Monday, November 29, 2010

Photo Of The Day

Here's a view of the old main telephone exchange in Denver, Colorado. I like the regular lines, broken by various random details and reflections. This shot actually took quite a bit of work get into shape, using tools in Lightroom and Photoshop to correct lens distortion, exposure and colors.

Technical info:  Canon Rebel XTi with Canon 18-200mm EF-S Lens at 18mm; 0.4 sec at f5.0, ISO 400. Lens correction in Lightroom, perspective crop in Photoshop to straighten lines. Adjusted color, clarity, vibrance and exposure in Lightroom.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Photo Of The Day

Huls Cemetery, Champaign County, IL, in infrared. Canon G9 modified for infrared; 7.4mm-44.4mm lens, at 7.4mm; 1/400 at f6.3, ISO 400.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Infrared

I took my newly infrared-enabled camera with me on my trip to Chicago and Milwaukee last weekend, and was able to test it out a bit in the Illinois countryside. I continue to stumble along in learning this new medium--both as to what makes a good picture in infrared, and how to process the resulting pictures. As for subjects, what little green there is in the countryside tells me that when things are in full foliage I will have a much broader range of potential subjects. On the processing side, I am actually finding Lightroom to be easier to get the results I want than Photoshop. That's a surprise.
I tend toward desaturation on infrared shots, because otherwise the tones get garish no matter how I process them. It is, however, easy to get a nice dark sky with very white clouds, which is an effect I like.
This line of trees is a favorite of mine, and I have shot it any number of times, but the infrared view is quite unique. That bodes well for taking a new look at places I've already explored photographically. There's nothing like finding a fresh new way to look at the world.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wasting Away in the Midwest

If you get off the Interstate and drive the two-lane highways of the Midwest, you will find plenty of evidence of the shift of the population from small towns to large, and the shift of the economy from small to corporate farming and ranching. Particularly west of the Mississippi, many small towns have been completely abandoned, or are barely occupied. Businesses are entirely gone. Older building have been left to rot. It is sad, but also visually compelling. Above is an abandoned house in Walker, Kansas. Below, the largely unoccupied town of Corinth, North Dakota.
A very common feature of such towns is a little old grain elevator, located next to the train tracks. Elevators are still a major feature of Midwest rural life, but they have consolidated to large centralized facilities and rely on trucks rather than rail to haul the grain. Some of the elevators were built for the ages, others, like the one below in Walker, Kansas, are less so.
Small scale commercial activity is the most commonly found type of abandoned buildings in these little towns. Every town used to have a small store and a gas station, and so forth. No more. Below is the little main street in Wild Horse, Colorado.
Finally, another abandoned storefront in Wild Horse:
I'm not trying to make a political argument here about corporatization or globalization or population shifts. These are complex issues, and way beyond my scope here. I love these places for their visual appeal and photographic possibilities, at the same time that they can make me sad.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Photo Of The Day

From my recent trip out west, a grain elevator in the little town of Wallace, Kansas.

Details: Canon EOS 60D with Canon EF-S 18-200 Zoom at 32mm. Exposure 1/125 at f10, ISO 100. Minimal processing in Lightroom to enhance color and clarity.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I now have a camera that can take infrared pictures, and boy, is it fascinating.When I bought my new "carry around" camera, the Canon G12, I took my very used but still serviceable G9 and sent it to the folks at LifePixel to be converted to infrared. All digital camera sensors can detect a much broader range of light than just the visible band. Camera makers place a filter on them to block the infrared and ultraviolet. LifePixel, and others, will replace that filter with one that only allows infrared light through. The camera works as normal, with auto focus, normal light sensitivity, etc., but the images are infrared.
Above is one of the very first shots I took, out my office window. No great shakes photographically, but the clearly the creative possibilities are endless. Since it is late autumn, I am not really getting the full effect in these shots, as some of the most dramatic effects with infrared are achieved with bright green foliage.
One caveat of all this is that lots of post processing is required. The picture above is the straight-from-the-camera version of the image that is at the top of this post. As you can see, it is very flat and reddish. In order to get to look like it does above, I had to switch around the red and blue color channels, adjust levels, and play with hue and saturation, all in Photoshop CS5. This was all after setting a custom white balance in the camera itself before taking the picture.
As you can see, using an average white balance results in a much redder picture in the camera. Making the sky blue really doesn't get rid of an overall cast. It's not necessarily a bad effect, but it's very strong.
One nice thing about infrared is how well it converts to black and white. The red cast really benefits a contrasty image and dark sky.

I'm just getting started with this new technique, but I am very excited by the creative possibilities. As I get better examples of infrared pictures, I will post them here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Trip West: Summing up

I've been posting pictures from my recent trip west without really talking about the trip itself. I thought I'd post a quick summary of the trip, along with links to the various entries that cover specific parts.

(I know I've already posted several versions of the the night shot of Monument Valley, above, but it's the one shot I really wanted to get on this trip, and so I'm posting it again. Plus, I really like it.)

I started the trip in mid October by driving west from Illinois, across Missouri, Kansas, and eastern Colorado to the edge of the Rockies, north of Denver. I took some pictures along the way, and have many from other trips, but the plains were not my goal for this trip. Rather, the important part of the trip was a counter-clockwise loop that crossed the Rockies in northern Colorado to northeastern Utah, then ran south through eastern Utah, east across northwest Arizona and northern New Mexico, and then north through south and central Colorado, back to the Denver area. From there, it was due east back to Illinois.

Heading west from the Denver area (Loveland, actually), I had planned to cross the mountains, and the continental divide, by driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. However, as happens, the road through the park was closed. It turns out that there aren't a lot of alternative routes. My best option was to drive south through the mountains to I-70, west for 10 miles or so, and then back north on Highway 40, in order to pick up my intended route at Granby. This added about four hours of driving to my trip that day. I ended up crossing the continental divide at Berthoud Pass, and then ran west across the Northwest Colorado range lands.

I spent the night in Vernal, in northeast Utah, and then drove south through northeastern Utah, headed for the Moab area.

Moab, of course, is quite close to a number of Utah's amazing national Parks. While in the area, I visited Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park.

I have to say that I feel like I picked a very good time of year for this trip. The weather was mild, but very nice, and the crowds were minimal in what are otherwise notoriously crowded parks. October is a good time to visit this part of the country.

After my time in Moab, I continued south to the iconic Monument Valley, located at the Navajo Nation Tribal Park of the same name. I stayed in the wonderful View Hotel, part of the main viewing and visitor center for the park, and my hotel room had a stunning view of the valley. It was raining when I arrived, to my disappointment, but it cleared after midnight, and I took advantage of it. I was very happy with the pictures I got there.

From Monument Valley I headed south into Arizona, and then east toward New Mexico, eventually making my way to Taos. Northern New Mexico is really quite beautiful, and as I drove through the little town of Abiquiu, I could fully understand why Georgia O'Keefe settled there.

From Taos I headed north into central Colorado, up through the San Luis Valley, eventually reaching I-70, which took me east to Denver.

It was a great trip, and just what I'd hoped for. I got to see some areas of the country I'd never seen before, and the photographic opportunities were marvelous. In the future, I'd like to return to Canyonlands National Park, and preferably have a couple of days there. I'd also love to spend more time in northern new Mexico.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Central Colorado

I have driven through the San Luis Valley in the past, but not to the extent I did this time. I started all the way down in Taos, went north through Alamosa, and then kept going north up through Fairplay and Breckenridge, to reach I-70. In the photo above, the full moon is barely visible as it sets behind the San Juan Mountains, just south of Alamosa, on the southern reach of the San Luis Valley.
Over the course of the drive I went from broad plains between mountains at 7,000, to narrower valley at 10,000 feet, and then right into the mountains themselves. It was quite beautiful. Here is a shot of Mount Shavano, a 14,299 foot high peak in the Sawatch range, northwest of Salida.

The entire trip was great fun. I'd do it again any day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Northern New Mexico

Northern New Mexico is an entirely different ecosystem from that of southern Utah and northern Arizona. It is still mountainous, and elevated (Taos is at 7,000 feet), but it's much more verdant. There are trees and grasslands. It is, in short, quite beautiful. Above is a picture of the Rio Chama just north of Abiquiu, which is in the mountains southwest of Taos.
 I spent the night in Taos, and then headed north into Colorado the next morning. Heading north from Taos I went through some beautiful countryside, highlighted by the rising sun to the east and the setting full moon to the west. Here's a shot of the rising sun above the grass lands, with some fog and the mountains in the background (yes, it's HDR).
At one point, I drove down into a valley, and straight into a pea soup fog bank. As I headed down, the top of the fog was behaving like a wildly pitching sea. Here's a shot of that view. It almost looks like it was taken from an airplane above the clouds.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is one of America's most popular National Parks, and it's easy to see why. It is stunningly beautiful, for a start, and it encompasses a truly unique landscape. Erosion on a massive scale, taking place within unique combinations of sandstone and limestone, have resulted in an eerie landscape of standing rocks and arches.

In some ways, you could argue that there are two parks here. On the one hand, there is a nice, paved road that takes you to many of the main sights, and the entire park can be covered in a matter of a few hours. On the other hand, many of the most famous arches are way off this road, and are only viewable by hiking for several hours, or longer, so much of the park is quite remote.
Here is a picture of the famous Double Arch, on the left, with the Cove of Caves to its right. According to the Park Ranger I spoke to, this is one of the most famous arches easily viewable from the road. Apparently, because of the popularity of the park, combined with ease of access, much of the year the paved road portions of the park are pretty much traffic gridlock. By visiting in mid October, and in the early morning to boot, I avoided almost all of the crowds, and yet the weather was very pleasant, with temperatures in the 60s.
It is truly an amazing landscape, and I'm glad it's part of the national park system, just because of the protection that provides. It is also a constantly changing landscape, and the erosion process that created it is ongoing. Occasionally a famous arch or balanced rock will fall, but it's all part of the process, and new ones are presumably being formed in turn.

Information on Arches National Park is available here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Monument Valley

I've already posted some pictures from my stay in Monument Valley, but I have a few more to share. First is a view of the valley by moonlight, with star trails. This image is a composite of 94 30 second images taken sequentially, over a period of 47 minutes. Star trails suffer in the face of moonlight, but the area around Monument valley is dark enough that the trails emerged in spite of the full moon. The moon, in turn, lit up the valley itself.
Next up is my best picture of the valley in daylight. I only had sun in the early morning while I was there, so my chance to get the right lighting for a good picture was very limited.
Finally, here is one of the mesas as foreground to the afternoon showers that greeted my arrival. Even bad weather can be photogenic.

Information on Monument Valley can be found here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Canyonlands National Park

For some reason I had never really heard of Canyonlands National Park until I started researching my recent trip out West. Unlike its close neighbor, Arches National Park, which is just a few miles to the east, Canyonlands doesn't seem to have a flashy reputation. But it should.

The park is centered on the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The erosion of those two ancient streams has created what can only be called a wonderland of mesas, buttes, and exotic rock formations. The picture above is of that confluence, as seen from high atop the mesa of the "Island in the Sky" section of the park.
Unbeknownst to me, I had seen many pictures of Canyonlands. It has served as the backdrop for dozens of films, starting in the 1930s, and continuing to the present day. There is no wonder in that; the landscape is both stark, and stunningly beautiful.
Evidence of human habitation in the area dates back 2,000 years, and there are famous pteroglyphs and pictographs in the park. (I learned during the trip that pteroglyphs are carved into the rock, and pictographs are painted.) Pictured above is "Newspaper Rock" a national historic site that includes carvings that may be 2,000 years old. Although not in Canyonlands itself, Newspaper Rock is on the road leading into the Needles section of the park.
Of all the places I visited on my trip west, Canyonlands was the one I most wish I had more time for, and would like to go back to. Information on Canyonlands is available here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Northeastern Utah

Northeastern Utah is the northern edge of the Colorado Plateau, and the environment is mostly what I would call scrub land. There are low mountains around broad valleys, and some trees and other growth along waterways. The plateau ground is covered with small shrubs. In the fall the trees can be quite colorful, as you can see in the photo above.
As you move south from the northeast corner of the state, the mountains become vast mesas, and much of the ground cover disappears. The landscape becomes desert, and the sort of stark rockiness that is the setting for National parks such as Arches and Canyonlands becomes apparent. This shot was taken at the I-70 exit for Moab, and is just a few miles north of Arches and Canyonlands.

It all has its own beauty, to be sure, but it is hard to imagine early Native Americans scraping out a living there over hundreds of generations, or, for that matter, European immigrants deciding to settle there. But both did. They must know something I don't.