I was the kind of person who would sit inside the car or in a comfortable restaurant sipping cappuccino while waiting for the storm to subside. After all, I didn't want to get my hair messy or get my shoes dirty. While I have always been an outdoorsy person, the thought of getting inside sand dunes during high winds was like giving a cat a bath.
Therefore, imagine my shock when I realized that I will have to brave high winds inside the dunes of death valley. My first reaction was , "wait, that will ruin my camera ("and my hair", but could not say that loudly)." I have to say that stepping inside those intense conditions made me see things in a new light. For almost a month, every moving component of my gear made a "crunchy" noise because of sand particles in it. I still cannot understand how sand managed to get inside the deepest zippered pockets. Nonetheless, the camera worked fine, and now I have a new respect for my Nikon's capacity to handle these stormy conditions. Also, besides my fellow photographers, not having a single soul in the entire desert made me realize how much fun it is to shoot during these conditions when everyone has left. There are some things in life that you can only learn in a storm.
Death Valley is one of the most fascinating places in terms of how it plays up it's texture and colors during different times of the day. This photograph was taken in the soft pre-dawn light of the morning. The subtle light accentuated the personality of these formations.
Nothing like watching the moonset over cottonball basin in the Death Valley National Park. This is an extremely hard place to find unless you know someone who knows someone who has spent months scouting this location and can tell how to get here based on GPS coordinates. In a way, it is good that not many people can make it as the landscape is very fragile. We had to be very careful and had to make sure we didn't step on the edges of these delicate circular formations. Watching these formations under moonlight transports one to a world where stories of dragons, kings and unicorns come to life.
This was taken at the lower Antelope Canyon. As most people know by now, this place can get really crowded. However, the best thing is to just walk with an open mind and look for interesting formations and how the light travels through the crevices inside these canyons.
This is a photograph that was sitting on my desktop for a long time. Given that I had already posted different scenes from this same day, I decided to take some risk on this one and process it differently than I usually do. These Death Valley dunes were shot during high winds around sunset. In the horizon, one can see the sand particles rising and blocking the sun. Fun times!!!
This field of mud cracks is located in the Death Valley National Park. It is kind of fun to navigate through these mud tiles and find a composition. The possibilities are endless, and you are only limited by your imagination in terms of how you want to capture them. It is like looking at miles and miles of a huge jigsaw puzzle.
Photography is a language I often use to express myself when I am falling short of words. this image was created on one of those days. An unexpected setback had led to a lot of major changes in my plans a couple of years ago. That day, I was drawn to this image, which was quite telling. While this image tells a story of hope, strength and resilience, it also reminded me what Leonard Cohen had said: There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.
This is a photograph taken in the badwater area of the Death Valley National Park. The reason for calling it a split personality is that this place looks like a boring pile of unremarkable rocks when seen in harsh daylight. However, in the soft pre-dawn light, these rocks exhibit an entirely different character. It is like a gathering place for colors and textures.
After a totally exhilarating and tiring experience of walking around in high winds in the Mesquite sand dunes, we were walking towards our car. While shooting sunset color was not on the agenda, I saw these colors and decided to take one last photograph with a different lens. To change the lens, I had to climb down a dune to block out some of the wind and prevent the sand particles from destroying the sensor. When I turned around to go back up, I notice the wind, which had not entirely died down, is gently blowing off sand from the edge of the dune. The blowing sand was subtly reflecting the sunset colors. It was a beautiful experience catching that last light.
Watching Bryce for the first time is an unforgettable expereince, much less seeing it during thunderstorms. This was one of the most dynamic light conditions I have ever witnessed. The weather went from roaring thunderstorms with lightning to the clouds clearing up with partial rainbows, and then suddenly dark clouds taking over with pounding hailstorms. Given that people have been injured and died because of getting zapped in Bryce, I was running back and forth between taking pictures to taking shelter within the car. During one of the clear moments, I saw this funnel like formation on the left side and realized that it is the rain falling in the distance with checkered sunlight bouncing off it. I was there for a total of 3 hours, and it felt like mother nature put on one of her best sound and light shows.
Many moons ago, back in grad school, I was required to take a class in the administration and interpretation of a psychological instrument named "Rorschach Inkblot Test." For those who might have never heard about it, it is a test where a patient is handed a card with obscure inkblot images and asked to tell the examiner what they see. The patient's responses are considered to be a reflection of their internal world; therefore, no two responses are alike. The photograph below is one of those scenes where these cloud formations reminded me of that projective test.
There are certain photographs that I might have captured with a lot of love and care, and yet I tend to overlook them for months or years. What gives? I am realizing that there is a difference between capturing a scene versus looking at the photograph of the same scene. The pictures come to life only after having gone through post processing where the digital darkroom brings to the viewer what I had experienced with my five senses. Often times, it is at this latter stage, I find myself appreciating the influence of images in terms of my psychological response to them. This is where my emotional world takes life and helps me communicate what I had experienced in the field as well as what I am going through in life at that point in time. The reason I am talking about this today is that I met this child in my office last week. She is an extremely bright girl who excels in all aspects of her life, and yet she is going through this difficult phase where she is starting to question her abilities. In her words, “all my teachers and my parents love me so much, and they keep telling me that I am a star student, but I cannot find that light in me.” Her poignant statement and subsequent silence were quite telling. The child is undergoing depression as she is having a difficult time living up to the standards set by her parents and educators. That same evening, while going through my old photographs, I find this image that I had captured two years ago. There were almost 50 images from this same scene that I had taken that day, but this was the only photograph that had these faint God beams streaming through the clouds. While I had published an image from this location (Alabama Hills) more than a year ago, no idea why I didn’t see this particular image before or why it didn’t resonate with me at the time. However, within the context of this child’s statement about not seeing the light within her, I was struck by this image that evening. It almost hit me like a visual epiphany. If anybody ever read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, they will never forget the line, “I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.”
This is a small scene from the Antelope Canyon in Arizona. The beautiful striations on these rocks catch natural light and turn it into something unreal. I just wish I had more time for exploring these caves. The large number of tourists walking around these small spaces make the experience feel....for the lack of a better word, less intimate. However, as I have been reading, most national parks are getting crowded with more and more people visiting every year. Just another data point that says we need more public land, not less.
This is a photograph of Eureka dunes in the Death Valley. The image is a close representation of life for me. We all are striving to move from dark to light. Some days are harder than others, but as long as we can see the light, we all have hope.
It has been almost two years since I last visited Death Valley National park, but the varied landscape of that place keeps calling me back. Unfortunately, it is also a place of extreme weather conditions and therefore not possible to go on a whim. I had posted a few photographs from that exhilarating day when I was there in the middle of a sand storm. This was my first time seeing desert in such dynamic conditions. The high winds pushed the sand particles so high up in the horizon that it was easy to forget that there is a sun shining beyond those sand clouds. Here is a monochrome version of the scene that captures the dance of light and shadow from that day.