Anza-Borrego Desert

Cherish Your Own Emotions


“Fonts Point IV” at Anza Borrego Desert, California

“You have to make up your mind to be alone in many ways. We like sympathy and we like to be in company. It is easier than going it alone. But alone one gets acquainted with himself, grows up and on, not stopping with the crowd. It costs to do this. If you succeed somewhat you may have to pay for it as well as enjoy it all your life.

Cherish your own emotions and never undervalue them.

We are not here to do what has already been done.”

— from “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri

North Lake Sunrise

North Lake Sunrise

Sunrise on North Lake, Eastern Sierra, Near Bishop, California

“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”

– Michael J. Fox

I could have become very unhappy on this trip because of a certain expectation — that the aspen leaves would have been present on the trees, creating a bright yellow band on the distant shoreline.

Instead, the leaves were gone, wiped away by a winter storm the day before.

Instead, an even more glorious show of yellow beyond my expectations appeared, reflected in the icy covering on North Lake.

Instead, I experienced and accepted this marvelous morning with great gratitude and happiness.

Death Valley

Death Valley National Park surprised me with countless textures and shapes and colors of rock and mud and clay and stone. I wanted to stop the van every few miles and capture images. And there were vast open spaces, no cars or roads or telephone poles or power lines to litter the eye. Not even trees to block the sight line to the bases of mountains rising up in a snowy patchwork.

Even the weather surprised me with its variety – snow (in the upper elevations), some rain with standing pools of water turning the dust red, surrounding dried-out sage brush. Imagine photographing steam rising from the clay furrows at Zabriskie Point! And there were just enough mostly scattered clouds to give color and texture to the sky.

What Death Valley National Park shows me are the phases of an ongoing geological process that’s over 5,000,000 years old. Pretty long time. 70,000 lifetimes or so. I’m glad I had a chance to see it in this one.

Death Valley National Park has the widest variation in geological forms and colors I have ever seen.  This image shows the Mesquite Sand Dunes like waves of gold stretching below the Grapevine Mountain Range.

Waving Gold

Mesquite Sand Sunes, Death Valley National Park, California

This trip also included a drive to Lone Pine, California, in the foot hills of the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  They’re called the Alabama Hills — unusual and beautiful rock formations and a few arches.  In the early days of movies, westerns were filmed in this site because of its scenic rock formations and nearness to a local town.

“Sierra Gold Sunrise”, Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada Range, California

Zabriskie Point is a part of the Amargosa Range in Death Valley National Park.  Its erosional  landscape is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago.  The site was named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century. The company’s famous, iconic twenty-mule teams transported borax from its mining operations in Death Valley.

Melting Mountain

Manley Peak, view from Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, California

Masterclass :: Tonality and Contrast

Assignment: High Dynamic Range

“Photograph a scene that offers a high dynamic range, exploiting the fact that either the high values will be too white or the shadows too dark.  Compose to work with areas of blackness or whiteness against which the mid-tones can shine.  Don’t make any attempt to control high dynamic range with image manipulation.”

— from Digital Photography Masterclass by Tom Ang


Sierra Gold

Sierra Nevada mountains through arch in the Alabama Hills in Owens Valley, near Lone Pine, California.

View the California Gallery

Before the Peak Moment

This is the straight out of camera, unedited image of the Sierra Nevada mountains looking west at sunrise, just as the first rays of direct sunlight are hitting the snow-capped peaks.  Exposure at ISO 100, shutter speed 1/80s, aperture f/8 ensures that the highlights of the  mountain whites are not over-exposed or blown out.  When unedited, this image leaves some areas of the arch in almost total black darkness.   Just 30 seconds later, the arch was bathed in the morning glow, showing more light and detail in the formerly dark arch.  (View more images of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.)

Commentary / Learnings

This assignment from Tutorial 3 :: Mastering Your Camera :: Tonality and Contrast, was a challenge in that, as a fine art landscape photographer, I normally want to get the entire scene in detail, and avoid areas of total black or total white.  These areas are called “blowouts” where there is zero data to work with during  the editing process, leaving areas of the image or print either totally white or totally black .  As part of the routine of capturing the image,  I always adjust ISO and shutter speed and aperture to expose for the areas of important detail, and often compose the scene to exclude the sky from the frame because of its great brightness.

The learning here for me is that composing the scene and selecting camera settings affecting exposure are all choices, not necessarily absolutes.  What to include or exclude in the composed frame and what exposure choices to use depend on the artist’s vision for the finished print.  Yes, a scene can be “technically” exposed to “correctly” capture the most detail data from dark to light, or it can be exposed for an effect or mood the photographer as artist wants to convey, or to capture detail of the part of the scene of primary importance, and let other parts go to black or white.

My choice has been to capture the clearest image with the most detail possible with the equipment available, and later to make editing choices to create the print that I want to present as an artist.

Now, I am open to also allowing exposures with deep shadows and bright highlights if there’s an artistic reason.