Pic of the Week 3/10/23 "The Alignment of the Gods of Love and Sky"
Pic of the Week 3/10/23
"The Alignment of the Gods of Love and Sky"
Location: Burkburnett, TX
Date taken: 3/3/23
Alignment of the Gods of Love and SkyThe planets Venus and Jupiter align in unison over a rural country scene. © Ben Jacobi
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"
Pic of the Week 2/3/23
“Snowfall on the Bluffs”
Location: Wichita Falls, TX
Date taken: 2/6/20
Snowfall on the BluffsThe Wichita Bluffs Nature Area was transformed by a significant winter storm that blew in. © Ben Jacobi
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.
Hoodoo DreamscapeDo Hoodoos even dream?
Wintry ChasmA dusting of snow settled on the exposed rocks and cliff faces of this small canyon in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
Pic of the Week 1/27/23 "Palo Duro Rim to Rim"
Pic of the Week 1/27/23
"Palo Duro Rim to Rim"
Location: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX
Date taken: 3/17/19
This week’s Pic of the Week entry will be short and sweet. Recently, a few of my hiking friends embarked on a trek through Palo Duro Canyon is search for a trail that would take them from one rim of the canyon to the other. This was achieved through already established trails, which is unusual for this group of hikers, and it totaled just over 9 miles. This is a one-way trail, so if you attempt it yourself, be sure to have another vehicle at the finish to drive you back. They started from the CCC overlook and followed the CCC trail down to the canyon floor. From there, they hopped on the Kiowa Trail, following the river, before turning onto the Comanche Trail and then the Rock Garden Trail. The final hike led them to the top of Fortress Cliff and the other rim of the canyon. I have to say, their new route intrigued me, and as I researched, I became nostalgic of my past Palo Duro Canyon adventures. So, I decided to look through my archives, and there I found an image of the CCC overlook looking on to Fortress Cliff. In this photo, you can see almost the entire Rim to Rim hike they completed. There are also some hikers near the cliff edge in this photo to give it some scale. Palo Duro Canyon really is a wonderful place for exploring and getting outside, and with the park closing more than half of it, we no longer have access to some of our more interesting locations. You can find more info at www.openpaloduro.com. So I guess the only thing left to do now is schedule a Palo Duro trip and hike the Rim to Rim trail myself!
© Ben Jacobi
Pic of the Week 1/20/23 "Atop the Throne of Erosion"
Pic of the Week 1/20/23
"Atop the Throne of Erosion"
Location: Electra, TX
Date taken: 1/15/23
Atop the Throne of ErosionThis lone hoodoo is still standing in the face of erosion's crumbling forces. © Ben Jacobi
There is just something very intriguing to me about a balance rock. The way it delicately suspends itself perfectly to just avoid toppling down is just fascinating. You could say I am drawn to them, though a lot of the time they don’t present themselves as the best photographic subjects. But when it all works out, there can be some interesting images made from these curious subjects. After all, how did they end up there in the first place? Typically, this occurs when one layer of rock erodes before another. Perhaps one of the most impressive examples would be the infamous Lighthouse at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
These rock formations don’t have to be giant monoliths to be interesting, although that doesn’t hurt. This image shows that the hoodoos featured are only about four to five feet tall, and yet, they still hang just as precariously as the hundred foot balance rocks of the southwest. Even on this smaller scale, they hold my attention. It should come as no surprise then that I try to scout and find the subjects and photograph them in an interesting way.
I've known about this location for a few years, but I've never been able to visit.I knew it was only going to work during a winter sunrise, as the light would only hit the hoodoos when the sun was at a certain angle. On a pleasant Sunday morning, I headed out south of Electra, TX, to find and photograph the subject. The drive was only thirty minutes away, but I needed to arrive early to find a composition. One thing about this trip, Ashlee did not join me, and neither did her 200-500mm telephoto lens. Hopefully, I wouldn’t need it for my shot.
I got out of the 4Runner and walked towards the barbed wire fence, catching glimpses of the scene between the mesquite and scrub bush.The sun was just starting to break the horizon, and the soft clouds above were catching some wonderful orangish-pink color. This sent reflected light down onto my scene, casting everything in a warm, pleasant glow. As my eyes scanned the scene, I noticed a wonderful composition, but I was afraid my 200mm lens wasn’t going to be long enough for the shot.
I still got my camera out and lined up my composition, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the reach I needed for the image. Since I can’t get closer to the subject physically and I can’t bring the subject closer to me, I decided this would have to be solved in the editing stage of the image creation. Regardless, I was grateful the location had been confirmed and that I had an interesting subject in the scene. Though the image would have to be cropped later, I could still see the "flow" of the composition. "Flow" is a term I use to describe how easily the eye moves throughout the image.
With my composition locked in, I was now just waiting for the best light. Without those narrow beams of light hitting the hoodoos, the whole image becomes a big mess. The light hits in a way that shows all the separate layers of the rock and highlights the unique colors of the formations. This one smaller hoodoo was perched just at the edge of the colorful "skirt" of the Permian base below. It reminds me of extravagant royal garb being draped along the floor. All around the lone hoodoo are reminders of fallen comrades, but for now, this hoodoo remains atop the Throne of Erosion. Soon it will likely suffer the same fate as water and wind eat away at the base.
Pic of the Week 1/13/22: Around the Bend
Pic of the Week 1/13/23
"Around the Bend"
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Date taken: 12/31/22
Around the BendCache creek bends and twists its way around the Narrows
© Ben Jacobi
Continuing from our previous blog post, we are still on our New Year's Eve adventure in the Wichita Mountains. After shooting that calming cascade near the Narrows trailhead, I started making my way deeper in the canyon until I came to the improvised creek crossing that continues the trail. Here, a small stream of water was rushing down small boulders and rocks. I wasn’t interested in hiking in wet socks, so I tried to boulder-hop my way to the running water. Although the stream was nice, I couldn’t find a good way to photograph it—that is, until I turned around.
Looking over my shoulder, I caught a shimmering reflection in my peripheral vision. This rock had been sitting in the creek for so long that the constant assault of water had polished the rock to a mirror-like finish. This immediately captured my attention, and I started to look for ways to incorporate it into a shot. At the end of the fall, a natural eddy formed, creating a donut-shaped pattern in the water—another element I would try to add into my frame.
With some careful coaxing and scooting on my rear, I pressed myself against a rather pointy and uncomfortable boulder in the creek. Now, I could start to see my composition take shape. The creek would flow in from the right side and help guide the eye to the scattered rocks and then to the reflection of the tall cliffs. I had found my composition, but I did not have the correct lens for this shot. My trusty 24-70mm f/2.8 lens just wasn’t wide enough to record the extent of the scene. I could use my ultra-wide-angle lens, but since I was photographing water, I wanted to make use of my circular polarizer. Unfortunately, I cannot adapt filters to my ultra-wide angle.
Thankfully, I thought of another idea that would work. I would simply shoot a panorama to capture the scene. This image was made up of four images that were stitched together to form the final view. My camera was pointed nearly 90 degrees downward to capture the first shot. After each image, I would tilt the camera up until I reached the sky. Shooting panoramas is always a risk, as you don’t know exactly how the final image composition will look after everything is combined. Basically, you "roll the dice" and hope your camera is level, the image is in focus, and you don’t screw up your settings.
I am very happy to say that this panorama came out excellent! I love how much movement there is in this photo. Starting from the bottom right with the water streaming in, it takes you directly to that polished rock that caught my attention in the first place. Then the water stretches into the middle ground, where rocks and boulders continue the line and bring the eye out to the reflection. There is also a great "lean in" effect with the rocks in the lower left, which also help point the eyes to the middle ground. The eyes are then met by the cliffs, which form a wall, which moves the eye down the creek and around the bend to the next cliff. Finally, the eye moves to the brightest part of the scene—that patch of blue sky and thin white clouds reaching over the cliffs.
After capturing this image, we continued on the trail and to the Narrows overlook. I would love to say that we captured a spectacular sunset from the overlook, but we were late and missed the sunlight in the canyon by about 40 minutes. Although I didn't get the shot I anticipated, I was still quite happy with the images I did capture. The day was not a total loss; as we were leaving the Boulder Picnic Area, I spotted another composition just outside the gate, and I photographed a pleasant scene of the mountains overlooking the Fish Lakes. All in all, it was a fantastic, much-needed trip, and the perfect way to bring on 2023.
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© Ben Jacobi
Recent PostsPic 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" Pic of the Week 12/9/22 "Misty McGee Morning" Pic of the Week 12/2/22 "McGee Creek Reservoir" Pic of the Week 11/18/22 "Lone Leaf"
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