I’m still alive. I just haven’t posted here as often. I should. The overflow of places to post photographs now, and the social media blitz has gotten quite ridiculous. Have I Facebooked, Tweeted, 500,72dpi’d,Google+,Flickr’d, this shot? I hate to write the same thing twice, so most of the time new work gets posted on one or POSSIBLY two places…then I just stop. I barely even update my own webpage. I’m horrible at the “marketing” side of things. Not for lack of good intentions, just lack of enthusiasm for the multitude of posts.
I just got back from a week long trek with my oldest son (11yrs) He had a report to do on the state of Utah…not because we’re Mormon and were making a pilgrimage to the homeland, but because it’s the state he got assigned for school. It also happens to have some kick booty landscape. This allowed us to kill two birds with one Prius so to speak. I got to do some personal photography work, and he got to see Utah in all its red-rock glory.
Brenden had a morning dentist appointment to fill a cavity, and we left directly after. His face was partially numb from the Novocain injection so he spent most of the first couple hour slapping at his useless lip and cheek, and speaking very little. When you have kids, as you know, sometimes that can be a good thing. The Eastern Sierra has gotten next to no snow thus far this “winter” and that meant Tioga Pass was open. Seeing an opportunity to photograph a frozen lake seemed intriguing so the plan was to drive hard and reach Tioga for sunset and perhaps take a crack at Lake Tenaya, or maybe Olmsted Point…
We hit Tioga off of highway 395 with just over an hour before sunset….but the farther inland we got the cloudier and more grey the sky became. It became quite clear that there was to be no sunset of worth from the pass. In a hasty decision I decided to drive back down to 395, and hopefully get to Mono Lake in time for some color. The clouds on the lake looked fabulous when I drove past them the first time and I hoped I could get to the tufa in time for sunset. Motorhomes, and curvy roads prevented me from making very good time back down the pass, and I arrived as the sky lapsed into grey and what little color the clouds had taken on faded. In reality I should’ve gone STRAIGHT to Mono Lake and told Tioga to piss off, but the thought of finding something new overpowered me. It’s sad, but I always see Mono Lake as a failure.
Even though I have nice shots from the lake, and I enjoy photographing it, It seems that every time I show up there it’s because something else fell apart. It’s my crutch. I tell myself that it’s probably because there’s not too much else in the area that’s decent to shoot at sunset. Reality is that I usually get a late start on road trips. The pass is normally closed. I can’t make it to the Bristlecones, I’m too lazy to hike into the mountains….any number of reasons really. I settle for Mono Lake because it’s safe, and simple.
Now the time I try something new….Mono comes back and burns me. I hate you Mono Lake.
The sunset was gone so we continued south. The goal for the evening was to get to Death Valley. We’d sleep in the Pri-ho (Motorhome + Prius= Priho), wake and shoot the dunes for sunrise. Brenden was getting hungry now that he could again feel his face. We’d stop in Bishop, get dinner, and then proceed on the last couple hours to the dunes.
Well apparently the sunset WAS NOT done…simply waiting for me to get far enough away from Mono Lake that I couldn’t turn to go back and shoot it. While my son was explaining to me the something or another about Pokemon’ I looked to my rearview and saw that electric pink lighting up the lenticular clouds. Like a chorus of pink clouds grabbing their collective crotches and giving me the finger and saying,
“You had a chance ONCE to stop at the lake and shoot…and you passed it up to try the pass….then you had ANOTHER crack to stop…and you PASSED THAT up. EAT OUR PINK LENTICULAR goodness Rueb!”
Not to be bested by the weather, I frantically found the nearest place to pull over to shoot. Lake Crowley. The lake has never much appealed to me ever the numerous times I’ve driven by it on my way south…but here at this moment it was all there was. Luck was not playing fair, and the gate to drive down to the lake was locked. I had to park near the road and then RUN. I told my son something about ‘Just try to keep up and follow me, or stay in the car….I GOTTA GOOOO!!!!!”
I made the lakeside after some huffing and puffing and near falls running over the sagebrush littered landscape. The lake was frozen solid, which was unexpected and neat. I carefully slid out onto the ice and managed to grab a few shots as the last bit of pink faded. I hate when sunsets do crap like that. I thought it was bluffing, turns out it wasn’t. I walked back to the car in the dark where my son was sitting, pissed at me for “ditching him.” I spent the next few minutes as we drove off trying to explain/justify the insanity good light can cause a photographer. I don’t think he got it, but we had an understanding that we’d communicate better about where I was running so he could find me.
After a burger in Bishop, we set off over the pass on our way into Death Valley. I was trying to get directions from fellow photographer friend and fellow Aperture Academy instructor Jean Day as to where some new spots she had found. She was super good about trying to give me directions and GPS coordinates all over the crap cellphone signal I had. The farther we got from Bishop the less signal I had.
We arrived in Death Valley and I had no signal. I had some GPS coordinates, some written Directions (park 2.3 miles from X ), and I had some visuals to look for as well (Look for the black hill, walk along the side)
The only problems are A) I don’t have a GPS, and if I did I’d probably not use it because I’m a lazy bastard. B) I really don’t pay attention to East, West, North, or South type direction…those are just words…I like descriptions like THAT WAY…and THIS WAY….UP…DOWN with lots of pointing and other visuals. I love visuals…so things like “LOOK FOR THE BLACK HILL” are right up my alley…the only problem was that it was DARK, and all the hills are black. That being said, I still found the spot and was 90% sure it was where I was supposed to be. The issue than became, did I want to attempt to walk out in the dark to a place I had never see, and hope I was right. It turns out I did NOT want to do anything like that, so after a reasonably decent night sleep for two people in the back of a Prius I woke up in the morning and with my son and his camera in tow, I headed off into the Dunes the SAME OLD WAY I always go.
I knew that the dunes would be thrashed with footprints. The new parking lot draws in even MORE people who run, jump, slide, and kick the sand to hell all over the first mile or so of dunes. To get good shots of footprint-less dunes you either need to go after a huge windstorm, or walk FOREVER to find pristine sand. Jean’s way probably would’ve put me right at the nice dunes…but I wasn’t much for risk. I’d rather walk for days in soft punishing sand to find my shot.
I give my boy some credit. He put up with me being pretty annoying. We’d walk forever, struggle up a huge dune. I’d look around and go.
“Naaaaah, too many feet prints….let’s try this one over here (lots of pointing)”
We did that numerous times, and I could start to see the sky beginning to change from dark to the deep red of a good sunrise. This light was going to come and hit HARD…and I needed to find a dune. We did. We found a good dune, and set up shop. My son has very limited knowledge at this point on how to work a camera. I tried before we left to explain the manual settings to him….which apparently were WAY over his head. I needed to realize that just because I shoot on manual, doesn’t mean he’s quite ready to do it as well….on only his second time with a camera.
I hooked his camera up to the tripod I brought for him, my old Gitzo, and set his camera for Aperture Priority and let him try to work on his composition.
While I was shooting a glorious sunrise he became more and more frustrated. The camera was still set on auto focus and due to the low light…it was NOT focusing for him…which mean it was NOT shooting for him…which made him angry. He also figured out in only 5 minutes what it took me months to realize….Gitzo tripods are NOT that good. He was struggling with that tripod to make it grow WAY too much. I felt bad that he had to use it, because I hate that piece of crap more and more every time I see it…and here he’d have to use it for a week. Poor kid.
Brenden dealt with me the way any 11 year old would. I got the silent treatment. Sitting high on the dunes getting mad dogged and shunned by my own flesh and blood.
“What’s the matter?”
“Do you need help?!”
“Why aren’t you taking pictures?”
It went on for a while and we both missed some pretty outstanding light. Eventually he let me help him, and there was enough light for the camera to focus on and I turned him loose, sans Shitzo tripod to shoot his heart out.
The light was nice…and once he had calmed down from being frustrated he saw how cool everything was and enjoyed the rest of the morning. After the photography was done we had fun running down some of the steeper dunes. I’ve done it before so I know what to expect. Brenden had never run down dunes of this size before, and half way down the dune, when the sand hardened up, he gained speed…and the sheer look of terror on his face as he FLEW past me down the dune was hilarious…he reached out to grab me but he was going waaaaay too fast. When he hit the bottom of the dune, his pants (which he forgot to belt….typical kid) started to fall down…and he flumbled off into the desert one hand trying to pull up his pants, and the other outstretched to brace himself if he went down.
I was laughing hysterically and of no help at all. He never fell, and the whole experience lightened the mood, and set us off for a great rest of the morning as we sat in Death Valley waiting for sunset.