Saturday, June 26, 2010


Manfrotto CarbonOne tripod: $350
Kirk BH-3 ball head: $275
Leaving them on top of an 11,000-foot-high ridge and not realizing it til you've already made the 120-mile drive home: priceless

Photo: A view of Pikes Peak from 75 miles away, with backlit morning rain clouds [click to enlarge]. This is where I left my tripod this morning. Luckily, I know someone who works not far from here, and he sent one of his crew up to recover it. Unfortunately, I'm pretty much out of commission until I get it back. Guess I'll be returning to this spot on Monday, whether I planned to or not.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where There's Smoke. . .

I've gone out the last two evenings in an attempt to get some pics of the ever-present smoke plume from the Medano Fire at Great Sand Dunes Natl. Park, and really haven't gotten what I've wanted. What I want, I don't even know. Perhaps it's a lack of experience shooting in such conditions, which is fine by me. The fewer forest fires, the better!

Here's a post-sunset shot from last night. All that crud up there is a ribbon of smoke that stretches from the fire (out of frame to the left) out into the skies over Colorado Springs (out of frame to the right). As the crow flies, the fire is about 60 miles away. The smell of burning forest has permeated the air around Pueblo for the last three or four days, and the smoke plume has created an ethereal, copper glow as the sun struggles to shine through the haze.

Anybody know any good rain dances?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pawnee Sunrise

Last night the great Walt Borneman and I did a slide presentation at the REI flagship store in Denver. Afterwards I decided to feed my wanderlust beast and drove up to Pawnee National Grasslands in northeastern Colorado. I pulled into the Pawnee Buttes overlook about 11:30, tired as all getout, slipped some Steve Vai tunes into the CD player, cranked it to ear-splitting level and drifted off to sleep.

When I woke up at 4:15, it was so windy I doubted the wisdom of hiking out towards the buttes for sunrise photos. My nephew (and budding photographer) Charley was going to drive out to meet me, but I sent him a text message that read simply, "Don't bother. WINDY!!!," and went back to sleep. Half an hour later I awoke again, and there was the kid parked right next to me. Sometimes technology moves slowly. Or not at all.

A short time later, as we stood outside our vehicles contemplating our immediate future, I looked down to behold the wonder of my completely flat front tire. Aw geez, what a way to start a morning! The sun was still maybe 15 minutes from cresting the horizon, so, with Charley's help, I got to the task of changing the tire. I didn't really think I'd be pulling out the camera anyway (windy, hazy and cloudless is no way to go through life, son...), so I thought I'd get the grunt work out of the way.

Wouldn't you know it, when the sun did come up, the haze made its disc a very appealing subject when combined with the silhouettes of the buttes. Charley started to shoot, while I stood there watching the show. By the time I got a clue and thought maybe I'd like some pictures of this, the sun had risen high enough above the crud near the horizon that it was now a harsh, not-easily-photographed fireball. I took a few shots regardless (including some with the sun out-of-frame – click to enlarge), and made note for future reference that right around the summer solstice it's completely feasible to photograph the sun rising right between the two Pawnee Buttes. I had mapped out a scenario weeks ago to catch the moon rising between the buttes next December, around the winter solstice, but it might be nice to have both photos in my repertoire, provided the desolate roads leading out there aren't snowed in for my December moonrise plans.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Is that really a word? Ah, who cares! I spent yesterday afternoon and evening up on Cottonwood Pass, one of my very favorite places in Colorado. Knowing the storm moving through would provide interesting weather, I just had to pick somewhere that I thought I could get high enough to look straight into it, rather than being overcome by it. At over 12,000 feet, Cottonwood Pass was just the right place. The clouds never relented right on the pass, but just over on the west side, the mountains created a buffer zone of sorts, where the clouds could race up the mountainsides east of me and leapfrog over, giving me a more calm, clearer base of operations. I had 30 minutes of the conditions you see in this picture [click to enlarge], then the clouds moved in and obscured everything. An hour or so later I got another 15 minute window of opportunity, and then the clouds came back, killing any chance of sunset light. Oh well.

Felt great to be up high again.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Keeping Abreast of What I'm Missing

Last night Mr. TV Weatherman mentioned that there would likely be fog and low clouds in the morning. That's a forecast that always makes my creative side stand at attention, because living along Colorado's Front Range makes it relatively easy to get above a low cloud deck and experience the sight of mountains rising through the clouds and into a clear, blue sky. It's one of my favorite types of conditions to shoot in, no doubt about it.

I didn't make any grand plans to get up early, but I figured if I woke up early enough on my own, I'd take a peek out the window and see if there was anything worth getting up for. That time arrived about 2:15am, way too early to even consider going anywhere. Another 90 minutes of sleep, I told myself, and if I wake up, I'll check things out.


3:45 snuck past quietly while I was out cold, so when I did wake up around 5:15, it was too late to get anywhere. This would be one sunrise I'd have to enjoy from the comfort of my bed. Wouldn't be the first, and it sure won't be the last.

I grabbed my laptop and swung open the lid, and once it sprang to life, I navigated through a bunch of online Web cams that are on my normal vicarious itinerary. First stop, Garden of the Gods. Cloudy, dreary, and somebody stole Pikes Peak! Either that, or it was hidden behind all those gray, depressing clouds.

Next stop, Pikes Peak's summit cams. Just as I suspected—thin, wispy clouds and blue sky above, duck soup below. Oh, what I would've given to have gotten my butt out of bed and up onto Rampart Range for this! Since it was obviously too late to do anything about it, I sat in bed hitting the "refresh" button on my browser until I caught a glimpse of the sun cresting the eastern horizon.

A few more minutes making the rounds of my favorite Web cams, and it was back to Dreamland. Better luck next time.

[as always, click on the small images to see the big versions.]

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jazzberry Jam™

Yesterday I was listening to a band called Niacin while I toiled away on the computer (yeah, riiiiight). The band's main claim to fame is bassist extraordinaire Billy Sheehan, whose most notable stints have been with ex-Van Halen loud mouth David Lee Roth and bluesy rockers Mr. Big. He's also toured with heavyweight guitar players like Steve Vai—one concert at which I (and others) strummed my (their) fingers over his bass strings when he held the instrument face out over the pressing crowd. He's a true original in the way he flies up and down the fret board and across the strings, laying down much more than low-end hooks. He's more like an exceptional lead guitarist who happens to play bass.

Sheehan has the biggest name in Niacin, but it's a wholly democratic trio—jazz drummer Dennis Chambers, and John Novello on, of all things, the Hammond B3 organ, complete the line-up. (vitamin B3, a.k.a. niacin, get it?) It's really a spectacular conglomeration of instrumental genius.

While I listened to Niacin's Deep album, I was poking around the iTunes store, looking for what else the band has to offer. I also checked out the choices in the "customers who bought this also bought..." section, and came across another heady act called Ohm:. The band is similarly fronted by a relatively better known member—in this case, one-time Megadeth guitar slinger Chris Poland—joined by some really talented compatriots.

One thing led to another, and I downloaded a couple of Ohm:'s albums. While doing so, I noticed a common thread that ran through so many instrumental bands, and a trend that I've long noticed with bands of an instrumental nature—they clearly have fun coming up with kooky names for their songs. Case in point: the first track of one Ohm: album, "Peanut Buddha."

And why not? We're not talking "Yesterday" or, ahem, "We Will Rock You." These are lyric-less gems that, for all I know, might've sprung up after the name was floated.

Musicians have been doing this sort of thing forever, I suppose. I became aware of the practice in the '70s, during my formative explorations into more diverse, fusion-oriented music. Before Irish guitarist Gary Moore became famous for more common guitar-bass-drums-vocals albums, his 1979 Back on the Streets album contained such fiery instrumentals as "What Would You Rather Bee or a Wasp" and "Flight of the Snow Moose." Similarly, instrumental guitar giants like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai have enlightened our senses with "Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing" and "Bad Horsie," respectively. Steve Stevens gets into the act on his amazing Memory Crash CD with "Small Arms Fire" and "Cherry Vanilla." Without even hearing the song, can anyone imagine a song called "Small Arms Fire" by a guitarist of Stevens' caliber isn't an absolute rat-a-tat-tat barn-burner? I think not.

Perhaps the most prolific practitioners of the art of whacked out song names are jazz fusion bands. I offer drummer Dave Weckl's "Swamp Thing" and "Group Therapy," Vital Information's "Fit to be Tied" and "Looks Good, Feels Bad," Tribal Tech's "Elvis at the Hop," "Uh. . .Yeah OK," and "Astro Chimp," and even über-group The (Dixie) Dregs' "I'm Freaking Out," "Pompous Circumstances," "Sleeveless in Seattle" and "Bloodsucking Leeches" as prime examples of the genre. Heck, even some of my friends add their mark! My good buddy Roby Deaton paints a picture with "Summer Meadow" and "Starry Night" without having to play a note—although, I must say, his music completes the task beautifully. Another buddy, guitarist Stan Rose, didn't just use song titles to display his knack for skewed names. His musical project is called Alien Guitar Abduction. How cool is that?!

Lest I forget, keyboardist Jordan Rudess, perhaps the most amazing keyboard wizard since Keith Emerson, and a member of prog rock kings Dream Theater for the last several years, serves up a healthy selection of his own. "Dreaming in Titanium," "Bar Hopping with Mr. Picky" and "Screaming Head" join the list with creative aplomb.

What of Niacin, the reason this post sprung up in the first place? Try this: "Panic Button"; "Magnetic Mood"; "Klunkified"; "Swing Swang Swung." Yeah, I'd say they belong on this list.

As I alluded to earlier in this post, I can really see an artist having a quirky name pop into his head, attaching a first-impressions type of groove to it, and voilà!, a song is born!

It would be great fun coming up with this stuff. Sort of like coming up with interesting and descriptive names for Crayola crayons. I mean, who needs off-yellow when you can have macaroni and cheese? What's more fun, dark gray or Outer Space? Forget reddish-brown, give me Fuzzy Wuzzy! Jazzberry Jam, anyone?

Whacky song names, funny crayon colors. . . it's almost as much fun as naming blog posts!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I Love People With a Sense of Humor

I just spotted this in the parking lot of a restaurant here in Pueblo tonight. Not sure I can add anything to this, so I'll just let the picture do the talking.

My New Best Friend

Ever since I became serious about landscape photography, moon cycles have been an important part of my inspiration. Including a rising or setting full moon, or the thinnest wisp of a crescent moon, can add that little extra something to an image.

At first, I'd just note when the full moon was each month on whatever calendar happened to be hanging on the wall (before I was publishing my own, of course!), and figured I could shoot it rising a day or two before that date, or setting a day or two after. When timing became more critical, I started using the NOAA Web site to calculate rise/set times, moon phases and even positions. That worked well for years, even if it was a bit unwieldy.

All that recently went out the window, thanks to another photographer, and a real man of genius ("Here's to you, Mr. I'm-Gonna-Develop-a-Program-that-can-Make-Any-Idiot-Photographer-Look-Like-a-Pro!"), named Stephen Trainor. Stephen put together a computer program called The Photographer's Ephemeris that combines a calendar with mapping software. With TPE, I can pick any vantage point in the world, and it will draw one line each for sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset for any given day, past, present or future, along with an almanac detailing times and the point on the compass where these events occur. Wow! If a few local weathermen are my secret weapons, TPE is my new best friend.

The attached photo (click to enlarge) is an example of a nearly perfect program operated by a less-than-perfect photographer. In my very first post I included a photo of the moon setting directly behind Pikes Peak. That was a TPE success story. This photo, taken the day before, is what happens when I have a crazy notion that a difference of only 15 minutes between sunrise and moonset will still allow me to catch the moon setting behind a 14,110-foot-tall mountain. Um, no. On this day the moon set behind Pikes Peak before the sun came up, so I had to race to a spot where I could see to a lower, more distant horizon to see the moon dip below Earth. Some clouds blocked the sun's rays as it came up, but just at the right moment it peeked through enough to paint these lovely ponderosa pines with subtle alpenglow light. It was the following day that I returned to catch moonset behind Pikes Peak.

I have lots of cool things planned for TPE. Check back from time to time to see how successful I am at realizing them. And if you're curious about TPE, whether or not you're a photographer, look it up on Google. Due to some lapse in judgment, Stephen offers the program for free for your desktop, although you should leave him a tip via his donation link. He also has a version for the iPhone or iPod Touch for a very reasonable price at the iTunes store. Could an iPad version be far behind?