PS#9: Cemetery at Night

This image was taken in the Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery a few weeks ago and just prior to the start of my workshop. At this time of year, the Milky Way rises about 3:30~4am. Marti and I got up really early to catch this event.



click for larger image

Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
Filter: none
Shutter Speed: 25 sec.
Aperture: f/2
Focal Length: 24mm
ISO: 3200
Camera mounted on tripod

The skies were clear and the moon had set the evening prior. We started long enough before dawn that the skies were still very dark. Sunrise was at about 7:20am, so we had until about 6:00am before the sky started to lighten up.

The Milky Way was in a different position and orientation than I’m used to seeing. The bands of the galaxy were horizontal and positioned over the eastern horizon. I’m used to shooting in late summer and the fall when the bands are oriented more vertically and towards the southern or southwestern horizon.

This particular orientation (late Feb.) made a great landscape composition with the bands of the galaxy paralleling the horizon. I chose a spot in the cemetery that featured multiple crosses. Since the Milky Way had just risen, it laid nicely right over the crosses.

PS#8: Hoodoos

This image was taken in Big Bend National Park a few weeks ago. This location is about 7 miles north of Panther Junction and about 3/4 of a mile west of the road (hiking off-trail). You can easily see these rock formations from the main road as you drive through that part of the park.



click for larger image

Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS
Filter: circular polarizer
Shutter Speed: 1/8 sec.
Aperture: f/11
Focal Length: 105mm
ISO: 100
Camera mounted on tripod

I’ve seen photos of these hoodoos before, and I’ve always wanted to hike out to them. Wes and I scouted in that general area during our trip to Big Bend in October of last year. We agreed that it would be worth hiking out there early in the morning, but we didn’t find the opportunity to do it on that trip.

I woke up very early on the morning prior to the start of the workshop and drove across the park to this spot. I hiked, off trail, to a point just north of the hoodoos where the Chisos mountains could be seen in the background. I’d planned ahead of time that this was the view I wanted to shoot. The skies were completely cloudless, so I decided to minimize the amount of sky in the photo.

This brings up a debate on whether or not it’s advantageous to visualize your shots before you begin to photograph a particular location. I won’t get into the pros and cons of it, but I believe there is a happy balance between having no plans (and being completely spontaneous) and planning out all of your shots ahead of time. I usually go into my shoots with at least a rough idea of what I want to capture, but I also do not (or rather, try not) to get stuck or frustrated when my plans do not work out.

PS#7 Chasing the Clouds

In late February, I traveled to Big Bend National Park to hold a workshop with my friend, Marti Jeffers. Marti and I arrived in the park a few days before the workshop began, and we set out to explore the park and, of course, take photos.



click for larger

Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS
Filter: circular polarizer
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec.
Aperture: f/8
Focal Length: 32mm
ISO: 200

On our first afternoon out, we encountered this huge, beautiful cloud above the desert. It looked as if it was in the process of being sheared apart by the high winds from a cold front that had just blown through.

That began a whole afternoon of chasing the clouds through the park. You can see what this cloud looked like here, taken about 15 minutes later and from a different location.

One thing about Big Bend that always attracts me is the huge sky and the amazing vistas you can experience throughout the park. I try to incorporate that in a lot of my photos. I tend to shoot more of the sky than of the ground, and it is representative of my memories long after my visits to Big Bend. I love the sky there!

You can see how the shoot progressed that afternoon in the following series of images: one, two, and three. It was fun following the clouds and shooting where we could incorporate them into our compositions, and it was great being in the park again. This marked the start of a really great 9-day stretch that we spent there. More photos to come soon…

PS#6: Burned Trees

This image was taken in George Bush Park (Houston, TX) last November.



click for larger image

Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS
Filter: B+W circular polarizer
Shutter Speed: 1/6 & 0.3 sec. (blend of two exposures)
Aperture: f/11
Focal Length: 45mm
ISO: 100
Camera mounted on tripod

In September of 2011, there was a large wildfire in the park, and hundreds of acres burned. In the months after the fire, I made several trips to explore the burned areas looking for things to photograph.

The interesting thing was that nature was coming back strong and quickly. This field was covered in thick, green grass. The trees were still bare and charred, and the contrast between them and the grass was striking.

PS#5: Winter

Looking back at my lack of postings, it’s apparent that I’ve not given this blog much attention over the past several months. I’d like to blog daily or at least weekly, but life gets in the way. It also has not helped that I’ve not been photographing that much.

This image was taken about a month ago in the Addicks Reservoir (Houston, TX).



click for larger image

Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS
Filter: none
Shutter Speed: 1/2 sec.
Aperture: f/11
Focal Length: 24mm
ISO: 100
Camera mounted on tripod

I’m posting this one because it was from my first serious photo outing in several months. The purpose of the outing was simply to practice photography and get the creative juices flowing again. I needed some practice before my Big Bend trip.

This marshy, dead scene on an overcast day really communicated winter to me. It looks cold to me, although I was wearing a t-shirt. It’s been unseasonably warm this winter.

This area has changed completely now. I was out there yesterday for a run, and there is green grass just about everywhere, even in the water. Spring is here.

PS#4: Perry School Ruins

This image was taken in the Terlingua Ghost Town on my recent trip to the Big Bend area. My photo-buddy, Wes, and I spent several hours in the dark shooting the ghost town one evening after dinner.



click for larger image

Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
Shutter Speed: 25 sec.
Aperture: f/2.0
ISO: 3200
Camera mounted on tripod

The approach to this scene was straightforward and simple: front of building + Milky May. I took a couple of test shots to find my composition (trial-and-error camera placement) and determine how the ambient light was hitting the building. The light from the neighboring structures (the ghost town is still inhabited) was faintly illuminating the old school.

Wes and I decided that it needed more light, and that it would also benefit from some internal light. We both took several exposures, each with a different light painting scheme.

My first exposure was with only ambient light and no light painting. I then took several where I light painted the exterior of the building from different locations and different patterns.

I actually had to light paint twice in each shot because Wes was shooting at the same Ev but at 60 seconds (about twice as long as my exposure). We’d trip our shutters at the same time, I’d then paint a little at first, then paint some more after my shutter closed and Wes’ shutter was still open.

The shots with light in the interior of the building were tricky (mainly because the flooring was in bad shape and we had to carefully negotiate our way through on half-rotten floor joists in the dark). Between the two of us, we had enough small LED lights (covered with #204 orange gel filters) to place them inside the building to shine through four window openings and the doorway. The lights were left in position and turned on during the exposures. It took many tries and different light positions, but it finally worked.

I combined three different exposures in Photoshop to get the final result you see here. We actually spent so long working this scene that the Milky Way shifted significantly. I used the sky from my first photo (the ambient shot), the light-painted building exterior from one of the subsequent shots, and also the last shot with the interior lighting.

PS#3: Ansel Adam’s Viewpoint

In 1942, Ansel Adams visited the Big Bend area. One of his images was taken from an informal viewpoint along Old Maverick Road. If you do Google search for “Ansel Adams Burro Mesa“, you will find the image that he shot from this spot. (here’s a direct link to the photo: ccp.uair.arizona.edu/item/11570)

This location can be accessed on the west side of the park. It is 2.6 miles south of the west entrance booth. There is a hill on the east side of Old Maverick Road. The summit of this hill is where Ansel Adams stood almost 70 years ago.



click for larger image

Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS
Filter: B+W circular polarizer
Shutter Speed: 1/90 sec.
Aperture: f/8
ISO: 100
Camera mounted on tripod

I’ve shot from this location a few times before, but I’ve never seen nice clouds like this while I was there. On the day this photo was taken, a strong cold front was moving through, and the wind was blowing in 30+ mph gusts. The front had initially cleared out the sky of all clouds, but mid-afternoon, a set of high cirrus clouds developed overhead and then quickly moved east just as we were passing by AA’s hill. It was a happy coincidence.

My approach to this scene was to capture the basic elements in front of me: the wide arroyo, Tule Mountain (the small, flat-topped mountain near the center), the Chisos Mountains in the background, and the sky. (Just to note- Burro Mesa is in between Tule Mountain and the Chisos.)

And that’s it. Simple. Desert, mountains, sky. And I believe that Ansel got it right nearly 70 years ago. This scene captures the essence of Big Bend.

PS#2: Dugout Wells at Night

This image was taken on my recent trip to Big Bend on the night before my workshop began. This location is at Dugout Wells, a lush, green spot in the open desert.



Windmill and Milky Way
(click for larger image)

Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
Shutter Speed: 25 sec.
Aperture: f/2.0
ISO: 3200
Camera mounted on tripod

Before leaving for Big Bend, I spent some time thinking about the area and locations to shoot the night sky after sunset. I was familiar with the Dugout Wells area, and I remembered the working windmill there. Silhouetting the windmill against the stars and Milky Way was my only objective with this photo.

On location, I decided to take a wide angle shot to capture a lot of the sky and also some of the horizon. The windmill is small but still a prominent feature in the frame, and Nugent Mountain also appears and adds some interest to the horizon.

This is a location that I returned to with the workshop participants a few night later.

PS#1: Night in the Ghost Town

Note: I’m going to start a new series of blog posts that I’m calling, Picture Stories. This will hopefully give me some inspiration to post more frequently on my blog as well as increase my shooting activity. My friend and fellow photographer, Bob Clark, maintains a blog and basically does just that; he tells stories. And good ones too :-)

This image was taken on my recent photography workshop based in Big Bend. It is just a snapshot taken during the workshop.



Perry School in Ghost Town
(click for larger image)

Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
Shutter Speed: 25 sec.
Aperture: f/2.0
ISO: 3200
Camera positioned on ground

This photo above was taken as a quick test shot to see how the ambient light was registering on the building and determine if any light painting was needed. I wanted the light on the building to balance with the night sky, and I used it to help teach and demonstrate proper exposure to my workshop participants.

This is the old Perry School in the Terlingua Ghost Town (the ghost town is a few miles west of Big Bend National Park). The ghost town has few lights, but still the artificial illumination from distant structures does register on long exposures.

I simply laid my camera on the ground and fired off a shot. During the 25 second exposure, two things happened. The first was that a car drove by on a nearby road, and the light from its headlights blew out a spot on the left side of the photo. The second accident was that two workshop participants walked up to the building while their LED headlamps were turned to red mode.

The resulting photo was a happy accident. I really like it. The lighting is a bit freaky and the tilt of the camera adds some tension and drama, as if the photographer dropped his/her camera and ran off after seeing a ghost or something horrible.

So, in honor of the recent Halloween holiday, I’m posting this photo as the first in my PS series :-)