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On Safari: Telling Life Stories with Photographs
March 23, 2011

Optical engineer Bert Pasquale says that "photography has always been an outgrowth of my interest in optics." According to Bert, "Art is all around you; you just have to find the image that is there." Pasquale calls his photographic style "life storytelling" because it combines aspects of environmental portraiture, fine art, and photojournalism to tell the story of his subject. Explains Pasquale, "For an image to be compelling, it must tell a story, and not merely be glamorous or artistic."

Photo taken by Bert Pasquale of NASA

This image by Bert Pasquale entitled "Cliffhanger" was recently accepted into the 2010 PPA National Loan Collection. Credit: B. Pasquale

In 2006, Pasquale met internationally-recognized photographer James Roy through the Maryland chapter of the Professional Photographers Association (MDPPA). That meeting greatly influenced his art.

Roy specializes in wedding portraits and fine art portfolios, and was the first photographer Pasquale met who combined highly technical lighting techniques with artistic compositions. "James was equally adept at creating gallery-quality art pieces at Carnival in Italy or at a local wedding." In 2009, Roy began mentoring Pasquale.

The summer of 2009, Roy began developing several photo safari workshops on location throughout the world. He invited Pasquale and four others to join him on his final scouting trip for his American Southwest photo safari workshop. Explains Pasquale, "A photo safari is a photographer's guided tour of a particular location. The guide takes you to a location of interest but also provides technical instruction and compositional guidance. It is a 'learn as you go' situation." Roy picked the southwest for its unique lighting and iconic landscape subjects.

The first day of the safari involved a three hour, pre-dawn drive into a remote wilderness area on Navaho land known as "South Coyote Buttes." The group camped there three nights. "The area is aptly named; we heard the coyotes every night," remembers Pasquale.

Photographers are partial to shooting during the early hours and late hours of the day when the sunlight is the softest and the shadows are the longest. Accordingly, Pasquale's typical day began before sunrise to shoot during the early morning light until around 11:00 a.m. The group then went back to camp to eat and nap before returning for another shooting session from about 3:00 p.m. to sunset. The group spent their evenings together at the campsite enjoying and critiquing the pictures from the day.

Pasquale had hired a local Arizona model so he could simultaneously shoot both landscape and model photography. Says Pasquale, "We walked among these 'other-worldly' sandstone vistas. Some formations were 100 feet high yet had striations with exceptionally fine detail. There was no end to the compositional possibilities. Three days did not begin to cover it all."

Following the camping portion, they stayed two days at a hotel in Page, Arizona. From there, they photographed equally spectacular landscapes including Antelope Canyons, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and Glen Echo Ridge. "It was pretty much non-stop photography," Pasquale recalls.

Pasquale brings his technical experience as an optical systems designer to his photography. He uses a High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging technique to accommodate desert and similar lighting situations, which he explains as follows: "The desert is a situation with extreme contrasts in terms of light. You have to be sure to expose for any shadow detail you want to capture, and then sometimes even take a second exposure to adequately capture the highlights."

He also uses an ultra-high resolution environmental portraiture method to photograph the wide vistas. Describes Pasquale, "I also often captured panoramic views using multiple, overlapping frames creating images hundreds of megapixels in size. The ultra-high resolution technique gave me the flexibility to be able to print some final images 10 feet long at full resolution or crop in on the model for a stunning portrait."

Pasquale's artistic career has further matured since going on photo safari with his mentor. He periodically teaches some of the photography techniques he used on the photo safari in classes for the PPA. His work has been displayed in local galleries and he hopes to publish a book of his photographs by next year. Pasquale is also a professional photographer specializing in weddings, portfolio work, and life story portraitures.

He won dual 2009 Photographer of the Year awards from the Maryland Professional Photographers Association, one in Portrait and a second in Electronic Imaging. His image "Cliffhanger" was recently accepted into the 2010 PPA National Loan Collection.

Another of his images, "Pelican Bar," received a prestigious Kodak Gallery Award at the 2011 Maryland State PPA Convention and will now be considered for a National Kodak Gallery Elite Award. Three of his panoramic images will be featured in the 2012 "PanoBook." All five of these images are products of Pasquale's multiple frame panoramic method. His photography can be viewed online at: http://www.LifeStoryImages.com.

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Page Last Updated: November 8th, 2013
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