Topic: Wheat (12 posts) Page 1 of 3

Shrink Wrapped 2

This is the second post about photographing shrink wrapped boats in the winter.

Shrink Wrapped 1 was here

Okay, I get it. You may not care about some pictures of plastic wrapped boats taken in a boatyard. I certainly wouldn't. In fact, I didn't until this winter. Why would you? Because, honestly, you might learn something, not in a "from the master to the student" kind of way but from a veteran to the inquisitive practitioner or the curious observer hungry for  information. What if the pictures transcended their most mundane circumstance? Perhaps you can learn something from my sharing some of my experience. I know I've learned things from this project and I also have been led down some false paths too, or fallen into a few traps. This always happens, of course, and it is exhausting but ultimately rewarding to retrace your steps and have a go at it again.

Frustrated after that first shoot in Gloucester, having gone home and made prints I felt I might have something but needed more input, needed to know more about what was out there. I headed to Newport, RI a real kingdom of boats, marinas and boatyards. OMG what an overload! Boats everywhere of every kind. Powerboats, sailboats, racing boats, tugboats, ferries, all kinds. All plucked out of the water and all wrapped in plastic sheeting. Intense. At one point I was able climb up a fire escape to the second floor of a storage building and look out at shrink wrapped boats from above

only to find that this was not the paradise of wrapped boats I thought it would be. I found that what I thought was an opportunity to catch them without real conflict, wasn't so great. For the most part they became just boats stacked up and covered in plastic, not what I wanted at all. Be careful what you wish for. 

But I did  find some color

and some truly twisted plastic

as though the crew working that day started at 3:30 pm on a Friday afternoon and no longer cared, thinking of beers, maybe a hot date and the weekend.

I moved on and a few days later found semi transparency in another boatyard, where they used a different plastic that was somewhat transparent,  this one in Boston where the boats stay in the water over the winter. What an amazing world.

This is where, in retrospect, the project started to get some teeth, as these files positively glowed. And here, just to show you what this marina looked like:

So,  where have I ended up? Photographing more wrapped boats, of course. Having too many pictures is always a problem, but it's better than having too few. I am still struggling with the editing, a digital photographer's heavy weight as it's easy to make so many pictures. But I now know what I am doing, the logistics of lens choices, for instance, the approach angles and need for blue skies or cloudy days. Much of the work in a project like this is pragmatic: how can you put yourself in front of the right place in the right light, logistical concerns of placement, angle, what else is needed as you continue, etc. This reminds me of years of wheat field work; driving driving driving, stopping, setting up, making one picture, tearing down and then driving driving driving again. Day after day.

For me, purity is very important in this project.

This one above now sits framed in my studio at 55 inches across, for instance. Why so big? Because I have to actually make a big print to know how it will work. And this one does work as it plays with scale so well. This one below is much newer, made in the past couple of weeks but pulls at me as it is very different and obvious but not something I would have paid attention to unless I had the experience of making several hundred other pictures before it. But look how pure it is, just this large form of a wrapped powerboat sitting there on land over the winter. So normal and yet very beautiful, one of those photographs that speak to the essence of things. 

Am I done? No, not yet. But the clock is ticking as warming weather will begin to see these unwrapped, set free. So, I am headed up the coast for a few days in search for more shrink wrapped boats. Can't wait.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog. It is pleasure to share my thoughts with you. You know you can always send comments: Neal's email

Topics: Color,Wheat,Dunes,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 8, 2017


Reserve flight out to Spokane from Boston: check

Reserve rental car: check

Reserve cottage in Moscow, Idaho: check

Ship gyro stabilizer out ahead of time: check

Get camera sensor cleaned: check

Pack: check

Fly and arrive

Shoot for several days with it raining on and off waiting for good weather: check

Reserve plane from Doug Gadwa, pilot I fly with: check

Day of aerials fly with door off in back seated next to large opening, camera in hand, preset to the right shutter speed (fast), gyro spinning at 21000 rpm to stabilize the camera, harnessed in but able to lean out and point straight down (Jesus! scary), shoot 516 frames in one hour: check

All that for one hour's shooting? Seems crazy, doesn't it? This is a "discretionary " trip, meaning I am not on assignment, no one's paying me to come out here, not on any grant. Most won't even know I've gone. 

Ah, but then this happens:

Which, for me, makes it all worthwhile. 

BTW: looking at these on your brand new super iPhone 7 will only lead you to surmise that the photographs are nice but not "special." That will be the wrong conclusion. Check this out below. You can see real prints soon, the weekend after the elections. After what we've all been through you may need something aesthetically pleasing to sooth your soul. 

Coming up:

Open Studios in Allston at 119 Braintree Street, Allston November 12 and 13 from 12-6 both days. I will be there and the studio will be open. As I get home this Thursday I will make prints of some of these for that weekend. Hope you can come.

Topics: Wheat,Digital,Color,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted October 31, 2016

Out in Wheat

As I write this I am in Moscow, Idaho on a project to photograph wheat fields. Although I call this wheat fields much else is grown here besides wheat: garbanzo beans, alfalfa, lentils, safflower, etc. It is late October so this isn't a time of flowing golden wheat with a hot sun blazing down from above. The fields are stubble, turned under or lying fallow this time of year.

Why be here now? Because this is a time where the land itself has no covering to soften its contour. This is the much photographed area called the Palouse, where workshops meet, where vans criss cross the terrain filled with photographers looking for that iconic " shot", the one that's a keeper, the one that ends up over a mantle to wow the house guests at the party.  And yes, in July or August at harvest time this is an exquisite place, but in late October? Not so much. 

That's why I am here, to make essential photographs.

I've only been here a few days but working here now is proving challenging. "Dodging rain drops" is how I would describe it, although the fog at dawn this morning was something new.  

I will make good pictures here, for the 18 or so times I've been here have me well prepared, perhaps better than anyone.  I also will not be repetitive. The late time of year helps to insure that, of course, but also I am seeking to do some things here differently than before. 

I am sure you have found this too but to be someplace familiar where you've made pictures before and to think through a different approach, to try something else, to challenge past assumptions seems key to me. Much has been written about how we always make the same pictures, over and over. This is all too easy, to be in front of something with similar light, similar content, and a similar frame of mind to something you photographed in the past with some success and then to repeat that same image. I am trying not to do that while here. 

It would be rewarding sometime to assemble some of the pictures I have made while here that are not of the fields specifically, the outtakes, if you will (hint hint you curators out there). Honestly, how can you not make a picture of an oil tanker sized hay stack three times your height stranded in the middle of nowhere?

So stay with me for the next few posts as I take you through my trip out here in late October 2016. Next up? I flew yesterday with brilliant blue skies and bright sun at 10 am. The first day since getting here that it has been so. We used a Cessna 206, a four seater airplane, with the door removed. I was harnessed and strapped in, sitting in the seat right next to the large opening. It was 45 degrees. Totally worth it. This is me, still strapped in, after we landed.

How did I do, up there at 1000 feet skidding along at 90 knots, pointing down at this amazing landscape? 

Stay tuned.

Topics: Wheat,Color,Northwest,Digital,Aerial

Permalink | Posted October 29, 2016

Skate Park Take 2

Okay, I can hear you now:  "Enough already with the skate parks!" but I really do have to add something to the one already posted, the Healdsburg Skate Park.

I found another one, this one a much more typical skate park. A more typical one combines all those wonderful concrete curves, hills and valley, dips and things to jump over, with, you guessed it: graffiti.

In this case young artistic expression run amok. Total chaos in an orgiastic display of colors and design by spray cans used without restraint. So cool.

What I loved most about this place, besides its sheer exuberance, was how the paint totally subverted the form lying underneath. In some of the pictures, you can't really tell what the underlying shape is.

As I worked around the park and the afternoon wore on I could see that back light was going to play a role:

like the broad back of some sea monster lying in the sun:

I can hear it coming, you saying a few months from now: "Yeah, Rantoul lost it that winter he went out to California and started shooting skate parks. He got so into it, it was all he was talking about. And the pictures? Totally whacked. You know, no one's heard from him since? I bet he's still out there shooting those parks. Poor guy."

When I posted the Healdsburg blog (Skate Park) a friend wrote back and said "Wheat Fields!"meaning that the way I was seeing these was very much the way in which I photograph the wheat fields in Washington (Wheat 2011). I have used form to make content, used shape to denote space, used pattern for emphasis, used tonality and color to convey emotion, used light to deepen and used repetition of forms to deny and reinforce spatial relationships for a very long time and do not plan on stopping any time soon. 

Do you think I'm finished with these, think we can now move on? Not bloody likely as I'm on a roll and having way too much fun.  BTW: this one is in a park in Santa Rosa on Fulton Street right across from the high school.


Topics: Skate Park,Wheat,Northwest,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted March 2, 2014

Photo Workshop

Fellow photographer and friend Michael Hintlian and I are offering a photography workshop in the wheat field country of Washington in September. Most of my trips  to the Palouse have been solo ones, but a few times over the years photo friends and colleagues have joined me for a few days. They were blown away. The region is simply phenomenal, the kind of place where, when you come over a hill on a dirt farm road, you never know what amazing arrangement of rolling hills and golden wheat you will see. September is a wonderful time to be there. Days will still be warm but not as hot, with cool nights, great light and the fields will be gold and yellow. We'll be staying in Colfax, which is in the heart of the Palouse. Please note that there are other workshops being taught in the Palouse, many actually. But ours will be the best. Why? Because of my years photographing there, because of our integrity as picture makers and because we will have more fun. I sincerely hope you can join us. This is an experience not to be missed.

Spread the word and sign yourself up.This one will fill fast.


Join us for a landscape workshop in the Palouse, its now scheduled and open, the details are:

The Itinerary. The workshop begins in Colfax, Washington with dinner on Sunday evening September 22 and ends with dinner on Friday evening September 27.

The what. This is an intensive 5-day landscape photography workshop where you will be fully immersed in the breathtaking landscape of the Palouse located in Southeast Washington State; it is an amazing opportunity for image making.

There are many more details to give you but the important thing to know is once in the Palouse your basic needs - a clean and secure place to sleep, daily box lunches, and daily transportation are handled. We will include dinners on the first and last nights of the workshop otherwise breakfasts and dinners are not included and are conveniently available. All you need to concern yourself with is the day-to-day immersion in all the stunning photography opportunities available here. Each evening you will return to the hotel, enjoy dinner, back up your files and do a soft edit of your images. After dinner we will be meeting together as a group to run a crit of the day's work.

The where. In short, we will be working in the Palouse of Southeast Washington State, our base of operations will be Colfax, Washington. About the area? Neal’s description here says it all:

The when. The dates for the workshop begin with dinner on Sunday evening September 22 and ends with dinner on Friday evening September 27, 2013.

The Who. Co-leaders are Neal Rantoul and Michael Hintlian. Neal is an accomplished career fine art photographer who led the photography department at Northeastern University for 30 years. He has photographed in the Palouse region for over 17 years and knows it through a photographer’s eyes making him uniquely qualified to guide photographers in the area. Michael has photographed projects all over the globe; he heads the Department of Documentary Photography at the New England School of Photography and leads workshops globally. Both are energetic, experienced and effective coaches.

What you get. You get lodging beginning Sunday evening September 22 through Friday night September 27 (check out on Saturday morning the 28th). Each day you will be transported to any one of the amazing locations in the region to photograph and explore and brought back in the evening. Critiques are held each workshop evening following dinner for a review of the day's work - this is an important part of the whole experience.

The cost. The cost is $1395. As in the past this trip will fill quickly, a $500. deposit will hold your spot; don't delay if you want to be on this trip. This rate does not include airfare, and as always airfare will vary depending on your location.

The Addition. We have connected with a great aviation service out of the Pullman/Moscow airport; they have the right high-winged Cessna planes with space for two photographers. The rate is $175 per hour and affords photographers interested in this amazing vantage point an incredible opportunity. There may be 30 minute or 1 hour options available.

These are long and fabulously full days that will forward your work in ways you cannot imagine. Our invitation is simple...join us!

And, of course, don't hesitate reaching us if you have questions.


Neal and Michael

T: 978-815-9493

Michael's Email

Topics: workshop,Wheat

Permalink | Posted June 12, 2013