Archive for the ‘Outdoor’ 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

Grand Wailea

I was shocked to only just now discover that Tucker has a full-on monopoly on our Hawaii page. Had a monopoly.

I’ve worked up a bunch of images from my trip last May but I keep coming back to one from the hotel lobby. Ordinarily, that would be the lamest, most egregious thing to say about a trip to Hawaii, but when you see the lobby I think you’ll understand.

Most folks say Maui is the touristy island and I guess I’m inclined to agree. The southwest coast is awash with ludicrous resorts, to be sure, but I did get a chance to do some off-the-beaten-trail hiking later on that yielded other kinds of Hawaiian greatness. More to come on that front later I suppose.

Nuff said. This place was kind of crazy. One of the few pictures on this site to contain family members! Wailea, HI

Nuff said. This place was kind of crazy. One of the few pictures on this site to contain family members! Wailea, HI

 

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

 

More from the Forbidden City

Being busy is a good thing and the fact that we’re approaching 2 months without a post just means that the three of us have full, productive lives. So, instead of a paragraph full of “sorry,” here’s a statement full of “excessively busy lives leave less time for hobbies.” While summer should hopefully give Tucker and Giacomo a bit of a respite from classes, a huge project of mine will go into production and I’ll disappear for a while. But, before then, I’ve got a trip to Hawaii to look forward to and the annual Yosemite reunion has been (significantly) relocated to Maine in late May so there ought to be some fresh sights associated with those… somewhat beautiful travel destinations.

That being said, I’m checking in again with a straightforward image from the documentary shoot in China last summer — hard to believe it’s already been about 11 months since then! I couldn’t possibly describe where in the Forbidden City this was, but I think we were in the process of being shooed out the North entrance around closing time when I saw a handful of these ornate pavilions. This one had a cool tree next to it. And, as was the case with most of our stay in Beijing, it was “sunny” but the outrageous pollution tends to sap just about all the blue out of the sky.

This is about 5 minutes before we dropped about $0.15 worth of coinage for some seriously refreshing watermelon on a stick just outside the gates: Beijing, China

Beaches. I like them.

Bet you’ve never been coast-to-coast in under 5 minutes. Me neither, but this post should hopefully accomplish something similar.

St. Simon’s Island has been a staple get away for my family for as long as I can remember. Growing up, summers were filled with 6 hour drives from Atlanta to Georgia’s Golden Isles to visit with grandparents. Sandcastles were built, lighthouses were climbed, and french fries were tempura-battered. Thanksgiving was synonymous with the island for a long time for me. Most years we’d use the holiday as an excuse to load up the White Chrysler Town and Country LXI and make our way down to the beach. Thanksgiving lunch was always at the sumptuous King and Prince and dinner was usually the comatose affair of living off our fresh fat reserves from earlier in the day.

Unfortunately, going to college in and ultimately moving to Los Angeles makes rocking up at St. Simon’s on a whim significantly more difficult. Thanksgiving has often been forfeited the last several years, opting instead for a longer Christmas home stay, but last year I was able to do both. To celebrate my first Thanksgiving at home in ages, we arranged for a return to the Georgia Coast. A fantastic few days of relaxation, unhealthy southern seafood, and trying to play tennis. One of the highlights of the weekend was waking up extra early the day after Thanksgiving to see a proper East Coast sunrise. I walked down past East Beach around 6:30AM and found a bench between the King and Prince pool and the nearest public beach access at the end of tiny Neptune Road.

A very peaceful morning to ease into a day full of digestion: St. Simon’s Island GA

And woosh. Fast forward three months and 2,500 miles to arrive at a sunset on the other side of the country at my other favorite beach. I must exclude Hawaii as it would be like allowing a dictionary to compete in a spelling bee.

In Los Angeles, March’s idea of coming in like a lion is a balmy 80 degrees at Manhattan Beach. Ice cream cones and beach frisbee… sounds a lot better than the snow my sister was getting in Alabama. Surprisingly, we arrived on the beach to find the ocean full of sail boats, something I’d certainly never seen at Manhattan Beach before. Unfortunately they had all moved south down the coast by the time I set up shop under the pier for the shot that evening.

I’ve seen this angle executed many times before but I’d never done it myself. Not an extremely flattering angle for the iconic pier but a textbook example of when HDR might be considered an appropriate tool: Manhattan Beach CA

 

 

Piedmont Park shot from bygone days

Andrew and I found this picture while looking back through some of the pictures we’ve taken and I honestly have no idea why I didn’t post it then. Probably we all had great shots from that day (I mean, look at those clouds), and so I worked on something else. Anyways, I reprocessed it to see what I could make of it. Enjoy!

The lake has a great view of the downtown skyline, and we were lucky enough to have beautiful clouds in the sky to complement the view.

 

 

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

 

Happy (slightly late) Independence Day: Welcome to China!

Happy 4th! We hope everyone enjoyed plenty of picnics and fireworks on Wednesday, odds are you had a lot more fun than the poor folks who turned out for San Diego’s famous fireworks spectacular. To anyone who’s ever wondered what it would look/sound

like if you accidentally set off an entire fireworks show in a matter of seconds, whip out the Googles and watch the video.

We are, unfortunately, fresh out of gaudy, dripping-with-America Independence Day imagery but I will blame that on Tucker since he was recently in Baltimore, placing him physically and chronologically closest to the nation’s capital for the holiday and therefore responsible for representing it. TAG has dropped the patriotic ball this year so I’ll just own it and talk about China.

For the first official China entry I thought it fitting to start with something traditional. Having just returned from shooting along the Wall with a couple days left in China, we opted to take advantage of Beijing’s unusually clear weather and paid a visit to one of the most recognizably Chinese locations in the world, the Temple of Heaven. From what I remember, the complex is located is southeast Beijing and is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 years old, or, 2.5 USA lifetimes to put that in a timely context. Full disclosure, the iconic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (below) is actually much younger since the original structure burned down and was rebuilt in the late 1800’s. The area’s ample park space is now a little bit of a tourist trap in places, but is without a doubt a beautifully serene place to just spend an afternoon soaking up the sun.

One of the more recognizable pieces of Taoist Chinese architecture, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven always attracts a mob of awestruck visitors: Beijing, China

 

NYC: Rockefeller Center

So this time it actually has been too long since a post. So much has happened in the past month it’s difficult to believe I’ve only been away from LA for 33 days.

We’ve just returned from shooting a promising documentary with material split across Pennsylvania and China. Not really planning on plugging it here, but if you’re at all curious, look up a man named William Geil from Doylestown, PA — if you aren’t just a little but impressed by what he accomplished 100 years ago, there may be something wrong with you. At any rate, yes, there’s a ton of awesome stuff to come soon from Beijing (with impossibly, miraculously clear weather!) and remote areas of the Great Wall but while I take some time to get back in the right time zone, I wanted to share a fuller version of something I shared a few weeks ago just as we closed out the PA leg of our trip. Our stay there granted us two weekends: the first was spent gearing up for and watching the Game of Thrones finale, and the second was spent goofing off in Manhattan after a $15 train from a nearby NJ station. (If that isn’t a travel deal, I don’t know what is…) Our time was spent following bubble blowers and rollerblade performers in Central Park, making the pilgrimage to the cubic Apple store, meeting a homesick USC friend for a spin through an authentic NYC comic store, Times Square, and an amazing dinner at Southern Hospitality, catching up with a NYU friend after photos in Grand Central Station and breakfast in Bryant Park, standing angrily outside the HBO retail store as we realized we didn’t have time to browse, and finally grabbing some last minute filters and gels at the foolishly massive B&H store.

And somewhere in there the following photo was taken.

Never know what you’ll see just walking around the sidewalk: New York City, NY

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...