Friday, May 23, 2014

Santa Elena Canyon-Looking Up

Looking through my images of Big Bend I found a couple that really stood out as a different view than I normally go for in photographing that location.  Really, I should say they were a different perspective on a location I have photographed many times.

The normal "rules" of composition in landscape photography talk about foreground, mid-ground and background.  Those are key compositional elements.  What I found though were a few shots where I just shot up into the sky.  In a location like Santa Elena Canyon where the walls rise 1500 feet above you it becomes a whole new way to see the canyon.

In the late afternoon I looked up with my fisheye lens.  If you have ever read this blog you know that I really like using the fisheye for the amazing view it can give.  Deep in Santa Elena Canyon, it did not disappoint.  The view takes in a huge amount of the canyon in a way you cannot even see it to the eye.

Then at night looking up at the walls of the Sierra Ponce with the Milky Way hanging in the sky.  This is a single frame with no light painting.  I had been alternating images with and with out light painting.  Looking at the result here, I was struck by how much light is truly out there and how well a modern digital camera picks it up.

Two different images.  Each with a different view of the canyon.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Nightscape Deep in Santa Elena Canyon

Another image I had envisioned with Santa Elena Canyon was of a spot I knew on the edge of the river looking out the canyon.  I had hoped I could get enough of the Milky Way above the canyon to make it a good shot.

I walked down to the spot in the dark.  I find I often do that at night as most trails tend to be easily visible in the dark to me.

I set up on a rock right on the edge of the Rio Grande and made a couple of images of the night sky.  Then I decided to work on some light painting to see if I could add some light to the canyon walls.  I had brought both a flash unit and a flashlight.  I was worried the flashlight would be too weak and actually was planning on working more with the flash but I found the flashlight to be a better tool and liked the results I was getting.  The fact I was able to paint the entire 1500' tall canyon wall was impressive and far more than I thought the flashlight would be able to do.

With a few images here under my belt.  I decided to move back out of the canyon and wait for the dawn.

On a completely different note, later that day I heard from the park rangers of a bear sighting in Santa Elena Canyon.  Bears have been in the Chisos for several years but this was a first if bears had taken up residence in the canyon.  Then I saw video posted of the bear climbing the cliff walls of Santa Elena Canyon.  This went viral and even made the national news.  Most people were amazed the bears could climb rocks like this, I was more impressed they were living in Santa Elena Canyon.  It is not near as cool as the higher elevation of the Chisos, but I guess it is cooler here than the desert and the river gives great access to water.

Glad to see the bear thriving in Big Bend!




Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rio Grande and Chisos Nightscape

When I put together my Big Bend trip this year I decided to do so with the possibility of night photography in mind.  One of the things I have noticed over the years about trips to Big Bend is I seem to get completely clear sky at least 60% of the time.  I decided to time this trip to coincide with the new moon so that if the sky was clear to be able to photograph the Milky Way in the sky above the Big Bend landscape.  

The first image that came to mind was the view of the Chisos and Rio Grande from Santa Elena Canyon.  Most people who photograph at Santa Elena Canyon do so looking into the canyon at dawn.  I do that too.  In fact, I have done it many times.  It is such a great shot.  I would go as far to call it the crown jewel of the park.

However, I also love the view out of the canyon toward the Chisos.  In the archives of my Large Format blog are some of my attempts to get the right sunrise image from here.  Here is also the best digital version I have been able to get, I hope to one day finally get this one right.


Chisos View

Large Format Patience

Now I decided to try it at night and see how it would look with the Milky Way in the night sky.

I knew the spot I want to set up the image from but still went there in the afternoon to be sure of it before I went back in the dark.  I made a couple of images for reference and was ready to get there early.


The next morning I was up and going at 3 AM.  As I expected-it was pretty clear although there were just a few thin clouds in the east.  I drove down to the canyon and hiked up to my spot.  I set up two tripods and two cameras.  Night means long exposures and it is the only time I feel one can effectively use two cameras at once.  So I set up one with the 24mm and the other with the 14mm.  Both shooting wide open to maximize the light gathering.  

I would frame up one and start the image and then have 30 seconds to work with the other one.  I made several images and worked some slightly different framing.

By 4:45 AM I was ready to move deeper into the canyon and work on another shot I had envisioned.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pecos River Nightscape

In late March I made my way west to Big Bend National Park.  In order to break up the ten hour drive, I tend to leave on a Friday afternoon and drive out to Big Spring.  From there, I can get an early start and be in the park before lunch.  

It also gives me an opportunity to photograph some of the country out west of Odessa like Monahans Sand Hills, Marathon and the Pecos River.

The Pecos River is a magical line that I always look forward to crossing.  In some ways it is a river of mythic proportions.  It is the beginning of the mountain country and you could say it is where west Texas begins.  

Now here in the middle of the Permian Basin, the river is small by any standard.  About six feet across and less than a foot deep. Still there is something magical about it.

As usual for me, I was up and gone from Big Spring about 4 AM and as I drove I noticed the Milky Way had risen in the night sky.  I crossed the Pecos about 6 AM and stopped for a photograph.  I walked down to the waters edge right by the road bridge (so I stayed on public property) and set up my tripod.  

The river sparked under the night sky.  The Milky Way stretched from the southern sky.  Venus hung low in the sky.  Everything you could want in night photograph.

I used my 14mm lens and made a series of 30 second exposures of the sky.  At 14mm you can do a 30 second exposure and get sharp stars.  Go longer than about 32 seconds and they will start to form small trails.

I tried a few images where I light painted along the river but when reviewing them I found the ones sans light painting to be better and more natural.

After just 20 minutes the Milky Way began to fade as the day approached.  I packed up my gear with a handful of images and knew it was a good start to my Big Bend trip.  

Note, I have started a new Nightscape gallery on my website that will host my night portfolio of images.  You can check it out at:

Nightscape Gallery