Spending a little time…

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4-10-14 websitecover Lately I’ve been spending some time exploring my portfolio of landscape photographs. Though feeling physically and mentally much better between rounds of Chemo, I still haven’t quite mustered up the energy to spend much time outside, never mind having the oomph to be out early or late capturing any new good light on the landscape with the camera. That leaves me fondly reminiscing about some of the work I’ve already done, and as I do so, I get to spend a little time perusing my web site – and you know what that means… yes, tweaking.

As you can see from the screenshot above – http://www.acadiaandbeyond.com – I’ve abandoned (for now) my attachment to a single strong black and white coastal image in favor of a more eclectic, colorful, and assorted view of what is distinctly Acadia National Park – after all, there is so much to see in Acadia, why not show her off in all her glory?

We’ve had a lot of incredibly generous local support in response to our little medical emergency, and as a way to say thank you, Lori and I have been selecting prints that we think people might appreciate, and we’ve been ordering and delivering them as thank you gifts.

I’ve learned that it’s one thing to conceptualize, experience, and actually create any one of my photographs, but I have to admit, following the process through to where it physically gets printed and held in hand – whether it is printed on canvas, paper, or better yet, on metal – it is quite exhilarating to hold a piece, especially since many of these pieces to date have merely been images on the screen.

I’ve a couple of big pieces being printed on metal on the way as “thank you’s” to our friends, and I’ll be sure to grab a pic of what they look like “in-person” as it were when they arrive. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in purchasing from what I believe is a new and improved web site, please use the discount code “chemo” when in the shopping cart area – despite it’s not-so-nice meaning, it will get you 25% off any purchase 😉

Where I’d like to return to one day…

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The depths of winter have me reminiscing about a warmer place… Death Valley National Park in California couldn’t be any more different from Acadia, and probably because of that, I am very much drawn to it. When it comes to raw beauty, it certainly gives my favorite and more intimate national park here in Maine a run for its money. Sam and I visited this vast and wonderful national park a few years ago, and when looking back at our travels, I think it’s safe to say that we had ourselves the trip of a lifetime. In rather unusual conditions – it had rained in the desert about a week before we arrived – we experienced, among other things, the depths of the desolate salt-pan area known as Badwater, the iconic beauty of Zabriskie Point, and the incredible Mesquite sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. And yes… that’s Sam silhouetted in the first photograph below.

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The recent rains had made some of the more desirable and remote locations within Death Valley inaccessible, so to make up for our disappointment and add to the adventure, we took a two-day detour out of the desert and cruised up CA 395 in the shadow of the Eastern Sierra. We marveled at the imposing height of a snow-capped Mount Whitney, we explored the unique the surreal landscape of the Alabama Hills, and we shared the incredibly still and tranquil area of Mono Lake with a pack of yelping coyotes. I, of course, made some landscape photographs along the way… as did Sam. Like I said… this is an area rich in opportunity for any landscape photographer, and it’s another area I would one day love to return to. Enjoy the original Jack-created soundtrack to the video 🙂

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Pressed nice and fresh!

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Regular readers of this blog might have noticed a little spike in the number of comments posted recently. Let me explain…

On Friday I published the last in a four-part retrospective mini-series about a trip I made out west a few years back. Like many northerners this time of year, I had been suffering from an annual bout of winter-induced cabin fever, and my main goal with that little series was really just to remind myself of warmer times and help get me closer to the springtime. Besides, the 9 degree farenheit bone-chilling temperatures over the weekend here in Maine meant I didn’t have any new and original photographs to share!

I was working from home on Friday when I started noticing a slew of email notifications from the blog flying into my gmail account. Since this wasn’t the first time I had been freshly pressed, I figured out fairly quickly what had likely happened. I wandered over to the WordPress home page and sure enough, there it was… a photograph from my most recent post… Back into the Valley of Death …pressed nice and fresh!

From the WP folks about Freshly Pressed: “Each weekday, we hand-pick and promote approximately ten new blog posts to the Freshly Pressed section of the WordPress.com homepage. These posts represent how WordPress.com can be used to entertain, enlighten or inspire.”

My email box was pretty busy over the weekend, and a quick check of my stats page indicates that since last Friday alone at about 10:00 a.m. when the fresh pressing actually occurred, there have been close to 17,000 new views on this blog! And since so many people were kind enough to take the time to comment on my blog, I felt that it was only right that I reply to them… believe me, that’s a lot of replies 🙂

Anyhoo… it’s Tuesday evening now, and as my blog slides off the WordPress front page the frenzied pace of site views and email notifications has slowed somewhat, I can finally take a deep breath and relax. It has been a fun weekend though, and before resuming our normal programming here on the blog, I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone for their very kind and generous words.

Thank You!

Back into the Valley of Death

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*Update: I have been overwhelmed with the kind words from everyone about this post. Being freshly pressed has certainly brought a new audience to my blog, and I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone for stopping by. If interested, here’s a more complete gallery of some of my favorite images from Death Valley.

Death Valley is one of the most spectacular places on the planet. It is a vast and diverse landscape, one that ranges in altitude from the heights of Telescope Peak (11,043 ft) in the Panamint Range, to the desolate and unique salt water flats at Badwater (282 feet below sea level). If you ever want to see a landscape that is like nothing you have ever seen, then DVNP is the place to go. This is the last in my mini-series of reflective posts from when my buddy Steve and I visited the american southwest a few years ago – Steve has a cool video and narrative of our trip posted on his blog, The Rabid Outdoorsman. Ignore his descriptions of my driving and the near-death experiences… all are highly exaggerated. We covered a crazy amount of ground on our trip, spending several days in Death Valley before driving north to escape the heat toward Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Deadhorse State Park.

One of the things I like most about blogging is how chronologically recorded stories allow for a retrospective glimpse at a timeline. When examining site stats, I often find myself checking out an older blog post that someone has searched for and visited, and from there I start to wander along the timeline, reminiscing as I begin a mini-journey of moments from the past. Building this little four part series from the southwest transported me back to 2009 when Steve and I had a blast exploring what was some seriously big country.

We wrapped up our conference where the stifling sidewalk heat of the Vegas strip hadn’t even come close to preparing us for the fieriness of Death Valley. Only fools, crazy europeans, and two idiots from Maine would venture out into the vast expanses of Death Valley in the summer where the temperatures were 120+ degrees, but we figured what the hey… we might never get a chance to do this again. Risking heatstroke, we wrapped water-drenched towels around our heads and plowed on as we explored some of the amazing and surreal sights of the valley. The photographs in this post are from several of the more iconic locations in Death Valley… the Mesquite Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, the Badwater Salt Flats, the Racetrack, Zabriskie Point, and then back to the dunes… truly awe-inspiring.

Thanks for indulging me with my past four posts and mini-review of this memorable trip to the southwest from a few years back. Now, back to the present day… regardless of the weather, I am determined to get out with the camera again this weekend, so your regular programming from a cold and wintry Maine should resume soon 🙂

Patience is a Virtue

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I remember the not too distant days of visiting a pretty place with a film camera in hand and trying to make a nice photograph. I loved shooting 35mm Velvia slide film… the colors were rich and saturated, and the detail when viewed through a loupe on the light table was absolutely stunning. I can still remember waiting a couple of days for the film to return from the lab, anxious to see if I had actually managed anything worthwhile.

I would always bracket for exposure, so a roll of Velvia with 36 exposures actually meant only twelve distinct compositions. Quite often I would shoot just one roll of film in an entire morning, and even today when shooting digitally and relatively free from the capacity limits of slide film, I consider myself somewhat discerning about how often I press the shutter. Rather than click just because I can, I prefer to take my time in any given locale, really exploring the landscape in an attempt to come away with maybe one good photograph that I feel good about.

When shooting digitally today though, I can pretty much tell right away if I am on the right track, and if not, I can make adjustments to both composition and exposure on the fly. The LCD on my digital camera allows me to review an image instantly, allowing for tweaks to be made to compositions, and the histogram gives me all the information I need to know about whether or not I have made an accurate exposure. This is all good, and it is one of the biggest reasons why we can improve our photography skills much faster than if we were still shooting film and waiting several days for feedback. You would think that the days of needing to be thrifty with exposures are gone, since the capacity of an 8GB compact flash card far outweighs the limits of a roll of film – but – there is a lot to be said for being frugal with the the number of clicks we make, taking the time to really “see” a composition… waiting for the right conditions… visioning a particular moment… before pressing that shutter button. Digital makes it easy to take a lot of photographs, but it doesn’t mean they are going to be good photographs.

Here was me thinking I was quite discerning, making fewer exposures than the average digital photographer… but then I ran into Ben Horne, the prince of patience. When I say I ran into Ben, I mean that in a virtual sense. I first “met” Ben on the landscape board of the Fred Miranda web site where he always contributes great information and offers insightful and helpful critiques. Based in San Diego, Ben documents his travels to places like Zion National Park and the Colorado Plateau through his excellent blog, and like many photographers, he is generous in his willingness to share details of his vision, ideas and techniques. Ben is a different kind of cat though… he doesn’t shoot digitally, he shoots on film… big film. While I like to reminisce how nice a 35mm slide looked, I cannot imagine how impressive a medium format – or an 8×10 – transparency looks!

Ben’s work is spectacular, and I always get inspiration from the process he employs on his extended trips for photography. Usually traveling solo, he details his experiences of searching for what is often a pre-conceived vision, and his behind the scenes videos of his adventures are especially interesting. The more restrained methodology and approach of a large-format landscape photographer – especially one as good as Ben – is quite something to behold, and I highly recommend checking out his work. Ben will spend days (and many return trips) familiarizing himself with a location, trying to understand the intricacies of the landscape and how the light interacts with it at different times of the day and in different conditions. If everything lines up the way he wants it to, he will press the shutter perhaps once that day… that’s right, once!  He just returned from a 10 day trip to one of my favorite places – Death Valley National Park – and from Day One I thoroughly enjoyed vicariously coming along for the ride with him as he shared his stories of what seems like an awesome trip.

The photographs in this post are from my visit to Death Valley in February 2010 when the salt flats at Badwater were just starting to become flooded. The conditions on my trip were similar to what Ben experienced this year too, and it is always cool to see an iconic location like this in unusual circumstances. While Ben’s remarkable photographs certainly inspire me to get out with my own camera, I think what I admire most about his work is the patient and demanding approach he takes toward attempting to capture the beauty of nature. He is extremely passionate about his photography and he is constantly learning his craft… good lessons for us all.

My Favorite Photographs from 2010

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I tried my best to resist the urge to follow along with the trend of posting favorite photographs of the year, but in the end I couldn’t stop myself. On a positive note, I do believe that reflection is one of the strongest learning tools one could ever employ – so I do this little exercise in the name of improving my photography skills.

Looking back over the year and picking favorites is not an easy task, and as you can see below I wasn’t exactly able to whittle it down to a top 10! Also, I know that just because I like a photograph it doesn’t mean others will like it, so though these aren’t necessarily my best photographs… they are my favorite photographs!

For me, there is usually a story to accompany each image, and it is more about the experience of having been there… hearing the early morning sounds that no-one else does, being amazed by the beauty of nature in a new place, or simply seeing something in a familiar place that I hadn’t previously noticed… these are why my photography expeditions are so personal.

Anyhoo… some from far away and some from close to home here in Maine… here they are, not in any particular order… my favorite photographs from 2010… enjoy!

Book Publishing Made Easy

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You gotta love technology!

I wanted to create a lasting memory of the trip Sam and I took out to California, something that would be accessible to us and anyone else we wanted to share our trip with. Of course the blog is a nice mechanism for doing this, as are online hosting sites like Flickr and Vimeo, but not everyone is as excited about logging on and surfing the net as we are.

Searching for a more accessible alternative, one that could be enjoyed the old-fashioned way by holding it, I settled on using the “book” option within iPhoto to assemble and publish a hardcover, dust-jacketed, 10 x 13 book. I did some research on other online self-publishing options such as Lulu and Blurb, but settled on iPhoto largely due to the ease of use. Regardless of the tool you use, there are many options regarding size and shape, with beautifully designed templates making the compilation process very smooth. Choosing and arranging photographs was as simple as drag and drop, and the process of adding and editing text was easy.

I have been checking the FedEx tracking site almost every day since ordering, anxious to know when the finished product was going to arrive. The anticipation of seeing a printed journal of the adventures that Sam and I shared together has been very real for me, and much more intense than I had expected.

On order for about a week, the book – “Californiadventure” – arrived today, and I can happily report that I am absolutely thrilled with how it turned out. The quality of paper and printing is OK, but the overall production of the book – especially the dust-jacket – gives it a very nice feel. If you were to visit your local bookstore and find a copy of this book on a shelf there, the quality is such that you would probably never know it had been self-published.

As much as I enjoy the benefits of working and displaying images digitally online, there is something permanent and “real” about our book, so when we close the lid on the laptop and rejoin the analog world, this book will always remind us of the wonderful Californian adventure we shared together.

Inspiration and Creativity

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Passing through Bishop on the way to Mono Lake on our recent trip, we were behind some traffic at a stop light in the center of town when I happened to glance to the right. That was when I saw the Mountain Light Gallery, home to the work of, among others, the late Galen Rowell. I had known the gallery was in Bishop, and in our original plans we had included a stop here, but in our haste to get where we were going we almost missed stopping. I immediately pulled over on the side of the street and informed Sam that he was in for a treat.

We spent about an hour marveling at the exquisite prints on display. We couldn’t help but be impressed by the range of light and subjects available for viewing, and our visit was enhanced by the tangible feeling of being very welcome there. Viewing image after image, our jaws often literally dropped as we could be heard exclaiming “Wow!” as we explored the collection. It was incredibly inspiring to see Galen Rowell’s work in person, and if you haven’t already done so, I would strongly recommend a visit.

The intimate feel of the Mountain Light Gallery nestled in the small Californian town of Bishop could not have been further from the gallery setting we visited in Las Vegas. We were wandering the strip, ducking in and out of various casinos to get a taste of what Vegas was all about, with one of our primary targets being to visit the Peter Lik Gallery in Caesar’s Palace.

The images on display there were magnificent, bold and colorful. Artist Peter Lik’s images were often huge renditions of iconic scenes, but despite my familiarity with many of the locations, they were presented in a way that was absolutely mesmerizing and attention-grabbing. The staff in the gallery were very friendly, taking the time to talk with us in detail about the artist’s latest work. Printed large in dimensions measured in feet rather than inches, we were thoroughly impressed with the quality of imagery on display.

While it is obviously important to always strive to create and execute your own vision when behind the camera, I believe that seeing quality work created by others can be a very positive and engaging experience. There is much room for creativity when photographing any scene – even those picture-postcard scenes that we see images of all the time. The season, the time of day, the weather conditions, the quality and direction of the light, where you make your tripod holes, the camera, the lens, the focal length, the aperture, the shutter speed, the iso – and, most importantly, the personal choice of what to include in the viewfinder and what to exclude –  all contribute a myriad of opportunities for making an image your own. Part of the fun of photography for me is certainly in making sense of the technical and creative choices available to create an image that I like, but what draws me more is actually being there… using all of your senses to truly take in the beauty of your surroundings is why I photograph landscapes. This connection to the surroundings is something that came through loud and clear in the images of both Galen Rowell and Peter Lik, and is obvious when looking at other landscape photographers who have executed their vision.

Witnessing in-person the amazing images of such talented photographers definitely left the both of us impressed, inspired, and very appreciative of the work we saw in print. Though not on par with some of the masters, this image of the salt flats in Death Valley as they transition after winter rains is all mine 😉

Mother Nature at work…

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When we first arrived in Death Valley we were somewhat disappointed by the impact of the previous week’s rains on the landscape. Many of the roads were closed, and access to most of the more remote locations was limited. Even the famous icons were impacted, with the Mesquite sand dunes actually flooded in places, and the salt flats at Badwater under maybe an inch of water. Our disappointment soon gave way to recognition of the fact that we were witnessing Mother Nature at work, right before our very eyes.

We spent our first evening in Death Valley at Badwater, where there was about an inch or so of water pooling in the salt polygons. The shapes and textures were not exactly pristine, but nonetheless the place was still recognizable as the Badtwater salt flats. The following morning we returned to the same location, only to find that considerably more water had seeped down through the earth onto the valley floor, and the salt flats were showing serious signs of upheaval and chaos. While this made for some interesting reflections of the Panamint Range, it also made composing a pleasing image quite challenging. As you can see in the video that Sam shot from that morning, much of the landscape was broken and uplifted, probably due to the impact of the water level rising underneath. A couple of days later and the ridges and shapes were completely gone, totally submerged under a shallow but widespread lake that stretched across most of the entire valley floor.

It was very interesting to see the changes in the landscape occur so abruptly, and although we would like to have been able to see the park in all its traditional splendor, our visit during this time allowed for an intriguing and impressive glimpse of the raw power of nature as huge swaths of land were literally transformed overnight.

Badwater Underwater

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I wonder how long it will take for the shallow lake that recently formed on the Badwater salt flats to retreat and once again reveal the classic salt polygon shapes?

The image above is from our second morning in Death Valley, and as you can see the unique conditions that existed with water pooling in the flatter areas and the ridges heaving up made for much more chaotic shapes than normal. Within days this whole area was covered in water, completely submerging not only the salt polygons, but most of the entire valley floor.

I have been here several times in more traditional conditions, so to see the salt flats distressed and changing right before our eyes was quite impressive. The shallow pools of water made for some incredible opportunities to catch the Panamint Range reflected in the foreground, though being there in person was much more impressive than any photograph can possibly convey.

We were very fortunate on this morning to see nature at work right before our eyes, and when combined with a very dramatic start to the day, Sam and I marveled at the fact we were the only people around within miles to share this scene.

Lesson learned…

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You had to be there to appreciate the grandeur of the landscape before us. The sun had risen about fifteen minutes earlier, first kissing the 11,049 feet tall Telescope Peak before bathing the rest of the Panamint Range in warm light. Looking across the five miles of valley floor, the recent rains had ensured that we would be treated to an incredible reflection – it makes me feel as though we actually got double the beauty.

Sam and I had made this drive the previous day after spending a glorious morning on the salt flats of Badwater. After finishing our morning shoot there, we decided to follow the Badwater Road further south, just to see what we would find. As we rounded another one of the curves where the road was forced to bend to fit the landscape of huge alluvial fans, we came across this scene. We jumped out of the car and soaked in the atmosphere, but by then the sun was a little higher in the sky and though still awesome to view in person, the scene was not as dramatic as it might have been if we had arrived there at daybreak.

It was Sam who suggested that this should be a place we prioritize as a prime shooting location, and the very next morning we returned in search of better light. There was some serious mud in places, and to be honest I was balking a bit about wandering too close to the water’s edge. Sam, however, pushed on… and it was he who encouraged me to persevere and take advantage of the magnificent scene before us. As the sun slowly chased away the cooler morning temperatures, Sam wandered off with his camera down along the edge of the water, and when I looked around for him I couldn’t help but admire his adventurous spirit and willingness to explore. Lesson learned for me, and as I made this image I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud of my son.

Badwater Gone

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We decided for the first time on our trip to skip the sunrise and take advantage of the extra sleep. Traveling to get here and getting up early every morning was beginning to take a toll, so when we finally hit the road at about 10am we were feeling better and more rested.

Scouting for the evening, we headed over to Badwater to see how the level of water was impacting the area. When we had left the valley a couple of days previously, most of the salt flats were submerged in water creating a shallow lake. We weren’t sure if the two days we had been gone would mean that some of the water would have evaporated, or if more water would have seeped through the ground to further deepen the lake.

When we got to Badwater we made sure to add some sunblock to protect from the mid 70’s temperature, and headed out on the tourist path toward the flats. There were absolutely no salt polygons… none. There was considerably more water on the valley floor, and it had encroached almost to within a half mile of the parking lot. Stretching as far as the eye could see from south to north, the lake was quite impressive. As we made our way back to the car we appreciated that we had got to see the salt flats a couple of days before, though we couldn’t help wondering how long it would take for the famous salt ridges and shapes to return? In the meantime, here’s an image depicting what this area “normally” looks like.

Returning to Reflect

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After our morning shoot at Badwater yesterday, we decided to explore further on past the parking lot and stumbled on an area that offered tremendous reflections of Telescope Peak (11,049 feet) across the valley floor. Rising nearly two miles vertically from 282 feet below sea level, this is indeed an impressive view. Sam was actually the one who wanted to return here to see what might be able to find photographically, and I am glad he convinced me that it was a good idea. On this morning the light was good, but as you can see we didn’t have the benefit of any interesting clouds to enhance the composition. Death Valley is usually considered a wide expansive landscape, but for this image I decided to try to simplify what I was seeing and include only that which was most important. The rare water on the valley floor was smooth as glass, making for a pretty cool reflection.

Early Morning Reflections

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The five o’clock alarm came around quickly this morning.

Deep, dark skies engulfed us as we made the short drive to the Badwater Salt Flats, and we were both very impressed with the clarity of the starlit skies here in this part of California. We wanted to try exploring a little further away from where we had been the night before, so we parked about half a mile past the parking lot and ventured out maybe half a mile onto the valley floor from there. Everything was still pretty wet, though we were hoping to use that to our advantage and capture a reflection of the morning light hitting the Panamints across the valley floor.

The light came very quickly… truth be told before I was ready for it. I was still scrambling around looking for a decent composition where I could frame a reflection when the whole sky above us lit up with warm pink light. I knew I only had seconds before the light would hit the snow capped peaks, so I hurriedly set up my tripod and tried to capture the wonderful scene presented to us. The trouble I was having settling on a composition came from my inability to make sense of the chaos of the foreground and frame the broken ridges in a way where the reflection worked. I couldn’t get low enough to really accentuate the reflection, so the wide angle lens I was using doesn’t really convey how exciting it was to see the mountains reflected in pools of water in the salt polygons. The great light didn’t last long, though it was still incredible to hang out and watch the shadows continue to race across the mountains and then the valley floor.

After shooting at this location, we followed the Badwater Road away from our hotel and explored the path through the valley toward Shoshone. We had fun shooting the high desert landscape and the long and straight roads that went as far as the eye can see.

Here’s me and the boy posing for a self-portrait – we were the only people on the flats this particular morning, and we both appreciated the splendor and serenity of the scene before us. We’re off the the sand dunes at Stovepipe Wells for an evening shoot… more to follow.

Badwater, Death Valley

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On the one hand leaving home a day early to avoid the bad weather on the east coast was incredibly exhausting as we crisscrossed the country over a two day period going from Bangor to New York to Indianapolis to Charlotte to Las Vegas… but on the other hand we earned ourselves a bonus afternoon and evening in Death Valley.

As we neared our destination, it quickly became obvious that the park had not yet recovered from the winter storms that ravaged the area a few weeks back. There was standing water in many places along the roadside, with mud and debris often strewn across the blacktop. When we reached the valley floor, we were greeted with some warm sunshine and high clouds which was a nice change from the weather we would have been experiencing back in Maine. We were happy to be here enjoying the relatively warm temperatures, and we both marveled at the vastness of the landscape before us. After scouting a less-traveled trail just to the right of Zabriskie Point for another morning, our first task was to choose a location for our bonus evening of shooting. We both agreed that seeing the unique and surreal salt flats at Badwater would be a great way to start our adventure.

At 282 feet below sea level, these salt flats are an amazing sight. Blistering temperatures throughout much of the year usually mean that this landscape is parched of all water, leaving behind incredibly interesting polygon shaped ridges of salt scattered over a very wide area. As we ventured out onto the flats this evening though, we realized we were seeing this place in an even more unique state, with pools of water covering much of the valley floor.

Sam and I both set out to explore the area, looking for pleasing compositions that might capture the grandeur of where we were. It was VERY cool to see him working with a tripod for the first time, and he totally embraced the process of trying to represent the beauty that we were seeing with his camera. It was funny though to see him pack up his camera right after the sun went down only to be completely surprised and delighted by the spectacular light that arrived about 10 minutes later. He hurriedly set everything back up again and was able to take advantage of the late magical light show we were blessed with, learning a very valuable lesson about the fleeting nature of good light. All evening he worked the scene like a pro, and I was a very proud father seeing him get so excited about something I too love to do. He truly does have a wonderful sense of how to compose an image, and I will share some of his photographs here in the next few days. I am hoping that he will write about his experiences too.

As the sun set to the west behind Telescope Peak (11,049 feet), the skies above us absolutely lit up with an amazing array of colors. We saw a range of warm winter light, cooler blues and pinks as the skies overhead were reflected on the ground, and as the last light faded we were treated to a final blaze of color leaving behind silhouetted shapes of the rugged and dramatic mountains that surrounded us. The salt flats creaked and hissed as if they were alive, making for an eerie after dark experience as we navigated back to the car. This was an awesome start to our vacation together, and I am eager to see the rest of our adventure together unfold. The alarm clock is set for 5:15am, and our intention is to return to the salt flats again, this time to witness the morning light illuminating the snow capped and majestic Panamint Mountains. Here are a few from this evening…

Death Valley (and Eastern Sierra)

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Taking a break from the Superbowl hype…

OK… am officially a little worried about the impact the recent weather in Death Valley might have on being able to access some of the more remote parts of the park. After the last round of winter storms washed through DV, there apparently is still a lot of mud and debris around, especially on the dirt and washboard roads to places like the Racetrack, the Devil’s Golf Course, and Titus Canyon. With more showers possible in the next few days, things aren’t looking good for being able to get to some of the more isolated locations in the park. On the plus side though, atypical weather conditions might make for some interesting photographic opportunities in the desert.

Even though the road to the Racetrack is open, the playa is still wet, and NO-ONE SHOULD EVER WALK ON THE PLAYA WHEN IT IS WET – footprints left there can last for years, so with that in mind it unfortunately looks like we will not make it there on this trip. Over the next few days we will be examining our options… maybe we see the iconic sights of DV and then wander on over to CA 395 and explore that region for a couple of days? Last year I had a chance to briefly visit the Alabama Hills behind Lone Pine, and found it to be an incredibly beautiful landscape. At 14,505 ft, Mount Whitney and the Eastern Sierra tower over a desert-type landscape that flows over huge rounded rocks and down into the Owen’s Valley – a landscape that definitely lends itself to photography. I have always wanted to explore from Lone Pine up through Bishop and on to Mono Lake, and this might be a great time to do that.

Not being completely familiar with the area, I have been using Internet social networking tools like Flickr and photography forums to reach out to others with experience from these regions for advice on shooting locations and weather conditions. It never ceases to amaze me how generous people are with sharing information and ideas. Photographers like Ben HorneDan Mitchell, Kevin McNeal, Phil Kuglin, Jim Fox have all been incredibly generous with their knowledge and expertise, so thank you to everyone who has helped.

The image in this post was made on a previous visit to Death Valley, and is from the dunes near Stovepipe Wells. This is a morning shot, and I loved the patterns and textures that were accentuated by the early light. I was lucky on this occasion that there weren’t too many footprints to deal with – a sandstorm had come whipping through the previous afternoon erasing all evidence of human presence. Am very much looking forward to getting back here, this time with Sam.

Four days and counting until we leave…

Death Valley, Plan B and Plan C

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OK… when I check the road conditions at the NPS web site that are updated every other day or so it would appear that the winter storms that reached into Death Valley in recent weeks have had a more serious impact on the landscape than I initially thought. Many of the backcountry roads are still closed due to either snow and ice, or debris and mud from flood damage – bummer.

What if the situation isn’t more stabilized by the time we are scheduled to arrive? A big part of why we chose to visit Death Valley was to experience the power and vastness of the largest national park in the US… that and the possibility of some weather that is warmer than we are getting these days in Maine!

If we are restricted to major roads and cannot get to some of the more remote locations we had planned on visiting we will be disappointed, but I realize that we will still be able to see amazing sights, and am sure that we would thoroughly enjoy visiting many of the iconic and more frequented locations in the park that would be available to us.

The image above is from one of those icons – Zabriskie Point. The early morning light had climbed over my left shoulder to warm the distant Panamint Range. After I made this image, the light quickly stretched across the valley floor, chasing the shadows toward me and lighting up the weathered and crumpled folds in the foreground. I intentionally composed this photograph with the dominant expanse of sky to try to accentuate the scale and immense size of this place. Though it looks like I might be in a place devoid of other humans, there were about 50 other people enjoying this beautiful scene with me… some of them photographers, and many of them conveniently deposited here from a luxury tour bus. Despite the crowds… a spectacular place that everyone should witness at some point in their life.

We will be keeping a close eye on the conditions and hoping that no more moisture makes it to Death Valley in the next week or so, and as we get closer to our departure date we will be considering three possible scenarios.

Plan A is to stick to the plan hoping that everything gets back to normal in time for our arrival.

Plan B is to forge ahead even if some of the more remote places are still inaccessible. If we can’t get to places like The Racetrack, or some of the higher elevations, we can still experience the park in most of its glory through the more often visited iconic locations. Who knows, the rains might even offer a fresh perspective on the desert. We might also make a side trip over to 395 and the Owens Valley to see some of the sights there.

Plan C is if things don’t look so good in Death Valley to make a right turn out of Vegas and instead of going toward California, head over toward northern Arizona and southeastern Utah where will be able to find some different, but nonetheless spectacular scenery and landscapes.

Stay tuned…

Favorite Photographs

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I like taking photographs.

I have recently been reading some blog posts by photographers about the task of paring down all of the images you might have taken in the past year, and presenting your favorites for others to see. These photographers are very active shooters, who have enough images to actually make this a more worthwhile activity. I haven’t really been shooting all that much in 2009, so rather than limiting myself to just the past 12 months, I decided to take on the challenge of creating a collection of favorites from all of my images.

New to the blog are several pages that can be accessed from the menu above under the heading “Gallery” –  from there you can access several categories that I thought best suited the path that my photography has taken.

These are my favorites… not just based on how the final image is presented, but also because of the story behind how each of them was obtained, and the places and experiences I have been able to enjoy along the way. Many of these images were created either early in the morning or later in the day, usually outside of the general population’s tolerance for hanging around. Quite often I am alone in very pretty and peaceful settings when these images were made, and that often means more to me than the making of the actual photographs – though it is nice to empty the memory card and see what I was able to capture.

Here’s one of my all-time favorites to get things started:

Green River2

Wrapping up from Death Valley

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Thanks to everyone who followed me on this trip. I appreciate your support, and have enjoyed interacting and sharing the preparations, experiences and photographs from what was an awesome trip. I had a wonderful time both in person in California, and virtually here in the blogosphere.

I am probably going to self-publish a book from this blog to help remind me of the experiences I had. A print run of one – aren’t Web 2.0 tools amazing! Not entirely sure what online publisher to use, so if anyone has any recommendations, they’d be appreciated.

Thanks again to everyone who viewed and commented on this blog. I had a great time and am looking forward to the next big trip… the 17-day family vacation this summer to California to see the Owens Valley, Yosemite National Park, San Fancisco, and Big Sur… should be a blast, and of course I will be bringing my camera gear.

In the meantime, most of my images can be found over on Flickr. I will be adding to the collection there as I make new ones. Here’s one last image from the trip to California. This is Mobius Arch, or Galen’s Arch – from the Alabama Hills area. This version is composed at a little wider angle than the one I already posted, and it was made earlier that same morning, this time before the sun had risen. Later…

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Running Out of Gas

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badwater31

Running out of gas is not something you want to do in this place. Call me paranoid, but the whole time I have been here I haven’t allowed the needle on my gas guage to get below half-full! The one running out of gas is me… the early morning starts and jet-lag are starting to catch up. Add to that the hot weather (which I appreciate but am not used to), and the 40 mph winds that blasted the valley all day today, and I am getting pooped.

Anyway… now for another photograph. I wandered out onto the salt flats at Badwater this evening. If you haven’t seen this place, it is well worth a visit. In addition to being at 282 feet below sea level, it is notoriously hot. Death Valley receives less than 2 inches of rain all year, but it has an evaporation rate of more than 150 inches total. What that means is that the sun literally bakes the ground, drawing up any moisture and leaving behind a salt-encrusted, baked and surreal landscape.

The last time I was here a couple of years back with my buddy Steve, the temperature was a stifling 121 degrees. The air was so heavy that evening that it really was a challenge to move at anything other than a snail’s pace. Staying hydrated was key to surviving that adventure, and even though it hasn’t come close to those searing temperatures this time around, water and sunscreen have again been essential.

When photographing the shapes on the salt flats, it can be challenging to “see” patterns that you like for the purpose of composition. I waited and waited for the magic to happen with the light, and I ended up staying out on the flats until after dark. I wanted to represent what my eyes saw, but the camera was unable to render the scene in one exposure. This image is a combination of two exposures… one for the foreground, and one for the sky. For the sky I used a neutral density filter to enable a longer shutter speed… and I think that helped deepen the colors. The salt flats reflect the color of the sky, hence the blue tint. It is always about the light, and when you combine a location like this with special light, you get great memories… and a nice photograph.

Needless to say, on this occasion there wasn’t a soul around for miles. The solitude and serenity afforded by being in a place like this is why I enjoy landscape photography.

I am hoping that the winds have died down by the morning so I can photograph the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. I wouldn’t dare take my camera out there with the sand blowing the way it was earlier today… that would be suicide for that little puppy. The good news? Well, the wind will have erased all footprints on the dunes, so if all goes to plan the area will be pristine by morning, and ready to be photographed.