What Would YOU Call a 680 Ton Rock?

Meet Dumbo, probably the largest of the free standing boulders to be found at Elephant Rocks.  I’ve shared images of this beast before.  You can see more photographs of Dumbo and it’s granite pachyderm brethren on my Elephant Rocks State Park Set on Flickr.  I’ve recently started really trying to take my post-processing to the next level.  I have come to believe that I can control what happens to the exposure inside the magic light-capture box almost as well as I could possibly want. I’m not saying I know every trick in the book, but I do not feel that I am missing too much.  Post-processing on the ol’ computer (equivalent of working on prints in the wet dark room of yesterday), I realize I can use some improvements and practice.  So, recently I adopted some new software and set out to better improve my workflow and learn some new tricks on the other side of the negative.  I am NOT saying I want to become a Photoshop/graphic artist, but just desire to be able to control aspects of the file that will allow me to create a final image that best represents my concept of the scene when I hit the shutter release.

What am I getting at and just what does it have to do with this image?  One of the possible adjustments that can be found in the latest versions of Adobe software products is the ability to correct for geometric lens distortion.  This is a very cool correction device that allows issues of wide angle (barrel) and telephoto (pin cushion) distortions, usually seen in at least some respect in any zoom lens, to be easily corrected for in the computer.  Depending on the subject, barrel distortion can be particularly troublesome.  In this photo of Dumbo, I proudly went to ACR’s lens correction tab and hit the go button and looked at the results of the default setting.  All of a sudden the cool, slightly exaggerated perspective of Dumbo was gone.  The image became pretty boring, to be honest.  This was a good lessen for me for a couple of reasons.  First, just as nature photographers might use changes in color-cast, manipulations of tonal range, or cropping unwanted portions of an image, we can also use (or remove) perspective changes from lens distortions to make our desired image.  Second, any of these lens corrections made (vignetting, chromatic aberration, and especially geometric distortion) can and will cause degradation to the quality of the final image.  We must carefully decide what corrections are necessary and use the sliders to make the minimum needed adjustments.  Do not blindly accept the defaults given by the software.  I have not been able to find much to read on this specific topic and I am still learning as I get more practice.

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 17mm, ISO 160,  f/13, 1/30 sec

Hey Kid, Boogie Too, Did Ya?

Do I have a man-crush on David Essex?  You’re damn right, and I’m not apologizing.  I know a lot of people have strong feelings about what they want done with their bodily remains following their last breath.  My personal philosophy was put very nicely by the comic, David Cross, “…I don’t care, because I can’t.”  If I have any loved ones when I die, I hope they do whatever they think is best and most convenient for them.  However, if they want to go through with a lot of trouble, instead of spending all that money on an over-priced box and funeral home and burial plot and deli sandwiches, here is something at least I would be entertained by.

I once read about a procedure that the hipsters in Europe are doing as an alternative to cremation.  Lyophilization.  This is just the fancy term for freeze-drying.  In this hypothetically more environmentally friendly procedure, the body is freeze dried then thrown into a hopper filled with heavy ball bearings.  Then the hopper is shaken by a giant paint shaker type apparatus until the remains are basically a fine powder.  So, everything but the water is gone and I helped by slowing my carbon’s escape into the environment!

Okay, so if 60% of a human body is water weight, what to do with the 60 lbs of powdered Bill?  That’s a great question.  Here is what I think would be nice (no, snorting or ingesting of said product will not be considered).  On a pleasant evening near sunset, hall my ass up to Elephant Rocks in as many Thomas Coffee cans as needed, gather whoever desires to be present and play David Essex’s “Rock On” on a boom box or giant speaker wall or whatever is handy.  Then you can spread Bill-dust across the landscape while Rosie Perez screams “Billy!” over and over, a la White Men Can’t Jump.  Like I said, I don’t really care what happens after I die, because I can’t.  But, if nobody has any better ideas, I’m thinking this would be a pretty cool way to be sent off.

Here is a photo…

“Walled In”

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 100,  f/14, manual blend of two exposures


Earth & Sky

Along with being a place of limitless compositions, another reason I love visiting and making pictures at Elephant Rocks is the variety of those potential compositions.  The grander landscape shots are there; however, if you find yourself visiting on a late Saturday morning during the summer (why do most people venture to these places during the hottest times of the year?), you’ll find that these types of comps are not possible without catching little Johnny and his folks as well.  Trust me little Johnny and his mother don’t give a damn that you have been sitting in the same spot for over an hour waiting for just the right light or clouds to move in.  They’ll walk directly in front of your lens.  At Elephant Rocks there is also great potential for the intimate landscapes.  With these types of comps you can move right into the tight spaces and will have a much better chance of not having little Johnny and his booger-picking fingers in you final image.  Do be careful though, as little Johnny and his siblings will likely be climbing on these rocks and might easily come into contact with your tripod, which might be precariously setup on the same rocks they’re interested in jumping on.

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/4 sec

Location Spotlight: Elephant Rocks

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 28mm, ISO 160,  f/14, 1.3 sec

Today we’re traveling back south to my favorite region for landscape photography, the rugged and beautiful St. Francois Mountains.  This location, known as Elephant Rocks, is located in Iron County and lies about six miles north of Ironton and two miles west of Graniteville.  By the names of these towns can you figure out what the principle economic activities of this area were historically?  The primary features of this location, the elephants, are easy to see in the image below.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 17mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/6 sec

So what are these “elephants” and how did they get there?  Well first of all these rocks are composed of a pink-colored, Graniteville Granite, or more affectionately known as “Missouri Red Granite”.  Geologists discern between different types of granite based on mineral grain-size and color.  Missouri Red is actually one of the younger granites of the St. Francois Mountains, coming in at a mere 1.3 billion years.  Missouri Red, collected from quarries surrounding this feature was used as paving stones that covered most of St. Louis near the turn of the 20th century.  It was also used in parts of the Eades Bridge, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Missouri Governors Mansion in Jefferson City and in important buildings across more than a dozen cities in the United States.  It is still quarried today and used mostly for tombstones and counter-tops.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 10mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/6 sec

So, if you are reasonably educated in the discipline of geology and you were forced to guess how these boulders managed to be found here your first answer might be to suggest those great marble movers – the glaciers must have moved them here from up near Canada, right?  Sorry, the southern limit of intrusion of those sheets of ice was about where the Missouri River now flows about 150 miles or so to the north.  Hints upon the excepted mechanism of formation can be seen in the image above.

These boulders were formed by a process known as “spheroidal weathering”.  Before you reach for that tube of Preparation H, let me try to explain.  Sometime in the Pre-Cambrian molten rock was forced into the earth’s crust.  As the rock slowly cooled it formed long, nearly vertical joints, or fractures.  As time passed these rocks were covered with younger, sedimentary rocks.  When the Ozark Plateau was forced upward the resulting streams cut their way through this younger rock and eroded much of it away.  Erosional ground waters acted on the corners and edges of these granite joints quicker than on the surfaces and gradually increased these joints.  When the rocks were later exposed to the surface, erosion and weathering acted much quicker in forming the clean and rounded features of the boulders.  Plant life (tree and grass roots, lichen, etc…) also helped to chip away at the surfaces of these future boulders.  Eventually a tor – an exposed mass of bedrock, was left with these elephantine boulders now widely separated.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 10mm, ISO 100,  f/14, Photomatix-HDR blend of 9-images

Above you can see one of the more famous pachyderms who make this site their home, “Dumbo”.  This guy measures at about 27 feet tall, and with the incredible density of this granite (~160 lb per cubic ft) weighs close to 680 tons.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens @ 19mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/6 sec

Not even the people of the “it will never run out” period of western U.S. expansion would destroy something as unique as Elephant Rocks.  Although there has been mining of granite, iron, lead and other minerals throughout this area, Elephant Rocks still looks pretty much as it did 200 years ago.  When a quarry worker reached “master stonecutter” status they would carve their names here upon the boulders and bedrock.  This gives the place an interesting human historical aspect.  Today, this location is protected as a Missouri State Natural Area and a State Park.  There is a very well done ~mile paved “braille trail” that circles through many of the features of the park.  The trail’s meandering allows the blind to feel some of the geologic features and braille signs are posted to explain what the person is experiencing.  I find this to be a fantastic development.  In my opinion our country does nowhere nearly enough to help the blind and these people are often forced into greater dependence and exclusion because our government refuses to take the smallest of steps.  Ever notice how the US paper currency is all the same size?

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 12mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/10 sec

The tinajita, or panhole like those pictured above are more evidence of the weathering this exposed porphyry is being subjected to.  The process of seasonal freezing and thawing as water seeps ever deeper into minute cracks forms these shallow depressions that fill with water in wetter times allowing for animals like insects and frogs to have places to breed.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 15mm, ISO 100,  f/16, manual-HDR blend of 2-images

Elephant Rocks.  It comes as no surprise to those who live in the region – everything in the mid-western United States, but particularly the Ozarks is often overlooked in favor of the grand natural spectacles of the Rockies, the Appalachians, the South-West’s deserts and canyons, etc…  Well, Elephant Rocks is one location that should be on the bucket lists of any tourist, any rock-star landscape photographer or nature enthusiast.  It is a location deserving of being voiced-over by a James Earl Jones, Alec Baldwin or Brangelina in the nature documentary of the week.  I hesitate to scream too loudly, however. I have loved the times I’ve been able to spend hours here without seeing another bipedal ape and hope for many more

I’ve called this the place of unlimited compositions.  I have been fortunate enough to make a few images I really like and I look forward to many more visits over many more years to come to see what other compositions the place is hiding.

You can view more of the photographs I’ve taken at Elephant Rocks.      

Limitless Composition

I’ve been paying a lot more attention to Elephant Rocks State Park lately.  I am seeing there is a never ending supply of potential terrific photographic compositions (not that the one below is one of these).  Add all the potential compositions with all the variables that light can bring to this place and throw in the different seasons and potentials for weather and you wind up with a place I should be visiting at least once a week!  I need to find out how to make this happen.  😉

This image was obviously taken with a wide focal length and is a composite of a couple different exposures so that I could keep some detail in this amazing autumn sky.  Some oak leaves contribute with lichen and the natural texture of the rocks for some foreground interest, and a dark lead-in line is present created by what I believe is a path water has drained off this shelf for who knows how many years?

While visiting one of my favorite places in the St. Francois Mountains, Lower Rock Creek Wilderness, I met a father and son visiting the Ozarks for the first time from Wisconsin.  I was able to give them suggestions for other places to see during their short visit, Elephant Rocks being one of them.  Needless to say they thought this location was fascinating and them, I and many others finished the day by watching a spectacular sunset amongst the boulders.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 11mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/15 sec

Ozark Dynamism

Elephant Rocks is one of my favorite locations in the Missouri Ozarks to visit and make photographs.  I don’t think it’s a big surprise that this would be true for many nature lovers/photographers.  I love the fact that one can make good photographs here any season of the year and almost any time of day.  If you face the right direction you can find good light on a good composition on almost every visit, not just in the narrow window of the “golden hour”.  However, if you can get there with perfect light and an interesting sky the outcome can be better than good.  My favorite time to visit is early in the day.  This is not only for the better light, but for the fact that I have had the place entirely to myself for a couple or more hours on several occasions.

I was fortunate to find an interesting sky on this visit.  I found that converting this one to B&W really played the dynamic sky against the interesting texture of the boulders below.  Inscribed on one of the rocks you can see the name of one of the many quarry workers who harvested the granite species of rocks from the surrounding area.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 10mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/15 sec