Cholla at Midday

Yesterday I grabbed a sandwich for lunch and then drove over to the Gateway Trailhead, a small park on the Thompson Peak Parkway near where I work. After I gobbled down my sandwich, I got down to the real business of why I was visiting the park, and that was to take a few practice shots of the desert scenery. There were some beautiful cloud formations about that time yesterday, so I was hoping that I could find a composition that incorporated both the cacti and the clouds.

It turns out that’s a little harder than it sounds when you’re shooting toward the sky on a sunny day, while trying to keep your foreground subject properly exposed. Here’s a case in point–one of my favorite desert cacti is the cholla, sometimes known as the “jumping cactus”. When the sun is just right, the cholla seems to “glow” around the edges from the sunlight captured in the nearly-white spines. In the golden hour, it’s a beautiful thing. In the high-noon sun–not so much.

I played around with this one to try and get as much detail back in to the scene as possible, but it’s still a little blown out. I’m posting it anyway, because I think it’s a good lesson for me to remember–don’t shoot the cholla at High Noon (sounds like a Western movie title, doesn’t it?).

Cholla at Midday
Single image shot with my Nikon D700, 24-300mm zoom @ 28mm, F/16, 1/80s, ISO 100

Oh, and one more lesson–don’t go walking around in the desert in your thin-soled Mootsies Tootsies that you wore to work. The cactus spines will go right through them. Speaking from experience.

Gateway Trailhead and HDR Nirvana

Since there was this big football game yesterday (Who Dat!!), I took an entire day off from my new obsession and managed to keep my hands off the camera for an entire day.  But I made up for it this evening.  As soon as the workday was over, I got in the car and headed east on Bell Road, took a left on Thompson Peak Parkway, and pulled in to the Gateway Trailhead, a beautiful spot at the base of the mountains.  There are several trails there along with an unmanned visitor’s center and a small ampitheatre.  Tonight the sunset was gorgeous again, and so me, my Nikon and my tripod spent about an hour taking multiple series of bracketed shots for HDR processing.

I wound up with a total of 93 shots, so tonight I only processed the first thirty into ten HDR photos.  And I have to say that I’m pleased with the first ten.

For once, it seemed like I had my mind in gear and I was able to take my time and compose the shots that I wanted.  I played with the tripod, raising and lowering it so that I could get different angles on the shots (maybe Santa will be good to me this year and bring me a tripod with a ball head!).  There was a great variety of vegetation as well as the structures of the visitor’s center and the bridges so that there was always something to add interest to the photos.

For all these shots, I used my normal lens (18-55mm zoom), set to aperture-priority, ISO 200, and I bracketed +/- 2.0 EV.  I processed and tone-mapped the shots in Photomatix.

I can’t wait to continue processing the rest of these tomorrow night.  Darn it, if I didn’t have to go work…

You can view the entire set on my Flickr page by clicking here.