As teenagers growing up in Los Angeles, we were ambivalent about the Santa Ana Winds. They would clear the air in the LA Basin, pushing it offshore where it was somebody else’s problem, and for a week or two, you could see where you lived and enjoy the beautiful mountains surrounding us. But the winds also dried out the scrub. Dry enough, a careless motorist could fire by flipping a cigarette out the window. Fires are a way of life in Southern California. They’re annual, but you don’t get used to it.
As a kid, I saw how smoke can choke the air, but I also saw a phenomenon helpful to photographers, although that didn’t sink in until I was older. When heavy smoke fills the air, it filters the sun—like sunglasses. During sunsets, the sun is an orange globe that you can look directly at. The smoky atmosphere causes beautiful orange sunsets. I don’t know if you’d call that a benefit, but they’re unusual.
After Monday’s shooting, I was processing some photos for yesterday’s blog when I glanced at the setting sun through Ritz’s window and saw an orange sun. Yesterday, as I wrote, I thought about trying to capture a sunset from my teenage memories. I decided to give it a go, and at 7:45, I drove north on US 89, looking for a suitable foreground for my sunset experiment. I settled on a spot where the sun would go down behind a lovely mountain—Sandy Peak. As a bonus, there was a vast field sprinkler spraying streams of water that would glow with the backlighting. I exited the truck and sat by the roadside, camera in hand, and waited.
The smoke in the air must have dissipated because as the sun got lower, it didn’t get duller, although it still had a tint of orange. I knew I would need to wait for the sun to kiss the mountain for the shot to work. That meant shooting when the sun was most colored anyway. Then, at 8:00, four children burst out of the house to my left. One got on a quad and started driving around while three girls—judging from the long dresses they wore—began running toward the sprinkler. When they got there, they turned off my sprinklers. I’m talking about one of those massive machines you see in fields moving on wheels in a circle. I’d be afraid to touch it, and these children turned it off like the hose in the front yard.
I thought about leaving, but the sun was inches away by then, and the girls hung around the fixture, so I adjusted the camera to bring up the foreground and started shooting until the sun slipped halfway behind the mountain.
Here is my last and best shot. The smoke wasn’t thick enough, the water wasn’t spraying, and I have live humans in my photograph, but I thought I’d share my evening with you—at no extra charge. Can you find the girls? They’re there, I can assure you. Now, I can go back to shooting inanimate objects.
Until next time — jw