A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow

I’ve hinted that I love the mystery and lack of mystery of the desert. Perhaps no place in Southern Utah looks quite as mysterious as Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce is a visual treat, a photographer’s dream. A high erosion rate has left hoodoos standing watch, dressed in colors ranging from deep red to near white. It’s these spires that have resisted erosion that capture the eye of the viewer. It is reputed that one of the early settlers in the area said the canyon is a hell of a place to lose a cow (I’ve heard that about other places in Southern Utah, too). I’ll go along with that, but I’ll also say it’s a hell of a place to find a photograph.

You’ll see many images of the grand landscape at Bryce. To try to include the whole vista is a true challenge, but the myriad hoodoos and wide range of color seem to demand that we share the whole place. And, of course, with stunning colors in the canyon, the ‘serious’ photographer will be sure to get there at sunrise to catch the amazing light show.

But as with so much in the desert, it’s the details that count for me: the Intimate Landscape, it’s been called. It’s these details that add up to a strange and wonderful desert landscape that draws me back time and again. At Bryce, the temptation to capture the grand landscape is nearly overwhelming. But then, as I look and marvel, I realize it’s the details that make the scene and I start homing in on less and less, and in that way show you more and more.

Yes, the grand landscape is spectacular, but it’s the details that make the grand grand. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

Here are a couple grand shots of Bryce Canyon: The first one is the obligatory sunrise shot, the second taken shortly thereafter with the lighting a little bit better controlled. (I probably don’t have to remind you to click on the images, but I will anyway: Click on the images for a full view.)

 

Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

 

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

 

But it’s the details that add up to the spectacular. Here are a couple images that show it’s the component parts that make Bryce (and pretty much every other desert scene) so spectacular in the aggregate:

 

Bryce Canyon Detail #1, Utah

Bryce Canyon Detail #1, Utah

 

Bryce Canyon Detail #2 Utah

Bryce Canyon Detail #2 Utah

 

More to follow

Bob

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A mysterious lack of mystery

Last post I talked about the desert and how I came to believe it is my soul’s home. There are several reasons for that feeling, I suppose, and I’ll list a couple here.

First the desert has no mystery. It’s nothing more than rocks and sand and scrubby plants that can barely survive the harsh climate. Juniper trees that are hundreds of years old form beautiful shapes that testify to their struggle for life. Cactus protect their internally-held water with spines that will make you wish you’d never touched them. There are poisonous critters throughout the area: scorpions, rattlesnakes and all-terrain vehicles. The desert will kill you as readily as it will tolerate you, so you’d better come prepared for the worst if you visit the desert.

Second, the desert has great mysteries. I’ll share a few examples today.

Long ago—estimates suggest 1,000+ years—there were thriving civilizations in the desert. I say civilizations, plural, because archaeological evidence suggests that there were actually several different periods of occupation over the centuries.

The first European-descended settlers in the area named them “Anasazi,” a term they picked up from Navajos. The disappearance of the Anasazi became a great mystery and was ballyhooed around the region in an attempt to lure tourists in to spend their dollars. Problem is, Anasazi is an insult to the people who lived here way back then. According to interpretations of the term that I’ve seen it means “Enemies of Our Ancestors.” Not a very nice name for the ancient ones.

Craig Childs, in his book House of Rain, explores several sites and reports conversations with archaeologists who, he says, reports that the “Anasazi” were actually Pueblo people who were nomadic and ranged from the Cedar Mesa areas of Utah all the way into Mexico, finally staying in New Mexico after the European invasion. A guide at Navajo National Monument, a place with great examples of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings told the story of Monument staff bringing some Pueblo elders to the site of the Betatakin ruin in the Monument. The elders read some of the rock art and pointed out where the springs were, where the kivas were and accurately described some of the features of the ruin without having ever been there. A pretty good indication that they know who the inhabitants were.

Another sign the mysterious inhabitants of the area left behind was rock art. I just love petroglyphs and pictographs that are found in the area. They are truly mysterious. Sure, there are representations of desert bighorn sheep and elk or deer, clearly an indication of the source of food in the area, but there are other far more indecipherable figures. What looks like people, or maybe space aliens, footprints that may indicate a clan association or what to look out for, plants and possible crops and wondrous birds. Maybe. It’s impossible to tell. Few today really know what they’re all about and they aren’t telling because it’s none of our business. So we look at the art and speculate and wonder and enjoy the mystery.

Here are a few examples of some fine rock art (As usual, click on the images to see them full-size).

 

 

There are several panels in Capitol Reef National Park. One is labeled and easily accessed. The art seems to come from the ancients named the Fremont People.

 

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park

 

As you approach the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, you go by a fascinating Utah State Historical Monument, Newspaper Rock. The site was so named because of the incredible display of rock art. Here is a look at the whole panel:

 

Newspaper Rock State Hitorical Monument, Utah

Newspaper Rock State Hitorical Monument, Utah

 

And here are some detail shots:

 

Newsapaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah, Detail 1

Newsapaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah, Detail 1

 

 

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument, Utah, Detail 2

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument, Utah, Detail 2

 

I’ll share more rock art captures as time goes on. There are so many examples, all so mysterious. It’s a great treat to stumble across an ancient drawing, especially one that hasn’t been trashed by some more recent arrival. Some of the finest panels have bullet holes from high-powered rifles marring the art. But the art has outlasted the defilers. Good.

 

More to follow.

Bob

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You CAN go home, I guess

I’ve been pretty inactive with my blog and I guess I could claim that it was work that was getting in my way.

OK, so I’ll make that claim.

But now that I’ve retired from my ‘day job,’ I’ve got time on my hands and I can’t think of a better way to use that time than to revisit old images to see if I was right in hanging on to them ‘just in case’ I learned a little more in Photoshop or if Lightroom ever advanced to the point that I’d like to use it most of the time. And if my ability with the processing software has indeed improved, the resulting images would be no good if they’re not shared, so I’ll try to post at least weekly.

The best way to start is to go through old files and see what I can find. I’ll share the results with you and tell you a few stories along the way. (I’ve always thought I should put more into the blog posts, so here is my first attempt.)

The best way, I think, to go through a project like this is to go in a somewhat chronological order, so I’ve started with a file that’s appropriately labeled “Soul Search 2006.” That was really the first serious attempt I made to capture images with a digital camera and not knowing the medium and not being particularly familiar with the processing software left me with a lot of captures to finish today in ways I could not have a decade ago.

For the fotos included with this post, however, the images aren’t as important as the reason I went.

It had been at least 20years since I’d been in the desert. I missed it, but I didn’t realize quite how much. Knowing that I had to go, I made plans for a two-week trip, visiting Arches, Zion, Canyonlands, Bryce and Capitol Reef National Parks and in the interim, Hovenweep and Navajo National Monuments and a few state parks to boot.

Things didn’t go exactly as planned, but everything worked out just fine in the long run.

I finally realized how much I missed the desert when I dropped into my last stop, Capitol Reef National Park. As I entered from the west, I saw the cliffs and domes and burst into tears, saying to no one in particular, “I’m home.” It was that stop that made me realize that the desert, and especially Capitol Reef is my soul’s home. I had abandoned it for two decades, but it called me back and I answered that call. I’m glad I did, because that put me in a mind to move back to Utah in order to have more access to the desert and upon retirement I have done so.

What came out of that soul search? Quite a bit, actually. Most important is the knowledge that the desert is my home, of course. The images are of secondary importance to the self-knowledge  I gained, but I’ll share a couple fotos from that trip today and from subsequent visits home as I process them. For today’s post,  I’ve got a couple that rather frame the trip (first stop and last stop) and I’m ready to share, so take a look (As always, click on the images to see the whole thing):

 

First stop: Arches National Park

Delicate Arch and the Lasalle Mountains, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch and the Lasalle Mountains, Arches National Park

 

Final stop: Capitol Reef National Park (luckily in bad weather)

 

Storm, Capitol Reef National Park

Storm, Capitol Reef National Park

 

More to follow,

 

Bob

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DC at night

Some might claim that Washington, DC, is in a permanent state of night following the last month’s odd goings on, but this is a little different.

I attended a conference in DC in November and my friend Phil came down for a couple days of sightseeing and photography after the conference.

When I go to DC I always go to The Wall and pay my respects to a few friends and shipmates. After that I wander The Mall and then head back to the hotel. Phil wanted to do some night photography and that sounded like a good idea. Since this is a big city, we weren’t about to see many stars, so that left the monuments and the surprising crowd around them, even in the dark. I had a little Platypod, a small metal plate that serves as a tripod substitute if I’m too lazy to carry the real thing. From that I got a couple interesting images. With a tripod I might have had a few different angles, but what I got worked pretty well.

There was a young man on a bicycle with multicolored lights at the ends of the spokes, so, of course, a longish exposure might just capture some interesting motion. I suppose if I had kept the shutter open even longer, the streak of color would have been wider, but this is not too bad (click on the images for a better view):

 

Lights on the spokes

Lights on the spokes

 

I just read an article that reported on a survey done of political science professors in having them rate the Presidents of the United States based on several different factors. Of course, the top two were Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. It makes sense, therefore, that they have monuments built to them on the Mall and that they are well-lit and well-visited at night. Here they are:

 

Lincoln Memorial:

 

Lincoln Memorial at night

Lincoln Memorial at night

 

Washington Monument:

 

Washington Monument at night

Washington Monument at night

 

Yes, our Nation’s Capitol is quite a treat even at night.

More to follow

Bob

 

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Caught in the Act!

I took a hike today down by the Yellowstone River. Under a highway bridge I found some interesting icicles. The photo conditions weren’t very conducive to photography, but when I noticed there was water dripping off the icicles, I decided I had to try to capture a drop.

After several tries, I guess I got my timing OK. While it would have been better to have a faster shutter speed, the drop was changing shape as it fell, so the squashing is probably pretty natural.

Here it is (click on the image to enlarge):

Icicle

Icicle caught in mid-drip, Yellowstone River, Billings, Montana.

 

A little way down the trail, I met a woman who expressed some disappointment that she couldn’t find any Cedar Waxwings. All I had seen so far was a Magpie, so I wished her well and headed back to the car. Soon I was in the middle of a flock of Waxwings. Here’s one:

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

 

Quite a handsome bird!

Moret to follow,

Bob

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Can he make a comeback?

Wow, has it been that long? I’ve been thinking that it’s been too long since I posted to my blog, but the reality is shocking. Since the last post was a couple years ago following a trip to the Oregon Coast, I figured a good re-start would be to post an image of a Lighthouse from the Maine Coast. You know, coast-to-coast vacation or some such thing.

In addition, I thought I had let my domain lapse, but apparently I misread a communication from my host about that. In fact, I just got another renewal notice from them after a very long time, so I figured, ‘what the heck’ I may as well see if I can get back at this.

A lot has happened since that Oregon trip and I’ve got a lot more miles on me, but as I contemplate retirement in the next year, maybe blogging will be my way of assuring that I stay active.

We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s my take on an image that you’ve undoubtedly seen by other photographers before. It’s the Bass Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park. My friend Gary and I and about 100 other people (some were nice, some were jerks) stopped by for a sunset look at the lighthouse and the bay. Not bad, even for a cliché shot. (click on the image for a full-screen view)

 

Bass Head Lighthouse

Bass Head Lighthouse, Acadia National Park, sunset

 

More to follow?

Bob

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Oregon 8

After we visited Yaquina Head, we went to a sort of nautical junk yard. Except it wasn’t really a junk yard. They take a lot of worn or rusted equipment from fishing vessels and repair and refurbish it. The first look gave the appearance of random piles of junk, but once we got in and started looking at things, we found an order to the chaos. There were huge nets, running gear and lots and lots of rusty equipment.

Rick suggested trying to get a few good abstract images of the rust and then of finding images that looked like something else. No problem for me, I love doing detail shots and enjoy seeing if I can find out, as Minor White suggested, what else the object is.

There’s a lot of chain used in sailing and that chain needs to be replaced once in a while, so finding rusted chain was no challenge. It was finding the shark that took a little thought.

 

Rusted Chain

Rusted Chain

 

Sometimes the chain was joined by rope:

 

Rope and chains

Rope and chains

 

And then there are the abstract opportunities. Wear on metal objects is often uneven and leaves us with a great opportunity to select just the right portion of the worn area:

 

Rising against Rust

Rising against Rust

 

As for finding something different in this wide variety of subjects, that wasn’t so hard either. I found a rust shark:

 

Rust Shark

Rust Shark

 

This collection of treasures was a real photographer’s dream.

More to follow,

B0b

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Oregon 7

After taking a little time away from the computer, I’d like to go back to the Oregon Coast and share some images from my workshop with Rick Sammon, Alex Morley and some good friends.

Lighthouses were on the menu from the start and we headed out to Yaquina Head to see the lighthouse out there. It’s pretty nice, sitting high on a cliff, warning sailors away from the rocks and rough water. The lighthouse was interesting, but the light, not so much. I won’t call it bad light, because as Jay Maisel in his book, Light, Gesture & Color says, “There is no bad light. There is spectacular light and difficult light.” This was definitely difficult light, leaving everything kind of flat and evenly lit. Photographers don’t like harsh light that gives extreme highlights and black shadows, but we like something between that and flat.

As digital photography came into its own, some technologists came up with a way to manage difficult light: High Dynamic Range or HDR. HDR has been the subject of controversy and arguments for a long time. The conflict has finally settled down and most photographers now use HDR software to combine several images into one. The idea is that we expose for the harsh highlights to get detail there, then expose for the dark shadows to get some information in those images. We generally take anywhere from three to seven images and combine them with the HDR software. So I took one image.

Luckily my Nik HDR Efx Pro software has a solution for that: It does tone mapping on one exposure. I took these two images through HDR Efx and here are the results. The big complaint about HDR in the early days was that the contrast was over the top and the color saturation was extreme. I didn’t like that too much, but when the software developers started finding ways to control the contrast and allow the photographer to adjust saturation, we could start getting some pretty ‘natural’ looking HDRs.

Because these images are single-shot tone mapping, they have some of the high contrast that early HDRs had. But in these images, I don’t mind it so much. In fact, I kind of like them. See what you think. (Click on the images to see them full size and in the right color space.)

 

Yaquina Head Lighthouse Reflection.

 

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

 

 

Yaquina Head Panorama.

 

Yaquina Head LH pano

Yaquina Head LH pano

 

More to follow,

Bob

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Oregon Coast 6

Here are a few more images from the Newport Aquarium.

I just had to follow the tufted puffins around and this one finally got into the water. He did a lot of swimming and some preening, but this is a nice capture with a pretty good reflection. And now you can see why they’re called tufted puffins.

As always, click for full size and proper color.

 

Tufted Puffin 3

Tufted Puffin 3

 

After watching the birds for a while we went into the watery displays. The first thing we saw was the jelly fish display. These orange critters against the blue background were hypnotic. It was something of a challenge getting an image of them without some awful reflections, but it was possible. I tried a few images of the shark tank, but they weren’t very interesting and the person in SCUBA gear cleaning the inside of the glass was fun, but moved before I could get a good portrait. Oh, well, even humans have their own agenda.

 

Jellyfish, Newport Aquarium

Jellyfish, Newport Aquarium

 

More to follow,

Bob

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Oregon Coast 5

One of the stops on the Oregon Coast Workshop was the Newbury Aquarium. I don’t mind walking through an aquarium, but it’s often hard to find a good way to do a photo there, so there’s a lot of gawking but not much photography. Well, besides fish, this aquarium had a bird exhibit. And the birds were handsome and interesting. It was easy to get a few hundred images of them as they posed, swam and paraded in front of the camera. The hard thing is to edit down to a couple of good ones. I’d never seen a puffin in my life, and never even knew there was such a thing as a tufted puffin. I soon learned the truth and fired away at some of these handsome birds. I think these are fairly nice portraits. I hope you agree.

Click on the image to see full size and with the right color.

 

This one seemed interested in what was going on, but, of course, you can’t see why it’s called a tufted puffin.

 

Tufted Puffin 1

Tufted Puffin 1

 

Here’s a nice profile shot with a good look at the tufts and a nice backlight on the bill.

 

Tufted Puffin 2

Tufted Puffin 2

 

I’ll share a little more from the aquarium Wednesday. It’s going to take a while to get through the 4000+ images I recorded in the state, so there will be a lot more as time goes on. I haven’t even gotten to the lighthouses yet!

More to follow,

Bob

 

 

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