“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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Growing up in rural, southern England, I got used to narrow, winding roads. My first exposure to long, dead straight roads was in Libya, but I would usually fly deep into the desert so it was during my time in South Africa that I really started to become conscious of them.

The long, straight road was at first liberating. Free from the twists and turns I could see just where I was going. But they soon became tedious, because I couldn’t get where I wanted to go fast enough. I could literally see where I was going to be in 15 or 20 minutes (when towing a trailer or driving the speed limit).

I soon grew to hate them, longing again for the narrow twists and turns of the single-lane roads around my home where each curve in the road brought excitement tinged with the danger of encountering an approaching vehicle.

To drive the narrow, single-lane roads of Wiltshire I needed to be alive, tuned in to the vehicle I was driving and the world around me. I soon found when driving the long straight roads in South Africa I tuned out and I constantly had to find things to do with my mind to protect myself from the crushing boredom and monotony.

Roads, be they straight or winding, enable us to get from A to B, but at the same time, they constrain us to a vision set by someone else, to travel a path blazed by others.

When people ask me where I most enjoyed working my immediate response is, “Libya”. Most are stunned at this response but for the vast majority of my time in Libya, I worked in the desert where there were no roads. There were no fences hemming me in. I was free to travel in any direction I wanted to.

January is usually the time when people set out on a new path with the best of intentions. But by the end of January, most resolutions lie in tatters. Perhaps that’s because our goals are really someone else’s. The roads we have embarked upon are long, straight, and boring, laid out before us by some forgotten surveyor whose motivation was completely different to our own.

So if you find your resolutions unfulfilling, take a moment to stop and look around you. You’ll likely find a different destination or a more interesting route is close at hand.

The Open Road BW

The open road stretches straight into the distance, yet the road tempts us to follow someone else’s path rather than our own.

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. . C o p y r i g h t . .
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