A curving diagonal of rock across sand dunes, Death Valley National Park
The sand dunes of Death Valley are more complex things than they might appear to be. For example, I have read that beneath their surface they actually hold quite a bit of moisture — quite a contradiction to our intuition about their dryness. (That intuition is based on fact — they can be hot and dry places, and the surface layer of the dunes is quite dry.) At the right times of day and of season they can be cool places, and they support plant and animal life.
These dunes also appear to stand on top of quite un-dune-like features. Around their edges you can find hints. You cross flat playa surface to get to them, and this surface holds abundant evidence of the work of water. In places you can even find areas that mimic perfectly the surfaces of contemporary play areas, with their sedimentary formations covered with cracks. Here the edge of what must be a rather old example of this cuts diagonally across the landscape and still manages to poke its edge through the sand.
A dust storm rages above sand dunes at the end of the day, Death Valley National Park
This was a wild evening, featuring an apocalyptic combination of tremendously strong winds, huge clouds of blowing sand and dust, periodic downpours of rain, and light that changed constantly from ominous and dark to luminous clouds backlit by sun to threads of virgo, and more. I had never seen quite this combination of conditions in Death Valley at one time.
Photography was quite challenging. Because sunset was approaching (and I continued to photograph into the dusk), it was often quite dark. The screaming winds made it virtually impossible to shoot from the tripod, so I was mostly reduced to bracing my camera against the window frame of my vehicle and working with the camera handheld. In the rough conditions I was forced to work from a distance with a long lens, since photographing inside the windblown clouds of dust and sand was not a good idea. Here the clouds and the dust above the sand dunes momentarily thinned, creating a backlit glow from the low angle sun about to drop behind mountains to the west.
Sand dunes and desert mountains in twilight, Death Valley National Park
Arriving in Death Valley earlier in the day, we had visited some canyon country that is a bit off the beaten path and then headed back to our home base in the park for the next few days. We got settled in, had some dinner, and headed out to make some photographs, deciding that it would be best on this first evening to photograph nearby.
We made it to an area along the periphery of the dunes before sunset and then continued to photograph during the evening light transition from warm pre-sunset color to the post-sunset blue hour light. Here there was still a bit of a glow from the west, but the sun had already dropped below the Cottonwood mountains, and the light was soft as we finished photographing in the evening stillness.
I think my landscape photographer instincts went to work on this photograph, despite its thoroughly urban subject. But imagine a valley floor, a vertical granite cliff, peaks beyond, and a cloud floating past and I think you might see the analogy. But this is a distinctly San Francisco street/architecture photograph.
I was on foot in The City, spending the better part of a day wandering around in an area bounded by the Embarcadero and the Bay, Market street more or less, and Fourth Street. I was headed south on a less crowded street, traveling more or less toward the newly remodeled SFMOMA (museum of modern art). I had been looking a the tall building on the right and the bit of the new portion of the museum poking out to its left when the solitary cloud appeared from behind the building and began to move from right to left. Having very little time to contemplate, I framed up this vertical composition and made the photograph “street” style, using the prime lens already on the camera and simply shooting handheld
A purple mask, eh? You may need to look closely at this small web version of the photograph, but if you do you may see that one of the people in the scene is carrying a furry purple mask. Don’t ask. I didn’t.
I’ll keep the commentary on this one to a minimum since I have already written a few times about the circumstances of such photographs. I made it on a summer afternoon and night walk through sections of downtown San Francisco. Here I was wandering slowly along Grant, the main tourist street of the city’s Chinatown district. By this time at night the crowds had diminished quite a bit, but most shops were still open. With fewer people on the street, there were better opportunities to find compositions that were less cluttered.
On a late spring day of wind and sand storms in Death Valley National Park — and after several days of such conditions — we retreated to one of the deep and narrow desert canyons for an afternoon. After a short walk across the upper edges of a giant alluvial fan, we dropped into the lower reaches of the canyon and headed uphill. Soon the path entered the base of the range and the walls began to narrow, and the wide open world of the desert floor was invisible to us.
The canyons of Death Valley are in some ways similar to the more famous slot canyons of the Southwest. Both are formed by water coursing down narrow canyons, sometimes at high rates that rearrange the geography of the canyons significantly. But there are differences. Here the canyons are most often dry — a year round water supply in such Death Valley places is not typical. And the rock is not the familiar red sandstone of the Southwest, but here a more contorted and broken and often less colorful rock. But sections are very beautiful, and there is something very magical about this section of this canyon, as it narrows and passed between inward curving walls.
Closed gate and shadows at South Beach Harbor, San Francisco
Up early and on the train to San Francisco on a sunny spring morning, I got off at the SF Caltrain Station and began walking along the waterfront. This is familiar territory to me, since “train walks” are a somewhat regular event for me, especially during spring and summer. I get off the train and slowly wander in one or another direction on foot, taking time to look. Sometimes it turns into and out-and-back walk, and sometimes something like a loop. (The latter is what happened on this morning.)
I decided to hear toward the bay, past AT&T Park and then along the waterfront. I angled over toward the South Beach Harbor, mainly because of the luminous and intense light coming across the bay as the fog began to clear — so bright that it was almost impossible to look directly into it. As I passed the harbor this shadow fell across the walkway, so I stepped back and shot straight into its shadow, with the harbor and the bay behind.