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Abandoned Buildings on Route 66 in Ludlow, CA (Part 2)

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

More abandoned buildings from Route 66
Shot on Kodak Portra 160
with a Mamiya RZ67

This is part 2 of my visit to the abandoned buildings off Route 66 in Ludlow, CA. Click here to see part 1.

Yes, sir. Abandoned buildings along Route 66 in the middle of the Mojave Desert - I really can’t think of a better recipe for a good time. But wait, it’s missing just a few ingredients: a heaping cup of Shen-Hao TFC-617 camera, a Mamiya RZ67 with 6x7 and 6x6 film backs, plenty of Kodak Portra 160, and just a dash of Fujifilm Velvia 100. Ah, yes, now we got ourselves a tasty dish.

I tend to overpack on camera gear. I’m always afraid I’ll leave behind the one thing I wish I had. So I brought with me on this trip my full Mamiya RZ67 outfit, my complete 6x17 kit, and even a couple of polaroid cameras - a Polaroid SX-70 and the new Polaroid OneStep 2. Combine all that with 5 different films stuffed in my cooler and there are more camera/lens/film combinations than I could ever want. In fact, I think I may have had a few too many options to work with.

The Mamiya RZ67 with 6x6 back may have been my favorite to use. Something about shooting square format is just plain fun. Especially out here on Route 66. Route 66, 6x6 film...come on, might as well call it Route 6x6! Amirite?

But my favorite pictures came from my 6x17 Shen-Hao TFC 617-A. I love shooting the 6x17 panoramic format anyway, but out here in Ludlow, the abandoned mechanic’s shop and gas stations seemed like they were built to be photographed in this format.

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

The 4 pictures above were shot on Fuji Velvia 100 film
Click to see them bigger

And check out Part 1 of this trip recap to see
how they compare to Kodak Portra 160 film

I used both Kodak Portra 160 film and Fuji Velvia 100 to photograph these decaying buildings in 6x17 format. I prefer the look of Kodak Portra overall - can’t beat those nice soft tones - but I’m glad I shot Velvia too. To compare the 2 films side-by-side is quite interesting for a film geek like me. The dynamic range of Portra far exceeds that of Velvia, so the shadow and highlight detail is much improved. I’ll always have a soft-spot in my heart for Velvia because it was the first film I fell in love with, but these days I’m really loving the look of Portra.

To see a full in-depth comparison of these 2 films along with a review of all the images from this trip, check out the video below.

Photography On-Location: Route 66
View on YouTube to see full HD

The following pictures were all made on Kodak Portra 160 film with a Mamiya RZ67 camera equipped with a 6x6 back:

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Solo Camping in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Kodak Portra 160 Film, Shen-Hao TFC 617-A
You gotta see these big - click any image to enlarge

Lately I've been trying to break out of my usual photographic style. Super-vibrant colors, rich contrast, epic wide-angle compositions..."yeah, yeah, we've seen it before, Nick." I've pursued this style for years because, let's be honest, it's an easy way to impress people. Flash some pretty colors on a computer screen and folks gather around like moths to a flame. It's no wonder this style has become so popular in recent years. Just boost that saturation slider in Lightroom and watch the "Likes" rack up.

But repetition is the antithesis to creativity. I've become so overloaded with that hit-you-in-the-face style of landscape photography that I just didn't feel creative anymore repeating my usual look. So when I found myself in one of my cyclic creative slumps again, I decided it was time to switch things up. I needed to try something new - something completely different than my usual modus operandi. I didn't even care if it was good, as long as it was different. An ounce of "different" is worth a pound of "good" when it comes to creating art, in my humble opinion.

With plans to take a solo camping trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to break out of my mold. So I made a mental checklist of what I typically do in my landscape photography: super saturated colors, deep dark shadows, wide angle compositions, and a pronounced foreground element. Good. Now I know what not to do.

My goal was to only take pictures with a lower-saturation film (Kodak Portra 160) so I didn't have the crutch of vibrant colors. This film also has softer contrast - one more crutch gone. Then I stuck exclusively to normal and telephoto focal lengths focused on more distant subjects. In other words, no using that sneaky trick of throwing on the super wide angle lens and getting right on top of an epic foreground element.

Also, the location was Anza-Borrego Desert State Park - a park with no notable geographic formations, no raging rivers or majestic peaks, and no iconic arches drawing people from all over the world. The park is bland compared to the photographer's Disneyland that is Yosemite. Point any lens at Half Dome and you have a 50/50 chance of creating something frame-worthy. But out here in the desolate badlands of southern California, Anza-Borrego Desert would provide no "get out of jail free" cards.

Putting myself in this position was uncomfortable. I was in unknown territory without my binky. The certitude that I would create at least one good photo wasn't coming with me on this trip. After all, what if this low-saturation, low-contrast, telephoto looks turns out terrible? What if nobody likes it?

It was tough fighting years of ingrained habits, but I came out unscathed and better for it. I'm happy with the photos. I like the softer look and the simplified compositions. They are photos I would actually hang on my own walls. But more than the look, I'm happy I broke out of my mold. It feels good to try something new. And ultimately, it's the only way to get the creative gears turning again once they bind up.

Now the question is, how long before I grow tired of this style?

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

And check out my sweet campsite:

New Landscape Photography: Mojave Desert, Part 1

Landscape Photography from the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave DesertThe Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave Desert
Medium Format Kodak Portra 160 film
Click Any Image to Expand

I've visited the Mojave Desert a couple times over the past month and a half in search of some new landscape photography. My location of choice for both trips was the Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve. I've often said the Kelso Sand Dunes just might be my favorite place on the planet, and it seems every time I go out there, that sentiment grows even stronger. It's a truly magical place within the vast Mojave Desert where you'll find some of the tallest sand dunes in the United States scraping the cobalt blue skies of Southern California. This area of the desert is rich in open space. As you gaze out onto the horizon the sheer lack of clutter will leave you entranced. You'll feel like you can stretch out further than you ever thought possible.

A lot of people don't "get" the desert. The millions of commuters driving through the Mojave Desert on the way to Vegas each year might view this terrain as nothing more than a dry, empty wasteland that only serves as a platform upon which to build our highways. But it's so much more than that. The desert is as beautiful as Yosemite Valley when viewed through the right eyes. It's a gallery of unique geological features formed and crafted by the elements of wind, water, and weather that bathes in some of the most stunning light found in any ecosystem. The beauty found in the desert may not be the kind of obvious beauty you find in giant redwood trees or epic waterfalls, but grandeur is there nonetheless. The allure of the desert is more subtle. It requires a deeper appreciation for the wind-swept, water-carved geography and the indomitable forces that shape it. It is this deep appreciation that pulls me to the Mojave Desert to take photos highlighting its often-misunderstood beauty.

The photos highlighted in this post (and in the next 2 posts) are from a one-day trip I took out to the dunes with a photographer friend of mine back in December. My goal on the trip was to take pictures that went a little outside my usual comfort zone and style. My usual modus operandi is to do the typical high-color, high-contrast, large depth of field, epic scenics that everyone is doing these days. Although I did do some shots in this category, I wanted to devote the bulk of my efforts towards something new: shallow depths of field, softer color palettes, brighter exposures, ultra-simple compositions, and of course some black and whites. With my medium format Mamiya RZ67 camera and its removable film cassette backs, I was able to try similar compositions with different films ranging from muted-color negatives to high-color transparency film to traditional black and white.

So over the course of the next 3 blog posts, I'll show you my 3 different takes on this landscape - 3 different styles of photography all from the same camera and the same photographer. You'll notice many of the compositions are the same, which shows how wildly different the overall style and look can be even when the composition is identical. This first post showcases a style that exhibits a simple, soft color palette achieved through the use of Kodak Portra 160 film, minimal use of filters, and an intentional tendency towards brighter exposures. I also opted for ultra-simple compositions and a shallow depth of field in many of these shots for a minimalist (and sometimes abstract) look.

In the next 2 blog posts I'll share my ultra high contrast black and white images followed by my more typical high-saturation classic scenics.

Landscape Photography from the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert

Landscape Photography from the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert

Landscape Photography from the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert

Landscape Photography from the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert

Landscape Photography from the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert

Landscape Photography from the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert

Landscape Photography from the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert