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New Work & Video: Alabama Hills, Day 2

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Day 2 of my trip to the Alabama Hills Recreation area proved to be a productive one. In between moving my camp and scouting the area, I created 5 photos: 2 4x5 black and white compositions and a few 6x17's. 

My first composition at sunrise started to resemble what I'd originally set out to get on this trip. It was the shot I'd pre-visualized months before, consisting of the Sierra Nevada Mountains basking in the warm pink glow of morning light with the rolling, jumbled-up boulders of the Alabama Hills filling the foreground on a wide 6x17 shot. This image was close, but still not quite there. However, this shot was an important step in the evolution towards what I'd get on the third day, where my pre-visualized composition finally came together as I envisioned.

Please click any of the images in this post for a larger view.

Sunrise on the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaSunrise over the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Fuji Velvia 50 film, 6x17 Format
Click Image for Larger View

My vertical panoramic composition from the morning of Day 2 was one of those last-minute shots. The kind of composition that comes from improvisation. I had no pre-conceived notions of doing a vertical pano like this - it just came together as I watched the light change. If I hadn't been working on a different composition at first light, I would have liked to try this image earlier in the morning. At this late in the sunrise, the blue sky turned the shadows on the foreground rocks too blue for my taste. If it had been earlier, when the light was real pinkish-gold, the color balance between sunlit background and shadowed foreground would jive a little bit better.

Sunrise on the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains from the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaMt. Whitney at Sunrise from the Alabama Hills
Fuji Velvia 50 film, 6x17 Format
Click Image for Larger View

As I said in the video above, black and white works much better for the harsh midday light than color film does. Colors just get washed out at this time of day and the shadows are much too harsh for my high-contrast Fuji Velvia 50 film. But truthfully, I'm not entirely blown away with my black and whites from this trip. I want another go at it. There is a lot of potential in this area for great black and white compositions - Ansel Adams proved that long ago - but I just wasn't 100% invested in them on this trip. I guess I was having too much fun with color film. Plus, if I'm honest, the heat in the middle of day was a bit oppressive. Makes me sloppy with my technique and uninvested in my subject matter.

Lone Pine Peak and Granite Boulders in the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaLone Pine Peak and Granite Boulders
Ilford Delta 100 film, 4x5 Format
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Lone Pine Peak and Granite Boulders in the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaLone Pine Peak and Granite Boulders
Ilford Delta 100 film, 4x5 Format
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Sierra Nevada Mountains over the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaSierra Nevada Mountains and the Alabama Hills
Ilford Delta 100 film, 6x17 Format
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I'd like to come back and do some B&W large format in the winter, when the Sierras are blanketed in snow. A stormy, cloudy sky would be nice, too. Good thing this place is only a 5-hour drive away from me. I'm sure I'll be heading back there soon with black and white film on my mind.

New Work & Video: Alabama Hills, Day 1

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I recently went on a 3-day, 2-night solo camping trip to the Alabama Hills Recreation Area at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California to photograph this unreal landscape on large format film. I also put together three videos that will bring you along with me each day as I try to make photographs to capture this awesome terrain. And with each video I put out, I will also include the images featured in the video here, on my blog. This video chronicling Day 1 of my trip takes you behind the scenes of how I created this image:

Sunset over the Sierra Nevada MountainsSunset over the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Fuji Velvia 50 film, 6x17 Format
Click Image for Larger View

In the arid rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, the Alabama Hills is a unique desert of granite boulders formed by the elements. Named after the CSS Alabama, this area gets its name from some old prospectors in the area sympathetic to the Confederates in the Civil War. It's now owned by the Bureau of Land Management and is made available to the public for camping and other outdoor activities.

If you're ever in the area of Lone Pine, be sure to treat yourself to a day in these hills. It's unbelievably picturesque. The jagged peaks of the Sierras rising above the rounded-off boulders at the base creates a stunning contrast of environments. And man on man, that open space! A man can really breathe out here!

This area has caught the attention of Hollywood since the first westerns hit the silver screen. Just a few notable movies filmed partly in the Alabama Hills: Django Unchained, Gladiator, Transformers 2... Not to mention, just about every other car commercial is filmed in these hills. There's a good reason directors like to set up their cameras here. Aside from the convenience of easy access, the backdrop is just begging to be photographed.

This wasn't my first visit to the Alabama Hills, but it was my first time camping here. My goal was to create some photographs that would really encapsulate the beauty of this locale. Using my 4x5 large format camera, my 6x17 panoramic roll film back, and a mix of color and black and white film, I braved the bugs and wind to see what kind of images I could create.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. And please, please, please click the image featured here for a larger view. You really gotta see it big! And if you have a fast enough internet connection, be sure to select 720P HD when viewing the video for the full experience.

New Work: Sequoia National Park – Part 2

Beetle Rock, Sequoia National Park, CA View from Beetle Rock, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

8 seconds at f/22 - 3-stop split ND filter

- Click any image for a larger view -

As I described in Part 1 of this post, I was having a hard time getting the shots I envisioned in the groves of Sequoia trees due to the old, dirty, partially melted snow. It just wasn't flattering to such beautiful sculptures.

But thankfully, with a little bit of scouting around, I came upon Beetle Rock, which is a large granite rock formation with a breathtaking view out to the west. At this altitude, you can see for miles when the weather is clear. Truly a stunning overlook.

On my first evening there, we had a clear sky to the west that produced some beautiful deep red hues of sunset light on the trees. Unfortunately, though, not being familiar with the area yet, I wasn't standing in the right place at the right time. So to put it simply, I squandered that light. Would have been some great color panoramas from Beetle Rock with that kind of a sunset.

But not ready to give up yet, I planned to come back to the same spot the following sunset. I was all jazzed up to shoot some panoramas on the rich color palette of Fuji Velvia film. I was comfortable with the area now, I had a rough pre-visualization of the composition I wanted, I knew when the light would be good...I had all my ducks in a row.

And then the clouds rolled in.

Bummer. I wouldn't get that deep, colorful sunset light. The clouds were too thick. It was practically overcast. But after all that work and anticipation, I decided to make the best of what nature gave me. So I pulled out the black and white film again. I may not get good color on this night, but the textures and shapes were excellent - perfect for black and whites.

I started with a horizontal, wide panorama view of the mountains to the south. The layers receding off into the background gave such a beautiful sense of distance from this high vantage point. Be sure to click for a larger version of these panos - the minute details are where these pictures really come alive.

 Beetle Rock, Sequoia National Park, CA View from Beetle Rock, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

1/4 at f/22 - 2-stop split ND filter

With the light fading and the clouds showing no signs of breaking up, I decided to scout around Beetle Rock in search of a composition that would make better use of the flat lighting. I needed something with a more pronounced shape. Something that could make use of the dramatic cloud cover.

Just in time, I found a gorgeous tree sprouting out of the rock itself. It's wind-sculpted shape would be the perfect element to superimpose against the cloudy sky. And the textures of the rock at its feet would give just the right amount of interest to the foreground.

I started with a horizontal panorama. I wanted to capture this tree as a regal symbol for the hardship of these high altitudes and the resilience of the organisms that battle the elements to thrive in this terrain. By positioning myself so that the tree would rise up high from the rock, reaching into the sky and blocking the sun behind it, I was able to create the image I envisioned - one that paints this tree as the noble champion of strength that it is. This became my favorite image from the whole trip.

Beetle Rock, Sequoia National Park, CA Tree at Beetle Rock, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

1 second at f/45 - 3-stop split ND filter

I then tried a vertical 4x5 composition of this same tree (at the top of this post). The communication was similar in this composition, but with a closer, more intimate view. This composition doesn't highlight the majesty of this tree in quite the same way as the panorama, but instead I wanted to show the granite foundation of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from which these trees sprout.