Sunday, November 5, 2006

Failure in a Creek

Last Friday afternoon I drove out to the Bamberger Ranch to lend Margaret a hand with her Macintosh, and to shoot some panoramas while the fall color was burning bright, and the valleys were still safely free of gunfire. Unfortunately, I didn't finish with the computer until the sun was well on its way to the horizon, so there wasn't a lot of time to find a good location and get my panoramic rig setup. After a quick consultation with David, I set off for the Louis Bromfield trail, which I was assured was especially worth seeing, and where he figured we'd cross paths later on, as he had some work to do down there.

Unfortunately, the first stretch of the trail was hard to distinguish from any of a dozen deer paths, and I headed off into the hills, squandering the rapidly diminishing light as I wandered in what eventually became exactly the wrong direction. When, at last, my mistake became completely obvious, I turned back and eventually intersected the Bromfield trail. It was a shame to lose that time, because the portion of the Bromfield trail that I did see was gorgeous: a creek running down a course cut through limestone, bordered by thick native grasses, and shaded by bald cypress trees in full fall color. Not that the shade was evident, however, because the sun had already settled behind a hill.

Cursing my timing, and daylight savings, I stopped at the first dense group of cypress trees, found my way down to the creek bottom, and hurriedly assembled my panoramic rig astride the creek. I thought I might still be able to shoot something useful, due to the reasonably bright sky, and the flexibility afforded by the High Dynamic Range (HDR) photographic technique I began using in August. It turns out I was right, but, as I learned tonight, in my rushed setup I ruined all of the panoramas I was about to shoot by botching the horizontal alignment of the camera; I read my setup notes correctly, but aligned the wrong bits to the diagrammed positions. Damn.

Lest the occasion be a total loss, I present here the best fragments of the ruined panoramas. The final one was actually shot after nightfall. I had already watched the sun set while I was still looking for a good vantage point. By the time I'd found one, parked my truck so it wouldn't appear in the would-be panorama, sprinted up a valley wall, and setup the camera, night had already fallen. The scene was rescued, if it was rescued, by using HDR to combine three exposures, the longest of which lasted 25 seconds.

Fall color on the Louis Bromfield trail on the Bamberger Ranch. ©2006 Chris W. Johnson. Fall color on the Louis Bromfield trail on the Bamberger Ranch. ©2006 Chris W. Johnson. Sunset on the Bamberger Ranch. ©2006 Chris W. Johnson.

I met up with the Bambergers afterward, and David pointed-out that I must have missed the Bromfield trail, because he'd ended-up working there, as expected, and hadn't come across me. I told my little tale of woe, while silently kicking myself for missing the opportunity to walk one of the most beautifully restored sections of that now famous ranch with the man responsible for it all. It's a lot like having missed a chance to walk with Aldo Leopold through his little piece of Wisconsin's sand counties, or with Bromfield through his pleasant valley. Damn, again.

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