My Trip To The Trans Pecos Area Of West Texas

Photography trip to Trans Pecos

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This trip has been a long time coming. I have been wanting to visit the Trans Pecos for about 30 years! Never put off a photo trip if you can help it.
My goals were to visit and photograph Van Horn, Texas. Check
Photograph the Marfa mystery lights. Check
Visit and photograph the ghost town of Shafter. Check
Visit and photograph Alpine, Texas. Check
Visit and photograph Ft Davis. Check
Visit and photograph the McDonald Observatory . Check
I  hit 100% of my goals for this trip.
Prior planning got me the maximum photography with good light.

I looked up all the places I wanted to visit on an old road atlas. I then looked up each town on Google and FlickR. That gave me most of the information I needed but I also used RoadsideAmerica.Com and a trip guide from Trails.Com.
My first stop was Sierra Blanca a railroad town that once was.
Next came Allamoore where I discovered a talc factory.
Next was Van Horn, where I discovered a cool place of “fancy junk and unusual objects”
From there it was on to Valentine on US 90. Valentine is another town that once was.
Next came Marfa with the oddball Prada display just outside Marfa.
From there I moved on to the viewing stand for the “marvelous and mysterious Marfa lights.”
I took a side trip to the ghost town of Shafter, which you need not take.
Alpine came next. I spent the night here because I had to make sure I could photograph the Marfa lights. This required night time photography of course, so I spent the night in Alpine.
The next day I was up bright and early, way before sunrise and was off to Ft Davis.
My last stop was the McDonald observatory.
Starting tomorrow I will give a detailed report with pictures of each place I mentioned here.
HOWEVER – There will be a small break this Saturday because I will be driving to Trinity site. The place where the first atomic bomb was set off. It’s a short trip, I will probably take off for Alamogordo, New Mexico this afternoon and spend the night there. The meetup for the drive to Trinity site will be in Tularosa. Access to Trinity site on the White Sands military reservation is only allowed on two days a year. Once in April, hence my reason for this quick trip and once in October. Be sure to call 800-826-0294 for information before heading out there. You normally cannot get access to the place.

I should be back Saturday afternoon.

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Shoot your dog or cat

Photographing your dog, cat or toddler

We all love to photograph our dogs, cats and toddlers. Perhaps in that order perhaps all combined. If you are the average photographer, your pictures always seem to fall short of those gorgeous pictures you see in magazines.

There are some easy to do tricks that will help anyone get better pictures.

First and foremost, let your pet get accustomed to your camera.

Let your dog sniff your camera and then start shooting the TV, ceiling, anything but the dog. If you are going to use flash photographing your pet, then use the flash to photograph everything in the area to allow Rover or Kitty to get used to the flashes.

Don’t grab a few treats, shove the camera in your pet’s face and squeal “Mommy/Daddy is going to take your picture, so smile!
We all do that, but it’s not the best approach to use.

Let your pet warm up to the camera, to know it’s harmless. Then start shooting lots of pictures. Don’t take three shots and call it a day. You will need to take lots and lots of pictures. Aren’t you glad you shoot digital?
Shoot lots and lots of pictures does not mean to hold down the shutter release and spray away. Vary your angle to the pet, have a partner interact with Rover or Kitty by playing with your pet. Keep on the move, vary the angle, the distance between you and your pet.

The world has enough pictures of dogs taken 10ft away from 4 or 6 feet high. Everybody does that, so get on the floor, get close and fire away. Be sure to get a good focus on the eyes.

About your flash: If you are using one of those dinky built in flash units that come on your camera, you will always be disappointed in the results. Basically, those units suck.
Get yourself a second flash unit, one that can be triggered by a RF transmitter or better yet, one that is triggered by your dinky flash. Try bouncing the large flash unit off the ceiling, walls or use a white sheet of pasteboard. I use foam boards I get dirt cheap from places like Michaels. They bounce tons of light and can be moved around with ease.
Make sure you bounce the light off a white surface else you will get a color cast.

Pay attention to backgrounds. Simple is best. The idea is to make your pet stand out, not to photograph your petunias. Do those separately.

Shoot in aperture priority mode so you can isolate your pet from the background by using low f stops (large lens opening). You can get really creative with this method, but be sure to bracket the shots.
It’s extremely difficult to anticipate the amount of blurring you will get on the background but certainly don’t miss the chance to shoot wide open.

If you can, use window light or shoot outdoors to avoid the flash problems.
You will need to adjust your shooting to your circumstances. If you live in a small apartment move outdoors and photograph with natural light. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon shooting applies to pets just as much as it does to landscapes.

Don’t forget to analyse your images with a critical eye, to toss the junk and keept the great ones. This step is critical because it teaches you to do better next time.

Have fun and allow your pet to have fun.
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For better photography get up early nap at noon and don’t miss sunset

Don’t take pictures at noon if you can help it

The best times for nature and landscape outdoor photography are early morning and late afternoon. There is no emphasizing this enough. You can dramatically improve your outdoor photography by not missing that first one and a half hours before, during and after sunrise and sunset. I add thirty minutes to the golden hour because all too often the best sunrise sky colors are just before sunrise and just after sunset. That is when you get those really glorious skies.

In wildlife and people photography you are looking to minimize shadows. While shadows can add drama and interest to landscapes, they can easily ruin a wildlife or people shot with shadows across the face. The best way to avoid the situation is to do your wildlife and people photography on cloudy days, in the morning or late afternoon.

Take a siesta for about three hours before, during and after noon. You get your worst light when the sun is high over your head so use that time for other activities.

Don’t forget the adage “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning”
You can use that to help you find the best sunrises and sunsets.
A red sky at night means you will usually have a beautiful day following a red sky but also a boring sunrise.
A red sky in the morning, especially an intense red sky, means a storm may be coming so be prepared for a dramatic sunset.

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Mega Mega Bazillion Pixels!

More and more pixels for your camera

Camera manufacturers are running the megapixel and goofy features race. Sony leads the pack with it’s 24 megapixel Alpha A-850 and the older Alpha A-900. Most other DSLRs come in 10 to 14 megapixels.
Ok, so how many megapixels do I need?
That depends on what you do with your pictures. If you just use them to show on the web and to make small prints up to 8 X 10 inches, then 6 megapixels are more than enough.
For prints up to 11 X 14 inches, 8 megapixels will do you just fine.
Now in my 40+ years of photography I have made exactly 2 20 X 30 inch prints, and for that you need 10 megapixels.
The rest of the megapixels are wasted or are reserved for bragging rights.


UNLESS!
Unless you are a crop whore like me, who is never satisfied with the images as they come out of the camera. I always find room for improvement with a bit of  judicious cropping.
Toss half a picture of a 12 megapixel camera and you are down to 6 megapixels, which to tell the truth, is still more than enough for most purposes since you can get a great 8 X 10 from that.
How much wall space do you have?
My walls are all filled up with 8 X 10 and 11 X 14 inch images plus two I made into 20 X 30 inch beauties.
Oh, those two were not even photographed with a DSLR! I used my 10 megapixel Sony R1 for those.
As with most photography issues, the truth is not that easy to arrive at because it depends on what the photographer does with  the images.
Some folks claim that all you ever need is 3 megapixels. I find that claim to be a bit extreme unless you never crop and never want to make a beautiful 8 X 10 inch print. You can make an average 8 X 10 but not an excellent  one.
I am perfectly happy with 12 to 14 megapixels because that gives me room to crop and the ability to produce a beautiful and huge print.


Now as far as goofy features go, let me just state that most people don’t need a DSLR at all. You can produce gorgeous landscape, flower and portrait images with a $400 point and shoot. Really.


For action shooting and low light photography you will do far better with a DSLR.
The Canon PowerShot S90 10MP Digital Camera with 3.8x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3-inch LCD is a great little camera that won’t set your credit card on fire and does produce really excellent results. In the hands of a good photographer, this little camera can compete with any DX or even FX DSLR when it comes to static, no action, fine light shooting.

In camera features, I need A mode (aperture priority) and P mode. That’s all. I never use any of the other distractors such as landscape, portrait, blah, blah blah modes. I don’t need them.
When I’m lazy or paranoid about missing a shot I will go to P, grab a view images that way and then go back to A mode.
Aperture priority will force you to stop and think a bit before you snap that picture.
More on that later.
Oh yeah, for my glamour and pinup photography I go to M for manual mode because it’s simpler to work with my strobes that way.

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Are Light Modifiers Worth The Cost And Trouble?

Light modifiers are not worth the effort

Unless you are using studio lights I would say no, light modifiers are not worth the effort it takes to drag along on photo trips and I certainly would not waste my money on any of them.
Sure, the onboard flash of any camera is pretty pathetic and prone to producing red-eye.
Instead of making it worse by blocking light from the dinky flash you have, why not purchase a small, relatively inexpensive flash unit like the
Sunpack 383?
Add a Wein Hot Shoe Slave for a really sophisticated and versatile flash system.
Yes, the flash will add weight and cost to your photogear but you will also see a difference in quality. It’s the difference between just snapping a picture and creating a picture.
With a bit of practice and creative thinking, a small flash can dramatically improve your photos.

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Film-based disposable cameras get the ax

Film-based disposable cameras get the ax

Film-based disposable cameras have been dropped from the official ‘shopping basket’ used by the government to calculate inflation.


The Office for National Statistics (ONS) this week blamed the move on the growth in popularity of digital compact cameras and ‘mobile phone photography’.


A fall in expenditure on disposable cameras means they are no longer deemed worthy of representing consumer spending patterns.

Film has been dead as a photographic media for some time. Sure, there are still some very valid uses for film, but I think I can count them on one finger.

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Our Trip To Oklahoma City

Went to visit with our son and grand kids

The reason for the trip to Oklahoma City was to visit our son Jeff and his family, wife Kathy, daughters Megan, Virginia and the baby twins, Josef and Savannah.

Savanna and Josef!
Click the image for a full view
End of the trail by James Earle Fraser
This imposing reproduction of one of the most beautiful icons of the American West was for me one of the few interesting displays at the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Megan and Virginia are pictured here with part of the statue. I captured this image with my Nikon D90 and the Nikkor 18-200mm lens. The gories are 18mm f6.3 1/640th ISO 800.
Welcome to Oklahoma! Now go back to El Paso
This picture was taken on the last day of winter/1st day of spring.
I snapped this right out of our motel room door. 50mm f/6.3 1/30 ISO 1600
Winter only lasted one day but it was enough to create a doozy of a mess on the roads.
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We survived Oklahoma!

Ooh rah! Lila and I survived Oklahoma!

I should start taking a laptop along on my trips but I generally dislike messing with a computer when I’m on a break.

I did take along my IPOD , since I never leave home without it. IPODs are great for taking audio notes, showing off your pictures or just listening to music. It’s a pity most hotels and motels are still working in the 20th century, instead of the 21st. Most do not have WI-FI, free or otherwise, and of the few that do, most password protect the connection.

You ain’t lived until you try to enter a password on the IPOD’s dinky screen. I don’t bother.
Where I can get free, unfettered WI-FI I use the IPOD for weather reports, news and to check out http://www.roadsideamerica.com. It’s not a critical problem, but it is annoying when I can’t do this in my motel room.
I find it interesting that lots and lots of fast food places have WI-FI but hotels and motels do not.

We arrived in Oklahoma City before a fairly severe winter storm hit the area and left a day after the storm moved on east.
We had one great day for photography, so we headed out to the Cowboy Hall of Fame, which is totally boring and then went over to the Firefighter Museum. That place has some cool antique fire engines on display. Be sure to bring your wide angle lenses because the engines are crowded together.
I will have more on our trip tomorrow.

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Yah Gotta Stop And Smell The Roses

Stop along the way and get your picture

One of my rules is to stop and take some pictures whenever I run accross anything interesting. I think we all have that rule and we all break it more than follow it.
On my drive from Las Vegas to Pahrump I was enjoying a beautiful desert view of Yucca, Joshua trees, and the far off snow capped peaks.

So, I stopped the truck, took the Nikons (D90 and D500) with me in order to get a few beautiful desert images. I noticed right away that a huge power line was going to ruin any picture I snapped. I  decided to walk past the power line in order to get much better pictures. In so doing, I spotted two Red-tail hawks sitting on one of the power line poles. I immediately regretted not taking along the Sony with the 200-500mm tele. I crept up on the hawks the best I could, knowing they would take off any second and did get lucky with this shot using the Nikon D5000 with the 18-200mm lens set on 200mm.
I did not see these birds when I started out and had no real reason to take along the tele but this kind of surprise happens often enough where I should know better.
In just wanting to get rid of the power lines I ended up with some pretty good pictures of Red-tail hawks and then finally, I also got my landscape free of the ugly power lines.
I eliminate power lines whenever possible from my photos because I consider them eyesores. If I can’t drive past them, I will walk past them. I think the last image illustrates my point.
Taking care to frame your shot the best way possible costs nothing but a little time and effort but can go a long way to better pictures. I should have taken along my tele, I can carry three cameras with no trouble, so this is a reminder to self.
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Best Photography Advice Ever

Words to photograph by

No matter what level of photographer you are, newest newbie, amateur, professional, there is one thing that will dramatically improve your photography for the rest of your life and it won’t cost you a dime.

If you frame your picture like everyone else, your picture will look like every one else’s.

Take that with you from now on and your photography will improve dramatically!

Get down eye level with your Chihuahua, baby or worm.
Use a stool or ladder or the top of your beat up truck cab.
Frame your picture anyway except the way everyone else does.
Get in close, use window light don’t use that dinky flash on your camera. Those things are red eye factories.
Don’t follow the crowd.

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