Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Overlooking the Rio Grande

Not too far from the Desert Mountain Overlook there are several places one can get a view of the river. Most of them are not marked as such but there are usually good gravel shoulders one can park on. The chance to use the river as a leading line is a strong element to put into a photography.

In the case of the Rio Grande, it is also a dividing line.

This image was made up on one of those spots above the river. The Chisos are out of the image to the left and they draw the most attention. This view is south across the river to Mexico. If you look close you can see the signs of the village of Santa Elena. Which is the only habitation for many, many miles.

I like this view. It is especially nice in the morning when the Ponce wall is lit by the first light of day. I also like this late afternoon view. It may lack dramatic light but it is a dramatic land.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In the Yucca Forest

In the Yucca forest. Ok, it is not the deep woods. It about the best and biggest thing on the desert floor. The yuccas here are 12-15' tall. They are growing rather close too (for desert plants). It is the forest of the desert.

The view here is away south toward the Sierra Ponce. The cliffs are in Mexico across the Rio.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Moonset Over Yucca Forest and Santa Elena

After making some night exposures of the stars above the yucca, the light began to turn to the gray of early twilight. The moon was hanging over the top of Santa Elena Canyon too.

I decided to remake the image to one with all three elements in it. The light was still early and I would like for the first light of the sun to be striking the canyon with the moon still over the wall, but I was one day too early for that image.

I filled the frame with yucca, showing the canyon walls and the moon just peaking over the top.

I made the image, watched the moon set, and waited for first light.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Yucca Forest at Night

Deserts by their nature are...well...deserty. Mostly open ground, cactus, but certainly not many if any trees.

Sometimes though the yucca grow close together and some species grow tall and you can have a yucca forest. I have encountered several places where there were stands of tall yucca. In the desert is about the closest thing to a forest. When I found this one in Big Bend, I thought this could be an interesting place to photograph on a clear morning sometime.

One morning during my March trip I could see it was very clear and I thought it might be a morning to try the yucca forest. I drove down to the location and began to work on images. A full moon was hanging in the western sky and I thought I might get both star trails and a landscape lit by moonlight. I sat up the 4x5, put on a moderate wide angle (125mm), and focused on the moon since it is an object at infinity and you can actually see it on the ground glass. Then I reframed the image to have yucca and sky facing north.

The exposure wide open at f/5.6 and about 15 minutes. The chrome captured the yucca with some moonlight glow and the Big Dipper is prominent in the sky. Very nice.

This is a shorter image taken in the dark of the night by the light of the moon. It was a clear morning but I had one good image and I thought that there still might be some good images to be had here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Desert Mountain Widescreen

Widescreen. The name invokes thoughts of the great classics of cinema. It also makes me think of the west. The big country. The open range. The endless sky. The enormous views.

This is big camera country. I tried the 4x5. I say tried because I am not sure if there is anyway to really capture the full impact of how big this country is.

The 4x5 is not really big enough. Maybe 7x17 or 8x20 get you closer. You might even need a 20x24. Still you are only capturing a sliver of what the view is. It really is that big.

Panorama may be the best compromise. It gives you the breadth of the scene, even if it cuts out alot of the sky. And sky is a vital part of what the view is.

I used all three lenses here at this same location over the trip. From wide to long to make several images at different times of the day. From predawn moonlight, to morning clouds, to late afternoon sun. I want to put the big view from here on film.

This image is a panoramic composite of the scene. It is composed of three images made on my DSLR and stitched together in the computer. The width of it is something I really like. It reminds me of that feeling from being there. The camera also works in the center for me (event though that breaks alot of compositional rules) to anchor the moment in time for me.

The camera and the big wide view.

Monday, April 14, 2008

They Are Called Scenic Overlooks for a Reason

As you travel throughout the National Parks and the west in general you will happen across many scenic overlooks.

Often photographers will look at them with disdain for being too touristy, but scenic overlooks are scenic. They are also called that and became a famous spot for a reason.

Even Ansel Adams took many of his famous images from the scenic overlooks of Yosemite. Think of a famous image and odds are it has a parking lot full of tourists.

I try to find the out of the way places, but I also stop at the scenic overlooks too. With the right light a scenic overlook is as good or better than someplace off the beaten path simply because you know the scenic overlook is scenic. It really comes down to the light. The right light makes the image. There is also room for interpretation with lenses, composition, etc. but the light makes the image.

Sometimes it pays off to just stop and try the scenic overlook.

This image (yet another with Cerro Castellan) is taken in Big Bend National Park at the "Desert Mountain Overlook". Yes a marked scenic overlook. I stop here on a regular basis. Actually, I stop here every morning in the park. Since I camp at the shady Cottonwood Campground, I often cannot tell what the predawn clouds are like. So, I drive the mile to the overlook, turn off the headlights, get out and look at the sky. The clear view in all four directions help me decide what the light might do and where to go. Sometimes it is go to to another location and sometimes it is grab the gear-this is the spot.

The commanding view from the overlook helps everyday here, no matter if I photograph at that spot or not. I guess you could say I am thankful for scenic overlooks.

Friday, April 11, 2008

It's That Mountain......Again

Yes there is that same mountain from the post yesterday. The name of it is Cerro Castellan. It is of volcanic origin and it is a major landmark in the area.

It also happens to be pretty photogenic.

As such you can expect to see several images that feature it. Sometimes as the main element and sometimes in the background. It is hard to be in this part of the park and NOT put it into a picture.

That is ok as it leads me to an exercise I do from time to time-which is to see how many different images and compositions I can get an object in. Really a very good exercise to improve how you "see".

As I look through my images I see dozens with it in there. Many of them are very different. I like that. I hope that means I am learning how to compose. Of course, I might just be getting lucky and have a such neat mountain to photograph that looks good no matter how bad my composition.

Here is Cerro (as we call it ) with the barns of the Castolon (note the different spelling) post late in the afternoon.

Watch for a few more as I post images and stories from Big Bend

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Border Country

Big Bend is wild border country. From the wild west to the modern day it is still the border. The Comanche Trail ran through the area. The banditos of the Mexican Revolution raided here. This is a lonely corner of the country that is still the wild border land.

The border is a political issue again. The Army Corps of Engineers is active in the park upgrading the rough gravel roads of the park. Presumably to provide a better road for the Border Patrol or National Guard to use for regular patrols.

This is not the first time the army has been here. It was during the Mexican Revolution that the army was very active along the border. The Lajitas Trading Post has bullet holes in it from this time period. There were at least two army camps in what is now Big Bend National Park (Glenn Springs and Castolon). Many of the buildings that were built at Castolon are still in use by the park today.

This grave is also from that time. The park personnel tell me it is an unknown soldier who died here around hat time. There is a small cemetery nearby but he is here alone. A small line of rocks form a square around his grave. A simple wooden cross marks his passing. Cerro Castellan is nearby. A quiet resting place.

The border probably looks about the same now as it did then. Wild. Open. I am not sure if it can ever be tamed.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Mavericks go their own way. They buck the trends. They are out there-often alone.

Being a large format photographer is alot like that. In a world gone digital mad, the large format film photographer is somewhat of a standout.

I frequent the National Parks and am amazed at how I have not run into another large format photographer in the last few years. Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Zion, etc. Visit a major overlook at sunset and find only digital photographers. I know there have to be a few of us left but it is harder and harder to find one.

Sure I have a digital too. I finally decided it was not a "passing fad" and added one to my kit in 2007. Actually I find it a good compliment to the 4x5. The slow deliberate work of the view camera is the opposite of the light quick hand holdable of the DSLR. I use the digital on hikes, in the daytime, out the window of the vehicle-all places the 4x5 is at it's weakest. I use the 4x5 at magic hour light. They allow me to work fast or slow. Or on some mornings when I have both cameras on a tripod-both fast and slow.

I can set up the 4x5 for the best image and wait for the light. I can then use the DSLR to work other images and tweak composition. It helps me frame images and allows me to make images in light I would never consider using a sheet of film. It lets me hoard my Velvia 50 for the truly best light.

It also gives me a much longer reach than the 4x5. My 4x5 longest lens is a 210mm, my DSLR is a 200mm. At first blush you would say 210 is longer. In raw mm yes, but not in 35mm film equivalent. The 210mm on the 4x5 is about equal to a 60mm and the 200mm on the DSLR is equal to a 320mm. So really a much longer reach with digital. Again, that compliments the 4x5.

When I leave on a hike with the 4x5, I have a big 30+ pound pack and a tripod. With the DSLR I can fit the tripod, camera, long lens, extra battery and a few memory cards in a tiny Osprey Daylight (700 cu in) that is roughly the size of a Camelback. The kit is light, easy to carry, and has that "free film" (we can talk OTHER costs of digital sometime) factor.

It has turn out to be a good two camera kit. I can leave the car with a big LowePro backpack (Photo Trekker), a small LowePro bag around my neck (Omni Sport) and a tripod in each hand. I can do my normal pace, even the dark with this rig. It works.

I guess all this make a a bit of a Maverick. I am sure large format guys think I need to just move up to 8x10. Digital folks wonder why I carry all that large format stuff. I think I bridge the gap pretty well. I am using what works for me and having fun making images.

Speaking of mavericks, this image is taken of Maverick Mountain and the Maverick Badlands near the west entrance to Big Bend National Park. It is almost 180 degrees from Tule Mountain (see Friday's post). They were taken about an hour apart as the sun was rising on a cloudless day.

If you are going to be a maverick, photograph one.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Tule Mountain by Moonlight

I arrived in Big Bend National Park in the early morning hours under a clear sky and full moon. I stopped near Maverick and made an image by moonlight of the stars and Tule Mountain.

This is a fairly short exposure of 3 or 4 minutes. The image with the 4x5 was longer and maybe 10-12. The light from the moon was so bright I was worried about over exposure.

This mountain has fascinated me for a long while. I first photographed it several years ago. I have made a few in the day, a couple at sunset, and now a few at night. I still have not gotten it right. One day at the Amon Carter Museum I saw an image taken at twilight of this mountain that was stunning. I might have to give up and find another mountain. I do not remember who the photographer was but it was everything I have tried to make in an image and have failed.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On the Big Hill

After the sun started to sink past the horizon the bright direct light faded and I repositioned the camera for the view west for what I hoped would be a great west Texas sunset.

I was still right on the edge of the cliff and had a great view straight down into the Rio Grande. All I had to do was wait for the right light.

This image was taken in the time after the sunset but before the light in the clouds really started to glow. You can see the Rio winding away west and you can just see the notch of Colorado Canyon at the top of the frame.