photography from the ground up

Archive for June, 2012

Flying On The Ground

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is one of those places that keeps drawing me back. I make an annual pilgrimage there in November (the weekend after Thanksgiving to be exact) to pay homage to the cranes, and of course to photograph them. OK, so why am I writing about this in June? Well, it’s at about this time that I start to look forward to this year’s trip. I’ve posted about the last one, but I have since found some images that were not included in the post that (I think) deserve to see the light of day.

Sandhill Cranes have very specific habits related to their behavior. The first image shows a crane readying himself for take-off. He leans forward into the wind perhaps to get a feel for the speed, direction, etc. This serves as a great heads-up for onlookers, passers-by, and frozen photographers that the action is about to start.

I caught this pair right after they took off from the Chupadera Pond. Robin and I (along with about twenty other photographers) had been waiting since sun-up for this. There were about five hundred cranes in this particular group. They went through their rituals for nearly three hours before they had all left the pond. At times they would take wing only to land again and start the whole process over.

These last two images are my favorites from that trip. The trio above was captured at sunset. Cranes usually fly in a group. These three were landing at the Flight Deck Pond. They were coming back from a day of foraging to roost in the pond where they are relatively safe from predators.

I found this Great Blue Heron wading along one of the ditches on the refuge. Unlike cranes, herons are solitary creatures. This one didn’t seem to mind when I set up my tripod (at a reasonable distance) and followed him up the channel. At one point, he stopped and became very focused; I knew he was about to strike, so I was able to anticipate this moment successfully.

To those of you who are close by, or who may be traveling in this part of the world, I recommend a visit to Bosque del Apache. The best time to catch the cranes is November-February.


Just Up (Or Down) The Road

I spend a great deal of time wandering the badlands of the San Juan Basin and beyond in search of images. I have an unquenchable thirst for desert landscapes. Some people might consider me a little off kilter, especially since I live right in the middle of a place so full of natural beauty and geologic wonders that it draws visitors from around the world.

The first image is of Soda Dam, a large calcium carbonate formation that has been deposited over the ages by a small warm spring which is right on the shoulder of New Mexico state road 4. This naturally formed dam is pierced by the Jemez River which cascades over a small drop in elevation into a plunge pool which is a popular swimming hole for both locals and visitors from Germany, Japan, Russia… I can hear their squeals as they jump into the cold water on a hot summer day. Soda Dam is about two hundred yards from my door.

If I head in the opposite direction from Soda Dam on Hwy.4, it’s only a five minute drive to Battleship Rock, another geologic attraction that is visible from the highway. It was formed during the last volcanic eruption in these parts-around one million years ago. Lava from the eruption flowed into a narrow dead end canyon and hardened. Over time the softer material which made up the canyon walls eroded away, leaving the volcanic rock exposed.

If I continue up Hwy. 4, I will eventually come to the crowning jewel of the Jemez Mountains; the Valle Grande. Actually only one of several valles which were formed when a huge volcano exploded and collapsed to form a caldera about 1.6 million years ago. The Valle Grande was, until 2000, a privately owned ranch. It is now public land, administered by a trust. This is the view from a turn out on Hwy. 4 looking north.

So, you see, I really need not travel all that far to find a photogenic landscape, but I am in love with the desert; I am in love with the stark, naked, truthful beauty of the earth laid bare. The mountains, rivers, and alpine meadows are fine, but they do not speak to me in the way that the desert badlands do.


HDR: Thus I Refute Photographic Snobbery

I recently received an e-mail which made the argument that HDR is a polarizing subject in the photographic community. It led me down that road that forks and forks again and…well, you know.  Are we as photographers to believe that we are (and should be) fenced in by rules? In this case the rules are about technique and processing. When photography was in its infancy, it was considered to be outside the realm of “serious art”. Now, nearly one hundred years later, it has become acceptable, but only if it fits in a certain box.

So, I am having trouble coming to terms with the ongoing debate inside the photography community concerning HDR processing. I consider the ability to blend exposures to expand the dynamic range of an image to be a wonderful addition to the photographer’s toolkit. There seems to be some divisive opinion about how much processing is allowable. What bothers me about this debate is one very important consideration: CREATIVITY! If someone’s vision requires that heavy and obvious HDR look, then who has the right to tell them it’s too much? Each one of us is different; we each see things in different ways and wouldn’t life be boring if we all agreed on everything?

This first image was made in the Bisti Wilderness last year. The landscape was other-worldly, and the dramatic sky added even more to that impression. In my post processing, I consciously emphasized that quality by making the HDR effect more obvious. I used a tool to help me achieve my vision.

The second image is from the same trip. It was made about an hour after the first. By then the skies had cleared somewhat, and, while the landscape is by no means common, it doesn’t quite have the alien feel of the previous image. This is also an HDR exposure fusion, but I backed off on the processing; I used the technique to enhance the contrast and to make the sky pop a little more.

So, two HDR images that express two very different emotions. I think I have succeeded in capturing my vision for each of them, and that is the point of art.


The Ancient Ones-Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly is unique in many ways. It is the only National Park that is contained entirely within a separate sovereign nation: the Navajo Reservation. It is administered by the Park Service, but access is controlled by the Navajo people. There have been people occupying Canyon de Chelly since the days of the Anasazi, making it one of the oldest, continuously inhabited settlements on the North American continent. Members of the Navajo Nation still live and farm the fertile canyon floor, but it has also been home to the ancient Puebloans, and the Hopis.

This first image was made from an overlook on the north rim. It is the point where Canyon del Muerto and Black Rock Canyon meet – Canyon de Chelly National Park  is actually made up of several canyons, the two main ones being Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto.

There are many ruins within the Park, some are located right on the canyon floor like the Antelope House Ruins, which are located at the base of a towering sandstone wall that served as a huge heat sink in the winter.  It was inhabited between about 850-1270 CE, and contains about 90 rooms. The remnants of several kivas can be seen in the bottom center of the image. They appear as distinct round structures.

Other ruins are situated high on the walls of the canyon. The Mummy Cave Ruins are located on a shelf which is nestled in a cave three hundred feet above the canyon floor. It is believed to have been continuously inhabited for over a thousand years. Its name comes from the many well preserved burials discovered at the site.

This last image is a view down Canyon del Muerto from the Massacre Cave Overlook. I realize that, visually, it is a bit confusing, but I was attempting to show the complex structure of the rock strata and this location seemed to be the best place to achieve that.

This was a drive-by shooting so to speak. anyone who is familiar with Canyon de Chelly will realize that these images were all taken from the North Rim. I plan to return soon to shoot the other side of the Park. So, look for Vol. 2 in the near future.


The Road And The Sky-Vol. II

When I was a much younger man, I spent a great deal of time standing by the side of a road with my thumb in the air spurred on by the likes of Jack Kerouac and Edward Abbey. Some of those roads were paved and four lanes wide; some were dirt or gravel and you couldn’t really tell how many lanes wide they were. I guess it really didn’t matter as long as they seemed endless.

These days I’m somewhat tamer in my ways, but I still get a feeling of expectancy when I look through the windshield and see nothing but the road, the sky, and a wide open or unknown landscape. Until recently, however, I would not allow the hand of man to enter the world of my landscape photography, so the roads were banished.

Now that I’ve overcome my phobia of including anything that smacks of man in an image, I am free to express my love of the open road in my photography. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I am working on a project; I am making images of highways and byways as I travel around on my photo excursions. I hope to accumulate enough good photographs to publish a book. The images in this post are ones that have made the cut; some have been displayed in previous posts, but most of those have been re-worked to bring them up to snuff.

My expectations of my own work have been becoming higher lately and because of that, I have been forced to either discard or re-process images that I was, at one time, happy with. Evolution.

The only down side to all this road photography is that I seem to be spending a lot of time standing or kneeling in the middle of some very busy highways. Most of the time though, I’m on a road like Indian Rte. 13 or NM 16 which see very little traffic.

And, at other times, I find myself on unpaved roads such as BLM 1103 in the Rio Puerco Valley, or small access roads like the one in the photo of the Shiprock Lava Dike below where I could stand for hours or even days without being in danger of becoming road kill.

No matter if it’s a paved four lane or an unpaved ranch road, the idea is to get on down the road, maybe to a place where you’ve never been before, and that’s where the magic lies.