I heard about a photo workshop taking place around Big Bend National Park through Precision Camera in Austin and I knew I had to find a way to attend as Big Bend is one of my favorite places and the most beautiful part of Texas. There would be an instructor to take the group to various vantage points that would be good for landscape photography, so I could hardly not go. The meeting point was in Terlingua Texas, which is a very small town that lies between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park so it is a good base camp for our excursions. There are a variety of hotels and lodges to rent in Terlingua, but since I had spent quite a bit on the workshop I decided that I would rough it and camp at a private campground in the desert south of town which cost me $10 per night and included a shower house. That sounded great to me as I don’t require a lot of comforts when off on my own as long as I get to shoot photos.
Below is a collection of some of the items that I packed for my little adventure. I think I had everything I needed because I wasn’t really missing anything. I had a basic tool kit, water bottles, a power pack, head lamp, sunscreen, soap, first aid kit, card reader, lighter, etc. Fortunately, I did not have to open the first aid kit for any reason nor was I required to use any of the tools to fix anything.
I knew that I was going to be camping without electricity so I was concerned about my camera batteries staying charged. I didn’t know if I’d be driving long enough to fully charge them from the car so I found this Jackery Explorer 160 on a prime day deal and ordered it. This device is supposed to be able to store up to 167 Wh of power and it has a built-in inverter for powering AC devices as well as USB type-A and type-C for charging phones. You can charge it up from the wall or using a 12V ‘cigarette lighter’ socket in the car. I kept it topped off while driving and I would leave it charging a camera battery in the parked car while I was out shooting. At night I would let it charge up my phone and I even powered my computer with it while editing photos. I don’t think I ever saw it get below 67% and I was never without battery power. So, a great little device that doesn’t really weigh that much.
I left well before dawn on Thursday as I knew I had at least 8 hours of driving and we were due to start by 3:00 PM so I needed to get there in time to check into my campground outside of Terlingua and head back in to the meeting place. Below is my desert campsite complete with a picnic table and view of the desert. It was actually a great choice as it didn’t cost much and I slept in the back of my car to avoid worrying about a tent blowing in the wind all day. There was a toilet and shower house not too far away and I had my portable power pack so it was almost like being at home.
Right next to my campsite was a nice ocotillo plant with red buds on the tips that I found particularly photogenic. These plants are everywhere around Big Bend and they looked nice with the red flowers. The above photo with the picnic table was taken with my phone at around 2:00PM while the below photo was taken in the late afternoon with better light using my camera. You can see what a difference the light makes late in the afternoon when it is warm vs. mid-day when it is harsh.
I did actually go out there for a photo workshop and met up with that group. There were 9 or 10 of us in the workshop and it was fun group. The workshop is run by Mandy Lea and her partner that seem to travel the country doing this sort of thing. As it got close to sunset, we caravanned into Big Bend for our first location for sunset. The chosen location was in the Chisos Basin area of the park where you can have a view of The Window looking out over the desert to the west. The Window is a canyon through the mountains through which a stream drains the area over a high cliff. I had camped in Chisos Basin and hiked this trail a couple of years ago but I hadn’t attempted a sunset photo here as I didn’t know it was such a great place and this was the point of the workshop.
So, we made the short hike down to the overlook and spread out looking for some sort of composition to shoot the sunset. There was still plenty of light in the sky so I spent some time shooting the side-lit cliffs that surrounded me. The side shadows do a nice job of bringing out the jagged cliffs and give the image a lot of color and depth.
We patiently waited, looking down the valley toward The Window hoping for a nice sunset. This was a clear evening and there weren’t any clouds to speak of to give us a colorful sunset, but maybe we would be able to get some nice photos anyway. Below is a photo I took of The Window before sunset in which there is still some sunlight on parts of the landscape. The hazy mountains in the distance give the scene some depth.
On to my composition. My idea was to have this yucca in the foreground as big as I could get it with The Window and sunset in the distance beyond. So, this is a wide angle shot (24mm) shot down low and close to the yucca, with multiple exposures HDR blended to get some color in the sky. I am not especially happy with this edit as I had a hard time getting the foreground lit and the colors adjusted so that it didn’t look like a mess. It was very dark at this point and the yucca was very nearly gray in most of my photos. And as you can see, without clouds we have the horizon fading to orange with some dust in the atmosphere. So, I appreciate the nice location for a sunset, but we just didn’t get any clouds to catch the sun. Maybe tomorrow.
As the evening grew darker, I continued to try to get some nice photos of The Window. As there was almost no light on the landscape, I turned to silhouettes of the cliffs against the sky. There was still a nice gradient of colors from indigo to deep orange on the horizon.
I zoomed in to 105mm to focus on just the gap and hopefully have layers of cliffs in the distance. This image has a lot of negative space and there is really only one place to look and hopefully the viewer will enjoy the mountain ranges of the desert beyond.
That was my Thursday. We headed back with most of the expedition staying at a hotel while I continued driving out to my little campsite to sleep in the car while some coyotes serenaded me from somewhere in the distance. The sunset was not glorious, but I enjoyed the photo outing as I usually do. I hope you enjoyed these photos and will come back for more from my photo trip out to the Big Bend area. Please leave a comment below.