Archive for the ‘California’ Tag

Adventuring in Death Valley: Part I   6 comments

Easy walking in Death Valley: a recent flash-flood has left a smooth deposit of mud.

If you have followed this blog for awhile you know that this chunk of southeastern California desert is one of my favorite places to explore and photograph.  I’ve had a thing for it since my first visit in the early 1980s, and its more recent popularity hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm.  It seems that no matter how well I get to know the place there is always someplace new to hike and explore.

I’ve written of Death Valley before, posting a lot of photos along the way.  Most of what I’ve written of the place in this blog has been geared toward those planning a trip there, with recommendations on places to visit, hike and shoot.  For this short series of posts I’m sharing a few of the adventures I’ve had in this stunning part of the Mojave Desert.  I hope the stories will encourage you to take off and explore on your own.

The simple beauty of Death Valley’s sand dunes beckons for a morning walk.

If you do plan to get off the pavement, if you strap a backpack on and take off into a canyon, up a ridge-line or across an alluvial fan, keep a few things in mind:

  • There are few trails here.  They aren’t really needed, as the landscape lends itself to following natural features like canyons and washes.  This fact brings with it the responsibility to take full charge of navigation.  Bring a good detailed map, and I’m not speaking of the one you get when you pay the entrance fee.  See below for more on this.

 

  • Death Valley is very very dry.  Depending on temperature this means you need to carry much more water than almost any other place you’ll ever hike.  If you visit spring through early fall you need about a quart/liter of water per person for every hour you plan to be walking.  In wintertime you can get by with less.

 

  • Cell service is close to nonexistent.  You are on your own, so be self-contained.

 

  • If you plan on driving off-road be prepared.    Think of driving off-road here just the same as if you’re hiking off-trail.  That is, with respect for the fact that help is nearly impossible to reach.  And even if you do will take a long time to arrive.  It’s also quite expensive.  See below for more on driving off-road in Death Valley.

 

  • Snakes are common.  While you’ll probably be fine as long as you’re alert while walking and don’t put your feet or hands anywhere you can’t see, be aware that the side-winder rattlesnake is not the most mellow venomous snake.  If you’re in a remote area and get bit by one, you may end up losing an appendage.

 

  • Last but not least, if you visit May to September limit your ambitions.  A general tourist itinerary on mostly paved roads is the way to go in the hot summer months.  It’s a good time for a first visit.  If you want to explore a lot on foot and/or four-wheel into the backcountry, go in the cooler months.  One exception:  summer’s a great time to hike in the high Panamints, climbing Telescope Peak or one of the other mountains in the park.

The classic view of Telescope Peak from Badwater.

 

Navigation in Death Valley

A topographic map, along with the ability to read it, is probably the most important of the “ten essentials”.  And this applies whether you carry a GPS, or are like me and still carry a compass, old-school-style.  Before going, practice crossing terrain you’re already familiar with, using a map to locate yourself in relation to landmarks.  Try navigating without the GPS, starting with out and back routes and progressing to off-trail loop hikes.  Whatever your approach, avoid following the GPS blindly like so many do.  Use it as a general guide instead, always being ready to alter your course from the straight-line GPS route to take into account features of the terrain, or interesting tangents!

Canyon hiking is superb at Death Valley, and your options are near limitless.  From a short jaunt up Mosaic Canyon to a trek up lonely Bighorn Gorge, there’s a canyon hike that’s just the right length and remoteness for you.  Just remember that dry falls are nearly as common here as they are in southern Utah’s canyon country.  Take a rope or be prepared to turn around.

Distance and terrain can be very deceiving here.  It’s tempting to park off the side of the paved road and strike out for a canyon mouth.  But walking up an alluvial fan is much tougher than it looks.  Allow plenty of time even when rambling around the “flat” valley floor.  That said, some of my best adventures have started out by crossing the valley or ascending an alluvial fan.

Climbing the big peaks such as Telescope is well worthwhile.  Elevation can pose a problem, especially since you’re spending much of your time at or below sea level.  Snow can fall during much of the year too.  So you’ll need to be prepared for mountain weather in the higher reaches of the Panamints.

Hiking in the area south of Furnace Creek puts you in the badlands of the Furnace Creek Formation.  The clayey hills are quite unstable and crumbly, so use caution.  Most of all, do not attempt to traverse steep hillsides in the Golden Canyon/Zabriskie Point area.  It’s not only hazardous, it mars the delicate formations that people come to see and photograph.  For this area it’s best to use established trails.

When hiking Death Valley’s canyons geology is always front and center: Red Wall Canyon.

Off-Pavement in Death Valley

There are many unpaved routes in Death Valley, but not all are open to vehicles.  While driving in washes is allowed for some areas, off-roading is not allowed in the National Park.  Obtain up-to-date road conditions and restrictions from the rangers upon arrival.  Buy a good detailed map for the area you plan to explore.  As mentioned above, navigate with map and GPS just as you do if you’re walking.

Make sure your vehicle has excellent tires and at least one spare (two minimum for some roads, like the one to Racetrack Playa).  Most of the unpaved roads require high-clearance, and many of them are 4WD only.  Bring a shovel and portable air compressor (for re-inflating tires after softening them for sandy areas).  Lastly, don’t forget about the threat of flash floods.  Don’t park overnight in washes if there is any chance of rain in the region, and camp up on benches away from where water runs.

Evening is near in far south Death Valley, where the Ibex Dunes are known for the spring bloom of sand verbena.

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Merry Christmas!   10 comments

This is my most Christmasy image from the past year.  Since I haven’t yet gone out in winter to some forest to find a small fir tree in a meadow, decorated it (including lights), waited for a gentle snowfall, then returned with a small generator to photograph it, this one will have to do!

Merry Christmas to one and all!  (P.S. Friday Foto Talk returns next week)

Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Single-image Sunday: Lifting Fog   6 comments

Fog lifts over the southern California coast ranges.

Fog lifts over the southern California coast ranges.

No Friday Foto Talk this week, sorry ’bout that.  I needed a little break.  Instead I’ll post an image from where I camped for several nights waiting for my vehicle to be worked on.  It’s in southern California, but inland from the coast in a southern extension of the San Bernadino Mountains.  It was cool up there, especially toward morning when the bright stars disappeared and dense fog rolled in just before sunrise.  It was a very consistent weather pattern.

A short time after the sun was up the fog would lift and begin to burn off.  This let in those beautiful beams of light called crepuscular rays, which illuminated the valley below.  Besides me the only others appreciating the show were the birds plus a few cows.  Much of the native vegetation above the valley floor is dry and brittle, with a golden hue reminiscent of fall.  California remains in a serious drought.

The shot is one of several that were difficult to choose from.  Together they show a progression of the fog lifting, from fairly dense fog to brilliant pale blue skies with clouds.  They were taken on different days but the weather conditions were virtually identical so they seem as if they were all from one morning.  This one captures the middle part of the process.

Thanks for looking!

Two for Tuesday: Close-up Signs of Spring   12 comments

Orange globe mallow in bloom.

Orange globe mallow in bloom.

Yesterday was the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere.  So in celebration here’s a Two for Tuesday post.  It’s where I post two photos that are related to each other in some way.

This pair shows a couple closely related signs of Spring.   During a splendid hike through a desert canyon recently, the season was springing forth in typical desert fashion.  Spring rarely bowls you over in the desert.  But the closer you look the more you see.  It’s why both of these are close-up shots.

The hummingbird surprised me at first when he buzzed by my head, looking straight at me hovering a couple feet away before zooming off to perch on his branch.  I wondered why he was there at first, but then walkiaround I found a spring with some flowers blooming.  In fact the further up the little draw I walked the more like a lush oasis it seemed.

This little hummer was spending part of his morning checking out the visitor to his little oasis near a spring in a desert canyon: Death Valley National Park.

This little hummer was spending part of his morning checking out the visitor to his little oasis near a spring in a desert canyon: Death Valley National Park.

Get out there and enjoy springtime (or autumn for my southern hemisphere friends).  And thanks for checking in!

Single-image Sunday: Panorama   8 comments

Tucki Mountain looms as a storm moves in to Death Valley.

Tucki Mountain looms as a storm moves in to Death Valley.

I so rarely post panoramas that I noticed something: I’ve started to do fewer of them.  That’s a shame, and so in Death Valley recently I made sure to do a few.  This is one.  It isn’t too wide and skinny.  I have one of this scene which is, and it looks like a thin strip on the computer screen – not good.  Panoramas don’t tend to lack impact when viewed on a screen, but when printed out (especially large) they are spectacular.  Of course it isn’t cheap to print and frame a pano, but if you put it in the right spot, where it can be examined from fairly close-up, it’s worth it.

This image is similar to a more standard crop I posted for Friday Foto.  This was a fantastic storm that swept in toward sunset just as I had emerged out onto the top of the alluvial fan after hiking a canyon.  It was very windy, difficult to keep the camera steady enough for sharp shots.  In those cases it’s hard to use a tripod unless you weight it down.  Often it’s best, if you have enough light, to just hand-hold your shots with the lens’ image stabilization activated.

It’s springtime in the desert and other areas of southern California.  Beautiful flowers are blooming everywhere.  These moody stormy images aren’t exactly what people want to see right now.  But I love these conditions anytime I get to photograph them.  And that goes double when I’m in a spectacular location.

Looking down the valley as the storm moved toward me, blowing sand out ahead of it, was invigorating to say the least!  And being in an elevated position at the top of an alluvial fan allowed me to capture the distant hulk of Tucki Peak.  After this it got dark rapidly and I got to get wet as I walked down the fan into the teeth of the storm.  See below for some geologic details for Death Valley and Tucki Mountain.  Enjoy and thanks for looking!

ADDENDUM: GEOLOGY

Tucki Mtn. & Telescope Pk. are Death Valley’s two iconic mountains.  I’ve climbed them both but it’s been quite a long time since Tucki (it can be much tougher than the much loftier Telescope).  Tucki sticks outward into the valley in a position where it’s hard to miss.  Two or three million years ago the whole Panamint Range, including Tucki, began to slide northwestward off the top of the Black Mountains on the other side of the valley along what’s called a detachment, or low-angle normal fault.  In addition Tucki has been pushed up to form a “metamorphic core complex”, where erosion has exposed metamorphic rocks formed far beneath the surface.

Tucki has also been pushed north relative to the mountains across the valley along strike-slip faults related to the San Andreas Fault and plate boundary to the west.  Death Valley itself is a graben (German for grave) that opened under extensional stresses as a result of this shearing motion.  The bottom literally dropped out and now the valley floor lies below sea level.

Friday Foto Talk: Focus   4 comments

Dawn at the salt flats: Death Valley National Park, California.

I’m feeling a little guilty about skipping a couple weeks of Friday Foto Talk.  My excuse is that I was mostly away from the internet, camping in the desert.  I think I’m about ready to collate all of these into an e-book (or two!).  Looking back I’ve poured a lot of my knowledge and experience into these Friday posts.

Last time we looked into a fairly subtle topic (subjective vs. objective approaches), so this Friday let’s get back to basics.  Achieving good focus, and the larger issue of getting sharp photos, should be one of the first things you get good at, from a technical point of view, when learning photography.  This post will focus on focus!  It won’t go into the other things you need to do to get sharp images, which I’ve discussed in past posts.

A blooming creosote bush at dawn in the sand dunes at Death Valley.

A blooming creosote bush at dawn in the sand dunes at Death Valley.

WHAT IS FOCUS

The best way to understand this is to play with lenses (free of cameras, eyeglasses or binoculars) and a blank wall or white sheet of paper, with a strong directional light source.  You probably did this in high school science class, drawing light ray diagrams like the one below.

Light rays (which can also be understood as waves) travel roughly parallel with each other as they travel from where they were reflected off the subject to your camera lens.  They are bent inwards by the lens, coming together into a focal point.  From the center of your lens to the focal point is the focal length, usually expressed in millimeters.  Just behind the focal point sits your sensor (or film), the focal plane where an image is formed.  By changing that distance between sensor and lens you bring the subject into focus.

A convex lens like that in a camera brings light rays together and an image into focus.

A convex lens like that in a camera brings light rays together and an image into focus.

It’s important to realize that once you have a subject in focus, it is sitting in a “plane of focus” (which corresponds to the focal plane inside the camera).  Things above, below and to the side of your subject that are the same distance from your lens also sit in that plane, and so are in focus as well.  Things that are off the plane of focus, either closer or further from your lens, are technically not in focus.  But hang on!  They only get blurry gradually as the distance from the plane increases.

What this means for a photographer is that, depending on your depth of field, much of the image (even all of it in many cases) can appear to be sharp & in focus.  This is despite only a small part of the image being smack dab on the focal plane.  It’s a case of having a sufficient depth of field.  If you go for shallow depth of field, only what is on or very nearly on the focal plane will be in focus, with the rest of the image being blurry.

I found this bighorn sheep skull far up a canyon in Death Valley. It sits on a blanket of mud and debris brought down in the flash floods that struck during heavy storms last fall.

I found this bighorn sheep skull far up a canyon in Death Valley. It sits on a blanket of mud and debris brought down in the flash floods that struck during heavy storms last fall.

GETTING FOCUSED IMAGES

Now that we’ve done a little optics 101, let’s get into some practical tips on how to achieve good focus.  Most of what follows applies to whatever DSLR you may be using.  It’s even mostly applicable to mirrorless cameras.  But since I use a Canon, there are a few things that you’ll need to translate to your camera’s specific controls.  Which leads to the first point:

  • Know your camera.  You should be able to work the controls that affect focus (and exposure) without looking, and really without thinking.  Most DSLRs allow you to change which buttons control focus and exposure.  The default setup that most people use is where shutter button controls both auto-focus and exposure.  A half-press of the shutter button starts autofocus and also forces the camera to take a meter reading, fixing exposure.  Full press takes the picture.
A purple mimulus (monkeyflower) blooms in one of Death Valley's canyons. Getting at least two of the blooms to line up on the plane of focus was key.

A purple mimulus (monkeyflower) blooms in one of Death Valley’s canyons. Getting at least two of the blooms to line up on the plane of focus was key.

  • Be flexible in how you use auto-focus.  There are several ways to go about shooting with autofocus.  As you get better as a photographer you’ll realize that where you focus is usually not the composition you want to shoot.  There are three basic ways to approach this using the viewfinder (see below for further options using LiveView).
    • You can point the center of the frame at your subject, half-press the shutter button to get focus, then move the camera to the composition you actually want.
    • It can be easier and more accurate to frame the composition you want first, then change the autofocus point to the one that covers your subject.  On Canon DSLRs, there’s a little button on the top-right that you press with your thumb.  Then you work the joystick on the camera back to change the AF point.
    • A third option is to just focus where you want the focal plane to be, for examples 2/3 into the frame for a landscape where you don’t have important elements that are very close to you.  Then switch your lens to manual focus and shoot away, concentrating on composition and exposure without worrying about focus.  This can be a quick and easy way to go if you’re doing several shots of the same general scene.
In this diagram what they are labeling focal plane I call the "plane of focus", to distinguish it from the actual focal plane, which corresponds to the camera sensor. Click image to visit source page.

In this diagram what they are labeling focal plane I call the “plane of focus”, to distinguish it from the actual focal plane, which corresponds to the camera sensor. Click image to visit source page.

  •  Depth of field and focus go hand in hand.  The diagram above shows depth of field in the simplest way.  And it really is simple in concept.  But the devil is in the details as they say.  How adept you are at working depth of field and focus directly affects how many good shots you get, especially in dynamic, rapidly changing circumstances. 
    • Focal length matters.  You probably already know about how aperture affects your depth of field (how much of the field of view is in focus).  What many novices don’t appreciate enough is how big an influence focal length is on depth of field.  The shorter the focal length (wider-angle of view), the more depth of field you have.  As you zoom in to longer focal lengths, you lose depth of field and need to stop down in aperture (higher f/ numbers) to maintain depth of field.  With some very wide-angle lenses, everything will be in focus for any apertures above f/5.6 or f/8.
    • Lens matters.  In a similar way to focal length, each lens has its own focus characteristics.  While it’s often subtle, some lenses tend to give better depth of field than others.  And of course some are sharper than others, but that’s really separate from focus.  Learn how your lenses render subjects in terms of focus and depth of field.
In Death Valley N.P., California, charcoal kilns leftover from the mining era high up in the Panamint Range offer a spectacular view of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada.

In Death Valley N.P., California, charcoal kilns leftover from the mining era high up in the Panamint Range offer a spectacular view of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada.

 

The narrows of Marble Canyon in Death Valley are one heck of a great hike!

The narrows of Marble Canyon in Death Valley, one heck of a fun hike!

  • Lens calibration.  Some lenses arrive to your door with their focus needing to be calibrated with your camera’s auto-focus system.  A lens may actually focus slightly in front or in back of the focal plane, where your camera says it is focused.  Most DSLRs have the ability to calibrate the auto-focus for quite a long list of lenses.  So check out your owner’s manual and Google to see how to check focus for new lenses.   I’ve only had to calibrate a couple of mine.  Most good lenses, especially when they come from the same company that makes your camera, seem to be spot on in focus.  But all it takes is one to mess up a lot of pictures, so it’s a good idea to check each lens.

 

  • Know when to switch to manual focus.  When light is dim, or when contrast is low (such as in foggy conditions), it’s time to think about manual focus.  Sometimes what you’re shooting is dim or low-contrast, making your camera search for autofocus.  Sometimes I point your camera in another direction, at a subject that is about as far away as my intended subject.  Then I turn off autofocus and switch back to shoot my intended composition.  Or if everything is pretty dim and/or low-contrast, I will go to manual focus.  When I’m working close-up, especially with a macro lens, I almost always switch to manual focus, often setting the distance and moving the camera back and forth until I get good focus.
Because of low-contrast, it can be tough to use auto-focus in foggy conditions. Shot this morning.

Because of low-contrast, it can be tough to use auto-focus in foggy conditions.  Shot this morning with manual focus.

  • Manual focus is often better.  For some shooting manual focus is actually easier and more precise, especially with macro as mentioned above but also with landscapes.  Your camera has ways it will tell you when something is in focus.  Let’s say you change the switch on your lens to MF (manual focus).  If you point the center of the frame (or your selected AF point) at your subject and then rotate the focus ring, a green light is visible in the viewfinder to let you know you’ve achieved focus.  Also if you have it enabled, an audible beep sounds as well.  I have a couple lenses that are manual focus only.  For those I use the focus confirmation light nearly all the time, unless I’m using LiveView (see below).  I don’t like beeps so I never have that enabled.

This kind of shot demands focusing very closely and upping depth of field as much as possible by using a small aperture and as short a focal length as possible.

  • Using LiveView to focus.  When you switch to LiveView, where the image is displayed on the LCD screen on the camera back, you can do everything that you normally do, including focus.  The ability to magnify the image makes LiveView a good way to achieve precise focus.  There is a little white square that shows which part of the image you will magnify, and you can move that white square around.  Normally the white square also is where your exposure is read from too.  Once you have your subject magnified, you then turn the focus ring slowly to get perfect focus.  Then you can move it around to check out how much of the rest of the scene is in focus.  By the way, you can also use autofocus with LiveView.  In that case the white square becomes your focal point, and lights up green when focus is achieved.

 

The low light of evening can make auto-focus difficult. Happy-green mesquite border the sand dunes at Death Valley.

The low light of evening can make auto-focus difficult. Happy-green mesquite bordering the sand dunes at Death Valley.

 

  • Use the depth of field (DOF) preview button.  If you’re using LiveView in the manner above, the DOF preview button comes in handy.  It will show you what is in focus in front or behind your focal plane.  Some cameras don’t have one, so for them you’ll need to shoot and review to zero in on your shot.  When you press the DOF preview button your lens stops down to the aperture you have set.  This allows you to see exactly how much of the frame is in focus, and how blurry the rest is.  You don’t have to be in LiveView; the button works through the viewfinder too.  But with LiveView’s magnifying abilities you can see a lot better.  Remember: whether you’re looking through the viewfinder or on LiveView, what you’re seeing is the view at the largest aperture your lens has (f/4 or f/2.8, for example).  It isn’t showing you the scene at the aperture you have set, and what the picture will be captured at.  If you’re at f/11 for example, you’re seeing more blurriness than the picture will have, unless you press the DOF preview button.

Whew!  That’s enough for now.  Practice makes perfect, so play with all the different ways to get your camera to focus where you want.  Use manual focus and LiveView, auto-focus points and the DOF preview button.  Change composition while fixing focus (and exposure) where it needs to be to get the focus and depth of field right for your images.  Have a great weekend and happy shooting!

A storm blows into Death Valley last week. Dramatic Tucki Peak stands eternal guard.

A storm blows into Death Valley last week. Dramatic Tucki Peak stands eternal guard.

 

Two for Tuesday: How to Avoid a Sunset   1 comment

16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100, camera movement.

16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100, camera movement.

Unlike many photographers, I don’t think subjects like the sunset or a rainbow are necessarily cliche’.  But they can easily dominate a composition, and it’s that which can get tiresome.  The Milky Way has become exactly the same way in recent years.  But with that said, I do get tired of shooting toward the setting sun.

On a recent afternoon at the beach, after photographing a sail boat in front of the lowering sun (already posted for Wordless Wednesday), I set up to capture the color, which as usual was concentrated toward the west.  But when I put the wide-angle lens on and found some interesting foreground rocks, instead of shooting a standard composition, I started messing around.

The first shot is actually an accident.  I was experimenting with camera movement but ended up not liking any of the results.  Then a big wave came in and I had to quickly grab the tripod and raise it above my head to save my camera from a dousing.  I left the rocks then, not wanting to push my luck (plus I was soaked).  Later when checking out the images I liked this last one the best.

The second picture was well after sunset, when palm trees framed the crescent moon.  The sun was long gone but was still coloring the horizon and high clouds.  It’s a twilight image, but not too long of an exposure, because of the need to keep the moon sharp.

The first image is the kind of thing that happens accidentally but only to those who are giving luck and chance an opportunity.  The second picture is the kind I really like, not only because it happens after other photographers have gone, but because it’s only possible with patience and faith that the show isn’t really over.

70 mm., 1.0 sec. @ f/8, ISO 1250.

70 mm., 1.0 sec. @ f/8, ISO 1250.

Friday Foto Talk: Showing the Wind   8 comments

Spring flowers and a windy morning in Oregon.

Spring flowers and a windy morning in Oregon.

I was out of touch yesterday, spending the whole day on the beach in Southern California.  But I decided early on that Friday Foto Talk posts can be plus or minus one day.  Not long ago in a post on sand dunes, I showed an image captured during a windstorm.  That gave me the idea for a post on how to “show the wind”.

I get pretty excited about showing something that is considered impossible to see in a still image.  Moving water is fairly easy, but the wind?  It’s invisible after all.  Here’s how I approach the challenge:

  • Anytime it’s windy I try to avoid lens changes to keep the inevitable dust from getting inside the camera.  Choose a lens that will work for the shots you want and stick with it.  If you break down and change lenses, try to find some shelter and do it quick!  Also realize you’ll likely need to clean your sensor after a windy outing or two.
  • Showing the wind is all about showing its effects.  Blowing branches, spray, snow, etc., it can all be used as a proxy for the wind.
Hiking to a high viewpoint gave me a chance to show the patterns of winds sweeping across Lake Crescent, Washington.

Hiking to a high viewpoint gave me a chance to show the patterns of winds sweeping across Lake Crescent, Washington.

  • As with water, I often use a shutter speed that either freezes or blurs movement.  Sometimes you have to search for a medium shutter speed that will make the blowing subject more visible.  Blowing rain or snow can be like this.

Owen’s Valley, California

  • For blurring movement, a subject that forms a strong contrast with the background will create a naturally stronger composition.  Look for contrasts in texture, shape, and especially color.  You don’t want your blowing subject to be too subtle to notice at first glance.
  • It can be harder to show the wind’s effects by freezing movement (see image below).  My advice here is to give your imagination some rein and experiment with different shutter speeds.  Then choose the image that best shows the moment, whether that’s the drama of high winds or the feel of a gentle breeze.
The tail end of a rare snowstorm in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park offered the chance to shoot the bluster and spindrift.

The tail end of a rare snowstorm in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park offered the chance to shoot the bluster and spindrift.

  • Using blowing wind as a supporting subject is also a great idea.  Say you already have a strong subject, for example a person or animal standing firm, facing the wind (as in the image below).  Then you can allow the background effects to show the wind.  In this case you may be limited to a relatively faster shutter speed because of the need for a live subject that is sharp (they move a little even when it doesn’t seem that they are).

This image from Botswana has been posted before, but it shows the intensity of a duststorm so graphically here it is again.

  • Finally, strong winds can cause stability problems.  If you’re using slow shutter speeds, trying to let some elements blur while keeping others sharp, you’ll need either to hang a weight from the center post (if your tripod has a hook) or use a heavy duty tripod.  If on the other hand you’re shooting with a fast shutter speed to freeze movement, then be free and work without a tripod.

The next time it’s windy, instead of wishing for calm, get out and shoot to show the wind in all its glory.  Hope you’re having a great weekend and happy shooting!

A California sunset with the Channel Islands and blowing sea-spray.

Sunset the other day over the Pacific, with blowing sea-spray and the Channel Islands offshore: Southern California

Two for Tuesday: Forming Sand Dunes   14 comments

Recently I spent a few days at a dune field I’ve been wanting to photograph for quite some time.  With a great name (Ibex Dunes) and a fairly remote location in the far southern part of Death Valley National Park, California, they are a natural magnet for someone like me.  A bonus: nearby Saratoga Springs gives rise to a large wetland, attracting birdlife and hosting a number of endemic species, including pupfish.

I was there long enough to see a windstorm move through, out ahead of a big rain and snow storm that hit southern California this past week.  It was one of many this winter that are related to El Nino.  That gave me the idea to do a Two-for-Tuesday post.

Sand dunes are a bit like glaciers.  They move and evolve over time.  Glaciers are under the influence of gravity combined with year-on-year snow in their higher reaches.  The driver of a dune field is the wind combined with a steady supply of sand.

For the Ibex dunes, there is a large valley with fine sand and salty sediments west of a range of craggy peaks.  The prevailing winds are from the west, so they pick up that sand and essentially throw it up against the mountains.  Anywhere wind is forced by topography to change direction it slows down, potentially dropping it’s load of sand.

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Wind moves sand over the Ibex Dunes in Death Valley National Park.

The great thing about wind and sand dunes, at least for fans of texture and shape in nature, is that not only does the wind bring in new sand, but re-sculpting takes place as well.  Footprints are erased, ripples and ridges are sharpened, curves are smoothed.

In open terrain dunes move along, driven by the wind.  For the Ibex Dunes, eastward movement is arrested by the mountains.  But you can see how dunes have migrated up onto the alluvial fans and to the north (where with a decrease in sand supply, they are smaller and partly stabilized by vegetation).

If you get the chance to visit sand dunes in wind, don’t miss it.  The sand in your hair is a minor inconvenience compared to the opportunity to see dune formation in action.  Thanks for looking and happy shooting!

The Ibex Dunes lap up against a range of desert mountains.

The Ibex Dunes lap up against a range of desert mountains.

Wordless Wednesday: Catfish Paradise   4 comments

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