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.