Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Break in the Drought

Texas was very dry in 2011.  Record setting drought gripped the state.  This past winter we had some nice rains, and on my way to Big Bend I got rained on.  So when I arrived in west Texas it was on the tail end of some rain and I got to see hope that the drought might be ending.

The first thing I liked about passing through that rain was the clouds.  People do not realize that clouds make all the difference for photography and having some great clouds opened up some wonderful opportunities for images along the road as I went west.

Then finding water at various spots.  Water here is ephemeral and fleeting.  Dry is the norm and so fining water is a rare treat.

I saw the small puddle of water around a fence line and knew it had image potential.  Just a few inches deep and only a few yards long, it would probably be gone the next day.  A hint of the passing rain that became an interesting photo with the great cloud cover.  

Finally as I got closer to Marathon, the sky started to clear and I came across this seasonal playa.  I am not sure how long it had been here and how long it would last but this playa lake had already attracted passing ducks who were patrolling its surface.

Even this briefest of rains was bringing life and hope to this parched region.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eclipse on the Lost Mesa

When I heard that there was going to be an eclipse going to be happening and it would be visible from west Texas and New Mexico, I knew I was going to have to go west to see it.  Looking at the track of it on NASA's site I saw that the Otero Mesa would potentially be a good place with the eclipse peaking right near sunset.   I have never photographed an eclipse before and my first thought was to see if somehow I could work in rock art with it.  

That would mean finding the right rock art with a good view west and using a wide angle lens.  That was probably counter to how most photographers were going to do it with longer lenses.  Just another chance to try things differently.

I spent some time looking at images of other eclipses and saw that most people were just taking an image of the sun and very few with any kind of foreground.  Even fewer with a wide angle lens.  One type of picture that I saw that intrigued me was the series of images showing the path of the eclipse across the sky.  I wondered if it might be possible.

I arrived on the Otero Mesa on Friday the 18th, giving me two sunsets to find the right piece of rock art and to confirm the location of the sun at sunset.  As usual on the mesa it was clear and windy. Temps swung wildly too.  It would close in on 100 in the heat of the day and then get down into the 50's at night.

Friday, May 11, 2012

West of Sanderson

On the road to Big Bend there are many choices.  Which way to go, what towns to pass through, where to eat, etc.  Luckily there are no wrong choices as they are all good.  I try to go into Big Bend by different routes to add to the variety and see different county in different light.

Last month I left Cowtown and got out to Fort Stockton to stay the night.  I knew I would up and gone early and decided to take a different route to the park.  Instead of taking US 385 toward Marathon, I decided to head southeast on US 285 to Sanderson.  Think of it as a triangle.  I was going to take two sides of it rather than one.  It would be a little longer but give me an opportunity to see a sunrise in an area I normally see at mid day.

I have passed through Sanderson on a few trips heading home from Big Bend, but had never driven that stretch of US 285.  I left in the dark and got to some interesting canyon country in that early morning twilight.  I could also see a thunderstorm to the southwest, so I kept going hoping things might all come together for a great sunrise.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Palo Pinto Morning

Last week I left early one cloudy morning for Palo Pinto County west of Fort Worth.  The country beyond the Brazos River changes from the rolling prairies here to more of a rugged bluff country.  I know of several good two lane roads that wind through some of the neater stretches of the area with good views and I was hoping for some good wildflowers.

Much like Fort Worth, I think most the trees found here are a fairly recent addition to the landscape of the last 120 years.  The cedar and mesquite being the best examples of species that would not have been found here.  However, like much of the prairie the mesquite came north with the cattle drives and the cedar have spread rapidly with no range fires.  That has also allow the oaks to really mature in areas they might not have.  

Today the area seems to have a great many trees.

It was some of those oaks and pecan trees that I hoped I might be able to work into a photograph.

What started out as a cloudy day turned into a slight rain with a few lightening strikes and then fizzled with the dawn.  We made it to our standby area to find that the clouds were rapidly fading with the morning light and the western sky was totally clear.  

I set up the tripod and worked a few compositions and trees into images in the quiet of the cool morning.  Then as the light started to build we found a great lone tree in a field.  There were some wildflowers around it too.  It was just a question of waiting for the sun to peak over the receding cloud line and see if it would light up the tree and flowers.


Then the sun cleared the clouds and lit the scene with some bright, warm light.  I snapped several images.  Bracketed exposures.  Some with a grad filter.  Some with out.  

Got it.

We drove on and even though we tried to follow the clouds to the southeast, they fled faster than we could follow.  It became a clear sunny day.  With that in mind we started looking more for wildflowers.  We stopped and photographed several patches and then encountered one with a fair amount of butterflies.  Even though I am not much of a successful wildflower photographer, I decided to give it the old college try and even add in the butterflies for added effect.  So I got down low and started watching.  The wind and fluttering of the butterflies meant conditions were changing by the instant.  I had to rely of AF which is not something I am used to.  This was a far different way to photograph than my normal, tripod, live view, and mirror lock up.

My success rate was low but I did get one or two that somewhat worked.

It added up to a productive morning and a couple of nice images.

Not a bad day for a a short drive from the house.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Prairies of Tarrant County

The area around Fort Worth is prairie country.  You could call it the south plains.  It was once the eastern edge of the Commancheria.  The Chisholm Trail passed through here.  It is where the west begins.  

It is also a pretty big city and something like 1.8 million people live in Tarrant County.

However it is also a cowboy town and the ranching heritage is still alive and well in more places than the Stockyards.  One of my favorite local destinations to photograph are the ranches that are just beyond the city limits.  If one heads east from Fort Worth, it is suburb after suburb to Dallas.  Go in a westerly direction and within a few miles of downtown is ranch land.  

It is also pretty open country.  Over the past 120 years or so Fort Worth has become a city with many trees, but that would not have historically been the case.  When you look at old images of the area it was very much open range, grasslands, and only a few trees along the rivers.  While I enjoy shade at my home, I sure do love to be able to find that open treeless grasslands still nearby.

Just a 15 minute drive from my place in the city I can be out among open grasslands and big sky.  This spring I have been trying to take more advantage of that proximity to photograph some of the great wildflowers we are getting this year.

Last week I made one such drive out looking for great light, big sky, and wildflowers.  

The sky part was certainly cooperating with nice clouds that had some great potential.  I had spotted a tree that would make a good subject a few weeks back and had noticed what looked like the start of a nice patch of bluebonnets.  I made my way there only to find the bluebonnets had come and gone and the next wave of wildflowers was thin by the tree.  Then I noticed that across the road was some great spring grass and that the light might light up the grass nicely.

Sure enough the golden light of dawn brought some awesome light and texture to the grass and the clouds in the sky kept it interesting too.

After spending the best golden light in that spot, I drove to another nearby location and worked it.  Then made my way further around the area to yet another spot that had a rolling quality to it.  There I captured an image of the prairies and some of the great clouds in the sky.  

Finally mid morning as I made my way back home I stopped at another location that I knew could get wildflowers and this third image.

All told less than 25 miles driven for the morning and a chance to bring back images that sure look a lot farther a field than I was.