Welcome friends - I'm posting published articles and sundry items as time allows. Most subjects pertain to conservation, photo trekking and tourism in borderlands Arizona, USA. More of my articles can be seen on my publisher's website

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Article: "February's Frost"

(Published February 2010 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer" in Tubac Villager.)

My name’s Murray. How do you dew?

Clinically, the dictionary tells us that frost is formed when surfaces are cooled underneath the dew point of the adjacent air, and that a dew point varies by temperature and barometric pressure. 

Artistically, frost provides a splendidly novel subject for you, the borderlands photographer, in a geographic place where those variables of meteorology don’t often occur.

Anyone who has migrated to southern Arizona from the northlands knows what frost is. Those folks may give this topic a cool reception and so, turn a cold shoulder to it. Frost reminds them of the clenched fist of winter, the icy grip of a season best forgotten. In the borderlands, winter is more of an abstraction; perhaps that’s why people retire to here, do you think?

When frost does occur, it’s only for a moment. A nature photographer knows that most opportunities are fleeting: “found” circumstances form the basis of his or her work. So, one must go out and find frost. I find it often in February, and I find it in Arivaca.

A charming, historic borderlands hamlet where the coffee and the folks are warm, Arivaca is the site of a section of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, the Arivaca Cienega. Cienega, as you may know, means wetlands. A wetland, as you may know, is where the action is at for many desert photographers. Because a wetland is wet.

Arivaca remains a bit isolated due to a long winding road west from Interstate 19 in the Santa Cruz River Valley. About 35 years ago the road was paved at roughly the same time as the valley’s interstate construction. The protection of the land of Arivaca Cienega is a story unto itself, as is the town.

For now, be satisfied with a short discourse on the glories of photographing the frost of the boardwalk of Arivaca Cienega. This boardwalk, unsurprisingly, is made of boards. These boards attract frost, as do the grasses of this place. 

You may want to chill out if you worry about the frigidity required for good frost pictures. A nature photographer is a hardy beast who nevertheless takes consolation in the late hour the sun rises in the winter. If you hoist yourself from the downy comfort of your bed and arrive in Arivaca just before sunrise, you’ll meet the challenge of the moment.

As the borderlands sun rises, so melts the frost, quickly. So get out there and be completely prepared as any photographer must be. Capturing frost in a camera, as in all photography, is an exercise in capturing light. However, our frost is more subtle than northern frost, and so, is more of a challenge. Anything involving water in the borderlands is more fleeting and preciously tiny. 

Find an angle and a subject which emphasizes the high contrast of the frost crystals and the reflection and refraction of the rising sun. Avoid your footsteps, handprints, or other marks on the virgin frosted surfaces. In other locales, glass surfaces such as a window pane, provide transparent opportunities for capturing intricate, delicate patterns of frost, but now, we are out in the wilds of Arivaca Cienega, with no windows.

So the focus is on the planks of the boardwalk and the grass that surrounds it. The reflected pinpoints of light on frost and melted frost can test your camera lens’s “bokeh.” Bokeh comes from a Japanese term and is the rendition of out-of-focus points of light, or the character of the blur. The size of these blurred points of light is a result of distance and your lens’s focal length setting. The optical quality of lenses impacts bokeh; a perfect soft-edged circle is considered ideal bokeh.

A charming bonus can be earned by finding critters on frost, or their tracks. These critters don’t mind so much being up early and out of their warm beds. The intrepid nature photographer uses them as role models in the pursuit of morning quarry.

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