There’s a local spot I like to go when I just want to get outdoors for a little fresh air and exercise. It’s a moderately steep hill with no real trail and pretty much nothing but sandstone and some small plants. Most of the rocks are typical sandstone, with minimal definition. Then there’s this little pocket along the route. Everything has a kind of animal print design where stripes tried to develop, but some disruptive force came along during the process. I had to bring a camera along on one of my hikes to capture this anomaly.
As I mentioned in my last post, we had an unusually nice run of cloudy days and rain this summer which is starting to feel like a distant memory. On one of those days, I headed out expecting to get wet. No, make that I was hoping to get thoroughly drenched. At least, that’s how it looked when I started. Mother Nature changed her mind as she often does, but this day turned out to be fantastic for hiking. The big storm lost its energy and in its wake left a couple hours of heavy overcast, light drizzle, and temps around 78 degrees. Technically, the subject in my photo could be called a waterfall, but that’s a stretch. There were tiny pools at the bottom, and several drops trickling down the wall, and that’s about all you might ever see here. The problem with this location is the lack of drainage to feed enough water over the top, unless of course, you were here getting thoroughly drenched by rain. I’ll keep trying. In the meantime, the contrast of the wet black streak against the sandstone and the soft light made for a nice image. Further up, wet plants and continued soft light made for lots of subjects later that day.
The monsoon season has been a good one this year, but for the most part, appears to be over. Sunny and hot dominates the upcoming forecast once again. We had almost a month straight with cloud cover, many small rains, and some downpours. Sadly, from a photographer’s standpoint, most of the big rains happened at night. There are a couple spots with normally dry waterfalls that have safe access no matter what the weather, and I’ve been wanting to capture those in full force. Two weeks ago, we had a daytime thunderstorm in the right part of town, and I headed out to see some waterfalls. As I got closer, I realized the rain had missed the area I hoped to see, so I kept driving. When I came upon this canyon, I could see a waterfall going. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get closer before the flow ceased, so I had a moderate telephoto lens along for that reason. Errant raindrops were still coming down as well as thunder rumbling from somewhere overhead, without seeing any lightning. Despite that, I could see blue skies about to take over. I took a photo from this same spot five minutes earlier that shows all the waterfalls because of the soft light. When I saw the sunlight coming through, I knew this was going to be a b&w. All those cliffs were still very wet, and in this shot you can still see one waterfall clearly. If you’re seeing this on a larger screen, you might see a couple of the other ones.
I’ll admit I haven’t been very motivated to take photos lately. I’ve been out hiking and had my camera along, but there haven’t been a lot of WOW moments. The thing that has captured my attention is new (to me) software. I demo’d a previous version of Topaz Labs software a couple years ago, but didn’t think enough of it to purchase. Advancements in their product made the decision different this time.
I have hundreds of photographs that I never considered printing because of slight flaws. I have now spent weeks testing the potential for many of these shots. The image above is one of several no longer going by way of the delete button. It was taken when I was still recovering from an injury, so I only had my camera with a smaller sensor and smaller megapixel size. Cropping of the original frame was further reducing its printing potential. Some images, mostly old film shots, are beyond recovering to the point I would like, but there are more than enough that have come through extremely well.
The top photo may not come across on screen like it does in a larger print. At first glance the rocks in the creek bed are the most obvious. Moving closer to the print, all those tiny branches capture the viewers attention, some clearly reflected off the water, some seemingly bonded to the stone. This is what I first saw when I pressed the shutter and am glad I was finally able to bring it out of the digital capture.
When the Covid lockdown came along in spring of 2020, I had no idea my life was going to see some changes. I was actually looking forward to some time off and opportunities to go hiking once the authorities realized fresh air was helpful in battling Covid. My leg was not completely healed from an injury months before, and I felt I could use the time for more therapy.
The one thing I was certain of in spring of 2020 was that I was going to be changing residences. By spending a lot more time at home, I was constantly being reminded of all the things that bothered me about that place, especially with all my annoying neighbors being home all the time too. Only two obstacles stood in my way. Every job I had lined up had cancelled, so I had no proof of income. Secondly, nobody would let me go in to see the places in person – only virtual visits were allowed.
With that in mind, I packed up almost everything I owned and put it in storage. I spent a fair amount of time eliminating things I no longer used by either selling, trashing, or finding a new home for those items. I thought (like many) that the pandemic would blow over in a few months, so I would just go hang out with family for a while. My mom had been asking me to visit for some time, so I spent the majority of my time off there. I had visions of traveling more, but with the west on fire much of the summer of 2020, I kept my driving to a minimum.
A few months off became many months off. Somewhere along the way I got a weird flu-like sickness I thought was Covid, but when I took a test, it said negative. When the vaccines came out in 2021, the second shot gave me the same weird symptoms I had months before, so I’m convinced I had it. My mother, now 88, had become less active and less independent. It was good timing that I was still available to help her out. Shortly into 2021, she had a hospital visit. This was a planned trip with several follow-up visits, but then there were more trips to the hospital. The last two trips were through the paramedics. During this time there were plenty of tests, but no answers. Shortly after my last post here, there was finally a test that had the answer. Unfortunately, by that time, it was too late for any options for recovery. She passed within the month.
It then became my responsibility, along with my next closest brother, to handle her post-life details. My brother still had his same job in a different state, so his time to help was on a more limited basis. I was the one handling maintenance of her house and small possessions she had acquired through the years. After several months of cleaning house (literally and figuratively) it was time to get the house sold and back to my life. People were calling about upcoming work and I needed to find a place to live again.
When Covid first shut everything down, I thought there were going to be a lot of people hurting financially with higher numbers of housing foreclosures and lower rents when the dust settled. In fact, the opposite was true. Housing costs had jumped up and availability was scarce. Then I got a reality check when they started to ask about what I had been doing during the last year-and-a-half. Nobody was willing to sign a lease with me without recent paychecks. I even offered to pay the entire year up front, with no takers. My only option was to move into a weekly rental apartment, and the only place to find those are sketchy neighborhoods. Not only was I not unpacking my storage locker, I was now adding more possessions (like my computer and camera) into it.
Word got out to friends of friends that I was living in the hood, and about a month later I had an offer to move in with some people I knew vaguely. They were both smokers, but the place seemed large enough to be able to have my own space without the smell dominating. After a week or two, I noticed that boxes, backpacks, clothes, etc were all beginning to pick up the cigarette odor even though I was keeping my windows open and blocking off vents. Although the place was quiet and the roommates are great guys, I had proof of income at this point and resumed my housing search. I soon became aware of how competitive the market was and I was getting frustrated in my search and feeling like I had to be like a Black Friday shopper at Walmart if I wanted to get a new home.
Finally around the holidays I was able to move into a place of my own. Christmas actually felt like Christmas as I was opening up boxes I had packed up a year-and-a-half before and wondering what was inside. It has taken a while to go through my stuff, but that is behind me now. My patience paid off as I found a house that is comfortable, quiet and odor-free. While many people say that 2020 was a horrible year, I’m looking at 2021 as the year I don’t want to see again. Photography has been on hold for most of the time since last posting here. Last week I went out for the first time in a long time for a hike with photography in mind. A couple days ago I was able to get out for another hike, even though this was with my small on-the-go camera. Here are some shots from the last two trips, a year since my last post.
The desert seems so magical in springtime because in most years, there is an abundance of water flowing through the creek beds. The normal lack of rain through late spring and the inevitable rise in temperatures deliver a one-two punch that just makes it tough to want to get back out there. I couldn’t choose one photo from this hike in April, so this week I have two.
There have been a number of times in the last couple years – most notably during my recent injury recovery – where I didn’t pack a camera for a hike. Using only my iPhone for pictures, even with an app that allowed for manual control and RAW capture, ultimately left me disappointed. A friend suggested I look into a newer phone, but after much research I realized that even the latest and greatest still have the same root of the problem. A tiny sensor.
When I have an image that I really like, I want to print it, and want to see it large. I had not looked at point-and-shoot cameras for many years, and thought I should check out that market. A larger sensor and a real lens was what I was interested in, and eventually found what I was looking for in a Panasonic Lumix LX10 with a Leica lens. I was looking to replace using a phone, but the results of this camera could almost make me stop using my real camera. Almost.
In comparison to an iPhone, there really is no comparing, so I’m looking at results next to a full frame DSLR. There is a slight amount of noise that I don’t get with full frame, but that can be easily fixed in processing. The lens is somewhat wide angle, but doesn’t have the coverage of the extreme wide angle lens I use most of the time. And the macro capabilities of this lens don’t get as close as my favorite macro lens. That’s about all I can think about on the cons of this camera, unless it’s possible to be too small or too light.
I have already posted some photos taken with this camera, including some of the nighttime shots on a recent post. Those, and all on this page are hand-held. It also takes some excellent quality 4k video. Now when I go on a hike where I wasn’t expecting to see something photo-worthy, I won’t be disappointed because I packed light. My friends have never been too vocal about it, but every time I’ve stopped and pulled out a tripod, they were probably thinking, “Go small or go home”
Yesterday I was out at Red Rock Canyon for the first time in a while…..with my car, that is. The scenic loop drive, closed to vehicles for over two months, has reopened. The new hours are from 8-4:30, also known as skin cancer time. Yesterday was the last time until October that anyone could be out during that time and not melt within an hour. At the entrance station, I asked the ranger why they even bothered opening the drive. I had arrived around 4 and he told me that if took a short hike, I probably wouldn’t get ticketed for after hours violation. Not feeling very comforted by those words, I stayed close to my car…..and waited. These photos were taken well after closing time, and I saw several other vehicles, but no ranger. It gave me an opportunity to play with camera settings I’ve never used before, but in the end, I used RAW images to get the results I wanted. I realized yesterday that we’ve been so spoiled by having bicycle access during the closure and for most of the day, making the drive kind of a letdown.
As with most people, I’ve had some time to catch up on a few things lately. I came across this photo in my files and thought it was perfect for a b&w conversion. This is a glimpse of some of the many pinnacles that decorate the summit of the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, Arizona.
September 23rd marks the first day of autumn this year, but that is normally an irrelevant day in this part of the US. This morning I had the air-conditioning turned off and the doors open for the first time in a while, so perhaps this season will be different. I read a few months ago that the El Nino currents were still in place, which would account for a lack of a summer monsoon season. Another wet winter and spring would certainly be welcome, especially if followed by another spectacular wildflower season.
The cooler air also means we’ve made it through the worst of forest fire season. Our forests have been spared from significant sized fires. Surprisingly, of all places, the worst one this season was in southern Arizona. The Woodbury Fire lasted for about a month and consumed over 120,000 acres. Rugged terrain, inaccessibility, and summer heat were the contributing factors keeping that one from being extinguished quickly.
My closest mountain retreat, pictured above, did not have to deal with closures or fires this summer. Every autumn, I keep feeling like we just made it through another round of Russian Roulette. So many dry years, and just enough careless people visiting the forests push the odds in favor of the fires. Let’s hope for a few more El Nino winters.
I find that many photogenic boulder locations tend to be in lower deserts here in the southwest. Joshua Tree National Park comes to mind when I see what other photographers like to cover. The boulders there may receive more attention than the tree the park is named for. There are much better Joshua Trees to see than the ones there, so I completely get this one.
The subjects of my photo come from the cooler, higher elevations of Prescott National Forest in central Arizona. The tree at the back is what caught my attention here. It provides a nice contrast and an element of scale for these massive rocks. The clouds drifting into the frame completed the scene for me.
As summer drags into its last month (in theory), we here in the desert are looking forward to a change. Normally the seasonal monsoon rains have their rhythm going by now, and lowered the fire danger and temperatures (ever so minimally). Even if the rains are few and far between, the clouds offer some relief as well as photogenic backdrops. On the occasions we have had clouds and rain, the storms started early, and were finished early.
This time of year, it’s nice to get away to the mountains for some relief. A lot of other people have the same idea, so when I go, I usually find some rough, isolated road to get further from the crowds. Because the fire danger throughout the west remains high, and most fires are human caused, I no longer feel comfortable doing this. I never make campfires wherever I go for environmental reasons, and I don’t understand why anyone would need a fire when it doesn’t get below 50 degrees. I think this was a tradition started by people in old western movies that needs to go away.
For now, my photo trips have been limited in number and almost exclusively on paved roads. These photos are from late spring in the desert of western Arizona. The yuccas are the last thing to flower in the desert, with the blooms taking place over an extended period, depending on the right conditions for each plant. As I approached the plants below, there was a definite buzz in the air. The bottom photo is a crop of the one above it, so you should be able to see the bees more clearly. Ive photographed these plants in spring before, and never remember encountering a single bee. About 100 feet away was a similar plant with fresher blooms, but no bees. I guess this is what happy hour looks like if you’re a bee!
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