Landscape: Joshua Tree in the Wintertime


Joshua tree in the wintertime

You get lazy when you live on the coastal section of Southern California. Lazy and soft. The weather is always kind. In the four years that I lived there I never once walked outside and felt shocked by the temperature or weather conditions. It was like walking into another room of my house. That’s why people have outdoor living rooms there.

So when I took a trip to Joshua National Park with my friend Rashid in January of ’09 I expected to step out of my trooper to balmy 60 degree weather. Because it’s still in southern California, right?

But after the 2.5 hour drive from San Clemente I stepped out of the vehicle to 35 degrees with a 14 MPH wind. It froze my ears in 20 seconds. It shocked me more than any weather situation ever has. Well, maybe not any situation….. 

There was that time on August 4th, 1992 in Austin Texas. I was a freshly minted Mormon missionary. We hopped on our bicycles at 2PM with the sun searing the black asphalt. Humidity 95% Temperature 105. Even my hair was hot. Ever felt your hair burn on top of your head? That was shocking.

Rashid and I looked at each other and grimaced. Then we drove straight to Walmart for 5 dollar sweatshirts and 1 dollar gloves.

I know. This story is very uninteresting. It’s not very important. Lets try something different.

Joshua trees have always held my fascination. 1987, I was in the 10th grade. U2 had just released their seminal album the Joshua tree. At the time I was a meager 15 years old and had no idea what a Joshua tree was. I only knew one thing, they were cool. I didn’t know why they were cool, but the fact that they were cool has never left me.

While in California I always wanted to see them, touch them, and of course photograph them.

This one grabbed me as I drove by it. I made 5 exposures of it that day. This is my favorite of the 5.


Technical data, philosophical information and photo tips

Photographed with my Crown Graphic 5×7 view camera. 305mm G-Claron lens. Ilford Delta 100 film.

There is a book called Saguaros, It’s a photographic monograph by photographer Mark Klett. In case you were trying figure it out it’s pronounced (sawarro).

The book is 100’s of Saguaro cactus in Southern Arizona, the Sedona desert. The cactus have a lifelike appearance. It’s the personifaction of cactus basically. It is one of the most unique landscape photography books I have ever seen.

That book was the inspiration while I drove around the park.

Joshua tree national park is better than great. It is so beautiful that it seems staged. I think Walt Disney and his team finished Disneyland and then built Joshua Tree national park.

To get a tree like this you need to go low. I put my camera about 6 inches off the ground. If I hadn’t done that then it would be a drab photograph. The horizon line and the clutter on the ground would exact too much attention. I wanted to feature the spiny arms silloueted against the stormy sky.

I could have exposed the negative a few stops more and achieved a blown out sky and a detailed tree. I chose to do the sillouete though.

There are a million choices in photography. So many. The best way is to know what you want before you shoot. I close my eyes and visualize the finished image. My technical decisions are much easier then. 

I also have a rotating catalog of images shuffling in my head like a rolodex to draw inspiration from. That’s why I consume other photographers work, mostly in book form. Going online is risky because there is so much garbage. GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). The images that a photographer takes the time to print and publish almost always have merit. It takes mere seconds to shoot, import and upload.

-Jon Ball is a portrait photographer who doubles as a fine art photographer with too many opinions. His portraits, if you wish to see them, can be found at Good day.


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