In praise of place: the dry lands (Part 1)

Much as we may trumpet our ability to turn the sow’s ear of the commonplace into the silk purse of photographic art, nothing drops jaws like photos created in the midst of spectacular scenic surroundings.

I happen to be particularly fond of the dry lands, which we may loosely term as “deserts” — though strictly speaking this catch-all descriptor is probably less than accurate when it comes to the Colorado Plateau, where I’ve done a good deal of expeditioning.

Regardless of what we call this country, it’s a place of sere beauty and harsh contrasts where occasionally the very rocks stand up to be counted. We may talk all we want about erosion being the cause for such bizarre crags as we encounter in Goblin Valley, Utah, but still they convey a sense of mystery and awe as we turn our lens upon them.

Aside from the technical challenges presented by light and shadow extremes of exposure on a sunny day, it is difficult to take an undramatic photograph amidst terrain like this. What we begin to look for (after the initial spell wears off) are elements that add particular interest to the composition. We position to capture unusual angles and perspectives, and seek out non-native elements to heighten our sense of the outré.

Such places provide exceptional opportunities for black & white conversion and other post-processing wizardry — from a single exposure we might obtain several fascinating images, different only in the creative approach we take to them in our digital darkroom.

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