The Big Joshua Tree Visit
After three grueling days standing at a six-foot table inside a hotel lobby, I was ready to be done with that part of the week and take some time with my friend Lisa Speakman, a fellow member of The Arcanum, who was about to pick me up at my hotel for a short trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Lisa arrived at my hotel, ready to help me with a few hours of PhotoShop lessons before we would head out on our long-planned one day away.
Lucky for Lisa and I, Los Angeles was less than 2-1/2 hours away from the magical Joshua Tree National Park, a place I had been only once before and under difficult circumstances. Today, we were driving west at about 12:30 pm, armed with my single Sony A7rII camera and the only lens I had with me; The Sony FE 16-35 zoom, which was all I could fit into my briefcase.
Lisa and I had a good feeling about this particular evening in Joshua Tree because the sky was perfectly clear. For us, those were ideal conditions. Our plan was to shoot the stars that night!
As sunset became nightfall, Lisa and I retreated back to the entrance gate and grabbed some dinner at The Crossroads Cafe’ – a bustling spot, a few blocks of the park, and obviously a favorite of the locals. I had fish tacos on corn tortillas, which were absolutely scrumptious. Lisa has a gourmet burger which appeared to be too big to eat. That didn’t stop Lisa from enjoying every last byte. We lingered a few minutes and headed back to the park. It was still early, but Lisa already had a plan for our first stop.
This was an opportunity for me to do a little light painting, using my Surefire G2X with the Incandescent bulb, I was able to carefully “paint” the stone and tree. I love how the light brings out the texture of both, a tribute to the incredible, indestructible little flashlight I’ve depended on for years, to do just this specific job. Like the artist’s brush, gentle and carefully, I cupped my hands over that 240-lumen torch and let just a little light out to do the deed.
The Sky is Cryin’
In the immortal words of one of my now deceased heroes, Stevie Ray Vaughan, I watched as the sky’s light show for this Saturday evening played out. Still not totally dark, a bit of light pollution from the neighboring campground was visible in the background. It was time to move on to the next location. The Milky Way was beginning to look brighter and we found a spot we liked with a suitable tree to memorialize. Not much to look at on its own, under the night sky and with the Milky Way as its canopy, it basked in the love and attention we paid that night for serving our needs. We were happy campers, for sure.
You know how photographers work, slowly and repetitively practicing our craft on any unsuspecting tree, sky or stone, we painted that poor little tree over and over again with my yellow Surefire flashlight until we had it about as perfect as we could.
The Final Setup
Each image probably required about an hour. This one was no different as we patiently set up on the side of the road, making sure that passing cars would not interrupt the immersive darkness which was the backdrop, our canvas for the elusive light that is our art.
And it was the majesty of the grand Joshua Tree herself that stood guard that night watching over all the others, and proudly posed for my camera, as she came to life in the dark to the delight of us both.
Never have I seen a tree so happy to be alive, and two photographers so happy to be witness to the miracle of her stance. This time, it was easier; cameras on manual focus and aperture set at F4.0 for 15 seconds, ISO 3200 made her glow like the angel she was, just for us.
It was already late, our alarm clocks set for 4:30 am, it was time to retreat to a warm bed and a quick cat nap before the morning sun.
Thank you, Lisa Speakman for your hospitality and friendship. Thank you, Joshua Tree for unfolding your splendor to us gracefully that one cold Saturday night when the Sky was Cryin’ and the trees were glowin’ like warm embers in the hearth of Earth’s oven.
Thank you for the gift of that one magical night I will never forget under the stars.
The equipment I used on this trip was my Sony A7rII and my Sony FE 16-35 zoom lens and the SureFire G2X flashlight. All my work is processed in Adobe Lightroom and MacPhun Tonality and Noiseless. and Topaz Texture Effects.
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