White Pocket, Arizona, USA by Michael Blanchette

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Picture Story

White Pocket is a remote region of the Arizona desert that features domes and ridges with contrasting colors and shapes. A pocket is defined as a relatively small area of land different from its surroundings. White Pocket includes unusual white, gray, and red rocks often interwoven in swirling layers and lines. At times, repeating patterns in the grayish rocks resemble the anatomy of the human brain, and so are informally called “brain rocks”.

It takes a few hours to drive here over a sandy desert road, but White Pocket is both unforgettable and highly photogenic. And because it takes a fair amount of determination to reach it, the volume of visitors is normally small, making for a pleasant photo experience.

In August of 2019, I joined professional desert photographer, David Swindler, on an overnight excursion to White Pocket. We arrived before sunset, tented in the desert overnight, and returned after sunrise the following morning. The idea was to photograph the desert scenery during the monsoon season, when the chances of dramatic skies are usually higher. But there were no clouds that night, so we took advantage of the moonless sky to photograph the Milky Way over the sandstone formations until the wee hours of morning.

The sandstone ridges in this scene form curves leading up to the Milky Way, while the rock formations in the middle ground contain horizontal curves across their tops. I was on my knees for this composition, with my tripod only a foot above the surface. Our leader, David Swindler, used two LED light panels to cast soft light upon both the foreground and middle ground.

Since I was so close to the ground, I shot a focus stack to ensure front-to-back sharpness that consisted of four frames taken at 120 seconds each, f/2.8 and ISO 1600. I then took a single photo for the sky using a shutter speed of15 seconds, at f/2.8 and ISO 10000.

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