Archive for the ‘Landscape’ Category

More at the Narrows

Back in April I had a weekend to myself in Zion again. I hadn’t really had a dedicated “go travel and be on the lookout for things to shoot” trip this year so when the opportunity came up to head to Utah and camp for a couple days again I had a hard time saying no. Pack some firewood, pop tarts, pb&j and you’re off to the races. Invitations went out for some friends to join me but it was probably equally good that everyone else had proper jobs and couldn’t be bothered to take Friday off. The solo trip left me feeling quite healthy and offered some great opportunities to make sure I was on the same page with myself. I didn’t go up there looking for a mental retreat, but it does seem that the more you can approach opportunities and new experiences free of firm expectations, the more likely it is that you’ll get something out of it if you allow yourself to pay attention.

 

I've yet to attempt the full length top-down overnight trip through the slot canyon but a great deal of the trail's finest views can be seen from the day hike from the Temple of Sinawava tram stop: Zion National Park, UT

I’ve yet to attempt the full length top-down overnight trip through the slot canyon but a great deal of the trail’s finest views can be seen from the day hike from the Temple of Sinawava tram stop: Zion National Park, UT

Looking back a little bit…

A couple of days ago I put together something nice from a trip to Utah last September. My earlier post was from our all-too-brief Narrows hike, but this was from a side trip to Snow Canyon State Park. It’s not often that clouds are actually the subject of pictures I take — usually they’re just up there to compliment the landscape — but this time it was the other way around.

All that to say, that’s not the image in this post. Since Tucker is still working up images from his Arizona trip and I’m sitting on Hawaii, Utah, and as it happens, still more New Zealand, I’m going with something that ought to play a little differently next to the red rocks of the American West. I was recently asked for a higher resolution copy of this post from 2011 and when I went to find it, I discovered that many of my older work files are corrupted!

Ugh. This is not what we talked about.

Ugh. This is not what we talked about.

And it gets worse: a lot of my originals from 2011 are simply missing from my Aperture library, leaving many HDR brackets incomplete! In the spirit of trying to provide a print file for this scene anyway, I scoured the bowels of Aperture and wrangled up 9  of the original 15 shots that comprise the final image. Upon closer inspection I found no bracket to be completely gone so I fired up the magic wand that is Adobe Camera Raw and recreated the remaining frames from the original nine. Ill-advised, but this is exactly the situation where that was the only course of action. What started as a simple request became a curious challenge as I realized that a full reprocessing of the scene would yield differing results from the original attempt in 2011, results that would undoubtedly reflect changes in, well, me. I am very pleased with the change in style over two and a half years’ time and look forward to occasionally looking back on old images to see more of how my tastes have changed.

Perhaps my favorite change is the small orange flowers. You can't even tell they're there in the first version: Milford Sound, NZ

Perhaps my favorite change is the small orange flowers. You can’t even tell they’re there in the first version: Milford Sound, NZ

Sedona Sunset

It’s been a whirlwind of a year, with my graduation in December followed by my starting a full time job, and it has left me with very little free time to shoot. I now have a lot more time, however, and so I thought I’d post something that I took recently. After I finished school, my family took a trip to Arizona as a way to celebrate both the holidays and my graduation. We stayed in Sedona, which is about two hours from Phoenix, and we arrived very late at night, driving to our house in the pitch dark. We had absolutely no conception of what it was going to look like, and while I’d seen pictures on the internet, I knew enough to know that it would be nothing like seeing it with my own eyes. I was entirely correct, and I’ll never forget seeing that Martian landscape the first morning we were there. The red rocks, shaped by countless years of wind and water erosion, are incredibly strange and beautiful, completely dominating the landscape. The place that we stayed had a fantastic view out over Red Rock State Park (the naming conventions are all along these lines, with landmarks such as “Submarine Rock” and “Bell Rock” the norm. I suppose calling something “The Grand Canyon” should have tipped me off to this naming scheme…!) and the first night we were there we were lucky enough to have a fantastic sunset, courtesy of some great clouds. This is the view from the balcony of my room, and is one of only a few HDRs that I shot there that was done on a tripod. I took over 4,000 photos there, but a lot of that was handheld 5-shot brackets that have yet to be processed. So fear not, for in the coming days I will post plenty more shots from this amazing trip.

 

Sunset over Red Rock State Park in Sedona, AZ.

Sunset over Red Rock State Park in Sedona, AZ.

The Narrows at Zion National Park

When I’ve described recent camping trips to my parents, they’ve both turned up their nose in disgust at the idea of trying to sleep in a tent. Apparently, it was because they had each been drug along on their family’s camping trips when they were much younger and for whatever reason it had rubbed them such the wrong way that not only did they avoid it years later, but they also agreed they wouldn’t subject my sister and I to it because it was assumed we’d also dislike it. Oddly, despite their distaste for camping, they’ve engineered more National Parks trips over the years than I can count. I’ve been visiting these amazing places with my family for as long as I can remember — quite literally, as long as I’ve been capable of remembering things. To my knowledge the count stands at 17: Acadia, Arches, Badlands, Bryce, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Haleakalā, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, Mammoth Cave, Redwood, Sequoia, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion. So parks? Absolutely. But I’d never really been tent camping until a couple years into college — and I’m so glad I did. In fact, I’d have never stopped kicking myself if I had passed on the half dozen camping expeditions that unfolded when I was in New Zealand in 2011. Would have been a completely different experience, and certainly not for the better. All that to say, I’m so thankful that being raised on National Parks didn’t burn me out on them. And now, return trips are like gravy because camping in each is a completely new set of adventures.

WHICH MEANS that when I had the chance to return to lower Utah for the Docutah Film Festival this past weekend, my going was largely contingent on being able to camp at nearby Zion National Park. In between the two days that our film was screening, we buzzed up the road an hour, pitched a tent, started a fire, and cooked cheese-filled sausages on whittled sticks. To my knowledge, the Narrows is consistently voted among the top 5 hikes in the United States. So, planning to tackle as much of the Narrows as we could the next morning before having to head back to St. George, we got up at 6am and rode the park shuttle as far into the valley as it goes. The paved trail gradually gives way to stone steps into the river and from there it’s up to you — venture as far up the river as you can stand before turning back. We made it to the Orderville Canyon fork. The original plan had been to stay an extra few days after the festival and do this properly: a nearly 16-mile top to bottom trek through the knee-high river with an overnight camp halfway down. But schedules changed and there’s always next year…

Also, first post from 6D! Step up to full frame.

Unfortunately, June and September are the best times of year to do the whole hike because of the water temperature. No wet suits, please: Zion National Park, UT

Unfortunately, June and September are the best times of year to do the whole hike because of the water temperature. No wet suits, please: Zion National Park, UT

Storms, Site Problems, and the Future

It’s great to be back up and running! Thanks to a bit of help from a friend, we fixed the (embarrassingly simple) problem with the site and are back in business.

I can’t believe that the last time I posted a picture was almost a year ago. That is… simply unacceptable. It was mostly due to being very busy at school and unable to travel to new locations to get new material, but luckily I’ve had the pleasure of spending the summer in LA and Maine, and have come up with a few good images from my trips. I have processed a few images from my trip to LA, but that hard drive is currently sitting in a bag on the floor somewhere and I don’t feel like unpacking until I’m home so… I’ll start off with two shots from a more familiar location, my house in Maine. This was taken back in June, and I’d just taken delivery of my new 5D Mark III. I really wanted to test it out, but it looked like it was about to rain, so I dashed down to the dock just in time to fire off a bracket before the big drops started coming down. The Mark III lets me do five shot brackets from ±5, which is a big improvement from the Mark II, which limited me to three shot brackets that were ±3 stops. The extra dynamic range of my new camera will certainly add to the HDRs that I take, especially in cases where there is a huge contrast between light and dark. I’ll update my bio page with all of my new equipment as I’ve recently picked up a lot of upgrades.

These images are interesting for me, because they are almost entirely “straight” HDRs; in other words I simply took the bracket, threw the images in Photomatix, and found myself satisfied. Rarely does this happen, and most of the time I find myself spending a lot of time in Photoshop color correcting, dodging, burning… not so with these two. The sky just spoke for itself.

In the future, I plan to post at least three images from my trip to LA, as well as a few from the most recent TAG expedition to Acadia National Park in Maine. We are going to be working on a Smugmug site that will allow for more e-commerce integration (if you want to buy prints or images, etc.) as well as simply improving the site, hopefully with a new theme and new look in the coming months. All in all, it’s great to be back!

 

The ominous clouds of the oncoming storm from an all-too-familiar vantage point.

The ominous clouds of the oncoming storm from an all-too-familiar vantage point.Maine Storm 1

 

 

Site links work again! Huzzah!

Hello again, it’s been a while. We’ve been recently plagued with some website coding problems that have kept the site from functioning correctly… but everything has been ironed out! We can continue posting and you can continue browsing. Thanks for sticking with us!

That being said, I thought I’d share some special images to celebrate our website’s repair. Way back when, I was a study abroad student in New Zealand and many amazing travel adventures ensued. I was lucky enough to get to drive out to Milford Sound twice in the time I was there and I hope to eventually find an excuse to go back. On both visits, the weather was cloudy and rainy, leading to some unusual clouds and a moody atmosphere. Suddenly, the sun punched a tiny hole in the clouds and shone directly down onto the water in the distance…

A truly bizarre sight. The weather seemed to have discouraged the kiwis from visiting that day and I had the sound to myself.

A truly bizarre sight. The weather seemed to have discouraged the kiwis from visiting that day and I had the sound to myself: Milford Sound, NZ

On the other trip, I turned to face the hillside climbing away from the sound to my right. The scope of the mountains running back and the streams coming down was baffling: Milford Sound, NZ

On the other trip, I turned to face the hillside climbing away from the sound to my right. The scope of the mountains running back and the streams coming down was baffling: Milford Sound, NZ

 

The Strip

Earlier this summer my family flew out for an impromptu rendezvous in Vegas. Shows were seen, pools were swum, and buffets were endured. I had always been partial to Bellagio’s trough but in another Vegas trip in late October the brand new “Bacchanal” at Caesar’s won me over. 500 dishes outputting an reported $100,000 worth of food every day. It’s so ludicrous they have a crêpe chef to help you build silly deserts on which to pile a limitless supply of gelato.

But over the summer the highlight of the trip was none other than Celine Dion’s outrageous production at Caesar’s Colosseum. With the repertoire split about half originals and half covers (including a spectacular rendition of “Goldfinger”) I really enjoyed getting to hear plenty of her early songs in French. We left with gift bags full of CD’s, playing cards, and throw blankets… but the real un-necessity was the atlas-sized coffee table book! It was an early show and, stopping by our room afterwards, I set up to nab the last fountains show before the sky went completely dark.

Probably not alone in this, but I can’t look at the fountains and not think of Ocean’s 11… Las Vegas, NV

Arch Rock at Joshua Tree

A few weeks ago we had a birthday on our hands. Traditionally, this means a quick jaunt up to Vegas. However, on a different Vegas escapade this past spring, we got a little fresh and mixed in a couple nights of camping in Joshua Tree immediately beforehand. The resulting juxtaposition made the bottomless buffets all the more outrageous so we gave the pairing another shot. I am now fully convinced that Joshua Tree is my go-to destination for camping in Southern California. It’s not backpacking, just simple car camping and and the pleasures of building massive campfires. They’ve got a ton of campgrounds, several with 150ish campsites and the weather this time of year was WAY more comfortable than in March (when we met with rain, snow, hail, and general frigidness over the course of 36 hours). I’ll vouch for the Ryan and Jumbo Rocks campgrounds, but there’s really no shortage of firepit campsites nestled in amongst these wild rock formations in the park.
The evening before we left we asked around and discovered an easy, natural arch trail behind one of the other campgrounds…

A five minute walk from the back corner of the White Tank campground, Arch Rock and the small little rock valley it sits in make for some interesting shades of orange and blue as the sun gets lower: Joshua Tree, CA

 

A long-overdue taste of the Northeast

As the title says, it’s clearly been too long since we’ve posted. It just seems like when we started this project over two years ago, we all had a lot more time on our hands and a lot less on our plates. Now we’re all finishing school and looking for jobs, making it that much harder to devote the time needed to post on any sort of regular basis. At any rate, I recently took a trip up to the Adirondacks to do some rock climbing with my girlfriend, and I of course had my camera with me the entire time. We spent the weekend out climbing, but at night we came back to a cabin belonging to one of my girlfriend’s best friends, affectionately called The Hut. I do have some HDRs to post that I took while out on the mountains themselves, but I thought I’d start with these because it seems hard to choose which one is the best. We were relaxing after a day of climbing, playing some boardgames and listening to music, when I looked out the windows in the back of the house and saw this tree just shooting up like a lollipop into the landscape. Up north, as some of you probably know, when the light starts to change toward the end of the day, it changes fast. There is no “twilight” really, like we have down south, so you have to be quick. If you see light you like, you’d better hope you’re within running distance of your camera. I kept mine by my side and every half our or so would go out and shoot some brackets of the scene. The issue I came across is that I really wanted to have the “lollipop tree” in the center of the composition (yes, going against everything they teach you in beginning photo classes… but hey, rules are meant to be broken!) but I would then lose the really nice reddish-brown color of the fallen pine needles and leaves in the foreground. But, in order to get that extra color, I had to contend with this large unsightly rock that was just off to my left…. So I just did what I always do, make sure to shoot every angle possible and ask the tough questions later during processing! I’ll post three here so you can see not only the changing light but also the different compositions.

 

Oh.. also, we got a nice comment a few days back in which the suggestion was made that we start posting the “original” shots along with the final, processed HDR versions. I really like this idea, so I’ll talk with Andrew and Giacomo to see how we should do this (i.e. should we post all 3 from the original bracket or just the middle exposure). Anyway, thanks for the comment and we’re going to take it into consideration for sure.

 

The initial view, around 6pm just as it was starting to get cloudy. No foreground here, just the mountains and trees.

This next one was the toughest, as it was much later in the night with much less light, meaning the exposures were just about at the limits of what’s possible to hand-hold. Because of this, the final shot is amazingly blurry… do not zoom in on the full-resolution image! You have been warned! You will see no details!

The view about an hour later, as the sun was setting and making some nice colors in the foliage and clouds. This one’s a compromise, cutting the top of the tree in order to get a bit of the foreground while not having the rock here at all!

The final image that I think I settled on as my favorite.. although this is easily debatable! It wasn’t an easy shot to frame. I’m still not even sure this is my favorite…

 

The Critical Moment: Half Dome at Dusk

Getting a unique shot of a subject like Half Dome in Yosemite is no easy task. Millions of tourists, many carrying good cameras and armed with a good grasp of photography, visit this location every year. The plethora of photographs taken from all angles at all times of day really does make this a challenge, but Andrew, Giacomo and I set out to do it anyway. In doing some night photography on the previous nights, we noticed that there was a window of about 10-15 minutes where the light “lingered” in the sky; the sun had officially set, but there was still a decent amount of light left, enough to provide depth in the foreground and a gradient of color above. Timing, however, was critical, as it wasn’t always obvious exactly when to start shooting, and we only had one shot as we knew we’d need close to a 30 minute exposure to achieve the star trails we wanted. The second we pressed the shutter, we were committed to that time window for that night. Too early and we’d have too much light in the sky and be unable to see the stars; too late and we’d have a normal star trail image which would lack any detail in the foreground. We knew we were going to be at Mirror Lake the next night, and the view of Half Dome from that spot is perhaps the most awe-inspiring and iconic, so we wanted to have the perfect shot lined up, which would require learning precisely when this window of light would occur. That final shot came out well, but it was thanks to our observation the night before that we were able to get that critical window of light. This shot, from Glacier Point, is another single shot HDR, and as such required a good bit of Photoshop to get it the way I wanted it. Other byproducts of these ultra-long exposures include sensor-level noise, as you can see in the lower left corner of the shot, as well as a distinct loss of detail in moving objects, which can be seen in the “clumpiness” or softness of the tree. Despite all of this, the final shot is just how I like it: surreal but not insane. It makes people stop and say “wait a minute…” and you get to explain to them why it’s not just a photograph. At that point they either write you off as a talentless hack or beg you to teach them how to use Photomatix…

The band of yellow light just above the horizon is what we were going for by waiting for that moment just a few minutes after the sun set directly behind us.

I know I make this point very often (indeed, as often as I can!) but here, yet again, is an example of why I value HDR as much as I do. Take a peek at the original shot… at best it is “eh, kinda cool.” Definitely not blog post material. But with a lot of tweaking, all that data in the 30MB+ RAW file can be turned into, well, my new desktop background anyway 🙂

 

Those streaks in the sky that are clearly not stars are airplanes... unbelievably annoying to remove! Next time I do this I will set up AA guns next to my tripod...

Sunset in the Lamar Valley: Yellowstone NP

Road trips are amazing things. You could jump on a plane and pay to check three duffels… or you could pile ten duffels into a sedan and enjoy the drive across the country. I’ve made the LA/ATL drive twice now and each time has been a complete adventure. Two very different adventures, but two nonetheless. Unlike our first marathon-style 3-day trek two Decembers ago, we opted to turn it into a more leisurely vacation. I’ve been to Yellowstone twice before, but each was well before I was anything much into photography. This time, though, I was able to appreciate it in a whole new way. One thing I’ll always remember is getting to do the Lake Yellowstone Hotel “photo safari” one morning with my mom. She had done it the first time we visited Yellowstone (back when I was nine, I think) and it was really special for her to get to do it again but this time with me tagging along.

At some point during our stay in Yellowstone, we found ourselves driving through the Lamar Valley at sunset. (Typing this now I realize I’d like to “find” myself there a little more often.) We pulled off for a minute to climb a foothill and had no choice but to enjoy the stunning view the valley’s still water offered.

Yellowstone is definitively NOT on the way from Atlanta to Los Angeles... but I'm so glad we made silly plans and came back to YNP anyways: Yellowstone National Park, WY

Finally, Winter in Williamstown!

I mentioned in my last post that there’s very little to shoot in the dead of winter this far north. I was proven wrong, however, and I could not be happier about it. I was leaving the Clark Art Institute a few weeks ago at around 4 when I noticed some unbelievable colors in the sky. I decided it would be worth the cold, snowy hike up Stone Hill (in my gym shoes, no less!) to capture the sunset in all its glory. I arrived at the top of the hill with my feet literally soaking wet and numb, but that didn’t concern me as much as the sight that I was greeted with. I’ve been up the hill many times before, and the last time I went up there was during the fall, where I did a bracket of this exact same tree and the ending shot captured all that is autumn in Williamstown quite nicely. I normally would not return to a place like this, much less post the shot on the blog, but in this case it’s different enough to warrant a post, and I think it’s a fitting representation of just how different and beautiful each season is up here.

 

This one took a TON of editing to get right. There was a flag waving from the large branch that was ghosted horribly and ended up needing to be removed altogether.

Hawaii Revisted

It’s crazy that it was over a year ago that I was in Hawaii, and I was thinking about what to post I realized that I still had a ton of unprocessed brackets from that trip that could be fun to run through Photomatix, so that’s what I did! There is really nothing to shoot during the winter up here; snow makes for really gray and dismal looking HDRs, and beyond that it’s really hard to get motivated to go exploring around town when its -3° outside. So, to help make up for my inexcusable lack of posting I’ll post two shots here, both from Hawaii but that’s about where any similarities end. The first shot is from our walk across the interior crater of the volcano Kilauea-Iki. The volcano was active sometime in the ’90’s I think, but when we visited the lava had hardened into a black desert that enabled us to walk across it. It took the better part of a day to make the journey, and the landscape was truly alien. Along the way, and not surprisingly seeing as we were standing inside a volcano, there were many fissures where boiling steam would hiss up out of the ground. This seemed to be a good subject for a picture, and the dramatic clouds, as ever, add to the effect. The craziest part is that the volcano has erupted massively since we visited, meaning that most of the foreground in this shot is totally different now. I’d love to go back and see what changed!

The minerals that were in the lava that hardened give the rocks all sorts of interesting colors.

The next image is again from Hawaii, but in a stark contrast to the barren volcanic landscape, this shot is from the Limahuli botanic garden on Kauai. As you’d expect a botanic garden on a tropical island to be, the scenery was fantastic, with countless plants and animals that were foreign to me. As we got to the top of one of the hills, this fantastic view presented itself and, well, you know the rest!

After we visited the park, we walked along the beach and were able to see the mountains from a totally different angle. I’ll post those shots some other time!

Half Dome Under the Stars

This has to be one of my favorite shots that I’ve taken over the past few years. It was one of those times when “everything came together” as they say, and as Andrew mentioned it was in a large way a group effort between the three of us. Knowing we wanted to get a night shot of the iconic Half Dome with star trails behind it, we scoped out the location early on in the day, while there was still plenty of light. We spent hours taking test shots to get the framing we wanted, and as night fell we had all 3 of our cameras constantly taking images, comparing exposure times, apertures, every variable really, trying to do our best educated guesswork as to what the final settings should be. We knew we had about a 15-minute window to get the “perfect shot;” there is a very small period of time right as the first stars begin to show before the sun truly sets, leaving you some light in the sky that we knew would reflect off the mountain and give some detail to the foreground as well as give the sky a much bluer hue. As luck would have it, the setting sun cast a reddish orange hue directly on the face of Half Dome, which translated really well in the long exposure that I ended up finally taking. That exposure was 868 seconds long, at an aperture of F/4, ISO 200, and 16mm. Of course, it was just a single shot, and I had to process it out in Photoshop to create the light and the dark images needed to make the final HDR image. If I could go back and do it again, I’d bump the ISO to 400 and go for about 1000 seconds, but overall this came out pretty well! It took a huge amount of time to get right, as I had to remove a ton of pixel-level noise manually, especially in the foreground trees (if you zoom in on the full-rez image you can still see there’s a lot of it!) but needless to say, this one’s been my desktop background since I got back from Yosemite! Now we need a new banner image….

In addition to noise, I also had to Photoshop out about 5 different airplanes that cut across the entire image... Yosemite may be far from LA by car, but the planes never stop flying over!

Fall in Williamstown!

So I did as I promised! Fall is so unbelievably gorgeous up here in the Berkshires that I just had to go out with my camera to get some shots. I took a short hike up to the top of Stone Hill (by short I mean a 200 foot walk…) which is located behind the Clark Art Institute where I’m currently interning. It was an overcast day, and lacking interesting clouds I decided I’d focus on the amazing natural beauty up on top of the hill. It really speaks for itself, but every single tree goes through the fall season at slightly different time, and the staggered colors let you see the entire process at one time. It’s truly breathtaking and I’m certainly not used to it as we have nothing like this in Atlanta! This particular tree caught my eye, as it was essentially done shedding its leaves, while the others around it were in the various stages.

This one was very tricky to process, as Photomatix kept wanting to make the different areas of sky in between the branches vastly different tones.

I also took a quick shot of the Clark a few days later when the skies were clear. The building is iconic, and although they are about to begin an incredible construction project that will really transform the place internally and allow for even more incredible art to be displayed, the front will remain the same. I love spending time at the museum and the surrounding grounds and trails; I’ve taken to bringing my homework with me and sitting on a bench in the middle of the woods. It’s just a wonderful place to be.

 

The darker stone building that you can barely see to the left is the Manton Research Center, home to a vast library that will soon be even more accessible to the public.