Road Tripping in the Arco Desert, Moon Craters and Atomic Venues

Last month I had the opportunity to slip away from the university for a day and went on a photo road trip with fellow photographer, John Lowry. Our adventure began well before sunrise as we headed out to the Snake River Plain and headed northwest into the Arco Desert. First stop in the bone-chilling weather was Atomic City, a quasi-ghost town not far from the INL (Idaho National Laboratory). This entire region is an interesting mix of ancient basaltic lava flows, atomic wastelands, and current nuclear testing facilities.

My planned experiments for the day centered on the vast landscape to be photographed through my super wide-angle Rokinon 14mm/f2.8 lens. The objective was to use a 1.2 ND filter attached to the backside of the lens, which would reduce my exposures by 4 f-stops. Ultimately, the plan called for windy conditions that would allow for cloud movement during the slow exposures. Alas, the wind didn’t cooperate and the clouds stood still. Bummer. But regardless of Mother Nature’s lack of support in this endeavor, we did have a great time and created a variety of images. Enjoy!

Starry Night on Christmas Eve in Arbon Valley

Just a quick post on astro-landscape photography of the Milky Way shot tonight on Christmas Eve. I found this beautiful spot just as I entered Arbon Valley, which is just over the mountain and through the woods from my house. For this shot I was facing east-southeast, towards Old Tom Mountain and that’s the highest snow covered peak in the first photo. I started shooting around 4:45pm just as the sun was setting and continued until 7pm. It wasn’t too bad until about 6:30pm when the temps dropped to 10 degrees F (-12C). The second shot was repositioned to include Scout Mountain, which is north of Old Tom.

Something new was encountered on this photo excursion, the sound of energy! I was setup under a telephone pole. Unfortunately, some of the wires are in the shot. Anyway, all was quiet sitting there in the dark along side the snow-covered road when all of a sudden I heard this deep throbbing sound. It kept getting louder and for awhile I was looking for a plane over head, but nothing showed up. Finally the sound was pronounced and sounded like it was right on top of me, which it actually was. I walked over to the utility pole and it was vibrating with the pulsing of the energy overhead through the wires. Eventually it died down, only to return later during the photo shoot. Shortly after the sound of electricity, coyotes started their singing in the valley below. Very strange and interesting encounter!

Christmas Eve in Arbon Valley. © Terry Ownby. Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm/f2.8.

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Milky Way in the Arbon Valley. © Terry Ownby. Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm/f2.8.

Starry Winter's night in Arbon Valley. © Terry Ownby. Nikon D800 Rokinon 14mm/f2.8

Starry Winter’s night in Arbon Valley. © Terry Ownby. Nikon D800 Rokinon 14mm/f2.8

Ready for a cold evening of astro-landscape photography. © Terry Ownby.

Ready for a cold evening of astro-landscape photography. © Terry Ownby.

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Set up looking east towards Old Tom Mountain. © Terry Ownby.

Testing New Lens: Rokinon 14mm f/2.8

Last week my new lens arrived from B&H Photo: a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8  super wide-angle. My primary use for this lens will be for astro-landscape photography, star-trails, and traditional landscapes here in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. I’ve been eying this lens for a number of years since my astrophotography mentor, Wilson, started using this sweet lens.

But, our weather here in the Northwest hasn’t been too cooperative, with below zero chill factors and overcast skies filled with snow, so I haven’t ventured into the mountains our out onto the Snake River Plain. Instead, I

stayed indoors and the other day ventured into my colleague’s visual communication experimental letterpress lab. I’ve always been fascinated with metal and wood type and she has some really neat large displays of type in her lab. Here’s a diptych shot under available light with my Nikon D800 with the Rokinon 14mm super wide-angle lens. Enjoy!

Letterpress type in ISU's Visual Communication Experimental Labe. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Letterpress type in ISU‘s Visual Communication Experimental Lab. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Star Trails at Chesterfield Reservoir Idaho

This first weekend of November, I ventured back up to the lake near the Chesterfield ghost town for some astrophotography. A storm front was beginning to move in from Seattle, so it was very windy and exceptionally cold. My sweetheart decided to join me on this outing and this was her first exposure to hours of patiently waiting for the stars to come out and images to be captured. What an initiation she endured!

In addition to shooting star trails (in the tradition of my friend and mentor, Wilson Hurst), I also tried photographing the Milky Way. Visibility of the stars to the east side of the lake and straight overhead was remarkably good. Unfortunately, I had not anticipated the glow of city lights to my north, which clearly is visible in my star trail shot. The light pollution came from Idaho Falls, which is about 65 miles (105 km) away.

Looking north at Chesterfield Reservoir. © 2013 Terry Ownby.  Nikon D800, 28mm @ f3.5, Bulb, ISO 100~400.

Looking north at Chesterfield Reservoir. © 2013 Terry Ownby.
Nikon D800, 28mm @ f3.5, Bulb, ISO 100~400.

Looking East at Chesterfield Reservoir, Idaho, with storm front moving in from Seattle. © 2013 Terry Ownby.  Nikon D800, 28mm @ f3.5, 30s, ISO 6400.

Looking East at Chesterfield Reservoir, Idaho, with storm front moving in from Seattle. © 2013 Terry Ownby.
Nikon D800, 28mm @ f3.5, 30s, ISO 6400.

Milky Way directly overhead. © 2013 Terry Ownby. Nikon D800, 28mm/f3.5, 30s, ISO 2000

Milky Way directly overhead. © 2013 Terry Ownby.
Nikon D800, 28mm/f3.5, 30s, ISO 2000

A toast to my friend, colleague, and mentor, Wilson Hurst. We discovered Big Sky Brewing while photographing stars in the Tall Grass Prairie in Kansas. Here's a toast to you, Wilson! © 2013 Terry Ownby. Nikon D70, 18-70mm.

A toast to my friend, colleague, and mentor, Wilson Hurst. We discovered Big Sky Brewing while photographing stars in the Tall Grass Prairie in Kansas. Here’s to you, Wilson! © 2013 Terry Ownby.
Nikon D70, 18-70mm.

Panoramics at a Mormon Ghost Town

This week my Photo Communication class and a few folks from my Advanced Photography class headed up into the Portneuf River Valley, about an hour southeast from the university, for some panoramic fieldwork. The valley was beautiful this time of year, situated between the Bannock and Portneuf mountain ranges at 5,446 feet (1,660m) elevation. Our fieldwork site was the Mormon ghost town of Chesterfield.

Situated along the Oregon Trail, Chesterfield began as a village settlement during the early 1880s. However, after the turn-of-the-century, this rural community began to suffer the effects of drought, harsh winters, and the construction of Union Pacific’s rail line a dozen miles south at Bancroft. By the late 1920s and into the ‘30s, Chesterfield continued to fail due to the Great Depression and Dust Bowl affects throughout the Intermountain West.

With cameras and tripods in hand, the ISU photo students tackled their work with much enthusiasm! Dividing into small teams, they conducted photographic survey work of the old town site. Using a variety of photographic methodologies, they crafted images ranging from multiple-image panoramic landscape shots, to detailed close-up interior architectural views within abandoned structures still containing home-preserved jars of fruits and vegetables.

Late in the afternoon, we drove over to the Chesterfield Reservoir to scout future sites for nighttime astrophotography; specifically, star trails. Afterwards, we headed out of the valley to Lava Hot Springs, where we enjoyed a hearty dinner at the Chuck Wagon restaurant. Below are some shots of my students engaged in their fieldwork at Chesterfield, along with a few of my interpretations of the experience.

Pano of Chesterfield using six vertically stitched images from my Nikon D800 with 1962 vintage 50mm/1.4 lens. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Pano of Chesterfield using six vertically stitched images from my Nikon D800 with 1962 vintage 50mm/1.4 lens. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

View of the Portneuf Range in B&W. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

View of the Portneuf Range in B&W. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Same view in color...can't make up my mind! © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Same view in color…can’t make up my mind! © 2013 Terry Ownby.

View towards Portneuf Range with dramatic skies. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

View towards Portneuf Range with dramatic skies. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Click here to see more students in action!

Click here to see more students in action!

Early Autumn in the Intermountain West

Today (just a week after the Autumnal Equinox) we took a 20-mile scenic drive east of town that winds its way between Camelback Mountain and Chinese Peak (colloquially known as Chinks Peak, including Google Maps). Colors in the trees were incredible with plenty of red from the Maples and orange from Hawthorns and other smaller deciduous trees, scatter among the cedars and pines. What surprised me the most was seeing mountaintops already blanketed with snow! Just yesterday the nearby Scout Mountain (14 miles away), had its peak (about 8,700ft/2652m) covered in the white stuff! Here are a few shots from our afternoon outing. As a technical side note, I was shooting with my Nikon D800 with a 51-year old Nikkor 50mm/1.4 lens. It works great and has excellent qualities!

Color deciduous trees mixed with pines in the Pocatello Range. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Color deciduous trees mixed with pines in the Pocatello Range. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Midway between Camelback Mountain and Inkom. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Midway between Camelback Mountain and Inkom. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Looking east across wheat fields towards the Portneuf Range with snow-dusted peaks. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Looking east across wheat fields towards the Portneuf Range with snow-dusted peaks. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

 

 

Western Landscape in B&W

This past weekend marked the Fall Equinox, when the earth comes into close equilibrium between daylight and nighttime darkness. I thought it fitting to seek my personal balance by hiking once again up canyons of the City Creek Trails not far from my home. As usual, I backpacked my camera gear with the intent of shooting some Western landscapes. The weather was a bit unsettled and provided visual drama, which translated nicely into black and white imagery. Here’s a couple of views from that outing.

Rail fence along North Fork road. © 2013 Terry Ownby

Rail fence along North Fork road. © 2013 Terry Ownby

Looking east on North Fork road. © 2013 Terry Ownby.
Looking east on North Fork road. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Stopping the Time-Space Continuum

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Captured with Nikon D700, continuous frame at 5fps, shutter speed 1/8000s. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Above is an example from a recent photo shoot where I stopped time in fractional slices. I was using a Nikon D700 set to the Continuous High mode, which fires off 5 frames per second with a normal battery. This illustration uses a total of six images captured during one shooting burst.
On the other hand, the illustration below of star trails uses 22 separate photographs using an external intervalometer by Aputure. These were five minute exposures with 1/10second interval between shots.

Star Trails at Kearn Wildlife Area, near Whiteman AFB. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

Star Trails at Kearn Wildlife Area, near Whiteman AFB. © 2013 Terry Ownby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cowboys, Stars, and Prairie Ghosts

Last week was our spring break, so a much needed road trip to the Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas was taken. Wilson, my colleague and shooting partner, joined me for a few days in the Flint Hills, where we made Cottonwood Falls our base of operation. Specifically, we stayed at an eclectic little stone motel called the Millstream Resort Motel, overlooking the Cottonwood River.

Our timing for the trip was great, as we had clear skies and no snow storms until after we returned! I had recently read Jim Hoy’s (director of the Center for Great Plains Studies) book, Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales from the Tallgrass Prairie, so many of the small towns he mentioned became our venues for imaging making. Plus, after talking with a local gravedigger, we found other exciting places to visit, such as living ghost towns, abandoned farmsteads, octogenarian speedsters, and an idle gristmill from the 19th century.

In keeping with Hunter Neal’s classic rendition of the Kansas Food Pyramid (see drawing diagram below), I had to continue my quest of sampling biscuits and gravy at the local cafes. We also were introduced to a new culinary delight known as bierocks, at Dave’s Place on the edge of Strong City.

We managed to photograph star trails two nights at the Chase County State Lake, which is just south of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Clear, crisp nights with a half-moon made for some interesting shots. Wilson did manage to have frost develop on his lens while the temps dropped and we enjoyed a variety of ales. Moose Drool Brown Ale by Big Sky Brewing and Single-Wide IPA by Boulevard proved to be favorites!

As I continue my creative research in the Flint Hills, this trip allowed me to pursue my multimedia interests with digital still photography. Here, I’m exploring the visual dimensions coupled with ambient or natural audio. New photographic toys under investigation were my new Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 (35mm modern-day scioptic lens), Tascam DR-07MKII digital audio recorder, and a new lightweight carbon-fiber tripod by Induro (CT-214).

Here’s some images from the trip…enjoy!

Windmill near Chase County State Lake, Cottonwood, Kansas. © Terry Ownby.

Windmill near Chase County State Lake, Cottonwood, Kansas. © Terry Ownby.

Forgotten swings at the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse near Spring Hill Ranch in the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve, sway in during strong prairie winds on our recent visit. © Terry Ownby.

Forgotten swings at the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse near Spring Hill Ranch in the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve, sway in during strong prairie winds on our recent visit.To see animation, click on image. © Terry Ownby.

Breakfast at Emma Chase Cafe in Cottonwood Falls, KS. © Terry Ownby

Breakfast at Emma Chase Cafe in Cottonwood Falls, KS. © Terry Ownby

The only church in Bazaar, Kansas, heart of cattle grazing country in the Flint Hills. © Terry Ownby

The only church in Bazaar, Kansas, heart of cattle grazing country in the Flint Hills. © Terry Ownby

Star trails at the Chase County Fishing Lake, just west from Cottonwood Fall, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Star trails at the Chase County Fishing Lake, just west from Cottonwood Fall, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Doctor William B. Jones build this farmstead in 1878. © Terry Ownby

Doctor William B. Jones build this farmstead in 1878. © Terry Ownby

Sycamore trees along Cedar Creek, near Cedar Point, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Sycamore trees along Cedar Creek, near Cedar Point, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Strong City Rodeo champions from the past. Blonde-haired Marge Roberts was a trick rider at the rodeo known for her standing upright "Dive" on a speeding horse, during the 1950s. © Terry Ownby

Strong City Rodeo champions from the past. Blonde-haired Marge Roberts was a trick rider at the rodeo known for her standing upright “Dive” on a speeding horse, during the 1950s. © Terry Ownby

Abandoned grist mill along side the Cottonwood River in a living ghost town called Cedar Point, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Abandoned grist mill along side the Cottonwood River in a living ghost town called Cedar Point, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Hunter Neal's version of the food pyramid, after his photo expedition to the Kansas prairie. © Hunter Neal

Hunter Neal’s version of the food pyramid, after his photo expedition to the Kansas prairie. © Hunter Neal

Full Moon, Snow Orbs, Confederate Park, and Tex-Mex

After a few days of cabin fever brought on by a major snowstorm and several inches of the white stuff, Wilson and I headed north to the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site, just outside of Higginsville, Missouri. The evening was perfect for tracking down those elusive light orbs and we wondered how they would appear against and snowy backdrop under a full moon.

Crisp temperatures at 27oF (-2.7oC) and deep snow provided the perfect cooler for a couple of brewskies. Simply insert beer bottle into deep snow, wait about 15 minutes and enjoy a truly ice-cold refreshing beverage!

Hmm…sorry for getting side-tracked. Back to our scientific and creative endeavors! We did discover that EL Wire (aka electro-luminescent wire) did not function properly at these colder temperatures. Also, those nice colored light orbs we encountered earlier in the season are extremely hard to detect under a full moon and reflective snow cover. The only orbs to significantly manifest themselves were the white ones, and that was still hard to record, being white against white.

So, after several attempts to capture the elusive winter snow orbs and listening to a cacophony of geese, we back up and headed in to Higginsville and enjoyed a nice Tex-Mex supper at the La Carreta cantina located on the main drag of old downtown. Excellent way to spend a few hours in the dead of winter!

Snow Orbs located in Confederate Park under a full moon in the snow.

Snow Orbs located in Confederate Park under a full moon in the snow. © Terry Ownby

Confederate Park under a snowy full moon. © Terry Ownby

Confederate Park under a snowy full moon. © Terry Ownby