Monday, December 31, 2012

2012, 2013 and the Subway

First of all Happy New Year! The end of another year has come. We're all a bit older and wiser now (right!). This time of year one can't help but look back at and take stock in what we have, and what we have lost. We look at the good times, and think about what we have learned from the bad. I would say most people regard each year with bittersweet romanticism - we remember the good times, and try to forget the bad.

This year was no different for me. In February I lost my 100 year old grandfather, then in May my 15 year outdoor cat Mary, disappeared. Then a month later my 13 1/2 year old dog Max was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and had to be put down. I'm still wrestling with the guilt (I know, I know) of that one.

Although those things make me feel a bit melancholy, the year had some great times and landmarks. I helped my partner and girlfriend Kristi open her own Pilates business, which has been quite successful in the first 6 months. The renovation on my house was officially complete (are we ever really finished though?). My dad bought a rental property, which I have been charged with the task of renovating as well ( oh boy ). This year I signed a contract with Allstar Grand Canyon Tours agreeing to display my images on their website and promotional material, in exchange for free tours and transportation to the canyon. I've enjoyed months and months of displaying and selling my work from a small gallery in Vora Financial's offices in downtown Flagstaff. Plus, I had some wildly enjoyable adventures in Arches, Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, Escalante, Bryce and Zion.

Photographically speaking those wild adventures translated into some of the best images of my life. Looking back at my blog posts from the last year, you can see the fruits of my labor. Ansel Adams was quoted as saying that a photographer is lucky if he takes 12 significant images over the course of a year. This was of course before the digital revolution, and the keeper rate is arguably way more than that for the average photographer. Honestly I haven't yet completed the processing of all my images from last year, so I'm not going to follow suit and post my top favorites. They are already posted right here in my blog.

What I have posted today is my favorite image taken in Zion National Park. It was made in the canyon of the Left Fork of North Creek in the most popular area called the Subway. It gets its name from the under cut and tubular looking sandstone formation formed by the creek and years of flooding and erosion. Only about a quarter mile long, it's one of those favorite icons of the southwest. We went in late November aiming for the last bit of fall trying to capture its colorful leaves. You have to get there early, and hope for a bit of sunlight to capture the sun bouncing off the canyon walls (kinda looks like train headlights in a Subway). Although I did take some standard compositions of the area, I tried to make an original composition of an oft photographed subject.  I hope you like it, and as always, feel free to comment. I hope you have a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Snow on Red Canyon

Well since the end of the Mayan Calendar hasn't spelled the end of world, I can safely say Happy Winter Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Kwanzaa. This is the time of year where we spend time with our loved ones, and think about whom we have lost. Somehow this year feels a bit different. Our trajectory as a society is taking us down roads that can only be described as questionable. People are realizing that the farther we get from our roots and nature, the closer we get to greed, power, corruption, and violence. What I really wish is that people take this time for introspection and retrospection. We all need to take a close look at ourselves, and learn to lead by example. As we have been granted another 5,125 years lets make it better than the last.

This image is from Red Canyon located between Zion and Bryce Canyon. The temperatures dropped quickly the third week of November and left 5 inches of snow on the canyon. The storm clearing out brought puffy clouds and a nice fresh blanket in contrast to the red rock.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Paria Rimrocks - Toadstools of Escalante

Just outside of Big Water, UT and almost across from the Paria Ranger station is a small parking lot. Park there. You will be treated to a very unique experience. I've passed the sign dozens of times driving between Lake Powell and Kanab and never stopped to see what it was all about. Always in a hurry, never time to smell the roses. This trip I made a special point to not only visit, but stay the night. Kristi and I were on our way to Zion, but didn't plan on arriving there until Monday. I decided to make good use of our extra time and visit the Paria Rimrocks Toadstools of Escalante National Monumnent. The sun was hanging low in the November sky when we arrived late Saturday afternoon. By the time we hiked the mile or so up the wash to the formations, the golden hour had already begun. I was hoping to have the place to myself, it being the off season and all. But cars kept pulling into the parking lot. snapshooters and photographers piled out and began making their rounds, visiting the attractions like a carnival arcade.

I have gotten used to this. The constant influx of gawkers, tourists and picture takers have inundated the wild west. We're all like minded individuals, out there to experience nature and take a little bit home with us, I thought to myself. It was getting a bit frustrating, though, waiting for the people to get off the formations and step out of the frame. I'd just have to set up a composition and wait. Getting away from people wasn't why I was there anyway. After all, we were pretty much at a roadside attraction. No, I was there to experience a rarity. To view the effects of the passing of geologic time: the curious erosion of the soft under layer of rock leaving caps of a harder red rock on top. To meet the silent statues that have stood against rain and snow and sun and wind for eons. To feel for ourselves the relentless glare of the sun slowly and methodically softening and cooling. From white to yellow to orange to pink. To see the long shadows creating definition, emphasizing every grain of sand and stalk of weed. To watch the reflections from the cliff faces illuminate both sides of the formations in pastel shades of brilliant color. We're here in nature's light show, it seems fitting there should be an audience. It's much better paying attention to the light anyway. Soon the sun went down and the people clammered back in to their cars, off to their hotel rooms. I smiled.

We were on Bureau of Land Management land. This meant we could camp in our camper right there in the parking lot. Now we had the place to ourselves. After little dinner and some liquid libation I began to set up for a midnight foray. Earlier in the evening on our way back to the van I tried to use my iPhone to determine the best vantage point to shoot the Toadstool Tower, as I like to call it, at night. There was definitely no cell coverage, so my star tracker software would not receive any telemetry. I'd have to do it the old fashioned way. Believe it or not I still carry in my bag a compass, a whistle, and a first aid kit, even for a mile. Don't get too reliant on technology, it might not be there when you truly need it. I found that by crawling down to the bottom of the wash I could look up and probably get Polaris in the shot. Now all I had to do was find the spot in the dark. I awoke around midnight as if my internal clock (or bladder) knew the best time to make a star trail photograph. There was no moonlight that evening and I got a little lost. I ended up hiking up the wash rather than the ridgeline where the trail went. A standard night photo in this case would require a low ISO, about 15-20 four minute exposures, and some light painting on the subject. Normally I use an intervolometer cable release for my night photography then stack the exposures in Photoshop. But this night I wanted to try something new. I'd seen night photos of the Mittens using film ( a la Kerrick James)that seemed to have a lot more color in the sky. I wanted to try something similar with what most new digital cameras have built into them called Dark Frame Subtraction, or high ISO noise reduction. Basically once you turn it on it takes a second frame at approximately an equal shutter speed with the shutter closed. The closed shutter exposure will reveal a noise pattern to the camera. That noise pattern after the shutter is released is used by the camera, and subtracted from the original image, all done with in camera software.

What I didn't know was how long a shutter speed or how high an ISO to use. To be honest, experimenting out in the field is a bit risky. I should have tried this at home. I spent three hours in the freezing cold trying to get it right. By the time I had gotten back to the van, the water for the dog had frozen in the bowl. I had chosen to use ISO 3200 for 33 minutes using my 15mm Pentax Limited lens at F4. When I reviewed the shot in the LCD it looked completely blown. The histogram was pegged to the right. I should have used 1600, I thought. It was too late, I sure wasn't going back. I had already taken the camera down and packed it in my bag while it was taking it's 30 minute dark frame. I wasn't about to gear back up and head back out. Deep down I was hoping to perform some sort of miracle rescue with Photoshop. Boy was I surprised when I got worked! I reduced the exposure in Lightroom by about 3/4 then took it into Photoshop, masked the star trails and added a blended layer in screen mode for the rocks. The amazing thing was there was no moonlight, or light painting. All the light you see on the rocks were from the stars. Then there was the colors in the sky from the reflection off the atmosphere, another pleasant surprise. The problem with using DFS is you have to wait for the camera to take another exposure of equal length before you can view it on the LCD. I felt like I was using film again. I'd have to wait until I developed the image before I knew if it would turn out or not. Boy, using a compass, and waiting to develop an image. Hello fifteen years ago! Who needs technology anyway.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Super Moon Party

I'm not a sports fan. Nor am I a big fan of the human kind. I prefer the wilderness. I enjoy solitude. When I go out into nature I relish in the absence of mindless chatter. The babble of a brook, or a crackling of a fire could fill my need for entertainment. But, when you have to live the life and times we were dealt, you might as well try to make the best of it. I had the opportunity to be in Arches National Park for the Super Moon last May. The so called Super Moon, or perigee-syzygy of the earth moon sun system, is the time of year that the full moon is the closest to earth on it's yearly elliptical orbit. In other words, it's big. We arrived early to the parking area, and prepared food and liquid libation to be packed in, ready for the long evening. Delicate Arch is such an iconic place, no doubt there would be quite crowd, and sure enough a stream of people began to embark on the hike.

The hike is really neat. You ascend up a steep slickrock hill, and traverse a narrow trail above a stone valley. You can see a small arch framing the Delicate Arch just before you arrive. The strange thing is the main viewing area is a natural amphitheater with the arch clearly mainstage, the back drop: the La Sal Mountains. I was situated on the lower front, center field, so to speak. I set my tripod up low to the ground, so I could monitor it from a sitting position. It allowed the upper tier to have an unobstructed view, and keep me out of trouble.

I was ready both with my gear, my dinner and my refreshment. As the evening progressed, more and more people arrived, both families and foreigners. Sunset came and went, casting it's vibrant red glow on the arch. Dusk set in and the crowd began to thin. Then the strobists arrived. And the wives of the strobists with wine, and hors de vours. The atmosphere began to lift and the chatter turned to laughter. It was a Super Bowl party for photographers. Oh well, if you can't beat them, join them.

The strobists set up their wireless rigs and timed their exposures communicating to and fro. I brought some flash lights to contribute to the lighting, not thinking that others would beat me to it. I happily stood my ground and took advantage of their prowess.

iPhones came out and the direction and time of the moon's rising was announced. Soon enough everybody got their shot. We packed up our gear and hiked out by moonlight and headlamps. This evening was quite enjoyable, despite the crowd.

I felt that I had a once in a life time experience. We were all there together, all like-minded individuals celebrating a celestial event. Something base, something ancient, something engrained in our DNA brought us here. We all tried to experience and capture it. Sometimes just being in an amazing place at the right time can make a profound impression. And a good photograph.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Picture Canyon is Saved!

Picture Canyon Falls

I am really pleased to announce that a local Flagstaff cultural resource called Picture Canyon has been permanently preserved for future generations and protected from vandalism and environmental degradation. For years picture canyon has fallen through the cracks and has been subject to paint ball damage, litter and protective limbo. The canyon is really Flagstaff's only local waterfall.

Adding to the value of the site are the ancient Sinaguan petroglyphs scribed in the stone adjacent to the unique water features. The last few years have seen a resurgence in a grassroots effort to not only clean up the vandalism, but removal of old tires, trash and the invasive Scotch Thistle. A core group of local volunteer have successfully lobbied the City of Flagstaff to purchase the 4800 acre area with the aid of an Arizona State Parks Department grant and a 2004 voter approved open space bond.

Even after living here in Flagstaff for 28 years, I had only heard of Picture Canyon. I found out about the canyon after reading an article in the Arizona Daily Sun. I met one of the organizers of the clean up efforts and quizzed him on the location of the area. For those who don't know, you take Old Route 66 behind the mall and take a left at the Wildcat water treatment plant. You continue down the road and it is on the right hand side. After parking on the top of the hill, you weave your way down the canyon through the boulders until you see the waterfalls. I first visited the canyon in March of 2011 and instantly fell in love with the unique features, practically in our back yard.

City Councilmember Celia Barotz who worked for more than two years on the purchase and preservation of Picture Canyon says: “This acquisition is a true testament to the vision and tenacity of the group of Flagstaff residents who years ago imagined that Picture Canyon could one day be permanently protected. I am thrilled that the City Council has authorized the use of 2004 open space bonds to complete this long-awaited purchase and will make this unique historical, cultural, archaeological, recreational and educational resource available for present and future generations to enjoy,” Arizona Daily Sun, Tuesday Oct. 30, 2012.

This makes me proud to be a Flagstaff resident. Things like this really renew my faith that a grassroots campaign can effectively enact real change. Congratulations Flagstaff, and well done.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Feeling Your Way to Great Photography

Great photography is more than just taking pretty pictures. It's more than snapshots of your last vacation. Sure, they can be pretty and in some exotic location.  But really effective photography has that extra element. It tells a story. It portrays emotion.  It embodies life, and living.  You know those photos when you see them. They reach out and capture your imagination.  They whisk you away to another land, another time, or another life. They have that certain feeling. But how is it some photos are snapshots and others ethereal?  How can a static picture emote feeling to the viewer?  The answer lies within the eye of the artist. The artist has not just the tools and technical knowledge but the motivation and the passion to convey that feeling.  Start first by calling yourself an artist. Getting yourself in that mindset is the only way to get where you want to go.  Don't worry about what other people think about your art.  They will be subjective and judgmental.  While people are deciding whether or not they like it, make more art, as Andy Warhol would say.  There is nothing you can do to make them like it.  Find your creative muse. Shakespeare wasn't always inspired to write brilliant sonnets. His passion lied with women, and was motivated to write out of his passion for them.   Wear your heart on your sleeve. Put yourself out there to be seen.  Choose a subject.  Let it be your muse. It could be a flower, or the sun, or a colorful cloud. Whatever it is, it has to mean something to you.   See it.  Feel like doing something with it. Create some tension. Juxtapose it. Expose it or leave it mysterious. Make bold choices. Get close to the ground. Use leading lines into the photo. Plan it. Stalk it.  Visualize it. What will it look like in different light?  Will it look different with a long exposure?  Whatever you do with your subject experiment with it. It will be clear to your audience that feeling you had.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mesa Arch & HDR

The first time I saw a photo of Mesa Arch, I knew I had to go there and experience it. I loved the different layers, and even the second arch in the distance. Now, it has become a bit of a photographer's mecca, drawing photographers from all directions of the planet.  I went last May during what was the most beautiful weather with really nice clouds the entire trip.  Many photographers have a love/hate relationship with icons such as this.  Icons are icons because they are amazingly beautiful. The problem is that they can be photographed to death, eliminating any originality.  Unless you are prepared to travel to the ends of the earth, finding an original epic landscape is becoming more and more difficult. We have to settle on re-interpreting those icons trying to find an original composition to stay away from the cliche. My philosophy is that if I haven't shot the icon before, than it is not yet cliche. I will have my personal vision and creativity to keep the mundane at bay.  We'll see if you agree. 

I arrived at the arch at about 4:30 in the morning, and some people had been there for hours already. I wasn't sure what to expect, but there were 5 photographers lined up and waiting for sunrise. With an hour to kill I began to talk to the people, after setting up my tripod on 'the line.'  One person had been there since 2 am, and another had been there the morning before, saying they had to comeback due to heavy cloud cover.  I had no idea where the sun was going to rise, but since I was late to the party, I happily positioned myself for the big moment, ready to press the shutter when it was time. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted out of the shot, it definitely had to have a sunburst in it. Just as the sun came up a tour bus arrived with about 50 Chinese tourists.  They swarmed the place and at one point a guy with a long lens set it on my shoulder to take a photo. I turned my head and hit my face on the lens. He backed off and with out an apology went about his business of machine gunning the scene.  A few female tourists started to climb to pose on the arch. This was met with an angry reaction from the more serious photographers.  A white guy on 'the line' with the Phase One spoke Mandarin and cursed them all out, in Chinese.  He he.   Fortunately within about ten minutes they all disappeared back into their tour bus and took off.

I was able to work the scene, taking turns with the others at an intimate or original perspective, if one could be had. All the minor aggravations aside, it really was a bit of fun.  Hanging out with like minded individuals, sharing each other's shots and anecdotes left me with a feeling of camaraderie. The mob mentality directed toward the inconsiderate tourists was entertaining as well. 

My Pentax K5 has pretty good dynamic range, but I chose to bracket my shots +/-1.3 Ev so in post I could have more choices on how to process them. As a study on HDR techniques I processed the shots three different ways, on three different shots to see what each process had to offer.  It wasn't totally dark before sunrise, as moon was quite large and setting in the opposite direction. It gave some light on the front of the arch, but left the rock face with a bit of blue tint to it.  The first shot here was done with Tony Kuyper's luminosity masks. His way of dealing with high dynamic range is quite complex and involves masking different luminosities from separate exposures in several layers in photoshop.  See the link in the right side bar titled "Good Light Journal" for more information. His methods of HDR among other things are cutting edge in modern processing. His method gives the photographer complete control of color and light.  The second image shown here was simply loaded into Photomatix, an HDR program that uses algorithms to extrapolate the highest luminosity values into one image.  I used three exposures, again at +/- 1.3 Ev then loaded them into Photomatix. Typically they come out more saturated than natural, as this image ended up being. I had to selectively remove some purple fringing in the sunburst afterward.  The third image is just one image chosen out of the three I bracketed. The rock face is a bit dark and blue, which I felt might have been accurate to how the scene actually was since it was the earliest shot and the moon was still quite bright.

Each technique produces quite a different result, as you can see. Having displayed different images it might be a bit difficult to choose a preferred method based on my findings here, but any image should be processed differently from another based on it's own merits or weakness anyway. The artist's feeling and mood have to be considered before processing as well. Over all, I would choose the first method over the others. It is definitely more work, but the results are more realistic looking, and the artist has much more control of every facet.   The other methods are easier, but may reflect the artist's vision better.  What do you think?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

South Rim Monsoon

Living only 80 miles from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, you would think I have a huge library of the canyon from every vanatage point and weather condition. Well, I'm working on it. It takes a bit of effort to get there for either sunset or sunrise, which is the time of day that best captures the colors and moods of the canyon. I made a bit of a push this year to get the canyon under some summer monsoon. You have to pick a spot, get there early and work the scene for a couple of hours, then you're done. You pretty much have to be prepared to spend the night, to catch both sunset and sunrise. Photographing even in early morning light leaves the canyon washed out, and flat. Not ideal for photography.

Canyon Cloudburst

The summer around Northern Arizona is blessed with what we call the Monsoons. Basically we enter into a weather pattern that pushes up moisture from the south and for about a month give us life giving and much needed rain. Oh, and the skies with the big puffy clouds light up with the last rays of the day. In late August the monsoons are winding down, blue skies give way to large storm cells that move around dropping rain in isolated areas.

Vishnu View

The storms can be quite fierce in those areas, but often times they last a few hours and move off. It's quite a spectacle and seeing them day after day, leaves me gazing at the clouds and dreaming about all the sunsets I could be capturing. On this day I got my wish and got up there just after a cloud burst, and just before sunset. There were still storm cells hovering along the horizon. I chose Grandview point as my muse, because, well, it is a grand view. The layers of the canyon, and the iconic Vishnu's Temple, plus the various foreground options make for good photography. I made my way to a stack of rock that had some depressions filled with water called rain pockets. I used those as a foreground element, and waited until the sun was low enough to the horizon to get the rays skipping across the top.

Mather's Sunrise

I had enough time to work the area and get some more shots of Vishnu's Temple and some spectators. Although the sun went down the light kept on commin'. Just as I was packing up the distant storm clouds lit up and my last shots of the day were a close up on those. We camped just outside the park off a forest service road for the evening. I had every intention of getting back to the rim for sunrise the next morning, so consulted my iPhone to get sunrise times.

Although I was 20 minutes early according to the data, I was more like 20 minutes late according to the sun. When I got to Mather Point the sun was already over Vishnu's Temple, but the light was still good. I got a couple of shots off that I was happy with either way. I guess the rule still stands: show up an hour before sunrise!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Twisted Forest Startrails

Most people are familiar with the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountain area of California, but small enclaves of forest can be found in Arizona, Nevada and Utah. The Twisted Forest Bristlecone Pines are the Great Basin variety found around the Cedar Breaks National Monument in Southern Utah. I always like speaking to the Ranger to get some inside information. There is a Bristlecone Pine trail within the park but, after speaking to him I decided to find another trail he told me of outside the park in a small wilderness area. There you can camp much closer.

I got directions and began my quest. What he didn't tell me was that you had to get there through the Brianhead ski resort. Literally you have to drive to the top of the ski runs and back down the back side. It would definitely be more fun on skis. Originally I wasn't going to spend the night, but since it took some doing to get there, and the trees were so cool, I really wanted to spend some more time and make some images. The Bristlecones got their name from the dark purple female cones that have curved in prickles that don't really resemble bristles. It's the arrangement of the pine needles that resemble a bristle brush. Some trees in the White Mountains have been ring dated by dendrochronologists to be well over 4500 years old. The trees in this particular area are believed to be only 2500 years old, but if Moses was still around, they could swap a lot of stories together. The tree attributes it's longevity to its dense and resinous wood which maintains resistance to insects and fungi.

As soon as I hiked among the twisted and gnarled trees I knew that a star trail photograph would be in order. I began to investigate each tree and it's position to Polaris. This normally couldn't be done during the day with out a compass,  and then only generally, but the techo-geek in me had the iPhone app 'Star Tracker' installed and ready to go for occasions like this. I simply held up the phone to the north and using cell tower telemetry narrowed the position of the North Star to a small window. I was then able to find the star in relation to the perfect tree. It was tall enough, and on the top of a ridge so I could get close to the ground and look up through the branches to Polaris.  The ridge line eliminated any background hills and forest. I then set up the tripod and made note of it's position so when I returned after dark I could easily find the correct composition.  As dusk started to roll around I took some images with the low warm light of the sun, then packed up and headed back to camp.

After dinner I consulted the iPhone again and realized that the moon was soon to rise dead north. That would certainly put the kibosh on any star trails right after dark, at least with Polaris in it.  It just meant that I could have a few extra beers and catch some zzz's before heading back up the hill. I deduced that about 3 in the morning would give me enough time before the light of dawn and allow the moon to reposition from behind the tree to in front, giving me natural light so I didn't have to use a flash light to illuminate.  My alarm went off at 2:30 and I packed up my gear and headed back up the ridge.  I felt pretty good having gotten some sleep, at least a lot better than staying up until exhaustion like on other occasions. I set my gear up at the spot then did a test exposure at iso1600, first at 25 seconds, then another at 20 seconds. The second exposure had the better lighting on the tree, so I then calculated down to iso100 and determined that 2.66 minutes would get me the right exposure on the tree. For simplicity I  set my intervolometer to 3 minutes for 20 frames.

The rest was a waiting game.  Again my iPhone came out and I read some eBooks about photography while I waited on a flat stump for the hour. I spent a little more time shooting then packed up, hiked back down the hill and went back to bed.  A little pre-visualization and preparation plus gadgetry equals some favorable results in this case.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Peyto Lake & Glaciers

The first time I saw a photo of Peyto Lake, I was amazed. The color of the water and beautiful mountainous surroundings left me aching to go there. It was one of those places you have to go if you are in the area. The day was cloudy, and rainy, and sunny. Kind of a nice combination. If what you wanted to shoot was in direct sunlight you could wait a bit and a cloud would come by and diffuse the harsh light a bit. Conversely when something was shrouded in clouds, just by waiting a bit some sunlight would peek out and illuminate a portion of the scene. We began the day by driving north on the old frontage road to the Trans-Canadian Highway. We thought it was the most scenic route and it didn't dissapoint. There was an elk grazing on the side of the road, and some people getting dangerously close. Eventually we had to get onto the major highway, and stopped at all the pull outs to look at the glaciers. Another big reason we decided to visit Banff, was because of the quickly dissappearing glaciers. Call it what you will, global warming, climate change, Bush's fault, or whatever, the glaciers are quickly becoming extinct. There is no better place than Banff to see the effects. Peyto Lake has a large interprative sign with photos of the glacier. Now, cameras have been around only as long as a blink in geologic time. Within that time we, or the climate, have managed to melt them into oblivion. I wanted to be able to say that I've seen a Glacier in my life time. I don't have any kids or grandkids, so I'm not sure who I'll say those words to. At least I'll have had the pleasure of seeing them.

The parking lot there was divided between passenger cars and tour busses. Being on our own we parked in the lower lot and took the nature walk pathway. It offered intrepretive signs and plant life IDs. At the view point there is a huge wooden deck provided to take the typical snap shot of the lake. There are more intrepretive signs describing how the lake gets it's wild blue color. The glacial silt gets more and more pulverized to the point of the consistancy of flour. The combination of the emulsified silt and reflection of light gives it the light aqua color. Just as we approached the viewing platform a tour bus of young students arrived and it became an instant mob scene. I got a bit frustrated and wanted badly to get away from the people so I could have a little personal time with the view and compose a shot that was more than the typical platform view. Fortunately there was a trail that went down and to the left, eventually reaching the headwaters of the lake. We walked down the trail and detoured a couple of times to grab some views. There my blood pressure began to return to normal. We got to see a pika up close. Pikas are little mouse looking mammals that live in the rocks of high altitudes. They are so aclimated to the cold, that temperatures above the high 70s could cause them to die. They are usually very shy creatures, so hearing one peep is much more prevalant than seeing one. The image of the lake I was most happy with was taken after our little hike and off the main trail. I wanted the rocky foreground, but also wanted some sunlight dappling on the mountain and lake. I took many images, and finally the clouds broke a bit giving me the light I was looking for.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Lake Louise and the Tea Houses

Only about 4 days prior in Waterton the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The morning we wanted to hike around Lake Louise it snowed. We were a bit trepidatious to what we would find when we got there, but it turned out to be a beautiful day. The trail started off at the hotel and we decided to take the route that headed up toward the Beehive and onward to the Lake Agnes Tea house. There was about an inch of snow on the ground when we started and as the day wore on it quickly melted off, leaving a bit of mud in selected places. We had a couple of false starts, having to deal with bathroom breaks, and cleaning up after our dogs. The trail proceeded up immediately and into the fir forest. We took a short detour to see Mirror Lake, which was little more than a pond, and circled around the base of The Beehive, which was a small peak that resembled the beehive you see on those Utah highway sign posts. Soon enough we arrived at a stair case that ascended to the first tea house at Lake Agnes. You don't get a feeling of how beautiful it is right until the top where you reach the tea house.

As you come around the corner you see Lake Agnes and the reflections of the peaks surrounding it. The tea house overlooks the lake on one side and Bow Valley on the other. Then there is the beautiful cascading water fall that flows out of Lake Agnes. It was a bit too early to grab some food at the tea house, so I decided to get a closer look at the water fall and try to get a good composition. I found one, and soon other people saw where I had gone and actually lined up on the precarious cliff edge to take their shot. Continuing on the trail we encountered another long stair way back down a bit. The trail then traversed the mountain, again through thick and green fir forests. At the trail curves around, you grab wonderful views high up on the Lake Louise valley. Slowly the trail gains altitude and heads toward the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. Set below (and safely away) from the glaciers that feed Lake Louise, the tea house offers sandwiches, soups, and cake all hand made from scratch. They receive supplies either by horse back, or by a beginning of the season air drop. All their trash is taken down by hand or horse. There is no running water or trash cans, you have to pack your own in and out here. The two story log cabin was built sometime in the 20s. Just as we arrived a bit of snow began to fall, so we had to put our raincoats on to cut the chill. It was quite busy up there, and we were quite lucky to get a table. Fortunately for us they took American currency, we didn't think to go to the bank before we headed out for the hike. Warm soup really hit the spot.

Photography in the Glacier Field
We would have liked to linger longer, but felt we needed to relinquish our table for the line of incoming guests. The hike down treated us to long valley views of the lake and hotel. The trail soon levels out to a flat easy stroll along Lake Louise. As we approached the hotel foot traffic elevated to super-highway style crowds. We passed some people rock climbing on the left, and stopped to watch for a bit. The hike took almost all day, and we didn't want it to end. I kept taking pictures and saw an opportunity to snap some pics of the red canoes that were for rent. We kept looking up the valley to the Six Glaciers, with a dreamy sparkle in our eyes.
Canadian Canoes

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Oak Creek Blackberries

Oak Creek Cascade

It was Sunday and I thought I would take the day off and do nothing. Really, I thought I would do nothing. Oh, and sleep in. I slept in to 8 o'clock, and by 10, was completely bored out of my mind. I found myself pacing. I guess it wasn't that I really didn't want to do anything, it was just that I hadn't planned on anything to do. Okay, I said to Kristi, lets go have a picnic up in the Aspens. It sounded fun. I then looked out the window to see the mountain covered in clouds. Then began the thunder and lightning. Nevermind. How about Oak Creek? Okay, it is lower in a canyon and probably won't get rain like in the higher elevations. Sure. We packed a picnic lunch, loaded up the car with our packs, wrangled the dog into the back and we were off. I brought my camera and tripod, after all, I didn't want to find myself pacing once we got there. We literally pulled off the first wide spot in the road and parked. Heading toward the sound of water we slipped down the steep slope to the large boulder like cobble stones that lined the creek bed. I stopped at the first cascade I saw and broke out the camera and tripod. Kristi, began exploring with the dog. At one point she stepped into the frame just as I tripped the shutter. She continued up the creek while I made a few more images. As soon as I was packed up again and moving up the creek I heard her say "Blackberries."

Oak Creek Blackberries

Just then I saw them. All luscious and shiny hanging there on the vine. A few more steps and there were whole bushes. We began shoveling them into our mouths. The dog even got in on the act. We finally had a plan for the day. Pick a few berries, make a few images, have a nice picnic by the creek, then go home and make cobbler. I dug through my pack, and she hers to come up with some bags to put the berries in. I then found a nice little intimate waterfall with berries hanging over it. I had to take a shot. Unfortunately I left my polarizer at home. I had to shoot at f22 to get the right shutter speed to smooth out the water a little bit. I'm not sure but if I did use the polarizer I wouldn't have had the catch-light reflecting off each of the berries. Wearing shorts and water sandals we gingerly waded through the bushes collecting all the ripe berries within easy reach. We sat down for our picnic, and slowly ate our lunch supplemented by fresh berries. The dog was begging for his portion, and we obliged. Our bellies happy, we laid back and looked up at the clouds floating by, and lazily held each other. The babbling creek, the trees in every shade of green, the berries, and the one I love all on a warm summer day. We were in heaven. Even the dog was content to dig a little bed and get a cat nap in. I guess sometimes the best laid plans are no plans at all. When we got home I went to work on processing the shots from the day, and Kristi went to work on the blackberry cobbler. We even ate the berries in the shot. Yum!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Banff National Park

 Banff National Park is a beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies, and the last stop on this epic photographic adventure. I'm writing this a year later, and the details have already begun to fade.

As you may or may not recall, the trip started out with Kristi. She had gotten her pink slip (or reduction in force - RIF notice) at the high school the 8th year in a row. And after 5 years of continuous home renovations, she was ready to split. She packed up the '76 VW bus and was headed to Canada, with or with out me. Now our relationship was entering the 11th year together, and we were fairly stable. She was experienced and street smart, so I wasn't worried at all. Just jealous that she could pick up and leave for 2 months. I wanted in on all the fun. We agreed to meet in Jackson, Wyoming and take two weeks to drive through 3 national parks and into Canada for Banff. I would then fly out of Calgary and back home. She took our two dogs, Max and Robin, and I would have a friend take care of our littlest dog Jester. The timing turned out to be perfect, as Max has just recently passed away. There is no way we could have known that he would be gone in less than a year. It goes to show you there is no time like the present.

  Trying to make the most out of our time we decided to set up camp at a campground between Banff and Lake Louise. We thought that it would make the driving faster with whatever we decided to do each day. A couple of things that surprised me about Banff was that the Trans-Canadian highway and railway went right through the middle of the park. The train horn could be heard echoing off the mountains. It immediately made me think of home, Flagstaff. It kind of put me off at first, but the trains didn't blow their horns at night, so sleeping wasn't an issue.

 I was just used to the wilderness feel that some national parks in the US have. It was a weird juxtaposition seeing beautiful mountain glaciers, and a freeway lined with light poles. A lot of my mountain shots were taken carefully, to avoid the ever present sign of man and progress.

I really didn't do much research on Banff, and we were at a bit of a loss on what we should do. Whenever we get to a new destination we find it helpful to stop at the visitor's center. There we learned about a dance at the center for performing arts. We also found the best pizza in Canada. Oh, don't forget the hot spring pool!

 The landscape photos I have seen of Banff were of the dominant peak Mount Rundle. I assumed it was miles away, but it was darn close to town. Something I like to do to get the 'lay of the land' photography wise is to look at the post cards in the gift shops. It tells you not only about the touristy photographic attractions, but what has been photographed and how. Storm Mountain was a popular subject, and one I have not seen. It so happened that we camped just below Storm Mountain and had easy access to photograph it.

 Banff is a neat town, much like other resort style towns. Gift shops, restaurants, hotels and art galleries all neatly lined the streets. The magic of Banff lies not in the town itself but in the beautiful surroundings. The Vermillion Lakes, Bow River, Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain are all within rock throwing distance. Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Peyto Lake and the Ice Fields are within easy driving distance from town. I've already written about Moraine Lake, and soon I'll be writing about the others.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Moraine Lake

There are a few spots on this earth that really resonate with me as a landscape photographer, and Moraine Lake rarely dissapoints. It is one of those places that have been photographed time and again, and it even appeared on the Canadian $20 bill. I've seen pictures before and after I visited, and they're all beautiful. Very few have photographed the lake in heavy clouds, and even fewer have been lucky enough to get them with patches of sunlight. We awoke through out the night to heavy rain on the roof of the van, and were glad we were warm and cozy. I peered out through the foggy window at some tent campers next to us trying to set some soggy wood on fire with no kindling. The young man was becoming increasingly frustrated, and the wife shivering in her sleeping bag sitting next to the fire ring. I felt sorry for them and went over there with my hatchet and split them some kindling. A few matches later thier fire was going. The young man grumbled something, not even close to a word of gratitude. People. During a breakkfast of eggs and ham, Kristi and I discussed what we had planned for the day. Moraine Lake and Lake Louise were on the menu, but it was still raining. We decided to quit moping around camp.
It was a nice change since it had been so hot, but once we were on the road we could see some snow on Storm Mountain, just a few hundred feet above. I guess in Banff, you never know what you're going to get. We decided to go to Moraine Lake first, to get there early. We found a place to park with ease and upon approaching the lake I was expecting a hoard of photographers lined up along the shore line. I was pleasantly suprised to find no photographers except the occasional point and shooter. What I did find was a group of painters with thier easels. It was really cool to share the shore with them and thier instructor. He was moving back and forth giving tips, and helping mix colors. To see the palette with the raw colors found in the view was pretty special. Then the clouds broke a little and some sunlight shined light on the mountain. I heard the instructor say "Now this is the light photographers want." Just then I pressed the shutter.

 Satisfied, I began to make my way to the overlook. Then the tour bus showed up with about 150 tourists. Oh, well I thought, I had my moment. Fortunately you don't have to get up too early to beat the tour busses, they're in a hurry, and rarely venture farther than the paved walkways. We did return a couple of days later for a final walk along the trail. Again there were very little people there. We heard a peice of glacier crack and fall off, but happened too fast to take a photo. Moraine Lake is one of those idyllic glacial lakes that with the color of the water and snowy mountains stirs the soul and brings the joy of photography home.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Home Away from Home

"Where's Papa?" Little Somana asked her mother. "He's gone to the river for water." She responds without looking up from repairing a basket. "When will he be back?" "I told you already, tomorrow. He and your uncle Hakataya went to the river with the large pots to fill." She responded still focused on her basket. "Maybe they'll bring back some rabbit to eat too. I'm getting tired of these dried beans." "Me too." Somana agreed. "Me too." Somana's little brother Moqui parroted. Somana and Moqui are the children of their Anasazi parents Lummis and Alisal. They are on a long trip from Chaco to Oraibi. "I miss him. He said he would fix my dolly." Somana held up her unraveling doll made from agave strands. "He will, he needs some pine pitch to repair it. I miss him too, honey." Lummis and his family started their trip just before the spring Equinox. The weather was still quite chilly when they left. Snow clung to the north side of the rocks, and it was still too early in the season to plant any crops. They were citizens of Chaco in what was one of the largest communities in the southwest. "I'm thirsty." Somana said. "Me too." Moqui squeaked. "We're almost out of water. We'll have to hike up the hill to see if there are any potholes with water left in them. We'll need some with dinner anyway." "Okay mama." "Bring that fabric swatch here and a bit of cornmeal." Somana took the fabric, cornmeal and her dolly. With Moqui in hand, Alisal began the difficult climb on the narrow path through large red sandstone scree. Huffing and puffing little Moqui tried keeping up. "Mama, carry me!" He cried. "Okay, baby." But you have to walk back I can't carry you and a pot of water. The ascent was steep. At the top of the canyon, the valley started opening up and the beaten trail leveled out a bit on to slick rock. Skirting the dry water fall they followed the wash up to the top and through the deep sand. After about a half an hour of walking through the dry juniper and scrub oak they returned to slick rock again. "Looks pretty dry up here." Alisal said while scanning the terrain dotted with small basins carved out of the rock over time.

 "Caw Caw." The raven standing over a small puddle drew Alisal's attention. "There! Thank you mister raven." She said. "Caw Gak." The raven replied, a little put off for being disturbed. He hopped a couple of times and retreated to a nearby boulder. "Tanks Mista Raben." Mimicked Moqui. Alisal put Moqui down and grabbed the peice of cloth from Somana. She dipped the cloth into the pothole and began wringing it out into the pot. She repeated this until the pot was full. "There. Now Somana and Moki, what do we do to say thank you?" "We give offering of cornmeal!" Samana declared. "That's right." Alisal took a pinch of meal and flung some into the water, and some toward the raven "And here's for you Mister Raven." "Caw." "Did I tell you the story of the Coyote and Raven?" "No
mama." "I'll tell you over dinner tonight."

The family began their decent back down to the round stone habitation snug in the arched cave high on the canyon wall. The light began to create long shadows on the surrounding cliffs. A few small puffy clouds hung low close to the distant spires. The harsh light slowly began softening. Alisal began to start a small fire, and put the small pot of water on it. "You hungry kids?" "Yeah." They said in unison. Alisal reached in to the cist and pulled out some beans. She then began to grind some corn meal on the metate. She put the dried beans in the pot, and with some ground pulp of prickly pear, thickened the corn meal into little patties, then cooked them on a slab of rock hanging over the fire. She served the beans on the little tortillas. "Now tell us the story of the Raven and the Coyote mama." "Okay, but then right to bed." The sunlight succumbed to dusk, and a cool breeze blew some sand and ash from the fire into a little dust devil. The fire light danced long shadows on the burnt sienna cave walls. "Many sunsets ago, at the edge of a canyon there was a large juniper tree. Under that tree there was much sand. It stood out in the open twisted and sunburned. One day a Coyote came by and heard a couple of Ravens singing and dancing under the tree. Each Raven had on his back a large black bag. He came up to them to watch and became interested. "Raven friends, what are you doing?" "Caw Caw, we are dancing with our mothers." "That's pretty, can I dance too?"

"Yes, but you have to go home and put your mother in a bag and come back to the dance." The coyote went running home and found his old mother sleeping by the fireplace. The young dumb coyote picked up a large stick and struck his mother in the head, and put her into a bag. He hurried back to the dance with her on his back. The Ravens were dancing happily singing: "Mama, mama I am shaking, shaking." The Coyote joined the dance and began singing along. Just then the Ravens began to laugh. "What did you bring in the bag you dumb Coyote?" The Ravens jabbed. "My Mother, just as you told me." The Coyote showed them. The Ravens emptied their bags full of nothing but sand, then flew high up into the tree laughing. The Coyote finally saw they had played a trick on him. He hurried home and returned his mother to rest next to the fireplace. "Mama mama, why wont you wake up?" The coyote cried. She could not, for she was dead from the blow to the head. When he realized she would not wake up ever again he vowed to follow the Ravens the rest of his life, and eat them all. From that day forward he will always be hunting them and always be at war." Moqui began to cry. "That's horrible mama. I will never put you in a bag." Somana said holding back her tears. "This is why you must not trust the Raven. They will play tricks on you and laugh at you high on the tree limb." Alisal warned. "Yeah but that raven showed us where the water was today." "I know, but he didn't want to share the water." She quipped. "The story tells not only why the coyote and the raven are enemies, but that how easily mean people can take advantage of the innocent. This is why we had to leave our home. The elders and elite have tricked us. They lead us to believe that if we gave up more of our crops and built more buildings for them, the gods would look favorably upon us. The Shaman's prayers and offerings have been made in vein. We did everything they asked of us, and yet the rains have not come. We gave all we had to the elders, and have not received anything they promised. Our crops yielded less and less, yet the elders asked for more and more. They sit in their houses, and stock pile food and goods. When it comes time for them to share, they don't distribute their wealth, but rather ask for more. When they don't get as much as they want, they just take it. They fooled us every time with promises they never keep. They don't understand it is unsustainable, because people like us will just leave. They will find out when everybody is gone."

"I miss home." Moqui squeaked, still teary eyed. "I do too, but your aunt and uncle will take us in. It will be our new home, with new kids to play with. It will be a place where everybody works to support their neighbour, and no one will come and take what we all worked hard for. Now go to bed." Alisal said while rolling out their small mats. "Cover up, it will be a cold night tonight." She said as she tucked them in. Soon they were fast asleep, Somana clutching her tattered doll.