Joshua Tree is one of those places that photographers find beautiful, but challenging to photograph. The are is full of wonderful rounded rocks, and tons of funky flora. The difficulty is that there aren't too many iconic vistas, or locations like, say a Yosemite. There's plenty to see and photograph you just need to really develop your eye to find it. That's where Mike and I come in. We love this park because it offers so much variety, and really helps the group work on compositions and see them come to life when we hit the processing portion of the trip.
Morning one we set off for "Hidden" Valley. I'm not sure what's so hidden about it, there's signs and you can see it from the road. This place is really a great for introducing the group to all that the park has to offer. This time of year we timed the wildflower bloom really well and a carpet of various white, yellow, and orange flowers gave the cameras something special to fill the void normally occupied by dirt. Of course there are the joshua trees themselves to shoot too. These twisted textured trees look like something straight out of a Dr Seuss book. The goal is to try and place the viewer's' eye right in the frame. We use curves and interesting foregrounds to help this happen. While so much of the park is very cast and it all seems to similar, we like to also encourage the group to look small, look for patterns and intimate little details that might otherwise get lost within the chaos.
A perfect spot to really see a lot of little details is Ryan Ranch. Not only are these old adobe ruins interesting in and of themselves, but the little cacti and flowering bushes around there are also fun to shoot. We found a particular cactus that a bunch of us challenged ourselves to try and capture beautifully.
Even in spring it gets toasty in the desert, so we set off to the hotel for a little siesta before our sunset exploration and night shoot.
Cacti are interesting in that they require very specific conditions to flourish, and often in one elevation you'll find an abundance of cacti of a particular species, and drive 2 minutes, only to find none of the same cacti, and a plethora of another type. We set off to see patches of two such cacti. The cholla and Ocotillo cactus' The ocotillo cacti are long green and full of little orange flowers at the top, almost like upside down octopus reaching for the sky, where suction cups should be these octopus have sharp thorns. Our group had fun trying to make something beautiful out of these chaotic plants. We set off for the Cholla garden next. These "teddy bear" cactus are probably the nastiest when it comes to potential pain inflicted. Simply brush one of these guys and they latch on for dear life. This is the only place in any national park I've ever seen that just leaves a first aid kit behind so that you can use it. Luckily nobody was attacked by the teddies and we all got some nice images of these backlit cacti. They look almost abstract when lit from behind by the sun...like rows of prickly little disco lights.
For evening we set up at Arch Rock, one of the few icons of the park. Luckily we arrived and staked our claim to a great vantage, because about 30 people showed up to sit with us. Mike and I got everyone's settings dialed in and while it was crowded, none of the healamps of others would disrupt our photography. We got what we needed, plus we're really good at photoshop to be able to handle most issues.
What a late night!, Good thing we gave everyone four hours to sleep before we met again for sunrise. This time we set off for the Hall of Horrors...another crazy named location. After one day of shooting this type of landscape our group seemed more confident to find and utilize light, texture, shadow and all the other wonderful stuff Joshua Tree has to offer. Mike and I walked around to point out interesting things, and give pointers where needed, but this group was pretty experienced and was doing awesome.
We stayed out late so we headed back to the hotel afterwards for naps before our group met to go over post processing.
Mike is a great teacher of all things processing, and he gave the group a good once over on star trail processing. I walked around to help clarify and add anything that they may have missed. EVERYONE got some great stuff, and it's fun to see how differently just a few feet of space can be in a composition. IN addition to the star trails, we were stoked to see all the other great images that the group had collected. So many different visions of the park. Big, small, and all compositions in between. It is always one of our favorite parts of the longer workshops.
After the processing we set off for "Noah's Art" a installation park of what some might call one man's trash is another man's art. Whatever ones' view of the art form is...it IS interesting, full of line, texture, color, shape...it's a great place to shoot for a little bit of time.
That afternoon we set off for a group dinner in Joshua Tree town, and then back to the park for our last shoot. We ended up at Balanced Rock, one of the other little gems and icons in the park. Like a stone penguin a lone rock stands out of the landscape, framed beautifully by a lone Juniper Tree. Strange that both of these lonesome strangers ended up in the same part and were so uniquely arranged for beauty. The group worked well and everyone was able to fit in the little space, The sky never exploded with color, but the golden light and alpine glow on the stone was really beautiful. A great way to end a great trip!
Until Next Time,
Brian, Mike, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.