More twiddling…

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As I browse the Interwebz, I often see spectacular landscape photographs from Zion National Park. Unfortunately though, it’s a place I have yet to be able to spend any significant time in. I think it was maybe 6 years or so ago that I had the chance to literally drive through the park on my way to Salt Lake City for a conference. Needless to say, on this short visit I wasn’t able to explore the way I would have liked, and I also couldn’t do much about the so-so weather. Arriving midday, I can remember driving along the Virgin River into the canyon and being blown away by the sheer size (and beauty) of the rock walls surrounding me. Though the light on my visit wasn’t anything special, when you have time constraints like I did on this trip, you take what you get. I hopped on one of the easy trails and wandered for maybe an hour or so, making a few photographs along the way to remind me of a place I would like to return to someday. Warning: there are a couple of “icon” shots below – not in great light – but shots of icons nonetheless. California landscape photographer Ben Horne recently published his thoughts on shooting the icons and the lack of creativity required to make these photographs – worth a watch.

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Not enough time… Bryce Canyon

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I understand how lucky I am to live relatively close to Acadia National Park. I have what is considered a landscape photographer’s dream location in my backyard… a jewel of a park that I can explore and get to know more intimately in a variety of conditions and in all seasons. If the afternoon light suddenly looks promising, I can literally take off and be in one of the prettiest places in America within an hour. As I said… I am lucky. Like many photographers though, I also dream of seeing the iconic landscapes of the American West and beyond. I have always been intrigued by photographs of places such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion… and Bryce Canyon, but in order to experience these places for myself, it takes immense planning and a considerable commitment – unlike my local early morning or late afternoon impromptu jaunts down to Acadia.

Every now and again I get a chuckle out of reading online opinions preaching that in order to photograph a particular location properly, you must spend time there, you need to come back to the same location again and again in different seasons, in different light… you need to fall in love with the landscape to truly appreciate and make a photograph of it. Of course spending time in a particular location will help you get to know it better – and probably photograph it better (whatever that means) – but sorry… but while I would love to buy into the romantic requirement of becoming one with the landscape to make a pleasing photograph, for me, like most normal people, it’s just not always practical. I’m often in the position where I’m stealing a weekend – or maybe even just one morning – in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a place that I might have been longing to see for quite some time. Since I usually don’t have any flexibility with travel plans, my fingers and toes are crossed, hoping that the weather cooperates to provide those ever-elusive “perfect” landscape photography conditions. That’s OK.

A few years ago I was able to tack on a couple of extra days to a work-related Salt Lake City conference, and one of the stops I made on my whirlwind tour of southern Utah was Bryce Canyon National Park. I literally rolled into my hotel after dark one evening, and only had the next morning to “see” the park before I was scheduled to fly back home. Obviously I would have liked more time to better understand and discover this wonderful place, but despite this frustration, I was determined to make the best of what little time I had there. It’s also not a bad idea to do a little research ahead of time so that you can maximize your time. Beyond the obvious mapping of where you want to be, checking where and when the sun is going to rise, and if you will be beside the ocean, checking the local tide charts can give you some added information about the conditions you are likely to experience.

The relatively small 56.2 square miles of Bryce Canyon National Park is quite high in elevation, sitting at over 8,000 feet on the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in south-western Utah, and as such, it is exposed to a wide range of elements. Frost and dissolving rainwater have shaped the limestone amphitheaters into a ragged and surreal landscape of canyons, arches and the famous spires called hoodoos. As the sun peeks over the eastern horizon, early light bathes the park and the colorful rock formations actually appear to glow… quite a sight, and when I was there a recent snowstorm had dumped at least another foot of the white stuff on the landscape making for a spectacular vista.

Speaking of vistas… on this particular occasion due to the deep snow and the brief time I had available, it wasn’t workable for me to venture much beyond the standard touristy viewpoints skirting the rim of the park. I wish I could have hiked down into the heart of the park and explored the wonders of Bryce more fully, but when opportunities are limited and there’s not enough time, you make the best of it and embrace the moment… wherever you are… hopefully coming away with a few photographs that remind you of the incredible sights you saw.

Where dead horses once roamed…

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Is it just me, or does the title of this post read funny? It probably should have read “Where horses once roamed…” but that didn’t let me weave in the “dead ” part 🙂

This is the third in my little mini-series of posts about the southwest. It shows not a national park this time but a state park, although there is no shortage of beauty in this particular vista. The desert southwest of the United States is a vast area, though the three locations I have recently shared photographs of – Arches, Canyonlands, and now Deadhorse State Park – are surprisingly all within about 45-50 minutes of each other.

On the edge of Canyonlands National Park, Deadhorse State Park is a huge mesa overlooking the Colorado River as it snakes its way 2,000 feet below toward the Grand Canyon and beyond. Mustangs used to run wild on the mesa, and cowboys would drive the horses out onto what was a natural corral. Legend has it that a herd of not particularly market-worthy horses were left behind to find their way back onto the open range, but for some reason they chose to stay on the mesa where they unfortunately died of thirst… hence the name of the park.

Finding this photograph immediately brought back memories of dreams I had while on this trip in which I was always falling… considering the incredible vistas and the potential precipitous drops I encountered, not really all that surprising, eh?

A picture postcard from out west

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Continuing my theme from traveling in the southwestern United States, this is Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park… another postcard icon that you will find on the bucket list of many photographers. There’s a reason why this is considered an icon…. it is absolutely breathtaking to stand here and gaze through the arch to the landscape below. It isn’t hard to understand why people want to experience this place for themselves and make a photograph of it, myself included.

Back when I visited Canyonlands, I was on a panoramic kick. I often didn’t feel as though I could capture the magnificence of such an awe-inspiring scene within the constraints of the camera’s rectangular viewfinder, so I would shoot a series of overlapping frames, with the intention of stitching them together when I got back to the computer. This process can mean a lot of work, and the two panos in this post kind of got passed over at the time. I used to do this all by hand, though technology has come a long way, even in a couple of years, so I dusted them off and let the computer have a go at putting them together… not a bad result, and certainly a lot less hassle then stitching them by hand.

Hopefully the images in this post give a sense of how the spectacular morning light evolved from the blues and shadows of the pre-dawn, all the way through until the famous conditions developed where the early sun gets reflected on the underside of the arch, lighting it up like it was on fire. When I visited this area it was the summertime, and the sun was rising off to the left of the scene so I wasn’t able to capture any kind of starburst effect using the underside of the arch. Still pretty though…

A delicate and beautiful arch

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As winter’s grip tightens here in Maine, I’m sure like many cold-hatin’ photographers do, I recently went mining in the archives for memories of warmer times and photographs that had not yet been processed. Delicate Arch is one of 2,000 naturally preserved sandstone arches that can be found in the small, but incredibly interesting and aptly named “Arches” National Park. Located just outside the funky little town of Moab in Utah, I had the good fortune of exploring and enjoying this little gem of a place a few years back when I was attending a work-related conference out west with my buddy Steve.

I remember making the 1.5 mile round trip hike to Delicate Arch on a warm summer evening, huffing and puffing as we tried to reach the 52 ft tall icon before the sun had set. I also recall being absolutely mesmerized by the red sandstone landscape, and even though this is one of those picture postcards that many other people have photographed, I still got quite a buzz from being there in person and seeing it for myself – hiking back down the trail in the dark was also a pretty neat experience. Those are the La Sal Mountains in the background, rising higher than 12,000 feet along the eastern edge of the Utah state line and above the Colorado Plateau, and it never ceases to amaze me how “open” and “big” this landscape is.

The third photograph in this post was made on a different day… actually in late morning light, and from another trail and angle across a deep canyon. If you look closely, you can see a person standing under the arch, perhaps giving you a sense of just how big this structure actually is. It’s always good to explore new places, and I have to admit, the slickrock and surrounding landscape of this unique area made a huge impression on me.

Another version of the Racetrack story

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The last time I visited the Southwest was back in 2007, and during that trip I was lucky enough to have the company of a friend. Steve is very much the outdoorsy type, having climbed the likes of Aconcagua, Mount Hood, and our own Mount Katahdin on numerous occasions. He is an avid hunter and sportsman, detailing his experiences on The Rabid Outdoorsman blog that I subscribe to.

Despite the fact that he slept most of the trip, Steve was able to capture some of his own images from our travels around the Southwest, and it is always enjoyable to see someone else’s perspective. We toured several National Parks including Death Valley, Arches, Canyonlands… along with Deadhorse State Park. He even created a short video of our adventures, and if interested you can see it here