While driving through the desert a couple weeks ago, I departed under the same clear skies we’ve had for most of the summer. After a couple hours, I noticed a tiny cloud or two on the horizon. I was headed in that direction, but didn’t think the situation would be the same in two hours. When I arrived, there was an hour or more of daylight remaining, and to my surprise, the cloud cover appeared to be getting better. I stuck around until sunset before continuing on to my destination, glad I had my camera along.
I’ve seen many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, with most of those happening in Arizona and New Mexico. Many times I have been in exquisite surroundings, only to have a faint hint of color, or to have the color burst through in a different part of the sky than I was hoping for. There have only been a couple occasions where the entire sky has lit up and I’ve been in an excellent spot to capture it. This was one of those moments from Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona.
Incorporating the sun into a landscape photo can present many undesirable effects, unless you have the right conditions. It usually comes down to having the right clouds. If that isn’t happening, you can use a foreground element to partially block the sun. In the case of the photo above, there was a heavy overcast sky which just allowed enough of the sun to come through over Valley Of Fire State Park, Nevada. This is my submission to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week. This is also my post for this week’s Daily Post Challenge: Variations on a theme.
Another shot from Valley Of Fire that includes the sun was this one through an arch. There was another small opening in the rock, and I positioned myself to a spot where the sun was just catching the edge of the rock. This was a matter of inches in either direction for getting the sunburst I wanted, or getting full blown sun flare.
With decent optics, and just a little bit of time in editing, there are times you don’t need anything to filter the sun out at all.
Sometimes, I’ve gotten lucky, and the perfect cloud has moved into place. This photo from the Grand Canyon was one of those moments. The cloud was just large enough to block the sun for about 10 seconds – all I needed.
Of course, there was nothing like the film days, and being able to stop down to f/64 or f/90 with a large format lens. I think there might have been a little humidity in the air to help this one, too.
My recent trip to Hawaii provided me with the perfect shot for this weeks Daily Post Challenge of Elemental. Earth, air, fire, and water are all there, but you can’t tell that the air is not exactly the best for you from this shot. I probably could have gotten a little closer if this hadn’t been the downwind side. I was fortunate to grab a couple shots before retreating to cooler non-toxic air. In full size images enlarged on my screen, I can see the distortion from the heat.
Nice to have some time to post again. It’s my own fault – I told everyone that I wasn’t going to be available in July, so I’ve pretty much done 3 months work in the last 6 weeks. I haven’t been hiking or touched my camera for non-assignment work in 2 months. Thank God it’s July!
Summer usually doesn’t take its time getting to the desert. This was one of the most comfortable springs on record, but late June doesn’t hold its punches. Record and near record highs occurred for several consecutive days. During this time I happened to be listening to local news when they were talking about people coming to visit here and specifically, Death Valley, to experience the intense heat.
To those of you thinking of visiting for that reason – don’t! There’s a much simpler solution. Instead, turn your oven on to about 200 degrees. (Disclaimer: I don’t know who might be reading this, and don’t want to be contacting my attorney, so electric ovens only, not gas). Next, kneel in front of the oven with your face towards it, ensuring that your head recoils in reaction to the blast of heat. This is what all of us desert dwellers feel every time we step out of our air-conditioned cars and homes in late afternoon this time of year.
If that’s not enough discouragement, don’t visit here for the sake of the earth and our children. Jets fly on less fuel when they’re not carrying as much weight, and the car you’re not renting won’t be putting emissions into the air. Furthermore, you can take some of the money you’ll be saving and donate it to an environmental program that will prevent temperatures from reaching 125 degrees in the future.
For those of you wishing to visit for sane reasons, come on down! The heat wave is gone for now, and it’s almost pleasant again (in the mornings). It will be 103 to 108 every day for the foreseeable future, but most of those days won’t be hot (that’s according to the National Weather Service, see below).
When I schedule my flights, I try to arrange them so that I’m taking photos near sunrise or sunset. The colors are more saturated, and the shadows of even the smallest features become elongated. For this week’s challenge of shadow, I immediately thought of being up in the skies looking down, and my photo comes from somewhere northwest of Las Vegas.
For this week’s Daily Post Challenge of Ambience, I tried to think of one place that captures the mood of the southwestern deserts. Monument Valley, in the heart of the Navajo Indian Reservation, tops my list. As with any location that is highly visited, there is the tackiness that comes with tourism. But spend a day in this valley, and seek out moments of solitude. If you happen to be here when the rains come through, you might be rewarded with sunsets like this.
When I first started out in photography, I was fortunate to find a great stock agency to sign on with. The woman who ran it was very knowledgeable and provided tips on what to shoot and more importantly, perspectives from which to shoot. On one of my early visits, I asked for a list of subjects. Saguaro cacti at sunset was one of the items on the list.
When I returned about a month or two later with material to review, her response was less than enthused. She accepted a couple, but then said, “Can you find a postcard cactus?” “A What?” I replied. “A postcard cactus – you know, one with one arm on each side, but one side slightly lower.”
I had never heard that expression before, but apparently in the early days of postcards, someone had taken a picture of this type of cactus that sold very well. People then came to expect that all saguaro cacti looked like that. The state of Arizona has one on their standard issue license plate, but the previous red license plate had the perfect stereotype.
So the entire request went something like this: One saguaro cactus (of the postcard variety) without any others nearby…..close enough to recognize, but not filling the frame…..at the right angle so as to not cut off the base…..with generic looking mountains in the background…..and a spectacular sunset. Right.
In my travels, I eventually spotted a couple of these elusive cacti, but they were always in some location that involved scrambling – something I didn’t want to do with a flashlight. I was looking for “road kill“. The top shot is as close as I ever came to the complete request. Along the way, I encountered many beautiful, unique saguaros. One of these ended up being my best selling stock photograph by a huge margin.
For this week’s Daily Post Challenge: Quest
As I headed out to meet with friends the other night, the skies looked as though they might light up a bit as the sun headed down. I didn’t take my real camera along, as I knew I didn’t have time to make it past the city limits. Almost nearing my destination, I stopped a couple blocks short, where there was a decent sized clearing away from structures and power lines. I snapped a couple shots on my phone, but mostly I just stopped to take it all in. Here in Las Vegas, we’ve had a couple really spectacular sunsets this spring, but this might be the best one we’re going to see all year. This photo can’t possibly bring justice to the surroundings that night, not all of which would fit in the frame. There were so many variations in cloud shape, texture, and color that a phone camera just can’t pick up. After getting back in the car, I realized the heart of the city was the best viewing angle, and any trip I would have taken to the nearby desert or mountains would not have yielded similar results. I wasn’t planning on printing this one, and besides, thousands of people saw, and possibly captured, the same thing.
Upon showing the photos to some friends the next day, one remarked, “You should always have your camera with you. You could have just added a different foreground to it, and it would have made a really amazing photograph!” That comment reopened a can of worms that had its origin a few years ago. I was at a highly attended event where one of the major camera manufacturers had a photographer with his powerpoint slideshow. As he neared the end of his talk, he said “and this is one of my favorite photographs from the trip, but it didn’t really look like this. I started with this sunset, then added this group of animals (a shot taken in the middle of the day), to get my final result.” At that point I thought you’re not a photographer, you’re a graphic designer and completely lost interest in anything else he had to say. I felt his presentation would have been better suited for the folks at Adobe.
A couple of my non-photographer friends have made comments in the past stating that they don’t know what to believe anymore when it comes to photography. The deluge of imagery on social media has them distrusting of anything they see, and significantly less appreciative of the medium.
When Ansel Adams was photographing, b&w sheet film was his preferred method of capturing images. His real masterpieces didn’t happen, however, until he got into the darkroom. If you or I used those same negatives, our results would probably look nothing like the prints that Adams produced. Yet nobody ever said his work didn’t represent photography accurately. Darkroom manipulation was considered part of the process that allowed each artist to put their signature on their work. Now that the majority of images captured around the world are in the form of pixels, and a large number of those go through some form of editing software, it’s not reasonable to expect many photographs to be exactly the same as they came out of the camera.
But how much is too much? I know in several large photo contests, there are separate categories for lightly retouched images and full-blown manipulations. That makes me believe that images once considered graphic design have come to be accepted as photography if the elements were all captured with a camera. My friend’s comment has stirred up a debate, so I’d like to know how you feel. Is there a point where you don’t like or at least appreciate someone’s work if you feel it has been over-manipulated? Or the opposite….completely untouched? Should I have taken my camera along to capture this sunset, then gone out next week to add a Joshua Tree forest to the foreground?
Cumulus clouds and sunsets can often combine for some of my favorite lighting in color photographs. This was a bit early for the underside of the clouds to display the changing colors, but the atmospheric conditions made the timing for this shot perfect.
This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week. You can see more b&w images from other photographers on her website’s blog.
Powerball fever has been sweeping the nation with its unprecedented $1.6 Billion jackpot. Here in Nevada, people have to drive to California or Arizona to purchase tickets. The gaming lobby will probably see to it that remains that way.
The closest place for Nevadans to buy tickets is the California state line on Interstate 15, at a gas station with ticket sales. Similarly, Arizona has a store in the middle of nowhere about twenty miles after crossing Hoover Dam. News footage for the last couple drawings has shown tremendous lines for the people in the Cali location. I doubt Arizona has been much different.
I succumbed to the madness and headed down to Arizona yesterday. Not to the forementioned location, but down to Bullhead City. With those ridiculous odds against me purchasing a winning ticket, I wanted to make sure I had something to photograph along the way. Not too long ago, the road through Bullhead City used to be the way between Nevada and Arizona. The post 9/11 security checkpoints for those crossing Hoover Dam made for backups several miles long most of the day. Sitting in a parked or idling car for 2 or more hours was not uncommon. The only time you could guarantee a timely crossing was between 1am and 7am.
One time I guessed wrong, and headed towards the dam on my return trip. It was late at night, on a weekday, with light traffic. About 3 or 4 miles before the dam, all traffic came to a stop. We were there almost 20-30 minutes without moving an inch. A passenger in the car in front of me decided he had to use the restroom, so he got out of the car and crossed over the guardrail, and away from view. About the same time, we started moving. Not just a little bit. Strangely, traffic got up to about 25 mph and didn’t come to a stop for about a mile-and-a-half. The driver of the car in front of me, afraid to lose his place in line, never pulled over to wait for his passenger. I’ll bet that was the last time those two ever rode together!
Enough of the good old days, back to yesterday.
I went to Bullhead because I wanted options. If I got numbers that looked like they had zero chance of ever coming up together, I didn’t want to have to go back in a line. And forget lines. With multiple locations selling tickets, lines weren’t an issue. I was out of there quickly, and headed back to what I really wanted to do.
As one drives back into Nevada and heads up the hill, the Newberry Mountains are one of the first things that come into view. I had driven past these mountains so many times before with the light being wrong. I kept telling myself I would have to come back and camp, because it needed to be a sunrise or sunset shoot. The Hoover Dam bypass opened in 2010, and I forgot about coming back here.
This was my first option for photographing on my return trip, and with soft, mostly overcast light, it was the one I took. There are huge outcrops of whitish granite along this edge of the Newberrys. The road that leads close to the mountains is marked with a sign pointing to Christmas Tree Pass. This is the desert, and that means Junipers, not Douglas Firs. Soon after the junction with 95 north to Vegas, you will see a similar sign where the road comes out. The boulders are in close proximity here, and this is the spot I chose to explore. One of the first things I came across was a rock that looked like it had a petroglyph in the shape of a Christmas tree. Whether man-made or naturally occurring, it made me ponder the origin of the name of the nearby pass. Were there more of these symbols nearby? Not far from there, I came across another symbol which looked more like a discoloration than something pecked into the rock. I took a photo anyway.
As I covered more ground, I was soon amongst some larger boulders. One of them, a rounded balanced rock, caught my attention. Now that’s nature’s Powerball! I managed to take photos from a couple angles, then sat down and enjoyed the sandwich I had purchased down in Bullhead. From here I could see the town, yet everything was so quiet and peaceful. Even the sounds of the highway were completely absorbed into the lower hills. As I finished my sandwich, I could tell the light was changing into the golden hour. I walked some more, and came across another spectacular granite boulder. This one was perched on a ridge, and erosion was taking the hill underneath, leaving small openings below the boulder. In almost no time the sun was breaking through the bottom of the cloud layer and igniting the mountains in Arizona. I didn’t want to be caught out here in the dark, so I packed quickly and headed down to my car. I approached the ridge above my car just as the sun was throwing its last light into the cloud layer. Okay, just one more!
I don’t know about my lottery tickets, but I felt like I had a winning afternoon. I finally had a reason to wander into the Newberry Mountains.
An ordinary day on the Atlantic Ocean in Florida. There were no dramatic waves nor spectacular storm clouds. As the sun was setting, only two patches of cloud remained lit. I loved the way they reflected shafts of light across the water and into the sandy area where the waves were receding. To me, that’s what made this shot stand out from the rest I took that day.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “(Extra)ordinary.”