Just finished up planning details for my night photography workshop in the Kansas Flint Hills. I must say there is something about night photography that I really enjoy, the sense of mystery, the vastness and beauty of the night sky, all making one realize how insignificant we are in relation the universe.
Exploring subject matter and doing a little night photography in preparation for my workshop made for a cold and lonely night. That is one of the drawbacks. Late nights, especially in the summer months when it does not get dark until late, can really mess with your sleep pattern. But I must say the reward can make it all worthwhile. If you are out alone though, the darkness can be rather spooky. On this night there were horses out in a pasture at this location. I knew they were there but they mostly stayed a couple hundred yards away. After setting up one camera to take multiple continuous shots to potentially be used in a time lapse sequence, I retreated to my vehicle to relax. It was cold and a little windy so I thought I would warm up and check my email on my phone. After about 10 minutes relaxing in my car something banged on the side of my truck. Scared the bejeez out of me. Turns out the horses must have gotten curious and decided to pay a visit and bump my truck as if to say, BOO! Well, it worked. I jumped out of the truck to see what or who was there. I then noticed a group of four or five horses begin to wander off, probably engaging in a little horse’s laughter among themselves, having succeeded in spooking the visitor. Having someone else along has a number of benefits, if for no other reason than combatting loneliness and warding off those unsuspecting bumps in the night.
Notwithstanding the interesting experiences of the evening, I came away with a few images and was able to compile this brief star trail/Milky Way time lapse.
A few months back I posted that I was going to lean toward returning to my black and white roots, that I would focus this year on my black and white work. Now, I soon realized I could not do that in the purest sense. I still must work in color as well to support demands of my photographic workshops. But still I am committed to printing only my personal b/w work for any exhibit or simply my own personal enjoyment. Here are a couple of images included in late work that I hope you enjoy. Would love to hear what you think.
The annual Flint Hills prairie burns are again approaching. In just a few short weeks ranchers in the Flint Hills will begin their annual burning of the prairie. This event has become an event to experience for casual observers and photographers alike.
Where and What are the Flint Hills?
The Flint Hills – Big sky, expansive landscape, and a horizon that stretches on forever is the beautiful four-million-acre swath of land in eastern Kansas makes up about 80 percent of what is left of the world’s tallgrass prairie, according to the Nature Conservancy. The prairie’s is composed of mostly Big and little bluestem, switchgrass and Indian grass, and a geology of limestone and shale. Historically it was known as Bluestem Pastures or Blue Stem Hills. Zebulon Pike was an explorer who first coined the name Flint Hills after entering in his journal about “very ruff flint hills”. It was suggested that over time Flint Hills had a better ring to it than something like Bluestem Pastures.
A Bit about the Flint Hills
It’s written that clay soil and cherty (flint) gravel is what saved the Flint Hills from the plow, While there were some areas used for agriculture during the period between the Civil War and the 1900’s, much has been turned back into pasture. Among Flint Hills folklore, author James Kindall, suggested the Osage Indians, after having been displaces for the third time to what is not the Flint Hills, were pleased about its unsuitability as farmland as the tribe was unlikely to have to move again.
Why do they Burn?
Prairie fires are essential to maintaining the unique ecology of the flint hills. Native Americans used fire on the prairie to generate new growth that attracted bison. And later, with the arrival of cattle in substantial numbers in the 1860s-1870s, burning and grazing, as key range-management methods, have helped maintain the structure and function of the tallgrass ecosystem.
Without the burning practices the prairie, which provide nutrients and help the grasses grow, would become mostly a scrub forest of essentially Eastern Red Cedars and would have little practical use for anything. As such, the ranchers have a springtime ritual, which sustains the lush grasses for the cattle and has come to provide unique and beautiful opportunities for photography. While the winter and spring weather will determine when the burns take place, it usually happens during a period around mid-March through the latter part of April. Last year the burn took place following a two-year hiatus because of drought conditions; though, high spring-time winds can also cause ranches to cancel or postpone planned burns.
Prairie Burn Photography Workshops
For the last couple of years Craig McCord Photography Workshops teamed with Manhattan Kansas photographer, Jason Soden, conducting several exclusive prairie burn photography workshops. It is really a joyful experience, not only for the great photography involvement, but to get to know the ranchers and their way of life. These folks are true Americans that love their simple but hard-working lifestyle and are happy to share their stories and experiences with visitors.
While photographing the burns it was a pleasure to watch young rancher-to-be children participating in the springtime prairie burn ritual. Then later they played and roasted hot-dogs as the elders prepared the cowboy meal for our photography group. As we relaxed around the camp fire enjoying our cowboy meal of pulled pork and all the fixings, including homemade cookies and brownies, we discussed photography and prepared to venture out for the second burn of the day, the dusk burn. This time of day for me is the most exciting, as the flames reach toward a red setting sun that creates cowboys silhouettes against the backdrop of the burning prairie.
This year we are again we will host a host Flint Hills Prairie burn photography workshop at the Clover Cliff Ranch and Bed and Breakfast in Elmdale, KS. . We are looking forward to another fantastic exclusive photography event. If you wish to take part in next year’s prairie burn workshops, send me an email at email@example.com and I will make sure you get on the list.
We as photographers, particularly landscape photographers, often take risks beyond what good judgement would allow, just to get the shot. I have read of several instances where a photographer met an untimely fate by not following simple rules of common sense. I guess some would say that common sense may not be really be all that common. Nonetheless, photographers will take that one extra step, if only to get slightly closer, fine tune that composition, stay just a bit longer along the sea stacks (not realizing one is about to be trapped by a rising tide). I have a photographer friend who a few years ago fell from a height of over 40ft while photographing in the Columbia River Gorge area trying to get into position for a unique shot of Punchbowl Falls. He was very lucky, a couple of broken ribs, a ruptured spleen after hitting the cold water below, and then several days in the hospital after having to be carried out of the gorge in a rescue basket. Maybe there was a little injury to his pride as well. As a side note, his camera and tripod were unharmed. They remained standing on the outcropping from where he fell into the cold pool of water below the falls.
During my trip to the gorge two summers ago, I wanted to photograph an area called Oneota Gorge, a popular area for many hikers and photographers. One can hike this gorge when the water levels are accommodating, much like Virgin Narrows in Zion National Park. But unlike the high red rock walls of the Narrows, the Oneota Gorge has high moss-covered granite walls lining the edges of the creek. If you hike up Oneonta creek a little over a half mile you can reach Oneota falls, another great photographic opportunity.
One challenge I immediately faced when I arrived at Oneota Gorge was this huge log jam blocking easy access to the creek. No problem I thought. I could carefully climb the numerous granite boulders supporting the jam and then hop across the various logs to reach an area I could easily navigate upstream. Easy right? NOT! I slowly climbed atop a few of the boulders, being very careful. Even with good hiking shoes, these rocks were very slick. Okay, now what? As I considered my options of which logs to traverse to the other side, I watched two young couples on the opposite bank appear to easily navigate through and over the logs. They had obviously done this before. Well, if they could do it why not me? Then I think my guardian angel tapped my on the shoulder and said…wait dummy!! You are not 30yrs old anymore. And by the way, have you considered the amount of gear on your back, and its cost? And those logs you are about to do a balancing act on are slicker than the rocks you just climbed. If you break a leg in the process, how long before someone comes by? Okay, I convinced myself to retreat to maybe come back another day. Possibly research other points of access. So I turned and began my route back down the rocks. By the way, has anyone ever noticed how it is much easier to climb up than to climb back down?
After careful effort, I did make it back down safely and managed a few shots of the log jam and the walls of the gorge. I will explore a little deeper on an upcoming visit back to this beautiful area. This time I managed to listen to my guardian angel.