Pic of the Week 4/14/23
“Charon Gardens Monochrome”
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Date taken: 3/13/23
Charon Gardens Monochrome © Ben Jacobi
In the still spring morning, the quiet was only interrupted by our huffs and puffs as we struggled our way up the steep incline. Crisscrossing our path to navigate around house-size boulders and switchbacking our way between the draws and small canyons, we eventually reached the ridgeline. It's hard to believe we were just now reaching the ridgeline; I suppose I underestimated how long it would take to hike up the mountain. The sky was clear and void of any color or clouds, which of course made photography difficult. We were determined, however, to make this hike a success. Mostly, we were on a scouting mission to confirm locations for future shots.
Now that we had made it up the ridgeline, Twin Rocks, Granite, Glass Mountain Peak, and the Sunset Peaks came into view. I have seen these mountains many times before, but this was my first time seeing them from this particular angle. My goal was to find a composition with Twin Rocks Mountain and Maple Canyon, highlighting the rugged terrain of the area. I found a few options, and I took some less-than-impressive images to document the compositions in the mediocre light. But after confirming the location, I decided I would finish the hike up to the summit.
It wasn’t particularly challenging since the hard part was over; in fact, it wasn’t more than a slight grade to the top of the mountain. Peak summits out at just under 1900’ elevation, but it does offer some great expansive views of the surrounding mountains. I’m still well below the summits of the larger mountains in the area, but getting higher up brings me closer to their level, which makes them appear larger and more dramatic. As I hiked down the summit, I became drawn to the light hitting the cliffs of Elk Mountain to my east. I’ve hiked around this area many times, but it was cool seeing it from this perspective. You really get a sense for how rough and unforgiving the terrain is at this elevation.
The late morning sun was just starting to filter into the valley down below, forming long, stretching shadows over the gentle hills. The steep and craggy cliffs of Elk Mountain were just catching hints of sunlight, creating an incredible contrast on the mountain. Although the light was great, the sky was not, and I decided right then and there that this image would be black and white. Instead of bringing out colors, I would concentrate on the texture and light in the scene. I pulled out my telephoto lens and fired off a few frames. I was quite satisfied with the composition, and I feel it best represents the wild terrain of the area. With all of the summit explored, we began to make our way back down and continue with our hike.
Pic of the Week: 3/31/23
Location: Lake Tawakoni State Park, TX
Date taken: 3/5/23
Continuing from last week’s Pic of the Week, I finished up my hike along the Spring Branch trail and returned back to camp. I was planning to meet up with Ashlee, but I had some hopes I would find some subjects to photograph along the way. I remembered one particular location from the previous day’s scouting hike and started to make my way along the Whitetail Trail just outside our campground. Very quickly, the trail envelops you in dense brush and trees; aside from a few game trails, the only clear paths are the established trails through the forest.
Not a few hundred yards from the trailhead, I was met with some grazing Whitetail deer. It always amazes me how they can move so quietly through a wooded area. They became aware of my presence, and after a brief stare down, they leaped away under the protection of the forest. All around me, birds were chirping and calling out in the crisp morning air. The sunlight was just filtering into the forest floor, and that meant my location could be getting light soon.
I reached a fork in the trail and remembered to take the left fork to my location. Although this area wasn’t large, it was no less striking. Along the banks of a small creek, brilliant green moss carpeted the grayish-black dirt. This created a stark contrast to the area and really helped break up the monotony one can find in forest photography. I upped my pace, and after a few moments of forest hiking, I reached my destination. Now, the sunlight was just starting to illuminate some of the moss with a wonderful neon-green glow.
I carefully navigated the slippery mud and made my way down to the creek. The sound of trickling water and leaves blowing in the wind pacified the morning. I sat there watching, waiting, and listening for a half hour before I pulled my camera out. While looking at another composition, I turned to look over my shoulder and spotted this one. I took a test shot and confirmed I could work this into an interesting photograph.
Tawakoni Forest © Ben Jacobi
I sat there for another hour, watching the light illuminate different parts of the moss and snapping off frames of the changing light. Eventually, it was time to get back on the trail and see if I could meet up with Ashlee. Sure enough, after a few hundred yards, I saw her contorting her body to photograph something miniscule on the tree next to her. We met up and continued the trail together before returning to camp. We had some breakfast, packed up our camp, and bid adieu to Lake Tawakoni State Park.
Pic of the Week 3/24/23
Location: Lake Tawakoni State Park, TX
Date taken: 3/5/23
© Ben Jacobi
An hour east of the metropolis of the Dallas/Ft Worth area is an unassuming little state park along the banks of Lake Tawakoni. Lake Tawakoni State Park isn’t very large, isn't particularly scenic, and does not have a lot of hiking trails. One thing it has going for it, however, is that it's isolated, quiet, and teeming with wildlife. Lake Tawakoni was not our first choice for this adventure, but I am so glad that I got to experience this unique Texas state park. It was also an excellent place for camping if you’re looking for a quick getaway.
Ashlee and I awoke Sunday morning (3/5/23) to begin our "divide and conquer" tactic. Ashlee would go on a trail we hiked the previous evening in search of wildlife, and I would go out on the shores of the lake to shoot some landscape compositions. Climbing out of the tent, I could see several stars shimmering in the pre-dawn sky. This meant I wouldn’t get great conditions for the sunrise, but I was going to try my best to make it work. I gathered my backpack, kissed Ashlee goodbye, and drove to my trailhead.
Upon exiting the car, I took in the scene around me. I was at the picnic/boat launch site, but there were no people out there. The lake was still and calm. All around me, the chirps, calls, and cheeps of a multitude of birds were filling the crisp morning air. Black-crested titmouse, American Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Chickadees, Robins, Blue Jays, there were so many birds concentrated in such a small area. I started my hike, and the path took me from an open meadow to the lake's edge. Seeing me crest the hill, a group of double breasted cormorants scurried across the lake to get airborne and away from my presence. A Great Blue Heron croaked in disgust, as I interrupted his morning hunt. He flew away to the other side of the lake, where no human was going to interfere with his breakfast.
As the trail followed the shoreline, it led me to several viewpoints overlooking the lake. On the eastern horizon, the glow of sunrise was lining up a gold bar of light above the placid waters. Although I would have preferred some clouds, it was still a nice sunrise. I began to search for a foreground. All around me, the vegetation was covered in a thick dew that glistened like tiny diamonds on the ground. I noticed a piece of driftwood off to my right, and after investigating, I found a nice composition. I was going to try to capture the tranquil atmosphere of the lake. Soft pastel colors, and moderate contrast were worked in to achieve this goal. It may not have been the most spectacular sunrise I’ve ever shot, but it certainly was the most peaceful.
Pic of the Week 3/10/23
"The Alignment of the Gods of Love and Sky"
Location: Burkburnett, TX
Date taken: 3/3/23
It has been over a month since my last blog post. I seem to always do this, I get in a creative rut, and I just don’t feel like sharing new or old images. Usually, it takes an interesting trip or a successful photoshoot to drag me out of my slump. I’m happy to report that I am now out of that rut and am back to capturing new images. In fact, Ashlee and I went on a camping trip last weekend to Lake Tawakoni State Park in north central Texas. I’ll be sharing those images over the next few weeks.
This was an unplanned and stora spur-of-the-moment shot. I was researching the position of the stars and the Milky Way over our area while preparing for our weekend trip. When I loaded the program, it defaulted to night time, and I saw the alignment of Venus and Jupiter would be low on the horizon. The cogs in my head began slowly turning as I unpacked all the details of the event. We would have clear skies, a full moon, and an interesting alignment of some planets. I opened Google Earth and began searching my database for locations that would work for this shoot.
I didn’t want to travel too far, as we were going to be traveling through the weekend. I needed somewhere close, but also interesting. My eyes scanned the purple pins scattered across the Google Earth map. I clicked the box "within 30 miles," and the results narrowed. Finally, I found a location that could make a really cool photograph. I checked the alignment and timing, and sure enough, it would work. I would be heading to an area I have named the Vaughn Road Windmill.
Just outside of Burkburnett, TX off of Vaughn Road, a windmill sits in an open field facing the west. Since discovering this location, I haven’t shot too much of the windmill. I did have an unsuccessful lightning photography shoot here last year, but this would be a much less chaotic shooting scenario. The path of the planets could be tracked down the second, and all I had to do was show up in time. The composition would be simple, but effective, and the image would require finer shooting and editing skills. My plan was to feature the planets in between the windmill and the photogenic tree on the other side. This tree has an excellent arc to the trunk that points the viewer into the gap between the tree and windmill. All you need to do is put something interesting there, and you have a shot.
I arrived on location after having dinner that evening, and although Ashlee decided to stay back home, I was glad she appreciated my going out to photograph something. The full moon was shining on the pavement, and as I pulled off the road to park, I caught the glint of moonlight reflecting off the windmill. I was not expecting this to be so well illuminated, and I was excited when I could make out the name on the windmill’s tail. High above the tree, the bright planets of Venus and Jupiter shone in the dark night sky. Now, it was just a waiting game.
I spent the next several minutes testing out different focal lengths, compositions, and settings to ensure the best possible final result. Night sky photography is not a sprint—it’s a marathon. But, it wasn’t too long before the planets started to show up in my composition. From time to time I would move up and down the field to double- (and triple) check the angle. Everything looked to be in order. Sometime after 8:00 p.m., I started shooting as the planets dipped lower in the horizon.
I knew that I needed to keep my shutter speed short, so I wouldn’t introduce blur in the stars, but I needed as much light as possible to get details in the image. I decided to crank my ISO to 4000 and shoot at 3" at f/9.5. This was the shortest, sharpest, and brightest exposure setting that worked for the image. The only downside was the significant amount of noise (digital equivalent of grain) that showed up in the photo. To combat this, I shot several frames of the same scene, and using a stacking technique in Photoshop, I layered up the images and averaged out their noise, giving me a cleaner final image. A little extra post-processing never hurt anyone, right?
With the image(s) successfully captured, I drove the few miles back home and uploaded the images to my computer. I was eager to begin working on the photos, but I would save it for after our weekend camping trip. Thankfully, this edit wasn’t nearly as involved as some of my usual photography, and the simple scene required a simple look. Venus is the goddess of love, and Jupiter is the god of the sky and thunder. I was very grateful that all the conditions worked out for this unique capture of the alignment of the gods of love and sky. I might have to revisit this windmill more and create a whole series of images. It is close by and a great subject to photograph.
Pic of the Week 2/3/23
“Snowfall on the Bluffs”
Location: Wichita Falls, TX
Date taken: 2/6/20
You see, winter weather events are few and far between down here. They typically involve school closures, work delays, and a ransacking of milk and bread at the grocery stores. I estimate that we will have two to three significant winter weather events per year. Now, my definition of significant winter weather is much different than most of the country—heck, maybe most of the world. For me, significant winter weather means snow that stays on the ground for more than a day, ice that stays on the ground for more than a day, and weather poor enough that we close down work and I go out to photograph it. Like I said, these occurrences are rare here. So when they come along, I always try to get out and record them. But since I was not able to find a good photographic opportunity before the snow and ice melted away, I had to go looking in my archives for a winter-themed shot. And so, I pulled up a photo I shot nearly three years ago on a trip to the Wichita Bluffs Nature Area with my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife. We spent the morning looking for icy snow shots in the warm light. While walking back to the car, this archway of trees covered with snow caught my eye, and I stopped and made a few shots.
For three years, this image remained unprocessed on my hard drive. Its funny how nostalgia can make us revisit those memorable events, and as I studied the image more and more, I thought I would go ahead and process the image. It turned out much better than I expected, and I felt the need to share it with y’all. But, I also wanted to share some of my past southern plains winter experiences with you as well. So there are a few other images on this blog entry, so check them out and let me know which one is your favorite. Until the next significant winter weather comes by, I’ll make due with these past wintry images.
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© Ben Jacobi
Recent PostsPic of the Week 4/14/23 "Charon Gardens Monochrome" Pic of the Week 3/31/23 "Tawakoni Forest" Pic of the Week 3/24/23 "Tawakoni Sunrise" Pic of the Week 3/10/23 "The Alignment of the Gods of Love and Sky" Pic of the Week 2/3/23 "Snowfall on the Bluffs" Pic of the Week 1/27/23 "Palo Duro Rim to Rim" Pic of the Week 1/20/23 "Atop the Throne of Erosion" Pic of the Week 1/13/22: Around the Bend Pic of the Week 1/6/23: Tumbling Down Cache Creek Pic of the Week 12/16/22 "Boggy Spring Branch Panorama"