Mud tiles in a desert playa of the Eastern Sierra, California (2016)
I first found these mud tiles while scouting an area without my camera gear. I was just looking for a good area to include in the next day’s workshop itinerary, so I left all of my gear in the car and hiked out for some quick midday exploring with my partner. Of course Murphy’s Law dictates that if you don’t have your gear with you, then you will find something that you actually want to photograph. The light on these tiles at that time was perfect, raking across them in a way that really picked out their textures. Having nothing more than my phone with me, I took some reference shots of various abstracts with it and continued with my exploration of the area.
Later that day, I looked at the photos on my phone and deeply regretted not having ‘real’ shots taken with my DSLR instead. So I resolved to reproduce some of the compositions upon returning to that area with the workshop. Sounds easy enough, right? Ha! Anyone who has ever walked across a huge playa of mud tiles will know what a jigsaw puzzle they are and how easy it is to lose a composition even when you’re still standing right in front it. I always advise people to place a stick or other marker where they found a comp so that they can return to it again, but I had not done that myself because I didn’t think that I would be so keen to reshoot those abstracts.
When I did return to that playa, I wandered around utterly bewildered by the expanse of patterns, completely unable to remember even which corner of the playa I had been in when I took those phone shots. It was absolutely like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. And then…EUREKA! I spotted a familiar collection of patterns out of the corner of my eye and pulled out my phone for a comparison. After a bit of fussing around, I was able to replicate one of my phone shots exactly using my DSLR. That discovery encouraged me to keep up the search for the other compositions, which started to feel very much like an Easter egg hunt. It was actually pretty fun, and I ultimately found all three of the comps from my phone and recreated them with my camera. Here is the first one that I found that day, patterns that reminded me of snakeskin.