“The Lone Tree” by Avi Das

I was driving on Highway 95 in Nevada on an autumn day, going towards the little town of Beatty, from where I planned to head west into Death Valley for a few days of shooting pictures. While driving on the lonely highway, I had my eyes on the right side where dramatic storm clouds were forming. The desert looks mysterious and intriguing when there are heavy clouds causing the play of light and shadow on the terrain.

I am a big fan of clouds, especially the ominous, dramatic ones that I was looking at. The scene was amazing with dappled light falling on the mountains in the distance. Sometimes the peaks were in total shadow, and then there would be a spot of light on a peak for a few moments, emphasizing it. Nature is so creative!

I wanted to take a photograph of that light in the mountains, but needed something in the foreground to anchor it. Suddenly, I saw the bare white tree from the corner of my eye, likely a birch, sitting a bit away from the highway. I did a quick U-turn and returned to the tree. It took me a few minutes to set up the tripod after climbing down a ditch on the side of the road. The Ebony 45s was at the ready with a 90mm Super Angulon attached. I set up the camera with a slight tilt down on the front standard to get front to back sharpness, then added a bit of rise to include the entire tree in the shot. I used Fuji Provia 100F with a Quickload holder, and I was all set, just had to wait for the light to be perfect. The clouds were fleeting gently and I had shadow on the foreground, which was not desirable. But looking at the holes in the cloud, I knew the light will shine on the foreground if I waited just a bit. And it did. Soon as the light was right, I tripped the shutter with a cable release and had my shot.

It was a delight to see the chrome on a light table a few days later back in Los Angeles! While I visit these places very often, this picture is a fond memory of that exciting photo trip in the desert of Nevada and Death Valley that year.

What do you think are the TWO most impactful features that make your image a good photograph? Don’t be shy!

In this case, it was this bare white tree standing as the odd one out in the midst of colorful foliage, that is visually the most striking thing that compelled me to take the picture in the first place. And the dappled light was the other element in it to create a mood and feeling that it exudes. The mountains in the background obscured by the clouds at that moment, heightens the drama.

If you would be able to make this photo once again, what would be the ONE thing you would like to do better or different?

I have driven by that spot and that tree a few times since, but it never has all the ingredients to create such a picture again! A lesson for me, to always keep an eye out for the extraordinary moment in a scene. Sometimes, they are just a once in a lifetime event. In essence, nothing really could have made it better. I was an opportunist who took advantage of a scene, while nature was playing around in a remote corner of the Nevada landscape. Credit goes to Nature, of course.

Avi Das shared this photograph in the FRAMES Facebook Group.


Avi Das, Los Angeles, California, USA


Equipment and settings

Ebony 45s was my camera that day, a lovely lightweight wooden field camera, paired with a Schneider Kreuznach Super Angulon 90mm f5.6. I can’t remember the exact exposure values, but it had to be something like f/32 at 1 second, or there about. I measured the light with a Sekonic 558 spot meter averaging 5 readings, but making sure the white bark of the bare tree stays white. Used a Fuji Quickload holder, which used to be such a convenient way to shoot 4×5 film (oh how I miss them!), with Fuji Provia 100F as the film to record on.

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