Prelude to the Bristlecone Pines Workshop

The location scout trip (mentioned in the last post) went very well.  It was a 2-day rocket run to Ridgecrest (CA) and environs to scope out an alternative to the usual itinerary for the first day of travel due to Lone Pine and other local towns being booked up solid for one of those incredible races from Death Valley to the top of Whitney Portal at precisely the time we will be coming through.  There was no room in ANY of the inns and I no longer fit comfortably in a manger so some alternative needed to be found.

Thanks to input from one of my stalwart students and participants, Larry Coffinberry, a contingency plan had started to take shape but before I led a group off into the unknown I wanted to test out timing and options myself.  So Thursday morning we headed out and aimed toward a place I had never been before, the town of Ridgecrest, the support town for the famous and secretive China Lake Naval Weapons Facility.

Because Ridgecrest is much closer to San Diego than Lone Pine, it gave us a chance to consider some planned shooting on the way.  And a little less than 30 miles from Ridgecrest, CA 395 takes you through a very historic mining district consisting of Red Mountain (site of a major silver strike), Johannesburg, a supply spot initially for the gold mining town of Randsburg, and of course, the jewel of all of them, Randsburg itself.

Randsburg is about a mile off of the main highway and is like stepping back in time.  It is still an actual town but one that has embraced its past and kept its look and feel and is therefore a great place for some photography… and an obvious possibility as a stop for the workshop.  So we went to check it out.

Overview of Randsburg and Main Street looking out over the high desert.

Overview of Randsburg and Main Street looking out over the high desert.

Nestled in a little valley almost encircled by hills and looking out on the high desert, this old town has all manner of subjects for the photographer ranging from old store fronts, and old church, even old vehicles strewn about the area.  Here are some quick views along its main street.

Rburg 01

Old gas and service station, Randsburg

Old gas and service station, Randsburg

Group of shops along Randsburg's main street

Group of shops along Randsburg’s main street

Old truck next to a saloon and "Floozy House" in Randsburg.

Old truck next to a saloon and “Floozy House” in Randsburg.

Church in Randsburg.  It seems fitting it is at the opposite end of town from the "Floozy House."

Church in Randsburg. It seems fitting it is at the opposite end of town from the “Floozy House.”

We spent some time doing some a few Randsburg views for the orientation meeting, picking up some of the local lore from interpretive signs and plaques, and then headed back to the highway and on down the road to Ridgecrest.  We arrived in early afternoon which meant we actually could have spent more time in the old mining towns.  After checking in to the motel we checked out a map and gathered some local data including a list of lodging properties and restaurants I could add to the workshop handout.

My main reason for settling on Ridgecrest as a stopping place for the first night is that it is only about an hour and a half from Alabama Hills and the Whitney Portal Road for a morning/mid-day shoot on Day 2 before we head up to the research station at Crooked Creek.  But of nearly equal importance was that it put us in reasonable distance from a very cool spot for evening and night photography: the Trona Pinnacles.

We had an early dinner then headed out.  Only about 20+ miles but a good 45 minutes away due to road conditions, is an amazing natural formation that is awarded something I’ve not been aware of: A National Landforms designation protecting it by the U.S. Park Service.  As we approached it across the high desert flat wash, the sun peered through a slit in the clouds to let us see what we were heading for.

Overview of Randsburg looking out towards the eastern Mojave's high desert.

Overview of Trona Pinnacles looking out over the high desert.

Out timing was very good though I think with a group we might need to leave a little earlier from dinner to provide time to scope out their own desired views.  We quickly settled on one particular rise and I was taken by the juxtaposition of two formations and the, to me, very weird surface texture of some of the rocks in the area.  In my mind, this could possibly make a good companion piece to the detail of Zabrisky Point’s “Manley Beacon” from the Death Valley trip.  Folded, melted, looking in some cases far more organic than mineral, this was demanding a shot that revealed that intricate surface texturing.  And because the sky was displaying some major color as the sun set, it might make an interesting subject for a composite built around a light painting and a night sky blend.  I formed a fairly complete concept vision in my mind and created a plan starting with the captures and finishing with the editing that would allow me to produce a piece that looked like the one in my mind.

The image’s vision was going to require quite a few multiple exposures.  Once the position was determined and camera locked down on my heavy tripod, I took shots as the sun set showing the pink clouds. I captured about 10 shots to give me a lot of variations from which to choose. Then, after about a 40-minute wait until it got dark enough for my light to overpower any remaining natural light, I changed exposure  settings to allow for a series of 30 second exposures to paint with the big flashlight.

With Larry’s help I took an additional 21 shots while hand-lighting the main foreground formation and lightly painting the background slab using a 2-million candlepower hand held spot light.  The hard part was stumbling around the broken ground and jagged rocks in the dark.  Finally, when I was pretty sure I had more than covered everything I needed, the ISO was boosted to 6400 and the aperture opened to f2.8, (depth of field is not a problem with stars…)  while still using the 30 second exposure to let me capture the night sky, since by then the clouds had all evaporated.

composite shot of landforms at the Trona Pinnacles.  Includes a light painting of over 20 frames from night sky shot.

composite shot of landforms at the Trona Pinnacles. Includes a light painting of over 20 frames from night sky shot.  You can click on this shot to enlarge it.

I had composed the shot using an 85mm f1.8 prime lens which meant that the 30 second night sky shot allowed the stars to slightly streak instead of being pin sharp.  But this was not intended to be an accurate astro-photographical shot, it was envisioned as a single shot to capture the feel of that evening which included the clouds, the landforms, and the desert’s star-filled night sky.

Once shots were downloaded, I first chose the shot combinations for the evening sky with pink clouds and that became my based shot since the silhouetted rock in the background was a good registration guide for the painting with light series.  In terms of process, this was a combination approach.  For over half of the painted frames I simply used a “lighten” blend mode on the layer of a new shot adjusting opacity to taste.  But for some, where I only wanted a small part of the shot, I duplicated the accumulating base layer, inserted the new piece below the duplicate copy and then using a layer mask simply “revealed” the specific little section(s) I wanted.

Finally I added the night sky layer and with a layer mask revealed the now lit rock forms from the stack and the clouds from the original to complete the image.  By some miracle I had not managed to move the camera during the process so lining things up was quite easy.  Practice and time spent correcting such mistakes is beginning to pay off.  Total processing time as about 2½ hours.

This trip gave me the data I need to complete my handouts and itinerary for the workshop plus yielded an interesting image.  So it was all good.  Now I can hardly wait for the real trip which will be in July.  The workshop has one or two spots left so check out the information on the page (click on the Bristlecone Workshop link under the banner at the top of the page) and let me know if you want me to reserve one of those last spaces for you.


About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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1 Response to Prelude to the Bristlecone Pines Workshop

  1. Jeffrey Forrest, Ph.D. says:

    Been a long time since I have had a good Vulcanizing ….. BTW: Went to Bear Creek last night. She is selling. The Koch’s have owned it since 1980 (wow, 34 years ….!). The food was horrible … you can tell they are finished. Do you have a high-res of this shot you can send me for my students, and specific location? No worries, if not. Overview of Randsburg looking out towards the eastern Mojave’s high desert. JEFFREY FORREST, Ph.D. Chair & Professor, Aviation & Aerospace Science Metropolitan State University of Denver 1250 7th Street | Box 30, P.O. 173362 Denver, CO 80217-3362 | (ph) 303.556.4380, (fax) 303.556.6331 Campus Map | Description: Description: University formal thumbnail 184x

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