“Abstract of the Painted Hills” by Michel Hersen

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon close up abstract detail photograph of the striations and rock formations

“Abstract of the Painted Hills” by Michel Hersen


When confronted with large panoramas of hills and mountains with pretty skies it is most tempting to do the obvious: shoot the whole thing. The mantra here is that more is better. And, I must confess that I, along with thousands of others, have done so and shot panoramas of the Rockies, the Grand Tetons, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, of course. Many of these photos are wonderful and do justice to the magnificent venues captured on film and digitally. However, over the years I have realized that in addition to the totality there is room to zoom in and study with care the inner details of the scene. Instead of documenting the obvious, train your eyes to look for abstract patterns that contribute to the totality. And this is exactly what I set to accomplish in the current photograph.

I have visited the Painted Hills on several occasions and always feel rewarded for having done so. Seventy five miles east of Bend, Oregon, these remnants of geological cataclysms from 30 million years ago can be seen over some 3,132 acres. What makes them special is the wonderful multiplicity of color, which is enhanced after one of the infrequent rains that might occur in this high desert environment. On this particular photo shoot the colors were vivid and I obtained both panoramics and close-ups. I was particularly intrigued here by the undulations at the base of one of the hills, giving the image a greater sense of monumentality.

These days, when photographing in a desert environment, I simplify choice of equipment, bringing two camera bodies (Nikon D7100), a long lens (Sigma 150-500), a wide-angle lens (Nikkor 12-24 mm.) and an all-purpose zoom (Nikkor 18-200mm). I also bring a circular polarizer alongside Cokin neutral density filters for sunrise and sunset shots. I do not change lenses in the field since that is a sure way to bring that fine desert sand into the camera to the sensitive sensor.

The present photo was taken in 2007 when I used a Nikon D200, a Nikkor zoom lens (18-200mm) and a Hoya Circular polarizer, with all attached to a Manfrotto tripod and head. The ISO was 100, f/22, focal length of 95 mm and a 1/25th-second exposure. For this shot, taken in the early evening, I used spot metering. I was situated on the Painted Hills Overlook, one of four photographic venues available. With respect to camera settings, I have found that with correct exposures of photos taken in the Painted Hills, there is very little post-processing that needs to occur in Photoshop other than minor color correction and enhancement. And such was the case for this abstract.

I have since returned to the Painted Hills in 2008 and 2013. The light is never quite the same each time I have visited but I was able to get a respectable series of panoramas and close ups. – Michel Hersen

This image is available as a print by contacting Hersen. See more of his work at www.photographybymichel.net.

Equipment and settings: Nikon D200, AF-S DX VR Zoom-NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED lens, Hoya Circular polarizer, Manfrotto tripod and head – 1/25th @ f/22, ISO 100