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New Landscape Photography & Video: Storm in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park Fine Art PhotographyJoshua Tree in Fog
Image made on Ilford Delta 100 Film
with a Mamiya RZ67 and 110mm f/2.8

It's been kind of an unusual couple weeks weather-wise for Orange County. Temperatures have been soaring and we've had lots of scattered cloud cover. It's resulted  in some seriously gorgeous skies - the sunsets especially.

Unfortunately, though, the beaches are crowded and, frankly, I'm a little burned out on photographing beach sunsets. So although I've been enjoying the beautiful skies, I haven't really been photographing them. But Monday of last week I decided to get myself out to Joshua Tree National Park to photograph these dramatic weather conditions.

The forecast called for scattered thunder storms in the desert - which is really what made me decide to drive out there - but the thunder never materialized. That's okay though because the breaking storm made for some of the most beautiful light and skies I've ever seen in Joshua Tree National Park.

The drive to Joshua Tree from Orange County is about 2 1/2 hours, which feels about 3 hours longer than I remember. And especially with the heavy downpour and flooded streets through the desert, I was beginning to doubt my decision about an hour in to the drive.

But boy am I glad I took this trip!

On the way in to the park, I found a stretch of road where a heavy fog enveloped the Joshua Trees and rock formations, creating some truly stunning scenery for me to capture on my Ilford Delta 100 black and white film. I chose black and white for this entire outing for a couple reasons (with the exception of a single roll of color film I'm pretty sure I botched). First, I've simply been more attracted to black and white landscape photography lately. Maybe I'm burned out on color, maybe I just don't find it "artsy" enough anymore. But whatever the reason, B&W seems to be keeping my creative juices flowing in a way color film isn't. And aside from that, I mean come on...Joshua Trees in fog and breaking storms over the desert? It's just begging for black and white!

I spent the first half of the day photographing these unique yuccas in the fog with my Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera. I chose this format because with the 110mm f/2.8 lens, I was able to get a real shallow depth of field by shooting wide open. This helped to draw attention to my subjects as if I was shooting a portrait of each Joshua Tree. I made 10 frames of these "portraits" with plans to create a triptych from the best 3.

I used a dark yellow #15 filter on these shots to help introduce some contrast in this flat lighting and I over-developed the film intentionally to help raise up the highlights a bit (N+1 processing for you Zone System users).

After lunch, I spent the day in the higher elevations of the park scouting out a good location for sunset and creating some B&W 6x17 photographs highlighting the stunning sky.

I'm normally pretty humble and modest about my photos and I always feel weird heaping praise on my own work, but I am truly thrilled with the photos I made on this trip. For a long time now I haven't felt that my pictures are actually representative of me or of the vibe I want to create. But these pictures are a better representation of me than I think anything else I've put out before.

I must be moving in the right direction.

Please, oh, please click any image for a larger view

Breaking Storm over Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park Fine Art Landscape Photography

Joshua Tree in Fog in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree in Fog in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree in Fog in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree National Park Fine Art Photography

And check out the on-location video:

View on YouTube for full HD version

First Impressions of Kodak Ektar

Kodak Ektar 100All images made on medium format Kodak Ektar film
Click any image for a larger view

I've historically been a color reversal film guy. I just haven't shot much with color negative film. I suppose that's a product of being a Galen Rowell fanboy. He was a Kodachrome and Velvia guy, so that's what I became (unfortunately Kodachrome was before my time, though).

But I decided to break out of my shell a little bit and give Kodak Ektar 100 a try because I've read great things about it and I've seen some beautiful colors from it. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest advantage to shooting Kodak Ektar over something like Fuji Velvia is the increased dynamic range and the ability to change the color balance after taking the shot. 

In the digital world, RAW and JPEG files have sometimes been compared to color negatives and color slides. That's because RAW files, like color negative film, have more flexibility in post-production than JPEG files. Much like a RAW file, I can change the "white balance" of my Kodak Ektar shots in the process of scanning. Also, I get a little bit wider range of tonality than on my trusty old Velvia. Velvia (and all color transparency films) are more like JPEGs - what you see is what you get, there's no doing drastic color changes after snapping the shutter, and the dynamic range is more compressed.

Having worked extensively with the "JPEG of film," I thought it was time to try the film equivalent to a RAW file.

So with my first roll of Kodak Ektar color negative film loaded up in my medium format Mamiya RZ67, I headed out to a local park at high noon. My goal was to create ultra-simplistic compositions of the overly-ordered suburban setting that is Irvine, CA. You see, Irvine is a master-plan community in Orange County, CA that might remind some of the Stepford Wives - the neighborhoods and parks are ultra-ordered, ultra-groomed, ultra-matchy, and ultra-artificial. Nice place to raise a kid, but it ain't exactly dripping with culture and variety.

These compositions aren't my usual high-contrast, high-detail landscapes that you might be used to, but that's the point. I wanted simple and ordered compositions to help highlight the artificiality of the community.

All in all, I felt that Kodak Ektar was a perfect match for this shoot. The wider-than-Velvia dynamic range allowed me to keep detail in the harsh shadows of midday and resulted in an overall softer contrast that suited this subject matter well. The vibrant yet soft color palette combined with the wide dynamic range helped me create the painterly look I was after.

I'm still working on testing this film on some of my more typical shoots - vibrant landscape photography - but I think it's safe to say that Kodak Ektar is a superb film that will forever remain in my arsenal of film stocks...well, at least until they stop making it.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

New Work: The Side of the House

Side of the House in IrvineAll Images Made on Ilford Delta 100 Film
With a Mamiya RZ67 Medium Format Camera
Click Any Image to Expand

These pictures may not be what you typically expect from me. I'm most known for my large sweeping landscapes of coastal, desert, and mountain scenics. Most of my photos require long treks or at least moderate hiking to get in to position. But these photos here...they were taken in the side yard of my parents' house in Irvine.

I expect that these photos will not have a big impact on you. They'll probably elicit a "meh" response from a lot of my readers. And I'm fine with that (I can't always create masterpieces!). But these photos mean something to me, so that's why I'm sharing them with you today.

I've often said that it never ceases to amaze me what pictures people like and which ones they won't care about. You've probably experienced this. You have a great, amazing, beautiful photo you took that you just love. You're proud of it. You want to share it. You put it out to the world and the response is, well, deflating. Then some other photo you took that you don't much care for - in fact you almost didn't even post it on your blog - everyone swoons over it. I've sold photos where I'm thinking in my head "Wow, you want that one? That's some of my worst work." But then I try to sell a photo I'm really proud of and it feels like I'm trying to sell snow cones in Minnesota in January. Well I'm guessing these photos will fall in to that category.

I have really fond memories of my parents' home. It's where I grew up. So that alone makes these pictures special to me. But it's more than that. It's not just that it's my parents' home and that I have a lot of memories tied up there, it's more specific than that. I don't know how well I can explain this, but I'll try.

You know how certain times of day at certain locations will create a very specific feeling inside you? It's a feeling you really only get from being in that exact location at that time and it can't be articulated in words. For me, my elementary school at night has a particular feeling to it. It's probably rooted in the evening open house where we all got to run around the school in a very unusual setting - it was at an unusual hour, you could go anywhere, the normal rules and bell schedule weren't in force, and everyone's parents were there. It was so...weird...but somehow exciting.

Los Angeles at sunset, McDonalds just before dawn, my childhood friend Michael's house at high noon on a summer day, my mom's old minivan in a heavy downpour on the way home from school. Each of these time-place settings create a very specific sensation in me that I enjoy.

Well, the backyard and side yard of my parents' house in summer is the end-all be-all for what I'm talking about here. Especially on a warm evening just before sunset on a Sunday...oh man, I'm getting all tingly just thinking about it. I love that feeling. It's indescribable yet incredibly specific. That's why I like these photos. For me, they are snippets of that sensation that I can't put into words. Many people will simply see a boring photo of a fence, but I see one of my most valued emotional responses for which words don't suffice.

It's easy to get caught up trying to make photos that everyone else will love or photos that will get more sales or clients. I'm terrible about that. But it was nice to take some photos for a change that I knew would only matter to me. After all, that's possibly the finest reason you should ever take a photo.

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine