Sunday, April 06, 2014

Big Bend Ranch State Park - Shooting for HDR

Over the years, I have learned that discipline is a very important part of photography. Many times I have arrived at my photographic destination at the "right" time, but it feels like I am getting "nothing." I chimp at the photos I've taken and I think I've had a bust.  But then, after I get home and start doing the post processing, I find that my discipline to keep shooting, bracketing for HDR (High Dynamic Range), pays off. 

Here is the final image:

Here are the two images used to create it.

Sometimes my HDR work is intended to depict what my eyes saw and what the camera can not capture in one image.  Sometimes, using the available software, the image moves beyond what my eye saw to an artistic interpretation.  

I recently bought the NIK Software package with an updated HDR Efex Pro 2.  This version is MUCH faster and still gives a lot of choices for the final tone mapping.  I added some sharpening and additional saturation to give that beautiful sunrise glow. For some photography markets, it probably has too much post processing to qualify.  But . . .  I think it will make a good print.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Sauceda Lodge Bunkhouse

Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the bunkhouse, but it deserves mention in this series of blogs about Big Bend Ranch State Park. On the outside, it looks like a big metal building with a great porch with wagon wheel seating.  Walk inside and it is an inviting great room with a dining area for about 40 and a sitting area around a fireplace. On the right are the entrances to the men and women's sections.  When I heard bunkhouse, I was expecting camp like facilities with literal bunk beds.  Instead, each corridor has little open "rooms" with two twin beds.  There is space under each bed to store your belongings. the bathroom with showers and toilets are on the end.

The big great room is a great place to meet other people from park rangers to other guests.  One park ranger who was getting his morning coffee gave us excellent ideas on where to go for the day.  There was one other visitor, a geology enthusiast who shared his knowledge of the geology of the park at the end of the day.

Meal service is available from the kitchen Friday through Mondays. Prior reservations no later than seven days ahead of arrival with prepayment are required.  Call the Big Bend Ranch 423-358-4444 for reservations.  Breakfast is at 8 a.m. Lunch is at noon. Dinner is served at 5:30 p.m. Because we knew we would spend most of our day exploring and photographing, we did not eat one of the meals. The bunkhouse kitchen is not available for guests, but there is a refrigerator and microwave.  There was also ice tea and coffee available.

The bunkhouse is a comfortable, reasonably priced place to stay at the Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Its informal atmosphere allows pleasant interaction with other visitors and staff.  We were there during spring when the weather was cool, but I did see air conditioning units.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sauceda Ranch House - Big Bend Ranch State Park

The main road to the interior of the Big Bend Ranch State Park is wide, unpaved and suitable for high ground clearance two wheel drive cars. However, the washboards and the desert washes make it rough.  I recommend only traveling on it with vehicles with sturdy suspensions.  It winds through beautiful volcanic, igneous rock formations.  The roads past the Sauceda Headquarters require high ground clearance rugged 4 wheel drive vehicles as well as special permits from the park.  This is desert country, so plenty of water is critical for travel here.  

After a 27 mile drive on a graded but bumpy washboard road, arrival at the Sauceda Headquarters is a welcome site.  The state park employees offer a cheerful greeting and help you get settled in.  If you are going to go on the true jeep roads, you will need to read through an orientation to the park with all the safety concerns and obtain a permit for travel.  

There are three choices for lodging in the center of the park: the Sauceda Ranch House, the Bunk House and primitive camping along the jeep roads.   

The Sauceda Ranch house was built in 1908 and remodeled in the 1940's. A careful observer will note that the kitchen and one of the bedrooms seems to be an addition to the original structure.  

After entering the adobe fenced area, a delightful screened porch welcomes you to spend time. 

The large living area has a television and games for entertainment.  While there is limited Wifi available at the bunkhouse, this is a good place to disconnect from the outside world and savor a simpler lifestyle for a few days.

The dining room is large enough for families to gather at the end of the day for good food, fellowship, and sharing of the day's adventures.

The kitchen is large and has all the utensils and plates for serving.  If guests plan ahead, prepared food is available in the bunkhouse dining room.

The three bedrooms are tastefully decorated with Texas ranch country themes.

There is one bedroom with one bed and the other two bedrooms have 2 beds.

Each bedroom has a fireplace for cold nights.

Pricing is reasonable. Reservations are made through the Austin state office: 512-389-3919.

I did not see air conditioning for summer months, but the house is true adobe with thick walls and great windows for cross ventilation.

It was a delight to spend one night here.  I hope to come back again with more nights at this elegant historic home.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Big Bend - The Adventure Begins

Today was the first full day in the Big Bend area. I am traveling with, Nancy Damron a photographer friend.

We began the day taking FM 170, the River Road section of Big Bend Ranch State Park.

It was a chilly morning, the vultures were waiting until it warmed off to soar over the valley.

There were cliff swallows over the river. I was hoping to capture one of them visiting the nests. Perhaps tomorrow I will get lucky.
Big horn sheep showed up above us on our way back to Terlingua. 

Going into Big Bend National Park, I added a new bird species to my life list, a Phainopepla.
I added several birds to my year list - Say's Phoebe, White Throated Sparrow, Black Phoebe, etc.

I was really planning on birding around Santa Elena Canyon, but the golden canyon walls beckoned to be photographed.  Not a great photo, but it is a glimpse of my world today.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Least Bittern

At the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas, there were several least bitterns that were less secretive than other least bitterns I've seen. I saw at least 2 and one stayed right next to the boardwalk to the delight of my fellow shorebird field trip buddies.

I had seen least bitterns here a year or so ago and last summer at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. The one at Anahuac disappeared into the reeds at the sound of my camera clicks.  The ones today gave us good opportunities to look and photograph.  I hadn't realized how large their feet are in relation to their small body size. Least bitterns are the smallest of the heron egret family.  They are found mostly along the coast.  I think they are one of the most beautifully colored of the herons and egrets with the green heron a close second.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Perseid Meteor Shower 2013

Photographing meteor showers means staying awake between midnight and dawn in a dark place far from city lights.  Mason, Texas was my choice this year and my photographer friend, Nancy Damrom joined me in this adventure.

Because this year's Perseid meteor shower peaked on Monday afternoon, we photographed both early Monday morning and early Tuesday morning.

Our location was the Lindsay Ranch which has hunting cabins for rent with access to their 700 acre ranch.

The first night we set up near the windmill.

The second night we wanted to have trees in our composition.

In our night driving and while we sat waiting for meteors we saw ringtail, skunks, armadillos, deer, and burros.  The night was filled with sounds of crickets and tree frogs.

It was well worth shifting the sleep schedule for a couple of days to spend time watching the beautiful Milky Way waiting for meteors to streak across the sky.  God's creation is a wonder to behold!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve

Last Thursday, I finally had a chance to visit the Eckert James River Bat Cave near Mason, Texas.  My friend and I arrived a little before 7:00 and there was already a stream of bats flying over the river valley.  There were three hawks successfully hunting the bats as we watched.  We grabbed our camera gear and headed up the 1500 foot trail leading up the hill to the entrance to the cave. It is an uphill climb, but it is not too steep. A flashlight would be useful if you stayed until dark to come back down.   When we arrived at the entrance, it was such a pleasant place.  Wooden benches provide comfortable seating in a grove of trees for shade.  The cave opens such that an earlier arrival might have given opportunity for the bats to have natural sunlight for better lighting of their small furry bodies.  I am hoping for my next visit to arrive at 6:00 p.m. when the gates open.

We arrived just as the first set of bats were leaving.  While waiting we saw what was identified as a white racer snake  moving along the other side of the small cliff.

 After waiting patiently the next wave of bats began to fly out.  WOW!  The air in front of the seats was filled with bats!  I believe that this is the closest I've ever been to the bats as they leave their roosts.  It felt like they were coming within about 5 feet of us and we could hear the sound of the thousands of wings.

I had brought both my 28-105 mm lens and my 100-400 lens.  The bats were flying so fast that it was hard to get a good focus with the longer lens.  But even with the 28-105 mm lens, you can see the translucent wings and small bodies as the bats circled the entrance to the cave before leaving the area.

The bats fly very close to you. Some even landed in the little bushes in front of us.  Two snakes were hunting these bats in the bushes near us.  From one of my photos, they had success.

I tried a different angle also with the 28-105mm to get both the silhouettes of the closer bats but also the ribbon of bats flying off to feed.

The Eckert James River Bat Cave is either the 2nd or 3rd largest bat colony with both Mexican Free-tailed bats and Cave Myotis. Approximately 4-6 million bats live in a natural cavern only slightly larger than a school bus.   The Mexican Free-tails exit in a swirling circle from the opening near the observation area.  From the docent I learned that the cave myotis exit a different opening and fly in a straight line.  They also exit right at sunset. As we were leaving near sunset, I saw bats that I think were the cave myotis where she had  told me to look.  I had already put away my camera gear and it was dark - so I did not try to photograph them, but I was glad I saw them.

The Eckert James River Bat Cave is owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy. Richard Phillip Eckert and Virginia Eckert Garret donated the land on the condition that the cave remain open to the public.  The cave is open from mid-May to early October Thursdays through Sundays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  Once a month it is open at dawn to view the bats' return.  Cost is $5.00.  It is a good idea to bring exact change.  To reach the bat cave from Mason on the James River Road it is necessary to cross the Llano River.  It is a fun crossing, but use caution and be alert for flash flooding. While most times it is not deep, I recommend a high ground clearance vehicle.  During a rainy time or in doubt, take the back route. Remember turn around, don't drown!