Archive Diving: Discovering the lost images

As photographers, in the digital age, we shoot as much as we want without worry of exposing all of our film and not having any film left for the next amazing scene.  I remember instances a few decades ago where I had to really feel an image before I exposed the film and not only because I did not want to waste film, but I was paying to have my film processed!

Recently, I was working to condense my numerous archive catalogs across four separate hard drives.  During the condensing process, the memories of the copious adventures came flooding back.  Along the journey, I came across a few images that I had not previously processed, but with the new(er) post-processing techniques I have learned and processes available, the idea of archive diving actually spurred some thought.

As “artists,” we all have a unique style to our work; artists, musicians, writers and photographers alike.  Looking back at previous work is, in my opinion, therapeutic in nature.  Seeing where my composition and visual story-telling was at point X versus where it was months or years later allows me to see a progression of my skill; skill in framing a subject, skill in using the composition to tell a story and capture a moment in time that reflects the mood of the day or scene before me.

Diving through your archive is healthy for your work, in that you relive adventures or photo shoots and perhaps as you review the archive you will see images that you might once have skipped because the image did not speak to you the way others from that shoot might have at the time.  You might also find images that spur ideas on ways you can return to that location and reshoot the composition with a different framing to really capture the essence of that scene, albeit at a later date with different light, etc.

The first of the four images that I will show here, came from Valley of Fire State Park, in Nevada.  I had driven to Las Vegas for National Finals Rodeo, with the plan to use some of the daytime hours to hit Valley of Fire State Park and if time permitted, Red Rock Canyon State Park (did not make it there).

The weather was iffy the first four days I was in Vegas; on Friday, the outlook was better and offered potential.  I hopped in my truck and headed out of town towards Valley of Fire State Park.  Upon arrival at the parking area, I donned the backpack and started the trek.  The trek wasn’t long, but in my usual fashion, I was stopping here and there to take in the scenery and look for possible shots.

After arriving at Fire Wave, I spent some time just walking around, looking at the different angles and using The Photographers Ephemeris, to get an idea of where the sun would be (obviously sun sets in the west, blah blah…but I wanted to know where the reflected light would hit, etc.).  The closer it got to sunset, the more I was sure sunset was going to be a bust (clouds low & thick on the western horizon).

The clouds were pretty cool, though I did not have a 2-stop soft grad filter, which I thought might make the sky just a little more interesting.  The location is one that I did not quite capture the scene to my satisfaction, so I do think there will be a return trip at some point in the future.

The Fire Wave

The Fire Wave

The second of four images comes from another desert scene and one of my craziest adventures: Bisti Badlands in New Mexico.

I wrote about the cracked eggs at Golden Hour a few weeks ago, but I did run across another image that I missed when I was originally culling through those images.  The haboob really caused the sky to be character-filled!  Not only was the scene like something from an alien landscape, but the sky was angry, black, purple with hints of orange and yellow.

Alien Sunset at Bisti

Alien Sunset at Bisti

Image number three is one that you may not believe; I know it was in disbelief of what I saw when I arrived at the parking lot of Great Sand Dunes National Park in February of 2014.  The weather was not what was forecast for the San Luis Valley, but I will definitely take the adventure (and the images I created) anytime!!!!  Snowshoeing on the sand dunes is definitely one of the more unique adventures I have had along the way; but, I did learn something too: snowshoes actually work well on sand (for the few spots that were wind-blown)!

My destination was a bowl below High Dune, where the light might cast some good shadows to create depth within the image.  Because there was a blanket of powdery snow 12” to 15” in depth to slog my way through, the trek took me probably 30 minutes longer than I had planned, so I didn’t have as much time to scout, as I had planned.  Fortunately, my pre-planning work with TPE and Google Earth sufficed for my location choice.

Usually at the sand dunes, you would think that ’S’ stood for sand.  However, this instance ’S’ stood for snow (and lots of it, from what I saw).



The final image of this archive dive comes from a road trip in August of 2015, to Mount Rainier National Park, in Washington State.  Wildfires in the pacific northwest were causing mayhem throughout the pacific northwest, but I took my chances anyway.  I figured the wildfire haze ‘might’ bring some character to the sky.

The first few days were interesting, to say the least.  One morning, after driving from Cougar Rock Campground to Sunrise Ridge Trailhead, I had a great opportunity for sunrise, with low-hanging clouds along Mt. Rainier, some dew on the vegetation and a crisp morning.  As sunrise time came, a low-level layer of clouds closed off the eastern horizon, making sunrise pretty much a non-starter.

Watching the weather forecasts and checking smoke haze maps as often as cell signal would allow, I saw another sunrise opportunity, with a lower potential level of smoke haze and better sunrise conditions being forecast, so I got up at 3am, drove 1 hour and 45 minutes to Sunrise Visitor Center (again), parked and started hiking up Sourdough Ridge Trail to the sunrise shoot location.  As the Blue Hour came, I could tell that there was a bit more smoke haze than I would have liked, but I had hopes that the light would be good…but time would tell.

The light came and sunrise was not quite as good as I had hoped, but the clouds along with just a tiny bit of smoke haze brought about a fairly neat sunrise image.  This was my alternate shot, but gives you a good idea of what I was dealing with on that particular morning!

Looming Large!

Looming Large!

From these four images, you can see that an archive dive can net some unique and interesting finds.  I will say that a couple of the locations are ones that I really want to return to and create images when there isn’t smoke haze to complicate the light.  From a creative perspective, I will continue to do archive dives periodically just to make sure I don’t miss any images that may be worthy of post-processing.  Continuing to do the archive dives will also allow me to observe the direction my photography is going from a creative & compositional perspective!

If you are a photographer, do you perform archive dives from time to time?  Have you found images that were previously missed, but may now be worthy of editing?  How about re-processing images you edited in the past, using new techniques or tools available?

Bisti Badlands: Alien [looking] Desert Landscape and Haboobs

While Archive Diving today, making sure my master image files were all good to go, I came across an image that I had forgotten about, from a crazy adventure trip to the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico.

The Bisti Badlands, located an hour South of Farmington, NM.  In May of 2013, a photographer friend and I decided to check out the Bisti Badlands for ourselves after hearing much talk about the unique landscape.

The day we arrived, we set up camp and did a little scouting before we crashed for the night.  We wanted to get up early enough to catch sunrise and be able to take in as much as we could since we had only allocated three days to explore and photograph.

When the alarm went off, we got up and enjoyed trekking around; sunrise was okay, but I will say that the blue hour just walking around Bisti Badlands and taking in all of the stellar and amazing landscape.

About 5:30pm, we looked to the West and saw one of those pesky Haboob’s and it was heading our way…fast!  We did have to head west to get to our sunset location, but this made is both consider our options.  Option 1 was to find a safe place to ride out the haboob and hope it did not last too long.  Option 2 was beat feet back to the camper back at the parking area (about 2.5 miles away).

During the 5 to 10 minutes we discussed our options and looked at my handheld GPS to see what it calculated as time it would take to get back…the haboob had made up our minds for us.  We had to find a place to hunker down where we could be safe, but also have a good view of the area as well.

Once we found a good place to hunker down, we set our packs down and then made three arrows using small rocks that pointed towards the parking area (a safety measureI felt was necessary).

From 5pm until almost 5pm, the haboob hammered the Bisti Badlands.  I’ve experienced some wild weather in my days, but that was truly an experience I’d like to forget!  I can say that I’m forever grateful that my sunglasses were meant for alpine climbing / hiking, so the side shields prevented quite a bit of the desert sand from sand-blasting my eyes.  I put my skull cap on in an attempt to keep as much of the sand out of my hair as I could (though I would later realize that the skull cap did little to really keep the sand away (lol).

After the haboob passed, we started working our way to the sunset location (Cracked Eggs area).  We were not out of the woods yet though.  Sunset was still 20 minutes away, so this shot was the best I could create before we both felt it was wise to pack up and beat feet back to the camper at the parking area.

Once we arrived at the camper, we were happy to see the first haboob had not affected the camper.  We get some dinner cooking along with some coffee, then we each took turns using up some water with a nice, hot shower.  My photography friend made sure the camper was secure and not going to go anywhere unless Toto’s tornado scooped us up (lol).  We had parked the camper such that it was in-line with the wind direction, so that one of us would get the queen size bed on the windy side and the other would get the queen size bed on the non-windy end.

While he was showering, the wind began to pick up and then the sand.  The second haboob lasted about three hours perhaps four.  By the time sunrise came the next morning, we both felt this trip was going to be cut short as the weather was just not cooperating.  We hiked around the badlands for about three hours, then retuned to the camper, closed things up and set out on our trip back to Denver.

Sadly, I have not yet returned to Bisti as the few times I have planned a trip there, the weather forecasts have been less than desirable!  If you choose to visit Bisti Badlands, there are couple things I would highly recommend.  1) Make sure you have plenty of water (double what you think you will need, just in case).  2) Check, double-check and triple-check the weather for Bisti and from Phoenix, AZ, Las Vegas, NV and Ely, NV for the time period slightly before you plan to be at Bisti Badlands and through the time you plan to be there.  Watch satellite loops to be sure the winds and other weather components are not going to hamper your trip.

Golden Hour Cracked Eggs