Petroglyphs in Chalk Canyon…

I have a little hiking group on Facebook.  It’s just a group for local friends who have expressed an interest in hiking.  It allows me to post my plans for smaller hikes in case anyone wants to join me.  I still hike alone a lot.

I don’t think anyone but me has posted anything in that group in a very long time.  And even when I do post something, there really isn’t much engagement there.  I’m sure most of the people in the group don’t even remember joining.  But I’m trying to change that.  There is some new blood in the group, new people that I know are active and up for an adventure.  They are bringing a pulse back to the lifeless body of my little hiking group.

A few weeks ago, I met up with Heidi (@Bananabuzzbomb) while Katie and Niko (of @SimplyAdventure fame) were in Phoenix.  The four of us did a quick hike at South Mountain.  Later, Heidi showed a lot of interest in wanting to hike more so I figured I’d add her to the group and put something together.  Her interaction in the group has enticed others to pay attention.  So I posted a possible hike and got a small group together to go check out a trail north of town.

I had been wanting to explore further up Cave Creek north of Spur Cross for a long time.  It seemed like the perfect hike for a small group.  I picked a decent hike along the Creek with the potential for a nice payoff at the end with some petroglyphs and possible ruins.  The hike would end up being 8 or 9 miles round trip and have varying terrain and multiple water crossings.  A good moderate hike to get to know some new fellow hikers.

Sunrise light at Spur Cross

We got an early start on a cold morning just as the sun was coming up.  I may not have made it entirely clear from the beginning, but I had never hiked this trail before.  I was going off of a pretty decent map and a trail description found online.  I didn’t know if there would be trail markers or not, or how easy the trail would be to follow once we got out of Spur Cross Recreation Area.  There is an expectation, when hiking with the person who has suggested the trail, that they are leading the hike.  This dawned on me shortly after we got started and I felt the pressure of needing to know where we were, where we were going and how far we still needed to go.  Every time someone asked, “is this the trail?” or “do we cross the creek here?” I felt like I should not only know the answer but be confident about it.

Crossing Cave Creek at Spur Cross

I quickly made it very clear that we were all in the same boat, that I had never been on this trail before and was learning as we go just like everyone else.  I’m not sure if that made them feel any better or not, but I wasn’t going to have them following me into the desert with some false sense of security that I knew where I was going.  We took turns leading and route finding, making mistakes, backtracking a little and continuing to refer to the map.

A little scrambling along one of our false routes

At one point, we encountered a couple of older gentlemen out hiking the same trail and looking for the same petroglyphs.  They seemed to be having similar routing issues as us, but they had a GPS.  So we compared notes and I tried to compare his GPS location (his maps sucked) to my map.  This worked well until the next creek crossing and we lost our route again.  We had been looking for a turn, a side trail to take us up an adjacent canyon from the creek but couldn’t locate it.  The guys with the GPS were confident that they knew the way.  And here’s my next mistake…I followed themWE followed them.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that most of the time the guys with the GPS really don’t know where they are.  Most of the people I’ve come across using GPS don’t even know how to relate their GPS position to where they are on an actual map.  I should have known better than to follow these guys and we missed our turn.  Once I realized this, I communicated that to the party and we all agreed it didn’t matter too much.  We’d just continue to follow the creek and, worst come to worst, we’d retrace our path along the creek to get back out.

Leaving Spur Cross onto an abandoned private ranch to look for the Petroglyphs

Missing our turn meant we missed a chance at the ruins.  But we could still find the Petroglyphs if we watched carefully.  Luckily, we spotted them quickly and were able to stop and take pictures and explore the area.  We found some great rock art along with several metates in the natural boulders.  The low lands around the creek would have served as the agricultural land for the Hohokam living on the hilltops in pit houses and rock structures around here about 800 years ago.

First sign of Petroglyphs

more Petroglyphs

More petroglyphs on a huge boulder

After the petroglyphs we made a half-assed attempt at climbing the rocky hill above the petroglyphs to make an attempt at finding any ruins but we were running out of time.  I know had a good hike and really enjoyed the trail.  I hope that my companions enjoyed it as well.  I know Heidi enjoyed it enough to sign up for another hike the following weekend on yet another trail I’d never been to and had no idea what we were in for.  But that’ll be another story…

This hike did teach me to be a little more prepared and to not take my role as planner lightly.  As the one planning the hike, I became the default leader and guide.  The expectation was that I would know the way and I didn’t.  This does make an argument about the virtues of scouting new trails before bringing others out.  But then that takes me back to hiking solo, which most people agree is not safe either.  I found the answer, at least in this case, was good communication as well as feeling out the mood of the group.  As soon as I felt tension or frustration in the group, we called it and headed out.

On the way back out we found the junction in the trail we had missed.  It was a really obvious junction with a sign and a map and everything (hell, it could have had red flashing neon arrows we still missed it).  I look forward to heading back out to the trails north of Cave Creek and exploring further…maybe as a solo scouting trip next time.

Old abandoned Spur Cross Corral

Chalk Canyon Petroglyphs Gallery…

Photograph of the Week: Diamond in the Rough…

I think all photographers understand that not every trip in to the field is going to be stellar.  Sometimes, mother nature bucks against your expectations and you walk away underwhelmed with your collection of photographs.  It’s hard, and sometimes counterproductive to go out on a shoot with zero expectations and try to find your inspiration.  I’ve tried this approach and often come back with nothing.

A couple of weekends ago I was invited out to visit with fellow Photographers/Bloggers Bret (@BretEdgePhoto) and Melissa (@AdventureTykes) at Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstitions.  We had talked about meeting up for a hike, but plans changed and I ended up driving out very last minute to visit them at their campsite.  We visited for a while and as the sun approached the horizon Bret asked if I’d like to run out for a quick hike to see what we could get.  I of course said yes, grabbed my gear and we were off to find a view of Weaver’s Needle.

Bret had seen a trail with a potential view he wanted to explore so we parked his rig and set off down a wash.  We hiked the wash, quickly so as not to lose the light, and climbed a few hills looking for the right vantage point.  We eventually followed an old Jeep trail to the top of a small hill where we could see Weaver’s Needle in one direction and Four Peaks in the other.  Then we waited.

The sunset was slow to perform, so I got my camera out and started looking to set up a few shots.  I had brought out my tripod, something I haven’t done in almost 12 years, hoping to be able to get some crisp images.  As I am pursuing photography again I am remembering and relearning the little things that elevate simple “photos” to “Photography”.  I had religiously traveled with my tripod in the past, knowing what I could do on film with a little exposure play.  With the DSLR I had become accustomed to using it like an oversized point-and-click digital camera.  That is changing.

Bret and I sat on the hilltop for a short while.  We were hoping for a decent shot of Weaver’s Needle but the light wasn’t cooperating and I became more fascinated with the view of Four Peaks.  There wasn’t much there, but as the light was getting lower I could sense a subtle glow to the rock, and the saguaros were lighting up like little candles on the hillside and Four Peaks and the mountains in the distance were taking on a nice soft purple hue through the haze.  I set up the tripod and took a few shots, really expecting nothing spectacular but wanting to see if I could tell the difference in detail shooting off the tripod.  The sky was dull and the sunset fizzled out without any real show.

Bret and I packed up and headed back to camp where we continued our visit.  Bret and Melissa are really great folks and I was glad I could take them up on their invitation to visit.  I went home shortly after dark and put my gear away.

The next day I decided to take a look at the images, entirely unimpressed with the originals.  I began processing them just to see if the low light had given me enough color and contrast to draw out some detail.  Working with the first couple of images was encouraging but they were not the shots off the tripod.  When I got to the last few, taken from the stability of the tripod, I was impressed with the difference.  I was able to take a slower shot, allowing a wider aperture and the resulting photograph was clean and crisp.

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/13 sec, F/14, ISO-200, 24mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

 

With the slower exposure, there was more color to play with and as I processed the image a rainbow of colors emerged.  The vertical shot really emphasizes the layers of color.  To me, this image feels like a rainbow with it’s layered colors blending to each other.  There was enough shadow in the landscape in the foreground that it wasn’t toned in yellows and oranges like the rest of the desert.  The previously dull sky now made sense in the composition and I was able to overlay a gradient exposure correction to get the sky to fade to a darker blue.

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman and Four Peaks

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/2 sec, F/29, ISO-200, 24mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

The horizontal shot was able to take advantage of the purple hue of Four Peaks and had the added interest of part of the old Jeep trail in the foreground.  This image came out super crisp and clean and, though more subtle, had the same layers of rainbow colors I captured in the vertical image.

I had dismissed both of these shots because I had wanted the super dramatic sunset, or the perfectly framed shot of Weaver’s Needle with the light illuminating the peak just right.  Instead I got a really interesting, playful, colorful couple of images that highlight the beauty of the landscape and the intricate detail of the rock and cacti.

In the end, even without the nice images, I was glad to have met a couple of new friends and share a hike with a fellow photographer (though I struggle to even refer to myself as a photographer in the company of a true professional).  One of these days, I hope to get up to Moab to visit Bret’s gallery and join them for some fun outdoors adventures in Utah.

You can now purchase Photograph of the Week images from the Wilderness Dave Photography Virtual Gallery.  The Gallery is set up to allow you to purchase prints or digital copies for personal use.

Photograph of the Week: Catching the Sunset…

This Photograph of the Week I almost didn’t catch.

My wife and I had just moved everything she owns from Houston back to Arizona.  We have waited nearly three years to be living together in the same house.  We had solicited the help of her parents for the long drive across the southern states to Arizona.  Having been home for most of our first week together, a good friend invited us up to his place in Cave Creek for a visit.  We graciously accepted the opportunity.

I had promised we would be in Cave Creek by 6:30 and I am not one to keep people waiting.  I had been watching the clouds all day and the sky was promising quite a show at sunset.  A sunset that would probably hit it’s peak right about 6:15 or 6:20, just as we would be driving north to my friend’s house.  Before we left, I grabbed my camera hoping that we could make it to Cave Creek before the sunset completely disappeared.

Sure enough, as we left the house the sun was settling low and the intense evening light was bending into an array of warm colors.  The clouds that evening were hinting at a storm and made the perfect canvas for bold strokes of orange, red, pink and violet.  I found it difficult to keep my eyes off of the sunset and I’m sure everyone in the truck thought I was nuts as I was mesmerized by the torrid display.  I got us into the driveway just as the sun was disappearing, the oranges and deep reds and faded and the sky was washed with the afterglow of pink and violet tones splashed against dark stormy clouds.

At the risk of being entirely inappropriate and rude, I said a quick hello then darted back to the truck and grabbed my camera.  I rushed across the street from my friend’s house, which was luckily next door to natural desert, and snapped off a few choice shots.  It was hard to tell if I had caught enough of the light.  The pink tones were so subtle as the sun faded they could easily not show up.  Luckily, with some developing in Lightroom I was able to enhance the subtle tones in the finished image.  I almost missed this one, and certainly missed the grand show.  But what I did capture was something that I think turned out much more compelling than the blaze of full sunset at it’s peak.  The mood in this photograph plays a much deeper, more intricate melody.

Photograph of the week - Cave Creek Sunset

We truly have some of the most amazing sunsets in the world here in Arizona.  As a budding photographer, it’s heartbreaking to miss opportunities to capture something amazing.  But if you pay attention throughout the day, and you are prepared with your equipment at the ready, you’ll have the advantage.

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/20 sec, F/4.5, ISO-200, 24mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

You can now purchase Photograph of the Week images from the Wilderness Dave Photography Virtual Gallery.  The Gallery is set up to allow you to purchase prints or digital copies for personal use.

Photograph of the Week: Sunrise in Utah…

I spent the end of January doing a lot of traveling and trying to photograph as much as I could.  After an amazing trip to Salt Lake City for the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, a small group of us were rounded up before dawn and shuttled off to parts unknown in Idaho courtesy of GeigerRig.  The thick morning storm clouds were beginning to open up as the sun came up behind the snow covered mountains just north of Ogden.  Any good photographer would have wanted to stop and set up for the shot, but I didn’t have that luxury.  As we sped along the slushy freeway, I rolled down the window and snapped off a few shots hoping I could keep the camera steady.

Unedited Photograph…

Sunrise in Idaho-Original Photograph

You can see it was a dramatic sunrise.  The clouds were great, and the snowy mountains were picture perfect.  I knew taking the shots out of the window would give me a blurry foreground (hard not to at 60MPH) and would require cropping.  I framed the shot accordingly, knowing I would crop the road out later.  This sort of shot wanted to be a panoramic format anyway.  Problem is, the raw image muted a lot of the color and intensity of the scene.  So when I got back to the cabin I loaded the image into Photoshop and played with it.  I wanted to get some contrast into the image and bring some of the colors out without losing the clouds.  I did my typical edit of higher contrast, and pushed some light into the shadows and then intensified the blacks.

Photograph edited in Photoshop CS4…

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Photoshop

I was initially very happy with this image after I worked it over in Photoshop.  I got the blue sky and intense sunrise colors I was looking for.  Certainly better than the raw image.  After time, I became less happy with the image.  I had lost some of the detail and drama in the clouds and the mountains still seemed a little muted in the color scheme.  The sky just didn’t feel as “big” as it should and the mountains looked pale.  After looking at it I also felt like I had over-cropped the image.  I needed a little more foreground, even though the foreground wasn’t anything amazing it still gave the story context.  Context is an important part of telling your story in writing as well as photography.

Photograph edited in Lightroom 4.3…

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

I started from scratch in Lightroom with the raw image.  I played the same game of lightening the shadows and filling in the blacks while playing adjustments to clarity and contrast.  Once I felt I had the nuts and bolts of the image dialed in I worked on coaxing more color out of the clouds to set them off.  The differences are subtle but I managed to keep the clouds intact, bring more weight to the mountain shadows and still bring out some brilliant colors in the sky.  I fine tuned the yellows and oranges to keep the pallet warm but not “sunset warm”.  I cropped the image to include more of the foreground which seemed to maintain the “big sky” feel that the original image had.

Ultimately, I now feel I’ve got an image that has retained the integrity of the original shot but with a much more dramatic story to tell.  This just shows you what minor tweaks to the development and cropping can do for an image.

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/200, F/7.1, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Photograph of the Week: Point-and-Click recovery…

Back in 2007 I spent a month rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon on a private boat trip from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead.  I was very nervous about bringing my DSLR on a month long rafting trip so I took my Olympus Stylus I purchased just for that trip.  While a great little bomb-proof adventure camera, the images were not great.

At the time, I had little experience editing/enhancing photos in PhotoShop (or any other software for that matter).  So they collection of images sat around.  As I’ve been going back over older images shot with the DSLR I got to thinking about what I might be able to coax out of some of those old Point-and-Click images.  There were some nice shots in there that just came out flat and uninspiring, shots that just needed a little help.  Most were either blown out or too grainy to really do much with.  I did find a handful of images with enough potential to work on and was pleasantly surprised with how much I could do with them in Lightroom.

Photograph one: Sunset near Lee’s Ferry…

Lee's Ferry - Photograph of the Week

I believe this was our first night camping at Lee’s Ferry before we put-in for our trip.  It was on it’s way to being a chilly night and the sunset was crisp, clear and vibrant.  I got the camera out and snapped a shot thinking I had really managed to capture this brilliant sunset with it’s reflection in the water.  The actual image wasn’t as dramatic and I was disappointed.  Even looking at it again, I wasn’t sure if there was enough there to really get a nice image out of it.  But there is good contrast, potential for color and it’s a relatively clear image compared to the graininess in some of the others.

So I brought it into Lightroom and started playing with it.  I pushed in some fill-light to reduce the shadows and increased the clarity to get some detail out of the cliffs.  This already started bringing the colors out a little so when I got in to adjusting the saturation and luminosity the sunset came alive.  Without having to push artificial color in to the sky, the yellows and oranges burst out and the reflection in the water became more dramatic.  I pushed a little on the violet and purple spectrum and brought some color out of the cliffs.  I finished my editing with a minor crop to balance the composition and the final image now feels like the sunset I tried to capture on my trip.

You can tell I pushed a little too hard in some places and the image comes out little grainy in places, but the colors and depth are much improved.

Sunset at Lee's Ferry - Photograph of the Week

 

Photograph two: Canyon Walls…

Grand Canyon - Photograph of the Week

This shot was taken from one of the side-hikes we took into the Canyon off the river.  I liked this shot because it really represented the view we had from inside the Canyon – high, colorfull cliffs and endless canyon walls.  This shot had a good detailed foundation to work with and the colors in the rock are very washed out.  I thought it could handle the increase in contrast and clarity needed and I wanted to see if I could enhance the colors enough to bring out the cliffs.

As usual, I started with tonal adjustments and tried to create depth in the shadows.  Then it was a matter of fine tuning the colors, careful not to over-saturate the cliffs past the point of reality.  I managed to get some great color out of the rock, the detail in the cliff faces came out nicely and as a bonus, the sky brightened up and brought more attention to the clouds.  I wasn’t very happy with the lower details in the cliffs where they start to crumble and slope out, so I cropped some of that out to bring focus to the colorful vertical cliffs and the sky.

Grand Canyon - Photograph of the Week

 

When you revisit old images, do you ever think to try new software or new techniques to bring them back to life?  I might start looking at doing this more often.

 

Photograph of the Week: The editing table…

I’ve recently become much more serious about my photography.  There was a time, back in the 90’s, when I was very passionate about photography and traveled a great deal in pursuit of interesting subjects to shoot.  I had a nice Minolta 35mm and a collection of lenses I traveled with.  I developed a nice little portfolio and had sold a handful of prints.

When it became apparent that film was on it’s way out I bought a DSLR setup and shelved my Minolta.  Shooting digital was a transition I wasn’t ready for.  I didn’t have the digital developing tools to process the images correctly.  I got frustrated.  I lost interest.  I lost my passion.

Over the last year or so I’ve sort of rediscovered my passion for photography.  It’s been a slow process (but seemed to happen very fast) and is in no small part due to the inspiration I’ve gathered from other outdoor photographers like Jabon Eagar, Vernon Wiley and Bret Edge.  The response to the images I’ve been producing lately has also urged me to fine tune and develop my eye and processing skills.  Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me to keep shooting.

My return to photography and the exposure that comes from Social Media has led to a lot of requests for tips or tutorials.  I don’t feel qualified to do that.  What I can do, is show you what I’ve done on more successful images and try to explain why.  I’d like to make this a recurring post topic (weekly) where I can post an image and explain where it came from, why I chose that shot and roughly how I processed the final product.  I’m still learning, but I can discuss some of the basics…so here it goes…

Photograph of the Week: Elk Viewing…

Elk Viewing in Baker, Oregon - Original Image - Photography

I took my Nikon setup to Oregon with me in January while visiting my brother and his family.  The weather turned incredibly cold during our visit and made for some really nice Winter images.  Toward the end of the trip we took time to visit a small Elk Viewing Tour operation outside Baker, Oregon.  I took shots of my brother’s kids, the snow covered valley and the horse-drawn carriage that took us down to the Elk.  We were brought within 10-20 feet of a group of nearly 200 Elk feeding in the valley floor near a small creek.  Unfortunately, all I had was my wide-angle lens so I missed the opportunity for any close-ups of the Elk.  I took some shots but was not terribly happy with what I was getting.

When I got back to the computer later in the evening to review the images, I just wasn’t happy with the Elk shots at all.  The colors were bland, the Elk seemed far away and I wasn’t happy with the composition.  They all can’t be winners, so I ignored them.

Lately, at the suggestion of Bret Edge, I began using Adobe Lightroom to process my images.  I’m pretty happy with the tools there and it’s encouraged me to go back and re-examine older images to see what I can do with them.  I’ve had a lot of success reworking older shots (even JPGs) to coax more color and clarity from the images.  Because of this, I decided to see if there was anything worth keeping from my Elk shots.

I quickly realized that a big part of what bothered me about the above image was the composition.  More than most, this shot needed to be cropped into more of a panoramic view.  Using the basic rule of thirds, I cropped the image to make the Elk scene fill the bottom third of the image.  Suddenly, the sky felt bigger and the wispy clouds seemed to have more character.  Also, the boring trees to the right seemed to gain interest.  The whole image, to me, began to feel balanced and I found myself wanting to make this one work.

Looking at the new composition, I started to look for colors to accent.  Where is my contrast?  How do I create drama?  The blue sky was nice, but there was nothing but the white snow and brown, dingy trees to offset it.  Nothing I could enhance or develop.  I began boosting the contrast and clarity, looking for something that would stand out.  Then it hit me, there was enough heavy blacks and light sky and snow that this might be a good candidate for black-and-white.  The lack of dramatic colors in the piece made that an easy choice.  So I dropped the saturation out of everything and played with the highlights and shadows until I had a super crisp, heavy contrast black-and-white image.

The sky retained it’s dramatic look, the tree now silhouetted nicely against the sky and the Elk scene took the role of the detailed foreground.  I can’t decide if the dark ribbon of background evergreens that essentially splits the image in half helps, or hurts, the composition.  Either way, I feel like this is now an image I don’t mind putting my name on.

Elk Viewing in Baker, Oregon - processed image - photography

When I shot film, I enjoyed shooting in black-and-white and often trips with nothing but B/W film in my bag.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to see the potential in this image, but I’m glad I took another look at it.

What do you guys think?  Thumbs up on this one, or should I have left it in the virtual trash can?

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D70s with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/500, F/11, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.