Monthly Archives

June 2014

Dusk on Vogelsang Peak, Yosemite National Park, California

Sierra Nevada, Yosemite

The last time I stayed at Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, my dad and I took the Rafferty Canyon trail and arrived about 3pm. For some reason I still had some energy so I took off and tried for the summit of Vogelsang Peak, arriving just shortly before sunset. The view was spectacular, an unobstructed view of much of the high country around Yosemite National Park. I got back to camp well after dinner but my dad had saved a plate of food for me, which I scarfed up. I crashed hard that night after covering about 13 miles. It was a good day. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Vogelsang Peak (11516') at sunset, reflected in a small creek near Vogelsang High Sierra Camp in Yosemite's high country, Yosemite National Park, California

Vogelsang Peak (11516′) at sunset, reflected in a small creek near Vogelsang High Sierra Camp in Yosemite’s high country.
Image ID: 23202
Location: Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Panoramic view of the Cathedral Range from the summit of Vogelsang Peak (11500').  The shadow of Vogelsang Peak can be seen in the middle of the picture, Yosemite National Park, California

Panoramic view of the Cathedral Range from the summit of Vogelsang Peak (11500′). The shadow of Vogelsang Peak can be seen in the middle of the picture.
Image ID: 25751
Location: Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Townsley Lake and Cathedral Range at Sunrise, Yosemite National Park

Sierra Nevada, Yosemite

One of my favorite lakes in the Sierra Nevada is Townsley Lake, located a bit above and not far from the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp in Yosemite National Park. Every time I stay at Vogelsang I make sure to spend at least one sunrise at Townsley, where I have always had quiet solitude and wonderful morning light. Vogelsang means “bird song” in German, and while I made this photograph that was indeed all I could hear: the chirping of small birds and nothing else. Two other beautiful, typical, granite-basin Sierra Nevada lakes are very close to Townsley; Hanging Basket Lake (you can actually see a bit of light bouncing around the hanging valley containing Hanging Basket at the far right of this image, below the sunlit Cathedral Range), and a lake I like to call “Nameless Lake” about 1/2 mile above and to the left of this image. All three can be easily bagged in a half-day hike from Vogelsang High Sierra camp. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Cathedral Range peaks reflected in the still waters of Townsley Lake at sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California

Cathedral Range peaks reflected in the still waters of Townsley Lake at sunrise.
Image ID: 25756
Location: Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Lembert Dome Sunset, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

Sierra Nevada, Yosemite

Nice pastel light hits the clouds and lights up Lembert Dome rising above Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, California. An easy hike takes one to the top of Lembert Dome for expansive views of Tuolumne Meadows and the high Sierra Nevada around the eastern side of Yosemite National Park. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Lembert Dome and late afternoon clouds rise above Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra, catching the fading light of sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Lembert Dome and late afternoon clouds rise above Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra, catching the fading light of sunset.
Image ID: 09938
Location: Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, Juniper and Standing Rock, Joshua Tree, 2014

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Desert, Joshua Tree

For the eclipse of April 14/15, 2014, I wanted to depict the course of the eclipse across the sky with some recognizable landscape features in the foreground to anchor the composition. As the day of the eclipse went by, I watched the weather reports and decided Joshua Tree National Park would be a good place to shoot, since it was forecast to have clear skies. I have been shooting various spots in JTNP at night in an effort to produce a collection of nice landscape astrophotography images. I knew two locations in particular had orientations that would work well for the eclipse, which was going to occur almost due south. In 2011, Garry McCarthy and I shot original compositions at Arch Rock and the Juniper and Standing Rock incorporating the milky way, at the time something relatively new. Similar images have since become common, and the arch will now often have a crowd of photographers at night around the new moon. But because the next time a full lunar eclipse will occur centered due south is decades away, I knew this eclipse offered an opportunity to produce an astrophotography image at each of these well-known spots that was not likely to be appear in any other photographer’s portfolio anytime soon.

This is the third of the three images I made that night (#1 and #2), with the lunar eclipse depicted from the point in time when the moon entered the shadow of the Earth to when it emerged again, above the small juniper tree and curious standing rock not far from one of the campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29204

If you are curious, the other two images I photographed during the eclipse are Lunar Eclipse Sequence over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 2014 and Lunar Eclipse Blood Red Moon Sequence over Joshua Tree National Park. The second link explains the planning involved and how I executed the eclipse sequence — I used largely the same camera technique at all three locations but the artificial lighting was different in each, exploiting both hand held light and remote triggered flash depending on what was needed. (The arch rock composition differs from the other two in that not only is it a composite but it is a very wide panorama as well.)

This image is centered due south, which was the point during the eclipse when the moon would be both fully eclipsed and highest in the sky. I lit the juniper and rock with a small handheld light from the right. This image is a composite and the moon is a larger than it appeared to the eye. The moon was exposed separately from the stars in order to control for the fact it was much brighter than the stars and to better present the detail and color of the moon itself. The stars themselves were photographed earlier in the evening, when the full moon was just rising, so that it could illuminate the surrounding landscape not reached by my flashlight. My camera remained fixed on a tripod throughout to ensure the images were aligned perfectly and the moon tracked through the sky in the proper way.

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Mesa Arch Sunrise and Night under the Milky Way, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands, Utah

Icon alert: this post is about Mesa Arch, a major icon which many now scorn and avoid as a subject of landscape photography, and which is known to have the crowd these days.

I’ve photographed a few icons over the past 30 years, although many of them are underwater and so the landscape buyers probably don’t even think of them as icons, or even think of them at all. Mesa Arch is one of the landscape icons. It’s hard to break new “visionary ground” at a place like Mesa Arch, of which hundreds or thousands of photographs are made each day, almost all of them within a short of period of +/- 20 minutes of sunrise. I first visited Mesa Arch in the 90s, and first made a meaningful photograph of Mesa Arch in 2007. Standing on the arch with arms spread, enjoying the cold winter sunrise in solitude while hovering over a yawning canyon, I made an image that ended up taking a first in a national competition and has since been licensed a number of times, paying for the trip several times over. It has a serious flaw in it that I somehow overlooked at the time I shot it — no, its not the model in the shot — but nobody has really mentioned it when they have looked at the high res. I’m glad I was using the Canon 1DsII for all my photography at the time, since the resolution of that mainly studio and fashion camera has held up well over the years, and the sharpness of the Canon fisheye with which I took the shot will cut fingers if one is not careful.

Mesa Arch, Utah.  An exuberant hiker greets the dawning sun from atop Mesa Arch. Yup, that's me, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Utah. An exuberant hiker greets the dawning sun from atop Mesa Arch. Yup, that’s me.
Image ID: 18036
Location: Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

When I decided to return to Arches and Canyonlands a few years ago, I wanted to make a different image of Mesa Arch, one that I had thought about for a while: the Milky Way arcing over Mesa Arch. So I did it. Getting the lighting the way I wanted it was a challenge, and stitching the resulting very-wide image without distortion affecting it took some time, but in the end I was very happy with the result. I used a mix of equipment brands in order to produce the highest quality image I could: a Canon 5D Mark III which was new at the time and exhibited great image quality at high ISO settings, combined with the Nikon 14-24 lens, then and still the best all-purpose wide landscape and astrophotography lens available. I believe this image was the first of its kind at Mesa Arch at the time it was made, and the composition has since been repeated a number of times, especially in the last year with its burgeoning interest in astrophotography and the popularity of the online image duplication factories 500px and Flickr.

Panorama of the Milky Way over Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Panorama of the Milky Way over Mesa Arch.
Image ID: 27824
Location: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

The Milky Way arching over Mesa Arch at night, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The Milky Way arching over Mesa Arch at night.
Image ID: 27827
Location: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

During those years I had never seen another person at Mesa Arch. Not at night, not at sunrise, not during the middle of the day. I had heard rumors about the crowd from other photographers, and as pros changed from providing images to providing travel services and workshops in the early 2000’s, I heard the comments more and more: the testy workshop groups and solo photogs with crossed-up tripod legs all hoping to get one for the bucket list, the rock climbing hipsters wanting to walk the span of the arch just when the light was good, and the busloads of foreigners making a 10 day whirlwind tour of the entire southwest while allotting just 30 minutes to see Mesa Arch at the moment of sunrise before running off to Arches for the rest of the morning. I knew someday I would encounter the crowd and kind of wondered about how it would be. My expectation was that the crowd would be a bummer but given these are our public lands — shared lands to which we are all equally entitled — and that we all are tourists (including photogs) at a place like this, I figured it was just something to be endured and hopefully would be fun.

Last month a buddy and I spend 5 days in the Moab area running around with our cameras, shooting some night images, making a few hikes, and seeing the icons. It was great! We did make a few new night images to be proud of, and photographed a couple icons along with everyone else … including Mesa Arch, the classic morning shot which I had never really made before. I do get requests for a sunrise image of Mesa Arch. I’m not sure why I get such requests, since there are many photographers who have this in their stock files and can provide a beautiful print. But I wanted to make sure I could fulfill such requests, so I photographed the arch with two cameras (Nikon 14-24 and Nikon fisheye) in order to provide a couple alternatives.

Mesa Arch Sunrise, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Mesa Arch Sunrise, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Image ID: 29304
Location: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

Garry McCarthy and I arrived at the arch first that morning, but my record of having solitude at Mesa Arch was soon broken: about 30 other people eventually arrived to enjoy the spectacular view. So now I’ve experienced the crowd the Mesa Arch, and it was not a bad thing. Everyone wanted to see the same magic light illuminate the underside of the arch, glimpse Washer Woman Arch in the distance, and feel the dizzying vertiginous pull of the cliffs just a few feet in front of us. I heard a number of accents and languages all expressing excitement when the sunlight hit the rocks, and joy when they realized their camera had captured the scene nicely. It was a great morning.

Icon: Sunset over Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Arches, Icons, Utah

I unapologetically photograph a lot of icons and Delicate Arch is one of my favorites. There are few places in the United States that are more iconic than Delicate Arch in Arches National Park — it is depicted on a license plate for crying out loud. Places like this are iconic for good reason: they are beloved by Americans and foreigners alike and in many ways symbolize the spirit and beauty of the outdoors in the United States, the country that gave the idea of the “National Park” to the world. It is tough to break new photographic ground at icons and more than a few contemporary photographers scorn the idea of shooting at such places. I get it, and won’t argue. But I shoot everything and try to value the experience of being on site more than the result (which is usually flawed and falls short of the real thing). And I love National Park icons like Delicate Arch. I love the hike up to the arch (its quick with just enough incline to work up a sweat) and relaxing with the crowd that lingers to catch the end of the day around the arch. Most especially I love the stillness that surrounds Delicate Arch after daylight and the crowd has departed.

Delicate Arch at Sunset, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch at Sunset, Arches National Park
Image ID: 29283
Location: Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah, USA

On the evening I shot this image of Delicate Arch, we were on site primarily to shoot the arch after dark. The sunset looked uninspiring and I had my iphone in my hand. Then a wisp of color began to form in the high clouds, catching color from the far western horizon, and I realized I needed a better camera. As dusk matured and the sky took on deeper shades of blue, more color lit the clouds with pastel pinks and purples. It lasted for a few minutes and then, as with the best of sunsets, it was gone quickly. It was a great prelude to the shooting we would do in the hours hence as night took over and myriad stars wheeled overhead, but that is the subject of another blog. If you like this, check out other photos of what I consider iconic photo subjects. Cheers and thanks for looking!