I-70 Silhouettes


Windows of the Soul. Light shines clear through the windows of a steeple under stormy skies in Park, Kansas.

Our son recently drove out with his dog to visit us at our new home near Denver, Colorado. It was a long road trip of about 1,100 miles from Louisville, Kentucky. The plan was for him to leave early in the morning and for me to fly to the midpoint (Kansas City, Missouri) where he would pick me up at the airport around noon and I could drive him the rest of the way. A long but doable day. As it was, he wanted to keep driving and so I was essentially along for the view. I had brought my new Nikon Z8 in case I saw something really interesting. Eventually I decided to try my hand at shooting while riding shotgun. Even before I knew that I was going to be taking pictures for the entire drive, I was looking forward to the opportunity to drive through Kansas (and across Kansas-like eastern Colorado). At the thought of driving across Kansas—the long way, no less—most people wince, but I was hopeful of enjoying summer storms under a big sky. I was not disappointed: it was beautiful.

Kansas Rainstorm. Rain falls on a silhouetted tree on the prairie near Quinter, Kansas.

Since all of these pictures were taken from a moving car, I had to pan with the subject. So I set the in-camera image stabilization to the more pan-friendly “Sport” mode rather than “Normal”. All of the photographs in this post were made with the Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S zoomed all the way to 120mm; this tended to minimize the side of the freeway being in the foreground. The 100-400mm probably would have been useful but would have been very unwieldy in the car next to a closed window. (Having the windows down on the freeway would not have been fun.) I started on manual exposure with 1/1000s, f/4, and automatic ISO, but eventually slowed the shutter speed down to 1/500s to keep the ISO down; this worked well. I set the camera to fire three-frame bursts at 15 frames per second, which gave a couple extra chances for the image stabilization to work. Sometimes I saw a promising image at the last second and this arrangement worked very well even with some fairly frantic camera movements.

There were a lot of summer storms for our road trip westbound on I-70!

It happened that we were passing westbound along the northern edge of a massive line of thunderstorms, so from my view in the passenger seat looking to the right (i.e., north) I was looking out from under dark gray clouds towards light in the distance. The result was perfect for silhouettes of interesting structures (and there’s not a lot of interesting geology, to be honest). It also helped eliminate guardrails and such in the foreground—they were just lost in the silhouette.

Power Poles. Twin poles support power lines near Oakley, Kansas.
Little Rig on the Prairie. A working oil rig labors ceaselessly under a late afternoon stormy sky near Oakley, Kansas.
Windmills and Power Lines. Power lines criss-cross the prairie through a field of windmills near Colby, Kansas.
Windmill and Silos. A windmill and grain silo complex stand beneath a leaden skies near Oakley, Kansas.
Quixote’s Doom. Windmills spin in the distance beyond a massive transmission tower near Colby, Kansas.

This was also the first time that I used a nifty GPS accessory with a camera. I was able to grab some quick shots of interesting things that I would like to revisit on a future trip, and now I know where they are. I am definitely looking forward to exploring the Great Plains more; what I want to do is spent more time driving the smaller roads and highways so that I can actually stop and not have to compose in a second or two. And see the little towns, too. But I also think I am going to have my wife do more of the driving going forward so I can ride shotgun.

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One response to “I-70 Silhouettes”

  1. […] Last week’s post was all about the roadside silhouettes that I photographed on my recent journey across Kansas and eastern Colorado. While the entire trip was under stormy skies, there were moments when the sunlight obliged by highlighting some interesting subjects through a gaps in the clouds. The image above is a nice example where the sidelight from the sun gives the cottonwood trees’ leaves a vibrant shade of green. The trees are the subject, but there are a lot of supporting details that make this image special: the few fenceposts on the left edge echoing the tree trunks, the narrow sliver of green that leads your eye across the image to the right, the texture of the furrows in the foreground, the yellowish fields that complete a fairly simple color palette with the green and blueish-gray, and—once you notice it—the water tower far in the background, surrounded by billows of blowing dust. While the image is really about everything going on across the lower portion of the image, the sky above adds mood, drama, and rationale. There is a lot going on in this image on both a visual and narrative level. Minimalist images with very singular focus get a lot of kudos in photographic circles, but I tend to prefer images with a little more complexity—images that tell a story and reward some exploration, images where there is more to learn after the first few seconds. […]