Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Can I Say That?



So I said it.  I debated about it, but I trust that you, my rather limited but sophisticated audience, won’t be shocked.

Some moments are climactic.

Like the surfer remembering those perfect waves, I have a collection of dramatic memories; memories of moments when the light or the experience came together in a transcendent way. One of many advantages of being a photographer is that those recollections are often recorded visually. 

Perusing my archives, I found quite a few of these spanning nine years.  Don’t panic; I won’t go through them all, but I hope you’ll enjoy a few examples.

My husband and I met the dolphins nearly ten years ago when we were still doing a lot of scuba diving.  There’s a place in Belize called “The Elbow” where the current splits around Turneffe Atoll and the large animals hang out. We’d just splashed and heard them before we saw them; eleven spotted dolphins who seemed curious about us.  So curious, in fact that they (less one adult and youngster who disappeared) swam around us and played until we had to reluctantly go back to the boat.  

In Sedona, Arizona during monsoon season photographers wish for dramatic light, clouds, and sometimes rainbows.  This rainbow lasted for nearly an hour as my friends and I raced around town looking for the best vantage points.  This was the memorable day I started using the expression “photogasm.”

Last winter in Death Valley my husband and I were at the higher altitudes checking out these historic charcoal kilns. I put him to work as my assistant, lighting each kiln in turn so I could combine the eight frames in Photoshop.  That alone would have been fun, but the moonrise put the experience over the top.  I wish I could honestly say that I knew just where the full moon would come up, but this one was all dumb luck.  I’m grateful, for the experience and for the image.

Snow at the Grand Canyon.  There’s not much more to say about that than I did in this post.  I’ll never get tired of it.

I’d been hearing about False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park for years.  Despite the apparent controversy about whether it’s really an ancient site, I felt the need to go when I was at the Moab Photo Symposium last spring.  I had friends there new and old, but couldn’t find anyone to make the trek with me.  Loaded up with food, water, clothing, and my InReach signaling device, I headed out and spent several hours enjoying the site.  There’s no drama to this story, just the subtle sense of fulfillment of a strange little calling. Contentment.

Finally, last month I spent a few days at the Grand Canyon with one of my favorite traveling companions, after my husband and dog.  He has a small superstition that he somehow wards of the dramatic, beautiful skies that photographers dream of.  Sure enough, the light was mediocre until he headed home.  The next morning I hiked in the dark to this lovely overlook and watched the sun come up and bathe the Canyon in warm light.  I’ve seen my share of spectacular Grand Canyon sunrises, but this one (the header image) was compounded by the thrill of being utterly alone and having strived for it for days.

Thanks for coming along with me for the peak experiences.

Monday, September 19, 2016


"900," An Adult Male

We were a couple of hours into our slow morning trek across the sonoran desert hillside, over boulders, through mesquite thickets and across washes.  I was feeling increasingly unlucky or unskilled at finding our quarry, or maybe both.  Whenever anyone else found a desert tortoise they’d yell for the scientists who (along with several others, including me) would head straight there.  

The photo opportunities were great.  Not only are the tortoises fascinating creatures, but they move rather slowly compared to many other species of Arizona wildlife, simplifying the photography. 

My husband met Cristina Jones, the Turtle Biologist with Arizona Game and Fish, in Las Vegas. They were on an airport shuttle headed for their respective conferences and he has never met a stranger.  When he learned what she does, he saw an opportunity for me to photograph and learn about the tortoises and he knew I’d love that.   In fact, volunteers are welcome at monthly surveys in the summer months at the research site.  I joined one last Friday.

Who knew?  There’s a desert tortoise study area northeast of Phoenix.  Apparently over 300 individuals have been identified in this relatively small area.

G & F keeps data on all the animals found
Cristina is enthusiastic and fun, and was endlessly patient with my questions.

72.  Unflappable.
The oldest individual we saw was particularly calm.  She was likely 50-60 years old.  After the measuring, weighing, and evaluating were done, I had 45 minutes or so alone with number 72.  I thought perhaps if I kept still she’d be relaxed and move around a bit more.  She did, in fact, get comfortable, and went right to sleep.  She never did stick her head out.

900, on the other hand, was looking for a shady spot under my legs and camera bag.  I’d back up so I could focus on him and he’d keep coming, but I found him particularly photogenic.  

The Juvenile
My luck did eventually change when I narrowly avoided stepping on a juvenile, about 5 years old.  He or she (too early to call) was energetic as youngsters often are.  Unscientific as it was, I couldn’t resist calling this one “cute,” though he or she was tough to photograph.

Other wildlife sightings are common out there.  Though we didn’t see a Gila Monster, there were several rattlesnakes.

More images from the Tortoise Survey (including the snake) are in the Wildlife Gallery on the website.

Friday, September 9, 2016

More on the Small Things

Cockatoo Feather

Feathers and gear are spread out all over my dining room table, chairs, and every flat surface within reach.

These indoor “studio” projects are quite a departure for me and frankly, I’d rather be out in nature.  Sometimes there’s just not time, though, and I know that I always learn something from these photographic detours.

Six weeks ago I had the pleasure of soaking up information and inspiration from Bruce Taubert during Arizona Highways Photo Workshops Weekend Macro class.  Vision turned to acquisition and I started playing with the techniques and stuff at home.

I’m pleased with the gentle diffused light in a white tent of the sort that folks photograph merchandise for eBay.  I had some fun with old rock climbing hardware and acupuncture needles and then settled on a theme.  Oddly, I was much more excited about this idea than (it seems) anyone else I showed the images to.  I called the series “Puppy Luv,” and the subjects were my dog’s artistic modifications of her stuffed toys.  She’s quite creative.

Shortly after this, I got a call from a friend whose husband makes jewelry.  Kurt wanted high-quality images for his new website and they had both enjoyed my recent experiments.  Actually, she may not have mentioned the Puppy Love series.

Hand Made Pendant, Primitivelements Jewelry
There are challenges in shooting shiny things like jewelry.  For example, a big fat reflection of me and my camera is not conducive to showing off the jewelry to its best advantage.  I also experimented to find the best light, which turned out to be natural light in the early morning, diffused by the tent, and I settled on my black velvet background, which disappears with proper lighting and processing in the computer.  This was a really fun project, and one that the clients seemed quite happy with.

So, we’ve arrived at the feathers.  Friends loaned me their collections.  I’ve essentially stayed with domesticated species because the federal laws about possession of “migratory birds or any part thereof” are daunting.  I always thought these restrictions were limited to eagle feathers but of course, the situation is much more complex.

Emu Feathers
The light tent, with or without artificial lighting, wasn’t giving me the results I wanted, so I’m now the proud owner of a light table.  I love the effect of backlight through the feathers and the high-key (very bright) effect.
And the mess?  My husband is away for a few more days.