Wheels In The Landscape
There was a time not so long ago when I would have gone to extraordinary lengths to exclude anything man-made from my images. But I slowly came to realize that I was being narrow-minded and losing some great photo opportunities. After removing the blinders from my artistic vision I suddenly became aware of new possibilities with subjects I would have previously rejected without a second thought.
I first came upon this car about five miles from where it now sits in the Rio Puerco Valley. I had made a second trip to its original location only to find it had been removed. I thought it odd that someone had gone to the trouble of dragging it out of the small side canyon accessible only by a two track dirt road, but then I thought that perhaps the BLM was making an attempt to tidy up the valley. It is, after all, a wilderness study area. Imagine my surprise to find the old, rusted, topless vehicle parked (for lack of a better word) in the “yard” of a tumble down adobe/rock house not far from Cabezon Peak.
I made this second image while driving through the panhandle of Texas. This whimsical installation lies along Interstate 40 east of Amarillo; I had my youngest daughter in mind when I was making the exposures. She loves VWs.
The image of the bus and the car were made along Torreon Wash near the Empedrado Wilderness Study Area near Cabezon Peak in the Rio Puerco Valley. The bus sits on rusted wheels and is full of old insulation and rat droppings suggesting that it is (was) being used as a storage shed for some nearby construction.
The car sits near an adobe/rock ruin. It is sunk to the rims in the clay soil and so its fate appears to be sealed.
This 1950s era Ford is parked in front of one of the rooms at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. There are several other old vehicles parked in front of other rooms. I can’t be positive, but I highly suspect that the creators of the Disney animated movie “Cars” may have used the Wigwam as a model for the motel in the movie.
The last image was the result of accidentally being in the right place at the right time. I was driving from Albuquerque to Los Alamos by way of Santa Fe. I pulled off I-25 at the exit where the AT&SF rails cross beneath the interstate. My plan was to get down on the tracks to make an image for my Road Series (as in rail ROAD). As I was walking across the bridge above the tracks on the frontage road, I heard the whistle and soon after that I saw the Amtrak Southwest Chief come through the cut and approaching the bend in the distance.
The Bisti’s Greatest Hits
In my last post, I showed you images of some new terrain and features that I discovered on a recent trip to the Bisti Wilderness. In this entry I would like to show you some new images of places and things I have photographed before under different light or under different conditions.
Alamo Wash is the main conduit for the southern section of the Bisti. Most of the hoodoos, rock formations and other wonders to be found in the Bisti Wilderness are located in smaller side drainages that empty in Alamo Wash. Although I have been to this place many times, this is the first time I have seen any appreciable amount of water in the wash. I was drawn to the light on the rippled texture along the edge. I think this image tells a great deal about this land of severe contrasts.
As you make your way up the middle of Alamo Wash, if you are in the right alignment, you will see a curios formation in the distance. What makes it stand out to the trained eye is the color variation from the rest of the surrounding landscape. The Bisti Arch is comprised of a dark brown cap of rock which rests on a base of lighter and softer sandstone and mudstone. The base is a gradation of nearly white to a golden brown and is fluted which makes it resemble a freestanding component of Greek architecture.
Just around the corner from the Bisti Arch is the Egg Garden–probably the best known and most popular area of the Bisti. When someone signs up for one of my Photo Tours, this is the first thing they ask about. The Queen Bee is undoubtedly the favorite formation within the Egg Garden. I’ve photographed it so many times, it’s getting hard for me to find a fresh take on it.
The Egg Garden gets its name from the numerous egg-shaped rocks scattered about like, well…eggs in a gigantic Easter egg hunt. The bowl shaped rock in the above image has shifted since my last visit, most likely due to a heavy flow of water through the wash in which the garden is located.
Along with the cracked eggs, the Bisti Wilderness is also known for its ubiquitous hoodoos. They are literally everywhere you look, and, as this image attests, they can stretch to the horizon in some places.
Trees In The Desert, Specks In Time
I have been to the Bisti Wilderness more times than I can count; I lead Photo Tours out there, but there are so many nooks and crannies I doubt that I will ever be able to say I’ve seen all of it. Last week we made a quick one day trip just because we hadn’t been there in a while. We visited some of our favorite spots, including the Egg Garden and the Bisti Arch.
Here is a view of the Egg Garden that I haven’t done before and below is a look at the Arch from a wider perspective–it’s in the multicolored formation in the middle ground. Breaking habits (in both subject matter and perspective) is an important step in growing as an artist; you have to keep it fresh.
Next we wandered into an area I hadn’t been to before and in the space of about thirty minutes, we found at least five intact petrified logs; some partially unearthed like the one in the image above and some completely exposed like the one shown below. After who knows how many millennia buried in a sandstone tomb, the fossilized remains of these old trees are once again exposed under the same sun that set on their demise.
Apart from the intact petrified remains, there are also many fractured and broken remnants scattered about. The next image shows several smaller logs lying close together as if placed there in preparation for a petrified campfire.
Not only is this area rich in fossils, it is also home to a large number of hoodoos and eroded rock forms similar to the ones in the Egg Garden. I’m sure that others have been to this part of the Bisti, but I don’t recall ever having seen images of these logs or of the landscapes I have recorded here.
This last image is of Robin and me resting against the large tree with a view to the east. In two weeks I will be back out there leading a tour for a couple from Germany. The best parts of what I do are exploring new places and making new friends from around the world. These things help me realize that we, as people, are not so different from one another, and that we, as a species, are not so powerful or important as we might like to think we are.
A New (Old) World
I have been exploring the area in and around the Rio Puerco Valley for years and I think I’ve driven just about every road out there. But, there is one that had escaped me until recently. I had driven past it many times, but had always assumed that it was a private road leading to a ranch that could be seen in the distance.
That’s what I get for making assumptions. I recently had reason to study a map of the area for a totally unrelated reason, and discovered that the road in question continued on well past the ranch in a long loop that returned to the main road via a BLM road that I am familiar with.
So, this past Sunday we set out to explore what is identified on the map as the Empedrado Wilderness (it’s actually a Wilderness Study Area which means it is being considered for wilderness status). Well, one of the first things I realized is that for a wilderness, there sure is a lot of human impact, both abandoned and ongoing. Of course the former captured my attention.
This stone ruin is perched on the edge of Torreon Wash and if the steep banks continue to deteriorate, it will soon be a pile of rubble lying in the wash. There is something about these recent ruins that touches me. I see the abandoned hopes and dreams of people who were probably toiling here in my lifetime and who may still come to these places to watch those dreams decay.
A little farther along we found this water system that, at first, looked as though it could still be in working order, but upon closer inspection it was found to be, dried up, broken and rusting away.
Just around the next bend in the road is an old school bus that is filled with what could be mistaken for building materials. Most of the insulation has become nests for the pack-rats, and other small animals that have laid claim to the bus.
After the first five miles or so, the evidence of human endeavor began to dwindle and the place began to look more like a wilderness. We drove on for another ten miles making note of areas of interest for future exploration. Then, after turning on to the BLM road that leads back to our starting point, I stopped to make this image of an ephemeral New Mexico rain falling over Cabezon Peak.
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.
Out There In The Rocks-Chapter II
We went back to the Lybrook Badlands yesterday to do some more exploring and to come up with a format for a photo tour in the area. Just after leaving the paved road, we came across two guys parked on the side of the road. We stopped to talk and learned they are from Paris, France, and are traveling the southwest to photograph some of the more popular places. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Lybrook is on their list.
They were uncertain about the weather and asked if they could tag along with us. We agreed and set out to see what we could see. This photo shows Dominic, his son Frederic, Robin and me in the heart of the badlands.
Because of the conditions, heavy clouds with intermittent rain, I decided to shoot all HDR (exposure fusion) images. I have found that this is a good way to achieve depth and contrast in this kind of light.
These first three images were made right on the side of the main dirt road that leads into the Lybrook badlands. We weren’t more than a couple hundred yards from our vehicles as we photographed this small collection of hoodoos.
As you can see from the stormy skies, our concerns about the weather were well founded, but we decided to continue on; we all had rain gear and the means to protect our camera gear from the elements.
There was some blue sky as you can see in this image of what I dubbed the Hoodoo Playground. At this point, no rain had yet fallen, but I could smell it on the wind and knew it would be only a matter of time. As some of you who have read my previous blog entries may know, I am energized by this kind of weather. So, why the sudden shift in my attitude? The roads in this area have a high clay content; when it rains hard enough they can quickly become impassable quagmires. As much as I enjoy spending my time making images out here in the rocks, I didn’t relish the idea of spending a night in the Jeep waiting for the roads to dry out.
As we entered the main section of the badlands, the lightning began to flash and the thunder began to roll, but none of us showed the slightest hesitation at continuing the trek into the oncoming storm. By the time we reached the place named Hoodoo Cove, the rain began to fall, not hard, but steady, so we headed back towards the parking area to be in a better position in case we needed to make a run for the cars.
I couldn’t resist making one more image before we left. Even though the rain had begun to fall, there was a break in the overcast that allowed the sun to light part of the rim. It seemed somehow fitting that this dwarf Ponderosa Pine was sharing some of the rays.
When we were about a half mile from where we parked, the rain let up and then stopped altogether, but the storm still moved all around us. We headed up a wash between two prominent buttes to continue our exploration. I made this image from a high point on our trail, we then continued on through the notch towards the darkest part of the cloud cover.
We spent another two hours wandering the washes and climbing around the incredibly complex terrain, getting to know the place a little better. As we made our way back to our vehicles (again), I made this last image. to remind myself how fragile life is and how easily it can come to an end in a place such as this. At the same time, I was looking forward to our next trip out here.
A Desert Rat’s Journal
I am a self–proclaimed desert rat; there is something about the harsh, elemental landscape that touches my spirit and makes it soar. It’s little wonder then that I recently found myself back in the Bisti Wilderness loaded down with cameras, lenses, my tripod and my GPS (not to mention plenty of water). I had an agenda: there are several well-known landmarks that, for some reason, I had not yet photographed–at least not to my satisfaction.
Robin and I set out from the parking area with our sights set on the Brown Hoodoos, the first on my list. I had GPS coordinates, but it’s not that easy. It seems a frontal approach was not the way to reach our goal; there were too many obstacles and too much fragile ground to make this route acceptable. So, we made a flanking maneuver, gained the elevation we needed, and approached from the rear. It still took several aborted attempts before we reached the hoodoos, but it was well worth the effort.
I made this image from the place where we first came upon the Brown Hoodoos. I call it “The Valley Of The Earth Gnomes”. I was struck by the implied activity taking place. Even though nothing was actually moving, it seemed we were gazing down upon a small village going about its day to day routine.
After leaving the hoodoos, we headed for the Egg Garden. I had been there many times, but I couldn’t resist stopping by to see what images might be waiting for an enterprising photographer. I found the Queen Bee right where I left her months before, but the atmospheric conditions were much better than any I had encountered there previously.
The next place on my list was the Eagle’s Nest. The Nest is another mile and a half beyond the Egg Garden and as we walked, the clouds began to gather. By the time we got to our destination, it was spitting rain. There was also lightning; I began to worry about our exposed situation and the nearly five mile trek back to the car. Still, I couldn’t help but wish for a lightning strike as I composed this image. I call it “My Inclement Muse”, a nod to the force that sends me off into such places in such weather searching for beauty.
As we began retracing our steps back to the parking area, the rain stopped and the clouds lifted a bit. I still had one location on my list that I had not been able to find, and I had already decided that the Bisti Arch must have collapsed. I had previously come across a spot that looked like it could have been the arch, but it was nothing more than a pile of rubble when I found it. As we walked past the place where the arch was supposed to be, I turned to have a look back at the way we had come, and there it was. It was much smaller than I had imagined it to be; that’s the reason I had had so much difficulty locating it. As I set up my camera and tripod, everything came together. It was as if the muse was rewarding me for my diligence.
As we packed our gear into the car for the ride home, I was overcome by an emotion not unlike the one you might feel after finishing a good book: satisfaction mixed with melancholy. I had completed my Bisti bucket list. Then I realized that there are still many surprises hidden in a place like the Bisti; I knew then that I could easily spend the rest of my life out there and still not uncover all of the little known treasures stashed away in the washes, slot canyons, and rolling bentonite hills of such a place.
My Inclement Muse
I have been taking stock of my creative drive, attempting to disassemble it and discover what makes it tick. What I have found doesn’t surprise me. I have known it all along, but putting it into words seems to help sustain it. One of the things that drives me is a love of inclement weather: snow, rain, stormy skies–I could do without wind. When the weather turns foul, my spirit soars. I get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, and anything seems possible.
If I can throw a remote location into the mix, then I’m a happy camper. Mother Nature in all her power and glory! Both of these images were made in such locations, under such conditions. The first one is The Eagle’s Nest in the Bisti Wilderness. It had just started to rain, a typical New Mexico summer thunderstorm. I have to admit that I was a little concerned about being several miles from the car, in wide open spaces with lightning flashing, but the muse told me to just make the best of it. I named this image after her.
The second image was made on the side of the road between San Luis and Torreon, NM–Yes you can find stuff like this just lying around next to the road, all you have to do is get out and look for it. I didn’t go more than a hundred yards from the car to make this photograph. Unlike the Bisti image, there was no immediate threat of rain and shelter was within easy reach, but that did nothing to diminish the pleasure and satisfaction I got upon releasing the shutter.
The Wind, the Dust and the Bisti
It had been a couple of years since I last made the trip to the Bisti Wilderness. The Bisti is located in northwestern New Mexico between Farmington and nowhere; getting there is an adventure in itself. Last Sunday morning we began driving up US 550 past Cuba with the intention of going to Chaco Canyon, but the weather grew increasingly worse. The overcast spread until it formed an impenetrable curtain, which blotted out the sun. The wind began to gust, lifting the sand from the great expanse of the San Juan Basin, carrying it high into the air, adding to the dome of the darkening sky.
So, we just drove on past the turn off to Chaco. I guess I knew I was heading for the Bisti all along. When we arrived, the wind was blowing even harder, and the air was filled with swirling sand. We never went more than a couple of hundred yards from the car, but we were intrigued by the possibilities nonetheless. Every so often the sun would make an appearance through an opening in the clouds; we continued to make our short sorties into the landscape, and then back to the car for a respite from the wind and sand.
I made this image not fifty feet from the road. Just north of the small parking area at the foot of Alamo Wash there is a large deposit of eroded bentonite (minerals dissolved in a clay matrix). They are formed into small hills and many of them have these small stones on top of them; they look like offerings to some unnamed god.
At one point we pulled into a small parking area on the west side of the road, across from the main section of the wilderness area. The wind continued to howl, but we decided to venture into a draw that looked promising. Behind a large dome shaped hill, we discovered a garden of unearthly delights: sandstone and mudstone forms that seemed to go on endlessly. We were somewhat protected by the hill and the strange geology around us, so we stayed a while, exploring and making images.
I was hoping that the storm would abate. I wanted to hike out to the Egg Garden, but it’s more than a mile and a half from the parking area, the route is totally exposed, and the darkest part of the storm was centered over its location. The garden is an iconic location in the world of landscape photography. I made this image the last time I was there in 2009.
So, we continued to explore our newly discovered garden, taking shelter, when necessary, behind the strange monoliths. We spent a total of a little more than an hour dodging the sand and taking photographs.
But, the weather steadily deteriorated; the wind blew harder and the sand was stinging our eyes. I took these last two photos about five minutes apart. The sky was threatening rain. We made our way back to the car to leave, but only a few scattered drops fell as we drove out on the dirt road that is the only access to this incredible wilderness area.
A Stroll Through Ricketts Glen (Part 1)
I used to go to Ricketts Glen regularly when I lived in northeastern Pennsylvania. That was thirty-five years ago. I hadn’t been there since, until I made a recent trip back east with my oldest daughter, Lauren, to visit family. We set one day aside to hike and photograph the waterfalls in the park. Actually, there are two glens which make up the Glens Natural Area. They contain most of the twenty-two named waterfalls, numerous smaller unnamed falls and cascades for which the park is famous.
Adams Falls, the first waterfall we visited, is a big attraction even though it is quite a distance downstream from the main section of the park. When we pulled into the small parking area at 7:30 in the morning, there were already several cars parked there, all from out of state. A short walk on a well–maintained trail brought us to the falls. As soon as I saw them, I knew it was going to be a good day.
We spent about forty-five minutes at Adams scrambling around and taking photographs before we packed up and headed north into the Glens Area.
We began our seven mile “stroll” from the small parking area at the top of Ganoga Glen at about 8:30. The trail quickly descends into a world of dense green, and roaring water, but as we became accustomed to the sound, it quickly diminished to a pleasant sibilant whisper. After passing several small falls that are no more than 15–20 feet high, we sensed a sudden change in the timbre of the sound. We were approaching Ganoga Falls; at ninety-seven feet, it is the highest of the numerous waterfalls in the park.
Ganoga Falls is a classic “wedding cake ” waterfall. The stream drops and flows over the ledges and crevasses that form the increasingly wider layers of the “cake”. From the edge of the pool at the bottom of the falls, I made what I consider to be my best image of the day.
Not far downstream from Ganoga Falls, a small flow enters the main stream from the west. I followed it upstream a short distance to find this beautiful little cascade murmuring its way through a fern covered glade. The scene reminded me of an animated movie I watched with my daughters when they were young. Hence the name: “Ferngully”.
We continued down Ganoga Glen past several more waterfalls with names like Mohican and Tuscarora, and on to Sheldon Reynolds Falls, which was as far downstream as we would go. Sheldon Reynolds certainly isn’t as grand as Ganoga Falls, nor did it have the intimate, verdant feel of the small Ferngully cascade. It stands out, nonetheless, with its deep inviting pool and its singular profile.
We lingered for a while, enjoying the solitude and the scenery before heading back upstream to Waters Meet. It is here that the streams that course through Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh come together. I set my camera on the timer function and took this photo of Lauren and me on the bridge at the confluence. We then enjoyed a picnic of fruit and trail-mix before beginning the climb up through Glen Leigh.
Landscape Photography On An Overcast Day
Everyone knows you don’t shoot landscapes on an overcast day. The light is too flat to get any depth in your images. Right? One of the things I learned a long time ago is: Learn the rules, but take them with a grain of salt.
One tool that is available to those of us who dabble in the digital realm is HDR or High Dynamic Range for the uninitiated. Normally, if you expose for the highlights in a contrasty situation, the shadows will be blocked up with little or no detail in them, and vice-versa if you expose for the shadows. By making a number of exposures 1/2 to 1 stop apart, a photographer can then combine those images to expand the dynamic range of the photograph–the dynamic range is the spectrum of tonal variations from pure black to pure white that can be captured by a camera. Another effect that can be achieved by combining multiple images is a heightening of contrast in an otherwise flat image.
On a recent photo excursion to the Ojito Wilderness, I had occasion to test the efficacy of this technique. We had started out on a partly overcast day to hike and photograph in a part of the Ojito known as the Colored Bluffs. The closer we got to our destination, the heavier the overcast grew until it obliterated the sun and the nice puffy clouds that had been there a short time before. We began our walk hoping for some better conditions,
As we reached the top of the mesa, the entire landscape changed and we were rewarded with incredible vistas in every direction. The light was still flat, but the visual cornucopia before us made that seem almost irrelevant. Everywhere I looked, there was an image just waiting to be captured. So, I happily started shooting, all the while telling myself that I would have to return on a better day. I realized right away that I would need to blend exposures to get the most out of the images I was capturing. I bracketed five exposures for each scene I shot.
This first photo was taken near the point where we emerged from the wash on top of the mesa. The colors were more saturated because of the overcast, and this dilapidated fence line seemed to invite me into the canyon.
As we continued along the trail, we came across this small clump of rabbitbrush, which was juxtaposed against the colored bluffs in the background. The plant was a contrast in the stark landscape, but it also provided a harmonious counterpoint to the scene.
We were constantly aware of the overcast and the declining sun, but we couldn’t seem to turn back. We had the “let’s just see what’s over that next rise” syndrome. Finally, we came to a high place on the trail which was our “turn back no matter what” point. This is the view looking northwest with Cabezon visible on the far horizon. A fitting climax to a wonderful journey of discovery.
We slowly made our way back towards the parking area. This is the view looking west where the bike trail heads down off the top of the mesa. I was excited about the images and exhilarated by the possibilities this place holds. I also confirmed my belief that it is possible to make passable, or even great images on an overcast day. All of these photos were shot RAW with initial processing in Adobe Lightroom. They were then blended in Photomatix Pro using the Exposure Fusion tool, and final processing was done in Adobe Photoshop.
Murray Reynolds Falls
Here is yet another image from Ricketts Glen. Murray Reynolds Falls is the last waterfall going downstream on Kitchen Creek in the main part of the park. Adams Falls is a couple of miles downstream on the other side of Hwy 118, but is usually accessed from a parking area just off the highway. I would say this is the most idyllic of the waterfalls in Ricketts Glen. The emerald pool and the trees which surround it create a sense of calm contentment.
Despite the idyllic feel of Murray Reynolds, it was one of the more challenging places to make an acceptable image. The light breezes had begun to kick up by the time we reached here, and the many overhanging leaves were constantly in motion. Normally this would not be a huge problem, but when you use a slow shutter speed to convey the motion of the falls, you also get the motion of the leaves. I have a few other images of these falls that I think are better than this, but this is the only one in which the leaves are not motion-blurred.
Again, this is a five exposure blend, Initial processing was done in Lightroom, and then blended using the Exposure Fusion module of Photomatix Pro, final adjustments were done in Photoshop
F L Ricketts Falls
F L Ricketts Falls is the last waterfall I photographed in Ricketts Glen. As I was setting up this shot, I brushed my camera which was mounted on the tripod. The whole thing fell forward and landed lens down on a rock. I held my breath as I inspected the damage. Luckily, the only thing broken was the 3 stop ND filter which had shattered on impact. Silently cursing my inattention while reminding myself to be more careful in the future, I screwed on my 2 stop ND filter and adjusted the exposure settings. Although this is not the best image of the day, it is probably the most memorable due to the near tragedy of a broken favorite lens.
I used my usual camera/lens configuration (Nikon D700/Nikkor 17-35 mm f 2.8 wide angle zoom lens) mounted on a Bogen tripod with a 2 stop neutral density filter. I bracketed five exposures which I edited in Adobe Lightroom. I then combined them using Photomatix Pro’s Exposure Fusion mode, and did the final adjustments in Photoshop.
Life In The Wilderness
This is another image from my exploration of the north end of the Ojito Wilderness back in July. This little clump of cacti was nestled in a small cul-de-sac. The contrast between the green, growing vegetation and the hard, immutable rock is what piqued my interest in this scene. Add a dash of great atmospheric conditions, and voilà, a photograph!
This is a blend of three source images. The dynamic range was just beyond what could be captured in one exposure. When I exposed for the foreground, the clouds were blown out, so I bracketed three exposures. I did my initial adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, then used the Exposure Fusion tool in Photomatix Pro, and cleaned things up in Photoshop. This is pretty much my normal workflow in a situation like this.
Nikon D700, Nikkor 17-35 mm f2.8 zoom lens, circular polarizer, Bogen 3021 PRO tripod.
This image was made in the northwest corner of the Ojito Wilderness. I spotted this area while driving the back road to Cabezon. The next day a friend and I armed with cameras, tripods, backpacks, a GPS, and plenty of water set off in the general direction of what Robin calls the “yet to be reached mountain”. That would be the butte in the background of this image, and while we did not get there on this trip, it brought us to this wonderful place full of sandstone marvels that stopped us in our tracks. We spent the remainder of the evening exploring and photographing our new found fairyland.
I made this photo using my usual setup: Nikon D 700 with my 17-35 mm f2.8 wide angle zoom lens and a circular polarizer mounted on my Bogen/Manfrotto 3021BPRO tripod. I set my aperture at f22 for maximum depth of field and ISO was set at 100. I bracketed five exposures and did my initial processing in Adobe Lightroom. I then blended four of the exposures using the Exposure Fusion feature in Photomatix. Final processing was done in Photoshop
Cabezon-The Hard Way
Yesterday I took a little drive out through the Ojito Wilderness. When I reached the point where I usually turn around, I decided to keep going up the pipeline road which eventually ends near the village of San Luis and the volcanic neck known as Cabezon (Spanish for big head). The distance is only about twenty-three miles, but on a dirt two track with several stops to scope areas for future photo hikes, and to make a couple of exposures, the trip took me nearly six hours.
I was hoping to capture Cabezon bathed in the evening light, or lit by the sunbeams that were shining down through the breaks in the clouds, but this was the best light of the entire evening. I bracketed five exposures (-2, -1, 0, +1, and +2) and blended them in Photomatix Pro. This is the result.
Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35 mm wide-angle zoom lens, circular polarizer, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f22, 1/8th, 1/4th, 1/2, 1, and 2 seconds, ISO 100
Harrison Wright Falls: a case for HDR imaging
This is an image of Harrison Wright Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park. Wright was a friend of R. B. Ricketts for whom the park is named. It, along with Adams Falls, is considered to be the most photogenic of all the waterfalls in Ricketts Glen.
Photographing the waterfalls in Ricketts Glen can be a challenge: the canopy of old growth hardwood trees can be as thick as a jungle in places, but elsewhere, the cover opens up allowing the sunlight to penetrate and illuminate the scene. Such is the case at Harrison Wright Falls, and as any photographer knows, this combination of highlights and shadows can make it difficult to make a good exposure.
While photographing this scene, I used a 3 stop neutral density filter to darken things enough to allow me to use a slow shutter speed. This renders the moving water as a silky blur, and in this case causes the falls to look almost like a sheer curtain. All of these measures achieved my goal of capturing the waterfall in an aesthetically pleasing way, but the shadows were almost totally blocked up, and there were several hot spots on the falls. Here is the image as initially processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.
I decided that this image would be a good candidate for an HDR image (I had bracketed at least three exposures for each photo I took on this trip). I used Photomatix Pro, and tone mapped one using the details enhancer feature, and made another using the exposure fusion tool. I still could not get what I was looking for, so, starting with the original image, I created a second layer in Photoshop, and copied the exposure fusion HDR image to it, and then I adjusted the opacity of the new layer until I found what I was looking for. The result is the first image seen above.
There are many photographers out there who say that this kind of manipulation is not real photography, that it does not render an image that is true to the scene that the eye beheld. But, the eye has the ability to see detail in highlights and shadows, a dynamic range, that is far greater than the that of a camera. So, is this kind of processing really cheating, or is it just another tool in the photographer’s arsenal that will enable him to more effectively capture the scene before him, and share his vision with the world?
Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35 mm f2.8 zoom lens, 3 stop ND filter, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f 22, 1, 2, 4 sec., ISO 100
At ninety seven feet, Ganoga Falls is the tallest waterfall in Ricketts Glen. It is a classic example of a “wedding cake” waterfall, so named because of the tiered structure. Wedding cake falls typically consist of numerous small cascades that spread the flow giving the water a diaphanous glow.
Once again, due to the high dynamic range of the scene, I blended four source images into this final image using the exposure fusion workflow in Photomatix Pro. I then made the usual curves adjustments in Photoshop.
Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35 mm f 2.8 zoom lens, 2 stop neutral density filter, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f22, 1/2, 1, 2, and 4 sec., ISO 250.
This is another image from Ricketts Glen. We were almost to the confluence of the two forks of Kitchen Creek when I spotted a small stream entering the main flow from the west, so I bushwacked up through the watercourse for about a hundred yards, and I was rewarded with this little cascade. The scene brought to mind an animated movie that was a favorite of my girls when they were small.
I started with my regular workflow in Adobe Lightroom, then I did a three exposure fusion in Photomatix Pro, and finally some curves and color balance adjustments in Photoshop.
Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35 mm zoom lens, 2 stop ND filter, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f22, 8/10ths, 1/3rd, 3 sec., ISO 250
My daughter Lauren and I hiked Ricketts Glen yesterday. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Ricketts Glen is a State Park in northeastern Pennsylvania. Many people come for the camping, fishing, and boating which is available at Lake Jean in the upper part of the park, but for me, the real attraction is the waterfalls.
The Falls Trail is a three and a half mile hike which drops about 700 feet in the first mile as it cascades through Ganoga Glen. At Waters Meet, the trail heads up through Glen Leigh for another mile before it tops out at the Highland Trail, which brings you back to where you started. There are twenty two named, and numerous unnamed waterfalls along the way. They range in height from 11 to 97 feet; they are all spectacular, each in its own way.
Adams Falls is unique in that it is not within the main part of the park. It is several miles downstream from the rest of the falls, and is actually only a stones throw away from a state highway. It is also, in my opinion, the most beautiful and dramatic of them all.
Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35mm f2.8 zoom lens, 2 stop neutral density filter, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f22, 1, 2, 4 secs., ISO 250
Another HDR image of the one of the tinajas at San Ysidro trails. I’m wondering if there is still water in them since we haven’t been getting precipitation as regularly as in the early spring and winter. This is actually the first of the pools I came across. You can see the chute where the water flows (when it flows) in the upper center of the image.
I used three source images exposed at -1, 0, and +1 EV, and mapped the blend using the details enhancer workflow in Photomatix Pro. Details enhancer produces the most extreme results of the three different methods available in the application. For this photo I used minimal settings so the effect wouldn’t be over the top. Finally, I applied a curves adjustment in Photoshop to boost the contrast, and correct color.
Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35 mm f2.8 zoom lens, circular polarizer, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f22, 1/10th, 1/20th, 1/40th sec., ISO 100
As many times as I have seen erosion patterns in sandstone, siltstone and claystone, I am still captivated by the play of light on these landscapes, and, when I am in such a place, I can’t help but feel that I am looking at the wisdom of the ages reflected in the wizened face of the earth.
This image is one of the last I made on our trip to Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah at the beginning of April. We were walking through a wash heading back to the parking area when I spotted this scene. I bracketed five exposures, but in the end, I only used four–the brightest one was causing the highlights in the middle ground to blow out.
Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35 mm f2.8 zoom lens, circular polarizer, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f 22, 1/10th, 1/20th, 1/40th, 1/80th sec., ISO 100.
It always amazes me when I find a new really sweet spot in my own backyard. After having lived in the Jemez Mountains for thirty three years you would think that I would know every nook and cranny inside and out. Last Saturday we took a little walk on the San Ysidro Trails. The trailhead is about a mile and a half north of the Hwy. 550/Hwy.4 intersection in San Ysidro.
It’s not a trail really, it’s a two track. The area is used by the New Mexico Trails Association, a group of dirt bike enthusiasts who ride and have competitions in a part of the Trails area. We followed the road almost to the point where it crosses onto Jemez Pueblo land, and there we found a large area of bizarre rock. I suppose you could call it slickrock, but erosion has caused it to scale and spall. There are some low–lying formations, nothing spectacular, but enough to add some interest. The biggest surprise was at the northern edge of the rock field where we stumbled onto a series of pools. It was easy to see that in a time of abundant moisture, there is a small stream here that flows through a channel that has been eroded into the stone. Each of the pools is connected by a watercourse and a drop where a waterfall creates the next pool. During the dry spells, these small tinajas are the only source of water for miles around.
This is another HDR image created from three source images
Equipment: Nikon D700, Nikon 17–35 mm f2.8 lens, circular polarizer, Bogen tripod.
Camera Settings: f 22, 1/10th 1/20th, and 1/40th sec., ISO 100