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Mount Rainier –National Park In The Rain And Snow
My wife and I were planning a road trip from our home in Los Angeles to Seattle, Washington to spend a few days visiting our daughter. On my itinerary was a day photographing in Mount Rainier National Park with the goal of visiting Paradise high up the slope of the mountain.
The day for our trip arrived with some rain and what I hoped might be some snow at Mount Rainer. I set out early in the morning with Dan, who had signed on for an all day Personal Workshop to learn more about his DSLR camera. During the two and a half hour drive from Seattle to Mount Rainer we talked about the fundamentals of exposure:
As we entered the park, we found ourselves in a lush forest of moss covered pine trees and a scattering of other trees showing off their fall colors.
We slowly drove up a valley looking for interesting areas, we must have stopped at every turn-out because of something fun to explore, like the photographs above and below.
With the temperature in the low thirties, we would jump out the car, grab the cameras, rain gear, run into the forest, photograph for a while, and then get back to the warmth of the car.
As we drove further up the mountain the light rain gave way to welcome snow, making it much easier to photograph as the snow can be brushed off the camera before it melts.
Higher up the mountain we encountered this large field of snow covered rocks that I thought made an interesting abstract image of positive and negative space.
One of the most popular places in Mount Rainier National Park is Christine Falls, named after the daughter of P. B. Van Trump who made the first documented ascent of Mount Rainier in 1870. Years later, in 1888, he guided John Muir to the summit.
A little farther up the road, Dan spotted a lone maple tree in the midst of snow covered pines seen in the photo at the top of the post. We spent quite a while taking in the surreal scene before we headed up the mountain toward Paradise. During the summer, the Paradise lodge and visitor center are teeming with people there to take in the beautiful alpine meadows and cool mountain air. With the snow falling, the parking lot was near empty and the lodge was closed for the season, but it was still a gorgeous place to be.
Photographing in the rain and wet snow can be challenging because one usually needs a extra hand to hold an umbrella over the camera. A solution is the AquaTech Sport Shield. It fully covers the camera and lens and has small windows so you can see the lcd window and other key controls. There is also an sleeve for your right hand to operate the camera while keeping everything dry, even in pouring rain.
Cross Country Road Trip, Part 2
A couple of posts ago I wrote about the first leg of a Cross Country Road Trip - Part 1 that took my wife and I from Washington DC to Rapid City, South Dakota. Now for the second half. We got an early start the morning after our wonderful visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial with the goal of getting to Yellowstone National Park and hopefully get a room in one of the park lodges.
We took a short side trip off of Interstate 90 to visit Devils Tower National Monument. As we approached the tower, I could see a few similar formations off in the distance, but none as fully exposed as the Devils Tower – nothing a few million years won't take care of.
Here is a bit of tower trivia that we found hilarious:
As a publicity stunt, George Hopkins parachuted onto Devils Tower on October 1, 1941. He was stranded for six days before he could be rescued.
Driving through the Monument, we had to, just had to, stop at "Prairie Dog Town" to watch the cute critters run around, eat a bit, sit up, look around to see what everyone else is doing and…repeat.
After our visit to Devils Tower, we hit the road for the journey across Wyoming to the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park, a little outside of Cody, Wyoming. We'd been calling the hotel reservation service from our car whenever we could get service to see if there was chance of getting a room for the night in any of the park lodges. Their answer was, once in a blue moon someone might cancel, but otherwise, they were booked solid several months in advance. They recommended checking at a lodge reservation desk when we actually arrived in the park.
We drove up to the Lake Lodge late in the afternoon, and to our surprise and the desk clerk's shock, there was one room left in the entire park – someone had cancelled at the last minute. We booked it and managed to get one the next night too. Wow, it was a dream come true for me, two nights inside Yellowstone park.
Later that evening, happily sitting outside on the wide plank porch of the Lake Lodge with a chilled glass of wine and watching the bison amble by, the lady sitting next to us mentioned how lucky we all were to be in the park when it was a full moon – actually, she said, tonight would be a blue moon, the second full moon of the month.
I got up early the next morning to go over to the "West Thumb Geyser Basin" which sits right on the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake. There was only one other car in the parking lot and that turned out to be some fellow photographers, because, of course, morning light is some of the best light for this kind of photography. After enjoying the boardwalk trail around the basin, I returned to my car to find a bull elk about fifty feet away in the adjacent meadow.
We then headed out on the all day circle tour of Yellowstone that would take us to Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Filehole Lake Drive, Gibbon Falls, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Falls and then back to the Lake Lodge. The photograph above and below are from the Midway Geyser Basin.
Beside the geysers and mud pits, the colors that come from the pools of boiling water interesting details to capture. The photo above shows the deeper blue pool giving way to a very shallow area where algae grows changing the colors from glue to yellowish brown.
For this photo, I thought I would concentrate on the brilliant blues of the deepest part of one of the Midway Geyser Basin pools. The water temperature in these pools approaches two hundred degrees.
After this very long day of driving around the park , we settled in for another evening of sipping wine on the front porch of the Lake Lodge and watching the sky over Yellowstone Lake, but that sunset looked too good to resist. I grabbed my gear and walked the few hundred yards from the Lodge to the show of the lake and what a sunset it turned out to be, the photo at the top of the post was the grand finale.
I arose before sunrise the following morning with plans to photograph Yellowstone Falls from Artist Point. Although it had been warm during the day, it felt a little chilly in the morning, so instead of my usual shorts, I put on some jeans and put a coat in the car, just in case. My Boy Scout training of, be prepared, came in handy because I arrived at the empty parking lot at Artist Point, the outside temperature a chilling thirty five degrees. I had the overlook to myself for a few minutes and then was joined by another photographer who was wearing shorts and a hooded sweatshirt. He froze his tail off.
One can see why this overlook is called "Artist Point" as the falls and the colors of the surrounding valley look just like an oil painting, especially in the first light of day.
We lingered around the park for while and then drove out the southern entrance and went through Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming on our way to pick up Interstate 15 that would take us home.
Taking my wife by complete surprise, (she was pretty done in and had fallen asleep in the car) I managed to sneak in one more national park stop at Bryce Canyon National Park. We arrived very late and very tired, but this side trip was well worth it.
So much so, we are planning to return to Bryce Canyon next April when the lodge inside the park opens for the season. Hopefully, by that time, we'll be a few pounds lighter and actually be able to hike some of those trails at the 8,000 foot altitude without crashing and burning. If we live to tell the tale, that'll be another post!
Shuttle Endeavor's Last Flight
When NASA's Space Shuttle program came to an end in August of 2011, all the Shuttles were prepared to become museum exhibits. Here in Los Angeles, the California Science Center was selected to receive the Endeavour, and so began the long journey from Kennedy Space Center to its permanent home.
Endeavour was scheduled to leave Edwards Air Force Base in Palmdale, California on the morning of September 21, fly over the building where it had been assembled all those years ago and then take its one last flight north to Sacramento and west to San Francisco before heading down south to Los Angeles.
As soon as I heard that Endeavour would be flying over the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, I made plans to be there. Even though I live just a short distance from JPL and was already familiar with the area, I did a reconnaisance mission on the morning before the flight. I drove into the hills and found a great vantage point overlooking JPL that had the sun above and behind to provide good light.
Driving up the hill on the day of the shoot, people and fellow photographers where already lining the roads. Over the next hour and half the number of people grew to a pretty sizable crowd and included the entire student body of the nearby Catholic girls school. In fact, as the fly over time approached, we could see hundreds of people in a parking lot adjacent to JPL.
I guess not everyone got up early enough, because although we couldn't see them, I knew cars were illegally stopping along the side of the 210 freeway just below our vantage point because we could hear the sirens and loud speakers of Highway Patrol clearing them out!
Finally, we heard the cry we'd all been waiting for -There it is! The wait was over and we could see Endeavour, the 747 carrying it and two chase planes coming our way. All conversations stopped and photographers eyes were now stuck to their cameras. The only sound was that of shutters clicking away.
It banked to the north to fly over the Rose Bowl and then continued its bank to fly west right in front of us. After a short straight flight directly over JPL, Endeavor then banked to the south for its portrait.
The entire event took less the three minutes from first sighting to the last.
After leaving us, Endeavour made its landing at LAX and is now getting ready for the twelve mile surface street transit to the California Science Center in October.
The following morning, coffee cups in hand, we toured the downtown area to see some of the old architecture and the "Chicago L" Trains. I love finding old signs and abstract patterns in buildings.
Weekend In Mammoth
My wife and I were able to get away from the heat of Los Angeles recently and spent a weekend at the Tamarack Lodge on Twin Lakes by Mammoth Mountain. Things did not start out smoothly as we arrived late and spend almost an hour trying to find our cabin in the dark with a rather poor map. After almost an hour of searching, we finally settled in after midnight. We awoke in the morning to a glorious day in the Sierras and spent the day exploring the area and making use of the many miles of bike trails the run through the forest between the numerous lakes in the area. The second night, we turned in early so we could be up at sunrise to take a walk around the lake in the morning light.
Just a short distance from the cabin we found this boat dock on the perfectly still lake. Normally when photographing a scene like the one above, if I set up to properly expose the sky at the top, the reflected image in the lake would be way too dark. Setting the exposure for the reflected sky would create a almost white sky at the top.
|The answer, a Graduated Neutral Density Filter. These filters are indespensible for situations like this. In my camera bag, I always carry two Singh-Ray Galen Rowell Graduated Neutral Density Filters. These filters are darker on the top and clear on the bottom with a transition that is either hard or soft. The image to the left shows a three stop hard transition filter and a two stop soft transition filter. I used the two stop soft for the photo about and set my exposure for the sky at the top.|
Another way to accomplish this would be to take two photographs, one exposed for the sky at the top and one exposed for the reflected sky and use Photoshop the combine the two. Coming from years of photographing with film, I still prefer to get it right in camera.
A little later at another spot of the lake, we looked across to see that smoke from fires at the nearby campground settling over the area. Again, I used the two stop soft graduated neutral density filter and added a polarizer to control the reflection coming from the lake as I wanted to capture some submerged roots, logs, and rocks.
On our way back to our cabin we walked through a patch of beautful tiny flowers and I just had to stop, break out my macro lens and have some fun.
The size of these tiny, delicate flowers is very decieving, this clump is only about two inches wide. To capture this, I very carefully set up my tripod so as not the disturb the many other plants around and oriented the camera so that the front of the lens was just a few inches away so the clump of flowers would fill the frame.
Although the weekend started out a little rough, it sure ended up being a wonderful and peaceful get away.
I was working in my backyard over the weekend and I stopped for a few moments to admire the flowers my wife and I had planted in our raised garden beds last year.
This area of our backyard used to be a grass lawn, but roots from four surrounding oak trees had reduced the lawn to just a few patches of grass, so we replaced most of the lawn area with a couple of raised beds and planted some vegetables and flowers.
The Black Eyed Susans(Rudbeckia hirta) we planted last year were especially abundant and beautiful, so I thought I would grab my camera, tripod and macro lens and have some fun photographing them up close.
The center of Black Eyed Susan flowers are a spiral pattern of florets similar to large sun flowers. These patterns are found many places in nature and have been described mathematically by a set of Fibonacci sequences. This mathematical pattern can be found in many many places in nature; the seeds on a sunflower, the spirals of shells, and the curve of a wave.
Getting even closer to the center of the flower I could see the pollen carrying anthers and the pollen that had been scattered about by bees making their rounds
As I moved around looking at other flowers I noticed a juvenile Praying Mantis(Stagmomantis californica) that was following my every move. I slowly and carefully moved my tripod around to see how close I could get. When I got a little to close it scurried underneath the flower to hide. Again, and more slowy this time I lowered the tripod and was able to capture the wonderful close up portrait at the top of the post
Upper Antelope Canyon 2012
Driving home from a great week in Canyon De Chelly, (the spiritual center of the Navajo nation) my daughter and I took a drive through Monument Valley and then stopped in Page, Arizona for the night. That night at dinner, over well done steaks and a beer, we made plans to tour Upper Antelope Canyon the following morning.
Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are known as slot canyons, rare natural occurances that allow incredible shafts of light and reflective glows to pour through the slots when the sun is in exactly the right position. The best time of year to photograph these canyons are the months of June, July, and August when the sun is high in the sky. The photo at the top of the post shows a small piece of one of these light shafts along with a sand fall.
Visiting Upper Antelope Canyon is only available via organized tours as the canyon is on private land a few minutes outside of town. After checking in for our tour, eight of us
piled into a Chevy Suburban and drove to the entrance of the canyon located at the end of a sand wash. The last time I was there, back in 2004, there were just ten people visiting the canyon for the ninety minute tour. Since then, this area has grown in popularity and on this day, there were well over a hundred people and twenty trucks in the parking lot.
My daughter and I had signed up for the more expensive, longer tour set up especially for photographers. With all those people touring in the canyon at the same time, it was great be in a smaller group with a guide who coordinated with other guides to clear out the specific areas we were in so that people would not be visible in a photograph.
The roof of Upper Antelope canyon is very narrow, only a couple of feet wide, while the floor is ten to fifteen feet wide. With the narrow and curving roof, the mid-day sun creates numerous shafts of light in various places in the canyon at different times. To make the light shafts more interesting, guides will toss sand up into the light and for the next few seconds there are wonderful, swirling patterns of falling sand and dust.
Sometimes it was not possible to clear all the people out of the field of view, so I used the falling sand in the light shaft to hide couple folks who strayed into the shot.
I also bugged our guide a number of times to move a tumble weed to various locations to add visual interest.
One of the most beautiful chambers is known as "The Heart Room" and while waiting ten minutes or so for a light shaft to move off of the canyon wall to the floor, our guide showed us a spot where one can look straight up where the canyon walls form the shape of a heart.
A few minutes later, the sun had moved enough so that another light shaft was visible in the Heart Room.
Photographing anywhere in Upper Antelope Canyon requires a tripod because shutter speeds tend to be rather long. The photographs here are all around a half second in length at f8 or f11(ISO 400) to keep things sharp and correctly exposed.
Location wise, Lower Antelope Canyon is a very different experience from the upper canyon. Access is via a short trail from the parking area just off the road. The floor of this canyon is very narrow and in some places one must turn sideways along the one way trail. This narrowness creates numerous places where the sun illuminates the canyon walls and they glow a magnificent orange color.
If you ever find yourself in the area of Page, Arizona, be sure to visit one of these two magnificent canyons.
Great Week At The Nature Of Poetry 2012
Spending a week in Canyon De Chelly immersed in home and culture of the Diné(Navajo) people can be a transforming experience for many people. This years The Nature Of Poetry: Exploring The Beautyway was week of poem making, story telling, photographing, camping, hiking, and ancient trail climbing. For the first two days we had to contend with extremely high winds which made setting up tents, and keeping them up, a real challenge. We stayed on land cared for by my close friends and our guides, Jon and Lupita McClanahan.
When the wind subsided on the third day, we took a hike to Box Canyon, a private small side canyon by Junction Ruin(at the intersection of Canyon De Chelly and Canyon Del Muerto) that has a lot of great petroglyphs and pictographs amongst the ancient ruins.
There were also many Pear Cactus blooms around, most of them are yellow, some are red,
but this one was a lime green and waiting for bees to fly in, get some nectar, and then carry pollen away to other blooms.
While we in Box Canyon we saw a number of emergency vehicles pass by, moving as quickly as possible in the sand wash that is the canyon floor. We later learned of a tragic accident in which a tour truck carrying thirteen passengers lost steering control and rolled down an embankment. To make matters worse, the accident was at least ten miles into Canyon Del Muerto which complicated the rescue efforts. One of the passengers shared his terrifying experience here.
The following day, our group make the trek up and down the Yeibichei trail.
This ancient trail has hundreds of foot steps and hand holds chipped out of the sandstone that is used to get from the canyon floor to the mesa three hundred feet above. As a child, Lupita would make the trek up and down this trail multiple times a day to tend to the sheep and goats that were kept on the mesa. At the top of the trail is a stone birthing hogan(an eight sided home build from cedar logs and mud, or in this case, stone and logs) used many years ago by Diné women. When in labor, they would climb the trail as an aid in the process and give birth in the hogan.
Later in the week we took a long drive up Canyon De Chelly to Spider Rock, the spirtual center of the Diné people.
This monolith is over seven hundred feet tall and the surrounding canyon walls are over a thousand feet high.
In the midst of this grandeur I found a small piece of cottonwood tree bark with some colorful lichen. On the way back to camp we stopped at Window Rock, scrambled up the steep trail, and enjoyed the view down Canyon(the photo at the top of the post).
Later in the week, some the group helped Lupita plant the corn field. The corn will be ready for harvest in September.
As our wonderful week came to a close, we all posed for a picture under Dog Rock, before heading home.
For one of our group, home is in Germany and this was her first visit to the United States.
For more photographs of Canyon De Chelly in different times of year, please visit my online portfolio.
Annular Solar Eclipse
Today, many people around the world, but especially in the western United States got to witness what is known as an annular solar eclipse. In this type of eclipse the moon passes between the sun and the earth, but because the moon is at its farthest distance from earth it will not entirely cover the sun. At is maximum, the moon will cover almost the entire area of the sun, leaving a thin ring of light, or ring of fire. In Southern California, we are not in the path for the full eclipse, but the moon will cover almost eighty five percent of the suns light.
To get above any haze or clouds, I decided to drive up into the Angeles National Forest to the Chilao Picnic area and with great surprise the area was completely empty.
This is the first time I have tried to photograph a solar eclipse so I took to the internet to find get more information. The constant theme in all the articles and posts are to be extremely careful when looking directly at the sun. This is true any time you might incorporate the sun into a photograph, but it especially true for any type of eclipse. To photograph the sun directly while still fairly high in the sky, I attached my Singh-Ray Vari D Neutral Density filter to my 400mm lens and turned up to its maximum of holding back about eight stops of light. I also set the aperture to f/32 and only looked in the view finder when I had the depth of field preview ON. Even with all that, it was still quite bright and I only peeked at the view finder for a moment before pressing the shutter button.
I was in a small valley of pine trees that I thought might provide some interesting compositional elements. For the photo at the top of the post I used the very top of a pine tree that was catching some glow from the eclipsed sun.
I moved around to many locations searching for other pine tree branches. Because of the aperture and the neutral density filter, everything but the sun when to black, so silhouettes were pretty much the only creative choice.
I did try to open up the apeture a bit for the photo above to see if any detail of the pine trees was possible. A little came through, but so did some lens flare.
As the eclipse reached is maximum, I thought I would just capture the sun and the moon. Except for the fairly sharp delineation between the sun and the moon, I sometimes think this could be an overexposed photo of a crescent moon.
Sometimes Mother Nature Gets The Best of You
The weather reports today called for high surf along the coast so I decided to go out to Point Mugu State Park to photograph the crashing waves. After climbing down from Pacific Coast Highway, I carefully set up my camera and tripod a good twenty feet from where the waves hit the rocks. Over the next few minutes a number of great waves came in.
I paused for a moment waiting for the next set and with my eye against the viewfinder, I was all ready. I could hear the next wave starting to hit the rocks behind me, getting louder and louder. Then I sensed that it was getting a bit too loud and I turned from the viewfinder to the surprise of a top of a rogue wave about to hit me. Me, my camera, and camera backpack got a direct hit and were drenched. Fortunately, the camera bag was closed, my Nikon D300 is built to take a bit of punishment, and my clothes would dry out. I retreated to the warmth of my car to give Mother Nature a little room.