Rebecca Wilks

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

Saturday, January 28, 2023

A new angle


January has been a busy month.  The Scottsdale desert, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, The Magic of Cowboys workshop, school photos at Children First Leadership Academy, and now explorations at Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada.

In the last post, I riffed on getting out of the comfort zone.  I just want to say that sometimes it’s fun.  I have a new drone.  What a joy!

I have to eat my words a bit.  I’ve been complaining about drones for years, especially about the obnoxious whiny noise they make.  New ones are a bit quieter, and I figure I’ll be a good citizen and just fly when I’m far from others, which I often am.  I’m good with the trade-off.

Yeah, I'm a little late to the party.


Petrified sandstone detail, Gold Butte National Monument NV

The small print: for recreational flights the aircraft itself needs to be registered and there’s a short, quick safety quiz to take. I did all that and found it quick and painless.  It’s also important to be well-informed about where flight is allowed, and there are apps for that. Now I’m working on certification as a commercial drone pilot. The FAA “Drone Zone” website lays all that out clearly in case you’re interested.


Sunrise clouds, Gold Butte National Monument NV

We’d planned to explore Gold Butte National Monument, not thinking of flying there, but it turned out to be a great place to learn.  Most of the time there was no one around, and it’s a spectacular place.

Sun star over Gold Butte National Monument NV

The very first time I put the aircraft up, I stumbled on a sun star.  I took that as a small omen.  I was giggling like a schoolkid, and flight was easier than I expected.  Even I can do it.

There I am for scale, Gold Butte National Monument NV

Folks call them “tall tripods,” great for adjusting composition so things don’t overlap unattractively (an issue nicknamed “bad mergers”).  There’s also the unique opportunity to show an overview of the area, “the establishing shot”.  Using myself for scale is pretty cool, too.

Reflections in the tinajas, Gold Butte National Monument NV

I found that there’s a different mindset for aerial images and that I’m best off not switching back and forth with standing-on-the-ground image making.  There was some spectacular opportunity to do that too.

For now I’m coming up with lots of ideas about flying private property near home, fall color forest shots, and a new take on lots of favorite locations.

More images from Gold Butte are in the Winter 22-23 Gallery on the website.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Comfort Zone


Rycke and Michael racing

As my 60th birthday approaches, I’ve been thinking about how to avoid stagnation and keep growing.

I admit that the “comfort zone” concept is a bit cliché, but lots of authors make a great case for seeking a little discomfort.  Here’s Tony Robbins’ take on the subject:

The ability to move out of your comfort zone in regular, positive ways allows you to strike the right balance between certainty and uncertainty. Pushing your boundaries can make you more productive, more adaptable, and more creative. As you push your personal boundaries, you train your brain to adapt to new situations and create new neural pathways that make you a better problem-solver, decision-maker, and leader. 

Last week was interesting.

Late Light at Organ Pipe

After a couple of nice quiet (comfort Zone) nights in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and a little exploration and social time in Ajo AZ (you’ve got to check out the murals!) I drove to Gold Canyon, on the easternmost fringe of metro Phoenix (easternmost for now at least.)


Andella and Revvy's mounted shooting demonstration

Lisa Langell does a photography workshop which she calls “The Magic of Cowboys,” hosted by Don Donnelly’s d Spur Ranch.  These three days offered plenty of opportunities for discomfort, but only the best kind. My favorite was an action shoot with mounted shooting athlete Andella Parten.  This young woman is pure inspiration and the challenge of getting action shots with the muzzle flash and her horse Revvy in a flattering stride was exhilarating…and challenging. There’s a sarcastic photographer expression, “spray and pray.”  We shoot fast bursts and rely mostly on luck to capture the moment we’re after.  It’s not elegant but is often effective.


Rycke and Michael roping

A close second was roping action.  Here’s team roper Rycke Scheier and Ranch Manager Michael Poulin pursuing a reluctant longhorn.


The decisive moment with Bill

Six members of the Salt River Regulators re-enactment group modeled for us.  One evening we had another challenge: capturing blank shots from their period weapons.


The Regulators


The Regulators and the cowhands made great models.  Portraiture is not my greatest strength, but Lisa’s staff taught us all so much about posing and shooting people.


Cassie and Navajo in Silhouette

Then there were the silhouette images at sunrise and sunset, which can be tricky.  I find the resulting images particularly emotive, though.

Ranch life provides plenty of opportunity for interesting detail shots, too.


Before I’d even had a chance to recharge all the camera batteries, I joined friends from the nonprofit Through Each Other’s Eyes doing school portraits for Children First Leadership Academy in Phoenix.  The annual tradition is one of our outreach projects for TEOE.  Portraits again.  I was nervous, yes, but I learned so much from my colleagues who do them for a living, and the kids were fun.


As always, more images are in the Winter 22-23 Gallery on the website.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

What’s Next?


I lost a good friend last month.  I want to share one of many memories of George.

He and I both suffered from a bit of impatience, especially in meetings when the discussion was getting repetitive.  You could see it developing; first he’d fiddle with the papers in front of him, then he’d start to shift in his seat, and before you knew it, he’d say (rather forcefully), “Okay, what’s next?”

I’ve gratefully adopted this technique myself.  I’ve been thanked several times, but I’m sure some folks are not so happy about it.

My point (relevant to photography) is that there’s something to be said for being open to the next thing, always.  It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and I’m certainly not immune to that.


New spot last autumn; Caddo Lake Texas

Sometimes staying fresh is as simple as looking for new places to photograph or a new way of looking at a familiar place.


ICM sunrise on the California Coast

Then too, there are interesting techniques to try out, like ICM (Intentional Camera Movement), composites and abstracts, and (not new but endlessly providing fresh perspectives) macro photography.


I’ve just begun playing with the Pep Ventosa technique, a sort of multiple exposure method often done in the round.  I’m still learning, but here’s an early effort from the Joshua Tree Forest in Mojave National Preserve.

Sunrise, McDowell Sonoran Preserve AZ

When I'm shooting something for Arizona Highways Magazine, like this image on a shoot for a Hike of the Month, I am often in a new spot and have a chance to stretch my creative muscles.

"On-site" sunset in the Mojave last month

My husband doesn’t much like camping layovers (more than one night in a single location), so he keeps me moving.  We visit lots of new places.  Exploration itself is fun, but there’s also the challenge of making the most of a new place.  My friend and mentor Jerry Dodrill borrows the phrase “on-siting” from rock climbing which means giving the challenge a go without any prior knowledge.  I do my best, but also reserve the right to return.

Happy new year, and best of luck staying out of your rut.