Sonoran Desert Playground
A few weeks ago I went on a 10-day road trip through the Desert Southwest and one of the areas I explored was the Sonoran Desert around Tucson, AZ. This photography trip was different from my normal outings in that I took a DSLR along with my film cameras. I wanted to try the Nikon D850 so I rented this camera along with a Nikon 80-400mm lens to play around with. I’ll probably write more on this camera since it’s a “hot” camera right now and I’ll compare my experience with it compared to the D750 I recently tried. I don’t really care too much about camera specs since I believe cameras are just tools. These 4 images are all from the D850 and the files are larger than 99% of us will ever need. It’s also common knowledge in the photography community that making a sharp, technically good image with today’s tools is quite easy. But as some guy who made some nice pictures of Yosemite once said, “There’s nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept.” I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Adams.
An obvious advantage to using a DSLR vs the film cameras I’ve been using for 30 months now is the instant review of images. These blurred images are a good example of how seeing the image at the moment of capture can lead to a more intentional final image. I shot variations of this scene above but probably fewer than you’d expect. If shooting film has taught me anything, it’s that I’m much more selective of when I open the shutter. I think I have fewer than 15 variations of this scene, not 200.
The 2nd image is another single exposure showing thorns of a cholla cactus and the smoothed out colors within this rugged desert plant. Everything in the Sonoran Desert has thorns as a way to protect it from predators. These sharp thorns are only visible from certain distances and perspectives though. From a distance, the desert’s colors begin to blend together in ever-changing varieties. You may be wondering why some of the image is blurred by motion while the thorns still appear fairly sharp. How is this possible with just one exposure and moving the camera? I’ll leave this question alone for now.
The 3rd image is a little more inline with a traditional motion blurred exposure. Blue shadows, warm highlights and reddish-purple accents blend together in this single exposure. I frequently mention how I’m not interested in showing what a scene looks like and this, along with the other 3 images here, should demonstrate this point sufficiently. You can’t see this with your eyes to state this simply. One of my inspirations for creating this image was the wind. It’s rare to have a calm day in the desert and this day was not one of those rare, calm days. Everything was swaying and in constant motion, moving gently back and forth in the wind. I wanted to express some of this motion and how it gave the impression of swirling and blending colors.
The final image is again a single exposure showing much more deliberate motion while still retaining a variety of color. You’ll notice the same idea here as in the 2nd image with parts of each image being blurred yet parts nearly stationary. Why aren’t those parts blurred too if this is a single exposure? This was all in camera btw and a single image, single exposure. I won’t answer this question but I will say that sometimes the wind dies down before gusting again. I wanted to express this through a single image and the image itself is the only important thing, not how I did it. One other note on this image/style is that the Nikon D850 didn’t make this image. I could’ve made this same image on my Nikon FM (1978) film camera. Maybe a the type of camera you have/want isn’t nearly as important as you think it is. You can decide.
I’ll wrap this up with my favorite photography quote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but seeing with new eyes.”