One of the things landscape photographers covet is a unique composition and we all seek that to satisfy our creative appetites.
On my the recent trip to California, I had no preconceived ideas or wish lists on what I wanted to shoot. This could be good or bad. Good because whatever you are shooting is your own fresh take on what you see. Bad because you have not done your homework so you are not prepared for field work and you end up wasting precious time. In this case, having a clean slate was good. It helped that my friend Wisanu had scouted this location prior during the day when we split up and scouted different areas. He shot here first and me at a more accessible location at Yosemite’s Olmsted Point.
Later we radioed each other and switched places when I went up the hill in the direction of the dim low level light panel he had set up to light up this Bonsai like tree. I am a sucker for wildflowers and one of my favorite native wild flowers and one that uses hummingbirds as matchmakers is the Penstemon strangely also named beardtounge. They are native to North America and do not grow wild anywhere else. On this mountain, I found this Penstemon at the base of the Bonsai tree. It seemed like both the Mountain Pride (Penstemon newberryi) and Jeffrey’s pine (Pinus jeffreyi) had been planted there carefully to have the best view of the Half Dome, quarter dome if you consider it is sort of cropped off on the right side; and the heavens above.
The ground feels quite flat in the image but I am on a slope almost at the top of this 8500ft (2600m) mountain. I was by myself listening to any rustling noises or foot steps. No, there were none but my senses were heightened. I did spend more time here than the norm. I actually sat down and enjoyed the fresh mountain air and appreciating the beauty of the tough as nails flora this rugged rocky place had to offer. There was no soil for these plants to grow. Just cracks in the granite where they claimed their rightful place under the wide open sky.
I spent last week with some special people exploring some really special places in California's Eastern Sierras. It was intense, tiring but also very fulfilling. To be in places I had never seen before for the first time often in the dead of the night was thrilling to say the least.
I can only imagine what my 14 year old daughter, Nayana felt. We created everlasting memories which will only become better over time. It was not a cushy trip. We slept very little, sometimes ate food we wouldn't give a second look at home. Those freeze dried foods, MRE types are really a hit or miss! The better the packaging, worse it is inside. We experienced drastic changes in elevation and temperatures often within a span of few hours.
With the out of comfort zone efforts came the great experience of being with and shooting alongside a future (I predict 2 years at the most) legend and a role model Wisanu Boonrawd. If nothing else, Nayana got to experience what goes into creating great images. The meticulous research, planning, preparation, being able to change plans on quick order due to factors beyond our control, and time management is no substitute for creating great images from the comfort of our homes regardless of creative vision.
This image was one of the last shot the first night we arrived at Mobius Arch in Alabama Hills, a range of hills and rock formations near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada in the Owens Valley. This is also the site where many Hollywood Cowboy movies were filmed. Our drive from LAX to Alabama Hills was exactly like going perpendicular to a vey wide wind tunnel. Only this wind tunnel was also blasting sand and our rental car stayed caked in fine dirt for the rest of the week.
On this night we arrived to a group of friendly photographers from Bakersfield who were already shooting. We approached them in the dark with our headlights turned off from a distance. When requested if we could shoot alongside them, they readily agreed and even let us use a small light to light the Mobius Arch. Since the Milky Way was fairly up by then, we did not get to shoot some of the compositions we wanted to and decided to come back in a couple of days.
People that know me well know that I have two left feet. On this night night however I felt like I was Dancing With The Stars.
The one thing a Texan returning home looks eagerly for is a sign that says “Don’t Mess With Texas”.
This monument welcomes motorists coming over the Red River from Oklahoma (now, if you are curious about where this is, Google maps can help you). I had photographed this previously in September 2015 on my second Milky Way shoot with my friend Uday Tummala who showed this to me.
I had wanted to go back and shoot this early in the season rather than in late summer since the Milky Way moves further to the right of this frame and gets diluted by the light pollution coming from the nearby town. Yogesh Mhatre was a willing partner and joined me on this shoot on a weekday night.
Astrophotography is a challenge in so many ways.
1. You can only shoot the Milky Way core during the warm months since in the winter months it sets too soon.
2. You need to be in a fairly dark sky area to be able to see and shoot the stars.
3. You should not have moonlight.
4. The weather has to cooperate and you need clear skies.
So quite literally, the stars have to align and when they do like they did on this particular night, sacrifices like losing sleep on a weekday become meaningful.
I used two exposures for this shot. One for the sky with star tracker turned on and an identical one for the ground with tracker turned off. The light trails are courtesy of truckers entering Texas.