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…

Fall Color – Pennsylvania Waterfalls

Hello all,
It has been a little while since I have had time to get out and photograph and post. Summer has passed and we are in full swing of Autumn now. I made a early morning trip to my one of my favorite spots a few days ago. The weather during the week at Ricketts Glen was showing dense fog for several days. On the 3rd day in a row, I decided to make the trek North. With it being the first week of October, I figured I had a good chance at fall color as well. During the entire drive through PA, it looked really promising. The temp and dew point collided and heavy fog was slowing my drive. I was amazed at how thick it was in some places – reminded me of being in Scotland again. It was great until I made the final turn onto Rt. 487 and I literally drove right out of the fog to the top of the mountain. All was not lost as there was a good cloud cover making for some great photography during my 6 hour hike. The flows were much lower than what I have seen before, but I still made the best of it. Here is a shot of B Reynolds Falls on the Glen Leigh side of the trail. I climbed all the way to the top of bottom of the falls (very slippery conditions) and found some fresh leaves to use in my foreground. I shot this looking back towards the bottom of the falls trying to include as much as possible of the fall color spectacular that was happening. Getting low to the ground with my tripod, I was constantly wiping my circular polarizer to remove the water drops. I was getting pretty wet myself from all of the splashing water. Well worth the effort though in my book. Hope you enjoy…

Fall Color at B Reynolds Falls - Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

In the creek

Hello everyone,
On a trip to Ricketts Glen back in May, I encountered some pretty good flows in Kitchen Creek. Having high levels in the creek has its good and bad sides. The bad – the water was running so hard that at most of the falls, there was a heavy mist making it difficult to get some of the shots I wanted.  When this happens, I spend some time along the creek looking for good compositions at small rapids. I always bring my hip waders to the making it easy for me to setup in the creek and spend some time composing my shot. When shooting images using a wide angle lens (in this case a 24mm) I get as low and close as possible to the foreground interest point. This helps to lead the viewer into the scene. The one issue with this in a fast flowing creek is the water drops flying around and hitting the front of the lens. You have to keep a constant eye on the front lens element. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way on more than one occasion. Nikon D800, 24mm PC lens, Really Right Stuff ball head, Induro tripod, Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer.



Hatteras dunes – continued

Just wanted to put out a quick post with another shot from my trip to Hatteras Island. For this image, I used a 24mm PC lens, low to the ground and tilted forward. I believe I had about 1 – 1.5 degrees of tilt after finding a focus point in the foreground. When using this lens, I often have to go back and forth between focus and tilt until I am confident that I have both foreground and distant objects in focus. Post processing was done in Adobe Lightroom (minimal), followed by Adobe Photoshop once again using TK luminosity masks. Hope you enjoy…

Morning light brings out the details in the sand on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC  © Rob Loughrey

More from the Smoky Mountains…

On the second day of my trip, we made plans to view the sunrise from Clingmans Dome. We had not been there yet, so we gave ourselves an early wake up call to make sure we were on-site with an hour to spare. We arrived while it was still very dark. There were clouds moving through and the wind was blowing. We were amazed to see the temperature change go from in 60’s in the valley to around 38 degrees up on top of the mountain. We were a little disoriented being on the mountain top – not knowing which was East. We figured it out pretty quickly and setup our tripods to capture the sun cresting over the mountains. Unfortunately for us, there was some heavy cloud cover looking East, so we never actually saw the sun rise. There was a rain storm in the distance blocking our view but filtering the sun. The sky was light up a bright orange with the dark clouds above, making for some great contrast in colors. I set my camera to Tungsten mode to make the clouds and sky a cooler tone.  I used my 80-200mm f/2.8 lens with a 2.0 tele-converter to zoom in tight on the mountains and rain. I shot a number of shots moving from left to right and stitched them together in Photoshop to create this panoramic image. Minimal processing after the image was stitched using On One Software for Tonal Contrast and increasing the saturation slightly. Hope you enjoy…
Daybreak from Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains  © Rob Loughrey

Amazing cascades

During a trip to an area like the Great Smoky Mountains, something that I often seek out is one of the many cascades running off the top of the mountain. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by anything from small streams to large rivers. On the way up to Clingmans Dome one evening, we noticed a small brook right at a vehicle pull over. We were running plenty early for the sunset time, so we decided to make a stop and check it out. Before I knew it, I was heading deeper into the woods, climbing higher and higher along the waters edge. Evertime I took a few more steps, I found something else I liked. For me, the moss covered rocks and subdued lighting in the late afternoon really makes for great photographs of these areas. I also like to bring along a set of hip or chest waders with me on trips like this. This allows me to get right into the stream, setup my tripod, perhaps kneeling down in the water to get a nice low perspective on the water. Being in the scene as I like to call it. For this image, I did just that. Nikon D800, Induro Tripod, Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer, Really Right Stuff Ball Head. I used a 24mm PC lens and shifted left to right to create the panoramic shot. Hope you enjoy…

Forest cascades, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, TN © Rob Loughrey

Winter wonderland

We have been seeing a good bit of cold weather here in Maryland, along with the recent snowfall, I feel like I am living in upstate PA right now. I think this is the longest time I can remember that we have had freezing or below temps for an extended period of time. I have taken advantage of some of the recent storms and gone out braving the weather looking for some good shots. The wind was blowing with 30-40 mph gusts while I was out this morning earlier in the month. The direction of wind forced me to turn towards the sun for my shots, to protect me and my camera/lens. I found a spot in a field that had some interesting wind carved snow and setup my tripod low to the ground. My camera was only a few inches of the ground, forcing me to lay down to compose my shot. I was well prepared with coat and pants so this was an easy choice for me. Shooting into the sun I knew I was going to need something to help diffuse or block the bright area in my image even tho I was using a 2 stop ND grad filter, so I used the tree branches to accomplish this. I setup to that as the sun moved to the right, it would go further behind a limb for a minute or two before appearing on the other side. Using a smaller aperture of around f/16 helped me achieve a good star-burst effect on the sun.  I processed the image using a sharp foreground photo with a sharp image of the tree, manually blending them in Photoshop. Hope you enjoy…

Snow covered field, Maryland Sunrise Farms, Anne Arundel County, MD © Rob Loughrey

Jekyll Island Cool Toned

Following up from my previous post on Jekyll Island, the tide came in and the sun came up. There was a heavy fog rolling through the area, blocking out the sun but providing some great light. I decided to process this image with a duo tone look to give it a different feel. Overcast conditions are a double edged sword. It is great for taking images of flowers because everything is so evenly lit. There are very little harsh shadows to deal with. The other side of it is because the sun is diffused so much, it tends to make images of greater expanse very flat and uninteresting. I knew this while out shooting that morning and envisioned processing them as black and white or a toned images. On this particular image, I made it a cooler tone to give it a different feel. I positioned myself so that the sun was almost directly behind the tree. After composing, I took several bracketed images to ensure I had a good exposure. Processed in Lightroom ® and Nik Color Efex Pro ®. Hope you enjoy…

Driftwood beach - Jekyll Island State Park, GA © Rob Loughrey