To a large extent I like to plan my photographs. Taken at face value this may conjure up a few questions. Is it, for instance, possible to plan a landscape photograph given that such important variables as light, weather, and time of day are constantly changing. Add in the fact that one also has to be there when all these elements come together makes planning seem next to impossible. Vision and concept however are not impossible. In the same way an artist can take a blank canvas and create a painting, the same holds true for a photographer. Scouting a location is the photographers way of visualization and planning. This image, which I have named the Pinyon Teepee required some vision on my part, a little planning, and the serendipitous luck of being there at the right time.
The first time I saw the dead pinyon I was doing some survey work in an area of Wupatki near the Box Canyon Ruin. The Box Canyon Ruin is located along the sheer edge of a jumbled sandstone canyon and is reached via a short trail from the parking area. Beyond the ruin a flat, grassy plain stretches north and west as far as the eye can see. Dotting the plain are clumps of pinyon juniper that provide shade but also visual relief in an altogether monotonous sea of golden grass. On a hike out from the Box Canyon Ruin I came across this dead pinyon. The jumbled mass of branches had fallen in such a way as to appear connected to the ground while simultaneously still reaching for the sky–as if sun and water would bring it back to life. I loved the geometry of this tree. The angular lines possessed a real sense of dynamic movement. Buried inside were leading lines, geometric shapes, and repetition of forms. All of these elements are constants in my work. In terms of atmospheric interest however, the composition was anything but interesting. Against a bright, cerulean sky the composition was simply boring.
Three days later we were back at Box Canyon. Around noon a mass of dark clouds appeared on the western horizon. By early afternoon the clouds grew above us in a great mass, spreading upward and swirling overhead. Observable streaks of precipitation, known as virga, were visible along the horizon and blown nearly horizontal by a growing wind. A storm was coming. This was it. These were the clouds I needed to complete the Pinyon Teepee composition. I sprinted a quarter of a mile to the Teepee and with only a few minutes to spare made five exposures before the storm was on top of me. I hunkered underneath the spreading branches as the wind blew and the rain fell. As quickly as it came it was gone.
Scouting, planning, and pre-visualization led to the final result. Without my sense of vision and imagination of what this image could look like it might never have come together. Developing an understanding of what an image "could be" is part of the photographic process. Coupled with the right light, the right composition, and just being there, the opportunities for something amazing to happen increase exponentially. Pre-visualization though takes practice. At a core level it is simply about asking questions? What could this image be? What does the image "want to be"? Color or black and white? What does it need? What kind of light? What focal length? How do I want to process the final image? All of these questions are part of the process and can deepen our level of involvement in the images we make. I don't believe practice makes us perfect. But it certainly makes us better. And it makes us ready when all the elements come together.
Image Data: Sony a900, Zeiss 24-70mm, f2.8 at 24mm. Image exposed at ISO 200 at f16 for 1/2 of a second.