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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.

New Work: Sequoia National Park – Part 1

Sequoia National Park in winter Tree Trunks, Sequoia National Park, CA
Mamiya RZ67 on Ilford Delta 100 film

1/2 at f/16

- Click Any Image for a Larger View - 

I spent the first weekend in March in the beautiful Sequoia National Park to try my hand at photographing these majestic trees. Nestled on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, this region played an important role in the creation of the national park system as we know it today.

It was in the shadow of these giant trees that naturalist John Muir and the great president Theodore Roosevelt slept under the stars after sneaking away from the president's cavalcade of security and advisors. Roosevelt wanted to spend time in the woods that Muir's writings made famous (along with Yosemite Valley) to see for himself what made them national treasures worth protecting. He wanted the solitary experiences that Muir described, unspoiled by his staff and modern amenities.

After several days in the wild with Muir, Roosevelt's passion for protecting these treasures, like the Sequoias, burned with an intensity like never before. This single experience served as a catalyst for an already growing national movement for environmental protection and began a series of historic events as Roosevelt set aside more and more land for public appreciation and recreation.

When you're amongst these giant Sequoias, it's plain to see how they could have such a profound impact on Muir and Roosevelt. They are truly amazing organisms. One can't help but feel like little more than an insignificant blip in the history of this planet when standing with these enormous trees. They sprouted long before you arrived, and they will stand long after you're gone.

Sequoia Trees in Sequoia National Park in winterBig Tree Trail, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

1 second at f/40 - Red #23A filter with 1-stop split ND
(See the bench at the foot of the tree?)

I planned this trip with hopes of photographing them in fresh snowfall. But as all nature photographers know, getting the weather to coincide with your hotel reservations is the biggest challenge of it all.

Although I arrived to plentiful snow on the ground, it was old, dirty snow that just didn't highlight the beauty of this place like I'd hoped. I tried my best using my large format and medium format cameras with black and white film, but it was tough to capture what I envisioned. If only the clouds would have granted me a gift of just a few fresh inches of snow...but alas, it was not meant to be.

Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, CAKaweah River, Sequoia National Park, CA
Mamiya RZ67 on Ilford Delta 100 film

1/8 at f/16 - Polarizer and Red #23A filter

Big Tree Trail in Sequoia National Park, CABig Tree Trail, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

1 minute at f/22 - Red #23A filter

I managed only a few photos in the snowy areas that I'm proud of. I worked hard to find spots with clean, uncluttered and un-trampled snow, but there just weren't many areas that worked. Plus, with the majority of roads closed for the season, I was quite limited on where I could go.

After all was said and done, I found my favorite compositions at a beautiful overlook called Beetle Rock. Those pictures will come in Part 2 of this post. So stay tuned!

Private Workshop in Death Valley: Part 2

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

View "Private Workshop in Death Valley: Part 1"

For sunrise of the second day of our trip, my student and I visited the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. These dunes are gorgeous and easily accessible (relatively speaking), which, unfortunately, means they are quite popular. And popular sand dunes mean foot-printed sand dunes.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sand dunes are one of the toughest locations to shoot. Climbing up them is like going up the wrong way of an escalator, and before long, 35 lbs of camera gear starts to feel like 50. But that's not the worst part - that's just physical exertion. The real tough part is the footprints. They are damn near impossible to avoid, your own footprints included.

But we went off to a lesser-visited section of the dunes to capture some pristine spots. Of course, the next guy will have to frame out the holes from our tripod legs...

This was my first time photographing dunes at sunrise. I normally catch them at sunset, but the morning light here was gorgeous. I loved the dark, curvy shadows the dunes casted on themselves. And the ripples in the sand...it doesn't get much better than that. The moon even came out to pose for me.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

After a much-needed nap for me, we ventured out into Panamint Valley to photograph the Panamint Mountains at sunset. We camped out near the dry lake bed there to catch the cracked dirt, sand, bushes and all the other weird formations there.

Panamint Mountains at sunset in Death Valley National Park, CA

Panamint Mountains at sunset in Death Valley National Park, CA

Panamint Mountains at sunset in Death Valley National Park, CA

Before heading home on the last day of our stay, we hit Devil's Cornfield at sunrise. Devil's Cornfield is an interesting area where tons of arrowweed bushes dot the landscape - some over 7 feet tall - like stalks of corn (I suppose). They remind me less of corn stalks and more like strange bushes that have been pulled up out of the ground and then set back on the sandy floor of the desert.

Devil's Cornfield at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

Devil's Cornfield at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

Devil's Cornfield at sunrise in Death Valley National Park, CA

And to seal off the trip, I did a quick self-portrait with my student, Kim Murphy. Check out that "stalk of corn". I'm 6'2" and that bush is taller than me!

Nick Carver & Kim Murphy at Devil's Cornfield in Death Valley National Park, CA

I had tons of fun taking Kim out on this private workshop. Her work is phenomenal and she's an incredibly talented photographer. Be sure to follow her blog and visit her website here. She also posted a blog entry about the trip, so check that out to see her beautiful photos from Death Valley.