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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A Window to the World

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I’m celebrating the fact that I actually got off my you-know-what and made a new landscape photograph – one that I’m actually prepared to share! I hadn’t visited Acadia in several months, but all that changed this past weekend when local photographer Chad Tracy and I cruised down to MDI for a quick photo expedition. Despite the below freezing temperatures and the biting wind, standing on the rocky shoreline of my favorite national park never felt so good!

I’ll share a few more photographs from what was a beautiful sunrise over the next few days, so stay tuned. After exploring a part of the granite “ledges” along the Loop Road near Thunder Hole, our original plan was to meander back toward Sand Beach to maybe do some long exposures with the surf. We got sidetracked though when I realized how close we were to this unique location, and since the sun was already up, I was excited to visit at a time when I wouldn’t get the willies from it being too dark.

The ecosystem within this sea cave is extraordinarily delicate, so Chad and I were extremely cautious about making sure to walk only on the solid rock. Although not a huge secret, and relatively easy to find, to further protect this little gem I made Chad swear not to divulge the location to anyone else. The approach to the cave – and the floor inside – was quite slippery and tricky to navigate, and to add to the mystique, this location is only accessible at low tide. It was quite an experience to spend some time in here, and as we looked through the window out onto Frenchman Bay, we appreciated the shelter from the chilly winter air. I like this photograph, and I’m going to add it to my portfolio.

If you haven’t seen my full portfolio yet – if interested – you can click on over and check out a selection of my favorite images on Acadia and Beyond (in addition to Acadia, I’ve shared images of Maine, Ireland, Death Valley, Yosemite). If you do visit the site, drop me a line… I’d love to hear your thoughts. If interested in purchasing from the site between now and the New Year, to save some cash be sure to type in the discount code “Acadia” when checking out. A bargain… Happy holidays!

And yes… I’m trying out a new blog theme. Feedback appreciated on that too 🙂

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 🙂

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.

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!