Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bluebonnets of Spring

When April arrives in north Texas it is bluebonnet season.  We get spring wildflowers from late March through June but the bluebonnet is premier wildflower in Texas.  Most of central and north Texas is covered in bluebonnets for the first two weeks of April.  The Indian paintbrush also peaks in this time giving a nice highlight of red to go with the blue of the bluebonnet.

I see flowers all over north Texas.  Patches of bluebonnets dot the roadside and cover pastures.

You might think all those flowers make for easy flower photography.  They don't. 

The problem is not finding flowers it is finding the right location to build a landscape photo.  You need flowers and more.  A mid-ground and background to build the scene.  Great clouds help too.

It is finding all of that together that is tough.  I have put a great deal of looking at Google Maps and driving to see what might make a good location.  Since the flowers are only around for a few weeks it is tough to scout locations in summer, so the spots that look good on the map sometime lack any bluebonnets.  Luckily though, that effort has paid off somewhat and I now have a few spots I can frequent.  

Here is sunrise at my favorite location in Ellis County.

I visited here three successive Saturdays hoping for a great sunrise.  Third time was the charm and it all came together-wildflowers, distant view, and sunrise.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Making The Shot

Here are a pair of images from my last morning in Big Bend.  I set up a shot of me taking the shot.  Here are both of them.

The last morning was mostly overcast.  I had seen a few stars over camp and made my way to a location I was wanting to attempt to photograph the Milky Way from.  Only problem was the Milky Way was mostly hidden in the clouds.  I worked on a few other images and then as it got closer to morning the Milky Way moved out of the clouds into some clear sky.  

However it was too late for the composition I was hoping for.  I guess that is why there is a "next time".

So I worked with what I had and set up a view of a few stray boulders and the Milky Way.  Then for fun I set up my second camera, set the timer and went in to start the first camera.  Call it the picture of making the picture.

It was a good way to end the trip and I was already making a list of locations to visit on my next trip out here, because no matter how many times you visit-there is always new stuff to find here.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Ocotillo is one of the more common cacti of the Chihuahuan Desert.  Well, its actually closely related to the violet than the prickly pear.  Its tally spindly branches grow to ten feet or more.  It the spring it put out a bright red flowery tip.  When it rains it becomes covered in small green leaves.  When you get a good rain in the spring it might have both flowers and leaves.

I have used them as compositional elements in many images taken in west Texas.  This trip to Big Bend was no exception.  

We had an overcast afternoon and with that soft light I thought I might work on photographing the Ocotillo with their bright red flowers of spring.  It also gave me a chance to work some with flash to help light them.

I rarely add light to images.  I do lightpaint some at night but my photography is all about natural light.  I have a couple of flash units that rarely get used.  I had thought I would use them a great deal when light painting my Milky Way images but found that they were too bright.  Even when dialed back to 1/128 power it was often way too bright.  I did most of my light painting with flashlights.

So when I had the overcast day, I thought I would see about working with the flash units to help make the reds pop.

First thought-it takes a lot of work to get your lights right.  Images can take as long to set up as a large format image does.  Second thought-flash, wireless units and a light stand, add a lot of bulk to your pack.  Realization-I might occasionally do this but it will not be often.  For me just working with a simple and light kit is best.

So here are a couple of the images I made that afternoon.  I like the way I was able to give the red an additional pop of color.  I also like the way I was able to keep the sky detail.

Finally I add in an image taken at night with just a bit of the sky showing and a little pop of light on the Ocotillo.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Desert Camping in Big Bend

Moving back to the west side of Big Bend, we opted for a backroad campsite to be closer to a location we wanted to photograph than one of the three main campgrounds would be.  

Big Bend is one of a handful of parks that offer backroads to explore and there are some campsites along them.  Do understand campsite means a flat patch of gravel in the desert.  No shade.  No table.  Nothing but desert and a flat piece of gravel.  That is going to scare off most.

I like them as you can truly get away from the crowds and they also happen to be near great places to photograph.

The site we chose is one I had never camped at before-Rattlesnake Mountain.  It is a patch of gravel in the desert off the Old Maverick Road.  The small Rattlesnake Mountains are to the west of it.

It is also near some interesting views of the Maverick Badlands.

We set up camp there in overcast sky and watched a sunset.

I was up very early and started photographing the stars and the Milky Way which were peaking out of the cloud cover.  I made several images but then added in the campsite and got the top image here.  As soon as I saw it on the back of the camera I knew I had a good story image for what it is like to camp in Big Bend.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sierra Del Carmen Nightscape

The Sierra del Carmen dominate the views of the eastern side of Big Bend.  The rugged ridge and peaks can be seen from most spots east of the Chisos and can almost always be worked into an image.  There are several great locations along the Rio Grande that can be used to photograph the Carmens.  My favorite might just be the small hill on the Nature Trail at Rio Grande Village.  Here at the biggest campground in the park, is a small nature trail that loops out over a beaver pond and winds up up small rocky hill.

The views from the top are great both east toward the Sierra del Carmen and west toward the Chisos.  This is a place that is good both at sunrise or sunset.

Or in the case of getting up there at 3am-seeing the Milky Way.  

Since it was early April, I knew the Milky Way would be a band above the the peaks to the east and went with this shot in mind.  A short walk from camp got me to the top of the hill and a great view of the rising Milky Way.

I set up a Canon 6D with my Bower (Samyang) 14mm f/2.8 lens.  The image was ISO 12,800 for 25 seconds.

You can see this one and more in my Nightscape Galleries  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Milky Way Nightscape over Hot Springs Canyon

Early morning at Hot Springs Canyon was a shot I hoped to be able to get.  I had somewhat envisioned a shot looking down through the canyon with the Milky Way rising in the eastern sky above it.  I wondered about the possibility of lightpainting the canyon.  After the success we had at Santa Elena Canyon a few days before, we hoped to be able to duplicate it here.

We were up and out early.  We hiked into the canyon in the dark of 4am hour and back to where we had done sunset images.  I was keen to try using a 50mm lens to compress the scene some.  However we found the Milky Way was already too high in the sky for that image.  I made a few mental notes and filed the shot away for a future visit to the park.  I did concentrate on wider views of the galaxy and canyon.  Shooting both the views into the deeper parts of this small canyon as well as looking south across the river into Mexico.

One of the things we realized this morning is how the better night images will have a stronger foreground than a small canyon.  Things that look great at sunset seem small and dark at night.  If you compare these shots to the earlier entries and see the way the Balanced Rock, or pinnacles, or even the big walls of Santa Elena really help make the image.

Understand, I still liked the morning and the location but I think I got better night shots at some of the other locations.

I was carrying two tripods to work two camera setups.  Then after moving several times, switched over to just the one setup with the Canon 6D as it has an edge at night over the 5D2.

After making images at several stops we finally finished the hike and photographed a palm tree doing a little lightpainting of the tree with the stars shining above.

It was a great end to the night photography and we hiked back through the canyon in the gray twilight not making another image.