Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos


Octopus Agave, Puffy Clouds, and Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film
Shot with a Fuji GA645Zi Camera

Click Images to Enlarge

There are three things I love - succulents, puffy white clouds, and Fuji Velvia 100 film. And when they all come together at the same time, that’s a perfect storm of good vibes.

This year’s El Nino has brought some great things to southern California. Of course, the extra precipitation is a godsend with the ongoing drought, but there are certain other side effects to El Nino that I’ve really enjoyed. First, this spring we’ve had a higher-than-normal share of days with what I call “the perfect sky.” It’s that crystal clear blue color behind a sea of fair-weather cumulus clouds - those herds of puffy cotton balls gently migrating across the sky. And second, El Nino has coaxed out some impressive spring blooms.

Back in March I found myself with some spare time on one of these “perfect sky” days, so I grabbed my delightfully fun-to-use Fuji GA645zi camera, loaded it up with Velvia 100 film, and ventured out to the Jeffrey Open Space Trail in Irvine. I went out with no plans of what exactly to shoot. All I knew was I wanted to incorporate the sky in some way.

The Jeffrey Open Space Trail is a developed walking trail with landscaping that features some very impressive succulents. As I ventured along the trail, I came across a cluster of Octopus Agave plants - an agave from Mexico with fleshy leaves that twist and crawl out from its core. Shooting up from the center of each plant was a long, slender spike about 15 feet tall, each wrapped in countless green-yellow bulbs. They were stunning. The flowers were not in full bloom on this day, but still, the unique shape and design of these plants were begging to be photographed.

I decided to concentrate my compositions on these alien-like spires shooting up into that Monet sky because I loved how unusual they looked. I excluded the base of these plants from my compositions to preserve the bizarreness of what stood before me. With no base to provide context, these spikes became even more curious. I kept my aperture relatively wide open to let the background blur out ever so slightly, further drawing attention to the plants against their backdrop. And that color palette of green-yellow, sky blue, and white…man, oh, man…Mother Nature really knows how to pair colors, doesn’t she?

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

For the film geeks out there, I want to tell you a little more about the camera. I bought this Fuji GA645zi off eBay as my “walking around” camera. My main landscape photography cameras are so big and slow to set up (a Shen Hao TFC 617-A and a Mamiya RZ67) that I decided I should carry a lightweight, point-and-shooter to fill in the gaps. This old camera has a lot of modern amenities including auto focus, auto exposure modes, flash, exposure compensation, and even a power zoom lens (albeit not a very wide focal length to work with).

Fuji GA645Zi Medium Format Camera

I have to say, I have fallen in love with this camera. The size is just right, it’s easy to use, and the power zoom function is great for fine-tuning composition. I use this camera most often in Program (P) mode or Aperture Priority (A) mode instead of full manual so I can concentrate on the composition instead of metering. The auto exposure meter has been very reliable. Exposures are often perfect and the exposure compensation lets me sway it when I know it’s going to make a mistake. This camera is flat-out fun to use, which might be the best reason to own a camera.

I learn something new or am reminded of an old lesson every time I take out my camera. On this occasion, I was reminded that I need to get out with my camera in-hand more often - no plan, no preconceived ideas of what to shoot - just get out with my camera and see what the world shows me. Because who knows when you’ll find a 15-foot tall alien plant against a perfect sky?

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

Octopus Agave on Fuji Velvia 100 Film

More Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA
More Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA
Please Click an Image to See it Bigger

My obsession with palm tree pictures continues, apparently. As I covered in a recent post, palm trees have dominated the majority of my photography lately. And I'm not getting tired of them. They have become my muse. It's as if within the past couple years I suddenly realized how special they are to me and my location. I guess I took them for granted my whole life having grown up in southern California, and now I'm catching up for lost time - giving them the appreciation they deserve.

I mean, come on, check out these amazing facts about palm trees:

  • There are around 2,700 different types of palm trees in the world (source)
  • The tallest palm tree can grow up to 197 feet tall! (source)
  • The coco de mer palm tree has the largest seeds of any plant on Earth - as large as 20 inches in diameter and as heavy as 66 pounds (source)

But aside from these fun facts, what other plant has such a recognizable and iconic silhouette? What other plant simultaneously conjures images of both the desert and a tropical beach?

Am I starting to sound crazy? Okay, okay. Enough about palm trees. Let's talk photography.

The more I grow and evolve in my photography, I notice 2 things:

  1. "Different" is about a thousand times more important to me than "good"
  2. I'd rather my pictures do the talking


I spent a couple hours trying to write this blog post - writing, re-writing, undoing this, changing that... Then I realized those two points and scrapped the whole rough draft. So with those two points in mind, here's all I want to say:

I've been working hard lately to shoot things differently and to develop a style that stands out from the rest - a style that's both beautiful and uniquely my own. I have a long way to go, but I think I'm on the right track. On that note, I am really proud of these pictures (especially the first one at the top of the post). Whatever you take from these pictures, good or bad, I hope it's at least different and I hope they communicate something to you my words wouldn't be able to.

Thank you, and please click the pictures to see them big!

Technical Notes:

All of the palm tree pictures shown here were made on 6x17 film with a Shen-Hao TFC-617A camera on Fuji Velvia 100 film. The first and last pictures were made at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA. The second from bottom was made in Dana Point, CA.

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Making a Fine Art Photography Print: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Making a Fine Art Photography Print: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
View on YouTube to see full HD

If you've spent any time around me or browsing through my blog, you know what a fan I am of printing your work. Digital sharing just isn't enough for me. It feels great to share your work on Instagram and to see your photos on a beautiful HD screen, but really, it doesn't hold a candle to getting a big ol' print made and hanging it on the wall. I think it's about the tangibility of it. A print is substantial, but a digital file seems to dissolve into the ether before anyone can get a real good look at it.

That's why I've been trying to get more prints made. But having recently gone through some storage to find a bunch of old prints, I've decided to be more selective about what images I print. See, these old prints I found...I couldn't care less about them now. But the funny thing is I remember how proud of them I was at the time.

You may be thinking, "Well this is why you shouldn't print. You'll eventually get over it anyway. Might as well not spend the money and just stick to digital sharing."

Valid point, but I see it a different way. The thing about those old prints is they all had one thing in common: They were heavy on the "epic" factor. I mean they were your typical super-saturated, wide-angle, maximum epic-ness type of landscape photos that are so prevalent in digital photography today. You know, those landscape photos that are supposed to make you go "Woah! That's soooo pretty! Can I get that for my desktop wallpaper?" The Peter Lik type stuff.

Much of my portfolio is in this style of photography because, to be honest, it's an easy way to "wow" people. Bright colors and epic scenes are impressive. But my more recent work has taken a turn for the more subtle, the more abstract. I've gradually moved away from those colorful scenes towards simpler color palettes and more simplistic compositions. Kind of like an oil painting more than a digital photo.

I've moved towards this more subtle style for a few reasons, the main one being that the super-epic colorful stuff doesn't seem to go well with most décor. I may be oversimplifying it, but when I look at my own home and when I study the interior design work of some of the best, I notice that subtle color palettes (especially earth tones) and subtle contrast tend to reign supreme. Unless it's a millionaire playboy's penthouse suite in 1989, I just don't think the vibrant colors are a good fit for most spaces.

That's why I couldn't care less about the old prints I found in storage. They eventually ended up in storage all for the same reason - they were too "in-your-face" to hang on my walls. Good wall art should mesh with the other décor in the room, not overpower it. It's no different for fine art photography. There are other things involved in a room - furniture, tables, wall paint, carpet, decorations - all these things need to jive together to create one nice unifying look. That's what successful interior design is about.

I designed this new piece with that in mind. The image is from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on a solo camping trip I took a little while back (read about that trip here). When I took the picture I specifically had this goal in mind of staying away from that epic look with the super saturated colors. I chose Kodak Portra 160 film to render the image in a more muted color palette with softer contrast. Then, when designing the framed piece, I opted for a very simple float frame with a ¼" gap and some gorgeous wood grain. The piece screams simplicity and clean lines...just what I like to see in my own home.

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Nick Carver with one of his Fine Art Photography Prints

As you'll see in the video at top, the image is from a 6x17 negative I scanned on my Epson V750 scanner using Silverfast software and it was printed by Pro Photo Connection in Irvine (check them out here) on Fuji Pearl paper. The print isn't inkjet (you know how I hate inkjet) but is instead a wet process C-type print for superior color, sharpness, and clarity.

I also had Pro Photo mount the print on ¾" gator board and laminate it with a luster lamination. This is an awesome presentation style I discovered with the help of the good folks at Pro Photo and I'm this close to trademarking it because I love it so much! The luster lamination takes the gloss out of the pearl paper which makes the print much easier to see but it still maintains that pearlescent glow. The lamination also makes glass unnecessary because the laminate protects the prints from most common sources of damage. No glass means no reflections, no light transmission loss, and a lot less weight. You really gotta see this in person to appreciate the look, but needless to say, I'm happy with it.

This piece will soon be on display and for sale in an art festival next Spring. So far the reaction has been excellent from those I've shown it to. And I have to say, it feels way better seeing this thing 72-inches-wide on my wall than on a 3-inch smartphone screen.

So get out there and make some prints!