Palm Springs

Palm Tree Silhouette

One of the primary features of Palm Springs is its many palm trees, so the city is aptly named.

Palm Tree Silhouette, Palm Springs, CA

This grouping of palm trees is located near the north end of Palm Springs. I made this photograph at sunrise when the yellow and orange light created beautiful silhouettes of the palm trees against the early morning sky. I usually try to avoid large areas of complete blackness in my photographs. I want to have a proper exposure and maintain at least a small amount of detail even in the dark shadows. But in this photograph I wanted a full silhouette. The trees are pure black here, and I wanted to have that contrast between the silhouetted palm trees and the bright, colorful morning sky. The contrast brings out the glow of the sky and also accentuates the shapes of the trees.

This is one of those photographs that probably anyone could make. It’s not a location that’s difficult to get to. It’s not a technically difficult photograph to make. It’s a pretty straightforward composition too, and lots of other compositions would probably have worked equally well. So on a technical level, anyone can do it. But I find that to be the case for many photographs. Assuming you are in the right place at the right time, which does take some planning, patience, persistence, and a little bit of luck--but given all that, if you are a technically competent photographer you will be able to make any photograph you’ve seen others make. But that’s just the thing. The point is I did not make this because I saw someone else make it. I’m not copying something I’ve seen someone else do. This was my idea at that time. Maybe it’s not an original idea--surely it’s been done many times before. But it was my independent idea, and it was the story I wanted to tell at the time. That’s the key. For a photograph to work, it has to be a natural and honest expression of the photographer. It has to tell that photographer’s story. In other words it has to be an artistic expression. Otherwise it’s just a pretty picture.

I don’t often make silhouette photographs, but it felt like the right thing to do in this case. The simplicity of the photograph helps tell the story of the palm trees of Palm Springs on a calm morning at sunrise. It’s that story that I’m telling--that attempt at communication I’m making--that makes this photograph worth sharing. Maybe anyone could have made this photograph, but not everyone would have told that story, and that’s what I hope comes through in photographs like this one. Like all my photographs, it reveals something about me. It lets me tell part of my story.

Reading the Sky

I think I’m developing an uncanny ability to read the sky. I can tell when the sunset is going to be spectacular. As a landscape photographer, I am very interested in having beautiful skies with color and just the right kind of clouds in my photographs.

Five Palm Trees at Sunset, Palm Springs, CA

One afternoon a week or so ago, I looked out the window and saw the sky. It was still at least a couple of hours before sunset, but I thought to myself, if these clouds stay like this, it’s going to be an amazing sunset. The clouds did remain, and sure enough the sky was lit up with bright orange followed by deep magenta and red expanses of cloud formations. It was really amazing. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Orange and yellow fill the sky at sunset.

I went to Palm Springs last month to photograph some of the landscape there. My primary goal was to make some photographs of palm trees, since they are so closely associated with Palm Springs. I had a couple of ideas in mind. I liked the idea of silhouetting the palm trees against the sky. I also wanted to make some photographs that featured both the palm trees and the surrounding mountains.

For the silhouettes, It didn’t matter to me what the sky was doing as long as there was deep color in it. For that, I simply had to photograph in the right direction at the right time. This is one of my results.

Palm Tree Silhouette, Palm Springs, CA

For the mountain photographs, I wanted to have a more interesting sky. On the day I was preparing to make my palm tree and mountain photographs, it was overcast all day. That wasn’t going to be good for my photography that evening. But I never give up in landscape photography, because you never know what can happen.

Later in the afternoon it was still overcast, and no shadows were being cast by any objects because of the fully diffuse light. I noticed a change in the conditions, however. At times the shadows of objects started to become more well-defined--still very hazy, but at least discernible. I looked up, and my sky reading ability kicked in. Even though the sun was still behind the clouds, enough light was filtering through to form these faint shadows. Yes, the clouds were just beginning to thin out. If this kept up without going too far, there would be enough light coming through to illuminate the clouds from below, and that would produce a beautiful display at sunset. I continued my wait now with guarded optimism and excitement for what might be coming.

I found my location and got situated 45 minutes before sunset. The conditions were similar to what they were an hour or two earlier, and I now had much higher expectations for the sunset. The mountains to the west block the sun long before the actual sunset time, and because I was located so close to the mountains, I could not see what was happening in the sky behind them. I waited patiently until the light show began, and it did begin! I started by making the photograph at the top of this blog. At this point the sunset light is mostly orange and yellow because the sun is still above the true horizon. I can’t see it because it’s blocked by the mountains, but the beautiful light was extensive enough for me to see it in the clouds above the mountains.

Three Palm Trees at Sunset, Palm Springs CA

Ten to fifteen minutes later, the sun had set, and now it was lighting up the clouds from below with beautiful magenta and red colors. Here’s the photograph I made then. I love when the sky puts on this kind of light show at sunrise or sunset. This time I anticipated these sky conditions, and thankfully they developed and allowed me to make these photographs.

Wind Power in Palm Springs

I once wrote about the power of the wind in shaping the landscape, and during a recent architectural photography project in Palm Springs, I gained firsthand experience with wind power.

Wind turbines in Palm Springs, CA

High winds are a common condition at the north end of Palm Springs. Consequently, a large wind farm resides in the area. The wind turbines are large, numerous, and constantly in motion.

Wind turbines in Palm Springs, CA

Another feature of this area of Palm Springs--a city known for its distinctive architecture--is a unique house inspired by Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome.

The site of the house puts it right in the middle of the wind farm, and you can view the turbines from most of the many windows in the house. The house did not always have all these windows, however. California architect Pavlina Williams, AIA bought the house a few years ago and redesigned it, making it into the beautiful home I’m sharing with you here.

Geodesic Dome House, Palm Springs CA. Architect: Pavlina Williams, AIA

During my last night at the house, the winds were particularly strong. I believe they were 40-50 miles per hour steadily, with gusts even higher. As I worked outside, at times fighting the wind to stay upright, I understood why they chose this location for the wind farm. It was actually difficult to remain standing in the gusts, and I worried that my photography would be affected. Fortunately, my tripod withstood the high wind and allowed me to produce very sharp photographs.

I continue to be amazed by the power of the wind. Not only does it help shape the desert landscape of the Southwest, but it also provides a steady source of power in some places. I enjoyed the opportunity for a short time to reside among these huge wind turbines as they harnessed the power of the wind.

If you’d like to see additional photographs of the house, including some interior images, take a look at this blog post on my architectural photography website. And if I’ve inspired you to visit Palm Springs to see the house for yourself, you can book it through Airbnb at this listing. (Please note: Some of the photographs in the Airbnb listing are by me, but many are not.)

Geodesic Dome House, Palm Springs, CA. Architect: Pavlina Williams, AIA