What to make of Bodie?

The Cain House Past
The Cain House Past by I Nancy, on Flickr

There are advantages and disadvantages of being married to a raving railroad fanatic. The advantages is that he loves an adventure and anything involving trains and railroad history. The disadvantage is that, even when you are on an Eastern Sierras fall color trip, the historic gold-rush town of Bodie, just north of Mono Lake, is one of the first stops on the trip. Go to Bodie, go directly to Bodie, do not stop and take pictures of the flaming mountain scapes on Conway Summit, do not dally in the yellow and orange Aspen forests or creekside on the many canyons and creeksides, do not collect 200 photographs.

But the weather was incredibly photography friendly for our afternoon jaunt to Bodie and my husband drove the dirt roads which, though shaken and rattled, our trusty silver Prius managed just fine.

As I walked the streets I started my visioning process, a process I learned through the writings of David DuChemin’s Within The Frame series. David talks about creating a mental checklist of all the things you feel and observe at your photographic location. Bodie is an odd town and a microcosm of California’s gold-rush history. One of the largest and most successful gold mining towns in California. At it’s height, around 1880, it had a population of ten thousand people, hundreds of saloons, and was renowned for its lawlessness. It is a town of bitter winter cold and dramatic summer heat. The boom was short lived and began a stead decline from 1881. In 1932 a fire, fabled to be started by 2 1/2 year old “Bodie Bill“, destroyed over 90% of the town.

It was cloudy enough to provide that big softbox-in-the-sky effect but with just enough patches of blue texture to capture dramatic patterns. The builds have an undisturbed patina and in a state of “arrested decay”. I wanted to capture the notion of Bodie still inhabited with each building alive telling the stories of its dramatic past. With a wide-angle lens, and some judicious HDR,  here is my approach to breath life into these structures so that they can tell us their story in their own words.

No Sermons Lately
No Sermons Lately by I Nancy, on Flickr

Figueroa Mountain Oaks – Subtle in HDR

Figueroa Mountain Oaks

I’ve heard that the best way to learn is to do, but I think the best way to learn is to teach. This weekend I was working on an overview of HDR photography for the Thousand Oaks Photo Group. My teaching philosophy is around motivation more then instruction. If you can motivate the learner into wanting to use a technique, the instruction takes care of itself.

I needed a set of images to explain why to use HDR and I remembered some images I took at Figueroa Mountain last spring. Figueroa Mountain is a beautiful place spread with old oaks and fields. We went for the wildflowers, but they were a bust this year. We had to satisfy ourselves with the groves of trees and mountain air. The oaks were just sprouting their light-green tender leaves and the sky was beautiful but bright. These were the conditions for neutral-density graduated filters or… HDR. I bracketed many scenes but never got back to fully process the shoot. This weekend was my opportunity to do some experimentation with the goal of creating a concrete set of guidance for approaching HDR.

My use of HDR is subtle and I typically shoot in 1-stop exposures. I use Photomatix Pro on my RAW images for the tone-mapping and then Lightroom and Photoshop for additional adjustments.

Figueroa Mountain Oaks

Ready to Ride

Ready To Ride
Ready To Ride by I Nancy, on Flickr

In mid January my buddies and I set out for Death Valley. Between Los Angeles and Death Valley are the Trona Pinnacles and between Trona and Death Valley is ghost town of Ballarat. In the 1960s, Charles Manson and the “Manson Family” of killers moved into a ranch south of Ballarat and this truck is said to be theirs.

In contrast to my images in Keeler, where I choose to illustrate the decay with gritty B&W, here I chose to amplify the character of this town with wide angle and gaudy HDR. It was a beautiful day with a scrim of clouds. This truck called to me as I spent most of the time we visited here working to capture its unique character.

A Glimpse of The Wave

A Glimpse of the Wave
A Glimpse of the Wave by I Nancy, on Flickr

Our photo trip to Utah centered around a 2.7 mile hike over red slickrock and through sandy canyons to a sandstone structure known as simply as The Wave. A remarkable sight of eroded sandstone like you have never seen before. The day we hiked in the temperatures were in the upper 90’s with not a cloud in the sky. Here is my first post from the day’s shoot. Everyone gets the iconic Wave image, here is a little different view looking up the wave instead of down.

Slot Canyon Abstracts #1

Slot Canyon Abstracts
Slot Canyon Abstracts by I Nancy, on Flickr

The Six Utah Trekkers returned on Monday after just over a week in various parts of Utah and just over the boarder into Arizona – Jerry Koenig, Connie Wade, Mike Sugar, Suzanne Tanaka, Chick Lehrer (well, he’s not a photographer) and myself. Here are some of my first images off the press.

This image was taken in the Lower Antelope Canyon just outside of Page Arizona. The canyon was just incredible and at almost every step there was another incredible view. I shot mostly using 3-exposure bracketing to manage both the highlights and the shadows. This one is a subtle HDR mix. I particularly like all the striations on the rock in this section of the canyon.

Stand Tall

Stand Tall
Stand Tall by I Nancy, on Flickr

Today’s hike was at Malibu Creek State Park with good photo buddies Jerry, Connie, and Hutch. Jerry, Connie and I were trying out our gear management systems (err, I just made that up – how we carry our gear) for a trip to Utah that we are taking at the end of the month. I was testing out how I would carrying my new Induro CT114 carbon fibre tripod and Acratech GP Ballhead. With the whole setup weighting a bit less than 4lbs they were both a pleasure to use and to carry. I mostly just carried it across my back draped diagonally across my body. The biggest hitch was managing how the camera, tripod and hat straps were intertwined.

“Gear is good, but vision is better” (thank you David DuChemin) so I must get to talking about my vision for these images.

In September it is starting to feel like fall in most parts of the US, but not in beautiful sunny southern California. Here is is still full on summer. Highs between upper 80 and 100 F. Today was about 84. The sun is bright and harsh and all the bad stuff for taking photographs. I’m not one to make my living from HDR images, but I knew before I left the house that HDR was a technique I would need today to keep the exposure and lighting under control. Also, this little grove of redwoods and just that, a little grove. A little anomaly in what is mostly brush, sycamores, and California oaks. And in comparison to the big redwoods in northern California, they are quite small. I wanted to exaggerate their height and isolate them to make it feel like we were surrounded by redwoods. Setting up the tripod I was conscious to keep the sky as filled with branches as possible and create some dramatic angles. f/9 for good depth of field, 28mm for fairly wide angle. In this shot I setup specifically to shoot into the sun. It is actually one of my favorite things to do to add additional drama and power to a shot. Since I was shooting HDR, I knew I could recover the tree shadows in the exposure brackets.

Here are two more from the day: one capturing the spread of the branches and the other as if the redwood was posing for a classic portrait.

Braching Out
Braching Out by I Nancy, on Flickr

Portrait View
Portrait View by I Nancy, on Flickr