Thursday, March 22, 2012


The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is located only a couple of miles from where we are staying in Scottsdale.  We noticed when driving through the reservation that there were large tracts of land that have been plowed but apparently not planted with any crops.  What struck me about these fields was that they are extremely flat and, more importantly, that the rows of furrows are extremely straight.  I decided that the furrows, extending in straight lines for a quarter mile or more, running north and south, might make a good photographic study, particularly given the abundant sunlight that Arizona provides.

I realized that it would not work to try to capture this landscape in the middle of the day.  The light would be much too flat and would reach down into the furrows and eliminate the contrast that I was looking for. So the other evening about 30 minutes before sunset I drove over to see what might be available.  Too late.  Even though sunset was still a half hour away, the light was so low that it was just clipping the tops of the ridges between the furrows.  So the next morning I returned around an hour after sunrise when lighting conditions were much better.

I knew that I wanted to capture as much depth of field as possible and probably at as wide an angle as I had available.  I do not have a true wide-angle lens, so the best I could do was use my 24-120 mm lens, the narrowest aperture on which is f/22.  I also used my tripod to ensure that I did not experience camera blur in the somewhat lower light conditions.  What I did not realize until I downloaded the photos is that I had somehow set my camera to overexpose the images by two f-stops.  Fortunately, I was able to compensate for this to a major extent in post-processing.  Here is one of the first shots that I took.

Unfortunately, there was what appeared to be a lot of light colored debris mixed in with the soil that detracts somewhat from the composition, but it would be hopeless, I think, to attempt to spot-remove all of those pieces.  Nevertheless, the image is, I think, quite powerful, in large part because of how straight the furrows are.

I tried a few shots with a portrait orientation, but I did not feel they were as interesting.

Instead, I cropped one of the landscape shots into a more extreme linear image as follows.

Although I was able to compensate for much of the overexposure, I decided it would be good to return to the fields in the evening, this time an hour or so before sunset--and with the camera set to record shots with a normal exposure.  Here is a similar shot to the one above taken in the evening.

Not only was the light a little warmer, but I think the camera was able to capture more of the detail in the soil with a more appropriate exposure setting.

Although in the shots above I had the camera pointed directly down the line of furrows, I also took some shots at an angle to the rows.

In some ways these add to the overall power of the landscape.

There are some attractive mountains located to the northeast of these fields, but unfortunately most of the fields were plowed in a north-south direction, with just a line of trees or buildings visible in the background.  However, as I drove further into the reservation on the morning shoot, I noted that some of the fields had been plowed in a SW-NE direction, leading directly to the mountains in the background.  Here is a shot of that scene that I took in the morning.

Although the furrows in this field were not as deep as those above, the effect is still very nice, I think, particularly the contrast between the brown of the fields and the violet/blue of the mountains.  I converted this to a B&W, but I think it loses something.

When I returned in the evening I was concerned with how the change in light would affect both the shadows in the furrows and the color and contrast in the mountains.  The photo at the top of this post illustrates how that worked out.  Here is another shot from the evening shoot, cropped in a more horizontal fashion.  

This is my favorite shot of this series.  The mountains have a much warmer color and seem better integrated into the overall composition than the blue color of the morning.  There are buildings visible in the background, including a house just to the right of the center of the image that draws the eye.  I wish it weren't there, but in a sense it adds some interest to the shot.

A couple more notes:  I thought that I would be taking the shots from a very low angle, with the camera looking up the furrows from only a foot or two off the ground.  I discovered that the best shots seemed to be taken from a higher angle.  Also, given limitations with depth of field, I decided to focus on the soil nearby rather than at a great distance, and I think this worked out relatively well.  If I had more of a true wide-angle lens, it would offer more depth of field because of the nature of its optics, but that will need to wait for another day.


  1. beautiful pictures! this is my backyard, my homelands. the white stuff you see in the dirt is the remnants of cotton that was picked and tilled over. thank you for the beautiful photographs.