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, personally 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.  The LavaOne is a more stable platform for shooting, gets you out to the lava 50% faster and I consider it a safer and better designed vessel.  It will cost you $20-$50 more.  But if you are going all the way to Hawaii for a bucket list item like this, then 50 bucks shouldn’t really be a consideration.  If money is tight, you can save $20 by paying cash rather than using a credit card.

To be candid, others don’t necessarily share my option.  They note that it is easier to shoot from both sides in the smaller boats.  Plus other companies may stay on site at the lava a bit longer.

By the way, I do not receive any kickbacks, discounted tickets or so much as an ugly, cheap t-shirt for my endorsement of Lava Ocean:)

 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

2017 California 03 11 0284

“Receding into the Past” Fort Point

2017 California 03 11 0201

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

2017 California 03 11 0422

“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…

2016 Kenya 11 14 14378

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

2016 Kenya 11 14 14814

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.

2016 Kenya 11 12 07723

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…

2016 Kenya 11 12 07749

That really got the attention of our lioness.  She got up and started trotting toward the hippo.  She maneuvered into its blind spot…

2016 Kenya 11 12 07750

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!

2016 Kenya 11 12 07756

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…

2016 Kenya 11 12 07760

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…

2016 Kenya 11 12 07777

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.

2016 Kenya 11 12 07787

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…

2016 Kenya 11 12 07800

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?!”

2016 Kenya 11 12 07802

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.

2016-kenya-11-11-06569-crop

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.

2016-kenya-11-18-25090_hdr-crop

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.

2016-kenya-11-13-12052-crop

“Liquid Grace”

 

2016-kenya-11-14-13649-crop

“Touch my zebra and DIE!”

2016-kenya-11-14-14800-2

“Time for bed little one…”

 

2016-kenya-11-13-10933-crop

“And what do we have here?”

2016-kenya-11-09-04524-crop

“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.

2016-kenya-11-07-01144-crop

“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!

2016-kenya-11-16-19700

“Leap of Faith”

2016-kenya-11-12-07762

“…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

2016-kenya-11-10-061512016-kenya-11-07-00533-crop

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:

2016-kenya-11-15-18757-3

“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.

2016-kenya-11-17-23500

“Hey….Loooook what I found you losers!”

 

2016-kenya-11-17-23623-crop

“Naaah…Naahhh…Nnaaaahhhhh!”

2016-kenya-11-17-23574

“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

2016-kenya-11-12-076252016-kenya-11-07-01571-bw

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:

2016-sw-death-valley-03-04-0044-b-crop

Artist’s Palette

 

2016-sw-death-valley-03-05-0290-pano-bw-brop

Zabriski’s Point

 

2016-sw-death-valley-03-05-0386-skew

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.

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

Posted in Buildings/Ruins, Caribbean/Central & South America, Historical, Night Photography Tagged , , |

Spring Southwest Photo Trip Recap: 2016

Last week I returned from an 8 day photo trip to the American Southwest with my son Ryan.  He was on Spring Break from college and wanted to get more experience with his new camera and try some of the area’s world-class hikes.  As for me, I never need an excuse to photograph the southwest and spending time with my son was just icing on the cake.

So now, after flying 4,000 miles, driving another 2,000 miles and hiking 40 miles…I’ve finally recovered enough to provide a quick trip report (with pictures of course)!

We flew into Vegas on a Saturday morning, got our rental jeep and were quickly on the road out of Sin City heading for Death Valley.

Spring Southwest Photo Trip Recap: 2016

First Sunlight on Manly Beacon at Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point

I was excited since I’d never visited Death Valley.  Even better, I was finally going to see one of the locations on my “Photographic Bucket List“:  Racetrack Playa.  Years ago I first saw photos of the ‘Sailing Rocks’ and their long trails on the flat Playa.   I’ve been fascinated ever since and this was my chance to finally visit.  I’ll be writing a full blog on this location in the near future, but I can tell you it is as strange, eerie  and alien as it looks in all those pictures you’ve seen.

Racetrack Playa Milky Way

Not of this Earth? The Racetrack is one of those places that sends a deep shiver down your spine!

After a couple of days living off of granola bars, Ryan decided to treat his old man to a nice breakfast on the way out of the park.   There aren’t a lot of dining choices in Death Valley, but the Inn at Furnace Creek looked nice.  They were serving brunch and we were so hungry that he didn’t even ask the price.  The meal was excellent leaving him both contented and smiling.  But when they presented a bill for $70, they managed to wipe away that smile along with a large portion of his Spring Break budget;)

Our next stop was Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada about an hour northeast of Vegas.  We only had 90 minutes to devote to this park but could have easily spent days there.  I had two goals here:

1) Find the mysterious “Windstone Arch” made famous by photographer David Muensch, and

2) Hike out to the “Fire Wave” and catch a sunset.

Fire Cave Windstone Arch Valley of Fire Nevada

Windstone Arch is a petite little treasure. Measuring about 3′ tall it might be a home for hobbits or elves…

Many folks have trouble finding Windstone (also known as Fire Cave) Even though it is only 150′ from the road, it isn’t marked in any way and is hard to see unless you know what you are looking for.  Luckily I had GPS coördinates and walked right up to it.  I was doubly lucky because it clouded up and even started to rain.  Why was that good luck?  Well, Windstone is a morning shot…usually the direct sun in the afternoon ruins the shot.  Overcast skies meant no direct sun and the diffuse light filled the small alcove nicely!

 

 

It was still overcast so my sunset shot of Fire Wave wasn’t looking promising but we drove to the trailhead and started hiking anyway…at least we could scout it out for our next trip.  Then, nearly at the end of the trail, the sun squinted thru an opening at the horizon.  We nearly ran the last few yards and I fell over myself setting up my tripod.  This was the scene:

"Sun Worshiper"

“Sun Worshiper”

It was magnificent…dramatic and brief!  Two minutes later, the sun was gone but I was still on a photographic high.  In fact, my son laughed at my giddy mood, but I was too happy to care. After the sun fell below the horizon, I took a look behind me:  This place just wouldn’t stop…a double rainbow!

End to a memorable day!

End to a memorable day!

The next few days were spent at one of my favorites, Zion National Park. We packed in full days of hiking.  Those miles on the trail were a bit less tiring for my 20 year old son than for my less youthful body, but the images I captured were worth every last single footfall.

We hiked up Angel’s Landing our first day…this was the trail I had the most pre-trip concerns about.  Reviews of this hike cited it as one of the most dangerous in the country (six folks have fallen to their deaths on the hike) and critics warned that anyone who didn’t like heights would be sorry.

Angels Landing Summit

View up toward the head of the valley…

Zion's Angels Landing Summit

The view down the valley toward Springdale..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frankly, it wasn’t all that bad.   It WAS steep and I have no idea how many switchbacks were on that silly trail but the views at the end were breathtaking.

But then, just as we reached the summit, the weather Gods (who had smiled upon us the day before) turned downright nasty. The sun and blue skies vanished.  And then it actually started to snow. Ryan and I looked at each other thinking about how the way back down wouldn’t be all that fun or safe if the trail back got wet or iced-up.  We called it a day.

We checked off another “bucket list” location the next day:  the famous Subway.  Since it was so early in the year, we had no problem snagging two of the 20 daily permits allowed for this hike.

It was a long, rough hike.   Despite a ‘trail’ that looked like a Delta Force obstacle course,  we managed to have some fun on the way:

Spring Southwest Photo Trip Recap: 2016

“Samson at the Temple or Stamer at the Subway?”

When we finally reached the Subway, it was everything we could have hoped for.  In fact, when I took my first shot and looked at the LCD on the back of the camera, it was one of those few moments when what I saw looked better than all of those perfectly photoshopped pictures I had admired for years on the internet:

Zion Spring Southwest Photo Trip Recap: 2016

The Iconic Subway: Living up to the hype.

And then, the long hike back…including a challenging ‘scramble’ that involved a 1500′ elevation gain right at the end.  I was a tired puppy and it was a long day…over 9 hours from the start of the hike until we got back to the jeep.  We ate like pigs that night…I figured I had burned off my share of calories!

Our final day in Zion we hiked up the Narrows.

Zion Virgin River Spring Southwest Photo Trip Recap: 2016

The Narrows

A big part of the attraction of this hike (even for photographers) is that you actually hike in the Virgin River.  However, since it was March and water temps were in the 30s, we actually had to rent full dry-suits to avoid turning into human Popsicles!  The good news was that the cold water kept most of the ‘fair-weather hikers’ in their nice warm beds so we had the river nearly to ourselves…which made it a totally different and far more peaceful experience than my previous summer visits.

Spring Southwest Photo Trip Recap: 2016

Ryan looks down Orderville Canyon as it flows into the Narrows

After the hike we drove up to Escalante (near the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.)  We scouted the ‘Hole in the Rock Road’ before dusk (and nearly plowed into a herd of mule deer).

Devil's Garden Escalante Milky Way

Ryan contemplates infinity…

We got up at 3:30 so we could reach Devil’s Garden by 4am when the  Milky Way would be high enough to photograph.  As you can see above, it didn’t disappoint.  Escalante is so isolated and far from big cities that the view of the heavens is simply incredible.   We shot for an hour and hit the road again.

Ryan noticed that Bryce Canyon was on our way, so less than 2 hours later we were there for sunrise.  I had been checking the webcams and knew that Bryce still had snow…I had long wanted to photograph the hoodoos with snow!

Bryce sunrise with snow

Bryce’s hoodoos are unique and expansive….nothing else like this view anywhere…

Two more hours in the Jeep and we decided to stop in Kanab to try our luck in the daily lottery for at a permit to visit ‘the Wave.’  Well, that was an experience!…Over 150 potential people packed in a little room hoping to be one of 10 hikers who would get permits.  We didn’t win, but ‘nothing ventured….”  We actually drove back the next day to try again but it wasn’t to be.  Afterwards, during a ‘consolation breakfast’ at McDonalds we chuckled about the lottery and decided that next year would be our year to photograph this Icon!

We hiked out to Wirepass Slot on the way back from Kanab and then toured Lower Antelope Canyon.  We finished the day at Horseshoe Bend near Page Arizona.  Five photo locations in 17 hours…we certainly packed everything we could into that day!

Lower Antelope Canyon sunbeam

I’d heard that Lower Antelope doesn’t get sunbeams…I was dead wrong.

Lower Antelope Canyon Spring Southwest Photo Trip Recap: 2016

Sand Avalanche

The next morning we decided to try Horseshoe again…I really liked the soft morning light but my favorite shot was a self-portrait from the night before:

Horseshoe Bend Sunset

Wish I had this view from my back porch…

 

For some reason, I really wanted to see ‘Balanced Rock’  which was a bit out of our way (near Lee’s Ferry).  It is a cool hoodoo, but I can’t honestly say it is remarkably photogenic.  Something about it just appeals to me, maybe just my odd sense of humor:

2016 SW Balanced Rock 03 11 2385

Yup… a big rock

This was our last full day and we drove down to the Grand Canyon.  It would be Ryan’s first time seeing this wonder.

2016 SW Grand Canyon 03 11 2515 Raven

This Raven joined us for lunch. It wasn’t shy and was the size of my dog Shadow. Truly an “Apex Scavenger”!

Unfortunately, the afternoon was overcast and the light was flat.  The canyon was still impressive of course, but as photographers, the dismal skies left us a bit disappointed.

Sunset was a bust so after it got dark we splurged on pizza (SO much better than Cliff Bars)!  When we came out of the restaurant, the skies had started to clear, so we headed back to the rim.  I shot until the clouds came back and completely hid the sky.

Grand Canyon by moonlight

Grand Canyon by moonlight

We headed back to the room and I set my alarm for 4 am just so I could check to see if the weather might break for sunrise.  Maybe we could get a few decent shots before we had to head to the airport for the flight home.

Four am came quickly.  I grabbed my beeping phone and my weather app told me it was still overcast, in fact, it was snowing!  So, it was our last day and the weather looked like crap.  The bed, on the other hand, looked wonderful to my sore, sleep-deprived body.  I figured that the chance of a decent sunrise was about nil…so, of course I got dressed and headed to Mather Point anyway.

Glad I did.  I found a spot, got set up and prepared to spend a cold morning shuffling my feet without taking a shot.  But then, somehow, right at daybreak the sun managed to poke thru a clear slot in the overcast skies. It revealed a wonderland of snow, red rock and hoar-frost covered trees.  Shutters started clicking and the tourists at the viewpoint gave up a cheer (I might have joined in)…

Sometimes you do win the lottery...

Sometimes you do win the lottery…

2016 SW Grand Canyon 03 12 3206

 

I could never have asked for a better morning to be at the Canyon…it was a photographer’s dream.

2016 SW Grand Canyon 03 12 3237

A photographer’s life doesn’t get much better than this…

To make the day even better, I crushed my son in a our first ever snowball fight (hey, we don’t get much snow in Florida!)2016 SW Grand Canyon 03 12 3241 2

Killer trip.  Great photos.  Fun with my boy.2016 SW Grand Canyon 03 12 3441

Does it get better than this?  If so, bring it on, I’m ready!
Jeff

 

Posted in Milky Way Photography, Photo Tips and Guides, Roadtrips, Southwest U.S.A. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

My Twelve Best of 2015

Writing my annual Top 12 blog is always interesting.  Yeah…interesting.  It’s a good word.  It covers everything from fun to frustrating…and that’s very appropriate.  Trying to filter 12,000 images down to 12 is a challenge.  Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to remember the trips I took to capture these shots…those are some wonderful memories.  But just 12 images…wow…it’s really frustrating trying to narrow it down that much.  On, the other hand, I guess it’s a good problem to have, it meant that 2015 resulted in a lot of work I was proud of.   Well anyway, you didn’t click on this blog to hear me ramble…you want to see photos, so here we go…my best work of the year 2015 (in no particular order):2015 Smokies_04_30_03285 3260 blendI know I said the photos aren’t ranked, but this might be my favorite shot of the year.  Heck, this might be my favorite shot ever.  I have huge metal print of this image hanging right over my desk and every time I see it, I seem to stop and drink it in for a moment or two.  Not only does it inspire me, but I always think of the improbable chain of events that resulted in me capturing this image.  It’s a shot that I shouldn’t have gotten, but I did…and I’m grateful.

2015 Smokies_04_30_02492 cropJust adorable.  I came upon this cub and his sister playing on the edge of a field in the Smokies and they couldn’t have been more cute if they had tried.  I spent a few hours  photographing them while hand-holding the ‘beast’ (my 200-400 lens…which weighs as much as the cub’s mom)…but it was worth every aspirin I had to swallow!

2015 Smokies_04_28_00219 blendGeorge Jetson was here!  Well, that’s the type of graffiti I was expecting to see on top of Clingman’s Dome when I was setting up this shot.  I love how the spiral observation tower mimics the grace of the Milky Way.

 

2015 Scuba 17 March 11879 crop2_1My wife and I were diving on a wreck in the Caribbean when this big kahuna joined us and made my day.  I’d never had much luck photographing sea turtles but that all changed on this trip!  I’d be the first to admit that I still have volumes to learn about underwater photography, but even so, my family considers this shot to be one of their favorites!

 

2015 PAC NW 08 12 2628My son and I had an epic hiking trip to the Pac NW last summer and came home with some lasting memories and killer waterfall photos…this shot of Ryan in front of Wachlella Falls is my pick from that litter….

 

2015 PAC NW 08 11 2353

On second thought, I kinda like this long exposure perspective of Ponytail Falls too…

 

2015 PAC NW 08 09 1205cropwm24x36

When I get to visit a location on my “Photographic Bucket List” I rarely come back with a photo I would consider ‘world class.’  After all, when you only have a day or two, what chance do you have to really learn how to best capture the scene PLUS be blessed with weather that makes the image truly something special?  This shot of ‘Thor’s Well’ was a welcome exception to that rule.

2015 Northwest 06 30 451 (1)

This Alaskan harbor seal appears due to the lobbying efforts of my wife.  I would have put it in my top 25 but not top 12…she disagreed.  Over the years I’ve learned to carefully listen when she speaks…

2015-northwest-06-24-656-blendskewsky

 

I have a love-hate thingy going with the Oregon/Washington coast.  I love that the coast line has some of the most breathtaking incredible vistas anywhere but I hate that the weather is often, usually, always crappy.  Okay…not always, but it sure seems that way to me.  So it takes some perseverance and luck to get a memorable image.  On the other hand, since you have to go back to the same spot multiple times hoping for good weather, when it finally does clear up, you have scouted the spot to death and know how you want to shoot it!

 

2015 Northwest 06 20 904

Washington’s Palouse Falls is an incredible sight and I’ve long believed that it would be even more impressive at night with the Milky Way rising over it.  Well, over the years I’ve tried many times to get that shot but the falls are in a deep, dark gorge and it is real challenge to light it up well. I tried long exposures…I tried light painting…  Nothing I did looked ‘right.’  One frustrating and unproductive night when I was breaking down my equipment a guy walked up and asked if I minded if he tried some light painting.  I chuckled to myself and told him to have at it since I’d thought I had already tried everything.  He pulled out the most powerful flashlight I’d ever seen and proceeded to do a masterful job of illuminating the gorge.  I snapped away and ended up with the shot I had always dreamed of.  My thanks to Ariel Rodilla for showing me that I still have a lot more to learn about light painting!

 

Best Photos of the Year

Perfect Palouse

Every photographer should have the chance to shoot the Palouse region of eastern Washington State at least once before they die.  It truly is a land that time forgot (in a good way) and the 360° views of the sensuous, smooth, and seemingly liquid landscape from Steptoe Butte are stunning.

 

Best Photos of the Year

Manatee Sunrise

I’ll finish with the most popular photograph I’ve ever published.  When I posted this one on my Facebook page, it seemed to really strike a chord with folks and it went viral.  Oddly enough, this photo bothers me.  When I look at it, all I seem to notice is that the front of this manatee’s nose is out of focus.  Sometimes being a perfectionist means you get hung up on small details and I’m certainly guilty of that.  It was an incredible moment though, when this manatee surfaced right in front of me while I was taking a shot of the sunrise.  If only he had given me the time to make sure the shot was in focus…

It was an incredible year for me professionally and personally.  I explored more of this incredible planet, met lots of wonderful folks, sold some prints, won a contest or two and got a few images published.  Plus, even after all these years, I found that photography continued to challenge and inspire me.   Even better, my wife and I got my first Grandchild (little London Grace)…which helps keep my photography obsession in perspective.

Life is Good.

Jeff

Posted in Best Photos of the Year, Landscape Photography, Milky Way Photography, Night Photography, Pacific Northwest USA, Underwater Photography, Waterfalls, Wildlife

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver’s Paradise

When I first began my career in photography, I was drawn to the icons…Yosemite, Yellowstone, Arches (you know the list).  The internet and libraries are filled with info about “Photographing the Southwest,”  “How to photograph the Grand Canyon” and “Fifty Places to Photograph Before you Die.”  These icons are famous for a reason…great photographs can be taken there and as an aspiring photographer it only made sense to  ‘fish where the fish are.’

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

Bonaire Bound

But there is a downside too…and that is that it is unlikely that your shots are really going to stand out.  Yes, they still might be impressive, beautiful and inspiring….but honestly, it is pretty difficult to take a unique photograph of Half Dome from Yosemite’s Tunnel View when 43 trillion other photos have been taken from the same spot.

One solution is find a new way to photograph an old icon: a different angle, a creative perspective, something…anything new and different!  You will find this piece of advice in nearly every photography article ever written.  It’s good advice, and I certainly strive to dream up new ways capture these legendary vistas.

But there is another way to take a unique photo.  Find a place that isn’t already well known to every photographer on the planet.

I can’t honestly say that this is the reason my wife and I spent a week on the island of Bonaire earlier this fall.   To be honest, we were there because we are divers and Bonaire is well known as a “Diver’s Paradise.”  I hoped there might be something else to photograph, so I searched the internet.  But even Google failed to give me much except lots and lots of underwater shots.  But I’m an optimist, so I packed my cameras, tripods, lenses and another 80 pounds of photo gear…just in case.

I’m glad I did!

It turns out that there is a lot more to photograph in Bonaire than just fish.  A lot more…

First a bit about the island.  Bonaire lies about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela and is the least well-known of the “ABC” islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao).   Cruise ships don’t visit often and with less than 17,000 natives it is quiet and uncrowded.   It’s a Dutch island and people are friendly but respectful (you don’t get mobbed by people yelling “hey pretty lady, buy my t-shirts!”  Surprisingly, the island is very dry…looking more like the desert Southwest than the typical lush tropical rainforest you might expect.

First of all, there is some fascinating wildlife to keep your camera busy.  Yes, they have iguanas (which I simply love….running around like half-baked dinosaurs)!

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

Iguana Rex

And then there were the birds…wow!  Bonaire has over 210 species of birds.

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

Barika-Hel

For me, a highlight had to be the Flamingos.  Bonaire is host to the one of the few places in the world that has breeding grounds of the Caribbean Flamingo.  Heck, I’d never seen a flamingo except in a zoo….and in Bonaire I saw thousands.  They don’t like noise or movement, so you need a long telephoto and some stalking skills, but where else can you get shots like this?Barika-Hel

As you know, I adore hummingbirds, so I was delighted to see hummers swarming the flowering bushes and trees around our resort even before we got to our room!

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

Ruby Topaz (Chrysolampis mosquitus)

The Ruby-Topaz hummingbird and the well named Emerald hummingbird  are both gorgeous and much different from the Ruby-Throated hummers we have back at home in Florida.

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

Emerald Hummingbird (Chlorostilbon mellisugus)

For the entire week, after our morning dives, you would often find me with my 70-200mm staked out by the flowers near our room.  Other tourists would be walking to their rooms, spot me, take a wary look at the guy creeping around with a camera… but then they would see the hummers and their faces would light up and they would start whispering and pointing.

Oh yeah, they had parrots too! (at least I thought they were parrots).  Right outside our room..often roosting in the same trees as the hummers were what the locals called ‘Loras.’   They looked like a huge parakeets on steroids, which it kinda turns out they are.  Meet the Caribbean Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax, subspecies xanthogenius) .  They certainly had no fear of people and posed patiently while I burned thru some memory cards.

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

The Schwarzenegger of Parakeets!

There aren’t many big critters on the island.

Spotted Trunkfish

Meet Larry, Curley and Moe

The most interesting are the donkeys. Apparently the early Dutch imported a lot of donkeys for use as pack animals.  When cars and trucks became available, the donkeys were let loose to roam the island and fend for themselves.  Since they aren’t native, life was challenging for the newly emancipated burros, but in 1993,  Marina Melis and her husband Ed Koopman, established a donkey sanctuary on Bonaire for sick, wounded and orphaned donkeys.  Now over 400 donkeys call the Donkey Sanctuary home.  For a small donation you can drive thru the compound.  If you ever wanted the opportunity to get a close-up photo of a donkey, here is your chance.  Hey, it’s not photographing Grizzly’s catching spawning Salmon, but it makes for an entertaining photo op!

Spotted Trunkfish

“Hey Pretty Lady, are you going to finish that carrot?”

How about landscapes?  Well, to be honest, we never even made it to the northern part of the island which is the home of Washington Slagbaai National Park.   This park covers 1/5 of the total island and locals told me it had the most potential for landscape photography on Bonaire.  Unfortunately, I really only explored the southern coast and  central part of the island around our resort (near Kralendijk, the Capital).

The salt flats on the southern end of the island are pretty dramatic.  The water in the flats is actually pink…well maybe mauve…well, it changes, depending on how the sunlight hits it.  The huge mountains of salt in the background can make some fascinating images when contrasted with the salt ponds and if you happen to find a couple flamingos necking in a salt pond in the foreground, you might actually get one of those unique images we were talking about:)

Spotted Trunkfish

“Caribbean Fantasy”

Also on the isolated and unpopulated southern coast were the remains of the slave huts and ship markers that are a fascinating but disturbing reminder of a past when slaves worked under harsh conditions harvesting sea salt from the nearby salt flats.  The huts are minuscule and must have been like ovens with whole families crowded into them.

Spotted Trunkfish

The obelisks were built in 1837 as markers directing ships to the correct beach where the salt would be loaded.

Since there isn’t much light pollution on Bonaire and nothing but ocean to the south, I hoped this might be a good spot for Milky Way photography.  I was right!   It might have been a bit spooky but it made for some wonderful and unusual photography.

Spotted Trunkfish

Cursed Obelisk

After my wife and I returned home, I got a note from one of the folks I had met on Bonaire telling me about a Photo Contest the island’s tourism bureau was conducting.  The top prize was a week of lodging for two along with food, rental car and free diving.  I’m not much on contests, I’d rather be out taking photos than filling out forms but my wife encouraged me to enter.  I find it is usually a good idea to listen to her advice….and guess what?

Spotted Trunkfish

I should always listen to my wife!

Looks like we will be going back to Bonaire in 2016!

Jeff

PS:  I have a long way to go with my Underwater photography before I ever see the end of my learning curve.  But I love a challenge,  Plus the underwater world is alien, colorful and visually stunning. My UW shots didn’t win any prizes, but I’d like to share a few of them with you anyway:

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

Spotted Eel

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

Caribbean Reef Squid

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

My wife loves these little guys. They are just plain funny looking. We call them Cowfish but I’ve been told it is actually a Spotted Trunkfish

Photography in Bonaire: More than just a Diver's Paradise

 

 

Posted in Caribbean/Central & South America, Hummingbirds, Milky Way Photography, Underwater Photography, Wildlife Tagged , , , , , |

Rainy Days and Mondays….

My son, Ryan, has recently been bitten by the photography/travel bug.  Like a proud papa of a newborn, I have been lavishing time and attention on his growing hobby.  Earlier this month, we drove up to the Smokies with the goal of getting some real-world experience with his new camera, tripod, lenses and all the other paraphernalia that photographers surround themselves with.  Or, as my son said:  “Jeeze Dad, all this other stuff is going to cost me more than the camera!”  Oh yeah baby!…welcome to the addiction world of photography my son…

Of course, I hoped to get some decent photographs as well, but we had missed most of the fall color and the weather was just plain ugly.  Rain, clouds, more rain.   Not ideal weather for the glorious sunrises or the mountainsides of autumn color my son had hoped to catch.  But, if there is one truism about photography, it is that bad weather can make good photos!  Rain does help to saturate colors and overcast skies are ideal for photographing streams and waterfalls. So we grabbed our raingear and headed out.

Middle Prong of Little River in Tremont

I managed to find one tree on the river with a bit of color left…and made the most of it!

My favorite stream in the Smokies is the Middle Prong of the Little River in the Tremont area.  Ryan and I spent nearly a full day there dodging squalls and exploring the hundreds of beautiful vignettes that populate this three mile stretch of heaven.

Another of my favorite streams is along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

2015 Smokies Fall 11 07 008507

“Spooky Hallow” Those woods aren’t filled with fog…that’s rain. But the look is equally moody.

We spent hours working this area.  And the rain kept all the tourists in Gatlinburg, so we had it nearly to ourselves!

On our last day, the rain stopped briefly so we went off in search of fall color.  Oddly enough, the best we found was in the hills right above Gatlinburg.

2015 Smokies Fall 11 08 026708

Ryan working the road…

We drove up to Clingman’s Dome nearly every morning and evening hoping to capture one of those iconic Smokies, layered-mountain scenes…but it was not to be on this trip.  My best effort was on the way back down the mountain when the clouds parted briefly and I swerved off onto an overlook to grab this shot.2015 Smokies Fall 11 08 018308

So, all in all, it wasn’t the trip I had planned and hoped for.  But I got to spend quality time with my son and he got hours of personal instruction with his new DSLR.  So, maybe I didn’t come home with any award-winning shots, but perhaps the memories are the real prize.

Jeff

PS:  On the way to the Smokies, I made a small detour to stop at one of my all-time favorite waterfalls: Minnehaha in north Georgia.  It isn’t well known and I’m happy about that since it is never crowded.  This is a big, beautiful cascade that always envelops me in a sense of peace.  It is now one of Ryan’s favorites as well.

Minnehaha Falls...not famous...but it should be!

Minnehaha Falls…not famous…but it should be!

 

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

Perceptions

It is funny how perceptions differ between people.  It is certainly true for photographers as well.  There are some shots that I consider to be my best work that members of my family look at and politely say…”oh, that’s nice.”  On the other hand, there are images I’ve taken that I think are just okay but others really “ahhhh and oooohhhh” about.

The shot below is a perfect example.  I took this image earlier this year but I wasn’t happy with it.  Sure it was nice to get a manatee and a sunrise in the same shot but I didn’t like how part of the manatee wasn’t in focus so I didn’t even bother to process the shot for a few months.  But eventually I did and on a slow day, I named it “Morning Rendezvous” and posted it to my facebook account.  And it went viral.  Over 10,000 ‘likes’, hundreds of shares and comments.  More than anything that I’ve posted before…heck, more than EVERYTHING combined that I’ve ever posted.  People started tracking me down to buy prints and it is now, by far, my best selling print.  It’s been published and used as the banner for multiple websites…heck…the Crystal River Manatee Refuge even used it as the basis of a mural they had painted at their center!

I really don’t intend to brag.  But to be honest, this is a huge break for me professionally, so of course I’m very pleased.  It really is great to create something that strikes such a chord in people.  That is, after all, one of my goals in photography.

But did it have to be this picture?  Clearly most folks aren’t immediately distracted by the poor focus…which is all the perfectionist in me sees.

Funny, huh?!

Morning Rendevous

All I can see are those (out of focus) whiskers….

 

 

Posted in Best Photos of the Year, Manatees, Underwater Photography, Wildlife Tagged , |

“La Florida”: Time-Lapse of Lake Jesup Sunflowers

I’ve enjoyed the blooming sunflower fields near Lake Jesup every fall for a number of years.  Although its always glorious, I found that it was getting challenging to photograph the spectacle in new and exciting ways.  So this year, I set a new goal:  Capture the fields in a way that hasn’t been done before and help the viewer see and feel the experience of standing in a field of yellow flowers that stretch to the horizon.

My solution was to make a time-lapse.  Here is the result:

My website can’t handle the size of the video in high-resolution, so I apologize that this version isn’t HD.  However, to see the video in High-Resolution, click on this link and it will take you a HD version I put on You Tube.

To make this video, I used two cameras and recorded over 12 hours of images on two different days.  I took about 10 shots per minute, so I ended up with over 7,000 photos.  The amazing thing is that those 7,000 pictures amount to less than 3 1/2 minutes of video!

Twelve hours might sound like a lot of time to spend sitting in wildflower fields…and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d have the patience…but it really wasn’t all that bad.  I just set up the cameras, put my camping stool down in a shady spot, lathered on the mosquito spray and pulled out my latest Jack Reacher novel.  Actually, not a bad way to enjoy a beautiful Florida afternoon.

I’m on the steep side of the learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to edit videos.  As a result, I won’t allow myself to figure out how many total hours I spent editing this 2 minute “film.”   It was certainly a learning experience but I think the result achieves my goal to help the viewer “see” the blooming fields in a new and more personal way.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it as well.
Jeff

 

 

“La Florida”:  Time-Lapse of Lake Jesup Sunflowers

“La Florida”:  Time-Lapse of Lake Jesup Sunflowers

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

Lake Jesup Wildflower Update: October 10, 2015

Hi all,

The fields are still blooming in the Marl Bed Flats area by Lake Jesup but it is  still wet…very wet:  Unlike the drought out west, Florida’s rainfall as of October 1st has equaled what we normally receive for a full year.  Plus, some of the areas that are usually packed with flowers are overgrown by other plants.  I’ve heard from a number of you who have tried to see the fields this year but were disappointed.

The good news is that I’ve found a new, relatively dry field filled with flowers. Take a look below…what do you think?Jesup-124-Pano

I’m guessing that we have another week before the flowers start to fade, so this might be the last weekend for you to see the extravaganza this year with the flowers at their peak.  If you are interested, then I’ll help you get to this spot.

But first, let me be clear.  Don’t be like the couple I met at the trailhead yesterday who expected that they were going to drive up to an overlook, step out of the car and start snapping photos.  This isn’t Disney.  You are going to have to hike about 20 minutes out to the fields.  You are going to be bit by mosquitos (no matter how much DEET you have on) and your feet are going to get wet (unless you have waterproof boots).  If you are still game, then read on.

Note:  If the following directions look familiar to you, it is because they are identical to those I’ve published in past years UNTIL you get to step #6:

  • 1. First of all, once you are in the Orlando area, get on SR 417 (the Greeneway toll road) and exit (east) on E Lake Mary Blvd (the first exit north of Lake Jesup) and head east.  Then take a right (south) on South Sanford Ave.  Take a left (east) on Pine Way (this will be just before you drive under the 417 again). Take a right (south) on S.Mellonville Ave. This will dead-end into Oakway…turn left (east). Oakway is a narrow two lane road with no shoulders so be careful if a vehicle is coming the other way.

    IMG_0371

    The lot can handle only about 4 or 5 vehicles…

  • 2) Oakway dead-ends at a small parking area that is open during daylight hours (see photo above).  If the gate is closed you can park outside the gate on the shoulder of the road.
  •  3) The trail starts at the gate (see below) located in the back south-eastern corner of the lot located next to the parking area. As you walk to the gate, you will likely see your first sunflowers in the fenced field to your right.

    IMG_0370

    Gate at the trailhead.

  • 4) Follow the trail on the other side of the gate (actually an old overgrown dirt road).
  • 5)  You will see trail markers with both red and yellow diamonds. red yellow diamond
  • 6) Within five minutes, the trail will split.  In past years, I’ve always told you to continue straight (on the Red Trail)  but this year, you need to take the right fork at this split and follow the Yellow Trail 
  • 7) This trail is marked with yellow diamonds and will take you thru an oak hammock.  The trail will curve to the left (south).  Continue on the trail (actually an old dirt road) until you see the flats .
  • 8) At the edge of the flats, the trail/road will take a sharp right and become completely overgrown.  As you stand here looking out to the flats you will see a long, perfectly straight row of palm trees leading off south-east into the flats.
  • 9) Walk along that line of trees (no need to follow it to the end).  As you do so, you should see the field of sunflowers to your left (south-east).  This area is particularly nice in the afternoon with the sun to your back.

Here’s a map that shows the trails:

Lake Jesup WIldflower trail map

Follow the Yellow Trail this year. “X” marks the SPOT!

It is really gorgeous out there right now and I hope you are able to get out there and enjoy it.  If so, be sure to review my list of tips and suggestions before you go…it will help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past and make for a more enjoyable day.

PS:  If you know of any other good locations, please let me know.

  • I’ve heard rumors that are good fields in the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area along Power Line Road.  I hope to check that report out in the next 3 or 4 days.
    • UPDATE:  I drove out to Tosohatchee on Oct 13.  I only found a few small clumps of sunflowers.
  • I did check out the Caldwell’s Field area at Lake Jesup Park on Oct. 9th, but it was totally underwater…don’t waste your time.
  • I haven’t yet hiked the East Lake Jesup Tract or the North Cameron Tract this year.  If anyone has seen these areas recently, please let me know if they were dry.
    • UPDATE:  I heard from one of my readers on Oct 11th that the North Cameron Tract is dry this year, but the flowers are not as profuse as they are in the Marl Bed Flats.

PSS:  Fellow local photographer Ed Rosack was out at the fields yesterday also.  Here is his report: http://edrosack.com/2015/10/10/beauty-and-bugs-in-the-soggy-swamp-sunflowers-2015/

PSSS:  Here is a shot of my 6′ son in the fields yesterday:

Lake Jesup WIldflowers Sunflowers in Central Florida

I told you these sunflowers are TALL!

 

 

 

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations, Wildflowers

Lost in Space: Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon

Lost in Space:  Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon

Yes, I am a child of the 60s!

Have you ever seen the excitement in a child’s face when she experiences something for the first time?  Seeing that joy and hearing those squeals of delight are one of the things I most love most about children.

As we get older, we tend to get jaded and take much of life for granted.  Those moments of childlike happiness become a rare thing.  Which is one of the reasons that I adore photography….it continually challenges me to seek out new locations and experiences and helps keep the child alive in me.

For, example, earlier this year my son Ryan and I were planning a trip to Oregon.  While talking with one of my friends in Portland, he mentioned that the Perseid meteor shower would be peaking when I was visiting.  Now honestly, I had vaguely heard of the Perseid’s before, but neither Ryan or I had ever even seen a meteor, much less photographed one.

But a quick search on Google educated me:  The annual Perseid meteor shower is probably the most popular one of the year.  When the Earth crosses the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle in late August, debris from the comet cuts thru our atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour sometimes resulting in dozens of meteors per hour.

Well that certainly sounded like something I wanted to see!

But where in Oregon would be best to photograph this spectacle?  I wanted a spot with great views (of course) and little light pollution.  After some research on the internet, I decided to split my time between two locations in northern Oregon’s Cascade Mountain range: Trillium Lake and Lost Lake.

Well, we got to Trillium Lake on Aug 10th right after sunset.  And the sky was overcast.  Couldn’t see a single star.    Killed a couple hours eating dinner (and drinking great local beer) then went outside to check again.  Clouds.  Went to bed and got up two more times to check.  Clouds.  The sky did start to clear up just before sunrise so Ryan and I went down to Trillium and captured some shots, but by then it was too bright to see meteors.  Just the same, it was a quiet, peaceful sunrise.  Trillium Lake is an idyllic spot and it is easy to visualize how incredible photos can be taken here..

Lake Trillium Oregon Sunrise

Other than the kayaker and one very persistent duck, Ryan seemed to have the view to himself.

After a day exploring some incredible waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge (another post about this adventure later) we pulled into Lost Lake late in the afternoon and set up camp in our Yurt.  What’s a yurt you ask?  Well, when you make reservations at a popular campground only a month in advance during peak season, a yurt is likely to be the only thing left available. Like I said, photography helps me have new experiences…

I had pre-scouted the area on Google Earth and knew I wanted to photograph the meteors from the north-western shore (Lost Lake is shaped like a triangle, and the northwestern shore faces Mt. Hood).  What I couldn’t see on my computer was that trees grow right up to the shore blocking your view of the sky, not exactly ideal for sky photography.  But there was one strip of shore, maybe 100′ long that was perfect: overhead it had a clear stretch of sky and below in the shallows of the lake were wonderful boulders and fallen trees that made great foreground subjects.

Except for one little problem…a group of folks were already there enjoying a bonfire.  So Ryan and I hiked up the shoreline vainly looking for a decent alternative location but we had no luck.  We returned to a spot near the original location and made the best of it, but the light from their fire played havoc on my shots.  Their party finally wrapped up by 11 pm and as their fire faded out, the views of the stars and meteors reflected on the calm lake became more visible.

Lost in Space:  Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon

But my heart had been set on taking shots of Mt. Hood with the Milky Way behind it.  Unfortunately, by this late hour the rotation of the earth had moved the Milky Way so far to the west that I couldn’t fit it into the frame with Mt. Hood.  Plus I had hauled my not-so-young body around for miles that day and I was exhausted, so headed back to camp with hopes of better luck the following night.

The next morning, we went back to watch the dawn.  No wind, no clouds, (no bonfire!)…it was one of the most perfect scenes I could imagine.

Sunrise at Lost Lake Oregon Mt. Hood

After a few shots, we hit the road early to go hike more waterfalls but drove back to Lost Lake well before sunset to get ‘first dibs’ on our spot.   As the clearing came into view we were happy to see that we were the only ones there, so we set up our equipment, set back and relaxed while we waited for the show to start.

It turned out Ryan and weren’t the only photographers that knew about “our” perfect spot.  Over the next couple hours, four more shutterbugs (who had also previously scouted the area) set up next to us.  They knew that the peak of the meteor shower was going to be that night (Aug 12) and had all traveled to Lost Lake to capture images of it.

Actually, this is one of the things that Ryan and I like most about photography…meeting and getting to know other photographers.  Most of them love to talk about their hobby and share their knowledge and swap stories.  One of the guys, Dan Duerden, was a High School teacher from British Columbia who was spending his 3 month summer holiday on a photographic journey through the PAC NW.  Dan is an incredibly talented photographer and you can see more of his work on his Instagram page: https://instagram.com/dduerds/ .  Ryan had recently started posting his own photos on Instagram (https://instagram.com/ryanstamer/)  and the two of them had an animated conversation about that topic…it was all way over my head.

There was a retired guy obsessed with photography (not that I’m throwing stones!).  Along with him was his long suffering wife who described herself as his “Sherpa” because she got to lug around all of his gear.  When Ryan heard that, he playfully elbowed me in the ribs…. because he is my designated tripod-carrier on our hikes.

Anyway, we spent the next few hours taking our photos and quietly talking on the edge of the shore.  We watched the sky…and listened to the “Ewwws!” and “Ahhhs!” from the campers on the other side of the lake as meteors streaked across the heavens.

Lost in Space:  Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon

“Ryan’s World”

 

I had two camera set up to automatically take continuous photos.    This ensured that I would capture nearly every meteor that flew over our heads.  It also gave me the chance to try my hand at making a time-lapse video.  The resulting ‘film’ condenses about 600 photographs down to less than 100 seconds, take a look:

In addition to the meteors, you can also see a number of aircraft and satellites in this video, but basically, anything that you see for less than a half of a second is likely to have been a meteor…and there were a bunch!    This is my first ‘real’ time-lapse and I’m still learning…but it was a lot of fun and I’m pretty happy with the result.

There weren’t a lot of meteors early in the evening, but they appeared with increasing frequency as the hours went by.  Just the same, of the 700+ frames I took over two days, there was only a single image that captured two at the same time:

Lost in Space:  Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon

Twice as nice

Note how the meteors are multi-hued, plus they tend to be wider toward the center.  I learned that these attributes help you distinguish them from satellites or aircraft.

I really loved the way the Milky Way arched over the entire lake.  It was too wide a view to capture in a single shot so I stitched five frames to make a panorama:Lost in Space:  Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon

Here is one last shot I’d like to share.  Basically, I took most of the decent sized meteors I photographed on Aug 12 and placed them on a single image.  I had to reorient some of them to take into account the rotation of the earth (since we saw the meteors over a 3 hour span of time).  It certainly makes for an interesting image:

Milky Way and Perseid Photography at Lost Lake Oregon

“Fusillade

By 1 am Ryan and I were yawning and since we planned to be hiking again in a few hours we thought it might be nice to get a bit of sleep first.  We said goodnight to our new friends and headed for our sleeping bags.

Over the next week or so, Ryan I spent time at a number of amazing places in the PAC NW, but our time at Lost Lake has become one of our favorite memories from the trip.   It kind of reminded us of one of those old-time fishing camps nestled way back in the woods. The area is truly beautiful, peaceful and seems to do wonders for your soul.

Plus, I got to have some NEW experiences.  Yeah, maybe I didn’t exactly squeal like a child, but it made me feel young just the same.

 

Jeff

PS:  If you go to Lost Lake, here is a map showing the spot we “found”:

Map for Photographing the Milky Way at Lost Lake Oregon

 

 

 Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon

Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower at Lost Lake Oregon

 

 

 

 

Posted in Milky Way Photography, Night Photography, Pacific Northwest USA, Time Lapse Photography Tagged , , , |

Lake Jesup Wildflower Update: Oct. 2, 2015

Note:  There is a more recent update published on Oct. 10th, click here to see it.

If you happen to live within driving distance of Central Florida, you may have been thinking of photographing the annual wild sunflower fields that bloom this time of year in the Lake Jesup area.  If so, I wanted to let you know that now is the time.

Lake Jesup Wildflower Fields

I hiked out to the fields yesterday and they are in full bloom.  Compared to previous years, the flats are very wet and you won’t be able to get out very far into them, but you can still shoot from the edges and get some wonderful images .  If you do try to venture into the flats, you will need hip waders and lots of mosquito spray!  I just walked along the area where the oak/palm trees stop and the flats begin.  That area has some trails and is pretty dry but I was glad I had waterproof boots.

Lake Jesup Wildflower Fields

Lake Jesup Wildflower Fields

If you haven’t been out to the fields before, check out my previous post for directions and tips.

Have fun!
Jeff

PS:  Don’t forget that these sunflowers are TALL…like 6′ tall, which means you need to get your camera elevated if you want to be able to see the horizon.  So unless you are a pro basketball player or want to bring a ladder, you should bring a tripod with a center column so you can extend your camera a bit above the flowers.

PSS:  Bring your macro lens for close-ups and don’t forget that there are lots of Bald Eagles and other birds, so you might want to have a zoom with you as well.

 

 

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

Tokatee Falls Photography: Guide, Tips and a Warning

Until recently, I had never had the chance to visit Oregon, but this year I’ve been there twice…and it has made quite an impression on me:

It is a beautiful state.

It is a diverse state.

But it is an also odd state, where the government thinks adults are intelligent enough to use marijuana responsibility but they don’t trust you to pump your own gas (seriously, they have a state law that requires gas stations to have an attendant to pump your fuel)….but then again, I live in Florida and perhaps I shouldn’t be calling other states odd.

As a photographer, Oregon’s big attraction is waterfalls.  They have tons of them.  And the ones they have are among the most photogenic in the country…if not the world.  Take a look at any Top Ten list of Beautiful Waterfalls and you will likely find at least a couple that are in Oregon.

Most folks like waterfalls, and others, like my son Ryan, absolutely love them.  So when Ryan and I planned our trip across the Pac NW earlier this year, he made sure that we included more than a few waterfalls.  The first we explored turned out to be one of our favorites of the trip: Toketee Falls.

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

The ‘classic’ view of Tokatee. An incredible sight.

Tokatee Falls is located in Central Oregon and isn’t as well known as the more publicized waterfalls in the Columbia River Valley.  But we had seen some photos on-line that got our attention and since it was only about 30 miles from Crater Lake National Park (where our trip had started) we decided to take a morning and check it out.

The name, Tokatee, is a native Chinook word meaning “pretty” or “graceful”…and it certainly is well named.  It is a beautiful, classical waterfall that drops 120 feet in two stages thru a wall carved from ancient columnar basalt.

Oddly enough, the thing that might have been the most memorable, wasn’t the waterfall.  Even before we got out of our car in the parking lot, this grabbed my attention:

This pipeline was built the same year of the Berlin Airlift, the year that Mao established Communist China, the year gas was 17cents per gallon….

This is a 12′ wide redwood aqueduct that diverts a good portion of a major river (the North Umpqua) to a hydroelectric plant.  What is really amazing is that it was built in 1949 and is still in use!  It runs right alongside the trailhead parking lot and as you get out of your car you will immediately notice the leaks. Since it holds a massive amount of water under high pressure those leaks become jets of water, some shooting over 15’…much to the delight of every child (and childlike adult).  Makes for a nice way to cool off on a hot day!  Check out my amateurish 15 second You Tube video if you want to see more:   https://youtu.be/kyc0MStQtpw

The half mile hike to the falls was easy…there is a bit of elevation change (200 steps) but it was shaded and the woods were beautiful.  At the end of the trail there is a new observation deck that has a killer view Toketee.

This is the same image you will see in 99% of the images on Google.  And with good reason…it is impressive.  Nearly all tourists and photographer snap a few shots here, then turn around and go back.  Which is exactly what I planned to do.  Except, when I finished my shots…Ryan was gone.  After a few confused minutes of looking around, I finally noticed him…all the way down at the base of the falls.   Since I knew his mother would never let me rest peacefully if I returned without him, I strapped the tripod to my back and started looking for the way down.  Mistake.  There is no way down.  At least not an official one and the only “path” was what locals call “a scramble.”  What I would call it is not printable.  Let’s just say it is little more than a slippery, controlled fall down a steep muddy slope.  After a couple minutes that voice in the back of my head started whispering:  “This is stupid…You are going to get hurt…You are smarter than this!!!”  But I’m really not that smart…plus my fear of my wife is a heck of lot louder than that silly little voice. So off I went.

I managed to get down without injury…and without loosing control of my bladder (which was kind of a close thing a couple times).

From the base of the falls, after my jackhammering heart slowed down, I raised my head and took in the view.

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

Ryan enjoys a Killer View…as in “I nearly got my ‘Old Man’ killed getting to this view”

It was humbling.  Over the ages the waterfall has carved a deep gouge in the solid rock wall.  And below it blasted out a huge bowl in the basalt.  Standing at the bottom of this ‘bowl’ you are surrounded by tall columns of the volcanic rock that reflects and amplifies the sound of smashing water.  To say it is loud misses the point… more like you can feel your ribcage reverberating within your chest.   Truly visceral!

 

2015 PAC NW  08 09 0884_HDRAfter your ears adjust to the volume, your eyes start to take into account the scale of the place.  Rather than looking at the whole vista, examine this close-up of the wall next to the waterfall:

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

See that fully grown tree on the right?   Now you are starting to get an idea of how massive the columns of basalt are that make up the wall of this gorge!

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

This was a challenging shot from a technical perspective. I had to balance the wide dynamic range and also focus stack 5 different shots to keep things sharp throughout the image.

Ryan and I spent nearly an hour soaking in the view.  Not another soul made their way down to the base of the falls (clearly they had better sense than we did.)  Although we saw a lot more waterfalls over the next week, Tokatee was one of the most memorable.  It has a wonderful balance of size, power and pure aesthetic beauty.   I hope you get to visit and photograph this treasure in the future.

Just for the record.  Although I used humor when I wrote about getting to the base of the falls, I want to clearly state that I do NOT recommend that you try to do so.  The ‘trail’ is not safe in its current condition. I have no doubt that someone will be seriously injured (or worse) trying to reach the falls.  I wish that the powers-that-be would invest the funds necessary to make an ‘official’ trail to the base, but that hasn’t happened yet.   Listen to that little voice in your head:  No photograph is worth serious injury.

Tips for my fellow photographers:

1)  When to visit?  Spring is the best.  Snowmelt makes for impressive volumes of water and everything is green.  However, most the shots in this blog were taken in June and as you can see, the water volume was still adequate and the vegetation vibrant.

2)  Be there in the morning so you can photograph the falls while in the shade.  The falls face west and as the day progresses, you will get direct sunlight on the face of the falls which makes photography more difficult.

3)  If you are shooting from the observation platform with a full frame camera, you will need about a 60mm lens to get a nice full image shot of the falls (about 40mm on a cropped APS-C sensor camera).  If you decide to shoot from the base (assuming you ignore my warning)  you will need a 27-40mm for most shots (15-20mm on crop sensor). There is a lot of spray at the base, bring some microfiber cloths to dry your lens between shots.

4)  You will need your tripod.  Since you will want to photograph while the falls are in the shade, you will need a tripod for longer exposure times, especially if you want the waterfall to have that ‘silky’ look.  My first shot in this blog, for example, was a 4 second exposure.  Most of the other shots were HDRs.

5)  Don’t forget your polarizer.  It will help reduce glare and make the colors ‘pop.’

6)  How to get there?  At milepost 58.6 on Highway 138 east of Roseburg Oregon, turn north on Road 34. Stay left at the Y and cross the bridge. A well-marked trailhead is 200 feet on the left.

7)  If you do go to the base of the falls, take a rope and a first aid kit.  Don’t go alone.  Leave an address for your next of kin on the dash of the car.

This is a beautiful location…enjoy!
Jeff

 

 

 Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

Tokatee Falls Photography:  Guide, Tips and a Warning

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA Tagged , , |

10 Days: 10 Photos

This summer has been a busy, wild and intense ride!  In June I spent 20 days photographing Washington State and Southern Alaska.  Two weeks ago, my son, Ryan, and I hiked for 10 days during a 1,500 roadtrip thru the Pac NW and at Glacier NP.  And in two days, my wife and I head to Bonaire in the Caribbean for some underwater photography and scuba.  Needless to say, I am behind in my blog and it may take the rest of the year to catch up.

Today, I have only an hour or so free before I have to start packing, so I thought I would do a quick recap of the highlights of the hiking tour Ryan and I enjoyed…so sit back and enjoy!

Neither my son or I had ever visited Crater Lake and it turned out to be far more impressive than either of us had anticipated.  On our first night there, I got what may be the best shot of the entire trip.  I had long wanted to photograph the Milky Way with Wizard Island and the lake in the background.  I found the famous, whitebark pine that precariously hangs over the edge of the crater and got some solid images before the cold got to me and I decided to pack it in near midnight.  Ryan, who had been warming up in the car, came over and we spontaneously decided to use him as a model for a last shot.  Just as I hit the shutter, a meteor lit up the sky right over his head and we simultaneously screamed “Did you see that?!!!” In my next breath I yelled “Don’t Move” hoping he could hold still for the 20 second exposure so his image wouldn’t be blurry.  Did he freeze?  Check it out…

2015-pac-nw-08-07-0214-merge-crop

“Starstruck” You do all the planning in the world but sometimes pure luck makes the shot!

 

After a couple days of exploring Crater, we headed for the Oregon coast.  Along the way we stopped at Toketee Falls.  The standard shot is from the observation deck…and it is an impressive view!

2015 PAC NW 08 09 0777

My son decided to scramble down to the base of the falls.  I followed him but soon had second thoughts when it became clear that the trail was not official, safe or sane.  More about that experience at a later date!

Thor’s Well is one of those attractions that photographers fantasize about.  It’s a collapsed cavern on the Oregon shore.  At high tide, the ocean literally pours thru the roof of the cave and it truly looks like the Pacific is draining into a massive well.  I had planned our trip to coincide with high tide and sunset…I was not disappointed!2015 PAC NW 08 09 1205crop

Our next three days were spent hiking the famous waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge.  Ryan loves waterfalls and he had a long, detailed list…and I think we hit every, last, single one of them.  Hiking up Oneonta Gorge was without doubt, our favorite…similar to the Virgin Narrows at Zion only shorter and much greener!

2015 PAC NW 08 12 2564

Our next stop was Palouse Falls in Washington State.  It was over 100 degrees F when we arrived and I chuckled to think I had left Florida trying to escape the heat of August!  We hiked down to the base of the falls (yes, it was a trend…Ryan was determined to see every waterfall from all possible perspectives).  Fortunately, it cooled off overnight so we didn’t bake in our tent.  In the morning, the sun apologized for its brutal behavior the day before by greeting us with an epic sunrise.2015 PAC NW 08 14 3763_HDRcrop

We wrapped up our trip with three days in Glacier National Park.  Although there were a number of active wildfires in the park, Glacier is huge so we just selected hikes in the areas that were unaffected.  I was a bit disappointed by the hazy skies but they did seem to intensive the color at sunrise and sunset.

"Morning Beacon"

“Morning Beacon”

 

Glacier is well known for its wildlife…and now I know why! Bears, Big Horn Sheep, Moose, Mountain Goats, Marmots, Bald Eagles…the variety was incredible.  Not only that, but when you are alpine hiking, some of these critters use the same trails you do…so they get close.

Didn't need a zoom for this shot!

Didn’t need a zoom for this shot!

2015 PAC NW 08 16 4896

This ram got so close I could have taken this shot with a camera phone…seriously thought he was going to head-bump me for a second or two!

We finished our trip with the long hike to Grinnell Glacier on our last day.  My 20 year old son was kind enough not to leave me behind as we climbed the trail.  But to tell the truth, after hiking 50 or so miles since the start of our roadtrip, I admit that I didn’t exactly sprint up the mountain.

In this shot, Ryan's exuberance and joy of life is pretty apparent...in my case, I'm just ecstatic that I didn't drop dead on the trail:)

In this shot, Ryan’s exuberance and joy of life is pretty apparent…in my case, my happiness is due to the fact that I didn’t drop dead on the trail:)

So there you have it:  10 Days summarized by 10 Photos!  I have much more to share with you about trip…some great stories…like the one where a Park Ranger gave me a breathalyzer test because my eyes looked weird (that’s what a 57 year old guy looks like after hiking for 10 days with 4 hours sleep per night!)

Anyway, I gotta run.  More to come later!

Jeff

 

Posted in Roadtrips Tagged , |

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

I know, I know…15 hours is a ridiculously short amount of time for a visit to a National Park…especially one as expansive as Rainier.  Ideally you want to be able to immerse yourself over a number of days to really get a ‘feel’ for the landscape plus you need more than a handful of hours to even see more than a smattering of the most popular photo locations.

Plus, the main reason I’ve long dreamed of visiting Rainier was to photograph the annual wildflower bloom…but that wouldn’t happen for another month or two.

But, I was going to be in the area and had only 15 hours open on my schedule so I was just going to have suck it up and experience the photographic equivalent of ‘speed dating’.   Even if I didn’t get any great photos, at least I’d be able to scout out the park and be better prepared next time.

I had reservations at the Paradise Inn, which is one of those old, timber framed lodges you find at many of the National Parks.   What it lacks in modern conveniences is more than made up by its location:  it is located high up on the mountain near the Paradise meadows which are famous for their wildflower displays.  So at 4pm I pulled up to the Inn, checked-in, grabbed my gear and hit the Skyline Trail.  And guess what?  The wildflowers were blooming!  Turns out that a poor snow pack that winter had resulted in an early melt…and early flowers!

That was the good news, the bad news is that the mountain was covered by fog and the trail was packed with what seemed like hundreds of people (I guess the early wildflower bloom was not a secret).  Could barely see ten feet and photography was not an option.  So I decided to drive to halfway around the park to check out another location I had seen on the internet: Tipsoo Lake.

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

Welcome Committee at Tipsoo Lake!

Unlike the packed trails in Paradise, there were only a few other people at Tipsoo.  Even better there wasn’t any fog and it was also awash with flowers.   A nice sunset developed, but Rainier stubbornly remained hidden.

No, Not Rainier...This is actually Mt Yakima..Rainier was still stubbornly hidden behind the clouds off to the left.

No, Not Rainier…This is actually Mt Yakima..Rainier was still stubbornly hidden behind the clouds off to the left.

I set up behind the lake waiting for the sunset and passed the time talking with another photographer about the chances of Rainier making an appearance before sunset.  Didn’t happen.  About fifteen minutes after sunset (of course) the clouds around Rainier dissipated and we finally got a glimpse of the mountain but by then the sunset’s vibrant color was long gone. Just the same, there was a nice lavender alpenglow.  Not a dramatic sunset scene but nice in its own subtle, moody way.

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

“Color me Purple” Rainier finally makes an appearance!

Sunset was a bit after 9pm and I had hoped to be back to my room by 10:30 but I managed to take a wrong turn on the way back to the Inn which added another hour to my drive.  Yes I had a GPS…but I found it didn’t help much when you have the sound on ‘mute.’

Needless to say, by the time I got back to the Inn the sky had darkened well enough for the Milky Way to be visible, so I decided go out on the trail next to the hotel and try some night shots.  Yeah, it was a bit spooky walking alone on the trail…but it was peaceful.  And since the sky was clear, I become incredibly aware of the Mountain.   I mean, Rainier is right in your face when you’re on the Skyline trail.  Huge, imposing and impossible to ignore.

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

Path to Paradise. You can’t miss Rainier if the skies are clear. It is just magnificent!

After the moon set and Rainier faded into the darkness, I turned my attention to the south and enjoyed some time photographing the Milky Way.  Over the next couple house I tried a few different compositions before the realization hit me that I had to wake up in 3 hours to catch the sunrise.

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

Pathway back to the Paradise Inn. That’s the Tatoosh Range below the Milky Way

As hiked back, I turned the final bend in the trail and the Paradise Inn came into sight.

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

I’m thinking this shot should be in the Paradise Inn’s brochure!

I made it back to my room, fell into bed and I swear I had been laying down for not more than a few minutes when my alarm started wailing.   I managed to drive down to Reflection Lake which fortunately was less than 10 minutes from the hotel.

The lake was very foggy…I couldn’t even see the mountain but I had scouted the location on the way to Tipsoo the previous day so at least I knew where I wanted to set up.  I enjoyed the peace and quiet for about 30 minutes until some other photographers started to show up (Reflection Lake is a very well known sunrise spot). Gradually the fog lifted, Rainier became visible and the shutters started clicking .

2015 Northwest 06 23 769_HDR bw The dawn was stingy with color but the lake was perfectly calm creating wonderful reflections plus the fog and clouds set a dramatic mood which lent itself to black and white processing.

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

“Taking it all in…” A fellow photographer stops and just soaks in the moment…a lession to us all.

I drove back to the Inn and hit the Skyline Trail one last time hoping to catch the wildflowers in the soft morning light.

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

“Stairway to Heaven” Apologies to Led Zeppelin:)

The day before, people had been queued up at the viewpoint to see Myrtle Falls but at 7am I had the place to myself.

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

There were numerous signs asking you to stay on the trail in order to protect the delicate flowers, but I have to admit that I was sorely tempted to walk into the fields to take advantage of some potentially amazing views.  But, being an old Scoutmaster, I did the right thing and stuck to the trail so the folks who hiked the trail after me would see the same unmarked and pristine fields.15 Hours at Mt. Rainier: A Photographic Sprint

All too soon I had to be on my way… but I will return.  Next time, hopefully I’ll be able to schedule a full week and get the chance to hike and explore more of this magnificent Mountain.

’till next time!

Jeff

PS:  I’m heading off tomorrow with my son for a ten day trip to Crater Lake, Columbia Gorge and Glacier National Park.   We will be doing some serious hiking (with my camera of course), and I’m sure I’ll be pretty worn out and sore when I return (just try to keep up with a 20 year old on a mountain trail)!  I’m  looking forward to sharing those photos and stories.  Talk to you soon!

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier:  A Photographic Sprint

15 Hours at Mt. Rainier:  A Photographic Sprint

Posted in Landscape Photography, Milky Way Photography, Pacific Northwest USA Tagged , , |

Photography Nirvana: Tracy Arm Fjord

Q:

How do you know that you just might be a photographer?

A: 

When you are photographing out on the open deck of a boat during a storm of freezing rain and sleet and you realize that every single other passenger (including your wife) is snug inside the warm and dry cabin, drinking Hot Chocolate (and probably making jokes about that moron outside with two cameras hanging around his neck)!

Yup…welcome to my life:)

Oddly enough, I’d bet that I was probably the happiest person on that boat.  We were on a small sightseeing catamaran cruising up Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska.  While other passengers were bummed out because of the crappy weather, I was ecstatically bouncing around from one side of the deck to the other trying to capture the dramatic views.  4000′ Mountains covered by wispy clouds were jutting out of the fjord to either side of me and the sea was filled with hundreds of icebergs and chunks of ice.

As one of the passengers said when he briefly stepped out “You’re clearly having way too much fun.”

And he was right…I was smiling from ear to ear.  Well sure…my hands were numb and I had to dry my lens after every single shot, but the views were awesome.  I had photographed the same area once before years ago…but that had been a pretty day and the resulting photos were okay…but bland.  Blue skies, grey rock, green trees…ho, hum.  But what I was seeing was anything but boring.  It was truly awesome.

Take a look yourself:

Photographer Nirvana: Tracy Arm Fjord

Was I right?

I’ve been to Yosemite more than a few times hoping to get photos of the clouds as they swirled around the valley after a storm…but no luck.  On the other hand, the vistas in the fjord that morning were all I could have hoped for:

Photographer Nirvana: Tracy Arm Fjord

2015 Northwest 06 29 209

The lack of light sucked the color out of the landscape and I thought these views were made for black and white.  Even so, some of the little icebergs were a beautiful deep blue: Photographer Nirvana: Tracy Arm Fjord

At the end of the Fjord, we came to Sawyer Glacier and I understood where that color had come from.  When the skies are overcast, the entire glacier seems to glow cobalt from within the ice.

It is hard to convey the size of such a thing, but that is a big, two-story boat you can see to the right:  it helps provide a sense of scale…

Photographer Nirvana: Tracy Arm Fjord

Sawyer Glacier

 

Of course, I really wanted to see and hear the glacier calve:  “White Thunder”.  It did a couple times, but they were pretty unimpressive and I missed them anyway.  Being the stubborn type, I waited patiently.  And waited.  And waited some more. And then I heard what sounded like a gunshot as a huge slab of the glacier fell away and shuttered into the sea creating a huge wave.  Fortunately, I had my camera ready and ripped off a series of 24 shots.

Yesterday I processed those shotS and here is the best image:

Sawyer Glacier Calving

Well, that’s really not very impressive is it?   To be honest, I was pretty disappointed.  The photo was in focus, it was well exposed, it covered all the photographic basics…but the image utterly failed to convey the size, the action and the sheer violence of the moment.

I realized that I had made a mistake.  I should have shot a video.  The camera I have now (a Nikon D800E) is the first one I’ve owned that can take video but I’m guilty of being stuck in my ways…I just hadn’t thought of trying a video.

So I was pretty PO’ed with myself for missing the opportunity…I mean how many times am I going to be able to go to Alaska and see something like this?   But…I DID have 24 sequential shots…Maybe I could make a pseudo-video by processing the frames like I would a time-lapse.  How hard could it be?

Well, here I sit a full day later.  The project did not exactly progress flawlessly.  In other words, I had no idea what I was doing and I learned it all the hard way…but I did learn.  Honestly though, it really frustrated me.  Or, as Ricardo Montalban said in the Wrath of Kahn:  it “tasked me!”   I simply had to keep working on it till I bested it…darn it!

And now I’m the proud owner of a six second video (that probably took me six hours to make…possibly not my most productive use of time)  Just the same, it’s kinda cool:

Soon we had to head back to port.   As the boat slowly cruised back, the sun tentatively begun to polk thru the overcast.  As it did, I spotted this eagle who had clearly been drenched and was trying to dry out his wings.Photographer Nirvana: Tracy Arm Fjord

By now the other passengers had started coming out of the cabin and the camera shutters started clicking all around me.  But for me, the magic had dissipated along with the fog so I just went back into the cabin, got a hot coffee, snuggled up to Anita and enjoyed the ride back into Juneau.

It was a good day to be a photographer.

Jeff

 

 

 

 Photography Nirvana: Tracy Arm Fjord

Photography Nirvana: Tracy Arm Fjord

Posted in Alaska, Landscape Photography Tagged , , , , , , |

Palouse Photography Tips: A Guide for Visitors

The Palouse is a remote farming area in southeastern Washington state and western Idaho.  The endless softly rolling hills are home to vast wheat fields, scattered small towns and friendly folks.  It’s the type of place that evokes memories of the “Norman Rockwell” America we imagine it was long ago.

You’ve probably never heard of the Palouse…unless you are a wheat broker, a local resident or a landscape photographer.

Why landscape photographers?  Well, those hills I mentioned are blessed by a soft, flowing, nearly sensuous beauty when viewed thru a camera.  As a result, photographers from across the world flock there during the summer when the fields are covered by colorful waves of wheat.   Images of this area captivated me for years and I finally had the chance in June to experience it for myself.

And here’s what I found:

Palouse Photography Tips: A guide for visitors

“Whitman County Growers”

What do you think?  Unreal?  Surreal?  I’d never seen anything like it but for some odd reason when I first gazed upon the Palouse landscape, I was oddly reminded of a painting by Dali …

The Persistence of Memory.jpg

“Persistence of Memory” by Salvadore Dali

I thought Dali was Spanish but maybe he spent some time in western Washington before he started painting?

The Palouse seems to encourage random, strange thoughts like that…it just doesn’t seem real somehow.   It is all just so pretty…so green and the people are just so incredibly nice.  Boy, I thought the folks in my town were friendly …but the Palouse?  Have you ever had one of those road-workers that holds the “Slow/Stop” signs actually walk up to your car and start talking to you?  This happened to me twice in the Palouse.  If this occurred in some other parts of the country, I’d be rolling up my windows and frantically looking for a way to get away…but here it didn’t seem odd or threatening.  It quickly became clear that the locals just don’t seem to have the ‘shields’ that those of us from urban areas take for granted.

Palouse Photography Tips

I bet you could have seen this same scene in 1950….or even 1850. The Palouse seems to embody a classic rural ambiance of a day long gone.

Okay…okay…enough with my ramblings about how the Palouse made me feel.   What does it look like?

Well, first of all the landscape is best appreciated from the vantage point of height.  Fortunately, there is a tall hill (butte) smack dab in the middle of the best part of the Palouse.  It is called Steptoe Butte and as part of the Washington State Park system, it is open to the public.    In the hours before dusk and after dawn, the low angle of the sun creates wonderful shadows around all those curvy hills.

2015 Northwest 06 19 554 south pano

Seven frame panorama from the summit of Steptoe made right after sunrise…

Steptoe tops-out at 3612′ and you can park on the summit and see an absolutely unreal 360º vista.   Palouse Photography TipsWith a pair of binoculars you can see the occasional red barn, farm house or grain silo…but those are the exceptions.  Nearly everything you can see in every direction is just soft, curving hills covered with rippling waves of grain.

Well, you will also notice the 58 turbines of the Palouse Wind Farm built in 2012.  They are a good distance north of the butte so they don’t look huge but they are actually about 500′ tall and produce quite a bit of electricity.

 

Palouse Photography Tips

Unplanted areas contrast the lush green crops

Every direction you look reveals more details and different perspectives:

Palouse Photography Tips

This is the famous ‘Red Barn.’ Look for it when you are on the summit. I bet it has been photographed thousands of times…

If you come down from the Butte, the perspectives from ground level are still captivating…just not jaw dropping.

Palouse Photography Tips

One very lonely and very dead tree.

So, if you ever want to travel back in time to a simpler, friendlier time while being surrounded in a landscape that only a crazy Catalonian surrealist artist could envision, make your way to the Palouse next summer.  It will be a memorable experience.

Tips and suggestions for my Fellow Photographers:

When to Visit?

May and June are usually peak for the yellow and green of the fields.  A very different look can be seen in July and August when the wheat turns gold and brown. Harvesting usually begins in late August.

Where to stay?

Colfax is the town closest to Steptoe.  It is about 30 minutes south and you can choose from 4 or 5 hotel/motels.

Where should you go for your shots?

Steptoe Butte  As mentioned, Steptoe Butte is the primo place to be in the Palouse.

Palouse Photography Tips

Steptoe sticks out of the surrounding landscape like a sore toe (sorry…had to say it)

The best light is near sunrise and sunset.  Be on Steptoe for both….the same features can look totally different at the opposite ends of the day.  Plus, by visiting twice you will increase your chances of photographing during partly cloudy conditions when dappled sunlight accentuates the incredible shadows created by the low angled sunlight.

When you first get to Steptoe, pay your $10 at the unattended kiosk (or you can buy a full year pass online for $30), then drive to the summit. There is a large parking area just below the actual summit and many folks pull in here mistakenly thinking they are at the top.  The actual summit is accessed by a narrow (a little wider than a single car), unmarked road on your left as you pull into the larger pullout.  It looks like a service road used to get to the cell towers on the summit.  Once you get to the top, scout out your potential shots by using your binoculars.  Look for nice perspectives and find the farm houses, barns and silos that you will want to incorporate into your shots.

Palouse Photography Tips

Front Row Seating for Steptoe Summit Sunrise

Don’t stay at the summit the whole time.  There are a number of pullouts along the road that winds around the butte and they will give you significantly different perspectives.  It only takes a few minutes to drive from one to the other and you will be surprised how different your shots look from the lower elevations.

The park is officially open from dawn to dusk but I’ve never had an issue being there earlier or later than the posted hours.

Palouse Photography Tips

Some fields are planted with brilliant yellow canola stretching as far as your eye can see…

During the day, drive around:  Get off the paved roads, slow down and just drive.  There are some wonderful vignettes to be found.  Be respectful of private property and be aware that some big farm equipment rolls down the gravel roads.  Also be aware that most of the roads around here have sharp drop-offs right at their edge….you can’t just pull over everywhere.  You may have to drive a bit further and hike back a short ways.

Palouse Photography Tips

The famous “Wagon Wheel” fence

Dahmen Barn:  Located in Uniontown (about an hour south of Steptoe) this is an antique barn that is now a co-op for local artists.  Photographers adore the fence that surrounds the property which is made from hundreds of old metal tractor wheels, gears, etc.  Here is a link with more info and directions.

Palouse Photography Tips

Not your typical barn

T.A. Leonard Barn:  You will see a lot of quaint red barns in the Palouse, but how many round barns have you ever seen?  This beautifully restored gem is 40 minutes south of Steptoe in Pullman right off of Old Moscow Road.  It’s a private farm and not open for tours but you can photograph it from the road.  This site will give you more info and directions.

Kamiak Butte:    Actually a bit taller than Steptoe but you can’t drive to the summit. 2015 Northwest 06 20 904 There is a hiking trail to the top (about 3.5 miles roundtrip).  If you are visiting for more than a day and you have already got all the shots you want from Steptoe, then it is certainly worth a visit but if your time is limited, Steptoe is the place to be. Great place for a picnic lunch.  Kamiak is about 29 miles (55 minutes) from Steptoe.  Click this link for more info.

Palouse Falls:  About an 90 mile drive west of Steptoe is the magnificent 197′  Palouse Falls.  Perhaps best seen at sunset, you can also take wonderful Milky Way shots here.  I’ll be writing a full article about this location later in the fall.

Other locations:  A local photographer has put together a detailed map  showing locations of barns, old cars and other photographic points of interest.  She sells the map via the internet for $25.  It is quite detailed and worth your money if you are going to visit.  Here is a link.  And no, I don’t get a commission!   Short of hiring a full time local guide, this is the best resource I’ve found to help visiting photographers find potential locations

How long should you visit?

If your time is tight, you can cover the highlights in a day.  That will give you a sunrise and sunset on Steptoe and the middle of the day to explore the countryside.  Of course, the Palouse is a big area, so you would need to spend much longer to cover it thoroughly.  If you do decide to take a few days, I’d suggest you hire one of the local photo guides or book a photo tour.  Many of them have relationships with the farmers who will allow you to access to locations on private property that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

Equipment?

Lenses: When you think of landscapes, you naturally think of wide angle lenses and they will come in handy when you are driving around the farm roads.   But on Steptoe, you need long lenses.  As I reviewed my photos taken on the butte, I noticed that nearly all of them were taken somewhere between 300-500mm on a full frame camera (450mm to 750mm on an APS-C crop sensor camera).

Polarizer:  You will often have some haze on Steptoe and a polarizer will help reduce that issue and make your colors ‘pop.’

Tripod:  The Palouse can be a bit breezy.  On Steptoe, the wind can really rip.  I have a heavy duty tripod and head that had never, ever had a problem even with my monster 200-400 beast of a zoom lens.  At least it never had a problem until I was on Steptoe.  As I checked my shots in the LCD, I noticed that some of them were not quite as sharp as others…the wind was shaking my rig ever so slightly.  I’d suggest you weigh down your tripod, take 2 or 3 shots of every scene and check every single shot fully zoomed in to ensure that your shots are sharp.Palouse Photography Tips

Post processing

Dynamic Range:  Full frame cameras, HDR, blending layers in Photoshop….many of us work hard to show the full dynamic range in our shots.  Oddly enough, the Palouse is one of those venues where that might not be necessary..or even preferred.  Those dark shadows contrasted by the brilliant crests of the hills seems to me to be a big part of the beauty of the Palouse.  Do yourself a favor and try processing some shots where you can’t see every detail in the shadows…you might like the result.

Haze:  I found that I had to use the clarity slider in Photoshop liberally to combat this issue.

That should be enough to get you started on a successful photo trip to the Palouse.  I’m sure you will enjoy yourself and feel free to email me with copies of your best images!
JeffPalouse Photography Tips

Palouse Photography Tips:  A Guide for Visitors

 

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

Photographic Highlights of Adventure in Pac NW & Alaska

Hello All,

Sorry for my long absence but my 2 week trip to the Pac NW & Alaska resulted in over 10,000 photos…and when I got home those photos demanded that I drop everything and process them.  So other than short breaks to eat and sleep, I’ve been a Photoshop slave for the past ten days.  My wife says I’m a bit obsessive…but you can’t trust her judgment.  After all, any woman that would marry me obviously is not a good judge of character and has a tenuous relationship with reality.

We had an incredible time.  Exhausting, but wonderful and very, very productive!

I was able to capture some images that I am very proud of and I’m going to share some of them with you today.   Later on, I will craft some in-depth blogs about specific events and locations and will include additional photos.

Our first stop was the Palouse, in western Washington (south of Spokane).   The Palouse is a region of gently rolling hills that reminds many of Tuscany (not that I’ve ever been there).Palouse

It is a calm, friendly place where even the road workers holding the ‘Slow signs’ walk up to your car and start chatting.  Maybe this is the way America used to be, if so, we have truly lost something special.  The hills are sensuous in their own odd way and the occasional red barn or grain silo makes for quaint interruptions in the flowing landscape.

Palouse Falls is a few hours to the east, in central Washington.  It is truly in the middle of nowhere with absolutely nothing, I mean nothing, around it.  Perhaps that just makes the falls that much more magnificent and dramatic.  I had hoped to get a Milky Way shot here and I succeeded beyond my dreams:

Milky Way over Palouse Falls Washington

Although I had planned this photo, luck played a big role.  After standing on the edge of a cliff in the dark for two hours, I finally admitted to myself that although the Milky Way looked great, the moonlight was just too feeble to properly illuminate the falls.  I was about to take down my tripod and call it a night when a guy stopped by and politely asked if he could do some light painting of the falls.  His name was Ariel and he had the most powerful flashlight I had ever seen….he lit the falls up like it was daytime and I was able to get the shot I had envisioned!  I’ll be visiting these falls again next month and I’ll do an in-depth blog with photo tips.

Next we visited with my old friend Alan and his wife Linda in Portland.  I was excited to see them again AND get the chance to hike to a bunch of the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge…which is considered by some to have 5 of the top 10 most beautiful falls in the country.

2015 Northwest 06 21 047

Anita and I were at the falls before 6am hoping to beat the hoards of tourists that show up on weekends.

Multnomah Falls is probably the most famous of those in the area and it is claimed to be the most photographed waterfall in the US.  One glance and it is easy to see why.  See if you can spot Anita on the bridge!

Next on our list was Mt. Rainier.  Although the wildflowers weren’t due to be at their peak until August, I still wanted to visit and do some scouting.  As it turned out, the lack of snow during the past winter resulted in the flowers blooming early and when we started hiking in the Paradise area, we were overwhelmed by the lushly flowering trails.

Wildflowers on Trails near Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier

‘Stairway to Heaven?’…apologies to Led Zeppelin

Less than 12 hours later we were off to Olympic National Park where we enjoyed the luxury of spending TWO consecutive nights in the same hotel (I spoil that wife of mine)!  Olympic NP amazed me with its diversity…everything from rain forests to towering mountain ranges. I’m finding it difficult to choose my favorite shot from this magical place…and I reserve the right to change my mind in the future, but as of this afternoon, the sunset at Second Beach is the winner.  I was able to catch the sunburst thru a sea arch and it made a memorable image:Sunset at Second Beach Olympic National Park, Washington

Our next stop was Seattle.  Although I’ll bet a lot of you thought I’d feature a shot of the Space Needle, I’m going to surprise you.  2015 Northwest 06 26 906This World War II Boeing B-17 overflew our ship as we left Seattle harbor.  When I zoomed in on the image, I could see that it was named “Nine O Nine.”  A quick check on Google and I saw that this old warbird had flown 140 missions in 1944-5 (including 18 trips to Berlin) without an abort or loss of a crewman.  Turns out it was visiting Boeing field for an airshow.  Okay, okay, I know you read this blog because of landscapes and wildlife photography…but jeeze, I’m still a kid at heart that wanted to be a fighter pilot!

Then it was off to Alaska to photograph some wildlife!

2015 Northwest 06 30 768.50

Check out the fashionable Day-Glo full-body immersion suit the captain made me wear!  Even if it didn’t keep me afloat it would make it easier to find the body.

We went out on small boats and zodiacs repeatedly over the next week and I freaked out more than a folks by bringing along the ‘beast.’  That’s my nickname for the Nikon 200-400 zoom (see photo to the right)…it is huge, intimidating and heavy, but it does the job (even if my right elbow is sore as heck for a couple days afterwards).

Over the next week we travelled to Victoria, Ketchikan, Juneau, Misty Fiords, Skagway and Haines.  I don’t think I could honestly tell you how many hikes and small boats we were on…the days were long and seemed to run together.  But we saw certainly saw (and photographed) wildlife!

My dream for this part of the trip was to photograph Humpbacks “Bubble Net Feeding.”  But it was not to be.  The guides said the whales had been doing a lot of ‘bubble net feeding’ but they had just stopped a few days before.  We went out on the water nearly every day over the next week but had no luck.  As it turns out, they started again as soon as we left (check out this Youtube video taken the day AFTER left).   Figures.  Oh well, gives me a reason to go back!

But we certainly saw whales.   I was able to capture some of my best whale-tale shots ever…even a few with some nice mountains in the background .

Humpback Whale Tail in Alaska's Inner Passage

The Orcas were very active.  Although I captured some nice close-ups, I think I like this shot the best….not because of the Orca…but because of the shocked faces of the people on the boat!

2015 Northwest 07 02 979

Of course there were sea lions.. 2015 Northwest 06 28 283

…and fat harbor seals…2015 Northwest 06 30 451 (1)

I am always amazed at the number of Bald Eagles you see in Alaska.  I particularly liked this shot of this mated pair high in their perch:

2015 Northwest 06 30 599 (1)

But Alaska certainly has landscapes as well.  I carefully composed this shot and then a whale surfaced and ruined the composition (I’m kidding!)

2015 Northwest 06 29 009 (1) blend crop

This shot of Misty Fiords goes a long way to explaining how it got its name.  It was a rainy, chilly morning but the conditions were perfect for moody photography: Misty Fiords

Alas, all good things come to an end, as did this trip.  Wouldn’t you know it, the best sunset of the whole two weeks lit up the skies right after we got back into a harbor on our last night.  Although I would have loved to had been able to get to typical ‘landscape location’, I was more than happy to settle for this image that included our cruise ship, the Celebrity Solstice.

Celebrity Solstice

Still Not a bad way to end our adventure…right?!

Anyway, I’ll add much more to my blog over the next few weeks about this trip.  But, I’ve got to work fast because I’m heading back out west in less than a month to spend 10 days photographing and hiking with my son Ryan.  We will spend a week in Oregon then head to Glacier National Park for a few days.  It is going to be a busy summer for me…hope I have enough energy!
Jeff

PS:  I experimented with some time-lapse photography from the balcony of our cabin.  I clearly have a LOT more to learn about making a video, but if you have 5 seconds to spare, check it out…

 

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA, Roadtrips Tagged |

Photo Adventure in the Pacific Northwest

My wife, Anita and I are excited to be leaving tomorrow on a 17 day photo excursion to the Pacific Northwest and southern Alaska.  I’ve never photographed Oregon and Washington state before so I’ve spent the last month excessively researching and preparing for this adventure.  We will spend most of our time running around in a rental car from location to location…it promises to be an invigorating (and exhausting) trip.

Anita is a good sport, and gave me an early Father’s Day card in which she promises to “not complain about the early mornings or late nights caused by my obsession with photography.”  I’m going to laminate that card and hang it from the rental’s rear view mirror…I’m fairly certain it will come in handy before the end of the trip…

Some of the locations on our itinerary are:

  1. The Palouse
  2. Palouse Falls
  3. Seven different waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge
  4. Cannon Beach Oregon
  5. Mt. Rainier
  6. Olympic National Park
  7. In addition, I’ve got a number of wildlife excursions planned in Alaska’s Inner Passage area.  One dream I have is to photograph whales bubble net feeding and this might be the trip when it happens!

We are well and truly ready to escape the 90+ degree weather that Central Florida has been dishing up the last few weeks and explore a new corner of our beautiful world.  Of course, I hope to return with some memorable photos, but no matter how much planning I’ve done, it will still largely come down to luck, weather and my ability to work 16 hours days!

I won’t be able to post any blogs for the next four weeks…I learned last year that I simply can’t photograph for a full day and then half the night (because of Milky Way shots) and then go back to my room and write a blog.  The desire for sleep is far too strong.  However, I promise to update you all with details when I return!

Take Care!
Jeff

Posted in Roadtrips Tagged |

Audubon Bird of Prey Center: Photography Tips

Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

Entrance to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

Have you ever had something you’ve enjoyed for years but pretty much took it for granted…until the day you found out it was actually rare and valuable?  Then suddenly you looked at it anew with full appreciation?  Well, it’s surely happened to all of us…and I experienced it again just a couple weeks ago.

I’ve visited the nearby Audubon Bird of Prey Center in Maitland Florida off and on since the 1980s…way back before marriage, kids or even digital cameras!  I might not be a ‘birder’ but I do love raptors and I’ve long enjoyed this facility since it allows me to photograph close-ups of Bald Eagles.  After my visit, I thought about writing a blog but I figured, heck, there are facilities like this everywhere, why would my subscribers, especially those who live far from Central Florida, want to read about this one when they could just visit their local facility?

Well, after a few minutes on the internet, I learned how wrong I was.  It turns out that this is the premier raptor rehabilitation center east of the Mississippi.  Since 1979 they have treated more than 17,000 injured or orphaned raptors, averaging about 650 admissions a year.  In fact, they just released their 500th Bald Eagle last month!  The center includes a state-of-the-art clinic with its own X-ray equipment and a 100-foot-long flight cage, all of which contribute to their 40+% success rate at rehabilitating raptors.

Ok,I guess everyone doesn’t have a place like this nearby.  So, let’s look at some pictures and learn a bit about this treasure.

Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

If you wait a while, the eagles will ‘sing.’ It seems to happen couple times an hour and it will send chills down your spine!

First of all, The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is tucked away on a small, 3 acre, heavily shaded lot nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood. Although only about 20 minutes north of Orlando, you would never know it is there unless you were looking for it (Actually, I drove right by it my first time without even seeing it!)  It is a quaint, clean and well laid-out facility housing more than 20 species of raptors, including Bald Eagles, Caracaras, Red Tailed Hawks, Ospreys, Barn Owls, Barred Owls, Kestrels and many others.  Although the birds currently being rehabilitated can’t be seen by visitors (they don’t want them to become accustomed to humans) the Center has 20 non-releasable,  permanent ‘residents’ that you can observe.Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

The center has a series of large aviaries that houses many of the birds.  Unfortunately for us shutter-bugs, those aviaries are covered with thick gauge wire enclosures that don’t lend themselves to good photographs.   However, if you photograph birds that aren’t close to the wire and use a wide aperture (f2.8 or 3.5) you can often throw the wire so out of focus that it isn’t really visible.

Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

This Crested Caracara was in one of the outdoor aviaries. Strange looking bird in a wildly exotic way…

The good news is that there are usually 7 or more birds kept outside of the enclosures when the center is open.  They are placed on perches about 10 feet or so from the walkway…which obviously makes for wonderful photography.   In addition, you can also photograph another half dozen species of smaller raptors that are housed on the back porch of the Audubon House (the 1920s bungalow that is the center of the facility).

Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

Newton is an American Kestrel. You can see him on the back porch of the Audubon House.

Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

The “Viewing Gallery” (aka “shooting gallery”). You can see “Paige” the eagle thru the left window.

To me, however, the crème de la crème is the “Viewing Room” (I used to call it the “Shooting Gallery” but my wife pointed out that perhaps it wasn’t a politically correct term for a bird rehabilitation center).  This is a large room with three windows that faces an open-air side porch where many of the larger birds are kept on perches (Eagles, Owls and Hawks).  To make it even better, there are binoculars and comfortable chairs right in front of the windows.  In other words, you sit in a chair, in an air conditioned house and photograph magnificent raptors that are 10-30 away.  The windows aren’t in direct sunlight, so you don’t have to worry about reflections.  And to help make this near perfect, the staff will even let you open the center window so you can photograph without any glass between you and the raptors.

Usually I have to hike thru sweltering woods while being attacked by blood-thirsty mosquitos to get good Eagle photos.  So I truly appreciate the “Viewing Room”…Nature photography has never been so good!

For a different perspective, you can also photograph thru the bars of these gates ...

For a different perspective, you can also photograph thru the bars of these gates …

If you visit the Center a few times, you will get to know some of the ‘residents.’  My favorite is “Paige.”  Paige is a majestic female Bald Eagle.  She isn’t a petite little lady either…at 10 pounds she is among the larger eagles you will ever see.   Unfortunately she has a permanently injured wing and will never be released into the wild.  You would never know it by looking…she conducts herself with pride and is incredibly impressive.

Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

Paige is one fine looking female! I love that I can get close enough to capture the flecks of color in her eyes…what a wonderful place to photograph eagles.

Another of my favorites is Cinnamon.  She is a Red-Tailed Hawk with lots of personality who always seems to turn her head sideways to get a look at me when I arrive.  Maybe she thinks I’m Brad Pitt, but then again she is near-sighted…

Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

Cinnamon spots her favorite photographer!

If you like to photograph wildlife, you will love this place and if you are a birder, you will absolutely be in heaven.  Admission is only $5 and you should plan on spending 1-2 hours….

Did you know?

In 1973, Florida had only 88 remaining nesting pairs of Bald Eagles.  Now we have over 1,400, the most in the lower 48.

“Today in Central Florida alone we have more eagles and eagle nests in that area than in the entire 48 states in 1965,” said Charles Lee, director of advocacy at Audubon of Florida, to the Winter Park / Maitland Observer.

Clearly the staff and volunteers at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey have made a difference!

Info

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is located at 1101 Audubon Way in Maitland. Center hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. It is closed Mondays and holidays. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children, except for those under 3, who enter free

Directions: From Interstate 4, take exit 88 and head east on Lee Road. Take the first left onto Wymore Boulevard and then a right onto Kennedy Boulevard. Turn left onto East Avenue. Audubon Way will be the third left, and the Center is immediately on the right.  See this link for a Google Map.

Tips for Photographers

1)  Although you can get much closer to these birds than you ever could in the wild, you still want a long lens.  A 300mm lens will allow you to get shots that will fill your frame.  However, if you want a head shot that will fill your viewfinder, you are going to need something close to 600mm

2)  Bring your monopod or tripod, especially if you are hefting a heavy lens. Otherwise your arms will be turning to jelly by the end of your shoot.  There is plenty of room and your tripod won’t get in the way.

3)  A speed of 1/125 is usually fast enough since the birds are resting on perches.

4) I usually shoot at my widest aperture.  Even so, I often have to tweak the exposure in post-processing since the shots at 1/125 are a bit dark.

5)  I’ve never used a flash here, but I might try a “better beamer” or similar product next time to provide  some fill flash.  However, I’ll be sure to first ask the staff for permission (I didn’t see any signs saying “No Flash Photography” but I would want to make sure first!)

6)  Although I like to be there at opening (10am), I might try late afternoon next time.  If so, the birds in the garden outside the “Viewing Room” would be shaded by the house.  This would prevent the ‘hot spots’ from sunlight thru the dappled leaves.  An overcast day would be ideal, but those are rare here in Central Florida.

7)  It is rarely busy but visit during the week if you can.  Also, call ahead to see if they have any groups planned to visit that day, if so, just schedule around them.  Note that they are closed on Mondays.

8)  Take your time.  If you want to capture unusual or interesting behavior, you need to be patient and not just pop a few shots of each bird and head for the parking lot.  The eagles, for example, will occasionally start calling to each other, when that happens, you can get really interesting shots of them with screaming with their beaks stretched open.  Besides, the whole place has a quiet, laid back atmosphere, the staff is friendly and it is rarely crowded (especially during the week)….so don’t rush, this is far different from visiting a theme park (thank God!)

8)  Talk to the staff and volunteers.  These folks are super friendly and they love to talk about the birds.  Plus, the more I learn about each individual bird, the more their photos mean more to me.

10)  While you are there, walk out onto the dock that extends to a gazebo over the lake.  During the summer, water lilies bloom there and you can get interesting shots from the elevated deck.  Check out these shots.

If you are ever in the Orlando area (and everyone seems to visit here at some time or another), take a break from our world-class theme parks and treat yourself to a bit of the natural Florida at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.

Take Care!
Jeff

Audubon Bird of Prey Center:  Photography Tips

 

 

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

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies: Clingman’s Dome

In late April  I found myself alone atop the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.  It was 4am, and I had just gotten out of my car in the freezing parking lot at  Clingman’s Dome.  It had been about an hour and a half since my iPhone alarm had roused me from my toasty room in Cherokee, NC and I was having second thoughts.

So, why would I want to be there…and at THAT hour?  Well, I had my heart set on photographing the Milky Way from the top of the mountain, but according to my Sky Safari app, it wouldn’t rise high enough above the horizon for a decent photo until 3:30am.   I had just driven up from Florida the evening before and my 50+ year old body was cranky and sleep-deprived as I hiked up the path to the Observation Tower.  About halfway up the trail, I stopped and looked up.  My fatigue was instantly forgotten as I glimpsed the Milky Way with my bare eyes for the first time in nearly six months:

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

No matter how many times I see it, sight of the Milky Way always leaves me in awe. ____Nikon D800E/Nikkor 14-24 lens/f/2.8/ISO 3200/30 sec.

At the end of the short but steep trail, I reached the observation tower.   The Milky Way was pretty high in the sky and I set up my tripod almost directly below the tower.  From this perspective, the ramp seemed to lead all the way to the band of starts:

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

“Tower of Terror” ________Nikon D800E/Nikkor 14-24 lens/f/2.8/ISO 3200/30 sec.

I used my headlamp to briefly illuminate the tower for a few seconds during the 30 second exposures.  It took quite a bit of trial and error to avoid having one section overexposed and the other dark, but eventually I got the hang of it.

After a while, I moved further away from the tower which allowed the Milky Way to wind over the serpentine tower:

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

♫Meet George Jetson, his boy Elroy…♪__Nikon D800E/Nikkor 14-24 lens/f/2.8/ISO 2200/30 sec.

After about an hour and a half, I noticed that the Milky Way was starting to fade as dawn approached.  That gave me just enough time to try something new.  I had been reading about time-lapse photography and thought this would be a great venue to give it a first shot.  So I set my Nikon up to automatically take a series of 30 second exposures…one after another.  I started it up and sat back as the camera started snapping away.  Well, I only had about ten minutes to spare before I had to hit the trail and since it takes 30 frames to make one second of a time-lapse, that means that I ended up with less than one second of  actual ‘film.’  See the clip below if you have a free moment (literally) to spare:).

Did you miss it?  Yup…that is what you call a short video!  Not a terrible first effort…but it was clear that next time I would need to shoot for a few hours.  Plus I would bring warmer gloves, a folding stool and a book so I could stick it out long enough to make a real video.

I hiked back to the Subaru and then joined the other photographers setting up for the sunrise on the edge of the parking lot.  The lack of clouds eliminated any chance of a ‘National Geographic’ shot, but even an average dawn at Clingman’s is wonderful.  There is nothing like the view of the dancing orange sky behind those blue mountain ridges receding off into infinity:

Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

Smokies Icon

Well, as it turns out, there wasn’t another clear night the whole week I was there, so I didn’t get another shot at my time-lapse.    But I’m not whining…I learned a lot and besides, now I have something to look forward to on my next trip to the Smokies!

Milky Way Tips for Photographers:

Check out my Milky Way how-to Blog to learn about the basics for this type of photography

Specific Tips for Milky Way Photography at Clingman’s Dome:

  • Locations:

    Milky Way Photography in the Smokies:  Clingman's Dome

    “The Emergence” __D800E/Sigma 15mm Fisheye/f2.8/ISO 3200/ 30 sec

  1. Most photographers set up right on the edge of the parking lot at the top of Clingman’s.  It is a good location facing south with unobstructed views stretching from east to west.  But, there is quite a bit of light pollution on the horizon with nothing to block it out. Sometimes that can work to your advantage like it did for me in the shot shown to the right:
  2. The trail to the Observation Tower can work out well.  Keep looking over your shoulder as you walk up the trail and look for views in which the Milky Way is framed by the trees (like the first shot shown in this blog).
  3. Shots that include the Observation Tower are my personal favorite.  The design is so “Jetsons”  and futuristic that it just cries out to be silhouetted against the cosmos in a Milky Way shot.
    1. The paved trail from the parking lot is only a half mile but it isn’t lighted and it is steep…plus you will be carrying a tripod and the rest of your equipment.  Give yourself at least a half hour.
    2. Also, if you aren’t used to the lack of oxygen at 6643′, you might find yourself out of breath.  I’m from Florida and our highest point is only 345′, and trust me, there is a difference!
  • Equipment
  1. Dress warm.  It is often 20 degrees cooler at Clingman’s than it is in Gatlinburg or Cherokee.
  2. Dress dry.  I swear that I get wet at least half the time I’m on Clingman’s even if the rest of the park is dry.  That might be a slight exaggeration, but pack your rain gear for you and your equipment.
  • Safety
  1. Like any isolated spot, you should consider your safety at Clingman’s, especially  if you are there for a night shoot.  I’ve never personally had a bit of trouble but leaving valuables in plain sight in your car would be tempting fate.
  2. Yes, there are bears in the Smokies, lots of them, but unless you try to kidnap a cub from it’s mother or have a pork chop hanging around your neck, you should be fine.
  • Time of year
  1. Spring thru Fall is the best time of the year to observe the Milky Way in the Smokies.  However, it is most visible during the summer. Also, it isn’t visible early in the evening during the spring but by late fall you can see it right after sunset. Use the internet or a smartphone app so you know exactly when it will rise…that way you can plan when you should be at Clingman’s.
  2. The Milky Way also shifts where it appears in the sky during the course of the year.  During the spring it appears more in the southeastern sky but by the fall it will shift to the southwest.  Again, apps like Sky Safari will let you know where to expect it.

Enjoy your Milky Way Photography at Clingman’s and best of luck!
Jeff

 

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

Monet Memories

Last week I headed over to a local outfit that rehabilitates hawks, eagles and owls (the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Fl).   I spent about two hours there and came away seriously impressed with the admirable work accomplished by their volunteers (I’ll share more in a separate blog next week).

After an hour or so there, I noticed a dock at the rear of their compound that extended out into Lake Lotus.  I wandered out to the dock and happened to see a few water lilies blooming along the shoreline.  I’ve always been a sucker for lilies…maybe because I adore the series of paintings that Claude Monet created in the pond behind his home.

Monet water lily photography

The Fragrant Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) might be common, but it has a rare, simple beauty.

So I stopped and took a moment to enjoy the lilies.  As I stood there daydreaming, I noticed how calm and clear the water was…and how perfect and pristine the lilies were and how nice the light was.  Well, that was the end of my tranquil moment…the photographer in my head kicked in and the next thing I knew I was calculating angles, f-stops and ISO settings.

Monet water lily photography

The clear water was like a sheet of black glass.

I love how photography encourages me to see beauty in the world that I would otherwise miss.

 

No awe-inspiring landscape vistas in this post.  Just taking a few moments to appreciate one of life’s less appreciated smaller vignettes. Monet water lily photography

Have a wonderful day,

Jeff

Monet water lily photography

“Where’s Waldo?”…See if you can find the spider

 

 

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

Karma at Clingman’s

I’m not a superstitious guy so I’ve never really totally bought into the idea of Karma.  Sure, if you do good things for people, they certainly tend to return the favor…plus you sleep a lot better at night.  But the idea of being rewarded in the future for doing a kindness for a total stranger that you will never meet again, well no.   I mean, sure that would be nice, but just because if might be nice doesn’t make it so.

Or does it?

2015 Smokies_04_30_03129

The weather just gets worse…

I’m not quite so sure now…because of a experience that happened to me a couple weeks back that still has me scratching my head.

I was photographing in the Smoky Mountain National Park and it was getting late.  And the weather had turned ugly.  Overcast.  Rain.  Not exactly ideal for a nice sunset photo.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

So I started driving up into the mountains hoping to get higher than the bad weather.  Up I drove…but the weather didn’t improve.  I got to Newfound Gap and it was still terrible, so I decided to go all the way to the top of Clingman’s dome (at 6643′ it is the tallest peak in the Smokies and the third highest east of the Mississippi).

Well, the weather went from bad to worse as I snaked my little Subaru around the twisted road.  Visibility forced me to drop to less than 10 mph at spots (those sheer drop-offs on either side of the road did a great job encouraging caution).  Then, I noticed that the rain was weird.  It wasn’t clear…heck, it was white!  It was snowing!

Hey, I might be a Florida boy, but I grew up in the north and I spend my share of time photographing in the snow, so it’s not like I’d never seen it before.  But this was the last day of April…and the temperature had been in the 60s an hour ago.   Snow?  Really?!

It took me over a half hour to drive the 7 miles to the peak.  When I finally got to the top, it was covered in a full-scale blizzard.  The wind was wicked and the snow was coming in hard.  Clingman’s is usually packed with people…but it was totally deserted  Not a soul in sight and the parking lot was empty (it turns out that the rangers had closed Clingman’s:  my car was the last one thru before they barricaded the road).  I decided that I might as well wait and see if the weather would break.   I pulled on my parka, hat and gloves, pushed my seat all the way back and grabbed my book to help pass the 40 minutes till sunset.

BAM! BAM! BAM!  My door window shook and I jerked my head around to see a guy standing next to the car.  I didn’t know where the heck he had come from and frankly, it startled the crap out of me!  He looked pretty rough…kinda like a homeless guy and there was a nice 12″ sheath knife on his belt…not exactly what you want to see when you are on top of a mountain all alone.

But I took a second look and noticed he was in shorts and a thin jacket, shivering…obviously cold…and maybe looking a bit scared.2015 untitled shoot 30 April 19653 He said his name was AJ and he had been hiking the Appalachian Trail and had just reached Clingsman’s when the storm hit.  He and another hiker had taken shelter in one of the National Park bathrooms.  AJ said they had no heat and were freezing…and the bathrooms stunk (if you’ve ever been in one of those bathrooms, you know what he meant.)  He asked if I would give them a ride off the mountain.

Now, I have never in my life picked up a hitch-hiker.  Too many bad stories in the paper.  And this was far from an ideal situation.  It was getting dark, I was alone, no cell coverage.  But I’d been a Scoutmaster long enough to see that these guys were truly hikers…so…for some reason, I told them; Sure, I can get you out of here.

They tossed their backpacks in the car and climbed in…all the time rubbing their hands together, trying to get some circulation back.  I took a deep breath and thought I should just blow off the sunset (slight as the chance of seeing one was) and just take them down the mountain to Gatlinburg where they could find a place to stay.

Well, the drive down was as every bit as bad as it had been on the way up and it took us a while to reach the main road at Newfound Gap. We had time to spare and started talking.  AJ said I could call him ‘Deju Vu’ (later I learned that his real name was Alexander Devaux).  He was very talkative.  Heck, even frozen solid, that boy could talk.  Jim Buker turned out to be the name of the other fella but he was pretty quiet until he started to warm up a bit later.

When we finally reached the end of the Clingman road, I made the turn toward Gatlinburg.   As I did so, I noticed a streak of pale orange out of the corner of my eye.  I slowed and noticed that there was a sliver of sky clear to the west peeking under the solid overcast.  So I pulled into the next overlook to check it out.

That slice of pale orange got my attention.

That slice of pale orange got my attention.

It wasn’t much.  But I had photographed from this same spot (Morton’s Overlook) the night before…and knew that the sun would set right in that clear gap above the valley between the mountains.  The chances for a decent shot were slim.  But the chances were zero if I just got back in the car and drove away… so I asked the guys if they would mind waiting a half hour so I could try a sunset shot.  They seemed to be pretty happy campers just warming up in the car and had no objections.

I got the tripod and camera set up.  It wasn’t quite freezing anymore but it sure was chilly…and a nice sleeting rain was falling.  I shuffled my feet back and forth over the next 20 minutes as my fingers slowly went numb.  I stole envious glimpses at AJ and Jim in my warm, dry car and realized that they were probably a heck of a lot smarter than me.

Just then the sun slid into that clear slice of the sky.  I looked into my viewfinder and took the shot:

2015 Smokies_04_30_03253_HDR

♪Here comes the sun…♫

 

I thought, well…that’s a nice image…but certainly not worth standing in the freezing rain for 20 minutes.

 

But then, a couple of seconds later…the…valley…below…me…EXPLODED!

Morton's Overlook Sunset Photo by Jeff Stamer

Most photographers will look at this shot and think I oversaturated the heck out of it in Photoshop. And honestly, when I first processed this shot I thought the same. I went back to the raw shot and saw that, no, this is really what the camera saw. I knew it was incredible while I was standing there looking at it, but even now, seeing the photo, it is still hard for me to believe…

I’d never seen anything like it.  One second everything was dark and monochrome…but a moment later crimson sunlight was brilliantly ricocheting across the fog-laden valley in a riot of color.   I heard the car door open and AJ or Jim blurted “Holy Crap!” (well, maybe something a bit stronger than that). Vehicles driving by hit their brakes, swerved over and camera phones started clicking while voices excitedly pointed out the view in urgent tones.

After that first burst of red light the intensity of the colors cooled a bit as you can see in this next shot…but it didn’t lessen the suburb vista. Morton's Overlook Sunset Photo by Jeff Stamer

I know that some of the most dramatic landscape photographs are taken during poor weather or clearing storms.  I’ve taken more than a few shots in those conditions, but this scene was on a whole different level of magnitude.

I was shooting quickly.  Checking my focus…making sure my settings were right…trying different compositions.

2015 Smokies_04_30_03361

Just like that…the moment was gone.

But, it didn’t last.  In less than 4 minutes…it was over.

The sun stumbled below the horizon and a dark, heavy shroud fell upon the valley.   I shook my head in wonder at what I had just witnessed and broke down my gear.

AJ and Jim were excitedly talking about the sunset when I got back to the car.  I turned over the engine and pulled onto the road.  Then I looked in the rear-view mirror, caught their eyes in the reflection and said:  ‘Thanks.”

They furled their brows and said ‘What are you thanking us for?’

I smiled and told them that if I hadn’t picked them up, I would still be on top of Clingman’s praying for a break in the clouds.  I would have missed the single most glorious sunset of my life.  I owed them a debt of gratitude.

Karma, Good Luck, Dumb Chance?  Heck, I don’t know.   Whatever the reason, I was grateful.  Because I will carry the memory of those 240 seconds for the rest of my life.

Jeff

 

PS:   AJ and Jim are both blogging about their 2168 mile trek on the Appalachian Trail.  You can follow their adventures here and here.  Join me in wishing them safe travels!

Technical Notes for Photographers

  • All these photos were taken on a tripod with a Nikon D800E mounted with a Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8. The only exception was the iPhone shot of the snow covered bathroom the hikers were huddled in.
  • Since I knew there was going to be a widedynamic range, I set camera for 7 shot auto-bracketing.   This  gave me images ranging from -3 exposure to +3 for each shot.
    • During processing, I selected two frames of each 7 shot group (one overexposed and one underexposed) and hand blended these in Photoshop.  I tried some HDR, but the results looked ‘fake’ so I went with the more subtle hand-blended option (even though the results still don’t look subtle!)
  • I had the shot pre-focused and composed before the sun made an appearance, so all I had to do was trip the shutter with my remote.  However, the challenge I did have was water droplets on the lens from the rain (despite the lens cap).  As a result, I had to dry the lens between each shot (I carry a big microfiber cloth with me for just this type of problem).  But I still had some ‘spots’ on my images I had to remove with photo shop.
  • I ruined a few shots with bad focus.  Even though I had pre-focused, I managed to bump the focus ring when wiping rain off the lens.
    • No, I didn’t check the focus after every shot on my LCD.  But I will next time.
  • I used an ISO of 200 and kept my lens at f8 (its sharpest setting).  I shot in aperture priority and let the camera select the shutter speed.  I set the camera on manual focus and used my Live View feature to make sure the image was sharp from front to back.
  • Morton’s Overlook is a wonderful sunset spot during the spring and summer.  The sun settles in the valley that stretches before you with mountains on either side.  By fall, however, the sun is out of position for good composition and you will want to seek out a different location for your sunset shot (like Clingman’s or the overlooks on the last 20 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway).
  • I set the camera on Auto White Balance, so those intense colors aren’t the result of a ‘Vivid’ or ‘Cloudy’ setting.
    • Frankly, I still get a bit uncomfortable when I look at that first photo of the sunset exploding over the valley…even though I didn’t saturate the reds, it sure does look like I did.  For those of you who also think it is a bit much, I’ve done another version in which I subdued the colors (especially red).
Morton's Overlook Sunset Photo by Jeff Stamer

This version is perhaps a bit less dramatic than what we actually saw, but even ‘toned-down’ I still think gives you a good idea of that amazing scene.

 

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

The Cubs of Cades Cove

I have to admit that I’ve become a bit jaded when it comes to the topic of bears.  Well, black bears anyway…I don’t think I will ever take a Grizzly for granted!  I live near a state park and see black bears walking thru my yard all the time.  So last week when I was photographing a sunset in the Smokies and the guy next to me insisted I see the bear photos he had taken the day before, I took a deep breath, hid my lack of enthusiasm and glanced over at his smartphone.  And what I saw took my breath away.  He didn’t have your garden-variety photos of bears…he had photos of bear cubs!

Keep reading to find out how I got this adorable shot.

Keep reading to find out how I met this cute little fella…

I had lived around bears for twenty years but realized in that moment that I had never seen a cub.  And Lord…they were so incredibly cute!   Although I had made my trip to the Smokies intent on photographing landscapes and spring wildflowers, that focus suddenly shifted.

Black Bear Cub Photography

I was lucky to find some Mountain Laurel which anchored this image.

A couple days later, I was taking a sunrise shot from the Foothills Parkway when a lady pulls into the overlook and sets up her tripod.  I couldn’t help notice that she was still in her PJs…and that started a conversation.  It turns out she was a local (she had rushed out of her nearby home to photograph the sunrise and didn’t have time to change, which explained the PJs).  As we talked, I realized that I had seen her photography on Facebook.   Her name is Kellie Walls Sharpe and a friendlier person doesn’t exist on this earth.  As we worked the sunrise, I mentioned the bear cubs.  Kellie knew all about them and told me exactly where they could be found (her local knowledge of wildlife and photography locations was amazing). Well, as soon as the sunrise had faded, I thanked Kellie and headed off to the spot in Cades Cove she had told me about.  About an hour later I was hiking across a field and sure enough, spotted a bear.  But it was just a yearling…kinda scrawny and not terribly photogenic. So I kept walking and looking.  Ten minutes later movement caught my eye near the base of a hill.  I ambled up and saw a pair of cubs…and a big mama bear about 20 feet beyond them.

Now, let me say that the Park regulations require you to keep a 50 yard distance from bears.  And although black bears are not usually aggressive, only a fool would get between a mother and her cubs.  Fortunately, I had brought my Nikon 200-400 with a 1.4 teleconverter, so I was able to keep my distance and still get tack-sharp images.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Twins: Up they go!

The twins immediately scrambled up a tree.  Mama took a hard look at me, decided I was just another fool photographer and then promptly and totally ignored me for the rest of the day.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Mama checking me out…’

I lifted all seven plus pounds of the 200-400 for the first time and started shooting.

Black Bear Cub Photography

These little guys could really climb.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Well, now I really understand what inspired the first ‘Teddy Bear’

The cubs were delightful.  They played like a couple kittens…taking swipes at each other, rolling around in the grass, tripping over their own feet…just adorable.

Black Bear Cub Photography

It’s time to go kids!

Soon I noticed that the bears had a system.  Mama bear would look up at the tree…make a series of short grunts and the cubs would climb down.  Then she would rumble about a hundred feet away to a new patch of the forest and start scavenging for food.  The cubs would tag right along behind her and as soon as she stopped, they would head right up the nearest tree.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Snacktime for the cubs

Being youngsters, they had big appetites.  They nursed at least twice over the next few hours.    Afterwards, I think mama needed a break, so she took a good stretch and rubbed her back against a tree.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Nothing like a good scratch in the right place.

By late morning the cubs were getting tired.  They climbed a big walnut tree, settled in a comfy fork between two branches, stretched, took a good look around, snuggled together and started to snooze.

Black Bear Cub Photography

Mama tucks in her cubs for their nap.

 

Black Bear Cub Photography

Getting settled in for naptime

Black Bear Cub Photography

One last peek!

I hung around for another 20 minutes but the cubs didn’t move an inch.  And frankly, by then I had been following them for three hours and had lifted that darn 200-400 what felt like a million times.  No, I hadn’t brought my monopod.  I had figured that if I did see bears, it would be for only a few minutes, so why bother bringing another piece of equipment?  I’ll never make that mistake again…my arms were jelly…heck, my elbows still hurt now and it’s a full week later!

Anyway,  I figured the 1500 frames I had were plenty, so I left mama and babies in peace and hiked by to the old Subaru. As I walked back I counted my lucky stars.  It had been a blessing to spend the morning with my little ‘Bruin’ family observing their antics.  I knew that I had captured some nice images and even if I drove home right then, my trip would have been a success.

But little did I know that the best was yet to be. With that teaser, I’ll conclude this story.  You’ll just have to wait till next week for the rest!

Till then,

Jeff

Black Bear Cub Photography

If you don’t have floss, you just make do with what you can find.

 

Posted in Southeast U.S.A., Wildlife Tagged , , , |

Busting the Turtle Jinx: Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

Photographing sea turtles underwater has been a challenge that has long taunted me.  Over the years I’ve had a few opportunities but they just never seemed to pan out.

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

Honu breaking the surface off the Big Island

Sure…I’ve gotten some decent above-water shots…like this “Honu” on Kona’s famous black sand beach at Punalu’u …but whenever I slipped below the waves, I seemed to be jinxed.

That streak of bad luck seemed to continue right through last week.  My wife, Anita, and I had done some research and learned that scuba divers often saw turtles at Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge near St. Thomas in the American Virgin islands.  That sounded great to us…so we planned a vacation with the goal of diving at Buck Island.

Last month, we were in St Thomas and it was finally time to go!  It was early morning when we made our way to the port, dragged our gear down to the dock and climbed aboard the dive boat ready for our adventure!

..And then the Captain informed us that he was cancelling our dive because one of his engines had just failed.  I shook my head.   We were only going to be on St Thomas until nightfall so it wasn’t like we could just book a dive with another company the following day. The jinx was still alive and well.

Some folks would have just figured that the gods were against them and headed to a bar to find comfort in a large quantity of tall, cold and wickedly alcoholic drinks crowded with little umbrellas.  Actually, I considered this option for a second or two…but I knew it was impossible.  Because I know my wife.  Anita had her heart set on turtles and I knew she wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.  As we feared, all the other scuba tours were booked for the day but within ten minutes she had found a snorkeling tour and we were climbing onto a catamaran by the name of “Virgin Breeze”.  No, it wasn’t what we had planned…but at least the day wouldn’t be a total bust.  Then things started looking up when the crew told us that they were heading to ‘Turtle Cove” on Buck Island…the exact same spot our scuba tour had been going to dive at!  That sounded promising but we were determined not to jinx things by getting our expectations up.  But that determination crumbled when we spotted a turtle surfacing for air just as we entered Turtle Cove.

As soon as we anchored, Anita and I hit the water and immediately spotted two turtles about 25 feet below.  That’s a difficult depth to reach without weights and I watched a few folks try…but none of them even got close.   Fortunately, my camera weighs a ton (well it probably tops out at 15 lbs or so…but it feels like a ton when I’m lugging it around all day).  I took a deep breath and let my ‘Nikon Anchor’ pull me down.  I dropped like a rock and within seconds I was face to face with this Big Kahuna:

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

“How did you get down here Buddy?!”

I think he was kinda surprised that one of those silly humans flopping around on the surface had actually gotten to the bottom.  He stopped eating, slowly raised off the sand and turned his head to take a good look .  I was able to get a few portraits before I had to head back to the surface…dragging that dead-weight camera the whole way.

I dove a number of times but the turtles were already bored of the guy with the big camera.  They just kept eating the grass and totally ignored me…which meant no eye contact (and boring photos).

There was a small reef nearby with lots of colorful tropical fish which attracted a lot of the snorkelers but I stayed with the turtles as was rewarded with a few more solid images:

"Turtle Planet"

“Turtle Planet”

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

“Dive! Dive! Dive!

I had hoped to photograph turtles near the surface but other than the one we had seen when we first arrived, they all seemed pretty happy staying on the bottom (I later learned that they can hold their breath for 4-7 hours  while they sleep although they breathe more often while awake).  I was starting to think that the tour would be over before a turtle would need air…but then this one headed up:

2015 Scuba 16 March 11727

As it surfaced, I was able to squeeze off a number of shots that captured Anita and the turtle in the same frame.

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

In my opinion, these are two incredibly beautiful aquatic creatures

Before I knew it, the crew was blowing the whistle to get us all back on the boat.  Like usual, I was the last one out of the water (a fact my wife never fails to note).  As we dried off, Anita and I caught ourselves grinning like a couple of kids.  It had taken a long time, but we finally had broken the jinx and got our chance to get up close and personal with sea turtles.

The next day, we were in St Kitts diving on the wreck of the M.V. River Taw (we were on a cruise vacation so we scheduled dives at every island the ship docked at).  We were running low on air and about to finish the dive when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  I turned and…you guessed it…another turtle!  Clearly the jinx was totally busted.  This green sea turtle was skimming over the wreck in about 40 feet of water. Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

It was headed in my direction and I  got off a flurry of frames before it saw me and curved away.

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

Green Sea Turtles grow to over 5 feet in length and this one looked every inch of that to me!

Luckily, Anita had spotted the turtle before I had and quickly positioned herself in the background for this shot.

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

Anita has learned how to be an underwater model much faster than I’ve learned how to be an underwater photographer!

Within seconds the turtle gracefully glided over the wreck and faded into the deep blue.

Although we dove another five times over the next week, this turned out to be the last turtle we would see….but we weren’t going to complain.  Years of ‘near misses’ and missed opportunities had been put behind us after two unexpected and thrilling encounters in less than 24 hours.

Photography is like that.  You can plan things to the Nth degree but sometimes they just don’t go the way you anticipated…you just have to go with the flow.  I guess life is like that too.  Funny the things you learn as you grow older…

Jeff

 

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

We have this print in our home. It makes us smile every time we walk by it!

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

Busting the Turtle Jinx:  Photographing Caribbean Sea Turtles

 

 

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

An Arctic Walkabout: Photo Tour of the village of Kaktovic Alaska

Have you ever gone on an expensive trip to a dream location but afterward what you catch yourself thinking about isn’t the ‘Big Name’ place?  You mind keeps drifting back to a little, no-name stop you visited as an afterthought?

This happened to me last year.  You probably haven’t heard of Kaktovik.  kaktovik_alaska[1] That’s not surprising because Kaktovic is a tiny village of 350 hearty souls located on Barter island…which is nothing more than a small spec in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska.  There isn’t much else even remotely near it…in fact, it’s the only town in the entire 30,000 square mile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  But Kaktovic’s claim to fame are the dozens of polar bears that gather there every year to feed on the remains of the whales that the Inupiat are allowed to harvest.  The whales attract the bears and the bears attract photographers…which is why I was there.

There are no roads to Katovik.  A small group of us had flown in and we were hyped to see the bears.  But the weather was bad…and it got worse.  In fact the waves were so high that the local captains refused to take us out on the boats to the area where the bears hung out.  Since we couldn’t photograph bears most of the folks decided to chill out at the lodge.  That didn’t work for me.  I figured I could chill out when I got home…heck, I had come halfway around the world to take some darn pictures.  One of the other guys, Cesar Aristeiguieta, felt the same way, we so grabbed parkas, mud boots and cameras then headed out to see what wonders Kaktovik might hold.  The drive from the gravel airstrip hadn’t revealed much…a few roads, boats, clutter and trash…but nothing ventured, nothing gained, so off we went.

As we walked thru the thick fog, we couldn’t help but think about the warning our guides had given us:  Keep your eyes open for scavenging polar bears.  I’m a pretty good runner, but I wasn’t positive that I was faster than Cesar, so I kept alert!

As we headed east, an old graveyard was the first thing that caught our eye. An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska It sat in the middle of the tundra surrounded by a wood fence.  Since we were guests in the village and wanted to be considerate to the feelings of the residents, Cesar and I stayed on the road and didn’t actually enter the cemetery. The solid overcast made the atmosphere somber and almost oppressive. But it sure fit the scene.

An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

I processed this shot to resemble the look created by the 19th century glass plate cameras. I think it adds just the right character for the shot.

During the cold war, the U.S. maintained and listening and communications station on Barter island.  As the fog started to lift we could see the huge radar dome in the distance thru the cemetery’s gateway.   An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

Cesar snapping a final shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we strode away, I noticed a long ridge of tall wooden fences in the distance.  Being from Florida, it took me a bit to realize that these were snow fences.

An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

Never see these in Orlando!

We headed down to the lagoon and came upon an old bowhead whale skull.

An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

I took while to compose this shot. Fortunately I had a travel tripod with me so I was able to take multiple long exposures and process this scene via HDR when I got home.

Right next to the whale bones was an old wooden wreck.

An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

The texture of the grass wood really worked well in a black & white exposure but I like the scene in color as well.

 

An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

As I looked around the harbor, I could see that there were a number of old wrecks..

An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

WW 2 era Landing Craft abandoned along the shore

 

We continued walking back toward the center of town and came upon this child’s wagon.  It’s bright color really jumped out.

2014 Alaska 091714 04013

 

House on skis!

House on skis!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By this time we had walked to the far side of Kaktovic.  Just past the homes was a second cemetery.  We later learned that this was the ‘new’ graveyard.  The fog started to thicken as we approached.An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

 

As the visibility worsened, we decided to head back.  As we started trudging along, I looked down and my heart skipped when I saw this:An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

I’m sure the locals had a good laugh as they watched the two ‘Qallunaats’ sprint back to their lodge!

Over the next few days we did get a chance to finally photograph the bears (see my blog about that incredible experience).   The bears were awesome.  They were magnificent.  I will never forget my hours photographing them as long as I live.

But I won’t forget my stroll around Kaktovic with Cesar either.

Jeff

 An Arctic Walkabout:  Photo Tour of Kaktovic Alaska

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Alaska, Landscape Photography, Roadtrips Tagged , , |

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady: A Tribute

I have always been a man with wide-ranging and varied interests.  Photography, woodworking, history, scuba diving, archeology, impressionist paintings, Victorian architecture, you name it…I probably love it, collect it or do it.

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

Mathew Brady Self-Portrait

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that although I truly love photographing landscapes and wildlife, I actually enjoy pointing my camera at other subjects on occasion.  For example, my love of history and photography merge when I photograph a Civil War reenactment.  I know, I know…folks hear ‘Civil War Reenactors’ and their heads will turn a bit sideways and a twisted little smile sneaks onto their faces.  But the reenactors I’ve spoken to over the years don’t strike me as odd…just impassioned.  And since I’ve been accused of being overly impassioned on occasion I’m not going to cast stones!  I attended my first reenactment about 5 years ago when the boys in my Scout Troop wanted to see the local “Battle of Townsend’s Plantation.”  The guys enjoyed it so much it became an annual event for the Troop…and being a shutterbug, I always took my camera along.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with ways to make my photos look like those created in the Civil War by one of my personal heroes, Mathew Brady.  Brady (1823-1896) was a successful portrait photographer during the early days of American photography.  When the Civil War started, he dug into his pockets (to the tune of over $100,000) and sent over 20 assistants into the field in an ambitious and inspired effort to document the war in photographs.  The results both excited and shocked the American public.  It forever tarnished the idealized concept of a ‘glorious’ war.

As The New York Times put it, Brady and his team did “something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

He would justly become known as the Father of Photojournalism.   But this recognition came at a high cost.  The project bankrupted Brady, who would eventually die alone and penniless.  But his images lived on and have become part of the American soul.

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

One of the most strickingly graphic and memorable images of the 19th Century: “The home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg” Photo taken by Timothy O’Sullivan, one of Brady’s employees.

The U.S. National Gallery has most of Brady’s original photographs.  What is even better is that they are posted online and you can easily see them:  just click on this link.

When I first started taking photos at the reenactments, I would convert them to black and white and then add a sepia wash to make them look ‘old.’  But I wasn’t happy with them…they just didn’t look ‘real.’  So I first started researching how Brady and his associates actually took their pictures in an (obsessive) effort to make my shots look realistic.

I learned that Brady used what  is called the  ‘wet plate’ or collodion process which used a large heavy camera.  This system required the people being photographed to remain still for 4-10 seconds (which is why you never see ‘action shots’ from the Civil War).  The image was actually exposed onto a large plate of glass and it had to be developed within fifteen minutes, which meant the photographer had to have a portable field darkroom with him.  The developing process was detailed, intricate and unforgiving.  To make matters really interesting it also used dangerous chemicals (like cyanide!)  The resulting photos often had sections out-of-focus, shaded edges, faded areas and sometimes even fingerprints!  The glass plates often broke after being developed, resulting in photos clearly showing fractures and chips (‘restorers’ later taped broken plates back together with clear tape…which you can see on some photos).  Brady and his assistants  scratched numbers into the plates to log where and when the photo was taken (these numbers often appear backwards on the final photo).  Once on photo paper, the images could fade,  get spotted, folded and torn.  The result is a very distinctive ‘look.

For example, here is an original Mathew Brady photo of a hospital near Washington DC taken in 1863:Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

Over the years, I have learned how to process my original photos in ways that reproduce the imperfections of the wet glass system.  I then add scratches, dust and discolorations to resemble aged photo paper.  Finally, I create the effects of flawed glass plates by painstakingly reproducing the cracks and chips found on original Brady photos stored in the U.S. National Archives.  For example, here is a shot I took a few weeks ago…compare it to the original Brady photo above:

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

‘Here they come boys…’

What do you think?   Being obsessive, I’d never say anything I’ve created is ‘perfect’ but I think I’m getting pretty darn close.

It’s kinda ironic…I spend hours on my landscape and wildlife photos removing each and every imperfection…and here I do my best to do the exact opposite:)

Here are some of my other ‘Bradyesque’ efforts:

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

Did this guy know how to strike a pose, or what?

 

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

“The Fallen”

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

Coffee and a Cigar

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

One advantage to using a modern camera is that I can photograph moving figures (which would have appeared as blurs on a wet plate photo).  It isn’t historically accurate, but if Brady had cameras available that could freeze action, I’m pretty sure he would have used them ecstatically.   The shots below are the type I imagine he would have taken…

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

“Pickett’s Charge”

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

“Ghosts of the Past”

 

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew BradyReproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

 

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

Believe it or not, some guys, like Robert Szabo,  actually still use wet plate photography.  I admire that kind of devotion, but it’s not for me.

Anyway, thanks for letting me indulge in this little tribute to Mathew Brady.  My blog will now return to my usual subjects of (modern) landscapes and wildlife.  But we should never forget that photography can be so much more than just pretty pictures…as Brady once said, “the camera is the eye of history.”

Take care!
Jeff

 

PS:  I rarely see sharpshooters at these reenactments, here is a lucky shot I got of one at the Battle of Townsend’s Plantation last month (Ed Rosack, is that you?):

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

Posted in Historical, Military Tagged , |

White Sands: Photo Tips & Guide

To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield…when photographers think of White Sands National Monument,  “it just don’t get no respect.”   If you review the “A-Lists” of must-see locations for landscape photographers in the southwest USA…White Sands doesn’t often make the cut.

White Sands: Photo Tips & Guide

Sunset Panorama at White Sands

Frankly, I think the root of the issue is simply that White Sands is isolated and doesn’t easily work into the routing for a typical “Southwest Icon Tour List.”

A second issue is that White Sands doesn’t comfortably fit into the preconception of what we think of when we dream of the American Southwest.  Visions of red rock, hoodoos and carved canyons dance in our heads.  White Sands is none of those things.  It is difficult to categorize…difficult to comprehend.

For whatever reason, it took years of exploring the Southwest before I made the long, lonely drive to these secluded sands.

First of all, let’s talk about exactly what White Sands is.  Covering 300 square miles, it is the world’s largest white gypsum (not sand) dune field.  Gypsum dissolves in water, so unless there is a basin where rain is trapped it is impossible for gypsum to be converted into sand.  Well, White Sands is located in the huge Tularosa Basin which is enclosed by the surrounding San Andres and Sacramento Mountains near the small town of Alamogordo .  After the last Ice Age, a lake that covered the basin evaporated and left the fields of gypsum that became White Sands.  The Park is actually part of the White Sands Missile Range (home of the worlds first A-Bomb explosion…the Trinity Site).

White Sands: Photo Tips & Guide

Yup…the sand is white…makes for a striking image.

Second of all, those facts don’t matter a bit when you visit.  What matters is that this place is truly strange…and oddly magical.  Put yourself in this mindset:  you’ve driven hours across desert in the middle of nowhere to get there.  Hour after hour of flat, boring,  mundane, reddish brown desert.  Small, nondescript towns connected by a seemingly endless line of two-lane blacktop.  Finally, you see a sign welcoming you to Alamogordo…and before you know it, you’re passing a sign thanking you for visiting Alamogordo.:)   A few minutes later you pull up to a small National Park Service building, pay the guard, get a brochure and continue driving into the desert.  But…then…things… start …to… change.  As the road twists and curves, the sparse vegetation becomes even more scarce and the sand starts to loose its color.  Then the flat landscape begins to shift as the sand forms dune…which become larger and larger as you drive on. By the end of the eight mile road you might think you were on another planet.  There is an absence of plants and animals.  The sky is blue…the sand is white and other than that, very little color.  There is no sound unless the wind stirs.

You stand there, looking around and then you start to notice weird things…like the the sun might be scorching hot but the sand is cool enough to walk on with bare feet (gypsum doesn’t readily convert sunlight into heat).  And to make it a scene right out of your favorite sci-fi movie, you might even see rockets arch overhead (from the Missile Range).

White Sands: Photo Tips & Guide

Getting down low to the sand and processing in black and white can help to emphasize the drama of the scene.

This place is just not right…like a slightly warped alternate version of reality.  But…it is beautiful.  As a photographer, I was mesmerized. The landscape is so stark, so extreme that images can deliver a real punch.  I experimented a bit with black and white since it complimented the views well.  My son and I parked at the end of Dunes Drive and hiked north to get away from the few other people around and to find dunes that were free of footsteps.

Photography at White Sands National Monument:  Tips and Guide

These tracks became visible near sunset as the shadows lengthened.

It didn’t take long to get the feeling that we were the only persons alive on this strange alien world.  However, there were a few tracks in the sand, so some critters had obviously adapted to life in this extreme climate.

We hiked even further, just enjoying the solitude and incredible vistas.  All too soon the sun began to set behind the distant San Andres mountains. The orange hues of the sunset created a wonderful palette against the blues and white.  The next few minutes proved to be my most productive as I scrambled to find different compositions.

My favorite shot of the day proved to be my last one.  As my son and I were putting on our backpacks for the hike out, I caught this image of Ryan taking a last, longful look at the rising moon.

White Sands: Photo Tips & Guide

I consider this image to be one of the best I’ve ever taken.

With this photo, White Sands entered the “Big Leagues” in my book.  I will be visiting again!

Photography at White Sands National Monument:  Tips and Guide

1)  Bring your polarizer…it can really help blue sky ‘pop.’

2) If the wind is blowing, sand will get everywhere.  Bring a blower for your equipment and avoid changing lenses

3)  There are a few hiking paths, but those areas tend to be covered with footprints.  If you want photos of ‘virgin’ sand, you will have to avoid the trails. I’d suggest parking at the furthest parking lot and hiking north click here to see a detailed map of the park.  Also, if you want shots with only a solitary yucca plant, you best bet is also a the north end of the park.

4) Bring a GPS if you go off trail.  It can take only a few minutes to loose sight of the road and there are few landmarks.  I’m dead serious about this.  It is not a place to get lost.

5)  Morning shots are challenging because the park doesn’t open until 7pm which is after sunrise for much of the year.  If you don’t mind camping, there are a limited number of camping sites that you can reserve.  Keep in mind that sidewinders live at White Sands, so don’t be out in the dark unawares.  They do leave interesting patterns in the sand…if you can find them!

6)  Sunsets are not a problem since the park is open for an hour after sunset.  Just don’t hike so far out into the dunes that you can’t get back to the park entrance in time.

7)  Although shots taken early or late in the day provide wonderful shadows behind the ripples in the sand, photos taken during the middle of the day can also work due to the sheer sharpness of the setting.

8)  Obviously this is the desert so if you are there during the summer, dress accordingly and bring lots of water.

9)  The further you go into the park, the fewer plants you will see.  If you want shots of nothing but desert, you need to go to the end of the road.

10)  Get down low.  It will emphasize the shadows behind the ripples in the sand.

11)  A tripod will be a must if you are going to shoot in low light.  Bring a lightweight one if you are going to hike a distance into the desert.

12)  Temperatures during the summer can be brutal.  It was over 110 on the day I visited (hot even for a Florida boy).  It is certainly more comfortable during the winter.  On the other hand, the summer monsoons often create wonderful cloud patterns.

13)  The park is actually closed regularly because of military rocket tests so before visiting you should check this site for info on Missile Closures.

 

PS:  I love some of the roadside art I see on my travels.  This 15 foot tall road runner was in a junkyard along the road heading out of Alamogordo…

Photography at White Sands National Monument:  Tips and Guide

♪ Beep! Beep! ♪ ♫ Roadrunner, roadrunner, the coyote is after you….! ♫

Enjoy your travels!
Jeff

 

 White Sands: Photo Tips & Guide

White Sands: Photo Tips & Guide

 

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

Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

It’s that time of the year again!  Last week I made a trip over to the coast to snorkel with Manatees.  The weatherman said that Thursday would be the coldest day of the winter so far…which ensured that Manatees would be clustered around the (relatively) warm-water springs that abound in Kings Bay.

Although I look forward every year to photographing Manatees,  it is still a bit of a shock when the alarm starts wailing at 3am and I have to haul myself out of my bed, into my Subaru and make the two hour drive to Crystal River.  Sometimes, while making that trip, I start to ask myself if it is really worth the trouble…I mean, I have thousands of manatee photos…do I really need more?  But once I get in the water and the first manatee slowly paddles up and butts his head into my facemask, well, then I remember why I do this:

Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

A face only a mother could love? This manatee greeted me within moments of hitting the water. You can see Steve, our Captain, in his warm parka on the back of our boat.

It’s really not only about the pictures:  Swimming with Manatees is a calming and peaceful experience.

Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

This big fella really seemed to take a liking me me. I got a nice “Good-Morning” smooch.

Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

Sea Cow Ballet

There is just nothing frantic about these lumbering beings and when they peer at you with their sleepy, hound-dog mugs, you just can’t help but smile.

The weatherman was right: It was COLD…and the wind-chill made it even more frigid.  One of the couples on our boat were from Russia (Siberia actually) and even they were freezing!  It was a relief to get into the water…which was at least 40 degrees warmer.  The darkness and silt resulted in poor visibility…maybe 8 feet or less.   But, the cold and poor water clarity were forgotten within minutes…because there were a ton a manatees about.

Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

Manatee Flyby

As usual, most manatees didn’t seem very interested in the odd-looking humans, but one youngster was fascinated by us.  Even though we tried to observe him passively, he would have none of that.  He swam right up…bumped into us, held on with his front flippers and just seemed to have a ball snuggling up with his new friends.

Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

“See you later buddy!”

All too soon, it was time to leave.  The Manatee in the photo above seemed to slide up to me and ‘wave’ goodbye.

When we got back to the dock, I decided to book a second trip on the 11am boat.  Usually, I only consider going out on the dawn trips because by mid-morning there are usually hundreds of folks in the water.  But the cold weather had resulted in a lot of cancellations, so I figured..what the heck, I’m already here.

Two German tourists from Hamburg were the only customers other than me on the next boat.  It was still pretty chilly (“Sehr Kalt!” according to one of my compatriots).   Although most tour boats inevitably head over to Three Sisters Spring, our Captain decided to try a  less crowded spot:  Jurassic Spring.   He was right…we were the only boat there.

There was plenty of sunlight, but the Manatees had stirred up tons of silt.  The good news is that this did enhance the sunbeams in the water and I was able to get some interesting shots.

Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

Underwater Godrays

Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

“Monet Manatee” The particulates in the water almost make this shot appear to be impressionistic.

Unfortunately none of these manatee had a fascination with people.  Since government regulations prohibit you from pursuing or approaching them, I had to patiently wait for them to come to me.  The cold water soon sent the Germans back to the boat for hot chocolate.  I stuck it out another hour trying to capture a last portrait or two before I joined them.

As I reviewed my photos the next day, I was initially pretty disappointed.  In the past, I’ve been spoiled by photographing manatees in the crystal clear waters of the Three Sisters Spring.  But there was so much silt in these shots that I had to instead concentrate on playing with the the moody ambiance created by the backscatter and particulates in the river.  Once I made that mental transformation I started to have more success processing my shots and ended up with some that are now among my favorite manatee portraits.  Funny how those initial impressions can be so wrong.

Take care!
Jeff

 

PS:  If you would like to learn more about how to photograph manatees, take a look at my Manatee Photography Guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Crystal River Manatee Photography Trip

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

My Twelve Best of 2014

Every year I publish a “Top 12 Photographs of the Year” article and every year I swear that it seems to be the most difficult blog I have to write.  Well, actually, the writing isn’t that bad…but picking out just twelve shots…man, that’s a challenge.   I struggle for hours trying to whittle down the list and inevitably, I have to ask my wife and son to both come over to the monitor to help me with the last few selections.

Ah well..you don’t want to hear about writer’s anguish…you want to see photos.  So, in no particular order, here are my personal favorites of the year!

#1)  Moonlight on my Shoulder

2014  Roadtrip  June 30 00512_crop

My son Ryan and I hiked out into White Sands National Monument this summer and enjoyed a killer sunset together.  Once it started getting dark, we headed back to the car as the moon rose and the sands turned to an intense shade of blue.  After a few minutes, I glanced behind me and caught Ryan taking this last, pensive glance at the surreal scene.

 #2) “Beaufort Bruisers”

2014 Alaska 091614 03062

A highlight of the year was a ten day photo adventure to the Arctic Circle.  On that trip I watched and photographed these two young polar bears while they had a good natured but rambunctious rumble near the village of Kaktovik.  Gazing at these magnificent apex predators from the nearby deck of a small boat was a rush!

#3)  Gotterdammerung2014 Alaska 091814 04301skew

I got the opportunity to fulfill a childhood wish in 2014 by seeing and photographing the Northern Lights…and it was all I had hoped it might be.  In this shot, I love how the road on the bottom right reflects the green of the Aurora while the sliver of a river to the left mirrors the deep red in the sky above it

#4) Shock and Awe

2014  Roadtrip  June 28 01284_-Recovered crop

I’ve stood on this bridge in Zion National Park with dozens of others photographing the Watchman at sunset more than a few times.  But standing at the same spot at midnight without another soul in sight while gazing up at the glory that is the Milky Way was a whole new and amazing experience.   Sometimes I am truly awed and shocked by the beauty of our universe.

#5) Target Acquired

Hummingbird Photography: A 6 Step Guide with Hummingbird Photo Tips If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you already know that I have an unbridled fascination with Hummingbirds.  This shot displaying the full wing and tail extension of a Ruby-Throated hummer captures some of the dramatic energy that captivates me.   I photographed this little jewel in my home ‘hummer studio’ that I set up every year right outside the window where I write this blog.

#8) Moonbow

2014  Yosemite  April 16 00011_

Before 2014, I didn’t know that you could seen a rainbow at night.  But in February, I stood before Yosemite Falls under a full moon and shook my head in disbelief as I captured this shot.  One of the things I love about photography the most is that it encourages me to learn and see more of the world!

#7)  Leviathan

2014 Georgia Aquarium February 15, 2014 00076 Copyright

One big ticket item on my ‘bucket list’ is to swim with whale sharks.  I haven’t had a chance to make that dream a reality yet, but seeing this whale shark at the Georgia Aquarium was a taste of things to come.

#8) Georgia on my Mind2014  Georgia Waterfalls  May 13 00326__HDR NIK crop

If someone asked a random group of 1,000 photographers to name their favorite waterfall in North America, I’m willing to bet that Minnehaha Falls would probably not be mentioned by any of them.  But I think this secluded cascade in the mountains of northern Georgia is one of the most photogenic waterfalls I’ve seen anywhere.  Even better, since it isn’t well known, you will probably be the only one there to enjoy its beauty.

#9) Heaven’s Arch

Milky Way captured at Bryce Canyon during a new moon.

Milky Way captured at Bryce Canyon during a new moon.

I was able to capture the full arc of the Milky Way at a spot along the Navaho Loop Trail on this moonless, cloudless night.  It almost looked like one end of the Milky Way was shooting stars out of Thor’s Hammer….

#10) Good Morning Sunshine!2014 Beach 03 September 00770

This sunrise at Melborne Beach in Florida was blessed with one of the most magnificent sunbeam halos I’ve ever seen.

#11)  Lighting the Way2014 June Acadia (178)

Bass Harbor Light is one of the East Coast’s most iconic locations for photographers.  And with good reason:  A lighthouse perched on a rocky cliff, reflecting pools, huge multi-colored granite blocks, crashing surf…what more could a photographer ask for?
As much as I love this spot, it took a number of trips over five years before I was lucky enough to catch a sunset that was equal to the setting.

#12) Morning Wind

2014 Alaska 091214 00105

The ancients called it the “Morning Wind” and it has amazed mankind since we first looked toward the heavens.   As I stood on the banks of the Chena River near Fairbanks last fall, this Aurora weaved and swayed in a sensuous dance that simply awed me.

 

Well there you have it.  2014 was a truly a wonderful year for me.  I was blessed to have the chance to travel and photograph some truly amazing sights and I am excited to see what 2015 will bring.  Thanks for reading my blog and sharing these adventures with me over the past year!

Jeff

Posted in Best Photos of the Year Tagged |

And now for something completely different…

Ever since I can remember, folks have told my wife (Anita) and I that we “don’t act our age.”

I haven't changed a bit in the last 30 years...right?!

I haven’t changed a bit in the last 30 years…right?!

I’ve always taken that as a compliment even though I’m pretty sure that’s not how it was always intended!

I mention this because last month, Anita suggested we get  SCUBA licenses.  A lot of folks get SCUBA certified, so that’s not that unusual…but Anita and I aren’t kids anymore.  In fact, we had already had gotten certified a while ago (okay, it was three decades ago) before kids and careers had engulfed our lives.  In fact, I found it pretty funny that our new SCUBA instructor hadn’t even been born when I earned my first SCUBA certification in 1985.

Anyway, Anita and I just got back from a cruise to the Caribbean and we went diving every time the ship hit a new port.   Not only did we get to indulge our new SCUBA hobby in some wonderfully exotic locations, but I got to do some underwater photography that I’d like to share with you.

There were certainly some strange critters  to see.

2014 Cruise 20 November 08418 crop

 And the colors…wow, all you need is a strobe…and then some of the colors you see are just unworldly:

2014 Cruise 17 November 08084

There was drama:

"Looking for Lunch"

“Looking for Lunch”

Underwater caves:

2014 Cruise 20 November 08468

Not exactly Bryce Canyon…but pretty cool just the same!

Sponges and fans:

2014 Cruise 17 November 081142014 Cruise 17 November 08055

And all kinds of colorful, vibrant and beautiful fish:

2014 Cruise 18 November 08315 crop2014 Cruise 17 November 08020 croppsd2014 Cruise 18 November 08247 crop2014 Cruise 17 November 08118

One of the things I love about photography is that it just never gets old.  I mean there is just so much beauty in the world, in so many different places and much of it requires that you learn new techniques or master new equipment.   For example, although I’ve done quite a bit of photography while snorkeling,  I found that underwater photography while scuba diving to be much different.  Now I’m excited to have a whole new world to explore!

Not all of my photos from this trip were taken underwater…

2014 2014 Cruise 22 November 08752

Tugboat heading out of Tampa Harbor

2014 2014 Cruise 20 November 08723

“Prepare to be Boarded!”

And one last photo…  Anita and I were grabbing some lunch in Grand Cayman when we noticed a rooster running down the sidewalk.  It started heading toward a KFC.  Anita and I looked at each other and without a word she herded the beast toward the sign while I snapped off this shot:2014 2014 Cruise 20 November 08705

Life should have good smile in it at least once a day!
Take care,

Jeff

 

 

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

The Bears of Kaktovik: Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

My passion for photography has resulted in a fair bit of traveling over the years, but photographing Polar Bears in the Arctic was undoubtedly my most exotic photo excursion so far (and certainly the most expensive)!

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

I was lucky to capture this touching moment between a mom and her cub…

A couple of months ago I had the chance to visit the village of Kaktovik on Barter Island in the Arctic Ocean just off the north coast of Alaska. kaktovik_alaska[1]This tiny town (250 hearty souls) is the only permanent settlement on the North Slope portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Although small, Barter Island’s claim to fame is that dozens of polar bears conjugate here every fall before the ocean freezes.   The native people of Kaktovik (the Inupiat) are allowed a substance harvest of 3 Bowhead Whales each fall and the carcasses of those whales attract the Polar Bears year after year.

This wasn’t one of those trips where you do a bit of research on the internet, fly in, rent a car and drive off to photograph the sights.  The tourism ‘industry’ here is in its infancy and unless you’ve visited before and have good local contacts, I’d suggest you book a spot with one of the few photo tours that go to Kaktovik.  These tours  have access to the handful of rental vehicles and small boats that are an absolute necessity for polar bear photography (don’t expect to find a Hertz or Avis in town!)

I went on a tour operated by Hugh Rose.  Hugh is a real pro and has conducted Polar Bear Photo tours to Kaktovik for years.  He truly knew his stuff and he made sure his group got great shots and stayed safe as well.

It is an adventure just to get to Kaktovik.

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

Judging from this wreck next to the runway, I’m pretty sure the safety record at the Kaktovik Airfield isn’t exactly perfect!

There are no roads to the island, so nearly everyone has to fly in.  We first had to drive 500 miles on the Dalton Highway (aka: the “Haul Road” of Ice Road Truckers fame) from Fairbanks to Deadhorse before a short 100 mile flight in a puddle jumper to Barter Island (there are direct flights from Fairbanks, but our tour included two days of Aurora and wildlife photography in the Brooks Range along the way).   The Kaktovik airport is little more than a short gravel strip with no control tower.  Bad weather makes delays and postponed flights pretty common..so you need to be flexible in your scheduling.

After the five-minute drive from the airstrip, we unpacked in our home for the next few days…the Waldo Arms.

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

Rustic would be a good description of the Waldo Arms Hotel

 

Basically, the Waldo looked to me like a half-dozen mobile homes pushed together with doorways cut open between them.  The bedrooms are tiny, the bathrooms are communal. There is a dining room and lounge but don’t be expecting the Ritz (or even Motel 6).  With that said, I don’t think we noticed the rough edges after a few hours…the Waldo made up for its lack of style and sophistication with friendly staff, great food and a funky, comfortable, Arctic lodge atmosphere.

No...you don't have to empty your own bedpan...the Waldo does have real bathrooms:)

No…you don’t really have to empty bedpans…they have real bathrooms:)

No granite countertops here,,,

No granite countertops here…

Arctic Humor?

Arctic warning label.

 

Reminds me of my old college dorm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we dropped our bags in our rooms, Hugh called us together to review our options for photographing the bears:

  1. Rental vehicles (retired ‘shorty’ school buses) are the most common option.
    The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

    Just can’t get there from here…

    You just put your camera on a bean-bag and shoot through the open windows.

    •  The primary down-side of buses is that they can’t always get to where the bears are.  The bears like to spend most of their day hanging out on a sliver of an island about a 1/4 mile or so from Barter island.  There isn’t a bridge, so you have to wait for them to swim over to you.  Fortunately, the bears do make the trip over nearly every day to feed at the boneyard (where the whales are butchered).  However, this area can flood at high tide, so even if the bears are there, the buses can’t necessarily reach them.
  2.  Photographing from small boats is expensive but it is your best way to get great shots.   You are right at eye level…which makes for much more impactful images.  Plus, if the bears aren’t at the boneyard, you can just cruise over to that little offshore island and photograph them there.  In addition,  you might get a chance to catch the polar bears in the water…which is an incredible photo-op!
    • A word to the wise:  If the cost of renting boats is not included in the cost of your tour, get a firm price from the boat owner when you get to Kaktovik.  My impression was that prices can fluctuate substantially depending on supply and demand.  The boats hadn’t been out in 3 days because of bad weather when we were there…so I think the owners made up for lost revenue by charging a hefty premium over the ‘regular’ rate .  This wasn’t Hugh’s fault, the boats are independently owned and operated by locals…and they have clearly learned the fundamentals of American free-enterprise capitalism;)

      The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

      Yes…I said small boats!

  3. Don’t even think about hiking out to the boneyard on foot.  Polar bears have little fear of man…so you don’t want to be walking around anywhere alone, especially after dark or in poor visibility.  In fact, the bears occasionally cruise right into the village (see this link for a recent incident).

Once we heard these three options, well…naturally, we all wanted to go out on the boats.  But the weather was too rough…none of the boats had been able to get out of the little harbor for a while.  Instead we loaded into our school bus and made the short trip to the boneyard.

The boneyard was kinda gruesome and it frankly gave at least a couple of folks in our group the ‘creeps’.  Just the week before, the village had caught and butchered whales (in fact, they had actually caught all 3 of their allotted bowheads in one week…a rare event).

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

After butchering, there are still plenty of scraps that draw in the bears

Parts of the boneyard were nearly ten feet high packed with the bones from years of whale hunts.

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

Looks like the set from a George Romaro horror flick.

There wasn’t a bear to be seen when we first got there.  Well, we could see them…with binoculars.  Over two dozen beautiful white polar bears were cruising up and down the beach just a few hundred yards away on the little barrier island just off-shore of the boneyard.  But just as it started getting close to sunset, things really got interesting!

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

A mother polar bear and her two cubs emerge from the surf…

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

and walk right by one of the buses filled with photographers as they amble over to the boneyard

We parked our bus close to the bone pile and waited.   Hugh spotted three bears jump in the water and start swimming toward us.  Soon they were joined by others…many others.   Most of them ignored us, but the cubs seemed to be curious about people.

One cub got bored with the bones, rose up, sniffed the air and looked over at us.

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

I smell a photographer…

Then he headed right at us……and he didn’t stop…

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

At a distance, I thought this cub was cute, but as he got closer I was very happy to be inside a nice steel bus!

He rambled right up to the bus.  We enthusiastically honked the horn, yelled and reved the engine to scare him away.  Hugh clearly felt a great responsibility to prevent the bears from getting too close…and too accustomed to humans.  As he explained, those were the ones that eventually might threaten the locals…and end up getting shot in self-defense.

Within a few minutes nearly a dozen bears were milling around within 250 feet of us.

Bear Buffet

Bear Buffet

Inside the bus all you could hear were shutters frantically clicking as the photographers desperately tried to capture the spectacle right before them.

 

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

Looks like a spinal column in his mouth…sure hope it belonged to a whale.

 

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

Two big bruins take a bead on brunch.

Before we knew it, the light faded beyond the ability of the best camera sensor.  We put our equipment down and silently watched until it was pitch black.  Only then did we head back to the Waldo.

The weather worsened overnight.  Morning dawned with waves whipping across the lagoon.  That meant no boats again.   We checked the bonepile, but the bears weren’t around, so we had a few hours free.  I grabbed a new buddy I had met on the trip, Cesar Aristeiguieta, and we used the time to head out and do our own ‘Photo-Walk’ around Kaktovik.  The village itself is a wild blend of people and culture..both old and new.  It was truly fascinating.  I’ll publish a separate blog about Kaktovik next month and show you some of the shots I took on our walk.  Even without the bears, there is plenty to keep a photographer busy here.

2014 Alaska 091514 01484

Early Warning Radar

After lunch, the weather still wasn’t cooperating, so Hugh took us out in the bus to explore the rest of the island.  We drove past the Cold-War DEW-Line radar facility and out into the tundra to check-out the wildlife.

A number of the folks on the tour were birders and they had a field day over the next couple hours as they spotted one unusual bird after another.  Cesar and I may have been the only non-birders on the tour and, yes, maybe we did joke around a bit and say ‘hey, look…another small brown bird’, but even we had a good time.

After another home-cooked dinner at the Waldo, we suited up in our muck-boots and parkas, climbed into the bus and headed out to find some bears.   It was heavily overcast and the light was far from ideal but there were tons of bears at the boneyard, so we weren’t complaining!The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour RecapThe Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour RecapThe Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

We woke up the next day to find that the wind had finally settled down.  There were a lot of photographers on the island from other tours that had also been waiting a couple of days to get out in a boat, but Hugh’s long-term relationship with the locals allowed him to snag one for us.  Cesar and I headed out soon right after breakfast and it took no more than five minutes to cross the lagoon.

Although the sun wasn’t exactly shining, the cloud cover did thin out and we were finally able to get some good light.  Better yet, the bears were very active …it was what military pilots call a ‘target-rich environment!”  I took more photos during the next couple hours than I took on the rest of my entire 10 day tour.  The most exciting 40 minutes of the trip unfolded when two cub siblings ran into the surf and had a rambunctious (but good-natured) battle:

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

“Battle Royale!”

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

“What did you just call me?”

After a while (and over a thousand photos), one of the cubs seemed to notice our boat..

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

and then he started to give us the evil-eye… The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

Suddenly, he put his head down and started swimming right at us.

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

He must have been over 100 feet away, but he covered the distance in a flash.  Our boat captain was paying close attention and  fired up the engine and moved us away.  But the bear got close enough that I didn’t need a zoom for this shot!

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

“Another couple of seconds and I would have had that Nikon for lunch!”

Soon after, the cubs got bored and headed for shore.

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour RecapThe Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

It was amazing how the bears shook water from their fur…like a huge white dog on steroids.

The siblings kissed and made up:

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

“Sorry if I got carried away bro”

And right about then it seemed that every bear within sight decided it was naptime:The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

Sleeping bears are cute but soon we started cruising up and down the coast looking for activity.  Although there were still a lot of bruins in sight, they were all snoozing.  After six hours on the boat, my cash was tapped out, so I decided to call it a day and had the captain drop me off at the harbor.

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

The Great Sphinx of Kaktovik

I met up with the rest of the group and we headed out to the bonepile one last time.  By then the light was fading, but one bear was playing on the bonepile like it was a jungle gym:

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

“King of the Hill”

The Bears of Kaktovik:  Polar Bear Photography Tips & Tour Recap

I loved it when this bear stood upright and grabbed this part of Bowhead skull…couldn’t have posed him better!

And just like that, the adventure was over.  The next morning, it was time to go.

2014 Alaska 091414 00379

Seeing these magnificent apex predators in the wild was an incredible, emotional and intense experience.  One that I will remember the rest of my days. I made a bunch of new friends, learned a lot about wildlife photography and got a real feel for a world far different from the one I was returning home to.

Polar Bear Photography Tips and Suggestions for my Fellow Photographers who might make this Trip in the Future:

  • You will need a good zoom.  I found my Nikon 200-400 with a 1.4x teleconverter to be perfect.  Even when the bears were a distance away, the 400mm was adequate and the flexibility of a zoom was a godsend as the bears moved around.  Plus I think that you would find anything larger than a 400mm to be unwieldly in the bus and on the boat.
  • Bring a second camera mounted with a 50mm or a small zoom (24-70mm or so).  Keep this handy if a bear approaches your bus or boat.  Otherwise you might find you can’t focus close enough to get a shot.    Also, there isn’t a camera shop within 500 miles, so a second body will serve as a backup if you have problems with your primary camera.
  • You won’t really need a tripod/monopod for the bears, but bring a small travel tripod if you get a chance to shoot the Northern Lights at night.  Plus it will come in handy for landscape photography around the island.
  • If your funds aren’t unlimited, schedule your time on the boats to be early in the morning and near dusk.  Although the bears can be active at any time of the day, they seem to be less ‘frisky’ during the middle of the day.
  • Shutter Speed. If the bears are just walking around, a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second will be fast enough to stop the action.  If they are playing in the water and there is water spraying around, you will need something around 1/100th.
  • Aperture.  If light is poor, you may have to shoot wide open.  If the bears are at a distance, then depth of field won’t be a problem.  However, if they are close, you may have to select a higher aperture to avoid having part of the head out of focus.  If so, adjust your ISO up (or set your ISO on an auto function so it does it changes automatically).
  • Fast Memory Cards/Big Buffer.  I love my D800E, but it wasn’t the ideal camera for this experience.  You need a camera that can shoot quickly and has a buffer big enough to hold a lot of shots.  Often the action is fast and furious when the bears are playing in the water.  I missed shots when my buffer filled up.  My friend Cesar, was shooting with a D3 was able to get twice as many frames per second…and his his buffer could handle it.
  • Dress appropriately.  The buses have little heat (but more than the boats!) and the wind on the water can be nippy.  If your extremities are going numb, you won’t be likely to take great shots.  Good gloves, insulated ‘muck boots,’ chemical hand warmers, warm hat and a parka should be considered mandatory.

I hope you get a chance to visit the Bears of Kaktovik…it is quite the adventure!
Jeff

 

PS:  If you would like to see some of my other blogs about photography in Alaska, check out my story about seeing the Aurora Borealis and my write-up about How-to-photograph the Northern Lights.  You might also be interested in my article about the Highlights of my Alaska trip.

 

Posted in Alaska, Wildlife Tagged , |

Secrets and Tips for Great Aurora Borealis Photography

The Earth is blessed with many beautiful and emotionally provocative sights, but I seriously doubt that any of them can top the Aurora Borealis for sheer sensuous and awe-inspiring beauty. The Northern Lights have amazed mankind long before the ancient Romans named ‘Aurora’ the Goddess of Dawn and the Greeks called the wind ‘Boreas’.   Unfortunately for most photographers, the ‘Dawn Wind’ is not something we get a chance to capture often.  When we do, it is often after travelling long distances and spending some serious dollars.  So, if you do get the chance to photograph the Northern (or Southern) Lights, you probably want to make the most of the opportunity  That became very clear to me after I published my last blog, which was a recap of a recent Aurora photography trip.  I was deluged with emails asking for specifics on how to take Aurora photos.    So, in this blog, I will share with you the Secrets and Tips for Great Aurora Borealis Photography.

Secrets and Tips for Great Aurora Borealis Photography

Scout locations that include water for some great reflective shots of the Aurora. D800E / 14-24 Nikkor f2.8 / 15 seconds @ f2.8 / ISO 400

Where can you find the Aurora?

  1. The Northern Lights are sometimes visible far below the Arctic Circle…but if you are going to plan a trip to see them, you really need to go north…way north!  The northern areas of Alaska, Canada, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Finland and Russia are all prime locations.  For most of us, the best choice will depend on how close/affordable each option is.
  2. Most of the towns in these areas are pretty small, so city lights are not much of a problem.  Fairbanks Alaska, for example, has only 32,000 residents and I didn’t find light pollution to be much of an issue.
  3. Personally, I thought Fairbanks was an excellent Aurora location.  It had a fine international airport with lots of daily flights, rental car agencies and plenty of hotels.  Plus, if I got tired of town,  it had good roads heading out into the back country that I could explore and photograph.  It also didn’t hurt that I spoke the language and felt very comfortable there.
    • Keep in mind that if you live in the southern hemisphere, the Aurora Australis might be your best bet.  This counterpart of the Aurora Borealis is visible in Antarctica, of course, but sometimes can be seen from the South Island of New Zealand , southern Australia (especially Tasmania), and southern Chile/Argentina.

When is the best time?

  1. Aurora Borealis season in northern polar latitudes (Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Siberia) runs from August to April.  During the summer months of May thru July, the sun rarely sets and it is just too bright to see the Aurora.
    • Statistically, the equinox months of September and March are best for aurora activity. The winter months of October to February should be your second choice.
  2. You will still be at the mercy of the clouds.  A few clouds can be a nice accompaniment, but if your trip is only for a few days and it is totally overcast every night, you are out of luck.
    • Schedule