Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Early Bird

Outside Santa Fe, 2006

In photography as in fishing, it’s often all about how early you’re willing to get up in the morning. To catch the best morning light, you need to know your location, know how the light’s going to fall, and be in place before the sun comes up.

Finding myself in Albuquerque a few Augusts ago, I was more than willing to get out of bed before sunrise so that I could get up the highway and spend a full day in Santa Fe and Los Alamos. (It helped getting up early to be two time zones behind home.)

I left Albuquerque just after 5:00 a.m. The first hint of light was just peeking over the mountains. By the time I got within twenty miles of Santa Fe, I knew I had only minutes to find something worth photographing. The sun wasn’t going to wait for me to get to Santa Fe.

I pulled off the next exit onto a roughly paved farm road. I drove beyond sight of the highway, stopped the car, pulled out my camera bag and headed off-road on foot. It was wonderfully peaceful.

I probably should have paid more attention to where I was stepping. On the way back to the car I noticed that I’d stepped over a dead rattlesnake, its desiccated body a sign that maybe I should have been more concerned about what there was out there that could kill a rattler.

But I wasn’t thinking about that as I walked out from the road. I was captivated by the sky, the golden grass and the rising sun behind me. I had about ten minutes of excellent shooting time before the sun rose high enough to wash all that gold away.

I took a lot of pictures that day. I walked all over Santa Fe. But as the day wore on, I realized that I’d likely done my best work in those first ten golden minutes.

Los Alamos, by the way, was literally a washout. As I drove up Rt. 502 through Pueblo Canyon toward the ridgeline atop which Los Alamos sits, there came a thunder and lightning storm fiercer than any I’ve ever seen. The heavy rain sent a slushy river of mud and boulders down steep rocky slopes into the narrow roadway. A low railing was all that separated the road from a drop of hundreds of feet.

The worst of the storm passed by the time I got up to Los Alamos, which for all of its super secret technology and research, looks about what you’d expect a 1940s-era military base to look like. I would show you pictures, but there were so many so many security cameras everywhere you looked that I was reluctant to take any of the official-looking buildings. Besides, if you’ve seen one old military base, you’ve seen them all.

A series of pictures from that day, including the view from White Rock, can be seen here.


  1. Those photos are all magnificent. Joe was a small child in Oklahoma, and he's always opining to me about the vast open skies there, and how you don't get anything like that here. I've seen views like that on my travels, but I've not been there. (Come to think of it, for someone who travels to so many places, there are still quite a few I've yet to see.) Thanks for taking me there!