Leading the Eye at the Very Large Array

Some years ago I visited the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Karl G. Janske Very Large Array (thankfully also known as the VLA), located on the San Agustin Plains in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. The VLA is a collection of 28 radio telescopes strewn about the desert and arranged close to or far from each other depending on what the scientists wish to study. The telescopes are moved along rails a number of times a year.

The VLA is a fun place to photograph, especially when the telescopes are close to each other because you can capture them in a receding line or bunched together. The San Agustin Plains are, please excuse me, plain, and do not offer much for the photographer to capture. Basically you are working with the telescopes, anything happening in the sky, and the rails.

 Radio telescope and tracks, Very Large Array (VLA), San Agustin Plains, near Magdalena, NM

The image here depicts one of the telescopes when the array’s configuration is spread across the desert. If you look carefully you can barely make other telescopes in the distance. The rails, anchored on the lower left hand corner of the frame, serve to lead the eye, first to the main subject (the telescope), and onwards to the far side of the picture. The telescope is pointing at the skies, made interesting because of the clouds. The rails also help give the image a sense of depth, an important element in an otherwise two-dimensional object (the picture).

Rails are only one of an infinite number of possibilities when you wish to lead the viewer’s eye into an image. Others include anything in a line, either curving or straight, such as bottles, a road, flowers, chairs, people, hats, coffee sacks, and [fill in the blank].

Now get out and shoot something.