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Photography On Location: The Pumpkin Patch in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Photography On-Location:
The Pumpkin Patch at Anza-Borrego Desert
View on YouTube to see full HD

Oh, boy. It's been awhile since my last post. And it's been even longer since my last on-location video. I wish I could do this more often, but life gets in the way sometimes. Well, work gets in the way.

And I must say that I have been completely surprised by all the positive feedback I've gotten on my videos. When I posted my first video on YouTube, I was prepared for the worst - mean, critical, "just kill yourself, you Wil Wheaton look-a-like" kinds of comments. Man, was I wrong! The vast, vast majority of comments have been incredibly encouraging, positive, and supportive.

Hooray! Humanity is alive and well!

So thank you to my viewers and those who have taken the time to encourage me to do more. It really keeps me motivated on this stuff.

For my latest "photography on location" video, I took a day trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to check out a strange geological formation called "The Pumpkin Patch." Aptly named, this remote section of Anza-Borrego is dotted with pumpkin-sized spheres of sandstone - sandstone concretions as the informative placard called them. Not that I had to look this up in a dictionary or anything, but a concretion is a hard solid mass formed by the local accumulation of matter.

And as the handy placard also clarified, such concretions are believed to be formed by the natural cementing of sand particles to a small object such as a piece of shell, a grain of sand, or even an insect. You see, these are basically giant sandstone jawbreakers with a nougaty core of dead insect. A spider dies beneath the surface, a concretion forms around it, the soil eventually erodes away, and the concretion is exposed to wind which slowly smooths it into a spherical shape.

These are desert pearls, my friends!

The Pumpkin Patch in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

The Pumpkin Patch in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

It's very interesting stuff. So when I learned about this pumpkin patch in my local desert, I figured it might be worth photographing.

Getting there is pretty easy. You can probably get there just fine without 4x4, but you'll definitely need a high-clearance vehicle at the very least. This patch is nestled in the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, so this isn't something right off the side of the highway. You'll have to spend some time navigating the twists and turns of sometimes-barely-marked dirt roads and desert washes. This is the kind of place meant for dune buggies and Jeeps. I recommend checking in with the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center to get reliable directions and an update on the road conditions.

On this trip I only ended up shooting one roll of film. It was Ilford Delta 100 film pushed 1 stop (for a little extra contrast) coupled with a red filter (for even more contrast) in 6x6 format. In hindsight, I think I may have gone overboard on the contrast, but then again it worked really well for a few of the shots. Things just got a little too dark and moody for some of them. The red filter probably would have been sufficient without pushing the film too.

You'll notice that many of these pictures have a vertical whitish line off to the right. That's from a light leak in my Mamiya RZ67 camera. I don't know where it's coming from, but somehow light is creeping into the camera through the cracks and spilling onto the film. I replaced all the light seals already to try and fix it, but no dice. It's still getting in. I need to troubleshoot things a bit to get that leak under control.

Ah, these are the joys of using an old film camera. We're spoiled by perfectly tight digital cameras nowadays.

It's a real bummer about that light leak, though, because it ruined some otherwise perfectly good photos. But as they say, live and learn. Now I know it's leakin', so I know it needs fixin'.

Click any picture to see it bigger and be sure to check out the video!

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

The Pumpkin Patch in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

The Pumpkin Patch in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Making a Fine Art Photography Print: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Making a Fine Art Photography Print: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
View on YouTube to see full HD

If you've spent any time around me or browsing through my blog, you know what a fan I am of printing your work. Digital sharing just isn't enough for me. It feels great to share your work on Instagram and to see your photos on a beautiful HD screen, but really, it doesn't hold a candle to getting a big ol' print made and hanging it on the wall. I think it's about the tangibility of it. A print is substantial, but a digital file seems to dissolve into the ether before anyone can get a real good look at it.

That's why I've been trying to get more prints made. But having recently gone through some storage to find a bunch of old prints, I've decided to be more selective about what images I print. See, these old prints I found...I couldn't care less about them now. But the funny thing is I remember how proud of them I was at the time.

You may be thinking, "Well this is why you shouldn't print. You'll eventually get over it anyway. Might as well not spend the money and just stick to digital sharing."

Valid point, but I see it a different way. The thing about those old prints is they all had one thing in common: They were heavy on the "epic" factor. I mean they were your typical super-saturated, wide-angle, maximum epic-ness type of landscape photos that are so prevalent in digital photography today. You know, those landscape photos that are supposed to make you go "Woah! That's soooo pretty! Can I get that for my desktop wallpaper?" The Peter Lik type stuff.

Much of my portfolio is in this style of photography because, to be honest, it's an easy way to "wow" people. Bright colors and epic scenes are impressive. But my more recent work has taken a turn for the more subtle, the more abstract. I've gradually moved away from those colorful scenes towards simpler color palettes and more simplistic compositions. Kind of like an oil painting more than a digital photo.

I've moved towards this more subtle style for a few reasons, the main one being that the super-epic colorful stuff doesn't seem to go well with most décor. I may be oversimplifying it, but when I look at my own home and when I study the interior design work of some of the best, I notice that subtle color palettes (especially earth tones) and subtle contrast tend to reign supreme. Unless it's a millionaire playboy's penthouse suite in 1989, I just don't think the vibrant colors are a good fit for most spaces.

That's why I couldn't care less about the old prints I found in storage. They eventually ended up in storage all for the same reason - they were too "in-your-face" to hang on my walls. Good wall art should mesh with the other décor in the room, not overpower it. It's no different for fine art photography. There are other things involved in a room - furniture, tables, wall paint, carpet, decorations - all these things need to jive together to create one nice unifying look. That's what successful interior design is about.

I designed this new piece with that in mind. The image is from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on a solo camping trip I took a little while back (read about that trip here). When I took the picture I specifically had this goal in mind of staying away from that epic look with the super saturated colors. I chose Kodak Portra 160 film to render the image in a more muted color palette with softer contrast. Then, when designing the framed piece, I opted for a very simple float frame with a ¼" gap and some gorgeous wood grain. The piece screams simplicity and clean lines...just what I like to see in my own home.

Fine Art Photography Wall Art

Nick Carver with one of his Fine Art Photography Prints

As you'll see in the video at top, the image is from a 6x17 negative I scanned on my Epson V750 scanner using Silverfast software and it was printed by Pro Photo Connection in Irvine (check them out here) on Fuji Pearl paper. The print isn't inkjet (you know how I hate inkjet) but is instead a wet process C-type print for superior color, sharpness, and clarity.

I also had Pro Photo mount the print on ¾" gator board and laminate it with a luster lamination. This is an awesome presentation style I discovered with the help of the good folks at Pro Photo and I'm this close to trademarking it because I love it so much! The luster lamination takes the gloss out of the pearl paper which makes the print much easier to see but it still maintains that pearlescent glow. The lamination also makes glass unnecessary because the laminate protects the prints from most common sources of damage. No glass means no reflections, no light transmission loss, and a lot less weight. You really gotta see this in person to appreciate the look, but needless to say, I'm happy with it.

This piece will soon be on display and for sale in an art festival next Spring. So far the reaction has been excellent from those I've shown it to. And I have to say, it feels way better seeing this thing 72-inches-wide on my wall than on a 3-inch smartphone screen.

So get out there and make some prints!

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: