Pic of the Week 3/18/22
Date taken: 5/7/14
Location: Henrietta, TX
Were just a few days away from the vernal equinox and the generally agreed upon first day of spring. Although, as of lately the cold temperatures and days of winter precipitation would disagree. But for the most part we are heading towards springtime and that means one thing—thunderstorms! Yes, its that time of year again where we gather our friends and head out on the open road in search of that “Majestic Noise”. Last year, I only saw a handful of storms and barely even photographed any of them. That was mostly due to the wedding. In fact, there was the most spectacular storm on the day of our wedding. When Ashlee and I stepped outside we were chomping at the bit wanting to go storm chasing, but we knew we had more important things to do, like the cut the wedding cake. I am very much looking forward to this year’s storm season, but I am remaining cautiously optimistic for the opportunities that may come our way.
With gas prices going the way they are, I think we will be chasing even less than in previous years. At the very least, we will be much more selective about our targets. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center is predicting a La Nina pattern that will transition to an enso neutral by the end of summer. As far as storms go that usually means we will see drier and warmer conditions (think drought) throughout much of the spring/summer. To that end, I have decided to reminisce on one of past storm chases to help inspire me for the upcoming season. Here’s hoping there’s a little bit of luck this year.
For this image, we will need to return to a muggy May afternoon in 2014. I was standing at the glass door at my place of work watching distant towers billow in the late afternoon sun. Severe weather was expected and all modes of sever weather would be possible including wind, rain, hail, and tornadoes. I watched the towers build and form into cumulonimbus clouds bringing down hazy veils of rain through the updraft bases. Lightning would burst from the upper levels and strike the ground far away from its origin. It wasn’t too long before I heard those words every storm chaser wants to hear, “You can go ahead and leave early.”
I didn’t take much for me to get my gear packed up and meet up with my friends Billy and Tyler. After they arrived, we headed off towards our target, which thankfully was close by over Lake Arrowhead. Storms had breached the cap and were erupting along the dryline, as they propagated northeast, they would move into a more unstable environment with wind fields conducive to tornado development. We intercepted the storm just east of Scotland, TX. Low hanging tendrils began to dance around the base of a bowl-shaped wall cloud. This storm looked like it was about to go tornadic.
The blaring alarm from the National Weather Service weather radio went off just above Tyler’s head giving both of a jump scare. The NWS had issued a tornado warning with radar indicated rotation being the main reason. We tried to parallel the storm as it moved through Henrietta. It was at this time we saw the infamous “red shoe” Dominator of Reed Timmer and his team parked along the side of the highway access road. Shortly, the core of the storm engulfed them and 3” hail stones fell all around them. We just barely escaped the core. We continued driving north to get in better position. Now, the sun was getting lower and we lost contrast on the storm. The only way to remedy this is to get in the shadow of the supercell. As we approached the storm, we could start to make out the telltale signs of a healthy supercell. A large inflow band wrapped around the barrel shaped mesocyclone. Dry air was cutting into the backside of the updraft base forming a clear slot. This would be the best position to watch the storm.
We pulled over off some county road near Hwy 79 and watched as the updraft churned over the pastureland. A gusty wind blew in from the southeast feeding warm unstable air into the supercell. The grasses swayed in the wind and the low booming of thunder rumbled through the ground. We stood in awe watching the stunning structure and admiring the patterns and colors of the storm. Bolts of white-hot lightning crashed down around us in a dizzying, strobe-like sequence. We didn’t have much time as the lighting was getting to close, but I did manage to stay long enough to capture this handheld image of the cycling storm. Our chase didn’t stop here, we would continue to follow the storm as it crossed the Red River into Oklahoma. We chased along side it until the last light of day not seeing any tornadoes, but still plenty happy with our successful chase day.
© Ben Jacobi
Pic of the Week 3/11/22
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Date taken: 3/5/22
It has been quite some time since I last changed things up. In fact, I’ve been doing the same old thing for the last five years. As the old adage goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But who wants to stay stagnant? Who wants to just barely unlock their potential? Some of you might be thinking I’m talking about life, but much like everything thing else in my life, I am talking about my photography. More specifically, I’m talking about my post processing and editing workflow.
Now, I won’t bore you with the changes that I have made and the new techniques I’ve adopted, but I will tell you that I am very excited for this change. So my style might be wobbly as I work this new workflow. So now that I have a new system, I’m going to need some new photographs to accompany that. Last weekend Ashlee and I made a drive to the Wichita Mountains. It was warm and windy and an unusual 80F. Ashlee was excited at the hopes of seeing wildlife, but I was disappointed in the boring blue skies.
We piddled around the refuge with no real direction or reason. One thing that was great was the visitor center is finally open again and we stopped in and said hi Ranger Randy, something we haven’t been able to do for nearly a year now. As we drove around the refuge searching for subjects to photograph, we came across an area that had recently been burned. Throughout the year the refuge does prescribed burns in certain areas of the refuge. These help restore native plants and habitat and mimic the naturally occurring wildfires that occur.
This change in the landscape made an otherwise ordinary scene much more interesting. We parked at the Burford Lake parking area and Ashlee went looking for wildlife while I scoured the burn scar for interesting compositions. I finally settled on one that featured a uniquely shaped rock surrounded by by black dirt and small boulders. In the distance the prominent Mt Marcy rose above the prairie. I found my shot and eagerly waited for sunset. The sun would be going down just off to my left bringing strong side light on the scene. Since there were no clouds to be scene, I tried to put as much emphasis on the foreground. The black dirt contrasted nicely with the harsh sunlight over the mountains and just a hint of it on the foreground. Overall, I am quite happy with this result and I can the potential that this new processing method can bring to my work.
Pic of the Week 3/4/22
“Beaver Lodge Sunset/Sunrise”
Location: Bonham State Park, TX
Date taken: 2/20/22
Realtors know and beavers both know it! When it comes to building a home its location, location, location! And what better place to set up and raise some beaver pups than a beautiful lakeside lodge. While out exploring the trails at Bonham state park, Ashlee and I found this beaver lodge near the shore. We had some hopes we would see Mr. and Mrs. Beaver hanging around, but they never really showed up for us. We did some more exploring, but I couldn’t find anything that would work for sunset. So, I decided to return to the beaver lodge and see if I could squeeze out a shot. Although the sky was empty, several rounds of black vultures intersected my composition and added a little bit for detail to an otherwise boring sky. I was able to find a composition that interested me. The leaflitter and grass floating on the surface of the lake created a triangular leading line out to the lodge. The backlight glow on the leaflitter really helped separate it from the darker water adding more depth to the scene. I waited until the sun had set below the horizon and the last gleam of light stretched out over the sky. Given the circumstances, I think this shot came out quite nice. But maybe I would get better conditions tomorrow morning for sunrise?
The next morning, we woke up early with the promise of some high clouds off to our west. High clouds generally produce more colorful sunrises/sunsets. This wispy cirrus clouds danced overhead in the soft twilight of morning. We gathered our gear and made our way back down to the beaver’s lodge. This time we found Mr. and Mrs. Beaver enjoying a morning swim around the lake. They spotted us pretty quickly and one of them slapped their tail on the water to warn the others of the human “threat”. We apologized for our encroachment and assured them we would leave as soon as the light got too harsh. I found again my composition and framed up my shot earnestly waiting for the first color of sunrise to arrive. A layer of cloud was blocking the sun near the horizon, but it did allow some sun rays to strike only the highest portions of the sky. Thankfully, the lake was still calm and would capture a nice reflection of the sunrise. For a few moments the sky burst with pinks and purples perfectly mirrored in the glass-like reflection of the lake. Though the color did not last long, I was able to get a few captures during the climax. Soon after, the sun broke above the cloud layer and warm front light began flooding the scene. That was our cue to bid adieu to the Beaver family and return to the trail searching out more subjects to photograph. Which of these two photos do you enjoy more?
Pic of the Week 2/11/22
Location: Clay County, TX
Date taken: 2/4/22
Hoodoo DreamscapeDo Hoodoos even dream? © Ben Jacobi
What do hoodoos dream? Do hoodoos even dream? Am I just asking frivolous questions to fill in the introduction? Some of these questions need responses, but sadly it is only up to our imagination to answer them. Maybe they hoodoos are just daydreaming…er nightdreaming? I have small collection of images that call “Dreamscapes”. These photos are just so fantastical or ethereal that they almost transcend the reality of the moment and I find myself drifting off into another world. These are the dreamscapes. There is some criteria for an image to be dreamscape, but what I have noticed is all of them are captured during the night. Maybe it has to do with my fascination of the night sky, but every time I’m out under the stars I feel transported to another world. And if you can get unique photogenic conditions (such as snow on the ground) it immerses you more into the fantasy.
At beginning of February, a potent winter storm made its way through our area bringing bouts of freezing rain, sleet, and snow. It was so bad that I was called off work both Thursday and Friday that week. Luckily, the sun came out Friday and Ashlee and I were able to get out and look for some photographs. I had the idea to visit a little hoodoo garden that’s close by—well, closer than Copper Breaks. Ever since I visited these little geological rock formations, I became intrigued with the idea of capturing an astro-landscape shot with the hoodoos. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many compositions that show the best angles of the hoodoos. This was going to need a different approach.
We made our way down the slick and icy road carefully navigating the curves and twists with caution. The constantly blowing winds built up snow drifts around the barbed wire fences. Some were over a foot deep. It took a little bit more time, but eventually we arrived on location. The sky was completely clear and perfectly still. A gentle breeze blew in from the south. The sun was starting to set and our subject was washed with warm golden light. Around the hoodoos snow had accumulated in small swells as it moved along the low rolling terrain. This encased the hoodoos in a wintry blanket and added a fantastical feel to the image. I had found my composition and I quickly grabbed my camera and planted my tripod.
The sky transitioned from a pale blue-yellow gradient to a pastel pink and purple hue. Out in the distance, a coyote called signaling the start of evening. The temperatures began to drop rapidly, and we were poised waiting on the stars trying to distract ourselves to keep warm. Blue hour had started, and it was time to start capturing my base images. Since I had such a close and tight composition, I had to focus stack to get both hoodoos in sharp focus. Instead of having sharp stars, I chose not to adjust my focus rendering the pinpoints of distant light into large glimmering discs in my viewfinder. This made the image look even more dreamy. Now we just needed to wait for a few more stars to pop out.
Finally, the stars revealed themselves at the beginning of night. I captured my star exposures and we called it day. In the western horizon the crescent moon sank, and the orange glow from the sun extinguished. We carefully made our way back on the icy road and safely made it back home. The blending of this image took a lot of extra time and patience, but I think we can agree the end result was worth it. I combined a total of 12 images to create this final composite. The first two were the focus-stacked hoodoos at blue hour, then another single blue hour exposure just before the stars fully came out. Lastly, I took nine frames of the stars and stacked them to reduce the noise and blended all these together for the final image.
Pic of the Week 2/4/22
“View on the Brazos”
Location: Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas
Date taken: 1/30/22
When you think of the Brazos River certain historical names and events may come to mind such as: “Sam Huston”, “San Felipe”, “Washington on the Brazos”. Names that are endemic to Texas heritage. Tall tales of battles with native Americans, outlaws on the run, and the hardship of pioneer settlement, are among some of the stories the river holds. Being one of the largest rivers in the state of Texas there’s no doubt it plays a major role in Texas life and culture. Texas author John Graves wrote about it in his book “Goodbye to a River”. One of which, I highly recommend you check out.
After reading his book, it should be no surprise that I became interested in the seeing the Brazos River. One of the best and most accessible places to view the river is at the end of Possum Kingdom Lake just downstream of the dam. The Brazos River Authority has established a campground and picnic area under the Red Bluff mesa. You can also hike the Brazos River Nature Trail that offers several up-close views of the river. But I was more interested in capturing the entire landscape of the area and to do that I would need to get much higher.
Fortunately, the BRA’s (Brazos River Authority) main office is located on top of Red Bluff. I wanted this shot for sunrise, but Ashlee wanted to shoot wildlife. So, we made a simple decision. I would drop Ashlee off at the Brazos River Nature Trailhead so she could shoot wildlife, and I would drive up to the Possum Kingdom Dam overlook near the BRA’s main office to shoot sunrise. When I pulled into the gate I was a little upset to see a tall iron fence blocking my view from the overlook. There were just a few gaps where I could manage to fit my camera in place and have an unobstructed shot of the landscape.
From this overlook, you can take in the sights of the Morris Sheppard Dam and placid waters of Possum Kingdom Lake. Being atop Red Bluff there is a spectacular view of the Brazos River as it snakes its way eastward. Towering mesas and cliffs line the edge of the river creating some dramatic terrain and relief. After carefully scouting the overlook, I was able to find an angle on the river and landscape through the fence. It was a little sketchy, but I was able to capture a nice photo even if I was putting my equipment at risk.
With my camera poised and at the ready I waited for the sun to break the horizon. Shafts of gold light came streaming across the scene and lit up the distant cliffs and mesas. The frost from the crisp morning gleamed in the sunlight shining on the treetops and shimmering on the grasses below. I kept capturing more and more images as the sun climbed higher bringing more of the landscape into the warm glow of morning. Finally, the sun got too high, and I called the morning a success. It was an excellent start to an excellent day, and I have plenty of other photos from this adventure to share. But for now I will leave you to enjoy this morning view on the Brazos River.
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