Scanning the Night Sky

Scanning the Night Sky

Location – Very Large Array, NM, USA

The VLA facility is a unique place that first captured my imagination in the fantastic sci-fi movie Contact (1997). In the movie, Jodie Foster’s character discovers an unnatural repeating signal coming from outer space while listening to one of the dishes on a calm clear night – not unlike the one I photographed here.

The presence of such an impressive telescope array tells you that this is an ideal spot for stargazing. It’s dark, high-altitude, and remote. I was lucky enough to be there on a night where the dishes were close together (they move much further apart on rails) and pointed southeast towards the galactic center.

I wonder what signals they were picking up…

Family Gathering

Family Gathering

Location – Palm Springs, CA, USA

Just north of Palm Springs is one of the largest wind farms in California. With over 3200 turbines and a capacity of 615 megawatts, the impressive San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm takes full advantage of the high winds entering the Coachella Valley.

The trick with this location is isolating a few large turbines against a clean background. There are literally thousands of turbines to choose from, most of them overlapping in dense fields, as well as highways and electricity pylons to contend with. I spent quite a bit of time researching and scouting to find the perfect spot, which I had to walk to due to its inaccessible location along a busy road with nowhere to pull over. A long lens comes in handy.

The sunsets and reliable haze of the Coachella Valley do the rest…

A Peaceful Morning

A Peaceful Morning

Location – Long Pond, Mt Desert, ME, USA

The morning I took this photo was one of the most serene and atmospheric that I can remember. My wife and I were camping in nearby Acadia National Park - we came to see the fall colors - and I woke up before dawn to come to this dock which I spotted the day before.

There wasn’t a breath of wind, and fog was rolling over the glassy surface of the lake. I spent over an hour here just soaking it in before exploring some nearby inlets elsewhere along the lake edge.

I love the feeling of this image, and plan to retake it this year with a few changes that I think will improve the composition.

Blizzard Fishing

Blizzard Fishing

Location – Lake Tiorati, NY, USA

I had so much fun capturing this image. First, the lake was frozen, and you could safely walk out onto it for hundreds of meters. Second, it was in the middle of a blizzard, and the wind and snow made photographing anything a real challenge.

I had a companion that day on the ice – a lone ice fisherman who was determined to catch something despite the rough weather. If you look carefully you can just see him drilling a hole in the ice, with his pulk sled not far away.

I love the feeling of this image, and how small the island and the fisherman seem against the white expanse created by the snowstorm. They almost look like miniatures!

Tunnel to the Past

Tunnel to the Past

Location – Evergreen Plantation, Wallace, LA, USA 

The oak trees of the deep south are something special, and while visiting Louisiana I knew I wanted to photograph them. Dripping with Spanish moss, the interlocking arms of these giants form a tunnel leading to the sugar cane fields beyond.

This location is on the site of one of the most intact plantations in the South. The dark history of the place weighed heavily on my mind as I photographed it on that crisp cold morning. I wondered for how many souls this road signified something different. Knowing that people were enslaved here, and suffered terribly, makes the beauty of the place unsettling and difficult to fully enjoy.

I think the conditions I got that morning convey the appropriate mood for such a place – somber and foreboding. It’s an important part of the country’s history that unfortunately many people have not yet come to terms with.

Snowy Saplings

Snowy Saplings

Location – Brookdale Park, Montclair, NJ, USA

This is my local park in Montclair, NJ. It’s a pretty ordinary park, but shown here in rather extraordinary conditions. We had a multi-day snowstorm that blanketed the area with sticky wet now and ice. After the snow subsided, thick fluffy clouds remained overhead bathing the landscape in beautiful soft light. Believe it or not, this is a color image.

I had the place to myself, and the snow was undisturbed by footprints. There were a lot of fallen trees around the town, and I had to stay alert because every few minutes you would hear a loud crack as another tree limb came crashing down under the weight of the snow.

Just goes to show that you don’t always have to travel far to see something special.

Lady in the Dunes

Lady in the Dunes

Location – Algodones Wilderness, Brawley, CA, USA

This incredible dune field is just a couple of hours drive south of Palm Springs. There are hundreds of dunes, some of which are a couple of hundred feet tall. As you might imagine, the surrounding area is sparsely populated, and the few people that come here are mostly interested in riding their ATVs and dune buggies on the southern side of Route 78.

The dune buggies create some interesting opportunities for motorsports photography against a dramatic backdrop, but they also tend to make a mess of the place, leaving tracks that take days or weeks to blow away, and polluting the air with exhaust fumes and noise.

If you explore the north side of the main road, as I did, not only will you find pristine dunes, but you’ll be safe from any vehicles since they’re not allowed there. This wilderness is pretty hostile to cameras and humans, so come prepared.

In the end, while I walked a couple of miles over sand looking for the perfect shapes, I found some of the best dunes were close to the road. It was actually extremely challenging to setup a composition here closer to sunset because the shadows move so quickly over the dunes. You really have to be decisive and adapt to the changing conditions. This shot is from earlier in the afternoon when the light was more predictable.

I can’t wait to go back and try again.

Saint-Tropez Vineyard Sunrise

Saint-Tropez Vineyard Sunrise

Location – Bonne Terrasse, Ramatuelle, France

Despite being heavily developed, the coast around Saint-Tropez is beautiful, and there are even some vineyards close to the sea. I spotted this location one afternoon while on a trip to the supermarket, and made plans to come back for sunrise.

There’s a campground nearby, but everyone was still asleep, and I had the place to myself. There was a little mist in the air, high altitude clouds, and the sky lit up in vibrant pinks, purples and oranges at sunrise.

Photographically speaking, brightly colored sunsets and sunrises aren’t my favorite, but I think this composition works thanks to the color contrast, and the lines of the vines leading your eye to the grove of trees and then to the sun beyond, which is still kissing the horizon.

I’m really glad I got up early to experience this scene.

Ridges & Wrinkles

Ridges & Wrinkles

Location – Death Valley National Park, CA, US

The badlands at Zabriskie Point are stunningly beautiful, and are one of the most photographed locations in all of landscape photography. It’s very difficult to come away with anything original here.

So on this particular morning, I decided to largely ignore Zabriskie Point itself (which is just beyond the right side of the frame), and make a panorama showing the surrounding hills and the river wash that meanders through the valley.

The hills have some incredible textures and colors - best viewed after a rainstorm. It’s hard to appreciate the scale of the place without a person in the shot. In fact, I found some incredible old pictures of these hills at the nearby Inn, featuring mule teams that would haul borax along the ridge lines from nearby mines. Sadly such scenes aren’t possible to capture today – that history is long gone.

Faded Old Glories

Faded Old Glories

Location – Château du Vivier, Fontenay-Trésigny, France

This stunning ruined 13th century Gothic Château is in my opinion one of the most atmospheric in northern France. It’s only a 45-minute drive from Paris, and easily viewed from the roadside. However, it’s a protected historical monument, and is closed to the public.

The castle, which was originally abandoned during the Hundred Years War, has seen some incredible history. It was visited by royalty, blessed by Pope John XXII, and even used as a retreat for Charles VI who was kept here (probably against his will) during bouts of madness. The property is occupied today by a family that lives in some newer buildings on the grounds, and a foundation is slowly restoring the ruins after many of the old stones were sold locally during the 18th century.

I came here with my father early in the morning after a rainstorm, and captured this moody winter scene of the dilapidated castle and the moat around it. For a while I resisted even looking at the pictures from that morning, because the day ended poorly, and there are some painful memories attached to it.

I think it’s fitting that this gloomy scene in some way foretold what was to come.