Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Year in Review

I thought I might join a growing trend among photographers and have a year in review of my photography and share some of my best images.

Many of these have already been shown on my blog but several will come from fall trips that I have not actually posted yet as I seem to post several weeks (or more) after a trip.

2013 has been a good year for me in photography.  I have had a chance to make a few photography trips, gotten out on several weekends, and even able to get some images when on business trips.  I have seen some neat locations and some great light.

The year started for me at sunrise on January 1st with my annual tradition of going out for sunrise on New Years Day.  It is something I have been doing now for many years and is something I greatly look forward too, although I think I have almost no good images to show from it.  This last New Years was what seems to be the usual clear sky.  No matter, I was out there.

A few days later I made a trip to New Mexico and west Texas.  A winter snowfall held the promise of snow and even though I was a few days after the snow it turned out to be pretty awesome.  I went out to the Lost Mesa and spent a couple of nights there on the cold and windy open range county.  The snow added a new dimension to the experience and I was rewarded with some great light in the very empty lonely landscape.

I stopped at Guadalupe Mountains for a couple of nights and although the NWS was calling for snow, it just rained.  However I caught an epic sunset on the salt dunes west of the park as magic gap light at the end of the day made for one of those amazing events.

In February the opportunity to go to Big Bend gave me a week in my favorite national park.  I visited some of my favorite locations and found some new things to photograph.  I got several nice images on the trip and am looking forward to getting back here already.

I spent several weekends in February and March photographing and exploring around north Texas and then during bluebonnet season in April, location, flowers, and light all came together for some of the best bluebonnet images I have ever made.  

I also picked up a new small camera in the form of a Sony NEX-6.  After moving to the full frame Canon 5D Mark II in 2012 (I know...four years after everyone else.....) I wanted to consolidate my backup 50D and little Panasonic LX3 into a single small body.  
The Sony fit the bill perfectly as a tiny camera with big APS-C sized sensor.  It has become my work travel and around town not really photographing camera.  A very nice companion to the 5D2.



May saw me in Florida for a few days and I had a chance to photograph the Emerald Coast of Walton County.  I am not really a beach person, but find the quiet part of the coast here nice.

I have been spending more time with Google Maps and Earth exploring for new locations to photograph.  I pegged a few locations as potentials and found a fantastic bluff on the Nolan River exactly one hour from home.  I love finding things like this.  Little known.  Rarely visited.  Basically never photographed.  At just one hour away, it is a great Saturday morning destination!

June and July took me on a few business trips but with no chance for photography. Then in August I was in Salt Lake City and had a chance to go watch sunset at the Great Salt Lake.  Fires burning nearby filled the sky with smoke which made for an eerie sunset.

September had another business trip, this one to Sioux Falls, SD, where I got to see the Sioux Falls.  I thought it was a pretty neat location and one I would certainly like to see again.

October was a very busy month for me.  I had a long weekend to Vermont where I caught some fall color.  The clouds did not cooperate but luckily we had fog making it moody mornings. 

In mid month I was in Oregon and Washington for a week and got to make a few stops in the Columbia River Gorge and a single sunset on the coast that turned out to be a good one.

It pays to look at maps and check out a few possible locations so when the chance happens you can get there for the light.  

Sunset in Ecola State Park was a chance evening and it turned out to be a good one with this great sunset standing on the rocks while the surf crashed in.
















At the end of the month, I had a full week of photography at the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas, taking in the fall color, the magic of a fleeting lake having formed on the salt flats, and some great sunsets.  One of which was another epic sunset of gap light at the end of the day.
























A trip to Las Vegas got me a few hours to spend in Zion where I waded the Narrows.  I also caught a fantastic sunrise at Lake Mead one morning.

 If you have ever been to Zion and waded the Narrows, you know it is pretty chilly.  Let me tell you it is very chilly in November, especially when you wade the river in shorts and Keens.  Wait to see more when I finally catch up to that trip on the blog.
Lake Mead is a fascinating place that one probably needs to explore by boat or air.  I got lucky finding a secluded cove view point that combined with a stunning sunrise made it a great stop early one morning.



November, had me photographing the fall colors of north Texas which kept me busy every weekend of the month chasing the colors in my favorite locations and parks around town.


The Trinity River is an unknown and little photographed area, even locally.  I have been exploring the West Fork and Clear Fork for several years and am surprised at the great locations right here in town for photography.  The fall colors and waterfalls I visit rewarded me with some good stuff this year.



December has already brought en early and icy cold snap that cut short our fall color season.  I tried to make the most of it and catch frost and snow with fog and fall colors.

I am finishing out the last few days of the year still sorting images from this year and planning for 2014.


I am looking forward to another year and where my travels might take me.  Hoping for great light and interesting locations.

Thanks 2013 and here is to 2014!!


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Vermont Lake Morning

In early October had an opportunity to spend a few days in Vermont.  It has been several years since my last trip to the Green Mountain State and I was looking forward to photographing the maples in color.

I spent some time with Google Maps looking at potential areas.  One of them I had picked out was a small lake.

I had decided to make it might first morning location as it was close to the road and would not require a long hike like some of the other spots would.

I awoke to clear starry skies.

As I drove down the mountain I entered thick fog.

Then as I approached the area of the lake I got right to the edge of the fog.


I had lucked out.  Too much higher on the mountain and it would be boring clear.  Too much lower and it was pea soup thick.

I watched the fog move among the colorful maples.

The sun rose and the light slowly lit the mountain and the trees.

I had a few decent images and a good start to my visit.  I headed down the mountain and thoughts of pancakes and maple syrup.




Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ephemeral Salt Lake and Magic Light

I made a third sunset trip to the salt flats to see if I could get a sunset on the ephemeral lake.  It was a rainy afternoon and after stopping to photograph El Cap in the rain, I made my way back to the salt flats.  I bundled up in full rain gear so I could be ready as there was rain in every direction.  Unlike my prior sunset where I wandered the western edge of the lake, I decided to set up at one spot I had found and watch sunset from there.  

I had the tripod set up there with the 5D2 and then I had my Sony NEX6 to use for shots in other directions.

I waited as light rain passed by, the wind was blowing, and it was overcast.

Then suddenly the rain lifted and the clouds parted in the west.  The light of the setting sun lit up the lake and the Guads.

It was that incredibly intense light you can only get on a rainy day.  There were images in every direction!  I was taking image after image.  First with the 5D2 and then in a different direction with the NEX.  I even ran up to the Element and grabbed the 50D with 70-200 to do some longer lens images.

The light went on.

It went from the lake to the clouds.  It filled the sky.

It was amazing.

I could not take images fast enough.  I was moving so fast from camera to camera.  Having the 5D2 set with an image framed helped as I could just snap on and let it set while I did a long lens shot.

The light continued.

I realized I was not wide enough at 17mm on the full frame Mark 2.  I put my fisheye on the NEX and took in the full sweep of the sky and was amazed at how big the sunset was.

The light show went on.

And on.

And on.

After what must have been an hour long show the light had faded enough to slow down and work some longer exposures.

After it was finally dark I stopped.  There were going to be hundreds of images to dig through, sort, and process.  I had seen an epic sunset here in January and I got another one in November.  Both days had rain and heavy overcast.  Both also had that magical gap light.

What an amazing sunset.  I knew there was little chance of seeing any light that good the rest of the trip. That night it rained in camp and we woke up to clear skies and 40+mph winds.........

We saw no clouds the remainder of the trip.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

El Cap

El Capitan is the signature mountain of the Guadalupes.  The dramatic cliffs of the mountain marking the end of the chain rise a mile above the salt flats west of the park. 

The view from above is like that of a prow of a ship riding across the desert.  It is my favorite mountain to photograph and one that offers up possibilities at sunrise and sunset.

It is a target for my camera on every trip and I work it into any image I can.

On a trip to the Guadalupes, I always look forward to that first view of El Cap across miles of desert.  It was an important waypoint for travelers and is still a beacon in the desert.

With the ephemeral nature of the lake on the salt flats, I knew I would spend my sunsets there, but I still managed to stop and photograph El Cap from different angles on the trip.

I have some of them here.  These are all different times of day but I think they begin to give you a sense of the size and the many angles to see and photograph this wonder from just these few classic views.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Light on the Salt Flats and Lake


More images from the salt flats, dunes and lake.  One of the things I find in a place like the west Texas is that you can have days of severe clear skies where you take almost no images.  Then you can have one of those epic west Texas sunsets and I can end up taking hundreds of images in one afternoon.

These are from a day that was the latter.  In fact, the same day as my last post where I had several images of the Guadalupes and the lake.  As I wrote in that post I was moving pretty fast chasing compositions.  That is one thing in my technique that digital really changed.  When I shoot 4x5, I find my composition and then wait for the light.  The slow nature of shooting 4x5, makes it very difficult to move and set up a second and certainly not a third composition in changing light.

Now with my DSLR, I can be constantly moving as it takes me mere seconds to set up a shot.  Sure, there are times I find "the shot" where I wait for it, but usually I am constantly moving and working all angles and directions.

So here are some examples of those directions.  I knew that the Guadalupes rising a mile above the salt flats and the fleeting quality of the lake would be my major compositional elements but as I chased the light I was able to work out several other images of the lake, or dunes, or clouds.

These are some of them.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sunset on the Salt Flats Lake

I was so enthused about the possibilities of the using the lake on the salt flats that I made a second trip out to the lake.  I decided to work the south end of the lake where it was closest to US 180.  

In the past I had seen small puddles form here and once after a deluge in the desert monsoon season there was a small lake.  However, none of that was remotely like this.

I started off just trying to work in the lake into any image since the very fleeting nature of it means it might be 20 years before conditions are like this again.

I photographed the escarpment of the Guadalupes, the distant mountains south and west, and looking north across the length of the lake.

It was a cloudy day and I hoped for a good sunset.

The light got interesting and I photographed from the west side of the lake.  Then the light was lost on the mountains.  It was still lighting up the west and I decided to move to chase it.  I knew there was a side section of the lake and I made my way across 200 yards of salt dunes to photograph it.  I no sooner made one image when the light shifted again and the Guads were bathed in reddish pink light.

I ran back across the dunes and paused at the edge of the dune field.  I framed up a composition and took it.  With the polariser on it was a long exposure, close to 30 seconds.  I got the shot and then just as suddenly as the light had appeared-it was gone.  It is the image at the top of the page.  Did I luck out or what?

I made a few more images as the light faded and then walked back around the lake shore.  When I got back to the vehicle, the sky was very blue but I decided to try one last long image using the fisheye to pick up all of the sky.  Again, a long exposure, and although the color of the sunset was gone loved the clouds.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fall Colors of McKittrick Canyon

I made my hike into the wonderful McKittrick Canyon to see the fall color of the canyon up close.  After having seen the canyon from above, I wanted to get into the heart of it and walk among the maple trees.

I arrived at the canyon trailhead and was the only car there.  Started the hike and began to follow the creek into the canyon.  At first there is no sign of color and it seems to just be a canyon.  You cross the dry gravel stream bed a few times and as you get into the canyon a colorful tree appears.  Then another.  Soon you pass small areas of several trees and some water crossings.  When you get into the canyon where the north and south forks meet you enter the zone where the color is brightest and you have been transported from a desert canyon to a maple forest.

The vivid colors of the trees are just as amazing seeing them like this as they are from above.  

I hike clear back to the Grotto and have a snack before photographing my way out of the canyon.  On the trip into the Grotto I encounter ZERO other parties.  Peak fall color, spectacular canyon, national park and zero other people.  It must be what it was like for John Muir in Yosemite.  I think he would approve of this canyon.

On the way out we finally encounter a few other people coming in.  The weather which has been partly cloudy turns to rain.  I pull out the rain gear for the last stretch.  I have some images and have seen some great fall color in what is often called the prettiest spot in Texas.

It is a good day.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Salt Flats Lake

In September the Guadalupe Mountains had an epic flash flood when 9" of rain fell on the park.  One of the effects of the flood was the salt flats west of the park became an ephemeral lake.

In the past I had seen times with pools of water but it was always quickly dry again.  This time was different.  It was a lake.  The water was shallow, maybe a foot at the deepest but it stretched for miles.

I went to explore the northern end of the lake.  This area is seldom visited that even the park staff had no idea about the conditions of the area roads.

I spent a few hours walking along the edge of the lake and found that the month between the flood and my visit had left significant mud flats.  So I changed my plan from being at the waters edge to some vantage points where I would not be 6" deep in the muck.

I found this little "creek", if you will, that must have carried some water into the flats and decided it might make a good foreground.

I watched the clouds fade as sunset neared and luckily I caught the last cloud of the Guads as sunset and was able to make the top image.

I also wanted to see what I could do for a reflection and was able to make the second image.

I was liking the possibilities the lake presented and made plans to spend more sunsets along the edge.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

McKittrick Canyon from Above

McKittrick Canyon was another stop on my quest for fall color in west Texas.  I had plans to make the hike into the canyon and I also decided to get the high view above it.  I departed early and hiked in the dark until I found my spot high on the rim overlooking the canyon below.

Here I had a front seat view of the sunrise and more importantly the fall color along the creek bed far below.

The view is amazing.  

The color is too.

Even from this distance the vivid colors jump at you.

From up here the color is a narrow ribbon along the canyon bottom or survives in cooler north facing drainages.

The depth and distance of the canyon make it far away but it does not lessen the impact of the bright colors.

I spent a few hours on the rim taking in the color and the morning before making my way back down and off to Pine Springs to set up my base camp for the park.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hidden Fall Color in Remote West Texas



Dog Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the most remote spot in Texas.  How remote is it?  You have to drive through New Mexico for 100 miles to get there.

This hidden canyon on the northwest corner of the park has three ways to it.  A paved road that loops around Carlsbad, New Mexico and gets you there.  A rough gravel road that ascend out of the desert west of the park around into New Mexico.  Or finally you can hike there across the park. It is less than ten miles on the trail but you do have to ascend some 3000' of steep switchbacks.  No matter how you go, it takes time and to get here you have to really want to get here.

I really wanted to get here and took the desert route.  I was west of the park on the salt flats and made the long dusty drive up into New Mexico, followed dry stream beds up out of the desert into high desert grasslands and then finally into the higher reaches of Dog Canyon which crosses into Texas and the National Park.


Here you find a ranger station and small campground.  More importantly, you find maple trees.  Here in a canyon tucked away in desert mountains is a relic forest from the last ice age.  The higher, wetter, cooler reaches of the Guadalupes shelter ponderosa pines, aspen, and maples.  It is the maples that draw me here around Halloween to see the fall color display.

The color here is incredibly vivid.  I consider it the best fall color in the west and the most vivid color this side of Vermont. Yes, I am serious.  Although, not many people believe me.  Of course that means I have places like this to myself.  I spent a day wandering in Dog Canyon and saw zero other people.  How often can you say that in a national park at peak fall color?

I wandered up the trail from the campground and quickly you begin to encounter maples along the dry creek bed.  That creek bed brings just enough water to the trees that they can survive in the desert.  The maples are all close to the creek of in the shady north facing drainages.  Go too far from the shade or water and the plant life shifts back to desert grassland but in a narrow strip the colors are intense and amazing.

The reds and oranges here are off the chart.  The only place I have seen this bright and vivid of fall color is Vermont and having been to both west Texas and Vermont this October, I can report the reds I saw in Texas were much better than Vermont this season.

So if you are reading this in early November and can get to west Texas, you have maybe another week to get there.  Go.  See.  Experience.  You might just agree with me about this being the best fall color in the west.

Friday, October 25, 2013

South Dakota and the Sioux Falls

I has the chance to have to fly into Sioux Falls, South Dakota on business a couple of weeks back and had a chance to get in a couple of images.  September is prime season on the farms with the corn and soy beans at their full grown size and hint of autumn color.

The view of the farms from the air was outstanding.  I love living on the Great Plains and seeing the rural landscape like this.  I think the river here is the Big Sioux River north of the city as it winds its way south toward the Missouri River.

One evening while there I had a chance to drive into the city and see the actual falls on the Big Sioux River for which Sioux Falls is named.  It is a very nice park and the falls themselves are neat and loud.  There are several drops and chutes.  I liked them now and would really like to see them at spring flood stage as I bet they really put on a show.





Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The View at 10,000 Feet

I had an early departure on a flight a few weeks ago on a day that looked like a good sunrise in the making.  We took off from DFW and were quickly at altitude.  As soon as it was safe to use approved electronics, I had my camera out and was able to capture these few images of sunrise over north Texas.

The clouds were thick and the gap in the east was perfect for some very intense light across the sky.  I had my little Sony NEX-6 taking image after image.  Photography from airplanes is not hard but it is hard to get a good one.  The light, distance, wings and windows all seem to combine for tough things to pull good images out of.  Most of the time I take images I delete basically all of them.  

This particular morning was different.  The light was right.  We were still fairly close to the ground as we had not reached 30,000 ft yet.  It all came together for a few good images and it was not a bad way to spend a Wednesday morning.

Watching this sunrise reminds me why I always want the window seat.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Trinity River Early Fall

In September I was out for sunrise on the West Fork of the Trinity River in Fort Worth and found this hint of fall.  This is about 5-6 weeks before the normal start of our fall color season.  

The summer grasses had really hemmed the river in on what is a rocky section most of the year.  This sapling was growing in the river and what few leaves it had were already yellow.  

I found it a refreshing sign of the fall to come and looked forward to finding more colors along the river.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Milky Way Over the Sierra del Carmen

On my last morning in Big Bend it was clear and I was up early to start the drive home.  However, I could not pass up the opportunity to try another attempt at night photography.  In mid-February the Milky Way rises just before dawn and I hoped to photograph it as it rose over the Sierra del Carmen and Rio Grande.

I made my way up to the hill overlooking RGV and set up the cameras and tripod.  Plan was to photograph the Milky Way with the 5D2 and use my older (and not so good at long exposures) 50D to do some other images.

I did a variety of long and short images and at sunrise found that the most interesting image was the longest one.  This one is about 18 minutes.  I like the effect of short star trails with the light blur the Milky Way has made.  It gives the entire scene a mystery.

I wrapped up my morning with a clear sunrise and then packed up camp to start the drive home saying goodbye to the good friend that is BBNP and looking forward to my next visit.