Friday, January 30, 2015

Number 23

Living so close to the Grand Canyon enables me to get up there for a quick weekend.  This was the case when Kristi's aunt & uncle came to visit from Boston.  At the end of the day we decided to see the sunset from Pima point.  A handful of people were there soaking in the last rays of the day, and clicking away.  I was set up on one side of the point trying to capture the sun as it was skipping off the top of some rocks and a juniper clinging to the cliff edge.  It all happened so quickly, but suddenly a California Condor emerged from the depths, buzzed our heads and promptly jetted off into the sky.  I had fired off two shots with a wide angle, then recomposed with a zoom as he was getting away.  There were other people there that were lucky enough to get close-ups with their zooms, and after sharing each others images we soon realized which condor we had captured.

For those who are not familiar with the Grand Canyon California Condor story, it's a success story for endangered animals that had been captured before extinction.  They have been endangered for some time, mostly as a result of mankind.  The combination of loss of habitat, shooting, egg collecting, poisoning by cyanide traps set for coyotes, power line collisions, and especially lead poisoning began to take a heavy toll. The condor is particularly susceptible to lead poisoning due to the fact that they are scavengers.  Related to the vulture, the condor commonly feeds on carrion.  With the combination of hunters shooting and killing and not retrieving the animal, as well as leaving some portion with the bullets in the animal's flesh it has been enough to impact the condor population.  They find themselves eating the flesh along with the lead.  It doesn't take much to overwhelm their systems and result in their demise.

The success story starts with the California Condor Restoration Project. The US fish & Wildlife service teamed up with the LA Zoo and the San Diego Wildlife park to begin the restoration. By 1982 the condor population had dwindled to as few as 22 animals, and by 1985 the number dwindled so low, that they decided to capture the remaining 9 condors left in the wild.   A few challenges that they had to face was their ability to reproduce. They only mate and lay one egg once every two years, and they can't begin to reproduce until age 6. In response to this, the breeders developed techniques in which eggs are removed as they are laid, sometimes causing the captive condors to lay a second and sometimes a third egg. The eggs are incubated and the chicks are raised by caretakers using hand puppets mimicking a condor head. The puppet head prevents the chicks  from imprinting on people, a phenomenon in which a bird will misidentify a human as their mother. Condor chicks can also be allowed to be raised by the captive parent birds. As a result, of this amazing project the captive condor population has increased to  177 or so. The amount of California condors today totals around 400, more than half of which are in the wild.

Number 23,  identified by the wing-tag, is the hero of the California Condor Restoration Project. Along with his mate, they were the first released condors to successfully raise a chick on their own. Today Number 23 flies alone. Two years ago, his mate was discovered dead succumbed by lead poisoning.  If you are lucky and in the vicinity of Pima point you might be able to catch a view of this amazing bird when he frequents the area.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Eagle Creek, Colombia River Gorge

I just love waterfalls. I don't know what it is. No, yes I do.  Waterfalls are a display of power and force. They represent our life blood.  You can smell the moisture in the air, and see the verdant green that commonly surrounds them.  The pools at the bottom are good for swimming and bathing, and the sound lulls you.   I'll hike long distances to visit one.  And I love photographing them.  They are a terrific subject for photography.

One of the most popular trails for waterfalls is in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon; the Eagle Creek Trail. It follows the creek for about thirteen miles, and features some of the most spectacular waterfalls and temperate rainforest in the northwest.  The trail proceeds through the forest and along paths carved high in the basalt cliffs.  There are no guard rails, just safety chains along the cliff walls. The trailhead boasts a campground, and day use parking. Also popular with backpackers the trail can be made part of a loop, connecting with the Pacific Crest Trail and points beyond.

 Kristi and I decided to make a day hike out of it. If we hike to Tunnel falls and turn around, it's a nice 12 mile hike. After about two miles the trail reaches Punch Bowl Falls (500').  The water here spills 100 feet into a blue green pool set in a large grotto.

 The trail follows Eagle Creek under heavy forest 1.6 miles to High Bridge (560’), which then crosses the gorge 150 feet above the creek. From High Bridge the trail heads southeast 1.4 miles, and continues 0.4 mile to the junction with Eagle Benson Trail.

From the junction the trail climbs the last 0.8 mile to Tunnel Falls (1,240’), where the trail passes behind the falls through a tunnel.  Here we had lunch and spent some time trying to capture the essence of such a beautiful falls.

Being a photography and not just a travel blog, some mention of equipment and technique has to be made.  Part of the appeal of waterfall shots is that nice smooth water that flows like silk and fans out into deep pools of blue. So how exactly do you get such an exposure?  Firstly there's the tripod. You absolutely need a tripod.  Okay not absolutely, I've made images of Oak Creek, setting my camera on a rock.  This method isn't ideal unless you're a contortionist, since composing a shot this way requires you to lay on the ground, or have a tilting live view screen. But take my word for it, there aren't always rocks to set a camera on, and you won't always like the view from there. On a twelve mile hike you'll want a light, yet sturdy tripod.  I have a nice carbon fiber four sectioned tripod that weighs around three pounds. It packs well strapped to any backpack or day pack, and I've learned to deploy it in approx. 28s. You have to pay special attention to the head of the tripod, and make sure it will hold the weight of your camera and heaviest lens.

 If you have an "L" bracket it not only helps the speed in which you can change from landscape to portrait orientation, it can offset the necessity for a heavier ball head.  An Arca-Swiss style ball head pares well with "L" brackets and offers a quick change solution to screwing in the camera to the tripod. Believe me it's likely you will not be hiking alone, so the less time you take deploying your gear, the less time your hiking partner will have traveled down the trail without you.

  Filters.  You will need at least two filters, depending on the lighting conditions.  It is likely that you will be shooting during the day, and those filters will enable you to darken the scene, so a longer exposure time will help make that silky smooth water.   The first filter you will need is a good circular polarizer (CPL).  The old school polarizers don't rotate, which besides messing with your meter on the camera, will produce unwanted results if you can't rotate it. You will need to view the scene in the viewfinder while rotating the filter. One direction the scene will take on a blue tint to it.  What you are seeing is reflections of the sky in the foliage, or water.  The other direction will start to eliminate those reflections, and restore the scene to a richer, more balanced color. Another benefit of the CPL is that it has a grey tint to it.  It will help by darkening the scene about  two stops. If you happened to be shooting waterfalls during a rain storm, the clouds help darken the scene, allowing you to achieve those magic lower shutter speeds. It was raining pretty heavily that day on our hike, which helped even out the lighting and reduced harsh shadows. A neutral density filter is another filter that can help create longer shutter speeds.  It is especially necessary if you are shooting in direct sunlight.  These filters come in different densities, and some are even adjustable on -the- fly!

 Now, for that silky effect, what you really need is time, what those filters are doing is buying you some time. During daylight hours I like shutter speeds from .3s to 1.5s.  It is fun to play with the different shutter speeds to see what effect each speed has on the water. Of course if you are fortunate enough to be on location after sunset, the filters won't necessarily be needed, and if combined with some moonlight you can shoot up to 25s.  Closing your aperture down can be done, but can also introduce diffraction and soft focus areas to the edges of your image. A cable release, or delayed timer is also a necessity.  If you touch your camera to trigger the exposure it will surely introduce some vibration.  This vibration will show up in your image and either make it look like you're seeing double, or you'll have the motion blur.  Remote controls work well for this too.  Mirror lock-up is an added function that helps reduce motion blur, by moving the internal parts of the camera prior to the actual taking of the exposure. It requires two button presses, one to lift the mirror, the other to make the exposure. This method is highly recommended for making those crisp sharp images you spent all that money on to take, if you don't have a cable release or a remote you might as well not bother. At the very least you can use the delay timer. You brought that tripod do keep your camera from moving, why not go all the way.  If you have it, use it. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!

                                                             Happy Holidays!

I look out the window at snow flurries, teasing me. It's been since May that we had significant snowfall, and I look back at those times and wish for feet of snow. This shot was taken in 2010. It had snowed a few feet over already deep snow. We had gone out early the next morning just after the storm was breaking up. Cross country skiing to Heart prairie with our two dogs in this winter wonderland was wonderful. I hope we will all look for peace and joy in these times, as it is too easy to forget the wonderful.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Galen's Tree

 "I almost never set out to photograph a landscape, nor do I think of my camera as a means of recording.... My first thought is always of light." -Galen Rowell

I had been to the Eastern Sierras a couple of times before, but I decide to attend a Jack Graham workshop because we were to explore many areas that I had not previously visited. We spent a bit of time in the footsteps of the great Galen Rowell, with whom Jack Graham had studied with.  A world traveler and mountaineer, Galen Rowell used his camera to capture the adventure and natural optical phenomena of the so called 'dynamic landscape.'  The Sierras were his stomping grounds, and Bishop is where he chose his home. Although the list of Rowell's mountaineering accomplishments is quite long, it is his writing and photography that endures today as his legacy. Unfortunately he lost his life in a tragically ironic plane crash within sight of his home.  His gallery Mountain Light still remains in Bishop, and showcases many of his images from California to Tibet.  It was here that we got a glimpse of what vistas and subjects we would be visiting. One such subject was located in the Bristlecone Pine forest of the White Mountain region of the Eastern Sierras. Our group was delivered to the top of a mountain ridge well before sunset.
We were set free to analyze the terrain and become intimate with the ancient forest. As the sunset began to creep up on us we were to reconvene closer to our vehicles.  It was then that Jack pointed out a beautiful specimen, calling it Galen's tree. I didn't get an exact answer why it was so called, but it became clear it was out of reverence and a tribute to the land he loved and photographed with passion.  Sunset was approaching and the light was getting interesting. I had been keenly aware of the moon phases on this trip, and had been studying it's light and timing since my arrival in the Sierras.  I had a feeling it was going to rise coinciding with the sun's setting.  I had written before about an iPhone app called Star Tracker.  Not only does it track and identify the stars, it tracks the sun and moon, and their exact positions in the sky.  I could see on the screen that just below the horizon the moon was about to rise.  While the others were focused on their own work, I positioned myself and set up my camera to capture the event.  I used a long focal length to condense the scene, and make the moon's size more prevalent.  I was getting a little nervous, because I was loosing the warm light on the bottom of the tree.  Then the moon presented itself. Just as it rose over the earth's shadow, the sun dipped below a distant mountain, casting a diagonal shadow along the base of the tree closely matching where the pine needles ended.  I was elated. I felt as though I had experienced an ethereal astronomical event.  I kept shooting, hardly containing my enthusiasm.  The other participants and instructors slowly began to notice the moon rise, and eventually joined me.  It was still magical, watching the moon and looking for different compositions, but they had missed the timing of that fleeting moment.

"The landscape is like being there with a powerful personality and I'm searching... to make that portrait come across as meaningfully as possible." - Galen Rowell

Galen's tree was replete with that personality.   The timing and light convened to put this experience at the top of the list in meaningful experiences for me.  I hope that the feeling in these images will resonate, and serve as an homage to the late great Galen Rowell, and convey the essence of his spirit.

Jack Graham on Location

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Night in Havasupai

Ever wonder what demons come out after dark? They posses the living, steal their rationality. Sometimes it happens to people in paradise as well. The fringes of daylight introduce a different way of looking, and seeing. It all began with an exploration of the night, in Havasupai. I was to meet a couple of friends, and they with a couple of their friends. And eventually a couple more of their friends. I had arrived well before dark. I enjoyed a few beers, and a sandwich. As dusk approached I began to examine Hualapai Hilltop at night.  I prepared a long exposure series featuring the flashlights of hikers emerging from the canyon depths.  The sky was dark, and the only ambient light that fell was from the stars.

Then they arrived. My two friends, and their two friends. I had not met them before, and in the dark illuminated by a simple headlamp, their faces bobbed in and out of unrecognizable clarity. They left no impression on me, and I had no grasp of what they actually looked like.  As it turned out the next morning, they did indeed look completely different.  That's how the demons work, they operate in that realm of uncertainty. The day had come and gone, and we had sunken deep into the canyon.  Darkness is darker in the canyon.  The light from the atmosphere, or moon or stars fail to reach the inner depths. What lies in shadow during the day, likes like pitch at night. Space, unrecognizable space. A flashlight will allow you to move around. It will lead you like an orb through a tunnel.  Another two of their friends arrived. I didn't know them either, a thin girl, and her husband Brian. An impish fellow, an extrovert speaking constantly in different accents. Mostly East Indian. "Very very goot. Very goot."  He was likened to say on many occasions. Shortly after dinner I noticed the moon had broken the darkness. At least on one side of the canyon. The other side still had large voids.  But the clouds. The clouds were glowing. It was unmistakable. A fight had begun between the light and the dark.  The moon had risen and flowed into the canyon, illuminating the clouds, which in return refracted the light into ambient light. It began filling the canyon.  It was time to get to the falls to capture the struggle.

The moon was playing with the clouds, and mist from the falls. The clouds slowly, persistently receding, the water incessantly pounding. This unworldly scene was unfolding, and emoting a peculiar energy. The power and struggle of nature against it's elements. With no regard for me or mankind. I tried illuminating the falls with a flashlight but the mist played games with the wind and light. An odd reaction occurred. The water droplets became lightning bugs. Darting and dodging afloat on the air currents generated by the energy of the falls. It was time to return to camp, my mood elevated. My sense of wonderment deeply affected. As I moved between light and shadow, I was reminded a headlamp was still necessary. Excessive contrast in the shadows hid unseen perils. I could easily turn an ankle. The closer I got to camp, the energy began to change. I heard music, techno music. An impish figure emerged, spinning glow sticks. Strangely out of place in nature, a rave. Fueled by alcohol, and visual candy. A hand began to reach out, grab me and pull me in.

Suddenly a glow stick hit the ground and rolled into a tent. This unleashed an angry creature. A man in the neighboring camp trying to sleep lurched out as if it were a lion from a cave. It attacked the imp. A struggle ensued. Demons fighting between the fringes of light and dark. Rolling on the sand arms were flying, voices raised. "Ken, stop it Ken..." "Brian, No Brian!" As if the needle scratching a record, the music stopped. Campers gathered around the demons in a ring. Dust and fury, legs and arms. It was unclear who had the advantage. Then the movement ended. Ken had lost, and was pinned face down in a Half Nelson. Adrenaline pumping, we all awaited the next move. The crowd began to banter, and for a moment it was unclear if a riot were to begin. Alas the two factions pulled the demons apart, and each returned to their respective shadows. Quietly grumbling until darkness and sleep arrested the camp. I had written before about this paradise of Havasupai. For all the beauty and nature, this little canyon, suffers from the evil spirits of mankind. They lead you down dangerous paths, of mine shafts and murder. Each time I visit I'm reminded how man has become at odds with nature. The balance has been upset. In this microcosm every step has profound repercussions. And I worry about our fate as we propel ourselves in orders of magnitude toward the future. We have become the demons, and I fear that future, and the darkness of that unknown.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Arches of Alabama Hills- Mobius Arch

Last October I had the fortuante opportunity to join a workshop in the Eastern Sierras with Guy Tal and Jack Graham.  The workshop started in the Alabama Hills area off the Whitney Portal Road leading out of Lone Pine California. We all rose at about four thirty to gather and caravan to a parking area that featured a view of Mt Whitney and the mountain range. Standing in the dark we were pointed toward the range to capture the sunrise.  Once the sun made it's appearance we were led on a trail that encircles three natural arches hidden in this un-earthly terrain. Mobius Arch and  others sit as a surreal frame to the distant snow capped mountains.  The group took turns framing this classic composition discovered many years ago. Hollywood film crews have made the Alabama Hills their backdrop for dozens of movies and commercials.  Many famous photographers have tromped these hills discovering more and more arches.  David Muench, for example has been capturing these arches since the early 50s.  He's discovered hidden arches, and deliberately left them un-mapped and un-named to protect the delicate rock surrounding it.  Galen Rowell has also taken famous images of Mobius Arch.  Although many before me have captured the arch, I was inspired to return after the end of the worshop to make my image.  I've been practicing throughout the trip with light painting and have been making images with dual, and sometimes triple light sources.  The third light source being the moon, of course.  I had been keenly aware of the moon and it's cycles for ten or so days now and had a good feeling of where and when I needed to be to take advantage of this natural light source. I rose at about two thirty in the morning to make the short hike.  I set up a Petzel headlamp behind the arch, and a large Mag-lite on the side below. The different angles and color temperatures of the sources helped make the image a little more surreal. The moon illuminating the mountain range helped make this image possible.

   I repeated the process with another arch, just a few hundred feet away, Lathe Arch.  Earlier in the day I attempted to locate more of the arches, as well as the un-named one, but ultimately failed.  Perhaps another day.  The only other arch I could find, was one nearby as well.  I'm not sure what the arch's name is, but I'll call it Heart Arch.  This was taken during the workshop just as the light was beginning to get harsh.  Some people may ask why bother taking an image that's been done time after time.  Indeed a simple Google search reveals many dozens of renditions of these arches.   I had visited Galen Rowell's gallery in Bishop and have seen these images of his. I guess you can think of it as an homage. What good is Beethoven's music if it isn't performed over and over? Think of this as my personal performance. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Four Falls - Havasupai

I written a few times about the grandeur of the falls in the quaint Indian Reservation of the Havasupai Tribe in the Grand Canyon.  What started as a crush in high school has become a full blown love affair over time. I've had a chance to study the culture in an anthropology course in college, and backpacked the ten miles to visit four times.  This last time I decided to study the reservation with my camera.  Five beautiful spring days were spent standing in warm blue-green water. From dusk to dawn I tried to capture the essence and moods, pushing my gear and prowess to the limits.  If you browse through the blog here you will find what I have discovered and experienced over the course of decades.   Every once and a while a particular image has to be showcased. Many elements have to come together and be captured to properly portray the feeling felt while standing there.  This image is one of those.  I had spent the day hiking to the lower Beaver Falls, and upon returning I came to this scene, just below Mooney Falls.  A number of times I've tried to capture it, but only recently had the skills and technology to process it to fruition.   I was struck by the last light of day reflecting off the higher canyon wall, not to mention the vantage of seeing four falls in a curious confluence.  The challenge here was to grab the dynamic range between the bright reflection of sunlight to the dark shadows of the canyon. A standard image capture would not be able to properly expose for either the highlights or shadows, so I decided to do a bracketed image. I set the camera to allow it to take three successive images, each at different shutter speeds. One to properly expose the highlights, one to properly expose the shadows and one in the middle to expose the mid-tone ranges.  I chose the initial shutter speed and f-stop to smooth the water, and the camera choose the other two exposures. The post processing was done in Photoshop using a technique called channel masking or luminosity masking. This technique allows the photographer to seamlessly blend the three images together in a more controlled and realistic fashion than using stand alone HDR (high dynamic range) software that does it for you.  Although it takes hours of work, the result more closely matches the scene you would experience if you were standing there.  For more information on the technique see the side bar to the right under the helpful links heading. Another challenge capturing this scene was to avoid other hikers and photographers.  I was standing in the stream for ten or fifteen minutes waiting for the the scene to clear, when another photographer tromps up and sets her tripod directly in front of me.  She says "Oh, am I in your way?" as I stare at her with my mouth open in dis-belief.  "It's a free country," was my response.  It's true, there is no law against being inconsiderate and oblivious in this country, and people take this notion to the extreme.  It's a cultural thing.  Just don't let it get to you.   Tune out those people just like that annoying hip-hop song on the radio. Instead focus on the beauty of nature and the moment you're living it. It will not last forever.