Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Chisos

The Chisos Mountains are the heart of Big Bend.  A sky island in the desert, they are a higher, cooler, and wetter place than the low desert around it.  The mountains, have pines, maples, and the southern most aspens in the US.  The are home to rare birds like the Colima Warbler.  They even host a population of black bears.

It is a very neat range that is both fun to explore on foot as well as photograph from the surrounding desert.

Here are a few images I made on my fall trip to the park.  I arrived with big clouds and rain passing through.  It was refreshing and different.  The park has been a drought for a few years so the rain was much needed.  The clouds provided some great opportunity to photograph the mountains in a different light.

The norm here seems to be clear skies.  As I have blogged about before, it seems that if I visit here for a week I am going to get four days of severe clear sky.  That is actually one of the reasons I now plan my trips to coincide with the new moon as it gives me the chance to photograph Milky Way nightscapes when it is clear.

Although the day I arrived in the park the was only clouds to be seen.  I found some nice ocotillo that made a good foreground with the clouds passing by to make some images.  I kept going wider and wider with the view as it seemed to get better the wider I went with my lenses.  I started at 24mm, went out to 17mm, switch to the 14mm and ended up even using the fisheye!  If you can guess-I like WIDE lenses!

This is one of those very wide 14mm images up top.

Then later that same day, I was not too far down the road from this same spot-although the view was very different.  The sky was clearing so quickly these were the last clouds in the sky.  I could not shoot wide without getting a lot of blue sky.  So I went to my 70-200 and did some tighter crops and got a very different look of the Chisos in vastly different light.

Same day, different lens, and very different look.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sierra Ponce Sunrise

After a late night photographing the Milky Way, I was up and out early to photograph Santa Elena Canyon.  A low cloud was forming right along the rim of the Sierra Ponce Wall at the entrance to the canyon.  

I have been here many times for sunrise but this was something I had never seen.  

The river was still up and flowing muddy and quick.  Terlingua Creek was still a mud hole too.  I made my way to the edge of the river where I could frame up the entrance to the canyon.  I had both my Canon 5D Mark II with the Bower 14mm as well as the Sony NEX6 with the Rokinon fisheye.  I wanted to be able to get wide and I was hoping the canyon entrance would light up with incredible colors.

The canyon lit up but and there was also light down the length of the Sierra Ponce Wall.  This is a big long cliff.  A 24mm lens horizontal cannot see the top.  A 17mm lens barely gets the canyon entrance.  The fisheye was the lens that really took it all in.

I took images with both cameras but kept going back to the huge view the fisheye could take in.

And even that was not big enough!!

I finally ended up with two images.  Both from the fisheye but neither being able to capture everything.

The top image was one I was able to capture the sun, the wall and the edge of the canyon but I had to do a second image to get the entire canyon, but then lost the sun off the edge of the frame.  I just could not get it all in one.

The obvious answer would be to stitch several shots but I did not have the right lens for that and stayed with what I had.

I photographed until the sun went into the clouds and the light was lost.  I walked away with muddy boots and many frames to look through.  It was another great sunrise experience at Santa Elena Canyon and why I keep coming back here year after year-trip after trip.   

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ancient Light and Ancient Fire

The ancient light of the galaxy over the ancient fire of a volcano.  Big Bend an incredible place.  Easily one of the five best national parks.  Seriously, it's that good.  Two of the many great things about the park are the dark skies and the geology.  

Put them together and you have the opportunity to do a nightscape image of the Milky Way over amazing geological features.

The west side of Big Bend had a very volcanic past.  There are lava flows, dikes, cores, and tuff to see and explore.  One of my favorite areas is the almost lunar landscape around Cerro Castellan an old volcanic core where tuff and volcanic rocks create a fantastic setting.

I knew photographing the area around the mountain would give me some great rocks and the almost white colored tuff.  I wanted to add in the Milky Way and really give it a different look.  I had photographed the area at night the prior March and was glad to have a chance to do so again.  This time I focused on the area facing west.

A smaller, but well defined, peak was there with tuff and ribbons of rock running up it's side.

I set up my cameras and went to work.

Because of the closeness of the rocks and peak, I went with the 14mm lens on the 6D and the 8mm fisheye on the crop sensor NEX6.  This gave me two very wide views which let me get the great rocky foreground as well as the Milky Way in the sky. 

The dark sky of Big Bend makes it the perfect place to photograph the Milky Way.  There are very few lights anywhere near here and the stars truly shine in the night sky.

An amazing thing about modern digital cameras is their ability to pick up light and detail even in this west Texas dark.  I was able to do images were the only light source was the stars themselves and get an image with just natural "light".  See the image to the right.

I also did some light painting of the foreground rocks to give it a different look.    I moved a few different times.  Never very far.  Sometimes just 6 feet as each ribbon of rock was different.

I spent a couple of hours there on the side of the ancient volcano until the Milky Way began to set behind the peak.  Then I packed up and called it a night and headed back to camp.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Santa Elena Canyon and Milky Way

In late October my photography turned to west Texas and I began planning a trip to Big Bend National Park.  This was a bit of a change for me as I normally spend time in Guadalupe Mountains then chasing fall color.

However, this year, I had decided on a different goal-the dark night sky of Big Bend.  After my spring trip where I was able to capture some outstanding images of the Milky Way over the park, I decided to go back to try more.  Specifically I wanted to see if it would be possible to photograph the Milky Way rising out of Santa Elena Canyon.  In the spring I had photographed out of the canyon to the Milky Way rising just before dawn.  Now in the fall the Milky Way is in the west just after sunset.  I was hoping I could get it in the right spot.

I planned for 5 days in the park and timed the trip for the week of the new moon.  After arriving in the park, I set up camp in Cottonwood and found there was only two other sites taken.  Both left the next day and we had the entire campground to ourselves!  

I went down to Santa Elena Canyon in the afternoon to see what condition the river was in.  The view I wanted was only a few hundred yards from the parking lot, so not far, but the constantly changing conditions of the river meant I wanted to see what it was like.

Glad I did as the water was up and Terlingua Creek was a big mud hole.  I brought Wellies in case the water was up but found the mud really deep.  After sinking a good six inches in the muck I realized it was not going to be an easy crossing if at all.  Then I watched another person go past their knee in the mud.  Ok, so the canyon is a no-go this year.

After watching sunset down the road with a view of the few clouds around the Chisos, I had a quick dinner and packed my kit for the Milky Way.  It needs about an hour after sunset to get dark and about 90 minutes to see the Milky Way.  I got down to Santa Elena Canyon and it was dark.  One of the many great things about west Texas is how dark the night sky is and it was dark and clear.

I set up three tripods and cameras.  I was using my Canon 5D Mark II with Bower (Samyang) 24mm, my Sony NEX6 with Rokinon (Samyang) 8mm fisheye, and a rented Canon 6D with Bower (Samyang) 14mm lens.  All three are excellent night combos and let me shoot from moderate wide through the huge view of the fisheye lens.

The Milky Way was already perfectly aligned coming right up out of the canyon.  I was thinking I might have to wait, or worse have missed it, but it was perfect.  I spent about 30 minutes there taking different compositions even though I had the shot on the first one.

Planning paid off and I was able to get the shot in the bag on the first night!  I now had the rest of the trip to work on other areas in the park.  What a great way to start the trip!