Lead into the Desert by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

Hello (again) World

I am happy to once again have my computer set up with internet access so that I may be able to share my adventures in photos.  I have moved to the Upper Mojave Desert for a job and am very much enjoying my new home.  It is within a reasonable driving distance to many points of interest, including Death Valley, Alabama Hills, the Eastern Sierra's, White MountainsJoshua Tree, and many ghost towns.  Due to the lack of humidity and pollution out here, you are able to see for very long distances during the day and at night the skies light up with stars instead of city lights.  It has been very refreshing to look up at night and see the awesomeness that surrounds us.  I knew I had missed seeing stars after living in larger cities for so long, but I had forgotten how much it meant to me.

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Probably the first thing you will notice about my photos of Red Rock Canyon is that the rocks are not red.  This is due to the fact that these photos were taking with my Infrared modified DSLR and have been processed using alternative methods.

I've modified the way I have been alternative processing my infrared images after upgrading to Photoshop CC for my home computer.  Before I was simply changing the allotted values from 0 to 100, but CC now allows you to go from -200 to +200 for each of the RGB channels.  This really allows you to stretch the channels in your raw file to be able to pull out even more visual separation captured.  The images for Red Rock Canyon with the bright blue skies were processed using the channel mixer and set to:

  • Red: R 0, G 0, B +162
  • Green: R 0, G +95, B 0
  • Blue: R +112, G 0, B -112 

The deeper yellow in the foliage in the canyon is evidence that the water run off is benefiting these shrubs much more than the plants on the ridge which are a lighter yellow.

Barstow & Jawbone

On just about every highway out here you will come across a ghost town from once booming industries that fell into collapse.

Many of the homes from that not too distant past have been picked over by people looking for copper pipes and wire in the walls.

Some homes even have evidence of been set on fire.  I can only speculate if it was the same kind of thing that happened with the housing market crash in 2007.  There were a lot foreclosed properties on the market which were just completely trashed by their previous owners who took out their anger on their lost home.  It also very well could have been the work of random vandalism or drug activity.

Introducing the Lytro Illum Lightfield Camera by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

New Toys!

Why yes, Christmas did come early.  I've been keeping an eye out for prices on the Lytro Illum and I was able to get it for a steal off Woot.com last month.  I started playing around with different scenarios captures to see what this new technology had to offer.  
Lytro is attempting to brand the concept as Living Pictures, but let's get it straight.. it's a lightfield.  

With the Illum, there are many small lenses over the sensor to be able to capture the light rays from different positions.  In theory, this allows the software to be able to estimate depth so that the user can click on different areas of the image.  When the file is processed and exported, it allows the user to change what they would like to focus on and also allows for slight changes in the viewing perspective to create a more engaging experience.  However, with all new technology- there are going to be some bugs.  Where to do I file my P0s?  I'm not saying it's horrible, on the contrary- it is actually a very impressive piece of equipment for how small and user friendly it is.  But it's far from being professional publishing grade.  I do however think the Illum will end up being a very good preview tool by professionals in this new technology.  Much like how Polaroid was used as a preview in studio photography for large and medium format cameras back in the silver age of film. And for those of you hipsters out there that keep saying film is making a come back: No, son... just no.

Since the Illum is attempting to estimate depth in it's processing, I decided to push the device to its limits by putting it in various tricky scenarios and visit some of my favorite places in the process.  This will be the first of a many part series going over the subject of lightfield subject matters, processing, and user experience.  However, as an introduction I am going to proceed with this post as editorial on the location so you can create your own first impressions.

Welcome to Main Street

I hadn't visited Chinese Camp for nearly 15 years.  With all the housing development that has occurred in California over the last 10 years, let me tell you: Chinese Camp was not one of them.  The only thing that changed was the fact that the mummified bat that hanging in the window of an abandoned building had fallen down.  You read that correctly, mummified bat.  When I had first visited, one of the locals approached my dad and I awkwardly with the amazement and excitement that they would be actually able to speak to another person that day.  He gave us a short tour and pointed out that I should take a photo of the bat.  It had gotten trapped between the screen and the window and overtime naturally dried out entombed in the attic window.

During the Gold Rush, Chinese Camp was actually a significant town as it is located at the intersection of HWY 49 (which connects all of the major mining towns) and HWY 120 (which was the supply route from Stockton.)  It was originally named Camp Washington, but grew to be known as Chinese Camp as it was home to 5,000 Chinese during the Gold Rush.  It was also home to one of the first Tong Wars in California that consisted of 2,000 people from 2 rival clans.  However, because there were only a few firearms were used during the fight and weapons used were mostly handmade knives and mining tools, there were very few people that died although many were injured.

Today, Main Street is a whole one block long.  The whole town consists about 8 blocks total and a population of 126 according to the 2010 census.  However, those numbers could also be contributing from the surrounding rural ranch areas.  I would say about half of the town itself where the post office, fire station, and gas station are located are abandoned buildings.  Most of these buildings have boarded up windows and have walls that have fallen down.  They would seem completely uninhabitable and probably are condemned, I did however observer evidence that someone was taking shelter in one of the old buildings.  Despite their deteriorate state, they are protected from being torn down or remodeled because it is considered a historic site.  I would understand if this was a state/county/national park or if the city took the effort to attract tourists to the area that these buildings should remain intact.  However, the current condition of them are so poor I can't imagine they are doing anything good for the community.  There are many other mining towns in the area that have kept up the look of their downtown's, host festivals, and attract a number of people on their way to the snow or lake, who like wine tasting, enjoy little shops, or want to get a feel of what the gold rush was like.  As much as I do enjoy taking photos of rust, property value and a healthy economy is something that comes to the front of my mind when looking at these depressed places.  Or a more pointed question: Who would want to live out here?

Click the arrow to go to the next lightfield in the gallery.

Don Pedro Reservoir by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

Last Hike of the Year

I went to Don Pedro Reservoir last weekend with my Infrared Camera and observed the devastation of our drought in California.  We may have had a lot of rain these past few weeks, however it's apparent that we have a lot of catching up to do.  Don Pedro is currently holding about 792,000 acre ft of water.  This might sounds like a lot, however it is down 558,000 from its historical average of 1,350,000 for this month.  It is currently only holding 39% of its total capacity.

Drought Evidence

You can clearly see from the photos where the normal water line for the lake is by the division of dirt and grass at the top of the ridge.  It is also interesting to see the old trees peaking up from the water from when the valley was flooded back in 1971 to make the reservoir larger.  The new dam provides the new capacity of holding 570,000 acre ft.  This is nearly doubled the original capacity of 289,000 acre ft from the dam built in 1921.

These are California Black Oaks, which grow to be 30-50 ft tall.  Since these are poking out of the water nearly 20 ft in some cases, we can get a pretty good estimate that the lake is no more than 10-30 ft deep in this area.


Treasures Revealed

The drought has also revealed the Eagle Shawmut Mine.  The remains of the structure would make a great backdrop for a fashion photo shoot and I plan to return here once I have acquired the necessary equipment and crew.  Unfortunately, due to the drought many of the boat launching areas have been closed due to the water levels no longer reaching the docks.  I will be unable to return here until the level of the lake rises.  One more reason to pray for rain.