Welcome 2010!

Happy New Year!

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The photo above was taken yesterday morning in the Texas Hill Country. It’s a 2009 image, but as I welcome the new year, I recall all the great moments and wonderful events of 2009.

Best wishes to you all in 2010 and may this new year bring you happy moments and good times.

The Window, Part 2

Part 2 covers the second morning I spent shooting in the Basin of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. This morning produced dramatically different clouds and light than the previous morning.

Parts 1 and 2 cover my attempts to document the Window in my own way for my ongoing photo project on Big Bend.

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Canon 40D with Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L & polarizer
24mm, f/8, ISO 200, blend of exposures from 1/30 to 1/10 sec.

I wasn’t inspired to take a tightly composed, cropped-in photo of the Window. I’d say the majority of the Window shots I see are just that – only the Window, i.e. a tight shot of the classic V-notch (and also the view through the Window to the lower desert beyond, but the air is often too hazy to make out good details).

The photo above is the tightest composition I could stand to take, but I still included a lot of the surrounding mountains and sky.

What I think best reflects my experiences in Big Bend, and particularly in the Basin, is more of the whole package rather than some isolated component. What pleases my eye is seeing the surrounding components and the stuff that connects to the main feature to tell the story better and put the main feature into proper context.

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Canon 5D with Canon 17-40mm f/4L & polarizer
19mm, f/11, ISO 100, blend of exposures from 1/15 to 1/2 sec.

The shot above puts the Window about as small as possible by using almost the widest focal length I have, and it’s my favorite shot from that morning. It’s perhaps a little ordinary because of the simple composition – the Window is dead-smack in the center.

But when I look at it, I feel something. It stirs up some emotions. It possibly captures more essence of the Basin than just specifically the Window itself. You see how the Basin is this fertile, green pocket that’s walled-off by mountains and clouds. Yet, despite the wide angle of view, the main feature (the Window) is highlighted by direct light.

I like it, but that’s just me. What do you think?

The Window, Part 1

The Window is a feature of the Chisos Mountain Basin in Big Bend National Park. It’s a notch in the mountains that ring the Basin, and it’s the primary drainage path for rain water. It’s also a great “frame” for watching and photographing the sunset (you face west when looking through The Window from within The Basin).

These two photos (below) were taken at sunrise when the light was hitting the Window directly. I spent two mornings in a row, during our recent trip to the park, observing and photographing the sunrise from atop a large boulder in the Basin.

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Canon 5D with Canon 17-40mm f/4L
17mm, f/11, ISO 100, blend of two exposures: 1/4 & 1/2 sec.

I try to avoid photographing subjects that are cliché and obvious because they’re often overdone and boring. The Window is one of the primary features of Big Bend that most park visitors get to see and photograph. If you’ve been to Big Bend, or you’ve seen published photos from the park, chances are you’ve seen the Window, Casa Grande, Santa Elena Canyon, and/or the South Rim of the Chisos. The park’s website even has live photos of the Window from a webcam permanently mounted in the Basin.

But, as I continue to work on my Big Bend project, I realize that I do not have any good photos of this well-known icon. Our recent trip gave me good opportunities to photograph it because we were staying at the lodge in the Basin and taking things very easy (my wife is 8 months pregnant; i.e. we were not doing our usual routine of backcountry camping and all-day hiking). I woke up early for the sunrises and wrapped up my shooting sessions just about the time the sweet light was ending and my family was finishing up breakfast and ready to depart for our morning venture.

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Canon 5D with Canon 17-40mm f/4L & polarizer
23mm, f/11, ISO 100, blend of two exposures: 1/5 & 0.40 sec.

It’s not impossible to come up with fresh, interesting photos of well known subjects but it’s certainly a challenge. Fortuntely, there are an infinite amount of combinations of camera positions, focal lengths, lighting conditions, weather, etc.

I’m not sure I pulled off some good shots here – you be the judge of that. I decided to feature the great clouds present during this shoot and make the Window (the notch in the lower left) smallish in the frame by using wide focal lengths. These compositions also feature another great aspect of Big Bend – the skies. The frequent, huge, and unobstructed views throughout the park allow people to see for miles and that’s quite refreshing for those park visitors confined into city living back home. One thing I always look foward to when visiting the park are the amazing vistas.

At the time these photos were taken, the light had lost its early morning warmness and become somewhat harsh. The scene’s colors were a little boring and muted. I tried two approaches to create more interest – 1) using a color-enhancing filter, and 2) black and white.

The black and white helps viewers to really focus on the subject matter and its form, IMO. Effective monochromatic photos are sometimes hard to make, but having a good, strong composition (and nice clouds :-) ) certainly helps. For me, this works well because what I’m most interested in is the rugged line of mountains (including the notch of the Window) and the wide-open, huge view of the sky. These are quintessential features of Big Bend.

For the color shot, I used a Singh-Ray gold-n-blue polarizer. I’m new to using this filter, but it can produce some garish results. I “dialed” in the filter to a nice warm spot somewhere between its two points of maximum effect. In post-processing, I further subdued the effect of the filter by fine-tuning the white balance in RAW conversion. The end result, as you see above, is a warm, pastel color scheme that I think looks more like the sweet light that comes immediately after sunrise.

Anyway, I’ve got more sunrise shots of the Window from my second day of morning shooting in the Basin. I’ll have these up in the next few days.

Awesome Skies

Our weather pattern lately has produced some amazing skies. We’ve had isolated thunderstorms almost everyday, usually in the late afternoon.

Two weeks ago, I observed an amazing thunderhead to the southeast of our neighborhood as I took a late evening hour-long walk. The western sky was mostly clear, so the massive thunderhead cloud was brilliantly illuminated. The giant formation seemed to boil with activity and even showed off a patch of impressive mammatus clouds (what we often call hail clouds, or specifically, hail-producing clouds; not sure if that’s true, but hail often forms in conditions like this). As the sun set, the entire cloud structure glowed yellow, orange, and then pink.

Sorry, no photos of it :-( I didn’t have my camera with me. By the time I got home, the whole light show was done. Plus the view from my backyard is very limited with all the tall pine trees around us.

The next night, an almost equally impressive thunderstorm formed in almost the same location at the same time :-) Weird.. but this has been a regular pattern lately. I did manage to take some photos, but a lot of low-level gray clouds moved in and obscured my view of the thunderhead.

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(yes, that’s a plane)

The sunrises and sunsets have been pretty impressive too. This morning was the best one I’ve seen in weeks. I managed to get a few shots with my little pocket camera (Fuji F30) on my way to work.

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I wished that I could have been in a more scenic location to get these photos. There are several bayous around and I could have made use of water as a foreground. Oh well… Gotta earn a living. No one’s paying me to take these photos.

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