Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter Oaks with Mistletoe

This is a reference shot (done on my iPhone!) from 2 weekends ago.  Locating new subjects is a never ending job, so when I have a free afternoon and I don't have a specific location in mind to work, I like to drive around checking out new roads, or hike a bit at spots that I normally pass by, just to see what I can see.  Usually it's mid-day and the light is not interesting, or the weather is not right... but I'm not concerned about all that, because I know I can come back at a better time.  If a new spot seems to have potential, I just take some quick reference shots as a kind of visual notebook, or "photographic sketch", if you will.
I was strolling around this clearing and thinking that there was not much of interest here, until the sweet light just before sunset lit up these bare oak trees and the background, making it suddenly magical.  For some reason, the clumps of mistletoe in the trees really make the scene for me... makes them look like they were somehow deliberately decorated.  Kind of wish I had been prepared to shoot it properly, because the combination of clouds and light was so perfect, but I can get to this spot in a few minutes next time the conditions and my time permit... and I'll know what time to be there and exactly where to set up to get what I want.
If you click on the image to look at the expanded version, you'll see that the sky is a little noisy and the detail in the grassy area is not the best, but I have to say the the new iPhone 4's 5mp camera is pretty impressive for what it is, with built-in HDR processing and geo-tagging... and on top of that, it shoots HD video!  I think the detail in the branches of the tree is quite nice, at least for a device that fits easily into your pocket and does about a hundred other useful things besides taking pictures:) 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sky Watch: Shocking Yellow

An especially vivid horizon on this evening back in mid-December.  I've been trying to explore the numerous forest service roads that wander for miles through the back country around town, most of which I have never been on at all, looking for new and photogenic locations. They are mostly pretty rough even in the dry season, but now after the snow and rain I will have to give it up until spring. I was mainly admiring the granite boulder formations in this particular spot, but as it got late and the sun lit up the clouds on the western horizon, I was fortunate to catch several minutes of spectacular color.
The little speck of reflection in the distance that looks like a puddle, is actually a large reservoir (4.5 miles long by 2 miles wide), 50 miles distant. I'm also nearly 5000' above it here, so we can see a LONG way from any open view point.
Check out the SkyWatch homepage every weekend for more great sky images from all around the world.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

High Desert Drifter

Now that I live only a little over an hour from Joshua Tree National Park, it's much easier to keep an eye on the weather and head out there only when I have a good chance of hitting the kind of conditions that I prefer.  I did hit it just right on this day last October and was was quite happy with my afternoon of shooting... the sky was absolutely perfect. (Click the image for a detailed view).  I went back a couple of weeks ago on Jan. 2 hoping for something similar, but it turned out a little too overcast and windy, so I'm not sure if anything good will come out of that session (still waiting to process a batch of film), but hoping for the best.  I like to check the Joshua Tree web cam to get an idea of the situation before deciding to make the drive, but things can change a lot in in two hours out there when weather is happening, so it's never 100% guaranteed to be perfect, even after my best efforts.
This was shot with what is probably my favorite tool recently, a panoramic 6x12 (60x120mm) roll film back on my view camera.. great because it allows me to get the benefit of the full width and detail of the camera's large format frame on roll film instead of sheets, which is much cheaper to buy and to process... and faster to use in the field than sheet film in individual holders. I'm only loosing a little bit of the frame at the top and the bottom, which is o.k. because I'm really liking the wide format these days... it seems to make almost any composition more dynamic and interesting than standard full-frame proportions.
One thing I am hoping for this year is to photograph a rare high desert snow dusting, but that will have to wait a while, because we are in a really warm pattern right now and even up here on the mountain at 6000 ft., almost all the snow is melted and gone.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

SkyWatch: Winter Wonderland and Clearing Storm

I very nearly made the mistake of going out for a walk the other day without any photo gear.. the weather had just barely let up after snowing all day and it was still gray and dark when I left the house. Luckily I relented and grabbed my SLR, because 10 minutes later, the local fog had lifted and I had a few minutes to capture some spectacular light on the dissipating clouds far below.
This was shot from a forestry road that runs around the town just below our house. Someone had amazingly driven their truck up the road earlier, providing me a couple of nice tracks through the deep snow to walk on, otherwise I probably wouldn't have bothered to hike to this spot.. one of the few nearby that offers a view out through the dense trees to the lower elevations. That's the luck element, I guess.. I have gone out many days looking specifically for light and clouds that look like this, and come up empty, then this day unexpectedly, it's right there and I just had to be ready.
That is actually not the sun you see shining THROUGH the cloud, but a bright reflection ON the cloud, as the sun in this scene was way off to the left and just a few minutes from setting... the resulting touch of orange/yellow against the soft blues is really important to the scene, don't you think? A painter would know that and simply add it in; for a photographer it's a more elusive thing, but that's the fun and the challenge of landscape photography.
Check out the SkyWatch homepage every weekend for more great sky images from all around the world.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thorn Bush and Fresh Snow

Six inches of fresh snow on Sunday night/Monday morning produced some beautiful winter scenery here on Mt. San Jacinto... at least for a short time.  Around here, it usually doesn't take too long for the snow on the trees to start melting and falling off, so optimal shooting time can be kind of brief after the actual storm clears out...  Huge clumps of snow falling from the trees onto your head, down your neck and all over your camera makes for messy working conditions:)
While walking in the national forest just below our house, the abstraction and contrast of this sharp, thorny bush against the soft fresh-fallen powder caught my eye.