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JMB
6-Mar-2014, 14:37
It seems to be that I ran across a paragraph in Weston's Daybooks in which he reported some advise that Ansel Adams had given him about peculiar light characteristics in Death Valley that impacted metering or perhaps filters. If I remember correctly, Weston did an unsatisfying shoot in Death Valley and then returned armed with the advise. I don't have the Daybooks with me now. Does anyone happen to recall something along these lines in the Daybooks? Perhaps I even have the story reversed and the source is something Adams may have written. In any case, does this cryptic recollection trigger any thoughts about Weston's or Adams' thoughts about exposure issues in Death Valley?

Vaughn
6-Mar-2014, 14:42
My first thought is just that the quality of light is far different from the moist coast (soft) than the dry desert (hard, as in contrasty). I do not remember the advise in the Daybooks, but it has been awhile. Curious to read other thoughts on this.

Erik Larsen
6-Mar-2014, 15:13
I seem to recall Adams telling Weston to use a yellow filter but not to apply a filter factor for the filter when determining exposure.

blueribbontea
6-Mar-2014, 15:21
Not the Daybooks, I think.

Andrew O'Neill
6-Mar-2014, 16:01
I seem to recall Adams telling Weston to use a yellow filter but not to apply a filter factor for the filter when determining exposure.

I remember reading this too, I think it was in Adams' Letters book.

Vaughn
6-Mar-2014, 17:53
Just went thru Letters and could not find any reference to yellow filters in any of the letters to EW from AA -- except to use as safe-light filter (sort of). But I was using the index for the search, so it might have missed something (you can't judge a book by the cover -- or know the contents from the index!)

Erik Larsen
6-Mar-2014, 18:08
It's in the book "Examples" under the "sand dunes, sunrise" section. But it was Weston telling Adams about the filter

lab black
6-Mar-2014, 18:11
To the best of my memory, Edward Weston suggested to Ansel Adams to use a medium yellow filter and process at plus one, while ignoring the filter factor. when making images of the sand dunes. This is something that Ansel has written and possibly, it may be either in "The Negative," "The Print," or "Examples." I have used this technique with great success in Death Valley for many years.

Jmarmck
6-Mar-2014, 18:37
I have not shot Death Valley in about 30 years. The ones I do have of the region all lack definition between the background mountains and sky, a filtering issue. I would liken the bright ground and sand as shooting snow but with a bit less adjustment. So I think lab black is right. I did see some really nice dune shots in a filtering example using a medium or light orange. Perhaps a polarizer too.

ROL
6-Mar-2014, 19:09
I use a yellow or deep yellow filter to reduce blue and increase micro-contrast and end up with N-1 development in most cases of B/W landscape work, with the exception of Golden Hour when no contraction is necessary. There is a lot of yellow earth in DV and perhaps the suggestion (whoever made it) came from resolving contrast between reds and dun colors. Of course, there is also a lot more atmosphere to shoot through than in higher elevations.

All the excitement of late about DV is somewhat perplexing to me. I suppose it may come somewhat from a long cabin fever winter, for some snowbirds. I find that meaningful fine art photography in DV can be difficult even when well planned, but returned last weekend after a number of years to take advantage of potential storm light. Regrettably, it turned out to be mostly rather flat filtered sunlight or bland overcast. Finding myself often perpendicular to the light, I used a polarizer where significant sky was included a bit more than expected. I took a full frontal of the Artist Palette sans filter as a test to see how well the tones were "naturally" resolved using my standard film and developer. Perhaps I will post it once I get it proofed. BTW, there were a s--tload of serious (e.g., with tripods and bizarrely long lenses ;)) digital shooters about.


P.S. I found a discussion by Adams in Book 4, Natural-Light Photography, of the Basic Photo Series which includes almost all points made above depending on circumstance and eventual resolution. In other words, a good understanding of light, filter use, and visualization trumps any particular circumstance. He made specific mention of Weston's DV work even at high noon under full sun.

Vaughn
6-Mar-2014, 20:53
100% on your PS.

Looks like we missed each other by a couple of days -- I left Death Valley the Thursday evening before you arrived. Rain a little where I was on Wednesday night/early morning, and some not-half-bad clouds on Thursday, but it got hot (90F) that day -- cooler on the days before the rains. Those of us living in temperate rain forests of the Pacific NW do like to head out in the desert occasionally to get rid of the mold that tends to grow between the toes and in the ears. It took a couple of days to get to the Eureka Valley Sand Dunes from Eureka, CA (arriving in the late afternoon). Then 5 days of photographing (and driving!) around Death Valley before heading to Yosemite, where I photographed for a full day and once on the way out. About eleven 8x10 images in DV (and two 11x14), and seven 8x10 images in Yosemite Valley (plus five 11x14) -- plus a few rolls of 120 thru the Rolleiflex before it gave up the ghost (time to send it off for repair and cleaning). Not too bad...perhaps minimal by some folks standards, but I was also in a major relaxing mode, also.

Just read the story about the yellow filter in Examples. Don't exactly agree with his use of words (a yellow filter causes over-exposure of yellow objects), but the actual concept is sound.

Jmarmck
6-Mar-2014, 22:24
If you like Eureka and Death Valley, try Saline valley to the NW. The road in is long and last I heard rough thru the S pass. There are two hot springs there, upper and lower. Used to be that one could just camp and soak in the springs or self made Jacuzzis. All you had to do was be respectful. They are located on the eastern pediment in the middle of the valley. The road passes right by some nice dunes too. There is a trail that leads from Saline to the back side of the Eureka Dune over a pass and down something called winding staircase. I am not sure if you an drive that anymore. Regulations. But that was some 30 odd years ago. But it was a great trip at the time. There was an old mining operation with free sulfur laying on the ground somewhere near there. Very weird place. I would like to return with the knowledge I have now.

Vaughn
6-Mar-2014, 22:51
I saw lots of dirt bikes and 4wd rigs doing some sort of loop route from Eureka Valley to Saline Valley. I do not have a rig that can handle the road from either end. Saline Valley is probably a nice place, but no desire to go there.

JMB
7-Mar-2014, 00:26
Thank you!

I had been to Death Valley twice before my latest recent trip. I suddenly fell in love with the place this time.

Jmarmck
7-Mar-2014, 07:51
I saw lots of dirt bikes and 4wd rigs doing some sort of loop route from Eureka Valley to Saline Valley. I do not have a rig that can handle the road from either end. Saline Valley is probably a nice place, but no desire to go there.
Well that is somewhat distressing. It was my understanding that BLM had shutdown all the off road stuff. I last saw the place around Christmas of 1982.....before the intrusion of dirt bikes and 4 wheelers. I had a brand new Datsun 4x4 pickup that made the trip between Eureka and Saline with out a dent. TBH, I love Saline. Eureka with the dune is cool, DV is a wonder all its own. But I think that the most striking valley is Panamint just to the west of DV. Still, Saline is my favorite.

Vaughn
7-Mar-2014, 09:28
No vehicals allowed on the dunes. Both Saline and Eureka Valleys are now part of Death Valley National Park -- no BLM land).

http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/upload/Backcountry-Roads-Map.pdf

Andrew O'Neill
7-Mar-2014, 10:12
All the excitement of late about DV is somewhat perplexing to me. I suppose it may come somewhat from a long cabin fever winter, for some snowbirds.

When you are rained on 24/7, the thought of being in a dry place for a few days sounds great!

Jmarmck
7-Mar-2014, 10:30
I lived in Mammoth Lakes for a few years. The winters there would demand at least a few weekends during the winter escaping the snow and cold. Saline, DV, Eureka were great places to go. Saline mostly because of the hot springs. I just wish I had better photographs of my time there.

Drew Wiley
7-Mar-2014, 10:31
Color photography (other than conspicuous sunrise and sunset tints) is even harder because most color film respond poorly to all wonderful mineral colors and neutrals one encounters. I've never personally needed any change in procedure shooting black and white in Death Valley. Just like other high-contrast desert situations I'd pick a long-scale "straight-line" 8x10 film like Bergger 200 or now TMY400, and with care, something like ACROS in 4x5. Just carry the same filter set as anywhere else in the mtns or desert. This whole AA rumor wouldn't necessarily apply to today's films and specific filter choices today anyway... not to mention there is a great diversity of potential lighting situations in Death Valley as a general park, where you might be operating anywhere from below sea level clear up into the snow above.

Drew Wiley
7-Mar-2014, 10:38
Saline is a treasure in its own right, but you need to be well supplied. It's most easily accessed from the north end, where the pass can easily snow shut for a week at a time or more when Saline is itself comfortable. Always check with official ranger offices before taking any odd roads in that area. No place to get stuck. I remember soaking in one of those hot springs by moonlight once while some venison steaks were grilling on a Coleman stove on the tailgate. Dern coyote walked
right up and pulled one right off the hot grill! Then that particular spot got hippified by some snowbirders until the park drove em out. But Saline is a big big area,
and the adjacent Inyos are an extremely rugged range - again, no place to go hiking if you're not very well prepared and conditioned.

ROL
7-Mar-2014, 11:04
P.S. I found a discussion by Adams in Book 4, Natural-Light Photography, of the Basic Photo Series which includes almost all points made above depending on circumstance and eventual resolution. In other words, a good understanding of light, filter use, and visualization trumps any particular circumstance. He made specific mention of Weston's DV work even at high noon under full sun.

Okay, so here is the bent poop from the Desert Photography section of the book, which for some reason seems to have been left out of the later versions of The Negative when the Basic Photo Series was folded into the new series of three books, and I believe addresses many of the issues queried in this thread.


Moderately strong filters may be justified to overcome the general lack of contrast in desert environments, with the exception of red rock country of the American Southwest. Frequently, because of strong sun and atmospheric effects, contrast will appear to be higher than it actually is. Vast open skies can produce brighter open shadows from reflected illumination. The brilliance of the "high key" light is what defines the desert for many, and I suspect the normal reason to go to DV, and small shadows may be visualized as very black in order to provide important contrast.

A practical solution is to use filters of moderate strength (NO REDS, unless your intention is not natural light photography), lower your (zone) placements, and expand development N+1, to attain sufficient contrast.

With respect to specific filtration of the un–red rock desert (where green is highly recommended) yellows can be used. When yellow is employed without applying a filter factor yellow rock will be recorded with almost the same opacity in the negative as if no filter were used. But, blues (e.g., sky) will be darkened to a greater extent than if an exposure factor were applied with normal exposure. If a yellow filter reduced sky values by one zone using normal exposure and applying the filter factor, it might, with normal exposure and no filter factor, further lower the sky values an additional zone. Two, two for the price of one!

For the straight poop, read Adams for yourself and interpret as you see fit!

I happen to have a copy of the Adams and Newhall Death Valley book (my wife keeps buying these books for me at used bookstores in Pasadena) and took the opportunity to review the pictures in it last night. Despite the rather poor printing, one can see examples of application of his technique and visualizations as relates above.


For myself, my normal desires do not include high key visualizations, and seeking storm light in the desert precludes some of Adams' general advice, in these circumstances. I have had very good success with deep yellow filters and N or N-1 development, depending on the light, at Eureka Dunes (i.e., sand and sky). For DV proper this time around, I exposed two negatives at the Artist Palette, one as stated previously, and another including the sky with a polarizer, which worked exceptionally strongly for me for a change. I did not use a yellow filter for true educational purposes and comparing of negatives, at that location. Both negatives appear to be very fine tonally, however, I've learned that the use of the Pyro developer often belies their eventual transferal into a fine print. Shooting in the desert will test your understanding of exposure and printing in a similar fashion to snow, as no where else can.

Sorry I missed you Vaughn.

ROL
7-Mar-2014, 11:08
When you are rained on 24/7, the thought of being in a dry place for a few days sounds great!

I lived in Portland, OR for a couple of years. I was never so happy to return to California, for a number of reasons (I get to pump my own gas!). I am still cleaning fungus out from my ears ;). Those people are f'ing crazy up there when they hit the desert.

Jmarmck
7-Mar-2014, 11:13
Saline is a treasure in its own right, but you need to be well supplied. It's most easily accessed from the north end, where the pass can easily snow shut for a week at a time or more when Saline is itself comfortable. Always check with official ranger offices before taking any odd roads in that area. No place to get stuck. I remember soaking in one of those hot springs by moonlight once while some venison steaks were grilling on a Coleman stove on the tailgate. Dern coyote walked
right up and pulled one right off the hot grill! Then that particular spot got hippified by some snowbirders until the park drove em out. But Saline is a big big area,
and the adjacent Inyos are an extremely rugged range - again, no place to go hiking if you're not very well prepared and conditioned.

The truth for sure. I returned through the north pass when I took the Steele Pass to Eureka. I had chains on all four tires of the truck. At that time the south pass was the more reliable route but the north was prone to snow though it was far shorter trip from Mammoth. I once tried the Sierra Gordo pass in the snow. Got within 100 yards before I had to turn around. Just about ran it out of gas. That is something else to carry, extra gas................and water. We had flax water bags hanging from the front of the truck just in case. Had to use it a couple times too.

When I was there it was always hippyish or more accurately "desert rat" kind of place...............until some group from Napa Valley or some such place would invade. But those groups normally went to the upper springs were the pools were newer. The view is from either site is astounding. Directions at that time were, "Just turn left at the burned out road grader." It was rumored to have been burned my Charlie Manson, a subject you did not talk about with the regulars.

Drew Wiley
7-Mar-2014, 11:51
I ceased to be amused by the snowbirders when they took white rocks, probably dolomite, and made a big giant "peace" sign with this on the side of that beautiful
red volcano behind the springs. There were quite a few other alleged "improvements" to the area which were deemed improper for a Natl Park. I still remember the
place when it was relatively pristine. Some years the side roads can be almost impassible, if not deliberately closed. Extra gas, lots of extra water, extra tires.....

Drew Bedo
7-Mar-2014, 12:22
Death Valley is the lowest point in North America (the world?), with other things being equal, won't the air also be denser than anywhere else?

ROL
7-Mar-2014, 12:29
Of course, there is also a lot more atmosphere to shoot through than in higher elevations.

Drew Wiley
7-Mar-2014, 13:13
Death Valley is largely free from pollution, so the air can be remarkably clear even at lower elevations. Dust storms obviously impact that equation in certain spots.
It's when you get over into Panamint Valley that some of the stirred up pollution from Owen's lakebed seems to start kicking in a little; but even it is relatively clean.
Saline Valley is a bit higher. But on any photographic trip to any of these areas you might find yourself at distinctly higher elevations, even on the road. Not to mention there might be a temptation just to swing over to someplace like Whitney Portal for a day, since it's so close.

Jmarmck
7-Mar-2014, 13:57
I just looked at the lower springs on Google Earth and saw that three arrows passing thru a circle like it was indicating a bearing. Dark rock too. I did not see the peace symbol.

Dolomite? I thought that was travertine?.............not that it matters. The color variation in the rock have always fascinated me but I have never been able to capture the tonal much less color variations to my liking. Again, filtering is the issue.

Would the variation in the rock force a choice in filtering, pick a color to highlight so to speak?

Bill_1856
7-Mar-2014, 14:23
Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall wrote a very good and informative entire little book about Death Valley. Worth reading ahead if you're gong there.

Drew Wiley
7-Mar-2014, 14:32
I'll have to take a look. The peace sign vandalism didn't exist when I visited Saline Valley long ago. It has shown up in many pictures since, and might be changing as the NP slowly dismantles it. There is also an Indian tribe that claims sacredness to the hill and has objected to it being there. My guess it that it's dolomite because that is the most common kind of white rock in adjacent ranges. No travertine around there as I recall. The pools at the springs are artificially encased with concrete. There used to be a lot of banana-shaped red lava bombs atop that hill. Salt would have dissolved by now, though it was once mined in Saline Valley (hence the name). The miners went to the almost superhuman effort of building a tram clear over the Inyos - a very steep rough range at that vicinity. But just about the time they were finished, the salt evaporation pits in the south part of SF Bay were commercially operating at obviously vastly lower expense, so all that effort in Saline Valley was a waste. I find it a remarkable ironical story of stubborn resolve to get rich ending up in sheer futility.

ROL
7-Mar-2014, 17:01
Would the variation in the rock force a choice in filtering, pick a color to highlight so to speak?

Absolutely! A good learning opportunity all the way around.

ROL
7-Mar-2014, 17:03
I remember soaking in one of those hot springs by moonlight once while some venison steaks were grilling on a Coleman stove on the tailgate. Dern coyote walked
right up and pulled one right off the hot grill!

Ha! That coyote suit works every time. A little less rare next time, please. …meep, meep!

dsphotog
7-Mar-2014, 19:49
Ha! That coyote suit works every time. A little less rare next time, please. …meep, meep!

.....The Roadrunner makes the meep-meep sound.

ROL
7-Mar-2014, 19:54
.....The Roadrunner makes the meep-meep sound.

How astute?!? …wearing the coyote suit to fool WILE Y. …. (that too subtle for ya'?)

dsphotog
7-Mar-2014, 20:29
LOL.... Gotta watch out for pianos & Acme bank safes falling from the sky.