Back to Alabama Hills…

If you have been reading this blog for any period of time then you are familiar with the famous “Alabama Hills” in the Owens Valley of California.  Site of location shooting for countless movies from westerns to sci-fi to costumed dramas, these astonishing rock formations are a photographer’s dream.  For my Landscape and Nature photo course this is almost always one of the places we visit and this semester was no exception.

I love being among the rocks and to me the Sierras are the closest thing California has to my beloved Rockies.  But it is a mixed blessing to be so familiar with the place.  I have shot it six ways from Sunday over the years, even put together a book of the early photographs.  And this time I wanted to do something different.  I decided I would try to limit myself to extremes; extreme wide angle, extreme telephotos, extreme lighting, you get the idea.  I had no idea if any of it would work but it was time to play and learn by using approaches I normally might not.  Hey, I get to try to learn new things on these trips too!

Take the obligatory dawn shot of  Mt Whitney and the Sierras.  This is virtually mandated by the photographers’ code book; there is even a workshop devoted to dawn shots there.  So I started off with something new… I missed it entirely.  I misjudged the time for sunrise and as we were walking out of the motel that famous salmon pink light was on full display. DARN… or stronger words to that effect.

So Sunday we were up in plenty of time, in place as the pre-dawn light illuminated the rock forms at the base of the iconic Mt. Whitney (like in the banner shot for this blog).   Oh boy, oh boy…  But it didn’t happen.  No I don’t just mean the pink light didn’t show, I mean THE LIGHT itself.  Oh it lit up the REST of the peaks, but Whitney itself was in a shadow.  Here is my play shot of doing an extreme wide angle and you can see, if you enlarge it and look close, the mountains on the right are lit, but Whitney is simply dull, flat gray.  I’ve never seen that before.

15mm extreme wide angle of Sierras at Dawn

15mm extreme wide angle of Sierras at Dawn but without the rich salmon light on Whitney… in fact no light on Whitney at all…

But it was not a total loss.  A glance to the south revealed a pretty nice set of clouds.

Sometimes the shot is not in the direction you planned...

Sometimes the shot is not in the direction you planned…

I tried avoiding Whitney since it is such a commanding presence.  I saw a nice little black and white detail of a bit of grass in a rock cleft.

B&W conversion of grass and rock detail.

B&W conversion of grass and rock detail.

I also did a few macros of a few of the tiny flowers that even looked like cotton.

Tiny blossom that looks like a cotton ball.

Tiny blossom that looks like a cotton ball.  Canon 5D MkII, Tamron 180mm Macro

Then to really go to extremes we did some painting with light of a couple of landscape areas at night.  Here is one of them taken of a small spring feeding into the creek flowing from the Whitney Portal waterfall.

A tiny spring feeds into the creek flowing from the Whitney Portal waterfall.  Shot at night and painted with a MagLite.  25 frames layered and blended in Photoshop CC

A tiny spring feeds into the creek flowing from the Whitney Portal waterfall. Shot at night and painted with a MagLite. 25 frames layered and blended in Photoshop CC

After doing a “base” shot for reference, we waited until full dark before continuing. This was then done with 25 frames, each lit with a 5 D-Cell Maglite illuminating a small section at a time and from different directions.  The frames were then assembled using layer masks in Photoshop for the completed image.  The concept is for a shot as quiet in visual “feel” as the tiny stream was in the dark.

But there is no escaping it… Whitney dominates everything.  Here is a shot of the old corral on Tuttle Creek using a long lens to bring the mountains up close.

Tuttle Creek Corral

The Rabbit Brush has almost completely overtaken the abandoned Tuttle Creek Corral

And here is another telephoto shot of Whitney framed by some of the rocks in the valley.

whitney frame for blog

And then it was time to go, to return to San Diego and start the countdown to the end of the semester and portfolio review times.

BRISTLECONE  PINES WORKSHOP

By the way, if you are interested in going on the Bristlecone Pines workshop in July, click on the link under the banner and see if it works for you then let me know ASAP.

About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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