Solstice Celebration

Each year at the end of June, Santa Barbara, California, officially kicks off summer with a three-day solstice celebration. The highlight of the event is a parade famous for its whimsical floats, colorful stiltwalkers, goofy performance artists, Brazilian drummers, and giggling kids donning masks, costumes, and painted faces — to say nothing of the amazing samba dancers wearing feathers and sequins and not much else. The annual event got its start in 1974 and now attracts upward of 100,000 visitors and some 1,000 participants from near and far. This year’s theme was sci-fi, which explains the flying saucers, space goddesses, alien warriors, and other recurrent motifs. Here are some of my photos.

Santa Barbara Solstice Parade 2015

For the complete set, go to: Santa Barbara Solstice 2015

Oil Spill on the Santa Barbara Coast

A ruptured pipeline spills oil along Santa Barbara coast harming birds and other wildlife

California governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County after a ruptured pipeline spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean near Refugio State Beach.

There’s nothing to drive home how devastating an oil spill is than seeing its effect on wildlife — in this case a brown pelican covered in oil and struggling for its life. It’s one of the more harrowing things I’ve seen.

Fortunately, I came across very few oiled animals out there at the spill. And it was comforting to have people from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on the scene to help with the rescue effort.

But I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of these images in coming days and weeks, as the Gaviota coast is home to a rich diversity of wildlife and the spill is already affecting a swath about 10 miles wide.

I took quite a few photos out there at the spill, but this one seems to have struck a nerve, already popping up on dozens of news sites. I’ll have more images to share soon.

UPDATE:

I went up with my pilot friend John this evening for an aerial view of the oil spill. It was hazy and the visibility wasn’t great, but you could clearly see the oil slick covering the area from Refugio State Beach toward El Capitan State Beach.

An aerial view of the oil spill at Refugio State Beach near Santa Barbara. (Photo by Scott London)
An aerial view of the oil spill at Refugio State Beach near Santa Barbara. (Photo by Scott London)

Moving Europe

I love public art, and here’s a cool project I’ve been part of that gives added meaning to the term. It’s from an open-air photo exhibition where artists and performers take to the streets playing music, spinning hoops, walking on stilts, and carrying large prints of interactive art installations. The project has been popping up in cities across Europe, including Athens, Amsterdam, and Antwerp.

The project was masterminded by filmmaker Jan Beddegenoodts, with photographs by Gaby Thijsse, Thomas Dorn, Sidney Erthal, and myself. Later this year, we’ll be taking it to Berlin, Lisbon, Riga, and even Reykjavik.

For more on the project, check out Jan’s video below, or head over to his site: Moving Europe

Painted Desert Shoot

I’m back from a shoot in Arizona’s Painted Desert with the performance group Vessel. It’s part of a collaboration we’re working on for the Mesa Arts Center. Combining photography, costume design, and performance art, the interactive piece will be presented next month at the Spark! Festival.

Photoshoots in the desert are always iffy, especially when they involve a half dozen people, travel, permits and other logistical challenges—to say nothing of the fact that we were shooting in the high desert in the dead of winter when it can get mighty cold and windy.

But somehow all the pieces came together just right. We even got lucky with the light, especially around sunset, when everything seemed to be bathed in golden hues.

I’ll have more images from this project to share soon. Please stay tuned.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival turned 30 this year. The 12-day event—which just wrapped up yesterday—has become one of the more prominent events of its kind in the U.S., in no small part because of its proximity and ties to Hollywood, but also because of its perfect timing—right in the middle of awards season, when actors, directors, producers and other industry insiders are out on the Oscar trail. As in previous years, there were more than a few folks in town who happened to be nominated for Academy Awards and are hoping for a big win at the Oscars. As usual, the festival schedule was jam-packed with screenings, tributes, panels, award presentations and other events. A film-lover’s dream. My photos above represent some of the highlights. (For coverage of previous years, check out On the Oscar Trail.)

An Afternoon With Byron Katie

There is a wonderful line in A Thousand Names for Joy where Byron Katie asks: Who would you be without your story? “There is no story that is you or leads to you,” she says. “Every story leads away from you. You are what exists before all stories. You are what remains when the story is understood.”

Katie’s books and public workshops have helped tens of thousands of people understand how their their attachment to stories stand in the way of their own joy and freedom. I discovered her work about ten years ago and it’s safe to say I had my mind blown.

Given the influence Katie has had on me, I was thrilled to be invited to photograph her at her ranch in Ojai, California. We spent an afternoon taking pictures, having tea, talking about our favorite books and teachers. It was one of the easiest photoshoots I can remember. The afternoon flew by in an instant.

Katie herself seemed completely present, open to ideas, even playful in front of the camera. Many people are uncomfortable in front of big lenses and studio strobes. Not Katie. I was reminded of another line from her book:

“A mature mind can entertain any idea,” she writes. “It is never threatened by opposition or conflict, because it knows that it can’t be hindered. When it has no position to defend or identity to protect, it can go anywhere. There’s never anything to lose… Laughter pours out of it.”

Beautiful words, ones which Katie herself teaches by example.

Origin Magazine

The 50mm, My First Love

Canon 50mm f/1.4

I recently updated my equipment page — see What’s in the Camera Bag? — and it struck me that I had given short shrift to one of my most cherished pieces of equipment, the 50mm f/1.4. This is a lens that I don’t often use in my professional work but that nevertheless serves as a wonderful all-purpose everyday lens. In fact, I consider it essential to my photography and rarely leave home without it.

My love affair with the 50mm f/1.4 traces back to my earliest days as a photographer. The first camera I ever owned, a Pentax MV-1, came with a 50mm f/1.4 attached. For years it was the only lens I ever used.

As almost any photographer will tell you, the 50mm focal length represents a “normal” field of view on a 35mm film camera or full-frame digital SLR. It’s very close to how the human eye takes in the world. A 50mm is not exactly wide, but often wide enough if you take a step back. It’s not long, but long enough for most kinds of shooting—and certainly for making portraits.

When I bought my first digital SLR, I picked up a Canon 50mm f/1.4 to go with it. That was ten years ago and I still use the lens all the time.

Canon makes the the very same 50mm today, and it still sells for under $400. In the often pricey world of digital photography, I consider that a bargain. And, as I’ll explain in a moment, if you’re considering a 50mm this might be an especially good time to get one.

Meditation Mount in Ojai (50mm, f/5.6, 1/200, ISO 100)

I carry the lens around with me almost everywhere I go. It fits on my Canon 6D, just as it used to fit on my original 5D some years ago, and, before that, the 20D and Digital Rebel. Many times it’s the only lens in the bag. For street photography, casual portraits, and just about anything else that catches my eye, it’s simply the best choice.

Let’s be clear, the 50mm f/1.4 is not the best lens in any particular category. But because it does so many things so well, it happens to be one of the most versatile lenses in Canon’s extensive lineup. And because it excels in low-light conditions—from dimly lit rooms to dark concert halls to parties that carry on late into the night—it’s also happens to be one of the most useful lenses for everyday photography.

Fire Fingers (50mm, f/2.2, 1/500, ISO 400)

Among Canon lenses, the 50mm f/1.4 is not the sharpest tool in the shed. But it’s still very sharp, especially stopped down to, say, f/5.6 or f/8.

It doesn’t have the widest aperture and therefore doesn’t let in the most light or create the most dramatic out-of-focus areas. But close enough.

And it doesn’t have the same rugged build quality and smooth and precise auto-focusing that its more expensive counterpart has. But never mind. It’s plenty good.

Here’s the key point: it does all these things while weighing a mere ten ounces, fitting snugly into the palm of your hand, and costing a fraction of what other lenses cost.

Harper the cat (50mm, f/1.4, 1/1250, ISO 100)

I think the days of the big, heavy SLR are over. Cameras are shrinking. Today it simply doesn’t make sense to carry around a camera unless it’s light, compact and portable. Unfortunately, the most versatile zoom lenses are often the biggest and heaviest.

For me, the 50mm f/1.4 is a better alternative in most situations. It’s tiny and it’s light. You can take it anywhere and (provided you have it mounted on a smaller camera like the 6D) be as inconspicuous as ever.

Rumors have been circulating in recent months that Canon is about to revamp its line of 50mm lenses, perhaps doing away with the 50mm f/1.4 altogether. That would be a shame. And it means there might not be a better time to get one if you don’t already own it.

Playa Dust

Playa Dust

Playa Dust is a book edited by Samantha Krukowski recently published by Black Dog. It features a collection of great essays along with a wealth of beautiful images, many of them of historical interest, by some wonderful photographers — perhaps especially Stewart Harvey. His stuff is simply amazing. My own work also appears in the book. A fun and illuminating read, especially for those of us still shaking off the playa dust from Burning Man 2014.