Tag Archives: star wars

Los Angeles Spaceport

“Los Angeles spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

No prizes for guessing this is slightly rewritten but from Star Wars. Alec Guiness as Ben Obi-wan Kenobi is actually talking about Mos Eisley spaceport of course, but every image of LA at night shot from Griffith Observatory always reminds me of Mos Eisley spaceport. A few days ago I had the opportunity to experience and photograph Los Angeles Spaceport myself and this is the result, a 11 image stitched panorama:

Blog - LA spaceport

Los Angeles is not known for the air quality and as you can see it is extremely hazy and smoggy, the haze picking up all the orange light and last remaining bit of sunlight. Unfortunately it also really blurs the city, evident in the original image.

It is somewhat fun to experience Los Angeles for a few days. Almost every street name, every location reminds you of a movie or TV show, especially at night where I felt like I was walking around in a Michael Mann movie (Heat being one of my favourite movies). I am no fan of LA, not surprisingly as I really don’t like any big cities. Hollywood Boulevard is, not surprising at all, touristy around the Kodak Theatre area but it is surprisingly trashy. Not glamourous at all. The view of LA from Griffith IS impressive, like a planet of light. The amount of energy that goes into lighting up this place is hard to ignore though as I stand at Griffith looking out at this planet of a city. Well, if only a few spaceships would land then the energy would be well spent. I am on the road now and happy to have left LA. Oh while we are on the subject of Star Wars, driving out of LA on the walled 6 lane mega highways reminded me of flying in the trenches of the Death Star.

One desert for me please!

I travelled in Oz years ago with a Swiss woman who always got the words “desert” and “dessert” mixed up. So in a restaurant we would be having “desert” and we would be camping in the Australian “dessert”. I love Swiss people, they’re crazy and they’re funny. I smile at their use of English, they laugh at my German 😀 I know her well (hi Susan if you read this!) so I’m sure she won’t mind me telling the story of how she once couldn’t recall the word “waitress” and instead made up “woman who gives desert around”. Not dessert of the cake or ice-cream variety mind you, no it was “desert” passed around the table! Whenever I visit a desert I smile and shout “dessert” and ignore the “now he’s bloody lost the plot!” look of the others!

Click to see large size on my gallery!

I love the desert and after my Australia 2007 trip I like them even more, it is one of my favourite places to photograph. What most people see as “just a lot of bloody sand” I see as a magical mysterious otherworldly place. No man is an island wrote John Donne so apparently I cannot be an island but I can be a desert! (not dessert). Pictured above (click to see large) is one of my shots from the Pinnacles desert in Western Australia, the Pinnacles is one of the nominees for New 7 Wonders of Nature. (Would have been a better shot later in the day with long shadows but we couldn’t stay.)

“What a desolate place this is” says C-3PO disheartened when they crash land on the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars, the robot clearly not liking the sight of the huge sand dunes. Me? I would love the desolate sandy deserts of Tatooine! My favourite shot in Star Wars: Luke Skywalker standing outside his uncle’s farm at dusk staring into infinity across the desert at the two (two! no wonder it’s a desert) setting suns of Tatooine. Magic.

So how do you capture this magical feeling in a camera? Not an easy task. Presenting something so large and so desolate on a small photo is difficult indeed, you want to make people “feel” the heat, the remoteness, the bright sunlight and arid sand of the desert in your photo. In Australia I played with different compositions and now I am toying with different post production techniques to try and bring the desert to you and here’s my tips so far for shooting in a desert:

  • Bring water! It’s called a desert for a reason. It’s bloody hot and dry (except at night where it’s really cold…so remember warm stuff if you’re camping out!). Bring sunscreen as well.
  • Use an ultra-wide angle lens to capture the big sweeping sand dunes of the desert…
  • …but remember to have some sort of subject (maybe a lone tree or rock) and have some fore-, middle and background or everything will be so small and far away and flat that interest is lost for everyone but you (we tend to like our own shots, they’re connected with the experience of being there and shooting them…other viewers don’t have this experience).
  • Use a polarizer filter, this is a must!
  • As always – shoot early or late, seek shade in the middle of the day. Deserts may have little in the way of big subjects so the shadows are a very important part – and sand ripples and dunes create magnificent shadows!
  • The sunlight is so bright, the reflections even brighter – that it is a good idea to underexpose by 1/3 or 1/2 of a stop to avoid blown highlights in that lovely sand…
  • …but actually your problem if you use automatic metering will be too much underexposure by your camera due to the very bright scene. It’s a topic for a long and separate article about the matrix metering system but your camera’s light meter doesn’t know it’s sand or snow you’re pointing it at – it’s just trying to find the 18% gray value and since there’s nothing dark in the photo to contrast the brightness it underexposes.
  • Maybe you want to use manual exposure and just use the “sunny-16” rule: f/16 at 1/160, f/11 at 1/250 and f/8 at 1/500 and then just underexpose that by about 1/2 of a stop. Remember when calculating this that the polarizer cuts up to 1 full f-stop!
  • If all you can see is sand and you have no rocks or anything to put in the foreground of your composition – then get down really to the ground and use the grain of the sand and the sand ripples as your foreground.
  • Watch your step. It may look desolate but lot’s of wildlife live in the desert. Don’t step into holes, don’t stick your hand in holes (they’re called Death Adders for a reason these snakes mate!)
  • If you change lenses shield your camera! Desert dust create a lot of specks on your sensor (trust me I know!).

Here’s a few of my photos from desert experiences so far:

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Sand dunes at Lancelin
(technically not in a desert, but an example of using sand with side lighting)

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Uluru and tree in the desert
(Polarizer and max contrast to create the feeling of bright, hot desert)

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Uluru and in the middle of the vast desert
(At sunset and at 24mm the long shadows of Uluru and the sand dunes expresses the remoteness and size of the rock and the desert)

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Gibson Desert, Western Australia
(Driving into the Gibson Desert we are reminded of the dangers of crossing a desert)

My next photo trip is definitely going to include somewhere hot, dry and sandy – one desert for me please! The sand dunes and deserts of Namibia, Death Valley in USA, Morocco, Simpson Desert in Australia and of course Tatooine are at the top of on my list of next destinations.

“What a desolate place this is”. Indeed C-3PO – wouldn’t want it any other way!