I’ve often flown over the wind farms of the Texas panhandle. The other weekend I had an opportunity to drive through some of them.

I think the first wind turbine I recall was the one just off Junction 11 of the M4 in Reading, England. Since then, now many years ago, I’ve grown used to seeing these turbines sprouting from the tops of distant hills while driving in California and other US states.

Driving along I-20, I felt harried on the road. A constant stream of 18-wheeler trucks and cars, pressing on along the dual carriageway with nowhere really to pull over and stop. Why is it, when you are driving, that the best images are always on the other side of the road or behind you?

I was somewhat grateful when I peeled off I-20 onto US-84 just west of Sweetwater. The volume of traffic dropped considerably and I felt comfortable driving at my own pace and no longer having to drive at the pace of the pack.

I was driving to a schedule so I didn’t have much time to stop for photos. This was a shame as there was an embarrassment of opportunities all around me.

Maybe you’re not like me, but I find more photo opportunities when I’m traveling than when I stay close to home? Why is that? Is that the curse of familiarity? Maybe photographers that live in this part of Texas are done shooting wind farms and long for urban metropoles like Houston.

My eye spied the red barn away in the distance and the rows of stalks from some recently harvested crop. My first shots were from further south with the rows passing diagonally in the frame.

Since the traffic volume was now much less and the road had wide shoulders, I changed location to where the rows lead into the red barn.

To give some sense of the openness of the landscape in this part of Texas I decided to frame high and place the horizon low within the frame.

Although this was April the temperature was in the low 90’s Fahrenheit (34 Celcius). My Canon EF 28-300mm (B&H) was maxed out to 300mm and when viewed at 100%, the shimmer of the heat haze is clearly visible on the barns and turbines.

I’m about a mile from the red barn and the closest wind turbine is a mile beyond the red barn so two miles distant from me. These are not small machines and I suspect they’re quite a bit larger that that one near Junction 11.

But when you see these turbines in these large masses, its obvious why they are called wind farms.

Wind turbines in one of the wind farms off US 84 north of Sweetwater, TX.

Wind turbines in one of the wind farms off US 84 north of Sweetwater, TX.

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“Welcome to Katy” says the sign on the water tower in the background at right in this image of the UP 5950. The red logo on the side of the water tower is the logo of the Katy Tigers, eight-time winners of the state high school football championship.

In the foreground sits two Union Pacific locomotives, the UP 9590 and the UP 9698. Both are GE C44-9W model locos. The UP 9590 was built in June of 1994 while the UP 9698 was built in January 1994. I find it curious that the later built loco has the lower designation number. Part of me is wondering what happened there, but not wondering enough to dig deeper.

In days gone by these locos could have motored east to Houston and beyond but now the line dead-ends a little under a mile behind me at the Martin Marietta cement terminal. The sign on the water tower is now for people arriving by car. Except the people in cars are all local. The through traffic takes Interstate 10 about a half-mile to the south (left of frame) while Katy prospers now as a dormitory town for Houston.

Last weekend I drove to Lubbock in the Texas panhandle. I tried to avoid the Interstates as much as possible. I soon learned that those small towns that are not dormitories for larger nearby cities are not faring so well these days, with shuttered stores and rusted vehicles mere remnants of what used to be.

You get some idea of the scale of these locos from the door in the right-front panel. The design itself conveys the brute power of the 4,400 horsepower (3,281 kW) locomotive, necessary for hauling those long trains of cement and gravel across the country. With a 5,000 US gallon diesel tank and a typical range of 1,000 miles, one of these locomotives would typically get 5 miles to the gallon, give or take.

The website Railroad Picture Archives has pictures of both locomotives showing them from 2002 to present anywhere from New York to California and Illinois to Mississippi.

The image is an HDR blend. I liked the definition of the HDR – my standard of -2EV, 0, +2EV – of the train but not of the surroundings so I blended the HDR with the standard exposure image, masking out everything but the locos. I think it gives the loco more presence in the final image.

Union Pacific 5950 locomotive at Katy, TX.

Union Pacific 5950 locomotive at Katy, TX.

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Well, the 2017 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo comes to a close tonight and I’m sure more than a few cowboys and cowgirls will be headed home nursing sore and bruised limbs after a rough ride.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Houston Rodeo personally. Held at NRG stadium where the Houston Texans play NFL football, I’ve never gotten a seat close to the action.

Two weeks before the Houston show, the Katy ISD and FFA (Future Farmers of America) put on the largest school district livestock show and rodeo in Texas. And, since everything is bigger in Texas, it must also be the largest school district rodeo in the world!

The advantage of the small rodeo is you can get close to the action. The Katy ISD rodeo action occurs at night, though, so lighting is always a challenge for photographers who have to wrangle ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get the best images. Of course, more modern gear accommodates higher ISO values with lower noise so low-light photography is certainly an area where the gear you have does make a difference.

Rough Ride was a photo I took back in 2011 and it’s pushing the boundaries of the camera I had back then.

The rodeo part of the Katy ISD FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo is sanctioned by the CPRA – Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association. Their season runs from mid-October through late September with over 90 events on the calendar (some weekends have more than one event).

I don’t recall how the cowboy depicted in Rough Ride did in the competition and the prize purse is different at different events but this year. The winner would have taken home less than $1,000 and only the top three took home any winnings so it’s certainly a tough way to earn a living.

Rough Ride - a cowboy competes at bronco riding at the Katy ISD FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Rough Ride – a cowboy competes at bronco riding at the Katy ISD FFA Livestock Show and Rodeo.

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A couple of weeks ago Super Bowl 51 was played at NRG Park in Houston. In the years I’ve lived in the area, the Houston skyline has changed quite a bit. Despite the downturn in the local economy caused by the collapse of the oil price in late 2014, construction has continued across the city and more glass towers have recently been completed downtown.

Houston is a classic western US city with a (mostly) grid-based street layout and a massive sprawl, enabled by the automobile and the air conditioner. In the 70 years since the end of WWII, the population of Houston has grown from 300,000 to nearly 2.5 million and become the fourth largest city in the US in the process.

The glass tower on the left was the former headquarters of Enron at 1400 Smith Street. Enron built a very similar tower (in the middle of the photo) across the street and joined the two with a circular walkway. 1400 Smith Street used to be called 4 Allen Landing after the Allen brothers who founded Houston in 1836. The original Allen’s Landing is about 14 blocks up the street on the left and five blocks over to the right. Of course, the Allen brothers wouldn’t recognize it today.

This particular view is poised to disappear in the not too distant future. Chevron plans to construct a 52-story tower between my vantage point and this view. Meanwhile, Exxon recently vacated the building at far right to move 25 miles north to a purpose build campus in The Woodlands.

The Chevron Towers (formerly Enron Towers) in downtown Houston at night.

The Chevron Towers (formerly Enron Towers) in downtown Houston at night.

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Last week I needed to figure out which of my photos I had published and which I had still waiting to go. I did some Google research but didn’t find exactly what I was looking for so I decided to figure it out myself using Lightroom Smart Collections.

At the end of my workflow, I generate a full-size jpeg image that I move into a specific folder. From there I publish to my store on SmugMug. But since I process in batches and post singly, I needed to figure out the difference between the contents of my published collection and my pre-publish folder.

Lightroom Smart Collections

Adobe has created a powerful database that underpins Lightroom. This has become more powerful as Lightroom has been elaborated over the years. The database doesn’t just cover all the EXIF data and the metadata you can enter into the tool, it also keeps its own metadata about where images are located on your computer and, if you use publish services, which services you’ve published an image to.

This power can be exploited through Smart Collections. Once you’ve built a smart collection, Lightroom then continues to maintain it. So through using Lightroom Smart Collections you can build very complex queries and save those queries to use again in the future.

The video below takes you through the particular problems I had but you can see how you can use this tool to find duplicated images on your hard drive or any number of other queries to help you sort through a growing archive of your images. Or if you have two folders or collections, that you think might have duplicated or partially duplicated contents you can use smart collections to identify the duplicates or unique images in each folder or collections.

Using Lightroom Smart Collections to find images not yet published

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