Lori Carey Photography

Monday, December 30, 2013

Experimenting with Dstretch to enhance Alabama Hills petroglyph images

Alabama Hills petroglyphs enhanced using Dstretch

A few years ago while doing research for a trip to the Alabama Hills at the base of the Sierra Mountains, I came across a hand-drawn map that showed the locations of petroglyphs I had never before seen mentioned. One of the locations was along my planned route so I made a point to stop and search for them. We scrambled to the top of the rock formation and began searching, and searching, and searching. We didn't find anything so we began working our way back down and around the formation, searching as we went along. We still hadn't found anything when we were joined by a couple guys who were happy to join in the search. I was about to give up when they convinced me to climb back to the top with them. After another 20 minutes of searching my husband finally yelled out "Found it!" and sure enough, barely visible now that the sun was sinking and the light was hitting at angle we found the first dragonfly and spiral. Motivated by the finding we continued our search and eventually spotted three dragonflies on three separate rocks, each with a spiral or concentric circle. They were so old and faded that it was extremely difficult to get decent photos of them. They hardly showed in the photos at all, which wasn't surprising considering how difficult they are to see in real life. So the files were left sitting on my hard drive.

A few weeks ago a blog post by fellow desert explorer Daren Sefcik reminded me that several years ago I had obtained a copy of Dstretch, a specialized software for enhancing photos of pictographs. I never used the program much because it is intended for photos of pictographs, not petroglyphs, and I haven't found many pictographs. It does a decorrelation stretch (by applying Karhunen-Loeve transform, according to the website, mathematical computations that are beyond my knowledge level) to the colors of the digital image. It creates false colors to make the pictographs stand out from the background, making them easier to isolate. While it has a purpose for scientific research and documentation I struggled with the wild and crazy colors for my purposes. But Daren inspired me with his post showing how he uses layer masking to get rid of most of the wild colors and I decided to see what it could do with my photos of the Alabama Hills petroglyphs.

Alabama Hills petroglyphs enhanced using Dstretch

My results were a bit mixed. Dstretch worked better on some images than on others. The problem with using Dstretch on petroglyphs (rather than pictographs) is that there are no painted colors to enhance; petroglyphs are carved/etched/scratched into the rock so at best we see only lighter areas of rock. Relatively young petroglyphs carved into varnished rock are easier to see, but the petroglyphs I found at Alabama Hills were carved into unvarnished granite and were very faded.

Dstretch isn't an easy program to use and I think if I understood the advanced capabilities better I might be able to achieve better results. I am also using an old version of the program (I think I obtained it some time between 2006 and 2009) and I believe that there is a newer version with more advanced options.

Alabama Hills petroglyphs enhanced using Dstretch

In all but one case it definitely made the petroglyph easier to see. All of the examples in this post show the original photo, the photo after using Dstretch, and the final image using layer masking to remove most of the crazy colors from everything except the petroglyph.

Alabama Hills petroglyphs enhanced using Dstretch

Daren mentions on his blog that using layer masks this way means the images are subjective, subject to my interpretation of them. In fact I simplified his method of masking by simple stacking the Dstretched version on top of the original, adding a layer mask and manually masking out everything except what I interpreted to be the petroglyph. I think it's a workable solution to being able to visually share the petroglyphs, but it is by no means scientifically accurate.

The one image I had the most difficulty with was one of the dragonflies (for some reason I only photographed two of them!). This one was in bright sun and the guys tried to create enough shade with their hands and bodies so I could photograph it. The bright spots on the edges are the areas they couldn't block. This section of rock was the most exposed to the elements and you can see how much damage has been caused by erosion. Although we were all certain this was another dragonfly I had a very difficult time trying to isolate the petroglyph using Dstretch because there wasn't enough color variation between the carved petroglyph and the eroded rock surface. This was the best result I was able to achieve and as you can see I wasn't even sure what areas to mask out and what to leave in.

Alabama Hills petroglyphs enhanced using Dstretch

I also had a tougher time with this one. I believe we may have thought this was a third dragonfly, but Dstretch brought out what appears to be part of the engraving that we didn't originally notice with the naked eye. I can't say with any certainty that is an accurate depiction.

Even though Dstretch is not intended to use on photos of petroglyphs my results were good enough for my purposes that I will probably give Dstretch a try the next time I photograph old and faint petroglyphs. If you're interested in learning more about using Dstretch I recommend the tutorials on Daren's site as a great starting point.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Holiday Joshua Tree in the eastern Mojave

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome,
dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.
May your rivers flow without end,
meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells,
past temples and castles and poets’ towers
into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl,
through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock,
blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone,
and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm
where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs,
where deer walk across white sand beaches,
where storms come and go
as lightning clangs upon the high crags,
where something strange and more beautiful
and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams
waits for you –
beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.

– Edward Abbey

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Crusty Bunny Ranch - The Rest of the Story

Crusty Bunny Ranch

It's still a bit strange writing my stories and sharing my photos on another publication. My trail reports are mostly over there now instead of here on my blog. I have to honor a 90-day embargo period (on the story, not the photos), so I'm cautious about sharing my trail stories here on my blog or on social media. Keeping a story within the designated word limits can be a challenge, too. There's always so much more I want to say, to share. My first draft is consistently 500+ words over the limit and I start ruthlessly slashing anything that isn't essential. "Just the facts ma'am.". That takes all of the character out, everything that makes it an adventure, and I often wonder if I shouldn't instead leave in the little vignettes of life on the trail, throw in some drama and leave out all of the boring facts, especially after I read someone else's blog post or a magazine article describing the drama and danger that goes into someone's photography or desert adventures and I realize that the things they describe are the things I take for granted.

What prompted these thoughts was coming across the blog of a young man who decided to channel his inner Chris McCandless by driving his Range Rover down from Portland to homestead in an abandoned cabin in the Mojave. He lasted three days. The drama and adventure of those three days provided enough fodder for many blog posts, culminating in many more posts about how he was sure he had been exposed to Hantavirus and was going to die any minute. He was a good writer and I found his posts entertaining, but I knew exactly where he had stayed. I knew that not half a mile from the cabin was a location that saw a steady stream of visitors on the weekends. And so I just had a hard time taking his daring adventure as seriously as he wanted. But he sure was good at writing drama and drama makes for an entertaining read.

The thing is, if you're going to venture out into the unknown in desolate areas, sooner or later shit is going to happen. It might be big shit or it might be little shit, but it's going to happen. If you venture out into the desert unprepared when it happens you're going to be miserable or you're going to die. Or you're going to die a miserable death. When you're prepared, mentally/physically/supplies, it doesn't seem like such a big thing. That's why I live by two mottos: "The only difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude." and "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome". But acting as if it's no big deal doesn't make for a good story, so I think that going forward I need to start playing up the drama a bit more and convince you of how fearless and adventurous I really am!

In a couple days the story of my visit to the Crusty Bunny Ranch will be published on DrivingLine. What's left out of the story is that it rained the day before we left and apparently our firewood got wet (which somebody failed to mention when he packed it). Anyone who has been married any length of time will recognize the ensuing conversation that took place over the smoking wood which began with "Why didn't tell you me the wood was wet so we could pick up some dry wood?" and deteriorated down to "We're miles from civilization in the middle of nowhere in the desert and it's cold and we have no wood ^&%$$*" until an hour had been wasted watching him attempt to start a fire with wet wood. When you try to burn wet wood the only thing it does is smoke, a lot.

Inside the Crusty Bunny Ranch

Inside the Crusty Bunny Ranch

Inside the Crusty Bunny Ranch

I didn't get to say that I then had the idea to check the cabin for firewood since there was a working fireplace inside and the cabin was somewhat cared for. Of course that job went to the person who packed the wet wood. By now it was pitch dark. There was a heavy cloud cover and no moon so it was really dark, desert dark. Off he went, flashlight in hand. I was certain that he would find dry wood somewhere near the cabin and our problem would be solved. He came back carrying one small piece and said he wasn't going near the cabin again. While he was inside something in the back room spooked him. This man has explored caves, mine shafts, abandoned cabins and ghost towns in the dark for years and has never once been spooked, but this time he got spooked. And he was so spooked that he got me spooked haha! We managed to get a small and very smokey fire going for a short while, it didn't last much longer than an hour, long enough to cook dinner, eat and clean up. The cloud cover was too heavy to see the Milky Way or many stars for night photography, so with nothing better to do we turned in early. And we promptly found out that his air mattress sprung a leak. A major leak. He spent a miserable night sleeping (trying to) on the ground.

It wasn't until the next morning that I took some time to read through the log books at the cabin.

cards and log book container, Crusty Bunny Ranch

Crusty Bunny Ranch log book contents

I found the log entry of another intrepid desert traveler who also got spooked one night in the cabin. There was some joking that it was probably one of the wild burros in the area but they thought for sure it was Sasquatch. I later found their online blog post about this same incident, something obviously had them very spooked. There are no rumors of the Crusty Bunny Ranch being haunted but then again there isn't much info online about the cabin (or the mine) all, and I thought it weird that two people who were very used to this type of environment both got spooked here.

I didn't get to say that I had planned to do my holiday card shoot here. We had originally thought to string the lights on the cabin but we couldn't figure out a way that would work with the supplies we had on hand (having a ladder would've helped!) and so we diligently sought out a fine looking Joshua Tree in a scenic location that was close enough to the trail where we could run an extension cord to the inverter in the Jeep. We carefully (not carefully enough) strung the lights and waited for sunset. It was a bit cloudier than I would have liked but still colorful and I continued shooting until twilight ended, not entirely happy but hoping that something would be close enough to my vision. When we tried to take the lights down the Joshua Tree refused to give up its hold, so we decided we would get them in the morning before we headed out rather than fight with them in the dark.

Except that we forgot about them the next morning (until we were twenty miles away) so they are still there. My home will have a few less strands of light this year but maybe somebody else can enjoy them. If you happen to visit the Crusty Bunny look from the cabin toward the beautiful scene of sand dunes and snow-topped mountains. Find the large Joshua Tree closest to the trail you took in, it's not very far, maybe a half mile. If you have an inverter go ahead and plug in the lights and enjoy. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy New Day, Happy Beautiful World!

I also didn't get to mention that our adventure was cut short when the shutter failed on my camera on the second day. After winding our way through the Kingston Range Wilderness, the North Mesquite Wilderness and then the Mesquite Wilderness and trying to decide where we wanted to spend the night, I decided I wanted to swing by to visit the Mojave Cross in the Cima region of the Mojave National Preserve. The last time I had visited it was still covered in plywood, and now with the legalities finally settled the cross was standing tall in all it's glory. I hadn't taken two shots before I got the error message and nothing I tried would clear it. I had my backup camera set up as Jeep Cam 1 for another project and hadn't intended to use it as my primary. With no dry wood for a campfire, a busted air mattress, little sleep the night before, the sun dropping low in the sky and now a non-functioning camera we decided it would probably be best to head for home. I don't mind a few challenges but sometimes you have to decide that it might not be smart to keep pressing your luck.

My final thoughts when I got back home and started going through my photos was how much damage seems to be taking place recently to places and properties in remote locations. Vandalism has always been a problem but lately it seems to be escalating. Blog posts and trail reports on the Crusty Bunny just a few years ago show it in much better shape. A friend had photographed this rocking horse a few years ago and I had hoped to use it as a subject for night photography, but I found it almost completely destroyed, smashed to pieces. I picked it up, put it back where it belonged and tried to piece it together the best I could. The log book in the cabin indicated that the windows had only recently been broken. A fellow traveler kindly took the time to board them up to prevent damage to the interior of the cabin from the elements. I was surprised at how many people cared enough to put some work into maintaining the place. So it's just an old abandoned miner's cabin...well it's stood in place unharmed for many (60+?) years, it's part of our cultural (mining) history and it provides safe haven for anyone traveling through the area who might need some shelter. I think about the recent tagging at remote locations in Joshua Tree in California and at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada, the damage at Death Valley's Racetrack from people walking on it when it's wet and stealing the stones, the toppling of a 200-million year old rock formation at Utah's Goblin State Park, and the graffiti I found on the tufa at Trona Pinnacles a few months ago. I don't understand people who damage and destroy just for the sake of doing so.

Photographers have notoriously been reluctant to share the exact location of special places and it's always disturbed me a bit because I think everyone should be able to enjoy special places. I think that my eight years of blog posts about these places is proof of how much I care about them. None of these places is truly secret, the information is there for those who are willing to seek it out. But I do believe that the internet and social media has made information more accessible, and that's a good thing and a bad thing. National Park Service records show that 9,000 landmarks have been vandalized since 2009, and that only accounts for park property. Media reports blame it on social media and people bragging about their "accomplishments" but I think that accessibility of location information plays a major role. I don't want to be part of the problem by making locations too easy to find for those who don't deserve the privilege. The Crusty Bunny Ranch is located in a wilderness area that is one of the most ecologically diverse regions of the Mojave and it is incredibly beautiful, easily one of my most favorite locations. I hate the thought that hoards of people in SUVs might travel out there with no respect for the environment. And I found myself reluctant to name to the trail in my article for DrivingLine or even name the specific area of the Mojave. There are enough hints that anyone could find the information if they wanted. The main trail is public information but it's not that easy to find when you're out there. The directions/coordinates to the spur trail that leads to the cabin is not quite as easy to find, but it's out there for those who know where to look. I've been thinking about exactly how much information I want to share and that maybe I'll just let others provide specific locations and directions if they are inclined to do so. Sadly it's even making me rethink my image keywording and captioning, as I often find myself thinking that I don't want specific location information in the metadata, especially when I'm sharing on social media. I have never and will never embed gps coordinates in my photos. I will always be eternally grateful to the people who do share and make it easier for me to find interesting places to visit, I love reading their blogs and trail reports and I hope they don't stop. But I think that enough people are sharing the info that maybe I don't need to add to it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Mojave Cross Revisited

The Mojave Cross standing atop Sunrise Rock once again
The Mojave Cross Memorial in 2013

While in the eastern Mojave last week I had to stop by and see the Mojave Cross finally uncovered. The last time I visited this location in 2009 the cross was covered with plywood while a 13-year legal battle over its constitutionality played out in the federal court system.

After the first World War many veterans moved to the eastern Mojave to recover from the physical and psychological injuries of the war, becoming prospectors or ranchers. The Mojave Cross was originally erected in 1934 as memorial to WWI veterans by the local VFW and was cared for by J. Riley Bremby, a WWI veteran who had a mining camp nearby.The land was later acquired by the government in 1994 as part of the Mojave National Preserve. A retired park system employee who lived out of state filed a lawsuit in 1999 to have the cross removed. After the long drawn-out legal battle it was finally decided in 2010 that ownership of a one-acre parcel of land would be transferred to the VFW in a land swap for 5 acres elsewhere in the Mojave (donated by a private party) and the cross was allowed to stay. The cross was stolen within days of the verdict. It was found two years later tied to a fence post in the San Francisco Bay area. The veterans decided to start fresh and built a new white iron cross, this time filled with concrete to make it harder to steal. On Veterans Day in 2012 it was dedicated with much ceremony.

Now the location is cabled off, with signs clearly marking it as private property and as a war memorial, both at the entrance and embedded into the rock. When I visited in 2009 it was just a simple cross on a rocky outcropping (although boarded up) in the middle of nowhere with a few flags tucked into the crevices. Now it's fences and signs.

The Mojave Cross at Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve in California stood for 70 years to honor American lives lost at war. Placed in 1934 by members of the V.F.W. to honor those lost in WWI, it had become the subject of a Supreme Court battle with the ACLU over the right to have a Christian symbol on public land and in 2002 it was ordered that the cross be covered while the legal debate played out. After the Supreme Court ruling in May 2010 that permitted the cross to stay but remanded the case to district court to determine if it could be uncovered, vandals stole it in the middle of the night. As of this time the fate of a replacement is still undetermined.
The Mojave Cross Memorial in 2009

I came across a statue of Buddha somewhere in the desert along my travels. Who knows if it was on private or public land, the Mojave is such a patchwork of public and private ownership that the only way to know for sure is to check a parcel map. I wasn't offended that someone whose faith didn't exactly match mine had traveled the same ground I was traveling and had left something behind. I hope that some day we understand that tolerance is about understanding and appreciating each others' differences, not trying to squash them or fence them off.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Light and Shadow - Mesquite Dunes

Light and Shadow - Mesquite Dunes
Light and Shadow

I like to browse through my photo archives once in a while. It's a great way to remember some of the adventures I've taken, rediscover images that I've forgotten about, and once in a while find a hidden gem. I was searching for another image a few days ago and stumbled across the folder of photos I took on my very first visit to Death Valley. I didn't have my Jeep then and did the tourist thing, visiting places that were easily accessible from the road and rushing around to see as much as I could in one visit. The park rangers told me to make sure to visit the sand dunes at sunset. Death Valley is HUGE and distances are deceiving. We got there later than I wanted, just as the sun was setting. I was appalled to see how many photographers were scattered throughout the dunes and it was too late for me to hike out any distance to find a place to myself.

But I was in love with the way the light from the sun's low angle played with the shapes of the dunes. It was like a grand symphony of light and shadow and I did my best to capture a few shots before the light faded away.

I wasn't pleased with the images when I got back home. I didn't want people in my shots and the muted color tones weren't what I had envisioned. It was 2005 and I had just started the transition to shooting digital. I had much to learn about post-processing. The debate was raging over how much post was "ethical" and having shot film for many years I decided I would take the side of the purists...nothing beyond setting a black and a white point, maybe a little curves adjustment for some "pop" and perhaps some dodging and burning. That didn't cut it on these photos and they were filed away and forgotten.

When I saw them again the other day I finally saw what I had originally envisioned when I took them. I have to laugh that it took me eight years to realize that these were always meant to be in black and white, but I'm glad that I can finally show what captured my soul that day. This is one of the early experiences that made me fall in love with the desert.

Photographers at Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park, California
Photographers at Mesquite Dunes

Purchase a print of "Light and Shadow"

Purchase a panoramic print of "Photographers at Mesquite Dunes"

Saturday, November 23, 2013

This morning

Potted Ivy Still Life

Just popping in for a minute to drop off an image that I made this morning. It's one I've wanted to make for a while, every time I look at that wall in my dining room when the morning light looks a certain way. I think I'm going to hang a print right next to the real thing.

If you love this image as much as I do you can purchase a print here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


DIES  DIMETIOR  UMBRIS I measure out the days by the shadows  Trona Pinnacles

I measure out the days by the shadows.

This time of year everyone's talk turns to time...how quickly the year has gone by, how soon the holidays will be upon us, how little time is left to accomplish all of the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year.

Whenever I see a perfectly placed shadow like the one in the image above I can't help but think about ancient shadow clocks and marking the passage of time by the stars. I think of how the first thing I did after leaving the corporate world was to stop wearing a watch. There are still deadlines and appointments and schedules that need monitoring in my day to day life, but when I'm out there the day flows at its own pace and I easily settle in to Mother Nature's rhythm.

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Intimate landscape photography can't be rushed or forced (although these days it seems it is quite acceptable to fake but that is a story for another day). Certainly it's important to schedule shoots around things like key astrological events, but merely showing up on time doesn't guarantee that all circumstances will be perfect for the image we are seeking. When I commented to a photographer whose work I greatly respect and admire that my seascape project had slowed down while I wait for the right weather and right frame of mind he told me that he believes that civilization should occur at a geological pace. Wise and appropriate words from someone who doesn't photograph landscapes or nature but still understands.

In the mean time I'm happy to sit and watch the light change and the shadows fall until the time is right.

Rock formation, moon and shadow, Trona Pinnacles

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Do You "Like" Me?

Image set by Lori Carey used in DrivingLine article

Too often I see photographers, especially emerging pros and amateurs, tie their sense of self worth to social media and use it to gauge how good their work is. They get obsessed with how many likes, shares and comments they get, as if it is an indicator of how good their photography is. They are the ones always begging asking people to like and comment on their posts. They get frustrated when they feel that people aren't paying enough attention to them and they will leave one social media network for another where there work gets more attention.

If they have a lot of followers they think it means that they are a great photographer, when in reality it may just mean that they were included in many shared circles of people who...share circles. In fact, some of the most talented photographers on social media networks have a small number of followers and receive very little interaction on their posts simply because they don't play the circle/ShareMe game. I see this especially on GooglePlus, where overly-saturated highly processed imagery is by far the favorite of the landscape crowd and there is proportionately little attention paid to any landscape photographer who does not follow the formula. Of course my opinions are based mainly on the interactions I see on GooglePlus because that is where I hang my social media hat, but I can't imagine that it is much different on any other social media network. The demographics of each social media network are very different, an image that does well on one will not necessarily do well on another. Relying on social media likes as a measure of your talent is a head fake.

Some photographers excel at being professional Sharers. They post throughout the day and their posts frequently have nothing to do with their photography. They find the right formula to get a lot of interaction on their posts and develop a "cult" following. Many then get frustrated when their high number of followers doesn't translate into overnight success as a photographer with a multitude of clients banging on their door.

While some photographers confuse their popularity with talent, there are others who get frustrated and depressed that they aren't receiving the attention they feel their (very real) talent deserves. They may not be as skilled in navigating the social media environment, they may not have the time to devote to it, they may think they can post-and-run and devoted followers will flock to them, or their style of photography may not be popular with social media (there is little correlation between photography displayed in high end galleries and photography that is popular on social media networks). Or perhaps they may not be as good as they think they are.

Being popular on social media and being a good photographer are simply not the same thing.

Social media is a great way to "get your name out there" and get eyes on your work, it's necessary for SEO purposes and it can be a great way to network with others in the field. But I think that too many photographers get too obsessed over follower counts and number of likes as a measure of their talent and as some kind of measure of success. Just because Jane Photographer has one million followers and Joe ShutterSpeed only has 1500, it does not mean that Jane is a better photographer than Joe. There are many factors that account for social media popularity. Jane might be more popular because of her half-naked selfies and know nothing about working with clients. Joe might just be too busy working with clients to post on a regular basis. Jane may have done a better job cultivating her tribe while Joe might be more introverted. And a given social media network might not be where Joe's target market is best found. Developing a following on social media is a skill that has very little to do with the quality of one's photography.

Some photographers truly do deserve the attention they get on social media because they are wonderfully talented.
Others learn the hard way that millions of followers do not automatically translate into paying clients knocking on the door.

The prompt for this post was the image above, a set of my photos that Nitto Tire posted on their Facebook page to promote my DrivingLine article 6 Hot Off Road Vehicle Trends. Nitto posted it yesterday and as of this morning it has 17,843 likes, 826 shares and 119 comments. I'm going to post the image on GooglePlus this morning and link it to this post to show the drastic difference in responses. While it's easy to say that the Facebook is a better place for photographers to post (I hear that all the time but refuse to post on Facebook because of their onerous Terms of Service), one needs to understand that Nitto Tire has a much larger following than I do and that it has a completely different audience than I do on G+. When I did the shoot I did it for Nitto's audience. It's very important for a photographer to understand that. In fact it's probably the most important thing for a photographer to understand when shooting for a client.

Of course I'm happy to see that level of interaction on their post and it does get more eyes on my work, but what I'm really happy about is that I helped my client get that level of response because that is what they hired me for.

I won't get a tenth of the number of likes and share on G+ that Nitto is getting for the exact same image, but what I can be confident of is that based on the interaction of their Facebook post, my client got their money's worth from this shoot.

That is why I don't let myself get obsessed about follower counts and number of likes.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jeepers Creepers

October is the start of the desert off road season here in Southern California and what a busy month it has been! Between covering events for clients, shooting for articles (and writing the articles), volunteering with 4 Wheel To Heal at event booths and in camp and fitting in a couple trail runs, October was packed with nothing but Jeeps and off roading for me.

The month started off with the Lucas Oil Off Road Expo in Pomona. You can check out those photos in my 2013 Lucas Oil Offroad Expo gallery.

Peterson's 4Wheel and Offroad Magazine's 2013 Ford F-250 Project Truck: The Ultimate Super Dirty
Peterson's 4Wheel and Offroad Magazine's 2013 Ford F-250 Project Truck: The Ultimate Super Dirty

Next I spent three days at Cal4Wheel's Operation Desert Fun in Ocotillo Wells. This event is a benefit for the CalDiego Paralyzed Vets Association. They offer trail runs of various difficulty levels throughout the Borrego Badlands, even one for stock SUVs. The event finishes off with an amazingly large raffle with incredible prizes like a set of tires, bikes for the kids, electronics and other goodies. The raffle went on for hours. There were about 250 registered attendees and 65 vehicles out on the trails. It would be great to see better support from the off road community for this charity event.

Jeep Lineup, ODF, Ocotillo Wells
Jeep lineup, Operation Desert Fun, Ocotillo Wells

See more photos in the Operation Desert Fun gallery.

Last weekend was OMC Offroad's 3rd Annual Holiday Food and Toy Drive with a trail run hosted by 4 Wheel To Heal through the beautiful San Jacinto mountains.

OMC Offroad 3rd Annual Holiday Food and Toy Drive4W2H Train Run26 October 2013
4 Wheel To Heal leading the trail run at OMC Offroad's 3rd Annual Food and Toy Drive

More photos from that trail run are in my OMC 3rd Annual Holiday Toy Drive gallery.

You can read two of my articles on DrivingLine this month:

6 Hot Off Road Vehicle Trends contains highlights of the Lucas Oil Off Road Expo

Beginners Off Road Basics is the first article in a series for people interested in learning more about getting off the beaten track and exploring trails.

After all of that, of course I broke something on my Jeep the week before SEMA when everyone is getting ready for the big show. My rear passenger coil spring failed and collapsed on itself. Having your rear end bottom out on a trail is not fun, ouch! She's fine to drive on the road but now I'm waiting on replacement coils to get her back on the trail again.

I love off roading in beautiful places with good people and I especially love photographing Jeeps on the trail but I'm ready for a day or two of quiet time out in the desert to enjoy the landscape and do more landscape photography.

Friday, October 11, 2013

4 Wheel to Heal at the Lucas Oil Offroad Expo

4 Wheel To Heal at Offroad ExpoPomona, California 06-07 October 2013

I think that every photographer should choose a charitable organization to support and 4 Wheel To Heal is mine. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that takes wounded veterans from all branches of service out on the trail for wheeling and camping. I had originally contacted the founders about doing a story on them and was so impressed with them and the way that the organization is run that I decided to officially volunteer as a driver, photographer and general event help.

They were out at the Lucas Oil Offroad Expo in Pomona last weekend so I made sure to find some time to volunteer at the booth for a few hours each day in-between shooting the event.

4 Wheel To Heal at Offroad ExpoPomona, California 06-07 October 2013

We had steady crowds throughout the event and we met some fantastic people. We had a few raffles, were selling T-shirts, sweatshirts, survival bracelets and hats and of course were accepting donations. All money raised goes to pay for the expenses of taking vets and their care-givers out on the trail. Marketing is solely through word-of-mouth and social media.

4 Wheel to Heal will be at two events in Southern California this month; Cal 4WD's Operation Desert Fun in Ocotillo Wells to benefit the Cal-Diego Paralyzed Veterans Association on October 18-19th and the OMC Offroad 3RD Annual Holiday Season Food & Toy Drive in Banning on October 26th where we'll be participating in the toy drive and then taking some wounded vets out on the local trails before heading to camp at Bogart Park.

4 Wheel To Heal is a national organization but just getting started out here on the West Coast. If you have a Jeep and want to get involved check out their website at 4W2H.org or feel free to contact me directly. If you don't have an offroad rig but still want to help we are always in need of donations and sponsors. It's a great way to help make a difference in the life of a wounded vet. If you are a vet who would like to have a fun-filled weekend wheeling and camping please get in touch with Jen Schultz at jennifer.schultz@4w2h.org

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sunset at Font's Point

Borrego Badlands at SunsetFont's PointAnza-Borrego Desert State Park
Last Light

If you ask the park rangers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park where to head for sunset they will invariably tell you that Font's Point is a must if you have the right vehicle to get there. It is a rough four mile drive down a sandy wash that is horribly rutted most of the way and has very deep sand along the rest. It's doable in a 2WD passenger car if you have some experience driving in deep sand and don't mind beating up your suspension. The bone-shaking ride that has you wondering if your vehicle is losing parts takes you to an overlook that has a spectacular view of the Borrego Badlands. The Badlands are a wasteland that has been eroded into unusual shapes by wind and water and they really are quite beautiful. But in all the times I've been there, and there have been many times over the years, sunset has always been a bust. The badlands are wonderful and I love doing detail shots, the colors are amazing and for a short a period when the sun is low there are fantastic shadows, but true to form the desert sky has always been cloudless and sunset a disappointment. The one sunrise I caught at the Badlands from nearby Vista del Malpais gave similar boring results.

Until my September visit. We were heading there to shoot the Milky Way and didn't really intend to make it for sunset. We had stopped by "the" Black Oak and then Clark Dry Lake on our way out and only wanted to get to Font's Point before it was completely dark for the hike out to the point. As soon as we got there and saw the unbelievable sky we grabbed our gear and went running. We were finally rewarded with an amazing sunset and we were shooting as fast as we could because the sun was already down and the light wouldn't last long.

The Borrego Badlands viewed from Font's Point, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

It was hard to take it all in and decide which way to point the camera, every direction was more beautiful than the last and had a completely different look. I have really come to love shooting in the desert during the summer and I am so glad that I made the decision to brave it out this year. The rewards have been uncountable.

Badlands Sunset at Font's Point, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
A Different Point of View

Since the sun was already down and the foreground was fairly dark, I decided to use a graduated neutral density filter AND bracket for HDR. I think that overall it gave it more a natural look, which is what I am after, so I intend to try that method again. Nothing against those who appreciate the hyper-realistic super saturated HDR look, it's very popular but it's just not my style. I'll leave it to those who appreciate it more than I do.

Sunset at Font's Point, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Look the Other Way

It was hot, hot, hot. Miserably hot with a hot wind that I called the Winds of Hell. I was drenched with sweat. The light didn't last long and all too soon it was too dark to shoot and all we could do was wait for the Milky Way to make its appearance.

I sat there for a few minutes just enjoying the peace. The change from day to night still takes my breath away every time. If you ever go shooting with me you'll probably catch me just sitting still doing nothing as if meditating. It's partly because I want to take it all in and let the location speak to me, but it's mainly because I don't ever want to get so caught up in what I am doing that I fail to appreciate it and be thankful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Racing Rivals Press Launch and a (small) Giveaway

Cie Studios' Racing Rivals VIP Event Tent at Irwindale Dragstrip, Irwindale, California. August 29, 2013

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend the VIP Press Launch event for Cie Games' new racing game for iOS Racing Rivals. The game is sponsored by Nitto Tires and features live, multi-player drag racing and can be downloaded for free from the App Store. The game features some very cool console-quality graphics and a realistic level of customization that even accounts for wear and tear on the parts. More than 40 of the world's most popular cars are available to choose from and there are hundreds of upgrades available to customize your ride for both performance and aesthetics.

Automotive and gaming industry press were invited to celebrate the launch at Irwindale Dragstrip with a day of drag racing competition both in Racing Rivals and on the real drag strip. We split into two groups and my group headed to the tent for a demo of the game and the first rounds of virtual competition while the other group went to the dragstrip.

Automotive and gaming journalists compete against each other in Cie Studios' new drag racing game for iOs Racing Rivals at the Press Launch at Irwindale Dragstrip, Irwindale, California on August 29, 2013.
Automotive and gaming journalists attend the Press Launch for Cie Studios' new Racing Rivals game for iOS at Irwindale Dragstrip, Irwindale, California on August 29, 2013.

Automotive and gaming journalists attend the Press Launch for Cie Studios' new Racing Rivals game for iOS at Irwindale Dragstrip, Irwindale, California on August 29, 2013.

Automotive and gaming journalists attend the Press Launch for Cie Studios' new Racing Rivals game for iOS at Irwindale Dragstrip, Irwindale, California on August 29, 2013.

Racing Rivals press launch

Racing Rivals press launch

Here are some in-game screenshots so you can see just how beautiful the graphics are.

Racing Rivals screenshot

It's a lot of fun to customize a car in the showroom because the options available are based on real world aftermarket options for a specific car and you can see how they will affect your performance.

Racing Rivals screenshot

After choosing your car and customizing it, you head out to the streets and challenge a live opponent to a race.

You can bet cash or race for pink slips!

Then it was time to head out to the drag strip and test our reaction time in an Edelbrock-supercharged Mustang.

Automotive and gaming journalists test their reaction time behind the wheel of an Edelbroci-supercharged Mustang at Irwindale Dragstrip during the press launch of Racing Rivals

Automotive and gaming journalists test their reaction time behind the wheel of an Edelbroci-supercharged Mustang at Irwindale Dragstrip during the press launch of Racing Rivals

I have to throw in the cute fireman shot for the girls!

Automotive and gaming journalists test their reaction time behind the wheel of an Edelbroci-supercharged Mustang at Irwindale Dragstrip during the press launch of Racing Rivals

Photographer John McCabe smokes the tires on the Irwindale Dragstrip at the press launch of Cie Studios' Racing Rivals game for iOS. 29 August 2013

So what's it like to photograph an event like this? A LOT of fun and a lot of hard work. It was a brutally hot day with temps well over 100° but there was plenty of ice cold water on hand, Umami Burgers to feed us and a shade tent where we could retreat from the sun. By the end of the day there were just a few of us still shooting. I think all of the hot summer days I've been spending in the desert have been good training.

You can't be shy; you have to be willing to stick your camera right into the middle of a group of people to get the shot. Since everyone there was either a journalist or affiliated with the game they were very understanding and would even make it easy. I picked up some good tips by watching the photographers who have done many of these events.

I was surprised at how few women journalists were in attendance. I realize that we are in the minority in the automotive and gaming fields, but out of approximately 100 journalists there were "maybe" five women. It didn't really matter though; the environment was very welcoming and I made some great friends and contacts.

The other thing that honestly shocked me was how few journalists were using SLRs; I counted exactly five dSLRs, everyone else was snapping pics with their cell phones. It made me very proud to be affiliated with a publication that prides itself on quality imagery. It seems that these days most publications hire writers and tell them to grab some pics, it is a real pleasure to work for a publication that hires photographers who can also write.

Here are a few more shots from the day:

Racing Rivals Press Launch

Cie Games press launch for Racing Rivals game for iOS at the Irwindale Event Center, 29 August 2013

Racing Rivals Press Launch

Tim Sutton taking a break from the sun in the VIP tent. Press launch for Cie Games' Racing Rivals game for iOS, 29 August 2013

Racing Rivals Press Launch at Irwindale Dragstrip

If you like racing games I think you'll really enjoy this one, the customization options and live player element makes it a lot of fun. The download is free from the App Store and I received a card in my swag bag that is good for some free premium content. I don't know what the premium content is and I don't know the value of it, but I will give the code to one random person who leaves a comment here by 6pm PST on Monday the 23rd. The winner will be selected by a random number generated with random.org. I think that most readers of my blog are too old to be into gaming so your odds of winning are pretty good, but maybe your son or daughter would be interested. The game is free so you have nothing to lose! Reminder that the game is only available for iOS right now.