Over the last month I’ve dealt with fog so thick you can stir it, cold that would make Jack Frost shiver, and enough rain to make Noah start building another Ark.Read More
DO I GOTTA GET UP!?!?!
Waking up is the hardest part of winter landscape photography. Whether it’s the frost that formed on top of my sleeping bag overnight, the ice sickles forming around my nose, or the fact that the sun was sleeping in (kind of like your boss); one thing is certain, the grind is real! The old phrase “up hill both ways, in driving wind” comes to mind when I think about photographing in the winter… Even if you manage to thaw your frozen bones and get your butt out of the tent in the morning, odds are that you’ve only managed the easy part. Trudging through new fallen snow can be as brutal as it is rewarding, especially when it gets deep. There are tools like cross country skis and snow shoes that can help with this, but I am a danger to myself on cross country skies and I haven’t justified buying a pair of snow shoes… yet (something that is going to change). Anyway, let’s say I’ve made it out of my tent and can still count to ten with my fingers, and I even managed to hike to my desired photography location…(pats self on back). I now get to stand in place and pray the weather men and women actually knew what they were talking about yesterday… … oh and it’s just now 6am and 15 degrees out.
Perhaps the location I was photographing was only an hour commute from my warm and cozy bed. I woke up nice and toasty at 4am, put a pot of coffee on, dressed in my finest winter apparel, poured said coffee into a thermos; then grabbed my keys and set off to the trailhead I had determined to hike the day before. I still had the early morning drive, and had to trudge 2miles through the snow ( which as long as you are dressed appropriately and it isn’t too deep, is the most peaceful experience imaginable) in below freezing temps, but standing around waiting for my photograph is much more enjoyable with a warm brew to sip on.
Such was the case on this fine morning when Anna and I hiked to some semi-local hot springs before the sun came up. Our drive to the trailhead was nothing crazy, and the snow from the previous night still covered the ground once we exited the highway, According to multiple weather apps and websites, the area we were headed would be getting snow until 3pm. However, as we drew closer to our destination, I couldn’t help but notice the blue tint that the morning sky had. It seemed like the sun would rise at any minute unhindered by any cloud cover and quickly blow out the scene I was hoping to find. In my mind, I was anticipating a snowy, overcast morning where the clouds acted as a giant soft box gently illuminating the terrain in front of me. This realization that there were far fewer clouds than predicted added a sense of urgency to my stride as we parked the car at the trailhead. I did not want to arrive to the location to find the scene bright and blown out from the sun. I wanted to capture the calm and intimate nature of the area, and needed atmosphere to accomplish this. I am happy to report that I was lucky, and the few clouds that were in the sky above managed to stave off the sun long enough for me to get my desired photographs. It helped that I arrived to the hot springs before the sun rose, so I had time to frame my compositions without battling an encroaching sun.
The first imageI took was a 30 second exposure at ƒ11 using a Lee Big Stopper (10 stops) filter. For my first image, I wanted to capture the hot spring with a bit of the surrounding environment to give a sense of scale and place. I also wanted to create a soft, almost creamy texture to the water, and a long exposure coupled with the rising mist created that desired texture.
The next image I drew myself in a bit closer and focused on the most interesting subject; a small cascade with 3 distinct drop points. The scene before me reminded me of a chocolate lava cake from The Cheesecake Factory and I found myself getting hungry at the thought. The turquoise water that flows through this area is incredibly mesmerizing and I found myself simply smiling and enjoying the view instead of clicking shot after shot. Sometimes in locations like this, it is easy to get carried away and become trigger happy, but the calm scene before me also calmed my mind and I was able to really focus on my desired story.
After i had taken in the above scene for a while, I made my way farther up the stream to a spot that had two pools of the beautiful turquoise water. This photograph was the most trying of the shoot, as the space was small, and a fallen tree was right where I wanted to photograph from. I sent up my tripod from a contorted position something vaguely reminiscent of the limbo, and rested the lens between two branches of the tree. This image is actually a panoramic image of 3 separate photographs taken very carefully from the afore mentioned position. After 90 seconds of holding my combo like position, I managed to come away with this image.
I stretched my back, repacked my camera and headed to the main hot spring area a little ways up the hill. The main hot springs, posed their own set of unique challenges. The first challenge was getting myself and my camera into position for the photograph below. The rock is incredibly slippery and even standing still my feet would slowly slide apart from one another. I had to do the splits with my tripod to get it close enough and low enough to photograph the overflowing bird sized bathtub in the foreground of this image. The small tub was a different color than the surrounding pools and made for a nice focal point to the image. The flowing water led the eye upward to the other pools in the distance. .
The second challenge was the steam. The wind was blowing the steam directly at my camera and fogged the lens, making it impossible to take a sharp image, so I had to wipe my lens dry with the equivalent of a sham wow for photographers, and hold the cloth on the lens, click the 2 second timer, and remove the fabric just milliseconds before the shutter clicked to take the image. The lens began to instantly fog again, and I hurriedly dried and covered it again. After a few of these chaotic attempts at an image, I managed to capture the ethereal nature of the place, and moved on (being careful to clean off all signs of moisture from my equipment).
Feeling a bit like a soggy dog in a sauna, I backed away from the hot springs a bit and created an image showing their tiered nature. I was amazed at how their color stood out against the snow and was so happy to be experiencing this location with only my wife and myself as witness.
We spent a few more minutes soaking it all in (see what I did there ;) before we made our way back down the trail to our vehicle. I couldn’t help but take one more image on the way out showing the first view I got of the springs as we came up the mountain earlier. The sun was beginning to dissipate the menial cloud cover above and started flooding into the canyon. Knowing the nature of sun and snow, I knew the trip was done from a photography sense, so we put away the photography gear and casually hiked out, recalling to each other our favorite moments of the hike and how excited we were for future hikes to the area.
Nature is amazing! Help keep it that way and remember to leave places like this better than you found it. Take a bag to pick up trash left by careless hikers, and be careful to minimize your impact on the surrounding landscape. There are a lot of us on this planet and as our desire to be outside and see these amazing places increases, so does the risk of permanently damaging them as well. With proper wilderness ethics, future generations will be able to visit these extraordinary places in the same fashion as we do.
Thanks for reading! Come back often to see what’s new!
Putting It Into Perspective
Spending cold nights in a tent, waking up at 3am (or earlier) for a week, hiking in the dark, eating ramen, drinking coffee, and not showering for that whole week are all part of the job. I’ve had people tell me that anyone can do landscape photography. While I believe this is true, I don’t believe just anyone has the drive to consistently live in the above mentioned conditions on a daily basis to create real landscape images. True, I return to my apartment and freshen up occasionally, and I have done my fair share of day trips, but to create compelling landscape photographs, a person needs to do more than just show up at the overlook at midday and start clicking away.
I spent the last week fussing over every detail of our next photography adventure. We are headed to Arizona to photograph a myriad of different locations over the next 7 days. Proper planning can make or break a trip.
Planning for a photography trip is multi fold. At the bare minimum it is good to ask these three questions: What locations do I wish to photograph? What is the weather forecast, and sun/moon information? What gear do I need? You may be required to purchase permits, guides, and campsites, sometimes up to 6 months in advance! The forecast says sunny and 75, but if you have been photographing long enough you know that isn’t a guarantee, so don’t forget the rain jacket and cold weather gear.
On average a landscape photographer spends anywhere from 15-100 hrs planning their next photograph. In certain circumstances, sometimes the planning can take years. You can expect them to stay in the field anywhere from 7 days- 3 months in the field at a time attempting to capture the perfect moment and may come away with only 1 photograph.
I have returned from our trip to Arizona.
Although the trip was reduced to 3 days due to a family emergency that developed, I was able to capture a few images from my time in the desert. The planning and research that went into this trip made it possible for me to photograph as many locations as I could in the short amount of time I had.
If I told you that this photo was created in the Zion Narrows, would you believe me?
Odds are you’d point me in the direction of the nearest loony bin, but the Zion Narrows is exactly where this was photographed. While countless photographers flock to the Narrows each year to capture the towering canyon walls and incredible color that abounds here, I found myself drawn to the ebony colored pools of water that were left trapped on high ground after the heavy rains.
In a world where every image looks like a thousand others, it is hard to get people to notice mine, and so it is up to myself as the photographer to tell a different tale with my images. Perhaps that is why I was so focused on the ground. Velvet Earth is the turning point in my photography as artist, and not as landscape photographer; the point where I look inward and seek to harness the environment to match my creativity and feelings within. When I clicked the shutter to create this image I grew as an artist.
Other images in this series are “Enter Oblivion” which was photographed on the Atlantic Coast earlier this year, and “Dust To Dust”, which was taken at Great Sand Dunes National Park last October.
Every year after the wildflowers disappear from the mountain basins, I find myself scrambling to stay creative through the remaining Summer months. So when Fall comes around, I am usually overly anxious to explore as many locations as possible in the brief window when the colors change. This year was no exception, and I’ve been keeping busy up in the wild country. I’ve managed to capture quite a few beautiful images and some even made the last minute cuts into my annual Calendar, which is available here.
Light is fickle and oftentimes fleeting.
When an opportunity for the perfect conditions arise, it is important that you are ready with your camera. This past week we had rain move into the area that settled on the mountains just before sunrise. It provided me with the opportunity to photograph Mount Timpanogos and the fall color surrounding the mountain in all its glory. So at 3am I headed out from my apartment in Salt Lake City, and made the journey into the Timpanogos Backcountry, down a long gravel road, and along a deer path with nothing more than the light of my headlamp to guide my way (I had discovered the location on Google Earth [an app that I continually promote], while searching for unique perspectives of common landmarks). I came across the clearing and was extremely happy to find the aspens in peak color (the only mystery while using google earth). Because I had arrived with plenty of time to explore, I fussed over my composition for the next 40 minutes as blue hour slowly crept by. I finally fixed my camera to my tripod in the location I deemed best, and waited for the sun to crest the horizon and light the scene in front of me. About 5 minutes from sunrise I knew I was in for a treat as the clouds left of my composition were slowly changing a deep purple. I knew that if the horizon stayed clear for the next few moments, that the high peak of Timpanogos would catch the morning light and turn a brilliant red. The only other factor was the incredible amount of wind that morning. Because it was a storm front moving in, there was an immense amount of wind whipping the young aspen trees around making it impossible to make them sharp. I got lucky and got a few seconds of calm right as the sun crested and captured one of my best photographs to date.
The image above is the culmination of 6 hours of planning, 2 hours of fumbling through the dark and cold, and 1/3 of a second in the eternity of time.
Fall was off to a good start, and I wasn’t sure if I could top the image above, so I headed into the forest to capture the more intimate side of fall. As the sun rose higher into the sky I was making my way deeper into the wilderness in search of a magical forest of gold. Around an hour or so into my wanderings I came across the forest I had been looking for and methodically began planning my image. The storm clouds were being held at bay by the mighty mountains, and I had perfect weather to create another lasting image.
I’ve been searching for this image for four years. I always manage to take good images of fall color, but the elusive aspen forest has always been a step ahead of me. To say I was ecstatic when I found this composition would be an understatement. Finally, I found the image I had envisioned so long ago.
I returned the way I had come, and got back to my vehicle with a great feeling of accomplishment. It was now 10:00 am and in the time most people take to start their morning, I had already hiked 5 miles and created two portfolio worthy images. It was a good day.
After a few days of rain, I returned to the woods with my wife in search of more! I was struck with Fall fever and all I could think about was the next location and the woodland compositions yet to be captured. We scoured the hillsides along an old mountain road and I came up with an image that had I been alone, I would not have gotten.
Selective focus and a shallow depth of field can enhance a photograph’s story. By focusing on the trees in front, and allowing Anna (my wife) to be out of focus, the image tells a story of a person wandering through a dense forest in search of something. If I had allowed for everything to be in focus, the story would become muddled and the subject would be unclear.
Farther along the road we came across an opening as a light drizzle began to fall. Using my zoom lens I isolated the road in front of us as it wound uphill out of sight, and allowed the fall color to vignette the road.
The light rainfall helped saturate the fall color, making it even more vibrant, while the dense cloud cover helped balance the image’s shadows and highlights. As we continued on, the weather began to get less and less inviting, so we decided to make for the car. I took one more image that day, a closeup of a single aspen tree with a maple sapling surrounding its trunk.
While Guardsman Pass was shut down for construction, we ventured out along the Mill D Canyon and came across a location of tall standing aspen trees that allowed for a composition looking directly into the sun. I couldn’t resist taking this photograph as it practically fell into may lap. A combination of careful planning and a bit of luck went into this image.
The key to a good forest image is to find a figurative pathway leading through the scene. The sunlight on the forest floor in this image creates a path through the forest that leads directly to the beautiful rays of sun that are bursting through the aspens.
I am headed to Moab this week in search of Fall in the desert regions of Utah. Check back next week to see if I was successful, or if the weather shut me out!!