Wood GrainRain pushes a stream of clay and shards of petrified trees in the Blue Mesa badlands of the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.
For a high contrast situation, increase the contrast. This scene had so much detail, with the rain drops adding even more noise to the background of pebbles and petrified wood, that I had to push the image and develop it to heighten the strong specular highlights and deep shadows.
It's really wonderful to be down in Blue Mesa during/after the rain, the wet clay looks amazing, all the colors pop.
Beamed RockDuring a 6 hour hike inside the tapering canyons of The Narrows, a beam of light placed itself symmetrically behind a massive boulder. The turbid, brown water bounced the intense, golden light into the canyon wall, making it seem like it was lit from the inside.
Valley of the Gods PanoramaMesas and buttes are encircled by low clouds and sunbeams in a panorama of the Valley of the Gods, Utah.
Getting the perfect moments in photography involves some luck, but a lot of the luck you make yourself by properly reading light, clouds, sun positioning, animal behavior, and by using persistence and patience.
We spent all day driving this park, covered in clouds. We could not see any of the formations, clouds were low and we were in the fog constantly. We drove the same long road 4 times, but knew that there could be a break in the clouds at some moment and it would be worth waiting. We scouted the park very carefully, and decided to head to a location that had a nice view in all 4 directions for sunset, to maximize the chances for that break in the clouds. We also calculated the sun position and falling angle, set up in our spot, and waited until the golden light exploded everywhere.
We saw other cars pass by on that dirt road that day. No one stayed, they didn't get to see the light show. No one at all drove by in the hours before sunset, it had looked hopelessly cloudy, why bother?
Even in a totally random trip like this one (with no planning in advance, we just hit the road), one can start evaluating what will be best: find the local sunset time, the right locations, have the height of the mountains in consideration, measure how much contrast you will get by shooting towards different areas, think of the angle the shadows will fall in, and be ready to capture the moment instead of fumbling with equipment.
And despite all of this lecture on planning, I forgot to put my extra battery in my pocket and ran out of juice while shooting this pano. So, fuck.
All-Seeing Red EyeAn eye in the sky flares down warm light into a tight wall of sandstone at Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona.
I got the photographer’s pass so that I wouldn’t have to hurry following a guide around, allowing me to take my time. And then I saw the all-seeing red eye of Sauron, or perhaps the Illuminati, or Randall Flagg, or Horus, or whoever. The stratified, sensual shapes in the canyon make it almost impossible to take a boring photograph, but it’s sometimes hard to get one that emphasizes clarity over chaos.
20 Mule Road
Gray WavesChaos of sandstone waves create a disorienting painting of curves and shadows at Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona.
The light patterns and curved shapes are so abstract in Antelope Canyon, that sometimes the concept of up or down seems meaningless, the rocks are but a frozen crashing wave twirling around you.
PetroglyphedA raven (Corvus corax) and his twin shadow glide over an immense sandstone wall adorned with stripes of desert varnish, at the White House Ruins of Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Nation.
I spent most of my time down at the ruins taking pictures of birds. The alcoves and enormous sheer cliffs made for a great background of colors and lines. I chased a kestrel around as he hunted, and also saw two golden eagles being chased by the ravens.
This was my favorite image of those walls. I have others of multiple ravens with even more shadows and with colorful backgrounds, but the simplicity of this one made it much more striking.
Dry ReflectionA tree sits over crackled caps of fossilized sand dunes, seeing its reflection on a tiny plant growing from the sand, at White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona.
There's a tree in White Pocket, the most contrasting shape among the hardened, ancient sand dunes. There is a little pool of water that gets surreal reflections of this tree, but I found this dry mirroring in the sand equally interesting. The vertical crack completed the effect by aligning the two subjects.
Antelope WavesSandstone formations look like frozen ocean waves in a deep crevice at Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona.
A lot of these pictures work better when in black and white or tinted, otherwise the reds become too rusty and overpowering. With no color, you can focus on the flow of the lines and the abstract shape of light. I particularly liked this shot because of how soft the top light is, the haze making the rocks seem larger and more distant.
Jurassic Dune WalkTiny photographer ventures into the alien field of fossilized sand dunes of White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona.
This oddly-textured landscape extends way beyond the scope of this photo, but I went a bit tighter to frame my friend Christina as a scale reference. This was shortly after sunrise, I climbed to the top of the highest formation and stayed there freezing and trying to keep the wind from knocking me down.
Nuclear BadlandsLoaded with bright LEDs, thousands of ATVs and RVs light up the desert's night sky, in this long exposure view from Font's Point, looking towards the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, California.
40 minute exposure from Font's Point in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Despite this area being great for dark skies, due to the massive amount of off-roaders there for Thanksgiving, the landscape was covered in clouds of dust and not as dark as it should've been. There were thousands of RVs and ATVs with bright LEDs all around the landscape.
This shot was stupidly overexposed, I set the ISO too high for star trails, but I ended up liking the apocalyptic look it took. No tripod! The tripod would've vibrated too much over 40 minutes, so I left the cam on a rock at the edge of the cliff. The rock didn't move.
First Light at Gunsight BaySun rises over Lake Powell, with the water level quite low due to the drought, as seem from Alstrom Point in the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area, Utah.
We left our camp at 5am to drive to this magnificent overlook of Lake Powell. The only other people around were down by the lake, their boats appearing as minuscule dots in this picture. Despite the stretching distance, the stillness and silence allowed us to hear them preparing their breakfast, miles away.
Black Dragon SunsetSunset over the Black Dragon Canyon, Utah, as seen from just south of Green River.
We noticed a potential good sunset approaching, with nice rock formations in the distance, so we drove off the freeway to line up the sun with the mesas.
Later that night we drove through the Black Dragon pass and saw the formations up close: it's an impressive area that looks like the classic Utah buttes and mesas, but everything is tilted around 30 degrees due to a huge underground uplift.
Franklin ButteFranklin Butte (also known as Sitting Hen Butte) is framed by a dry tree trunk at the Valley of The Gods, Utah.
I didn't get this pic completely sharp, and the sky was too gray to make for a good color image, so I just turned it to black and white and embraced the graininess.
Grampians Golden FieldField of canary-grass grows underneath a clean blue sky, and the southern ends of the towering sandstone mountains of the Grampians National Park, Australia.
We were on our way to Bryan Swamp, a little detour before entering the Grampians National Park, when we came upon this endless golden field. It was extremely hot outside, but we decided to stop the car and join the grasshoppers outside. A few minutes after taking this photo, wispy clouds showed up, but I liked this super simple and graphic version of the pic the most.
Luminous SistersA monumental alignment of light and shadow at the Three Sisters of Monument Valley, Navajo Nation.
This is the only good photo I got a Monument Valley during that trip. We spent a whole day there, and despite the beauty and grandeur of the landscape, the path one can follow is very limited, the hikes are few, and you need to pay guides to get to the better spots, and it just didn't feel like a freeing experience in the wild. You can get any of the classic, postcard-worthy pics here, you can even pay $5 to have a guy on a horse pose at the perfect little spot, but no room to experiment. Valley of the Gods, a bit further north, was a lot more interesting. This is still a place everyone should visit, but it was too touristy for my taste.
To get this perspective of the Three Sisters, I had to hike out way past the "NO HIKING" sign and chase after the sun at the right moment. Color was dull, the sky too clear, so I went with black and white and high contrast.
Earth FollicleRoots grow through a crack in a slab of compressed sandstone over a precarious sand dune in a dry river wash near Salton City, California.
After visiting the Pumpkin Patch area, we drove up Tule Wash and found this amazing sight. Driving the washes was fun, though they are natural washes they feel like they could be real roads most of the time, flat and easy to navigate.
This photo was taken past sunset, the sky was a deep dark blue, and all the light available was a soft bounce from twilight. I kept the image dark, with no whites, to try to replicate the original feeling of the scene.
Meteor Crater Observatory RuinsFramed between two distant mesas, the ruins of the old Meteor Crater Observatory slowly erodes into the desert landscape near Winslow, Arizona.
This observatory was opened right on the old Route 66 in the 1930's, where you could pay 25 cents to look at the meteor crater through their telescope. It was abandoned in the 1950's. The ruins seem like a castle, a strange apparition in the middle of the desert. By using a super telephoto lens, I was able to frame this ancient building with two distant mesas that shared complementary shapes.
Mexican Hat ArchThe balanced rock known as Mexican Hat emerges through the falling snow, at Mexican Hat, Utah.
It was snowing hard when we drove by Mexican Hat, and the rock wasn't visible from the road. As we approached, the silhouette revealed itself slowly. I found a complementary natural curve that flowed well with the background, creating a clean arc across the image. The snow offered a sense of scale and distance.
Mummy Cave CastleRuins at Mummy Cave are hit by a soft beam of light, as seen from the Mummy Cave Overlook at Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Nation.
Most of the ruins at Canyon de Chelly were really hard to photograph. They are distant, hidden with flat colors in the sandstone walls, and usually hit by extremely contrasting light. This particular moment had slightly softened light thanks to a passing cloud, but I could do nothing about the flatness of the composition.
Painted Hills Reds
Scorpion MoonriseGlowing under a UV flashlight, a scorpion holds still as the moon rises over the massive Kelso Sand Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, California.
We counted 154 scorpions during our one hour night hike (or 154sph), thanks to the help of a UV light. They were everywhere, every few steps a flash of green would show up on the ground.
That night we took off from our camp under the light of the milky way, and walked up the dunes until the moon finally broke over the horizon. At that point we decided to return, aided by moonlight, since it was getting pretty late and the stars weren't that visible anymore due to the bright moon lighting up the blowing desert dust.
Petrified StreamA stream of 225-million-year-old petrified trees frozen in time over the pigmented sands of the Blue Mesa badlands, at the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.
We weren't planning on going to this park during our trip, we decided on it at the last minute, and were going to drive through it rather quickly. We ended up staying there until sunset (they kick you out at sunset, which is unfortunate and idiotic). We needed more time, there's a ton to see, way too much. It's not a few fossilized trees, it's millions of them, stretching over miles. They are everywhere, you can't walk around without seeing massive fossilized trees everywhere you go.
White CapsRocky white caps cover the wavy colors of fossilized sediments from Jurassic times, at White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona.
Layers upon layers of fossilized waves and ancient sand dunes, eroded and exposed. This photo had natural pastel colors and an overexposed feel, light and airy.
Snow Storm Over Joshua Trees