Pic of the Week 12/7/17: Great Sand Dunes National Park: Tall Dune

December 07, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

                Oh my, it has been over a month since my last update. I apologize for the delay. But I haven’t just been sitting around doing nothing. I have been busy with work, my calendar sales, and I’ve been working on my 2017 Timelapse project (which I hope to release towards the end of the year). Truthfully, I lapsed one week and fell out of the schedule, but I am back again and posting. I have a lot of new photos to share with everyone and I’m very excited to y’all to see them. With that said, lets get to this week’s Pic of the Week.

 

Pic of the Week 12/7/17

“Great Sand Dunes National Park: Tall Dune”

Location: Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

Date taken: 9/23/17

 

                When it comes to sand dunes I have a love/hate relationship. There are certainly reasons to enjoy and experience these mysterious natural areas. They’re usually very photogenic and take on interesting patterns and shapes that beckon to be photographed. Sand can be quite beautiful especially during the early morning and late evening hours when the sand reflects all the sun’s light coloring them in wonderful hues of reds, oranges, and golds. But sand can also be quite difficult. Its very rough on the camera equipment, and it tends to get everywhere. It can easily ruin cameras, lenses, flashes, tripods, etc. It can also be hard to hike or trek on. You have to work much harder to get anywhere in sand. And don’t even get me started on the wind. Wind can turn a sand dune into a sand blaster and its not fun when you’re climbing up a dune and sand is being blasted in your eyes. So why go out to places like this? Well, I guess the only answer I can come up with is “to try and conquer it”.

                When I planned this trip, I knew we were going to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park and there was no doubt in my mind we would be getting in some sand. I thought I would offer up the chance to climb the Tall Dune in the park maybe as something we could do if we had the time. But when I brought it to Ian and Jaden they were both willing to try it. The Tall Dune in GSDNP towers 699ft over the basin and is a highly trafficked area. There are no trails. You reach the parking lot and start hiking towards the large dune crest immediately to your west. To reach the top of the dune you need to crisscross over ridges like delicate switchbacks and since there is no trail sometimes you have to backtrack and find the correct path.

                Now I know it sounds like all I’m doing is complaining, and while that is true it is well worth the effort. Climbing the Tall Dune gives you an incredible view of the dune field and Sangre De Cristos mountain range that hug against the dunes. Not only are the view incredible, but the sense of accomplishment you get when you reach the top makes it all worth it. I made this shot about ¾ of the way up the dune looking over the impressive landscape. The patterns in the dunes almost seem to match the patterns and crags of the mountains. It had rained that morning so some of the dunes had this beautiful striped pattern that added even more depth to the scene. Ominous storm clouds loomed over the 12,000ft elevation peaks of the range and gave the scene a very foreboding feel. This shot captures all the chaos of the area. The intricate patterns of the dunes against the rugged terrain of the mountains and the erratic changes in weather. You truly are in a wilderness here and it sure feels like it when you’re hiking in this area.

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park: Tall DuneGreat Sand Dunes National Park: Tall DuneStunning view on the way up Tall Dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park. © Ben Jacobi

                After I made this exposure we continued on eventually reaching the top and took in the marvelous view in front of us. To the west Star Dune (tallest dune in North America) could be seen. But we would have to save that challenge for another time. With the approaching rains, stronger wind gusts, and hunger/fatigue setting in it was time we made the trek back down. Which was actually quite enjoyable—you can get down much faster than climbing up. I’m looking forward to sharing more of my latest work with you all.


Pic of the Week 10/19/17: Great Dunes and Greater Mountains

October 19, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 10/19/17

"Great Dunes, Greater Mountains"

Date taken: 9/24/17

Location: Zapata Falls Recreation Area, CO

 

Who is ready for more Colorado photos? This weeks Pic of the Week was captured on our third day of our Colorado trip. The previous day we had shot early morning sunrise photos of Mt Blanca, hiked up the Big Dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park, and ended with a rain shower blocking out our chance for a sunset. When we started to drive back to our camp for the night clouds covered our skies and we were constantly in rain. This had me worried for sunrise and most of our shooting the next day. But we climbed up in our sleeping bags and drifted to sleep with the sound of rain drops "pit-pattering" on the tent. We awoke once again very early and I stepped out the tent to observe the skies. There was some clouds off to our west, but I could see clearing to our east. In fact, I could make out the bright constellation Orion hovering in the sky above. Everyone was woken up and we tore down our campsite and gathered our gear and drove to our sunrise location. Sunrise was nice, but nothing extravagant and after we collected all our sunrise images we continued down the road to our next stop, Zapata Falls. 


To reach Zapata Falls you turn down a small gravel road that leads you to the base of a mountain. The drive to the falls was very interesting. The gravel road quickly transitioned to a dirt/rock road and started to gain elevation. The road was only a few miles long, but it took us 30min to reach the end in our little Ford Focus we rented for the trip. Every dip and rise over the rocks had us grimacing and praying that we wouldn't pop a tire. Eventually we reached the top and the end of the road and the trailhead to Zapata Falls. There was a small overlook outside the campground that gave you a fantastic view of the San Luis Valley, Great Sand Dunes, and the Sangre de Cristos mountain range. The mountains were still covered by the clouds, so I didn't take any photos from the overlook. 


The trail to Zapata Falls was easy, but I am not used to hiking in 9000' elevation so we took our time. The trail eventually runs into a creek and you have to wade through the creek to access the falls. The falls themselves were actually quite nice and when I had them all to myself it was peaceful, but soon many more people started coming up the trail and  through the creek getting in front of my camera and ending up in my shots. But I got what I wanted and then started back towards the trail. I noticed the clouds above us had mostly cleared and I hoped it was true with the mountains. There were a few spots on the trail where we could see the tops of the mountains between the trees and I was excited to see those peaks. I might be able to capture a shot from the overlook after all. 


After our hike, I reached into the car and pulled out my Tamron 70-200mm telephoto lens and headed towards the overlook. The clouds had cleared and finally revealed the mountains to us. Not only that the rain and weather on the peaks left a fresh dusting of snow on the majestic mountains. I zoomed in tight and found a composition that worked showing the flat San Luis Valley, that transitioned to the delicate curves of the sand dunes and then met with the jagged and craggy snow-covered peaks of the Sange de Cristos. Although the lighting was less than ideal the intermittent light and shadows played on the landscape making an almost dreamy scene. I snapped several image from the overlook, but I had issues with the trees around the area getting into some of my shots. To solve this, I climbed up a stone platform that rose me just above the tree line where I was able to make my images with an unobstructed view of the wonderful landscape. This image ended up being one of my favorite photos from the trip and is another photo that will be featured in my 2018 calendar. 

 

© Ben Jacobi


Pic of the Week 10/12/17: Aspens in Mueller State Park

October 12, 2017  •  1 Comment

Pic of the Week 10/12/17

“Aspens in Mueller State Park”

Date taken: 9/24/17

Location: Mueller State Park near Divide, CO

 

This week's Pic of the Week takes us to our last full day in Colorado. Earlier that morning we shot the sunrise in the San Luis valley and photographed some nice vistas near Monarch and Buena Vista, CO. Our goal was to arrive in Muller State Park a few hours before sunset to scout out locations for the sunset. When arrived at the park I went in the visitor center to talk with the park staff and get their recommendations for a good sunset location. More specifically, I wanted an area where we could see the Pikes Peak massif and capture the sunset light traveling up the mountain. Maybe even have a few aspen in the foreground, who knows? After talking with one of the rangers there she suggested we try Elk meadow. It was a great view of Pikes Peak and unobstructed by roads, buildings, and other distractions intersecting our shot—just a nice meadow and then forest. She also gave us ideas on where we could go to photograph some of the fall foliage. Her suggestion was to try the northern most trails behind the campgrounds. This area was supposed to have some aspen.

 

While it wasn't part of our plans, we had some extra time and I am always up for a hike, we reached the parking area for the trailhead and gathered our gear to get ready for a short hike. Looking at the trail maps I thought we could use trail 17 that would take us to the eastern edge of the trail and to a nice open field and hopefully find some nice compositions there. I thought we would only need to hike about .3 miles where we could grab some quick shots and be back to our sunset location. We followed trail 17 for about .25miles before there was a clearing in the forest. The open field gave us a nice view of Pikes Peak and the forest in front of it. Speckled all throughout the forest were bright yellow aspen. I captured a few nice images, but wasn't overly excited about what I had. Maybe it would be nice if the light was better, I pondered to myself. But I didn't let that thought distract me. I knew that we needed to be ready for sunset soon. Still I pressed on down the trail in hopes of finding a more interesting scene. After a brief walk I came to a curve on the trail and just before the curve there was a big field leading out into the forest and an excellent view of Pikes Peak. The best part was the light was positioned in a way that really brought out the aspens in the foreground. This was where I stopped set up my tripod and sarted shooting. The golden aspens, the red rock on Pikes Peak, and the deep blue sky made for an excellent scene just begging to be photographed.

 

© Ben Jacobi

 

Turns out we went a bit further than I had anticipated and we were now hurrying to get back in the car in time for sunset. We arrived about 20 minutes before sunset and shot some more excellent images of aspen and Pikes Peak in sunset light. After this long day, we retired to our hotel in Colorado Springs and turned in for the night. This was one of my favorite shots I captured that day. In fact, it is going to be featured in my upcoming 2018 calendar as the month of September. If you would like to preorder a calendar send me an email or a Facebook message.


Pic of the Week 10/5/17: Blanca Peak Sunrise

October 05, 2017  •  2 Comments

Pic of the Week 10/5/17

“Blanca Peak Sunrise”

Date taken: 9/23/17

Location: Highway 160 near Blanca, CO.

 

Continuing through the wild photo adventure that was my recent trip to Colorado, we arrive pre-sunrise on the second day of the trip and it was going to be a big one. Ian, Jaden, and myself had spent the previous day cramped up in the small Ford Focus we drove to Colorado. We drove through a small portion of the Highway of Legends, photographed the sunset from the lake, and ended it with a short milky way shoot behind the mountains. Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted from the traveling and turned in early for a good nights rest. The next day was going to be a busy. We had planned a sunrise shoot, a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park during the day, and ending it with sunset shoot at San Luis Lake State Park. I did have concerns about the weather for 9/23. Some models were suggesting extensive cloud cover and wide spread rain over the area which would prevent us from seeing a good sunrise. Only time would tell.

 

I awoke around 4:30am before the alarm on my cell phone went off. I pulled up my phone and checked the infrared satellite and radar for our area. Nothing was really conclusive with the data so I would have to rely on good ol' observation. Ourside the tent it was perfectly still, there was no wind and only the chirping of crickets could be heard. There were patches of dark sky with a few stars in between the clouds. I looked off towards the west and could see a band of clear sky, this was the direction we would be traveling today. At 5:15am my alarm went off and woke everybody up, we gathered our gear and breakfast and climbed back in the car to make the 60 mile drive to our sunrise location.

 

When I learned we were not going to the Guadalupe Mountains for this trip I decided to go to Colorado as a backup. Thankfully, I had a cache of locations and sights I wanted to see stored on Google Earth. Its good having this information at my disposal, it makes it much easier when planning shots for a trip. One location I had marked was a scenic viewpoint off highway 160 outside of Blanca, CO. The pulloff gave an excellent view of the southern most Sangre De Cristos mountains. The goal was to arrive before sunrise and scout out compostitions and wait for sunrise.

 

When we arrived on location the skies around us had pretty much cleared, but one thing I didn't take into account was the elevation of the mountains and the cloud deck. The massive peaks were completely swallowed by a dark moody cloud which may not work so well for the sunrise shot I had envisioned. We waited for almost an hour watching the clouds slowly lift around the lower parts of the mountain, but the peaks were still covered by the clouds when the sun rose. Glorious warm light spread over the landscape and lit up most of the mountains. The 14,345' (elev) top of Blanca Peak could not be seen and we waited and waited as more and more cloud cover began to dissipate. Half of the mountain was bathed in the golden sunrise light, bringing the aspen in the foothills to an almost radiant state. The other half was shrouded in the shadow of the clouds turning everything near the top to a soft murky outline, almost ghost-like in appearance. I opted to use my telephoto lens and bring everything much closer revealing all of the drama in the scene. The tight shot also shows the little nuances of the photo. For instance you can see in the transition where some of the aspen are shining bright and the just behind them the other's fade into the shadows. It was a very dramatic scene and we captured it for quite a long time.

 

Eventually the clouds began to clear exposing the photogenic Mout Lindsey and Little Bear Peak, but Blanca Peak still remained in the clouds. In fact, for the rest of the day Blanca Peak would be masked by cloud cover and we wouldn't see it until the next sunrise. I have to say I was quite impressed with the photos I captured during this shoot, though it didn't come out like I had originally planned. It was still an excellent way to start our first full day in Colorado. I am quite fortunate to have these shots. After I got back home from this trip my hard drive got corrupted and erased 140+ images from this day. Luckily, I was able to recover all but ten of them. One of the ones recovered was this shot right here. I still have many more photos and stories to share from this trip.

 

Blanca Peak SunriseBlanca Peak Sunrise © Ben Jacobi


Pic of the Week 9/28/17: Spanish Peaks Sunset

September 28, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 9/28/17

"Spanish Peaks Sunset"

Date Taken: 9/22/17

Location: Lathrop State Park Walsenburg, CO

 

I have just returned from an amazing four-day trip to the beautiful state of Colorado. I was originally going to the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas, but the weather pattern had another idea. So as I backup I suggested Colorado. My good friends Ian Glasgow and Jaden Corbin. This was Jaden’s first photo trip with us and I think he had a good time. We spent those four days seeking out the best shots for the incredible landscape that was all around us. We were about one week away from peak fall color, but we were able to get some excellent shots of the changing autumn.

We left Wichita Falls around 7:15am and arrived at Walsenburg just a little before 2:30pm (local time) and went exploring for our sunset location. I had hopes that the clouds would hold off and we would get dramatic sunrise light hitting the Spanish Peaks. The Spanish Peaks are two very prominent mountains in southern Colorado. The west peak has an elevation of 13,645’ and the eastern peak is 12,684 and an impressive 6000 feet above the surrounding landscape. Their shape and prominence made me think they would be an excellent subject to use in dramatic sunset light.

After we did some driving through the Highway of Legends (a closer look at the Spanish Peaks), we started back to Lathrop State Park to prepare for sunset. I kept an eye on the cloud cover on our western horizon and I watched as the thin clouds stretched above our heads. Maybe these would make for a good sunset after all. But they might pose a problem if we were going to shoot the milky way later that evening.

The dramatic light I was hoping for never arrived and the sun was blocked by a low layer of cloud cover, but despite this the clouds above us exploded into a fiery orange glow. I still came back with some great shots and a pretty nice timelapse of the whole thing, but the worst thing was I accidentally changed my camera settings to record In JPG and not NEF (Nikon’s RAW). This meant I would have very little control in post processing and I would need to adjust my workflow to get the result I wanted. It just goes to show you, always check your camera settings before you start shooting. This is a silly oversight that I will make sure I won’t skip over next time. Luckily, after the sunset I saw my error and changed back to NEF for the milky way shoot. Yet despite this hiccup I still came back with some excellent images and even better ones came from later in the trip. I am very excited to share these photos with you over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

 

Stunning sunset over Lathrop State Park with the Spanish Peaks on the horizon. © Ben Jacobi

 

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