Knowing When To Give Up

You drive 6 hrs to a location you want to photograph the next morning.

All of your planning and weather apps say it’s going to be the best sunrise of the 21st century.

You sleep curled up in your car, and forego breakfast so you can be on the trail quickly.

You hike out into the wilderness at 5:00 am with a headlamp while the world is still dark.

You spend an hour canvasing the area for that perfect composition.

You find it and set up your camera.

As the sun begins to rise you anticipate how beautiful this image is going to be.

The sun comes up and,


The light begins to “pop off” and illuminate the scene behind you…

Knowing when to give up on a composition is an important lesson for photographers. Analyzing the scene and knowing a few variables will allow you to make an informed decision about whether anything will materialize within your composition. Noticing there were very few clouds above my subject, and seeing how the light was flooding the scene behind me, I made a quick decision to adjust my composition to the other side of this hoodoo.

Thankfully I had scouted a few different compositions in case this very scenario were to happen, and I was able to quickly set up before the beautiful morning light disappeared. It’s important not to get glued to any one composition since variables in weather can affect your image’s outcome. When shooting sunrises and sunsets where it’s important to have a good base of high clouds, I tend to try and find 4 solid compositions; one facing north, one south, one east, and one west. This way when the light begins to go nuts and I’m in the wrong spot, I don’t have to forfeit the morning photoshoot and can still get a great image.

Below is the image I captured once I adjusted to the scenario unfolding around me.


As you can see, by paying attention to my surroundings, and giving up on the other composition, I was able to create a far greater image. After I had this image in the bag, I was able to play around a bit with some other compositions I had in mind.


The Grand Canyon: A photographer's paradise.

As outdoor photographers we strive to bring the incredible beauty that we witness in the natural world to our viewers. Sometimes even the greatest photograph cannot do a place justice. Such is the case with the Grand Canyon. Words are hard to describe it, and a photo is worth a thousand words, and yet I still find myself struggling to convey the immensity of this place.

The Grand Canyon is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Perhaps this is because to believe in its immensity, one must see it in person.

I only spent two days on the rim of the canyon, and I can honestly say that there is a lifetime of exploration here. On my first evening I walked along the south rim, to Hermits Rest (the last stop on the shuttle) in search of a composition I had yet to see online. I knew I wanted to see the Colorado River below, and capture the rays of light from the setting sun as they flooded into the canyon. I have never been to a national park as crowded ( Zion National Park was a close second) and navigating the throng of people was difficult at times. I managed to find a secluded spot between two shuttle stops, that I thought would give me the best chance of the image I was looking for. We set up shop and waited (and waited). When the light finally got good, I took two images. The first image I took was the layers of rock as they receded into the distance. The second image I took of the Colorado River as the sun began to set.


The following morning, I woke up for sunrise and wandered out to see what I could find. I didn’t stray far knowing I had to leave for home shortly after sunrise, so I wandered along Mather Point behind the visitor center. I was surprised at the lack of people out. I had always heard that sunrise in the Grand Canyon can be a busy affair. I had the majority of the area to myself and didn’t feel crowded as I set up a composition. There were beautiful lenticular clouds above the canyon as the sun began to rise. A pinkish orange glow began to light the scene in front of me, and I took two more photos. One capturing the lenticular clouds and the vastness of the Grand Canyon, the other a close-up of a light ray as it fell into the canyon.


As I begin blogging more frequently, I hope to bring discussion into the forefront of the blog.

Which of these four images is your favorite, why? Don’t like any of them? I want to hear about that also.

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Rain Rain Go Away...

After a few days reprieve from the driving winds we experienced in Death Valley and the Alabama Hills, we headed back out I-80W to explore the Big Sur coastline, and Yosemite National Park. Our first stop was just outside of San Francisco, where we camped at Bicentennial Campground in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. At sunset we crossed the bridge and made our way to Marshall Beach. Sunset was not going to be visible due to incoming storms still out at sea, so I focused on the bay instead and created a moody long exposure image.


The light faded fast, and the tide was coming in as well, so I packed up after this shot and headed back to the campground. When morning came, we made a short drive to a viewpoint overlooking the bridge so I could capture San Francisco, Alcatraz, and the bay in the background. Sunrise was much kinder than the previous night’s sunset, and I managed to capture a warm glow across the bay that would prove to be the last time we saw the sun for the remainder of the trip.


When the sun became too harsh for my photographic liking, we packed up and made our way to Muir Woods. Muir Woods is an incredibly peaceful place and is located in an unassuming valley. In fact I didn’t believe I was there until I stepped out of my vehicle. The place is incredibly quiet and intimate. I could have spent a few days here, however we had other plans and this was just a side trip. After about 4 miles of hiking I found an image that I had hoped to take. I searched for a nicely spaced set of Coastal Redwoods that had foliage entering the frame from a few select angles to naturally vignette the behemoths.


Happy with the image, and knowing we had a four hour drive down the coast to Big Sur, we reluctantly left the peaceful solitude of Muir Woods, and headed down the legendary Highway 1. Unfortunately for us, rain, rain, and more rain was on the way, and as we arrived at our campsite we realized it was going to be a tough couple days. We headed to Mcway Falls, a popular destination along Highway 1 where a forty foot waterfall falls onto a sandy beach in a small alcove among towering cliffs. To my delight we arrived and there were not many photographers in the area (probably due to the inclement weather forecasted). I was able to set up a composition with some wildflowers in the foreground. The area seemed heavily trafficked and I was careful not to add to the damage that had been done to the area. Julia Pfeiffer State Park was closed due to storm damage that happened in 2017, and a bit from this year as well, and the only area where these falls are viewable from is the car park off Highway 1. The weather was turning on us and I framed my composition to exclude the horizon because it was as bleak as could be, and instead made the focus the vibrant wildflowers that pointed out to sea.


As I packed up the camera and made my way back to the car, the first evidence of what the night had in store made its appearance. After a nutrient packed dinner of “Beans n’ Weenies” (look it up), we went to bed early, determined to get up and try to get another photograph of the area. Mother Nature had other plans however, and after being buffeted with torrential rains the entire night, we arose to our tent site actively being turned into a lake. With 4+ inches of standing water and a small stream flowing into it, it was safe to say we were done here. Miraculously, the interior of our tent stayed dry and we were able to pack up our sleeping bags and pads in relative comfort. The tent on the other hand had to be balled up and thrown into a trash bag to be dried out somewhere else. We looked at the forecast for the next few days and realized that the storm of storms had descended on Big Sur and was going to make its way towards our next destination over the following few days. We made the decision to jump ship, and headed for Yosemite National Park in hopes of beating the storm. We found a cheap AirBnB just outside the park since our tent was incapacitated, and made that our base of operations for the next two days. Yosemite was drier than Big Sur, but not by much. A winter storm had devastated much of the valley floor, and our original campground was closed due to fallen trees. Nevertheless, as we came through the tunnel the following morning, I can honestly say that my jaw dropped. Filled with fog, and with dense clouds above, the sense of mystery over Yosemite Valley was indescribable. I set up the camera at the well known Tunnel View parking area, and waited for the magical moment. Thankfully it came, and I managed a series of images over the next hour as the sun steadily rose. The first image I took in tribute to the great Ansel Adams who helped make this valley famous. El Capitan is shrouded in cloud on the lefthand side, while Half Dome is just barely visible almost dead center. Bridalveil Falls is in the right third of the image while the Merced River can be seen snaking around the valley floor. This is a popular location to photograph, but the spitting rain and cold temps kept most of the photographers away.


After I took the traditional image of Yosemite, I was drawn to the different shapes of the landscape. I got out my 70-200 lens and focused in on El Cap, which was beginning to peak from the clouds. The warm yellow- orange morning light mixed with the blueish- purple rain sodden clouds would have made color theory gurus go insane as the two colors blended effortlessly together.


I quickly shifted my focus to the forest on the valley floor as the fog began to overcome the area, set a composition, and fired the shutter again.


Moments later, the fog settled in so thick you could stir it with a spoon. I decided to make my way to the valley floor to see what it had to offer. I tried hard to forget the images I had seen of Yosemite, and focus on what was happening in the moment. Because of the thick fog and time of year, many of the traditional shots and locations were inaccessible. In a way this made me happy because I was able to focus on photographing things my way without social media, and other photographers influencing my work. I captured a few images through the fog that I am happy with. We hiked a total of 9.5 miles and didn’t see the sun once before we made our way back to our AirBnB.


The following day we arose to conditions similar to that of the previous morning. Fog covered the valley floor and El Cap was stubbornly cloaked in cloud. I set up my camera anyway and donned my rain gear. I stood on a bank of snow for an hour before the sun illuminated some clouds that were hanging over the valley. I took my final image of Yosemite.


We ended our trip a day early because the storm that hit us in Big Sur had finally made its way to the mountains; promising feet of snow in certain areas. Ill equipped for such an expedition, we packed up shop and headed home before the mountain passes became impassible. I hope to return to Yosemite someday and photograph it in a different setting, but my first experience was truly unforgettable.

The Morning Commute


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!