Going desert dark in B&W

Phantom limb

Phantom limb

(Click image to enlarge)


Going Dark.


For several years I have experimented with creating black and white images from digital color photos.


In particular, I have been interested in creating imaginary desert moonscapes, somewhat akin to the exaggerated illustrations of science fiction artists of the 1950s and early 1960s.


The desert’s plant life looks pretty alien in broad daylight. But when the blue in the sky is throttled down in black and white and the mix of the remaining colors is manipulated and altered, broad daylight becomes a moonlit night.


Raggedtop Mountain panorama

Raggedtop Mountain panorama

The effect works best with wispy cirrus clouds, which amplify the ghostly lighting effects.


After several years of experimenting with these false-night black and white images I have started lately to go darker. To add a curves layer and heighten the contrast, giving both a brooding and bright contour to the landscapes.


Springtime in the desert brings extra colors to the palette, which can be made to glow or go totally dark in black and white. And the myriad forms and points of life and death of the iconic giant saguaro cactus bring unexpected texture and shape to the work.


It feels very western.


Sometimes haunting, sometimes elevating. Sometimes grand and stoic.


This work wears a psychological cloak very different from the normal experience of desert visitors.


To the Tohono O’odham – the indigenous people of Southern Arizona who were here when the Spanish arrived – saguaros are ancestors.


It’s not hard to see their point. Saguaros take on a quasi-human form, and countless mythical shapes as well.


In some ways, these photos play up that human connection. They bring out many personalities as well as individual details of the historic struggles for survival that each desert sentinel has experienced, there surrounded by offspring, extended family, and ancestors, quietly surveying the surrounding land.


Creating them has changed how I view the desert. When I look at the sky and earth in the desert now I see what they are and what they will become. I am starting to see in grayscale, which is a different skill for a photographer. I know instinctively now what will work and what won’t.


But there are still enough surprises and twists to keep me on the path. When I step out of my house and see a blue sky with wisps of cirrus clouds, all non-essential appointments are about to get canceled. It’s time to find a new place to shoot.


There is still a lot for the landscape artist to discover from without and within.


El Rey

El Rey

The desert teaches all.



~ by Daniel Buckley on April 11, 2018.

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