“Life In Death”

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Without life, there would be no death. Without death, there would be no life.

Pretty simple concept, but it made me think – what drives us in life is the effort to stay alive and avoid death. In fact, what we all really want is to FEEL alive. Like we’re living a meaningful life and feeling content with the way we lead it. When I think about the kind of life I want to live, part of it involves experiencing spectacular events and places, like this one in Death Valley. To me, this is the epitome of life, with the first light awakening over the mountains, the sky a fiery orange and red, and the bloom of all the flowers in one of the hottest, driest, most uninhabitable places on earth.

Every decade or so, the valley gets a ton of rain and dormant seeds by the thousands, if not millions begin to sprout and flower – creating an endless carpet of color along the valley floor and surrounding hills. I feel so privileged to have experienced this in person, in a place already dear to my heart any time of the year. This photo was taken during sunrise – I loved the beautiful glow and color of the sky, the cloud’s movement captured by the long exposure, the subtle detail in the mountains, and the brilliant yellow of the flowers along the valley. I was lucky to have almost no wind to compete with, rendering the flowers sharp and detailed. I was also lucky to have the whole place to myself at this time of day, with the silence and calmness of the desert to relish in.

Camera: Chamonix 045N-1 Film: Velvia 50 Lens: 90MM w/ 5 ND Exp: 30sec @ F45

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Eureka Dunes / Alabama Hills – January 2016

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Day 1:

I made the decision to take a 3 day weekend trip to Eureka Dunes to camp, hike, and do some photography. I’ve previously been here 2 other times so I was already familiar with the location, however I haven’t ever taken any 4×5 photographs here before.

I ended up leaving around 4am and arriving at the dunes around 1pm. I set up my tent, and started the hike up the dunes. Carrying all my equipment, with the addition of my 617 back and ground glass made hiking uphill in the deep sand pretty strenuous. I continued on to some portions of the dunes that I’ve never been before. The weather was partly sunny with some nice clouds in the sky, and almost no wind in the air. It was amazing to be the only one out there hiking, with absolute silence. If you’ve ever been in the desert or a very desolate place, you’ll know the sound of soundless. It’s both intimidating and refreshing to look around in all directions with nobody or nothing in sight besides the desert floor and mountains in the distance and no noise except the beating of your heart and the flow of your breath.

I set up my camera and shot a couple images, one before and one after sunset. The clouds lit up nicely once the sun went down. I like the way the dunes look almost like flowing water and waves with the middle dune peaking up and leading the eye to the distant mountains. I can almost see the foreground dunes moving and flowing.

The night was cold, clear, and calm, with lows reaching under 20F degrees. I remember just standing in the moonlit desert silence, staring up at the stars and feeling so small. Its a place of no light pollution, so the stars can be seen bright and abundant. I went to bed early and it felt amazing sleeping under the stars in the soundless environment.

Day 2:

I woke to an amazing sunrise. I could see the pink and orange glow permeating my tent and I hopped out in the freezing cold air. The light was beautiful and the clouds glowing on fire. These are some digital snaps I took before setting off for my day long hike.

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I set off around 9am and ended up hiking to the end of the dunes and back around, ending around 2pm. I don’t remember stopping for a break the whole time, and by 2pm I was beat. I set up my camera at a spot I had passed earlier in the day and the light was very interesting around 4pm, when it pierced the thick clouds and lit up the foreground sand to a brilliant gold, while keeping the background sky a dark sapphire blue. Unfortunately I wasn’t that happy with the composition I took so decided to not use it here. I left after sunset back to camp, made dinner, and took an early sleep again.

Day 3:

This morning, I decided to leave early and head to Alabama Hills, before I headed back home. I remember passing it on the way to the dunes and seeing the most amazing clouds engulfing the mountain range. When I arrive there, the mountains were enveloped in thick clouds and there was a light rain all around. I however saw a clearing far off and decided to wait around to see if the clouds would clear. I found a high rock and set up my camera, overlooking the alabama hills and in line with the eastern sierras beyond. Luckily the clouds cleared up after an hour and revealed some beautiful scenery. I shot a few black and white and slide film in 4×5, as well as 617 format.

In the end, the black and whites added a beautiful drama that the color versions just didn’t give and for the first time I preferred the black and white format over color. Looks like I’ll be shooting much more in the future – the main thing I like is that it can produce beautiful images in high contrast scenes where shooting color doesn’t make as much sense. This makes waiting around all day for the perfect light a non-issue.

This trip was a great experience overall, and I really enjoyed camping in such a desolate and quiet area. The desert landscape is by far one of my favorites to be in.

Youtube Video Journals:

Day 1: https://youtu.be/Tr5A47Cw08I

Day 2 & 3: https://youtu.be/hz8PbSYDfSs

 

 

Heavenly off 395

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I never really name my photos, but if I were to name this one, it would be called “Heavenly.” I was literally in the right place at the right time. On my way to Eureka Dunes around 11:30am, this scene unfolded off of highway 395. While longing for a much longer lens for my 4×5, I realized I had my digital camera with me and snapped this shot at 105mm with settings of ISO 100 640th @ F11. Man would this look even more amazing on film. I just love the quality of light, rays shooting through the clouds, fog penetrating the mountains, and patches of sun hitting the hills.

Crater Lake – New Years Eve 2015

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I had headed to Crater Lake with the intention to camp overnight at the rim and photograph the sunrise. This particular day and the days following were supposed to be clear and cold, with lows close to 0 degrees fahrenheit with the wind chill. I left my place around 5am and arrived at Crater Lake at 12:30pm. I picked up my overnight permit and headed to the rim to Rim Village, to start my hike. I planned on hiking only about 2 miles in and setup camp past Discovery Point.

About an hour in, I realized my pack was pretty heavy, probably over 60lbs, and the snow was deep in some areas making snowshoeing with the pack very difficult. I struggled to hike uphill in some areas, and would fall over every 5 minutes. It was almost impossible to get back up with my pack on – I was like a turtle fallen upside down on its shell. The wind had picked up quite a bit as well, and I realized I should’ve brought some kind of ski mask with me (which I originally planned on taking). My beard, nose hairs, and eyelashes started to freeze and icicles started forming on my face.

Around 4pm I picked a small area to setup camp, it was in deep snow slightly underneath a tree. I also hadn’t brought a snow shovel (another item I planned on taking), and I regretted it after struggling to create a level ground with my snow shoes. The snow was just too deep, which made it up to my waist in areas. After 15 minutes of digging and trying to block myself from the relentless freezing winds, I decided it wasn’t worth it to setup tent. I didn’t feel like being miserable and uncomfortable was a good way to spend New Years.

I headed back to the trailhead and saw an amazing sunset on my right toward the west. Overlooking snow covered trees with the sun setting along the mountain range and filtering through the clouds and ice crystals blowing in the wind. It created a beautiful glow with very warm oranges and reds, catching the edges of the trees, and lighting up the sky. I setup my 4×5 camera and realized my shutter release was frozen. It wouldn’t fire the shutter, and my hands were freezing as I needed to remove my gloves to operate the small shutter and aperture dials on the lens. I quickly put down my 4×5 and shot some digital photographs of the scene. I’m pretty happy with the results despite not being able to shoot with film.

I had then turned around towards the lake and saw a beautiful gradated sky with the softest pinks and blues. I had just packed up everything and put my huge pack back on. By this time I was done hiking and didn’t want to have to take off my pack again. The scene is still in my minds eye, and it just gives me a reason to return.

After the sun went down I headed back to my car and drove all the way home, arriving around 1am. I was exhausted by the time I got back for sure. Overall a great experience and I’d love to revisit with the intention of actually camping. I think a weekend trip could definitely work!

Volcanic Landscape

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This place was just unreal. I definitely plan on returning in the future. The barren forest you see is a result of a volcano spewing magma and ash all over this landscape in Northern California. This area looked like I was on another planet, surrounded by volcanic forest, vast lava beds almost impassable, lakes, and snowy peaks. This shot was from on top of a cinder cone which was formed from the volcano’s vent. Cinder Cone, which is in a remote part of Lassen VNP, was covered in a foot of snow – it was beautiful and it had to have been almost 3 years since I’ve stepped through snow.

The hike to the top was grueling, carrying all of my equipment up what seemed like a 50 degree hill for 748 Feet. I took about 4 breaks before reaching the top and was seriously winded at times. Once at the top I walked the entire radius of the cinder cone – looking down into the middle (the volcano’s vent), which dropped down what appeared like 300 or so feet. I stayed on the top from noon to sunset, at which time I was shivering and freezing, doing jumping jacks and running in place to get the blood flowing. It was also a bit lonely being the only one there all day and night. Its funny that most of the time I enjoy being alone in these environments, for once I longed to run into anyone. The silence, however, was simply amazing.

Once the sun set, I realized it was starting to get dark and that I better head back. It was challenging hiking down the steep hill of cinder cone, all in the snow and illuminated by the fading light of the sun’s reflection in the sky. I turned my headlamp on and continued down, almost like ski-walking through the shin deep snow and creating a rhythm with my steps. Once down, it was starting to get really dark and I realized most of the way back is through the forest. I was a little concerned about running into a bear which I saw warning signs for, or even a wolf, who I heard repeatedly howling on my way back. I turned on some heavy metal music at full blast, figuring that would scare off any wild animal of course. Turns out it worked, and I arrived at my car in complete darkness of the night. Not to get into my car before hearing one last howl from a wolf. Great experience nonetheless!

Camera: Chamonix 045N-1 4×5 Field Camera

Lens: 210MM Nikkor

Exposure: 1/4 sec @ F45

Film: Velvia 50

Burney

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Called one of “the eight wonders of the world” by Roosevelt, this waterfall was definitely impressive to behold. The roar is constant and strong, with mist being shot up in the air – a result of 379 liters of water per day falling 129 feet to the base. Considering our drought, I was blown away and refreshed to see such a beautiful and strong waterfall.

I was set up in two spots, one at the foot of the falls and the other at an overlook. I would have to say both were challenging to find a perspective that communicated the grandeur of the falls – it is massive! The first shot was the toughest, as I had to constantly wipe the lens and filter after composing, focusing, and between shots. My flimsy and ill-fitting dark cloth kept blowing in the wind created from the falls. Both, not the most fun things to deal with on large format. I really like the small touches to these photos such as the fall colors dotted along the cliffs and overhangs, the dark heavy blue of the water, and the intricate water trails created by the waterfall’s underground springs.

Camera: Chamonix 045N-1 4×5 Field Camera

Lens: Nikkor 90MM

Exposure: 28 seconds @ F32

Film: Velvia 50

China Camp

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I had spent most of the day soaking in the sun on the rocky shore with my camera set-up for the golden hour. I had noticed that throughout the day, the rock slowly revealed it’s dark base. This added to the composition, and in my opinion made it a bit more interesting. I especially like the branch and grass silhouettes against the golden-pink sky.

It would’ve been pretty cool to pitch a tent right on that small island called ‘Rat Rock.’ This area was inhabited by a people called the Miwok for thousands of years, before the arrival of the Spanish. I sometimes wonder what it would’ve been like living in this area way back then without any foreign influence.

Click on image thumbnail for larger view.

Camera: Chamonix 045N-1 4×5 Field Camera

Lens: 210MM Nikkor Lens w/ 0.6 Soft Grad

Exposure: 6 sec @ F22

Film: Velvia 50

Point Reyes

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This image was taken near the northern tip of Point Reyes. I had done about 10 Miles of hiking to the very north tip of Point Reyes and back, lugging around 30 lbs. of gear with a ridiculous large format photo bag that appears bigger than me. By the end of my hike I set up at the edge of the hill to capture this scene of the sun slowly setting on the horizon. I really like the painterly quality of the light and clouds, while the last rays of red tinted sun stretch out to skim the rocky cliffs and coastline.

Click on image thumbnail for larger view.

Camera: Chamonix 045N-1 4×5 Field Camera

Lens: 210MM Nikkor Lens w/ Polarizer & 0.6 Soft Grad

Exposure: 5 sec @ F32

Film: Velvia 50

Cataract Trail / Badwater

I recently went on a trip to Death Valley (again), and camped there for 3 nights. I ended up visiting the same location for 3 days, hoping that I’d get a nice sunset one of the times. It ended up happening the third day, but the problem is that I was set up facing the opposite side, where there was no color. I remember looking back before the sun had set and thinking, “hmm, maybe I should compose the other way, there might be good color in that area.”I decided to stick with my original composition and had faith the color would show in the area my camera was pointed to.

When the sun set, it turned out I was completely wrong and realized the sky was starting to turn pink behind me. It was too dark and late for me to recompose the other way, so I simply rotated my tripod head 180 degrees and shot 3 images. Below is the third one I took – I would’ve wished to add some rise and include more of the sky, less of the foreground, and find a more interesting composition for the foreground arrangement of cracks. Also would’ve liked if I didn’t run out of Velvia 50, right before this moment. Just gives me another reason to revisit this location in the future – though it does hurt to miss that opportunity after 2 days of waiting:

Image Copyright of Justin Nambiar

Shot on Velvia 100 – F22 @ 30 sec

This next location is an area I’ve been recently visiting on a weekly basis. I’ve never explored the north bay much, so I took a trip to Cataract Falls almost two weeks ago. It was right after a large storm had rolled through and soaked the bay area, and I was curious to see the conditions where the rain had hit the hardest. I started my hike pretty early – around 7am. The drive out there was pretty dark, and once I got onto the road nearing the trail, dense fog rolled through the trees and the road became almost completely covered with branches, mud, leaves, and rocks from small rock and mudslides. When I started my hike, I was the only person out there at the time, and it was nice to breathe in the fresh cool morning air with nobody in sight, and only the rushing of recently fallen rain to listen to, flowing across the trail, down nearby hills, and into cataract creek.

After a lot of uphill hiking, and about 3 miles in, I found this cluster of trees around 9:45am. It really caught my attention – the green moss and fungi covered trees, the fog blowing through the distant trees, the soft white light filtering through the forest. I took this shot and feel pretty happy about it. Most of the foreground has been cropped off, mainly because I felt it subtracted from the rest of the image.

Image Copyright of Justin Nambiar

Shot on Velvia 50 – F22 @ 20 sec

Next, I made my way back down the trail to a spot I passed earlier in the day. The moss here was impressively dense, and I took this shot, mainly drawn to the color and detail. I thought this area was beautiful.

Image Copyright of Justin Nambiar

Shot on Velvia 50 – F22 @ 1min

Its really impressive how many trails there are in this area, and how much area there is to cover. I’ve definitely only scratched the surface of the north bay, and I look forward to visiting new locations up there in the future. Just hope I don’t run into any mountain lions.

Thank You for reading and viewing my images! I hope everyone has a great holiday and break.

Death Valley & Zion – 4×5 Photography

This is a continuation from my last post on my trip to Death Valley and Zion. I recently was able to get my film developed and ended up scanning some images the other night. Overall the trip was a success, not just because I got a few shots that I’m happy with, but also because I learned to appreciate the moments more than worrying about getting a good shot.

On previous trips, I’d try to plan out all my locations and times, shot lists, etc etc. with the expectation that if I planned enough, I’d definitely get a shot I was happy with. Every time I thought this way though, I’d get disappointed with the results and not get to really take in the beauty around me. This trip was different – I really enjoyed just hiking and scouting, wandering, and exploring. I had many moments when I would just slow down my pace, feel the warmth of the sun or hear the movement of the water, take a deep breath, and exhale peacefully. Made me realize I’d really like to do this more often.

This first shot is from Death Valley at Dante’s View. This is actually the first time I’ve been up there, and its an amazing view of the valley below. I remember leaving Furnace Creek area when the temperature was around 90 degrees. Then driving up to Dante’s View, the temperature dropped all the way to 70, with some strong winds – pretty amazing difference in climates. I really enjoyed just being up there, hearing the wind, looking out to the valley, and feeling like I was on another planet. This image is actually a composite of two 4×5 shots stitched to create a panorama. The detail is pretty incredible, and could be printed out to about 8 ft without loss of quality.

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Fuji Velvia 100 – 90MM : F22 @ 1/8th

This next shot was at the Mesquite Dunes. I’ve always wanted to find a shot here, but for some reason never could in the past. This time I decided to venture out and explore some new areas of the dunes that I never have before. I ended up finding a fresh dune with a nice s-curving crest line. The clouds were good that day as well, and lit up nicely after the sun set behind the mountains. It was another one of those moments of peace, sitting on the top of the dune and watching the sun go down, seeing the light changing before your eyes.

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Fuji Velvia 100 – 90MM : F22 @ 8 sec

My next part of the trip was Zion. I drove there from Death Valley and arrived for about a week of photography and hiking. The first day I scouted the whole park, just to see the color and check out some locations that I haven’t been before. The next day I hiked the Narrows and found a great shot – probably my favorite from the trip, in wall street. I remember having my camera set up and seeing the light slowly creep around the stone walls, skimming the edges and painting them with a beautiful warm glow. I was really surprised how the colors showed up on film, this is almost exactly how it appears on the light table.

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Fuji Velvia 100 – 210MM : F22 @ 15 sec

Here is one more shot from the narrows. I would’ve actually liked to shoot this as a vertical image, but was trying to restrict myself to mainly horizontal compositions on this trip. I found this shot on my second trip into the narrows.

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Kodak Ektar 100 – 90MM : F22 @ 1 min 8 sec

These two shots are from my hike to the Subway. This was an amazing hike, very strenuous, but definitely worth it. The scenery at the end is truly breathtaking, and surreal. The first section of the hike is pretty intense, descending 4000 feet very quickly, and then once in the canyon, hiking up and down large boulders and through creeks and water pools. Here is my favorite shot from the Subway, and the main attraction of the hike.

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Kodak Ektar 100 – 90MM : F22 @ 30 sec (pushed +1)

Here is the second photo of the crack section of Subway. A great big crack in the middle of very slippery rock, with water rushing through. I’d like to come back and shoot this again, but I thought I’d still include it in here.

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Fuji Velvia 100 – 210MM : F22 @ 5 sec

Overall, this was a great trip, one of the best I’ve had. I can’t wait to start doing more trips like this, and revisiting Zion next year in the fall. I really can’t get enough. Thanks for reading!

(All images Copyright of Justin Nambiar – Please seek written consent for any use of imagery)