Monthly Archives

March 2009

Bald Eagle and Kenai Mountains, Alaska

Alaska, Bald Eagle, Wildlife

See the new bald eagle photos.

During two of the mornings that I was in Homer, I was fortunate to be inside Jean Keane’s yard as the bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) gathered to eat herring. This was quite something, to be so close to so many eagles. Unnatural perhaps, as the eagles were being fed, but fun and impressive nonetheless. The sounds of the large birds, vocalizing just a few feet away from me, their talons scratching on the ice as they landed to take fish, squawking at each other as they jostled for space — it was really memorable. This photo was taken on one of those mornings. The eagle is lit from the side, not optimal for photography but it is what it is. I spent most of that morning trying to frame up an eagle with the snow covered Kenai Mountains in the background, and found that it was harder to do that I anticipated. This is the one I found most appealing.

Bald eagle in flight, sidelit, cloudy sky and Kenai Mountains in the background, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle in flight, sidelit, cloudy sky and Kenai Mountains in the background.
Image ID: 22596
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

More bald eagle photos from my recent trip to Homer will be posted in the coming days.

Juvenile Bald Eagle, Alaska

Alaska, Bald Eagle, Wildlife

See the new bald eagle photos.

This is a juvenile bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The speckled brown and white coloration is highly variable among juvenile bald eagles which can sometimes resemble golden eagles. It is typically not until the fourth year that juveniles mature and assume the characteristic brown body and white head of the adult bald eagle.

Juvenile bald eagle, second year coloration plumage, closeup of head and shoulders, looking directly at camera, snowflakes visible on feathers.    Immature coloration showing white speckling on feathers, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Juvenile bald eagle, second year coloration plumage, closeup of head and shoulders, looking directly at camera, snowflakes visible on feathers. Immature coloration showing white speckling on feathers.
Image ID: 22589
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

More bald eagle photos from my recent trip to Homer will be posted in the coming days.

Photographing Bald Eagles in Homer, Alaska

Alaska, Bald Eagle, Wildlife, Wisdom

Photographing Bald Eagles in Homer AK — What Worked and What Didn’t

Bald eagle in flight, banking over beach with Kachemak Bay in background, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle in flight, banking over beach with Kachemak Bay in background.
Image ID: 22613
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

If you have seen much of this web site, you probably know that I gravitate toward subjects that have some connection to the ocean. I have tried my hand at photographing birds, most notably pelicans since they are so accessible to me, but for the most part bird photography is so maddeningly difficult that I avoid it. Recently, though, I decided to try photographing bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in Homer, Alaska. Bald eagles inhabit much of North America, including the scenic coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest, which offers the connection to the ocean that I seek. Homer in particular has a large wintertime population of eagles, so they are quite easy to photograph. I offer some comments about what worked for me, and what did not, from an experienced photographer’s point of view. Note that I do not consider myself a true bird photographer, which is an important distinction as bird photographers tend to have a perspective about photography, and bird images, that I do not share. I joined Charles Glatzer’s workshop in Homer, which was a new experience for me. In 20 years of photography I have never had any instruction, so it was great to have access to Chas and his technical knowledge. I asked him a lot of questions and received insightful answers to each, and had fun with the other workshop participants the entire time.

A Bit of History

For some time I have seen great photos of bald eagles that were taken in Homer. It seems the really skilled bird photographers have spent time there photographing eagles. Indeed, I have heard on several occasions that a large percentage of published bald eagle photos were taken in Homer. Naturally, there is a good explanation for this.

Since about 1977, Jean Keene fed bald eagles beside the trailer where she lived on the Homer Spit, primarily in the winter. Her offerings of frozen herring led to a reliable gathering of bald eagles during these months, sometimes hundreds on a given morning, as the eagles grew to anticipate and rely on this source of food. Photographers have long known of this gathering and have exploited it to produce superb images of bald eagles. In 2006 the Homer city council adopted a regulation forbidding anyone from feeding the eagles, with the exception that Jean Keane was permitted to continue feeding through 2010. When Ms. Keene passed away in January 2009, her friend Steve Tarola was authorized to continue feeding the eagles in her stead through the end of March 2009, at which point (presumably) no further feeding will be permitted.

Cameras and Lenses

I am currently using a Canon 1Ds Mark III as my primary camera, with a 1Ds Mark II as a close alternate, full-frame bodies both. Occasionally I use a 50D, but I have found it difficult to use and am preparing to sell it.

I am aware of the online discussions about the effectiveness of the autofocus in the Canon Mark III bodies (1D and 1Ds both). While I had plenty of images that did not have the critical focus on the eye that I try to achieve, I was happy with the number of truly sharp images I did produce. Honestly, if I shoot 10 really strong images on a trip like this, the effort is a success. I am not sure where I fit into the experience of Canon users when it comes to the AF challenges that bird photography offers, but I am not about to switch camera brands anytime soon, being pretty happy with the gear I use at present.

Eagles are, relative to most birds, rather slow moving and thus easy to track with a camera, especially once one has factored in the angle of the wind and their reasons for approach (e.g., perch or food). The Canon AF locked onto the birds in flight quite well. Sometimes the first or second image in a sequence would be soft, but it would usually snap into sharp focus by the third image. Occasionally, in heavily overcast light or when it was snowing, the low contrast caused the AF system to respond sluggishly. But in full sun with strong contrast the AF was pretty good. I typically use center-point with nine-point expansion when shooting birds in flight. For static subjects, the AF performance of the 1DsIII and 1DsII bodies was excellent as usual, producing images that are so sharp it hurts, a testiment to the razor optics of the 500mm and 300mm prime lenses. For static subjects I use single point but I move it about to place it on the subject’s eye.

The most useful lenses for the compositions I was seeking were the 300 f/2.8 (with and without 1.4x teleconverter) and 70-200 f/4. The former was most useful for shooting the morning feedings, with the quality of the 300/1.4x combination proven to be excellent provided my technique was suitably rigorous. In particular, full-body flight images were best with the 1.4x converter in place, while images in which the eagles were spreading their wings to land on nearby perches were best without the converter. On the two mornings when I was invited to shoot from within Ms. Keane’s yard, the 70-200 worked best as the birds and perches were so close that anything longer was unable to frame an entire bird.

While shooting eagles hitting fish on the water, which we did from small boats, the 70-200 and 300 were both equally useful, and we could easily compensate for which lens we would choose to use by how far from the boat we tossed the fish. I prefer the look of the 300, but the group was using 70-200 most of the time so I did as well, and the images with that lens are pretty good.

On a few occasions I used a 500mm f/4 lens, primarily to produce tight images of eagles on perches, taking fish off the ground or together in dense groups. I often clipped wings with this long focal length, but this was by design. Indeed, the bald eagle is what Galen Rowell referred to as a “mature subject”, one the viewer is quite familiar with from years of seeing basic images of it. For this reason, images of portions of bald eagles can often be highly effective, whereas this is not as often the case with subjects that are unfamiliar to the viewer.

For head shots, I used a 500/1.4x combination from Jean’s yard. These were shot at virtually the lens’ minimum focus distance. Stopping down to f/11 with this combo produced critically sharp images. In fact, the f/11 was not so much for depth of field, which is notoriously shallow at such long focal lengths and near distances, but rather to produce adequate sharpness, since the 500/1.4x combo is not sharp enough in my opinion at f/5.6 or f/8. (The 500 alone is, of course, crazy sharp even wide open.)

Autofocus seemed to perform reasonably well, at least as much as I have experienced with other bird subjects. My criteria for keeping a bird photo is that the eye be razor sharp. If it is not, there must be something quite compelling about the image to justify keeping it, which is uncommon. I shot about 8000 images during six days of photography of eagles, about 75% of them flight images (the most demanding and enjoyable kind). I have kept about 175 images for my files, which is a keeper rate of about 2%. I have plenty of images that look great in Breezebrowser based on the jpg embedded in the raw file but that, upon checking the critical focus at 100% with capture sharpening in place, are not up to snuff. These get tossed. I could keep these images and restrict them to web use or 1/4 or 1/2 page reproduction but for now I am discounting them.

What Worked: 1DsIII, 1DsII, 300, 70-200.
What Didn’t Work: 500 (too long)

Lighting

Much of the time the light was overcast, or heavily overcast with falling snow. These are tough conditions in which to shoot a pleasing photo, but it can be done, and the falling snow can really add a special mood to the image. But the exposure must be done right, and the image must be treated properly in the raw converter, bring up shadows to expose detail but not so much as to be unnatural. This last part is a fine line. Many digital photographers are quite agressive about bringing up shadows, either in the raw conversion or in Photoshop, using a variety of tools, but the results can be unsettling. Its highly subjective and I guess all I can say is that, for photos where too much shadow lightening has been done, “I’ll know it when I see it”. With low light or flat light situations, it helps to have enough confidence in your camera that you can shoot with a high ISO, such as 800 or more. Here the 1Ds Mark III really shone, the high ISO images are clean and sharp. Not so with the 50D. I shot about 800 images with the 50D. What I found most lacking about these was how poorly the 50D performed in overcast light. Exposing properly to the right (biasing as much of the exposure to the right of the histogram as sensible, to better separate detail from noise in the darker areas of the image when converting the image later), the 1DsIII was able to produce many quality images in flat and snow-filled lighting with proper treatment in the raw converter. However, I was not able to pull the same quality from the 50D files. The noise in the 50D files was simply too much.

What Worked: Heavy overcast (snowing), light overcast, clear with thin high clouds
What Didn’t Work: Direct sun (except when bird is in perfect sun angle), 50D

Batteries

I found that the 1Ds Mark III batteries lasted phenomenally in the cold (8-15 degree) conditions, much longer than the Mark II batteries. This was a pleasant surprise. I did not have to change batteries on my 1Ds III once while in the middle of shooting, in fact only had to change it twice all week during lulls in the action. I estimate getting 1000+ frames and still having 1/3 or 1/2 charge left in each of my 1Ds Mark III batteries, in temps below 10 degrees.

What Worked: 1DsIII batteries

Flash

One of the reasons I decided to visit Homer as part of Charles Glatzer’s workshop was to learn how to use flash on manual control for wildlife subjects. I’ve never been entirely happy with relying on the camera’s metering system to guage the amount of flash to emit, especially in situations where the background was changing often. During my underwater shooting, I always employed manual strobe control with good results. However, the exposures underwater tended to be pretty easy to determine, falling into a narrower range than what is encountered above water. I have always been a great admirer of Chas’ photography, and am happy to learn what I can from a photographer and teacher such as he. I have a four week trip later this year that will involve a lot of overcast lighting, and I want to feel confident using manual flash, so joining Chas seemed like a good chance to learn from him and shoot some photos of eagles at the same time. After a couple discussions with Chas about how he determines the proper flash power to use as shooting situations chang, I realized his approach was quite intuitive. I set about putting my 580 EX flash into play in the way he described, controlling lighting ratios by dialing the output of the flash manually to produce fill (-1 or -2 stops) or main light (0 or +1) the eagles. On overcast days I used the flash in this way on virtually every shot, including flight and fish-grab shots at high shutter speeds, and was pleased with the results. The color in the shadowed areas was much better when flash fill was used than in those using only available overcast light. Additionally, as Chas described, the consistency of the lighting from frame to frame was excellent when controlling the flash output manually. This was particularly evident when photographing eagles grasping fish from the water. The distance to the eagle was essentially constant (controlled by us) and thus the lighting of the underside of the eagle and its wings was quite consistent in spite of vastly changing backgrounds which would have probably fooled the camera’s meter.

What Worked: 580 EX flash, Better Beamer on Wimberly head and strobe bracket, manual control

Tossing Fish

In the past, photographers realized that by throwing frozen fish to the eagles gathered on the Homer spit, they could create amazing photos of eagles in flight ripping fish out of the water. With the Homer ban on feeding, this practice ended — within the city limits of Homer. However, John Wright found a couple boat captains who were happy to take us outside of Homer to try tossing fish to eagles. Since the mornings were spent photographing eagles at the feeding at Jean Keene’s trailer, we used the afternoons for tossing fish. It was a blast watching the eagles leave their tree perches high up the tall mountainsides above us, drop down to the water, swoop in with wind audibly rushing over their wings and pick a fish out of the water with their talons. The light was not the greatest though. During four afternoons on the boat, with largely overcast skies, we got a few brief breaks with good light and I managed to pick off a few nice shots of fishing eagles one at a time. Persistence pays off or, as I prefer, “Even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.”

What Worked: herring, 70-200, manual flash

Geek Stuff

If that above info is not already too much geeky detail for you, read on my man for the geekiest info is yet to come…

I plan on generating many many images on a trip later this year. Four weeks of images. Which presents a problem: how to store all of those. I’ve tried using Hyperdrive’s, which are pretty nifty but don’t offer the ability to critically review the images. Plus, they are relatively expensive per GB of storage. So I had to come up with a new approach, and used the Homer trip as a test run. I picked up an ultra-lightweight Sony VAIO VGN-Z series notebook computer. It is tiny — with a 13″ screen and weighing just 3.3 lbs, I don’t even notice that it is in my backpack — but is powerful enough for me to review a day’s worth of shooting with Lightroom, converting some of the images and storing them on the computer’s main drive for further redundancy. The drive on the notebook is not for primary photo storage however — that’s what the three external drives are for. Three external drives you say? That sounds nuts. But the Seagate Freeagent Go 500gb drives are ultra tiny and light, occupying hardly any space in my carryon. Each stores 500GB of files, which is a LOT of space for photos, even the enormous raw files generated by a 1Ds Mark III. The drives are powered by the USB connection with the notebook, which means I do not have to carry power supplies for them. Three of them offer triple redundancy. The system worked great in Homer.

When first researching how I would backup images in the field, I originally considered buying a “netbook”. These low-powered, web-targeted computers are really inexpensive, small and light, but they are primarily intended for apps that do not require much in the way of compute power: email, web browsing, word processing, Facebook. Netbooks do not offer enough compute power to run Lightroom or Photoshop on large raw files. So I did not consider a netbook a viable choice, which is why I went with the lightest, reasonably powered notebook I could find.

The weak link in this backup system is the computer — what if it dies? In that case, the external drives cannot be used on the remainder of the trip, but the images that are already on them can be accessed once back home. In a pinch, someone else’s notebook can be used for downloading from flash card to external drive, but I prefer not to rely on someone else’s gear if I can avoid it. So, in the event the computer dies, I still bring two Hyperdrives with 250 GB, wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in my checked luggage. That’s a pretty good backup to my backup. I do not care to risk losing the images that I have gone to so much trouble to make.

What worked: Sony VAIO Z-series laptop, Seagate Freeagent Go 500GB drives, Hyperdrives

Kenai Mountains and Kachemak Bay, Alaska

Alaska, Landscape, Panoramas

I was up north in Homer, Alaska to photograph bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), but I grabbed a couple landscape shots of the beautiful Kenai Mountains, which lie across Kachemak Bay from the Homer Spit. This was my view one morning, after the clouds and snow had cleared out leaving blue skies and bitterly cold temperatures. It is a panorama, click it to see it larger.

Kenai Mountains at sunrise, viewed across Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Kenai Mountains at sunrise, viewed across Kachemak Bay.
Image ID: 22739
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

Also see our bald eagle photos.

Flip Flops

Alaska, Bald Eagle, Wildlife

Bald eagle in flight, sidelit, cloudy sky and Kenai Mountains in the background, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle in flight, sidelit, cloudy sky and Kenai Mountains in the background.
Image ID: 22596
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

OK, I’ve been running since I was thirteen. That’s 32 years of running. I’m not a skinny guy, which means I’ve been pounding my feet, heavily, for a long time. The nerves in my toes are now so sensitive that its hard for me to wear shoes for long. Which is why I always wear flipflops. (Unless I have to go to a wedding, and then I still try to wear them but rarely get away with it. I have to go to a wedding in a week, and I’ll try again but I am not optimistic. If I was single I could probably pull it off.) However, never before have my flipflops caused so much apparent consternation as they did flying up to Homer. The further north I got, the more incredulous people seemed to be. Come on folks, it might be snowing outside but remember we are INSIDE all day, either inside the plane, inside the terminal or inside the corridor between the plane and the terminal. Inside, inside, inside. Flipflips make strategic sense at the security checkpoint too. And yet, I was asked about 10 times “You shore yore going to the raht place with those shoes?” From Seattle north, everywhere I went people that noticed my lucky flipflops — every California guy has a pair of lucky flipflops that he saves for special occasions, mine are for travel and nice restaurants — had but one reaction: shake the head sadly, look down to avoid making eye contact and mutter something under the breath. OK, I get it, I’m supposed to wear snow boots, jeans, thick jacket and Anchorage Equipment Rentals ballcap. Well, maybe next trip, this trip I’m going with flipflops until I have to go outside.

Check out bald eagle photos.

Secondary Inspection

Alaska, Bald Eagle, Wildlife

Bald eagle, closeup of head and shoulders showing distinctive white head feathers, yellow beak and brown body and wings, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle, closeup of head and shoulders showing distinctive white head feathers, yellow beak and brown body and wings.
Image ID: 22582
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

Going to try my hand at photographing some bald eagles in the cold. Up at 4am, shower, throw the bags in the car, down I-5 to the airport, drop the car at the lot, shuttle to the terminal. At the ticket counter manage to score a seat in an row by myself, all is looking good for a day of travel! Get to the security checkpoint, the line is never very long at such an early hour, so I get to the security x-ray guy who motions me through. And, as always, the x-ray guy sees all the metal, electronics and leaded glass in my camera backpack and calls out “hand inspection please”. OK, this always happens, no problem, it will just take two minutes while they swab my gear and put the sensor swab in the computer to check for bad stuff, nothing there, pick up the cameras and look them over, place them back in the bag and tell me to have a great flight. Only this time, the alarm goes OFF. What? No problem, just check it again, must be a malfunction. The guy checks it again, fresh swab and BEEP BEEP BEEP. More alarms. OK, what the hell? Inspector Detector, giving me the half-smile-half-frown that he and all his buds learn in security inspector school, says please wait here. A few minutes later Senior Inspector Detector arrives, and they proceed to swab my gear three more times, each time setting off the alarms. By this time the crowd is checking me out, alarm guy. Oh, isn’t that special, there’s a red light that flashes with the alarm. Nervous? Hell yeah I’m nervous, I’m going to miss my flight. I’m going to have to call Tracy at 5am from some FAA cell and tell her I need a lawyer well versed in FAA-speak. This goes on for what seems like 20 minutes. I’m doing my breath exercises trying to calm my chi and get into the zen and tune all this out. It’s not working. I know these guys are going to send me to Abu Gharab or Guantanamo or something. At least Bush is not in charge anymore, so there is a limit to how bad this can get. Finally, Super Senior Master Inspector Detector arrives, suggests that perhaps the machine is malfunctioning and let’s try testing the gear at the next station. Holding my breath as they swab my gear yet again, I wait for the verdict. Alarms? Lights? Nope just “have a nice flight.” Wow, no flowers? Not even going to buy me dinner? Not sure how I am supposed to feel after that special experience.

Check out bald eagle photos.

Photographing Antelope Canyon, The Wave, Buckskin Gulch and Horseshoe Bend

Arizona, How To, Landscape, The Wave, Utah, Wisdom

I have been fortunate to visit and photograph a few of the iconic locations around Page, Arizona: The Wave, Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, Horseshoe Bend and Monument Valley. Recently, I shared some correspondance about these places with UK photographer David Sharp, whom I originally met at Brooks River a few years ago. Since I receive emails from other photographers about the Wave every few weeks, I decided to edit my comments to David and post them here for others to consider. Note that I am not what a true landscape photographer would call a true landscape photographer! I know what I am doing with a camera but do not have the dedication or time that is required to photograph landscapes, and these Southwestern landscapes in particular, properly. However, I do have clear impressions of these places and, not being shy, I am putting them out there. Furthermore, this website currently gets about 5000 visitors a day, so I am reasonably certain at least a few people would read this even if it was composed by a monkey at a typewriter which, in a sense, it is. On all of my trips through the American Southwest, visiting the places mentioned above plus Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches, I was pedal to the metal, flying, booking, jamming, screaming, etc. In other words, I had too little time and too far to drive, was all hopped up on caffeine, and tried to see it all. Naturally, that is not the best way to visit such special and serene places but it is how I, and many others, approach such a trip, especially those coming from far away to see the American Southwest for perhaps the only time in their lives. To photograph and experience these locations properly requires a more relaxed, contemplative and deliberate pace, one that I shall be sure to adopt when I turn 80.

Note that virtually all of photos on this website have GPS coordinates as well as links to Google Earth, taking you to the exact spot where they were taken, so there is no mystery where to go.

Rental Car: Assuming you are arriving in Las Vegas (NV) or Salt Lake City (UT), you will probably rent a car. Although none of these destinations requires one, I suggest that you rent a nice cushy SUV (the kind Americans love) when you arrive. It will make the little bit of off-roading you do more comfortable. Since some of the drives are quite long, having room in the back for your kids to spread out is helpful. Yes, you will burn gas — a lot of it. I realize that I am politically incorrect just mentioning the word “SUV”. Note that House Rock Valley Road, which is the dirt road that takes you to the Wave and Buckskin Gulch, can be a bit rough (but should not actually require 4WD) and having a larger SUV-type vehicle, with high clearance, makes the drive more pleasant. If there are long or deep muddy parts on the road, an SUV might actually make it possible to get to the trailhead whereas in a passenger (sedan) vehicle it could be more dicey. It all depends on the road conditions when you get there, there is no predicting those. If the conditions are truly bad, the road may simply be closed. Opting for the satellite radio on your rental SUV is important, since the variety of radio stations in this part of the country is quite slim with country/western and western/country being the only two choices.

Hiker in Buckskin Gulch.  A hiker considers the towering walls and narrow passageway of Buckskin Gulch, a dramatic slot canyon forged by centuries of erosion through sandstone.  Buckskin Gulch is the worlds longest accessible slot canyon, running from the Paria River toward the Colorado River.  Flash flooding is a serious danger in the narrows where there is no escape, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona

Hiker in Buckskin Gulch. A hiker considers the towering walls and narrow passageway of Buckskin Gulch, a dramatic slot canyon forged by centuries of erosion through sandstone. Buckskin Gulch is the worlds longest accessible slot canyon, running from the Paria River toward the Colorado River. Flash flooding is a serious danger in the narrows where there is no escape.
Image ID: 20716
Location: Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

Buckskin Gulch: Buckskin Gulch is easily accessed from the same trailhead that one uses to hike to the Wave: the “Wire Pass trailhead”. For this reason, if you are in the area to visit the Wave it makes perfect sense to visit Buckskin the day before or the day after you visit the Wave. Consider staying in Kanab, and just drive out to the Wire Pass trailhead each day for the two hikes. Kanab is quiet, simple and has a few good restaurants and plenty of hotels and motels. Watch your speed driving through Kanab or Officer Dummy may catch you in his speed trap. Camping at the Wire Pass trailhead is an option. However, since I do not like dirt and do not camp, I cannot advise about the camping there from personal experience. The drive from Kanab to Wire Pass trailhead, via Hwy 89 and House Rock Valley Road is, as I recall, about 30-45 minutes or so, quite easy except for perhaps a bit of the dirt House Rock Valley Road which may be muddy or a bit rough in some places. A half day, especially if you get started reasonably early (7am comes to mind) is enough for you to hike into the “upper reaches” of Buckskin Gulch, get into a few deep and really fun sections, and then return back out the way you came. A full day gives you further reach into the gulch. The alternative is to make a one-way trip down through Buckskin and Paria Canyon, but that requires overnights, permits, and arranging a pick up at the far end, and so the time investment is considerably more. Note that flash floods in Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass Narrows are a real danger, and it is good to know where the exits to the gulch are as well as the weather forecast for the wider area (flash floods can be created by rain many miles away). It is possible to visit both Buckskin and the Wave in the same day. I did it last May. It was about a 15-17 mile day and tiring but I was in good shape and able to do it without problems. I even had time to catch a one-hour nap at the Second Wave waiting for sunset light. Do not underestimate the need for hydration on a day such as this. I drank about 10 liters of fluids and sweated out all of it (I think I peed only twice all day). Buckskin Gulch blog posts, Buckskin Gulch stock photos.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.
Image ID: 20608
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

The Wave: There is no denying the appeal of a sunrise hike to the Wave. At that hour the air is cool with perhaps a hint of dew, the surrounding hills and canyons are quiet and still, and within minutes of setting out one is alone. However, while you may be eager to get to the Wave early in the day, the photography at the Wave formation itself seems to me to be best in mid- to late-morning. By that time the sun has risen enough to fill the deeper parts around the main Wave formation for evenly lit photos. That said, during late spring, summer and fall, the cooler it is walking out to the Wave, the more comfortable you will be. The hike is about 3 miles one way, so plan on two hours at a easy but constant pace. The last part going up a sand hill is the most tiring. There is little shade once you are there, so be prepared for sun! Do not forget the Second Wave, which is only about a 5-10 minute walk from the main wave. You do not actually see the Second Wave until you round a knob of rock at which point you suddenly realize you are are practically on top of it. Although the spot is no secret, the GPS coordinates and Google Earth links alongside my photos will put you right on it. The light on the Second Wave is best just before the sun goes down at the end of the day, so if you stay for that photo it makes for a long day. In that instance you will hike out as the sky is growing dark but that’s ok, there is still plenty of light and, if you feel unsure of how to return, you can use your GPS to revisit your waypoints in reverse on the way back out. I should mention that both times I visited the Wave, I stayed until dark. As the day went on, there were fewer people around so that by 3pm I was alone, which was very nice. Blog posts about The Wave. Stock Photos of the Wave.

A hiker admiring the striated walls and dramatic light within Antelope Canyon, a deep narrow slot canyon formed by water and wind erosion, Navajo Tribal Lands, Page, Arizona

A hiker admiring the striated walls and dramatic light within Antelope Canyon, a deep narrow slot canyon formed by water and wind erosion.
Image ID: 18009
Location: Navajo Tribal Lands, Page, Arizona, USA

Antelope Canyon Slots: These are just outside the town of Page and require virtually no effort to visit. They are on Navaho tribal lands, so accessing these slot canyons requires that you be on a tour or with a guide. The Upper Antelope canyon, which is the most iconic and photogenic, is the one that gets most crowded. If it is crowded when you are there just be patient and wait for the chamber(s) that you are photographing to clear out and then bang out your exposures before someone else walks in front of you. It can help to carry an electric cattle prod or pocket Taser to ensure the area where you are photographing remains clear of New Yorkers and Nikon photographers. OK, my bad on that last part. I highly recommend that you do not change lenses, there is simply too much dust. In fact, do not be surprised if you encounter another photographer tossing dust in the air to better define the light beams in his composition. If his forward technique does not balance harmoniously with your chi, you can rebalance the moment by tossing sand into his eyes to better define your opinion of his method. If I had to choose one lens to use to use at Antelope Canyon, it would be 16-35 (or either of Nikon’s 14-24 or 17-35) on a full-frame camera. On a second body I carry a 24-70 or similar. Those two should cover 95% of my needs in terms of focal lengths at Antelope. The LOWER canyon is, I hear, far less crowded and has very good photography as well. There are two types of “tours” to visit Upper Antelope Canyon: a normal tour (about 30-60 minutes) and “photo” or extended tour, the latter being more suitable for photographers who feel a need for more time in the slot. I went on an “extended” tour and had about 90 minutes at the canyon, with a 15 minute ride in a van from Page (we met the tour at a small storefront in Page). That was in winter. I understand that during much of the year the Navaho Indian tribe offers guide services (for a fee) right at the entrance to the Antelope Canyon area on the main highway, in which case you might save a little money over the tours that are arranged in the town of Page itself. However, all visits require some Navaho guide presence. If you are coming from far away I suggest that you just reserve a photo tour ahead of time to ensure that you have the time you need. It may cost a little more but at least you know you will be in the canyon at the right time of day, with enough time to relax and take photos. The only unknowns are weather and how crowded it will be on the day of your visit. Kids might get bored after half hour, so families might arrange for the shorter tour while the lone photographer in the family goes on a longer tour. I went to the Upper Antelope Canyon with Antelope Canyon Tours when I was there in Jan 2007. At that time we literally had the entire Upper Canyon to ourselves (a group of 5 people) for 90 minutes, with one 20 minute exception when another small group came by for a brief visit. However, in the winter the dramatic light shafts do not reach the floor of the slots. Those appear in summer, principally June and July, coincidental with the crowds. So if you want solitude in Antelope Canyon (or something approaching it), try it winter. If you want the cool beams, battle the crowds.

Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River makes a 180-degree turn at Horseshoe Bend. Here the river has eroded the Navajo sandstone for eons, digging a canyon 1100-feet deep, Page, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River makes a 180-degree turn at Horseshoe Bend. Here the river has eroded the Navajo sandstone for eons, digging a canyon 1100-feet deep.
Image ID: 26602
Location: Horseshoe Bend, Page, Arizona, USA

Horseshoe Bend: If you are in Page, Arizona, you must find a bit of time for Horseshoe Bend. From a pulloff on the side of the highway just a few minutes outside town, an easy 10 minute walk takes one to the edge of the chasm that is Horseshoe Bend. It is so easy it would be a shame to miss it. Just be careful that Fido and the kids are paying attention since there are no rails or anything keeping you from falling in. (Give the personal injury lawyers time, I am sure there will be a fence and a “viewing area” that we are required to use eventually). If you stay in Page for the night, you might want to go photograph Horseshoe Bend at sunset, late morning and/or sunrise to see what you can get. I took this the above shot with a 16-35 at its widest.

Monument Valley panorama, a composite of four individual photographs

Monument Valley panorama, a composite of four individual photographs.
Image ID: 20902
Location: Monument Valley, Arizona, USA

Monument Valley: OK, in spite of how little experience I have in Monument Valley, I will add some words about it, since it is likely others travelling to Page will visit Monument Valley the same way that I did. I blew through there one day by myself on my way to Page, spending about 1 hour at one of the main viewpoints (where I think I paid $5 to the Navaho tribe at the gate and then drove my own car about 2-3 miles on an easy dirt road into the area and then back out, looking for view points, until I found the one above). The timing was good, I was there in the final hour of light, although having clouds would have helped. If you want to just make a quick stop in Monument Valley and visit only one of the easily-accessed viewpoints, I suggest you make it sunrise or sunset. (If you want to spend a full day at Monument Valley, you can arrange private guides that will take you deep into the area and show you views that are better and different, but I believe it will require most of a day to accomplish.)

Tech: For any of these locations, my photography equipment is quite simple and light, no need for any heavy stuff. Landscape shooting is simple compared to all the gear needed for underwater and/or wildlife shooting!

  • Two full-frame bodies (currently Canon 1DsII & 1DsIII)
  • Canon 16-35 II f/2.8 lens
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8 lens
  • Canon 70-200 f/4 lens
  • Tripod with ball head, cable release, polarizers

If you found this information useful, please post the link to it and let others know. Cheers!

Sea Lion Entangled in Monofiliment Line

Environmental Problems, Monterey, Sea Lion

This California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) has a severe neck laceration caused by what is likely monofiliment fishing line wrapped around its neck and digging into its skin. Monofiliment fishing line is an exceptionally thin and strong type of synthetic line used for sportfishing. Given that it is designed to be nearly invisible in the water (so the fish do not see it), it is easy to imagine how a passing sea lion, turtle or diving seabird might become tangled in it were the animal unfortunate enough to encounter abandoned monofiliment line in the water. Abandoned fishing line? Absolutely! Fisherman often simply cut their lines if they are unable to clear a snagged line. The abandoned line will last hundreds of years in the water, waiting there to entangle whatever that it comes in contact with. Such line is quite thin and consequently cuts easily into even the tough hides of sea lions. And it is strong, meant to withstand the pull of strong gamefish, so it will not easily give way even if the sea lion were to somehow gain purchase on it and try to break it. Instead, the monofiliment line will slowly, steadily cut into the sea lion’s flesh, eventually causing the animal to suffer from suffocation, starvation or infection.

California sea lion, with monofiliment cut, Zalophus californianus, Monterey

California sea lion, with monofiliment cut.
Image ID: 00958
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Monterey, California, USA

Appearances nothwithstanding, this sea lion was simply dozing and had been awake and alert minutes before this photo. However, the injury it is experiencing clearly has the potential for infection. I did not see this sea lion again so do not know if it was rescued and rehabilitated or ?

See more photos of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus).

Propeller Wound on Florida Manatee

Florida, Manatee, Wildlife

Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus) are often struck and injured by boats, in spite of laws intended to slow the passage of boats in areas inhabited by the slow-moving mammals. Manatees tend to rest below the surface, holding their breath, and surface without warning when they need to breathe. A boater who is moving too quickly or not paying attention can easily hit the manatee in such a situation. The result is frequently injury and sometimes death, either by virtue of the immediate trauma or by infection in the deep wound caused by the boat. In these photos, Florida manatees display scars, evidence of injuries from boats and/or boat propellers.

West Indian manatee with scarring/wound from boat propellor, Trichechus manatus, Homosassa River

West Indian manatee with scarring/wound from boat propellor.
Image ID: 03306
Species: West Indian manatee, Trichechus manatus
Location: Homosassa River, Florida, USA

West Indian manatee with scarring/wound from boat propellor, Trichechus manatus, Homosassa River

West Indian manatee with scarring/wound from boat propellor.
Image ID: 03307
Species: West Indian manatee, Trichechus manatus
Location: Homosassa River, Florida, USA

West Indian manatee with scarring/wound from boat propellor, Trichechus manatus, Homosassa River

West Indian manatee with scarring/wound from boat propellor.
Image ID: 03308
Species: West Indian manatee, Trichechus manatus
Location: Homosassa River, Florida, USA

See more boat strike photos, Florida manatee photos and Trichecus manatus photos.

Boat Strikes Humpback Whale

Hawaii, Humpback Whale, Wildlife

Some years ago, when I was assisting Dr. Dan Salden and Hawaii Whale Research Foundation during whale seaon in Hawaii, we came across a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) not far from Lahaina that showed considerable scarring, almost certainly from a boat strike. The most likely explanation for the series of thin, evenly spaced, parallel cuts is a boat propeller, making numerous slices along the dorsal ridge of the whale as the boat passes over the whale. The whale would have been at the surface, or just below the surface, for this to occur. It appears that the wounds have healed on this particular whale, and the whale did not show any evidence of disability that I recall.

North Pacific humpback whale showing extensive scarring, almost certainly from a boat propeller, on dorsal ridge, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

North Pacific humpback whale showing extensive scarring, almost certainly from a boat propeller, on dorsal ridge.
Image ID: 05910
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

See more humpback whale photos and photos of Megaptera novaeangliae.