Photography, video, image making and creativity


The World of Ladakh and Zanscar with a Sony NEX-5

In August my son and I trekked for the better part of a month through Zanscar (Northern India) to altitudes of 16,500 feet. Originally, I was going to carry my wonderful but monster Canon 5D Mark II and at the last minute I chose the new (then) and incredible Sony NEX-5 (DP Review). light super sharp, low noise and a fantastic camera. The amazing thing is that the video (and I direct TV commercials using the most expensive equipment made) is remarkable, utterly remarkable. So as we traveled through this magnificent place on the earth I made images that I could never have made with the bulky Canons. I will use them for commercial work but I must say that these little Sony camera (and there are others out there with big sensors as well) in a strange way have changed how I see and make images of the world around me.

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Mount Everest: The Top of The World Reprised

I find it fascinating to wander through my life-time of images. It is through these photographs which essentially measure my life and fundamentally define who I am.

One of the most exciting and interesting stories I did for the NGS was for the 100 year anniversary issue – Exploring the Earth. The National Geographic and the Boston Museum of Science invested 10 years in defining and creating commitments to allow the overflight of the top of the world and given that one-half of Everest is in China this was a touchy and difficult negotiation. I was lucky enough to have been the one to do the image making. Two aircraft were utilized: a Swiss Pilatus Porter turbine engined small plane, and a Lear Jet from Sweden that was especially outfitted for oblique image making as well as map making. The project was many months in the process and a fantastic experience. It was exciting and dangerous.

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Canon 5D Mk ii, Canon 7D video and stills

(click on the image for enlargement)
A year ago I was in a discussion with the president of my son’s University (Quest Canada) about the nature of their website. In my kindly and generous way I said I would fix it pro bono. Whoa… too generous but a commitment had been made – a huge job and a year later but it is done. The connection here is that the entire project, the videos, the stills were all created on these two Canon cameras. There were almost 40 videos and over a thousand stills. The quality and ease of use of these tools was and continues to be astonishing.

I stayed away from all the add-on tools that one can buy… I had an assistant part of the time but the imagery was created often on the go without a lot of pre-planning. I used the cameras’ monitors to focus and the sound was brought into the cameras as well (there are noise issues but it has more to do with the air conditioning and other mechanical “gray sound” in the background and I didn’t have the time or inclination to do something about it given the time constraints). Tools do not make great images or film obviously and I am not suggesting that this is great work. What I AM suggesting is that the tools were easy to use as always, substantial in terms of ergonomics. I never had to worry.

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Mount Everest Show at Baer Ridgway in San Francisco (June 25 – July 25)


Baer Ridgway Exhibitions is pleased to present EVEREST, a selection of Mount Everest aerial photographs taken in late 1983 by William Thompson on assignment for National Geographic Magazine. These photographs represent the first and only complete aerial imagery ever taken of Mount Everest.  These images were created in the cauldron of an on going geopolitical intrigue.  To overfly Tibet required a delicate and difficult navigation of the political, social and religious landscapes of China, India, Tibet and Nepal.  This was accomplished through ten years of building partnerships and personal ties through the efforts of the Boston Museum of Science and the National Geographic Society.

The sublime beauty of these images illuminates that while this is some of the most perilous terrain on the planet it is also some of the most architecturally beautiful.  The peril exists not only for the mountaineer who climbs these peaks but also for the photographer (and pilots) as the process of making these images at extreme altitudes was enormously dangerous.

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Seasons Of The Cowboy

I presently have a gallery show entitled Seasons of the Cowboy.  I have included 11 very large images.  You can walk up to these images (see below, click on them and they will become much larger) like “Tommy, the cowboy” or Kate, “the Aussie Cowgirl” and simply feel the presence of these individuals.  Cowboys are an anachronism, or are becoming one, in our culture.  The west as we understand it was formed around this iconic figure and in fact, I photographed the Marlboro Man for 18 years contributing a different slant to the icon.

In any case the icon and his ranch environment is disappearing into the dust of history as the large ranches, those not owned by movie stars and other magnates who can pay the taxes, are being converted into ‘ranchettes’ or little pieces of a ranch.  The landscape of the Madison Valley in Montana, for example, was once a gorgeous flow of land, and grasses and trees.  It is now becoming a sea of little houses for vacationers.  The history of the west is changing quickly.  The cowboy is disappearing yet the icon remains, and it is my belief that all we are going to have in a few years is the icon.

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Video and the Canon Mark II (WOW!)


Canon 5D Mark II and its video capability: On a recent shoot for Intel which I was directing (and shooting as I like my images to look the way I want them) I employed the new Canon 5D Mark II its video mode.  The Canon images were shot along with two JVC video cameras.  The JVC imagery is excellent and very sharp, but unfortunately the ability to creatively use depth of field does not exist.  When we finally completed the edit using imagery from all three cameras, the Canon images were the most widely employed.  In a sense, they were almost awesome in character.  It is also a wonderful aspect that the files from this camera can be dropped directly in the editorial timeline with particular relevance to the fact that we were using Apple Final Cut Pro.

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Photographing North Vietnam

North Vietnam, Ha Long Bay, World Heritage Site.

Ha Long Bay, North Vietnam

The idea that one needs a huge camera with a billion megapixels to create wonderful images is nonsense.  I took two cameras with me on a adventure of trekking and exploring North Vietnam.  A little Canon A640 and an Olympus OM-4T.  As we trekked through the Hmong Villages and landscapes, walked the streets of Hanoi and ventured on a Junk in HaLong Bay I shot with both but these images were taken with this little camera bought at Costco.  I could post hundreds at this level and quality and have made many prints of the them as well.  Again, the idea that what we photograph and its qualities have virtually nothing to do with the equipment in many cases.  The “story” image is something that our mind, in a fleeting moment, discovers in the 360 degree cacaphony that we live within each moment.

My big Canon 5D Mark II is a huge asset in the commercial world.  But in many ways, its sheer size and bulk makes it a deterent to the images that one find at any particular moment.  The idea is to have the freedom to quickly record an idea…. the small, facile cameras such as the Olympus OM-4T (a film camera) with its tiny jewel like super sharp and fast lenses is one option, but in this case as we struggle through the jungles and floated on the junk the ease of the use of the small Canon A640 was a joy with its flip-out viewfinder.  My perspective is this:  The only thing that Henri Cartier Bresson didn’t know how to do was to put down his camera….

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