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.

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!