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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Trip of a lifetime remembered

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In the early spring of 2010, Sam and I had a chance to make the trip of a lifetime to California, and more specifically, Death Valley National Park and the incredibly scenic Highway 395 which runs from south to north at the foot of the majestic and snow-capped Eastern Sierra mountains.

We were fortunate to see Death Valley at a time when Mother Nature was doing her transitional thing, flooding the lower elevations of the park to create rare and spectacular conditions. We enjoyed the contrast of warm, desert temperatures and then the sub-freezing landscape in the shadow of the Eastern Sierra. From the Owens Valley we watched the sun rise and illuminate Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, we heard coyotes yelping along the shores of Mono Lake, and we were genuinely awed as we gazed up from the salt pans at Badwater (242 feet below sea level) toward Telescope Peak towering 11,049 feet above.

Lots of great memories made, and here’s a little slideshow I put together when we got back. As you will notice, the soundtrack is definitely original.

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!

Leaving Mono Lake…

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Staying in Lee Vining gave us the opportunity to visit Mono Lake. We were lucky with the light on the first evening we visited, but things didn’t really come together when we returned last night. The afternoon thunderstorms that brew over the Sierras didn’t quite cooperate with their timing, and we were left skunked with rain instead. Mono Lake is a fascinating place, and as with much of this area, we would love to have had more time to explore. As we head down into the zoo of people in Yosemite Valley we will be out of contact with the blog for a couple of days, so here’s a few more from our time spent at Mono Lake. This is a very often photographed location, but there is still something special about being there in person and trying to make your “own” images of what truly is a special place.

Not Quite Yosemite… Mono Lake

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It was still raining lightly as we left the Whoa Nellie Deli. However, things looked very promising as the storm moved across Mono Lake and warm light started to stream over the Sierras toward us. The low-angled light made the ground seem as though it were on fire, and the dark and heavy storm clouds served as a perfect backdrop to what was a remarkable scene. It looked like tonight could have the potential to be one of those special sunsets, where the light on the edge of a storm is truly magical, so we hurried down toward the lake hoping that everything would come together.

Mono Lake is an ancient salt lake covering 70 square miles that lies in the shadow of some of the major Eastern Sierra peaks. It is renowned for several reasons, including the migratory bird population that visits each year, the beautiful landscape it offers photographers, and probably most famously, the interesting limestone “tufas” that are scattered along the shoreline.

Last time we were here the place was covered in snow, and although that certainly made for some unique conditions, the light on that particular occasion did not really cooperate. The sunset Sam and I witnessed last night in Tuolumne Meadow was spectacular, so we wondered if it might be asking too much for another good one tonight. We had our answer soon enough as the sun dipped below the crest of the Sierras and the sky began to light up in a way that makes photographers smile…

Yosemite

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As a family we had the good fortune of visiting the magnificent Yosemite National Park last summer. Yosemite is a place like no other, and even though we had heard tales of the beauty we would see there, we were all totally amazed to witness for ourselves what is a remarkable and spectacular landscape.

Sam just graduated from high school, and when asked what he would like for a present, he was pretty emphatic in his desire to travel west to see Yosemite again. When we left the park last summer I think we each had the feeling we would be back, but little did we know it would be so soon.

Last summer we spent the majority of our time in Yosemite Valley enjoying the icons – and the crowds. We had a wonderful time exploring along the Merced River and bending our necks to soak in views like Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan, but all the while there we couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to escape the hordes of tourists and get up into the high country… this time we will.

On this trip we are incredibly excited to be spending most of our time up along the Tioga Road and especially around the Tuolumne Meadows area. At 8,500 feet, the temperatures at this elevation should be moderate and bearable, but it is the promise of experiencing the higher sierra that has us really anticipating our visit.

The image above with Half Dome standing large in front of Clouds Rest was made on a perfect summer evening from Glacier Point. Looking back up Tenaya Canyon toward the high country, you can’t help but sense the wonder of what must be a spectacular and unparalleled wilderness. Can’t wait to see it for ourselves.

We are currently researching and planning how we can squeeze every last ounce of Yosemite into our trip, so if you know of any must-see hikes to add to our itinerary, please share in the comments.

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.

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…

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:

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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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Alabama Hills

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More from the Alabama Hills area. A very distinctive landscape, this area was named after the CSS Alabama by prospectors sympathetic to the confederate cause.

Many movie scenes and TV scenes have been filmed in this location. Among others, The Lone Ranger was filmed here, along with scenes from Gladiator, Tremors (classic movie if you haven’t seen it), Gunga Din, and How The West Was Won. Trivia courtesy of my favorite encyclopedia… Wikipedia.

The contrast between the odd-shaped rocks scattered all over the place and the majestic peaks of the Eastern Sierra make for a photographer’s paradise. Here’s a couple more from the area:

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Mobius Arch

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Another early start… this time from the town of Lone Pine and heading up into the Alabama Hills. I had decided to make a detour about an hour and a half north of Death Valley to try to see this place. I have seen many images of the area, and it seemed like it would be well worth seeing in person. I was not disappointed.

I left the hotel room at about 5:00am… after yesterday evening’s debacle with losing the light, I was determined not to get lost this time and risk something similar happening. I had seen images of this arch many times… and although a photographic icon, I wanted to see it for myself.

Sometimes called “Galen’s Arch” after late renowned landscape photographer Galen Rowell, it is located in the foothills of the Eastern Sierra, right under the imposing and beautiful Mt. Whitney.

I had the place all to myself, and before sunrise I truly do not think I have ever witnessed a darker and more impressive night sky. I swear I saw the Milky Way, and I know I saw several shooting stars. Mt. Whitney is 14,505 feet tall, and as the sun rises and kisses it with morning light it is indeed a sight to behold.

Some of the images I have seen from this location include a warm, almost alpenglow on Mt. Whitney… no such light for me though. However, even though it is late March, there was still a wonderful coating of snow all across the higher peaks, and that definitely made for a special experience for me.

Anyway… more to come from the Alabama Hills area later. I don’t have that much time to edit and post-process right now because I want to hit the road and head toward Death Valley. Yeehaaa!