the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

American Southwest

Georgia O’Keeffe Country

Chimney Rock at Sunset

Chimney Rock at SunsetWhile in Santa Fe, Tanya and I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. We had missed it on our previous trip there, so we wanted to be sure to see it this time. We enjoyed learning about Georgia O’Keeffe and seeing some of her paintings, though quite frankly, both of us we disappointed that more of her work was not on display. That said, it is worth a visit if you are in the area and enjoy the work of this truly American iconic artist.

Non-flash photography is allowed in the museum, though some pieces are marked for no photography signs. Additionally, no tripods are allowed.

Georgia O'Keeffe's painting "Horse Skull with White Rose" photographed in Georgia O'Keeffe museum in Santa Fe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting “Horse Skull with White Rose” photographed in Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe

One of the issues of photographing paintings and other artwork is getting the color correct. Most museums, not just the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, have title cards next the artwork that is neutral grey. To get the true color of the piece, also take an image of the title card. Then in Lightroom, use the color balance eyedropper tool to get the correct color balance. Copy the color balance to the image with the artwork, and instantly the colors in the artwork are correct. For more on this technique, see my earlier post on the subject.

Exploring the work of Georgia O’Keeffe in a museum is one thing, but seeing the places she painted with your own camera lens is another. So a day or two after seeing the museum, Tanya and I traveled north of Santa Fe to the region around Abiquiu, where Georgia O’Keeffe lived, to see in person some of the places she painted. We didn’t drive into Abiquiu proper (not there is much town there) because we walked around it several years ago. But if you do visit, the church there is very photogenic. Tours of Georgia O’Keeffe’s house are also available through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Our first stop was Plaza Blanca, or, as Georgia O’Keeffe called it, the White Place. Plaza Blanca is a spectacular set of white limestone cliffs, small canyons, and hoodoos just north of Abiquiu. To reach the White Place, driving west out of Abiquiu on US Highway 84, shortly after passing over the Rio Chama, turn right on County Road 155. After a mile or two, this good dirt road becomes paved. Shortly after the road becomes paved, turn left on a dirt road through the gate for the Dar al Islam . When the road splits, stay right and come to a small parking lot. The White Place is a short walk down the hill.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore Plaza Blanca in detail as it was already late afternoon and I wanted to the Ghost Ranch before sunset. The Ghost Ranch is about 10 miles north of Abiquiu on US 84, and while driving there, we stopped to take some pictures of the badlands and red rock cliffs along the highway a mile or so before the turn off for the Ghost Ranch. There is also another spot worth noting between Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. The highway between Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch climbs up out of the Rio Chama valley west of town. At one point, there is a pullout with a good views of the Rio Chama both looking back to Abiquiu in one direction and toward the mountains in the other. We stopped here on our way back from Ghost Ranch during the blue hour.

Today the Ghost Ranch is an education and retreat center owned by the Presbyterian Church. But you need not be a church member or go on a retreat to visit or even stay there; all visitors are welcome. When arriving at the Ghost Ranch, visitors check in at the Welcome Center. There is a $5/person fee for day visitors. You can also join in at meals in the dining hall (for a small additional fee) or even stay overnight if not full (reservations are available).  For visitors not partaking in a retreat or organized educational event, the day pass offers access to hiking trails, the ranch’s museums (an anthropology museum and a paleontology museum), restrooms, trading post, and the rest of the campus grounds.

I had very little knowledge of the Ghost Ranch, other than it was a good place for photography, prior to our arrival. The Welcome Center was closed when we drove up, but a woman was just leaving the building as we got out of the car. It turns out she was the Executive Director of the ranch. She suggested a couple hikes, invited us to dinner at the dining hall, opened the Welcome Center to let us use the restrooms, and told us a bit of history about the ranch. Apparently, the ranch was originally owned by a pair of cattle rustlers and thieves, who kept their pilfered livestock in a box canyon on the ranch. To keep people out, they told stories of evil spirits that haunted the area. This led to the original name Ranch of the Witches which was eventually changed to the Ghost Ranch. Arthur Pack, an east-coast conservationist, purchased the ranch in the 1930s. He sold a small piece of it to Georgia O’Keeffe, who kept a studio there and painted many of the Ghost Ranch landscapes. Pack donated the ranch to the Presbyterian Church in the 1950s to be used as a retreat center.

The ranch is set at the base of a series of red-rock cliffs and small canyons and badlands, quite reminiscent of much of southern Utah. Its most famous geologic feature is Chimney Rock, an orange and red sandstone spire jutting out from a cliff face (shown in the featured images above, as well as one image below). Tanya and I did about half of the Chimney Rock hike, far enough to get a good photograph (the one below). Based on the angle of the setting sun, which was backlighting the formation, we didn’t complete the hike so I could get a better shot entrance road to the ranch. The image above was shot just before sunset along the entrance road, next to an old log cabin (which Tanya explored while I took pictures).

In all, we spent less than half a day exploring the Georgia O’Keeffe country around Abiquiu. From this short outing, I know I want to go back for more.

Some of the white limestone formations at Plaza Blanca

Some of the white limestone formations at Plaza Blanca

Section of canyon wall at Plaza Blanca

Section of canyon wall at Plaza Blanca

Red rock formation along US Highway 84 near Ghost Ranch

Red rock formation along US Highway 84 near Ghost Ranch

Door and adobe wall at Ghost Ranch

Door and adobe wall at Ghost Ranch

Cattle skull on the Ghost House at Ghost Ranch

Cattle skull on the Ghost House at Ghost Ranch

Chimney Rock from near the Chimney Rock Trail at Ghost Ranch

Chimney Rock from near the Chimney Rock Trail at Ghost Ranch

View from the Chimney Rock Trail toward Cerro Pedernal, which was perhaps Georgia O'Keeffe's favorite landscape subject

View from the Chimney Rock Trail toward Cerro Pedernal, which was perhaps Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite landscape subject

 

 

 


Quick Shot – Santa Fe

Estrella del NorteTanya and I just got back yesterday from a quick trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is one of our favorite places in the American Southwest for many reasons, but one in particular (for me at least) is that the Santa Fe region is a wonderful place to photograph.Santa Fe is at elevation 7,200 feet (2,195 meters) above sea level, and with the elevation, spring was just starting to blossom out there. The quick shot posted here was taken at the Estrella Del Norte Vineyard about 15 miles north of Santa Fe. It has lovely grounds, and I’d like to go back some day when the grape vines are green and the flowers blooming. As you can see in this image, the cottonwoods in the background were just starting to leaf out. Enjoy this shot, and I’ll post more in the next few days.


How Far Do You Go?

Desert Abstract 1

Desert Abstract 2One of the challenges of shooting in RAW format is deciding what and how much processing to do. (Tangent – why is RAW capitalized? It is not an acronym such as JPEG or TIFF. It simply means unprocessed. In Wikipedia, it isn’t capitalized. But somehow, it doesn’t look right to me. I’m usually a stickler for correct writing – just ask anyone at my day job where I edit everyone’s reports; they may even call me a grammar nazi – but leaving it uncapitalized when every other file format is capitalized seem wrong. So grammar nazi or not, I’m capitalizing it.) When shooting in JPEG mode, the camera does the processing for you. You can always tweak it later, but the majority of the work is done. With RAW, you should do the heavy lifting and process the image yourself, at least if the default processing by your RAW converter program (Lightroom in my case) doesn’t do a good job. And it is rare when I find I can’t do a better job processing than the default.

But the question remains, what to do and how much? Some might answer, just enough so that it looks like it did in real life. But what is that? Take, for example, the images presented here. These are shots of water seeping out of sandstone near Moab, Utah. I’ve included both my processed versions and the original RAW versions from Lightroom with zeroed developing (with all the sliders set to zero – realize, however, there still is some processing involved, it is impossible to present true RAW images, some processing must occur to translate the images into something humans can view). I took these images in the shade on a sunny, blue-skied morning. So these were naturally lit by a broad, blue sky, which cast a rather flat, blue light onto the sandstone. Does that flat, blue light truly show what I saw, or do my processed versions show what I saw? The answer is up to me as the maker and you as the viewer. Did I go too far?

Well, what did I do to turn the RAW images into the finished images? They were first processed in Lightroom, correcting for lens distortion and chromatic aberration. Then I set the white point and the black point to add contrast, took a little off the exposure, and adjusted the highlights and shadows to bring detail into the blacks and whites. I added some clarity to add a bit of sharpness and some vibrance to add saturation. I then adjusted the color temperature, increasing it to remove the blue tint. I then added a radial filter to lighten the water patterns and darken the rest. And finally, made minor changes to many of these adjustments to fine tune them.  I then took the images to Photoshop, performed Tony Kuyper’s triple play to add punch to the highlights and shadows, lighten up the orangy-browny vegetation on top, and added a “smart glow” to punch up the color a bit. In total, it took about 10 minutes each to do all this work.

I’d think the most controversial of these changes would be the changes to the color, in particular adding vibrance and the smart glow.  The rest is pretty standard old-school darkroom photography made digital (except perhaps the Kuyper triple play, that doesn’t really change the images that much).  The problem here is deciding what is too much in terms of the color. Because the subjects were in shadow, it is difficult to determine what the colors would look like in the sunshine. And of course, what sunshine are we talking about? Sun at noon? Sun at sunset?

I guess the answer is it depends. Did I take it too far? I don’t think so; you may. But these are close to what I wanted to show when I took the images. So for me, the answer is no; I processed them as I thought proper. For you the answer may be different. If you think so, let me know your thoughts.Desert Abstract 1

Desert Abstract 2 - RAW

RAW image unprocessed

 

Desert Abstract 1 RAW

RAW image unprocessed

 


5 Years Ago – Pinnacles National Monument (no make that Park)

Pinnacle Poppies

Pinnacle PoppiesFor various reasons I haven’t picked up my camera in about six weeks and it is driving me crazy. David duChemin recently wrote a blog post about tending the fire that really spoke to me and I promised myself I’d get out this weekend. But life got in the way. My son Brooks, and otherwise healthy 26-year old, had his lung partially collapse without an apparent reason on Thursday and is now in the hospital. He may get out tomorrow (we hope). With this, Tanya and I have been spending a lot of time driving back and forth to Seattle to visit Brooks in the hospital. So, no photography this weekend.

So instead, since it has also been a few weeks since I posted, I give you some shots from five years ago this month, when Tanya and I drove to San Diego to see daughter Janelle when she was going to university. Along the way we stopped for a couple of hours at Pinnacles National Monument, which in 2013 became a National Park. I don’t imagine much changed when it gained park status, except perhaps more visitors. When we were there in 2010, it was rather out-of-the-way and quiet. I hope it still is. I’d like to get back some day and spend more time exploring. When we were there in 2010, the wildflowers were blooming. Spring is such a wonderful time of year. Enjoy these shots from Pinnacles National Monument Park.

Pinnacle LupinePinnacle Poppies and Lupine


North Rim

Point Imperial Sunrise

Sunrise at Point Imperial

During our recent trip, Tanya and I originally planned to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for three days. I reserved a spot at the North Rim Campground in Grand Canyon National Park back in May. However, life got in the way (at least in a good way), and Tanya was awarded a full-time teaching job 2 days before we left on the trip, and therefore, needed to be back in Tacoma sooner than our original plan. So I cancelled 2 nights of our campground reservation. As it turned out, we did get three days at the North Rim. Torrential rains hit the Utah-Arizona border area when we were staying in Page, Arizona. After Page, we were planning to camp in the Paria area for two nights before going to the North Rim. While we were able to drive to the campground near Paria, all the trails we wanted to hike in the area were inaccessible due to impassable dirt roads. So instead, we went to the North Rim two nights early.Bright Angel View

Now, you may be asking, if Joe had to reserve a camping spot 5 months ahead of time, how could he just show up and expect to set up his tent? Good question. The answer is I didn’t expect it. We called the national park, but were unable to get through the voice mail system to find out if any spots were available. Instead we headed to the national forest, where “dispersed” camping is allowed without reservations – just find a spot and set up your tent (but don’t expect any amenities and bring your own water, toilet paper, and “cat-hole” digging device). Though we have done primitive car camping before, we weren’t prepared for it this time, having left our portable table and shovel at home. So we stopped in Kanab, Utah at the local Ace Hardware and bought a table and shovel ( a nice folding table actually, better than the one we have at home). Somehow we fit this new gear in the already overstuffed car and drove to the Forest Service ranger station in Fredonia, Arizona. There we asked directions to Crazy Jug Point.

When most people think of the Grand Canyon, they think of Grand Canyon National Park. But actually, a large part of the canyon’s north rim is outside the park and inside Kaibab National Forest. National forests are much less restrictive than national parks, including allowing camping almost anywhere. Crazy Jug Point is a great place to camp. It took about 2 1/4 hours to drive the roughly 50 miles from Fredonia to Crazy Jug (mostly on well maintained dirt roads). We arrived in mid-afternoon and found three other groups already camping there. However, we found a very sweet, nicely shaded spot, just 20 feet off the rim, out of sight of the other groups. The view was not quite on par with the view from the Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim in the park, but the lack of a crowd (and the price – free) make up for it. We stayed two nights. After our first night, the other groups left, and Tanya and I had the entire place to ourselves. Imagine, sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, sipping a cold beer (okay, wine for Tanya), watching the sunset without anyone else within miles. That was our experience at Crazy Jug on the second night.

For our 3rd night at the North Rim, we drove to the North Rim Campground in the park, a distance of 36 miles and about 1 3/4 hours. The campground there had all the amenities you’d expect for national park, with the added bonus of showers (which in my experience are not common in national parks). It is a good campground, and with a short walk (1/4 mile or so), you can see the canyon. But it is not a place for solitude. The campground was full (90 sites).

AgavePhotography wise, camping in the park offered more options and better views. There are ten north-rim viewpoints in the main portion of the park. Four of these are accessible by paved road or short trails, the others by day hikes. With only one night in the park, we drove to the four easily accessible viewpoints, only stopping at three, and I made plans to on where to go back to for sunset that night and sunrise the following morning.

That evening, I stayed close to the campground and went to Bright Angel Point, which is directly behind the North Rim Lodge. This is the most popular viewpoint on the North Rim. A 0.4-mile, paved trail leads from the lodge and visitor center out to the viewpoint proper. However, there are many great views along the way; the trail being along the top of a narrow promontory. Being close to the lodge and campground, I was joined by perhaps a 20 other people. Right at sunset, I was out at the end of the trail. With limited flat areas at the viewpoint, it was a bit difficult to find a spot to place the tripod and find a pleasing composition without getting people in the frame. However, I did get a good spot by stepping down a couple of feet off the trail and standing on a flat rock. I would caution those of you with vertigo; you might not want to do the same. The rock I was on was about 5 or 6 feet across, with drop offs on three sides of 50 to 100 feet. The sunset was not anything to write home about, and the crowd dispersed quickly after the sun went down. I stayed for another 45 minutes, bringing home some nice shots from the blue hour.

The following morning, I got up an hour and a half before sunrise and drove to Point Imperial, roughly an hour’s drive from the campground. Here on the last morning of our trip, before we made the quick two-day drive home (later that day, we drove from the North Rim to Mountain Home, Idaho, about 680 miles), I stood alone, just me, my tripod, and one of the best views on planet. It was cold (about 37 degrees F), it was early (about 5:45 am when I got there; sunrise was at 6:09 am), and I was rewarded by the best sunrise or sunset of the entire trip. I shot like a madman for an hour or so, still the only person at the viewpoint, and headed back to pack up camp. While the view is fantastic at Point Imperial, it is more limited, with many fewer vantage points, than Bright Angel Point or Cape Royal. The perfect place for some quick shots before hitting the road.

After years of wanting to see the North Rim and not making it, I found the North Rim did not disappoint. This area is a landscape photographers paradise. I would have liked more time there, but it wasn’t to be. Now, having seen it, I have a big reason to go back. If you want to see the canyon without the huge crowds common on the South Rim, head north. It is well worth it.

Crazy Jug Point

Sunset at Crazy Jug Point

Crazy Jug Sunrise

Sunrise at Crazy Jug Point, taken from a spot just a 2-minute walk from my tent

Bright Angel Tree

I loved the look of this tree near the start of the trail along Bright Angel Point

Sunset at Bright Angel

Sunset, taken from the Bright Angel Viewpoint

Blue Hour Walls

Grand Canyon walls below Bright Angel Point, taken during the blue hour

Bright Angel

View from Bright Angel Viewpoint, taken after sunset during the blue hour

Mount Hayden

Sunrise with Mount Hayden, Point Imperial

Sunrise Glow

Glowing canyon walls at Point Imperial

Mount Hayden

Another shot of Mount Hayden from Point Imperial


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