Lake Jesup Sunflower Bloom update: Oct 11, 2019

I made it out to the Marl Bed Flats at Lake Jesup today. The sunflowers looked to be at peak bloom, so if you are planning to get out there, this weekend may be your best bet!

Unlike the past couple years, the fields are not flooded and the blooms are prolific. Perhaps not as dense as some earlier years, but impressive all the same.

Nothing but Sunflowers and Sky…

The rain earlier this week did make the fields marshy and you can’t venture too far out into them without flooding your boots but there are photographs to be had if you stay close to the oak hammocks or follow the lines of palm trees that stretch out toward Lake Jesup. Either way, bring tall waterproof boots and maybe an extra pair of dry socks (I wish I had!)

Both the Red and Yellow trails are good this year with the best blooms in the fields between where those two trails exit the tree cover.

Not something you see everyday…

I didn’t get out there today until 9:30 so the light was a bit harsh but at least I was able to do some scouting. Hopefully I can get out there again at an earlier hour Monday.

In addition to the wildflowers, there are plenty of birds…a pair of bald eagles soared over the fields the entire time I was there.

If you’ve never been out there, check out my blog that has detailed maps, tips and other things I’ve learned over the years about this wonderful event.

Jeff

PS: I got a little write-up about the sunflowers on a website that features neat things to do in the Central Florida Area, check it out!

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations, Wildflowers Tagged , , , |

Lake Jesup Wildflower Update: Oct. 6, 2019

The 2019 Lake Jesup Sunflower boom is underway! Unlike the past two years when flooding wiped out the fields, this year the field are (relatively) dry and the flowers are blooming.

A shot from 2015...
A shot from a few years back, my understanding is that the sunflowers this year are TALL! Bring your tripod

A few of my readers and fellow Central Florida Photographer, Ed Rosack, hiked out to the fields over the past couple days https://edrosack.com/2019/10/05/sunflower-scouting-report/ and reported that we are open for business.

I hope to get out at least a couple times over the next week and I’ll post updates.

If you have any free time in your schedule over the next couple weeks and you live in Central Florida, it is worth your while! Please see my guide for directions, maps and other info that you will find helpful. http://www.firefallphotography.com/sunflower-island-lake-jessup-wildflowers/

Jeff

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations, Wildflowers Tagged , |

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Earlier this year I spent the better part of week photographing the area around Moab, Utah .  I had visited once before back in 2013, but I only had a couple days to cover nearby National Parks (Arches and Canyonlands).    That visit was spent running around like a maniac photographing the highlights, especially Delicate Arch, False Mesa and Mesa Arch.  Although I was ecstatic with the images I came home with (see the next three shots), I was painfully aware that I had failed to fully explore the area’s photographic potential.  I intended to better address that opportunity this time.

Delicate Arch at Sunset

My favorite image from my 2013 visit: Delicate Arch in Arches National Park at sunset. An icon…and with good reason!  To read a previous blog with photo tips about Delicate Arch, click here!

False Kiva afternoon

I’m glad I got to photograph False Kiva during my trip in 2013 because I may never get the chance again. It was closed to the public in the fall of 2018 because of vandalism and it is anyone’s guess when/if it will reopen.

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Mesa Arch is as incredible as you’ve heard. But it is a zoo at sunrise. Don’t expect a quiet, solitary experience…but the view is worth every crowded, tripod-packed, wall-to-wall photographer minute.

Day One

I started my first morning at Moab by making the short drive to Arches National Park.  My goal was a sunrise shot that has been done so many times it is almost considered trite:  Turret Arch framed by the arch in the North Window.

 Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Turret Arch viewed thru the North Window at sunrise.

I found the view to be amazing…which wasn’t surprising…that’s why everyone wants the shot.  But what was surprising was that it isn’t an easy shot to get.  I got there well before dawn to scout around and slowly realized that to get to the spot where you can see Turret Arch thru the North Window, you had to crawl over a huge boulder that had a good 30 foot drop on three sides.  I tried it three times before I could make it.  To be honest, my heart was pounding and the adrenaline was flowing…. the fall to either side looked like a bottomless abyss as I tried to find handholds on the smooth sandstone boulder.  As I blindly lowered myself down to the other side I had one of those moments when you wonder: “Is this really a good idea?”   Yes, I do love the image I captured but just the same, I won’t return unless I bring some rope and a buddy (at least that way someone could tell them where the body is located).

After my pulse calmed and the adrenaline shakes subsided, I headed further into the Park.  One spot that I had completely missed on my previous trip was a small panel of Native American petroglyphs near the Wolfe Ranch on the Delicate Arch trail.  

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

The Wolfe Ranch panel is actually carved into the patinaed stone.  The lighter colored, non weathered rock provides contrast

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

The Courtyard panel is actually painted, which is pretty rare…and unfortunately susceptible to weathering and vandals.

Over the past few years, I’ve started specifically seeking out petroglyphs to photograph. I find them fascinating and surprisingly beautiful in a stark, non-embellished way. 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

This 40-year-old photo shows the art before the vandalism

Another panel I hiked to later in the week was the Courtyard Wash Panel (between Arches and Moab).  Sadly, it was defaced by some morons back in the 1980s.  The vandalism resulted in a loss of much of the color and definition but the figures are still quite striking.

 

 

 

As the hours passed the light became more harsh so I shifted from photographing to scouting.  But even with direct light, the dramatic clouds and sandstone monoliths still caught my eye. 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Courthouse Rock is impressive at any time of the day. Processing in black and white really suited this dramatic setting.

For sunset, I wanted to capture a panorama from an incredible vista I had seen on the internet.  Unfortunately, none of the photos I had seen had provided much info on exactly where the heck it was.  A bit of time on Google Earth had narrowed it down but I still had to invest an hour or so wandering around in the desert until I found the spot.  And I’m glad I did!  As the sun began to set, a wicked rainstorm blew in from the north darkening the skies in the distance.  Fortunately, the sky behind me to the west was clear and the result left me in awe: 

Balanced Rock overlook sunset at Arches National Park with storm and rainbow

A sunset that was all I could have ever hoped for.

Low-angle, golden sunlight illuminated the red sandstone which contrasted against the dark and threatening sky. Then, just to top it off, the rain spawned a rainbow.  Truly a spectacle. 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

A telephoto shot of Balanced Rock. You can see Turret Arch in the background just to the right of Balanced Rock.

So where is this spot? Actually, it is easy to get to once you know where it is.  Just drive north on the main road (Arches Scenic Drive) to the Balanced Rock parking lot.  Instead of turning right into the parking lot, turn left onto the dirt road directly across the street from the parking lot.  This is Willow Flats Drive (BLM 378).  Go about 1000 feet (this is past the bathrooms) and park on the side of the road just before the sign that informs you that this is a 4WD road (the road up to this point is fine for regular rental cars).  From here, hike about 400 feet north along the rim of the ridge.  The vista is to your right (east). 

That night I headed to Canyonlands to try to catch a moon-rise at Mesa Arch.  I’d heard that moonlight can light up the bottom of the arch (a look similar to the iconic sunrise shot).  Unfortunately, the skies were overcast and although I enjoyed the solitude and quiet of the desert at the night, I didn’t create any photographs that were particularly impressive.

Day Two

Back to the hotel in Moab, four hours of sleep and then off to Dead Horse Point State Park (near the entrance to Canyonlands NP).  I had photographed this overlook six years ago but the view was so impressive I had to try it again. This overlook is on the point of a tall ridge that allows you views to the east:

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Sunbreak at Dead Horse Point. That odd looking “lake” just below the sun is a potash evaporation pond…man-made but beautiful just the same.

A five minute walk on the paved trail and you come to the western viewpoint:

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

I loved this twisted and warped little tree that was clinging to the rim overlooking the iconic Colorado River Gooseneck.

My last trip to Moab was during the summer and my son and I still laugh about the time we tried to hike one afternoon when the mercury hit 105.  After a miserable hour slogging thru the baking sand we decided to head back into town grab a couple of cold drinks and relax in an air-conditioned movie theater.  As it turned out the A/C in the theater was busted, but at least we weren’t in the sun!

Well, the spring weather on this trip was wonderful.  Temps never got higher than the low 70s and I took full advantage by hitting a bunch of hiking trails.  One particularly enjoyable trek was the  Park Avenue Trail.  It was like I had the whole place to myself.

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Near the trail-head of Park Avenue Trail looking down into the valley.

Arches was odd that way:  when I would drive into the Park before dawn, I wouldn’t see a soul.  But by mid morning long lines of cars were backed up at the entrance waiting to get in and herds of tourists filled every parking lot and pull-off.   But even in the middle of the day, whenever I hiked away from my car for five minutes it was like I was the only person there.  I’d bet my Nikon that most visitors never get more than 100′ feet away from their vehicle…heck, some of them probably never even roll down a window.    Those poor folks really don’t know what they are missing.

That evening I made my way to the Green River Overlook at Canyonlands (about an hour from Moab).  This is an incredible, drive-up location with an elevated view of the Green River and the surrounding badlands that is particularly impressive at sunset. The late afternoon cross-lighting on the cliffs is really quite dramatic view and the colors are rich and earthy.  My favorite image of the evening was made with a long telephoto lens which allowed me to pick out details of the colorful and tortured cliffs cut by the river.

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Sunset at the Green River Overlook

Day Three

At 3:30 am I was up and heading back into Arches.   I made a quick stop to photograph Courthouse Tower which was brightly illuminated by the full moon:

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

If it wasn’t for the stars, you would think this shot of Courthouse Towers was taken in broad daylight.

My goal for the morning was one of the most memorable locations in the park, Double Arch.  A quick five minute hike from the parking area and I was setting up my three small led lights on tripods.  Over the next hour, I experimented with different locations for the lights and adjusted their light output settings to illuminate the areas of the arch not lit up by the moon.   This trip coincided with the Lyrid Meteor Shower .  It was pretty cool to see the ionized gas trail of the meteors as they burned up in the atmosphere 60 miles over my head. 

Standing alone under this massive arch with falling stars streaking across the heavens above you is a humbling experience.  It is moments like this that remind me again why I adore photography.  

Double Arch night photography with comet

Self Portrait at Double Arch. I was tickled pink to capture one of the Lyrid comets in this exposure.

Then I made the short walk over to Turret Arch to see if I could make use of the full moon.  This image was my best effort: 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Tower Arch frames the full moon

After sunrise, I crashed at the hotel for a bit then headed out again in early afternoon.  I had heard raves about the Devil’s Garden Loop Trail which meanders by a half-dozen arches along its 7 mile (round trip) length.  I wanted to do some night photography at some of the arches along this trail so I wanted to scout it out during daylight before returning during the dark.   

Possibly the most impressive sight on the hike was Double O Arch.  Double O features an expansive and inspiring view of the distant landscape through its larger arch, especially when the afternoon sun lights up the red rock.  I was there for over an hour photographing from different perspectives and chatting with a volunteer Park Ranger.  It is one of those classic landscapes of the American West that leaves an deep and lasting impression. 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Photoshop Alert: No, I really didn’t climb atop Double O Arch…I just Photo-shopped myself up there. NPS rules forbid climbing on the Arches to avoid damage to the soft sandstone (and the Park guests)

On the way out of the park that afternoon, I had to stop for a quick shot of Skyline Arch since it was literally right by the road. 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Skyline Arch

Although it was getting late, I squeezed in one more hike to check out Broken Arch.  Unfortunately, it was in shadows by the time I got there so my photos were pretty blah.  To make matters worse the hike took longer than I had anticipated which made me late for leaving for my sunset shot at Fisher Towers. By the time I got there, the towers were in the shadows.  I had missed the light. 

Yes, I am blatantly guilty of packing my shooting schedule full.    My trips would be more relaxing and laid-back if I didn’t plan out every last minute, but that just isn’t who I am.  Often my over-scheduling pays off…this time it didn’t.    On the other hand, all the hiking helped me lose five pounds before I returned home a week later!

Day Four

Up again at o’dark thirty and back to the Devil’s Garden Loop Trail.  When I pulled into the parking lot this time, it sure looked different.  Twelve hours earlier I had been forced to circle twice to find an open parking spot.  Now there were only two cold and lonely cars sleeping at the trail-head.   

One of the things I had been looking for the day before was an arch that faced north. 

Pine Tree Arch Star Trails Night Photography at Arches National Park

The moonlight provided plenty of illumination for Pine Tree Arch

I hoped to make a long exposure star-trail shot of the North Star through one of the arches.  At every arch I passed, I’d pull out my iPhone and use my PhotoPills app to “see” how it would appear at night.   The best candidate was Pine Tree Arch but even so it was a tight shot.  It would only work if I used a wide lens (14mm) and positioned myself in a tortured spot between two shrubs with the camera few inches off the sand. 

 To make a star-trail long exposure shot of the north star, I have found that you need to take a series of four-minute exposures…at least 15 of them.  Fortunately my intervalometer will do that automatically. 

So I programmed it, started it up, then laid down in the chilly sand and spent the next hour thinking about rattlesnakes slithering up to me looking for body heat.   Well… I thought about some other stuff too but my mind seems to go off in uncomfortable directions of its own choosing when I’m alone in the desert during the dead of night. 

I combined the shots with a free app called StarStax after I got home which yielded this image: 

After wrapping up this photo, I really wanted to get a sunrise shot at Partition Arch which was a bit more than a mile further down the Devil’s Garden Trail…but I wasn’t sure I could hike it safely at night.  You have to walk on top of some tall and sketchy sandstone “fins’ to get there…which wasn’t an issue during daylight but I wasn’t sure I wanted to tackle it at night.  I decided to at least head down the trail and see how it looked.

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Afternoon view of Landscape Arch

Along the way, I stopped at Landscape Arch.  It is certainly impressive.  It has a width of over 305 feet which makes it the largest arch in the world.  I had photographed it the day before but it faces east, so I was shooting directly into the sun.  This resulted in a neat sunburst but the harsh contrast and dark shadows didn’t really show the arch to its full advantage:

 

But at 5 am, with the arch slightly illuminated by the approaching dawn and the moon positioned so it was bursting along the base of the arch, the view was much improved. 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Pre-dawn ‘moonburst’ at Landscape Arch

By now it was about 5:40 am and dawn was an hour away  Between the full moon and the lightening skies to the east, the visibility was pretty good along the trail.  So I decided to try for the sunrise shot at Partition Arch.  As it turned out my fears were unfounded and I had no problem getting there safely at least 30 minutes before dawn. 

Partition Arch isn’t nearly as well known as Mesa Arch, which is kind of odd since they have a lot in common.  The bottom of both sandstone arches glow a glorious red as they reflect the light from the rising sun while hosting incredible elevated views of the landscape and distant horizon through their arches. Plus they are roughly the same size and are about the same distance from Moab. 

However, a sunrise visit to these two beautiful locals is a totally different experience.  If I had been at Mesa Arch at that moment, I would have been lined up elbow to elbow with a couple dozen other photographers jockeying for position.  But at Partition, I was all alone. 

The best reason that explains why Mesa Arch is an internationally recognized icon and Partition is relatively unknown might be simply that you can photograph Mesa Arch after a ten minute walk on an easy trail.  On the other hand, Partition requires a 90 minutes hike in the dark along a much more challenging path.

I was enjoying the view and solitude when ten minutes before sunrise I was surprised by another photographer stumbling down the trail.  As he set up we got to talking and he excitedly told me that he had made the hike to Partition twice before hoping to catch a sunburst as the sun breached the horizon thru the arch, but the weather hadn’t cooperated…so he was back hoping the third time was a charm. 

It was!

Sunrise at Partition Arch in Arches National Park near Moab Utah

Personally, I like this view of Partition Arch every bit as much as the better known Mesa Arch

 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

Partition Arch has a large ‘piercing’ next to the Arch that you can use as a window for the rising sun

As the sun appeared, the sandstone started to glow as if it was living thing.  I had preselected a few different perspectives and with only two of us there I was able to easily waltz my tripod between all of them before the magic morning light faded.   All too soon I was saying goodbye to my new friend and headed back down the trail to the parking lot.  It was a killer way to complete my visit to the Moab area but I was already thinking about a hot cup of coffee and my next destination:  the Bisti Badlands.  But more about that trip later.

Moab is one of my favorite areas to photograph in the Southwest.  It is a funky, quaint little town that is a great base for photographic excursions to Arches NP, Canyonlands NP and multiple other nearby locations.  Even after two trips, there are still a half dozen or more nearby locations that I haven’t had the chance to visit…yet. 

Cheers!
Jeff

 

 

 

 

Some Photographic Highlights of Arches and Canyonlands NP

 

 

Posted in Southwest U.S.A. Tagged , , |

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

One reason that Iceland is insanely popular for photographers is the fact that there are so many iconic subjects jammed in a small island the size of the state of Georgia.  Auroras, glaciers, geo-thermal geysers, vast waterfalls, sea arches, black sand beaches, lava tubes, volcanoes and ice caves.   Heck any one or two of these would be enough to justify a trip, but all of them together is just a wonderful embarrassment of riches.

 Of all of these, Ice Caves were the ones I most looked forward to seeing.  I’d never seen, much less photographed one and the images I had seen were spell-binding, so I admit that my expectations were thru the roof.  To be honest, I was half-expecting to be disappointed.

I wasn’t. 

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

“Motherload” Veins of volcanic ash and gravel swirl across the walls and ceiling of Iceland’s Kotlujokull Glacier Ice Cave

What can you say about a scene like the one above?  It… is…simply…Epic.   The color, the texture of the walls, the sheer scale.  I was awestruck.

I spent the better part of two days photographing four different Ice Caves.  Actually all the caves we visited were Glacier Caves (to be technical about it)…we actually had to drive out onto some truly vast glaciers to get to them.  Sometimes, the entrance was nothing more than a small crevasse (see below)…

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

Climbing out of the GTI cave at sunset.

others looked like a massive hole created by a meteorite that had slammed into the glacier.

They came in all shapes and sizes.  Some of them were so small they could only fit four people at a time, others were so immense you could have comfortably driven two Abrams tanks in side by side. 

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

The Blue Cave (GTI Cave) was perhaps the most impressive cave. It is just below the surface the sun glows through the ice on both sides and the top. My photos utterly fail to convey the beauty of this little cave.

The GTI Ice Cave (also known as the Blue Cave) was the smallest. 

In many ways it was also the most beautiful.  Probably less than 10 feet of ice overhead allowed sunlight to actually penetrate through the roof, resulting in the entire cave being translucent.   It was so BLUE, and totally mesmerizing.  But oddly enough, when I finished processing my photos, it turned out to be the least photogenic cave I shot.  My images just don’t have the emotional impact that I felt standing there.  

On the other hand, the Anaconda Cave was the largest…maybe a hundred feet across at the entrance and a ceiling easily 50′ at its highest point. It was truly immense and impressive.  

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

‘007’  Iceland’s version of the James Bond iconic gun barrel, a Ice Cave guide ‘caught in the sights’ at the exit of the Anaconda Ice Cave

There was actually a stream running through the cave as you can see behind the figure in the photo below.  As it turns out,  it is meltwater that carves out most of the caves found underneath the thick sheets of glacial ice.  

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

‘ Cave Man’   The ceiling ice looks almost like a wave ready to crash down on this unsuspecting photographer.

The Black Diamond was another substantial cave.  The ‘dimpling’ of the top and sides of the cave near the entrance were dramatic and insanely photogenic:

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

‘Ive got an Ax to Grind’   Our guide, Aron,  posing with an ice ax at the entrance to the Black Diamond Ice Cave.

Most of these glacier ice caves are only accessible during the winter between November and late March.  There are a couple of exceptions but as a rule, the warming temperatures make them unstable and dangerous.  

The last cave we photographed was the Kotlujokull Glacier Ice Cave.  This particular cave is famous for its layers of black, volcanic ash laden ice.  It had an impressive mountain-view from the entrance:

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

As you approach the entrance of a cave, the back-lit ice glows in every conceivable shade of blue in wonderful contrast to the layers of black volcanic ash.

When a glacier has been compressed beneath its own weight for hundreds or even thousands of years, the air bubbles are forced out resulting in ice so thick, dense and old that it absorbs every color in the spectrum except blue.  Sometimes, sunlight shimmering through the transparent ice makes it look like a deep blue quartz crystal.  In addition, swirls of contrasting dirt and volcanic ash can get attractively embedded in the glacier (shown in the first photo ‘Motherload’).

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

‘The View’  A lone adventurer takes in a view that would have been familiar to our Ice Age ancestors.

Most of these natural caves melt and break down each summer so they are constantly changing and evolving.   The ones shown above might not even exist next year or will have morphed into something totally unrecognizable. 

I had a gas.  My time in the caves zipped by in what seemed like moments.  I could have enthusiastically spent weeks photographing the Ice Caves of Iceland and would love to return again in the future. The only thing I regret is that I spent all my time taking photos and didn’t fully experience the caves.  Maybe next time I’ll visit without a camera.  Yeah…like THAT would EVER happen!

If you are planning to photograph Iceland’s Ice Caves, here are some tips that will come in handy:

  1. Shoot with a wide angle lens.  Most of my shots were at 14mm on a full frame camera

    Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

    Yep, that’s me on the left with three of my fellow photographers. Check out the hard-hats! Photo by David Pearce

  2. A tripod is a must…some of my shots were 10 seconds or more due to the dim light.
  3. Shoot at your sharpest aperture (F/8 worked for me).  Since you have a tripod, go ahead and set a low ISO to get the best detail and lowest noise possible
  4. Bracket!  The dynamic range is insane in these caves, especially if you photograph an entrance.  I shot 7 shot brackets with a full stop difference between each frame and processed them via HDR.
  5. Use a model.  Shots with a person really help illustrate the scale and supply an empathetic jolt of emotion.  Your tour guide is used to being a model for his/her tours, don’t be bashful in asking them to get out in front of your camera.  And give them a red jacket!
  6. Don’t shoot only from eye-level.  Get your tripod down on the ground for a different perspective.  Also try some shots right up against the side of the cave to emphasize the ‘dimpling.’
  7. Wear waterproof clothes and gloves.  Many of the caves have ceilings that drip and the floor is often wet. 
  8. It will be difficult to get adequate light on the areas of the cave that aren’t next to the entrances (even with HDR).  Setting up some low-level-lighting to slightly illuminate the corners would be ideal, but you likely won’t be alone in the cave so having lighting is going to be a challenge (and perhaps down-right rude).  I found on-camera flash to be too harsh and it reduced the wonderful cross-lighting on the cave’s ‘dimples.’  Realistically just be ready to spend some time in Photoshop lightening up the shadows.
  9. Pick a tour that specializes in photography.  Otherwise the other guests on the tour will be wandering around getting in all of your shots.  On a photo tour, everyone will shoot from a spot, then move together to the next spot.  Plus guides on photo tours will know the best camera angles so you won’t have to waste precious time figuring it out on your own.
  10. Pick a tour that has a max of 12 people .  These smaller group tours are more pricey, but you will be hard pressed to get decent shots if you are trying to shoot around 40 people in a confined space…there is only so much Content Aware Fill you can use! 

    Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

    The tours have specially built trucks made for operating on the glaciers. Hertz would have a heart attack if you tried this on your own (and can you imaging the towing bill if you got stuck?!)

  11. Pick a tour that and will let you spend at least 45 minutes in each cave.  Even that won’t seem like enough.  You will need some time to cover the larger caves and it will likely take a while to get your camera dialed-in to compensate for the low light in the caves. 
  12. Don’t think about trying to drive out and photograph these caves on your own.  There are real safety concerns plus you simply can’t reach many of the better caves with a rental vehicle…pay the money for a good tour and leave it to the experts.  Plus, tours will supply the required safety gear (crampons, hard hats, ropes, etc).
  13. Different tour operators ‘maintain’ different caves and the tour groups have an informal system of rotating and scheduling one group at a time through the caves.  If you are not part of an organized tour, you will likely waste a ton of time trying to get ‘a slot.’
  14. Be prepared to spend a lot time in post-processing if you really want shots that have ‘zing.’  My first efforts were pretty bland.  Most of your frames will take a lot of processing to fully reveal their beauty.  
  15. The ‘dimpling’ of the walls and ceilings can be pretty dramatic.  I’d suggest making separate layers in Photoshop for the cave’s walls and ceiling and push up the contrast and clarity to make the edges sharp.
  16. If your shots seem to lack color, try using your luminance slider on the blue and aquas to help ‘coax’ them to be more visible in the poor light.

Jeff

PS:  I went on a tour operated by Arctic Exposure and I highly recommend them.

PS:  Check out my other photos on my Iceland trip recap and my blog about Iceland’s Northern Lights !

Ice Caves in Iceland:  Images and Tips for Photographers

Time Tunnel

 

Posted in Iceland Tagged , , , , , |

Third Time’s a Charm

A few weeks back I visited a local wildlife trail (the Lake Apopka Wildlife drive).  It is only 20 minutes away and I always come back with a few decent photographs.  Plus, some folks have been lucky enough to see Bobcats there recently and I’ve long wanted to have a chance to photograph those elusive felines.

I was one of the first folks on the trail after it opened.  As I slowly rolled along on the beautiful and cool morning  I soon noticed an Osprey hovering over the water to my left.  I watched as it spotted a fish then suddenly dove and hit the water…And missed.  

I pulled off the road, grabbed my camera and watched as the raptor made a long, wide circle and returned to the same spot. 

Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Back for a second try!

This time I had a chance to grab a few shots as he (she?) tried again…And MISSED again!

Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“What are you looking at?   Like you could do any better!”

I quickly adjusted my camera settings and re-positioned myself close enough that I could shoot nearly full frame images with nice cross-lighting.  Sure enough, the Osprey came back hoping for luck on a third try.

Again it hovered. 

Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Where are you…you stupid fish?

Again it dove. 

Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

And this time,

Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“The force is strong with this one…”

 

…SUCCESS!

Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“I have you now!”

I was shooting with a Nikon D500 set to 10 frames per second…which gave me a slew of shots to capture the action.Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

And with that, the Osprey flew off to enjoy it’s well-earned breakfast. 

Perhaps it wasn’t the Bobcat I had hoped to photograph but watching this persistent raptor fishing was pretty cool just the same.  

Have a great morning!
Jeff

Third Time's a Charm Osprey catching fish at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Breakfast time!

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations, Wildlife Tagged , , , , |

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Night photography is a passion of mine.  I don’t know if I can explain exactly why.  Possibly because the images simply amaze me, maybe because of the solitude and quiet, perhaps it is the wonders that photography reveal that my bare eye can only hint at.  Don’t know, but I do love it.

The Milky Way has long been my favorite subject for night photography…and with good reason.  It is mind-boggling, majestic and awe-inspiring.  But I have a new night-time fave:  the Northern Lights!

I photographed the Aurora Borealis for the first time five years ago during a trip to Alaska. Unfortunately, I only had two nights when I could see the lights during that visit. 

“Ribbon Highway”  A favorite shot from my trip to Alaska.  The ribbons of the Aurora above mimic the Dalton highway below (of “Ice Road Truckers” fame) 

In the intervening years since I had forgotten how breathtaking it can be when the night sky dances in swaths of colorful ribbons and the landscape is bathed in its soft green light.  During my trip to Iceland last month, I was able photograph the Northern Lights six times over a two week span.  Seeing the northern lights is truly hit or miss.  Some nights the aurora is weak or simply non-existent…other nights are overcast and it’s hidden.  I have met many folks who spent a couple weeks in Iceland and never saw the lights so I felt blessed to have had such good luck.  In this blog I will share some of those experiences and photos. 

After a day in Reyjavik, I took a two day tour up to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  We stopped at a small hotel (the Langaholt Guesthouse) on the peninsula’s southern coast for the night.  I woke up at 4am and saw a grey glow over the northern horizon.   I knew that until your eyes adapt to the dark, the aurora appears faint and nearly colorless so I hurriedly dressed and ran outside.  In my haste, I put on my pants backward, but I didn’t notice until hours later;)  

 To be honest, I had failed to scout the area before I had gone to bed, so I really didn’t know where I would find a decent foreground.  First I headed out to the main road. 

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland Snaefellsnes

The aurora was killer, but the rest of the view wasn’t as impressive…

As my eyes adapted, I could see the colors.  The green was magnificent and city lights glowed red on the lower clouds above the mountains.  I shot for twenty minutes but couldn’t find a  foreground that made me happy.  So I hiked back past the hotel and toward the coast.  And I’m glad I did!  Between the hotel and the coast there was a tidal flat filled with water.  Plus, there was no wind, so it was reflecting the sky almost flawlessly.

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland Snaefellsnes

“Odin’s Mirror”

Amazing, huh!  I was blessed with a red aurora as well.  The crimson color occurs only at higher altitudes and it is relatively uncommon…and uncommonly beautiful.  To top it off,  the snow-capped mountain ridge provided interest and leading lines.  It was a magnificent setting…and I knew it.  I photographed blissfully for the next couple hours until the eastern sky started to lighten.

One of my best shots was an accident.  I took a few long exposure images at low ISO just to get high quality/low noise images of the foreground that I could later merge with the higher ISO, shorter exposure sky shots.  Well, this happened:

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland Snaefellsnes

Valhalla’s Kaleidoscope

 This exposure was for a minute and a half and it did capture the high quality foreground image I intended.  But it also made the low, fast-moving clouds appear as streaks that nicely reflected the aurora’s light.  Usually you take aurora shots for about 7 to 15 seconds so you can capture the ‘grain’ and delicacy of the aurora…but I really like the way this image turned out…sometimes you just get lucky!

The next few days were overcast.  I was having dinner on the southern coast near Vesterhorn when the skies cleared again.  I bolted outside and saw that the aurora was dancing! 

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland

The restaurant didn’t have much of a foreground but the sky certainly had promise…

Our tour guide, Aron, knew of a nearby spot that featured a shallow inlet framed by a mountain ridge.  We jumped into our truck and soon were standing in front of this scene: 

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland

I was fortunate to capture a comet in this image. You can also see another happy photographer and his (her?) tripod to the far left (look for the red LED).

There was another cloudless night a couple of days later.  I set my tripod up a few inches above a small frozen pond which was reflecting the aurora’s joyful glow.

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland

The photo tour I was on (Arctic Exposures) circled the entire coast of Iceland via the ‘Ring Road.’  By the time we reached the far eastern coast, people and towns were few and far between but the landscapes were anything but scarce.  Godafoss roughly translates to “Waterfall of the Gods” and that is no hyperbole.  Magnificent as it is during the day, it is truly something sublime when illuminated under the Aurora Borealis:  

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland Godafoss

The aurora usually is concentrated toward the north, but this night it covered the sky from horizon to horizon…always shimmering and moving as it danced its magical light fantastic.

Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland Godafoss

Have I mentioned the cold? It was -22° F the night I took this shot…a personal record that I hope to never break.

By now we had reached Myvatn in northern Iceland.  One of my favorite locations there wasn’t a grand landscape.  It was this small pond that had a puny island in its center crowned by an even smaller tree. 

 Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland Myvatn

Even after the red faded the ‘normal’ green aurora was enchanting.Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland Myvatn

You know, as I think back now, what I really love about the Aurora is its movement and unpredictability.  When you shoot the Milky Way, it doesn’t change much one minute to the next.  It is beautiful, but consistent.

The aurora is always changing.  The shape, color, intensity, texture…they are all in flux and never the same.   It’s kind of like the difference between photographing landscapes and wildlife.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the photos.  I’m off to the Bisti Badlands and Moab for the next couple weeks.  I’ll share my images when I return!
Jeff

 

PS:  Check out my other photos on my Iceland trip recap and my blog about Iceland’s Ice Caves !

 

Posted in Iceland, Night Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

When I sit down to write a blog recapping a photo trip, the process is pretty simple.  I think back about what was truly amazing or unique about the location and just start there.   And that is precisely why I am having such trouble starting this blog about Iceland.  

Iceland has auroras, ice caves, waterfalls, glaciers, geysers, icebergs, sea stacks and much, much more.  Exploring and photographing any one of these treasures would have been plenty for a single trip…or blog.    Trying to condense this trip into a detailed and comprehensive article that wasn’t too lengthy was not possible, no matter how I agonized over it.

So, I am going to wuss-out and instead create a series of shorter blogs, each one dealing with a solitary topic, like auroras or ice caves.  But before that, I’m going to pop out this brief recap  and include some of my favorite images.

Any visit to Iceland starts and ends in the capital, Reykjavik.  

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

The ‘Sun Voyager’ or Sólfar is a large stainless steel sculpture on Reykjavik’s shoreline. The artist, Jón Gunnar Árnason intended it to symbolize the promise of new, undiscovered territory.  It is a truly elegant monument and I think it would sing a saga to any photographer with an ear to listen.

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland. Guðjón Samúelsson designed it to resemble the basalt columns that are such an iconic feature of many of Iceland’s waterfalls.  It is truly dramatic and visible from nearly any spot in Reykjavik.

The international airport is near Reykjavík.  The city is small, modern, clean and great for pedestrians…and photographers.  Don’t get me wrong, I certainly came to Iceland to photograph the landscapes but Reykjavik had plenty to keep my camera busy while I was in town. 

Which was a good thing, because Reykjavik isn’t cheap.  Heck, nothing in Iceland is cheap except hot water and electricity (thanks to Iceland’s abundant geothermal energy and hydro-electric resources).  So I avoided the souvenir shops and expensive restaurants while exploring the town on foot eating Cliff Bars and clicking away with my Nikon.    

Reykjavik’s concert hall, the Harpa, features an illuminated colored glass facade that changes colors and moves. I found it wonderfully reminiscent of the Northern Lights.

 After checking out Reykjavik and adapting to the 6 hour time difference, I took the next few days to visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the nearby ‘Golden Circle’.  The weather was rainy and overcast but the incredible landscape still yielded dramatic black and white images.

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

Kirkjufellsfoss (the waterfall) and Kirkjufells (the mountain) are two of Iceland’s most iconic images. I had only about ten minutes to shoot here, so I was under the gun to get my shots.

The rain got worse as the trip progressed, but that only made the rugged coastline that much more alive to the camera:

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

A long exposure HDR allowed me to show the Djupalonnsanaur sea stacks with all its violent grace.

Although I hadn’t seen the sun since I arrived, things turned around that night.  I was checking the sky every couple of hours (heck, who needs sleep) and about 4 am the skies cleared and the aurora made an appearance.  I had nearly two hours of uninterrupted bliss photographing the aurora and nearby mountains reflecting in a shallow lake until the dawn washed it all away.

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

“Reflected Grace” The Aurora Borealis dancing above the mountains on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

    

Tired, but happy, I headed down the coast a bit to check out the seals at Ytri Tunga Beach.

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

“Perfect Pinnipedia Plank” Young seal going through his morning stretching exercises at Ytri Tunga Beach.

One of the more interesting waterfalls I saw was Hraunfossar.  The water here doesn’t fall over the top of the rock cliff…it actually seeps out through the porous volcanic rock face.  Never saw that before…

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

A long exposure zoomed detail shot of Hraunfossar

I returned to Reykjavik and the next morning joined the ‘Arctic Exposure‘ photo tour that would consume the next ten days. 

My quarter million dollar ride! Other tourists would actually walk up and photograph our truck when we stopped for gas…

Although I usually prefer to explore and photograph on my own, many of Iceland’s photographic icons are simply not reachable via rental cars during the winter.  Plus, being a Floridian, my experience driving on snow and ice is sorely suspect.  I was reassured that this tour featured a $250,000 Mercedes  ‘monster-truck’ that had been especially built for the off-road winter extremes in Iceland.  Plus, our guide Aron was not only a talented photographer but also an expert winter driver who had once spent a year managing the vehicle fleet for a BBC production in the Antarctic. 

Iceland isn’t a huge country…about the size of the state of Georgia.  The ‘Ring Road’ is a two-lane asphalt highway that circles the perimeter of the island.  Our tour drove the entire road counterclockwise and we indulged in many side trips to remote spots that Aron had found over the years.  

Seljalandsfoss was one of our first stops.  Set in a huge natural amphitheater, it is one of the country’s natural treasures.  The downside is that it isn’t that far from Reykjavik and is easily accessible…which means that it is packed with tourists.  Even during the winter.  Worse, it has been photographed to death and I was frankly a bit intimidated contemplating how to find a perspective that wasn’t identical to the thousands of others on the internet.

 

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

“Perspective” My effort to create a unique image of popular Seljalandsfoss.

There are a number of sea stacks and arches around the island.  That evening we photographed Dyrhólaey, a gigantic, 400 foot black lava arch.  The western face of the arch stubbornly stayed shaded by clouds for the hour we waited for sunset.  Then, once, and for less than a minute, a glimmer of sunlight weakly illuminated up the arch.  It was just enough…

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

Atlantic Puffins nest on Dyrhólaey’s cliff sides during summer. They were far away enjoying warmer weather during my visit!

When my brother Greg, kayaked around Iceland in 2007, he had a bit of fun and paddled right through this arch. His 33 day circumnavigation is still a record… and my brother is still a beast.

The next morning, we visited the basalt sea stacks of Reynisdrangar, which are framed by one of the black sand beaches that are so characteristic of this volcanic island.  

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

Legend has it that the stacks were created when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship to the shore but when illuminated by the sunrise it was transformed into these wicked needles of rock.

The glaciers in southern Iceland conceal numerous Ice Caves, which had long been on my bucket list.  It was worth every second of the wait.  

Remember the James Bond ‘Gun Barrel’ graphics at the start of the movies?

 

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

I think Aron has James Bond beat cold (Pun intended)!   The Anaconda Ice Cave was gargantuan….we could have driven our truck into it.  I’ll do a full blog packed with Ice Cave photos later this year.

Another famous spot for photographers is Diamond Beach.  Its claim to fame is that Europe’s largest glacier (Vatnajökul) calves into the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and the ice is swept out to sea.  Then the Atlantic tosses them right back up on the black sands of Diamond beach.  It was an incredible sight at sunrise… 

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

I could have spent days at Diamond Beach. The blue ice on black sand with silky currents of water illuminated under an Arctic sunrise were inspiring. Another blog to follow on this dreamlike location!

Iceland can also give Patagonia a run for the money when it comes to awesome mountains.  Vestra Horn was particularly impressive. Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap Vesta Horn

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

We were lucky to capture Vestra Horn during an inspired sunrise that reflected its profile in the water running off the shallow ocean flats at its base.

 

As we continued east and then north we stopped seeing crowds of tourists.  Or towns.  Or cars.  Or much of anything other than the thin ribbon of the Ring Road and some bleakly magnificent landscapes.  Iceland has a population of only 350,000 (vs. 18 million in Florida).  And with nearly a third of the population living in Reykjavik,  people tend to be few and far between in the rest of the country. 

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

This isn’t a shot that will end up in my portfolio, but it does accurately show how bleak, desolate and uninhabited much of Iceland can be once you get away from Reykjavik and the south coast.

The weather started to change as well.  Aron had told us that it had been unusually warm and rainy but by the time we reached the little outpost of Mývatn (population 200), that started to change.  Snow began to fall and the temperature started to drop.  A lot.  Our coldest night would peg out at -22F (-30 Celsius).  As I recall, we spent a good part of that night photographing the Northern Lights at Godafoss. 

Despite numerous layers of high-tech cold weather clothing, my fingers and toes certainly felt the cold…at least until they went numb and didn’t feel anything at all.  Oh, and let me tell you about the time I was peering into my viewfinder setting up a shot.  I close one eye when I use my viewfinder..right?  Well, when I tried to open it, I found that a bit of moisture on my eyelashes had frozen and stuck it to my cheek.  Ever rip off a band-aid?  Well, eyelashes grow back and I’ll have that photo forever…but, just saying…

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods) The coldest night of my life…but one the most beautiful.

We stayed in the Mývatn area for three days.  One of my favorite locations was a pond punctured by a petite island crowned with a stunted tree that some enterprising Icelandic photo tour owner must have planted.

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

A picture perfect reflection

Our monster truck came in handy in the north, brutalizing its way to locations that would have been impossible with a regular vehicle.   One ‘normal’ passenger van tried following the path we forged to Dettifoss but ended up breaking its differential.  Those poor folks had a long, cold (and expensive ) wait for a tow truck.

One of my favorite waterfalls was Aldeygarfoss.  Surrounded by basalt columns, it is blessed with a remote and regal setting in the Icelandic highlands.  We spent a few hours there waiting for sunset.  It was truly magical and I doubt I’ll live long enough to forget its grandeur.

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap

Aldeygarfoss glows in pastels after sunset.

In addition to the landscape, I was also impressed with the native Icelandic horses.  The island is home to 80,000 of them (nearly one per every four residents).  I learned “never to call them ponies…they are real horses, just petite.”  Supposedly descended from the Mongolian warhorses ridden by the legendary hordes of Genghis Khan, the Icelandic horse has been pure-bred for a thousand years.  To maintain that legacy, horses cannot be imported into Iceland and if one is shipped off the island, it cannot ever return.  

Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap Icelandic Horse Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap Horse

One other tidbit is that the Icelandic horse is the only one in the world that has a 5th gate.  I don’t really know what that means other than it gives the rider a really smooth ride.  Iceland Winter Photo Tour Recap Beer on horseTo prove that point, one of the owners at a local stable galloped with a glass of beer in her hand. Yes, she spilled a drop or two, but the glass was practically full at the end of a full lap.  I was impressed…and relieved that no beer was wasted, especially since beer has only been legal in Iceland since 1989.

All too soon, we were back in Reykjavik.  The ten of us on the tour had certainly bonded by the end of the trip.  Tens of thousands of photos, hundreds of miles and many bottles of wine undoubtedly contributed to that camaraderieIt was sad to break up the team and head home.

But I will be returning to Iceland.  There is so much more to explore and it is all on a compact, modern island where the people are polite, punctual and speak English.  Plus they drive on the right side of the road which will come in handy when I return in a summer or two and rent a car of my own.

Hope you enjoyed this brief recap of my trip.  If you have a preference on the subject of my next Icelandic blog (Ice Caves, Auroras, Waterfalls, Diamond Beach…) pop me a note and vote on your favorite!

Take care,
Jeff

PS:  I’m heading out to Arches NP and the Bisti Badlands next month.  Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze out another blog before then.

PSS:  I unreservedly recommend Arctic Exposure.  Yes, the tours are expensive (but like I said, everything is costly in Iceland)…but they are competitively priced when you consider other similar photo tours.  Plus, the level of expertise Aron provided was above and beyond what I have usually experienced on other photo tours.  His experience allowed him to adjust our itinerary ‘on the fly’ depending on the weather conditions.  I like to think that I’m pretty good in quickly scouting a location and figuring out the best perspectives for my shots, but the fact is I wouldn’t have come home with the number of killer shots that I did if Aron hadn’t been our guide…and that is very high praise coming from me.  Also, if such things are important to you, the food and lodging were outstanding. 

Finally, please know that I (unfortunately) get no kickbacks or discounts from Arctic Exposure…although I would be certainly willing to consider bribes in the future…

 

Check out my other blogs about Iceland’s Ice Caves and the Northern Lights!

 

 

Posted in Iceland, Photo Tips and Guides, Travel Photography Tagged , , , |

Good Things Come in Threes

 The last few weeks have brought some exciting developments for me and Firefall Photography!:  

  • I was featured in the inaugural issue of a great new night photography magazine “Dark Sky Travels.”
  • One of my manatee shots was the cover of a local magazine, “West Volusia Life”
  • And Highlights magazine purchased my ‘Skeleton Man and T-Rex” photo for their upcoming June issue.

Jeff Stamer Published in Dark Sky Travels Magazine February 2019

Dark Sky Travels Magazine February 2019

Jeff Stamer photograph Published in West Volusia LIFE Magazine February 2019

West Volusia LIFE Magazine Feb 2019

Skeleton Man Walking Skeleton T-Rex Dinosaur in South Dakota Jeff Stamer photograph Published in Highlights Magazine June 2019

Highlights Magazine June 2019

Although it’s certainly wonderful when I get a compliment from friends or family, it is satisfying on a whole different level when a stranger pays good money to publish my work!

Anyway, today I’m off to Iceland for two weeks of landscape photography.  Iceland has long been a ‘bucket-list’ location of mine and now I get to visit thanks to an extravagant Christmas gift from my wife Anita (whom I clearly do not deserve).

Vertu blessaður (Goodbye in Icelandic!)

Jeff

 

 

Posted in Published Work & Contests Tagged |

Results of your votes for my Top Ten Photos of 2018!

Hello all,

I’ve finally tabulated the results of your votes for my Top Ten photos of 2018.  Thank you all who participated in this year’s voting and I especially appreciated the comments that accompanied many of your ballots (particularly those who tried to ‘influence the voting’ to help their favorites!   I received a lot votes, substantially more than last year, but that could have been because I also thought to include my my website’s Facebook page followers this year.  

So, with no further ado, here are the results:

#1 “Mars Attacks”

The top shot was this image of Mars and the Milky Way over the Bisti Badlands.  I spent a lonely night here and had to experiment a lot with the LLL (low level lighting) but the results were sweet! 

 #2  “Ragnarök”

This sunrise view of Lake Pehoé in Torres del Paine National Park captures the essence of Patagonia’s cruel beauty.  

#3  “Badass Badlands”

Taking the third spot was another image taken the same night as “Mars Attacks”.  Twenty-four separate 4 minute exposure were taken over an hour and combined to show the star trails circling Polaris.  This is a shot I had planned out months in advance and it was gratifying that the final result equaled my imagination.

#4 “Patagonian Juxtaposition”

This panorama of the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, Argentina fails to capture just how expansive and impressive the view really is.  Sometimes a photograph, no matter how good, can’t begin to capture the impact of being there in person!

#5  “Bucket List”

This shot of Mt. Fitroy was included in more top three votes than any other but on the other hand it didn’t gather as many total votes as the top 4 shots did.  But I guess that the folks that loved it really loved it.

#6 “Tatooine?  Altair IV?  Vulcan?”

This black and white version of the “Conversing Hoodoos’ in the Bisti Badlands finished in the sixth spot.   Sometime monochrome helps your eyes to focus on the essence of the image by eliminating the visual ‘ color clutter.’

#7 “Mirador”

A print of this view of Mt. FitzRoy framed by an Antarctic Beech tree and a valley of crimson autumn leaves is hanging on the wall in my den.  It wasn’t a planned shot,  I just noticed the view when I glanced over my shoulder while hiking back from a sunrise shot.  The sunrise photos were fine, but this spontaneous view captured the magnificence of Patagonia far better.

#8   ” My Kingdom for a Horse…!”

My only wildlife shot in your top ten and an underwater one at that!  Sometimes you just can’t beat cute.

#9   “Ripley’s Revenge”

I guess my “Aliens” movie reference didn’t scare off everyone.  This shot of the ‘Alien Egg Hatchery’  captures a bit of his bizarre and otherworldly nature of this famous spot in the Bisti Badlands.

#10   “”Gaucho Gump”

Rounding off the top 10 was another shot with a movie reference for a title.   This iconic view of  Route 23 leading up to El Chaltan in Patagonia reminded me of the famous Monument Valley  scene in ‘Forest Gump’ with Tom Hanks jogging down the highway.  It was far too cold for me to jog but not so frigid that I couldn’t squeeze off a frame or two.

So there you have your Voter’s Choice for my best work of 2018.   It was an exciting year for me,  photographing locations like Bisti and Patagonia that had been on ‘my list’ for ages. 

In 2019, I will visit Iceland and New England with maybe a trip to the American Southwest thrown in as well….hopefully it will be as fun and productive as last year!

Thanks again for votes!
Jeff  

Posted in Best Photos of the Year Tagged , , |

Vote for my Top Ten Images of 2018

Last year I took my son’s suggestion and for the first time asked my readers to vote on my top shots of the year.  Your response was overwhelming and wonderful…so we’re doing it again!  Listed below, in no particular order are a couple dozen of my personal favorite images from last year.  Let’s take a quick look at them and I’ll give you details on how to vote at the end of the blog.

  1. “Close Encounters” 

I sell a LOT of Manatee images.  I don’t think it’s because they are really better than my other work…it’s more of a niche thing.  The simple fact is that few photographers have the chance to photograph them as often as I do (I live only a couple hours away from the warm Florida springs that attract Manatees every winter).    So maybe I’m a bit jaded when it comes to my manatee shots, but even so, this image of a curious young woman and a friendly manatee strikes an emotional chord in me. 

2)  “Bucket List”

This view of Mt Fitz Roy near Laguna Capri in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park had been on my bucket list for a long time. It was worth the wait. 

3) “Badass Badlands”

This star trail image of the famous ‘Stonewings’ in New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands was a technically challenging shot.  Twenty-five separate four minute exposures, taken over a hour, painstakingly blended together in Photoshop.  But I’ve nearly forgotten all that… what I vividly remember is that while the camera was shooting, I laid down on top of a small bluff, used my backpack as a pillow and listened to the mournful sound of nearby coyotes as they sung back and forth to one another.

4)   “…my Kingdom for a Horse!”

Without the light from my underwater strobe, this scene was colorless and the little seahorse nearly invisible.  I don’t know about you, but I’m immediately drawn to its eye when I gaze at this shot. 

5) “Ragnarök”

Long exposure dawn shot of Patagonia’s Lake Pehoé in Torres del Paine National Park.  The landscape is nearly cruel in its beauty…which is matched by the insane wind, weather and sense of wonder.  

6)  “Leading Lines”

 

Lights from a passing tourist tour boat created these magical lines of light along the Seine in front of Notre Dame.  I’m naturally drawn to photographing the beauty of nature untouched by man but how can I not make an exception with a view like this?

7) “Gaucho Gump”

 

This shot of Route 23 leading up to El Chaltan in Patagonia reminds me of the famous Monument Valley  scene in ‘Forest Gump’ with Tom Hanks jogging down the highway.

8) “”Ripley’s Revenge”

It really only takes a glance to see why this bizarre and otherworldly spot in the Bisti Badlands is known as the ‘Alien Egg Nursery.’

9) “Monet Moment”

  

This image of Claude Monet’s pond in Giverny conveys peace and serenity.  The reality is that a half million people visit every year.  Photography can be wonderfully selective.

10) “Divine Light”

  

Last fall I photographed the autumn colors in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains off of Country Road 9 near Ridgway. The aspens were glorious and the mountains majestic.  I got some grand, expansive landscape shots but this crop of a telephoto shot is my favorite of the trip.  They play of light across the golden aspens on this distant hillside was truly magnificent. 

11) “Icon”

St. Basil’s in Red Square at night is breathtaking and it really isn’t all that difficult to create a beautiful image.    But it is challenging to find a new or creative perspective that hasn’t already been done a gadzillion times…this was my best effort.

12) ‘Mirador’

 

You might be feeling a sense of deja vu in this blog.  But no, the fact is that there are a number of Mount FitzRoy images in this list.  And with good reason…I’ve never seen a more photogenic and dramatic set of peaks.  Anywhere,  Ever.  Period.  This is one of the many incredible vistas you can indulge in when you hike the Mirador Del FitzRoy Trail during Patagonia’s autumn.

13)  “Out on a limb…’

Antillean Crested Hummingbird photographed in St. Lucia.  I spend a lot of time and effort to hummingbirds while they are flying, but this little guy landed six feet away from me and the resulting image is a favorite.

14) “Tatooine?  Altair IV?  Vulcan?”

 

I love color and will be the first to admit that when I set up to take a shot, I don’t often envision it in black and white.  In this case, that would have been a mistake.  The “Conversing Hoodoos’ in the Bisti Badlands.

15) “Judgment Day”

 

Courthouse Mountain (Chimney Rock) is a massive hunk of granite in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.  The stone is a boring grey, but at sunset it can explode in dramatic shades of reflected crimson sunlight.  Golden aspens and green pines carpet the rolling valley in the foreground.  Truly something to see.

16) “Pink Paradise”

 

This morning started out miserably.  You couldn’t see anything more than 50 feet away but I stood in the rain, taking long exposure shots of Lake Pehoe trying to find something to justify the fact that I was cold, damp and getting cranky.  Then, over 90 seconds it all changed,  The low clouds came alive in this wild shade of pink and the clearing skies welcomed a massive double rainbow.  It didn’t last long, but I had time to capture this panorama.

17)  “Good Morning Sunshine”

 

Its hard to describe how gentle these homely giants are.  Peaceful and serene, I always enjoy my visits with the Manatees.

18) “Mauve Mayham”

Rio de las Vueltas cuts a deep curve in the foreground south of VitzRoy.  The wind here can be simply incredible…I had to physically hold my tripod down to keep it from tipping over…wild!

19) Impression of a Gateway

  

The pathway to Monet’s home in Giverny.

20) “Mars Attacks”

 

I was lucky to capture the planet Mars (top left) as a cloud passed underneath reflecting its red light.  Some low level lighting illuminated the dramatic landscape in the Bisti Badlands while the luminous Milky Way drifted silently  overhead.  

21)  “Over the Top!”

 

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is a target rich environment for any photographer.  Personally, I was amazed at the ‘special shape’ balloons…everything from the head of Vincent Van Gogh, to Darth Vader, Flying Pigs, Scarecrows….limited to nothing in your imagination.  Magical.

22) “Patagonian Juxtaposition”

Fall colors, mountains and glaciers…there aren’t too many places in the world where you can capture all three in a single image.  Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, Argentina.

23) “Foxy Lady”

 

South American Grey Fox relaxing after breakfast.

24) “From Hell’s Heart…”

 

The Bisti Egg Nursery sprawled beneath Mars and the Milky Way

25) “Sepia Sunrise”

 

FitzRoy from the southeast at sunrise.

So, there you have my top 25 images from the year.  Your job, should you decide to accept it, is simply to pick out your ten favorites and email your choices to me at Jeffstamer @aol.com by Feb 1st.  

I have a two week trip to Iceland coming up early in March, so I should be able to get to post the results before I leave.

Have fun!
Jeff

Posted in Best Photos of the Year

Great Start to a New Year

I  got some really exciting news recently:  I was awarded the Grand Prize for the 2018 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest.  Touted as the “most photographed event in the world” (at least by the marketing team in Albuquerque),  it is quite a honor and certainly one of my highlights for 2018. Grand Prize Winner: Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

The funny thing is, I didn’t plan to go to this event (my wife, Anita, made it happen as one of her ‘bucket list’ trips).  I certainly never intended to enter the contest…again, Anita got me to do it (after asking me about a million times).  So like most of the good things in my life, I have Anita to thank!

We attended 5 days of the week-long Fiesta which allowed me to scout the venue and plan this shot well in advance.   This particular morning was one that they launch the ‘Special Shape’ Balloons…which includes everything from Darth Vader to Stagecoaches.  I positioned my tripod on the embankment on the north side of the huge Balloon Park and made this 6 frame panorama soon after sunrise.  The wonderful side-lighting really worked wonders with the explosion of enthusiastic colors exhibited by the mass of unique balloons.

Some of my other shots from the Fiesta:

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)

  Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

Colors UP!

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

Follow the Leader

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

Who needs a heart?

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

“Try Not…DO!”

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

Rodeo at Dawn

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

Wagontrain

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

Infinite Dreams

Photography for me is really not about contests: it’s a way for me to express my creative side and encourage me to explore the world.  Just the same, this isn’t a shabby way to start the year!  

Jeff

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photo Contest 2018

Full sized version my winning shot

Posted in Published Work & Contests Tagged , |

New Russian Portfolio Just Published

The Winter Palace

A few months back I wrote a blog about some of the night photography I had a chance to do in Russia earlier this year.  Afterwards, I had a lot of requests to see some daytime shots as well.   So I’ve just published a new portfolio on my website that includes both day and night images from the land of the Tsars.  Check it out by clicking here.

Posted in Buildings/Ruins, Travel Photography Tagged , , |

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

This article was specifically written as a comprehensive guide for photographers visiting the Bisti Badlands to help them make that trip as productive and safe as possible.  If you are more interested in general information about Bisti, then please check out my earlier article which is intended for visitors who aren’t totally focused on photography. 

Note:  The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a huge area (45,000 acres) Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers  Bisti is the western section and De-Na-Zin is to the east but most maps (and signs) will just say ‘Bisti/De-Na-Zin…which can be a bit confusing. This blog only covers the popular western section (Bisti) which is about 36 miles south of Farmington, N.M. and includes locations like the ‘Alien Egg Nursery’ (aka “Cracked Eggs”),  the ‘Stone Wings,’ the ‘Conversing Hoodoos’ and others   This blog will not review the De-Na-Zin area which borders CR 7500 (this area includes the ‘Valley of Dreams’, ‘Alien Throne’ and the ‘King of Wings.’ )

 

Tip 1:  Get a GPS App:

There are no trails in Bisti, no boardwalks, no rangers, no consistent cell service.  Lots of folks don’t plan ahead and end up walking around for hours, getting lost and not seeing much. 

If you have your own GPS unit or you’re one of the old breed who knows about topographical maps and compasses, then you can get topo maps here and you will find GPS coordinates later in this article.   

But for most folks the best thing to do is buy a good GPS app for your smartphone.  Some of these apps are really excellent and with a bit of practice, you should be able to find your way around Bisti well.  Personally, I’d recommend the All Trails Pro ($29.99/yr) app.  Another highly regarded product is the Gaia App ($20)

  •  These apps do not need a cell signal to work…which is critical since cell service is poor in Bisti.  They work work right off of GPS satellites.
  • All Trails Pro includes ‘tracks’ by other people who have previously made this hike and it includes their photos.  For example, you can pull up a hike I did in Oct 2018 and see exactly where the photo locations are that I found.  When hiking with this app, it can indicate your location within ten feet or so (which makes it pretty darn hard to get lost).  Think of it as a ‘virtual guide.’  $30 might be a lot for an app, but its cheaper than buying  stand-alone GPS unit…plus if you are coming all the way to Bisti to photograph, $30 seems to be a small price to ensure that you make the most of the experience (BTW: I don’t get a kickback from All Trails…or any of the items I recommend in this blog). 
  • Don’t buy one of these apps and use it for the first time when you visit Bisti.  There is a learning curve involved when using these apps.  You really need to try them out first near home and be comfortable using them before hiking out into the desert at Bisti.  
  • Buy a portable backup battery for your smartphone.  GPS apps will drain your battery and if your phone is the only way of finding your way back to the car, you don’t want to run out of juice.  I bought one of these backups a few years ago.  It’s lightweight and will recharge my phone multiple times but I’m sure you can find better/cheaper ones out there now.

Tip 2:  Stay in Farmington:

You can camp in Bisti (at no cost) but you will have to drive back to Farmington (about 40 minutes) to find bathrooms, food or water.  So unless you have an RV or have experience in Wilderness Camping,  getting a room in Farmington will be your best bet.   FYI…there are plans to build a pit toilet at the main Bisti Parking lot, but work has not started as of this date (Nov 2018) 

Tip 3: Visit in the Fall or Spring: 

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is open year round 24/7/365.  Good images can be made any month of the year.  However, some months are definitely more hospitable than others.

  • Many consider September and October to be the prime months to visit.  Temperatures range between 49°-76° and you can stay out from sunrise to sunset with no problems.   
  • April/May are also very good but since this is the is windy season, you have to be careful of the fine dust/sand that can be blown about.  
  • Summers often have some great clouds because of the Monsoons, but the heat can be absolutely brutal:  Bisti is in the desert and there is no water and little shade.  Other than early mornings, it can be challenging to be out for more than a few hours even if you have experience hiking in high temperatures.   Night photography can still be a good option during these months (the Milky Way core is out and the full arch is visible).  
  • Bisti does get snow in the winter and it can used to great advantage in your photography if you can handle the chilly temperatures  (Bisti is at 6500 feet, so it really does get cold here).
Monthly Averages & Records –  °F 
Date Average
Low
Average
High
Record
Low
Record
High
Average
Precipitation
Average
Snow
January 19° 38° -21° (1963) 63° (1986) 0.64″ 6.3″
February 23° 45° -10° (1989) 68° (1976) 0.43″ 5.9″
March 28° 53° 3° (1966) 80° (2004) 0.68″ 5″
April 34° 62° 10° (1980) 86° (1981) 0.56″ 1.2″
May 42° 71° 19° (1967) 92° (2002) 0.65″ 0.5″
June 52° 82° 26° (1974) 99° (2007) 0.57″ 0″
July 57° 86° 45° (1995) 100° (2007) 1.46″ 0″
August 55° 83° 35° (2000) 94° (1996) 1.84″ 0″
September 49° 76° 25° (1971) 90° (2004) 1.04″ 0″
October 39° 64° 14° (1993) 81° (1963) 1.04″ 1″
November 27° 49° -6° (1976) 76° (1977) 0.79″ 3.1″
December 21° 40° -12° (1990) 63° (1999) 0.53″ 7″

Tip 4:  Think about your Safety:

A Personal Locator Beacon

When you hike in Bisti, you will often not see another soul all day.  Plus cell service is not good.  Occasionally you might get a signal when you climb a bluff but you can’t count on it.  If you get seriously lost or have a medical emergency, help could be a long time coming…if it comes at all

Hiking with a friend is a good idea. 

Another option is to have a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).  PLBs are smaller than a cell phone and weigh about the same as a couple granola bars.  They accurately relay your position to a worldwide network of search and rescue satellites in case of emergency.  My PLB set me back about $280 from Amazon, which isn’t cheap unless you consider the alternative. Plus it made my wife happy…and that is truly priceless.  

There aren’t many big critters here, so you don’t need bear spray.  There are rattlesnakes, so don’t go sticking your hand into dark holes, but short of stupidity of that magnitude, you don’t have to worry much about wildlife.

It is the desert.  Lots of sunshine, 12 months of the year.  Wear a hat and sunscreen and carry plenty of water.

Tip 5:  Rain makes Bisti a mess:

You wouldn’t think it rains here in the desert, but it does.  And even a little sprinkle of rain will turn the surface into a heavy, boot-sticking goo that makes hiking miserable (I learned this the hard way).  If rain is in the forecast, it might be a good day to check out other photo ops in the area (like Shiprock.

How do you to get to Bisti?

Nearly every photographer going to Bisti wants to go to the ‘Eggs’.  Whether you call them ‘Cracked Eggs,’ Alien Eggs,’ ”the Alien Egg Nursery’  or ‘the Egg Hatchery’ it is the certainly the most famous and desirable photo location in Bisti, so that’s where we will start:Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

  • To download a PDF of this map, click on Bisti Hiking photo map merged final.
    • From Farmington, take SR 371 south about 36 miles, turn left onto Country Road CR 7297.  It is between Mile Marker 71 and 70 (closer to 70).  CR 7297 is a well maintained gravel road (as of Oct 2018).  You don’t need FWD or high-ground clearance.  CR 7297 will dead-end into CR 7290 in about 2 miles.  Turn left on 7290 and go about a mile until you see the large ‘Bisti’ Sign on your right. 

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

      Sign at Parking Lot: #1 on the map

      This is the main parking lot for Bisti.  It is probably the location that will pop up if you search for ‘Bisti Parking’ on Google Maps, Waze or most other apps.  There are a lot of different names for this parking lot, but let’s call it the Main Bisti Parking Area at Alamo Wash (South). Bisti is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and there is no fee to park or hike.   Lock up your car and hide your valuables then walk 100 yards to the cattle guard gate to your east that allows you through the barbed wire.

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

      Cattle Guard: #2 on map

      From here you will see two low red hills nearly directly east.  Walk to them. 

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

      The two ‘Red Hills’: #3 on map

      When you pass them, look further to the east for two distinctive black topped hills and head toward them. 

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

      The two Black Top Hills: #4 on map

       When you reach them, hike around the left (north) side of the two hills.  You should see black topped white cliffs in the distance to the east.  The “Alien Egg Hatchery” is right up against that white colored bluff/cliff that is part of the elevated ridge-line south of you that runs east/west.  The actual area is about half the size of a football field.  The “eggs” are about 3 to 4 feet long but can be hard to spot until you are nearly on top of them (I wandered around for 30 minutes the first time).   Use your smartphone app and it will take you right to them.  From the parking lot, it should take you about 35-45 minutes to reach the eggs (assuming you don’t stop or take any detours on the way). 

    • After checking out the eggs, there are a lot of other spots you can explore and photograph.  Below I’ll review a number of the most popular locations and provide photographic tips

Photo Tips for Bisti’s Top Attractions

South Bisti:

The Alien Egg Nursery (Cracked Eggs): #5 on maps

  • The Eggs look best right after sunrise or shortly before sunset when low angle direct sunlight emphasizes the shadows and textures on the eggs.  Of the two, sunset is often better because the bluff to the east of the Nursery blocks sunrise light until it is a bit higher in the sky. 
    • This is one of the few places (other than the parking lot) that you are likely to see other people.  You will often have other photographers keeping you company at sunset (but rarely any other time of day).
    • Get there early so you can scout out the eggs.  Some of them are much cooler than others.  Remember, the good light doesn’t last long and you don’t want to be stumbling about frantically trying to figure out where to shoot as the sun goes down…plan ahead and use that time productively.
  • Don’t only shoot from eye-level, try getting lower to the ground for a different and more intimate perspective.   Try to pick out a particularly nice ‘egg’ and get close so it fills up your foreground.
  • Night photography here is awesome with very little light pollution.  You can shoot the Milky Way to the south or flip around and shoot northward to capture star trails including the north star.
  • If you only have one day and you can’t be here at sunrise/sunset, then you should know that  the eggs just don’t photograph well during the middle of the day.  If that’s your only option then do yourself a favor and don’t spend too much time here, instead hit some other nearby locations that look great in direct light.  Most of them are only a 30 minute hike away and are detailed below in the section called ‘North Bisti’).

    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery

    Sunset at the Alien Egg Nursery. Check out the organic patterns on the surface of this egg.

    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery

    If the sky is clear on the horizon, you will be blessed with this dramatic low-angle warm sunlight.

    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery

    A subtle amount of Low Level Lighting on the foreground and across the desert floor in the background can make Milky Way Shots truly something out of this world.

The Bisti Arch: #6 on maps

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

The Bisti Arch. If my three year old granddaughter was in this shot she would look like Godzilla looming over Tokyo!

  • This spot is less than a 10 minute walk from the eggs and based on the number of references to it on the internet, it seems to be popular but I can’t for the life of me tell you why.
  • First off, it is really small…the ‘window’ is less than two feet tall.  Not exactly what you would see at Arches National Park!
  • If you set up your tripod very low to the ground, you can make it look larger (see photo) but even so, the results aren’t dramatic.  I’m sure someone, someday will take a great shot of the Bisti Arch, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be me.

Petrified Wood Logs: # 7 on maps

There is petrified wood all over Bisti, but the largest concentration might be just east of the eggs.  Some of these are full logs, many over 30′ in length.  I ran across 5 or 6 of them within 30 minutes.  I’ll admit that I’m fascinated by petrified wood but even if you don’t share my interest, this area is worth a look. 

From the ‘eggs’, walk east along the bluff/wall that overlooks the eggs.  There are a number of little alcoves, each with some photographic gems and oddities, like this hoodoo shown below with a chuck of petrified wood perched on top:

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

I’ve seen a lot of hoodoos in my time, but this was a first!

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

This log weaves in and out of the cliffside…

The first log is east of the Nursery around two small outcrops of light colored rock projecting out from the bluff that borders the badlands to the south of you.  It’s a long, nearly black log that rests on a 5′ tall white rock pedestal. It’s pretty neat but I have always found it difficult to capture its appeal in a photograph.

Just behind the bluff behind this log is a large flat area surrounded by walls.  Just continue walking east about 500 feet and look for an opening through the wall to your right.  Once you get into this area, you will find a number of huge logs .   

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Check out the root ball on this petrified cypress tree. Bisti is one of the few places where you will be able to make an image that has BOTH a hoodoo and a petrified log!

 

Hoodoo City:  #8 on map

This is a dense concentration of hoodoos close to #7.  They are in a depressed ‘amphitheater-like’ setting.  It is best photographed after the sun rises over the surrounding walls..

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

“Welcome to Hoodoo City N.M.    Population Zero”

Rock Garden:  #9 on map

The Bisti Rock Garden is an area with lots of small rounded rocks that photograph well near sunrise/sunset when the low angle light accentuates long shadows  There are also some small (7′ tall or less) hoodoos a bit to the west but they are not particularly photogenic during the middle of the day.   

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

The so-called ‘Elegant Hoodoo’ is about five minutes from the Rock Garden

Since there are much more photogenic places at Bisti for sunrises and sunsets, I never spend much time here.  Instead I start heading north where you will find the highest concentration of great photo ops.  Pull up your GPS app on your phone and follow it to the Beige Hoodoos. 

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Bisti Rock Garden…

North Bisti

Beige Hoodoos:  #10 on map

As you hike out of the wide and flat Alamo Wash, your GPS will lead you through some increasingly narrow valleys as you hike in a northerly direction.  If you are heading here from the eggs, it will take you about 30 minutes or so.  The Beige Hoodoos cover a substantial area…think of one or football fields…packed with squat 6′ tall hoodoos jammed together.  Plan on spending some time here.  There are so many hoodoos that it can be overwhelming and you might have a tendency to take wide-angle shots in an effort to get them all in a single frame (like I did below).  However many of these hoodoos are fascinating by themselves so invest some effort into photographing them as individuals as well.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

The Beige Hoodoos are a large and enjoyable area for you to explore.

Manta Ray Wing:  #11 on map

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

This is the view of the Manta as you walk up to it from below…

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

…but from another perspective it looks totally different…

As you follow your GPS app and walk north and east from the Beige Hoodoos, the pathways become narrower and more constructed.  Take your time, watch your footing and you’ll be fine. 

The Manta Ray is one of the more attractive wings you will see while winding through the little dry creeks.  Stop every few minutes and check out the surrounding ridgelines so you don’t miss the photographic opportunities  that populate this area. 

The Manta can look dramatically different depending on what angle you photograph it from. 

Even though I thought I had examined it from every angle, I was wrong.  A photographer named Mike Jones captured this perspective that makes it look like a F117 fighter jet!

Vanilla Hoodoos:  #12 on map

As the name implies, these hoodoos are very light in color and look quite dramatic when photographed in front of a nice cerulean blue sky.  Not as large an area as the Beige Hoodoos, but perhaps even more photogenic. 

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

The Vanilla Hoodoos are filled with fantastically shaped monuments that will fill quickly up your memory cards.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

I call this one the ‘Star Destroyer’…one of many the many delights awaiting you in the Vanilla Hoodoos.

There is also quite a bit of petrified wood in this area

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

A stump of petrified wood provides foreground for the Vanilla Hoodoos…

Stone Wings:  #13

As you are  hiking in from the south (from the Eggs or Beige Hoodoos), you will have to negotiate some uneven footing and narrow passages.  Again, just be careful and don’t rush.  Other than the Eggs, the Stone Wings are probably Bisti’s most famous photo op.   These large wings are perched on an easily accessible bluff and are truly magnificent…certainly among the most photogenic I’ve seen anywhere.  Wonderful at sunrise and sunset and easy to photograph from multiple angles and perspectives.  It is also an absolutely incredible location for night photography. 

Bisti Badlands: star trails Stone Wings night photography

If you position yourself south of the stone wings, you can shoot great star trails with the north star anchoring the image.

Bisti Badlands Milky Way Night Photography Stone Wings

If you walk up the bluff that the stone wings are perched on, you can shoot them with the Milky Way visible to the south.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Stone Wings

The warm, orange light of sunrise illuminates the Stone Wings in all their glory. The wing on the right reminds me of a Klingon Battle Cruiser but from other angles it looks like a seal. Either way it is likely to be one of the most uniquely sculpted and sensuous wings you will see anywhere.

Conversing Hoodoos:  #14

These tall, elegant Hoodoos are one of my favorite spots in Bisti…right up there with the ‘eggs’ and ‘stone wings.’  Unlike many hoodoos here, these suckers are tall…easily 15′ or so and they sit on the side of a bluff with a commanding view of the valley (Hunter Wash).  The best light here is during the morning because of a bluff behind them (to the west) that blocks sunlight in late afternoon, but good photos can be taken here all day.  Don’t be afraid to explore around them for better angles.  The shot below was taken hand-held while on my back wedged in a crevice trying to capture that elusive afternoon light.  Desperation can definitely inspire creativity!  FYI…some folks call these the “Talking Hoodoos” or the “Bonnet Hoodoos.”

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Tatooine? Altair IV? Vulcan? Nope…just another couple Hoodoos in Bisti!   I think the Conversing Hoodoos are particularly photographic and the surrounding vista and dramatic clouds are just icing on the cake.

There is a whole lot more to photograph in Bisti and I’m sure that there are wonderful locations that I’ve failed to include in this blog.  One great source to find other locations is the Bisti Facebook page.  Many of the members are locals who know the area far better than I and they post some amazing photos.  You can also check out this link to an interactive Google map that explores additional locations that may interest you.

Now that we’ve reviewed the photo locations, lets finish up by going over some final tips…

Tip 6:  Try Hunter Wash on your second day:

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Map

Bisti North (Hunter Wash) Trailhead directions

As you may have already noticed, most of the really good photogenic stuff here is not around the Eggs….it is in the northern section of Bisti.   If you are going to visit for more than one day then you should concentrate on the northern area on your second day.  If so, then the Bisti Parking Area at Hunter Wash (North) is where you want to go. 

To download a PDF of this map click on Map North Parking lot.

This trail has a couple of big advantages:

  1. It it closer to the northern part of Bisti and will save you over an hour (round trip) of hiking (assuming you are not going to go to the Eggs again). 
  2. If you want to photograph the Stone Wings, Conversing Hoodoos, Beige Hoodoos or Vanilla Hoodoos at sunset, sunrise or after dark, this is a safer route for hiking than from the main parking area.  This is because it will allow you to avoid most of the awkward and difficult trails you would have to use if you try to hike in from the southern part of Bisti (from the main parking lot/eggs area.)

As noted on my graphic, there are some watch-outs:

  1. This parking area is a bit harder to find but with the directions on this map you shouldn’t have any problems during daylight hours. 
  2. Nighttime is another story.  As you get close to the parking area it can be hard to even see the road …if not careful, you could make wrong turn or mistake a ‘path’ for a road and end up getting stuck in loose sand.  If you are going to park here in the dark, scout it out during daylight first.
  3. These roads are not maintained as regularly as those leading to the Main Parking Area at Alamo Wash (South). 

    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

    The cattle guard at the Hunter Wash trailhead. #15 on map above

    They are dirt, not gravel but a regular passenger car should have no problems (as of Oct 2018)

  4. This parking area can flood after rainfall.  Avoid parking here if rain is forecasted.

For details on how to hike to the ‘stone wings’ from the parking area check out a ‘track’ I recorded on All Trails for this hike, you can see it here.

Tip 7: Get out of the Gutter

Look for the white areas and then go check them out.

When hiking in Bisti, your natural tendency is to walk in the washes (flat valley areas).  Instead, occasionally climb up on the little hills and bluffs and scout around.  Although it is a bit more work, you will find that often some really interesting stuff is pretty close but you just couldn’t see it from down in the washes.   When you do get on top of a hill, look for white colored areas (as opposed to the regular darker coffee-colored landscape).  These lighter areas are usually the ones that have most photographic interest  (like hoodoos/wings).   

Tip 8: Don’t Believe in First Impressions

When you first walk up to a new hoodoo or wing, resist the temptation to just start taking photos.  Instead, walk completely around it.  Look at it from different angles and different elevations (low to the ground vs eye level).  Nearly always the best composition will NOT be the first one you see.  I have missed some great opportunities by not following my own advice here (like the Manta Ray I already mentioned).

Tip 9:  Walking on Sunshine

Stone Wings at Bisti Badlands Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Even at noon, you can capture wonderful images at Bisti.

Don’t shoot only at sunrise and sunset.  Certainly sunrises and sunsets at Bisti can be sublime but the landscape is so unique here that many locations photograph well during day.  Hoodoos and petrified wood, in particular, can be stunning, especially if you have a brilliant blue sky for contrast.  The only downside is that you won’t have anytime for sleep, especially if you hike out early for sunrise, shoot all day, capture the sunset and then stick around for some night photography….   But isn’t that a wonderful problem to have?

Tip 10:  Water is Good for more than Drinking

Spray some water on petrified wood before you photograph it.  The water can really make the color pop .

Tip 11:  Forget the Flip-Flops

Although the footing in most of Bisti is good, I’d recommend boots with good ankle support.  I stumbled a few times (especially when out in the dark)….you really don’t want to break an ankle here.

Tip 12:  Bring your Tripod and Polarizer

Even during bright sunshine,  I find that I often need my tripod because of the need to get a wide depth of field.  Obviously this requires smaller apertures and longer shutter speeds which make a tripod critical. 

A polarizer is great for intensifying the incredible blue skies.  

Tip 13:  Save weight on Lenses

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Monochrome Magic at Bisti: The Conversing Hoodoos

During daylight photography at Bisti, I use my 24mm-70mm zoom for over 80% of my shots (on a full frame camera).  You won’t have much need for a long lenses here.

You might want to bring a wide angle lens.  I used my 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8 when photographing the eggs so I could get a frame filling egg in the foreground and still show the landscape behind it.  This was my go-to lens for night photography as well,

If you are into micro photography, you might be interested in the lichens that grow on the petrified wood, if so, bring that micro lens.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Lichens live off of the minerals composing Bisti’s Petrified Wood

Tip 14:  Dust Control

The sand/dust in Bisti can be pretty pervasive.  Bring lots of Microfiber cloths and maybe a small can of compressed air.  Change lenses sparingly.  Also, bring a small towel to put down underneath your backpack when you take it off.  This will keep dust from sticking to your backpack and coating your gear inside.

One last tip:  Don’t forget about Black and White 

It is easy to get enamored with the incredibly blue skies and their contrast with the light-colored hoodoos and wings.  But that very contrast can make for dramatic black and white images, especially if you are blessed with some wicked clouds.  

But don’t despair if blue skies aren’t to be seen,  Overcast skies can really be used to great advantage in Black & White.  Actually, eliminating color can serve to draw attention to the bizarre shapes and textures that are unique to Bisti (see ‘Desert Dreadnaught’ below). 

“Desert Dreadnaught”

 

Wrapping up

If you do make it out to Bisti and you found this guide helpful, then I’d ask for a small favor in return.  Just pop me a brief email and tell me about one thing I left out…or got wrong.  I’d like to make this a living document that helps my fellow photographers in the future and I’d greatly appreciate your help!

Enjoy your time here: it is a landscape photographer’s wonderland.  But even more, I’m sure you will find Bisti a truly spiritual place that you will remember long after the photographs are forgotten.

Jeff

 

 

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

 

Posted in Landscape Photography, Night Photography, Photo Tips and Guides, Southwest U.S.A. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer’s Perspective

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Can you say BFE?

New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands is one of those places that most folks have never heard of but landscape photographers  idolize as an ‘icon’.   So why is that? 

I guess we could start with the fact that the whole area was once the shore of an ancient sea which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago.  And…so what, how does that make Bisti cool?   Well, the answer lies in what happened after the dinosaurs (including the “Bisti Beast”) had their time in the sun   Erosion over the millennia on Bisti’s unique geology created vast areas of absolutely bizarre and delightful rock formations unique on earth.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Not of this earth…

So why isn’t it famous and packed with tourists?    Well, first of all Bisti is way off the beaten path…about an hour from the nearest hotel.   Plus, this isn’t a ‘pull up and whip out the iPhone’ kinda place.  Once you park you have to hike across a desert for at least 45 minutes.  Yes, I said desert…which gets  a bit toasty in the summer with temperatures soaring over 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius).  Oh…and did I mention that there isn’t a visitor’s center, or bathrooms, or water, or food, or shade or trails, even decent cell coverage for that matter?  

 

Maybe that’s why you’d have to be a crazy photographer to consider Bisti a “must see.”   But to be honest, even though landscape photographers say they love Bisti, you won’t find many that have actually been there.   I was certainly guilty…it had been on my ‘bucket list’ for ten years or more…but I had still only seen photographs of it. 

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective Cracked Eggs the Alien Egg Hatchery

The ‘Hatchery’…more about this spot later.

But last month all the planets aligned and I finally found myself hiking out into the Bisti Badlands in the cool fall weather.   So after a decade of anticipation, how did it measure up?  In this blog I’ll discuss my impressions and share photos so you can see for yourself.  If you are a photographer and plan to visit Bisti yourself, check out my free “Photographers’s Guide to Bisti” which is chock full of maps, tips and other info that will help make your trip as productive as possible. Down the road I’ll write a longer blog in more of a ‘how-to’ format with lots of photographer specific info.

First of all, Bisti really is in the middle of nowhere.  Some days I would hike from before sunrise to after sunset and see only one or two other souls the whole time.  Seriously, I saw more coyotes than people.   Other than the occasional footprint, there are few signs of mankind here.   If you are like me and enjoy some time alone, then you will appreciate the solitude.  It is deeply peaceful place.

Bisti isn’t Disney.  Once you leave the parking lot, there are no rangers, no boardwalks, no trails, no signs, no way to find your way unless you have a guide or can use GPS.  Maybe that’s why they call it the Bisti Wilderness.

Bisti is about as alien as anyplace on earth.  For example, would it really surprise you to see the image below in Luke Skywalker’s photo album from his boyhood home on Tatooine?

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Would it be difficult to believe that this image was created a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?  The ‘Conversing Hoodoos’ are tall, graceful formations with a commanding view of the surrounding valley.

The area is huge.  The Bisti Wilderness covers over 45,000 square acres.  Even though I hiked 10-20 miles per day, I covered only a small fraction of the area.  You could literally spend weeks exploring here and find something new every day. 

Bisti is full of surprises.  I had done a lot of research before my trip but even so, I was unprepared for the sheer number of hoodoos, arches, wings and formations of every possible, misshapen and contorted shape imaginable.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Hoodoos, Wings and Arches…oh my!

Known as the Vanilla Hoodoos, this is one of many football field sized areas full of hoodoos you will come across in the Badlands

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

The ‘Bisti Arch’ is no more than two feet tall. But you can make it look larger by getting your tripod down to just a couple inches over the sand.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Every variety, every shape, every size…

 

 

 

 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of wings and hoodoos. 

I had heard that you could find shards of petrified wood at Bisti.  Well, heck with that…I found whole trees:

 

One of my neatest ‘finds’ was the hoodoo shown below: 

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Look again…yup that is a  hunk of petrified wood on top….only in Bisti!

Yes, Bisti was alien during the day but it truly was magical at night.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

The ‘Stone Wings’ are one of the best known locations in Bisti. These ‘star trails’ were created by combining 25 or so four minute exposures ‘. I used my backpack as a pillow while the camera automatically took a series of shots for over an hour. It was peaceful, quiet and, to be totally honest, just a tad spooky.

Other than the mournful howling of coyotes, the loudest sound you will hear is the beating of your own heart as you gaze up at the Milky Way.  The nearest towns are 30-50 miles away so light pollution is minimal and Bisti’s 6500 feet of elevation ensures that the stars are incredibly colorful, bright and crisp.  

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective Stone Wings under the Milky Way

That’s Mars in the upper left. I was lucky to have a small cloud pass just under it when I was making this exposure.

The Bisti Badlands are beautiful but barren.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

The “Beige Hoodoo’s”…literally hundreds of them.

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

Badlands…as far as the eye can see.   Nary a tree or critter in sight..

By that I mean that this isn’t a place conducive to life.  No grass, no trees. An occasional, desiccated scrawny bush and some insignificant lichens growing on rocks.  Perhaps a few birds and you might even flush a jackrabbit if you are lucky…but don’t expect to see much else green or moving. 

 

 

 

 

 

Bisti is the kind of place that really fires up your imagination.  You see the wild shapes sculpted millions of years of persistent erosion and then your brain struggles to make sense of what you are looking at. 

For example, my eyes saw this hoodoo:

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective Stone WingsBut to my brain, it was a Klingon Battle Cruiser:

   

 

Then I noticed this one :

But my inner Jedi saw a Star Destroyer bearing down on me!

 

As I explored Bisti my mind kept drifting and I found myself daydreaming about Sci-Fi movies.   Apparently that doesn’t make me unique…after all, the most famous place in the Badlands was named after a scene in the classic Sigourney Weaver Alien movie…

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

This set from the movie ‘Aliens’ inspired some creative soul years ago when he/she named Bisti’s “Alien Egg Hatchery”…

The ‘eggs’ are a collection of rounded boulders, each about 3′ long or so.  From a distance they seem nondescript but as you get close they really do appear eerily organic.  The experts will tell you that they are are remnants of limestone tubes that eroded into egg shapes, but your imagination might come up with a more frightening explanation.  The Egg Hatchery can be wildly dramatic near dawn or dusk when highlighted by direct, low-angle sunlight.   At night, it just takes a little low level lighting (LLL) on the eggs to create stunning images. 

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

An image like this only needs Ripley to jump out and start roasting these limestone eggs with a flamethrower…

 

Bisti Badlands: A Photographer's Perspective

The wonderful low angle sunset light really makes the whole scene pop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found Bisti to be one of the most entrancing, memorable and emotionally stirring locations I’ve visited.  It is easy to understand why Native American’s consider the area to be sacred.

Just the same, Bisti clearly isn’t for everyone, but if you want to see something totally different, don’t mind solitude and can put up with a bit of walking, it might just sing to you like it has to me.

Jeff

Reminder to you photographers out there:  If this place interests you, I also have written a comprehensive Bisti guide for photographers.  Just click here to check it out!

“Warp Speed Mr. Sulu”

 

 

Bisti Badlands Photography

Bisti Badlands:  A photographers perspective

 

Bisti Badlands Photography a photographer’s perspective

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
Posted in Landscape Photography, Milky Way Photography, Night Photography, Southwest U.S.A. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg Russia has been on my wife Anita’s bucket-list for years.  Earlier this year she booked us on a Russian river cruise.  We spent a few days in Moscow and then sailed to St. Petersburg.  Yes, there were a mind-numbing number of tours to royal palaces packed with art and fountains.  But being the saint that she is, Anita carved out some opportunities designed just for me to have fun with my camera.  I particularly had fun shooting at night and in this blog I’ll share some of my favorite images from the trip.

The night Moscow tour we were on gave me a paltry 20 minutes in Red Square after dark.  Fortunately Anita and I had scouted out Red Square the day before so we were able to make the most of our limited time.  I started out with the Icon of all Russian Icon’s:  St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Night photo of St. Basil's in Red Square. Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Everyone’s favorite Russian: St. Basil’s Cathedral

With the clock ticking, we darn near ran to the other end of Red Square to get this shot of the Zhukov statue in front of the State Historical Building.

Marshall Zhukov statue in Red Square. Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

‘Night Rider’

 In retrospect, running around Red Square at night with a rifle-looking tripod might not have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done.  When the military guards spotted me sprinting toward Lenin’s Tomb, the look in their eyes could have melted lead.  Fortunately, I’m probably not the only crazy tourist they’ve ever seen and their AK-47s stayed slung on their backs.

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Lenin’s Tomb in foreground with the Kremlin wall leading to St. Basil’s

We barely made it back to the bus as it was pulling away and I’ll tell you, the old heart was really pumping!

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Russian Reflections: View of the Moscow River and the Kremlin

We also stopped at a river park near the Moscow State University.  It’s a huge and impressive old Stalinist building and like most Russian tourist locations, there was a well-tended flowerbed in front of it.

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Known as Stalin’s ‘Seven Sisters’, Moscow State Univ. is one of a group of seven similar skyscrapers built in Moscow between 1947-53

Our 4 hour tour wrapped up around midnight and left me wishing I had more time to photograph this amazing city at night.

We had a lot more time in St. Petersburg.  We hired a local guide, Oleg,  who drove us around in a 1979 refurbished Lada (a soviet rip-off of a Fiat 124).  His pricing was so reasonable that we hired him for two nights which allowed Anita and I to see quite a bit of the city. 

Although it was a bit south of the city center, the place I was most looking forward to photographing was Chesme Church.  I had fallen in love with it the first time I had seen a picture of it years ago.  Yes,  I do love the traditional  Russian Orthodox churches like St. Basils, but Chesme has a unique attraction all its own.

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Wedding Cake and Flowers: Chesme Church.  A bit of focus stacking allowed me to keep everything sharp in the shot from front to back.

The Winter Palace (Catherine’s Palace) is in Pushkin, just south of St. Petersburg.  It closed early on the night we visited but I had time to grab a few shots:

Winter Palace Night Photography St. Petersburg

Catherine the Great had over 220 pounds of gold used to gild her Winter Palace…and it makes quite the impression.

Winter Palace Night Photography St. Petersburg

‘Evening Peace’:  Cathedral Of St Catherine in PushkinWe headed back into downtown St. Peterburg  where I soon fell in love with the brilliant, blue domes of Trinity Cathedral. The main dome was destroyed in a terrible fire in 2006.  Fortunately, it has been completely rebuilt.

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Trinity Cathedral

Being a history nut, I had to go see the Cruiser Aurora

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

At 9.40pm on 25 October 1917 a shot from the Aurora signaled the beginning of the October Bolshevik Revolution

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

A long exposure resulted in these cool streaks of light from cars as they passed by one of St. Petersburg’s oldest churches: Church of St. Panteleimon the Healer;

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Smolny Cathedral is amazing.  I can see why it took nearly 90 years to build

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

That’s Oleg’s Lada in the parking lot.

 

The square in front of the Hermitage was breathtaking at night.  We spent a long while soaking in the atmosphere…I could almost feel the history seeping up thru the cobblestones.Hermitage Night Photography in St. PetersburgNight Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

There are no shortage of amazing churches in St. Petersburg…unfortunately, the one I most wanted to photograph, the incredible ‘Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood’ was covered in Scaffolding…maybe next time.

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Building Jewelry: details on the Temple of Assumption

Our ten days in Russia were a visual delight.  Don’t get me wrong, the natural beauty of a quiet trail in the woods with the Milky Way arching over me can’t be beat but this was incredible in its own right.

Jeff

PS:  I know that most of you read this blog because of your interest in Nature photography, not travel shots.  So you will be pleased to know that I’m heading off to Colorado’s San Juan Mountains to catch the fall colors tomorrow.  Then I’m going to hike the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico for a few days.  When I get back I should have whole new batch of material for some solid Landscape Photography blogs.  Talk to you then!

 

And since you can’t have too many pictures of St. Basil’s, I’ll leave you with this:

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

 

 

 

 

Night Photography in Moscow and St. Petersburg

Posted in Night Photography Tagged , , |

There won’t be a 2018 Lake Jesup Wildflower Season

The rainfall the past few months has resulted in quite a bit of flooding in Central Florida…but not as bad as we experienced in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.  Last year, the flooding wiped out the annual bloom of sunflowers in the low-lying fields on the north shore of Lake Jesup, but I was hopeful that we wouldn’t get skunked two years in a row.

I drove out there today to check it out.  Unfortunately, the fields are totally flooded and almost no sunflowers were visible.  Normally, by this time of the year (first week of October) you would see vast fields of immature sunflowers and pockets of blooms.   The lack of even immature plants out there today pretty well wipes out my hopes for 2018. 

I’m afraid this year will be a bust and we are going to just have to wait until 2019 to see this spectacle again.

 

Jeff

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations, Wildflowers Tagged , , , |

New gallery of Underwater photography

I’d be the first to admit that I’m a perfectionist.  I wouldn’t have accomplished most the things I’m proud of if I wasn’t.  It’s just part of who I am.

“Wreck Diver” One of the shots in my new Underwater Portfolio

But I have to admit it has its downsides.  One of the biggest is that I don’t consider something ‘done’ until it is perfect.  And since perfection is a nearly impossible goal, I find it sometimes difficult to finally say “it’s good enough” and declare a project completed.

One example of this is my underwater photography.  I’ve been seriously shooting underwater for about 5 years but I’ve never added a gallery of my underwater work to my website.  I’ve had requests for it but I never thought it was ‘good’ enough to justify a portfolio.  

Well, on my recent trip to St. Lucia something ‘clicked’ and I started getting images underwater that I was really pleased with.  When I got home, it inspired me to spend a couple weeks looking through and reworking my underwater portfolio.

It isn’t perfect but I’m going to share it anyway.  Hopefully it will inspire others to try scuba diving and see the wonders that lie below 70% of the earth’s surface.

Click here to see my new Underwater Gallery.

Posted in Underwater Photography

Underwater St. Lucia

St. Lucia Pitons

Yup, those are the Pitons. The tallest one darn near killed me…it was like climbing a ladder for two miles!

My family recently returned from a couple of weeks on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.  Known as ‘the Helen of the West Indies’ it fully lives up to the nickname.  It’s lush, volcanic and reminds me of Kauai (which I consider to be the most gorgeous place on earth).

The first week was spent with family.  We hiked an insanely steep volcanic mountain (Gros Piton), went horseback riding, zip-lined, rode ATVs and drank a substantial amount of rum.  Plus I learned how to drive on the left side of the road…and that was truly entertaining!

The second week was just my wife Anita and I.  One of the reasons we had picked St. Lucia was because of the incredible scuba diving there: we took full advantage and dove every day.

Over the past five years, I’ve struggled  to grasp the fundamentals of underwater photography…with mixed results.  But on this trip, my equipment worked perfectly (which is NEVER a sure thing).  Plus, I fell into a groove and started to get images I was really happy with.  These may not be ‘world class’ photos but just the same, I want to share them so you can appreciate the amazing, bizarre and captivating world that lays just below the ocean’s surface.

Underwater St. Lucia

This little gal was a very cooperative subject and let me fill a good part of a memory card while capturing her portrait.

Underwater St. Lucia

Anita indulging in her favorite underwater activity: Wreck Diving.

Underwater St. Lucia Underwater St. Lucia

Underwater St. Lucia

Scorpionfish: Creator of the original ghillie suit!

 

Underwater St. Lucia

Jack Elam had nothing on the Lizardfish

Underwater St. Lucia

“Don’t look up!” Banded Coral Shrimp just hanging around.

“Who…me?!” Juvenile Grouper hiding in a Strawberry Vase Sponge

Underwater St. Lucia

♫You Poor unfortunate soul♪ Vocal stylings by the Goldentail Morey Eel..

 

Underwater St. Lucia

“I have you now!” They might look like the Darth Vader of the depths but Moray Eels actually go out of their way to avoid divers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underwater St. Lucia

“Waiting for the Starship Troopers” This Spider Crab looks like an extra in my favorite Science Fiction movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underwater St. Lucia

One of the earth’s most elegant creatures: a young Spotted Drum

One of the earth's most elegant creatures: a young Spotted Drum

A whole bed of garden eels. They sway back and forth in unison as the current shifts.

I know that most of you read this blog because of an interest in landscape or wildlife photography, but I hope you don’t mind this little side-trip into another fascinating part of our incredible earth.

Jeff

 

PS:  If you go diving in St. Lucia, Anita and I highly recommend Scuba Steve’s.  Steve and Shirley have one of the most personable dive operations we’ve experienced anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underwater St. Lucia

 

 

 

Posted in Caribbean/Central & South America, Underwater Photography Tagged , , |

Foxy Lady: Photographing the South American Grey Fox

Patagonia is a slam-dunk prerequisite on any landscape photographer’s bucket list.  It had been a dream of mine for years and I finally had the chance to experience it last month.  It absolutely lived up to the hype.  The landscapes were truly epic… which makes it all the more ironic that my first blog about Patagonia is about wildlife, not landscapes.  Let me give you the backstory.

I was on a tour (Joseph van Os Photosafaris) with another dozen avid photographers.  We had been in Patagonia for about two weeks and were reluctantly on the long drive back to the airport to take us home.   We had to stop at a small border outpost on the Chile/Argentina border to go thru the bureaucratic nonsense that seems to be a characteristic in some parts of the world.  While we were waiting in the bus, someone hollered out “Hey, is that a fox?”  Foxy Lady: Photographing the South American Grey FoxSure enough, a Patagonian Grey Fox was crossing the dirt road not more than 50′ in front of us!

Pandemonium broke out as a dozen frantic photographers started wildly swinging their long lenses around in the crowded bus.  Fortunately, I had my huge 200-400 already set up and ready to go and I managed to squeeze off a few shots before my view was blocked.  I quickly checked the shots and was happy to see that they were pretty good…of course I was shooting through the bus windshield so the shots were never going to be perfectly crisp, but heck, it was the first fox we had seen on the trip.  For that matter, I’d only had the chance to photograph foxes a couple of times in my life and those images were, to be honest,  pretty pathetic.  So I was tickled pink to get a decent shot, especially since I hadn’t hoped for much of anything on the long dusty ride to the airport.

There I am, thinking about all this when someone yells out “Hey, there’s another one on the other side of the bus!”  The bus groaned and shifted violently to the right as everyone scrambled to the windows.  The shutters started clicking away!   

Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.

This fox was back-lit and regally posing in a windy field

Within seconds, he jumped a stream and scooted off out of sight:

Immediately all 12 of us put our heads down and started checking out our shots on our camera’s LCD screens.  Well, that lasted maybe about a half a second until I heard “There’s another one right behind us!”   This time there wasn’t anyone in my way and I started peeling off 7 frames per second: Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.  And then, this silly fox just plops her tush down in the middle of the road and starts posing for me like a supermodel on a runway!

Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.

“Foxy Lady ‘ (apologies to Jimi Hendrix)

I took about 75 frames (that look pretty much identical to this one) before my new gal-pal got up and trotted off out of sight. 

By now, we really, really wanted to get off the bus…but the border guards wouldn’t allow it since they had a very detailed and inflexible procedure.  And that procedure required us to remain on the bus until they were ready to walk us into their office and stamp our passports.   Only AFTER that was done, we would be free to get off the bus and photograph to our heart’s content.  So we waited patiently (NOT) for what seemed like an hour (probably five minutes).   Finally we were led into the shack, did the paperwork and got back into the bus…but by now (of course) there were no foxes to be seen.  

“Fox! Fox! Fox!” someone yelled….the ensuing stampede out the door was like something at a Cincinnati Who concert.

Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.

Finally able to shoot without windshields between us and our quarry, we fired away.  Then someone saw another one behind us:

Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.

By now it had finally dawned on us that there had to be at least a half-dozen foxes in the immediate area and they clearly weren’t shy. 

At one point I nearly freaked out when one fox casually sauntered toward me and for some reason I couldn’t get a good focus.  It took be a couple frantic seconds to realize he was too close for my lens to focus! (my 200-400 can’t focus less than 20′ away).  I had to burst out laughing…I mean, how often are you TOO close?!

Suddenly, one fox froze as it spotted something coming out of the brush:

Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.

“And what do we have here?!”

Someone next to me said “Get ready, this could get interesting!”  I looked up and quickly saw what they meant:  there were two house cats not ten feet away from the fox:

Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.

“I see lunch!”

Folks started yelling at the cats to run for their lives…but then, the strangest thing happened.  The fox and cats just looked at each other, sniffed once and just nonchalantly walked right by in opposite directions. 

Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.

“Hi Ed…how’s the wife and kids?”

In retrospect, I’d guess the border guards feed all of them.  So the foxes and cats likely know each other well.  Which would also mean that seeing the foxes there was probably not the once in a lifetime thing I originally assumed.

Anyway, we were still scratching our heads trying to figure this out when another fox just laid down in the grass in front of me. I got down low to the ground to get an eye-level perspective and leisurely ripped off dozens of shots capturing the many expressions and moods of this little guy.  Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia. Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia. Foxy Lady" Photographing the South American Grey Fox in Patagonia.

We had a schedule to meet and soon had to get back on the road…but by then I had hundreds of fox photos on my image card.  I had shots that were perfectly sharp, well exposed, had great compositions, you name it.  I was sure that I had the best shot of the day.  But I was wrong.  That shot was taken by my friend Mark Frey.  He was getting off the bus while some of us were concentrating on a fox in the distance.  He snapped this classic:  

“Hey, where did that fox go? Anyone see it?”

It makes me snicker every time I see it.  My thanks to Mark for letting me include it in the blog.

Okay so, why did our time with the foxes make such an impression on me?  Lots of reasons I guess…but the feeling induced by massive quantities of adrenaline pumping thru my system probably has something to do with it.  It was exciting.  It was unexpected.  It was fun.  It was something I will never forget.

And when you get right down to it, what more can you really ask of life?

Take care my friends,

Jeff

 

PS:  I promise my next blog will include some of favorite landscape shots from Patagonia…stay tuned!  In the meantime, check out my newly published Patagonia Gallery!

 

 

 

Foxy Lady: Photographing the South American Grey Fox

Posted in Patagonia, Wildlife Tagged , , , |

4K Monitors: A truly impactful upgrade for Photographers

Photographers are well-known equipment junkies and gear-heads.  I’m certainly guilty.  God only knows how much stuff I’ve bought over the years…but to be truly honest, it’s rare for any new gizmo to provide anything more than a minor or incremental improvement.

There have been two exceptions.  The first was when I bought a Nikon D800E.  That incredible camera had a 36 megapixel sensor, which was a 3x improvement over my old (and beloved) D700.  I would pull up new photos on my monitor and exclaim “Holy Crap” (well,  something like that)…truly, the improvement in resolution and the resulting amount of detail was absolutely staggering. 

The second exception just occurred this month.   It was a complete surprise to me because I was just replacing an old piece of equipment that had busted and I didn’t really expect the new item would be all that much better.  Basically, my monitor died on me and I had to get a new one.   Before it broke I had read about the new 4K monitors but thought my old one got the job done and didn’t think there was a good reason to upgrade.  Well, I was wrong

My new monitor is about the same size as my old one (27″…although this really means about 19″ wide).  The difference is the resolution.  My old monitor had a resolution of about 1920 x 1080 pixels.  My new BenQ SW 271 has twice the resolution (3840 x 2160).  Which sounds nice, but so what?  Well here’s the thing, modern cameras have incredible resolution.  My current Nikon D810, for example, produces images that are 7360 × 4912 pixels.  So when I was looking at one of my images on my old monitor, it could only display about 25% of the actual resolution contained in my image…my new monitor displays twice as much.  See below.

4K Monitors: A truly impactful upgrade for Photographers 4K monitor for photographers

The resolution upgrade is dramatic and incredibly helpful for photographers

 

Ok, but what does that really mean to a photographer?

Put it this way, I have a portfolio that features the cream of my work…150 shots or so that I use to ‘wow’ my clients.  Since I got the BenQ, I’ve had to rework nearly 20% of those shots because of imperfections I had never seen before.  Keep in mind, these images were the absolute best I had…with countless hours devoted to making them (I thought) flawless .  When I first saw them with the BenQ I was stunned.  Flaws, artifacts and issues jumped off the screen that I simply hadn’t seen with my old monitor.

Not only was the resolution a revelation, but the color accuracy was as well.  I have calibrated my monitors for years to ensure accurate color but even with calibration, most monitors can’t capture the full range of colors.  The BenQ can display an impressive 99%+ of Adobe RGB colors which means you can really see all the colors captured by your camera 

Again, so what does that really mean to a photographer? 

Well, in my case I had never noticed before that my photos appear over-saturated on the web when viewed via Internet Explorer.  In other words, the same photograph looks significantly different if one source is the web (via Internet Explorer) and the other is one of my internal files.  Why?  Because Internet Explorer often fails to use the correct color space a photo was processed with.  And if you use the wrong color space, the colors can be messed up (I use Adobe RGB as my color space and my images look fine on other browsers, like Chrome or Safari).  My assumption now  is that my old monitor’s inability to show the full color spectrum effectively hid  the over-saturation issue I now can see on Internet Explorer.  As a professional photographer, it was mind-blowing that the 15% or so of the public that use Internet Explorer as their web-browser were seeing nearly cartoonish versions of my work (I’ve since switched over to Chrome as my personal browser and taken steps to address the issue for those of you that use Internet Explorer).

Now perhaps most of you are way ahead of me and have already invested in a 4K monitor.  But my guess is that although photographers are ‘gear-heads’, we tend to concentrate on cameras, lenses, tripods and the other ‘fun’ stuff and only spend what we absolutely have to for the ‘boring’ items like computers and monitors.  If that sounds familiar and you have top-notch equipment, display your work on the internet and/or sell large prints, you might want to learn more about 4K monitors.  I wish I had years ago.

Jeff

PS:  The reason I wrote this article was to highlight the advantages of a 4K monitor for professional photographers.  This isn’t really an equipment review, you can check out the web for those.  Plus, this isn’t a product testimonial.  To be honest, I had never even heard of BenQ before my old monitor broke, but my internet research indicated the specs were excellent, the reviews were solid and the price was significantly lower than the competition.  And to ensure total transparency, BenQ didn’t give me money or a price break on my monitor….darn it. 

 

4K Monitors: A truly impactful upgrade for Photographers 4K monitor for photographers

My workstation with my new BenQ and my secondary monitor.

 

 

 

4K monitor for photographers

Posted in Equipment Tagged , |

The Votes are In! Your picks for my top dozen shots of 2017

Hi all,

I was flattered by the number of you that took the time to vote for your choice of my top shots of 2017.  It was the first time I had done a ‘reader’s poll’ and I wasn’t sure about how many folks would respond…guess I shouldn’t have worried!

So, how about the results?! 

#1  The vote for the top shot wasn’t even close, nearly half of my readers selected “Heavenly Hanalei” as my best image of 2017:

Milky Way over Hanalai Bay, Kauai

Perhaps no surprise, this was also my best selling print of 2017

#2  The voting for the next couple spots was much tighter, but “Frustration’s Child” took the second spot:

Mount Shuskan

It’s funny to me now but improvising when I took this shot resulted in a far better image than I would have captured if I had shot from the location I had originally planned to.

#3  This night image of a full moon shining on the caldera of the Kīlauea Volcano was also one of my personal favorites:

“Lunar Limelight” I have a copy of this one hanging by my desk at home.

#4  Hawaii’s beauty was popular with my readers:  this image Kauai’s Queens Bath ranked fourth:

Queen's Bath Kauai sunrise

“Fit for a Queen”

 

#5  was this colorful sunrise of Washington state’s Mt. Baker taken from Artist’s Ridge:

“Here comes the Sun”

#6 was an image from Rodeo Beach near San Francisco.  This spot had been on my ‘bucket list’ for years and I was blessed to be there on day with a killer sunset:

I always thought this looked like a shark rising vertically out of the ocean…can you see it?

#7 This adorable Alaskan sea Otter was my highest ranking wildlife shot of the year:

“Morning Prayer”

#8 Back to Hawaii for this dramatic view of lava, ocean and steam:

Lava flowing into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii

“Vulcan’s Cauldron”

#9 was this peaceful shot of a humpback taking a deep dive in Alaska’s Inner Passage:

“Dive, Dive, Dive!”

#10  I would have ranked this image higher since it really ‘speaks’ to me.  Funny how different photos impress folks differently!

“Midwife”

#11  This Bald Eagle grazing the surface of an Alaskan stream took the next to last spot in our countdown:

“Strafing Run”

#12  Rounding out my top dozen from last year was this view from Yosemite:

“Artist’s Point”

So, there you have the best I could do last year.  Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and vote, I truly appreciate it!

2017 was great but 2018 has incredible potential.  I’ve got a trip to Patagonia planned in April that could be epic (at least it is in my dreams)…we’ll see.

Take care and remember, photography is about a lot more than pretty pictures!
Jeff

Posted in Best Photos of the Year Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

A Morning with Old Friends

Earlier this week I got to enjoy one of the true blessings of living in the Sunshine State…I went swimming with the Manatees.

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

“How can you not love that face!?”

Manatees are just so darn  laid-back and lovable.  They really remind me of basset-hounds…that are ten feet long and weigh as much as a small car. But they don’t have a mean bone in their body and they like nothing more than slowly moseying up to you and rolling over so you can give them a nice belly rub.  Hard not to adore a gentle soul like that.

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

Our captain Wyn Walker of Blue Heaven River Tours was excellent…and his heated boat was a blessing!

We were having a cold snap (for Florida anyway) and I knew that meant that the manatees would be coming in from the Gulf of Mexico and heading for the warm fresh water springs on Florida’s west coast.  Manatees tend to be most active in the morning  so I was up at 4 am and made the 90 minute drive so I could be on a dawn tour.

I met Captain Wyn as the morning treated us to a colorful sunrise.   Rose and Kyle Hooten, a young adventurous couple traveling the country were the only other folks on the tour.  We changed into our wet-suits and 15 minutes later we were the first boat to reach Homosassa Spring where we could see a number of manatees just below the surface.

I grabbed my camera, climbed down the ladder and headed toward a buoy ten feet away that was moving suspiciously.  Sure enough, a manatee was ‘flossing’ on the buoy’s rope:

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

Manatees do love to play with ropes and lines…kinda like kids..

Within seconds, the manatees spotted us and headed over our way.  They seem to be innately curious.

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

“Meet my (not so) little friend!” Rose greets a manatee.

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

“Pleased to make your acquaintance!” Kyle and a manatee check each other out.

We were the subject of quite a bit of attention.  During our first 30 minutes or so, I’d guess that at least a half dozen manatees came over to us.  It really is quite a rush to have such a massive creature swim right up to your nose and stare directly into your eyes.

 

You are allowed to gently touch them with a single hand if they approach you.  Sometimes they come right up to you and start slowly rolling just so you can reach their belly.  A couple of them spent over five minutes with us, clearly loving the attention.  Even though I’ve done this many times, I found myself enthralled all over again.  Often I would just let the camera hang at my side and enjoy the moment…asking myself why it had been over two years since I had last done this.

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

Headshot

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

“Just take the picture Sonny!”

Over the next 90 minutes, we saw manatees on a regular basis.  A number of them were sleeping on the bottom, so of course we let them be, but every few minutes or so a manatee would come swimming by and check us out.

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

Certainly not the best over/under shot I’ve ever taken but I thought it was funny when I was taking a photo of our captain taking a shot of me when this shameless manatee photo-bombed us!

Manatee Photography Firefall Photography Jeff Stamer

The eyes of a gentle soul…

Manatee Photography

Chillin’

After a while the chill soaked thru our wet-suits and the heated cabin started sounding pretty darn alluring. But then another manatee would roll up and we’d forget about the cold again for a few minutes.

But after 90 minutes we decided to called it a day and head back to the dock.  As we warmed up in the cabin, Kyle, Rose and I cheerfully gabbed about our day with the manatees and traded phone numbers promising to exchange photos.

It never hurts to remind myself that photography is about a lot more than just taking pretty pictures!
Jeff

PS:  If you would like to learn more about photographing manatees, check out a couple of my previous blogs here and here.

PSS:  A lot of the regulations concerning manatee photography have changed substantially over the past few years.  I’ll be posting a new blog within the next few weeks with updates and tips.

PSS: Check out my portfolio of manatee portraits here.

Underwater photographer and manatee

Kyle took this shot of me and my underwater rig…can you tell I was having a blast?!

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations, Manatees, Underwater Photography, Wildlife Tagged , , |

My Top 12 from 2017

The annual blog recapping my Top 12 Shots is one of the most popular of the year.  It is certainly one of the most difficult to write.  Looking at your own work objectively without being influenced by the emotions and memories you have of the moment you took the shot …well, it is darn near impossible.  On the other hand, it IS fun to reminisce about the past year and appreciate how blessed I was to have enjoyed some truly amazing vistas.

So I’ve finally winnowed down the year’s 100,000 photos to a final 12. These shots aren’t ranked yet (but YOU will have a chance to pick the winner…see details at the end of the blog)!  For now I’ve simply listed them in chronological order:

  1. Shark’s Eye

Rodeo Beach Sunset

I’ve admired shots of Rodeo Beach for years and finally got a chance to photograph there during a road trip with my son Ryan.  When we arrived, an Aperture Academy workshop was already set up with a couple dozen students filling the tight area behind the sea stacks.  It was crowded, but I did my best contortionist’s imitation and managed to squeeze off some decent shots thru the forest of tripod legs.

So, what’s up with the name of the shot?  I think that center sea stack looks like the head of a shark rising straight out of the ocean with the sun glinting off of its eye.  Can you see it?

2) Artist’s Point

Yosemite Artist's Point

This view should be familiar…the vista of  Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View is iconic…possibly the best known and most photographed icon of the American west.
But this image wasn’t taken from Tunnel View.  This is an obscure location known as Artist’s Point.  It’s on the edge of a cliff on an old stagecoach road which was the premier location to see the valley before 1933 (when the tunnel that gives Tunnel View was completed).

I can’t honestly say that the view is dramatically different.  But it is isolated, quiet and peaceful…not the three-ring circus that Tunnel View can be.  Check out my blog article for more history, photos and details about Artist’s Point as well as a dramatic time-lapse.

3) “Heavenly Hanalei”

Milky Way over Hanalei Bay, Kauai

Hanalei Bay is one of the most beautiful spots on Kauai…which is truly saying a lot since I think Kauai may be the most photogenic place on earth.  My last trip there coincided with a new moon and I took advantage of the dark skies to capture the iconic Hanalei Pier stretched out under the Milky Way.

4) “Fit for a Queen”

Queen's Bath sunrise Kauai

Queen’s Bath is a well-known location on the north shore of Kauai near Princeville.  Legend would have it that Hawaiian royalty used it as, get ready for it…a bath.
The spot is a bit notorious because of the multiple drownings that have taken place there but it is certainly a delight for photographers.
This dawn image was taken a few hundred yards east of the bath where a small double waterfall drops into the Pacific. Quite the magical spot.

5)  “Vulcan’s Cauldron”

Lava flowing into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii

Witnessing the birth of new land as lava pours into the ocean is dramatic, unforgettable and profoundly moving.  This pre-dawn shot was taken from a rocking boat so close to the lava that my face tingled from the heat and my ears rang from the sound of the molten rock exploding as it poured into the chilly Pacific.  Read more about this experience on this blog.

6)  “Midwife”

Lava Ocean Entry on the Big Island of Hawaii

My son and I went back to see the lava again a couple of days later at sunset.  This time we rented bikes and peddled out to an observation area the National Park Service had set up.  A group of 50 or so of us silently stood and watched with what can only be described as a sense of reverence.  As I was taking some shots I spotted a hiker that had snuck under the barrier and climbed up to a ridgeline between us and the lava.  His (her?) silhouette made for a dramatic image.

7) “Lunar Limelight”

Kīlauea Caldera CraterTaking this image of the Kilauea Caldera at night was the highlight of my Hawaiian tour.  I spent 3 evenings doing my best to capture its magic under a full moon.  Of the thousands of images I took, this is the only one with the wild purple lens flare that seemed to spotlight the lava.  Don’t really understand how it happened, but I enjoy the result all the same.

8)  “Dive! Dive! Dive!”I couldn’t tell you how many whale tours I’ve been on over the years and I’d thought I’d pretty much seen it all.  But last fall my wife Anita and I were on boat out of Sitka Alaska and I learned how wrong I was!  We spotted this Humpback who was slamming its tail onto the surface of the water.  Now we’d seen this before, but usually it doesn’t last long and I’m lucky just to get off a handful of shots before the whale dives deep and disappears.  But This humpback kept it up for over ten minutes.  The captain said he hadn’t seen anything like it in the dozen years he had been conducting tours.  I got literally thousands of shots: this one is one of my favorites from that memorable day.

9) “Morning Prayer”

I don’t know if this is truly a great shot from a purely technical perspective, but my family adored it, so here it is.  This otter was riding the gentle swells in a kelp field in Alaska’s Inner Passage seemingly without a care in the world.  Gotta love that fuzzy face.

10) “Strafing Run!”

I  had watched this eagle for fifteen minutes or so before he finally left his perch and skimmed over a little stream near Ketchikan Alaska.  I ripped off a series of shots and this one caught the moment when one of his wing feathers glanced the water.

11) “Frustration’s Child”

 This image invokes a sense of tranquility and calm when I look at it now.  That’s kind of funny, because the overpowering emotion that I had when I took the shot was pure frustration.
I had spent a good part of a day scouting for locations near Mt. Shuksan in Washington state’s Cascade Range.  Wildflowers were few and far between but I found a handful by this small lake.   You could only see Shuksan’s reflection from a tiny part of the lakeside, but it was perfect. I marked the spot on my GPS and decided to return for sunset.
Unfortunately, when I rolled up a few hours late another photographer and a group of her friends were already set up in ‘my’ spot. With the light fading, I shuffled back and forth along the bank taking photos from their left and right with a growing sense of frustration. I was ticked off at myself for not getting their earlier and prayed that they would move….but they stayed firmly rooted until the last of the sun’s red glow faded from the snow atop Shuksan.

In retrospect, being forced to shoot from a non-ideal location may have actually been a good thing.  It forced me to concentrate and really think about my framing, focus and composition…but I sure didn’t feel that way then!

12) “Here Comes the Sun!”

I was lucky to find a batch of these vibrant red berries on a Mountain Ash tree while scouting on the Artist’s Point Trail near Mt Baker. The next morning I was set up and was well rewarded when the sunrise hit Baker’s summit and illuminated the low-lying clouds

So twelve shots…call it an average of one a month, but which is the best?  That’s where I need your help.  For the first time, I’m going to let my readers rank the shots.  Just pop me an email at Jeffstamer@aol.com and list the shots from best to worst.  I’ll compile the results and publish the final results next month.

Have fun!

Jeff

PS:   I’d like to thank my family for helping me review my library from 2017 and narrow it down to the 12 shots in this blog.   Without their help it would have taken me until 2019 to write this blog.

Posted in Best Photos of the Year Tagged |

Proud Papa

I was excited to hear that one of my photos was featured in this month’s edition of Washington Trails magazine.  They had an article about Second Beach in Olympic National Park and they chose one of my images for a two page spread.

I may have been doing this for years, but I still feel like a proud papa when an image of mine is published.  I guess there is no denying that my ego is alive and well!
Jeff

 

Posted in Published Work & Contests Tagged , |

Fencing in Horseshoe Bend: Upcoming Safety upgrade for a Photographic Icon

Horseshoe Bend is one of the true photographic icons of the American Southwest.

Fencing in Horseshoe Bend: Upcoming Safety upgrade for a Photographic Icon

Check out the front leg of the tripod…next step: 1,000 feet straight down!

I’ve photographed there many a time (even written a guide with tips on how to best photograph there…see this link).  But no matter how many times I visit, my heart always starts beating harder…not just because it is impressive, but because, to be honest, it scares me a bit.

Fencing in Horseshoe Bend: Upcoming Safety upgrade for a Photographic Icon

One good gust of air and….

I’m not particularly afraid of heights, but when I stand at Horseshoe’s sheer 1000′ cliff edge, well..it can create a few butterflies in my nether-regions.  I’ve actually watched visibly shaken tourists walk toward the edge only to repeatedly turn around.  Some of those folks, no joke, actually crawl up to the edge on their belly to take their pictures.

That’s why I was glad to see today that the government is going to add a railing along part of the cliff where the trail currently ends.  They are also going to upgrade the trail to make it ADA compliant, which will be a lot easier than walking in the parts of it that were soft sand.

Fencing in Horseshoe Bend: Upcoming Safety upgrade for a Photographic Icon

Will this affect photography?  Judging by the illustration the NPS released (see below), the fence will be short enough that you will be able to easily shoot over it with a tripod.  Plus if you want to avoid the fence completely, you will just need to walk a couple dozen yards to the left or right past the end of the fence and you can still shoot right on the cliff’s edge.

Seeing youngsters run around at the cliff’s edge has always made me nervous and there have been fatalities recorded here.  The new fence will make the area much safer as well as keep heart-rates down for some of us as well.

Construction is scheduled for November and construction should be completed before January of 2018.  You can read more about the details here.

 

Safety Upgrade at Horseshoe Bend

Conceptual Drawing – Horseshoe Bend Rim Viewing Area
NPS Image

With all the recent cut-backs you read about affecting our Federal lands and parks, it was nice to hear about this modest investment!

Take care,

Jeff

Safety Upgrade at Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend Sunset: One of those “OMG” moments that will soon be a bit safer

Safety Upgrade at Horseshoe Bend

Posted in Photo Tips and Guides, Southeast U.S.A. Tagged |

New images added to my Pacific Northwest Gallery!

I’ve just added a selection of photos to my Pacific Northwest Gallery including some from areas I hadn’t explored before.  Just follow this link to see what’s new.

Hope you enjoy!
Jeff

New images added to my Pacific Northwest Gallery!

Mt. Rainier reflecting the morning’s sunlight at Tipsoo Lake

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA Tagged |

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

I have long admired the beautiful images of Mt. Baker and Mt Shuksan in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains.  Earlier this year I finally had the opportunity to photograph them myself.

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

View of Mt. Shuksan from Highland Lake (continue reading for details)

As I did my pre-trip research, one thing that quickly became clear to me was that a lot of the best locations to photograph Baker and Shuksan require significant hikes.  That was a bit of a bummer since long hikes weren’t going to be possible on this trip.  So I refocused my efforts on finding locations that didn’t require a lot of hiking.

Fortunately there are two roads (542 and 20) that allow easy access to the mountains and lead you to a wealth of beautiful views of both Baker and Shuksan.  After spending a week photographing here from dozens of locations, I’ve narrowed down those spots to the five most photogenic (and easily reached):

From the North: State Road 542 – Mt. Baker Highway

S.R. 542 was created for the single purpose of allowing tourists (including photographers) to visit the Cascades (and leave lots of their dollars behind with the locals).  It is on the very northern edge of Washington state (most of it is 10 miles from the Canadian border) and it runs roughly east 57 miles from I-5 near Bellingham all the way to Mt. Baker.

Location #1: Picture Lake

I’ll start with what is often listed as the most photographed location in the state:  the iconic view of Mt Shuksan from Picture Lake near the end of S.R. 542.

You can literally drive right up to the lake, walk two minutes and set up your tripod and start shooting. Try to be there near sunset…Shuksan catches afternoon light in a wonderful way so it is a killer sunset spot.

An added bonus is that wildflowers abound in the Cascades from June thru September and photos of Shuksan reflected in the lake with a foreground of colorful wildflowers can be absolutely stunning.  Unfortunately, I was there in early October and walked the entire shore without finding a single, straggly flower. Apparently, this area can be ‘loved to death’ by visitors who stray off the walking path and trample the flowers.

Even so, the view was amazing (see photo).

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Mid-day view of Mt Shuksan from Picture Lake…

 

Tips:

  1. This is one of the most popular photography locations within 100 miles, so get there early for your sunset shot or you will be shooting over the head of other photographers.
  2. There is a $5 Parking fee if you are visiting for a single day or you can get an Annual Pass for $30.
  3. Hwy 542 is usually open 365 days a year to upper Mt. Baker Ski Area lodge at milepost 54.7 (which is at a bit past Picture Lake), so you can shoot from Picture lake all year round.
  4. There is a nice paved path all around the lake.
  5. You can get driving directions and more details about Picture Lake here

Location #2 Highwood Lake

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Maybe not the ‘perfect’ spot, but not too shabby!

I never heard anything about this spot despite all my planning.  I found it by accident only a few hundred yards away from Picture Lake while scouting for wildflowers.

Highwood Lake is smaller and the trees on the opposite shoreline partially screen the mountain so it isn’t quite as grand a vista as Picture Lake.  Plus Highland has only a narrow road shoulder and a short sloping shore to shoot from so it’s not as ‘user friendly’ as Picture Lake…and there is only a small section of shoreline that features good reflections of the mountain.

So why do I even list it here?  Because when I visited its shoreline was lush with wildflowers…unlike Picture Lake.  Possibly the reason was simply that the flowers hadn’t been trampled…there isn’t a maintained, easy walking path like Picture Lake so it doesn’t get many visitors.

As I drove here for sunset, I passed a whole crowd of folks at Picture lake and when I pulled up to Highland there was only a single car parked.  Unfortunately that car belonged to another photographer and a large group of her friends who were already set up in ‘my’ spot that I had scouted earlier in the day.  I was a bit ticked off at myself for not getting their earlier and prayed that they would move….but they stayed firmly rooted until the last of the sun’s red glow faded from the snow atop Shuksan.  I worked the ‘less perfect’ spots around them and despite that, the images I captured during that sunset were among the best I captured on my entire trip.

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Once the sun sets, the subtle red tint quickly fades on the summit and the mountain reverts back to shades of grey

Since Highwood isn’t well-known, here is a map to help you find it.

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Location #3: Artist’s Point/Artist’s Ridge

After Picture Lake,  continue driving on 542 for less than 3 miles where the road ends at the Artist’s Point parking lot. This is at an elevation of over 5,000′ and you may well find snow there even during the summer.

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Afternoon shot of one of the 3 or 4 small tarns along the trail with Shuksan’s reflection

It certainly absolutely delighted my wife Anita and I during our visit…which immediately led to a mandatory “we’re from Florida so we gotta have a snowball fight!”

The view from the parking lot is pretty impressive, but there are even better vistas from the trails that start here.  In my opinion, the best one is Artist’s Point Ridge (see below for more info on where to find the trailhead).  This hike is an easy 1.5 miles out-and-back which winds along a ridge with panoramic views of Mt Shuksan to the east and Mt. Baker to the west.  It passes a few ice-cold tarns (small ponds sculpted in bedrock by passing glaciers) where you can photograph perfect reflections of Shuksan when the wind is calm.

I was fascinated with the tarns (I think I just like saying the name…tarn, Tarn, TARN…so cool).  The area around the tarns is often muddy from melting snow and not particularly attractive so you might have to work a bit to find good compositions.

Since Shuksan is to the east, the light is wonderful in the late afternoon.  And it truly shines at sunset when the summit glows orange.

After a bit of looking, I finally found one small attractive bush by a tarn and was able to get a shot by lowering my tripod to a spot only a few inches over the rocky soil.  A full rising moon made a nice accent as well:

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Shuksan at sunset flanked by the rising Moon

I spent a couple of hours on the trail photographing Shuksan but I also scouted for locations that would work for the next morning’s sunrise shots of Baker.  The next day I was up at 4am and heading back on 542. The parking lot was nearly empty (it fills up often during the day when the weather is nice).  I hiked to my furthest pre-scouted location and waited on the sun.

Suddenly, I didn’t have to wait anymore:

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

This view of Baker is from Huntoon Point at the end of on Artist Ridge Trail

Since the glow on the summit is short-lived, I quickly snapped a series of shots then hustled down the trail to my next pre-scouted location and did it again.

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Mount Baker is 10,778 ft in elevation and is an active volcano that is closely monitored just like Mount St. Helens and the other 3 active volcanos (Mt. Rainier, Glacier Peak & Mt. Adams) in Washington State.

I only had time to shoot from three spots before the glow faded…but that was a glorious ten minutes!

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Mt. Baker in some glorious morning light.

Although Baker is the star here during the morning, I did try some shots of Shuksan but with the sun rising right over it the direct light washed out the colors and the wide dynamic range made things challenging:

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Sunrise shot of Shuksan. I opted for a B&W  HDR exposure.

Tips:

  1. The last few miles of 542 (just past picture lake) closes after the first significant snowfall (usually October) and usually doesn’t reopen until June. So unless you are willing to strap on snowshoes, you will want to visit during the summer.
  2. There is a $5 Parking fee if you are visiting for a single day or you can get an Annual Pass for $30.
  3. This location works for both sunrise and sunset since Shuksan is to your east (catches nice sunset light) and Baker is to the west (sunrise light)
  4. The parking often lot fills up during the day, but you shouldn’t have problems finding a spot at dawn or dusk.
  5. The trailhead for Artists Ridge is at the edge of the parking lot to the right of the bathrooms (as you stand facing the bathrooms with your back to the parking lot).   The first part of the trail is paved but it quickly splits and becomes a dirt path.  Take a left where the trail forks.  After that the trail will take you to Huskan Ridge where it dead ends and you return the same way.  Here is a link with more info about this trail.

From the South: State Road 20 (North Cascades Highway)

About a half hour south of 542 (on the way to Seattle via I-5) you run into S.R. 20 which actually crosses the Cascades (Note that it does close between late November and mid December and reopens usually by early May).  From there it is about another hour to Lake Baker which has my last two recommended spots to photograph Mt. Baker (see map below).Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Location #4: Lake Baker Boat Ramp

The first location is near a public boat ramp and park operated by PSE (Puget Sound Energy). This is next to the Kulshan Campground (which might be easier to find on your GPS).  As you drive east on SR 20 look for Baker Lake Road, which will be on your left (north) about 24 miles from I-5.  Take Baker Lake about 15.5 miles and look for signs on the right for the Boat Ramp and/or Kulshan RV park.  Take that road all the way to the boat ramp and park at the lot there.

There are nice views of Shuksan to the north and great views of Mt. Baker to the northeast.  The problem with this spot is finding a decent foreground.  Many of the views are marred by docks/causeways plus most of the shoreline is nothing more than gravel with little native vegetation.

After a bit of scouting I think the best spot to photograph here is along a long a large gravel berm that you can see to the left as you stand in the parking lot (see map below).

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Map of Baker and Depression Lake

The berm is blocked for cars.  However, if you walk down the hill to the berm you can stroll on top of it (east) and it will provide this view of Mt. Baker:

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Sunrise shot from top of the berm.

2017 09 03 Washington State iPhone 0001

As you stand in the parking lot by the boat ramp, you will see this gravel berm to your left. There is a sign by the staircase that says “Depression Lake”

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Shot from the “shore” of the berm at Depression Lake

This is a good morning shot while Baker is lit up by the sunrise.  You can shoot from the top of the berm and get a nice reflection and if you are lucky, there might be wildflowers growing on the slope of the berm that you can use for foreground.

Although you can also see Shuksan from this spot, I found that finding a decent foreground clear of obstructions was impossible.  Hopefully you will have more luck.

Location #5:  Boulder Creek.

If you head back to Baker Lake Road and turn north (right), you will come to my last spot in less than 3 miles (just past the Boulder Creek Campground).   A well-marked bridge crosses over Boulder Stream.  There is room to park just past the bridge on the right.  There is a walkway along the bridge that provides this view of Mt. Baker:

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

View of Mt. Baker from the bridge over Boulder Stream.  This is a morning shot with the mountain illuminated by the early sunlight.

 

If you don’t mind scrambling a bit, you can get down to the river (from the riverbank near where you parked).  Then walk back up the river a bit past the bridge and you can find some nice river-level compositions.

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Morning view of Mt. Baker along the Boulder stream/river just upstream from the bridge)

If you have extra time, there are more photo worthy locations further east on SR 20 (Diablo Lake, Maple Pass, Washington Pass, etc.)…but I’ll save those for a future blog.

Hopefully you found the info in this blog helpful for your trip to Washington’s Cascades…have a great time!
Jeff

Five Easy Landscape Photography Locations for Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA, Photo Tips and Guides Tagged , , |

Inspiration Point: A “new” location for Photography at Mt. Rainier NP

If you are like me, you do a lot of research before travelling to a new location for photography.  Usually by the time I finish searching Google, Flickr and the local library, I have a comprehensive list of the ‘best’ spots.  Which is why I’m delighted when find a ‘new’ location.

Mt. Rainier has a long list of outstanding photo vistas:  the wildflower fields at Paradise, Myrtle Falls, Reflection Lakes, the view at Tipsoo Lake, etc.  Plus a lot of photographers have spilled gallons of ink about this wonderful National Park so I didn’t truly expect to find anything new.

I had been at Reflection Lake trying to get a sunset shot of Mt. Rainier, but the summit was clouded over (even though the rest of the sky was clear).  I finally decided to start heading back on Stevens Canyon road and try a spot I had seen earlier: Inspiration Point.

Inspiration Point: A "new" location for Photography at Mt. Rainier NP

This captivating view at Inspiration Point is what you see if you turn your back on Mt. Rainier and look to the east

Inspiration Point is an overlook with a large pull-out about a half mile before Stevens Canyon Rd ends at Paradise Valley Road.  The main attraction there is the magnificent in your face view of Mt. Rainier.  But when I had stopped there earlier, I had also noticed a pretty little valley you could see from southern end of the parking lot (see black and white photo).
The sun had already set when I got there and a large group of frustrated photographers were standing in a line on the northern edge of the parking lot trying to get a shot of Rainier which was still stubbornly lurking behind a bank of clouds.

Yup...that's Mt. Rainier hiding back there somewhere....

Yup…that’s Mt. Rainier hiding back there somewhere….

Then I glanced to the east and immediately forgot all about Rainier.

Inspiration Point: A "new" location for Photography at Mt. Rainier NP

Deja Vu” If you have ever been at Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies at sunset, then this view might be eerily familiar!

The view was mesmerizing.  I could have sworn I was standing at Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies:  Layers of overlapping blue mountains stretched out to the orange horizon.  I set up my tripod and got to work.

A few minutes later, the orange glow faded and the moon popped out.  I continued shooting for a while, then just sat down and enjoyed the view as the sky slowly darkened and the stars began their nightly show.

Inspiration Point: A "new" location for Photography at Mt. Rainier NP
As I drove back to my room, I thought about Inspiration Point and was more than a bit surprised:  It seemed to be a wonderful vista (obviously that’s how it got its name) but I couldn’t ever remember seeing a photo taken from here during my research.  On the other hand, who travels to Mt Rainier, stands right in front of it, then turns around and takes a photo in  the opposite direction?

 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  This will never be an iconic location.  I mean if you find yourself near Paradise and Rainier is visible, by all means head to one of the well known spots for your sunset shot.  But if the mountain is obscured by clouds, take a drive up to Inspiration Point, the view may not be famous but it is memorable nonetheless….plus you would have to drive another 2,500 miles to see a similar view at Clingman’s Dome!

 

 

Here is a map to show you the exact spot.

Mt. Rainier Photo Location

Hint: This location requires about a 100mm telephoto (on a full frame camera) to frame up the image.

Here’s to surprises and new vistas!

Jeff

 

 

Inspiration Point:  A “new” location for Photography at Mt. Rainier NP

New Mt. Rainier Photo Location

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA Tagged , |

2017 Lake Jesup Wildflower Update: October 3

I made another trip out to Lake Jesup yesterday to see if there was going to be any chance of a wildflower bloom this year.  As I reported a couple weeks ago, Irma had resulted in so much flooding that I wasn’t optimistic.

Unfortunately, my earlier assumption was correct.  The swollen  St. John’s River has continued to pour into Lake Jesup and the flooding now is worse than it was 10 days ago…all the fields are completely underwater.

I don’t see any way that the water will drain over the next couple weeks and since the wildflower season usually starts to wind down by mid-October, it is clear that the 2017 Lake Jesup wildflower season is going to be a bust.

Compared to the widespread misery spread by Harvey, Irma and Maria, the loss of the wildflowers is a small thing.  Let’s hope that 2018 brings us a milder Hurricane season.

 

Jeff

 

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations

Whales and Otters and Bears…oh my!

My wife loves cruising and I love my wife.  So I find myself on a cruise boat on a regular basis.  I make the best of it by booking shore excursions that allow me to feed my photography habit.  That can be real challenge in some locations (like the Caribbean).  Alaskan cruises on the other hand are packed with shore excursions that should make any photographer happy.

So, last month I found myself on a cruise ship with my incredible wife heading up Alaska’s Inner Passage.  I’ve never photographed Grizzlies fishing for salmon and this was the trip I planned to correct that oversight.   Taking no chances, I had booked tours in both Sitka and Ketchikan where we would take floatplanes to secluded rivers where you can photograph Grizzlies fishing for Salmon.  On first tour we flew twenty minutes and were ready to land in the lake by the bears before the pilot decided to turn back because of poor weather.

Okay, no big deal.  I had another chance in Ketchikan.  But then that tour was cancelled due to rain before the plane even got off the ground. So a bit of a disappointment.  But since the second tour was cancelled early in the day I was able to book a backup tour.  This was a ground tour that didn’t go to a secluded stream…it went to a Salmon hatchery down the coast.  Not what I had planned but I did manage to get a couple (black) bear shots…

Alaskan Wildlife Photography Bear with Salmon

This poor old bear just didn’t seem to have a knack for fishing…she struggled for quite a while before she caught a big juicy salmon.

2017 08 31 Alaska 2939A few minutes later I noticed an eagle feeding on salmon by the edge of the same stream.  While the rest of the tour spent quality time in the gift shop, I walked back out and watched the eagle hoping to catch it in flight.  A few minutes before our bus pulled out, I was rewarded when the eagle suddenly took to flight and I ripped off a series of shots.Alaskan Wildlife Photography Bald Eagle Alaskan Wildlife Photography Bald Eagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alaskan Wildlife Photography Bald Eagle

Our third port was Juneau and my wife and I took a four hour wildlife tour.  Its one of those tours that goes out on a two decker catamaran packed with tourists during the middle of the day.    So not exactly ideal for wildlife photography (a kayak heading out at dawn would have been nice), but I was determined to make the best of it.Alaskan Wildlife Photography Immature Bald Eagle with Abalone Shell

We weren’t more than 20 minutes out of the harbor before we came up to our first set of eagles (which seem as common as pigeons in Alaska).  They were high in trees backlit by the overcast skies…which made for difficult photography.  Then I noticed a immature Bald Eagle not more than 50′ from me down on the shore chomping on a Abalone shell.  To be honest, I had no idea what had in its beak until I got home and processed the photos.

 

Not more than 20 minutes later, we came upon a raft of otters.  I managed to find a spot on the lower deck which allowed me to shoot from only a foot or two over the water and got some decent shots of these adorable critters.

2017 08 30 Alaska 2649_1

2017 08 30 Alaska 2619

Alaskan Wildlife Photography Otter

It’s hard to believe these guys were hunted to the thin edge of extinction…that would have been quite a loss.

But the best was yet to come.  The captain spotted a Humpback whale in the distance slapping the water with it’s tail and he set off  on an intercept course.  At first I was a bit frustrated because I wasn’t in a great spot to see the whale and a lady with long, long blowing hair was right in front of me making it impossible to get a shot that didn’t include her bright red mane.  I was afraid that the whale would dive when we got close and I’d miss getting a tail shot.  But I had no reason to worry.  We pulled up near the Humpback and it continued to slap the ocean…for ten full minutes.  The captain said he had been doing tours for over twenty years and he had never seen a whale do tail slaps for more than a couple minutes.  We considered ourselves quite fortunate.

Alaskan Wildlife Photography Humpback Whale Tail

Close enough to see details on the barnacles attached to the tip of the tail!

Alaskan Wildlife Photography Humpback Whale Tail

Alaskan Wildlife Photography Humpback Whale Tail

As much as I like the full frame shots, I think I like the ones that include the distant shoreline even more…

So, I got a LOT of whale tail shots (like over a thousand…which is easy to do when you are taking ten frames per second).  In fact, the whale was so close that my telephoto lens was too long.  Over half of my shots cut off at least part of the whale’s tale because it filled the frame…a problem I was very happy to have.

Alaskan Wildlife Photography Humpback Whale Tail

Our humpback waves goodbye one last time before its final deep dive.

I had wanted to get good whale tail photos for years but my luck had been spotty.  So you can understand why these ten minutes were the highlight of my trip.

We headed back to port and it was hard to keep the silly grin off my face.  It was a great day.

Like all trips, this one had it’s share of luck…good and bad.  But even if I hadn’t taken a single frame on the entire trip I would have come home content.  I find it impossible to spend time our largest state without coming home recharged, refreshed and with a renewed appreciation for the wonder that is Alaska.

Jeff

 

Posted in Alaska, Wildlife Tagged , , , , , , , , |

2017 Lake Jesup Wildflower Season: RIP

Hurricane Irma certainly brought her share of misery to my Florida.  My family fared well…6 days without power isn’t that much of a hardship compared to some of the devastation I’ve seen on TV.

Once I got power back, one of the first things I did was take a look at my website to see what I may have missed.  I saw that a number of folks had sent messages to me about Irma.  It make me chuckle when I read them and found they weren’t wishes for my family’s safety, my fellow photographers were asking me if all the rain from Irma would have an impact on the annual Lake Jesup wildflower bloom!   Well, photographers do have their priorities:)

Anyway, I drove out to the fields yesterday to see how things were looking.  As I feared, they are completely flooded with only a handful of flowers visible above the water.  The waters will certainly recede, but not quickly.  In past years, the peak of the bloom is around the first of Oct. so it might be a bit early to write-off all hope for 2017 but I’m not optimistic.

I’ll make another scouting trip in another 10 days and let you know what I find!
Jeff

2017 Lake Jesup Wildflower Update

We probably won’t be treated to scenes like this in 2017 This is what I fear we won’t be seeing this year…a photo of the Jesup bloom last year

 

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations, Waterfalls Tagged , , |

Yosemite’s Tunnel View vs. Artist’s Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

Tunnel View at Yosemite needs no introduction, I doubt there are many photographers left on earth who haven’t seen an image taken from this iconic location.  The view is grand, majestic and truly awe-inspiring.  Plus this guy named Ansel Adam’s took one of the 20th century’s most famous photographs there:

Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

You may have this snapshot before: Clearing Storm by Ansel Adams 1944

Among photographers, there has been a bit of  buzz lately about a ‘better’ location called Artist’s Point.  It’s not far from Tunnel View and earlier this year I checked it out to see if it truly was superior.   I found that the answer to that question will really depend on your priorities.

Tunnel View

Pros

  1. The view is magnificent….You have El Capitan to the left, Bridalveil Falls to the right and Half Dome anchors the center of the image.  One glance and you will fully understand why this is the most popular spot in Yosemite.

    Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

    The view back into the tunnel at Tunnel View…

  2. It is super easy to get to.  It is located at the mouth of the tunnel on Wawona Road (see this link for a map).  Tunnel View is a large paved overlook (with parking) that allows you to experience the grandeur of the Yosemite Valley only a few feet from your car.  It is a perfect, easily accessible spot for photographers…you can shoot here any time of the day or night and get memorable images.

Cons

  1. The biggest downside is that its popularity has resulted in untold millions of photos being taken here.  So it is truly challenging to capture unique images here.
  2. Plus, it can be busy.  Even though there is a lot of room, you might need to arrive an hour or more before sunrise/sunset to get a prime spot during holidays or during the summer.   Photographers will be lined up with overlapping tripods.

Artist’s Point

Pros

  1. The view is (also) magnificent.  Artist’s Point is located at a higher elevation about a half mile away (as the crow flies) southeast and offers a subtly different view than Tunnel View.   Take a look at the two shots below and see if you can spot the differences.

    Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

    The view from Artist’s Point…

    Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

    and the more famous view from Tunnel View

    • A close comparison will reveal that from Artist’s Point you can see Bridalveil Meadow, North Dome, Ribbon Falls and Royal Aches but you can’t see Sentinel Dome and Half Dome is a bit less prominent.
    • Is one view really a better view than the other?  Opinions differ, but personally I think the differences are so darn subtle that calling one ‘better’ than another is splitting hairs.  I doubt that more than 1 person in a 100 would say one is superior to the other.
    • However, even though the views are very similar, Artist’s Point does have the advantage of not looking exactly like those bazillion shots taken at Tunnel View.  If you are one of those folks (like me) that strives to create images that are unique, then maybe even these minor differences might be enough to tip the scale in favor of Artist’s Point.
  2. Another advantage is that you will likely be the only person there.  It won’t make a bit of difference in your photos, but life isn’t completely about photography (at least it shouldn’t be).

    Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

    Tunnel View isn’t exactly the place to go to enjoy solitude!

    Unlike the carnival atmosphere at Tunnel View, the experience at Artist’s Point is much more intimate.  The last time I visited Tunnel View it was packed with over a hundred folks…plus a wedding shoot was in progress and noisy tour buses and motorcycles were continually disgorging even more tourists.  But during my visit to Artist’s Point, I didn’t see another person for over three hours and heard nothing but wind rustling thru the leaves.  Take a look at my short time-lapse video to get a better idea of what an afternoon at Artist’s Point is like.

Cons

  1. The only down-side of Artist’s Point is that it isn’t as easy to reach as Tunnel View…you can’t just drive up in your rental car and start shooting.  You have to hike.  It isn’t a bad hike. The first half mile is steep and can be a bit difficult to follow, plus the trail isn’t really maintained, so you will be climbing over some fallen trees…but your average person can reach Artist’s Point in about 40 minutes.

If you decide to hike to Artists Point, here are some helpful hints.

The Hike:

  • First, check out this hiking guide to Artist Point.  It provides a wealth of detail.
  • The trailhead for the hike starts in one of the two Tunnel Valley Parking Lots.  It isn’t the lot on the side of the actual overlook, it is the one on the north side of Wawona Road.  The trailhead sign doesn’t actually say “Artist’s point”…the sign reads “Inspiration Point” or the “Pohono Trail.”  The trail to Artist’s Point is the same one as Inspiration Point for the first .6 miles.  By the way, although Inspiration Point has a great name, it really isn’t much of a view for Photographers.
  • I know of many folks who have tried to reach Artist’s Point and failed.  It’s not a long hike, but the first half mile is poorly marked.  To avoid getting lost my first time, I used the AllTrails app on my smartphone.  This app lets you download the hike ahead of time and it tracks your progress while hiking via GPS to within 10 feet or so.  Next to having a guide, this is the best way I know of to find the spot.   This link will take you to iphone version and this link will get you to the Android one.
  • The first half a mile is narrow and steep…you won’t win any speed records but take your time and an average hiker can make it with no problem.
  • At that point you are going to come to a trail crossing.  The trail you will cross is wide…more than 7 feet wide.  It is actually the old stagecoach road and you will see these two signs:
  • Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?
  • Now, take the trail left (east) which is the direction of the Bridalveil Falls Parking Area.  You will follow this wide trail another 1.6 miles.  You will probably have to climb over/under some trees that have fallen across the trail.

    Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

    Like I said, the trail isn’t maintained…but it sure is nice and wide.

    You will start to get glimpses of the valley to your left but it will be largely obstructed by trees…just keep going.  Artist’s Point doesn’t have a sign or marker but when get to the spot shown below that has a clear view, you will know you’ve reached your destination.

    Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

    180 degree iPhone panorama from Artist’s Point.

Equipment:

  • Keep in mind that if you want to be there for sunset, you will have to hike back in the dark so take a headlamp or two.

    Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

    Bridalveil Falls shot from Artist’s Point with 140mm lens

  • You will definitely want your wide lens.  A minimum of 35mm on a full frame camera (about a 50mm on a crop-sensor APS-C sensor camera).  Plus, a longer zoom (say 70mm to 120mm) will allow you to grab nice portraits of Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan.
  • If you are shooting at the beginning or end of the day, a tripod will allow you to take the necessary longer exposures.

Bottom line, if this is your first trip to Yosemite and time is tight, then just go to Tunnel View.  But if you’ve been here before, have the time and you’re the type that appreciates solitude, take the hike up to Artist’s Point and soak in one of the world’s most majestic vistas in peace and quiet.

Jeff

Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

Yosemite's Tunnel View vs. Artist's Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

Artist’s Point

PS;  Oddly enough, even though Artist’s Point is the ‘new’ hot spot, it actually is older than Tunnel View which didn’t exist until 1933 when the Wawona tunnel opened.  However, back in 1855, artist Thomas Ayres stood at Artist’s Point and drew a picture of Yosemite Valley that as was published in California Magazine.  Not long after, a stagecoach road was extended into Yosemite Valley that ran right by Artist’s Point.  The road was paved in the early 1900s but abandoned after the shorter route into the valley was completed in 1933.

 

Yosemite’s Tunnel View vs. Artist’s Point: Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

Yosemite’s Tunnel View vs. Artist’s Point:  Which is the Better Choice for Photographers?

Posted in Photo Tips and Guides, Yosemite Tagged , , , |

Just published: Old San Juan Gallery

Hi folks,

I’ve added a gallery of photographs featuring Old San Juan to the ‘Cityscape Album’ on my website.  Old San Juan is one of the historical treasures of the New World and certainly one of the most photogenic as well.  Don’t forget to check out my article detailing Old Jan Juan’s Top 10 Photo Locations and Tips as well!

Jeff

Old San Juan Photo Gallery

Raices Fountain…one of the many treasures in Old San Juan

 

 

 

 

Posted in Buildings/Ruins, Caribbean/Central & South America, Historical, Photo Tips and Guides Tagged , , |

How to Photograph Lava from a boat in Hawaii

Ask a hundred photographers going to Hawaii what are the top three things they most want to photograph and I’ll bet Lava will be on every list.  Specifically, photographing the lava entering the ocean from a boat is something many photographers would gladly trade a limb or two for.   Since this is likely to be a once in a lifetime experience, you will want to make the most of it.   I certainly felt that way my first time but there was very little info on the internet about how to best do it…so I learned the hard way.  Fortunately, you won’t have to.  This article will tell you everything you need to know about how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii.

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

Hot, Lazy, Lava River

Is this for you?

First of all, to see the lava ocean entry you have to go out into the open ocean in a relatively small boat.  This isn’t a pleasure cruise, it can get rough so if you don’t like being in a rocking/jarring boat, have back problems or if you are frail, then this might not be something you want to tackle.  In fact, some of the tour operators won’t sell tickets to folks who are pregnant, over 75 years old or weighing over 275 lbs.  They seem to take safety seriously and aren’t shy about turning people away that could potentially get injured (and sue them).2017 Hawaii 06 05 10204

With that said, I think this tour is absolutely incredible and unforgettable.  The experience of being watching new land be created from  50′ away is breathtaking and not something you will ever forget.    You will be close enough to feel the heat on your face and hear the explosions of the sputtering and sizzling hot lava as it collides with the chilly Pacific.  Nearly everyone in my family has done this tour and they all loved it.

And if you are a photographer, well you can create mesmerizing photographs that simply can’t be created any other way.  I’ve photographed lava from the air, ground and sea and I think images of lava taken from a boat are the most dramatic, impressive and beautiful.

Where is it?

The only location in the state you can see lava is on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The lava enters the ocean on the southeast coast (see map).  Most flights to the big Island arrive in Kona but Hilo also has an International Airport and it is quite a bit closer.how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

Which tour to take?

As of July of 2017, there are only four tour operators licensed to conduct ocean tours within 300 feet of the lava entering the ocean: Lava Ocean Tours, Moku Nui Lava Tours, Kalapana Cultural Tours and Hawaiian Lava Boat Tours.  I’m sure you can find other tours and they will be cheaper.  But consider this:  it is at least a 20 mile ride on the open ocean to the lava:  Do you really want to take the chance on a unlicensed operator?  Plus, the Coast Guard has been known to board and shut down illegal operators 

So, which is the best for photographers?  Well, it depends on your priorities.  From a pure comfort and safety perspective I prefer Lava Ocean.  The competition uses much smaller fishing-style boats typically like the one I photographed at the ocean entry earlier this year (below).

2017 Hawaii 06 05 09521

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

LavaOne

Lava Ocean’s boat (the LavaOne seen here) is a modern 40′ aluminum catamaran designed specially for lava viewing.  It is a more stable platform for shooting and will get you out to the lava 50% faster.  

On the other hand, it is easier to shoot from both sides in the smaller boats.  Plus other companies seem to stay on site at the lava a bit longer and they tend to be cheaper.

So if you are going with your family and safety and comfort is most important, do the LavaOne.  If photography alone is your primary consideration, then go with one of the other three licensed companies.  Kalapana Cultural Tours seems to be very well regarded by other photographers.

 When to go:

Go NOW!  Lava has been flowing into the ocean for just over a year, but there is no way to know how long this will last.  For three  years prior to July 2016, for example, lava wasn’t flowing into the ocean.  So before you book a flight specifically to see lava entering the ocean, call or email Lava Ocean and make sure that the lava will visible during your visit.

I really don’t think that one time of the year is significantly better than another. Yes, the rainy season is from November until March and photographing the lava in a rainstorm is less than ideal.  But keep in mind that it rains a lot on this part of the Big Island…even during the dry season.

Lava is MUCH more visible and photographically dramatic at dawn or dusk.  Tours are scheduled throughout the day, but don’t even consider any of them except the dawn and sunset tours.  You will pay a premium of $70 or so compared to the daylight tours, but it will be worth every penny (which is why those trips sell out first).  Personally, I think the dawn tour is the better of the two, if for no other reason that the ocean tends to be calmer.

The weather doesn’t always cooperate.  In addition to the rain, the ocean can get rough.  If the waves are too high, the tours will be cancelled.  Schedule your tour early during your trip to the Big Island so that you have time left to reschedule if needed.how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

Tips Before you go:

Get a room/hotel near Hilo or a bit south of it…this will save you a lot of driving.  The boat launches from Issac Hale Park…which is 45 minutes south of Hilo and a long 2.5 hours from Kona.  Driving on some of these roads at night isn’t fun, especially with intense fog that is common between Kona and the eastern part of the island.

Leave early.  As you approach Issac Hale Park, the roads get narrow and curvy…it will likely take longer to get there than your GPS tells you.

Have your camera and gear already set up and ready to go before you leave your room (more about camera settings later).  You really won’t have much time or opportunity to do so on the boat.

Tips for the Boarding Process:

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

You actually climb into the boat on the parking lot…

After you park, get out and look for a guy from Lava Ocean holding a clipboard and flashlight.  There might be a couple other tour operators there, so make sure you find the right one.

After you and the rest of the folks have checked in they load the boat.  You actually board in the parking lot and then they launch the boat at the park’s ramp.

One factor that will determine how many good shots you get will be where you sit on the boat. The seating consists of padded bench seats running down each side of the boat with three people in each seat and an aisle down the center.  You want to sit on the end of the bench seat against the side (gunwale) of the boat (away from the center aisle) so you have an unobstructed view with your camera. 

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

The best seats are right up against the side of the boat…not in the center or aisle seat.

Obviously if you are in the center of the bench seat or the spot closest to the center of the boat, you will have to shoot around your seatmates. Once the boat is underway, you can’t change seats or stand up, so it is really important to get a good seat.

So how do you get a good seat?

This isn’t like an airplane where your seat is pre-assigned.  They load the boat by age.  People over 60 years old board first and sit where-ever they want.  Then folks over 50.  Then everyone else.  If you are older, then you shouldn’t have any problem getting a primo seat.  If you are younger, here is what you do:

  1. Be there early…I’d suggest arriving 10-15 minutes before the check in time (in the summertime, check in is at 4:30am)
  2. When you check in, ask the captain/crew where they want you to line up for boarding.  If they don’t give you a specific answer, watch carefully and you will see when they bring the boat into the parking lot on the back of a trailer.  When the boat/trailer stops moving, walk over as close to it as you safely can.
  3. Most customers just mill around aimlessly after they check in.  Pay attention and move quickly to board ahead of the ‘herd’ when your age group is announced.
  4. The seats toward the back of the boat tend to provide a smoother and dryer ride, so those are preferred. However, if the only seats left on the sides of the boat are toward the front when you board, grab one of those instead.  You’re a photographer and this is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity…who cares if you get a bit wet and go home with a sore back?!

What to expect:

From start to finish, the tour takes about 2 hours.  The check-in/boarding takes about a half hour.  The trip to the lava takes about 30 minutes, you spend a half hour there and then head back.

On the way out it will be quite dark (if you are on the dawn tour).  Sometimes it can be very rough (another reason to have your camera already ‘dialed-in’ before you board).  Depending on how big the waves are and your attitude, the ride can be fun…a group of girls on my last tour squealed like they were on a roller-coaster every time we hit a wave (maybe it did get kinda old after a couple of hours).  On the other hand, some folks were tossing their cookies and asking the captain if he could turn the boat around before we even got to the lava.   Consider taking motion sickness pills if you are prone to sea-sickness.

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

I didn’t go on the boat to photograph sunrises, but if you put one in front of me….

Once you get to the lava, the captain will spin the boat around every few minutes so that customers on both sides of the boat can see the show.  In other words, you will only be facing the lava for about half the time you are there.  When you are turned away from the lava, dry your lenses, check your photos and make sure your exposure and focus look good.  Then you can adjust your settings accordingly.  After that you can pass the time by taking photos of the sunrise and grumbling that the people on the other side of the boat get to face the lava more than your side…

Another thing you can do is take photos of the floating rocks.  Yup…I kid you not!  When the lava hits the ocean and solidifies it can get a lot of air trapped in it, so pieces of  will sometimes float right by you…sparking,  sputtering and sizzling the whole time. Pretty darn neat.

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

Ever see a floating rock? Here you go!

 

Photographing lava from a boat is kind of like photographing wildlife from a moving vehicle.  The action may appear anywhere in front of you and shooting with both eyes open will allow you to spot a new opportunities as they occur.  Keep scanning constantly.  Waves hitting the lava creates a lot of steam and will obscure some locations while other areas might clear up.

 

You will find that the 30 minutes there passes in an eyeblink.  When the captain starts to head home, pack your gear away because the ride back is usually rougher than the way out.  You can enjoy the view of the coast but unless you spot some dolphins your camera won’t likely miss anything particularly photogenic.

What to Bring:

Rain Gear…for you AND your camera

Although the boat does have a roof, you WILL get wet from the spray/waves even if it isn’t raining.  Your rain gear should cover your legs as well.

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

“Armageddon”  When the surf hits the lava, wild stuff will start to happen in front of your camera!

Keep your camera in something watertight during the trip.  When you arrive at the lava, you will likely be able to shoot without much fear of getting wet (assuming it isn’t raining or the seas are not incredibly rough).

Dress a bit warmer than normal:

Although you are in Hawaii, you might get cold, especially if you get wet.   Your feet will likely get wet as well, I wouldn’t wear sandles…something waterproof would be better.

Bring a small waterproof backpack or drybag

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

“Pele’s Creation” It is quite an experience to witness the birth of new land.

Anything you put on the floor of the boat will get wet.  Water sloshes across the floor and out the scuppers (holes above the floor that let the water flow out).  There is a small shelf under your seat that is raised above the floor that stays dry.  But it is narrow…maybe about 9″ tall so bring a waterproof bag/backpack for your camera gear that will fit on the shelf.  Keep in mind that the ride can be very rough, so be sure you have some padding around your cameras.

Lenses:

  • Bring your fastest glass…at least f2.8.  Since you will be shooting with a fast shutter speed in near darkness, slow lenses are going to struggle until the sun comes up.
  • Use zooms, not primes.  Your perspective is constantly moving and you are at the mercy of the captain and the waves, so a zoom is your only way of being able to selectively choose and frame your subject.
  • Since your time shooting is short, you don’t want to be changing lenses (besides the salt spray and rocking wouldn’t help) I usually bring two cameras: one with a wide angle zoom and the second with a long zoom.
  • Once the boat gets to the ocean entry point, it stays close to lava (often within 50′) so if you want to capture the whole scene you will need a the wide angle lens.

    2017 Hawaii 06 05 09404

    This wide angle shot gives you a perspective of the entire scene, but I found close ups with a long zoom to be more memorable.

  • It will be your long zoom that you will use the most.  Frankly, 90% of my total shots (and 99% of my favorite shots) are taken with the long zoom (Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 with a 1.4 teleconverter).  So if you only want to bring a single camera, put your long zoom on it.
  • I prefer not to use a polarizing filter shooting lava.  I don’t find that it helps colors/reflections enough to justify the loss of a stop of speed.

Camera:

  • Your camera needs to be able to handle a lot of dynamic range.  The lava can easily blow out your highlights and you can’t shoot HDR from a rocking boat.  I use my full frame Nikon D810 with a wide angle lens and a Nikon D500 with the 70-200.  how to photograph lava from a boat in HawaiiBoth handled the dynamic range well.
  • Select a camera with excellent autofocus ability. Again, this is like wildlife photography, lighting isn’t great, everything is moving and a camera without competant autofocus is not going to give you as many ‘keepers.’
  • I love my D810 but my D500 is my go-to camera for lava photography.
    1. It has wicked autofocus and it shoots 10 frames per second, which allowed me to capture a lot of the quick action of dripping lava.
    2. Also, the D500 is a DX, so that effectively doubled the focal range of my 70-200.  I need every bit of that range when shooting lava from the boat since about half my shots are usually taken at the longest setting.
    3. Although the dynamic range of the D500 doesn’t equal the full frame D810, I found it was capable of handling the lava.

Misc:

  • Have empty, large capacity memory cards and full charged batteries.
  • Have a number of easily accessible microfiber cloths ready in your shirt pockets. In addition to the rain and spray, you will probably run into clouds of steam at the ocean entry, so the microfiber will come in handy.
  • Since you are on a rocking boat, you will be handholding your camera…no need for tripods/monopods/gorilla pods

Camera Settings:

  • VR:  Since you are on a bouncing boat, you need to engage your Vibration Control (VR/IS).
  • Shutter Speed: Selecting a high shutter speed will also help eliminate vibrations.  This will also allow you to ‘freeze’ the action of the spray/waves and exploding lava.  I find the best results are between 1/500 and 1/1000th of a second.

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

Check out the water dripping from the lava after being hit by a wave!

  • Manual/Shutter Priority:  Personally, I like to shoot in Manual and adjust my settings as I go.  If this isn’t something you do regularly, I’d suggest you use Shutter Priority.
  • Aperture: Shoot with your aperture wide open…you will need every bit of light you can get.
  • Auto ISO:   Use your Auto ISO setting.  The brightness of the lava constantly changes and using Auto ISO will allow your camera to use the best possible ISO without requiring you to continually change it yourself.   I adjusted my auto ISO so that 1600 was my highest setting and 200 was the lowest.  I usually find that the ISO settings on my shots start at 1600 when we first arrive on site and the Auto ISO gradually upgrades the setting to ISO 200 after sunrise.
  • RAW:  Shoot in RAW.  This will preserve every bit of data your sensor collects and will make your job a lot easier in post-processing when you are trying to tame the wide dynamic range.
  • White Balance: I leave my white balance on Auto and then adjust to taste in Photoshop.
  • Frame Rate:  Set your camera to its fastest possible frames per second setting.  Shoot a lot…you have to anticipate that some of your shots will be blurry because of the moving boat and long focal length.  The more shots you take, the better your chances that your auto-focus will produce some crisp shots.

Post-Processing:

  • Your main challenge will be controlling the dynamic range.  Use the Photoshop sliders for ‘highlights’ and ‘shadows’ and minimize blown out highlights while still showing some details in the darker areas of your images.
  • Noise will probably be a challenge, especially in areas containing steam or dark shadows…made worse if you are shooting at high ISOs.  I cut out the lava and surrounding rock, put it on the top layer.  Then I liberally use the noise reduction slider on the other, lower layer that has the steam/foggy areas.  This leaves the areas of lava and rock sharp which really contrasts against the ‘soft’, noise free steam/fog.

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

The contrast between the ‘harsh’ lava/rock and the ‘soft’ steam/fog/ocean makes for dramatic images.

  • The raw colors on my images are usually pretty intense and rarely need much saturation/tweaking in Photoshop
  • Don’t forget to adjust your white balance.  Your shots will have a strong blue tint before the sun rises.

After the tour:

When you get back to Issac Hale Park, you might want to check out the hot springs there. It might be just the thing for your sore muscles if your trip was a bit rough.

If you are staying in Kona, you should check out Hilo while you are on the eastern side of the island.  The Hilo area has a number of beautiful waterfalls.  And of course, Volcanos National Park is also on the way back…you could easily spend a couple days exploring that incredible treasure.

Anyway, more about other Hawaiian photo ops later.  Now I must leave, it is time for my evening glass of wine!

Aloha!
Jeff

how to photograph lava from a boat in Hawaii

How to Photograph Lava from a boat in Hawaii

 

Posted in Hawaii, Lava, Photo Tips and Guides Tagged , , , , , |

A Landscape Photographer in Hawaii: 21 Days, 21 Photos

Earlier this month I was in Kauai for a couple weeks and another seven days on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Although my wife had some silly expectation that I would spend all of my time with the family, I did manage to sneak out and take shot or two (actually, more like 15,322 of them…but who’s counting?)

Yes, yes, I took a lot of family shots…and my wife hasn’t divorced me (yet)..but you read this blog because of your interest in landscape photography, so here are some of my favorite (non-family) images from the trip:

1)   Kauai is my favorite of all the islands.  It isn’t as developed as Oahu or Maui, plus it must have been made on a day when God had just bought a new camera because it is blessed with an incredible variety of photographic riches.  For example, Waimea Canyon isn’t what you would expect to see on an exotic Pacific island…

Waimea Canyon, Kauai Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Arizona?…maybe Utah? Nope…Kauai

2) I’ve loved the old Wai’oli church from the first moment I saw it years ago.  Built back in 1912, it is quaint, cute and very, very green.  It gets photographed by every single tourist that drives up to the north side of Kauai so it is hard to capture a shot that hasn’t already been done a million times.   So I thought a night image with the Milky Way rising behind it might be a new twist on an old favorite.  I like the result.

Wai'oli Hui'ia Church in Hanalei, Kauai Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

“Closer my God to Thee…”

3)  Then there is Hanalei Bay…which is simply postcard perfect.  The old pier makes a great foreground subject and the mountains in the background are breathtakingly riddled with waterfalls.  Although it may rain a lot on the north end of Kauai, the showers are brief and you are treated to rainbows as compensation.

Hanalei Bay with Pier under rainbow Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

“Floatsam in Paradise” One definition of paradise might be tropical beach covered with coconuts and hibiscus blossoms under a glimmering morning rainbow

4)  I made a trip back to Hanalei early one morning to capture a bright Milky Way hanging over the bay:Hanalei Bay, Kauai under the Milky Way Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

5) I was in heaven on the north shore of Kauai…dozens of incredible locations all within 20 minutes.  Queen’s Bath in Princeville, for example, is another beautiful spot.  This sunrise nicely lit up the sky and illuminated the twin waterfalls on the right side of the image.

Queen's Bath Kauai sunrise Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

6)  Of all the beaches in Hawaii, Tunnels beach is my favorite for photography:

Kauai Photo locations

Don’t put away your camera during the day!

7)  The Hawaiian name for the pyramid-shaped mountain peak is Makana, which means “gift from heaven.”  It was called ‘ Bali Hai’ in the movie South Pacific but no matter what name you use, it is dramatic and beautiful.

Tunnels Beach, Kauai at sunset Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Gorgeous day or night…

8)  Tunnels may have been my favorite, but there are no shortage of beautiful beaches.  Some of them, like Moloaa Beach (see below) are small in size (a total of three parking spaces) but pack a huge visual impact.Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

9) Others, like Anahola (below) are huge.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  Every morning at 4:30 I had to decide which beach to photograph…problems, problems, problems…Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

10) 11) & 12)  The NaPali coast on Kauai’s northwestern shore might be the most dramatic meeting of mountains and ocean in the world.

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations Kalepa Ridge

“Hanging Gardens”

I went on a couple hikes with my son and son-in-law to explore and photograph the area.  The first trek was on a trail called Kalepa Ridge.

 

Kalepa Ridge Trail, Kauai

“Almost Heaven”….apologies to John Denver

This wasn’t your average hike.  In some stretches the trail was only couple feet wide and fell away on both sides nearly straight down for over a thousand feet. But the views…my God!

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

“Cloud Walker” My son-in-law Scott leads the way on the knife-edge Kalepa Ridge.

13) The second hike we tackled was the Kalalau Trail.

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Early morning view of NaPali coast from the Kalalau Trail

I had read that many consider this to be one of the premier trails in the United States, in fact quite a number of folks consider it to be the best in the country.  Kalalau certainly lived up to its reputation…an incredible hike.

14) The trail is 11 miles each way and although we weren’t able to secure one of the scare permits for the whole hike, we were able to do the 8 mile round trip trek to the 300′ tall Hanakapi’ai Falls:

Hanakp'ai Falls Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Ryan takes a well-earned break

15) After two weeks in Kauai, we hopped over to the Big Island of Hawaii.  I would have loved to have stayed in Kauai longer, but there is one thing the Big Island has that Kauai doesn’t.  LAVA!!!

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Armageddon!

16) The Kilaeau volcano has been continously erupting since 1983 and photographing lava was certainly on the old bucket list!  We booked tickets on a boat that takes you out to where the lava pours into the ocean.  I booked this particular boat (LavaOne) because I had heard that it gets you close to the lava:

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

“Coming in Hot!”

17)   Well, it did….real close…like 20 feet away!  It was incredible to watch the lava pour into the ocean and explode on contact!

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Lazy Lava River

18) I had two cameras with me and shot non-stop for the twenty minutes the captain kept the boat on station.  You could feel the heat sweep across you in waves…I had a blast!

19) Ryan and I made a run down to the southern tip of the island where 75′ tall cliffs rise starkly from the ocean.  Some of the local kids were showing off and diving into the clear Pacific.  This young man was particularly graceful:

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Ten frame sequence of a Hawaiian Cliff Diver

Ryan gave it a try as well.  I would have done it too… but, well someone had to take the pictures;)

20) Ryan and I wanted to see more lava so the next evening we took the land route out to the ocean entry location.  At the end of the trail, a group of 50 or so folks had gathered in silence and watched the birth of new land as the sun fell.  I found it to be a peaceful, powerful and profoundly emotional experience.  After an hour or so we turned around and headed back in the darkness 5 miles to the car (fortunately, we had rented mountain bikes, so the trip back was a lot faster than hoofing it!)

photo locations on Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii

“Midwife” A lone hiker is witness to Pele’s creation.

21) Of all the locations I had dreamed of shooting, the Kilaeau crater was at the top of the list.  It didn’t dissapoint.  I spent the better part of three nights photographing there.  Surprising, the view is a bit boring during the day, but at night the glow of the lava reflects off of the steam and low clouds and puts on quite a show.  The full moon was a bonus as well.

photo locations on Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii

“Lunar Limelight” The moon was so bright it caused a wicked purple lens flare. Kinda looks like the Death Star firing its superlaser!

Not a bad shot to end this blog with.

I know this was a short article and not long on details.  I plan to write follow-up blogs about the spots I photographed in Hawaii but haven’t decided on which ones yet.  Let me know if a particular location interests you and I’ll select the next topic based upon the feedback I get.

Aloha!
Jeff

 

PS:  If you would like to see more of my photographs from Hawaii, just click on this link!   If you are specifically interesting in Milky Way photography in Hawaii, check out this article. Finally, if you really liked the shots of NaPali, you might want to see some aerial views I shot from a helicopter.

 

A Landscape Photographer in Hawaii:  21 Days, 21 Photos

Kauai and Big Island Hawaii Photo Locations

photo locations on Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii

Posted in Hawaii Tagged , , , , , , , |

Big Sur Gallery updated

I’ve recently added a bunch of new photos to my Big Sur gallery.  Check it out  here.

I’m going to be out of pocket for the next month.  I have a 3 week trip to Hawaii (Kauai and the Big Island) starting tomorrow (poor me!) and I will be spending my time making images, not blogging about them:)

Expect a blog in late June with a recap of my favorite photos from paradise!

Jeff2017 California 03 11 0662 skew crop xmall file

 

Posted in California Tagged |

New Photos added to my San Francisco Gallery

I’ve just added a number of new images to my San Francisco Gallery.  This includes my best images taken during my recent trip and many of them haven’t been previously published

I hope you enjoy them.

Click this link to see my updated San Francisco Gallery.2017 California 03 12 0745-Pano

 

Posted in Buildings/Ruins, California Tagged , , |

Yosemite Time Lapse from Artist’s Point (Tunnel View)

Yosemite is one of the world’s most loved National Parks and no location in Yosemite is more famous than Tunnel View.   Ansel Adam’s photo from this spot (Clearing Winter Storm) was one of the iconic shots of the 20th century.  Not only is the view spectacular, you can easily drive right up to it on Wawona Road.   So it really isn’t surprising that this is the most popular and photographed location in the park.

2017 California 03 15 5126 crop

Tunnel View. One of the most recognized and incredible vistas anywhere.

But it wasn’t always so.  Until 1933 when the tunnel was opened, Tunnel View simply didn’t exist as we know it now.  For the previous 7 decades, Wawona Road had entered the valley via a different route that included the most famous spot in the park:  Artist’s Point.  This was the location where in June of 1855 the first image of the Yosemite Valley was drawn by a professional artist.  The artist was Thomas Ayres and when his picture was published in California Magazine it captivated and amazed the public, which helped spark the nation’s facination with Yosemite.   Later a stagecoach road was built to the valley that ran right by this spot and in the early 20th century it was even paved for the new-fangled horseless carriages.  When the tunnel was completed in the 1930s, Wawona Road was rerouted and the section that included Artist’s Point was abandoned.  Now, after 80+ years of neglect, it is nearly forgotten, crumbling and overgrown.

Earlier this year my son and I decided to hike to Artist’s Point.  We wanted to see if Ayres original location at Artist’s Point could compare with the awe inspiring scene at Tunnel View.  A quick (but steep) 40 minute hike was all it took to reach Artist’s Point and take in the view:

2017 California 03 17 6590

Artist’s Point is at a higher elevation and a bit northeast of Tunnel View, so you do get a slightly different perspective of the valley.

Is it a better view?  Some folk swear up and down that it is.  Jump back and forth between the two photos above and make your own decision.  Personally, I thought the view from Artist’s Point was only subtly different from what you will see from Tunnel View.  But even though the view is similar, the experience is totally different.  Unlike Tunnel View where loud motorcyles, cars and buses disgorge throngs of noisy tourists every few moments, you will likely be the only soul at Artist’s Point.  The quiet and sense of peace is pervasive.  You get a feeling of what it must have been like when Thomas Ayres sat on a rock nearby all those years ago and sketched a pristine and untouched paradise.

Photography is my way of trying to share with you what my son and I experienced at Artist’s Point.  But a photograph shows only a moment of time and fails to capture the dramatic way the shadows move across the valley.  I thought a time lapse might be the best way to show this, so I set up one of my cameras to take a shot of the valley every 15 seconds or so during the couple hours Ryan and I there.

Yosemite Time Lapse from Artist's Point (Tunnel View)

Click anywhere on photo to see my timelapse:  “A Minute of Magic at Artist’s Point”

I call the resulting video “A Minute of Magic at Artist’s Point.”  It’s only a couple minutes long, but I think it truly conveys a sense of the tranquility and beauty this magnificent view inspires.  Just click on the photo to the right and it will take you to my video posted on You Tube (it was just too large for my website).

I hope you enjoy!

Jeff

 

PS:  This video was shot during March which is a great time of the year to watch sunsets because both sides of the valley are illuminated at the end of the day.  Plus, the sun shines thru a small opening in the mountains to the west creating the ‘spotlight’ effect on Bridalveil Falls you see in my photos.

 

 

Posted in Time Lapse Photography, Yosemite Tagged , , , , |

New portfolio of African Wildlife

Hi all,

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve recently added a full gallery of African Wildlife images to my website.  I’ve selected over 60 of my favorite photos for you to enjoy.  Check it out by clicking on this link.2016-kenya-11-13-11287-crop-nik

Posted in Africa, Wildlife Tagged , |

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

Racetrack Playa is high on the bucket list for many landscape photographers…and with good reason.  Photos of the ‘sailing rocks’ with their long mysterious trails winding off behind them on the vast mud playa captures our imagination.  Your inner-child has to wonder how the heck those boulders move and the photographer in you recognizes the potential for dramatic photography.  Although Racetrack Playa is a photographic icon, I was surprised that there weren’t many ‘how-to’ photo tips available  on the internet.   So this article will address that shortcoming…consider it my effort at ‘paying it forward.’  So to help you make the best of your next visit, here is Racetrack Playa:  Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro.

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

“The Long and Winding Road” (apologies to the Beatles)

Racetrack-damage[1]

Sad…very sad.

Before I begin, let me make a plea.  The Racetrack is fragile and easily damaged…its surface is nothing more than a thin crust of dried mud.  Fortunately a few simple precautions will allow you to avoid causing any harm:

  1. Don’t drive out onto the Playa with any vehicle (including bicycles). They are not allowed on the Playa because they can leave tracks which can remain for years.  There is no reason other than pure maliciousness to drive on the plaza.  Check out this blog to see the damage a jerk in a car can do.
  2. If the Playa is wet, do not enter it.  Not even on foot.  Your footprints will remain a permanent feature on the Playa until the next good rain…which could be years.  If it is wet during your visit, please be considerate to the visitors who will follow you over the years and don’t walk out onto the Playa.

 Racetrack Playa Description

Racetrack Playa is located in a remote high desert valley in California’s Death Valley National Park.  The Racetrack is a playa:  A huge dry flat lakebed surrounded by mountain ranges.

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

The surface of the Playa is a mosaic of sun-baked mud

It’s larger than you might think:  2.8 mi (4.5 km) long (north-south) by 1.3 mi (2.1 km) wide (east-west).

It’s real claim to fame of course are the ‘sailing stones’ (also called the ‘rollling stones’, ‘moving rocks’ or ‘sailing rocks.’)   The floor of the valley is littered with rocks and boulders (some of them weighing hundreds of pounds and the size of large television sets ).   The fascinating thing is that the rocks have long, winding trails behind them.  Clearly they move across the valley and how that happens has fired imaginations for generations. Theories included everything from aliens from nearby Area 51 playing hockey to stuff that was really ridiculous.  Recent research  has shown that the rocks actually move on thin sheets of ice that slide across the valley during a rare combination of weather events.  Personally, I like the alien theory better, but either way, you can’t stand on the Playa without a sense of wonder enveloping you.

Getting There

Death Valley is only a couple of hours by car from Las Vegas (or 4 hours from Los Angeles).  Getting to Death Valley isn’t a problem, but getting to the Racetrack is another story.

2016 SW Death Valley 03 05 0406-Pano

Ubehebe Crater. It is difficult to capture this facinating subject well…at least I haven’t been able to do so yet.

Racetrack sign

Sign at the beginning of Racetrack Road

Once you are in the park, head north on Scotty’s Castle Road to Grapevine junction where you turn west onto Ubehebe Crater Road.  Take it to the end where you will see Ubehebe Crater.   At the crater, you will find a sign for Racetrack Road.  That’s where the pavement ends and the real adventure begins.

You’ve heard the expression “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Well, they weren’t talking about the Racetrack.

Racetrack Road is 28 miles of broken rocks, huge potholes and the worst washboarding you will probably ever experience.  Racetrack Road is graded once per year but you might not even notice:  the road is still hideous.

Note:  There actually are a couple of other roads/trails to the Playa but they are much worse than Racetrack Road.   I’ve never had a reason to try them.

  • Vehicle Suggestions

    1. You will need a high/clearance vehicle.  I’m not saying a regular sedan/van can’t make it but understand that there is a good chance you will damage or destroy your undercarriage.  I’m not exaggerating.  On my last trip down Racetrack road, I saw three vehicles broken down in the first few miles.
      • There is no cell service.  If you break down you get to wait until another vehicle comes by and hope they stop.  It isn’t a well travelled road, so you could be waiting for hours.
      • If you are in a rental, nearly all their contracts forbid off-road driving.  If you got the rental insurance, you will find it doesn’t cover you either if you go off-road. You will pay for the repairs out of your pocket
      • Getting a tow-truck here is insanely expensive…like well over $1,000.  I know people who have had to spend twice that amount.
    2. A 4 wheel drive vehicle isn’t necessarily mandatory if you are careful (and lucky).  But unless you are very experienced at driving off road, it would be a good thing to have.
    3. Bring a full-size spare tire (or two).  This isn’t a gravel road.  It is sharp, broken rocks.  They slice open tires (especially sidewalls).  I’ve NEVER driven this road without seeing at least two people changing flat tires. Racetrack Road is notorious for damaging light-duty passenger car tires
    4.  Also bring a can of fix-a-flat or tire plug kit, a 12-volt air-compressor, a lugwrench, and be sure all parts of your jack are on hand.

So, you don’t want to take a chance with your rental or personal car…and you don’t have a high-clearance vehicle and live close enough to actually drive to Death Valley…what can you do?  There are only two options:

  1.  Take a Tour.  There are a few companies who will take you out to the Racetrack.  I’ve never taken a tour, so I can’t review them.  However, the tours I’ve checked on usually only spend a couple of hours actually at the Playa…and  they take you there in the middle of the day when photography is far from ideal.
  2. Rent a jeep from Farabee’s.

    Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

    My Farabee’s Jeep Wrangler on the road to the Racetrack

    Farabee’s rents jeeps specifically for off-road use in Death Valley.  (see this link)  Their jeeps are well-maintained and modified with beefed up suspensions and heavy duty tires, plus they give you a GPS Spot unit (this sends a signal to a satellite in case of emergency).  They aren’t cheap.  A rental will cost you about $250 for a 2 passenger jeep and another $50 for a 4 seater.  Plus, the rental isn’t for a full day.  You pick up the jeep after 8 am and you have to return it that night…or you pay for a second day.   If you want to photograph the Playa at night or at sunrise, you need to plan on a two day rental.

Driving Tips

  1. Make sure your gas tank is full before you start your drive to the Racetrack.   Gas stations are few and far between.
  2. If the road is wet, or if rain is in the forecast (rare, but it happens), then don’t go.  Even 4WD vehicles can have problems if the roads are wet and unless you are an expert off-road driver, you will likely find it beyond your capabilities.

    Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

    A selfie with my son at Teakettle Junction

  3. Drive right down the center of the road.  Don’t try to ‘smooth out’ the ride by driving with one set of tires on the edge of the road and the other on the ‘hump’ in the middle of the road.  The sharpest rocks are found on the side of the road and you will greatly increase your chances of tearing out a sidewall.
  4. The road is narrow (not wide enough for two vehicles to pass in many locations) and there are a few blind corners.  However,  you can see dust clouds from approaching vehicles well in advance.  I’d suggest you slowly pull over and stop before approaching cars reach you and let them pass safely
  5. Keep you speed down.  I’ve seen folks take the road at 40+ mph…and although the ride seems to me to be smoother at higher speeds, your chances of hitting a pothole or nice big sharp rock is greatly increased.  It usually takes me about 2 hours to drive the 28 miles….yes, I know that is less than 15 mph….take your time, it is worth it.
  6. Stop at Tea Kettle Junction.  About 22 miles down Racetrack Road, you will run into a ‘road’ junction called TeaKettle Junction.  It is traditional to stop here for a photo (it’s a nice break anyway) and if you have one with you, tie a tea kettle to the sign. At this point you have about 6 miles to go.  Soon enough you will see the Playa.

When to Go

Time of Year

Not the summer.  Death Valley got it’s name for a good reason.  Summer temperatures hit 120 F/49C…in the shade.  Heck, Farabee’s closes for the months of June, July and August because no one is crazy enough to be out in that heat.

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

Usually the sky doesn’t add much to your images at the Racetrack, but exceptions to that rule can be wonderful!

High °F Low °F High °C Low °C
67 40 January 19 4
73 46 February 23 8
82 55 March 28 13
91 62 April 33 17
101 73 May 38 23
110 81 June 43 27
117 88 July 47 31
115 86 August 46 30
107 76 September 41 24
93 62 October 34 16
77 48 November 25 9
65 38 December 18 4
91 63 Year 33 17

My favorite time of year to visit the Playa is February or March.  The only downside to spring is that it can get really windy.  If you want clouds in the sky to spice up your shots, then your best bet is to visit in winter or in April/Sept during the cusp season for summer monsoons.

Time of day

2016 SW Death Valley 03 05 0422

This shot was taken during the middle of the day. The lack of shadows makes it look flat.

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

This shot was taken right after the morning sun cleared the mountains to the east. The low-angle light makes the image much more dramatic.

Although the novelty of the sailing stones makes the Playa photogenic anytime of the day, it really is at it’s best in the morning after the sun rises over the surrounding mountains or in late afternoon just before it dips below the horizon.  This is because sun is at a low angle during those times of the day and that dramatically increases the shadows in the mud mosaics Playa floor.  The shots to the left and right demonstrate that effect.

Also the color of the Playa is a non-descript, washed-out light tan.  However it can take on an attractive golden hue near sunrise/sunset.

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

“Sun Racer”

Be aware that since the Playa is in a valley, the sun will set about a half hour before ‘official sunset’ time due to the mountains to the west.  By the same token, you won’t see the sunrise until 30+ minutes after the ‘official sunset’ as well.

You need to get to the Playa early enough to give yourself some time to scout around.  The Playa is pretty large and the sailing stones are somewhat dispersed, so you need to have time to locate some photogenic ones before the light is right.  I’d suggest planning at least two hours for scouting.

If you enjoy shooting at night, the Playa can reward you with incredible images of the Milky Way (see section below about shooting here at night).  The Playa is at an elevation of 3,700′ and is located well away from most light pollution,  Shots of the Playa lit up by moonlight are also amazing.

What to  Bring:

  1. There is no water, food, gas or phones (or cell service) on Racetrack Road or at the Playa.  In other words, you need to bring with you all the supplies you might need during your trip.  Especially the water…lots of it.
  2. There is a port-a-potty at the Playa’s campground a couple of miles south of the Playa (see map).  It may or may not have toilet paper.  Other than that, you are on your own.
  3. Obviously you are going to be in a lot of sun.  Don’t forget a hat, lightweight breathable clothing and sunscreen.
  4. It would be a good idea to bring some goggles (especially in the spring).  When the wind starts blowing, the sand can be hard on your eyes.
  5. Don’t forget a tea kettle so you can leave a memento at the Junction;)

If you are going stay over night at the Playa:

The campground I mentioned is about 15-20 minutes past the Playa and it has about a dozen sites which are first come first served.  They are nothing more than a small area cleared of stones, but they will do if you bring a tent.  If you happen to visit during the spring, be aware that the wind at night can be incredible.  During my last visit, the wind was so intense that my trusty MSR tent nearly collapsed and the noise and constant movement made sleep impossible.  Some folks just sleep in their vehicles at the parking lots by the Playa.

The Playa can get cold at night so bring some warm clothes if you are planning to shoot after sunset from November thru March.

Photo Gear:

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

The Playa is big it takes some time to walk between the rocks. Spend some time scouting and have your ‘primo’ rocks picked out before the light is at it’s best.

  1. There is a lot of dust and grit at the playa.  Bring your lens cleaner and lots of microfiber cloths so you can keep your equipment clean.  Try to minimize lens changes.
  2. Bring your wide angle lenses.  I find that most of my shots here are taken between 16-35mm on a full frame camera (30-75mm on APS-C camera).  You probably won’t have much need for telephoto lenses at the Playa.
  3. Tripod.  A lot of your shots will involve getting real close to the rocks but trying to keep the background in focus as well so a tripod will come in handy…especially if you are shooting in low light near sunrise/sunset.
  4. A remote shutter release
  5. A polarizer will help make the blue skies really pop.  They will make a nice contrast for the pale-tan playa surface
  6. If you do any time-lapse photography, this is an incredible venue for it…bring your gear.

Okay, So you have your gear and made it to the Plaza, now what?

Racetrack Road enters the valley containing the Racetrack from the Northwest. Most of the sailing stones are located in the far southeastern corner of the Playa.  There really isn’t much of interest in the rest of the Playa except for the Grandstand.  The grandstand is a 73′ tall hunk of nearly black rock that rises out of the Playa’s flat surface.  If you have a lot of spare time on your visit, walk out and check it out.  Personally, I don’t find it particularly photogenic and would rather spend my time photographing the sailing stones.

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

Close-up of the Grandstand

 

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

This is the view from the edge of Racetrack Road about halfway down the Playa.  You can see the Cottonwood mountain ridge on the far side and the Grandstand is visible just left of the center of the shot if you look closely.

Drive down Racetrack Road (it runs along the western edge of the Racetrack) to the last (most southern) parking area near the end of the Playa.  Park here.  The sailing stones are located directly across the Playa.   If you have a compass, set your heading at about 70 ° (this is northeast), grab your gear and get going.  As you walk east across the Playa, it will at first look empty but you will start seeing the rocks after you get about halfway across.  Distances can be deceiving here…remember, the Playa is more than a mile wide…it is going to take you a while to get across.  The good news is that the number of rocks increases the closer you get to the opposite side.  The map below will help you familiarize yourself with the area:Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

Photo Techniques & Tips:

Scouting:

  • I know I already mentioned this, but you really need to scout around during the day and have some images preplanned so that you are prepared when the light gets good at the end of the day (or right after sunrise, if you spend the night at the Playa).  The best light doesn’t last long and it takes time to walk from one rock to another plus some of the rocks are just more photogenic than others.  Scouting ahead will allow you to take full advantage of your time on the Playa.

Perspectives:

  • Try setting up your tripod a few inches off the ground near a rock and use it anchor your image in one corner while showing the vast playa and distant mountains in the background.Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro.

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

“One Rock, Two Trails”

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

“From the Source”

However, one fascinating aspect of the Playa are the trails the rocks make, not just the rocks themselves.  They twist, cross each other and make all types of eye-appealing designs.  Don’t miss the chance to set your tripod to its full height and capture that perspective as well.

F/22 or Focus Stacking:

You will likely want to try to keep everything in focus throughout your image.  That can be difficult if you have a rock a foot from your lens but also have distant mountains in the background.

If you are comfortable with focus-stacking, it can be quite helpful at the Playa.

Otherwise, set your aperature to f/22, switch to Manual Focus and use your Live-View.  Adjust the focus point until you can get the image sharp from front to back.

Night photography:

The Playa at night is a nearly mystical place to be…as quiet as anyplace I’ve ever been.  The photo potential is incredible.

First of all, you need to know where the rocks are.  It can be surprisingly difficult to find the rocks on the Playa at night…even if you spent hours there the same afternoon.  Give yourself plenty of time to find them or mark their locations with a personal GPS device during the daylight.  A flashlight will obviously come in handy.

Racetrack Playa: Photo Guide and Tips from a Pro

“Midnight Run” This is a combination of two photos taken a couple of minutes apart. The rock in the foreground was illuminated for a couple of seconds with a small flashlight during a 400+ second exposure. The Milky Way shot was taken a few moments later…it is a 22 second exposure.

Personally, I like to do a bit of light painting on a rock, while taking a long exposure with a low ISO.  Then, I switch to a higher ISO (like 3500 or so) and take a 20-35 second exposure to capture the Milky Way.  After I get home, I merge the two shots together.  Click here for more details on how to take good Milky Way shots and the equipment you will need.

If anyone else is out photographing the Playa at night while you are, it might be a good idea to team up with them so you both aren’t ruining each others shots with your lightpainting.

Recap:

So, that should give you enough info to help you avoid the ‘rookie’ mistakes I made during my first trips to the Racetrack.  By the way, if you would like to read a blog with details about my last trip there, hit this link.  It isn’t a ‘how-to’ article but you might find it interesting and pick up a few more tidbits of info.

Take care and enjoy your trip to one of the coolest places on the planet.  Feel free to email questions and if you have suggestions for other tips, just let me know and I’ll revise this article.  Plus, if you want to share some of your Racetrack photos with me,  I never get tired of them!

Jeff

 

 

Posted in California, Milky Way Photography, Night Photography, Photo Tips and Guides, Southwest U.S.A. Tagged , , , , , |

A Photographic Trek thru Central California: San Francisco, Big Sur and Yosemite

Last month my son and I got to spend a week in one of my favorite locales: Central California.

It was Ryan’s first trip there so I had the added pleasure of introducing a new generation to one of the Earth’s  most photogenic regions.

We flew into San Francisco and although Ryan and I usually avoid urban areas on our trips, this was an exception to that rule:  the City by the Bay is one of the most beautiful places touched by the hand of man.

We hit the highlights:  Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Sea Lions at Pier 39, Cable Cars and Lombard Street

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“Receding into the Past” Fort Point

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How often do you get to photograph old windmills? A early morning shot in Golden Gate Park

How often do you get to photograph old windmills? A early morning shot in Golden Gate Park

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“Hop on board!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toward the end of the day we headed over to Marin County to check out a sunset location I’ve wanted to see for years:  Rodeo Beach. On the way, I had to stop at Hawks’ Hill, which has arguably the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge

One of the world's truly magnificent vistas: San Francisco seen from Hawk's Hill in the Marin Highlands

One of the world’s truly magnificent vistas: San Francisco seen from Hawk’s Hill in the Marin Highlands

Rodeo Beach Sunset in Marin County

Rodeo Beach: I’d wanted to try my hand photographing the sea stacks here at sunset for years. Fortunately my rookie effort got a nice assist from Mother Nature who kindly provided a mesmerizing sunset.

After the sunset we recrossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went back into town for some night shooting.

Night photo of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Frisco

The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It is surprisingly massive and after nightfall it appears magically elegant

We welcomed the next sunrise at one of my favorite spots:  Pier 9.  The perspective of the Transamerica Tower from the end of the Pier is epic.

Pier 9 Transamerica Tower

We said goodbye to San Francisco but not until we stopped for breakfast at Safeway (a west coast grocery store).  On our first day, Ryan had discovered the Breakfast Burrito at Safeway and that became his choice for the first meal of the day.  In fact, on our way to the airport at the end of trip, he made me stop at another Safeway so he could have one last one to eat on the plane:)

We spent a couple of days photographing the highlights of the California coast between San Francisco and Big Sur.  The spring rains had destroyed parts of the Pacific Coast Highway and we were unable to reach McWay Falls, which is one of the true highlights of the coast but even so, there was no shortage of amazing places to photograph.

Natural Bridges State Park Santa Cruz California

Natural Bridges State Park. The full moon provided plenty of light to illuminate the rock arch and the nearby stream that meanders into the Pacific

Ryan wanted to see Sequoias, so we drove inland a bit and hiked in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.Big Basin State Park

Big Basin State Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boy, did he see Sequoias!

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I adore otters.  Well, central California has one of the premier locations to photograph Sea Otters: Elkhorn Slough near Moss Landing.

California Sea Otter Moss Landing Elkhorn Slough

You looking at me?

California Sea Otter Moss Landing Elkhorn Slough

“I insist on FRESH seafood!”

I shot over 1700 frames in about two hours there….the image above was my favorite of the bunch.

At the very northern edge of Big Sur is Garapatta State Park.  This occupies a strip of land along the rocky shore that includes an embarrassment of breathtakingly beautiful coastal views…whether you shoot at before sunrise:

Garapatta State Park

I’d hoped to photograph the Milky Way from this spot but the full moon made that impossible. On the other hand, it did a great job lighting up the coast before dawn.

or during a mid-day fog:

2017 California 03 14 4848

A misty view of the Calla Lillies filling the little valley along Dodd Creek.

or at sunset:

Garapatta State Park

The sea stacks at Soberanes Cove. One of my favorite spots on the California coast…

We also had a chance to hike thru Point Lobos State Park which has a lot of incredible terrain packed into a condensed sliver of heaven:

Point Lobos State Park

The Veteran Cypress. This amazing 1000 year old tree has taken a beating but is still hanging on the side of a cliff refusing to slide into the Pacific!

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the park,  We ran into a local painter right after sunrise who was painting a stunning location called China Cove: China Cove at Point Lobos State Park

After a couple short days on the coast, we climbed in the rental car and headed east across the Central Valley with our sights set on Yosemite, the highlight of our trip.  I had sung the praises of Yosemite to Ryan for years and I was curious if he would feel the same or decide that I had over-hyped it.   As soon as we entered the park I took him straight to the park’s most magnificent vista:  Tunnel View:

Artist's Point Yosemite Sunset

March sunsets ocassionally create a spotlight effect on Bridalveil Falls…it is an amazing sight to witness

Ryan took a long look, grinned, slowly turned to me and said my praise had been severely understated.

We spent three days at the park.  Sleep wasn’t an option.  We were up well before dawn so we could photograph the valley illuminated by the full moon…

Night Photography at Yosemite

A long exposure from “the Gates of the Valley.”

Night photography at Yosemite Falls

Ryan on the trail to Yosemite Falls at “O dark thirty”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the sun was finally up we kept at it until it was dark again…we photographed the valley from dozens of perspectives,

We hiked quite a bit…our favorite of the trip was the Mist Trail.  This hike provides the novel experience of climbing up steps cut into the rock alongside Vernal Falls all the way to the top:

2017 California 03 16 5756_HDR sku

Vernal Falls from a hiker’s perspective…

Vernal Falls

Rainbows grace the base of the falls in late afternoon

 

The trail is well named and we got happily soaked.  Plus the snow and ice on the steps made the climb, well, let’s say it was entertaining at times;)  I was actually getting kinda proud of myself since it’s a challenging trail and I’m not exactly a teenager…but then a lady in her 70s passed me on the trail with her two grandkids….needless to say, I was appropriately humbled.

We made our way up to Nevada Falls where we conducted our traditional snowball fight (sorry, but when Floridians actually see snow, you can’t expect anything less).  Later that day back at camp we relaxed and soaked in the view (and a few brews).

2017 California 03 17 iPhone 7289

It’s only an iphone shot….but you get an impression of how incredible the view was. Ryan said all we needed was a Hot Tub and it would have been perfect!

I think we could have spent the rest of the trip in that spot.

The remaining days passed far too quickly.  However, there is no doubt that we will return again to enjoy the magic that is Yosemite.

 

Jeff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in California, Yosemite

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub

Some things are universal.  A mother’s love is perhaps the most touching.  It crosses every boundary and certainly isn’t restricted to humans.  I was reminded of this truism last year in Africa.

We were out photographing on the Masai Mora…which is the part of the Serengeti that crosses into Kenya.  It is a vast grassland that stretches to the horizon.

2077

Our guide, Julius, got a call from another Land Rover that had spotted a lioness creeping into a thicket.  It seemed worth a look but after creeping up a rocky hill, all we could see was this:

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story

Just a tall jumble of branches…frankly, even if there was a lion in there I didn’t see how we would get a photo worth having.  But Julius knew better, so we parked about 50′ away and waited…  Before long, we sensed something moving in the thicket…then we heard a pathetic, wimpy ‘mewing.’    And sure enough, this little guy crept out of the wood pile. The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo storySmaller than a loaf of bread and probably only a couple weeks old.  Barely had its eyes open and could hardly see at all…kept bumping into rocks and stumbling over his own feet.  But he was determined and over the next five minutes he managed to stumble quite a distance from the lair.  Which wasn’t good…there are all types of predators who would enjoy such a nice little morsel…I couldn’t tell you how many kinds of raptors I had seen… 5

…and any of them would have been delighted by this mobile ‘brunch.’  As the minutes stretched out, we started actively searching the skies to see if something would spot our little cub…and he got further and further from home.

 

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

Then…we saw Mama…

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

And she certainly saw us!The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

She barked a throaty snarl and gave us a no-nonsense…”Stay the hell away from my cub!” look that affected me deep in the pit of my stomach.  This wasn’t one of those fake “take a shot of the lion when it yawns…it looks just like a roar.”  This was the real thing…and you could see it in her eyes!  After making sure we weren’t a threat, she headed right to her errant cub.

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography2016 Kenya 11 14 14375

Then, this fierce hunter morphed into the most gentle soul you can imagine…

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Maybe she was a new mother, but she seemed very apprehensive about picking up her cub…

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

She tried over and over again.  Finally, she seemed to give up and gave him a bath instead..

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

Of course, the cub didn’t make it easy for her…it kept wiggling and scooting away.

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

But finally he settled down and she got a good grip…firm, but not too firm…

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

She headed back to the thicket…

2016 Kenya 11 14 14661The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

But she sure kept an eye on us the whole time…The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

…and then she silently slipped back into the bramble.

The Good Mother: A Lioness and her Cub Photo story

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It’s funny, if we had been even a few hundred yards away, we would have probably never known this little drama had even taken place.  The savannah might be vast, but it certainly isn’t empty and it has stories to tell…2077

Cheers!
Jeff

 

 

The Good Mother:  A Lioness and her Cub   Photo story by Jeff Stamer at Firefall Photography

 

Posted in Africa, Wildlife Tagged , , , |

Hunter or Hunted? A tale of the Hippo and the Lion Pride

Every day during my two weeks in Kenya, we would go out into the bush and I would be treated to some wild new wonder. Yes, I had never been to Kenya…so of course it all was new.  But some of the experiences so bizarre they even amazed our guides who were native Kenyans!  Maybe the best example of this was the adventure with the Hippo and the Lions.

One morning, we headed out before sunrise to a spot by the river where we had seen a lion pride the night before.  The lions were still there all right…eight or nine females and their young just lounging around soaking up some sun.

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This beautiful lioness relaxed in this sunlit spot on the riverbank posing for us for over ten minutes.

We moved the Land Rover to a great spot on the opposite bank and started snapping shots.  We had been photographing for quite a while when I noticed a hippo surface in one of the deep pools in the river just below us…2016 Kenya 11 12 07736

He (she?) casually climbed out and struggled up the embankment…

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That really got the attention of our lioness.  She got up and started trotting toward the hippo.  She maneuvered into its blind spot…

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Now lions don’t usually prey on hippos…nothing really messes with hippos, they’re just too big.  Despite their comical appearance, they can be deadly.  Hippos reportedly kill more people in Africa than any other land animal…our guide Julius explained that are particularly dangerous when you get between them and their escape route to the water.

Maybe the hippo heard something, because suddenly it twisted its head and saw the lioness!

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It froze for a second and then….it spit up what looked like 20 gallons of water.  I don’t know if this was a defensive action or if the lioness just scared it right out of her…

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A split second later, the hippo charged the lioness.  Now, you wouldn’t think a 3,000 pound hippo could move fast…but you would also be wrong.  They can hit 20 mph…keep in mind that Usain Bolt can only hit 27 mph!2016 Kenya 11 12 07762

This is as close as the Hippo got…the lion’s speed quickly got her out of harm’s way.

When it saw that the lion was out of reach, the hippo stopped…2016 Kenya 11 12 07771

Perhaps it decided that discretion was the better part of valor… ’cause it spun around and headed back toward the river.  The lioness immediately jumped off in pursuit…

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The hippo glanced over its shoulder… 2016 Kenya 11 12 07780

and seemed to open its mouth to scream when it saw it was being chased again.  She put her head down, put on the afterburners and started really moving!

Check out the dust trail the hippo was throwing up!

Check out the dust trail the hippo was throwing up!

As they passed the pride, the other lionesses started paying attention.

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I count four lions in this shot…that Hippo was seriously outnumbered!

By now the hippo had a full head of steam…with all that momentum, I doubt that anything could have stopped it…

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In the shot above, you can see that the lioness had caught up to the hippo and was throwing on the brakes.  She must have been thinking “Why am I chasing this guy…what the heck would I do if I caught him anyway?!”

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This was my last shot before the hippo passed behind the trees lining the river and headed down the bank…to safety.

Just like that, it was over.  From the time I first spotted the hippo in the river until she jumped back down the embankment less than 50 seconds had passed.   It’s incredible the drama you can experience in less than a minute.  Anyway, it made for an exciting morning…for the photographers as well as the hippo and the lion pride.  Like I said, something new and exciting every day!

Until my next post, take care,
Jeff

 

 

Posted in Africa, Wildlife Tagged , , |

My 12 Best of 2016

From Canada to the Carribean to Kenya, I was blessed with the chance to explore a variety of landscapes and exotic wildlife in 2016.  The only downside to this kind of  bounty is that it creates a challenge when trying to pick my favorite dozen shots from the year!

Its a great problem to have and below is my best effort to recap an incredible year.  I’ve included some of my best selling images as well as others that I personally love even if they haven’t sold a single print.  So, ready or not…here we go…

My 12 Best of 2016

# 1 “Midnight Run”

Racetrack Playa has long been on my bucket list and I finally got a chance to explore it last year.  Unlike some other icons that don’t quite live up to the hype when you finally get to visit, Racetrack was all I hoped it would be and more (although I could have done without the sandstorm)!  Check out this blog if you would like to read more and see photos from that trip.

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park Nevada

#2 “Sun Worshiper”

This is one of those shots that I wouldn’t have gotten if I wasn’t so persistant (or ‘pig-headed’ as my wife might say).  My son and I had a few hours to explore Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park on our way to Zion and we hiked out to the ‘Fire Wave’ even though it was ugly and raining.  I had just dropped my backpack when the sun burst thru the clouds and bathed us in glorious light for brief minute or two.  Ryan ran up to the wave and I got my tripod set up in time to grab an image or two before the sun disappeared.

My 12 Best of 2016

#3   “New Dive Buddy”

My wife Anita and I were diving near Pompano Beach when this Green Sea Turtle decided to tag along with us for a while.  It was wonderful to spend a few moments with this graceful guy in such a tranquil setting.  Here’s a link to a full article about this experience.

#4 "Mora Morning"

#4 “Mora Morning”

My wife (whom I clearly do not deserve) bought me a photo tour to Kenya as my Christmas present last year (I think I bought her a sweater);   The trip was really all about wildlife, but deep down, I think I’m a landscape photographer at heart.  Maybe that’s why I never missed the chance to capture some of the more incredible vistas…even if there was a leopard in the tree 50 feet away!

#5 "The Joust"

#5 “The Joust”

Yeah, I might love landscapes, but when your Land Rover turns the corner and two muscular Orix are scrapping for the rights to a harem of females, I had my camera up and ripping off shots with the rest of them.  These two guys were cracking their spike-like horns together, grunting and wheezing with excitement…maybe I should have shot a video instead!

#6 "Nothing Ventured"

#6 “Nothing Ventured”

One challenge for any photographer is to capture something new and unique in their shots.  This is nearly impossible when shooting iconic locations that have been photographed thousands of times before.   Mt. Rundle, as seen from Two Jack Lake in Canada’s Baniff National park is one of those places.   My son and I had spent two weeks getting systematically rained out of every single sunrise and sunset when the gods finally smiled and this scene appeared thru a breaking morning storm.  It was one of those moments when everything came together and allowed Ryan and I beat the odds and capture a truly magical moment.  I’m really proud of this image…it became my best selling print of 2016 and it is one of my all-time personal favorites.  See my full blog from last year about how it all came together.

Antelope Canyon

#7    “Sandstone Supernova”

I’ve photographed Arizona’s Antelope Canyon many times now but I’m still amazed every time I crawl down into that narrow crack in the red sandstone.  Technically, it is a difficult place to photograph but the resulting images can be amazing.  Everyone should experience this insane place at least once in their lives.

#8 "Birder's Delight"

#8 “Birder’s Delight”

2016 may be the year I finally came to understand ‘birders.’   To be honest, I’ve always looked at birders as nice but ‘unusual’ folks who delighted in talking thousands of photos of little grey and brown birds.  Well, my two weeks in Kenya introduced me to a world of colorful and exotic birds that anyone would be crazy NOT to pick up a camera and start snapping shots!  This shot of a Lilac Breasted Roller (I think) is possibly my all time best effort at capturing a bird in flight.

#9 xxxxx

#9    “Ringside Seat”

This is one of those photos that I would think is a photoshopped ‘creation’ unless I had been the one who actually taken the shot.  A killer rock perch above a dramatic waterfall with a perfect little island right behind it just looks too cool to be real…but it is!   Ryan and I arrived at Jasper’s Sunwapta Falls with an idealized idea of what we wanted to photograph but once we got there we just couldn’t find the right spot.  We searched for quite a while before Ryan found it.  This shot is the result of his persistance.

#10 “Here we come!”

This is probably the most popular shot I took in Kenya (which is saying quite a lot since I took over 35,000 photos)!  These four lion cubs were just walking right down the middle of a dirt road early one morning in Masai Mora National Park.  That one to the left looks like he was shouting out cadence..”Hup, one, two three four, Hup…hup!”  Actually, he was just yawning:)  Check out their dirty little feet… clearly they had been up early playing in the mud…just like youngsters!

#11

#11    “Postcard Peaks”

I was so excited when I first got to Lake Moraine that I immediately headed right to the famous ‘rockpile’ where you get this elevated view of the ‘Ten Peaks’.  To get there, I left the trail and hopped across a series of slippery logs floating in the water next to the parking area then scrambled up a steep rocking incline to the top.  Here was a 55+ year old guy carrying thousands of dollars of photo gear in a heavy backpack and I remember wondering if this was really a good idea.  The funny thing was that when I got to the top, I saw that if I had stayed on the trail from the parking lot a bit longer I would have seen that there actually was a nice, paved walkway to the top that was being used every other tourist in Alberta….

#12 "Mirror, Mirror..."

#12 “Mirror, Mirror…”

I’ll finish with my favorite wildlife shot of 2016.  I was watching a group of cheetahs trek across a small stream when one stopped at low spot in the surrounding bedrock that held a small puddle of water.  I was shooting ten frames per second and luckily managed to capture this moment when the cheetah seemed to gaze at its’ own relection before lapping up an evening drink.  The reflection was just perfect and the way the cheetah looped its tail and arched her back was nearly poetic in its gracefullness.

There you have it…the best I could do in 2016.  Photography was good to me last year.  It challenged and motivated me to seek out and enjoy the beauty of our earth.  I hope you enjoyed my photos and perhaps they will inspire you to get out there and explore a bit as well!

Jeff

 

 

Posted in Best Photos of the Year Tagged , , |

My Kenya Photo Safari: Ten Impressions (Plus some photos too!)

I can’t remember a blog that has been as difficult to write as this one.  It’s been nearly a month since I returned from Africa and as each day passes I receive more and more subtle (and not so subtle) questions about ‘when are we going to hear about your Kenya Photo Safari (and see some photos!)?’My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

Frankly, part of the problem is that I am a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos I took…over 25,000 images.  Just culling and processing them is a huge task.  Plus Africa was so dramatically different from my normal ‘world’ that I’ve been at a loss of even figuring out where to begin.

After four or five false starts, it became clear that I couldn’t write a single article about my trip….it would be exhausting…and very, very long. This first blog is going to be no more than an attempt to relay some of the most intense impressions that Kenya made upon me…along with a scattering of photos.  That will at least get the ice broken and future blogs can cover some of my experiences in detail.

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Never met a stranger…

First of all, let me tell you about the Kenyan people.  I’ve never met folks who were so genuinely friendly.  And I don’t mean friendly like the “Welcome to Disney world, thanks for spending a boatload of cash” that I’m used to.  I mean people who wave to you as you drive by a narrow dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Don’t give me wrong, if you walked downtown Nairobi at midnight with a Rolex on your wrist I’m confident you might meet someone who might give you a different impression.  But in a nation with 40% unemployment (yes….40%!), I found it admirable and inspiring that the Kenyans had such sunny dispositions.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

A Gerenuk…One of many animals I didn’t even know existed before my visit.

Second, Kenya not only has an incredible amount of wildlife but it is shockingly diverse.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

Even the lizards were cool!

I guess I’m used to the National Parks in North America where, sure, during a good day I might see a couple dozen different kinds of critters and maybe even something big now and again.  But in Kenya, there was such an incredible variety…hundreds of brightly colored bird species, dozens of exotic and strange mammals and an endless supply of animals every bit as big (and bigger) as our Land Rover.  For photography, it was truly a “target rich environment.”

 

Third, animals are people too.  Well, ok…they’re not human but I mean that after watching and photographing wildlife  ten hours a day for two weeks I was impressed with how often they displayed nearly human emotions and behavior.  The longer I was there, the more I appreciated that for all of humanity’s progress, science and intelligence….we really aren’t all that different.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

The affection between this cub and her mother is lovingly apparent

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

Who hasn’t seen this look in a teenager’s eyes?

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

“I’m not Screwing around…Back Off NOW!”

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

Madonna and Child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourth, Africa is beautiful but it isn’t benign.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

This is a Black Spitting Cobra. I had no idea what it was when I started snapping shots. My guide nearly freaked when he saw it!

I drove my guides a bit crazy with my desire to get out of the vehicle and take landscape shots.  It made them nervous as hell if I got more than ten feet from the Land Rover.  At first I didn’t really understand it… I’m used to hiking in the Americas where there really aren’t that many dangers from wildlife (assuming you display reasonable caution).  Africa is different.  There are a number of critters there that will kill you.  I learned that you couldn’t just go out and photograph the Milky Way at night by your tent  (a leopard killed an antelope one night inside our camp).  And to always look where you put your feet (see photo to the right).  Don’t get me wrong…its not like tourists are being killed in droves but you have to exercise a higher level of caution than you might be used to.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

“This meal could have just as easily been you buddy!”

Fifth, maybe I could be a birder after all.  I’ve joked about birders for years, but this trip may be the end of that.  The birds in Kenya amazed me.  So many different species.  So much color.  So freaking exotic.  They were seemingly everywhere and they would let you get a lot closer than I am accustomed to.

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris RollerMy Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris Grey Crown Craine2016-kenya-11-10-05015-crop2016-kenya-11-14-142592016-kenya-11-10-05710

Sixth, what happens when you put a landscape photographer on a wildlife tour?  I just couldn’t help myself…

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

The Iconic Africa.

 

My Kenya Photo Safari with Wild4 Photo Safaris

I was watching a nice sunset over the Masai Mara when I noticed this incredible cloud formation behind me.

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Pre-dawn shot of the savannah from my hilltop bungalow

Mt Kenya rises from the mist

Mt Kenya rises from the mist

Seventh, Cats are where its At!  Sure, I loved seeing elephants playing in the water or giraffes reaching for leaves on the tops of trees but lions, leopards and Cheetahs generated a whole ‘nother level of interest.  There is something inherently fascinating about these preditors…their powerful grace, surprising tenderness and pitiless lethality.

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“Liquid Grace”

 

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“Touch my zebra and DIE!”

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“Time for bed little one…”

 

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“And what do we have here?”

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“Almost there…”

Eighth, wildlife photography can be intensely exciting.  Stuff happens quickly with no warning.  In landscape photography I might spend weeks planning a shot, an hour just setting up and another thirty minutes taking the shot.  In Kenya we might come around a corner, find two Oryx fighting, rip off 100 frames and be moving on….all in a total of five minutes.

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“Joust”

Landscape photography is like writing a book:  it is calm, cerebral and certain…you pretty well know what is going to happen next.  Wildlife photography is like skydiving: Fast and furious and the future is anyone’s guess!

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“Leap of Faith”

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“…and the hunter shall become the hunted” This hippo was chased by a pack of lionesses…then it turned the tables!

 

Ninth,  it’s all about the eyes.  Windows to the soul…even with animals.  When a lion looks right into your eyes, you know this ain’t no house cat…and your heart stops.2016-kenya-11-14-14033-subtle

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Tenth, I learned to try and photograph a story…not just a moment.  Don’t get me wrong, one-off shots of a majestic lion are great:

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“Sundown Serenade”

But the story of a lion cub running around with a shoe…and playing ‘keep away’ from his siblings makes perhaps an even stronger impression.

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“Hey….Loooook what I found you losers!”

 

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“Naaah…Naahhh…Nnaaaahhhhh!”

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“Just try and catch me!”

I have a number of other Kenyan wildlife ‘photo stories’ that I will share in blogs over the next few months.  Stay tuned!

Okay, I know that’s a pretty choppy blog…but at least I broke the ice and hopefully it won’t be so long until my next one.

Happy Holidays to you and your family.  Kwaheri!
Jeff

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PS:  I usually plan my own photo trips and rarely go on tours or use guides.  I made an exception with this trip and I’m very glad I did.  My tour was with “Wild4Photo Safaris” run by Stu and Justyna Porter.  This is a class operation and I wouldn’t have come home with half as many killer shots if it wasn’t for Stu and my driver/guide Julius.  These guys had an amazing ability to anticipate where the wildlife was going to do be and what they were going to do.  They never failed to have us in the perfect position for the shot.  Not only that…but they were great people who became my friends.  I owe them a huge thanks for memories that that will last the rest of my life.

 

Posted in Africa, Wildlife Tagged , , , |

Safari Njema!

Well, tomorrow I embark on a grand adventure…a two week photo safari in Kenya!

This has been on my ‘bucket list’ since I was a kid and I’m insanely excited about the trip.  My wonderful bride of 26 years gave me this trip as my Christmas present and I gotta say:  The woman knows me well!

I’ve spent the better part of six months getting ready, which included buying additional camera gear (of course), more innoculations than I can count and hours trying make all my gear fit Emirates Airlines’ insanely measly luggage allowance (one carry-on bag for a 20 hour flight..Come on, really?!).

Fortunately, my trip will be with an outstanding, experienced guide (Stu Porter who specializes in nothing but photo tours), so I don’t have to worry about anything once I get to Africa except taking photos.

I don’t expect to have much internet access, so don’t expect to hear much from me for a while…but once I’m back I’ll be sharing lots of photos!

Jeff

Gorilla on Pangani Trail at Wild Kingdom/ Nikon 800E 300mm 400 ISO 1/500sec f/5.6

Posted in Wildlife Tagged , |

Bonaire 2016 Photo Contest

This is a quick post aimed at any of you who have visited the Caribbean island of Bonaire in the last couple of years.

The Bonaire Tourism sponsors a yearly photo contest for pros and amateurs in which you can win a free stay on the island.  Unlike most contests, there is no fee to enter, so you really have nothing to loose by trying!  Here’s a link.

I’m not big on contests as a rule, I’d rather be photographing stuff than submitting applications.  But the applicant pool for this contest isn’t really deep…this isn’t like you are entering a National Geographic contest and there are thousands of applicants…and I won the contest last year…which proves that ANYONE could win!

Anyway, they gave me a great free trip last year and I’d feel bad if I didn’t at least give them a bit of publicity:)

1st Place Bonaire Photo Contest

My winning shots from 2015. This year it could be you!

Jeff

Posted in Caribbean/Central & South America Tagged , |

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer’s Nirvana

In a recent blog, I mentioned a couple of hikers who made the tough 10 mile hike to reach the Subway at Zion National Park.  They spent five minutes looking at it, then turned around and hiked back.  That got me to thinking (which is a dangerous thing)…would I have hiked to the Subway if I WASN’T a photographer?  It is an amazing place… but honestly… a full day of tough hiking for just a glance.  I don’t know…

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

You’ve probably seen photos of this place…maybe you were as fascinated by it as I was!

So I wondered:  I’ve photographed a number of sites that were pretty challenging to reach…how many of them would I go back to, even if I didn’t  have a camera with me?   To be honest, that list is mighty short, but at the top of it would be Racetrack Playa.

I’ll bet you’ve seen photos of the Racetrack …even if you aren’t familiar with the name (see the image to the left).  The ‘sailing rocks’, some of them hundreds of pounds rest on a vast, flat mosaic of sun-cracked mud with trails stretched out behind them.   Folks have wondered for years how the heck boulders ‘sail’ across the high desert valley floor in a remote part of Death Valley.  Theories covered the spectrum from aliens (probably visiting from their nearby home at Area 51) to some other stuff that was really ridiculous.

Something about the Playa simply fascinated me.  The images of those sailing stones just fired my imagination.  And the Playa itself looks like an image taken from a Mars space probe.

Racetrack Play instantly went on my ‘bucket list’ and I finally I got my chance to photograph it this spring.

Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, covering 5,262 square miles.  My son, Ryan, and I spent our first day doing our best to hit the park’s photographic high points, including:

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Artist’s Palette

 

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Zabriski’s Point

 

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Mesquite Dunes

But I was really there for the Playa and it was the only thing on our schedule for the next day and a half…but first we had to get there.   Now, Death Valley isn’t exactly difficult to visit, over a million folks do so every year.  Getting to the Playa, however,is ‘a whole nother matter.’  I doubt that more than 20 folks per day make it to the Playa and now I know why.  It’s isolated in the far western edge of the park and the only way to reach it is via a ROUGH 28 mile unpaved road. When I say rough, I mean this was by far the worst road I’ve ever been on in my life.  It’s not a simple dirt or gravel road, its a mixture of sand and sharp broken rocks.  The washboarding is incredible and much of the ‘road’ is wide enough for only a single vehicle. Put it this way, the road is only 28 miles long but it took us about 2 hours to reach the Playa…yup, I averaged about 15 mph (and I thought that was fast!)

Teakettle Junction Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

I remember when that kid was the size of a tea kettle!

We had read about the road beforehand and knew we shouldn’t try to get there in a regular rental sedan, so we rented a modified 4×4 Jeep.  It wasn’t cheap, but it had heavy duty tires, beefed up suspension and included an emergency GPS tracker you could activate if you got stuck (no cell service on that road…or most places in the park for that matter).

I thought maybe I was being over-cautious renting the jeep.  I mean how bad could it be?  Well, in the first couple miles we passed two regular sedans that had blown tires and another that had the bottom torn out of it (no wonder the Park Service recommends you take TWO full sized spares).  Apparently towing costs are outrageous …like $1500-$4000… so I started thinking the cost might not have been ridiculous after all!

After an hour and a half of being thrown around like ping pong balls in a lottery cage, we reached Teakettle Junction.  I don’t know how it originally got its name, but over the years folks have decorated the sign with, you got it…tea kettles!  It was worth a photo and the good news was that it meant we were only 6 miles from the Racetrack.

We finally made the last turn and saw the Playa…  As I soaked in the view it became apparent why they call it the racetrack..it really is a huge flat oval surrounded by mountains that look like bleachers…throw up some NASCAR banners and I would have thought I was at the Daytona 500.

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

The Playa is about two miles long, a mile wide and ringed by black mountains.

We parked when I first spotted some rocks out on the Playa.  They didn’t look that far out there so I grabbed my camera nearly ran out into the flats.   After about five minutes, the rocks didn’t look any closer…so I slowed to a trot…then a jog…and then I just plain walked.  It slowly dawned on me that the Playa is big…really BIG.   Plus the rocks were out a lot further out there than they appeared and of course they were all on the FAR side of the Playa.

But I didn’t care!  I was at the Playa and I had my camera.  I spent the next few hours gleefully snapping away running from one rock to another.  The weather was wonderful.  Temperatures were in the 70s…nice partly cloudy skies and a gentle breeze.  I’d hate to visit in the summer when temperatures top 100° but in March, it was ideal.

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

“The Long and Winding Road”…apologies to the Beatles!

The shadows lengthened as the afternoon passed and the photography just got better and better.

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

“One Rock, Two Trails”

Finally the sun slipped below the mountains (the aptly named ‘Last Chance Range’) .  That seemed to spark an exodus as nearly all the other folks at the Playa got back in their vehicles and started back…probably hoping to make it before darkness made a difficult drive into a dangerous one.  But Ryan and stuck around.

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

The entire Playa is covered by a polygons of hard, baked mud. When the sun hits it at a low angle, the dark cracks really pop.

We were going to spend the night:  I had my heart set on photographing the Playa at night…hopefully getting shots of the ‘sailing rocks’ with the Milky Way hanging above them.  Since the Playa looked like a scene from a different world, I figured that including the Milky Way would be just be icing on the cake!

The campsite was close…less than a mile away.  It was small, rugged and primitive. No water, no electricity, no bathrooms….no problem.  I had done my research, so we knew what to expect and we were prepared…well, we THOUGHT we were.   What we didn’t plan on was the wind. The mild breezes we enjoyed during the day intensified as it got dark…and then got worse.  We live in Florida so we know a thing or two about wind…heck, Hurricane Matthew just hit a couple weeks ago…but we had never camped in winds like these.  40-60 mph gusts blasted our tent with sand and rocks:  it sounded like we were inside a blender full of gravel.  Needless to say we didn’t sleep much…  After a few hours we gave up, jammed the tent in the back of the jeep and drove back to the Playa.

Clouds had accompanied the wind and the Milky Way wasn’t visible.  At least the jeep was quieter than the tent and Ryan managed to drift off to sleep.  I just stared out the window hoping to see stars.  Around 3am the gale died down and the skies started to clear.  I left my sleepy son in the jeep and headed out onto the flats with my tripod and camera.

There was no moon and it was truly pitch black.  The silence was absolute and profound.  The Playa seemed eerie, empty and endless.  It really should have been one of those moments when I stopped, took a deep breath and appreciated the moment…  But all I could think was: ‘Where the heck are those freakin’ rocks?!’  Spotting them during the day had been pretty easy but in the darkness it proved frustratingly difficult.

The Milky Way was beautiful and clearly visible but sunrise was coming and the skies would soon start to lighten.  I kept walking and the minutes kept rolling by.  My chances of getting a Milky Way shot with the ‘sailing rocks’  were slipping away.

And then I nearly tripped right over one!

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

Alpha Centauri IV?    Vulcan?   Mars?       Nope…California!

I knew I had less than 30 minutes before the stars faded with the dawn.  That sounds like a lot of time to take a picture of a single rock..right?  Well, not really.  To get a high resolution shot of the rock in the darkness, some of my exposures had to be nearly 8 minutes long…so I didn’t have time to a lot of photos.  Plus I had to focus in the darkness (which isn’t fun)…then figure out the best way to light up the ‘sailing rock’…plus I had to take separate 30 second exposures of the faint Milky Way (later I’d merge the photos together in Photoshop).

Sometimes you imagine a shot in your head and wait years to get it but it doesn’t equal your expectations.  But the shot above didn’t disappoint me a bit.

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

Blue Planet

I would have loved to photograph more than one silly rock, but the sky had already started to lighten and the Playa slowly unveiled itself.  As details became visible, I started to faintly make out dozens lots of those silly rocks that had been so elusive in the dark.

The world shifted to shades of blue for twenty minutes or so, then the sunlight reached the clouds and briefly burned them red.

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

“Sun Run”

Once the sun broached the ridgeline, the floor of the Playa lit up;2016 SW Death Valley 03 06 0761_2

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

Direct from the Source

By now Ryan had joined me and we darted around the Playa yelling to each other when we found a particularly photogenic rock.  Some of the trails were truly weird, sharply cutting and darting around like a running back caught behind the line of scrimmage.  Others were straight as an arrow or gently curving…the variety was puzzling and fascinating at the same time.  I caught my self a couple times just staring at the magical and bewitching scene before me…

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

“Take me to your Leader Earthling”

Racetrack Playa: A Photographer's Nirvana

Drag Racer!

We had about an hour before the light got harsh which brought an end to our visit.   Ryan and I looked at each other and grinned that smile that guys do when they are really happy but way too old-

“Time for you to leave”

school to actually hug each other.  We ambled back to the parking lot, ate a power bar, fired up the jeep and headed back to civilization.

I’m sure some will look at these photos and think  “OK…a bunch of rocks in the desert:  Big Deal”  But if you are like me, it will spark a sense of wonder and enchantment.  I found it totally surreal and bizarre….and starkly mesmerizing.  Despite the time, hardship and treasure it costs to get to the Racetrack, I’d go back in a minute…even without a camera.  There just isn’t another place like it…at least here on earth!

Jeff

 

PS:  If you are thinking about visiting Racetrack Playa, I’ve written another blog with maps and specific tips.  Use this link for a full report of all you need to know to photograph Racetrack Playa!

 

 

PSS:  The mystery of the ‘Sailing Rocks’ has been scientifically solved (see this link for the full report).  A group of researchers actually put small GPS trackers on some of the rocks and set up cameras to take time-lapse photos of them.  Basically, when a thin layer of ice forms on the Playa, the rocks will move if there is a high, sustained wind (yup…I know about THAT!)   It happens rarely, but they caught it on tape.  I guess someone was bound to have enough time and money on their hands to solve this mystery…but honestly, I kinda liked not knowing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Racetrack Playa:  A Photographer’s Nirvana

 

 

 

Posted in Landscape Photography, Milky Way Photography, Night Photography, Southwest U.S.A. Tagged , |

Lake Jesup Wildflowers: Oct. 16, 2016 Update

I made another trip out to the sunflower fields today.

"Blue

As you might expect, the rain from Hurricane Matthew has made a pretty dramatic change compared to a couple weeks ago.  Although there are still plenty of flowers, all the fields are flooded.  You can get close to them but you can’t actually get into the flowers unless you have a boat or want to go swimming.  The good news is that even though we are well past peak bloom, there is still plenty of color plus the temperatures are nice and the mosquitos seem to be few and far between.

If you make a trip out, just take your waterproof boots and stay on the ‘red trail.’  Once you reach the flooded fields, keep hiking southwest on the dry ground under the oak hammock that borders the wet field.

"<yoastmark

Lake Jesup Florida Wildflowers

Even if the sunflowers aren’t as impressive as they were before Matthew, it’s a nice little hike…Plus if you keep your eyes and ears open, you will likely see eagles.  My son and I saw two today.

If you haven’t seen the flowers yet this year, I’d think this coming weekend might be your last chance to catch any decent color…otherwise, you will have to wait until 2017!
Jeff

PS:  If you’ve never been out to the fields, check out this link for directions and other important info.


Lake Jesup Florida Wildflowers

 

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations Tagged , , , |

The Sunflowers are Blooming! Lake Jesup Update: Sept. 27, 2016

For those of you waiting for the annual Lake Jesup sunflower bloom, the time is here!

Lake Jesup Sunflower Field Bloom Update: Sept. 27, 2016

Florida the Beautiful

I made my first trip out to Jesup’s Marl Bed flats today and the flowers were there in abundance.  Not full peak…let’s call it about 30-40% of max bloom.  Lots of the flower buds haven’t opened yet and I would think that another 7-10 days or so will be the peak.

The good news this year is that the fields are pretty dry.  Water levels are the lowest I’ve seen in the past five years.  Although you can still get your feet wet, it’s much better than years past.

The bad news is that you are going to have to walk a bit further than in 2015 to reach the best fields.  Plus the fields are not as expansive as last year.  Perhaps that is largely because the bloom isn’t at its peak…time will tell.

Lake Jesup Sunflower Field Bloom Update: Sept. 27, 2016

Not quite as lush as some years but still impressive!

 

If you are planning to visit the fields and haven’t done so before, follow this link to my post that has full directions as well as tips about what you will want to bring with you.

If this isn’t your first time, be aware that the best fields are in different locations than in 2015.  The map below will help steer you in the right direction.  Usually, the sunflower fields start right where the oak hammock ends.  This year you have bear to the right (north) once you reach the fields or walk east well out into the flats (about ten minutes) before you hit the best areas.

Lake Jesup Sunflower Field Bloom Update: Sept. 27, 2016

2016 Map for Lake Jesup Sunflower Fields

The fields were deserted today…didn’t see another soul.  After all these years, I still find it amazing that I can be sitting in bumper to bumper traffic at 8:00 and thirty minutes later be standing in the middle of a silent field with sunflowers stretching to the horizon.

Although homo sapiens were not to be seen, I did run across an inquisitive raccoon as well as the usual cows.lake-jesup-wildflowers-95lake-jesup-wildflowers-122

Saw hundreds of birds of all types.  The eagles are out again this year but never got close enough for a good shot.

Mosquitos were much less active this year.  I saw a airboat spraying along the edge of Lake Jesup, maybe the county is actively trying to control the bugs this year because of the Zika scare…whatever the reason, I didn’t need nearly as much bug spray this year!

Hope you get a chance to get out to the fields this year.  I’d say the next two weekends are going to be as good as it gets!

Jefflake-jesup-wildflowers-62-2

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations, Wildflowers Tagged , , |

My Rocky Mountain Photo Gallery is now open

Hi All,

I just added a new portfolio to my website featuring images from the Rocky Mountains (just click here) .  Taken in the US and Canada over the past decade, I’ve selected a couple dozen of my favorite shots for you to enjoy.  I hope you have the chance to take a look and let me know what you think!

 

Thanks,

Jeff

Rocky Mountain photos by Jeff Stamer

“Morning Mist” The ten peaks around Moraine Lake peak thru morning clouds as Banff National Park welcomes another day

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations Tagged , , , , , |

Happy Birthday to an Inspired Ideal

The US National Park Service celebrates it’s 100th birthday today!

Americans are justifiably proud that the U.S. created the world’s first National Park.  It was a truly inspired concept which spread world-wide.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the foresight and sheer genius of the concept of National Parks.  Most of my vacations are spent in them.  My career is dependent upon their existence.  And, more importantly, they are among the few places in the world that consistently fill me with a sense of peace and wonder.

Happy Birthday US National Park Service!

 

 

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

– William Shakespeare

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park...one of many wonders in the National Park System...

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park…one of many wonders in the National Park System…

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations

A New Dive Buddy

No long, detailed description of an iconic landscape photography location today…I just wanted to share with you a short but sweet encounter I had recently.

Last weekend, my wife Anita and I drove down to Pompano Beach for a day of scuba diving.  Oddly enough, although we live in Florida, we rarely dive here…most of our dives are in the Caribbean which is close and cheap.

However, we might rethink that strategy because of a wonderful experience:  We ran across a young Green Sea Turtle got to swim with him for an hour or two.  Okay, okay…it was really less than two minutes, but it seemed longer!)

So, my Dive Buddy (Anita) and I were diving on a shallow reef called the ‘Nursery’ off of Pompano Beach.  It is a shallow reef and frankly, the visibility was only so-so.  I’m starting to think, “Yup, this is why we don’t dive in Florida” and I happened to glance to my right and noticed this little guy (gal?) calmly swimming right along beside me…

Story and photos from a chance encounter with a Florida Green Sea Turtle near Pompano Beach.

“Mind if I swim along with you for a bit buddy?”

 

Anita spotted him at the same moment and swam over to take a peek…

Story and photos from a chance encounter with a Florida Green Sea Turtle near Pompano Beach.

2016 Pompano Scuba-275

We slowly swam together in formation like a squadron of old biplanes as I happily popped off shot after shot of our new dive buddy..Story and photos from a chance encounter with a Florida Green Sea Turtle near Pompano Beach.

Story and photos from a chance encounter with a Florida Green Sea Turtle near Pompano Beach.

2016 Pompano Scuba-284 asb

Story and photos from a chance encounter with a Florida Green Sea Turtle near Pompano Beach.

My favorite shot of the day…

But it didn’t take long for our new little friend to get bored with our effort at Synchronized Swimming.    He veered away from Anita and headed right at me…

Story and photos from a chance encounter with a Florida Green Sea Turtle near Pompano Beach.

“Ramming Speed!”

 

For a moment I thought he was going to hit my camera housing before he gracefully swooshed below me and out to the deep blue.

Anita and I hovered there for a moment or two and did our best to smile underwater with regulators jammed in our mouths (trust me, it’s difficult to do!)

Now, this was nothing more than a common, simple, chance encounter.  But I’m reminded of the old saying:  “Life Is Not Measured By the Number of Breaths We Take, But By the Moments That Take Our Breath Away ”

Jeff

 

 

Posted in Underwater Photography

How Much is this picture worth?

Two Jack Lake view of Mt Rundle in Banff National Park Canada

Name your price….

No, this isn’t a sales pitch.  It’s just a simple question I’ve been asking myself.  How many mornings would you get up at 4am with less than 5 hours of sleep and then drive in total darkness in a foreign country on unfamiliar roads to have the chance to take this shot?  Two…three times… maybe?  But what if you had to do this twelve times…after first flying nearly 3,000 miles and camping in a leaky tent while it rained nearly non-stop for a week in a half?

Yeah, I’m asking myself that question because my son and I went to the Canadian Rockies last month.  As it turned out, the 12 days we were there had the dubious honor of hosting some of the worst weather on record.    Of course you never expect the skies to be perfect for an entire trip, so even though you might plan where to photograph every, single sunrise and sunset, you know that some of them won’t work out.

Well, this time we didn’t get a single decent sunset the entire trip…totally skunked.  Sunrise wasn’t much better, there was one decent, but unspectacular morning early in the trip and we got some nice shots of Crowfoot Mountain.

Crowfoot Mountain Banff National Park

A fine shot of Crowfoot. Not killer. Not once in a lifetime. But nice…

 

But after that…zilch, zip…nada.  Truth be told, as the trip started to wind down, it did get to be a bit depressing.  Don’t get me wrong, we took advantage of the overcast skies and photographed some killer waterfalls plus the animals didn’t mind the rain which allowed us to enjoy some of our best wildlife photography ever.  And honestly we had a few partially cloudy afternoons which allowed us to do some hiking and see the Canadian Rockies in all their glory.  Just not at sunrise… or sunset…sigh.

Punchbowl Falls in the rain. We couldn't ask for better weather for photographing Waterfalls!

Punchbowl Falls in the rain. We couldn’t ask for better weather for photographing Waterfalls!

Overcast skies were perfect for photographing this stand of Aspens

Overcast skies were perfect for photographing this stand of Aspens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only that, but I nearly didn’t get this shot at all.  My son and I had showed up at the dark and empty Two Jack Lake  parking lot thirty minutes before sunrise (for the third or fourth straight day), set up our tripods in the rain (for the third or fourth straight day).  We aimed our cameras pointing at Mt. Rundle (well, we couldn’t actually SEE the mountain, but we knew it was out there somewhere to the southeast:)  Then we sat down in the car and waited.  And waited.  Sunrise came and went with no sign of sun.  After about an hour of some sleepy father and son bonding, we just looked at each other, shook our heads,  packed up and and left.

Bucks near Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park

The wildlife didn’t mind the rain at all!

A few minutes down the road I spotted two nice bucks grazing in a meadow off to the right.  Since we certainly had the time, I pulled over, grabbed my big 200-400mm and stalked them for a bit.

And then a funny thing happened.  After 15 minutes or so I noticed a bit of blue starting to peek out from behind the clouds.  We weren’t that far from Two Jack Lake so we turned around and headed back just to see if we might finally get lucky and see some actual sunlight.

As we pulled into the small and still empty parking lot, I saw that Rundle was actually visible thru the breaking clouds. Two Jack Lake view of Mt Rundle in Banff National Park Canada

Now, there wasn’t much in the way of color, but hey, it wasn’t raining (for once) and we could actually see the mountain.  So we set up our tripods and started to snap a few shots of Mt Rundle.  And then, gradually, a bit of sunlight struggled thru the overcast skies and a small, partial rainbow shimmered to Two Jack Lake view of Mt Rundle in Banff National Park Canadalife off to the west.

Ryan and I perked up and we started to get a bit excited.

Suddenly a shaft of sunlight ripped thru the clouds and lit up the mountain.  In that moment, the scene before us morphed from mundane to MAGIC!

 

Over the next seven minutes, we had an absolute ball!  Since we had already spent hours there, we certainly knew where to go.  We ran from spot to spot to photograph from every possible perspective.

But within a couple minutes, the rainbow started to fade.  2016 Canada 07 17 0768And then, the rain came back, again and the mountain vanished… again.   And it didn’t come back.

Ryan and I looked at each other and just grinned.  Here we stood in one of the most popular sunrise spots in the Canadian Rockies during the busiest time of the year.  Photographers usually line the shoreline, tripod to tripod at sunrise ….and we were the only souls there.   And had witnessed an absolutely incredible, epic, sunrise!

Not a nice sunrise…not a good sunrise…not a pretty sunrise…an EPIC one!

As the rain picked up and splattered around us, a couple Canadian Geese wandered over like they were asking…”Hey buddy, did ya see that sunrise? Wow…that one was pretty damn impressive, wouldn’t you say?!”

2016 Canada 07 17 2818 crop

“Good Morning you crazy photographers!”

So…back to the original question.

What is this shot worth?

Was it worth it?

Two Jack Lake view of Mt Rundle in Banff National Park Canada

Well, I’ll never sell enough prints of this shot to pay for the trip, so financially, no it wasn’t.

But, it was one of the most dramatic sunrises I’d ever had the good fortune to witness.  I’ll forget hundreds of other average, normal, nice sunrises…but I’ll remember this morning with my son until I’m on my deathbed.  When I look at it that way, yes…it was worth twice the price.

Jeff

 

Posted in Rockies

Off to the Great White North!

Tomorrow my son and I head off to the Canadian Rockies for nearly two weeks of camping, hiking and photography (not necessarily in that order).  Temperatures here in central Florida have been in the mid 90s for a while and I’m looking forward to cooler weather (heck, the surface of the sun might be an improvement!)

Earlier this year when Ryan and I were considering where to go on our summer road trip, he shared with me a number of photographs on Instagram that had caught his attention.  A surprising number of them were from the Canadian Rockies.   Although I had heard of Banff and Jasper, they had never really come up on my radar screen even though I had photographed Glacier National Park last year and had been enraptured by the alpine vistas.   But the more photos I saw, the more I was impressed.

Mt. Sinopah reflected in Two Medicine Lake at Glacier National Park

“Morning Beacon” This was my favorite shot from Glacier NP last year…let’s see if I can top it in the Canadian Rockies!

Here we are a few months later and I’ve spent more hours than I would like to admit researching where we will photograph every single sunrise and sunset!  Not only does the region have incredible landscapes but it is also famous for its wildlife.  In fact, I bought a new Nikon D500 just for wildlife photography…we will see what kind of bear shots I can get with it mounted to a 200-400 zoom coupled with a 1.4 teleconverter (that will almost be the equivalent of a 900mm lens…I should be able to count the nose hairs on the bruins!)

Ryan and I are truly stoked about the potential for a great trip.  But in the back of my mind I wonder how many more of these trips we have in our future.  After all, Ryan is 21 and will be graduating next year…soon there will be a career and then a family…he just won’t have the time for these adventures with the old man.  But that’s the future…in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy it!

I’ll be sure to update you all when we return…here’s hoping the weather gods are good to us!
Jeff

Posted in Roadtrips, Rockies

A Photographer Commutes on Zion’s Subway: Photo Tips

A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

This is pretty much straight out of the camera. I pulled the highlights down a bit, lightened the shadows and increased the vibrance a tad…that’s it!

If you are a photographer, then you know we live in challenging times.  The source of this concern is that there are a LOT of  talented and dedicated photographers out there and they are creating incredible images.  So why is that a problem?  Well, have you ever finally got to one of those locations on your ‘photographic bucket list’, set up your tripod, looked thru the viewfinder, and said to yourself….Crap, this doesn’t look at all like those pictures I’ve been looking at!

That’s the problem I’m talking about.

Heck, you get all excited, spend the money and time to travel to one of these photographic icons….and then the real thing just doesn’t look nearly as good as those images you saw on your computer back at home.

It’s happened to all of us…no matter how good our equipment or how talented (we think) we are.

So when I do get to a ‘bucket list’ spot and I look thru the viewfinder and what I see is there is as good as anything I’ve ever seen on the internet, well, then I know that I’m truly in the presence of something special.   A real Icon.

And I’m here to tell you that the Subway at Zion National Park is one of those Icons.  I don’t care how many photoshopped masterpieces you’ve seen taken by National Geographic Award Winning Photographers …the fact is that YOU can take a photo here that will compare well to the best of them and  make you shake your head in wonder.

Yeah, but here’s the hitch (there’s always a hitch).   It’s not easy to get to the subway.  Access is tightly restricted by a permit system plus you have to be willing and able to make a long hike.

Actually, there are two ways to get to the Subway.  One way involves rappelling and other mountain climbing type skills, so let’s forget about that one.  The second route is shorter and easier… its called the “Bottom-up” hike.  Although easier, it is still about a 10 miles roundtrip hike.  And it isn’t a smooth, easy trail.  The National Park Service calls this a strenuous hike.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration but it was certainly the toughest 10 mile hike I’ve done.  None of it is smooth, straight, level or flat.  You are constantly scrambling up and down over rocks and boulders.  Maybe this explains why less than 1% of Zion visitors make it to the Subway.

My son, Ryan, and I are confident hikers but we still took about two hours (not counting stops) to reach the Subway.  Once you figure in some breaks as well as stops for photography, it would be difficult to do this whole hike in less than seven hours.

But it is worth it!

A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

You start seeing these colorful pools as you approach the subway entrance

Ryan and were in Zion this March and the Subway was #1 on our list of hikes.  We got to the trailhead a couple of hours after dawn and started down the trail.   To be honest, compared to other hikes in Zion, this one isn’t particularly beautiful.  To be brutally honest it was a long, tiring slog.  But as we finally approached the subway entrance things started to get very interesting.

Carved out from the colorful sandstone by moving water, the subway is aptly named.   Actually it is a narrow canyon with a thin opening in the ceiling but it really does look like someone burrowed a curving, round tube right thru the rock.

We set up our tripods and took our first shot.  We glanced at the result and then looked up at each other with huge, dopey smiles on our faces.  Shook our heads and got to work.  We were bouncing ideas off of each other, suggesting different angles, perspectives, camera settings…I was almost giddy.  The place is truly magical for a photographer!

The subway was a lot larger than I had imagined, the ceiling was about 20′ tall.  And the colors are amazing!  The chilly water saturates the rock which results in robust reds, fluorescent greens and subtle yellows.

A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

“Subway Commuter”  My son’s silhouette helps you appreciate the size of the place.

Ryan thought it would be good to include people in some of the shots.  I’m kind of ‘old school’ and was taught to exclude people from my photographs.  But I’ve come to appreciate how much a human figure in an image provides a sense of proportion and fosters an emotional link to the image.  Looking thru my Subway shots now, the ones with people are among my favorites:  who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

'Zion's Subway Photo Tips'

It can be hard to come up with unique compositions at the Subway. In this shot, I used a Gorillapod tripod to set up my camera only inches over the water.

The Subway is fully shaded and surprisingly cold, especially when the wind whips thru the ‘tunnel.’  We had a ball, despite the chill and managed to stay on our feet the whole time although the swift current and slippery rocks resulted in a couple slips that certainly got the adrenaline flowing for a moment or two.

There is a waterfall in a chamber at the back of the Subway, but the water levels were too high for us to reach it due to the snowmelt.  Something for our next trip.

We enjoyed the Subway’s magic for nearly 90 minutes before we regretfully packed up to head home.

We decided to stop for a well earned lunch at Arch Angel Cascades.  As we were enjoying our extravagant meal (Cliff Bars) we noticed a young couple coming down the stream headed for the Subway.  We waved and said hi.  About ten minutes later we were putting our packs back on when we saw the same couple heading back.  I guess they weren’t photographers.  They had hiked for 2 hours, looked at the Subway for five minutes or so, then turned around started the 2 hour walk home. Ryan and I were amazed.  Sure, the Subway is beautiful, but I wonder if I would be willing to walk 4 hours to look at something for less than 300 seconds!

The hike back seemed to take forever…possibly because I was dreading the climb near the end of the trail where you have to climb 500′ over less than a tenth of a mile.  That is one steep climb.  Of course my 21 year old son bolted up the trail like some kind of crazed mountain goat.  My 57 year old knees weren’t quite as nubile so he got to wait quite a while at the top before I clawed my way up.

Now, four months later,  the sore muscles are (nearly) forgotten.  But whenever I look at the photos I took that day, I smile and think of a place where you don’t have to be Ansel Adams or Tom Till to take a breathtaking photograph.

‘ Subway Station’ A three frame composite panorama

Photo Tips and Guide for Photographers visiting Zion’s Subway:

Normally, what you would see now on my blog would be a full length article on “How-to photograph the Subway” …but that isn’t going to happen:  Because someone has already done it.  I ran across this guide  by fellow photographer Nico Debarmore when I was first planning my trip.  His article is through, detailed, accurate and I highly recommend it to any photographer considering making a hike to the Subway.

In addition to Nico’s information, let me add a few random thoughts of my own:

Find out about the water conditions  before you hike: 

  • The Left Fork of North Creek is the stream that runs thru the Subway and it is the single most important variable in your visit to the Subway.  The amount of flow and temperature will determine IF you can make the hike and what type of equipment (i.e. neoprene socks/boots/etc) you will need.
    • The best way to get this info is to ask one of the outfitters in Springdale (the little town at the southern entrance of Zion.)  They get daily updates on water conditions from their customers as they come back to return rented equipment.
      • Personally, I found the folks at the Zion Adventure Company to great sources of info…plus they have all the gear you will need to rent at decent prices (and no, they don’t give me a kickback for this endorsement, unfortunately.)
    • I originally tried asking Park Rangers at the desk that issues permits for the hike but they rarely seemed to have up-to-the minute and accurate info (or maybe liability concerns by the management has resulted in instructions for them to be vague?)

Don’t get lost

  • This isn’t a well maintained trail.  However, once you get down to the river you really can’t get lost…you just follow the river.  But the trail from the trailhead at the parking lot to the river can be difficult to follow.  I got lost for ten minutes when I thought a dry creek bed was the trail.  Thankfully I had a “AllTrails” GPS app on my phone and was able to get back to the right trail quickly (that alone was worth the $15 I spent on it!)

Don’t get distracted on the way to the Subway.

  • We stopped and photographed a number of neat little waterfalls and cascades on the way to the Subway…don’t do that.  Hit them on the way back.
  • A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo TipsA Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips
    • Why?  Because there are 3 truly memorable photogenic subjects on this hike other than the Subway (Arch Angel Falls, the Cascade just above Arch Angel Falls and the Crack).  They are all clustered near the end close to the actual subway.  If you dawdle too long during your hike, then these 3 spots will likely be in direct sunlight by the time you get there.
      • So, don’t be a slowpoke and if any of these 3 spots are still in the shade when you reach them on your way to the Subway, stop and take a few minutes to capture some images.
    • A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

      I photographed Arch Angel Falls on the way back from the Subway…by then it was in direct sunlight. If I had taken this  photo while it was in the shade I would have been much happier with the result.

A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

The Cascade above Arch Angel Falls photographed in mid morning while still shaded by the canyon walls. This shot was taken in March and the snowmelt provided a nice waterflow. Later in the year (summertime) the current is much reduced and isn’t quite so photogenic.

  • You won’t find a photo of the famous Crack in this blog, because I was in a hurry to get to the Subway and didn’t stop and photograph while it was still in the shade.  I really should have.  Because by the time we returned on the hike back it was in direct, blinding and harsh sunlight.  It wasn’t even worth wasting a shot.  I’ll know better next time.

Avoid the Crowds.  The Park Service allows a maximum of 80 hikers per day to visit the Subway which doesn’t sound like a lot.  However, the Subway can’t really handle more than a handful of photographers without them getting in each other’s way.  You really don’t want to be here maneuvering your tripod here around 79 of your new, bestest friends.

  1. Start your hike at first light (before sunrise if you can).   It will mean leaving your room/campsite early, but you will avoid most of the crowd. Plus, you will be able to get to Arch Angel Falls and the Crack before they get hit by direct sunlight.  Also, if you are hiking in the winter months when there are only 12 hours of sunlight, you have to start early or you will be hiking home in the dark.
  2. Try to avoid April – October.  These are the busiest months.  If you visit during Nov-March you are very likely to get a permit (for example,  the day my son and I visited in March, there were only 11 other people who applied for a permit). However, during the busy April- October timeframe the 80 available permits are in such demand that they are actually doled out via a lottery…so there is NO guarantee that you will get one  (see Nico’s article for more details). .

Bracket your shots

The Subway is at the bottom of a tall, narrow canyon, so it doesn’t get much direct sunlight.  The light is subdued and my Nikon D800e was able to handle the dynamic range.  However, the D800 is known for its dynamic range abilities, so depending on your camera, it might be a great idea to bracket your shots just in case you have to use HDR software.

'Zion's Subway Photo Tips'

Ryan and I waving goodbye at the end of an epic photo shoot!

 

I’ve never seen a place like the Subway.  It is truly unique and for the photographer willing to make the hike, it is a place never to be forgotten.

I hope you get to experience the magic yourself someday soon!

Jeff

 

 

 

Zion’s Subway Photo Tips

Zion’s Subway Photo Tips

 

 

Posted in Photo Tips and Guides, Southwest U.S.A. Tagged , , , |

New Gallery of my Pacific Northwest Favorites

Hello all,

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve just added a gallery of Pacific Northwest images to my portfolio. Check it out by clicking on this link!

2015 Northwest 06 24 656 blendskewskymerge

This image of 2nd Beach is one of my favorites in my new Pacific NW gallery..

 

Take care,

Jeff

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA Tagged , |

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

The colors of the restored buildings are simply amazing.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips  

I don’t do a lot of street photography.  As a rule, I prefer to spend my time outdoors and do my best to avoid cities.  There are some exceptions, towns like Savannah, Charlestown and St. Augustine have a charm I certainly wouldn’t deny and I have spent many an enjoyable day photographing them.  Today, I’m adding another location to that list:  Old San Juan.

I’ve visited Old San Juan a half dozen or so times over the years, usually at the start or end of a cruise (over a million tourists cruise out of San Juan harbor yearly).  I had taken a couple quick tours and hit the highlights but that was about it.  However, earlier this month, a lovely young woman we’ve known for years had her wedding there and I found myself with nearly three days to explore and photograph the city.

 

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

The projecting Garitas (Sentry Boxes) are an image that has become synonymous with Old San Juan

First of all, an overview.  Old San Juan is known as La Ciudad Amurallada “the walled city”…understandable for a town surrounded by a 3.4 mile long wall that is up to 20 foot thick.  It was founded in 1521, by Spanish colonists who called it Ciudad de Puerto Rico (“Rich Port City”) and is considered the second oldest town in the New World. The city occupies the western side of a small island at the entrance of San Juan Harbor.  Thanks to decades of good zoning laws, you will rarely see a modern structure, in fact, as you walk the narrow streets and look up at the 400 exuberantly painted and carefully restored San Juan Map16th and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings, it would be easy to think you had slipped thru a time rift and had been carried back a couple centuries. The city is pretty small (about 7 square blocks).  You can walk to nearly any spot in the city in 30 minutes.

As soon as I booked my flight, I started searching on-line for ‘photo tips’ and ‘photo locations.’   However, I was surprised by the lack of info available, so I’m writing this blog to help out future photographers who visit this exceptional city.

Top 10 Photo Locations in Old San Juan:

Sure, this Top 10 list is just my humble opinion and some might quibble over a couple of the selections but it will give you a great starting point for your exploration.  So, here’s my top 10 list (in no particular order):

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations

  1. Paseo Del Morro (see location #1 on my map)

    Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

    Take a early morning stroll along the Paseo. There isn’t another like it in the world!

    • This is an incredible walkway that snakes along the water’s edge between el Morro (see #2) and the southern part of the island.  It is wide, paved and nicely landscaped.  Photo ops abound and include the Raices Fountain (see #6 below) the old red city gate and wonderful views of the city wall with its projecting Garitas (sentry boxes).  The trail ends at el Morro.  Great sunset views.
  2. Castillo San Felipe Del Morro (#2 on map)

    Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

    HDR is mandatory for this type of shot

    • Commonly known as El Morro, this is an impressive, 6 storied, 16th-century citadel with walls that soar 140 above the amazing turquoise Caribbean.  Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & TipsAlthough smaller than Castillo de san Cristobal (#9), it is much more photogenic because of its location at the tip of the island…the views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular.  The fortresses and the walls, together with La Fortaleza, are recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, one of only 23 such locations in the United States.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & TipsEl Morro is part of the National Park system and entry is only $5.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

El Morro’s lighthouse

That fee will also get you into Castillo de san Cristobal and your pass is good for a full week.

There is a lot to photograph here.  Cannons, flags, tunnels, a Victorian lighthouse…plenty to easily keep you busy for a couple hours.

 

3. Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery (#3 on map)

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

This would be the kind of view that couldn’t get old even if you had an eternity…

  • Frankly, I’m usually not very enthusiastic about photographing cemeteries, but this is an exception.  Santa Maria Magdalena must be one of the most picturesque burial sites in the world.  It is only a short walk from El Morro.  Early morning photos here are enchanting.

4. City View of La Fortaleza (#4 on map)

La Foraleza

Great spot during the blue hour after sunset

  • This spot provides a dramatic view of the city wall and La Foraleza (the Governor’s mansion).  From the La Rogativa statue (#5), just walk a short distance along the city wall northwest (toward el Morro) until you reach the Casa Rosa (Rosada), also known as the Pink House.  Part of the wall in front of this building curves out toward the bay, giving you a wonderful view of the illuminated city wall, the red city gate and the Governor’s house (La Fortaleza)…at night, this is a beautiful, world class vista.
  • Note:  Be careful entering the sentry boxes (Garitas) at night…unfortunately, they seem to be used as bathrooms by some folks.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

La Rogativa

5. La Rogativa Plaza (Plaza of Religious Procession…#5 on map)

  • Statues of generals and assorted statesmen can be found across the city.  Most of them look like those you can see anywhere.  Not this one.  It is different, modern and depicts a cherished moment in San Juan’s history:
  • In 1797 an English blockade threatened to starve the city into submission.  Outnumbered and desperate, a large group of women and children lit torches at night and walked toward the city as part of a rogativa, or divine entreaty, to ask the saints to save them.  The English, mistakenly thinking the long column was Spanish reinforcements, abandoned their blockade and fled.
  • The best natural light is in mid morning.  Also, the sculpture very photogenic at night (see photo above).

6. Raices Fountain (#6 on map)Raices Fountain

  • Located where Paseo del Morro meets Paseo de la Princesa, this large and uplifting statue is front lit in mid morning.  Also makes a killer sunset shot.

7. Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (#7 on map)

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

One of the many fascinating nooks at the cathedral

Second oldest cathedral in the New World and also the resting place the island’s first governor: Juan Ponce de León.  It may not be the largest or most impressive cathedral you’ll ever see, but there are some beautiful niches and stained glass.  Visitors can explore the cathedral from 8:30am to 4pm daily.

8. Street Art with Puerto Rican Flag (#8 on map)Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

  • This is simply the side of a decrepit building that has been imaginatively painted with the Puerto Rican flag on the front door and images of famous residents on its walls.  Judging by the number of photos of this spot on the internet, it seemed to be to one of city’s iconic locations but I couldn’t find directions.  On my last day I happened to turn a corner and there it was!
  • You can find it about 300 feet south of Calle san Sebastian on Calle de San Jose.
  • It is best to photograph this spot early in the day.  There can be some harsh light and shadows here in late afternoon.

9. Castillo de San Cristobal (#9 on map)Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

  • This fort is located on the eastern edge of the old town and is only a bit more of a mile walk from el Morro (which is on the western end of Old San Juan).  A stroll between the forts will take you only about 20 minutes (or you can just use the free trolley that runs between them).
  • Castillo de San Cristobal is actually larger than el Morro and covers 27 acres of ground (110,000 square meters).  In fact, it was the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World.
  • Personally, I didn’t find San Cristobal to be as photogenic as el Morro.  Perhaps I was just so enamored by el Morro that I didn’t give it a fair chance.  Good location for sunrise shots with the sun rising behind the fort.

10. Esplanade in front of el Morro (#10 on map)2016 Old San Juan-217-Pano_1

This is a huge field on the landward side of el Morro.  Originally left open so defenders could have clear fields of fire against attackers this expansive space is unique in Old San Juan.  On weekends, the skies over the field are filled with kites as the locals enjoy picnic lunches.  You can buy kites from vendors there and try it yourself!

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

This view of the walkway to el Morro gives you a sense of the size of the Esplanada

 

11. And even more…

Okay, okay, I know I promised just 10 locations, but there are many more wonderful photography subjects in Old San Juan…my advice is to just start walking and looking.  For example, a life-sized statue of famed Salsa composer Tite Curet Alonso makes a memorable shot (you can find him in the Plaza de Armas…it was actually his favorite bench!)

My granddaughter and son-in-law share a moment with Tite Curet Alonso

My granddaughter and son-in-law share a moment with Tite Curet Alonso

Even the streets themselves are interesting and subtlely beautiful.   They are paved with cobbles of adoquine, a blue stone cast from furnace slag.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Yup….the bricks are blue…

As you wander around photographing the  colored buildings you will also find iguanas, street performers, dozens of feral cats and a cornucopia of other subjects for your camera!

 

Tips for Photographers:

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Which way to the palace?

1. Stay in the old city  If you will be there more than one night, find a room in the old city…NOT the modern part of San Juan.  Although the distance between the two is not significant, traffic can make it a long commute. Besides, you really get a chance to soak up the atmosphere if you stay in the old city.  My wife rented an apartment on a quiet street with a killer view on Airbnb for less than the cost of a ‘traditional’ hotel.  Seriously, find a place in the old city…you won’t regret it.

2. Don’t rent a car.  The city is full of narrow, one way streets and finding a parking spot can be impossible.  Besides, since the city is small, a reasonably fit person can cover it easily on foot…plus you just see so much more detail when you walk, if you were driving you would miss a lot of photo ops.

  • Taxis are also available, but can be hard to find.
  • There is a great hop-on, hop-off  free trolley service which you can use to cover ground quickly. It runs every day Monday through Friday from 7am until 6 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9am until 7pm every 15 minutes.  Click on this link for a map of the routes.

3. Hat, Sunscreen, Water, Walking Shoes  This is the tropics and the summers can be very hot.  Plus, the sun can be merciless.  My wife, for example, never gets sunburned, well, at least she never had until this visit to Old San Juan;)

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

4. Camera Gear

  • A wide angle lens is a must.  I had a 28mm on my full frame camera (about 18mm on a crop sensor APS-C camera) and it worked out well, but I wish I had brought my 14mm for some shots.
  • A regular lens in the 50-70mm range will come in handy for most of the other shots you will need.  I really didn’t find much need for a telephoto lens.
  • Travel tripod.  I used mine quite a bit, even during the day.  The buildings are tall and shots often have both shadows and brightly sunlit areas.  I often had to take bracketing shots so I could later process them in HDR to capture the full dynamic range.
  • Polarizer.  The skies over San Juan can make for a wonderful backdrop for your shots.  A polarizer will really make the blue ‘pop’ in your shots.

4. Time of Day to shoot

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Little scenes like this abound in Old San Juan

This is one location that you truly can photograph 24 hours a day.  Seriously.

  • Early mornings have wonderful, soft light and is the least crowded time of the day.  Sunrise shots at the San Cristobal castle can be wonderful.  Then walk down to the Magdalena Cemetery (#3) for shots of El Morro castle with the sun at your back.
  • Mid-Day  This is the time to walk the streets and photograph the colorful buildings and the even more colorful people!  When you are photographing the quaint old buildings, I think they look best when the sun is high enough to get some light on them, so late morning thru early afternoon is prime-time.  Keep in mind that one side of a street might get great late morning light while the other side will be best with afternoon light…so you might need to cover the same street during different parts of the day in order to get shots of the buildings on both side of the road.
  • Sunset  The Raices Fountain (#6) is a wonderful spot for sunset shots.  Then you can easily head down the El Morro Trail (#1) for a series of great photo ops as the sun drops into the Atlantic.2016 Old San Juan-508 crop
  • Night  San Juan doesn’t ever sleep.  You will find folks on the streets all night. My favorite night locations were:
    • The La Rogativa statue (#5 on map) and
    • The city wall at Casa Rosada (#4 on map).  Position yourself at the city wall and shoot back toward the governor’s mansion (La Fortaleza).
    • Although there is a significant amount of crime in new San Juan, most of the old town is heavily patrolled by police.  I never felt uncomfortable at night but then again, I avoided dark, deserted areas.  Just use common sense like you would in any city.
      • One area to definitely avoid at night is the La Perla neighborhood. This is on the northern side of the city between el Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal (see this map).

2016 Old San Juan-294

I hope you and your camera get a chance to explore Old San Juan soon.  Even if you are like me and your first love is landscape or wildlife photography, you won’t be disappointed!
Jeff

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

I never miss the chance for an Iganua shot.

 

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

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