Monthly Archives: April 2010

Days on the road

It is 1.30 am and I find myself in Moab, Utah. And it is probably a bad time for blogging but sleep escapes me tonight. I went to bed at 00.15am and then proceeded to have a strange dream and woke up instantly. So here I am; Wide Awake in America. I am a little tired of sleeping in strange motel beds, but the landscapes here are stunningly magical. Every day as I drive through the Southwest I am continually surprised by how beautiful the land here is.

Earlier today I had a bit of a blissful being in the wild moment. Going by directions received by fellow photographers I found the trailhead to Mule Canyon in Utah, the trail leading to House on Fire anasazi ruins. A location I really wanted to visit. I hiked the mile and a half along the wash in brilliant sunshine and arrived at the ruins with plenty of time to shoot them while they are still in the shade. I was somewhat ecstatic that I have found them. They must be in the shade for the ‘fire’ effect caused by reflected sunlight onto the rock above the ruins. The effect is quite simply surreal and really spectacular when photographed at just the right angle to catch the reflections. I shot every conceivable angle and then sat on a rock worshipping the sun for an hour. Just me and not a soul around me and not a sound. Being there. In the moment. In nature. Truly content not wanting to move.

Later I arrived in Moab, Utah and checked into my hotel room. I drove to Arches National Park to shoot the sunset. There is a sand storm blowing but it is still nicely warm. Just as the light show is about to happen Mother Nature drops a large cloud in front of the sun, but the clouds are still great. 17mm wideangle pointed almost straight up with just some gorgeous red rocks in the foreground and I have my shot. I steer my black spaceship back to base.

It has been one of those days. Days on the road. From magical moments in America’s nature to waking up in a motel bed, an inner as much as an outer journey. That sums up the present life of this travelling photographer.  An image that sums it up? Well, since I am saving the hero shots for my new website, here is what I really love about this US road trip. Simply driving down a back road in gorgeous Navajo Country, Arizona and shooting a dramatic cloudscape at sunset with a storm approaching over the red soil. A bit of magic for just a few minutes, what this is all about. (There is a stitched version of this that will be the final version, this is is a quick preview).

navajo storm - blog

Contact with the Very Large Array

VLA - closeup - blog“The Very Large Array consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin in New Mexico. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter.” – description from the VLA website.

You may know the VLA from the movie or book Contact (do read the brilliant book!). Not surprisingly I connected with this place and the beautiful huge San Agustin Plain, home of the VLA. Ended up spending 4 days here and I still feel like going back. I will add that I it is also the most photographic fun I have had for a while! Not art and probably nothing that will sell, but great fun nonetheless. Even shot a couple of timelapse sequences and I hope to do a little VLA movie in a few months. In the meantime, here are a few of my images from VLA (the rest and best are saved for my upcoming new website).

You can visit the VLA site during the day, educate yourself in the nice visitor centre and get up close to a few of the antennas – as seen above right, and here below in my playing with the sun image:

VLA - duotone contra jour - blog

Every evening I watched beautiful sunsets on the massive San Agustin plain with the VLA antennas receiving signals from the universe.

VLA - sunset - blog

I captured a million stars in pitch black conditions under the magnificent New Mexico sky. The VLA antennas are lit up only by a bit of light coming from the control building but during a 30 second exposure it is enough to work as a light source lighting up the dish’es.

VLA - night - blog

I will definitely visit VLA again, perhaps during Summer and catch a few electrical storms preferably with access to the site and antennas after sunset, which I hear is possible given enough advance notice to the NRAO.

Perhaps not so well known fact: The VLA does not actually do any SETI work nor listen for aliens as in CONTACT. The radio signals are used to create images, it is not a sound source but a visual so the classic image of Jodie Foster with large headphones is the Hollywood version (still great though, the whole ‘discovering the signal’ scene in Contact is goose-bumpingly-good).

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment

Land of Enchantment is the state of New Mexico’s ‘slogan’ and I am inclined to agree. New Mexico really is home to some enchanting landscapes. I have already blogged about White Sands National Monument and for the past week I have been driving around New Mexico through spectacular wide open spaces, visiting small villages (and a UFO museum at Roswell!), seeing the town of Lincoln (Billy the Kid) and capturing gigabytes of photos. Some of the cities like Alamogordo and Socorro can be very boring, just main strips with motels and fast food chains, but get out into the landscapes and this state is magnificient. It is hard to do justice to these beautiful endless spaces in a photo.

I am saving most of my US work for my new upcoming website (this July/August) but I have quickly developed a few from New Mexico attempting to show the New Mexico spaces. Now this is probably mostly personal work, I guess for most people this sort of work is too much "nothingness" but for me I love the wide open spaces and shooting into the horizon. Notice also that somehow I am starting to find that man-made objects can add interest and contrast to landscapes. The road, the barbed wire fence and so on.

New Mexico plains - blog

New Mexico farm cloudscape - blog 

On the plains of San Agustin in New Mexico is where you find the Very Large Array and this will be the subject of my next post, I was very captivated by this place and spent many days and nights there.

Storm before the calm at White Sands

New Mexico is home to some rather beautiful wide open spaces. As you drive through this state the horizon is larger than normal, the sky is taller and the clouds are grander. Somewhat like Namibia, although Namibia is the king of all wide open spaces on this planet. And the king of sand dunes, the 10-15 meter tall dunes of White Sands in New Mexico are tiny baby dunes compared to the 3-400 meter tall dunes of Namibia.

White Sands National Monument is so named because it is a huge desert area of…white sand. Fitting name. I had the pleasure of spending 4 very different days here. First two days it was fiercely windy with very strong wind gusts. The sky above White Sands was white with sand sucked up from the desert, the air so thick with sand you could barely see the horizon and the sand so fierce on my skin and camera it made for challenging but fun shooting. It also made for some incredible images from White Sands that you do not normally see. It is hard to convey in a still image how strong the wind is so I have some video as well, we’ll see if I ever get around to editing it. Here’s an attempt at showing the sand sucked up into the air off the dunes. This is the sort of shot where a wide angle works in sand dunes:

White Sands sand storm - blog

At sunset the light was like nothing I have seen in images from White Sands. All the sand in the air reflected the golden setting sun and it was quite a special moment. For sand dunes a good zoom is essential and will get used more than a wide angle, you want to zoom in and capture lines and patterns and this is shot with my 100-400mm Canon L Lens which I am finding works quite good.

White Sands glow at sunset -blog

Finally, I usually go to great lengths to avoid people in my landscapes, but in this case these two bystanders actually stood in a perfect spot:

staring at the sun - blog

The last two days at White Sands were the exact opposite. No wind at all at White Sands, completely calm. The place and the colours are completely different on days like. Made it a lot more pleasant to hike, explore and relax in the sand but for photography the dramatic wind beats the calm.

Saguaros of Arizona

The Southern part of Arizona is home to the Sonoran desert and the famous Saguaro cactus. These huge grandfathers of the desert are quite impressive, some of them standing more than 10 meters tall age more than 100 years. For me these are a symbol of the southwest USA, something burned into my memory as a child watching countless Western movies. In Arizona the Saguaros are protected by state law, it is actually illegal to harm them in any way.

The real trick for me as with the Joshua Trees is finding a few that I can isolate in a composition with a nice background. Nature is messy. Takes a lot of walking, fortunately I enjoy hiking. Just be very careful not to walk into these things, them needles are sharp! I walked into a low one as I was looking at clouds. Aw! And it is a cliché shot to shoot them silhouetted against the sunset, but it looks good! Here’s one from a sunset in the Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona. This impressive cactus is at least 8 meters tall.

saguaro arizona - blog 

There is not much to shooting an image like this. Took hours to find the composition though. Then I sat down with a book and enjoyed the tranquility waiting for Mother Nature to turn on the light show. That she did! Your only worry is blowing out the red channel, be careful and underexpose about 2 stops. And don’t walk into these things!

I am presently in New Mexico, state of the Wide Open Spaces and on my way to White Sands desert. More to come.