I have an itch for exploration. It's often hard to find places close to my home that I haven't been to before, but every so often, I find a spot that's new to me. Most of the time, this involves driving great distances and hiking quite a while until I find remoteness and solitude. But the other night was an exception. Following a road I had only been on once before, I ended up in a barren cul-de-sac dotted with eerily rustling trees and shared only by another car minding its own business. The marine layer had already started to work its way in by the time I got there, so my options for photography were few. But I managed to capture a couple of images with my Sony NEX-5 that seem to do the landscape justice. I can only hope that places like this still exist in a few years, before the creep of expanding housing developments overtakes what is left of the region's immediate wilderness.
This is the picture. The fabled photograph that has eluded me for the better part of two years. It all started in the summer of 2008, when I first wanted to capture the milky way out in the Anza Borrego desert. While I made it out there in August of that year, my camera at that time could only muster a grainy image, and my results were far from ideal. Fast forward to 2010. My goal of capturing this image came back to me a few months ago, and was first attempted in the form of a failed back-of-a-motorcycle ride that was abandoned before it even started. Attempts at camping trips timed correctly with the lunar cycles and good air quality all proved unsuccessful over the next few weeks and months, until a window of opportunity finally presented itself. Taking only my Nissan packed with as much gear as possible, a quick camping trip finally allowed me to capture this image last Friday night.
Yes, it's still grainy. With my current cropped-sensor camera, it's literally the best that I can do. But this hasn't stopped me from calling this photograph a success. And for ISO 6400, you have to admit that it's not too terribly bad either. Unless a stranger randomly donates a Canon 5D Mark II to my cause, I'll just have to be content with what I've got. It's not the best Milky Way photograph I've taken, but it's the one I've most anticipated. And I'm glad it could finally happen.
I was lucky enough to take another trip out to Anza Borrego State Park these past few days, and managed to take my paper photography gear with me. Luckily, my friends are amazing, and let me take the long exposures required to get these shots right! The image below was taken of a gas station in Borrego Springs, which had only a single pump. Though the street was busy and people came and went, the long exposure made them disappear, and makes it look as though the station is abandoned. So far, this might be my favorite shot with this new method.
I'm working on perfecting a photography technique right now that I've never actually seen done before. Based on the readings of a technique called Solargraphy, in which one documents the tracks made by the sun using a homemade pinhole camera and photographic paper as a film medium, this method I'm developing now harnesses a similar quirk of the photo process.
Photographic paper, the stuff that black and white photographers use in the dark room, is usually extremely sensitive to light, as it is developed and fixed in chemicals that bring out an image captured in a matter of seconds on the paper. But because it is so light sensitive, photographic paper also darkens when exposed to sunlight, which (in a sense) overexposes it to the point of visibility. Solargraphy utilizes this same quirk of the paper to let it act as a negative, capturing an image over the span of a matter of months. But Solargraphy uses a tiny pinhole, which lets in a minuscule amount of light. What if you used an actual camera, with a wide-aperture lens?
This is the result. Each one of these images takes anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours to capture, depending on how bright the sun is. The "negative" that is created on the photographic paper is extremely impermanent, due to the fact that it cannot be fixed to halt any reactions that might occur. You basically get one chance to scan in the negative, after which the negative becomes even more faded from the light in the scanner. The images created with these methods are ethereal and oddly timeless, using unorthodox techniques to call back to a time when photography was much more inconvenient and difficult to master. It's a far cry from the digital cameras that we're so used to now, and it really makes you appreciate just how special the art of photography is.
I'm not sure I'd say that I invented a new technique. In all honesty, I'm not that clever. Someone must have done this before me, I simply can't find any record of it. Still, on a personal level, I came up with the idea on my own. And sometimes, experimentation of this sort is worthwhile to achieve results such as these. There's nothing fancy about this. No film is used, no developing is needed. Chemicals are unnecessary, and you only get one shot to get things right.
Spring in San Diego is a beautiful sight to behold. For most of the year, this lovely city is usually blanketed in a layer of brown and tan, due to the fact that we normally have very little water to let things grow. With the high amount of rain this winter though and a general warming trend, things have started to sprout. This is a perfect time to get out and photograph the green and rainbows of colors blossoming all around.
This photograph, though taken in August 2008, reminds me of this time of the year. It's a great example of using bokeh to enhance an image, and is one of my favorite stylistic tools for general use in photography. It was captured in Julian, California behind the Julian Pie Company restaurant on Main Street.
I am in love with the desert. I can't stop thinking about it, as silly as it sounds. For me, the desert is a place where you can go to feel free. I'm not talking about big hoards of people in trailers with off-road vehicles tearing up the landscape. I'm talking about a preserved wilderness, with the only human intervention being the occasional hiker, and the lone SUV or Jeep that travels down a sunken wash. It is here that solitude exists, and rises to glory. Conditions can be rough. It can get pretty cold at night, and dangerously hot during the day. But in the desert, you've gone back to an earlier time. Camping out, you live like people centuries ago went about their daily lives (to a degree). You're alone with yourself, and it is marvelous.
I'm lucky enough to have amazing friends who will go with me on crazy adventures to this vast and unpredictable wilderness. And they're even more amazing for putting up with my constant need to snap another photo. If I could change anything, my only wish would be to get out there more often, and for longer periods of time. Whether you've brought an entire expedition's worth of supplies and equipment, or you're simply living off of what can fit in a backpack or the trunk of a car, every excursion into the desert is truly an adventure for me.
In most circumstances, photography is 10% skill, and 90% luck. I've been saying that for years now. The main difference between an average photographer and a truly good photographer is how he/she reacts when luck does finally present itself. Those who have trained and practiced instinctively know how to respond in most any situation, allowing them to capture these rare scenes when they finally occur. Though I don't claim to be a truly good photographer by any means, I often find myself in circumstances where I am given an amazing opportunity to capture a moment. And when all the elements collide, I know I am in for a treat.
The photograph above is one such occurrence. Quite frankly, this photograph should not have happened. My original plans to go on an adventure last night were first challenged when I couldn't find anyone to take with me. Instead of letting it stop me, I went ahead and decided to go alone. Though my original destination was an overlook that looked quite promising, I was blocked by a series of closed gates and "Private Property" signs. My plans had changed, and I figured my chances of getting any photos that night had gone down the drain. Instead of turning around and going home, I checked the map on my phone, and found that I could keep going down the road I was on to eventually get home. The narrow and windy road took me on an awesome adventure down the side of a hill, where I decided to pull over at the spur of a moment and set up my tripod. After capturing a couple of fairly uninteresting starlit shots, I set up my camera for one last exposure. When I pressed the shutter button, there wasn't any trace of a car in sight. But right after the exposure started, I heard the faint sound of a lone car speeding down the switchbacks. As luck would have it, it entered the frame about halfway through the exposure, and exited the shot right as my shutter snapped shut. It was incredible and impossible to predict timing, and it resulted in a shot like nothing I had even expected.
Sometimes life surprises you. When I set out that night, I wasn't even sure if I was going to get a single interesting shot. But all of the factors aligned just right, and the outcome was far better than I could have ever imagined.
A strange phenomena called "rain" happened today in San Diego, and it left a sight to behold. I almost missed this scene entirely, and were it not for a quick trip to the kitchen, I would have never glanced out our large windows and seen the majestic beauty of the sky. Sprinting for my camera and quickly switching to my ultra-wide lens, I ran back and snapped as many shots as I could before the clouds shifted just moments later, and the saturated pinks and oranges of the setting sun disappeared into ordinary gray clouds once more. For a few minutes today, my world was bathed in a shimmering and surreal shower of gold and red light, a scene usually reserved for a painter's imagination. But it was real, and it was beautiful.
Sunsets have a bad reputation in the photography world. Just about anyone can pick up a camera and take a half-decent sunset shot that's sure to impress both friends and family. Serious photographers, however, stay away from them like the plague. Nevertheless, sunsets have a special place in my heart. And if done correctly, it's still possible to photograph them in stunning and unique ways.
Photographed on a Pentax K-x body with a 16mm Zenitar lens.