On some Sundays, I like to go behind the scenes of a shot for Single-image Sunday. Work yesterday prevented me from posting. So I had an idea. Mountain Monday is one of those themes you see for posting pictures on the internet. One example is Throwback Thursday). But instead of just posting a mountain picture on Mondays, I’m going to start a little semi-regular series. I figure, at the very least, for those times when I miss Single-image Sunday, it makes a good fall-back.
And so I’m combining Mountain Monday with the idea behind Sunday’s posts. That is, I’ll post one image and briefly tell a story about it. It’ll be a story of what I find most fascinating about the subject of the photo, and how I chose to photograph it given the conditions at the time.
I don’t like to go into detail about the settings and equipment I use while shooting; I don’t think it’s very interesting or illuminating. But I do think it’s cool to see how other people see a given subject, what they find interesting about it. In particular, I think it can be instructive to see how other photographers take what’s given in terms of light, weather and other conditions, and exactly how they choose to showcase the subject through their images.
When shooting, it’s always my goal to (first) put you right there as if you’re seeing the subject in real life, and at that moment; (second) to hold your attention long enough for a little story or emotion to come to mind; and (third) to make you see and appreciate some of what I love about the subject. For me, this is the real purpose of photography.
So now, finally, to the image (they won’t all be this long!). This is a mountain in west Texas that I recently bumped into. I didn’t even know about another El Capitan. I thought that “El Cap”, the one that overlooks Yosemite Valley in California was the only one. You know, the one that is scaled by those incredibly limber rock jocks.
This El Capitan lies in west Texas near the New Mexico border. It was, in the old west, a well known landmark for travelers. In the 1700s and 1800s, it was a beacon for Spaniards and then white Americans pushing into the American desert southwest, heading for Santa Fe or California. It was also an important landmark for native Americans in pre-historical times, going back at least 12,000 years.
Geologically, El Capitan is part of the Guadalupe Mountains, which is the uplifted portion of a long, mostly buried limestone reef. This reef was alive in a warm sea 250 million years ago, in the Permian. It was created by sponges, algae and solitary corals seeking sunlight. And it supported, as modern reefs do, a huge community of bottom-crawling and free swimming critters. Coiled-shell ammonites, a squid-relative that is survived today by the reclusive pearly nautilus, were especially abundant.
Imagine time-travel (of the deep variety): the soft-muffled sound of small waves washing across a shallow bank of brilliant white sand; iridescent shades of turquoise blue water spread in layers across a subtropical seascape, a warm breeze, and no other humans within millions of years of you.
What the years have done to it! The Chihuahuan Desert is one I haven’t properly explored yet. I began to on this little trip. I found a great variety of succulents, including cholla, prickly pear, and several different varieties of agave (including century plant), plus various kinds of yucca. What they all have in common is the ability to hurt when you bump into them. The yucca pictured is called the Spanish bayonet!
For the picture, I scouted this area the day before. I saw (and felt!) that the slopes bordering a major wash had plenty of plant diversity, plus a great view of the mountains. Next to El Capitan is the highest mountain in Texas, Guadalupe Peak at 8751 feet.
Next morning was cold, windy and very clear. Most landscape photographers, you may know, hate clear skies. But it was so darn clear that you could see halfway across Texas (not really). The clarity of the air itself was attractive to me. So I dragged myself out of bed and wandered through the pricklies.
For the foreground, I wanted either an endemic, cool looking plant or an interesting outcrop of limestone. The background was a given: El Capitan & the Guadalupes in the first rays of the sun. The extreme clarity of the air meant that using a wide angle lens and moving very close to the foreground would, despite the lack of clouds, add some sense of depth. The lesson: don’t always assume clear, cloudless conditions equals a flat, boring photograph.
Though this isn’t an award-winner, and certainly won’t secure many “wows” on the internet, I think it’s the kind of image that both depicts this place as it is and also shows it to good advantage. What more can a photographer ask for?