It Was a Cold and Stormy Night

It was “a cold and stormy night” when I crawled out of my summer sleeping bag about 7 p.m. one winter evening. I knew I would freeze if I didn’t get to a heated motel room. I brought the wrong sleeping bag and I had parked near Kessler Peak and camped and planned to wait for sunrise to take more images as part of my artist-in-residency.

_MG_5929 Roy's morning light-Recovered

[1] Roy’s Morning Light

The only thing is, there was no residence to work from, so I usually drove 184-miles miles round trip each day from my home in Joshua Tree, leaving at 4 a.m. to catch first light, sometimes passing through Amboy at the right time to catch the morning glow at Roy’s, the once famous hangout for movie stars who used the motel, gas station, and supplies while making Hollywood film productions in the 30s, 40s and 50s. [1]

Nearby Baker beckoned, and I slithered behind the steering wheel and made my way to Highway 40, hoping the roads would not become impassable.

Soon, I was nestled up to an electric wall heater, sleeping fitfully.

I live for the morning light, but for me it lasts usually but a few minutes, maybe 10 to 15.

But when gray skies abound, the “window” for shooting photographs gets extended. Snow and fog expand the shoot time, and make for even lighting, with dark objects only a few F-stops away from brightly lit areas.

It was almost 5 a.m. and I was off for a return trip to the summit.

A drizzling snow continued to fall. I parked along the roadway and waited, peering out the window of my SUV, searching for enough light to take some photographs.



Unlike most fine art photographers, I often work without a tripod. I know their value — I once drove 300 miles to buy a used one for nearly $800. I was in Montana, in Glacier National Park, and I had been told where Ansel Adams had captured one of his famous photographs.

Pretending to be Ansel, I had to have one to “duplicate his image” for my collection [2].

I usually work like a sports photographer, moving up and down the side of the football field, or basketball arena, for the perfect shot. Soon I was racing about amongst the rocks looking for the spot to capture a composition that changes in color and hue so quickly as the morning light spreads across the sky.

Meg tests with strobes after Harvey Stein course


This morning I first had to shoot from an open car window. Too much falling snow. If you look carefully you can see the snowflakes coming down in this image. [3].

I took this one perched inside the car, through an open window. This image never made my show; it’s too “flat”, lacks three-dimensionality.

Thirty minutes later I was out of the car, racing about, on a quest to find another “perfect” spot.


Here is one of the photos that became part of my show in 2009 in the Kelso Desert Light Gallery. [4] I worked for hours in post-production to make the emerald greens on the right side of the image predominate, to create contrast between the pathway and the boulders.

The rock textures were a challenge in post. Today I would use the Clarity tool in Adobe Camera Raw to bring out the scratchy, pebbly surface.

We don’t have forest greens in Mojave National Preserve, but we do have a taste of them in the Joshua Trees, and many other majestic scenes deserving artistic interpretations, snow or no snow.

Jim Smart
Vice President