Dec 19 2010

There’s Snow in Them Thar Hills

Living in Los Angeles saves me from shoveling snow and scraping ice off my car windshield as was required in my native Detroit, but when it comes to making a Holiday card I embrace the beauty of snow and head for the hills. In Southern California this means keeping an eye out for the magical mix of a rain front with temperature levels that will produce snow at the higher elevations. In flatter regions of the state the forecast may simply be about the chance of rain, but for the mountain areas it also includes a snow level prediction – the elevation where the rain transforms into snow. Getting these photos requires heading to a beautiful location with the right elevation, but success is not assured.

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Sequoia trees provided a contrast of red bark against white snow

A November weather front created an opportunity to shoot this year’s card at a snow level in the 6,000-foot range. This meant looking on the map and finding the right spot. A contender was Sequoia National Park – it was close, in the target altitude and provided a great opportunity to shoot the red bark of sequoia trees against freshly delivered white snow. The timing required the perfect Goldilocks formula of not too hot and not too cold. A frigid temperature closes the road into the park by generating too much snow and higher mercury levels would only give me wet trees to shoot. An accurate weather forecast and perfect timing this year rewarded me with a fresh blanket of snow and I made it in and out of the park in one try.

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The sun retuned to Joshua Tree on the second day

I was less fortunate with my Joshua Tree photo from last year which required two attempts to reach the park. I was 20 cars away from getting into the 4,000-foot high desert last year before the Highway Patrol closed the road. These excursions require preparing for an overnight stay in the area, and after a good night’s sleep I was rewarded with open roads and bright sunshine the next day. (You can read more on this story and see a video version of the “Living Joshua Tree” in last year’s blog post.) Besides having the opportunity to take great photos, the other advantage of visiting parks on the edge of snowstorms is experiencing the sites without a crowd. The solitude of the normally packed Grants Grove in Sequoia was broken only by a herd of deer and I had Joshua Tree to myself untill the snow plow came through to let out trapped campers. During this slow Holiday season I’ll continue to look to the sky – not for Santa and his reindeer – but for a weather report that has the right mix of rain and temperature that would provide an opportunity to head for the hills to create next year’s card. For snow photos in the lower elevations of New York’s Central Park, view the saffron Gates series by Christo and Jeanne-Claude against fresh snow.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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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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