Quite Light at Mesquite Dunes

Bushes
Quiet Light at Mesquite Dunes. Death Valley, California, by I Nancy on Flickr

Some time ago, the assignment in the Martin Bailey Photography Forum was quiet light. It was an interesting assignment for me. Although I’ve always admired low-contrast images, the approach had alluded me. These images, taken this past weekend at Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley, are my tribute to quiet light.

On this morning we were treated to a light layer of high clouds, what my friend Darrel Priebe calls God’s Softbox. I like how the gentle shapes of the dunes match the mood of the gentle light. The sky was a beautiful powder blue with nearly the same B&W tonal value as the dunes themselves. These images are pretty enough in color but the color contrasts were contradicting the whole low-contrast, quite light, feel that I was seeking.

The RAW files were first processed in Lightroom to adjust dynamic range, then brought into Silver Efex Pro for conversion into B&W.

Peaks
Peaks by I Nancy, on Flickr

More Death Valley Images

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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

My Artist, My Geek

Ghost Town
Ghost Town, originally uploaded by I Nancy.

I am in the process of reading David duChemin’s book Within the Frame, The Journey of Photographic Vision. Refreshingly, this book is neither about mastering photographic technique nor photo processing software. Rather, this book is about creating and executing your photographic vision. Early in the book is a discussion of two opposing forces for the photographer: the Artist and the Geek.

You probably know these two personalities. The geek who concentrates on the gear and technique – both in the camera and in post processing. The artist who brings creativity and uniqueness of vision. The point of David’s writing to that we need to find the balance. It is the harmony of the two that provides us our best images.

This line of thinking leads me to two questions worthy of evaluation:

  1. What can we learn from the masters about how they keep the balance?
    I’m not a great photography historian, but I think I can somewhat compare the process of Ansel Adams with that of Henri Cartier-Bresson. By all accounts, both of these photographers were masters of their art. There is no denying that Adams had his technical skills honed to great advantage. Cartier-Bresson, I am lead to understand, was not interested in the process of photography, only the process of capturing an instant drawing.
  2. Who am I?
    Which of these two personalities do I most often bring to the party and what happens when one or the other fails me?

How I choose to study and practice my craft based on the pushes and pulls of these different sides will surely shape my photography. Do I contain the artist, bringing it back on the path after a little too much experimentation? Do I disdain the technician and the possibility of cold, unfeeling, yet perfectly correct, imagery. This defines my own personal photographic journey. Is it a peaceful co-existence or a battle of wills?

Just Weeds

Just Weeds, originally uploaded by I Nancy.

The cool spring this year has been keeping the wildflower active and alive. This from an outing to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve outside of Lancaster California. You would not believe the acres of bright orange poppies. Not only at the Reserve but also leading in and out.

Seeing all the poppies I was thinking that I wanted to showcase some of the other wildflowers with the poppies as their backdrop. These little purple flowers are just the blooms of a weed which seed into these little twisty stickers. I remember playing with these as a kid. They are very common. Here they get first billing with a nice contrast of orange and purple. I also really like the hints of in focus poppies on the left side of the image.

I’ll be posting more from the Poppy Reserve.