California Gulch


Today’s picture flies in the face of all conventional landscape photography wisdom.  I know this, because I tried doing it by the book and it wasn’t half – or even a quarter – as nice.

Rule #1 in landscape photography:

Thou shalt shoot at dawn or dusk – and none other – lest thou be smitten from the earth along with thy manservants and maidservants, thy flora and thy fauna, and all the creatures of the earth that revere thee.

It’s the golden rule – if you aren’t shooting in the ‘golden hours’ of the day, it’s not as good as it could be.  And, 99.99% of the time, that’s true.

In this case, I was on a 4WD trip near Animas Forks – a ghost town in the San Juan mountains.  It’s not too tough to get to – passenger cars can endure the 14 miles from Silverton, but it’s a rough ride.  We were in Animas Forks late in the morning, and the sun had been up for hours.  No opportunity for sunrise or sunset here!  To make matters worse, it was a clear blue sky with not a cloud in sight.  Again, normally a kiss of death.

In spite of all these technical shortcomings, I could see the makings of a very nice shot.  To get the right composition, I did some bushwhacking at 10,500 feet of altitude to get close to the little polluted stream that flows out of California Gulch through Animas Forks and past Silverton itself.  I adjusted my circular polarizer to get maximum sky darkening and contrast.  I adjusted my aperture to get the longest possible shutter speed since I wanted to smooth out the stream.  I also needed the small aperture in order to keep the foreground and background in focus.  After a couple of test shots – I got the image shown today.  So far, I think it’s my favorite of the trip!

For the record, I got up at 6AM and drove to Animas Forks in the dark to get a dawn shot here.  I couldn’t throw it away fast enough.

Vital Stats: Canon 5D Mark II w/Canon 17-40 f/4L w/B+W Slim MRC polarizer @ 40mm.  ISO 100, f/22, 1/10 sec.

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