Western dark skies

The western portion of the US has long been on my list of places to explore. I have always been intrigued by the way of life that people describe about the west. It has a lure unto itself, often described as a simple life. A life uncluttered or disrupted with our normal day to day experiences on the east coast. I had the opportunity to attend some training in South Dakota over the summer. Once I confirmed the dates, I started checking the calendar and maps for places to explore during my visit. It just so happened that I was visiting during the peak of the Perseids Meteor Shower and as luck would have it, it was a new moon phase that same week. Each night of my stay brought clear skies, an astrophotographers dream! It had been a long while since I was in a place where the skies were as dark as what I experienced here. I scouted out some locations in the Black Hills National Forest during the evening and then waited for the sun to set. Being there with such good weather and clear skies made it easy to try out some different techniques. I was able to do some time lapse photography a few long exposures and sat out and watched an incredible meteor shower. The only thing I was a little nervous about is being in the middle of the mountains/woods in complete darkness knowing full well there are hungry animals out there. Thankfully I didn’t have to fight any off. Here are a few shots from the different shoots. For the last shot, I stood on the roof of my rental. This gave me a good silhouette against the night sky. Climbing up there in the dark wasn’t easy, but I got it done without damaging myself or the rental. Hope you enjoy…

Dark skies over Black Hills National Forest, Deadwood S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Dark skies over Black Hills National Forest, Deadwood S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Perseids Meteor Shower, Black Hills National Forest S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Perseids Meteor Shower, Black Hills National Forest S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Stargazing - Black Hills National Forest, S.D. © Rob Loughrey
Stargazing – Black Hills National Forest, S.D. © Rob Loughrey

Persistance pays for sunset light

This is an image I took a few years ago while on vacation in NC. Being in the area reminded me of how lucky I was to capture this. While staying in the Outer Banks, I decided to take a ride and get some sunset images at the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is located just South of Nags Head at Oregon Inlet. At the time of this image, the lighthouse was still operational with an old style rotating light. I arrived in the area about an hour before sunset and was scoping out a few locations. This is a challenging location to shoot. The area to the East of the lighthouse is a boggy bush area that makes it very difficult to navigate. Basically it was a no go for launch as far as I was concerned. While looking around for locations to shoot, the sun dipped below the horizon, mostly obscured by a layer of clouds – making it uneventful. I did notice a strip of clouds that looked promising but was having difficulty finding a good location to shoot from. Based on the view of the lighthouse on my way in, I decided to get back in my car and go onto Route 12.  I drove south along the highway finding a spot where there was a break in the trees and brush and pulled over to the shoulder. The majority of the view was obscured with all of the vegetation, plus there were power lines right in front of me. My only option was to climb onto the roof of my vehicle, which I quickly did. Once I got up there, I had the perfect vantage point to take in this amazing display of color. Once I got setup, the only thing left to do was to time my capture so that the light from the lighthouse was lit during my exposure. My timing was just right, as the clouds lit up the sky in what looked like a fire in the sky. People passing by on Route 12 must have thought I was a bit crazy, standing on the roof of my vehicle, but it was well worth the effort. After a little work and thinking outside of the box, I came away with what I feel is a great image of an iconic landmark. Hope you enjoy…

Technical details: Nikon D200, Sigma 80-200mm F/2.8 lens @ 180mm. 1/8 sec at F18, ISO 100, Manfrotto Tripod, Really Right Stuff Ball Head.

Sunset light - Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC. © Rob Loughrey
Sunset light – Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC. © Rob Loughrey

Into the flow

Hey folks, here is a follow up shot from my trip to RIcketts Glen. I was knee deep into some pretty strong currents during this shot. Whenever I take a trip that involves water of any kind, I always bring with my hip and chest waders. Depending on the water temps, the need for the waders isn’t always there, but I prefer to have them along just in case. The currents were extremely strong this particular morning but I was still able to navigate out into the stream using my tripod as a means to stabilize myself. I felt comfortable doing this because I was in a section of the creek that was a good distance from a falls and a relatively gradual grade. Had I been further downstream, perhaps closer to the 92′ Ganoga Falls, I would not have taken the chance. The heavy rains and low clouds were dominating the area with an occasional separation which presented the rising sun and some crepuscular rays of light. I wasn’t able to take full advantage of the scene but still came away with some images I was really happy with. A landscape version of this shot is already on order to hang up in the house. This image really depicts where I enjoy shooting from – right in the middle of things. Hope you enjoy…
Technical details: Nikon D810, 17-35mm F/2.8 lens, Exposed for 1/2 Sec at F/16, ISO 400. Induro Tripod, Really Right Stuff Ball Head & Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer.  

Summer Flow along Kitchen Creek Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey
Summer Flow along Kitchen Creek Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

Weekly inspiration

Hi everyone,

During the 4th of July holiday, I visited family in North East PA. As one would imagine, I can’t go to PA without including plans to visit Ricketts Glen State Park with a fellow photographer and friend Ian. With everything we had planned, the only day we had open to visit the park was Saturday the 4th. Ian and I watched the forecast and as luck would have it, it was sketchy at best during the early morning. We didn’t let that stop us and got up early to make the 2 hour trek to the park. We arrived with gloomy skies which included intermittent rain and periods of downpour. Still not wanting to be deterred, we pressed forward. The recent increase in rainfall had the water at a level that I had never seen before. I was amazed at how much flow there was even in the smaller tributaries that feed into the main runs. We parked in the Lake Rose trailhead parking lot and headed down the Ganoga Glen side of the falls trail. The rain continued to be a menace making getting any shots challenging. We made the best of it and trekked down the falls trail all the way to the top of the 94′ Ganoga Falls. I stopped at each falls along the way and took in some shots. Most of my time I spent in the middle of the main run, shooting upstream in various spots. Here is one of my favorites from the trip of Oneida Falls. The amount of flow was so much on this falls that there was a wind driven spray even 50 feet from the base of the falls. At this particular location, the falls is exposed to the open sky, where the stream is mostly shaded by the canopy of trees along the edge. I don’t often process my images as monochromatic – it just isn’t my cup of tea. I played around with the highlights and shadows on this image and finally settled on the conversion. I think it evokes the mood of what we were experiencing that morning. If you are looking for a good place to shoot in the coming weeks, I highly recommend a trip here. The flows are likely still very high and will make for some fantastic waterfall photography. Thanks for stopping by to have a look at my work. Hope you enjoy! 

Tech details: Nikon D810, 17-35mm f/2.8 lens @ 25mm. ISO 400, .7 sec at f/11, Singh Ray LB Polarizer, Induro Tripod.  

Morning Mist at Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey
Morning Mist at Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

Southwest Sunsets

Hello everyone, 

What makes up your dream sunrise or sunset venue? Is it being at the edge of the ocean, watching the colors change as the sun passes over the horizon? Perhaps at the top of a mountain where you can see for miles on end or maybe a good stretch of farm land riddled with trees and crops? For me, it is anywhere really. As an avid chaser of the light, I often find myself exploring my location for sunrise or sunset opportunities. Recently I spent some time in Arizona where you have wide expanses or flat land that go beyond your imagination. The landscape also has its share of mountains that literally jump out of the plains forming some extremely adverse terrain. One location that I visited while in Arizona was the Saguaro National Park, located just outside of Tucson. This is a unique area of the U.S. which has the distinct pleasure of being one of the sole places on this planet where the Saguaro Cactus grows and thrives. The Saguaro is an amazing plant that towers 20-30 feet up and is able to suck water out of some of the driest soil around. I was truly in awe looking at these marvels of nature. 

The park offers a wide expanse of areas to explore on foot and setup your camera and tripod to witness the light show. When shooting scenes like this, I prefer to shoot a silhouette of the scene rather than blow out the sky. With colors like this, you just can’t go wrong. The only thing that is difficult about getting a shot like this is not running into other Cacti or any of the dozens of reptiles or other occupants of the area. Wear some good hiking shoes, preferably that protect your ankles and take a flashlight to help you find your way in the dark.  There are plenty of places in the park to pull off and explore and in many cases, you have a well traveled trail to follow out into the cactus fields. During my time in the area, I made several trips to the park for sunset. During these visits, I was lucky enough to witness some amazing colors with or without clouds. Hope you enjoy…

Twilight - Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Twilight – Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Light show over the Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Light show over the Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Natures color palette - Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Natures color palette – Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Wednesday inspiration

Hello everyone,

Just wanted to make a quick post and give everyone a little inspiration for the rest of the week. This image is from a recent trip I took to Great Falls, VA with a friend and fellow photographer Bob Clark. As most of you know, I make several trips a year to this location. For me it is a quick getaway and an amazing place to take in the amazing forces of nature. There aren’t any other locations nearby that can rival the mighty Potomac River as it approaches our Nations Capital. Even during spring or early summer, you can get to the park at a reasonable time and get setup prior to sunrise. This coming weekend looks like it would be a great time to visit. Don’t hesitate and get out there early! Hope you enjoy…

Daybreak - Great Falls National Park, VA © Rob Loughrey
Daybreak – Great Falls National Park, VA © Rob Loughrey

Eastern Arizona – a hidden gem

During my trip to the southwest, I decided to take a weekend and see a National Monument in the Eastern part of Arizona. The park isn’t very well known but looked intriguing nonetheless. The Chiricahua National Monument is about 120 miles SE of Tucson and fairly close to the border of New Mexico. The park is referred to as a wonderland of rocks and is very similar to Bryce Canyon. The park encompasses 12,000 acres of rugged terrain within a mountain range that is twenty miles wide and forty miles long. The heart of the park has amazing pinnacle rock formations called hoodoos that are formed by millions of years of weathering. The entire process is too long to explain here, but in short, the constant freeze / thaw periods in a year are a major factor in the hoodoos forming. 

When entering the park, there is a visitor station a few miles up the road which has great information, maps and displays. There is an 8 mile scenic road that takes you to the top of the mountain where you can access hiking trails. During the drive, you will see hoodoos and balanced rocks all along your drive. The best way to view them is to go to one of the trail heads and walk down into the canyon.  There are several trails to choose from depending on your hiking ability. I took a 3 mile hike into the canyon about an hour before sunset. The hoodoos are huge and full of color. Most of them were over 20′ tall with many more than 30′.  The warm side lighting on the rocks made the colors pop and provided plenty of dimension to the scene. I didn’t stay overnight, but based on the remote area of the country and desolate surroundings, I would imagine that this area has some amazing dark skies on a clear moonless night. Next time I am in the area, I plan to make stay in the park and get some moonlit hoodoo images. I’m sure it will be amazing. Still trying to get caught up on postings. More to follow on a recent trip to Great Falls National Park. Hope you enjoy…

Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Hoodoos and the rugged wilderness - Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Hoodoos and the rugged wilderness – Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Chiricahua National Monument , AZ © Rob Loughrey
Chiricahua National Monument , AZ © Rob Loughrey

Southwest images

During a recent trip for work, I was able to stay a weekend in White Sands National Monument outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. The park is approximately 275 square miles of white gypsum dunes and is the largest mass of gypsum in the world. Gypsum isn’t usually found in large dunes like this because it dissolves in water. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum dunes and carry it out to sea. The reason this area is still around after thousands of years is because the rain has no where to go. The dunes are trapped in a large basin (Tularosa Basin) between the San Andreas and Sacramento mountains. Yeah, I know what you are thinking – It is strange how mountains in New Mexico are named after areas in California. Rain that falls in the park, eventually dries out and crystallizes and the process repeats. Anyway – enough of a science lesson. The park is an amazing place to visit with a seemingly endless sea of white dunes as far as the eye can see. The only thing framing your view are the mountain ranges in the distance.

Life finds a way - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Life finds a way – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

At the cost of $3.00 to enter (good for 3 or 5 days) it is one of the cheaper National Monuments to visit. Families with kids were making a day out of exploring or sledding down the steep drops of the dunes, just like it was winter in New York State. It is quite easy to get lost while walking through the dunes. I trekked out for a couple of miles searching for dunes without any footprints. It took awhile to find, but they are out there. I used the sun as my guide and drew arrows in the wash areas leaving myself a map to return to my car.  The white gypsum reflects the sun so much that it is almost blinding. The air is very dry and dehydration will set in before you realize it. Plenty of water, sunscreen and good sunglasses are a must. There is primitive camping locations in a remote area of the dunes and motorhome camping at the entrance to the park. I believe a small fee permit is required along with a tent. Once a month, the park has moonlight walks in the dunes for small groups. This can be scheduled by reviewing the park website and submitting a request to attend. The high winds in the basin are what shape the dunes and carve patterns in the sand. This is one of the things that really interested me about the park.

Soaptree Yuca plant - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Soaptree Yuca plant – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

hese patterns in nature go on forever intermingled with Soaptree Yuca, Horay Rosemary Mint or Skunkbush Sumac plants. All of these have found a way to survive in the limited water environment. If you venture out far enough, the patterns in the dunes are only interrupted by the occasional lizard foot prints or by the movement of the leaves being pushed around by the winds. It is areas like this where you can feel truly alone and miles away from everything. 

Sunset - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Sunset – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

This is someplace I am already looking forward to visiting again. Hope you enjoy…

Springtime bliss

The first day of spring? Depending on where you are, it may not have looked too much like spring. Social media exploded with pictures of snow in the Northeast. Although spring is officially upon us, some areas take a bit longer to really feel like spring. I myself am looking forward to the fresh spring air, melting snow and budding trees. A trip to the mountains of central PA will be in order to some of my favorite waterfall locations. The best time for getting amazing shots of these locations is to be there before the sun is up. Crazy I know, but worth every minute. This is really important if you want to get some long exposures and don’t have those expensive neutral density filters. Being on site early allows you to spend time in the forest before the harsh sun gets too high and starts putting hots spots all over the place. High contrast images of waterfalls just don’t work that well in my opinion. If the day is going to be overcast, then you are in luck and can spend even more time getting excellent images. Make sure to bring a sturdy tripod and look at the scene from several different angles. This is a shot from last spring in Ricketts Glen State Park. The sun was just getting to the point where it was a problem. One trick I often use is to position myself so the sun is just behind a tree, branch or just at the top of the  frame.. With just a tiny fraction of the sun showing and a small aperture, the sun turns into a starburst and can give a really nice effect. A little post processing to expand the tonal range and enhance the colors and you have something to hang on the wall in your home. Happy shooting!

Springtime flow, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey
Springtime flow, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

 

In the details

 

 

Hello everyone,

Just wanted to write a quick post to my fellow photographers and readers about a something that I feel is often overlooked when photographing a subject – working the scene or paying attention to the details. Whenever I’m out capturing images, I try to take my time (much to my family members dismay as they can attest) moving around the area before even taking my camera out. I look at the scene and think about what really made me stop and look at it in the first place. Have I seen images of this already? If so, can I tell where they were standing, was it a wide angle or telephoto being used? What time of day was it? What was the weather? All of these thoughts help me determine where to position myself to get a different position on the same subject. Often I will look closely at the little things in the area and just focus on those. In this case, a 25′ waterfall can be really impressive even with a wide angle. I have seen dozens of images of this falls, but none that I could recall that focused on the details of the water and rocks. I decided to change my lens to a 24-120mm zoom and focus on these details. With a long exposure, I was able to accentuate the water flowing over the rocks and create a very peaceful feel. Because this image was largely a high contrast scene already, I decided to convert to Black and White to enhance the elements. Next time you are out shooting, don’t forget to slow down, survey the scene and focus on the details. Hope you enjoy and as always, thanks for visiting!

© Rob Loughrey
© Rob Loughrey