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Fun With Triptych Photography: Trees and Clouds

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography
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I got a thing for triptych photography. There's something about threes - it just looks good. Maybe it's because I'm one of 3 brothers. But whatever the reason, lately I've been addicted to taking pictures in such a way that they'll look good as a triptych in the final presentation. This most often manifests as three nearly identical compositions of slightly different subjects so that when they are finally arranged together into a triptych, the artwork, as a whole, simultaneously highlights the broad similarities and minor differences between subjects all in one piece.

The other way to make a triptych is to simply divide up a single picture into thirds, then place the segments next to each other to reconstitute the bigger picture, as I did with the 10-foot wide panoramic hanging in my Tustin office.

Triptych Wall Art

Recently, when my girlfriend and I took our dog out for a drive/walk on a partly cloudy day, we eventually found ourselves at my old high school. The clouds were gorgeous - which is the real reason we decided to get out of the house - and I brought my camera gear along to capture the dramatic sky. Whenever we get those picturesque partly cloudy skies dotted with billowing fair-weather cumulous clouds, I feel a nagging itch to go photograph it. I simply love this type of weather. It is unquestionably my favorite type of sky. But my dilemma, usually, is that there just aren't many good foregrounds here in Orange County to create a traditional land-and-sky landscape photo. Unless I want that gorgeous sky paired with an endless wasteland of tract housing and strip malls, I find myself more than a bit frustrated.

I could head down to the beach and photograph this beautiful sky over the ocean, which I have done before with excellent results, but you Orange County natives know that the skies at the beach are rarely similar to the skies just 10 miles in from the coast. It would be a gamble heading down there. Or I could venture out into one of the local wilderness preserves to catch this sky over some rolling hills, but with the recent drought and the ever-shrinking wilderness areas, it can be difficult to find a good foreground devoid of tract-housing clutter.

So when we get skies like this and I get the urge to take pictures, I go into "let's play some Jazz" mode. I bring my camera along as I drive or bike around OC, and I simply look for ways to improvise. Head over here, see if something works, move on to something else if it doesn't. Often times this method results in nothing noteworthy, but sometimes it results in photos I'm really proud to call my own.

On this little outing with my girlfriend and our dog, the improvisation led us to my high school. Not sure why, I was just following my instincts and looking for an open view of the sky. But I'm glad we ended up at this location because I found some trees that I could silhouette against the sky without any suburban clutter in the background thanks to a wide open spread of baseball fields behind it. I immediately envisioned a black and white triptych of three of these trees side-by-side. I wanted a rich, dark sky with bright contrasting clouds and a simple outline of the tree centered perfectly in each composition. Our angle to these trees gave us the exact backlighting I needed to illuminate the clouds and silhouette the trees.

Although I always try my damnedest to predict conditions and plan out my shots well in advance, shoots like this always remind me that improvisation is an important skill to creating great photos.

Here are the individual shots from this triptych:

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography

Mojave Desert, Part 3: Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Sand Texture in the Mojave Desert
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I think I could photograph the ripples in these sand dunes for days and never get bored. That’s why I did a lot of it on this trip. I also find that shooting in the square film format and using my camera handheld (as opposed to my usual tripod method) makes photographing this sand texture all the more fun. The ripples are simultaneously perfectly ordered and utterly random. They’re like the grooves in your fingerprint - each one is different and yet they all look pretty much the same at first glance.

The most interesting thing about these ripples and textures is that they are formed entirely by wind alone. It’s nothing more than a side effect of a natural weather phenomenon. It’s simply remarkable that this is what mother nature creates when she’s left alone. And like an etch-a-sketch, each one of these sculptures is shaken clear and re-formed with passing time. They are transient and temporary, a fact that makes photographing them all the more special.

At the Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve, you’ll find faint layers of black sand mixed in with the more common beige variety. I presume the black sand comes from the volcanic rock of nearby cinder cones which has been eroded down to granules and transported by the wind onto these mammoth piles of sand. The real interesting part comes in how the wind separates the black sand from the beige sand. It seems one of these types of sand is heavier than the other. This fact is evident all over the dunes where a strip of black sand will crown the top of a crest or line the valleys of sand ripples like a black highlighter drawn along their edge. The result is a multi-colored painting of sand and wind that even the finest artist couldn’t create.

I personally like these types of compositions. They aren’t in-your-face like my more typical epic landscape photography, but their subtlety and near-abstractness is perfect for interior decorating. I plan to compile some of these images of sand texture into a triptych - 3 compositions side-by-side or one on top of the other to form a beautiful wall art piece that brings the texture of the Kelso Sand Dunes indoors. Or maybe I’ll do 4 compositions arranged 2x2...perhaps 6 arranged 2x3...maybe even 9 arranged 3x3.

I think we’re going to need a bigger wall...

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert, Part 2: Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography
Black and White Landscape Photography in the Mojave Desert
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I didn’t shoot a ton of black and white landscape photography on my most recent trip to the Mojave Desert. I’m not really sure why - I suppose the colors were just too delicious to desaturate at the time - but despite my slim-pick’ns on the monochrome front, I really, really love sand dunes in black and white. The contrast and lines are just superb for monochrome photography.

Right off the bat, most of the compositions here will look quite familiar if you saw my last post from this Mojave Desert trip with my color landscape photography. Once I set up a shot for color photography, I tend to try the same exact composition in black and white because it’s easy to do and I like having both options. I always tell myself that I’ll pick one later - the color or the B&W - as the final select, but I always find myself torn between the pretty colors and the rich monochrome shots. That’s why both usually end up on my website. I also often shoot the same composition in both horizontal and vertical framing. It’s good to have both varieties when making a fine art piece or trying to fit a picture into a magazine or book.

Each of the shots here were made at sunrise looking northwest. I was fortunate to get relatively clear skies on one of the mornings which allowed the unobstructed sun to bathe these dunes in a strong, harsh, directional side lighting. When you’re trying to highlight sand textures and shapes in the dunes, you need harsh light. If the light is softened up too much by a thin cloud layer, the texture just disappears under the flat lighting. And if the sun is too high in the sky - like at noon - the shadows aren’t going in the right direction to bring out the details. It needs to be side-lighting and it needs to be strong directional light. So, thank you, clear skies.

I don’t remember for sure, but I’m pretty sure I used a polarizer in most of these photos, a red #23A filter on all of them, and a split ND filter on most or all of them. Without these filters, the contrast would have been lackluster. And without solid manual metering technique, I would have botched the whole thing.

I have to say, the more I look at my landscape photography from this trip and other trips to the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert, the more I like the black and white versions. Does that mean I’m getting old?

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography