Monday, November 12, 2012

Wichita Mountains Trip 2012...

Well its here--November. It seems like just yesterday we were wearing our short sleeved clothes and finishing out our summer tans. Actually that was about a week ago. We have broken/tied with a few record high temperatures so far this month. Another La Nina year brought us less precipitation and warmer temperatures. This past Sunday was an exception, however. A strong cold front was pushing its way into TX/OK and would bring a familiar blustery wind that reminds us why we stay at home curled up next to the fireplaces/space heaters. Winds sustained around 25mph and gusts as high as 40mph certainly doesn't sound like good photography weather. For whatever reason we decided to forgo basic survival instinct and brave the chilly weather (remember it was 86 degrees last week) in pursuit of the last fall colors in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. I have been to the mountains a few times for fall photos and almost every time I've been too late. Story of my life...

My mother and I loaded up our gear (ie camera equipment, jackets, sunglasses, McDonald's milkshakes...y'know just the essentials) and drove out towards Lawton, OK. We arrived at our destination and began scouting for potential locations for sunset photography. Lake Quanah Parker has always been a reliable location for sunset photos. After driving around and not really seeing much of anything (occasional Northern Harrier, bison, and other typical refuge wildlife) we settled on exploring Elk Mountain and the Sunset trail. We hiked about halfway up for some pre-sunset photos.

On top of one of the boulders off the Sunset trail. We had a great view of the park and a nice warm light over the rocks.
Not a bad view from up here.

We had good position on some of the other mountains, but the sun was still very high up . A lot of  my shots like this had sun flare and other problems. The solution? Get down low and use the terrain to my advantage. I used the rock on the right side to block out the sun.

The backlight worked well against the cactus and other vegetation.

Lens flare was a real problem facing this way, but the scene couldn't go unrecorded.

While we were in great position for some sunset photography I still had my hopes set on Lake Quanah Parker. Around 4:15 or so we start to head towards the lake. But on our way there I have to stop and photograph some wildlife.

Bison that is. There were about five bison just off the side of the road.

Every once in a while they would turn themselves into the good light...

...but most of the time I was having to deal with the strong backlight. I used to in my favor for this shot.

This came to me as a surprise. The bison just laid down (I assumed he was just resting) and out of  nowhere he started rolling in the dirt. You can see the dust cloud pretty well again because of the backlight. I wasn't expecting this and I was unprepared. My shutter speed was too slow which caused the blurry leg.

 More of the bison.

He laid down again and opened his moth. I'm  not sure why, but I took the photo anyways.

This is one of my favorites from that evening. I was lucky to capture the bison sticking his tongue out at me. As if he was challenging me to capture his expression.

The bison started to get closer to our vehicle. This was a challenging exposure . Half of the bison is in shadows and the other half is in direct sunlight. I metered right at the transition point and over exposed by a +1/2 stop. I was able to keep detail in the highlights while retaining the shadows.

It was almost time for the sun to set and we were still planning to go to Lake Quanah Parker. We had a little time before the "golden hour" so we went to explore around the Osage Lake trail. We searched for fall foliage--which was the purpose of this trip. We have been to Osage Lake before, but we couldn't remember what was down there. What's down there? At that time a whole lot of nothing. We didn't even see a lake. One thing I did run in to was the fall foliage we were looking for. Was it a spectacular cluster of red, gold, and orange leaves? No. But, there were several areas where there was still color...and that is what telephoto lenses are for.

I captured this shot at the Osage Lake parking area. I used a (borrowed) Sigma 150-500mm lens  for this shot. The telephoto lenses compress the scene. The dead tree in the foreground is a lot farther away from those trees in the background.

Probably my favorite capture of the trip. The color in here is crazy. Before I get accused of manipulating the colors let me clear--I used a long exposure (aprox 2sec) to absorb all the colors. I had to take several shots as the wind kept blowing and rendering the leaves a blurry mess.

You just gotta love scenes like this!

I shot this one with my old Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 AIS lens. This lens is almost 40 years old and its a sharp as  a tack!

I loved that little toppled stump in the foreground up against the trees in the background.

The sun is setting just at the horizon now and we blast our way to Lake Quanah Parker, but we're a little too late the sun sets behind the mountains. But I still manage to capture some long exposure shots in the dusk. By this time the wind had picked up to 30mph with some stronger gusts, and wind coming off that lake was COLD!

Mountains in the sunset light

Shooting across the other side of the lake I see some bison coming up for a  evening  drink.

I enjoyed watching the shadows and light dance around the face of the mountain.

I think it was around this shot I lost the feeling in my fingers. Oh well, it was worth it.

With our fingers nearly frozen and our pride in shambles we submit to Mother Nature's wintry embrace and retreat back to the warmth of our heated vehicle. I thought about getting some night shots maybe with some star shots, but it was too cold. Driving out of the refuge I ask my mother to stop for just a few more shots and I capture the silhouette of the mountain range.  

The clouds add some scale to the mountains and bring a nice balance to the overall composition.

What a great way to end the day of a long overdue photo journey.

I want to say thank you to my mother for driving me and sharing in the experiences that day.

About Me

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I am 25 years old and I have been a photographer for 11 years now. I love nothing more than taking my camera out on a photo shoot with me. I mainly focus on nature photography.That is where my passion is. I love looking at all of God's wonderful creations and capturing them in the photographic medium. I have won awards and have received special recognition for my photography. It is my calling and my passion!