Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Starry Skies Day 3

Today we are on the move. Class starts at noon in Lone Pine, so we check out late morning and make the 1 1/2 hr drive up 395. I stop at the charcoal kilns and also at scenic spots along the highway. Driving through he desert, I see a bright green patch of farmland with a motorized watering system. I also pass an enormous orchard as far as the eye can see in either direction. Not good uses of desert land that has no water. I also pass a large solar farm which seems like a much better use of land. I also pass the Owens Valley, parts of which flows as a river. This must be water for LA.

Class today is discussion in blending of images in Photoshop. I will need to do some brushing up on my skills. In the afternoon, we head out to the Alabama Hills, 30K acres of geologic formations that are a popular filming location for television and movie productions, especially Westerns set in an archetypical "rugged" environment. Since the early 1920s, 150 movies and about a dozen television shows have been filmed here, including Tom Mix films, Hopalong Cassidy films, The Gene Autry ShowThe Lone Ranger and Bonanza. It is a beautiful area with very unusual rock formations. We shoot the rocks at sunset, then practice star photography and light painting until 1am, dragging ourselves to bed in the wee hours of the morning. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Starry Skies Day 2

In class this afternoon, we learn processing techniques for our images. Then it's back out to the field. We start by reviewing star photography and are interrupted by a helicopter circling overhead. It is completely distracting as it is dropping unidentifiable objects onto the China Lakes field, shining beacons down and making considerable noise and light. We think they are doing exercises in the night. Today we learn how to do star trails. My group is doing trails around the North Star. I realize that I need some lessons in identification of constellations as I cannot even find the North Star! We also practice light painting and taking shots of the tufas lit up in different ways, which we will combine with other images tomorrow.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Starry Skies Day 1

We are all filled with anticipation in creating images that we have seen online of the stars, Milky Way, and constellations. This workshop consists of lecture from noon until late afternoon, an early dinner, then field work from sunset until midnight. We learn the techniques of night shooting then head out to the Trona Pinnacles. According to Wikipedia, the unusual landscape consists of more than 500 tufa spires (porous rock formed as a deposit when springs interact with other bodies of water), some as high as 140 feet (43 m), rising from the bed of the Searles Lake (dry) basin. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa). They now sit isolated and slowly crumbling away near the south end of the valley, surrounded by many square miles of flat, dried mud and with stark mountain ranges at either side.
The Pinnacles are recognizable in more than a dozen hit movies. Over thirty film projects a year are shot among the tufa pinnacles, including backdrops for car commercials and sci-fi movies and television series such as Battlestar GalacticaStar Trek V: The Final Frontier, Disney's DinosaurThe Gate IILost in Space, and Planet of the Apes
These pinnacles sit in the middle of vast flat desert land, an unprotected long chain of spires. Nearby is China Lakes. We take some sunset shots and quickly the skies darken. The most challenging part of this exercise is learning to focus on a star, which sounds easier than it is. Finding the star in my viewfinder is quite difficult and when I do, being able to tell whether is focused or not, seems to be impossible. We learn proper setting to capture the Milky Way and I am so excited to actually see the band of swirling white on my lcd screen. No matter that my first star images are completely out of focus! As the night goes on, I do learn to find and focus. It is delightful and I relish in learning a completely new skill. We return to the motel after 1am but I can't sleep until I have uploaded my pictures to see what I got. I have indeed captured some amazingly beautiful images.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Dunes and the Desert

It is still dark when I head out to the dunes. From the Mesquite Dunes parking lot, I walk straight out to the highest dunes but soon realize that there has not been much wind lately; the dunes are covered with thousands of footprints! I do some shooting but hike out to a remote area that is much more pristine. It is a cloudy morning so the temperature stays below 80 degrees until late morning but as soon as the sun peeps through, it is unbearably hot and time to leave. Because of the cloud cover this morning, there are minimal shadows but I find some interesting sand patterns and plants that keep me busy for several hours.

Around noon, I head out toward Ridgecrest where I will spend the night in preparation for the workshop. I am not taking the side roads of yesterday and choose to drive the longer route on main highways. Driving past Panamint Springs, the wind picks up and all the way west to 395, the winds are howling and blowing sand across the road. Along 395, it is gusty and dusty. The drive takes less than 2 hours and I am surprised at the size of Ridgecrest, which I had expected to be a tiny town in the middle of the desert. It is the home of China Lakes Naval Air Weapons Station, which I find out has 38 percent of the Navy’s land holdings worldwide. In total, its two ranges and main site cover more than 1.1 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island! The town has new homes and shopping centers under construction, a new mega Walmart is at the very outskirts. Funny that I should go shopping in Ridgecrest but I find a huge selection of fabrics at Joanns and exercise pants at Big 5 and makes me realize how "not normal" our Peninsula cities have become.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Off to the Eastern Sierras

I'm off on a great adventure into the eastern Sierras with a destination of Ridgecrest for Michael Frye's Starry Skies Workshop on Monday. My drive will take me south and east into Death Valley for some dunes magic. My excitement makes the 8 hour drive seemingly short, with a few quick breaks in between. The temperature as I get further south is quite warm and so it is more pleasant to keep driving than to stop and stand outside! As I make my way through the Central Valley, Trump signs become more and more visible. Google maps takes me off the main highway onto a few country roads, which it has determined is a shorter path. I end up on a backroad into Death Valley through Searles Valley and then onto a section of gravel road that is under construction. I arrive at Stovepipe Wells at 4pm. It is still in the high 80's so I will wait until early morning to photograph. The air is very dry and still, and there is not a lot of tourist traffic. The management is a bit rigid here, I would say. One couple tries to sign up for a sunset tour. This morning at 11m, they were told sign ups are only taken after 4pm. They arrive at 4:15 and are told it is full and there is no way around that. They look so disappointed!