A Chapter Ends

Chapter ending Sunset
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
― Frank Herbert

A Chapter Ends, A Story Doesn’t

Every day’s sunset is a chapter ending.  Only one will be the final chapter.  The late Galen Rowell, a renowned landscape photographer said, “You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn’t waste either.”

I don’t want to go.  I just don’t feel like it.  It’s August in Oklahoma and it’s HOT!  I hibernate through summer.  Out-of-doors for me is fall through late spring, not summer.  Anyway, I step outside and look up.  I see a sky cluttered with 18% grey tone clouds.  I see plenty of blue patches, some large enough to sew a pair of pants.  I see sunlight, bright spot light beams pouring through spaces in between.  That’s enough for me.  That’s all it takes.  In fifteen minutes I’m behind the wheel in FJ and heading out.

I’m trying to get out of Lawton the quickest and safest way I can but also keeping an eye on the rapidly changing sky and its affect on the landscape.  If you’re a landscape photographer, being familiar with the surrounding landscape is a plus.  Options for possible spots to set up are running through my mind like a slide show.  It’s still early, so I’m not feeling any urgency about the approaching end of day.  On a hunch, I drive to the farthest away point first.  Along the way I pass other promising spots.  If my hunch doesn’t pay off I can backtrack.  Now, I’m starting to feel the excitement.

Arriving, I start down a trail with only my hiking staff, scouting the area unburdened by camera gear.  All’s quiet except for the crickets.  The grass is green and tall—unusual for August.  We’ve had some rain.  I haven’t gone far until I encounter three bull bison grazing on the move, about forty yards away.  They’re in single file.  A strikingly handsome, fully mature bull leads a young adult and a half-grown one with half-sized horns.  A fourth bison, this one old and alone is dusting himself in a wallow about fifty yards farther still.  I catch the lead bull’s attention.  He stops.  I stop.  He stares.  I stare.  He wins; I move first.  I go south.  He goes north.  The other two follow.  The old bull stays in the wallow doing his thing.  I’m doing mine.  We understand each other.

I top a hill that affords good viewpoints to the south and west.  I tarry for a time, taking pictures in my mind, first here, then there.  Soon, it’s time to trek back to FJ and gear up.  When I return, fully equipped and ready for business, there’s not much time left before I find out if my hunch is right.  Elk are bugling in the hills to the north,  behind me in the east, a pack of coyotes yelp the muster call for their nightly hunt.  A dark and foreboding storm is approaching from the south and the sun is sinking slowly toward the horizon in the west.  I hear faint rumblings of thunder.  The storm’s a long ways off, but there’s still no color in the west, either.  Will the storm get here first?  I wait.

Soon, the weakening but still arrogant August sun shouts across Buffalo Gap with the last shout of a softer, but still strong voice.  From my place atop a boulder pile I’m ready — click, click, click.  The light doesn’t last—clouds on the horizon.  I climb down.  It’s ramp-up time; time to move; the game is under foot.  It’s turning into a contest.  Who will win:  clouds, darkness, or me?

Earlier scouting is paying off.  I move to the first position, set up a level tripod, expose, compose, focus: click, click, click.  Break down, move to second position and repeat:  set up, expose, compose, focus:  click, click, click.  Break down, move and repeat:  click, click, click.  Break down and move again:  same thing.  By now, I’m hearing nothing, I’m feeling nothing, I’m seeing nothing except this SUNSET vanishing right before my eyes.  Now I’m heading toward what I know will be my last stand, my final chance to capture the picture already forming in my mind’s eye.  I’m all adrenaline.  Don’t trip, don’t stumble, don’t fall!  Not now!

I see it.  The tree.  My already rapidly firing heart jumps at the sight.  I might make it.  I might actually get there in time.  Suddenly, I’m there.  I know the routine.  My eyes are focused, shooting data to my brain at the speed of light.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this!  My hands are moving in the dark, they know where their supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing.  Level tripod, mount camera, expose, compose, focus:  click, click, click.  Again: click, click, click.  One more time:  click, click, click.  Done!  Relief!  Sigh—relax—breathe—sigh again—wipe sweat off brow and out of eyes; It’s still August.  Pack it up and head home.

It’s dark.  Crickets, elk, and coyotes return to the night.  Where’s the trail?  Who cares, make a new one I’m unstoppable!  Oh wait, uh, where are those bulls, now?  Hmm?

A chapter ends…the story doesn’t.  Tomorrow there’s another sunset.

Carl Ray

 

Fish, Friends, and Photography

SunsetSomeone told me years ago, “If you want to catch a lot of fish, you have to go fishing a lot.”  That’s true for the most part, unless you have friends that call to tell you when the fish are biting.  It’s also true for landscape photography.  It’s a good thing I have a few good friends.

The great landscape photographer, Galen Rowell, said, “There are only a certain number of sunrises and sunsets in a person’s life.  A good landscape photographer understands this.”  His words haunt me because there are too many I never see.  Now for real, not every sunrise or sunset contributes to the making of a good image.  Good ones don’t always happen just like fish aren’t always biting.  In truth, I miss too many of the good ones.  And my friends let me know when I do; “Oh, did you see the sunrise this morning?; Wow, I hope you got that sunset last night. It was fantastic!”  I love my friends!  They are few, but they are special!

Yesterday evening, I’m doing nothing in particular when one of these good friends calls me up.  The conversation begins like this:

“Hello”

“Well, I’m going to tell you right now, I can’t go.  I hate it, but I’m just not able to go.  I’m on my way to Elgin to meet family for supper.  But there are some clouds out here that look like they might make for a pretty good sunset.  You ought to go if you can.  If you get something good, send it to me.”

Well, what do you do?  Good friends hold you accountable.  I grabbed my bag, pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge and I’m out the door.  And, as it turned out it was pretty good and I had a great time just being out there.  Yes, the catch isn’t big enough for a company fish fry, but it’s big enough to keep.  I sent it to my friend earlier this morning.

Fish, Friends, and Photography?  I need all three, and sometimes, it takes all three.

Carl Ray

The Milky Way and a Juniper Tree

The Milky Way Galaxy
Sony A7r|Zeiss Loxia 21mm|f2.8|20s|ISO 3200

Last Chance Milky Way

It was going to be my last chance this season to capture the Milky Way in a prime location of the sky.  I’d been tied up with other things until just a few days ago so it was either do it now or wait until next June.  I chose to do it now!

Here in southwest Oklahoma there aren’t any large urban areas that completely wash out the night sky with light pollution, but it only takes a few street lights to do the damage.  It’s a two hour drive to the most remote and darkest spot I know of in these parts:  a spot only ten miles from the Texas panhandle; A spot dominated more by red berry juniper trees than mesquite trees.

As the sun sank low on the western horizon, I became the object of curiosity for several free ranging cows and their calves.  I was relieved once the curious calves’ were satisfied and their moms decided the grass must be greener someplace else.  A half-dozen “bull bats” (nighthawks) swooped through the sky chasing insects scared into flight by the cattle.  Occasionally their swooping and diving created the loud bull-like sound from whence they get their nickname.  A lone coyote trotted down the road, briefly glanced in my direction, then continued on its way unconcerned by my presence.

Shadows grew longer and darkness began to fall across the landscape.  The cattle had gathered for the night and gentle lowing could be heard in the distance.  The lone coyote had joined the pack and their yelps were filling the night.  First one star, then another, began to pop out from its celestial hiding place.  Excitement began to build from somewhere deep within.  My pulse quickened with anticipation of the scene about to unfold.  Before long the heavens had opened opened to reveal the sparkling treasures above.

Alone with GOD and His creation, I was at peace, feeling content, and truly blessed!

Patience: Not Easy

Patience Pays Off
Daylight Spills Across the Refuge

Patience:  Not So Much

In my youth, personal projects were marred because I lacked patience to wait for the first coat of varnish to dry completely before I applied a second coat.  I stopped fishing years ago.  I just couldn’t sit and wait patiently for a bite.  Unless I must, I don’t stand in lines.  I switch lines during checkout only to watch the one I vacated move faster than the one in which, impatiently, I now wait.  Grilling with charcoal takes patience to wait for the coals to get just right.  Now, I grill with propane.  It’s a good thing I like my steak medium rare.  I’m just sayin’.

My lack of patience extends to my photography.  I hunt for scenes that are materializing at the moment.  If it doesn’t, I’m off and running, again.  I’m kinda like a storm chaser only I chase images.  Lighting conditions change so quickly, countless times I have packed away my gear and driven off only to see the picture coming together in my rear view mirror.  Ansel Adams once said, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”  Aha, that’s what I’m after.  Every time.  The reality is that it rarely ever happens.  Adams was better known for arriving at a destination, setting up his tripod and camera, composing a shot, focusing, setting the camera and then sometimes, waiting for hours for the light he envisioned.  That’s patience I don’t have, but I’m working on it.  Age and retirement are making it easier, somewhat.  I offer the picture above as an example of improved patience.

Before going to bed the night before, I made a commitment to go to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for a sunrise picture.  That meant leaving for the Refuge at dark-thirty.  Even as I was pulling out of my driveway, I had thoughts about calling it off; In the darkness I could tell the sky was heavily overcast and I thought to myself, “What’s the use?  The sunrise won’t be visible, anyway.  I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.  There are things I could be doing at home.”  Reasons not to go.  Then, the thought about Ansel propelled me out of the driveway, down the street and on my way.

Being familiar with an area helps.  Upon entering the Refuge via the Cache gate, I drove to an area of promise should light begin to break through the clouds and before the light became too harsh.  With civil twilight barely creating enough light to avoid tripping over a cobblestone protruding from the ground (I rarely use a flashlight), I made my way, backpack filled with equipment, tripod in hand, to a position of best potential. Once there, I set up my tripod and camera, composed the scene, set the camera and focus to achieve the greatest depth of field and began to wait.  My impatience, clicked the shutter a few times in spite of not seeing anything worthwhile.  It wasn’t long before I spied a spot with better potential.  I moved and set up again.  I took a few more pictures as light began to break through the clouds.  After a few minutes, I spied a third spot even better.  I moved again and set up, again.  Things were beginning to work out.  The light was breaking through, highlighting some interesting points of interest.  I was happy and having fun.  Until I noticed a fourth spot, even better than the first three.  This perch required some boulder hopping, precarious foot placement, and some pretty nifty balancing to get all set up for the image you see above.  I must tell you, the best light, at each of the other places, came after I had moved.  This, I determined would be my last move; I was going to exercise patience and stay there until the good light had ended.  And I did!  Yea!  This isn’t a spectacular image.  It has some good points and some that could be better.  However, this was more about developing my patience than anything else.  In that regard I made some progress, but, I still have a good ways to go.

Carl

I Don’t Like To Mow

Puffball
Yellow Salsify Puffball

Putting Off Pay Off

I don’t like to mow.  I hadn’t mowed this spring, yet.  The weeds were getting taller and taller.  All my neighbors had mowed their yards; a few more than once.  There was something growing out there and I wanted to see what it was.  I could tell it was a specimen, not one of those weeds, a dense community of like-kind trying to choke out anything dissimilar. This one was taller, stronger, reaching upward with several outstretched branches .  I couldn’t mow it down.  I had to wait and see what it’s flower looked like.  Besides, I don’t like to mow.  Never have!

I finally did break down and mow.  I had too.  The darn jungle was just getting too tall.  If I didn’t mow, now, it would become, rather than a mowing, a bush-whacking project of monumental dimensions.  Out came my Honda HR215HXA self propelled mower w/hydrostatic transmission.  Down weeds, down!  “Bruhaha!”  But, I spared this plant.  Carefully, and with skill, I maneuvered the menacing machine, capable of reducing all in its path to splinters of pulp and fiber around it’s, now looking, fragile stalk.  In short order what remained was a modernistic looking two foot high deluxe apartment building towering above a mass of closely cropped one-size-fits-all flats.  I could now have the best of both worlds.  A closely cropped yard of weeds matching my neighbors’ yards for the uniform height of our weeds.  Well, with the exception of my special specimen which sticks out like the proverbial “thumb”.

I didn’t have to wait long for my curiosity to be sated.  The next day, about mid-morning, I was greeted with a single yellow, daisy-like flower beginning to open from atop one of the upward bound stems, each of which was topped with its own swelling bud.  I’d like to think it was showing its gratitude for being spared the whirling blade of dismemberment and death.  That’s just me feeling connected to everything.  More than likely I scared it and all its energy was shifted into producing seed, the sole purpose of its life cycle and embedded deeply in the DNA of every single seed it produces.  I enjoyed its yellow flower the rest of the day.

The following morning, in place of the yellow flower there was seed pod.  By mid-morning I could tell it was opening.  By 1:30 PM it was open fully.  The sky was completely overcast, as it had been all day.  The sunlight, filtered through the clouds was very bright.  It was wonderful light.  There was, what we call in Oklahoma, a little breeze; In Houston it’d be called a wind.  I gathered my gear:  camera, 105mm macro, remote shutter release, tripod, and McClamp stick, a plant clamp designed to safely hold a delicate plant steady for pictures.  The sight of the puffball in this light was exciting.  It was so delicate in its structure.  Every seed perfectly designed to fly effortlessly, carried to who-knows-where on the invisible currents of the wind.  The play of light upon the almost invisible fibers was hypnotic.  Up and down, to and fro, lower and lower, shift here, shift there, I worked and maneuvered tripod camera in and out of one position and to another.  My sense of location and the sounds of the city around me disappeared in the moment.  It was just me and the offspring of this plant.  Finally, after a passage of time of unknown length, I lay on the grass totally at peace with myself and creation.

Within the hour that followed, parts of the puffball had escaped the sphere of its birth and taken wing on the currents of wind growing stronger as the afternoon deepens.

Must I Photograph?

Dutch Iris - Iris Hollandica
In My Garden

Recently the question came to my attention, “Would you still be a photographer if no one would ever see your photographs?”  This got me thinking; Would I continue to do photography without any input, of any kind, from even a single person.  Hmm!  I first thought about when and how I became interested in photography. As a child, I was fascinated by mom’s Kodak Brownie Hawkeye whenever she said, “Let me get a picture.”  The camera held my attention more than any posing instructions that followed.  Later, I’d sneak her Kodak out of the closet and take pictures.  She started hiding it; film and developing was expensive.  In the 5th  grade I sold magazine subscriptions to get a Brownie Starmite.  I didn’t have any money to buy film so I didn’t do much photography.  On my 16th  birthday, I got a Polaroid 210.  I had a job working for my dad in construction and could buy the film packs; I became a photographer.  From that time on I have always taken pictures. If making money through photography is the “line in the sand” for determining if someone is a photographer or not, then I’m on the wrong side of the line.  But the question isn’t about that.  The question is if I will continue to photograph life, as I see it, even if no one but me will ever see them.  Absolutely I will!  As long as I have a functioning camera I will take pictures that others have the opportunity to see, and yet, may never see.  Should the time come, as it has in the past, when I don’t have a functioning camera, the shutter in my mind will still click whenever I “see” the shot.  And most certainly, should my eyes become darkened, the light of imagination will brighten the viewfinder of my mind and the shutter will still click.  I am a photographer!

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2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball

Kalo – Blues tinged rock music - electric and sexy
Kalo performs at the “2015 Blues Ball”, Medicine Park, OK

The 2015 edition of the Mayor’s Blues Ball is now recent history.  Also recent are  memories of the hundreds of melodies heard, coupled with amazing images seen through the viewfinder of my camera (photos soon to be posted in gallery).  The past three evenings have been spent in stifling humidity of unseasonable heat in Medicine Park, OK.  The 2015 edition of the Mayor’s Blues Ball marks the ninth year for this festival.  I haven’t attended all nine, but me and my camera have attended several, sometimes with a friend, often alone.  That’s how much I love this music festival.  It is my favorite of the major annual musical events at Medicine Park:  “Park Stomp”, “Mayor’s Red Dirt Ball”, “Mayor’s Blues Ball”, “Native American Flute Festival and Art Walk”.  It’s like homemade ice cream; it’s hard to beat for a treat.

And this year’s Mayor’s Blues Ball served up a special treat for me.  The official photographer for past events was unable, due to a need to address his personal health, to photograph the 2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball (my prayers are lifted for my friend’s speedy and full recovery).  I was honored and blessed to be able to act as this year’s official photographer and to be included on the 2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball T-shirt as a Silver Sponsor (Okie Dokie Photography).  This year’s Mayor’s Blues Ball was dedicated to the late, great BB King!  An image of the gifted hands of “The King” picking his legendary “Lucille” graces the front of the shirt.  It’s a double-treat for Okie Dokie Photography to be included in the sponsor’s listed on the back.  From beginning to end, each of the performers honored and paid tribute to this great blues giant!  Each of the three nights of the festival was filled with musical tributes to BB King, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, and others; even heard some ZZ Top.

The best thing about being the “official” photographer was the additional license it gave me.  Really, I’ve never let not being “official” deter me from taking as much license as I wanted.  Those who know me best know my motto, “Walk in like you own the place and you’re supposed to be there”.  But, respect for others create boundaries I don’t cross without permission:  going on stage, mingling back stage, making special lighting requests, etc.  However, being official erases those boundaries.  This additional freedom being new to me, I was shy, at first.  As the weekend progressed my boldness grew and I began to expand onto this enlarged playing field.  New areas were open for exploration, and explore I did.  I also wore my sixty-four year old butt out.  It was hot, hot, hot, and the humidity was high, high, high!  That meant I sweat, sweat, sweated!  But I loved, loved, loved it!  Kudos to Dwight Cope and all the other “Parkies” for making this year’s 2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball the best ever!  As Chant said last night, “When Jerry Smith (bass player) and I played the very first Mayor’s Blues Ball nine years ago, we performed on a flatbed trailer.  Look how far this event has come!  We love coming to Medicine Park and the Mayor’s Blues Ball, and hope you keep inviting us back.”  I second that!!

(photos from 2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball soon to be posted in gallery)

 

 

Michael Melford – Inspirational & Instructional Video

I’m always looking for inspiration as well as ideas on creativity.  B&H Photo/Video is a primary resource for me, not only for equipment, but for ideas and inspiration, too.  Recently they posted a number of videos of sessions from the OPTIC 2015 Conference they co-sponsored with Linblad Expeditions.  Below, you will find a link to a video I found inspiring, instructional, inspirational, and as an added plus, highly enjoyable.  It’s from a session presented by Michael Melford, an outstanding professional landscape photographer.  I hope you will take the time to view it.

Time to Stop Planning and Start Doing

cre_150602_02582_3_4_es-1A couple dozen times a year for over a decade I have driven passed this elm tree, and the farmer’s field in which it’s stood for several decades.  I have driven by during different seasons, with different sunrises and sunsets in the background, different crops growing in the field, different weather conditions, e.g., rain, snow, drought, different times of the day, in different moods, and for different reasons.  Visions of a hundred different images have popped-up in my head, but I never stopped to capture any of them on film or sensor.  This time was no different.  I didn’t stop in passing.  No, on this particular morning, this was my destination, and perhaps my destiny.

Before retiring to bed the night before this was taken, I spoke to myself and said, “If you wake up on your own, not alarm clock assisted, anytime between 4:00 AM and 4:30 AM, you are going to get out of bed and drive to this elm tree in the hope of capturing an image worth the trouble”.  When I finally crawled into bed, my camera gear was loaded and ready to go.  What I was going to wear was already laid out.  The coffee maker was filled with coffee makings and waiting only to have the start button pushed at whatever time I should walk into the kitchen.  Yep, you can guess what happened; Yes, it really did!

Sixty minutes, three gallons gasoline, and $6.50 in tolls later, I found myself pulling off the turnpike, driving across the right-of-way, and parking alongside the fence separating the farmer’s private land from the public’s “hurry up and get their toll road.  Yes, I finally did it!  I’m glad I did it!

What…are you…waiting on?  Hmm?  Stop planning and go do it!  You’ll be glad you did.

Best of the Day

Waylen Knapp - Photographer
Sunset at Sandy Sanders’ WMA

Recently a friend and I traveled to the Sandy Sanders’ Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in far western Oklahoma on a photo safari.  It was following an unusually wet spring, following several years of exceptional drought.  Besides being a fun outing to see how the water had risen in lakes and streams along the way, we were hoping for an explosion of wildflowers in bloom throughout the WMA.  We also had the goal of staying late at Sandy Sanders’ and photographing the sunset.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a successful trip for fine art photography but it was hugely successful for a lot of fun and fellowship.  Fine art photographers are by nature, and choice, loners, so when I can spend the day with a good friend and fellow photographer, it’s a day worth remembering.

We had a lot of fun in my FJ Cruiser driving through mud and water and over washed out roads throughout the deserted Sandy Sanders’ WMA and I learned some important things about using 4-wheel drive.  These lessons may come in handy in the future; at least I’m hoping they do.  We were the only sign of humanity all day long and the first to drive over some of the rough and rugged dirt roads since the last rain.  We had a great time exploring and searching for opportunities that didn’t seem to be forthcoming and by sundown we had to choose the best of the worst.  We never found what we were looking for, and that sometimes happens.  The photo I took of my friend, above, is perhaps the best the picture I took all day.  I know it will be the one I cherish and remember.