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Unframed 001: From Night Sky Photography at Tunnel View to Foggy Days in Texas

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Yosemite National Park | Fort Worth, Texas | Broken Bow, Oklahoma


Part blog, part zine, my new Unframed series will take you behind the scenes of many of my favorite photos. I hope you enjoy this more personal look into my experiences while out in the field, and what went into the making of the photos. This series will generally go well beyond what I share on social media.


This series will go well beyond what I share on social media.

In short, I want to provide more than what is typically consumed on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, where quick glances of a second or two and a habitual double-tap or like are encouraged instead of spending more thoughtful time with images and words shared within posts.


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And with all that out of the way, let's get to this edition's photos...


 

Silent Night

Yosemite National Park | 2020


Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park at night
Tunnel View at night

I've been feeling a need for quiet escape to clear the mind and refresh the soul of late as we struggle through what seems to be our final days/weeks with our oldest dog, Lucy. With the emotional rollercoaster that goes along with such life experiences, I often find myself thinking back to peaceful moments I've experienced through photography.


One such experience was back in February 2020, prior to the start of the Out of Yosemite conference I would be attending over the coming days. I sat at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park for roughly an hour one night, with no one else around aside from the occasional passing car. Sitting and appreciating the peaceful night, intermittently reading a John Muir biography while letting my camera fire away automatically.


The only sounds interrupting my quiet solitude (besides the aforementioned occasional car) were regular booms echoing across the valley. For a considerable amount of time, I could not figure out where they were coming from: it sounded like something incredibly heavy being dropped; as if construction machinery was at work late at night in the distance, which didn't seem plausible.


It finally dawned on me as I focused more intently that the booms were often preceded by a crumbling or cracking sound, and I realized the booms I was hearing were in fact large chunks of ice falling from the heights of Bridal Veil Falls and crashing down onto the rocks below. I had certainly never experienced anything like it before!


As for the photo you see here, my original intent was to blend the dozens of photos I was taking that night to create a single image of star trails arcing through the sky above Yosemite Valley... and I may yet do so. But upon reviewing the files on my computer back at home I was struck by the simplistic beauty of the valley at night, topped by pinpoint stars.


On a quick related tangent, over the years my preferences for shooting at night have changed. Initially, I was all about making the Milky Way the central star - no pun intended - of my night photos, or creating circular star trails around the north star. Now, I prefer to create more representational photos of my nighttime experiences, letting the stars help convey the sense of awe I feel gazing upwards without overpowering the rest of the scene.


Lastly, looking closely (and viewing the photo on a larger screen), one can also note an ever-so-subtle rainbow created by moonlight filtering through the mist of Bridal Veil.


More than three years later, this night remains one of my favorite photography experiences.



The Technical Details


Camera: Canon EOS R | Lens: Tamron SP 24-70mm

Focal Length: 24mm| ISO: 6400 | Aperture: f/3.2

Exposure Time: 10 seconds

Processed in Topaz DeNoise AI and Lightroom Classic



Relevant Links/Additional Content



 

The Witch's Hand

Fort Worth, Texas | 2021


A twisted oak tree with fall colors in Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth, Texas
My first run in with the old witch

My first encounter with The Witch: it happened to coincide with my first post-pandemic outing with another person, my good friend Jon Fischer (@jfischerphotography). As we loaded up our gear in the parking lot and prepared to hike into the park on this foggy morning, I assured him a 24-70mm would suffice, and then proceeded to use my 100-400mm more than any other lens the entire time (I was kind enough to let him use it... once).


I hadn't spent a ton of time in the park for a few years, and then in 2020 when people were desperate to get out of their homes it was absolutely swamped. Visits were either cancelled when I arrived to find no space to park - and a ridiculous cut off for parking once the lot filled, regardless of how many people subsequently left after morning hikes - or time spent in the park was not the most enjoyable as I encountered more trash than I'd ever seen there in the past.


Fortunately, things have calmed down again over the past couple of years, but I still try to remember to grab at least a small shopping bag to use for cleanup as I explore this local gem.


Since then, I've come to know the park like the back of my hand, yet I somehow still find new side trails and compositions almost every time I return. Regardless, it's a rare occurrence that I don't stop by and at least check in on the old witch. I made especially sure to do so upon returning to the park for the first time after the brutal heat and drought of last year's summer: fortunately, she was alive and well!


The funny thing about this tree is that I had probably walked right by it dozens of times before, but from the main trail it just looks like a bunch of twigs and brush surrounding a spindly tree of little note. It wasn't until I decided to take Jon on a side trail through a nearby meadow that I happened to find it standing out from its surroundings in the distance.


If you'd like a print of The Witch's Hand for yourself, it's included in my limited-edition folio, Look for the Light: Volume One. 10 fine art prints, one low price, presented in a customized soft-touch folio (while supplies last).



The Technical Details


Camera: Canon EOS R | Lens: Tamron 100-400mm

Focal Length: 366mm| ISO: 100 | Aperture: f/16

Exposure Time: 0.8 seconds

Processed in Lightroom Classic



Relevant Links/Additional Content




Behind the Scenes Bonus


Remember how I said I had walked past The Witch countless times and never saw anything of interest? Well, here's how she looks from the main trail:


Hiking at Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth, Texas
Nothing to see here... move along!

No wonder I never realized there was anything going on with that messy, boring copse of trees!


 

The Ghosts of Broken Bow

Broken Bow, Oklahoma | 2019


Cypress trees along the Mountain Fork River in Beavers Bend State Park in Oklahoma
Ghostly apparitions along the Mountain Fork River

A fantastic foggy experience in southeast Oklahoma! I've been back here several times over the years, but I've never again encountered fog as heavy as what Jon and I encountered when he invited me on a trip back in 2019.


Our (his) original plan was to stay the night in the Broken Bow, Oklahoma area before heading on to Arkansas to meet a small group of other photographers for waterfall season. Over dinner that first night when it was just the two of us, we discussed getting up in the middle of the night to see what we could pull off in regard to Milky Way photography. And so, we set our alarms for around 3am and soon found ourselves bounding out of bed after too-little sleep...


... to find a wall of grey when we opened the motel door.


Some of the thickest fog I've seen in at least the past decade had descended on the area so, with at least a hint of the bitter taste of disappointment, we closed the door and went back to sleep.


A few hours later we were back on our feet, loading up our gear to head to a couple spots in the nearby park that Jon was familiar with (it was my first time visiting this location so he was leading the way). What followed was a relatively brief, but highly fruitful, morning running around in the fog. A couple of my favorite photos in my portfolio were made that morning: this one, Muted, and From the Fog.


The next time I returned to the park, it took me quite a while to orient myself as everything looked completely different without the shroud of fog blanketing everything more than a few hundred feet away.



The Technical Details


Camera: Canon EOS R | Lens: Tamron SP 70-200mm

Focal Length: 177mm | ISO: 100 | Aperture: f/7.1

Exposure Time: 0.3 seconds

Processed in Lightroom Classic



Relevant Links/Additional Content



 

Lamentation

Fort Worth, Texas | 2021


Trees in heavy fog at Eagle Mountain Park, Fort Worth, Texas
Skeletal shapes emerging from the fog

It seems I'm on a bit of a foggy kick with this set of photos...


This particular foggy composition was found about a month after I discovered The Witch. Same park, but a decent hike between the two locations: this little scene can be found looking across a narrower side channel of the lake and had - like The Witch - gone unnoticed in prior explorations.

I actually took this shot as a bit of a joke. The trees were fairly visible moments prior and then a thicker wall of fog rolled in before I was able to take the shot, but I decided to click the shutter anyways to show off my awesome frame of solid white to a friend. As luck would have it, when I decided to play with the file in Lightroom later that day I discovered that the camera sensor had still managed to pull in ghostly details that could be teased out of the image with a little encouragement.


From joke to one of my favorite photos of 2021!


These trees are also featured in The Condemned and Last Hurrah. The three photos together provide a great example of how different conditions can completely alter the photographic opportunities and outcomes. Last Hurrah is also included in my free ebook, An Explosion of Color (along with nearly 40 other photos from fall 2022, plus 15 short essays).


As with my experience returning to Broken Bow sans fog, the next time I was in my local park on a clear day I had to use the location data from the cell phone snaps I took (see below) to figure out where, exactly, these trees were located. I had a vague idea of what trail I was on and the general area I had been standing in to frame the composition, but with so few landmarks I needed some help homing in on the exact spot.



The Technical Details


Camera: Canon EOS R | Lens: Tamron 100-400mm

Focal Length: 269mm | ISO: 200 | Aperture: f/8

Exposure Time:1/6th of a second

Processed in Lightroom Classic



Relevant Links/Additional Content




Behind the Scenes Bonus


Camera LCD view of trees in fog
Back of the camera view
Foggy day at Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth, Texas
My personal view as I shot Lamentation

I'm well aware of how much more data a camera sensor can collect versus what we see with our naked eye, but being able to pull anything out of this file - let alone the final image shown above - was quite the pleasant surprise.


 

On the Edge of Forever

Fort Worth, Texas | 2021


A tree in heavy fog along the shoreline of Eagle Mountain Lake in Fort Worth, Texas
The far shoreline faded into oblivion

This photo was taken the same day as Lamentation, albeit further yet into the park. Normally, the background for this composition would be fairly busy with the far shoreline of the lake intersecting the tree at roughly the midpoint of the frame, but the dense fog simplified the world for a day.


Two ducks floated lazily in the distance just before the point where they, too, would have been lost to the fog. I felt they added a nice little touch of balance to the otherwise empty space. In scenarios like this it's often tempting to try to fill the entire frame with your main subject, but I wanted to leverage negative space to better convey the atmospheric conditions.


An oddity with this shrouded day: it's rare enough for us to have conditions like this in north Texas, but it's rarer still for them to extend beyond the morning hours. This photo was taken at around 5:00pm!



The Technical Details


Camera: Canon EOS R | Lens: Tamron 100-400mm

Focal Length: 100mm | ISO: 800 | Aperture: f/4.5

Exposure Time:1/500th of a second

Processed in Lightroom Classic



Relevant Links/Additional Content


 

Fade Away

Fort Worth, Texas | 2021


Black and white photos of ripples of water at Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth, Texas
Endless ripples

At this point I've fully embraced the foggy - and black and white - trend with this Fourth Foggy Foto, once again taken the same morning as the last two frames.


As thankful as I am for having this local park only 20 minutes from my house (in a state where only about 5% of land is public, one of the worst ratios in the country), it can also be frustrating as there's a lot of boat traffic on the lake in the warmer months. Along with that traffic comes the sound of motors and, even worse, loud music from the big party pontoon boats that spawn every weekend (a good reason to avoid the park on Saturdays and Sundays, which I'm able to do more often than not now that I'm a full-time photographer). The auditory intrusions make it very difficult to escape into nature, let alone achieve any kind of creative flow state with the camera.


Fortunately, aside from a couple visits where the music was loud enough to reach the inner parts of the park, it's usually only a major issue when trying to work near the water.


On the flip side of those frustrations, however, is this photo: it wouldn't have been possible without the help of a passing boat far out from the shoreline. Eventually, its wake came ashore as regular, rhythmic waves. Thanks to the incredibly dense fog and cool February temps, this particular Saturday was almost eerily quiet, too. An added bonus!



The Technical Details


Camera: Canon EOS R | Lens: Tamron 100-400mm

Focal Length: 100mm | ISO: 200 | Aperture: f/8

Exposure Time:1/10th of a second

Processed in Lightroom Classic



Relevant Links/Additional Content



 

The Witch's Firestorm

Fort Worth, Texas | 2022


The best fall colors in north Texas at Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth
An early title for this photo was The Witch's Flamethrower

I was tempted to close out this week's collection with another, newer foggy image from my local park, but let's go out with a bang instead (one could go so far as calling it An Explosion of Color...).


I haven't exaggerated when I've raved about the amazing fall season we had here in north Texas, and this photo of The Witch is proof positive of that. I generally opt for much tighter framing of the old tree, but the amazing colors called for a wider take to really showcase the brilliant hues of fall. It looks as if she's throwing fire from the tips of her branches.


As wonderful as the fall colors were last year, I had to battle breezy conditions on every outing I made locally. I played around with some longer exposures of this scene, using my Lee Filters neutral density filters, but couldn't achieve the right balance between conveying motion while preserving details. It was fun experimenting and being playful by trying different techniques but, in the end, I settled back on using a short enough exposure time to freeze the foliage in place.


The Technical Details


Camera: Canon EOS R5 | Lens: Tamron 100-400mm

Focal Length: 181mm | ISO: 800 | Aperture: f/16

Exposure Time:1/50th of a second

Processed in Lightroom Classic



Relevant Links/Additional Content



Behind the Scenes Bonus


Long exposure of an oak tree with fall colors in the wind
Unedited long exposure attempt

As noted above, I didn't feel I got the right balance of motion in the longer exposure attempts with The Witch. I think my dissatisfaction with the outcomes was largely due to the evergreens at the bottom of the frame, and some of the foliage further in the background: it may have worked out if there was a fairly equal amount of motion blur in everything but the main structure of the old oak tree.


 

And that's a wrap on this first edition of Unframed! If you've already seen these photos in your social media feeds, I hope you appreciate the additional information and backstories - and behind the scenes peeks - shared in this new concept. Hopefully, this format provides a better viewing and reading experience, as well.



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