Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Full Moonrise at White Sands National Monument

One of my favorite photography locations in New Mexico is White Sands National Monument, located in the south central part of the state, 16 miles southeast of Alamogordo (and about 250 miles from where I live).  On July 1 I went with a friend to photograph the dunefield and the rising full moon.

The dunes are not sand, but rather crystals of gypsum left from the evaporation of an inland sea that rose and fell multiple times over millions of years.

Gypsum is rarely found as sand because it is soluble in water.  The dunefields of White Sands, however, are in a basin that has no outlet for water.  Water containing dissolved gypsum from nearby mountains flows in, then evaporates and leaves the gypsum crystals.  Eventually the crystals break down into sand-size particles light enough to be moved by the wind.

Some of the dunes move as much as 30 feet a year, so to keep the park roads open, the Park Service uses snow removal equipment such as road graders and front-end loaders.

Plants and animals have adapted to the desert environment.  The soaptree yucca (below) can grow upward a foot a year to keep its leaves above the sand.

Animals such as rabbits, lizards, and beetles leave tracks on the dunes.

We humans leave tracks, too:

We tromped around photographing the dunes in the late afternoon when the low angle of the sun creates shadows that accentuate the ripples in the dunes . . .


 . . . then set up for moonrise, along with lots of other people:

And then, through the haze at the horizon, it began . . .

The park stayed open later than usual due to a "full moon concert" event, so we were able to shoot a lot of moonlit scenes.

Venus and Jupiter in the western sky . . .

 . . . the lights of Alamogordo in the northeast . . .

And beautiful moonlit sand dunes:

The next morning, we hit the park when it opened at 7:00a -- fully an hour after sunrise, but worth an hour of shooting.  The light was very soft due to high thin clouds in the east.  Most interesting were the iconic White Sands picnic table and shelter units:

Finally, a black-and-white vision:

If you would like to see these and additional images of White Sands National Monument in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Stretching My Comfort Zone: Beauty, Life, Death, and Decay in an Afternoon

In late June, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-day photography workshop led by Laurie Klein, one of the preeminent fine art photographers in the U.S., if not the world.  (That's Laurie with the camera above; check out her website here.)

The topics of the workshop were creativity, the visual process, and refining your visual voice.  Those are all interesting to me, and while I'm not a fine art photographer, I thought it would be good to stretch my comfort zone and see what I could learn from Laurie.

If you're not familiar with photography workshops, the usual structure is to have a classroom session in the morning leading into a shooting assignment in the afternoon, followed by a critique session and wrap up the following day.

Our afternoon assignment shoot was in Old Town Albuquerque.  Besides the usual scenes -- San Felipe de Neri Church in the heart of Old Town (one of the oldest buildings in the city, built in 1793) . . .

                              . . . flowers . . .

                             . . . and tourist shops with Day of the Dead paraphernalia . . .


-- we caught a wedding at the gazebo in the Plaza:


The shade of the gazebo wasn't good light, but, then, I wasn't the wedding photographer either!

Another part of the assignment was to shoot a "selfie" in which our face did not appear directly.  This could either be a reflection or a shadow, or a purely metaphorical image that represented your mood or attitude.  Here are mine:

But the coolest part of the assignment was working with a professional model, which many of us (including me) had never done before.  If you've checked out Laurie's website, you know she knows how to work with models.  We got to watch Laurie direct the model's poses and then had the opportunity to  direct her and photograph her ourselves.

Here are some of my best shots (all poses directed by Laurie):

Finally, earlier in the day, during a discussion about stretching yourself creatively, Laurie had talked about photographing a dead possum she found in her yard -- decidedly not her usual kind of subject.  When I saw a dead bird (probably a starling) just off Old Town Plaza during our afternoon shoot, I knew I had to make the image.

Here's the bird as I found it lying on the ground next to a building:

Upon further examination, however, it became clear that the key element was the uplifted foot of the bird:

Then the challenge became how to capture the essence of that foot.  The answer, of course, was to shoot from ground level . . . 

Photo by Nancy Haseman

 . . . with a shallow depth of field (f/5.6), and then make it creepy in black-and-white:

So . . . from life and beauty to death and decay, all in the span of a couple of hours.  Stretched my comfort zone!

If you would like to see these images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Shoot Out at Founders Ranch

                                                       Ridin' the range once more,
                                                       Totin' my old .44 . . .

                                                                   -- Back in the Saddle Again  (Autry/Whitley)

You shouldn't be surprised to learn that out here in The West there's an organization devoted to target shooting with old-style pistols and rifles:  the Single Action Shooting Society.  (Sounds like the title of a Western that might have starred Jimmy Stewart, doesn't it?)

Every summer they hold a world championship competition attended by over 600 people from around the world -- all using single-action firearms and all dressed in 19th century Western attire.

The competition is held at Founders Ranch, south of Edgewood, NM (just east of Albuquerque), where shooting ranges and vintage-looking buildings have been constructed for shooting events like this one.

When we drove up, we were greeted by a couple in full costume:

The main entrance to the grounds consists of a faux-front mission church:

And once inside, it's Frontierland for adults, complete with longhorn cattle . . .

stagecoach . . .

live entertainment . . .

and streets with old-time store fronts and contemporary vendor tents selling everything from clothing to firearms.

There was even an old-time photographer's tent:

The main street is anchored by the Copper Queen Hotel (not a real hotel, of course) . . .

where all sorts of characters hang out . . .

Across the street from the hotel are the shooting ranges, each with a different theme (cantina, jail, etc.).  

The participants compete on accuracy and speed by shooting at close-range targets with pistols and rifles loaded with blanks, not live ammunition.  Safety glasses are required; earplugs are highly recommended.

Participants travel from station to station wheeling golf bag carts (or homemade versions of them) with their personal firearms and gear:

The most dramatic element of the competition is the mounted shooting, which takes place at an arena 100 yards long and 50 yards wide:

Riders race up and down a course shooting blanks at balloons -- again, competing on accuracy and speed.  

The balloons can be anywhere from 9 feet to 36 feet apart, depending on the course layout.  (There are 62 different course arrangements.)  The only standard length is the final dash home from the furthest barrel to the finish line:  174 feet.

As I mentioned earlier, the shooters use black powder blanks which are tested and certified to extinguish at no more than 20 feet.  The wadding from the blanks travels far enough and fast enough to burst the balloons if the aim is true . . . and occasionally a clever shooter can get two balloons in one shot:

At the start of a run, the riders circle their horses at one end of the arena, getting up to speed before they cross the starting line:

Then they run the length of the arena a couple of times (again, depending on the layout of the course), shooting right and left . . .

                                                                         (Hope the horse has ear plugs!)

Riders make the turn at the far end of the arena:

Then gallop to the finish line . . .

Top competitors complete the course in less than 30 seconds!

And throughout the weekend, participants check their results:

Finally, in addition to all the action shots, I got an image that might work for my "Solitary Journeys" portfolio:

 (The hawk was a gift!)

If you would like to see these images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.