Saturday, February 27, 2021

Covid Respite #14, Part 2 - Initial Reflections on Aerial Photography


On my most recent visit to Valley of Dreams in the northwest New Mexico badlands (see previous post here), I brought along my Mavic Mini 2 drone, which I've been learning to fly for video and still photography.

Since receiving the drone as a Christmas present, I have begun to reflect on (a) the visual aesthetic of motion video versus still photography and (b) the benefits and challenges of aerial still photography.  Most of what I've discovered is obvious if you stop to think about it, and it's probably stuff you would get in a Filmmaking 101 class, but until I actually was able to use the drone and its camera, then review the results, I had never had occasion to think about it.

Indulge me, then, on some early epiphanies.

1.  The viewer's experience of an unchanging still image is very different from the viewer's experience of an always-changing, moving image sequence that unfolds over time.

Technically, the viewer's experience of a still image also unfolds over time, because we know from lots of scientific experiments that our visual system (eyes and brain) does not receive and process a scene instantaneously, but rather it rapidly scans different parts of an image and assigns significance, relationships, and associations to construct an understanding or comprehension of it.  But that happens so quickly that it seems to be instantaneous.

And the still image itself does not change under the viewer's gaze.  It is available for inspection and consideration as long as the viewer wishes to look.  The aesthetic, then, of a still image is the organization of all its elements into a perceivably coherent whole.  In photography as well as painting, this is called "composition."

On the other hand, with a moving image there is no opportunity to stop and ponder unless you hit "pause" on the playback system, whereupon the moving image simply becomes a series of still images and thereby defaults to the aesthetic of still images (i.e., composition).

Composition in moving pictures is important, of course, but the dominant aesthetic of moving images is revelation:  the moment-by-moment act of setting the viewer's expectation and then, frame by frame, fulfilling or re-setting that expectation (or both).

(By the way, Ken Burns and many other filmmakers do this quite artfully even with still images by moving the camera . . . in effect, slowing down and guiding what would otherwise be a near-instantaneous process of the viewer perceiving a still image.)

So the difference in aesthetic between still and motion photography is the difference between this . . .

. . . and this:

2.  Aerial photography is cool, but not every aerial view makes a good still photograph.

For landscape photography, being able to photograph from a higher vantage point allows you to show features in a larger spatial or geographic context . . .

. . . or see things that are simply not visible from the ground:

An aerial perspective also allows you to create more abstract-like images by looking straight down:

But look-down images can be uninteresting or disorienting if it's not clear to the viewer what they're seeing:

In general, I'm coming to the conclusion that with aerial still photography, simplicity is better:

At this point I am still experimenting with with motion video and still images from the air.  I can't predict where I'll end up, but I imagine I will use the drone primarily to give me access and perspectives for still photography that are unavailable from the ground.

Nevertheless, I expect from time to time I will indulge in the excitement of motion video (with a little boost from a music track) such as this one from Valley of Dreams:

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


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Covid Respite #14, Part 1 - Valley of Dreams in Gold and Blue


                                                                               We translate the earth's language into our own . . . .

                                                                                                                    -- Hans Cloos, geologist

My friend, Alan, and I caught a mild day in early February -- they happen out here occasionally -- and decided it was a good day for another Covid Respite trip, this time to one of our regular haunts in the New Mexico badlands -- the Valley of Dreams -- for a "blue hour" shoot.

(If you're not familiar with the photography term "blue hour," read this, and see additional blue hour images here.)

I've been to Valley of Dreams multiple times with my photo buddies and with my son, Drew.  You can read about those trips as Covid Respites #7 and #8 (here and here), and an earlier visit in 2019 (here).

This trip, however, was specifically to capture some "blue hour" images of interesting features, along with whatever else might catch our eye.  In addition, I brought my drone for some aerial views of the landscape, which I will share in Part 2 of this post coming soon.

Valley of Dreams is a huge area filled with a jumble of geological features, including walls of mudstone capped by sandstone . . .

. . . walls eroded into hoodoos, surrounded by fallen caprock . . .

. . . and mudstone monoliths eroding into puddles of sand after losing the protection of their sandstone caprock . . .

(If you look closely at the image above, you can see all three stages in the scene.)

We arrived a couple of hours before sunset, and wandered toward an area that we thought might provide good features to photograph during blue hour, capturing scenes along the way:

The area we chose for our blue hour shoot was a series of small valleys surrounded by the walls of mudstone and caprock.  Here's what they looked like from above at golden hour:

I set up shop in the valley you see in the foreground; Alan went for the bigger valley in the center of the photo above.

While waiting for the sun to set, I spent some time flying my drone around my valley, across Alan's valley, and beyond.  I shot both video and still photos, learning what works photographically (and what doesn't).  I'll have more to say about that in my next post.

And, of course, during golden hour I "walked around the teacup" photographing features in the valley from ground level.

As the sun set in the southwest, shadows crept up the features until only the tops caught the last light:

And then, as it always does right after sunset, the light went flat:


It wasn't long, however, before the balance of light between ground and sky shifted and blue hour (or, really, blue half-hour) began.








At this point, we packed up and hiked about a mile in the dark (clear sky but no moon) back to our vehicles and headed for home.

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


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Covid Respite #13 - Collecting Sunrises

January 14, 2021
January 14, 2021

                                                                                         Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning

                                                                          Born of the one light Eden saw play.

                                                                          Praise with elation, praise every morning,

                                                                          God's re-creation of the new day.

                                                                                                        -- Eleanor Farjeon, Morning Has Broken*


Up to this point, my Covid Respite trips have required getting in the car and going someplace to use my camera.  But in between those roughly monthly jaunts, I'm hanging out at home or going to the nearby grocery store or whatever.  And on some days, all I have to do is step out my back door to watch (and photograph) a beautiful sunrise or moonrise.

So for this Covid Respite, here's a stay-at-home collection from the past few weeks.

As you will see, not all sunrises are created equal.  Some are worthy of multiple images; others fizzle out.

New Year's Day

January 4

January 5

January 11

January 14

January 15

January 16

January 17

January 18

January 21

January 22

January 24

January 26

January 30

February 1

February 3

February 9

February 10

February 11

February 12

February 15

If you would like to see these images (and a few more) in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.   Enjoy!


* People of a certain age will recognize these words from Cat Stevens' / Yusuf Islam's Morning Has Broken released in 1971.  But the song is actually a Christian hymn first published 40 years earlier.  The lyrics were written by English poet and children's author Eleanor Farjeon, inspired by the village of Alfriston in East Sussex, then set to a traditional Scottish Gaelic tune, "Bunessan."