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Joe Decker
Works at Rock Slide Photography
Attended Caltech
Lives in San Jose, California
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Joe Decker

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Polar Bears Lunching (2011) Not quite as far "back" as my usual Throwback Thursday fare, but it still seems like ages since I've been within sight of a polar bear, nevermind three. Here, two young bears pick the last bits of food from a whale skeleton, while their mother stands guard. Conditions for this shot were quite frankly terrible, with a lot of haze and an ugly color of coastline, both situations that lent themselves well to t...
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Good luck with the artist residency!
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In 2007, on my second visit to Iceland, Chris and I got a chance to head out to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, unfortunately, we were a bit behind our planned schedule and ended up on the wrong side of the peninsula for a good bit of the late evening light. But as sunset finally approached, we made our way around toward Snæfellsjökull, getting at least some long views of the ice-capped volcano in late light and, as time passed, some newly forming mists. I was captivated by the range of colors in some of the situations. While I'm pretty sure there's a terrific color version of this image from a bit south of the peak still to be made, this slightly shadow-toned monochromatic rendition has much (and yes, perhaps even more) to offer. I love the strange almost intentional path of the forming mists here.
In 2007, on my second visit to Iceland, Chris and I got a chance to head out to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, unfortunately, we were a bit behind our planned schedule and ended up on the wrong side of the peninsula for a good bit of the late evening light. But as sunset finally approached, we made our way around toward Snæfellsjökull, getting at least some long views of the ice-capped volcano in late light and, as time passed, some newly ...
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Taken not too long after Wednesday's image from the Lamar Valley, I'm again enjoying the first foreshadowing of winter and fantastic, warm and varied light. Here I waited for a half an hour as light and dark played out for a half an hour hoping for the perfect highlight on the group of trees lower-left, and my unusual patience was eventually rewarded.
Taken not too long after Wednesday's image from the Lamar Valley, I'm again enjoying the first foreshadowing of winter and fantastic, warm and varied light. Here I waited for a half an hour as light and dark played out for a half an hour hoping for the perfect highlight on the group of trees lower-left, and my unusual patience was eventually rewarded.
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Thanks, +Tamara Temple, I always know what I think, but I never tire of hearing that other people agree.  Promise :)
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Swirling mists surround these dead snags overtaken by the formations at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. The swirling of the mists, the deadness of the trees, and the visual rhythm of the snags are key elements here.

While I often pre-visualize monochrome images as monochrome, in this case, I had originally seen this as a color image. The blue sky peaking through the mist was clean and deep, the oranges of the mineral deposits are beautiful and contrast wonderfully with the sky. But here the color didn't work, and, unusually, not because the color was uninteresting. The colors were vibrant enough, but they didn't add to the feeling that I had when I was there. While pretty, they distracted.

Even when thinking about a single image (and things get more complicated as one assembles a portfolio), and trying to decide on whether to use a color or monochromatic presentation, it isn't enough to simply ask oneself if the color is interesting, or a separate source of beauty. In the end, I think a better heuristic is to ask oneself if the color adds. In this case, I slowly, but eventually, came to the conclusion, that it did not. What do you think?
Swirling mists surround these dead snags overtaken by the formations at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. The swirling of the mists, the deadness of the trees, and the visual rhythm of the snags are key elements here. While I often pre-visualize monochrome images as monochrome, in this case, I had originally seen this as a color image. The blue sky peaking through the mist was clean and deep, the oranges of the minera...
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Just...WOW! 
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A classic location, indeed, but it certainly paid to get on the road before there was even a hint of light in the sky. The layer of clouds between the far bend in the river and the mountains much farther away helps create another layer of depth. And a stronger than normal earth shadow effect (why does it vary as much as it does, I wonder?) worked well here too.

This is an extremely well-visited location, by true sunrise it would have been difficult to take this picture without including a photographer, and in fact I have a few, but in any case, this soft predawn light was more pleasing in any case.
A classic location, indeed, but it certainly paid to get on the road before there was even a hint of light in the sky. The layer of clouds between the far bend in the river and the mountains much farther away helps create another layer of depth. And a stronger than normal earth shadow effect (why does it vary as much as it does, I wonder?) worked well here too. This is an extremely well-visited location, by true sunrise it would have ...
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It would be very difficult for me to pick the single most amazing photographic day I've ever experienced, but certainly if there was a top five list, my last day on Antarctica in 2013 would be it. I'd been working as a photographer-in-residence on MV Fram, a position which kept me very busy, but also afforded me wonderful access. 

We arrived to relatively pleasant conditions, a light snow left mostly clean powder a foot or so deep over the steep walls of Neko Harbour. Penguins were everywhere, and interesting mountain forms loomed above me and across the bay as well. I went into the zone, quickly moving along the coast, then in the other direction along the coast, and finally straight up the grade (hard work!) with amazing landscape and wildlife opportunities appearing everywhere.

The mists began to break. Sunlit and shaded areas moved back and forth, mists began to clear, every minute was different. This image from part of the coast near the glacier there was as far as we dared go toward the glacier . . .
It would be very difficult for me to pick the single most amazing photographic day I've ever experienced, but certainly if there was a top five list, my last day on Antarctica in 2013 would be it. I'd been working as a photographer-in-residence on MV Fram, a position which kept me very busy, but also afforded me wonderful access.  We arrived to relatively pleasant conditions, a light snow left mostly clean powder a foot or so deep ov...
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Great article that talks about "What we really see" when we look at Pluto, an instance of the enormous complexity that goes into a fair answer to the question "Is it real?"

I recall complaining about the ways in which what we saw of early Ceres images was not real, and in the ways in which a simple choice of exposure and contrast--not intentional malfeasance--actually prevented us from seeing whether there was any detail in the bright spots there.

More generally, "what we see" with our actual eyes is a pretty complex pile of image processing in our retinas and brains that do all sorts of wacky stuff, some of it far from "reality."

Anyway, enjoy.
New Horizons traveled 3 billion miles to send us photos of the dwarf planet. But did we really see Pluto?
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I love the discussion about photography in general: What it is, what it isn't. Photographers of any sort capture ephemeral moments, not things. Understanding that frees us of the idea that we're freezing the world or universe; rather, we are interpreting it.
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Bands of grass, lakebed, lake, island, hills and sky stack in this image from early 2015.

I love situations where the landscape becomes the abstract. That effect is heightened here by a telephoto perspective, the use of monochrome and a bit of carefully orchestrated virtual filtration, dodging and burning.

Taken from near Black Point on the north side of Mono Lake, the Mono-Inyo Craters and Negit Island provide a background for the increasingly shallow water between the island and shore. That water was, as of January, only about chest-deep in places, it was possible to walk to the island from shore. When and if the lake level drops a couple more feet, as it did once before around 1979, coyotes may again return to decimate the gull nests here. Two-thirds of California gulls nest on Negit and surrounding islands.

I'm looking forward to returning here in October and January, for my own Eastern Sierra workshop and the annual Mono Lake Winter Photography workshop, respectively.
 
Bands of grass, lakebed, lake, island, hills and sky stack in this image from early 2015. I love situations where the landscape becomes the abstract. That effect is heightened here by a telephoto perspective, the use of monochrome and a bit of carefully orchestrated virtual filtration, dodging and burning. Taken from near Black Point on the north side of Mono Lake, the Mono-Inyo Craters and Negit Island provide a background for the ...
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High winds and ice blocking the port had kept us back from landing at Wiencke Island earlier on this day, but after a long wait, the winds shifted, allowing access to the landing site, and as we began our landing as mists began to clear across the channel, in wonderful yet gentle golds and pinks.

Beyond the Parish-like (Parishish?) light, the sudden appearance of these mountain spires blew me away. I hadn't realized there were mountains in that direction at all (the weather had been that bad), and I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder from their scale. 

Because part of the joy of this image is in communicating that scale, I'm very much looking forward to making a huge print of this, the sense of size is not going to come through well on a computer monitor. But to give you a sense of it... 
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I think so too :)
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It is no surprise that I stopped for this painterly light in the Northeast corner of Yellowstone. Warm and varying lighting, broad vistas, and a sense of the transition between seasons all come together here. The shadows required a good deal of care here in general (the scene was very contrasty, and my eye saw into the dark areas more deeply than the camera's initial rendition did), and that care needs to be doubled when making a print, leaving in important detail while not entirely leaving out a sense of chiaroscuro.

Because of the scale, pulling this up large is probably a good idea.
It is no surprise that I stopped for this painterly light in the Northeast corner of Yellowstone. Warm and varying lighting, broad vistas, and a sense of the transition between seasons all come together here. The shadows required a good deal of care here in general (the scene was very contrasty, and my eye saw into the dark areas more deeply than the camera's initial rendition did), and that care needs to be doubled when making a print,...
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First Sighting of the Antarctic Mainland (2013)

To be clear, the title refers to this being my first sighting of the Antarctic mainland.

It was still dusk, but I hadn't been able to sleep, knowing what was ahead. I'd been on the ship for nearly two weeks at this point, and this was going to be the culmination. The Falklands, South Georgia Island, and the islands just off the coast of Antarctica had all been incredible, but this I had anticipated most of all. I dressed and went out on the bow, finding nothing but sky and fog banks in the distance. But I waited, and about twenty cold minutes later, the mists began to break in shapes that felt ....
To be clear, the title refers to this being my first sighting of the Antarctic mainland. It was still dusk, but I hadn't been able to sleep, knowing what was ahead. I'd been on the ship for nearly two weeks at this point, and this was going to be the culmination. The Falklands, South Georgia Island, and the islands just off the coast of Antarctica had all been incredible, but this I had anticipated most of all. I dressed and went out...
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One of the real joys of the polar and near-polar landscapes are all the opportunities to work with ephemeral, beautiful ice. Some spots are easy to work, it would be very difficult to take a bad image in an ice cave under Vatnajökull. In other cases, such as this image from Chile's fantastic Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, it was more a matter of seeing great tones and forms in the details of a recently-turned iceberg in the park's ...
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Thanks, +Margrit Schwarz!  I know you've seen just how crazy the ice colors can be in real life... :)
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  • Rock Slide Photography
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I'm a nature photographer who has worked extensively in the American West, Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland.
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Nature photographer, geek, and protester of shrimp.
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  • Caltech
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