Go With Your Gut

Finally over the hump… The blazing sun of summer is beginning to fade and Labor Day Weekend is finally here. Two of my biggest photography obstacles are nearing an end for the year as the tourists pack up Monday and head en masse to whence they came and the color killing direct sunlight continues it’s steady retreat to the winter solstice in the south.

Sunset on the Sangre

As evening approached yesterday I was thinking the clouds looked like they were setting up for a nice sunset. The smoke from the summer fires is slowly dissipating and the Sangre de Cristo are becoming visible again so I decided to go with my gut and head over to the overlook with Big Dog and the camera. On the way out the door I could see that my instincts were correct… a huge storm cloud was already glowing in the beautiful orange early evening light. By the time I got to the overlook the scene was even better, layers of misty mountains to the south back lit by the soft glow of the evening sun setting in the west. As an extra bonus, there was a small herd of mule deer grazing in a meadow that were willing to hang around for a few minutes as I prepared for the sunset, that is at least until Big Dog noticed them and voiced his hello 😦

Magestic Buck Deer

Normally I would have just stayed in the one spot to catch the last vestiges of the day, but I had another gut feeling… that the valley visible from the bridge was going to provide an even more magnificent vantage point for the light show that was unfolding. Not sure it was actually better, but it was at least equally amazing and also gave me a view of the storm cloud that I had seen earlier. A few shots there and I decided to try to capture the storm cloud with the Sangre in the background… off to the Grouse Mountain parking lot. There are so many power lines in the parking area that there was no choice but to grab the leash and head up the mountainside with Big Dog in hopes that I would arrive at the top of the first ridge before the sun became too low to provide any picturesque light.

Sunset on the Sangre

The sun was retreating fast, so Big Dog and I had to make a run for it. And I can tell you, I am not used to running up mountains right at this point in my life! But we did make it in time and I was able to use the gate post to steady the camera for a few last shots before the sun disappeared altogether. All that remained now was a walk in the dark back to the parking lot. It was a great evening of photography and I’m glad I went with my gut… Had I listened to my mind, I would have just thought, “naaaa, we haven’t had a decent sunset all summer.” and just sat it out on the couch!

These pictures and more are available for purchase on my website as wall art and royalty free stock images for commercial use. Pictures are available on glossy metal and acrylic sheets, wrapped canvas, traditional frames, and many cool gift and household items such as blankets, pillows, shower curtains, battery chargers, t-shirts, coffee mugs and much more!

 

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Exploring Skagway Reservoir

Another day with no definite plan… Not that that is anything unusual, I rarely have a plan other than to wake up and have coffee. One of the ideas that has been rattling around in the background of my mind for a while has been to make the jaunt from Victor over to Skagway Reservoir.Β  As the coffee soaked in andΒ consciousness slowly began to percolate it occurred to me that today could be that day!

Foggy Mount Pisgah

First of all though, a stop at Grouse Mountain for my first climb to the overlook with Big Dog since my clutch bit the dust last January. I knew it was way too foggy to see the Sangre but I took the camera along in hopes that we might see some elk or deer. No luck with that, but the fog turned the nearby mountains into mystical ghostly shapes that created a completely different scene than usual. After a nice walk through the woods we climbed back into Old Faithful and headed for Victor. I was hoping that the fog had extended to the old mines there for some more cool photo ops but the sky was clear and bright and the mines were the same as always. I didn’t make any effort to get more of the same old photographs there.

Off to Phantom Canyon Road to the Skagway turnoff. Can’t say I was too impressed with the long washboard gravel road… Very annoying. No wildlife and no good views to photograph anywhere along the road either. Perhaps had we gotten an earlier start there would have been some mist and wildlife but 9:00 a.m. must be nap time for the local critters. The drive was so long and rough that I was about to give up when I saw what appeared to be a few cars parked in the distance. Must be it I thought, so I persevered, finally… success! Placid water and a dam came into view along with a few fishermen who had also braved the dirt road.

Skagway Reservoir

As we pulled in I could barely see the water through the glare of the morning sun… I noticed that I could see much better with sunglasses on so I figured this might be a good time for my B&W circular polarizer. It didn’t take long to discover the best vantage point for a shot… water like glass with the south Face of 14,115 foot Pikes Peak in the background. Big Dog was of course way more interested in the plethora of prairie dogs that were scurrying about the place foraging for food πŸ™‚

Wild Turkeys

I still held out hope that I would spot some wildlife on the return trip and it wasn’t long before I spotted a rafter of turkeys… Why a “rafter”? Well apparently according to this entertaining website, in the days of old the word raft used to mean collection πŸ™‚ Well anyway a few shots of the large birds and we were on our way home to review the day’s photographic bounty. Unfortunately on this day the images looked better on the camera than they do on the computer, but it was still a nice day and now I have seen the reservoir which by the way has quite an interesting history!

The reservoir itself was constructed in 1899 followed in 1901 by an electrical power station a few miles down Beaver Creek. At one time there was a tramway to the power station but after a major flood the station and apparently the tram were destroyed. According to the Mountain Jackpot there was a massive rainfall on Woodland Park and Cripple Creek that overwhelmed the Skagway dam burying the reservoir in 15 feet of debris and destroying the power pipeline which was never repaired. The power station survived but is now on accessible by hiking down the rugged terrain through Beaver Creek.

These images and more are now available on my website for purchase as wall art and commercial stock! Stay tuned, my next adventure is still in the planning stage but I hope to get out to Cottonwood Pass where I will explore the trail to the mountain goat viewing area πŸ™‚

 

The Blizzard

The weather has been miserable for photography these days, haven’t had my camera out in over a week. Summer is pretty rough for taking pictures in the mountains. Between the intense sun, haze and later on smoke unless we are very fortunate the mountains are barely visible. The wildlife spends the warm lazy days lying in the shade in the highest elevations, coming out only in darkness to forage for food.

Three does in snow

Which got me to thinking about winter and my favorite activity, snow shoeing πŸ™‚ I was recalling this photo shoot… the snow was just coming down so hard for several days without a break, we were just buried under several feet of snow. So much snow in fact that the wildlife was having difficulty moving around to get food. That year there was a herd of deer trapped in the mountains that was surely going to starve to death without assistance. The Wildlife Service was going to abide by it’s strict no interference policy and just let the animals die until there was a massive outcry from the public and they were forced to relent. Bales of hay were finally airlifted by helicopter to rescue the stranded animals, but the public was strictly forbidden to take matters into their own hands in other affected areas. Fortunately Coloradans are generally rebels and no one listened to the authorities, saving many animals that would have perished.

I lived a short distance from a game reserve where someone had delivered a couple of bales of hay to our beloved herd of deer, but unfortunately the snow was so deep that they could not get to it. Since I walked that forest every morning looking for pictures for my stock photo business I knew the area like the back of my hand, including each and every game path throughout the entire area. So I got the idea to put on my snowshoes and pack down their paths so they could move around. The snowplows had been by once so the snow on the street was only about a foot deep and getting to the woods was pretty easy. However, once I hit the deep snow it was an entirely different story! But I persevered, diving into the waist deep snow with short steps so that there would be a good solid path for the animals. I remember the snow getting deeper and deeper until I was struggling through chest deep powder gasping for air and having to stop and rest after only a few steps. My snowshoes would plunge almost all the way to the ground and then become covered with all the snow on top of my feet. It was all I could do to lift each foot out of the deep trench for another step. For a while there I thought I was going to spit out my lungs!

Winter Deer.jpg

I could see the deer in the mist, looking on curiously. They were quite used to me walking through there with my camera so there was no alarm and they didn’t try to run. Mostly they were hanging out under the thickest trees to avoid getting buried while they slept. I of course had brought my camera, well protected by my Aquatech rain cover, in case I could get close enough to the deer to get some pictures. Multitasking I guess it was πŸ™‚

And indeed, I did get some of the greatest deer in snow pictures that I have ever managed to obtain! At one point I was struggling to get through some snow and brush when I burst into a clearing and found these three beautiful ladies staring at me like, “Hey, what’s going on?” I also found a few more cuties just hanging out, eating the bark and leftover leaves on the ubiquitous scrub oak trees prevalent in that area.

Doe-Pair

Most gratifying of all though was the sight of the deer beginning almost immediately to use the pathways that I had created for them πŸ™‚ They seemed very grateful for the assistance and I was grateful for the opportunity to have done my part in the great effort made by fellow Coloradans to spare the animals from great suffering. In fact it worked so well that I made it a habit from then on to don my snowshoes and keep their paths clear for the rest of my remaining time in the Parker area. It is now one of my fondest memories from my time life there πŸ™‚

Archives

Well that was easy, recently noticed that many of my favorite blog posts had been archived and are unavailable. So a quick review of the help section gave me the idea to attempt to add an archives section, which I thought was going to be a major undertaking. However it turned out to be quite easy using a free widget that is provided to the business theme my site uses πŸ™‚ So now if you would like to see posts that have been archived you can easily go to the bottom of my main site page and review them by month and year!

Swimsuit Model

Speaking of archives, while technically this isn’t a blog archive it is definitely one of my favorite mental archives πŸ™‚ One of my first attempts at photographing models and one of my favorite images of all time! This one was of course captured back in the days of film, long before instant feedback on a digital screen and long before there was such a thing as ISO 3200 available to capture images like this in the waning light of dusk and an approaching rainstorm. I shot this one with 100 speed Fuji Reala film and an off camera flash unit with a gold reflector. I hope you like it as much as I do πŸ™‚

Don’t forget to visit my site for recent blog posts with pictures and also my new section at the bottom of the menu pointing to my archives!

Glamorous Job

I am fortunate to have a brother in the field of Canon Photography to talk with at work, and to exchange equipment when the need arises… The plan today was to test out the 1.4x lens extension he had loaned me for the weekend. When I looked out the window at first light as I was pouring my first cup of coffee I noticed what a pretty morning was shaping up in the beautiful light of sunrise. So I swigged down my coffee and grabbed the camera and the 1.4x. Then it was out the door with Big Dog but much to my surprise, in that 15 minutes a heavy bank of fog had rolled in and I could barely see my hand in front of my face! Needless to say a 200mm lens and a 1.4x extension are not much good when your field of view is only 10 feet 😦 But Big Dog was not about to be deterred from his walk by a little fog so into the pea soup we went.

Swimsuit model at sunset

I mentioned my friend at work, well this week we were comparing our experiences with portrait photography back in the day and I ran across this one from a photoshoot from the days of film. I still remember going through the prints the next day after receiving them back from the lab. I was at my favorite coffee shop sorting out my favorites when a guy went by and asked me if I was a photographer which led to a short conversation about the business. He commented what a cool job it must be to take pictures of beautiful girls and how glamorous it must be. Of course the story is long, but I just smiled and agreed.

The next day however was a completely different matter… Earlier in the week I had received a call from a lady in Iowa who was in charge of a jewelry show that was going to be conducted in the convention center in Denver. The assignment was to shoot portraits of each one of the approximately 150 event participants. She informed me that there was going to be a backdrop provided with the name of the show on a sign above that I was supposed to include in each picture. She told me to be sure to bring extra lighting. How much I wondered? She didn’t know, but I was definitely going to need extra lighting.

So I showed up early at the event center to be sure to find a parking place and get set up in time. I had no idea what I was in for, trying to imagine what I could possibly need all the lighting for that I had packed just in case. Well I found a parking place in the parking garage which appeared to be free… Grabbed my three Bogen light stands with umbrellas and soft boxes, three flash heads in their suitcase style carrying cases, two cameras complete with portable flash and battery packs and headed for the stairs.

Well the stairs were not that easy to find, but I made my way down to the lower floor of the parking garage when I noticed a pay kiosk. I had no idea how to run the damn thing, didn’t remember my exact parking stall number, or even if the kiosk on the bottom floor was applicable to the parking place on my floor. I looked around a bit to see if there was someone in charge and saw no one. In fact I saw no one at all, at the convention center on Broadway Avenue in the middle of Denver. It was like a ghost town 😦 I wondered if I even had the right day, what if I had already missed it, maybe the Rapture had occurred and I was the only one “Left Behind?” ????

The exit I took had me out on foot on Broadway Avenue, still not a soul to be found. I had no idea how to get to the room where the show was so I just kept walking, carrying my light stands, two cameras, three flash heads and God only knows what else. I walked and walked and walked looking for some kind of sign, some kind of door to go in, or even a person who might know… and I was getting more and more tired carrying all that gear. Finally I was sweating profusely and I could only go a few feet at a time before having to put all the gear down to rest. I thought I was going to die, I remember thinking to myself, “So this is how it ends, right here on Broadway Avenue…”.

Well, after walking all the way around the entire building I finally found a bunch of people and a door… This has to be it and lucky for me it was and I found the lady in charge with no trouble. After surveying the situation I quickly ascertained that the three light stands, umbrellas and flash heads were completely unnecessary. One camera with an off camera flash would be just fine. I could have made that walk with 10 pounds of gear instead of 75. Grrrrr…

So I completed the shots of all 150 or so people without a hitch. Except one lady who could not smile. I took six shots of her, each time her smile resembling more the look of terror that one might experience while witnessing a train wreck or car accident. Finally I gave up said “next”. Finally the job was complete and I told the lady I was done. She informed me she wanted the pictures the next day and gave me a bunch of Fedex account stuff. Well Fedex was a long and difficult trip for me so I offered to just get them developed in time to return to her before the end of the day. The pictures turned out fabulously and I made it back in time to give them to her before she left. She flipped through every one of them without saying a word… that is right up until the moment when the previously mentioned severely traumatized woman’s image came into view. She said, “Wow, she looks scared!”. Then through the rest of the images and without a word and she handed me my check and said “Thanks.”. That’s it, no more feed back from my day in hell. I remembered the guy from the coffee shop the previous day and thought to myself, “Yeah, some glamorous job 😦 “.

Lol… oh well, I’m sure it was nothing that a green chili burrito and a couple of beers could not cure at the Brewery Bar, my favorite Denver watering hole. Actually about a month later I received an email from the lady with a formal thank you for all the beautiful pictures. Apparently they were a big hit and I have to say it made me feel a lot better about the whole affair πŸ™‚

First Light

Did three things before first light today that I was not planning to do… The first was to get out of bed before first light. I had the day off and was planning to sleep in and catch up on some shut eye, but apparently I am used to arising at 4:30 a.m. now and that is just the way it is. I was also not going to take any pictures and the third thing I was never going to do again, ever… was to ride my mountain bike! After I tried it last week for the first time on these hills that was going to be it forever. My legs were quivering when I got done 😦 The reason I was not going to take any pictures is because I am tired of shooting from the same location all the time and also I watched a Youtube video where the title and theme were, “Nobody cares about your photography.”, which is probably true but just the same, a very discouraging thought.

Sangre de Cristo Lake of Fog

So unfortunately I was awake at 4:00 and Big Dog as eager to go for a walk. So without the camera we headed down the trail for his morning duties. Saw some deer in the darkness running towards the hills and then I noticed that there was an odd white glow coming from the direction of the Sangre de Cristo range. In the darkness I couldn’t tell if it was a new mantle of snow or clouds or fog or what. I could tell the sky was clear though and that the red band of alpenglow was descending upon the mountain range. So I thought, well… I’d better not miss this, it could be good!

Took the dog home, grabbed my backpack and jumped on the bike. I was not going to make it back there in time on foot and the mountain bike was the only way I was going to make the show. Fortunately my legs seem a bit stronger this week, maybe my decision to quit the bike riding was a bit premature? As I neared the overlook to the mountain range I could not believe my eyes, the fog bank and cloud action was some of the most amazing that I have seen in the Arkansas River Valley at the base of the Sangre.

Sangre de Cristo Lake of Fog

I sat on a rock at the best spot and watched it all unfold. The alpenglow effect descended upon the mountains and the fog began to blow around building into tall spires almost as big as the mountains they were obscuring. I put into effect all the information I have been gathering about the best way to photograph this valley at the base of the Sangre, trying various shutter speeds and even my B&W circular polarizer for a bit. Finally the sun crested the mountains behind me and the fog began to burn off. As the mist turned to vapor in the air the Sangre became too obscure to get good pictures and I headed for home.

Lol… as it turns out though, my bike riding was not yet done for the day… Big Dog saw something he wanted to chase and snapped his wire cable in a bid for some temporary freedom. It wasn’t long before he had me on mountain bike along with two of Cripple Creek’s finest circling the blocks in their black and white SUV’s. After about an hour of chase he finally blundered into a fenced yard and decided to visit the people having a hitherto relaxing morning on their deck. Knowing him he was probably hoping for some burgers and fries, but they corralled him and I was able to give the police a thumbs up and they too went about their business.

Now I’m working on the pictures… have to say the scene was pretty amazing! Hope you enjoy them too πŸ™‚ I will soon be putting these on my website for sale as wall art and RF stock so stay tuned!

Focus on Infinity

“Infinity: unlimited extent of time, space, or quantity : boundlessness”, according to Merriam Webster. A difficult concept under any circumstances, infinity in photography can be an even more elusive state. In photography, the definition of infinity includes “A distance between a subject and the camera so great that rays of light reflected from the subject may be regarded as parallel.”, and “A distance setting of the camera lens beyond which everything is in focus.”.

Fresh Snow on the Sangre de Cristo

Recent travails in shooting distant landscapes has me studying the issue in more depth, and today was the day for some cursory field testing. The plan was to conduct a scientific experiment to determine if the auto focus mechanism on my Canon 70D with my 70-200 lens was handling infinity properly. Today was supposed to start with a beautiful clear morning, following days of snow and fog and I was glad to finally be able to get out and do some shooting with Big Dog.

As usual though, my experiment didn’t turn out to be all that scientific or even informative, but I had fun and got some good usable shots πŸ™‚ What I did find out though was gratifying in that I believe that my lens is performing exactly as it should. My method was to take two shots of every scene, one with the auto focus and the second identical shot with the lens set to manual and the focus set to or near the “infinity” mark focused on the distant Sangre de Cristo mountain range as sharply as possible. Then, in front of Photoshop a 100% view of the two images side by side was going to tell me which method is better. I had recently watched another photographer on Youtube who claimed that manual mode focused on infinity was the way to go.

Now the really confusing part of the experiment is that many professional lenses have the capability to focus “beyond infinity”… where nothing is actually in focus. Apparently the equipment can compensate for micro expansion and contraction of the metal due to temperature changes and may require that space slightly beyond the infinity line for that purpose.

Fox with Prey

It was indeed a beautiful morning and we were awarded a couple of bonus shots for our effort πŸ™‚ Along the way I spotted both a fox hunting and then later a coyote hunting in the beautiful fresh snow. The fox was already heading for home with a tasty morsel in his mouth and the coyote was still hunting but paused to cast a wary glance in our direction.

Coyote in Fresh Snow

Coyote in Fresh Snow

The mountains were magnificent as usual and the clear day was perfect for my little test. My scene is perfect with some nearby pine forest covered foothills backed up by the distant peaks of the Sangre. As I conducted my tests I noticed some curious behavior exhibited by the equipment. When focusing on the nearby mountains the camera on auto focus chose to focus exactly on the infinity mark, while the distant mountains resulted in a focus slightly beyond the infinity mark. I thought I was onto something there, a possible malfunction in the auto focus mechanism perhaps. But the follow up shots using manual focus proved the auto focus to be exactly correct based on what I was focusing on.

These findings were very good news for confidence my equipment, but also raised a new question that I have no definitive answer for. Why are the close mountains which are at infinity focused differently than the distant mountains which are also beyond infinity. I guess the simple answer to that is that the close mountains are at a sufficiently varied distance and angle to result in a slightly different infinity value from the vastly distant Sangre de Cristo range more than 60 miles away. In any case, the idea of just setting the camera to the infinity mark is out of the question, at least for a 200mm lens. This practice would probably work fine for a wide angle lens where the infinity point is only a few feet from the camera. Each scene is going to require evaluation to determine what exactly is the most important feature to render the most sharp in the image. If the entire image needs to be sharp, focus stacking in Photoshop might be required.

All in all, the day was a success, important knowledge acquired, some nice images to work with collected, and now in the last couple of hours some more great shots of the little fox family that I found the other day πŸ™‚ Please be sure to visit my image website to see all the new pictures that have been made for sale as wall art, cool household items and royalty free stock!