Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Week's Sunset

One thing that has become clear as I've been spending more time with my camera shooting the sunrises and sunsets where I live is that it is part planning, part patience and part luck.  Knowing the best location(s) to take the photos is the planning part, and is dictated primarily by the location of the sun along the horizon.  Patience is what you quickly learn is necessary if you are to advance your skills as a photographer.  Luck is what nature and the weather decide to hand out that day.  There have been times I went out with my camera, with a sky full of clouds that looked promising for a spectacular sunset, only to find they were too high/too low in the sky to catch the light, or the location obliterated the light.

On some occasions, luck is on your side and your patience and planning is rewarded with a beautiful sunset, and if you're really lucky, some good shots to show for it.  It also didn't take me long to discover that sunsets are hardly static, and often the most amazing displays happen in the sky when you think it's done for the night.

Earlier in the week, I decided to try a new location for sunset photos that is a bit southeast of Bisbee near the municipal airport.  I wasn't sure what the cloud situation was going to be when I got out there, but it looked promising:  some cirrus or cirrostratus clouds building up right at the horizon where the sun sets.  While I was waiting, I took several photos of some solo clouds and afternoon light on the Mules that I'll probably post later.

Here are the photos from this sunset.  As usual, I took close to 40 photos, and chose what I felt were the best and/or most representative of what I saw. 

Clouds Near and Far
This wide-angle shot shows the location of the main clouds, and some more proximal accessory clouds that add some interest.  Light isn't that exciting.

Inner Glow
Now, things start to get interesting. 

This pink sliver is all that's left of the thin clouds seen in the first photo, and for some reason, it's catching the light just right.  It is right above the Huachuca Mtns.

Over Naco
This is what was happening a bit to the south.  The towns (US and Mexico) of Naco are at the base of this mountain, whose name I do not know, but which has appeared in several other photos.

Continuing On
The colors and shapes of the light hitting the clouds at this angle gives the appearance of the sky being on fire.  After taking this shot, I figured the best was over, folded up my tripod and turned around to head back to my car.

But wait - there's more!
And this is what I saw when I got to my car 45 seconds later.  I quickly set up my un-exended tripod on the trunk of the car and took more photos.  This wide-angle shot shows the expanse of the clouds and color streaks over the Huachucas.

Let's have a closer look
This zoomed in shot shows more of the detail in this stunning cloud.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Ephemeral Nature of Water - Reflections

The last set of photos was all about the big picture of water and its relationship with the landscape - something everyone can relate to.  I also have a fascination with patterns and shapes of the small things in nature:  things often overlooked or just simply not observed in a close, intimate way.  There is an entire album on my Picasa gallery devoted to what I describe as "nature abstracts and still lifes", which can be seen here

The Jonquil is situated right by the drainage that goes through Tombstone Canyon; the hotel is in front and the courtyard to the rear of the motel is on the other side.  Water has been flowing through it as well, and the other day, I hopped down to the creek from the parking lot and watched the water flowing over the pebbles and rocks in the creekbed.  I was immediately drawn to the patterns the reflected light formed in the water, and that is the theme for this set of photos, which are about water as an abstract form.  I imagine a lot of people don't "get" the point of abstraction as it relates to artwork and beauty.  My hope is that perhaps these images will make you stop and reconsider that.

Water and light work magic on some ordinary pebbles, making them look like precious stones.  The square format adds to the ambiguity, allowing the viwer to find his/her own way through the image.

Steps of Light
These linear bands lend a terrace-like appearance to the rocks.
Curved reflections are formed as water flows off the smooth surface of the upper rock.
I can't come up with a fitting name/description for this, but I love everything about it.
Mesh of Light and Color
The linear reflections seem to emphasize the blues, purples and pinks of the rocks below.
The shapes formed by the reflections give the appearance of being formed colorful pieces of glazed tile
So Flows the Current
The name of a CD and song by one of my favorite artists, Patrick O'Hearn.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Ephemeral Nature of Water - Waterfalls

In much of the country, people take water - both its presence and availability - for granted.  Here in the desert, however, water is seldom plentiful more than a handful of times during the year; yet, the flora and fauna are well-adapted to handle the intermittent precipitation in a variety of ways.   For most people living in desert regions, rain is usually a welcome event.

The El Nino storm that blew through the pacific coast, west and southwestern regions of the country last week definitely left more than its fair share of snow and rain in its wake: Flagstaff got a whopping 50" of snow, more than it has seen from a single storm in 40 years.  That snowpack will help replenish the nearby lakes and underground aquifers that the community relies on for its water supply.

Here in southern AZ, precipitiation from the storm was much more modest - I had about 2" of snow on my car Friday morning.  The surrounding hills and mountains got a bit more.  One of the things about living here is that snow generally doesn't last more than a day, and that melting snow has to go somewhere.  The Mule Mountains, particularly in the area west of town known as "the divide", are formed of pink granite, and as one drives up Hwy 80 into town, creekbeds and washes that collect the runoff and snowmelt are seen, and have always been dry since I've lived here.  Locals know of one area in particular, simply known as "the falls", where water cascades off the side of the granite during monsoons.  Speaking to someone at the bar on Saturday, I found out that area was indeed flowing due to the snowmelt; the photos he took were compelling enough for me!  So, on Sunday afternoon, I drove down for a hike and some pictures of my own. 

The falls are visible from the road, and there is a turnout right at the creek that runs under the highway.  A guardrail protects cars from the creek and v.v., and a short trail was immediately visible on the other side of the guardrail.  The drainage is primarily a series of large and small granite boulders, and some areas of granite slickrock.  Following the drainage up requires some climbing and scrambling over large and small boulders.  The water was fast-moving, crystal clear and ice cold. 

Below are some selected images of this seasonal creek; the view changed dramatically as I headed up, lending a different feel to the falls from each vantage point.  Photos are shown in the order they were taken up the drainage.  This will be dry again within the next few days, or until another storm rolls through.

Falls from the Highway
Taken from the road, this shows the rugged granite of the south face of the mountain.  Scrub oak dot the cliffs and slopes.

 Small Falls and Shadows
The shadows cast from the surrounding trees add a sense of depth to the rock, while the small waterfall remains sunlit.

Cascade with Grass
A slower shutter speed provides a pleasing softness to the moving water and helps define its curtain-like form. 

Chosen Path
After coming off the vertical rock, the water briefly disappears from view before heading down this section of slickrock.
Exceeding Expectations
This large spire, previously obscured by the higher background of the mountain, now comes into view.  And the closer vantage point reveals a beautiful rainbow of colors formed by the mist of the falls. 

Had I left earlier in the afternoon, I would have continued up closer to the falls.  However, shortly after I took this photo, the sun dropped behind the mountain side on the south side of the canyon, reducing visibility for the hike back down and causing a rapid drop in ambient temperature at this time of the year - not a good combination when one is out alone. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter on the Ridge Trail - pastel

This latest pastel, completed yesterday, is based on a photo I took in December the first time I hiked one of the local trails here.  I'm not sure if it has any official name, but its descriptive name is the "ridge trail", as it runs along the ridge of hills that form the northern border of the town.  It offers a fantastic panoramic view of the town of Bisbee, along with the adjacent hillsides and side canyons of the area to the north. 

While the trail does primarily run along the ridge, there are areas where it splits, offering the hiker the option to traverse the side and slope rather than go over it.  We had gotten a few inches of snow about two days before I went on this hike, and despite daytime temperatures in the low 60's, the north face where this trail section is doesn't get direct sun at this time of the year.  In addition to the trail itself, I was drawn to the shadows reflected by the snow from the brilliant blue sky.  The distal trees, patches of exposed earth, and winter grasses add some contrast.  This is the first time I've ever done snow in a painting, and I am quite pleased with how it turned out. 

I did change some elements from the photo to enhance the composition, namely, making a bit more snow on the right hand side of the slope; eliminating some trees, and adding some clouds.  I used a very simple alcohol wash underpainting for this, done for basic value shapes, in vine charcoal and white Conte pastel pencil.  I'm trying to get away from excessive blending as I find it dulls the painting and makes it look overworked and less painterly.  So, blending was only used for the initial layers of pastel laid down to sink the pigment into the tooth of the paper. 

"Winter on Ridge Trail" - 10.5 x 7.5"
pastel on 320-grit sanded paper
available for purchase

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mountains and Paths - pastels

Here are two more small pastels completed over the past few days.   Both are based on photos taken around the area.  The first is of the Mule Mtns. as seen from Hwy 80 towards Douglas.  Both have a combination of hard and soft pastels.

"Mules from the South"
pastel on sanded paper, 5x7
available for purchase

"Path Towards Council Rock"
pastel on sanded paper, 5x7
available for purchase

Sunrise through Sunset - pastels

I got into a painting groove a couple of days ago and finished a few paintings, including the one that had been giving me fits for a while.  I finally decided to stop tweaking parts of it at the risk of ruining it.  The process reminded me of a quote I heard from an attending doctor I trained with years ago during a surgery rotation; he asked me:  "What is the enemy of 'good'?  Answer:  'better'".   This is the first actual sunset painting I've done with a complex cloud form, and I'm definitely pleased with several elements of it.  I also learned a lot while doing it, and realized that I need some more grays in my pastel palette to more accurately capture the muted colors seen in clouds.   As often seems to be the case, the photos don't do complete accuracy as to the colors or saturation, even though I try to match them as best I can. 

The others are 5x7's done from photos taken from the backyard of the Jonquil.  I am rapidly amassing a large collection of these photos, taken at all times of the day, to capture the skies of sunrise, mid-day and sunset.  They are presented in the order of the time of day they represent and not when completed.  I have decided to offer select pieces for sale, unframed, at reasonable prices.  If interested, please contact me.

"Hillside Sunrise"- 5x7  study
Nupastel on Canson paper

"Hillside and Clouds #2" 5x7
pastel on 600-grit sanded paper
Available for purchase

"Evening Clouds from Mule Overlook"
~ 9x11"  pastel on 400-grit sanded paper

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Skies - photoseries

Today was a productive day in the studio -  in addition to finally finishing the sunset/cloudscape painting I started working on a while back, I finished two other small (5x7) sky/cloud paintings.  I also selected the photos for today's blog post that were taken last week when we had a storm system pass through this area. 

Location for these photos was the same as those taken for the afternoon skies post a few days ago - east of town, on the dirt road, whose name, according to an online map, is N. High Lonesome Rd.  Later, I drove down Hwy 80 towards Douglas and went down and unnamed dirt road that passes around the back of the Mules and connects with Warren, a small community that is also part of Bisbee.  What is remarkable is that during the entire time I was out, with my sister's boxer along for protection, we never got rained on. 

For sky and cloud lovers, I hope you'll enjoy this latest selection:

Showers to the North
These discreet areas of precipitation are on the valley north and east of the Mules

Rain Over McNeal
This isolated cumulonimbus is east of the above photo and is probably dumping rain on the small community of McNeal

Storm Shadows
The dark shadows of the large rain-laden cloud behind the northeastern edge of the Mules adds contrast with the lighter foreground clouds and small area of virga. 

To the South
The afternoon sun creates beautiful shadows and colors on this large cumulus cloud seen almost due south.

Cumulonimbus to the East
This cell is busy dumping rain on a range that is to the east and is also south of the Chiricahua Mtns.

Rain over Bisbee
Taken along the dirt road off Hwy 80, the variety of clouds over the distal Mules, and nearby rock outcropping create a strong impact.

North Along Hwy 80
This is the same stormcloud in the McNeal photo from above about 1 1/2 hrs. later; the buildings and small trees show the scale

East from Hwy 80
Taken at the same location as the above photo, this shows the precipitation and virga from this impressive cumulonimbus

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Hike in Black and White - Photoseries

We are due to get a major storm system that is predicted to bring significant amounts of rain and snow to the lower and higher elevations of this region, respectively, within the next day.  Figuring this would likely limit outdoor excursions and hikes for the next several days, I took advantage of the mild weather we had this past Saturday and went on a trip to explore some of the hiking areas around the Huachuca Mtns., which have been featured in various other photos that have appeared on this blog, usually as a distal landscape element.

I managed to find an excellent trail off of Ramsey Canyon Rd.  The trailhead starts out near some residential property as a dirt road, and heads into the foothills of the Huachucas before becoming a singletrack trail that drops down into a drainage/riparian area, eventually heading up into the mountains, or at least that is how it appeared.  I will definitely be back for a full-day hike in the spring. 

As far as the photos go, sometimes weather or lighting conditions are not conducive for really standout captures, particuarly of sweeping landscapes.  That was the case on Saturday, as high clouds blocked out the bright sun for most of the afternoon.  So, I decided this would be a good opportunity to focus on more intimate views of the landscape:  the trees.  While I find a northeastern forest of deciduous trees in winter dormancy to be monotonous and dreary, we don't have that problem in the southwest.  Evergreen trees and shrubs dot the landscape, interspersed with native desert deciduous trees like the AZ sycamore and cottonwood.  

PP editing in PS included adjustments in levels, application of sepia or warm photofilters and cropping.

View from Carr Canyon Rd
A hike up the closed dirt road provided this view overlooking part of Sierra Vista and the Mule Mtns. to the east
Along the Brown Trail
Scrub oak and grasses cover the rolling hills at the base of the Huachucas

Sycamore Solo #1
This stately AZ sycamore, a native riparian species, shows off its form next to a dry wash
Along the Trail
An old fence, pile of wood, and a variety of trees line the trail.
Sycamore Solo #2
The characteristic white bark of this sycamore contrasts with the darker background giving drama to its elegant, flowing branches
Reach to the Sky
A skyward view from the base of this tree shows it in an abstract form
Sycamore Duet
This pair of trees is clearly living in harmony with each other
A Watchful Eye
This small, unidentified species of raptor takes advantage of this bare tree to survey its surroundings in the late afternoon

Friday, January 15, 2010

Afternoon Skies - Photoseries

Surprise, surprise - it's another set of cloud photos!  I have a sunset-cloudscape pastel that I've been working on that seems to resist attempts to finish it, so in lieu of another day without posting a new painting, I am offering these instead.  In my last post with the sunset photos, I mentioned that I'd been out in the afternoon for a couple of hours on a cloud-scouting photoshoot.  Well, these are some of those photos.  The locations are east of town, along Double Adobe Rd (location of previous sky photos), and a dirt road off of Double Adobe that I believe is called "Two Horse Rd."  It offers a view of the eastern hills of the Mule Mtns, as well as ranges to the east (Chiracahuas) and the basin/valley between.  Aside from the road, a power line, and the occasional ranch tucked up in a side canyon, there is little evidence of human activity or presence - another thing I love about this part of the country.

The clouds in these photos vary tremendously; it is hard to believe that they were all taken within a 10 mile radius of each other and all within 90 minutes.  I took over 40 photos; these are a handful of my favorites.  The clouds are the stars here, so most photos were shot at 18mm, which is as wide as my lens goes, and the desert landscape acts as a compliment.

Cloud Set East of Double Adobe
The two lower clusters of clouds are the remains of earlier isolated cumulonimbus (rainclouds) that continued to resolve as I watched them.  Location is off of Double Adobe Rd west of small town of the same name.

The diffuse edges and interior shadows of the large proximal cloud are quite a contrast to the higher layer of altocumulus framing it.  The small lenticular-type cloud seems random and adds a random, amusing element.  View is looking south along Double Adobe Rd.

Cotton Candy Sky
High winds and cold air are probably what make this cumulus cloud look like fair food; more traditional-appearing cumulus form the lower layer above the outskirting hills of the Mules.  View is northwest.

Perspective is Everything
This large S-shaped cloud provides a dramatic focal point, and offers three seperate vanishing points. 

Celebration Sky
This cluster of unusually-shaped, quickly-developing cirrus clouds gives the impression of waving flags or fountains above the more familar cumulus clouds.  View is to the north.

Fractals and Waves
Interesting air currents have produced this unique cloud set above some windblown cumulus and altocumulus bands.  View is to southeast.

Mule Mtn. Centerpiece
These bands of high-level cirrus clouds formed within just minutes over the eastern Mules, adding contrast to the lower level scattered altocumulus already present.  View is west.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sunset: A Performance Event

Sometimes, a sunset is just a sunset.  Other times, it becomes something most unexpected.  A few days ago, I went on yet another cloud-shooting photo expedition in the afteroon, and the skies promised a good sunset as well.  I went down Hwy 92 - known location for good sunsets - and waited with my camera and tripod.  I didn't have long to wait, and I wasn't disappointed. 

The sky on this evening ended up being one of the most spectacular I've ever seen in my life, although it didn't start out that way.  I took a bunch of photos capturing the sequence and progression of the sunset, and it occurred to me that it resembled a visual symphony orchestra.  Even still, they don't do full justice to this most amazing sunset in terms of color, scope and just pure awe versus witnessing this in person.  Still, I am pleased to present to you the one-time performance of "A Molten Sky":

Introduction - The Principals
Clouds, sun and mountains

Opening Performance - Solo of the Sun
The sun begins its performance by casting rays over the distal mountains

The Audience
The western hills of the Mule Mtns. glow a brilliant orange catching the late afternoon light

Suite 1 - Clouds with Sun
The clouds now begin to take on some color as the sun drops
Overature of Sun and Clouds
The lower edge of the clouds turn a brilliant yellow as the sun continues its path west below the horizon
Virga Quartet plays to Mexico
Looking south, areas of falling precipitation that vanish before hitting the ground (virga) cast a beautiful pink glow
Orchestral Movement in Orange and Blue
The crescendo builds as the sky takes center stage
Pièce de Résistance:  Molten Sky
High drama in the skies unfolds over the Huachucas.  If Richard Wagner was to compose a sunset, this would be it
Duet:  Pink Cloud and Transformer
The two elements, both slightly off center, add tension and uncertainty to this photo
Encore Performance - Huachucas and Sky
A closer view of the mountains silhouetted by the sky, showing the intensity of the color and shapes formed on the underside of the cloud layer
Curtain Call
The final performance as the colors fade and the sun gives way to dark skies
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