Pic of the Week: 3/15/18
“LP Suprecell Crowell, TX”
Date taken: 3/18/12
Location: Highway 70 near Crowell, TX
With the spring equinox just around the corner, its this time of year that I start a transition in my photography. Now that winter is (mostly) finished the days start to get longer and the temperatures start to warm up. Spring time is an excellent time for any photography, but its my favorite time of the year—storm chase season! Although, if I'm being perfectly honest, the past several years have not been such good storm seasons for me. Commitments to work and other responsibilities keep me from chasing all that I want and now my vehicle is starting to get older and has been giving me problems since passing the 200,000 mile mark. So I expect that I won't travel too much this season. So here's hoping for some nice local chases.
For this weeks featured photo I looked back on some of my past chases and noticed a pretty disturbing trend. After 2012 I haven't had a storm photo worth sharing during the month of March. March 15th marks the first “offical” day of the chase season, but for the past six years I have not captured a useable storm photo in March. I remember when I first started storm chasing and would be out as early as the first week of February. Maybe I'm just used to earlier setups, or maybe this is how it normally is. Regardless, my last sucessful March intercept was all the way back in 2012. And it was an interesting chase day.
I had driven out to Childress, TX in the early afternoon. After carefully going over surface charts, satellite/radar images, and weather models I decided on my target. Sitting at a gas station in the middle of town I could see puffy cotton-ball like cumulus clouds developing overhead and a warm southeasterly gust would blow through now and then. Within a few hours I was making my way to the west side of town and following a rapidly accelerating tower. “This storm might bust through the cap” I thought to myself. As I scanned the horizon I could also see more towers going up along the dryline stretching from west to southwest of my location. I felt pretty good about my target and when the storm broke through the cap and started to explode. I was in a good position keeping an eye on the storms updraft. I followed and chased the storm for a few hours before it took off to the northeast and blew itself out.
The storm, while beautiful, never really seemed to get going and I was so entranced with my storm that I failed to notice the beast of a cell forming to my south/southwest. I looked over on the radar and saw a classic hook echo and “screaming eagle” shape to the storm. “I bet it goes tor-...” I was cut off in my thinking when a warning alarm came in over my radio and a bright pink polygon appeared around the storm. The storm was now tornado warned and I was on 35 miles away. I finally gave up on my storm and started making my way south keeping track of the storm on radar along the way. About 20 miles from the storm, I could start to make out the updraft base. It was a thick barrel shape with a low blocky wall cloud protruding from the base. I was too far away to see any rotation so I wanted to get closer to investigate.
About 10 miles away from the storm I was able to take in its photogenic structure in the late afternoon light. A strip of golden yellow light was hovering above the horizon behind the dark and foreboding storm clouds. I watched this storm move off to my north east, but as it did so I noticed it starting to dry up. The thick barrel shaped updraft began to shrivel and shrink into a skinnier fluffier structure, and the low blocky wall cloud dissipated up. The updraft base started to become more elevated as the sun began to set. The storm had transitioned from a healthy, classic supercell to a low precipitation supercell. I decided to pull over and watch the storm go off into the sunset. I found a big open field where stopped and got my camera out. To try and add some foreground interest I incorporated the stalks of some weeds and framed the storm's updraft between them to make a somewhat interesting composition.
I sat on the hood of my car watching the storm try one last push of the updraft before finally succumbing to the lack of energy and moisture. The scene was quite nice and there was nobody else around which made it even more special. The storm eventually starved and died out and I turned back to the east and headed back to Wichita Falls. So while it wasn't the most exciting chase, it was still a chase in March. I'm hoping for a great storm season, but I'm remaining realistic in my optimism. Only time will tell. Once thing is for sure, the month of March isn't over yet.
LP Supercell Crowell, TX © Ben Jacobi
Pic of the Week 3/9/18
“Sunset on the Bluffs”
Location: Wichita Falls, TX
Date Taken: 3/8/18
Truthfully, I had not planned to post a Pic of the Week this week. I really hate that, I don’t like having anything new to share or any stories to tell. Sometimes I’m just lazy, other times I’m busy, but this time was different. I actually had a legitimate excuse. Since Sunday morning I have been sick with whatever cold that is going around. I woke up with a sore throat and discovered that my voice was all but gone. It stayed that way until yesterday (Wednesday) evening when my voice finally started to come back. I was excited to speak again and I was more excited that I was doing better. I had made an appointment to see the doctor Thursday morning and I even considered cancelling it. Around 2:30am I was awoken by a huge gasp of air I tried to take in. I had fallen asleep on my side and one my nostrils was stopped up and the other was covered by my pillow—I couldn’t breathe! I don’t mind having a sore throat and I don’t mind that I lost my voice, but I cannot stand being congested!!! If I can’t breathe well I feel like all my energy is being zapped from me. Simple tasks become so much harder when you are only breathing through one of your sinuses. So that night I tossed and turned and hardly got any rest and I knew I was going to keep my appointment tomorrow morning.
I woke up early and went to the clinic and got checked out. The doctor informed me that I had caught whatever it was that was going around. She wrote me a couple of prescriptions and I was on my way. As the day drew on I became more and more congested and stopped up, but now there was sinus pressure building in my ears and head. This is the stuff I really, REALLY, hate and it puts me in a sour mood quite frankly. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Why are you telling us this?” mostly its to let you know I have a good excuse for the delayed Pic of the Week. “So, what about the photography?” I assume you’re thinking. I’ll go ahead and get on with that. While I am sick, I still went in to work today, in fact I’ve been in everyday this week (its not fun to help customers with no voice). But today, I had a shoot to do and I brought my camera. So, as I’m getting ready to leave from work I look outside and I see the sky. There are some broken lines of alto-cumulus clouds and a small strip of clear sky near the horizon. I wondered if there might be a decent sunset. I got into my car and considered driving out to the Wichita Bluffs Nature Area and see if I could catch a sunset over some of the bluffs. So instead of driving home and curling up in my bed I decided to drive to the Wichita Bluffs. Along the way my head was pounding, I was coughing, and my nose was running EEEWWWW! But I kept looking at my rearview mirror watching the sky. Just a few miles down the road and I was the entrance to the Wichita Bluffs Nature Area.
Now I have visited the bluffs once before on a short walk. I was impressed with the trail and even the way they tried to preserve the natural landscape. Its nice having these little escapes into nature close to home. I got my camera and my tripod together and began to walk on the trail. Now, the sun was starting to get closer to the horizon and I knew the location I wanted to be. But as I said earlier, when you can’t breathe even simple things can be difficult. I continued on the path with the pressure in my head increasing. With each step I would hear a small pop like I was taking off in a commercial airliner. I looked behind me and saw the sky was showing more promise and I continued on the trail. There was a point where my legs were just too tired, my breath was too shallow, and the sun was getting too low. So, I opted for the first side trail I could find. From this view I could see the bluff I actually wanted to be at, but I also noticed that there were some compositions right where I was. I set up my camera pointing towards the bluff and watched the clouds float across the sky. I noticed something when I was shooting some of the photos, I could breathe—through both nostrils!
I was ecstatic. No amount of medicine would take away or alleviate my symptoms, but you get me behind the camera and into some nature and all those distractions just melted away. I knew this was only going to be temporary euphoria, but I was going to hold on to every bit of it. During my spirited state, I found a nice composition of some native grass, the jungle of mesquite trees in the valley, and the bluff I was using as my subject. I played around with some angles and focal lengths and found the one I liked most. Not but a few seconds later, the sun fell below the clouds and sent a soft warm glow of light on the bluffs and the grass in my foreground. A small strip of pink color creeped in on the left side of the sky helping to unify the warm and cool color tones. There is a tranquil feel and a subtle beauty to this image that I feel reflects the Wichita Bluffs Nature Area quite well. This isn’t a super dramatic landscape or vista, but there’s a simple, subtle beauty to the scene. The foreground grass contrasts nicely against the dark wood of the mesquite and cottonwood trees in the background. Even the light itself is delicately falling on the landscape bringing about a subdued beauty to the scene. I stayed in that spot until just after sunset and began the walk back to my car. The adrenaline and excitement from the photography started to wear off and I could feel my symptoms returning. But I was happy that I came back with a nice image and actually got to breathe for a short time. If you live in Wichita Falls and you haven’t checked out the Wichita Bluffs Nature Area I highly recommend you visit. The trail is a one mile one way walk on a paved path that leads on top of the bluffs and to an overlook of the Wichita River. I’ll try to be on schedule with my Pic of the Week next week, hopefully I’ll be back to my normal self by then. Enjoy!
Pic of the Week 3/1/18
I really enjoy hiking. I like getting outside and experiencing nature first hand. While I almost always hike with camera, photography is not the main goal. But during the hike I like to take note of locations and potential photographs in the area. Then I will return under better shooting conditions. Sometimes this means hiking for long distances, sometimes it means I might need traverse a high ridge or mountain, and sometimes it means I need to return to the location again and again to get it right. Spider Split was one of those times. I had searched for Spider Split a couple of times before. The first time I went all around Bat Cave Peak looking for the fissure and after a couple of hours I gave up and returned back to my vehicle. The second time I took a friend and fellow photographer (Chris Martin) out with me and tried to find it together, but with no luck. Thankfully however, we ran into some hikers (thanks Kim and Michelle) who were able to show us the entrance to split. I was amazed at how close I was the first time. It just proves that you need to know where you're going to find it. It can easily be overlooked and passed right by--believe me I've done it, twice! I am happy to report that this past weekend I had no problems finding the entrance. Third times a charm I guess...
© Ben Jacobi
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
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