Sometimes Adventure Photography Begins at Home

This week is a short one. The routine is familiar. We frantically pack for another 10-day adventure 500 miles from home while tying up loose business ends prior to our departure. It is stressful but I’m excited about our upcoming Zion shoot. It is early May and we are thinking spring. Can’t wait to see the explosion of vibrant spring greens and hopefully blooming cacti against the warm colored Colorado Plateau sandstone.

The Gulf of Alaska sent the Southern Rockies a different plan as the last day of April rolled into May first. Snow. And near record cold. Drove home Sunday from Westcliffe, Colorado. Snowed most of the way. Snowed all afternoon at home with sub-freezing temperatures, yes in May! Monday morning looked and felt more like January. Four inches of new snow cloaked the landscape with our mercury at 18 degrees at sunrise. Beautiful, but not spring like.

Never seen so many songbirds at the feeders during the heavy snow Sunday and Monday morning. The seed eaters had plenty of grub but I was concerned about our resident nesting bluebirds. Insect life was all but shut down the previous afternoon so they probably had very little to eat. They sat on a feeder perch for over an hour Monday morning making me wonder if they were just warming themselves in the sun.

In the past, we’ve offered them mealworms, soaked raisins and insect suet on snowy spring days but they never ate it so I guess they were fine weathering out the storm with little or nothing to eat. But that was March and April, not May with 5 new eggs in their nest.

Reminded myself of a lesson I stress in my workshops. Don’t forget to shoot close to home. I’ve always felt that if you can’t make good images in your backyard, you won’t make good images in some exotic and far away place. That morning was an opportunity for me to practice what I preach.

So we took a break from our business tasks and packing to shoot stills and motion. Shot the bluebirds on the perch and shot Lauri behind the camera and lens that was used to photograph Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird on said perch.

Photographing mountain bluebirds image

Lauri photographing mountain bluebirds on a perch at our feeding station.


Pair of mountain bluebirds in winter portrait image

Our resident and nesting pair of mountain bluebirds


Female mountain bluebird portrait image, Taos New Mexico

Mrs. Bluebird on a perch at our seed feeder. Shot details: Canon 1D, Mark IV, 400/F4 lens with 1.4X extender, 580EX II speedlite mounted on a Really Right Stuff flash bracket.

Normally, we sweep new snow from our solar panels at first light to maximize power on winter days. The days are long now, the sun is up before we are and we could afford to wait a bit to see if a photo idea I had would pan out. The wetter spring snow and a little more morning heat could create a thin layer of melt water on the panels. That could make some cool reflections of Lauri as she swept the snow off. Also with a backlit and sidelit scene the huge angled array with fresh snow made one heck of a fill light.

Sweeping new snow off home solar panels Taos New Mexico image

Sweeping new May snow off solar panels, photovoltaic array outside of Taos, New Mexico


Sweeping new snow off home solar panels Taos New Mexico image

Sweeping new May snow off solar panels, photovoltaic array outside of Taos, New Mexico

Our mountain bluebird parents are just fine and I’m glad that I had a chance to make some nice images from home. Now back to spring.
Pair of mountain bluebird portrait image

Heat with the Sun… It Really Works!

The first real bite of winter settled in to Northern New Mexico for the past week or so. Last week lows were in the single digits to low teens and highs were in the 30’s and 40’s. Looks like Thanksgiving will be chilly with possibly the first sub-zero lows of the season. By most American standards these temperatures mean some heating is required to keep your home comfortable. The low in the house so far since this cold snap has been 67. The house heats into the 70’s during the day. These interior temperatures at face value are not particularly remarkable since most people under normal circumstances would keep their homes in that temperature range. In fact, in our Alaska homes where we had to run heat almost year round, we kept our thermostat at 62 most of the time. What makes these temps in our home remarkable is the fact that we have no heating system. Specifically, we have no traditional furnace powered by electric or fossil fuels.

Passive solar design – when done right – has almost no user involvement or moving parts and the house just keeps itself warm. The design is pretty basic. The low winter sun heats the house through south facing windows much the same as it would heat your car interior. Thermal mass inside the house (concrete, flagstone, adobe walls, etc.) stores the heat. A well insulated shell and roof and thermal blinds over the windows that you close at night keep it from escaping at night. We do get cloudy spells and once in a while, usually in late winter/spring, the house gets cool enough to use the wood stove. Last winter was a little colder than average and we burned less than half cord of wood to heat an 1100 square foot area. The same super insulation and interior thermal mass keeps wood stove heat going long after the fire is out.

Adventure, landscape, and lifestyle photographer sustainable, solar powered, strawbale home office in New Mexico

Winter scene of a solar-powered strawbale home near Taos, New Mexico with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.

This is a change that can make a real difference and have real impact on the amount of fossil fuels used for space heat. It boggles my mind why local and even state wide building codes don’t require new construction to incorporate passive solar designs. Sure it cost more up front but the savings in energy over the long term will dwarf the initial up front increase of passive solar design and pay for itself many times over. Sadly, even in progressive Northern New Mexico county local building codes do not require new homes or buildings to meet any substantial passive solar design principles. Passive solar design is really just simple and sensible science and shouldn’t be part of an ideological or political debate, but sadly it is.