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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

 

 

 


A Fine Spring Evening

Point RustonNot only have I not posted in awhile, I haven’t had time to get the camera out either and it was starting to make me antsy. So yesterday evening, I grabbed the camera and drove down the hill to take a few shots of Mount Rainier and the sunset from Ruston Way here in Tacoma. These shots were taken from a spot about a mile from my house. I still want to get out for a full day with camera in hand, but for a short while, the hour I spent last night scratched my photography itch. Do you have a special, go-to spot when you just have to get out there an click a shutter button for awhile?

Mount Rainier just at sunset

Mount Rainier just at sunset

Looking northwesterly toward the Olympic Mountains

Looking northwesterly toward the Olympic Mountains

Mount Rainier about 20 minutes after the sun set (in the blue hour)

Mount Rainier about 20 minutes after the sun set (in the blue hour)


Of Geese and Daffodils

Snow Geese and Conway ChurchFebruary is a time of two seasons in western Washington. Winter still rules in the mountains (see my last post) and spring arrives in the lowlands. One of the best places to see the meeting of the seasons is on Skagit River delta west of the town of Mount Vernon. Between the South and North Forks of the Skagit River, lies Fir Island – home to thousands of snow geese every winter. Just north of the North Fork lies thousands of fertile acres, many planted with spring flowers.

The snow geese generally arrive in November and are gone by April, with the peak number from mid-December through mid-January. At their peak, there are easily tens of thousands of geese present on Fir Island. Besides the geese, trumpeter swans and tundra swans also migrate to the area. Like bald eagles? Plenty of them as well.

The field north of the river have a few geese as well, but are mainly known for their spring daffodils and tulips. By the time the tulips arrive, the geese are gone, but if your timing it right, you can see the snow geese and blooming daffodil fields on the same trip.

Six years ago, during the first weekend of March, I went to the area and found a huge flock of geese and acres of blooming yellow daffodils. Last week, friend and I made the trip, hoping to duplicate my timing of 2010. And we saw thousands of geese, a few swans, and a dozen or so bald eagles. Unfortunately, we were a bit early for the daffodils – they were just starting to bloom. I would guess that this week and next may be prime blooming.

To see the geese and swans, head north from Seattle on Interstate 5 and take the Conway exit (exit #221). Turn west off the freeway, and at the roundabout in Conway, get on Fir Island Road. The geese can usually be found in the fields either north or south of Fir Island Road a mile or two after you cross the Skagit River. The geese spend the night on the water, and fly back inland during the morning. Last week, we arrived a little before sunrise, a bit early for the geese. But by the time we had finished taking a few sunrise shots, we heard honking on the air. We watched geese fly in in groups of 2 to 200, most landing at a field a few hundred meters off the road. Later in the morning, a few bigger flocks (maybe a 1,000 birds) flew in. It was an amazing sight.

With luck, the flocks will land close to the road and you can get good shots with a 70-200mm zoom lens (as was the case when saw them in 2010). That was not the case last week for me, and I found myself wanting something in the 400 to 600 mm range (which I do not own). I shot with my 70-200mm with a 1.4x teleconvertor.

Want the best of winter and spring in the Puget Sound lowlands – take my advice and try the geese and daffodils of the Skagit River delta in late February and early March.

One of a dozen or so bald eagles we found.

One of a dozen or so bald eagles we found.

Geese flying in shortly after sunrise.

Geese flying in shortly after sunrise.

A flock flying in later in the morning with Mount Baker in the background.

A flock flying in later in the morning with Mount Baker in the background.

Daffodils - just starting to bloom. No need for a big telephoto lens here!

Daffodils – just starting to bloom. No need for a big telephoto lens here!

It got cloudier as the morning progressed, but that made for some dramatic clouds over the daffodil fields (Olympic Mountains in the background).

It got cloudier as the morning progressed, but that made for some dramatic clouds over the daffodil fields (Olympic Mountains in the background).

This shot is from 2010 when the geese were much closer to the road.

This shot is from 2010 when the geese were much closer to the road and my 70-200mm lens was plenty big to get some “wing” action.

 


Quick Shots: Mount Rainier National Park

Emerging RainierWinter is rapidly ending here in western Washington. Spring flowers are already blooming in my yard. But it isn’t quite over yet. Here’s a few shots from a snowshoeing outing I made earlier this month in Mount Rainier National Park.

Sun lighting part of the slopes near Paradise

Sun lighting part of the slopes near Paradise

Part of the Tatoosh Range, south of Paradise

Part of the Tatoosh Range, south of Paradise

View of the Nisqually River from the bridge over the river in the park

View of the Nisqually River from the bridge over the river in the park

Down by the Nisqually River

Down by the Nisqually River

Blue winter sky above the Nisqually River

Blue winter sky above the Nisqually River

Grove of trees in the Nisqually Valley

Grove of trees on the floor of the Nisqually Valley


Feeding the Photography Habit when Traveling with Family

The Louvre

The LouvreIf you are like me, it is often difficult to do serious photography when traveling with your family. I wish I had a simple method to address this problem, but I don’t. If you do, please let me know! Or perhaps you don’t think this is a problem. If that is that case, please tell me why.

When traveling with Tanya, she usually requires me classify the trip as  a  “photograph trip” or a “non-photography trip.” On non-photography trips, I can still take my equipment, but I am expected not to disrupt any trip plans with photography. On photography trips, the world’s my oyster and I dictate when and where.

Casa Batlló, designed by Gaudí, on the Block of Discord, Bacelona

Casa Batlló, designed by Gaudí, on the Block of Discord, Barcelona

When we take a big trip, like our trip to Europe last month, they are by default non-photography trips. This is especially true when we travel with others; in this particular case, traveling with my mother-in-law and my son. One word of advice – if you want to get a lot of photography in while traveling, don’t travel with your mother-in-law.

On a photography trip, I tend to take the whole bag. But for non-photography trips, I go more minimal. I usually take my camera backpack as a carry-on in the plane, but I don’t typically carry it around when out shooting except when I’m going out by myself (see below). Even then, I take some of the gear out instead of my normal kit. I typically take my Canon 6D body with battery grip, a 28-300 mm lens, a 17-40 mm lens, about 5 or 6 memory cards, a polarizing filter, a split-neutral density filter, a Canon speedlight flash, four batteries, a battery charger, a tripod, my laptop, a card reader, and a few various accessories (lens cloth, etc.). In addition to the backpack, I also bring a Think Tank Pro digital holster  as a smaller bag.

So when on a non-photography trips and heading out with the family, I go with a minimal set of equipment.  I will put the 28-300mm lens on the camera, take the battery grip off, and put the camera in the holster (the camera will not fit in the holster with the battery grip on). In the pockets of the holster, which are rather small, I’ll carry a spare battery, a spare memory card, a cleaning cloth, and the polarizing filter. Sometimes, if I know I will want it, I’ll carry the 17-40mm lens in my coat pocket (no room in the camera holster). Rarely I’ll carry the tripod as well with this minimal setup. This minimal set of equipment allows me to get quality photographs without impacting the family, though I will often have to shoot at a higher ISO than I’d like due to not having the tripod (see my last post).

But my main strategy to get quality photography time is to go out without the family. This usually means going out at night after the family has retired to our lodgings for the evening or getting up extra early and going out prior to everyone else being ready for the day. This is one reason I like to stay near major attractions that might look good at night. On your recent trip, we stayed within easy walking distance of the Louvre when in Paris and near the Block of Discord in Barcelona. When going out on my own, I carry my full kit in the photo backpack and always take the tripod (even with high ISOs, it is hard to shoot at night without a tripod). The added advantage is that often there are not very many people around wandering into my frame when shooting, and even if they do, the exposures are long enough that they typically don’t show up if they keep moving.

Shooting at night also has the added advantage of making the sky easier to deal with. When doing travel photography, you typically don’t have a lot of time at any one destination. So you can’t necessarily wait for those “good” sky days. Often the sky is a mass of clouds without any redeeming detail, and if you place it in your composition, it sits there like a huge blown-out white blob. Not to mention the contrast problem it creates with the foreground and your image’s subject. Not a problem at night. At worst, clouds pick up scattered lights from the city and take on an orange glow, which is easy to fix in processing.

The images accompanying this post are from two nights I went out by myself, once in Paris and the second in Barcelona. Unlike my previous post, these images were all taken with an ISO of 100 or 200 while using a tripod. The featured image at the top of the post is of the courtyard of the Louvre.

The top of the large pyramid in the Louve courtyard with the museum building in back.

The top of the large pyramid in the Louvre courtyard with the museum building in back.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, just northeast of the Louvre

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, just northeast of the Louvre

Louvre, the Seine River, and the Pont du Carrousel bridge

Louvre, the Seine River, and the Pont du Carrousel bridge

Palace of the Institute of France

Palace of the Institute of France

Reflections in the Seine looking toward the Palace of the Institute of France and the Pont des Arts bridge

Reflections in the Seine looking toward the Palace of the Institute of France and the Pont des Arts bridge

Close up on the Casa Batlló

Close up on the Casa Batlló

Close up on Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera

Close up on Christmas decorations on the Casa Milà , popularly known as La Pedrera

Shooting at night can give lucky accidents, such as this shot of La Pedrera with a bus driving through the frame during the exposure

Shooting at night can give lucky accidents, such as this shot of La Pedrera with a bus driving through the frame during the exposure

Barcelona is home the famous Magic Fountains, but there are many other fountains in the city as well, such as this one in the middle of the intersection of Passeig de Garcia and Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes

Barcelona is home the famous Magic Fountains, but there are many other fountains in the city as well, such as this one in the middle of the intersection of Passeig de Garcia and Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes

Or the fountains here in the Plaça de Catalunya

Or the fountains here in the Plaça de Catalunya

 


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