Pic of the Week 4/19/18: Typical Texas Spring

April 19, 2018  •  1 Comment

Pic of the Week
"Typical Texas Spring"
Date taken: 4/18/15
Location: Palo Pinto, TX

 

This is the longest I have gone into the storm season without a single chase. And the opportunity for a chase this weekend has basically dissolved. We will see storms and there is the potential for some small hail, but nothing chase worthy. That said, I'll still probably set up somewhere Friday night and capture the storm coming in. Maybe I'll even photograph some lightning--really anything to satisfy my storm photography desire. Though I am expecting a light season for me anyways. My vehicle has been giving me problems lately and I'm not too confident in taking it out for long distances. So the chasing I will do will be me riding along with friends when they come through the area. The lack of severe weather in my life made me nostalgic and I looked over a few of my past chases. It is spring here and the bluebonnets are popping up along the roads and that got me thinking "Nothing better illustrates a Texas spring than thunderstorms and blue bonnets." As I thought about this, I remembered a photo I captured back in 2015.


 I had just made my way to an advancing line of storms outside of Palo Pinto, TX. As I arrived into town I could see the menacing core off to my southwest and some structure of the supercell. It wasn't that impressive of a storm and as it drew closer to the town it became more linear and merged with nearby cells. This took out any real photogenic property of the storm and I decided to get farther ahead of it. Maybe from a greater distance the storm would be more photogenic. I made my way down a farm market road that turned to the north and along the way I spotted this fantastic patch of blue bonnets and an old wood post fence. I quickly pulled over and grabbed my camera and snapped a few images of the approaching storm behind the wildflowers. 

Typical Texas SpringTypical Texas Spring ©Ben Jacobi


The storm was  approaching so fast that I didn't have time to get out and setup my tripod. It was literally pull over, grab camera, snap 5 frames, rain hits, runs back to car, drives north to find east option and out of the storm. The most time I spent there was just a few moments before the rain came in. It was still a nice scene with the vibrant blue of the flowers against the almost fluorescent greens and yellows of the grass. The cool tones of the foreboding clouds in the background transitioned well with the foreground and made for an almost analagous color harmony. I don't normally try for this kind of color in my images. Often, I'm looking for color opposites to introduce tension and interest in the scene, but something about the similar colors makes the elements of the image a whole. Like they are all part of the same. I also wanted the focus to be on the blue bonnets, so I crouched down in the grass and brought the flowers closer to my lens. The grass fades into the storm directly and there's practically no middle ground. Which keeps the eye focused on the storm or the blue bonnets. Maybe I'll get another chance to photograph some storms in front of blue bonnets later this month, although judging by the models I don't think that will happen anytime soon. Regardless, its still nice to reflect on past chasing adventures and the stories behind the images. 


Pic of the Week 4/6/18: Sunrise atop Haynes Ridge

April 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 4/6/18

“Sunrise atop Haynes Ridge”

Date taken: 3/25/18

Location: Caprock Canyons State Park, TX

 

Oh man, I’m not exactly sure how, but I forgot to post my Pic of the Week on Thursday. This week has just gotten away from me, I guess. Now, where were we? Ah yes, we had just watched the milky way rise above the canyon walls and were starting to get into the blue hour. Jaden and I had discussed the night before if there was going to be good sunrise potential we wanted to shoot the sunrise from Haynes Ridge. Since before planning this trip I have wanted to shoot sunrise on Haynes Ridge. Looking at the location from Google Earth and other various photos from the internet I knew I could make some interesting compositions with the wild geological formations. The question was would there be a good sunrise or not. What appeared to be thin clouds off to our east gave me some hope in catching a nice colorful sky, but had me concerned about the quality of light hitting the landscape below. With the right kind of light, the sandstone and quartermaster rocks would ignite in a beautiful warm glow. Like hot coals in the bottom of a campfire. But first we needed to reach the top of the ridge.

We gathered all our gear together and left the campsite about an hour before sunrise. I had suspected if we kept a faster pace we would reach the overlook just as the sun was starting to go up. As we trekked down the dirt trail I could smell the rain that accumulated on the plants near us. A scent that became even stronger when coupled with the pungent aroma of the sage and juniper trees. After about a half mile we reached a junction in the trail. The trail turned off to our right and there was what looked to be an old trail sign and a bench at the trailhead. The trail cut through thick patches of sage brush, juniper, and mesquite. The dirt trail quickly deteriorated and turned into a rocky ascent. Our eyes followed the trail up along the ridge and scanned our destination. It’s a little more than a 500ft ascent over .6miles of hiking. Not too bad, and not anything I’m not used to from hiking in the Wichita Mountains. We started to climb along the ridge taking the switchbacks and follow the trail markers, with each step higher our views got better and better. We could even see our campsite from up here.

Halfway up and we were level with the ridges and buttes off to our east. From the ground those buttes and mesas seemed to tower above. Now they were being dwarfed by our change in altitude and shrinking with every step we took. We followed a few more switchbacks and trail markers before finally reaching the top. We didn’t have time to stop and celebrate since the sun started to rise and the skies off to our east started to filter a yellow-gold light through the clouds. We reached our destination the Haynes Ridge overlook. The view was quite spectacular. We were staring down into the North Prong of the canyon taking in the landscape before us. The flats were speckled with tiny green brushes and trees that were interrupted by the protruding red mesas and buttes. Looking out farther to the north and east we could see the edge of the caprock escarpment on the horizon. Its funny how a higher perspective can enhance the grandeur of the landscape. I’ve looked over 1000ft drops in the Canyonlands National Park and I still had the same reaction when I looked down into the North Prong of Caprock Canyon. I drank in the scenery before setting down my bag and pulling out my breakfast. Cliffside dining always proves to be a unique experience.

I finished up my breakfast and got my camera gear out and ready for sunrise. We did have one slight problem, however. The sky didn’t look like it was going to cooperate for us. Thicker and wider spread clouds over took the eastern horizon. We could see the sun light reflecting off the top of the clouds, but no direct light on the landscape. There was a small gap in the cloud cover and it appeared the sun may just make its way there so we decided to wait it out for sunrise. We watched the cloud-filtered sunlight softly light up the landscape down below us. After I made a few exposures and finalized my composition I was ready for the light. The sun did make its way to the gap, but thin clouds came over at just the last minute. What we got was a diffused directional light on the landscape. The red rock absorbed the warm light and although it wasn’t a “fiery” glow, it was still great color. I scooted my camera closer to the ledge of the cliff I was sitting on. I couldn’t quite get it out of the composition with my wide-angle lens, so I decided to leave it in the photo. I have mixed feelings about incorporating it in the photo. It does make a little bit of a distraction, but the rock being in the shadows does keep it subdued. The edge of the rock also makes it appear the viewer is peering over the ledge and looking down into the canyon. This added sense of dimension really helps put you in that scene. I didn’t want to get any closer to the edge for fear of the rock collapsing and most importantly my camera taking a tumble down the 300ft cliff face.

 

Sunrise atop Haynes RidgeSunrise atop Haynes RidgeA pleasant sunrise from the Haynes Ridge overlook. © Ben Jacobi

We spent a good while watching the sunrise and shooting the directional light (that finally came) in the canyon. It was a successful venture and hike to Haynes Ridge, but now were going to follow the ridge and look for the entrance to a slot canyon above Fern Cave some 2.3 miles away. Sunrise on Haynes Ridge was just the start to a long, but rewarding hike that day. We got to visit and capture some pretty amazing things and I can’t wait for another trip back to Caprock Canyon. Next week we bring our trip to Caprock to a close with one of the more interesting images I captured during the trip. Hopefully after this week I’ll have new and exciting photos for y’all to see—who knows maybe even a storm chase! We will just have to wait and see.

 


Pic of the Week 3/29/18: Caprock Dreamscape

March 29, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 3/29/18
"Caprock Dreamscape"
Date taken: 3/25/18
Location: Caprock Canyons State Park, TX

It has been a while since I've gone on an overnight trip. The last one was my trip to Red Rock Canyon State Park in January ealier this year. So I was excited to plan another trip, maybe even to a new location. Unfortunately, all my plans kept falling through and I've had to delay the trip. Regardless, it was time to get back into nature and away from the stressors of life. This past weekend I was in Caprock Canyons State Park in west Texas. While I have visited this park on numerous occasions I have never spent the night there--at least at a campsite. But we were going to do it right this weekend. My good friend Jaden Corbin joined me on this photo adventure. Our goal was to explore some of the secret landscape of the area including looking for photogenic slot canyons through the park. We wanted to get an early start Sunday morning, as we had a lot of potential ground to cover, so we opted for an overnight camping trip. Apparently, a lot of people had the same idea and when I made the reservations the only campsites available was the North Prong Primitive area. At least we wouldn't have the hassle of a bunch of college kids pledging to their fraternity (like in the South Prong). 


We arrived to Caprock Canyons just before sunset and much to our dismay lower clouds came through and squandered our chance of sunset (or so we thought). We pulled into the parking area and gathered our gear for camp. As we hiked out I could see the clouds started to absorb the sunlight, and while it was quite beautiful, I didn't stop to take any photos. I was really trying to reach and set up our camp before dark. Along the way we walked through walls of sandstone and gypsum marveling at the unusual rock formations. We reached our camping area and found a nice plot with soft ground and protection from the wind. After getting camp set up we walked around looking for a composition for the milky way. I pulled out my cell phone and used the Stellarium mobile app to precisely line the milky way up with my composition. The time to shoot the milky way was 4:00am. I liked this composition it kinda reminded me of the photos of The Window in Big Bend National Park. Two large mesas framed a lone angular peak of quartermaster sandstone. If I could get the milky way to line up above the peak, I believed I would have a nice photograph. 


Satisfied with our milky way location, we returned to camp to eat some dinner and get some rest. Tomorrow was going to be a big day. There was a slight chance for rain overnight, but I wasn't too concerned about it. If there was significant rain, however, we wouldn't be able to explore any of the slot canyons the next day. Around 11:30pm I was awoken by the sound of rain hitting the rain fly on our tent. I was a little disappointed with the rain as I was hoping to photograph the milky way tonight. But not too long after the rain subsided and the wind picked up. Jaden (who was awake all this time) stepped out of the tent and called out in the darkness "I think I'm seeing a rainbow." I sluggishly got out of the tent and looked off to our east and sure enough there was a faint "moonbow". That's right, a moon rainbow. I scrambled to get my camera, tripod, and lens set up, but by the time I made my first photograph most of the moonbow had faded. I still captured a few shots, but nothing more than documentation photographs. 


We played around in the moonlight shooting off a few images before retreating back in the tent as another round of showers came by. Through the night I was woken up by rain, wildlife, and temperature changes. But eventually I fell asleep and stayed asleep. Sometime near 4:00am I woke up needing to use the restroom, I stepped outside and I could see a lot of stars to our south, north, and west. I woke Jaden up from his sleep and we gathered our cameras and made the short walk to our milky way location. Much of the milky way could not be seen due to the intermitent cloud cover. The thick clouds apperead to be black voids moving across the starry night sky. 


We would spend the next few hours shooting and timelapsing the milky way as it rose above the canyon walls. I made this final exposure just before the start of blue hour. Despite the increasing ambient light, the milky way still showed up nicely on our cameras and the stronger light helped bring out details in the foreground. When the whole milky way was clear from cloud cover I made my shot and reflected on past adventures here in CCSP. Every time I come out here I am always amazed at the night skies this place has to offer. Even with the popularity in wind farms growing CCSP stil has some of the darkest skies in the area and I hope it continues to stay this way. Our adventure in Caprock Canyons State Park continues next week when we hike up Haynes Ridge for an early morning sunrise shoot. 

Caprock DreamscapeCaprock DreamscapeThe milky way shines through a dark night sky in Caprock Canyons State Park. © Ben Jacobi


Pic of the Week 3/15/18: LP Supercell Crowell, TX

March 15, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

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, TXLP Supercell Crowell, TX © Ben Jacobi


Pic of the Week 3/9/18: Sunset on the Bluffs

March 09, 2018  •  1 Comment

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!

 

-Ben

 

Sunset on the BluffsSunset on the BluffsTranquil sunset overlooking the bluffs at the Wichita Bluff Nature Area © Ben Jacobi

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