photography from the ground up

Ah Shi Sle Pah, A New Perspective

The one half mile long dirt road that leads from New Mexico Hwy 57 (actually, also a dirt road) cuts through the sage brush prairie with only the slightest sign that there could be anything of interest ahead. The road comes to an abrupt end in a small turn around and a suggestion of a drop beyond the slight rise at the edge of the featureless plain. But, a short walk to the edge of that rise will change any pre-conceived ideas about Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash. The land falls away quickly into a jumble of strange shapes that defy the imagination. Usually, when I make this trip, I walk down into the midst of it all, but on this trip, it was my intention to capture the landscape along this southern edge of the wash, to use the incredible shapes and textures to make more broad landscapes to tell the story of how this place was formed, and how it continues to evolve.

From-Now-To-Then

A view through layers of geologic time to Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash in the distance

It is here, at the edge, where most of the action is. Hoodoos, their caprocks sitting at jaunty angles, are scattered about in clusters, looking for all the world like groups of alien beings assembled for a social gathering. Petrified logs, looking much the same as they did when the tree fell millions of years ago, emerge from hillsides waiting to surprise and delight visitors. All of these features make great elements for a photographer. That’s one reason why these badlands are destinations for landscape photographers from all over the world.

The-Yellow-Badlands

Another detailed look at the Yellow Badlands. The flat area at the top is a sage covered plain.

Something else that stands out here on the edge of the declivity is the color. The soft clay/ash matrix which holds it all together, is a yellowish brown that differs from the whiter color found deeper into the wash, this yellow coloration indicates the presence of iron oxides in the soil. In places, the hue can be more saturated and stand out from the rest, thereby becoming a magnet for the eye, as the hoodoo column in the photo below does.

The-Yellow-One

One of the many yellow hoodoos along the southern edge of Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash

Standing just about anywhere along this southern rim will give you a good idea of the underlying structure of the area. You can literally see the geologic history of the earth at that place. The deeper into the wash you look, the older the formations are. There’s a lot to see, which means it’s easy to overwhelm your viewers with too much information. When composing an image, it’s important to use design elements like color and light to draw the eye to the main points of interest in the scene.

The-Yellow-Lair

Looking west across the yellow badlands. This image reveals the complexity of these eroded wonderlands.

Of course, the way the light lies on the scene, will play a large part in determining the feeling an image will convey. As the sun neared the horizon to the west, it broke through the overcast in places in a series of rays that shone on the vista and, in turn, caused a dappled light which spotlighted parts of the scene, creating a natural vignette, and reducing the general saturation of the colors. The forms and creases were emphasized by the angled light as well. On the downside, shooting into the general direction of the sun requires that you be vigilant for lens flare (unless it’s intentional), and the dynamic range for such a scene can easily overwhelm your camera’s capabilities. I made five exposures of this image in case I needed to blend them in post processing, but I was actually able to complete the final version using only one exposure.

As I was walking back to the car I was in high spirits because I could feel it, you know, that excitement you get when you know you’ve made some good images and can’t wait to get them uploaded and bring them to fruition. Another lesson learned, or I should say re-learned: change your perspective and do things differently; widen your view and look for the possibilities.

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12 responses

  1. beechdey

    Reblogged this on Beechdey’s Weblog.

    Like

    May 9, 2015 at 3:46 pm

  2. Fabulous photo’s

    Like

    May 9, 2015 at 3:49 pm

  3. Beautiful images!

    Like

    May 9, 2015 at 8:21 pm

  4. Really enjoy your work Jim, thanks for sharing.

    Like

    May 9, 2015 at 10:51 pm

  5. Sue

    What a weird, fantastic place! Great captures, I love the soft shades of the landscape against that rich blue sky 🙂

    Like

    May 10, 2015 at 12:29 am

    • Sue, it is a weird and fantastic place. As many times as I have photographed there I still manage to find new subjects.

      Liked by 1 person

      May 13, 2015 at 11:21 am

      • Sue

        It obviously pushes your buttons!

        Like

        May 13, 2015 at 1:22 pm

  6. Truthfully Jim, I don’t often click on images to see larger versions but this post forced me into it as they looked so interesting and I wanted to see more. Beautifully done. Must get there one day!

    Like

    May 10, 2015 at 6:47 am

  7. Breathtaking and fascinating!

    Like

    May 10, 2015 at 12:14 pm

  8. What an amazing location the colours are superb

    Like

    May 10, 2015 at 11:44 pm

  9. Fabulous images Jim!

    Like

    May 23, 2015 at 2:47 am

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