On March 7th, two days prior to yet another predicted "snownado" (adj: sno-nado, a term used by the weather terrorists to inspire fear in the masses about upcoming snow events) Tamy and I boarded a plane for sunny California... the place we still call home. While Minnesota is where we live, work, and play we have been reticent to call it "home." Although our visit to California was primarily relegated to family, we managed to steal a few days and immerse ourselves in the craft of photography. The moderate temps and coastal breezes were all that I needed to get the creative juices flowing.
It's been eight years since I last visited Joshua Tree National Park, but its arid landscape embraced me with the familiarity of a warm hug. I lived in the high desert in the 1970's, and spent my winters studying rodents in Joshua Tree in the late 80's. This 800,000 acre stretch of desert is not only the place of my youth, but it is also where I asked Tamy out for the very first time... any visit back to Joshua Tree is a real homecoming us both.
The park is as ecologically interesting as it is photogenic. The Colorado Desert in the east collides with the cooler Mojave as the elevation climbs. Unique plant species like the spidery ocotillo and jumping chollo cactus are ubiquitous across the lowlands while the asymmetric and abstract branchings of Joshua Trees make up the high desert forests that are typical of this national park.
During this visit we were challenged by the extreme contrast of the midday light, and the brief shooting windows around sunrise and sunset. We'd eat when the light was bad, shoot into the twilight, and awaken at 5:00 a.m. to capture the pastel hues of a desert dawn.
The desert rewards the opportunistic and inventive photographer. My experiences in Africa have fed my vision for monochromatic moments, and Joshua Tree is a great place to try out those black and white eyes. To produce the first image in this post I began to imagine how the harsh contrast of the midday sun could be used to my advantage. I carefully composed the swollen oasis with the branching young oak to the left. I extended the legs of my tripod into the water, and steadied my Canon 5D mark ii just above the pond. A light breeze agitated the aquatic landscape, and I knew that if I could stretch my exposure to five seconds, I could produce a dreamy reflection of the nearby mountains. In order to maximize my shutter speed, I set the camera to iso 100, my 50mm lens to f16, and attached an L.C.W. Fader-ND mkII filter to the lens. The Fader ND is a variable neutral density filter which reduces the light striking the sensor by as much as 8 stops. By rotating the outer ring of the ND filter, the viewfinder darkened, and I managed to reduce enough light to produce a five second exposure. The result was an over-saturated image that emphasized the deep blue sky. By using photoshop to convert the final image to a black and white, I was able to reproduce the landscape in a way that matched my original vision.