Pic of the Week 8/5/22 "Fixer-Upper"

August 05, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 8/5/22

“Fixer-Upper”

Location: Grandfield, OK

Date taken: 7/18/22

 

I guess you could say I have a fascination with old relics and the night sky. In fact, if you browse through my NIGHT gallery you’ll find quite a few images with abandoned houses, dilapidated buildings, and downtrodden churches. There is something I find compelling about photographing the night sky above a remnant of the past. There’s a dichotomy in which the structures and buildings are decaying and crumbling, but under the same sky that was there all those years ago. During the pinnacle of their existence, the same milky way galaxy hovered over their roofs providing the same wonder I feel today. I suppose there’s a comfort in that sentiment.

Several of my nighttime subjects have been preyed on by old age and weathering. They no longer stand erect and collapsed into a disheveled piles of debris and ruins. The most recent of these (and one of my personal favorites) “Slamma Rd Barn” has unfortunately met its demise. 100 years of history swept away in the gust of a thunderstorm. This helps me realize the urgency in which to document these old historic places. On a drive through Grandfield, OK I noticed one of my subjects on the verge of complete ruin and I knew I needed to capture it before the next storm season rolls in.

This old homestead has been on my radar for a few years now, but I just now got around to photographing it. I haven’t done too much astro-landscape photography this year and I knew I wanted this house in front of the milky way. Better late than never! Ashlee and I drove the short distance out to the location and arrived just in time to catch the sun setting in the western horizon. Conditions looked promising as only a few wispy clouds hanging around the south. When we pulled up, I noticed a small cable fence blocking off the entrance to the homestead. A little disappointed, but respectful of the owner’s property, I found a composition behind the fence line that framed the little home around a small planting of trees. The milky way would be rising in less than an hour, so I needed to lock in my composition soon.

The home sits on the south side of US highway 70 just southeast of the Grandfield municipal airport. This would be in our favor as the light from the airport's tower would illuminate the house during our long exposures. Since it is so proximal to the town, the area does suffer from light pollution and two radio towers poke above the house. Nothing a little Photoshop can’t take care of, however. The house itself is a modest prairie home with what appears to be gothic or tudor influences with windows underneath pitched roofs with overhanging eaves. At one time it looked like a handsome homestead, but now the winds have pushed it beyond its structural limits and it has started caving in on itself. The west wall is leaning inward bulging out the north and east sides. The whole thing is warped and twisted in a way that reminds me of Dr. Seuss illustrations. The house does have a lot of character, however, and it makes an excellent subject for nighttime images.

When the sky was dark enough, we began taking images of the milky way above the old homestead. It was a peaceful time that allowed me to imagine what this house was like in its prime. In the daytime, this looks like a rough and ugly structure, but nighttime gives these old ruins a new life as they open windows into the past. What would it have been like living here? No doubt you had to have real grit and fortitude to live in this environment. With little trees the winds would be relentless, the summers brutal, and the winters inhospitable. But someone made it their home and I bet they sat out watching the stars every night staring at the same milky way I was seeing through my camera’s viewfinder.

 

Fixer-UpperFixer-Upper

© Ben Jacobi


Pic of the Week 7/15/22 "Whiteface Mountain #1"

July 14, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 7/15/22

“Whiteface Mountain #1”

Location: Wilmington, NY

Date taken: 7/14/14

 

Whiteface Mountain #1Whiteface Mountain #1 © Ben Jacobi

 

Summer has fully arrived here in North Texas. High temperatures have been reaching above 100 degrees for the past few weeks and it looks like there is little relief in sight. In fact, next week looks to be the hottest of the whole year with highs exceeding 110 F! Times like these I try to ignore the blistering heat and reminisce on much cooler weather and more interesting landscapes. It was about this time eight years ago I was sitting atop Little Whiteface Mountain staring at Whiteface Mountain summit. Patches of wildflowers were swaying in the cool mountain breeze. How cool was it you ask? The high temperature that day was on 77 F at the base—it was cooler on the summit. For comparison here’s the LOW temperature for Wichita Falls that same day, 81F. The high was closer to 100 degrees. So, it was a fantastic reprieve from the heat.

In the summer of 2014, our family was having a reunion in upstate New York. I have visited New York several times before, but this time we rented a lodge in the quaint community of Elizabethtown. We spend days spending time with family, playing games in the backyard, and watching sunsets on the back porch. On our final day in New York, we drove to Whiteface Mountain to take the gondola ride up to Little Whiteface. The gondola starts at an elevation around 1250ft and ascends to 3678ft at the top of Little Whiteface. On the car ride up we could start to make out the peaks of the nearby Sentinel range of the Adirondack mountains. Way off in the western horizon we could start to see the High Peaks Wilderness reveal itself amongst the trees.   

We reached the top of Little Whiteface and immediately before us stood the intimidating summit of Whiteface Mountain. It was another 1200ft in elevation to the summit. The large pyramid-shaped peak loomed over the flat open knob we were on. High above on the summit, I could just make out the stone tower of the Summit Weather Observatory shining in the afternoon sunlight. Later that day we would drive to the summit of Whiteface and see the tower in a much closer view. But for now, I began walking down a path in hopes of finding a nice image. I didn’t have to go very far before I found something that interested me.

Heaps of wildflowers peppered the grassy hillsides. Each one unique in color and shape like an individual spice in a recipe that makes up the ecosystem. Bees and butterflies flitted about the veritable smorgasbord of flowering plant life, almost overwhelmed by the selection of choice flora of the area. I found a composition that featured many of these different wildflowers and a clear view of Whiteface’s peak. I used the ski trails as a natural leading line up to the summit of the mountain. There were excellent sky conditions with patches of light dancing on the mountain peaks. We didn’t stay too long on Little Whiteface, and this was the only good capture I made from this view. But it is still one of my favorite captures from this trip and I would sure love to be there right now. At the time of writing the blog post the ambient temperature is 72F on Little Whiteface.

 


Pic of the Week 7/8/22 "Coreopsis Chorus"

July 08, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 7/8/22

“Coreopsis Chorus”

Location: Ray Roberts Lake, TX

Date taken: 6/5/22

 

Coreopsis ChorusCoreopsis ChorusA field of Coreopsis wildflowers in the glow of dawn on Ray Roberts Lake. © Ben Jacobi

 

It is hard to believe this time has already arrived. To quote my wonderful wife, “It feels like a lifetime and just yesterday”. It has been one year (and now month) since we were married and to celebrate, I planned us a trip to Denton, TX. Though our anniversary would not focus too much on photography, we still had an amazing time. We walked in the square, visited bookstores, restaurants, arcades, theaters, spas, and nature preserves. It was jam-packed with adventure, but very little photography. For accommodations, we rented out an Airbnb ranch house on Windmill Hill near Ray Roberts Lake in Sanger. Just a short drive to downtown Denton, but enough out of the way we could still see the stars. Our humble ranch home was just a stone’s throw away form Ray Roberts Lake. We remained hopeful we would be able to photograph the lake at sunrise or sunset. However, the first night we were there, it was pouring rain. So no sunset shoot. We remained hopeful the weather would clear by the next morning and maybe we could try to catch sunrise?

The next morning, we awoke from our Airbnb just twenty minutes before sunrise. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much so I didn’t plan accordingly, and our peaceful morning quickly turned to a hurried dash to the lake to capture the good light. One of the local farm dogs, Willie, joined us for the sunrise sprint. Despite the proximity, we missed the best light and only had time to plop down our tripods in front of some trees near the lake shore. But the consolation prize was watching Willie and Ashlee swim around in the muddy lake water. We missed the sunrise, but we were eager to explore more of the area. Perhaps we could try the sunrise shoot tomorrow morning.

We trapsed around the muddy embankment searching out potential photographs with Willie attached to our heels. A small trail led us to an open meadow between the trees. Soon our ears were vibrating from the buzzing of bees and flies darting back and forth in the meadow. Hundreds of wildflowers were scattered all through the meadow. Horsemint, primrose, fleabane, winecup, thistle, and coreopsis flowers were blanketing the ground transforming the meadow into a multi-colored sea of wildflowers. Willie began to leap and frolic through the blooms. Now that’s more like it! I began scoping out my sunrise location while Ashlee focused her attention on the insects and flora of the area. My searching brought me to the edge of a patch of bright yellow coreopsis wildflowers. My eye was drawn into the scene by the natural leading lines created by the rows of flowers. I spent several minutes refining my composition and imagining the sunrise coming up over the landscape. Finally, I settled on what I thought would be the composition to best showcase the wildflower field, lake, and sunrise. Willie looked at me with a tail-wag confirming my thoughts. Looks like I found my shot.

Now, it was time to get back and enjoy our busy day of anniversary activities. We had a nice breakfast, then went to the Denton square to check out the bookstore and a local camera store. From there we drove to our couples massage at Ashlee’s favorite spa and grabbed some lunch. The final event of the night was a stop to the Alamo Drafthouse for dinner and a movie. After coming back from town (and thoroughly exhausted) we set our alarm, this time for an hour before sunrise, and drifted off to sleep. On our final morning, we awoke to find a wonderful layer of high clouds hovering over the eastern horizon, this could prove to be a great sunrise! With enough time to spare, we found our sunrise compositions we scouted before, and patiently waited for the light to kick off. As the early morning sun climbed higher and higher to the horizon the high cirrus clouds began to reflect the brilliant orange color. This reflected light back down to the coreopsis flowers in my composition causing them to glow. They almost seemed to resonate in the early morning light. It was like the flowers were singing all at once in jovial chorus to greet the morning. I excitedly snapped my camera’s shutter documenting the scene.

This image was somewhat of a technical challenge in both the shooting method and post processing. Since I was so close to the flowers in the foreground, I needed to focus stack. I would try to capture one image focused for the flowers in the foreground and then capture another image for the focus on the background. This would ensure I had a large depth of field throughout the image. But this procedure only works when the flowers are stationary. When the wind is blowing—even just a light breeze—the shot becomes incredibly difficult to achieve. Thankfully, I was able to capture the necessary exposures during a brief lull in the wind. It wasn’t long before the sun peeked over the horizon and all the meadow was washed in golden sunlight. Satisfied with my image, I packed up my camera bag and enjoyed the morning on the lake. While I didn’t pull my camera out too much on this trip, I did make sure to capitalize on the opportunities. What a fantastic way to celebrate our anniversary!

 


Pic of the Week 7/1/22 "Broken Earth"

July 01, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 7/1/22

“Broken Earth”

Location: Jefferson County, OK

Date taken: 6/1/22

 

Broken EarthBroken EarthWater and rain errode the soft dirt in this drainage. Vegetation takes root and holds the soll together creating tiny islands of brush and grass in the red dirt.

© Ben Jacobi

 

Things have been bit busy lately and I haven’t finished editing images in a timely manner, but I will have some new ones to share in the coming weeks. For this weeks Pic of the Week, we must go back to last month where Ashlee and I took a gamble, but you can ask yourself if it paid off or not. Once again, we found ourselves sitting around the apartment eager to go out and photograph something. The weather was decent, and clouds looked to be quite favorable for a nice sunset. Storms were predicted to develop into the early evening and overnight, but that only motivated us even more. I was hoping we would take the short drive to a location I have named “Broken Earth” just across the river in southern Oklahoma. It didn’t take much coaxing to Ashlee on board and soon we were loading up and driving to the location.

Its important to note that I have never been to this area before and I didn’t really know what to expect along the way. We crossed the Red River and into Oklahoma and drove east on highway 70. This drive is always pleasant. There are several small hills and gently rolling terrain along this drive. Occasionally, you can catch glimpses of the Red River in between the mesquite and wild plum brush on the tops of the hills. Our route took us past a familiar spot where a bend in the river meets up with Highway 70. I shot a milky way image here a few years back after the river had flooded. Not long after passing the landmark we got off the highway and started scooting along the backroads. Time to put the vehicle in four-wheel drive.

 Driving along the rough dirt and gravel roads of rural Oklahoma we pass by several potential astrophotography subjects including things like run down barns, old windmills, scenic high points, and stock tanks. Eventually, we reach our destination. The “Broken Earth” is larger than I expected and while it looked great on satellite, its hard to convey the depth in the scene and I turn my attention the mesa just to our north. This would serve as my background and center of attention in my composition. The clouds had started to roll in by now and it looked like our sunset chances were squandered. There were small hints of color hitting the very top of the clouds, but it was looking like we busted.

While gathering up our gear, I spotted one more composition and decided to give it a go. I put on my ultra-wide Tamron 15-30mm lens and lowered the tripod to near ground level squeezing the camera under a barbed wire fence. This brought a tuft of dirt and grass in the lower left balancing out the mesa in the top right. I also took advantage of the great leading lines left over from intermittent stream that runs after a good rain. This helps draw the eyes into the scene and back to the center of attention. When processing the photo, I used a triadic color harmony of green, blue, and red to help bring about cohesion and depth to the photo. So even though our gamble didn’t pay off for a sunset, we still got to explore a new area and I got a very pleasing shot from the experience.

 


Pic of the Week 6/10/22 "Cumulonimbus Theater"

June 10, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 6/10/22

“Cumulonimbus Theater”

Location: Cashion Community, TX

Date taken: 5/13/22

 

 

Cumulonimbus TheaterCumulonimbus TheaterAn isolated mesquite tree stands below a towering cumulonimbus cloud catching the last light of day.

Sometimes, its nice to just stop and smell the roses…er…watch the grass grow? No, that’s not right. Its better to stop and watch a riveting performance in the heavens. A veritable meteorological theater show. The stage for this show? How about the vast southern plains sky? The cast? How about an isolated slow moving, low-precipitation supercell and a lone mesquite tree? Lighting? Yup, we got that covered too. Everything is in place, now you just need an audience. In a way, you could say the severe thunderstorm warning was the flyer to the show, and once it entered our county that was our ticket to the performance. With high hopes, we gathered our gear and waited to intercept the storm. Thankfully, there were a few to check out. We opted for the northern most storm as it made its way into Wichita County. Another photogenic southern cell was developing just west of town, and we could see it from our location. The skinny updraft was taking on a “barber shop” pole profile with several layers of helical striations. Our storm started inching closer and closer to our location. We had positioned ourselves in such a way that we had a front row seat on all the action. The show was about to begin.

The opening act started with a nice display of anticrepuscular rays emanating from the east. These gold beams of light dance delicately along the horizon. Act II started with a rumbling of thunder resonating through the open farmland. Bolts of plasma struck down from an elevated bowl-shaped base. Side light from the late afternoon sun shaped and sculpted the surging updraft as it towered into the troposphere. Not a bad way to start. While it was beautiful, I couldn’t help myself searching out more interesting subjects/characters. A quick scan of the surrounding area and I was able to locate a lone mesquite tree about 100 yards down the road.

Now things were starting to come together. I was introduced to a new character of the play, the lone mesquite tree, and I was excited to see how it would perform off the other cast members. It started out a little slow, but tension was building and as the sun sank lower in the horizon the drama started to crescendo. A dance began between the mesquite tree and the advancing supercell with the tree swaying in the wind. The storm churned, swirled, eddied, and undulated during its performance. The powerful chaotic motion was offset by the gentle trembling of the mesquite.

Finally, the piece de resistance appeared when the last gleam of light pierced the open sky and washed the updraft in a spectacular golden glow. It was such a large scene and such a short moment, that I was forced to record the photo with a handheld four image vertical panorama. Not long after I made my capture, rain began to fall and opening the final act of the performance. The storm had made its way more southward than east, and we were soon slammed with a sheet of precipitation. While I did appreciate the strong finish in the performance, I should have been more mindful of the parking situation. I sprinted on the wet asphalt back to my vehicle some 100 yards away.  Clutching my camera and tripod I ran through the rain and wind and finally arrived to the shelter of my vehicle. Ashlee was already there waiting on me. I sat in the car panting drenched in rain while the storm raged on outside. With a thunderous (see what I did there) applause, we said goodbye to the storm and made our way out of the rain. Five out of five stars. Would definitely go again!

 

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