High on my list of favorite photographic subjects are the Bristlecone Pine trees high in California’s White Mountains. They are the oldest known living organisms on our planet. At least one tree in this grove is over 5,000 years old. Looking at their twisted windblown shapes, a person can feel their antiquity. Not only are these trees wildly photogenic, but they are also awe inspiring.
Not long ago I had the great fortune to spend a crystal clear night here above 10,000 feet photographing with my friends Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott. The day we arrived was crystal clear and dull from a photographic standpoint, but there was a new moon forecast and no nearby city lights to interfere with photographing the stars. We wandered location scouting through the grove till sunset, made dinner and waited in camp for total darkness.
Under the brilliant stars the twisted shapes of these ancient trees seemed even more animated. We fanned out to the locations we had found earlier in the day. Using my Nikon D800 I tested exposure settings until settling on about 4000 ISO with my 14-24mm lens at f2.8 for 25 seconds. To avoid vibrations from blurring these long exposures I fired my camera in mirror lock up mode on a steady tripod via cable release.
My headlamp was an invaluable tool. I used it not only to find my way from location to location, but also to help compose and focus in the darkness. Often I used it to carefully add a bit of light to the foreground during the long periods my shutter was open.
The old trees, the intense stars and the high desert wilderness combined to give me a sense of the immensity and mystery of space and time. I hope that these images convey a bit of that sense of wonder that I felt up there that night. The universe is very big and very beautiful.
For anyone interested in how I processed these RAW files, I used Adobe's Lightroom to import and perform RAW adjustments and onOne Software's Perfect Photo Suite to perform finishing edits. These have become my go to software toolset for editing the vast majority of my images. onOne has recently asked me to do a series of "how-to" videos and written articles for them and I just published an in depth article on how these images were edited. The link is here...