Sunday, March 29, 2015

Desert Rainbows

Rainbows always fascinate me.  They are beautiful, ephemeral, and not something I see every day.  When I am lucky enough to see a rainbow,  I try to take time to enjoy it and appreciate it.  As a Christian, a rainbow always reminds me of God's promise to Noah that He would never destroy the earth by flood again. 

The science of rainbows are that it takes rain and sun to create a rainbow.  In the desert, rain events are few and far between, so a rainbow is even more special in the desert.  

In my last trip, I was at Big Bend during several rain events.  During the first one, the rain was in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was still high in the sky.  The location of a rainbow is related to the sun angle.  I was at the bottom of the valley when I saw the rain and sunshine.  I knew that I had to get up higher in order to see the rainbow.  I was with a photographer friend. When we got to the top and started looking for the rainbow, she saw it first. But it was against the hillside not high in the sky due to the sun angle - much as I had expected. I knew we would be looking down on the rainbow because of how high in the sky the sun was. I rushed to photograph it and thought that I had missed it.  

When I began working the photos from the trip, I realized that I had actually captured a double rainbow.  One is barely visible against the hillside and the other in the sky. 


As we drove back to where the bluebonnets were,  I saw another rainbow barely peaking over the canyon wall.


On a different day, the sun and rain again appeared together. This time the sun was lower in the sky and I knew we needed to get down lower to see it.  Sure enough, a rainbow next to Casa Grande.


As a photographer, I get a sense of urgency when I know a rainbow is possible. I can hardly wait to get the chance to photograph it, so when I see one is possible and I'm in the wrong place, you can imagine me bouncing in my seat in anticipation and hope that I will get there in time to capture it. 

Rainbow photography tips:

1.  Learn the sun angle - so you know whether or not you need a taller vantage point or a lower vantage point to see the rainbow.

2. Use a circular polarizer filter.  It will brighten the rainbow or make it totally disappear depending upon how it is turned.

3.  Bracket your exposure so you have a better chance to get the most vibrant colors. 

4.  When possible, try to find a location near you with an optimal composition.

5.  Take time to enjoy the rainbow in the short time it is visible. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Photographing the Sunrise

As a photographer, when I go on location I want to be up and in place for both sunrises and sunsets.  Even when you study the weather forecasts, and check the sky when you go to bed, you never know what you will see in the morning.  One of my photographic mantras is that you have to put yourself out there - whether you actually get what you visualized or not.  Some sunrises and sunsets are busts, but if you aren't out there, you are going to miss some spectacular shots.

The earliest glow begins at least 30 minutes before the sun actually clears the horizon.  It is best if you can pick out your sunrise location the day before, but sometimes it is hard to visualize exactly where the sun is going to appear and even harder to know which clouds are going to be lit with glorious color.  In addition when you are photographing in a mountainous region, the beautiful early glow may well be hidden behind the mountain.  

I was traveling with another photographer friend, and we strove to get up and be at a location in plenty of time.  We would debate as we went along about the merits of the various locations on the way. Often however, the beginning of the glow would determine where we stopped. 

This particular morning the glow began early with only a small slit at the horizon for the sun to light the sky with.  It began with more blue tones.  And our location was challenging.  The area backlit by the sun was narrow - so trying to get the big view left you with only a thin band of glow. So I chose to limit how much of the glow I was photographing in order to have a more interesting composition with the foreground topography. 



The first hint of yellows appeared.



You can see here how narrow that band of glow was . . .



 It looked much more beautiful when I zoomed in and captured only the smaller details in the foreground . . .


But it was also hard to resist catching that larger feature on the left.



Here was the view on the right side of my viewing area - less interesting details, but the lighting on these clouds called to be photographed.



As the sun got closer to the horizon, the angle of lighting changed and more of the underside of the clouds began to light up.





Now the compositions had more details . . .


I wanted some vertical shots. This one I used some of the features in Photoshop CC's Camera Raw to bring out details in the foreground as well as the beautiful glowing clouds.



It is getting closer . . .



 And . . . here it is . . .  the first glimpse of the sun . . .


We needed to have that low horizon line to capture the earliest glow,  but when the actual sun came up, it did not line up with the more interesting land features.  So I went more wide angle and yes, it is a centered composition.  

I bumped my f/stop to f/22 hoping to get the starburst effect. The small aperture bends (diffracts) the light and creates the starburst shape. Also, shooting with a wider focal length which I also did here) creates a larger size for the starburst.  You have to catch the sun while it is still partially obscured and a smaller point source.  



Some cautions about sunrise and sunset photography. You need to be very careful not to look through the camera lens into the sun to avoid damaging your eyes. And, once the sun is fully above the horizon, you don't want to damage your camera sensor. 

Shooting directly into the sun can also cause lens flare.  Sometimes it can add to the composition and sometimes it detracts. In this case, I think I like it - this image captures the sense of the bright beginnings of a new day . . .


Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Big Bend Panorama


There are air quality issues at Big Bend . . . many of the days I was there . . . the haze obscured the vistas.  I had assumed the air pollution was coming from Mexico, but research indicates that coal fired plants in both Texas and Mexico contribute. Prevailing summer winds bring pollutants from the Gulf Coast and Mexico into the Big Bend area.  

However, it also gave some opportunities for some dramatic photos.  I was fascinated by how the backlit mountains were silhouetted with the smog defining the ridges.  I took a sequence of shots, hoping that I would have something to work with. 

Here is the original.



Post processing is major part of a photographer's toolbox.  In this case I cropped in photoshop to remove most of the sky and some of the foreground to create a more panoramic look.  

Then I used NIK Software Color Efex Pro's Detail Extractor to bring out more of the details in those amazing volcanic features.  

Here is another view of the same scene, this time shot with a sequence of shots and stitched. While this one shows more the vast and beautiful panorama here, full sized it is 10 inches tall and 75 inches wide . . . somehow I don't think I will ever print it . . .



I wish that there was more being done to reduce the pollution . . . Big Bend is far from the populations centers of Texas . . . out of sight, out of mind . . . 


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Photographing the Desert

I have grown to love the desert, but sometimes I find it difficult to photograph in ways that really capture the beauty that I see.  Parts of Big Bend Ranch State Park are dramatically beautiful because of the viewpoints overlooking eroded canyons where it feels like you can see forever.  Photographing to capture that wide expanse sometimes falls short because what your eye is appreciating can look small and insignificant in a photograph.

I used my 100-400mm lens at 190mm to zoom in to get a better view of the ridges and canyons in the distance.


Here is the wider angle shot with my 24-105mm lens at 45mm.  Now the foreground becomes more important and the canyons seem far, far away.  The challenge with the wide angle shot is to move around and find interesting things in the foreground to capture the interest of your viewer and lead them into the image.  In this shot so much of the foreground is typically desert "busy" but that one yucca works to anchor the image.  This gives your viewer something that grabs the eye and hopefully encourages them to continue exploring the image.


This next shot was also taken with the 24-105mm at 45mm, but I have changed location with the yucca a much more prominent feature in the image. I am closer to the yucca but the camera was also closer to the ground.  This gives more detail to the other plants on the desert floor and removes the cluttered look at the lower left hand side of the image above.

I moved around more because I wanted to see if I could get one of the ocotillos as a point of interest in the image.  I changed to 67mm on the lens. One of the things I don't like in this image is that yucca stalk that creeps into the image on the left. I kept moving around trying to find the perfect spot so it would not be in the image. Yes, I can clone it out, but I prefer to do as much as I can to get the best images in the camera.


Each of these images tells a slightly different story about this scene.  Which one do you like best?

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.