The winding road

(clickity click on the image for a biggity big version)

I know, a road shot right?

This is yet another shot from my trip to Nelson/El Dorado Canyon southeast of Las Vegas back in mid-March. The clouds, the light, the winding road…were almost too much fro me to handle. I saw too many shots I loved and had to reel myself in thinking “Do you really need 25 more road shots Mike??

My real, unabashed answer to that from deep inside me is YES…but in reality, certain road shots are special, most aren’t and you gotta know when it’s worth it.

This photo was actually unplanned…I had parked on the other side of the road and was shooting some Cholla cactus on a hillside that were amazing looking with the sunlight (you may remember this shot). But as I turned to walk back to the car, I just stopped and saw the road.

A quick pause here. I love being a photographer. I love looking at something and seeing beauty in it that perhaps another person would never notice. It’s something to embrace.

The image above, for me, was full of unique elements that made it worth shooting. First off the light shining further up the road. The second was the way the elevation slopes upwards instead of down. The way it winds right to left and then back right. The way it rises on the bends. The clouds. The hills.

Sometimes scenes like this one speak only to us, not others. Not everyone else is going to appreciate it, or love it the way I do. But that’s okay. Be proud of what you see and what you compose. Own it, grow it, get better at it.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/2.8, iso 100)

Cold Mountain

Arizona Desert Snow Photography

(please click on me, I look better a bit bigger with a nice, dark frame around me – sincerely, the image above)

Sometimes the movies I pick for Movie Title Wednesdays are ones that I absolutely love and would watch a hundred times over. However, on some occasions, I love them mainly because the title fits perfectly with the photo I want to use.

At the same time…you can always be sure I’ve at least SEEN the movie. That is my one rule.

So this week we have Cold Mountain, a film starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman (pre-plastic) and Renee Zellweger.  The main plot revolves around Law’s character as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War and his trip back home to Cold Mountain. I don’t remember hardly a thing about the plot, but I almost always remember when I liked a movie and this one was pretty good.

You can forget the movie at this point (although I’d love to hear how many of you have seen it and liked it) because the title is really all that matters. This image is one I shot back in late December when we had some crazy snow storms blow through Arizona. Around noon that day I saw some pretty good storms building up the Beeline Highway so I dragged my wife and daughter out there and basically we roamed that area until sunset.

The light was incredible after every wave of storm went by. Such clear, crisp air allowed these amazing views. This was just a shot in the late afternoon after a big storm cell moved through dumping even more snow. I just love the hilltop coated with the white stuff in contrast with the desert below and the dark, menacing clouds in the background.

This kind of black and white processing is something I’ve worked on since the beginning of the year and cannot wait to use during stormchasing season this summer. There is something beautiful about the relationship between stormy weather and black & white. I just love it.

(exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/20, iso 100)


Over the Fence: Auto Union

(Enjoy a larger view by clicking the image to view in lightbox…I know I do)

This is another shot in my “Over the Fence” series, which is in reality my neighbor’s backyard. A few weeks ago I posted how this came about and you can read more about it right here.

I cannot be sure, but this car appears to be closely related to an Auto Union 1000, a compact front-wheel vehicle manufactured between 1958 and 1963.  It builds a bit of a picture in my head of the kind of old cars my neighbor likes, because another one I found was also a compact, or “micro” car, from 1953.

Hidden behind a walled in area except for this little portion of the trunk, I dug the contrast between the rust and the green grass and oleanders. And despite not exactly wanting to shoot at the time I did, I kind of enjoy the little dots of light coming through the bushes.

More to come at some point…and likely a second trip through that yard.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/2.0, iso 100, 1/250 sec)

Here’s looking at you kid

Legos AT-AT Walker Star Wars

(for those with smaller resolutions, click on the image to see it without having to scroll)

I’ve always loved Legos, ever since I was a little kid. My brother and I have pictures of us every Christmas surrounded by new Lego sets, just anxious to build them and then tear them apart to make what we really wanted.

Because when you are younger and play with Legos, it’s all about your imagination. I wont even get into everything that we made as kids.

These days…as I approach 40…Legos are still fun, but I treat them differently. I buy the Technic sets, or the original Star Wars sets, and then put them on a shelf to admire. They are pretty much models to me now.

The set in the image above is of a AT-AT Walker from Return of the Jedi. The actual size of this thing is over 1.5 feet, which is massive. It took a couple of sittings over a weekend to finish. It’s huge. Lots of pieces. Awesome.

So why did I take a photoof it? Well, this photographer I know named Chris Nitz takes some sweet pictures of Legos. And then he came up with an awesome idea for Lego Wars (read about it here) and I just had to participate.

I’ve never done anything like this before, so it was a total experiment. I had an idea of wanting to shoot this big guy as he looked down on a little Lego man, but it didn’t work out. What I did do is place a blue light from a pen I had inside the head to give the eyes a blueish glow. Behind the model I put a simple flashlight to give some backlight and shadows. Shot the entire thing on the back patio. In post-processing I played with the Cyberpunk filter in Phototools to give it an overall blue tone.

A ton of fun to do and execute. I’m looking forward next time to doing something with actual Lego men…and with that I need to visit the Lego store in town to snatch up some of them.

Thanks a lot Chris for putting this together and can’t wait to see all the entries!

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/2.2, iso 100, 20 seconds)

Over the Fence: Oxidation

(Image looks a bit sharper and cooler if you click to view in lightbox)

This is the first image of what will be an ongoing series that I’m dubbing “Over the Fence.” There is a bit of a backstory on this, so hopefully you don’t mind reading a few extra words today.

We moved  into this 100-year old, downtown Phoenix house back in November and met a few of our neighbors right off the bat. Great people. One of them was a guy named John who has lived on our block for over 20 years and owns five houses just on our street. He rents them, fixes them up and is usually seen running up and down the sidewalks working on something.

From our upstairs guest house we can see down into a small portion of one his backyards. Ever since I saw the rusted old cars he has back there, I’ve longed to explore what else might exist “over the fence.” It took me a bit of time to ask, because I didn’t want to appear like some weirdo, but when I finally did he had no problem. Sure, go over there anytime I want and here is where you open the gate.

I took him up on the offer last Friday afternoon. My daughter and I wandered over to what is actually TWO backyards since he owns the adjoining house and has a portion of the fence taken down. After a brief overall exploration, I was dumbfounded to find over TWELVE CARS in this guy’s backyard. Twelve.

Sadly or fantastically, depending on how you look at it…most of these cars are in vast degrees of deterioration and are hidden in little nooks and crannies of the backyard. I actually found out later than one of his houses which basically cannot be saved and needs to be bulldozed, has two cars INSIDE it. I’m kind of nervous about stepping foot inside a condemned house, but I think I may need to ask that question.

Now, he seems to collect a lot of “micro cars” from long ago. One of the pictures I’ll post later this week is of a 1953 BMW Isetta 300. It’s tiny, like a true and actual Mini Cooper.

This one in the above picture was pretty amazing, especially when you got to the front of the car and the exposed, completely rusted out engine. The view in the photo is the rear-left tail light or what is left of it. I was struck by the rich details of the paint, the rust and the streaks of white coming from these “legions” all over the trunk.

Needless to say, I’m hoping to get back in that yard soon. I believe on my first run I only got about 1/10th of what is possible and I only left because Lyla told me it was time to go. She has a way of getting me to do what she wants…I think it’s because she’s super cute and I’m a big pushover.

Regardless, I hope you are jealous. Having this kind of stuff to shoot about 20 feet away is heck of a lot of fun.

As Kenny Banya once said: “That’s GOLD Jerry…GOLD!”

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, iso 100, f/2.2)

The Mighty Colorado

(click on the image for a lightbox version with a sexy dark frame)

I’d toss this into more of an abstract category that I like to do from time to time. Some of you know I was inspired a bit by the black and white work of Mitch Dobrowner and so from time to time I like to process my landscapes/stormscapes with a very stylized B&W treatment.

After my drive through El Dorado canyon last week outside of Las Vegas, I parked and walked down a wash to the Colorado River. The desert around this area was pretty stark. I mostly liked the mountains across the river and how the fading sunlight was falling on them.

I wanted to get a bit closer to the mountains so I used my 50mm 1.4 and slapped every ND filter I had on it, but they only added up to about 6-stops so I could only get around 10-12 seconds at f/22 before it was over-exposed.

Still, it gave the water an interesting texture anyways…so much so that when I processed it in B&W, it almost started to look less like water and more like some weird landscape.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/22, iso 100, 10 seconds)


Dark City

(click on the image above to see it fit to your desktop resolution…and view it in a nicely framed lightbox)

I’m a huge science fiction movie fan. Not really so much the silly stuff that’s out there, but more of the solid, make-you-think kind of films, like Primer, Children of Men or Moon. When I completed this image and decided to use it for Movie Title Wednesday, I actually was thinking Inception at first, but without realizing it, I had been saying the true title to myself over and over while staring at it.

Dark City.

First off, I need to be honest. I saw the movie a long time ago and most of what I remember is that Keifer Sutherland was in it…it was dark and the ending was awesome. Oh, and I liked it. But I forgot everything else. I had to look up the plot again on IMDB just to remind myself. I even failed to remember that Jennifer Connelly was in it…and that’s hard to do.

If you haven’t seen it and love great sci-fi, go rent it asap. Almost everyone I know who has seen it thought it was brilliant. It’s kind of a cult classic in the way that not everyone knows about it but at the same time has a huge following. Like Firefly.

Also, if you haven’t seen Primer, Children of Men or Moon…well, rent them too.

This photo comes from two nights ago after it rained for half the day. I was hoping it would start clearing up before the sun went down and I got lucky. What I love about weather…is that even if I’m in the most urban of environments, I can still include it in my images. The leftover puddles…the clouds. I basically left home with the idea to find reflections in puddles wherever I could and I can’t wait to post the other shots I got from this night.

One last thing about this image. It’s HDR. It’s kind of dark. There are details you can’t see because of the shadows. And I love it. Don’t be afraid to process your high dynamic range images with details lost  in shadows. I know it seems counter-intuitive to capture the entire light range of a scene and then not show it all…but I urge you to give it a shot.

Also, I shot this with my 50mm 1.4. I *heart* that lens.

Cholla Hill

(Clicking on the image gives you a sweeter look in lightbox)

This is another shot from my brief little trip to the Nelson/El Dorado Canyon area southeast of Las Vegas on Wednesday. I have to say…I’ve really been loving these little trips after working on the road. I do a little research the night before (or the day of) and find something that looks interesting. Since I’m working with locals, I ask them if they know anything cool close by and then scout it out on Google Maps.

This hilltop jumped out at me. It was literally peppered with hundreds of Cholla cactus…something we also know as “Jumping Cactus” around these parts. There is a special reason for that, a fact you out-of-towners may need to pay attention to since I’ve heard a few of you would LOVE to visit Arizona someday (we have these there too, they aren’t only in Nevada).

Jumping cactus grow just fine and aren’t much of a threat…but when those lower growths start to die, they fall off and disperse/pile-up on the desert floor. The big issue is…if you walk over these dead needles in a pair of normal sneakers…prepare to have some sharp pains in your foot very quickly. The needles seem to “jump” at your shoe and burrow their way into them and right into your foot. And really it’s not just your shoe, but your entire body. Keep clear if you can.

Here’s a shot of a poor soul who had no idea.

I loved this scene. The sun was setting on the left side of the frame and really lit up the tops of each cactus. You usually see these all over, but it’s a little more rare to find a giant “forest” of them like this.

It’s amazing how much photography has made me appreciate the deserts. I just love exploring them these days.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/22, iso 100)




(Looks a bit nicer in a lightbox…just click on it for a larger version)

I took another drive Wednesday afternoon, this time I was on the hunt for an old ghost town called Nelson that was south of Boulder City. I found it, but I wasn’t loving it and the big one that they talk about is kind of a man-made deal…not my cup of tea.

But the desert mountains and surrounding scenery was breathtaking. The road goes on past Nelson and winds through what is known as El Dorado Canyon. The pavement ends at the Colorado River which was something I definitely wanted to check out.

On the hike back from the river, I walked up a wash that flows to the Colorado. This wash has signs EVERYWHERE about how the flash flood potential is extremely high. Made me want to be up about 50 feet along the edges to witness an awesome flash flood someday *grin*

The wash was bordered on each side by cliffs and the sun was basically on the horizon shining straight towards me on my walk back. I spotted this desert bloom in the sunlight and had to snatch a shot of it. I love the shot, I had the camera basically resting on the ground, but I do wish I had been able to just lay there to get the shot perfectly focused…I think it’s slightly soft. Still, I dig the bokeh.

It’s mid-March already and with all the rain the deserts got this winter, I expect the wildflowers are going to be amazing. This little guy is just the sign of things to come.

(exif: canon eos 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/1.8, iso 100, 1/800 sec)