My First Desert Storm

For a guy from New Jersey, the the power of the desert is very impressive. It is a harsh environment that requires strength to survive, let alone thrive in. Yet it is also a place of amazing beauty and Joshua Tree National Park is a great example of that. This is why I keep being drawn back there.

As many times as I’ve been in the desert, this was the first time I got to experience a storm first hand. What looked like the makings of a spectacular sunset was overwhelmed when storm clouds blew into Joshua Tree from the north.  The pretty light of the golden hour quickly became a dark storm light like I’ve never seen before and It was a treat, a little scary treat, to be able to witness and photograph it.

Desert Storm in Joshua Tree by Richard Lewis

Desert Storm by Richard Lewis 2016

Approaching Storm in Joshua Tree by Richard Lewis

Approaching Storm by Richard Lewis 2016

The above two photographs were made from a vantage point near the Wonderland of Rocks in the northern part of the park. On a whim, after the storm hit, we drove to Key’s Point which is an overlook to the south and were rewarded with this view of Palm Springs in the valley below being bathed in rain and a surreal evening light coming through an opening in the clouds.

Storm Light on Palm Springs from Joshua Tree National Park by Richard Lewis

Storm Light on Palm Springs by Richard Lewis 2016

Note about the above photos: Photographing in bad weather can be dangerous so don’t do it if you don’t know what you are doing. It is important to protect yourself and camera with the proper rain gear. Also pay attention to the intensity and direction of the storm. Remember the way back to your vehicle, but know where you can shelter if the weather back gets too bad.

The Day After the Storm

I started the next day early and found this rock formation which my friend Marci thinks looks like an angry frog. What do you think?

Angry Frog Rock in Joshua Tree by Richard Lewis

Angry Frog Rock by Richard Lewis 2016

This photograph was made just after sunrise facing a strong, cold wind (not a fun part of that morning). I wanted to make a surreal image using a long exposure showing the effect of that wind. The resulting blur on the bush in the foreground shows how the wind was blowing it around but not really affecting the other plants that were shielded from the wind. The clouds were also moving quickly and were blurred by this long exposure.

Windy Morning in Joshua Tree by Richard Lewis

Windy Morning by Richard Lewis 2016

Hiking back to the car I took a detour around a large rock outcropping to get out of the wind and came across this little gem of a Juniper tree.

Surviving Juniper Tree in Joshua Tree National Park by Richard Lewis

Surviving Juniper Tree by Richard Lewis 2016

The power and incredible light of a storm in the desert shows how harsh, yet beautiful, a place like Joshua Tree National Park can be. What looks like a quiet, peaceful desert scene can quickly change into something very different.

Technical Note: The photograph called “Windy Morning ” was made with a neutral density filter. These are dark pieces of glass that go in front of the camera to let less light in to slow the shutter speed. Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open to expose the photograph. The darker the filter, the less light and the longer the shutter speed becomes. Longer shutter speeds will blur moving objects. For this photograph, I used a 10 stop neutral density filter which is very dark and only lets in 1/10 of the light. Using this filter can be very difficult because it is so dark that neither you, or the camera’s electronics can see through it. Here is how to use this kind of filter:

  1. Set up the photograph’s composition, focus and exposure using the manual mode on the camera without the filter. Note the exposure setting because you will need this for the next step. Once everything is set, put the filter on the lens
  2. Do some math (Thank you iPhone calculator) to calculate what the exposure should be and change the camera setting accordingly. The filter I used reduces the exposure by 10 stops, or 10 times, so in this case a 1/2 second shutter speed @f/16, ISO 100 becomes about a 4 minute exposure @f/16, ISO 100.
  3. Always check the results and to make sure you are getting the best exposure and effect. Then continue to make exposures because the effect will probably change on each photograph giving you very different images.

Enjoy and have a Very Happy New Year!

More photographs of Joshua Tree National Park can be seen on my website.