My Favorite Images from 2012

MoonstonesMuir's MelodyTangentsArcs & AchesZephyrFeature Length

Twenty-twelve was a tough year for me.  Some amazing highs and some nasty lows.  I got engaged to the most wonderful, creative and supportive person I’ve ever known and fought hard to clear my body and mind of the influence of metastatic melanoma.

I didn’t get to photograph nearly as much as I would have liked, but I’m thankful to still be kickin’ around on this planet and to be able to pursue my passions again.  It seems I’m still not out of the woods as far as the melanoma is concerned, I have a new development in my left lung, but I’m enjoying the bit of healthy, non-medicated time I have left before we kick that bastard to the curb in 2013.

I’m heading back to the Eastern Sierra and Death Valley next week for 6 days of photography.  I’m really looking forward to it and can’t wait for the freedom of the hills.

I usually like to produce a list of 10 or so favorite images from the year, but with all of the time lost to cancer treatments and recovery from cancer treatments I only made about 10 images over the course of the entire year.  So, in the interest of actually wanting to pick the images I like the most I chose 6 as my number instead of 10.  Hope you like them!

Here’s a little of the context behind each image.

Moonstones:  This was an image I’d had pictured in my mind’s eye since I first climbed down to the beach at Soberanes Cove in Garrapata State Beach.  This area is the very top edge of Big Sur and it’s pretty accessible as a day trip location from our place in El Cerrito.  I headed down there with friend-tographer Lukas and Sammy.  There were no clouds so we dilly-dallied around until the stars came out and then headed down to this beach to make some images.  The timing was perfect as the moon was rising behind our backs and provided a nice balance of light to the foreground and sea stacks.  Gotta love it when a plan comes together!

Muir’s Melody: Sometimes you just need to drop everything and run to Yosemite Valley in the middle of the night.  This was one of those occasions.  Lukas, Josh and I left the Bay Area at 1 AM so that we could arrive in a (hopefully!) snowy Yosemite before sunrise.  We arrived early and drove up to the infamous Tunnel View to scope out the valley.  20-30 minutes after we got there the clouds overhead started to break up.  This let the moonlight in to glint off the snowy valley walls.

Tangents: I love Cataract Creek on Mt. Tam.  It never ceases to provide me with a new and interesting composition each time I visit and even if the conditions aren’t great for photography the hike still gets your blood pumping.  This particular image is a vert-0-rama and really showcases the vegetation around the creek’s many cascades.

Arcs and Arches: Sam and I got engaged during the hour that the camera was recording these star trails. We both love the Alabama Hills and so a quick weekend trip out there to celebrate her successful completion of graduate school exams turned into a time we’ll never forget.  This was another image that formed months earlier in my mind’s eye and I was able to make use of the 2012 super-moon to really light up the surrounding landscape while letting the stars glide across the sky forming the trails you see in the image.

Zephyr: Lone Pine has really captured my heart.  After I finished my interferon treatments in October I made sure to parse out a little time to get back out in the world and explore the Eastern Sierra.  I was traveling on my own — a great feeling after needing the care of others for many months — so I felt very free.  I had one very productive morning in the Alabama Hills while a storm cleared the Sierra.  This image was from well before sunrise so the exposure was very long and the light across the Sierra escarpment was very soft and even.

Feature Length: This was taken recently on one of those mornings where the forecast does not look all that great for photography.  I met up with Lukas and his wife Megan in the headlands and we took the hike down to Kirby Cove.  Things were starting to look pretty good and then they just kept getting better and better.  We photographed for what felt like and hour at least.  I soaked my sneakers in the process, but who cares!?





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November Trip to the Eastern Sierra



I’ve been feeling much better as of late and have recovered enough to where I felt like I could take a long weekend solo trip to the Eastern Sierra.  I was hoping to be able to hop over their via Tioga Pass through Yosemite National Park but an early winter storm passed through on Friday and the pass was closed.  That meant I had to take the longer, significantly less pretty way to go around the Sierra Nevada from the south.  I ended up catching some incredible light and conditions on my first morning in Lone Pine, only to see the wonderful clouds slowly evaporate over the course of the day and never return.  I made the best of it and did some night work and also got to explore the area a lot more than I have in the past.  I took a soak in a hot spring near Mammoth and tracked down a derelict mine site in the Inyo Mountains.

This was the first opportunity I have had to seriously give the D800E a workout and I am incredibly impressed.  The files are loaded with detail and the camera handles very well.  I look forward to being able to print images very large now.

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Treatment Update — End of Week 2


Hiya everyone.

I’ve just finished my second week (of six) of daily treatments at the Stanford Cancer Center.  Currently, I’ve just been receiving head and neck radiation doses to annihilate any stray melanoma cells that may have remained in my neck after the successful surgery in early May.

A typical day entails Sammy and I driving the 45 miles down to Stanford from our house in El Cerrito, which usually takes about an hour and ten minutes if the traffic is flowing smoothly.  Then I hop on the radiation table, underneath what I would describe as a giant stand mixer.  The technicians slide me around on the table to make sure I’m aligned and then slap a hard plastic mesh mask that bolts to the table to hold my head still to make sure the doses are directed exactly where they’re supposed to be headed.  Then they take an x-ray to compare with the scans used during my treatment plan to make any final adjustments of my position and then it’s go time!  The actual radiation treatment last about 3 or 4 minutes and I don’t feel a thing.  The whole process usually takes 10-15 minutes and then we’re back in the Forester to head home.  LOTS of driving.  Sam has been preparing for a lecture she’s giving next week, so I drove myself to treatment 3 days this week.  Nice to feel a little independent and to give Sam a break from the 3-hour, middle-of-the-day time suck.

So far the side effects of the radiation haven’t been too bad.  I have a constant taste of salt in my mouth, but food tastes normal when I’m eating it.  I’m starting to get a bit red on my right side from the radiation and my mouth is pretty sore when I first wake up in the morning, or if I eat something sharp or rough.   The radiation is directed mostly at my surgery site, but some of those pesky photons go astray and hit my mouth and tongue.  I’m feeling kind of like a mild sunburn on the inside of my mouth.  Ice cream definitely helps that situation as does the prescription mouthwash (but that doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as ice cream!).

Monday (6/25) I start getting the infusions of high dose interferon alongside the radiation treatment.  I’m not sure how that’ll effect me, but I’m not particularly looking forward to it.

We’re counting down the daily trips left to Stanford on our kitchen menu chalkboard and it currently stands at 20 trips.  Each day brings me closer!

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Melan-ohhh mannnn!



So I’ve been pretty absent from photography lately and it’s because I’ve been dealing with cancer.

I felt a lump in my neck in December of 2011, figuring it was just an enlarged lymph node from the start of a cold or something, I let it go for another month.  When it didn’t go away and I hadn’t actually been sick at all, I decided to go get it checked out.  In early February I got a call that my biopsy results were in.  It was cancer.  They knew it was cancer, but they couldn’t tell me what kind.  They needed more info.  Fast forward through CT/PET/MRI scans, two more biopsies and lots of waiting, I was finally diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in mid April 2012.

I then had all of the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck removed and most of my parotid gland taken out as well.  I’m still recovering from that extensive surgery and willhave a sweet scar down that side of my neck forever.  The good news is that of the 50+ nodes that were removed from my neck only the two we already knew about had any sign of melanoma in them.  We still don’t know where it came from, I don’t have any suspicious moles or anything.  I’m told that melanoma can occasionally just manifest itself inside a lymph node.  It’s likely that I’ll never know.

So, the problem with melanoma is that it’s a pesky sonofabitch and you can never be sure it won’t come back.  In order to limit those odds I’m doing everything I can to stop it or push off a recurrence until there’s a cure (fingers crossed!).  That treatment involves 4 weeks of radiation to my surgery site and then 12 months of high dose interferon.  Interferon is an immunostimulant that kicks your immune system into high gear to hopefully kill any microscopic melanoma left after the surgery and radiation.  It makes you feel like you’ve got the flu and it makes you feel really tired as well.  So it’s going to be a tough year, no doubt about that.  The worst part by far is that I had to shave my beard! Ugh, I don’t recognize that guy in the mirror yet.

The good news is that I’m getting my treatment done at Stanford University’s Cancer Center so I’m in really good hands.  And the best news of all is that I have a fabulous fiance who will be here supporting me every step of the way.  (We actually got engaged while I was recording the image at the top of this post. :) We took a long weekend in Lone Pine just before my surgery.  I’d been planning it all along, but cancer wasn’t a part of that plan.  I’m really glad I was able to go on with my plan amidst these circumstances.)

I’m planning on using this blog as a place to post updates and hopefully some images if my body allows.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to shoot as actively as I have been able to do over the past year, but I definitely need a creative outlet and sure I’ll find something to shoot.

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New Image — Tangents


Tangents — Cataract Creek, Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, Marin County, California


I made this image a while ago and just got around to writing up the description to post it up here.  This image is from the Cataract Creek trail in the Mt. Tamalpais watershed.  That trail is wonderful and follows the creek steeply up the side of Mt. Tam and there’s no shortage of action along the way.  I’m always confronted with a new composition whenever I visit this location.  This spot is a short scramble away from the main trail on a use path.

This trail is a must visit spot during the wet season, the whole area becomes so lush and the creek fills up  with nice clean water, just make sure to arrive early to avoid the crowds as this is a very popular spot on the weekends.

Here’s some technical information about the exposure and the post processing:

Exposure: 6 seconds, f/11, ISO 100.

Camera & Lens: Nikon D7000 — Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG

Filters: B+W Kaesemann Circular Polarizer

Post Processing:  This image is a blend of three landscape orientation shots panned vertically to encompass the whole run of cascades that were visible from this vantage point.  I also blended in the cascades from a 1 second exposure shot for the top corner to control the highlights within that much brighter section.  After blending the exposure together I did some minor dodging and burning to add contrast and warmed up the color temperature slightly to remove the blueish cast from the water in the more shaded areas of the image.  I did not have to increase saturation as the circular polarizer does a lot to enhance the strong greens that are present in this lush canyon.

Posted in New Images

Wallpaper — Frozen Yosemite

Here’s a 2560 pixel wide wallpaper for your computer that I’m currently using on my iMac.


Link to full resolution file:

Please don’t use this file for anything but as a wallpaper on your personal computer.  I don’t want to have to sick my rabid badger lawyer on you.  He’s really a badger and he’s hungry. Image © Jeffrey Swanson 2012.

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Muir’s Melody — Yosemite National Park, California

Muir's Melody


This is just a few bars of the epic Yosemite Symphony,  but I guarantee it will get stuck in your head.  I haven’t been able to shake it since I first set eyes (and ears) on that magnificent granite when I first moved to California.  This little snippet of that symphony has all the right instruments, the low bass thunder of Bridal Veil Falls, the whisper of the everchanging mists, a twinkle of starlight, the alto of fresh snow, and the murmur of the Merced River as it flowed by hundreds of feet below.

I checked the Yosemite Conservancy webcams incessantly on Friday as a late season storm passed through the valley putting a fresh coat of snow on everything.  Having not been on a crazy day trip to Yosemite in a few months, I decided that it might be a good time to use my National Parks Membership and shoot on over for sunrise on Saturday.  Unfortunately, that means leaving the Bay Area around 1:00. AM.  Thankfully, I had a couple friends who were willing to come along and slap me around a bit if I started nodding off on the long drive through the central valley and up into the foothills.  We arrived in Yosemite at about 4:30 and promptly ran up to Tunnel View to have a snack and scope out the scene in the moonlight.  A bit later the clouds overhead started to break up and we could see some stars.  That’s when I took the shots that make up this image.  We spent the next hour or so shooting the valley from Tunnel View waiting for sunrise.  Unfortunately, the sunrise was not colorful.  Afterward we toured around the valley and took a few more shots, ate breakfast and we were on our way back home by 8:30.  The nap that followed my return was wonderful.

Here’s some technical information about the exposure and the post processing:

Exposure: 30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 3200 & 2 minutes, f/2.8, ISO 800

Camera & Lens: Nikon D7000 — Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG

Filters: None.

Post Processing:  This image is blend of two exposures taken in succession.  A shorter exposure at ISO 3200 to freeze the stars in place as as much as possible and a longer exposure at ISO 800 to obtain more detail and reduce the grain in the lower part of the image.  I processed both files in Adobe Camera Raw with identical adjustments so that the blend would be as seamless as possible.  After merging the two images together in Photoshop I burned down the top of the image to darken the sky and dodged in some more detail in the valley itself.  Then, I finished by adding some a bit of saturation and by warming up the image a bit by changing the grey point in a levels adjustment layer.

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A Man Can’t Live on Image Credit Alone


 Saint of the Wildflowers — Mount Saint Helens, Washington, USA

Saint of the Wildflowers


So, from time to time, I receive requests to use my images for various purposes — like on a blog or a pamphlet or a calendar or the side of a zeppelin or for a urinal cake.  Typically, if they are nice and they’re not going to be making a load of cash off where they’d like to use my image then I’ll let them use it as long as they give me credit.  I’m especially generous with environmental interests and non-profits and ice cream manufacturers offering vouchers for all-you-can-eat tours.

But then there’s the chumps (and chumpettes) who will be making a substantial amount of money off of the use of my image and I send them packing unless they pony up a fair amount of money.  The latest version of this repetitive saga really got caught all up in my craw and so I felt the need to write a bit about it.

I should say here that this is 100% legitimate, the company that contacted me exists and has a rather impressive retail footprint in the US.  The emails below are word-for-word with names removed to protect the company.  The underlying issue I discuss does not begin and end with this example or company, it is much larger.



So, Monday morning I awake to an inbox message on flickr that reads:


SUBJECT: Saint of the Wildflowers

Your photos are breath taking. I work a a company called {Company Name} located in Michigan. We always produce a landscape calendar for our customers to purchase. We match up scripture with the beautiful landscape images that God has provided.

This is a very low print run and only around 20,000 calendars produced. I was wondering if you would give us permission to use some of your photographs? I would be able to give you credit for your photograph. Please look at this an opportunity for you to reach a possible customers.

I have a meeting at the end of this week to present images. I look forward to hearing from you.


Lead Graphic Designer


20,000 calendars is a low print run?! Can you see the dollar signs lighting up in my eyes? Wooooo!!  Surely they must have a budget for the artwork, they have a lead graphic designer after all!  So I reply after checking out the going rate at Getty Images to get an idea of what the market should bear:


SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflower

Hello L,

Thank you for the kind words regarding my photography and for contacting me with this opportunity.

I would love to be a part of your calendar, but I can’t allow my work to be used without monetary compensation. (It is work after all!)

I believe that fair compensation for use like you’ve described above would be $550 per image. That would cover use of each image at full page size for a one year run of your calendar.

Thank you,

Jeff Swanson


I hear back quickly.


SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflowers

Thanks Jeff

Your very talented photographer and thanks for taking the time to respond. I completely understand your point of view and I do realize how much time and equipment you have into each photo.

This price is out of our budget for project.



So I’m thinking, hmm, they have a budget after all.  Let’s probe a little more and see what it is.


SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflower

Hi L,

Thanks for understanding that there is indeed a lot of preparation and skill involved in landscape photography.

If you’d like to make a counter offer that will fit your budget, I might be able to work with you on the price.

Thank you,

Jeff Swanson


And again, she replied quickly and this is where the my jaw drops:


SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflowers

Hi Jeff

I have a very little budget. I don’t think we will be able to work together.

I have 100.00 for all photos. I’ve been finding some of them for free.

Thanks again


$100 for ALL THE IMAGES! WHAT!?  That is HALF A CENT for all the images in each calendar.  Let’s do some math here to show how painfully out of whack that is.


The calendar run is (only) 20,000.  Say they can sell the calendar for $12.99 or so and have to pay $1 each for the printing of the calendars (a rough estimate from  That leaves $11.99 to cover the rest of the costs associated with producing and selling a calendar and some profit for the company.   That comes out to $239,800 left over to cover the rest of the costs and some profit.  Of that amount they have only reserved a little more than four one hundreths of one percent for compensating the artists that produced the artwork that will actually sell their calendars (when’s the last time you bought a calendar because you liked the font?)

This is appalling and I’m sure it happens all the time.


So here’s the message:  I’m not a professional landscape photographer, I’m not relying on this business to feed myself and cover my rent.  So, in theory, getting credit should be plenty for me.  But here’s where that doesn’t work anymore.  I know many landscape photographers who ARE making a living at this and every time I (or you or ANYONE) accepts an image-credit-only offer for publication it is effectively taking food off of their plates.  What happens is that more and more companies start resorting to this method all the time because they are successful at it.  So I implore you to think twice about your actions the next time you are approached with a similar deal.  Don’t help to erode the market for high-quality artwork just because you’re not relying on that market to feed yourself.

Next, don’t believe the schtick they feed you about exposure.  When’s the last time you saw an image in a calendar or on a urinal cake and said “Gee whiz! I like that enough that I want to track that artist down and send them money!”  See what I mean?  They already have your image to look at (or pee on) anytime they want.  Plus, you can’t take image credits to the grocery store or gas station or zeppelin store.  “Sorry Bill, I can’t pay you for this gas, but I will tell anyone that asks why my car is running so well that I bought it here from you at Bill’s Gasoline and Urinal Cake Emporium, that cool?”

See how absurd that sounds when you aren’t talking about art?



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Site Update — New Header Logo



I have been working for a little bit with my good friend Ryan Arruda.  He’s one of my oldest and best friends, we went to school together and even formed a band at one point called “Poached Trout (in a White Wine Sauce).”  Nowadays he’s working as a graphic designer.  So with this new website I was in need of a little graphic help, since I’m a little challenged when it comes to that side of things (among a long list of other things that I won’t mention here).

He’s great to work with and has quite a knack for the art, plus he actually listened to what I had to say! :)

Check out his work @

We even have a print of his “Tangram States” hanging in our kitchen which I love!

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New Image — “Moonstones”


Moonstones — Soberanes Cove, Garrapata State Park, Carmel, California



Let me start by saying that Soberanes Cove in Garrapata State Park is one of my favorite locations.  It feels secluded though only a few steps away from CA-1 and the smooth granite stones on the beach look amazing when they get wet.  I have had an image of the cove at night in my mind for some time now and the conditions lined up perfectly for it last weekend.  My wonderful and patient girlfriend and I shot over to pick up Lukas and then headed down there with the intent to scout out a few new to us places in Garrapata before it got dark and then do some star work.  We shot a bit at Bixby Bridge and then headed back north to shoot this cove.

The scramble down to the beach level has a little exposure and it pays to have a buddy that can go down first so you can hand them your gear to have your hands free (thanks Lukas!).  Somehow the scramble seemed easier than usual in the dark.  The sound the waves make on this beach is really special as well, a wave will crash and then on it’s return to sea it’ll make the boulders clack together.  Quite a calming sound.

We shot for a little while on the beach trying out different compositions and trying to stay dry.  The moon was 2/3 full at our backs so it was providing great fill light for the cove and putting those amazing little highlights on each of the rocks.  Those two bright spots in the sky are Venus and Jupiter.


Here’s some technical information about the exposure and the post processing:

Exposure: 30 seconds, f/4, ISO 1600

Camera & Lens: Nikon D7000 – Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM

Filters:  None

Post processing: Night images are usually somewhat tough for me to process.  There’s either not enough light to see details in the foreground or the sky is getting too light to look like night.  The moon was very bright this night so my first move was to burn down the sky a bit to bring back the night feel, then I dodged some details back into the shadows in the headland to the left.  After that it was minor contrast tweaks throughout the image to add some pop and a bit of a saturation boost to highlight the gradient of color in the sky and the wonderful set of stones in the foreground.

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