Spring Showers

For many of you it’s probably still winter, but here in Southern California, where there isn’t really a winter, it’s already the beginning of spring. In fact, the seasons here don’t make any sense at all. Last November there were flowering trees on Caltech’s campus, and now the desert blooms are slowly starting to awaken. In mid January it was 85 degrees.. but of course this morning it hailed, so who knows what the season is. Up until this past weekend it had been an unusually dry start to the year, but that all changed on friday. A big storm rolled in and proceeded to dump rain everywhere, and of course snow at the higher elevations. Death Valley got about 2 inches of rain over the weekend, shutting down many roads in the process. While you’d think that would suggest a good wildflower season, rangers are saying the rain might actually have washed away all the seeds! Now if we can find out where they all went… I can’t wait to see what happens a few weeks from now!

I had been watching the weather reports, and given this news, along with the chance of it clearing over last Saturday night, I made a dash for Joshua Tree National Park to try to catch some interesting light. I arrived on Saturday in the pouring rain, but it’s a desert, so storms like this often come in short bursts. An hour before sunset the clouds started to break, and the resulting light was nothing short of beautiful. Last time I was here there was not a single cloud in sight, and I discovered an area ripe with compositional potential. Unfortunately most of these scenes were sunrise locations.

Don’t forget to click on the image to see the big version… these little ones just don’t even come close.

“Desert Zen Garden” ~ Joshua Tree NP, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D mkII, 16-35mm mkII @19mm, tripod, polarizer
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/4th sec
Processing: lots of curves layers and burning/dodging to get the exposure evened out.

The previous rains had really brought out the colors in the plant life around, and I had noticed a bunch of plants with bright red stems (biologists/plant lovers… any ID’s?). Well, as I wandered back to the car after the cloud show was over (I’m still undecided on those images), I stumbled across this scene. The Joshua Tree, red stemmed plants, rocks, and moon all came together.

“Desert Moonlight” ~ Joshua Tree NP, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D mkII, 16-35mm mkII @18mm, tripod
Exposure 1: iso 400, f/14, 3 min
Exposure 2: iso 400, f/14, 30 sec
Processing: I blended the two exposures to get even lighting for the sky and foreground.

At this point it was time to turn in for the night (yes, around 7pm.. time to sleep!). After filling my stomach with a can of chili, I curled up in my sleeping bag in the back of the car and tried to ignore the full moon. I awoke at 5:30 (I keep my watch on summer time, so it felt like 6:30am), gave the door a good few whacks to loosen the ice that had frozen it shut over night, and head out to await the morning glow. Most of the clouds had dissipated, and I was afraid I wouldn’t get the image I had come for. As I ran around to find another scene that could use the available clouds, suddenly a wispy puff willed itself into existence, as if it could read my mind! I raced back to the spot, carefully set up my composition, and caught the moment just in time! While I originally had hoped for more clouds, the more I look at this one, the more I like the minimal sky – it brings out the foreground textures and light more, which is what this scene is really about. Sensual granite foreground rocks like this are hard to find in the park, so I’m going to milk this spot for all it’s got.

“The Granite Sensation II” ~ Joshua Tree NP, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D mkII, 16-35mm mkII @20mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1.6 sec
Processing: I actually took two exposures, one for the color in the clouds, then another just a minute or two later for the light gracing the top of the rocks. By that point the cloud had dissipated already, so blending the two I was able to capture my vision.
Note: While I have no ethical problem blending two images taken from the exact same scene within a very short period of time, I would never mix skies and landscapes from different places or significantly different times.

Mostly satisfied with how my quick adventure turned out, I started to head home to get back to learning various things pertaining to control and dynamics and such. But… on my way out the clouds just looked too good. So I hoped out and went out to find an interesting scene. The trouble with much of Joshua Tree is that I prefer compositions with interesting and curvy foregrounds, and those can be hard to find. Much of the park is a collection of these amazing looking trees, but little opportunity to make the image ‘mine’. Well.. I stumbled on this egg, a nest of eggs rather. And together with the clouds and stream of light the scene came together.

“The Egg” ~ Joshua Tree NP, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D mkII, 16-35mm mkII @16mm, tripod, polarizer
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/40th sec
Processing: Again I actually took two exposures, one for the cloud forms and another for the light on the rocks, which only lasted about a second or so!
Note: see previous image.

If these storms keep coming as they’re predicted to do, I’m bound to make another trip to some desert this weekend.. maybe the dunes, I miss playing with sand. While the rangers said the wildflower seeds may have all washed away, I’m keeping my hopes up for a spectacular display this year! Of course, nothing is going to compare to the lush and diverse explosion of spring that I had in Ithaca last year. I recently went digging through some old folders, and much to my surprise found this file, which had been neglected in favor of other less qualified ones. In any case, it was discovered, and now it’s here for your viewing pleasure. And this little web file doesn’t compare to the detail that’s there – you can see little rain drops on those azalea flowers! It’s not often that nature arranges such a complex scene with such perfection (of course, aided by several hours of trying various compositions). While this might look like paradise, it was hell to get, a zenlike hell though. I spent hours wading through knee deep swamp water, being bitten by flocks of mosquitoes (yes flocks), and somehow managed to keep the camera dry from the drizzle. I returned 5 times before I found the right composition and light, but I consider this one of my very best compositions to date, so the effort was definitely worth it! Photographing a marsh like this is incredibly challenging, but also most rewarding.

“The Spring Explosion” ~ Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca NY
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40mm @ 19mm, tripod, polarizer
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 1/4th sec
Processing: In addition to the usual burn/dodge and local contrast adjustments I do, I applied a slight diffuse glow to bring out the magic and humid nature of the place – not Orton, but something of my own devising, a trade secret if you will 🙂

And just for fun, here’s a bird for you bird lovers… probably the most handsome Rufous Hummingbird I’ve ever encountered, a feisty one too.

Rufous Hummingbird ~ Pasadena, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D mkII, 500mm f/4 + 1.4x tc, monopod
Exposure: iso 3200, f/5.6, 1/125th
Processing: cropped to 12 MPix, and with iso 3200.. look at that detail! I did do a bit of noise reduction on the background, but boy are these files gorgeous!

And don’t forget all of these images are available as limited edition fine art prints… and the detail and colors you see in those make these pale in comparison. Proceeds go towards funding more adventures, and hence more material for you to enjoy, and perhaps eventually a book, can you think of a better cause?!

Also, for those of you who use flickr, I’ve started posting my images there, so feel free to look me up.. of course that will ruin the suspense of these posts, but you’ll have to come here for the stories! This is me: florisvb.

Okay.. time to study again so I can run off next weekend.. can’t wait to play in the desert sandbox!

3 Responses to Spring Showers

  1. very good work and you are blessed to be located around such beauty. Keep up the awesome work. I look forward to your new entries.

  2. carol says:

    Thumbs up!!
    (I would like to see the Egg in color however. That may be pedestrian but am I sorry that I live in a colorful world? no!) Thanks for sharing the fantastic shot of the Rufous. Remind me of that when I’m feeling flush and ready to buy!!

  3. florisvb says:

    Thanks Carol! I’ll look into a color version, though working in black and white lets me bring out the textures and contrasts more, making it more dramatic in a sense. I’ll let you know when I get to it!

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