a value of -.7 or 2/3 darker.  In post-production I used my favorite tool, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and opened up the shadows using fill light (LR3) or shadows (LR4).  It helps to pre-visualize what you want the final image to look like at the location, so that you capture all the detail possible.

Although the sky can be frequently obscured and hazy from the Navajo Generating Station, the road to Wahweap has some "big" views this one shows Navajo Mountain in the background. © Kit Frost

Although the sky can be frequently obscured and hazy from the Navajo Generating Station, the road to Wahweap has some “big” views this one shows Navajo Mountain in the background. © Kit Frost

My plan was to spend a night in Page (about 3.5 hours west of Bluff Utah) continue west to the Arizona strip near Lee’s Ferry and Marble Canyon, hike in and around the area, explore the Vermillion Cliffs and see the Grand Canyon from Marble canyon.

At Marble Canyon, the Colorado River flows past a red rock mesa.  The "put-in" for 25 day Grand Canyon River Trips.  ©Kit Frost

At Marble Canyon, the Colorado River flows past a red rock mesa. The “put-in” for 25 day Grand Canyon River Trips. ©Kit Frost

Seeing the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry is awesome.  Its powerful and runs clean.  This images was taken about 20 miles southwest of the Glen Canyon dam, so at this point you can see the water running clear, instead of it’s usual red color from the silt and sediment in the river.

The view from Navajo Bridge, Marble Canyon. ©Kit Frost

The view from Navajo Bridge, Marble Canyon. There is a group of boaters at the curve.  The bridge I’m standing on is their last touch of civilization until they reach Phantom Ranch in 9 days. Awesome, jealous. ©Kit Frost

I was hesitant to hike into Cathedral Wash solo, wanting to see the drop off into the Grand Canyon, but I got over my fear and started hiking at around 1pm. The wash is beautiful, and the warm light of each curve in the canyon was seductive. I enjoyed lots of photography, and was grateful for the LCD to check my exposures.  I took my time, creating many new images.

The range of tones was broad, and I underexposed frequently. I was using matrix metering and did not carry my graduated neutral density filter (Tiffen, glass 0.6, 2 stop). I planned to bring up the shadow values that were underexposed using Lightroom. I reached the thirty foot drop in about two hours, traveling less than one mile, stopping frequently for photography, lunch and to enjoy the solitude. At the pour-over I hesitated to go it alone. Remembering Aaron Ralston’s solo hike and fall I always let my “go to” friends know where I plan to be and if injured by a fall or delayed for any reason.  We plan a call at the end of each of my solo adventures.

In canyons with frequent pour-overs and benches to navigate and when hiking solo the possibility of a fall is real,  so I spent some time above the 30 foot pour-over, making videos and photos, rather than risking a cold night in a canyon.

I was disappointed, felt old, but later was glad I made the right decision not to hike any further than was safe. I left the canyon making many more images in the sweeter light of late winter afternoon, returning to the trailhead and car at around 4pm. The drive home was sweet while the sun set, but dark from west of Kayenta all the way home. I got home at around 10pm and checked in with a text. I later realized that if i had gone further into the wash and reached the last pour-over in Cathedral Wash and the view of the Grand Canyon I would have driven home much later. And almost 6 hours of driving in the dark is very tiring.  There’s always another day, and another time.  I think I will get one of the SPOT location devices so my “go to” person knows exactly where I am in each canyon I explore.

Self Portrait in the Wash. ©Kit Frost

Self Portrait in the Wash. ©Kit Frost

Hiking in Shadow and Light, Cathedral Wash, Arizona Strip ©Kit Frost

Hiking in Shadow and Light, Cathedral Wash, Arizona Strip ©Kit Frost

Shadow and lIght, from Cathedral Wash ©Kit Frost

Shadow and lIght, from Cathedral Wash ©Kit Frost

What I learned:

  1. When I asked the Ranger about the canyon, and she mentioned just the one difficult spot, the next question should have been to ask her to explain the difficulties.
  2. In the winter the days are short so get going earlier. Even though the sweet light will elude me.
  3. Carry essentials for emergency. Warm clothes, whistle, mirror, phone, Buy SPOT
  4. Carry extra water and gloves, a power bar or two, and warm hat. Just thinking here if there was a solo emergency.
  5. Thinking of Aaron Ralston here too.

For Photography:

I carried my Nikon D5100, my favorite hiking camera, lightweight, with the 16-85mm lens.  I love that lens, versatile, good wide angle and short zoom.

Carry the Graduated ND .06, especially on bright sunny days as the range of tones in the canyon is great.  Underexposing helps generally in landscape, and specifically at times when the sky is in the composition.

Because of the range of tones between shadow and light, for many photographs I completely eliminate the sky, while in others I like to minimize it.  Later, in Lightroom I subtract Luminance from the sky.

In many of my “shadow and light” images, I make a decision as to how much detail I want to see in the shadow (dark) areas and expose for those areas.  In these examples you can see that I choose a bit of detail in the Hiking in Shadow and Light, Cathedral Wash, Arizona Strip, while letting the shadows create a silhouette in Shadow and light, from Cathedral Wash.

Revisit the same location for Photography

I often stop at a few favorite locations along 550 North of Durango.  The Grenadiers and the Weminuche Wilderness Peaks are visible in these images. ©Kit Frost

I often stop at a few favorite locations along 550 North of Durango. The Grenadiers and the Weminuche Wilderness Peaks are visible in these images. ©Kit Frost

Another view of the Grenadier Range and the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado.  ©Kit Frost

Another view of the Grenadier Range and the Weminuche Wilderness. That’s the Wham Ridge, and the Trinity Peaks near the middle and far left of this frame; popular with mountaineers and climbers. This image is one of a series shot with Fuji Velvia film. ©Kit Frost

I love the Mountains in Colorado, the changeable light, the mountain weather.   I often return to the same location so I can play with the many possibilities of light and time.  The scenic drive between Silverton and Durango Colorado is nearby and I often take a drive to scout Wildflowers, Waterfalls and Grand and Intimate landscapes for personal photography and to select locations for Photography instruction and workshops.  At the crest of Molas Pass, I have a few favorite viewpoints where I photograph the Grenadier Range, and the peaks of the Weminuche Wilderness looking east from the pass.

I often use a 2-stop graduated neutral density filter (Tiffen is my favorite).  I have YET to get a spectacular sunset from this location as the mountains at my back place a huge shadow on the scene.  You can see the shadows casting dark values on the snow scene.  The foreground gets pretty blocked up once the sun sets in the west.

Engineer Mountain is a local favorite, and a familiar site along the Scenic drive from Durango to Silverton too.  Many of us hike to the top of Engineer each year.  It’s a great place to view the surrounding San Juan National forest and the peaks of the Weminuche Wilderness.  Very close to the Durango Mountain Resort, Engineer looks great year round.  I was fortunate enough to live in Cascade Village, just south of the peak for a year and was able to watch the light and clouds paint patterns on the mountain from my living room.  When I was seduced, I’d grab the gear and head out of a few hours of photography.  Often, in October, the fall colors mix with an early snowfall.

Engineer Mountain with fresh snowfa

Many years, early snowfall occurs in the mountains while the autumn colors are at peak. Engineer Mountain looks alot closer in the above image because I used a 75-300 lens which compresses space and makes far objects appear closer.©Kit Frost

Oftentimes, early snowfall occurs in the mountains while the autumn colors are at peak. ©Kit Frost

Photographed just a few days earlier, you can see the clouds building up in this scene.  ©Kit Frost