Dec 19 2009

the story behind the living joshua tree holiday card

Almost exactly one year ago a Winter storm came rolling through Southern California. This normally just means rain here in the Los Angeles basin, but we do get snow in the high mountains – and on special occasions the snow level drops down low enough to deposit snow in the high desert area of Joshua Tree National Park. Visiting the snow covered desert is one of the real treats of living out here and my excursion out there last year became this year’s Holiday card.

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The snow covered Joshua Tree that became a card

The printing of my cards is done in-house on my own printer using a card stock that I get at Red River Paper. In the middle of printing my Epson 2400 suddenly stopped printing without warning!  Instead of having a “Check Engine” light like we have on our cars now, this printer simply shuts down when it’s time for service. A late night trip to the electronic store to update the printer got me back in business to finish the rest of the cards.

As I was complaining about the printer to my friend Chuck Chugumlung and showed him a video version of the scene on my iPhone. He said, “You should just do an interactive version of the card”. It never occurred to me, but Chuck is an interactive designer that does this sort of animation all the time. I sent him the movie and he came back with this wonderful interactive version of a Holiday card. If you haven’t seen it yet, click on the link. Go ahead. I’ll wait. You can even play it more than once.

The original clip is a full HD video version of the snow falling. I had received one of the first Canon 5D MkII cameras, but really hadn’t done much with the video capability beyond learning how to push the record button. So after trudging out through the snow to the tree I set up for a still photo, took my shots and after seeing clumps of snow falling around me, I decided that I would try to catch the action of the melting snow. At the time, I was proud and showed it to my TV friends. The reaction? “That’s nice, where are you going to show it?” With the traditional TV frame being a horizontal rectangle, he had a point. But since then I’ve seen some interesting work with what some call “living one-sheets”. This is where a movie ad comes to life. Here’s one for Marley & Me from last Christmas. These are often shown in shopping malls that have HD TV sets turned vertically.

Here is the original video version – only four seconds.

Snow drop – Joshua Tree National Park from Mark Harmel on Vimeo.

On that same day I also shot another horizontal variation I liked. I sent both versions off to the Photo District News and this one was chose to be one of their first’ “Photo of the Day“.

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This version became the PDN Photo of the Day

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

 the story behind the living joshua tree holiday card

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Mar 14 2009

desert sun

Many photographers only want to shoot in the “golden hours” at sunrise and sunset. I recall being in a workshop with one of my heros Ernst Haas and hearing him talk about “looking for the light”. He believed that there was always good light at every part of the day. You just had to know where to find it and more importantly – how to see the great light.

What is fabulous about the desert is that even the high noon, burnt-out light that I often avoid looks right in the desert. The subject matter lends itself to that hot and desolate look that goes with the harsh light. Here is a blooming occotillo cactus positioned against an open sky.

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Near high noon show the empty expanse of the desert

You can then revisit the same subject matter later in the day to achieve a completely different look. This time it was close to sunset, with the help of my friend Martin who helped to flag the sun off my lens, I was able to shoot right into the sun and place the tall occotillo cactus against the mountain instead of the blue sky.

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Late afternoon lighting shooting directly into the sun

Different treatments of same subject shot with very different light. It is all a matter of of telling the right story at the time of day you are shooting.

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

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