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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
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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
Click Image for Larger View

Sierra Nevada Mountains over the Alabama Hills Recreation AreaSierra Nevada Mountains and the Alabama Hills
Ilford Delta 100 film, 6x17 Format
Click Image for Larger View

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: Laguna Beach Sunset

Sunset in Laguna Beach, CAMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 on Fuji Velvia 100 film
1/2 at f/22 - Lee 2-stop split ND filter

- Please click images for larger versions to really enjoy the detail -

Believe it or not, the best sunsets here in Orange County don't coincide with peak tourism season. I always feel bad seeing the beaches packed in June and July under overcast skies. Visitors from the other side of the country aren't aware of our "May Gray", "June Gloom", and "July Ugly Sky" (okay, maybe that last one isn't a common phrase). They have dreams of a sunny Southern California, but instead get something more akin to London.

Our best skies really come in early fall and late winter. I think it must have something to do with the seasons changing - it just brings good clouds for colorful sunsets. Not good sunbathing weather, but boy is it good for photography. Plus, the beaches are usually empty at this time, so you know, double bonus!

This last February brought some beautiful clouds that resulted in some very photogenic sunsets. Luckily, I was able to get out and shoot one of them. I opted to use my Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera as opposed to my large format 4x5. I love the process and incredible detail of 4x5, but it's just hard to run away from waves when the camera is that big and slow. The Mamiya gives me a little more room to book it when a wave comes in hot. And while I was out shooting, I was happy to show some curious teenagers how my strange "box camera" works. A lot of people might feel old using a camera that a seventeen-year-old has never even seen before, but I love it.

I used a 50mm lens for this shoot (which is considered wide-angle in the medium format world) along with my favorite high-saturation film - Fuji Velvia 100. In hindsight, I wish I'd used Velvia 50 for a warmer color palette, but the cooler color palette of my chosen Velvia 100 worked just fine.

Sunset in Laguna Beach, CA

Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 on Fuji Velvia 100 film
1 second at f/16 - Lee 3-stop split ND filter

Sunset in Laguna Beach, CA

Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 on Fuji Velvia 100 film
2 second at f/16 - Lee 1-stop & 3-stop split ND filters

Sunset in Laguna Beach, CA

Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 on Fuji Velvia 100 film
1 second at f/16 - Lee 1-stop & 2-stop split ND filters

Sunset in Laguna Beach, CA

Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 on Fuji Velvia 100 film
1 second at f/16 - Lee 1-stop & 2-stop split ND filters

Sunset in Laguna Beach, CAMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 on Fuji Velvia 100 film
2 seconds at f/11 - Lee 1-stop & 2-stop split ND filters