Amboy Crater, 08-C-2.jpg
Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents|
Southern California Road Trip
I set up my Wisner Expedition exposing two sheets with my 150mm lens towards the south-southeast about 8am. The first modest frame, 08-C-2.jpg at page top, had dense sand verbena in the foreground with a patch of desertgold at center, and included Amboy Crater mid right about a half-mile away and the more distant Sheephole Mountains just right with a diagonal band of clouds overhead. Rather fortuitously the breezes had finally nulled so all the desertgold had stopped bobbing about. Some wildflower species with long stems up in a breeze are especially difficult to photograph in landscapes with larger formats because they so easily blur up fine detail on the large film area.
close-up wildflower work
Satisfied I would not find much more worth pointing the big camera at, on my way back towards the parking lot, I looked about for close-up pictures on a few lower desert species I would not likely get a chance to shoot once I moved south on my trip. My primary interest in smaller wildflower close-up images is in photographing showy species in beautifully aesthetic ways. Thus I don't make serious close-up images for the purpose of identifying what various plants and their flowers look like. And I tend to ignore species that are inconspicuous or lacking in visual interest. Not because I don't think they have botanical value but simply because they may not have aesthetic photographic value.
In each patch of sand verbena, I looked about for any desert lilies growing up within the magenta flowers and soon found a good subject with one large flower and several buds. The species is one of our desert's favorites for visitors and I would also recommend one get down and smell their sweet fragrance. Just don't do it in this type of situation next to sand verbena that have an overpowering fragrance one doesn't need to get close to in order to notice haha. My own preference in close-ups is for sharply focused detail on intended subjects without soft or out of focus areas novice photographers often don't address. That requires understanding the depth of field possible on one's camera and not moving in too closely. Here one will note, the entire lily is crisply focused while only the important frame foreground area of verbena below the lily is in focus.
Next I found a nice tall desertgold sunflower I could lie on the ground in order to put the flowers and stems up against the partly cloudy blue sky. One of the most important skills of a close-up wildflower photographer is a willingness to lie on the ground and get dirty. Thus I wear appropriate clothes for doing so and at times may bring along a small body sized blue plastic tarp if say the ground is wet. A breeze was now strengthening from an easterly direction so I spent quite some time laying on the ground waiting for a moment the bobbing might stop and thus not blur the image. That key skill is intently watching flowers until they stop moving from breezes and then instantly actuating one's camera shutter as a lull may be just fractions of a second. And it is not just one's eyes that can be used as one can readily feel even a slight breeze on the hairs of one's skin. At times when a wait may be several minutes or longer, instead of intently watching a little flower, it is often easier to relax and instead watch vegetation up wind some distance for calming and when such occurs to move back into ready action. Luckily that calm occurred briefly and I actuated the shutter. Because I only bring my large Gitzo G-1325 with G-1318 center column along when using my view camera, I tend to position the tripod legs near where I will shoot and then brace up against the legs handholding my shots. Without my view camera, I put the Coolpix atop an old Benbo Trekker, back from my 35mm SLR days, that is a master of odd positioning.
Further along, I also located a nice tall desert fivespot plant with stems and flowers oriented so I might get those elements all in good focus glowing from backlighting. One of the primary strategies in making images of wildflowers, is finding situations where the subject elements are relatively equidistant from a lens position in order to allow good overall sharp subject focus. The more uneven the distances, the more one has to back off in distance. This turned out to be the best situation I've yet found for these uncommon flower favorites. Note for such backlit shots it is important to block the sun from shining anywhere on a lens else flare may result. And I even managed a nice image of one of the cryptantha species that with tiny white flowers are a type of flower I don't usually expect to provide aesthetic situations. However if one slows down and moves close to smaller species taking a few experimental images, the magnified results given aesthetic geometry are sometimes surprisingly pleasing.
north along Kelbaker Road in the eastern Mojave
Back at the parking lot, a half dozen cars were now parked at this otherwise lonely site and no doubt most had read the same web reports I had about blooming desert wildflowers. It was good to see increasing numbers of people seeking out our beautiful spring wildflowers in this age of the World Wide Web that provides such information to the general public as never before, allowing many to now experience the wonder of these fleeting remote blooms. I drove off east past the railroad stop of Amboy where large Bristol Dry Lake has salt and brine mineral mining, then a few miles further turned north up Kelbaker Road. Elevations along Kelbaker slowly increase as one moves northward and accordingly so do the numbers of wildflower species. In March of 2005 I had stopped at Brown Butte just south of the I40 junction and did so again for a lunch break. The noon sun was now intense, so I drove down the sandy 4WD track into a sandy wash where a palo verde, cercidum floridum, provided some shade. Winds had picked up too and were blowing my gear about some. After cooking a Knorr Lipton Pasta Sides Chicken package for lunch on my MSR Whisperlite backpacking stove and eating a banana, I continue north to Granite Pass at 4,024 feet in the Mojave National Preserve where most vegetation was still green above flowering elevations.
I turned around and drove back south past Brown Butte to areas where I had noticed considerable purple mat growing beside the road. I went to work trying to capture three species of belly flowers. It was the only constructive work I might pursue in windy conditions and the area had a lot to look at. I captured a nice situation of purple mat, nama dimissum with desert stars, monoptilion belloides. Another belly flower, yellow-hued Wallace's eriophyllum, eriophyllum wallacei, was not as abundant but I still managed to find a reasonable subject next to the showy magenta-hued purple mat. A couple hours later I drove south then explored down a remote dirt road into the Bristol Mountains. Nothing special there and I continued south back to Amboy Crater without a certain plan for late in the afternoon, that night, or the next day.
My open-ended trip plan was one of flexibility I would modify depending on conditions and weather. I wasn't too keen about staying in the Amboy Crater region as I'd already exposed a couple 4x5 sheets and nabbed several close-ups of species I wanted for my body of close-up work. I'd visited Kelbaker and there was nothing special to be done further thereabouts and in fact there were more wildflowers out when I passed through in March of 2005. On the east side of Amboy Crater well away from trail areas, through my binoculars, I could see some nice areas of sand verbena that I was rather certain would not have any tracks. Winds had been picking up and I expected that was due to a forecast storm set to move into California the next couple days. So staying about Amboy was not likely to be productive even if I did find some good subjects simply because it would be too windy. Thus with more clarity I made the decision to head to the south side of Joshua Tree.
south through Joshua Tree National Park
I drove south on Amboy Road past miles of drying lupine over Sheephole Pass and into the US Marine base community of 29 Palms that also contains the main JTNP headquarters. After adding some gas, it was north into the park at about 5:30pm, through the Pinto Mountains and down onto the Joshua tree highlands that was still too high elevation for many wildflowers. I just had enough time in the day to reach southern areas of Pinto Basin where I expected wildflowers would be peaking, so continued south without stopping. Arriving at the Porcupine Wash area I could see my expectations on where the flowers would be was correct. I briefly drove down the Black Eagle Mines dirt road and was surprised with the amount of flowers and especially one of the smaller desert poppy species. This was where I would work in the morning if winds allowed. With the sun setting, I continued south out of the park and onto a familiar dirt road into the nearby Orocopia Mountains I had previously camped at during my trip three weeks earlier.