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Rural America ~ Desert Southwest Road-trips: Kanab to Ridgway   9 comments

On the Ralf Lauren Ranch near Ridgway, Colorado on a crystal-cold late fall morning.

America is a big place.  There are large swathes of it that retain a rural or even wild character.  In the rural areas you’ll primarily see homes surrounded by lawns and landscaping.  No garden, no chickens, goats or horses.  No dairy cow supplying milk to the family.  And in fact little visual evidence of a family.  Where are all the kids who once cared for those animals, and after chores roamed the woods and fields?   Most likely riding to yet another stop on their busy schedules or inside looking at screens.

Things have obviously changed.  But in much of rural America there remains just enough of the traditional character (and characters!) to allow a casual visitor to be transported back to a simpler age.  That is what this series of posts is attempting to do, at least with its pictures.  Since I believe in passing on some of what I know in this blog and not just waxing lyrical, I’m highlighting a few select road-trips that I’ve done several times, journeys that will get you off the main tourist routes while still hitting popular destinations that in my opinion are not to be missed.

Last time we traveled from one favorite national park to another: Death Valley, California to Zion in Utah.  Check out that post.  For an introduction to the geography, culture and history of the Desert Southwest, check out the previous post.  Now let’s continue our journey through the Southwest, traveling from Kanab, Utah to Ridgway, Colorado.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah.

Kanab to Ridgway

This trip begins where the last one left off, Zion Park.  Kanab is a short distance from Zion’s east entrance.  Unless you’ve already been there and want to save your time for new places, you’re going to want to begin with that scenic wonder.  Kanab is worth visiting for its movie history and small-town vibe.  Have breakfast at Nedra’s, where many old-time movie stars chowed down.  Rooms are fairly reasonable in town, but if you’re camping a great choice is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park just north of town (image above).

An old barn in Kanab Canyon sits in a pasture used by horses cared for by the folks at Best Friends.

If you have two or three extra days on your hands, consider volunteering at Best Friends animal shelter a short drive north of Kanab.  Click the link to go to their site.  You can book it ahead and stay there either in a room or if you have a camper there’s a couple nice sites free for volunteers.  It’s the world’s largest true no-kill shelter and houses all manner of orphaned animals from dogs & cats to horses & pot-belly pigs.

Taking a break while walking one of the residents of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Utah.

If you’re traveling east from Kanab, you have a big decision to make.  You can either drive down Hwy. 89 to Lake Powell through Page into northern Arizona.  Or you can follow this trip and head north on 89 to join with Hwy. 12 east.  Both are spectacular journeys, and with a little time you could go as far as Page and then join this trip by either returning to Kanab or cutting across Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on one of the rough dirt roads (high-clearance recommended).

An old western movie set slowly crumbles near Kanab, Utah.

So drive north from Kanab on Hwy. 89 and turn east onto one of America’s most scenic roads, Hwy. 12.  Head up through Redrock Canyon, stopping to take a short hike through hoodoos that are a preview of Bryce Canyon.  After a stop at Bryce a bit further east, continue to Escalante.  This is a very small town surrounded by stunning canyon country.  Stop and get a feel for what life was like for early pioneers in this isolated spot.  Self-reliance is still a prized commodity here, and you will meet some real characters.

Not far from the junction of Highways 89 and 12 in Long Valley, cows deal with the season’s first snowfall.

There is so much scenery and so many hiking and photographic opportunities in these parts that it is tempting to go off on a wilderness tangent.  I did a series on the Grand Staircase, so check that out for a little guidance and some image-inspiration.  Continue on to Boulder, a town subtly different than Escalante but still very much tied to its ranching roots.  The small towns around here are dependent on the steady stream of seasonal tourists.

Head up over Boulder Mountain, where you have a stupendous view out over the country you’re about to traverse.  The unique and spectacular Waterpocket Fold is at your feet up here among the aspens.  As you drop off Boulder Mtn., the country becomes greener.  Take one of the roads west off the highway and see some of the ranches and farms.  With a good map you can easily find your way to the little town of Torrey via the “back door”.  Torrey retains most of its original character and is less about tourism than most towns on this route.

Ranchland at the base of Boulder Mountain, Utah.

Bid a sad adieu to Hwy. 12 where it ends just east of Torrey.  Turn right on Hwy. 24 and drop down to Capitol Reef National Park.  Here you’ll find orchards and the preserved remains of Mormon homesteads, all clustered along the beautiful Fremont River.  Note that instead of going over Boulder Mtn. you can reach Capitol Reef by traveling the amazing Burr Trail.  Don’t worry, it’s a road perfectly passable in a passenger car.

Reefs in this part of the world are not underwater.  Quirks of the local geology, they are long, steep escarpments that formed a barrier to pioneers traveling westward in wagons.  Think of how reefs in the sea form a barrier to boats and you understand the name.  In this case the pass through Capitol Reef comes courtesy of the Fremont River.

A bit of the old west survives at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Going east on Hwy. 24 you enter arid, unpeopled country.  It’s the perfect place to prepare for exploring a desert planet, which is why not far off the highway lies the Mars Desert Research Station.  You can make an appointment to tour the MDRS.  Turn north at Hanksville to stay on Hwy. 24 and travel toward the Interstate along the San Rafael Swell.  This is a magical formation to explore, with great canyon hikes.  Since it is not protected expect to share it with off-road vehicles, but it is definitely off the tourist track.  At its base lie the strange hoodoos of Goblin Valley.

Turn east on I-70 for a short drive to U.S. 191, where you’ll turn south toward Moab.  Moab was for most of its life a small remote town.  It briefly boomed during the uranium mining boom of the early 1950s.  Despite its current tourist-town status, I like Moab.  It draws an interesting mix of rock climbers, mountain bikers and off-roaders.  Drop in to the Red Rock Cafe for breakfast and you’ll see what I mean.

Big beautiful cottonwoods grow in the canyons surrounding Moab, Utah.

Of course you’ll want to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  But there are many other worthwhile hikes and bike rides in the region.  A great driving loop from Moab heads up over the La Sal Mtns. Loop Road and down to Castle Valley and the Colorado River.  Turn east on Hwy. 128 to visit Fisher Towers, then return west along the river back to Moab.  Many of the ranches along this route have been converted to guest and dude ranches.  But they give you a glimpse into the rural life of SW Utah.

Near Canyonlands National Park an old fence reminds of a time when cattle herding was one of the few jobs available.

From Moab go south on 191 a short distance to Hwy. 46 and turn left (east) toward La Sal and the Colorado border.  Cross out of Utah on a gloriously uncrowded route that becomes increasingly green.  You are in a transition now, passing off the Colorado Plateau into the Rocky Mountains.

Welcome!

Drive through tiny settlements with names like Bedrock, Redvale and Placerville, rural Colorado at its best.  When faced with confusing junctions, always take the road that heads east.  At Placerville, after driving through a lovely little valley lined with Colorado blue spruce, turn east again onto Hwy. 62.

A late-autumn scene on the Dallas Divide, Colorado.

Take Hwy. 62 over Dallas Divide through some of America’s most beautiful rural mountain scenery (images above and below).  For a closer look, turn up toward the peaks on the West Fork Road and drive through Ralf Lauren’s spectacular ranch (image at top).  To avoid trespassing stay on the road until you reach National Forest land.  Back on Hwy. 62, continue on to Ridgway, a still-authentic ranching community.  If it’s autumn and the aspens are in leaf, you will run out of space on your camera’s memory card!

A ranch is nestled among colorful aspens high in the San Juan Mtns. near Ridgway, Colo.

An off-pavement loop drive from Ridgway heads east up gravel county road 8 to Owl Creek Pass.  You can free-camp up here and then continue north to rejoin pavement near U.S. 50.  Turn left (west) here and drive to Montrose, the largest town in these parts.  Stock up and then make the short drive back down to Ridgway.  I’m going to leave you in Ridgway, which while lovely is rather remote.  From here you can go south through the interesting town of Ouray, then over the high passes of the San Juans and down to Durango.  You could also head north and east toward Aspen into the high Rockies of western Colorado.

Rural SW Colorado is perhaps best in the fall.

There are two big towns (Durango and Grand Junction) near enough Ridgway to drop the rental and fly out.  Denver is farther away but with enough time a trip that begins in Vegas and ends in Denver would be memorable indeed.  Despite our little foray into the Rocky Mtns. the next leg of our journey continues the Desert SW theme.  We’ll travel south through the Four Corners into New Mexico.  Thanks very much for reading and have a great weekend!

A corral sits in a remote Utah canyon as a storm moves through at sunset.

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A Very Special Shih Tsu   34 comments

Charl the shih tsu (pronounced shee tsoo) at his favorite place, the Oregon Coast.

Charl the shih tsu (pronounced shee tsoo) at his favorite place, the Oregon Coast.

I lost my friend yesterday.  He was named Charl.  I didn’t name him and, fittingly, it’s uncertain why his name is Charl and not Charles or Charlie.  He was a little shih tsu.  I have been blessed by having in the past 20 years two of the best dogs I could ever imagine.  First Sugar and then Charl.  Shih tsus are dogs originally bred in China for the households of royalty, where women with bound feet needed the warmth of their fur in wintertime.

Shih tsus have very unique and engaging personalities.  And this particular shih tsu had a truly unique personality even compared with others of his breed.  He was 16 years old and lived quite the full and exciting life.

Never let anybody tell you a small dog is not a “real” dog.  And never assume a small dog can’t go hiking and adventuring with you.  I had some of these preconceptions before I met Charl, and he shattered them all.  I inherited him from an ex when he was just one.  He was my companion for more than 15 years.

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

I swear he was part cat, especially with respect to having 9 lives.  There were many times when I thought he had been lost.  He had a habit of wandering from the trail and driving me crazy with worry looking for him.  One time he got lost while hiking high on Mt. Hood.  My uncle searched in one direction and I went the other.  When my uncle found him he was sleeping right at the edge of an enormous cliff.  Another time was in the snow and it had gotten dark.  I still don’t know how I managed to meet back up with him that time.

But until he got old he never shrank from a physical challenge.  I may have had to lift him up and over big rocks on climbs, but he would routinely do 15+ mile hikes with major elevation gains exceeding 3000 feet!  He was extremely healthy throughout his life, never sick and (almost) never a pain.   He could hold his pee for incredibly long periods if necessary.  And when he was too old to hike with me he’d wait patiently in my van for many hours.  He was a very mellow and relaxed little thing who almost never barked.

Charl in his later years was not as intrepid though he always played along.

Charl in his later years was not as intrepid though he always played along.

When on camping/photo safaris, as soon as I got up at dawn to photograph, Charl would move right into my sleeping bag.

When on camping/photo safaris, as soon as I got up at dawn to photograph, Charl would move right into my sleeping bag.

He almost became prey on a number of occasions.  On Hurricane Ridge in Washington it was only by very quick action on my part that he wasn’t taken by an eagle.  He even came face to face with a wild wolf, a lone alpha male in Yellowstone Park.  He was only 10 feet away, but again my presence saved him.  I snatched him up before the wolf could get any ideas about snagging a take-out lunch.

When he was a youngster he would disappear with his sister Abbi, most times at the beach.  Some time later I would get a call when someone found him.  Invariably they would’ve scored treats or even full meals.  He wore my phone number around his neck his whole life, and it was necessary in his case believe me.

This wolf is looking right at him but Charl had very little idea he was face to face with his wild origins.

This wolf is looking right at him but Charl had very little idea he was face to face with his wild origins.

On a trip to Yosemite National Park, Charl shows the local deer just how ineffectual he is as a hunter.

On a trip to Yosemite National Park, Charl shows the local deer just how ineffectual he is as a hunter.

All through these trials he maintained that extremely mellow disposition that everyone remarked upon.  When he was a puppy he was of course rambunctious.  But throughout his life he was a dog who could appreciate laziness in all its forms.  He slept many hours on my lap as I drove.  I thought of him as a lap dog who had adapted very well to an active life.  In fact, shih tsus are the most adaptable of all the lap dogs.

Charl was always happy to lounge on people and keep them warm, even little people.

Charl was always happy to lounge on people and keep them warm, even little people.

The great thing about lap dogs is you can take them anywhere.

The great thing about lap dogs is you can take them anywhere.

He learned how to hike by following my previous dog, Sugar.  There were some years of overlap when I had two dogs.  Sugar also taught him how to love streams.  He was afraid of them at first but after watching her cool down many times by plopping her belly down in cold creek water he got the idea and started following suit.

 

Charl goes canyoning in southern Utah.

Charl goes canyoning in southern Utah.

The only hassle was his fur.  It was the kind that doesn’t shed.  That made it strange.  It would pick up half of the forest floor as if it were velcro.  Powder snow would quickly ball up until he couldn’t walk for all the packed snowballs on his under-carriage.  He needed frequent combing and bathing.  Especially when his hair was long.  I always thought he looked more like a natural dog when his hair was long.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs.  La Sal Mtns, Utah.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs. La Sal Mtns, Utah.

So he got a free ride in my pack, the only time he skied!

So he got a free ride in my pack, the only time he skied!

His favorite place in all the world was the Oregon Coast.  He loved to run up and down the beach chasing the surf as it receded, chasing shore birds, having a ball.  He would run until he was a speck in the distance, and I would have to run after him.  He used to be so fast, like a flying dust mop!

Charl rests after some fun on the Oregon Coast.

Charl rests after some fun on the Oregon Coast.

The sand was good for playing in, but the warm rock is much better for napping on.

The sand was good for playing, but the warm rock is much better for napping.

Even the last time we were there, with him an old codger, he started to run for a bit before tiring quickly.  Because of his love for the beach I will be going with my uncle to the coast soon to scatter his ashes.  My uncle, Charl and I hiked many times together.

Charl as an old dog.  Though he eventually went blind, he aged gracefully.

Charl as an old dog. Though he eventually went blind, he aged gracefully.

I suppose I shouldn’t be sad that Charl is gone.  He lived a full life after all.  But I am sad, very sad.  I know that I will never meet a dog like Charl.  Rest in Peace buddy, you’ll be missed.

 

Charl: 1998 - 2014, Rest in Peace.

Charl: 1998 – 2014, Rest in Peace.

Wordless Wednesday: Genuine   4 comments

Buckaroo

Single-Image Sunday: The Golden Years   8 comments

Thinking about the old days: my dog Charl

Thinking about the good old days: my dog Charl

My little buddy Charl the shih tsu, who I’ve known since he was a pup, is now in his golden years.  He is 15 and has been slowing way down lately.  He is pretty much blind now but shows no worrisome signs of ill health.  He’s been a remarkably healthy dog.

Although this photo is from last year, I chose it because he seems to be thinking back on the good times we’ve shared together.  He used to be one heck of a hiker, believe it or not.  With the most unique personality of any dog I’ve encountered, he’s been a constant source of amusement through the years.  I’m going to miss him when he goes.

Friday Foto Talk: Isolating Subjects   7 comments

Their shapes and fact that these camel thorn trees in Namibia are in silhouette helps to isolate them from the background of dunes.  The strong morning light washes out the background, further de-emphasizing it.

Their shapes and fact that these camel thorn trees in Namibia are in silhouette helps to isolate them from the background of dunes. The strong morning light washes out the background, further de-emphasizing it. 55 mm., 1/1600 sec. @ f/16.

This is a look I sometimes go for in my images, if for no other reason than to occasionally get away from the extended depth of field, wide-angle landscapes that dominate my shooting.  It involves highlighting one or a few particular subjects and allowing other parts of the scene to be less obvious.  Although close-up or true macro photographs fall into this category, I’m not really talking about those.  They are relatively straightforward images to make.  The trick I think is to isolate a subject and yet still leave something of the surroundings for the viewer to identify – even if it’s just a feel for the surroundings.

This type of image works well if the subject contrasts in some way with the rest of the scene.  Your subject  doesn’t have to be big, or even all that interesting.  You will make it more interesting by photographing it in the right way!  But it sure helps if the subject you’re trying to isolate is already set off in some way from its surroundings.

For this picture of my mare I simply opened up my aperture all the way (f/4) and shot.  I checked my LCD and saw that the background was a little too much in focus, so I moved closer and shot again.  I wanted it to be only slightly out of focus.

For this picture of my mare I simply opened up my aperture all the way (f/4) and shot. I checked my LCD and saw that the background was a little too much in focus, so I moved closer and shot again. I wanted it to be only slightly out of focus. 200 mm., 1/160 sec. @ f/4.0.

Here are some examples of subjects that are suitable for isolation:

      • Flowers, either a single bloom or a tight bunch.  Their color can really set them off against the background.
      • Trees, if they are interesting in some way.  Good candidates are trees that show off a different color (say a golden larch against green pines or firs), or a stark, bare tree against a background empty of details.  A tree that stands far above the rest of the canopy can make a good subject for isolation too.
      • Rocks can be good subjects for isolation, so long as they either contrast in color (difficult to find) or stick out in some other way from their background.  So-called hoodoos are a perfect example.  These are pillars, often with interesting shapes, that stick up out of the surrounding landscape.
      • Animals or people are perhaps the easiest subjects to isolate against a natural background.
For this shot of spring poppies, I wanted to include the cliff they were growing beneath, so I moved in close and chose a wide-angle.  If I had shot it from a standing position, the flowers would not be a strong enough subject.

For this shot of spring poppies, I wanted to include the cliff they were growing beneath, so I moved in close and chose a wide-angle. If I had shot it from a standing position, the flowers would not be a strong enough subject. 24 mm., 1/125 sec. @ f/11.

How you go about isolating a subject will depend on how strongly the subject already contrasts with its surroundings, plus how much you wish to hit the viewer in the head with isolation.  Your approach can be subtle, such as a slight vignette applied in post-processing, or it can have full-on impact, such as a shallow depth of field combined with a mask applied in post-processing that darkens and further blurs everything but the subject.

USING DEPTH OF FIELD

If you use a large aperture (small f number), you can put your subject in clear focus while the rest of the image is blurred.  You should be aware that it rarely works to put a lot of the area in front of the subject out of focus.  It’s best to limit this effect and go for blurring the background instead.  A blurred background looks much more natural than a blurred foreground.  This is certainly not a hard and fast rule, however.  You should play around with different levels of foreground blurring when the opportunity arises.

For this macro image of moss, I wanted to highlight the droplet, so I focused on that and got as close as I could.  I might have needed to get closer though.

For this macro image of moss, I wanted to highlight the droplet, so I focused on that and got as close as I could. The blurry stalk in front of the droplet takes away from the picture. 200 mm., 2.0 sec. @ f/16; taken with Canon 70-200 mm. f/4L + Canon 500D close-up lens.

USING COLOR

I often will spot a composition that just begs for an isolation technique, and it is only because of a subject that intrigues me.  It might be shape, it might be texture, but I most often pull the trigger when it is color that sets the subject off.  Perhaps this is because of my bias toward color in photography, but it also seems to work better than using a subject’s other characteristics.

USING BRIGHTNESS (NATURAL) 

This might be the best way to highlight a subject.  Anyone viewing a photo will tend to look at the brighter parts first.  You don’t have a lot of control over this sometimes, unless you can move your subject.  I should note right here that it’s not okay to damage the natural world in your pursuit for the perfect picture.  But if you are photographing a person or pet, moving them into a beam of light is a good option.  You can also wait on a cloudy day for light beams to fall on your subject.  You will see stunning shots of hill towns in Europe highlighted in this manner.  Also think about shooting into the sun in order to highlight your subject in the opposite way – by making it much darker than the background (see top image).

USING BRIGHTNESS (FLASH)

You can use flash, whether it is daytime or not, to isolate a subject with brightness.  Even a subtle flash directed at the subject can be used in combination with a darkening mask for the surroundings to create a “spotlight” effect.  The spotlight can be obvious or subtle or something in between.  When I say subtle flash I am talking about either being near the outer limits of the flash’s working distance or using flash exposure compensation to dial down the power of the flash (or a combination of the two).  Check the owner’s manuals for your camera (and for your flash if it is an off-camera unit) to see how to dial down the flash’s power.

For this shot of springbok in Namibia, I broke a rule saying that your in-focus subject should be in front.  Placing the male in shadow helped to focus attention on the well-lighted female in back.

For this shot of springbok in Namibia, I broke a rule saying that your in-focus subject should be in front. But placing the male in shadow helped to focus attention on the well-lighted female in back. 400 mm., 1/1250 sec. @ f/5.6

USING SIZE

If you are closer to the subject, even something small like a flower, it will appear bigger in your frame.  I know that is obvious, but it’s amazing how many photographers refuse to simply move their feet and get closer to a subject.  If you do this, you might get one more picture out of the scene, one you didn’t see initially.  Maybe it will not turn out very well.  But maybe it will!

Of course the bigger the subject the easier it is to isolate it from the background.  In other words, you won’t have to rely on other means, like depth of field, nearly as much.  If you are going wide-angle, for example, and only have f/4 or f/5.6 as a maximum aperture on the lens, you won’t be able to throw the background very much out of focus.  In this case you will appreciate characteristics of the subject like color and size; they will play a bigger role in isolation.

Although I recently posted a similar image to this one, I included this because it illustrates well the technique of getting close to your subject and playing around with depth of field to get just the right amount of blur.

Although I recently posted a similar image to this one, I included this because it illustrates well the technique of getting close to your subject and playing around with depth of field to get just the right amount of blur. Canon 100 mm. macro lens, 1/80 sec. @ f/8.0

USING EMPTY SPACE

This might be the most obvious technique to isolate a subject.  Just put a lot of empty space around it.  You feel isolated when you are surrounded by empty space, so why shouldn’t a picture give a feel of isolation if a person, animal or tree is surrounded by a lot of empty space.  Photographers often call it “negative” space.  It’s just portions of the frame lacking in elements.  Broad expanses of sky, grass, water, they all count as empty (or negative) space.  See the bottom image for an example of this technique.  The more compelling your subject, the better.

USING POINT OF VIEW

You’ve probably noticed that the lower you get, the bigger objects closer to you appear, while things further away appear even smaller.  This is really using size, as mentioned above.  But here you’re taking advantage of apparent size.  Does it matter to the viewer whether the size of something in the frame is “real” or “apparent”?  Nope.  If you’re using a relatively wide angle, this effect is magnified.  With fisheye lenses, it reaches the extreme.  I should mention the opposite case.  If you gain an elevated viewpoint, things that are closer to you will appear to be closer in size to things that are further away.

This big male hippo in Zambia put himself closer to my position in the boat, thus giving me the chance to quickly grab the shot and isolate him against his pod of females.

This big male hippo in Zambia put himself closer to my position in the boat, thus giving me the chance to quickly grab the shot and isolate him against his pod of females. 81 mm., 1/800 sec. @ f/7.1.

USING FOCAL LENGTH

As I just mentioned, things closer to you appear even bigger when you get lower.  The same thing occurs when you use a wider angle, a shorter focal length.  If you use a lens with a focal length of 20 mm., for example, you are going to isolate closer subjects by virtue of their appearing bigger in the frame.  If you use a telephoto at 100 mm. or more, you are going to accomplish the opposite.  Closer subjects will more easily blend in with the background, again mostly according to apparent size.

Although I got close to this subject, I kept the focal length short to include plenty of sky and not allow the background to go completely out of focus.

Although I got close to this flower, I kept the focal length fairly short (wide angle) to include plenty of sky and keep the background from going completely out of focus. 67 mm., 1/30 sec. @ f/22.

USING THE COMPUTER

There are several techniques to use in post-processing that will further isolate your subject.  But realize that you will need to use some or all of the methods listed above during capture so that you don’t need to push the post-processing too far.  This is a truism in photography.  You will only get natural-looking results if you take steps during capture that get you partway (most of the way?) to where you want to be in the end.

Vignettes, masks, selective focus treatments and more are all used to further isolate subjects from their surroundings.  Instead of going into detail here, I recommend doing a bit of research.  Look into how portrait photographers use post-processing techniques to isolate people from backgrounds (in non-studio surroundings).  Nearly any book or video series that shows you how to use Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture and others will go into the techniques used to help isolate people (or animals) from their surroundings.  Take a look, and apply those things to flowers, rocks, or any subject you wish to isolate.

For this shot of blooming beargrass with Mount Adams in the background, I tried a few different focal length/aperture combinations before I got the one I liked best.

For this shot of blooming beargrass with Mount Adams in the background, the fact that I was close to the subject relative to the background meant that a small aperture was needed to avoid the background being too blurry. 165 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/22

Use all of these things together.  Use characteristics of the subject like color, brightness and size (or some other feature), use apparent size by varying distance to subject and point of view, use the focal length of your lenses, and maybe even use flash.  While editing on the computer use vignettes, masks and other techniques to further isolate your subject.

If you bear these things in mind while shooting, pretty soon it should become second nature to you.  It will help keep your mind on the subject.  I’m not promising that you’ll get a level of isolation that yields a winner every time.  But I can promise you’ll obtain a greater variety of images, even if you only vary depth of field.  If more of your images isolate interesting subjects, you will eventually have more images with impact in your portfolio.  And that can only be a good thing.

This is just a straight picture taken at f/11.  The height and interesting shape of the lightning-struck tree does all the work of isolation without any help from the photographer.

This is just a straight picture taken at f/11. The height and interesting shape of the lightning-struck tree does all the work of isolation without any help from the photographer. 28 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/11.

Isolation in this image comes from a combination of the fact this roan antelope is the only live creature plus all of the open space of Malawi's Nyika Plateau that surrounds him.

Isolation in this image comes from a combination of the fact this roan antelope is the only live creature plus all of the open space of Malawi’s Nyika Plateau that surrounds him. 31 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11

Spring Pastures   2 comments

Mount Hood rises beyond rural pastureland in western Oregon.

Mount Hood rises beyond rural pastureland in western Oregon.

Whenever I head out to the barn where my horses are kept I pass through a very pastoral stretch of countryside.  The pictures here are from an area southwest of Portland, Oregon.  It is what the rest of the city’s surrounding areas used to look like before all the development.  For instance, there is a mall and freeway now where in the late 1970s when I first moved here there was country much like you see in these pictures.  But this kind of beauty is still accessible.  You simply have to drive further from town now.

I hope you enjoy the images.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  If you click on an image you will be taken to the high-res. image where purchase of print or download, along with things like mugs and T-shirts, is simply a matter of clicking “add image to cart”.  It won’t be added right away; you will get the chance to see prices and options.  Thanks for your interest, and please contact me if you have any questions at all.  Thanks for visiting!

Khallie the filly enjoys some nice thick green grass.

Khallie the filly enjoys some nice thick green grass.

After a healthy grazing session, Gold Dancer finds all the new spring grass too tempting.

After a healthy grazing session, Gold Dancer finds all the new spring grass too tempting.

The area around Corbett, Oregon grows and glows under a spring sunset.

The area around Corbett, Oregon grows and glows under a spring sunset.

Poor Khallie   7 comments

Khallie close-up.

Khallie close-up.

This is sort of a personal post, totally unlike me.  But it’s also a good chance to highlight some pictures of my favorite little filly, Khallie.  She is on my mind right now because of an accident.  It could have been worse (of course) but she got hurt and that’s bad enough.

Khallie, an arabian filly, is in the mood for mischief.

Khallie, an arabian filly, is in the mood for mischief.

We were just starting a ride.  She did not want to step into a big puddle of water to get around a gate (she has “issues” with water, something I’m trying to gently fix).  So I led her under a strand of barbed wire to avoid the puddle.  This is something some lame-brained landowner put up, not even on his property.  We had done this numerous times in the past, so I was not worried.  Perhaps I was a bit complacent about it, but I allowed the wire to catch on the saddle horn.

Khallie & her mom Gold Dancer do the mom-daughter thing.

Khallie & her mom Gold Dancer do the mom-daughter thing.

Khallie chose that moment to jump forward, and the wire scared her.  She took off, no way I could have held her.  She ran away like the wind, dragging the barbed wire behind her.  She thought she was being chased by the wire.  I jogged after her and finally found her standing in the trees off the trail, breathing hard.  She was very scared.  I only noticed some minor cuts and abrasions, no limp, and so continued the ride (though I shortened it significantly).  I wanted her to calm down before taking her back.

Khallie just a week after being born.

Khallie just a week after being born.

It wasn’t until the next day that her leg swelled up and pus began dripping from a hidden wound.  The wire had apparently sliced cleanly into her flesh, a nice 4-inch long gash, about an inch deep.  Not good, especially the pus, which means it’s infected.  It might need stitches, but the place it is located would likely mean stitches would not hold.

Khallie just loves the snow.

Khallie just loves the snow.

So now she is being doctored, on antibiotics and confined to her stall.  It should heal fine (she’s young) but it still makes my heart break for her.  I know it was really my fault, so I feel quite guilty about it.

A recent picture of Khallie in profile.

A recent picture of Khallie in profile.

Khallie is my little girl, my favorite horse (I have two, her mother also).  I was there when she popped out of her mom, and she quickly wormed her way into my heart.  I love her spirit.  That spirit you can see in the image below when she is barely a week old already longing to get out of the birthing stall.  Her mom is sick right now with a flu bug and so now I don’t have any horse to ride.

Khallie, a little over a week after being born, is already impatient to get out and see the world.

Khallie, a little over a week after being born, is already impatient to get out and see the world.

It’s difficult also because Khallie was just learning to ride.  I’ve only ridden her a half dozen times up to this point.  So now I’m off to the barn to bring her more treats.  Along with cleaning the wound, I feel my job is to baby her and soothe her bruised feelings.  She’s a bit of a prima dona, but I know she has a tough streak in there too.  So she should get through this with no lasting scars, at least emotional ones.

Khallie is very much a people horse, here she greets her mom and rider returning home from a ride.

Khallie is very much a people horse, here she greets her mom and rider returning home from a ride.

Puttin’ on the Green: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!   7 comments

 

The O'Flaherty Castle in Connemara, Ireland.

The O’Flaherty Castle in Connemara, Ireland.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!  This post will be a bit short on words but very long on green.  I love all the colors found in nature.  I’ve been blessed to admire the crystal blue of a clear sky, the deep brown and ochre of rich earth, the impossibly-pure white of fresh snowfall, the vibrant fuschia and magenta of a desert sunset; even that most fiery of red-orange in flowing lava!

But there is something about the color green that speaks to all of us.  It is the color that means life.  I make my home in a very green part of a green state: northwestern Oregon.  Also, I’ve traveled to lush and very green places in the tropics all over the world.  But I believe that when I visited Ireland about 6 years ago, I saw the most incredible variety, the most luminous shades of green that I’ve ever seen in my life.  This is where my ancestry lies, in the Connemara region of western Ireland.

If you’re interested in buying any of these images either framed or in high-resolution download form, just click on those you like (except the top one).  All of them are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Enjoy the green!

A mother giant river otter leads her babies across a plant-covered pond in western Venezuela.

A mother giant river otter leads her babies across a plant-covered pond in western Venezuela.

Rice paddies surround a small village on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

Rice paddies surround a small village on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A green frog floats in a green pool in Namibia's Naukluft Mountains.

A green frog floats in a green pool in Namibia’s Naukluft Mountains.

A fern-filled grotto in western Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A fern-filled grotto in western Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

A capuchin monkey peers down from the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

A capuchin monkey peers down from the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

In the foothills of the Andes in Colombia, a cloud forest seems a great place to hide leprechauns.

In the foothills of the Andes in Colombia, a cloud forest seems a great place to hide leprechauns.

One of spring's colts gambles across a green pasture in eastern Oregon.

One of spring’s colts gambles across a green pasture in eastern Oregon.

A waterfall in the jungle on the slopes of Mt Rinjani on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A waterfall in the jungle on the slopes of Mt Rinjani on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A river flows through remote jungle in southwestern Costa Rica.

A river flows through remote jungle in southwestern Costa Rica.

A moss-covered bank overlooks a small rapid on Hood River, Oregon.

A moss-covered bank overlooks a small rapid on Hood River, Oregon.

Home in the Jungle: Life on the Rio San Juan, which flows along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Home in the Jungle: Life on the Rio San Juan, which flows along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Big sky and rolling green plains grazed by roan antelope define the pristine Nyika Plateau of northern Malawi.

Big sky and rolling green plains grazed by roan antelope define the pristine Nyika Plateau of northern Malawi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Little Companero   4 comments

Charl the Shih tsu at his favorite place in the world: the Oregon Coast!

Charl the Shih tsu at his favorite place in the world: the Oregon Coast!

I don’t think I have made my little buddy the subject of a post yet.  I don’t even include him in many pictures, though he is never far from where I am.  Unless I am going international, flying somewhere, he goes with me.  He’s my road-trip partner.

A shih tsu takes on a concerned expression, worried no doubt that more treats aren't in the cards.

A shih tsu takes on a concerned expression, worried no doubt that more treats aren’t in the cards.

And what a partner!  He never complains or whines, even about my driving.  He always seems happy to go wherever I want to go, and never makes me feel guilty about buying snacks and spilling crumbs when I munch while driving.  In fact, he LOVES when we get snacks.

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

A little known fact about the old west that has been lost to history: shih tsu scouts!

He’s my little dog, named Charl, who I’ve had since he was a puppy.  It wasn’t my idea to get a shih tsu.  He belonged to my girlfriend at the time, and he latched on to me when I took him along on a trip to the Canadian Rockies with my other dog (a samoyed mix).   He learned how to lift his leg when he pees on that trip.

Charl usually takes over my sleeping bag when I go out for those cold dawn photo shoots.

Charl usually takes over my sleeping bag when I go out for those cold dawn photo shoots.

I didn’t even know what a shih tsu was.  To me, it was just one more poor excuse for a dog: a yapper, an ankle biter.  I’ve always had big dogs, dogs that could go skiing & hiking with me.  You know, real dogs.  But when the girlfriend and I split he came with me.

Charl checks out a slot canyon in Utah.

Charl checks out a slot canyon in Utah.

Now I’m a big shih tsu fan.  They are without doubt the best small dog in my opinion.  Perhaps it is his personality, which is uniquely mellow and quiet.  When he was young he barked some and ran around the house like an idiot with his sister.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs.  La Sal Mtns, Utah.

Charl is struggling in the snow because his fur picks up snowballs. La Sal Mtns, Utah.

 

This is the ticket

Okay this is much better. Snow is too hard!

But in general shih tsus do not bark as much as other small dogs.  All they really want is to cuddle, so never be scared of a getting bitten by this dog.  I really feel it is ideal to have two dogs; an inside lap dog and an outside bigger dog.

Motorcycles are Scary.  What a trooper!

Motorcycles are Scary. What a trooper!

When Charl was young, he went on many hikes with me and my uncle.  He even climbed a few mountains.  He could do 15 mile, 3000-foot vertical hikes.  And that’s impressive considering how short his legs are.  He’s always loved snow but it clings to his fur and forms giant snowballs so he has trouble walking.  Also, he’s always loved the beach.

Charl the shih tsu, in the meadows along the Merced River in Yosemite N.P., stalks the completely unworried deer.

Charl the shih tsu, in the meadows along the Merced River in Yosemite N.P., stalks the completely unworried deer.

On on this last trip I even got him to run down the beach.  He rarely runs now.  He’s old (14) and sleeps most of the time.  He gets irritated when puppies try to play with him.  In other words, he’s retired.  I’ll be a sad man when my little buddy dies.  He’s enriched the lives of everyone he’s met.

Charl looking handsome after a haircut.

Charl looking handsome after a haircut.

 

 

Khallie is Growing Up   2 comments

Khallie tosses her head around.

Khallie tosses her head around.

When a daughter gets up to that age where she is going out with boys, and showing all the other signs of becoming a woman, a father will often have trouble accepting the inevitable.  Now I’m not trying to say this is the same thing, but darn it if I don’t feel a twinge of sadness as my “girl” Khallie grows up.  I returned from a long trip away to find my arabian filly taller and definitely filled out.  She had been receiving some training under saddle, and was ready for her first ride with daddy.

Khallie is all grown up, with a big-girl saddle.

Khallie is all grown up, with a big-girl saddle.

I rigged up a bridle with the lead rope and a rope halter and used the saddle belonging to her mom, Gold Dancer (GD).  Khallie’s head is still smaller than her mom’s so she couldn’t use her bridle.  And the cinch had just enough eyelets in it to make it snug around her considerably more svelte barrel.   I hopped on and tooled around the arena for awhile.  I had not planned to take her outside on this first ride.

Gold Dancer comes over to check us out, and has obviously been rolling around in the muddy pasture.

Gold Dancer comes over to check us out, and has obviously been rolling around in the muddy pasture.

But the sun was sinking, the light was softening into a winter glow, and I wanted to get some pictures.  So we took a walk, me leading not riding Khallie.  Her mom came over to the fence to check us out.  It was strange, for me and possibly also for GD to see Khallie, all tacked up, leaving with me while mom stayed behind.  So many times Khallie has watched sadly from the pasture as GD and I took off on a ride.

Khallie turns at a sound only she can hear.

Khallie turns at a sound only she can hear.

We walked into the woods, at the beginning of the riding trails.  I thought what the heck, and hopped on her.  We walked a mile or so, down to the creek, then back.  A very short ride, but very big for Khallie.  Her first ride with me, and we go into the woods!  She knows how I am, how quickly I become bored with the arena.  And I think all those woodsy walks without a saddle helped make her feel comfortable.  She kept turning her head around and bumping her nose against my leg, I think to make sure I was still with her.  She’s so used to me walking beside her, not riding on her back.

_MG_7594

I was pleasantly surprised at her demeanor.  I think she will make a fine saddle horse.  She sometimes behaves more like a little show horse, like a little prima dona.  But if she’s going to hang around me, she’ll need to keep that “tom boy” attitude handy too.  Sadly, I might soon need to sell Khallie.  Like a father giving his young daughter away at a wedding, that day, if it comes, will definitely be a sad one for me.

A purple dusk descends as Khallie keeps watch for danger.

A purple dusk descends as Khallie keeps watch for danger.

 

 

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