Pic of the Week 2/22/18
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK
Date taken: 2/18/18
I photographed this magnificent old tree on my recent hike in the Wichita Mountains. When I go hiking I always take my camera just in case I find something worth shooting, but when I’m hiking my goal is not photography—at least not my main goal. My main goal is to scout potential locations and look for interesting scenes that could be photographed under more photogenic conditions. So, while I have been taking my camera on these hikes, I haven’t really pulled it out much. But this hike was going to be different. I had planned a more ambitious hike; a hike in the backcountry. If you have followed me for a while you know I enjoy spending time in the Charon Gardens Wilderness Area of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. It is so isolated and generally untouched by human hands that you really are in a wilderness. While I have been through some areas of the Charon Gardens, there is so much I have not explored and a lot of these places require off trail hiking. I am not that experienced in off trail hiking as I generally hike alone and I try to stay in areas people travel. However, I have been getting more and more into off trail hiking and bushwhacking, but nothing with the length and intensity of this planned hike.
I had spent a good few weeks planning out my route for this hike studying topographic maps and using Google Earth for locating key waypoints and landmarks. The original plan was to start near the western boundary of the park by the Indiahoma Rd gate entrance. I was going to try to reach the Badlands, the big quartz crystal, the Big Cedar, Spanish Cave, and Ison’s canyon. The 6.5 mile loop would take me through the heart of the Charon Gardens Wilderness Area. I knew for a fact I wanted to make it to the big quartz crystal and the Big Cedar, but I wasn’t sure if I had the stamina to reach Spanish Cave and Ison’s canyon. So, to make a long story short, I did reach the big quartz crystal and the Big Cedar, but after backtracking, climbing over and squeezing my way through massive boulders I decided to try Spanish Cave and Ison’s Canyon another day. I will say that I was not disappointed in this decision, because I did reach the goal I had set out for and that was to photograph the majestic Big Cedar.
I first caught a glimpse of the Big Cedar from a local hiking group on Facebook. I saw images of people standing next to this massive, gnarled cedar tree what they appropriately titled “The Big Cedar”. It had caught my attention and I knew I wanted to photograph and document it. Thanks to the help of one of the members, I was able to see a map with the exact location of the cedar. Now that I knew where to find it I could plan my route. And after a few weeks of research I had the hike planned. Things don’t always go as we hope though. For instance, my good friend Kyle was going to join me, but got sick the day before. Not only that, but when I drove out to the refuge that morning the entire area was covered under dense fog. I knew I couldn’t find my way if I couldn’t see and identify the mountains and landmarks on my route. But something inside of me kept urging me to press on and as I drove over the cattle guards and entered the refuge I made a promise to myself. The promise was if I could see Granite mountain, Charon Gardens Mountain, and Mount Mitchell from the parking lot than I would go ahead with the hike. I pulled up to the Indiahoma Rd gate and sure enough I could see the tall peak of Granite mountain directly in front of me. Off to the north I could see the distant peak of Mt Mitchell and to the west Charon Gardens Mountain and I knew I could reach my destination—provided it didn’t start raining. Thankfully the rain never came and I was able to reach the big quartz crystal and the Big Cedar. But reaching the cedar was no easy task. Once I got to a waypoint where I would begin my climb I could see near vertical cliffs of Twin Rocks Mountain and the steep ascent I would need to make. Towards the top I could make out my marker rock and just to the right of it was a crevice, that was my entrance to the Big Cedar hike. When I reached the crevice, I found I had to do a little bit of scrambling and climbing over smooth granite boulders to get access. After some determination and careful foot placement I had made it through the crevice and as I came over the top of the rocks I could see the top of the Big Cedar.
Honestly, it didn’t impress me that much it looked much smaller from where I was. But as I made the tricky descent to the base of cedar the actual size of this monster became apparent. I placed my hand on the trunk of this old cedar tree and it was instantly dwarfed by the size, texture, and depth of the bark. I read on the facebook group that they measured the trunk to be thirteen feet in circumference and saw images where it took three people to wrap their arms around the entire base. It is a very large tree. Photographing it was going to be a challenge and I knew I wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon to the tree so I needed to get some shots of it. Due to the overcast conditions and texture of the tree I wanted to shoot for a black and white image. I carefully scanned up and down the tree marveling at its unique shape and patterns and found a tight composition that would work for a black and white image. I was mesmerized by this one branch (?) that seemed to coil and curve like a snake slithering up the tree. The curvature of the branch interrupting the straight vertical lines of the trunk created a lot of tension in the scene, but at the same time the delicate placement of the curves and moss resting on the bark made it also look tranquil. It was balanced in perfect harmony.
© Ben Jacobi
This image is not my typical style, but the subject was not my typical subject and I feel it needed a unique perspective for a tree with such character. I almost approached it more like I would a portrait. What story did this tree want to tell me? What wisdom was locked away in those knots and twists in the bark? There’s no telling what things this tree has seen, the storms it has weathered, the droughts faced, and yet, here it is still standing hidden away in its own oasis resting in the canyon on a mountain. Seldom seeing any visitors, but to those that are willing enough to reach the ancient cedar, perhaps they can find peace and renewal in the experience. Its these isolated areas and relatively unknown places that I’m drawn to. Throughout my hike in the Charon Gardens I did not see another person. All I saw was the flora and fauna of the wilderness and that was good enough company for me.
Pic of the Week 2/15/18
Location: Quartz Mountain State Park, OK
Date taken: 2/13/16
Well, I wish I had a new Pic of the Week to share with y'all, but unfortunately I have had to postpone a camping trip I planned for three weeks now. The weather has just not been favorable. So I am going back a few years during much more photogenic conditions. It was a typical mid February afternoon and I had spent a good portion of it driving up to Quartz Mountain State Park in Oklahoma. I had arrived just in time to do some scouting and explore some compositions. As the day drew on sunset became imminent and I needed to be ready for it. I had decided earlier I would be shooting the sunset at the beach towards the southern end of Lake Altus-Lugert. My hope was high level clouds would enter the scene and soak up all the brilliant sunset color. I walked along the sandy shores of the beach looking for potential photos.
As I gazed across the lake I would see King Mountain towering over the surrounding prairie. At 2,411ft (elev) King Mountain is only the sixth tallest peak in the Wichita Mountains range, but its 800ft prominence from the lake made it the most dominant feature of the landscape. That would be my subject. While out exploring, I found a rocky shoreline that I thought could make an interesting composition. I watched as the waves of Lake Altus-Lugert came over the rocks and splashed against the shore, sending hundreds of droplets airborne that sparkled like diamonds in the late afternoon sun. Its hard to believe that even just a few years ago (2014) the lake was at a critical level due to the persistent drought. From 19% to 95% in a matter of a few months, the rain was a godsend not just for necessity, but aesthetic quality too.
I had lined up my shot and thought it would benefit from a longer exposure. This also gave me an opportunity to try out my newly acquired Lee Big Stopper 10-stop neutral density filter. The sun sank lower behind Quartz mountain and the sky started to light up with hues of pinks and golds. I did a quick check on my focus and set my camera to bulb exposure. This meant I was responsible for how long the shutter would stay open. I attached the filter and attached my cable release as to not disturb the camera during the long exposure. I pressed down the cable release and began counting in my head. After 125 seconds I closed the shutter. I anxiously checked the image on the LCD. I knew if I didn't get the exposure or the timing right I wouldn't be able to redo the shot. The light on the clouds was changing so quickly I wouldn't have time to make another two minute exposure.
When I looked at the image on the LCD I was quite satisfied. Basically, everything I had envisioned for the shot came to be. The rocks in the foreground were framed in a way to mimic the shape of the mountains and the long exposure turned the water to an almost glass-like appearance. Above the horizon the high altitude winds were bringing the clouds farther north and the long exposure smeared the clouds into a wonderful cohesion of pastel colors. Andthere near the center frame was the monumental King Mountain looming over the lake. Soft golden light had reflected of the north face revealing even the smallest of details on the rocky peak.
I really love the contrast of the hard and soft areas of the image. My eye tends to start towards the bottom following the natural leading line of the rocks that melt into the perfect softness of Lake Altus-Lugert. As they continue upward they are confronted with the rocky face of King Mountain, then rest gently into the softness of the colorful clouds above the peak. This was one of my favorite captures from the trip and after this shot was taken I started to pack up, but then the post sunset sky exploded into bright reds and purples in the sky. What a way to end an already perfect sunset.
King Mountain: Altus, OK © Ben Jacobi
Pic of the Week 1/25/18
I returned from my first overnight camping/photography trip of 2018. The destination was a small state park in central Oklahoma. It is a park that I have been wanting to visit for quite some time, but could never get it to work with my schedule. I am talking of Red Rock Canyon State Park. Not to be confused with Red Rock Canyon State Park in CA and NV, but the state park in central Oklahoma. While the park is small, its is no less impressive. The park is nestled in a one mile long canyon surrounded by stunning red rock cliffs. Many people go there to ride motorcycles, camp and hike, and rappell down the cliff walls. But before it was a park the Native Americans would use the canyon as a winter shelter. The canyon was also an important landmark of the California Trail and for those seeking wealth and prosperity during the California gold rush. In fact, in the park there are areas you can see wagon ruts carved through the red rock. I was there to camp, hike, and of course shoot some photography. The unseasonably warm temperatures beckoned me to get outside and explore with my camera.
© Ben Jacobi
Pic of the Week 1/18/18
I love photography and I really love meeting other passionate photographers. We photographers can get together and "talk shop" for hours on end. One of the better things about meeting and connecting with other photographers is the chance for networking. Through my job I have met some really great people and photographers and I have made some incredible friendships along the way. One of those connections brought a unique opportunity to me, my friend and fellow photographer Elizabeth invited me to shoot some aerial photos. For those of you who don't know I have a fear of heights, so you would understand my hesitation and confusion by the offer. But, I thought about what kind of interesting photos I could capture from a higher perspective and the fear was replaced with curiosity and wonderment. We set a date and I decided on a subject to photograph--the Red River. The Red River is 1,360 miles long and starts in the Texas panhandle and flows southeast to Louisiana and eventually meets with the Atchafalaya River, and then flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The Red River also serves as the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma. I thought a shot of the sun rising over the red would make for a nice scene and that's what I decided on.
Red River Aerial © Ben Jacobi
Where am I going? What adventures lie ahead? What setbacks will I experience? How will my photography career grow? Did I forget to lock my front door this morning? These are questions I ask myself this time of year. I usually slow down in January and it gives me time to reminisce and plan for future photo shoots. So where do you think I should go in 2018? Leave a comment below and let me know what areas you think I should visit. I'm looking forward to see what 2018 has for me and my photography.
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