Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Year In Review

Rio Grande Sunset in Big Bend
The year in review for my photography for 2014.  Here is a summary of my photography for the year.  Many of the images have been posted already, others will post in the coming months as I seem to always have a backlog of 3-4 months worth of images.

2014 has been a great year for photography.  I have had the opportunity to see many neat places, visit several national parks, get out locally on a regular basis, and caught some great light.

My photography year always begins at sunrise on New Years Day and the tradition of greeting the sunrise of a new year with camera in hand continued.  It was crisp and clear as it always seems to be.  Although, as I type this on the morning of December 31st, it looks like 2015 will start off with freezing rain and break the decade long streak of clear. 

Milky Way over Big Bend
I spent the first few months of the year photographing locally around north Texas.  We had a cold winter for us, but no snow (nothing unusual there) and it seems I had few images to show for it.

In March I was off to Big Bend for a week.  I had started doing more night photography and specifically seeking out the dark sky of the new moon looking to make nightscape images-think landscapes at night under the Milky Way.  I planned the trip specifically for a dark sky week and I had several images I wanted to get.  It turned out to be a mostly clear sky week with only a few days along the river with good sunset light. 

Bluebonnets in North Texas
However, those clear skies made for ideal night images and I was able to photograph several places in the park with the Milky Way above the Big Bend landscape.  I found it to be a very successful week and I began to make plans to return in the fall.  I also plan on going back in the spring of 2015 with a whole new set of locations to try.

April brought wildflowers to Texas and I went out on four consecutive weekends chasing bluebonnets.  The first three times, I found some flowers but had either complete overcast or clear sky.  With less than ideal conditions we explored several possible new areas and may have added a few potential locations.  Finally on the fourth attempt the light happened and I was able to get a few good images of bluebonnets with a big sunrise.
Beaches of South Walton

May took me to the Florida panhandle for a few days on the beach.  I am much more a desert or mountain person but I find there is some quiet locations around the small town we go to that lets me get out and photograph a different kind of landscape.

May also saw me with a trip out to Albuquerque, NM for a few days.  It was not a photography trip, but I always take a camera and managed to see a nice sunset one evening at Mesa del Sol with a view to the Manzano Mountains.  I love the views out here and it is easy to see why it is called the Land of Enchantment.  I am glad I did not miss any left turns as I would have hated to miss that light.  :-) Even just this one afternoon and I was ready to spend a week driving around the state.

Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque

Stonehenge II in Texas Hill Country
June had me traveling around the Texas Hill Country from Austin out to Del Rio and back via San Antonio.  The wildflowers were mostly gone but my route took me through Kerrville and gave me a chance to see a location I had been wanting to see for years-Stonehenge II.  A replica of Stonehenge with a full circle of stones.  It is in the town of Ingram now and I went out hoping for a sunset. That did not work out at all but when I woke up at 3am I went back and found the Milky Way peeking out from the clouds and captured a mystical image with the stone circle and the night sky.  It was a perfect example of opportunity, chance, and luck.  It is why I always carry a camera and tripod with me.  Watch the blog in a few weeks as I will do a write up of my travel kit and how small and simple can give big results.

June also had me on a drive through three Midwestern states and I used it as a chance to stop and see a small waterfall.  A great way to breakup a long drive and get a nice image to boot.  This is a very under-photographed part of the country and I like being able to see it and find images in locations most people just fly over.

Nolan River Nightscape
The summer months in Texas tend to be hot, green, and very clear.  Not the most ideal conditions for landscape photography.  However, I put that to my advantage and made trips every new moon from April til August to the Nolan River for nightscapes.  We tracked the Milky Way across the sky and I spent many a night wading the river until it all came together for a perfect image in late July with the Milky Way aligned right down the river by the bluff.

Late summer had me on a trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin where I got to spend time along the bluff country of the Upper Mississippi River.  This is an amazing area where the bluffs along the river are over 500 feet tall.  I know that people are saying-but wait the Midwest is flat.......

Bluffs along the Upper Mississippi
Not here it isn't.  See the glaciers may have flattened most of the Midwest but it missed here and it is called the Driftless region.  The mighty Miss and surrounding rivers and streams have carved deep paths through it and the bluff country here is spectacular.  I have seen it in all seasons, was here at the hottest part of summer but would have to say, visit in winter and see it all frozen.  There is nothing like being out here waiting for sunrise when it is -25F.

Lonely Lost Mesa by night
Over a long Labor Day weekend I made a trip out to the Lost Mesa hoping for both big afternoon thunderstorms and also a chance to do photograph the Milky Way over petroglyph carved boulders.  Despite this being the rainy season we only saw clear sky so the best images were all night shots.  After a couple of nights on the mesa we went to the higher and cooler Guadalupe Mountains and I was able to get some images of the Milky Way over El Capitan.

El Capitan
It was an example how night photography has really helped "save" trips for me as clear sky is the bane of great light and big sunsets.  However, by going nocturnal I am able to capture landscapes with the night sky over them.  It makes my trips more productive photography-wise and given me very different images to show for it.

The end of September took me out west (finally) and I spent a few days in Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks.  Both are some of my favorites and I always enjoy getting to photograph here (despite the crowds).  

Zion Canyon is famous for how the Virgin River has carved out the Navajo sandstone.  We actually got to see it in flash flood stage in a full rage.  Yet three days later the water was back to normal and I got to wade the Narrows.

Zion Narrows
Big walls, huge cliffs, and the tree lined river all add elements of interest.  We did a few favorite hikes (Angel's Landing), discovered a few new ones (Observation Point), and photographed all through the canyon.  Yes, I even stood on the bridge to photograph the Watchman along with dozens of others.  Hey it is famous for a reason and I got to see it in flood conditions.  I also tried it at night.

I waded the Narrows.  I went further upstream than in the past to Wall Street and for a while had the place to myself.  Standing knee deep in the cold waters of the Virgin River in a 30 foot wide 1000 foot deep canyon is certainly a great experience.  Seeing it with the light reflected off the towering cliff walls is magical.  Without a doubt the Narrows is one of the top ten hikes in the entire park system.  It was wild to think that just three days prior this would have been had several more feet of water flash flooding through here.

Grand Canyon with my LG G3
Grand Canyon was a stop for three days.  It is one of those parks every photographer wants to visit and you cannot help but thinking of standing out there on the edge with a camera and tripod.  I visited several of the viewpoints and did a few hikes along the rim.  The sky was clear most of the time here and I struggled to make images this trip.  

Hopi Point, Yaki Point, Shoshone Point, etc are all great locations but the clear sky did not give me the light I was hoping for.  I saved my favorite location for my last morning and went out to Lipan Point for one last chance.  There are three views of the Colorado River here and I was hoping I would catch some clouds and dramatic light.  It ended up also being clear.  Those are the breaks I guess and it does make me appreciate the good light even more.

My favorite image from the trip actually turned out to be a snap from my phone.  This was a clear crisp fall morning and while taking a break from the "real" camera snapped this shot of first light hitting a dead tree to send out to friends via email.

Mt Shasta
October took me out to California and on a drive from Yreka to Sacramento I got to see a nice morning on Mt Shasta.  This is a large 14,000 ft volcano that dominates the views here in northern California.  If I had the time I would love to climb it, but I am content this day to see a sunrise on my way elsewhere.  This is certainly a different area from the hustle and bustle of most of California and the small towns and mountains here are very scenic.  I make a note to visit here again in the future.

Santa Elena Canyon
Late October saw me return to Big Bend.  One of the five best parks and so under visited. I guess that is to my advantage as there is never the crowds like at Yosemite or Grand Canyon.  I spent three nights in the Cottonwood campground and two of those nights we had the entire place to ourselves.  

This was another trip timed for the Milky Way and night images.  In fact I went specifically to do one image of the Milky Way over Santa Elena Canyon.  The canyon is the crown jewel of the park and seeing sunrise here is one of those bucket list type items.  I never miss doing a sunrise here and have seen some epic ones.  However I also hoped the Milky Way could be photographed rising out of the Canyon.  I went out there my first night and as soon as it was dark enough for the Milky Way I had it.  No waiting, no dozens of images.  Literally just needed 5 minutes.  Planning was everything and it paid off with the shot I wanted!

West Fork Fall Colors
Over my few days I did some great day hikes and also got some great night images.  A whole new set of images different from my spring trip as the Milky Way is in a different part of the sky in the fall.  I left with several keepers and plans to come back in the spring of 2015.

November finally brings fall color to north Texas and I spent every weekend chasing color around the area.  We have a long slow color change and I saw the the first yellows of late October, through the peak at Thanksgiving until the last changers in the week before Christmas.  I spent each week visiting a stretch of the West Fork of the Trinity River photographing the changing colors.  I had days of clear, fog, clouds, and mist.  Each day was different and each week brought changes in the color. See my post from December 21st for the changes week by week.

Big Falls of the West Fork
Fall was also a time where I was able to get out and capture sunrise on the West Fork at the Big Falls.  This is a spot that when the conditions are right can make a great photo and most of my attempts in 2014 were lackluster.  Then late in the year I was rewarded for my persistence with this sunrise over the falls and river.

Finally to end the year I took 4 days between Christmas and New Years to go west to Guadalupe Mountains National Park again.  I arrived in a snow storm.  There was some 6" of fresh snow.  I had never seen this much and was out trying to capture the fleeting magic before it melted away.  In all I had four great days of snow, freezing fog, 60+mph winds, and some great light.  It was an epic trip in just four days that will be several blog posts when I get to them.  
El Capitan in Winter

I drove home in freezing rain on the 30th and am sitting here drying gear as I type this.

It was quite the year.  I made several images that joined the portfolio.  I visited several of my favorite parks and discovered a few new locations.  I also spent a lot of time working on night photography.  Modern digital cameras have opened up a whole new possibility for photography at night and I now plan my trips around the new moon to chase nightscapes if it is clear.

Thanks 2014!

Tomorrow morning the year begins again and I have my gear packed to head out for sunrise even if it looks like rain (better pack the Gore-Tex jacket).  My calendar already has a spring trip to Big Bend on it.  I know spring is just 6 weeks away in the desert and I am looking forward to it even though we just finished fall last week.  Then it is bluebonnet season and then summer new moons........ this is going to be fun.  Hello 2015!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fall on the West Fork

As I type this on December 21st it is the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter.  It is a rather perfect time to transition from fall to winter as that is what we are doing this week in Texas.  This week marks the end of fall color and the beginning of our short winter.

Autumn is a long and colorful season in Texas.  Our fall color starts in late October and is just now ending here the week of Christmas.  Over those several weeks we get a long slow change and some great colors.

I have been very busy these last several weeks as fall made its appearance and slow transition to winter.  I know of several good locations for color and have kept my weekends full with visiting them catching the change in the trees.

One of my favorite places is along the West Fork of the Trinity River here in Fort Worth.  In a wooded stretch of river I find some great fall color in the red oaks and cottonwoods.  I have been there seven of the last eight weekends.  From the early yellows through the peak fall color to the last lingering leaves this week, I have photographed this little stretch of river.

I spend most of my time here wading the river (those shots will get posted in the coming months).  I also always take this shot looking down at a curve in the river.  It is how I typically end my mornings as I head back to the vehicle.  

It is bend in the river.  Probably one most would miss and few would ever photograph.  Yet I photograph it every time I visit here. 

In all seasons.  

I did a post of images from last here  Fall 2013 on the West Fork   This is one in that same idea.  These images tell the story of how fall came to the West Fork this year.  

The greens and yellows changing to red and orange.  The days that were clear, or foggy, or cloudy.  The times of harsh light, soft light or flat light.  I made this trek once a week at least.  

This weekend marks the end of the fall color.  I know on my next visit the trees will be bare.  If I get lucky we might have a rare Texas snowfall.  Then by the end of February the trees will be ready to start the cycle of the seasons again.

These images are a highlight of this fall and the change of the season.  It is how I spend my November and December.  Get out and get local.  Chase the colors. Keep going back week after week.

I always make a trip here in late September just to get ready.  Then I seem to work in any fall color trips to other parts of the country.  But as the rest of the country finishes fall we have not yet really started.

I look forward to November and then sprint to the end of the year chasing the foliage.

The yellows started by Halloween.  The colors peak around Thanksgiving week and this was no exception.  That week was very nice with a great mix of reds, oranges, and yellows.  December has brought the last few trees into color as the rest shed their leaves.  It has been a good season and I will spend many days looking at all the images.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Guadalupes by Night

The Guadalupe Mountains are a fantastic mountain range in west Texas.  There is high desert grasslands, salt flats, sand dunes, rugged peaks, higher altitude sky island pine forest, and hidden in rugged canyons-maples.  A true gem of the park system that is rarely visited.

The park also boasts a very distinctive profile courtesy of the dramatic end of the range in the sheer cliff of El Capitan.  I have always enjoyed photographing the mountain at sunrise and sunset and thought it would make a great image at night with the Milky Way.

After a few days on the Lost Mesa we made our way to the higher elevation and cooler temps of the Guadalupes and set up camp.  We had very few clouds at sunset and a bright partial moon after sunset.  I decided to get up after moonset and spend the darkest part of the night photographing the Milky Way.

Getting up around 1:30 AM, it was not only dark, but the Milky Way was swinging around from south to more west putting it right in line with El Cap.  I have several locations I have photographed the Guadalupes from at sunrise or sunset, but I was not sure which would be the best at night.  Since had had several hours til sunrise I decided to make several stops and visit them all.

The sky is dark at the Guadalupes but one can clearly see the distant lights of El Paso about 100 miles to the west.

I set up at each location with all three cameras and would move from camera to camera.  The lens to camera set up was similar to the way I was shooting on the Lost Mesa: Canon 5D2 with Bower (Samyang) 24mm, Sony A7S with Bower (Samyang) 14mm, and Sony NEX6 with Rokinon (Samyang) 8mm fisheye.  Yes I love the Samyang lenses.  Sharp and affordable!  What a winning combo and ideal night lenses.

With the NEX6 and 5D2 I was shooting at ISO 6400.  That is pushing each one to the limit, but balances a good exposure with acceptable noise levels.  The A7S was one I was using at ISO 25,600.  The A7S was better at 25,600 than either other camera was at 6400.  Those extra two stops are amazing at night.  As I posted in a comparison of the three a few months back My Sony A7S Review for Night Photography the A7S can do 51,200 but I think that the 25,600 is the sweet spot.  It allowed me to get less noise and more light at shorter exposures.

At the Guadalupes I was again impressed with both what the cameras could capture and the night sky over the mountains.

As I suspected, not all of the locations that work in the day time worked at night.  I also found that the 24mm lens with the narrowest view of my night lenses turned out to be the best angle to capture the mountains and the sky.

Here are a few of my favorites from those early morning hours of El Capitan and the Guadalupes under the Milky Way.  You will notice how the view of El Capitan changes as one moves around it.  I was glad to be able to capture it with the bright part of the Milky Way in the sky.

Note, in the bottom image you can see Andromeda above the Milky Way.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Storm Gods By Night

Storm gods by night on the Lost Mesa.  The views on the Lost Mesa are big.  It is a long way from anywhere and it seems you can see forever.  What a perfect spot for seeing the stars at night.  The open range grasslands themselves do not make a great subject to work into a night image.  The lonely mountains and rock art on them do.

I wanted to see if I could work the Milky Way into some images of petroglyphs there on the mountainside.  It was tougher than you think.  The Milky Way is generally in the south of the sky and most of the rock panels face north or west.  The evening did not have the right angle, however by getting out at 4am, I was able have the Milky Way better positioned.  Granted the best part of the Milky Way, the galactic center, had already set, but the angle would work well with some of my favorite panels.

I made the walk in the dark and after a bit of scrambling found the first panel.  I set up two cameras to capture the images.  I was working with my Sony NEX6 and 8mm Rokinon fisheye.  Then I had a rented Sony A7S with my adapter Bower 14mm.  With the amonut of walking here, I knew taking the third camera body was too much and so left the 5D2 and 24mm at camp. 

The rock panels here have some great petroglyphs on them.  I have found some panels that are 10' wide and several feet tall.  Some of the individuals glyphs here are three and four feet tall.

The first panel is one low to the ground with a variety of images on it, including a bison.  I made several and then wandered up the mountainside to one of my favorite panels with storm gods that are some three feet tall each.  Here the view is northwest and the late night Milky Way was lined up well.  

This is the same panel I shot an eclipse at back in 2012 Lost Mesa Eclipse

I was light paining the rock panels and working both cameras almost non-stop as I knew the dawn would be here fast.

After working several variations of the shot, I moved again to a more solitary storm god that the shot was more east. 

After getting a few images there I circled back to the panel with the bison and stayed there until morning light.  Then it was back to camp for breakfast and another day of exploring the mesa.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lost Mesa Nightscapes

Over Labor Day weekend, I went west to visit the Lost Mesa.  This is an area of New Mexico that is a million plus acres of vast desert grasslands and a few lonely mountains.  It is a place that is all but unknown.  There are no paved roads and no signs.  You have to both know about it and want to get here to visit.

It is one of my favorite places to photograph.

Late summer is the rainy season here.  If there have been good rains, you get a lush grassland that is seeing a second spring (the 5th Season).  It is a good time to visit and I have made several trips around the long holiday weekend over the years.

This year I was looking forward to not only seeing the mesa but photographing it at night.  I knew the moon phase would give me some dark sky to work with and I hoped to be able photograph the Milky Way over the mesa and some petroglyphs I knew.

Knowing that the Milky Way would be more in the south of the sky we set up our camp more north of the mountains.  We hoped to work them into the images as the night sky over mostly flat land would be boring.  The day was mostly clear and there was little chances of great daytime images, but we had hopes for night.  We waited for dark.

There was not much of a moon but it turned out to still be too bright once it was dark.  We got in a few images but really wanted to wait for moonset to have darker skies.

A few clouds were now in the sky (coulda used them three hours earlier) but they were not enough to interfere with the view of the Milky Way.

I was working with three different cameras (never the smartest thing to do) my Canon 5D Mark II with Bower 24mm f/1.4, a rented Sony A7S with adapted Bower 14mm f/2.8, and my Sony NEX6 with Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 fisheye.

Luckily at night the exposures are long enough (15 or 30 seconds) that I was able to move between tripods, review images, and start the next one.  Still three cameras kept me very busy.

Here are a few from the evening.  At top is an early view with moonlight lighting up the grasslands.  This is with the Bower 24mm.  Second image is from my little Sony NEX6 and fisheye showing the incredible view of the Milky Way it can do.  I really like this lens and the ultra super wide view.  Finally an image of camp out on the dark, lonely Lost Mesa.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Evolution of My Night Photography 2004-2014

Night photography is something I have been doing at times for many years.  It has also been something that has evolved for me over the last ten years as technology has changed and new tools have opened up new opportunities in what is possible at night.  Photographing stars, star-trails, old buildings, tents, the landscape, and now the Milky Way. The limits of what is possible have shifted with advances in technology.  I have tried to adapt and take advantage of those changes to make better night images.

I was looking through some images from Big Bend and noticed several images I had taken at night over the years from Big Bend and when comparing them you see an evolution in technique with the rise of digital technology.

I have been visiting Big Bend for over twenty years.  In that time I have explored and photographed many areas of the park.  One place that I have always enjoyed in the old adobe and rock Dorgan ruin.  It sits on a hill overlooking the Rio Grande with a view of Santa Elena Canyon to the west and the Chisos Mountains to the east.

I have photographed from there many times.  Especially at night.  The ruin is a great place to work with light painting and has a great view of the dark skies of the Big Bend country.  This series of images from the same location show both what has become possible and with that an evolution in my shooting style.

Back in the days of film I was shooting a medium format Mamiya 645.  Everything was manual and it only needed battery power for the light meter.  I would set that camera up with my 45mm lens (about a 28 in 35mm size terms) on a night with a full moon with Velvia 100F film.  Shooting at f/5.6 for 15 minutes would give me a somewhat decent exposure.  Of course when your exposures were 15 minutes you might only get 3-4 images in a outing.  You also had to wait until after the trip to get the film developed and see the results.

Here was one my my most successful night images from 2004.  The 15 minute exposure gives nice star trails to show some motion and the moon has lit the exterior of the old adobe ruin.  I used an flash for a couple of pops to light the interior of the ruin.  

In 2004 this was about as good as you could do with a night image.  When I went on a trip to Big Bend, I might go spend some time one one night at the ruin trying to get a shot or two like this.

Over the next few years I started seeing more and more photographer getting DSLR's.  I had moved up to shooting 4x5 film at the time.  I was on a trip to Big Bend in 2007 where a buddy brought his Canon Rebel XTI and we shot this ruin.  I was still using film and would have to wait for weeks for the results.  He was taking images and tweaking the settings.  He had the courage to go up and shoot some images at ISO 1600!  Which was still unheard of for landscape photography in film where I had two choices in film-Velvia 50 or Velvia 100F.  That was it.  Although if I was really going for it, I could push the Velvia 100F to all of 200........  That seems laughable slow today but was all we had then.  I was shooting long images and it was still more miss than hit.

I then decided to try digital and by 2009 I was shooting the 15mp Canon 50D. This was a decent DSLR except (as I found out) for high ISO night images.  I found mine had quite a bit of banding after about two images at night.  I could use ISO 3200 in the daylight with no-problem.  However my copy had bad banding at night.  

So I did not push the high ISO that others were doing and I also tended to shoot on nights with the moon.  My lens of choice was the Sigma 10-20.  A fine lens although it was an f/4 and I would come to find out f/4 is just too slow of a lens for night images.  I often did 5-10 minutes images at ISO 800.  On occasion I would push for higher ISO shots but it was still more miss than hit.

As you can see in my 50D image there is both noise and banding in it.  At the time I was still quite impressed in what capability that offered me and I quit using film at night.  I was liking the shorter exposures and the ability to adjust images on location to much to go back.  

I was now visiting this or other adobe ruins 2-3 times on a week in Big Bend and getting some images with short star trails and trying different light painting techniques.

In 2012 I finally made the jump to full frame with a Canon 5D Mark II.  Now this camera had much better night capabilities than anything I had seen in the past.  I was shooting at ISO 3200 and getting great results. I was using the Canon 17-40 f/4 lens.  A great lens for landscape that was just too slow at night.  My image were now in the 45-60 second range which are just a tad too long for sharp stars.  You really need an f/2.8 or faster lens to really get those shorter exposures.

I was beginning to look for darker skies and even the Milky Way.  I moved away from star trails and began to try to get sharp stars.  Looking at my image of the ruin the stars are just starting to trail.  I was close, really close, to being able to really capture sharp stars and the Milky Way, I just needed a little more lens speed.  I was in the field usually two hours prior to sunrise working with stars while waiting for the sunrise.

I added the Samyang 14mm f2/8 lens to my kit and now had something that I could shoot wide open for 30 seconds.  I also started pushing to ISO 6400 and using the enhanced noise control on Lightroom and NIK software to make it work better.

I was getting great shots of the Milky Way and I made the full evolution to seeking out the dark sky to photography our galaxy at night.  

No longer interested in star trails, I was actively planning my trips for the new moon and building my plans around where the Milky Way would be in the night sky.  In Big Bend this gives one a huge chance at additional photography options.  What I normally find is on a week in Big Bend you are lucky to see clouds for more than three days.  Meaning usually half the trip I am looking at clear skies.  Now I know I might not get a great sunrise on a clear sky day but I can go nocturnal on those clear nights and photography the Milky Way in the dark Texas sky.

This last spring I returned to Big Bend with my 5D2 kit plus a rented Canon 6D.  I was now out there at even higher ISO settings shooting the 6D up to ISO 12,800.  I had also added the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 lens to my kit specifically for night images.  I set up and was working the ruin with both my 5D2 and the 6D and switching them back and forth with the 14 and 24mm lenses.

I now had great night capability.  I could shoot each camera with set parameters of 15 or 30 second images and I would get well exposed results.  In an hour at the ruin I was now able to 70-100 images between the two cameras.  I had moved a long way from attempting 4 images on film.

The dark sky of the new moon has become an active part of my west Texas trips.  If we get good clouds and interesting light I can photograph landscapes at the edge of the day.  When severe clear sets in I transition to chasing the Milky Way and working it into a night landscape.  I have just as much fun and get many of my best images at night now.

Technology has evolved and it has opened up some incredible opportunities for photography at night and in ways just not possible ten years ago.  My Mamiya has long since been sold, my 50D gathers dust, and I chase my night images with my newer cameras and wide fast Samyang lenses.

As you can see in these four images of the same adobe ruin, the technology shift has opened up new ways to photograph and has caused a big shift in how I even approach my trips.

I know that the technology continues to evolve (I have rented the Sony A7S and found it stunning at ISO 25,600) and so I wonder what will be possible in ten more years.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mystery of Stonehenge

I was traveling through the Hill Country during the summer months and found myself staying Kerrville for a night.  I knew that Stonehenge II was nearby and decided to go visit right before sunset.  

This is a neat mock up of the famous stone circle in England that was built in the Texas Hill Country.  I have wanted to visit this for many years but never got around to it.  I finally had a chance and I was looking forward to seeing it.  The stones used to be out in the country but a change in ownership has had them moved to Ingram and the Hill Country Arts Foundation.

I found the stones to be pretty neat.  In addition to the full circle as you would have found at a completed Stonehenge there are some Easter Island style Moai style heads.  However, with all the buildings, power lines, a ballpark, etc around them I found them difficult to photograph in the way I wanted.  I wish I had seen it when it was out away from town.

When I woke up at 3am the next morning I had an idea that perhaps I could photograph the stones and the Milky Way.  So I went back out the the stones.  I found heavy overcast sky.  I also found that the surrounding structures were much less obvious at night than in the daytime.  The stones were lit too so I would not have to light paint them.

I had my little Sony NEX 6 travel camera and used my tiny Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 fisheye.  I made several images of the circle and the clouds lit overhead.

After about an hour the clouds began to part slightly and I saw a piece of the Milky Way.  I moved over to position the camera and sure enough the clouds thinned out some and the Milky Way blazed in the night sky.  I began taking long 30 second images getting different cloud patterns.  

There was something about the Milky Way over the Stonehenge circle of stones that really made it mystical and seem a long way away from the roadside in Texas.

I moved around trying different angles on the stones and clouds as the clouds moved in and out.  The fisheye allowed me to really put the stones into image and still have the Milky Way.

The NEX 6 and fisheye combo has become a go-to setup for night photography as the huge view the lens has gives it an amazing look and can really take in the Milky Way.

That wide view really came in handy here as it let me really put the stones into the image and capture the mystery of stone circles and the magic of the night sky.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Going Monochrome

I am a color landscape photographer.  I see better in color and I prefer my images in color about 99% of the time.  However, on occasion I do find an image that works better in black and white.

That is not to say I do not try to work in black and white.  I still work in black and white film on occasion.  I have a profile set to work in monochrome in camera.  I even have Nik Silver Effects for conversions.

I still prefer my results in color.

This just happened to be one of those times I like the monochrome better.

The overcast sky made for some nice soft light conditions.  I was able to get nice exposures with blur to the water of the waterfall.  The summer greens of the scene were nice too but I thought I would be able to frame the image for a more basic composition where the color would not matter.

I worked several compositions there in the canyon.  Then back home I really worked the file for a good conversion.  

The result is the image at the top.

This just turned out to be one of those 1% times for me.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Dells

Hidden in a few locations across the Midwest are a variety of neat little areas to photograph.  First off, not many people photograph the Midwest so even going there you tend to have it to yourself.  Then if you know to look and explore the rivers you might be surprised by what you find.

Bluffs, waterfalls, hidden dells, and the like can be found across the upper Midwest.  Look in the right locations and you might really be impressed. 

Here are a few images from a little area of the Dells.  A short little canyon on a side creek that spills down falls, and past caves and the like.

I made short stop late one afternoon and spent a few minutes exploring the area.  I managed to climb up behind the waterfall for a quick shot to capture the little canyon and give a sense of being there.
I set up my tripod in the cave to be able to get a shot of the cave and the falls too.  

Finding little areas like this is something I really like to be able to do.  Get an evening here, a sunrise there and you can both really appreciate the area and get a few images to boot.

All of these were taken with my little NEX6 travel kit and either the 16-50PZ lens or the tiny Rokinon fisheye.  Using that with my tiny Sirui tripod I have a great little travel kit that takes almost no room (it is way smaller than my DSLR) and it gives me some great creative capability.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Outside Albuquerque, New Mexico

I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a few days early in the summer.  I was pretty busy but managed to get out for a sunrise and a sunset photo opportunities.  I love being in New Mexico for both the food and the photography.  The food there is great and the landscape is truly the land of enchantment.

Just south of the airport (or as they call it the Albuquerque Sunport) is an area known as Mesa del Sol.  I large tract of mostly undeveloped land with a view to the Manzano Mountains.  I drove out to watch sunset there and made a few images with my little NEX6 and small Sirui tripod.  This is an excellent travel photography kit.  It takes up little space but delivers great results.  I liked the view but decided to take advantage of the auto pano feature.  I hand held the several frames the camera then stitches into a long panorama for the top image here.  On the mostly clear sky day it really captures the wonderful light and the mountain range.

The next morning was fairly overcast and one there was no sunrise to speak of.  I was driving along the mesa west of the Rio Grande and the sky began to clear slightly in the west.  I liked the open feel to the view with the darker clouds before they broke up.  This was really a chance image and one that made me glad I always take a camera with me.

Finally a third image from my drive to the airport.  I went out to have breakfast at Mac's La Sierra on old Route 66 (awesome Huevos Rancheros) and stopped at the Rio Grande for a couple of quick images before catching my flight home.  

The Rio Grande runs right through Albuquerque and you might never guess from this third shot that I was actually in town and not on a more remote section of the river.

My only advice if you go is to eat well, watch the sunset, and be careful about missing those left turns.  :-)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Nights on the Nolan River

Throughout the summer months I kept returning to the Nolan River to photograph the Milky Way in the pre-dawn darkness.  I have found several locations to photograph and while most of my visits centered on my favorite spot, I have a few others I also visited.

The fact that I can be here in one hour is great.  I would leave Fort Worth at 2am and be standing in the river at 3am.  In the summer months that gives you between 2-3 hours at best to photograph before it gets light.

As the months went by the Milky Way was moving across the sky (ok, we are really moving around the sun making the Milky Way move) so every month had different angles of view.

In the late summer we decided to visit a different location than usual and waded into the river on a warm summer night.  Here we actually had to walk down the river to reach the spot I wanted to go and having a good pair of Wellies was a must.  We were often 20" of water and Wellies help keep you dry. 

Several times wading I spooked rather large fish wish darted out of sight quickly.  While I suppose there could be snakes or turtles out here, my biggest worry is actually walking through the grass on the way to the river and getting chigger bites.

As you wander down the river we passed through a few deeper spots and the were able to walk along some rock ledges.  Working our way past a few stray boulders and along a small bluff.

A few small clouds were in the sky and the Milky Way was visible too, but the angle would make it tough to always work into a shot.

We would make a few images then move a little farther down the river to make more.  Before we knew it, the stars were fading and morning was on the way.  I think we were back in town by 7am having breakfast.

Getting out for nights made this summer my most productive ever in Texas.  Normally the clear sky and hot days make summer landscape photography difficult and I rarely get more than one or two opportunities.  This summer I was out every new moon weekend chasing the Milky Way and those clear skies gave me many nice images.

As we slide into fall the Milky Way becomes a just after sunset object and the fall colors will become my focus.  However, I now look forward to the summer months as another chance for some nights on the river.