About - raycowan

About Ray Cowan's fine art (and other) photography

Fine art photography

There's something special about a good photograph. By good  I mean a photograph that catches your eye and compels it to linger.  Sometimes its appeal is readily apparent, other times the reasons are more elusive.  But whatever the cause, the photo makes an impression.

Of course, as a photographer I wish that every frame I shoot could be a "good" photo. In reality, maybe one in several hundred meets that test.  Looking at contact sheets for a bunch of photos fresh from the camera immediately lets me know there is a lot of room for improvement, to say the least. But that's also the moment when I first see the good ones, too.

These are the frames that have that elusive appeal, the ones that surprise you with just how good they turned out to be.  But how did this happen?

The technical details need to be competent, of course.  The composition needs to be decent, the lighting appropriate, the subject matter of interest to the viewer.  But there's something more: the interplay of form, texture, pattern, and color combine to create an image that is worth taking time to study and reflect upon.  The image connects in an emotional way.  Maybe it conveys beauty or simplicity or complexity to you, or maybe it reminds you of something from long ago or far away, or something long desired.  Maybe it represents how things should be. Maybe it calls you to action.  Maybe it is unique in some other way. 

I like what landscape photographer Eliot Porter (1901–1990) had to say about his photography:

"To all the subjects I photographed I apply the criterion that if they were worth recording at all, they are worth doing it in such a way that they can stand repeated viewing, even demand it, so that one can go back again to find the hidden qualities missed at first.  It is always possible to do better, to see more clearly, to translate a clearer vision into a more meaningful and communicative piece of work: this challenge is comforting and sustaining."

Eliot Porter in The Grand Canyon

Eliot Porter is one of my favorite artists.  His work impresses me more than anyone else. His images combine differing forms and shapes with multiple color elements and contrasting textures in subtle ways.  Relatively few of his landscape photos are grand vistas; more commonly, his work features smaller-scale compositions, often with little or no sky visible.  Maybe that's why the title of one of his books is Intimate Landscapes. He can do a lot with a little! More than 25 books of his photographs have been published. 

Other photography

I think of myself as an omnivorous photographer: I'll shoot anything: people, parties, events, landscapes, wildlife, outdoors, indoors.    Often I take my camera with me during the day. I've shot some nifty frames from the driver's seat of my Jeep (but not when the car is moving). People are especially interesting to photograph once they've forgotten you are there.  Images of folks interacting together can often catch real emotion. A single frame is sometimes enough to tell the complete story. There's a lot of good stuff out there just waiting to be captured

Thank you

As well as taking photos I like to share them with others. I hope you will find the images here compelling and interesting. Thank you for taking the time to visit.


Ray is a particle physicist at MIT and Stanford, an avid hiker, an alumnus of Vanderbilt and Princeton, and software consultant. Other interests include amateur radio. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Ray lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On the Zinfandel Trail, Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve, Santa Clara County, California, 2013

Hiking with friends at Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve