Colorado: Pawnee Buttes & Eastern Plains

June 05, 2010  •  1 Comment
O.K.-I just can't stand it any more. It's been far too long since I've written something and I have to remedy that now. Went to Pawnee Buttes today with Ben. Had a great time. Actually went late last night and spent the night in the back of the Jeep. We wanted to get an early start this morning - sun up was 5:25am and to leave from Fort Collins this morning and hike out there would have been terrible. So we headed out late last night, around 10:30.
 
Did a Bulb exposure with the F6: 2 hours, 45 minutes. Set it up at at 1:15 then went to bed. Awoke at 4:00am when the alarm on my iPhone went off and went and closed the shutter. I have no idea what will come off the frame. My sense is that was too long, but you never know. The wind was howling all night, blowing a fine dirt everywhere. p915866857-11 In our eyes, unzipped camera bags, into every nook and cranny of the Jeep... it was awful. As I drifted off to sleep I wondered if I'd wake up to an F6 covered in dirt, but remembered the images shown in the F6 marketing brochure - the F6 literally covered in dirt for one of their tests, and it survived just fine.
When we awoke the horizon was already beginning to get light. Also, after I tripped the shutter the moon came up on the extreme right edge of the frame. I couldn't tell if it was in the frame or not, but I'm pretty sure the light from the moon will contaminate the otherwise dark sky & star trails. Also, along the bottom of the frame on the horizon, red lights from the wind turbines in the distance were blinking all night. So I'm sure there are some very bright, very noticeable red glows along the bottom edge of the frame. So, I really have no idea what to expect, with reciprosity failure and all on a 2:45 frame... but I was asleep so I don't really care. What I really wanted to know was would that long an exposure drain my battery. The answer: no. I think I shot at ƒ4 with Velvia 50. When I get the frame back I'll post it here-either as a "don't try this because it won't work" sample, or, "once in a while you get lucky" sample.
 
Wednesday, June 9th:True to my word, here's the startrail shot. I'm pleased with the results - much more so than what I'd feared. Still lots of room to improve, but I was trying for the circular sweeps around the North Star, which is the dot in the upper left corner. Just dumb luck, really. The bright streak to frame-right is the moon. After reading about things like amp glow on digital cameras, and factoring in battery drain, I think it's safe to say that film is still the tool of choice for long-exposure star shooting. The jury's still out on the significance of reciprocity failure. Color shift is said to be one of the primary bugaboos, but with nothing to compare this frame to it's tough to determine severity. And in terms of long exposure breakdown - who knows how to meter for 2 hours and 45 minutes? And as if it weren't tough enough to measure proper exposure in the pitch dark, even with CSM setting B5 enabled on the F6, which extends measureable shutter speeds out to 30 minutes before you hit bulb, active matrix metering ceases past 30 seconds. The final verdict? I think you just have to be willing to experiment, and have a lot of patience. You can only make so many 2-3 hour exposures before the sun comes up ;-).
 
We had an iPhone moment as Ben was searching for his F100 manual to remember some custom settings in its quirky menu. Having realized he'd left it home we got out the iPhone to google it. Sure enough we had a strong signal - out in the middle of nowhere - and within about 120 seconds he found the answer to his question on Ken Rockwell's site. We both had a chuckle at yet another use for this indispensable communication tool.
 
Sun up was good. Not great, but good. Not much of a sky. But it's so very beautiful out there. So green and lush. The Buttes themselves are 2 and honestly, not that spectacular in and of themselves. But the country they live in possesses that subtle, gentle beauty that is eastern Colorado. Layer upon layer of rolling, grassy plains in brilliant, young greens. Deep lavendar skies to the west at sun up and for those brief moments just as the sun cracks the horizon, before it disappears behind the band of low-lying clouds to the east, the brilliant golds and ochres resulting in that brilliant and brief direct light. So beautiful...
 
Over Weld County, Colorado (2011)Over Weld County, Colorado (2011)Portra 400
Wednesday, June 9th update: At first glimpse Pawnee Grasslands may appear a bare, desolate place. But life abounds. Whether clinging to wind-swept turf, or stubbornly protruding from winding, dry washes of soft, crumbly cliffs the first hints of color begin to emerge. Once identified, you begin to see this glorious color everywhere.
 
Wildflowers were out, though we were a bit early for flowering cactus. I found a couple nice stands of flowers somewhat protected from the ever present, extremely fierce wind blowing and whipping anything on a stem into a wild dance. Shooting Velvia 5o is challenging in this situation: getting a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the dance meant shooting extremely shallow, like ƒ2.8 or 3 in most cases. Good thing I love the bokeh of the 105VR... and am pleased with the impressionistic blurs resulting from shallow DOF.
 
I smile as I try to imagine the images in my mind. One image later in the morning I was watching two ants make their way up a closed cactus flower, They'd disappear around the back, then emerge in the front having tunneled through tiny crevices in the closed plant... at one point one emerged on either side of the plant, sillhoetted against a beautiful, deep tan blurry riverbed in the distance. I was manually focusing, tracking their appearance and disappearance with the smooth focusing ring of the 105 and was able to, I hope, get them directly opposite each other in the frame. Amazing, watching these tiny dramas unfold through a macro lens... while the whole rest of the world goes on about its business. No regrets for leaving my D3S in my pack. It made the final cut early early in the morning as I fumble around in the dark, wanting the option to shoot it if the opportunity presented itself. Truth be told, though, I'm not sure I can explain why I have such affinity for the F6. There's just something about it that speaks to me. I know this: the D3S wouldn't have survived the Bulb exposure the night before, and if I'd even thought about removing the body cap to mount a lens, I'd be sensor swiping from now through the end of June to get the dirt out.
 
Regardless, as a result, I have no images to post here, Saturday night as I unwind after unpacking, but am eager for the lab to open Monday.
 
Also spent some time wandering around the eastern plains between Ault and Greeley. Found some interesting things in Eaton; feed silos, grain elevators and old store fronts. All in all a nice, relaxing day. Skies lately have been very dramatic, though this morning's sky was not. No matter. All afternoon a thick, doppled blanket of clouds provided plenty of opportunity to shoot as the harsh sun was blocked from blasting the color out of the simple still lifes I stumbled across.
 
Coming home tonight and wiping down the gear is the final step, putting it away clean and dry and ready to shoot again.

Comments

1.Jady(non-registered)
Was out last night looking for the Aurora, along Colorado 14 and the main entrance to Pawnee (Road 71 on the map). We saw the Blinking Red Lights (caps intentional) and didn't know what they were. There are no wind farms on Google Maps Satellite due north on 71, and we saw lights there. Very eerie feeling in that entire area. Some meteor craters can be seen in satellite photos. Indian land. Many, many, MANY cemeteries and burial mounds. Just an eerie, eerie place.
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