Birds, Bees, lots of Flowers, and Trees II

Part II

My first morning at Chaco Canyon I was walking from the visitor’s center to Una Vida ruins a few hundred yards away. A silver sheet of stratus clouds covered the sky. The clouds retained brightness and were not thick enough to turn the undersides dark. The light was flat and all of the colors held their own intensity, none demanding more attention with showy sunny brightness. I kept looking at the plants as I walked. The colors, muted as they were, seemed to be glowing to the point of vibrating – at times. It was incredible, and of course didn’t translate photographically. After about half an hour I realized I needed to tip my head forward enough for the brim of my hat to cut out the sky for the affect to be detectable.

A similar thing happened to me at the Grand Canyon in similar light, where if I blocked the sky at the horizon the whole canyon took on a flat, muted look. Blocking the sky also had the effect of reducing apparent visual distance, meaning the layers of the canyon became compressed and at times it appeared as if I were looking at a two dimensional print and not the real place.


The affect, known as the adjacency affect is a phenomenon in the brain when a large area of bright is placed next to a large area of dark. The juxtaposition of the two create a lightness on the adjacent dark and a darkness on the adjacent light along their common border. The same effect occurs with colors, not just tones. With colors one will affect perception of the other by affecting its hue or tone. You can see this in the image above where the central color is exactly the same, but the adjacent color affects our perception of it, changing its appearance and vice versa. The colors in the center of the boxes are exactly the same. This can be tested with a color picker in a graphics program.

In Chaco it was the color affect. If the sky was in my view it sucked intensity from the colors of the bushes. If I tipped my head bringing my hat brim down to block the sky, the affect occurred. None of the colors was actually changing only my perception of them.

This concept was used by photo engineers when designing software to sharpen images. Overdone digitally it causes the ghosting you see on badly processed jpg files.

Once I got away from the Colorado Plateau deserts and into the Rockies proper the Earth served up a different stew plant wise, thicker and more diverse in size and color. Here there was more complete ground cover. Unless heavily trampled the ground is a confusion of flowers, short shrubs, tree seedlings, and the occasional berry bush when near moisture. Where the pine trees have been burned or logged the absence of a tree canopy opens up the sky. This allows the Aspen (poplars) to take hold. In the burned areas along the road to the Walhalla Plateau the immature Aspen are so thick on the slopes you can’t see the ground in places. And, this is before they have begun to bud and leaf.

I read where an aspen will seldom stand alone, if there is one there will be many. It was recently discovered that akin to cattails and creosote, the Aspen groves you see are likely all one organism. They are attached to one another through their roots system and sent up shoots as the roots spread. One tree can share excess nutrients with a neighbor if need be. All members of an organism will leaf out in concert, while a neighboring organism may wait some time before leafing. Two organisms growing in close proximity or even overlapping will leaf out separately. It may be that many tree species act similarly.

In the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, hills are mostly cinder cones of volcanic pumice. Each spring these black hills take on color. Many of the hillsides become purple. Among others, the Dwarf Monkeyflower is the main culprit. Mixed in you will discover many white to pink or orange Dwarf Buckwheat flowers. These have a root system that spreads as much as 3 feet for a six inch wide flower bunch. In affect they take over a wide area from which to collect their moisture. This prevents other Dwarf Buckwheats from growing on their turf. According to one of rangers, people have asked if the Buckwheats had been hand planted because of the lack of bunching that is seen in other flowers. At least 50 species of wildflowers exist here, I couldn’t find a definitive number. Keep in mind these diminutive plants are adapted to the 150 degree plus temperatures existing on the ground in the hottest seasons.

Near Glacier National Park I saw what I thought might be an eagle’s nest along the shore of Hungry Horse Reservoir. Using my 70-200 mm lens I was able to get photos of an adult bird landing on the nest. The next morning I stopped again and took some shots with the 1.4 Adapter on the lens. This took my maximum telephoto out to 280mm. This allowed me a bit more leeway with cropping which I had to do for the photo to work. The images here are cropped to less than 10% of the entire frame. With that done I was able to ID the bird as an Osprey through the identifying traits of the under-wing pattern and the Bart Simpson haircut. You can see the two young birds in the image on the right.

Field of Wildflowers, Glacier National Park, MT.

Field of wildflowers below Mt. Altyn near Many Glacier, on the east slope of Glacier National Park, MT

The east side of Glacier National Park was the high point of flowers, most notable for the concentration of wildflowers on the slopes in the Many Glacier area. Underfoot was a semi firm mat of decaying stalks, roots, and blossom petals. If you were to fall down it would feel as if falling on a firm couch, assuming you didn’t land on wild roses. Stopping at a trail head I took time to wander in the field. I took in the dense dance of color as hikers, and two wranglers with a string of 12 horses and occupants, came and went along the trail. No one commented on the wildflowers. I don’t understand how they could ignore them. The trail wound through the spectacle for nearly 1/2 mile. I picked out an area approximately 100 feet square and started photographing the separate species. I found 20 different types when I reviewed the day’s photographs. Frankly this was among the most gratifying stops I have made on my journey to date.

I am forced to be thinking of the future somewhat. I will likely lag in the north until I am uncomfortable enough with the season that the long trek to the south becomes a necessity. But there is a next year. And I will again have to decide a path, or at least a direction. Following the wildflowers will be on the list of possibilities.


Flora, Fauna, and Updating.

I am spending my time on organizing my photography data. I upgraded to the latest version of Lightroom, converted 3 old catalogs to the new version, and classified all of them. I am also having to categorize, tag, and title any photos I publish. If it is published I re-visit the image to check that it is spotted, sharpened and overall appears as I want it to look. This has taken about a weeks work time and away from adding to this blog. On a scale of importance, shooting rates one step higher than the blog.

Click on any file to see a larger version.

I have also been spending time shooting at a the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge (above) in Montana. A few birds co-operated (see the owls), as did a number of leaves and blossoms. The whole world around here is studded with wildflowers. I haven’t found an area without blossoms since leaving the Yuma area. The east slope of Glacier National Park was particularly impressive. The lower alpine slopes were covered in thick carpets of colors. In 45 minutes I photographed around 20 different species in a 10 yard square area.

I am 2 or 3 days away from the Lightroom conversion from being fully functional. I still need to make the input presets and take a look at the new profiles they featured with the latest update. Last I will create a new catalogs of 5 star and 4 star images so they are easier to access for exports.

If all goes well I will be back to writing by the beginning of next week and will finish at least one of the blog pages I have started.


Black & White

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, April 2018

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, April 2018

Aside from my “Alternate Evolution” series, posting in the future, I was strictly Black and White in the analog photography days for my creative work. Silver nitrate layers on film were the magic that produced a latent image on film which chemical processing converted into visible negative images of the scene photographed.

Since the early 2000’s few people work with it. The ease of digital and auto exposure in the software opened up the somewhat closed world of photography to mass consumption. With film it was imperative that the photographer understood the arcane technology of f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO/ASA film speed ratings, reciprocity affect, inverse square law, and highlight to shadow ratios, etc.

A generation later, only a few people hang on to, and a few have rediscovered the fun of film. Of those who do, a few still use the large format cameras and wet processing. The cost of a new high density large format digital sensor is still prohibitive, even for even the prosumer, when paired with a digital quality lens. View cameras and enlargers are still around and I would imagine the price for used equipment is high on the camera side and low on the enlarger side. I couldn’t give mine away and it went to the dump along with 3 El-Nikkor lenses and an Aristo Cold Light head.

I admire those with the dedication of sticking with film and have spent many hours lugging a heavy Bogen tripod and a Toyo D45M around the landscape. I then spent days in dark rooms striving to mold the image on the photographic paper into the image I held in my mind as I released the shutter. I just can’t abide the chemicals after spending over 20 years around the processors and darkrooms. I walked into an old fashioned camera store a couple of years ago (yes, there are still a few in existence). I gagged and was somewhat held back by the smell of the fix from their printing area. They had a small but successful lab processing c-prints and c-41 film. They carried B&W paper and chemicals translating to a higher number of people still doing it by hand than I would have imagined, for a rural town of about 100,000.

Black and White vision (or pre-visualization as it was taught by Ansel Adams) was a skill one had to develop over time to get the desired results. Additionally, dark room skills needed to be developed to produce fine quality prints. Of course there were those who just shipped everything off to the photo lab, but most serious photographers wouldn’t let someone else process their film or make their prints. It was too personal a process.


The Kettle – Bodie, CA. Example of an image from 4X5 film.

In the digital era we have the two S’s, sensors and software. I use Lightroom and have an older version Photoshop CS, seldom used. Today’s software is more powerful, and with more options, than most people are able to master. It took me a couple of years to get to where I could convert a color image to a B&W image in a way that pleased me. The image of Canyon de Chelly, above, is an example of a successful conversion.

In the past month I have visited three National Parks or Monuments as well as a Navajo Park (Monument Valley). Where most people are spending only enough time to drive to each of the attractions for 5 – 10 minutes, I am spending 3 – 10 days at each park and often hours at certain locations. I am out most every day shooting at least for 3 – 5 hours. At times the weather doesn’t co-operate, like at Canyonlands National Park, where it was blowing gusts, and dusts, up to 30 knots. This is apparently part of the normal spring weather. The undersides of my eyelids told me the dust was fine enough to crawl into my lenses and camera bodies, so the equipment stayed inside the Gadget.

Here, uncorrected, is a jpg of the RAW image of what I photographed at Green River Overlook in Canyonlands NP some days ago. On my first visit to the outlook there were at least 20 people walking around taking selfies on smart phones and a couple people with DSLR cameras and nice lenses. I was one of two people equipped with a tripod.

As I looked through the viewfinder I thought, “Well that’s nice…” somewhat underwhelmed. Then I noticed the White Rim Sandstone that shows along the edge of the drop offs. This is the 17th of 22 layers of the local geology that the river, and therefore incidental erosion, have carved out on the way to its present depth. The White Rim Sandstone layer is only about fifty feet thick but is extremely resistant to wear. This creates a Mesa layer with softer materials above and hard sandstone below fashioning the sheer walls you can see.

The white sandstone rim (actually called White Rim Sandstone – WR) reflects more light than the other materials, and with the sun in front and just off to the right of my camera’s view not only did I have a nice contrast between the rim and the rest of the scene, but the backlight meant that all the landforms facing me would be in shadow. Backlit shadows create the illusion of contrast and texture on the flat viewing surface of the photo. Add the few clouds in the sky, and the haze, and I felt it was a candidate for a good B&W image.

Later, I imported the images for the day and went immediately to the shot above. I tried 3 or 4 times to make it work in B&W but it just wouldn’t satisfy, so I moved on. I had another “detail” abstract image to work on that did come out to my satisfaction.

The next day was a “go to town” day to get connectivity and take care of personal business: taxes, insurance, hardware store, taxes, new boots, food, taxes, and to just look around Moab. I did purchase a great little horse hair hat band. The leather one on my hat was sweat soaked and when it dried it left round white salt spots where the band was stitched to the hat. They looked like demon eyes and I needed something a bit friendlier.

That night I opened Lightroom and the whole of the prior days shooting was there, but only in thumbnail and preview resolution. “The file named “X” is offline or missing,” showed on every frame. I immediately checked the disks using the filename, then searched by date. Gone. Plus, I had already formatted the memory card. Truly gone. Two days later I reshoot an image of a rock face from Deadhorse Point (the abstract detail shot) and then wait until the same time of day as before to go back to Green River Overlook, about 5:30 PM.


Jpg of the uncorrected RAW image.

Wow, what a difference. The wind was up a bit and sand was blowing across the canyons off in the far mid-distance on the right. Clouds were dropping virga in the upper left. To top it all, there was a well-defined set of cumulus clouds. I took advantage of the conditions and made a number of different framings and exposures.

After dinner I dared to import the new images. As a caution I rebooted before I wiped the memory card, all the images were still present. I went to work. It took me about 15 minutes to come up with a final on the image, so I exported and moved on. After working on a few others from that day it was getting late but I took another look at the Green River Overlook shot. Yeah, nope, it just wasn’t right. I spent the next 45 minutes fine tuning with brushes on the cliff areas in the lower half, the graduated filter on the upper half of the background, a lot of local contrast and exposure adjustments, tweaking the color layers in B&W, and playing with the tone curve and brightness. I hoped to emphasize the 1500 foot (500 Meter) drop from where the camera is to the WS layer and the additional 1500 foot drop to the water of the Green River. I concentrated on atmosphere, the feeling of depth, detail, and tonal balance. Now it was perfect and I sent it to my export folder.

Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Islands in the Sky unit. April 2018

I don’t compare images with the other people regardless of their camera quality. Their plans normally prohibit it, usually including family commitments and other destinations over the short term. In addition, I don’t think most people are attempting to be creative with their photography, even those with DSLR’s and high end lenses. You can tell this by watching for a few minutes. If they just point and shoot, and spend only a few quick minutes at a site, they are only taking snapshots. Last, few would care what I shoot, so there is little to learn.

This is something I would have put on my walls back when I actually printed my own images. This image proves the beauty that can be extracted from an image when you extract its color.