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Every type of location presents its own photographic challenges. For the stark wilderness of Death Valley National Park, these can include harsh desert light, stark landscapes, and a vastness that can be daunting to capture in a single frame. In this course, travel along with author, teacher, and photographer Ben Long to Death Valley to learn about the challenges and techniques behind capturing the exotic beauty and surprising details of the desert.
It's a, it's a strange combination here, in Panamint Valley, and in Death Valley. There's expanse. There is scale. I've got just this big, empty, flat thing around me, and it feels really good for some reason. And it's strange, because I grew up in Oklahoma. I'm used to flat ground, and sky that goes on forever. And yet something about this, I just feel really comfortable. I think it's partly that I've got all this space, but it's bounded. I have these wonderful mountains around me, I'm in this kind of cozy little, gigantic howling wilderness. There's a great scene in Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence comes out of the desert and some reporter asks him, why do you like the desert so much Lawrence. And you know it's Peter O'Toole, and he's got those piercing blue eyes and, and he looks right at the guy and he says, it's clean.
And I know what he means, it's, everything's bleached out out here, and the dryness, it's really hot but you never actually feel like you're sweating, because your sweat just evaporates before you even know you have it. There's just this clean, stark, simple thing out here. All right. So if that's what I'm really feeling out here, how can I get that? How do you take a picture of that? And I, I need to stick with some of my formal compositional stuff here. I need a foreground and a background, the viewer's eye has to know what to do.
So I've been doing a lot of, as you've seen I've been doing a lot of this kind of thing, which is a nice enough formal composition. But what I'm getting at here is the scale and this vastness I, a wide-angle lens is, is your impulse in an environment like this. You might go wow look at all that stuff, here I better go as wide as possible and take a picture of it. And I get this and, my eye doesn't really know what to do there. So I want to combine these things. There's a sense of scale here that I want, which is leading me to think. I need to capture wider, but, I've still gotta keep my formal compositional stuff going.
I've still got to make sure that the viewer's eye knows what to do. And one of the nice things about some of the, these big plains and shapes and textures out here is they do give kind of compositional containers to work with. I'm going to go really exaggerated here. I've got my 16 to 35 on, and I'm going to get down here and go really, really ultra wide, but still maintaining some sense of foreground background relationship. So something like this.
Now, this is not actually what the scene looks like to my eye. This photo is creating a kind of gross exaggeration of what I am actually seeing. What I'm actually seeing is not that much distance from me to the island. This image though is showing a tremendous stretching It's showing a tremendous expansion of space and a much bigger sky than my eye sees. But I think this is a case where maybe that approach can kind of work, and I'm going to shoot this some more and see what I come up with.
There's an idea that you know when you're writing a play or a book or something, you have to take every day life and blow it up larger. You have to blow it up into drama. Painters get to do that inherently because they get add only the lines they want, they can decide where those lines go. As photographers it's very difficult because we're, we're dealing with a very Xerox copy of the world. So when I can exaggerate, when I can try to get the reality blown up a little bit into a more dramatic space. Maybe that's a way of approaching the possibility of representing the emotional state that I'm having here. So, I feel like good photos come from two places.
They come from that formal composition work, and they come from trying to identify what it is for you that strikes you about a scene. And then taking that formal compositional stuff and your technical understanding, and trying to understand how to use that vocabulary to express that thing that you've identified that you're feeling. This is a, a good way to try to explore it by thinking about taking the literal thing that's there and trying to make it more dramatic. As I do that I will hopefully come up with some good pictures and hopefully I'll also come up with a better understanding of what it is that I'm feeling while I'm out here.
Right now, I'm about to forget a lens, so I'm going to go back and get it.
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