I met a girl, her name is Tanya. She’s beautiful, if a bit hairy…

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Well, I was warned it might happen. Come to California, cross paths with a beautiful woman and never go back to England. And indeed, yesterday I met a special kind of lady, the type you can’t help but notice. She’s quiet, a little bigger than I like ’em and perhaps sprouting a little too much body hair for my tastes but when you’re bitten, there’s little you can do about it. Here’s a picture…


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She’s a tarantula, about as big as my hand and when I first saw her, about 12 inches away from me I made the sort of sound that cannot be considered manly in any way. I don’t apologise for that. Even the staff at the hotel were impressed by her size and the fact that I’d seen her in the wild. We quite literally crossed paths, me walking south to north, her east to west. I was walking across the desert to get a closer look at the unique stone formations they have here. The desert was doing it’s usual trick of diminishing size in your eye. I had walked for forty minutes and seemed no closer to my destination than when I started. I was beginning to consider turning back when I met Tanya. What a gal.

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The real purpose of this post though is to talk about why light is of such interest to us photographers. Or rather, the control of light and why being in a place such as this holds such fascination for us. It isn’t just because it’s beautiful. It’s because the light does things here that it doesn’t do anywhere else. I’m in a valley that sits at sea level in the rain shadow of four mountain ranges. The valley has the two lowest points in the western hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. Dante’s View on the other hand, is 5475 feet above sea level. So we are talking a landscape of extreme highs and lows.

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The four photos above taken at Golden Canyon, approaching sunset. Easy to see how it got its name.

This does interesting things with light. One of the best times to photograph is when the light is low, at sunrise or sunset. If you’re at the lower levels of the valley, this produces interesting effects. Take a look at the following pictures, taken in the same place within minutes of each other. I was shooting the mountain ranges, low sun making the valley floor and rocks ‘glow’ with colour when the sun would dip below the other, higher mountain ranges edging the valley. It was like flicking a light switch. The valley floor would suddenly be dark, while the peaks were still bathed in sunlight. Rocks that were a coppery umber would suddenly be black and grey. Above them, the mountain peaks still retained their sun kissed hue. The photographs taken after the sun dips below the horizon almost look faked, as if the colour has been deliberately removed . It’s an amazing experience when you’re actually standing in the middle of it. The light of the world changes in an instant.

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With the sun low for shadow but still high enough to illuminate the valley floor

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A different exposure to emphasise shadow

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Much lower sun now as can be seen from the sky

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Open up the aperture to let more light in but look at the lower rocks. They’ve lost all their glow but still retain their brown colour until…

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The sun is off the valley floor completely. You can tell from the colour of the sky, now looking brighter as I’ve opened the aperture right up in order to expose the dark rocks completely. No digital tomfoolery here, it’s all done through aperture control. As I am fond of telling people; photography is the control of light.

On another day I visited a ghost town nearby, Rhyolite. There was the carcass of an old truck there, weathered, all beautiful curves and a lovely black-blue complexion in the setting sun. I love old, rusting hulks like this, they are symphonies of texture and shape. Rhyolite also has a house made from bottles, which you can see below. Alas, it’s protected by a wire fence but again, at the right time, with the low sun hitting it, there are a few minutes when it melts perfectly into the mountains behind it.

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Well, that’s my brief chat about light. The next blog will be about one specific site, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Here’s a sneak peek…

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Take a look at more of my work at www.billblack.co.uk