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My Favorite Images of 2016

This has been a year of change for me…(bear with me, as I get through the first part of 2016).

January started off with my future wife & I spending some time together in Rocky Mountain National Park before she flew back home to Texas.  Mid-January had some pretty amazing sunsets; Denver skies showed it’s color middle of the month!

Sky on Fire

February, on the other hand, was not very good for me or my Mom; my Dad’s Parkinson’s Disease was beginning to deteriorate his body rapidly, so I spent the bulk of February in Arizona.  I did have a meeting in Denver that I had to attend in late February.  Mid-week of that meeting (24 Feb), my Mom called at Lunchtime to tell me Dad was not long for this Earth.  I asked her to call me later that afternoon, so she could hold the phone up to his ear as I said good-bye (just in case I didn’t make it to AZ in time).  I made plans to leave for AZ mid-day on Thursday, praying Dad would hold on until I could be there to say good-bye in person.

Mortality is something we all fear; I, personally, have had more than my share of extra chances to live (living life#6 right now, by the grace of God).  As a son, seeing your Dad…the one you hold as the rock of the family, in such a fragile state was extremely difficult.  Mom was surprisingly strong.  We both knew the outcome of Parkinson’s Disease and while we always held hope that a cure would come to allow for a natural passing some years down the road, we both knew the likelihood was minimal.

I arrived in Phoenix mid-afternoon on Friday, 26 February, at Mom’s.  After a short conference call, Mom and I headed over to the skilled nursing facility where Dad was living.  We arrived at 3pm.  Dad was breathing very oddly and was in the last stages of passing.  While I am doubtful that he truly ‘saw’ me…I stood at the foot of his bed and told him that I loved him.  A couple minutes passed and then he drew his last breath.  Mom and I prayed Dad’s passing would be easy and without much stress; we were very blessed with the nursing facility where Dad spent his last four months.  The staff was amazing.

The next day, Mom and I had to go to the Funeral Home to take care of the last few steps for Dad’s pre-paid cremation.  The final step was to visually confirm the body they had was indeed our loved one.  Mom, while having been extremely strong for the last 3 years, was just not up to doing the visual identification…so I stepped up.  While I can say I am glad I did see Pops one last time, it was truly surreal.  My Dad, the person I had done everything to prove his lessons were worthwhile, was gone.

I stayed with Mom for a week, getting all of the necessary things done; Dad’s body was to be cremated and the coming Summer, we would spread Dad’s ashes in a few locations (per his wishes), some near Flagstaff AZ and some in Colorado.  One night, we decided to go to the Desert Botanic Garden and see a light display called “Sonoran Lights.”   The light display was truly amazing and one that Dad would have loved to have seen.

Sonoran Lights at DBG

March rolled in and before I knew it, Elaina and her two boys were here to spend Spring Break in Colorado.  We had a lot of fun that week, but the most exciting part was a day Elaina will never forget…

…Amid low teens in weather with typical Winter winds in Rocky Mountain National Park, we all went to play in the snow at Bear Lake.  I had a plan (I always do…LOL).  After playing in the 15-18” deep snow at Bear Lake, we started to trek up to Nymph Lake.  Elaina and I have made the short trek to Dream Lake a few times; the short bit of flat ground around Nymph Lake is a nice respite from the elevation gain.  There is a small (well, small currently) tree there that I had noticed earlier in the Fall.  The tree spoke to me of new life beginning, so I made that tree, the point where I would propose to Elaina.

The Proposal Tree

She said Yes!  🙂

The planning then began in earnest, for our wedding.  We both knew, after spending time together during the 2015 Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, that we wanted to get married there, in 2016.  We both love the area, the rugged mountains, the beautiful scenery around every bend and of course, all of the wildflowers!  In early June, Elaina flew up to Denver and we drove down to Crested Butte, to spend a few days scouting out wedding ceremony locations.  While we both would have loved to have family & friends there, it was not practical, nor would the elevation do much good for either of our Mothers at this point in their lives.  We wanted a small, simple ceremony.  Finding a preacher was quite a chore, but we did and we were very blessed to have Drew Larson, from Oh Be Joyful church in Crested Butte, perform the ceremony!

We were fortunate to have an a amazing 2 room suite at Elevation Hotel & Spa.  The weather was pretty also pretty awesome.  This picture, captured by Cade (eldest) using my remote camera trigger, was very timely!

The Prayer

A couple days later, we met up with the boys Dad & Step-Mom in Colorado Springs (they had just arrived in CO for a family vacation), dropped the boys off and headed home.  Elaina and I were going on a honeymoon we would never forget…Eight days in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

I spent a few weeks during March & April researching and chose to stay at Fox Hotel & Suites on the edge of downtown Banff.  The accommodations were fantastic; the “free” breakfast was one of two minor nits we had.  The breakfast was a buffet that was rather lame.  The only other minor nit I had was the elevator was slow, like 1/4-snail speed slow!  Only one elevator, so often times, Elaina and I would just use the stairs.

We had plenty of adventures during our time in Banff, Yolo and Jasper National Parks.  After visiting Lake Louise, one morning (along with a few hundred Chinese tourists), we decided we would go to Moraine Lake for sunrise the next day, based on the weather forecast.  Driving up to Moraine Lake super early (we were about 50 minutes away) was interesting, to say the least.  Once we arrived at the parking lot, we trekked out to where I had researched a good sunrise location.  The Sunrise was gorgeous, but my favorite from that morning was Twilight:

Twilight at Moraine Lake

After we had finished shooting at Moraine Lake, we made our way up to Emerald Lake.  Emerald Lake Lodge is one of those places that you would see in a post card.  Pristine beauty all around.  I can imagine that it is just as amazing in the winter months!

Emerald Lake Magnificence!

Our next adventure, was a hike up Johnston Canyon, to see Johnston Canyon Falls.  Excellent hike, though there were a lot of people!!! We decided to head over to Sunshine Ski Area to ride the gondola and quad-chair up to Standish Summit.  Despite it being summer, it was a little cool at the summit (mainly due to wind).

Newlyweds!

We hiked down to Rock Isle Lake, then back up.  Very scenic is the best way to describe the area:

Simpson Valley View

The next day, we chose to drive through Jasper National Park to Jasper.  While it was a rather lengthy drive, there is just so much beauty throughout that one really should plan to spend a few days exploring just Jasper National Park and Icefields Parkway!  On the drive back to Banff, we stopped at a few of the locations we had scouted on the drive up.  Athabasca Falls has created a rock canyon that is just beautiful, so I had to get a picture (or three!).

Athabasca River Canyon

We arrived home and began to get the house situated.  Elaina had a ticket to fly to Florida, meeting up with her boys in Dallas, so they could spend a week with her family.  To say it was strange to be married, then suddenly be alone would be an understatement…but I fully supported the trip.

The Perseid Meteor activity was full-on crazy at the time, so I did some research and quickly found that a location I had been hoping would be good for shooting the Milky Way with Perseid Meteor activity came to fruition.  I packed up my 4Runner and headed out, arriving on-location around 8:30pm.  Sun had been down for a while, but the moon was still quite bright, so I did some test shots over the next few hours until the moon faded behind the mountains, capturing some meteor activity as able.

The Milky Way started coming into position and I watched, vigilantly, for meteors.  There was a few other people lining the shore of Maroon Lake, but the crowd dwindled as midnight passed.  I was fortunate to stay long enough to have the Milky Way splitting Pyramid Peak & Maroon Peak/North Maroon Peak and have a meteor streak down the Milky Way!!

Perseid Into Milky Way

September blew in quickly and before we knew it, fall colors time was upon us.  Elaina and I went to one of our favorite areas of Colorado…Crested Butte.  The weather was rather unusual this year; an early season snow, which really added character, but also threw the aspen foliage into a tizzy.  This scene really captured my attention as we were driving along Kebler Pass towards East Beckwith Mountain.

Snowy Evergreens & Aspens

Snowy weather the first two days curtailed much of the desired location shooting, but we both made the most of what was available.  The last day we checked out Ohio Pass to see what was available and had a fairly vibrant valley in front of “The Castles.”

Castles in the Sky

Leaving Crested Butte with less the the desired quantity and quality of images was a bit of a bummer, but that is all part of photography.  Taking what is presented and making the most of the time is what you learn to live with, no matter how much planning and research you do, in advance of the trip.

A scant 10 days later, Elaina took a trip to Texas to visit the boys (they chose to stay in Texas, with their Dad, where the more familiar was close at hand).  While she was away, I took a chance and headed to the San Juan’s.  My plan was to camp near Telluride, if possible and spend a couple days exploring.  Sadly, the locations I thought to camp were all loaded up with people, and much as I probably could have found a spot, knowing I tend to get up early or come back to the campsite late, may have been a nuisance for the other camping, so I made the most of my day-trip.  Looking towards Telluride, Dallas Peak and the San Miguel River valley, the color was near peak!

63L

The remainder of 2016 has been busy with this and that.  A few hikes, but the conditions for good photography seemed to occur when I was least prepared or in the right place, to get good images.  I look forward to 2017 and what adventures come.  My best friend (my wife) and I will undoubtably have plenty of miles under our feet by this time next year!

My Favorites of 2015

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Another year is almost over; I am amazed at how quickly the days pass, how many adventures have taken place and memories to last a lifetime, yet…I feel as though my efforts in imagery have barely scratched the surface.

In keeping with tradition, I am writing this not only to reflect on what I have achieved photographically during the year, but also to submit my 2015 Favorites to the long-running Blog Project by Jim Goldstein, for Favorite images of the year.

The last two months of 2014 were spent adventuring, as well as planning my first adventure of 2015 to Olympic National Park in February.  Winter months may not be the best time to visit Olympic National Park if you wish to explore the magnificent mountains and copious trail system…but the rain forest area and the beach areas on the western edge of the park offer some breathtaking scenery!

January came in with a flurry of hopes and desires; the typical snowfall along the front range of Colorado was less than expected so there was little snowshoeing going on in January.  On one trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (one of my more frequented playgrounds), while scouting potential photo shoot locations, I headed towards West Horseshoe Park; as I turned at Deer Ridge Junction and headed down the hill, I pulled into a turnout 2/3 of the way down the hill and this scene played out in front of me:

West Horseshoe Park

The lack of snow, yet just enough on the distant mountains, along with an amazing sky provided me an opportunity to create an image that is almost like a painting!! I’ve printed this image on Fuji Pearl paper and I can say that the image absolutely pops!!

As February rolled along, I prepared for my trip to Olympic National Park.  Using TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris and TPT (The Photographer’s Transit), I did as much planning as I felt was necessary, knowing that serendipity would play a part in the trip.  Winter weather, tidal chart hiccups, etc. would all steer my photography based on the on-site information available.

The trip was planned to take place the day after the New Moon in February.  The hope was that I’d have good astro-light for night-sky photography as well as some interesting options for sunset & sunrise.

After landing in Seattle, picking up my rental car and driving around the bay (wanted to maximize my options for photography as I drove out to Forks, WA) the day was pretty near perfect.  Temperature was very comfortable and the sun was shining.  The closer I got to Forks, though, the less enthusiastic I became as cloud cover began to wash out my thoughts of sunset (planned for Hole-In-The-Wall up Rialto Beach).

I checked into my lodging facility in Forks, geared up and drove to the parking area at Rialto Beach.  Figured I would trek up the beach and see what transpired.  The waves were looking rather ferocious even with the tide down as I trekked up the beach.  The weather definitely was not looking conducive as the light was flattening out more and more as sunset approached.  Looking at the tide and considering the I may have to trek back via Pacific NW trail vice the beach, I opted to turn around before I got to my chosen sunset location (discretion is the better part of valor).

I returned to my vehicle and decided I would go poke around at First Beach in La Push for a bit before heading off to evening meal.  There was a lot of flotsam around LaPush harbor and strewn about on the beach.  Old growth timber laying on the beach was absolutely huge!!

Having my fill of poking around and a little bit of photography, I headed back to Forks, to eat and review weather / tidal chart for the morning.

The next morning, sunrise was not feasible as the weather was still not quite cooperating.  I did go down to Second Beach and scout out shoot locations to be sure that sunset location(s) would be acceptable, if Mother Nature chose to play nice.  While scouting, I managed to trek a lot more than I thought I would, amassing about 4 miles while on Second Beach, enjoying the sun as it finally came out and warmed up the day.

I left Second Beach and headed to the Hoh Rain Forest to spend the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon poking around, seeing what photographic opportunities I’d have in one of the wettest places in the United States.  The Hot Rain Forest is a place where you could, potentially, spend a day or two looking, creating and enjoying the amazing scenery.

The day was winding down, so I had to make my way back to Forks, grab a bite to eat before heading back to Second Beach for sunset.  Once at Second Beach, I started to make my way to my pre-determined sunset location.  Knowing where the tide was earlier that day, I was actually able to to walk out another 60 yards towards the surf zone before I was close enough to know that was as far as I needed to go.

The sea-stack formations were an obvious subject, but as I began composing, the patterns in the sand were catching my eye enough to make them a unique secondary subject, drawing the eye towards the sea-stack formations.  Sunset had passed as I shot the image below, with just enough muted colors along the horizon to add some character to the scene.

Patterns

I finished up the shots I had planned to create, taking an hour or so after twilight was over, packed up my gear and started to make my way back to the steps / trail up to La Push Road.  About half-way back, a small group of kids (20-somethings) asked if they could follow me out, since they had forgotten or lost their flashlight and were having a hard time making out where to go (no moon = very dark).  I agreed to lead them to the steps and once there, they scrambled up the steps and disappeared into the forest.

By the time I got back to my room, I was pretty well bushed.  I had trekked quite a bit and my body was feeling a bit exhausted.  I did take the time to import my images to my laptop, to ensure I had the master’s on both the laptop, and my external HDD for backup) and got the camera ready for any photography opportunities I’d have heading back to Seattle the next morning.

The drive back was uneventful; took the ferry from Kingston across to Edmonds, where I eventually met up with Steve Cole (@scolephoto) for a late lunch, then headed on to SEA-TAC to turn in my rental car and catch my flight back to Denver.

March was pretty busy with a few treks in Rocky Mountain National Park, a trip to Arizona with a stop at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve on the drive down to Arizona, to spend some time with my parents (mainly to help Mom care for Dad [Dad was still living at home at the time]); a day-trip with Mom & Dad to Falcon Field in Mesa and then, en route back home to Denver, I stopped in Moab for a night so I could shoot sunrise at Deadhorse Point State Park.

Another adventure was awaiting me upon my return; something I had been planning with my friend @AaronBatesPhoto for a few months.  A four-day trip to Big Bend National Park. The trip was a total blast, though the images I created were nothing super fantastic overall.  As much as I had planned for the trip, Big Bend is one of those places where you really have to experience it once or twice before you really go hog-wild with photography.  Aaron and I did hike from Chisos Basin to South Rim (12.2 miles round-trip) and had a lot of fun with that adventure.  Aaron got a number of good images from that hike and the days we were in Big Bend NP.  The last day were were there, we had planned to shoot wildflowers here and there and be heading back to Austin by 10am’ish, so that we could meet up with Aaron’s wife and son for dinner.

Best laid plans…we got so distracted by wildflowers that we did not leave the park until 2:30pm.  On the way towards Marathon, TX we saw a huge cloud formation off to the East that both Aaron and I noticed and knew that images must be made!

This clouds formation was the epitome of West Texas rain storms and while the color version looked neat, the black + white version really spoke volumes to me.  Ironically, when Aaron processed his composition, he too felt the black + white image was the better of the versions; here is my version:

Spring Storm

I returned home after a fun trip at Big Bend and did not have much on my agenda thru April.  Had a couple of short adventures in May, amid some serious rain activity, but nothing that really hit my “favorites” list.  I did take an opportunity to visit the Hondo Iris Farm outside of Ruidoso Downs, NM where I met up with my parents for a quick visit (they drove over from Phoenix).  This would be the last road-trip my Dad would make, as his Parkinson’s Disease effects were really beginning to cause issues shortly thereafter.  Departing from Ruidoso Downs, I headed to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, to meet up with Aaron Bates for a hike up to the summit of Guadalupe Peak.

You would think being in West Texas in mid-May that the temperatures would be reasonable.  Well, okay…they were when we met up at the campground, but by the time we made it to the summit (that was a trek and a half; ugh), the wind was absolutely H O W L I N G and the temperature was cold enough to warrant putting on my rain jacket, which substituted as a wind-breaker along with my skull cap.

Three weeks later, while we were still having major rain activity, I headed up to Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park, for a trek up to Calypso Cascades and Ouzell Falls.  As I trekked to the falls, I approached the two bridges that cross over the Calypso Cascades and it just struck me as something I needed to shoot.

The tree debris, the large volume of water and a little sunlight were what drew my eyes to this composition (probably not my very best, but a great memory for me):

Calypso Bridge

A few days later, I had an opportunity to head out to the Maroon Bells.  Yes, they’re popular.  No, I have not grown weary of shooting there.  Yes, there is the potential for a slew of people.  No, I wasn’t worried about that.

Having worked there as much as I have, I knew that I wanted to shoot night-sky, twilight and sunrise, then hit the lower trail for a particular image that I’ll talk about more shortly.

Left my house in metro Denver at midnight, arrived on-location at 4:15 am and started shooting night-sky almost immediately.  I should have arrived there 30 minutes earlier, to really get some good dark skies, but I got enough to satisfy my needs.  Twilight started about 5:10am and sunrise over by 5:50am (roughly), so I had my shots from my prime spot at Maroon Lake, packed up and started trekking towards the lower loop.

I had to laugh as a number of the photographers lining the shore asked why I was packing up so quickly.  I gave them my canned response (I’ve acquired the images I desired; have other locations to hit) and continued on.  As I approached the bridge over Maroon Creek, I was amazed at how lush & green everything was, as well as the volume of water in Maroon Creek.  The water was way beyond the normal creek boundaries, so I had to get a little spry jumping from the trail to the bridge.

Bells Bridge Awash

The remainder of June had a number of local treks to locations in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park (including a couple of treks on the west side, which is not as visited as the east side).

July is wildflower time in Colorado, so I made a number of trips to places like American Basin, Crested Butte Wildflower Festival and a couple of other locations I know that usually have some good wildflowers.  Some of the best times of the year, from a ‘being outdoors’ perspective.  Especially my time in the Crested Butte area (Love ‘Running Water’).

As July came to a close, time for the next road-trip adventure was just around the corner.  I had been planning this trip for quite some time (probably close to a year).  My trekking buddy Shaun was coming along for the adventure, so it had all the potential for a great photography trip.

Departing out of metro Denver on the 7th of August, we made it to our primary destination mid-afternoon on the 8th.  Cougar Rock campground in Mt. Rainier National Park.  There were a couple of images that I really wanted to create while here, so I had my fingers crossed that conditions would prevail.

The first sunrise trek was almost a total wash; we awoke at 1:30am, on the road by 2am in a misty, almost going to rain scenario.  We made it to Sunrise area, parked and trekked up to where we planned to shoot sunrise, only to have a wonderful fog-bank come through right at sunrise.  The sun continued to rise and as we were heading back to my vehicle, we had a nice glimpse of the mountain being revealed, so we hung out for a bit and got a few shots that were a good teaser.  We were both hungry, so we drove back to the campground to clean up, have some breakfast and plan out our afternoon.

Along the drive back, as we approached the Reflection Lakes area, we saw the makings of absolutely spectacular images so I hurriedly parked and we got the gear out, set up and started creating…

This is one of those times where you just want your gear to be 200% ready, so you don’t miss the shot.  I was able to create a number of images, this being one of my favorites of the year:

Reflection Lakes at Mt. Rainier NP

The next few days, we did a lot of hiking, tried a few sunrise locations, but because the wildfires in Oregon were really kicking up smoke, the haze was becoming a major detractor.  We had another night planned, but I felt that the smoke was only going to get worse.  As I pondered the options, I suggested a slight detour from our original route back home, which Shaun was content to agree to (he had not been to Glacier National Park before).

I made some phone calls en route, and secured a campsite in West Glacier and off we went.  This was right around the beginning of the Perseid Meteor shower activity, so as I drove up “Going To The Sun” road, we got to a particular location where I had shot an image four years prior, only to have the image not come out as desired, so while the opportunity was there, I took the chance.

The stream was so placid that Garden Wall reflected so nicely that I was composing and clicking like a mad-man, to ensure I got good images.  I can say that I’m rather happy to have finally completed this image goal:

Garden Wall Reflection

We both achieved some great photography and decided we should head back to camp, have some dinner and prepare to go to our pre-determined spot along McDonald Lake where we would shoot night-skies with Perseid Meteor activity.

One benefit of leaving Mt. Rainier National Park is that we were now in a dark-sky location and the night sky was absolutely amazing!!!!  To say that you can see a million stars would be a huge understatement.  The longer we were out there, the more the night sky became a vivid pallet of stars!!!  The experience was almost overwhelming, especially as we began to capture meteor activity amid the Milky Way and stars (with nearly a no-moon situation, it was the perfect time to be in that location):

Milky Way and Perseid Meteor

After a couple of hours, we had both had our fill of night-sky photography, so we headed back to camp, crashed for the night.  The rest of the trip was very worthwhile as well with more night-sky photography at Devil’s Tower National Monument and a fun drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota, en route home.

Once home, there were a couple of local hikes in the James Peak Wilderness and in Rocky Mountain National Park, then I had to head back to AZ to spend some time with my Mom; Dad’s condition was not improving much (fell and broke his hip in July; a number of things came up as a result…), so I wanted to spend some time with Mom and visit with Dad (you never know, so you have to make the most of the time you have available!!!!!).

September was a bit of a blur; probably because I was focused on my annual Fall Colors adventure.  I had spent a fair amount of time planning the general locations but not so much that I was hell-bent on being at place ‘x’ at a certain time.  As we drove toward the first major area, the color along Grand Mesa was absolutely perfect.

Mesa Magnificence

Fall was about four or five days early, but seemed to hold fast for the time I was out shooting.  Dallas Divide and Telluride provided some amazing scenic vistas and I was glad to be able to share them with someone special.  I’d been asked numerous times where we were going and it was tough not to spill the beans.

After a couple of days in Dallas Divide / Telluride area, we headed to another of my favorite locations: Maroon Bells Wilderness.

Sunrise the first morning was met with cool temperatures (especially since we were on-site about 90 minutes ahead of morning twilight).  Twilight and sunrise came and went; the image I created of sunrise was one of my better shots, as you could see the ‘Bells, the remaining fall foliage, the reflection in Maroon Lake…but with absolute calm that morning, you could also see into Maroon Lake, adding another layer of complexity and amazement to the image.

After sunrise was done, I once again, packed up the gear to head out on the lower loop to some of my favorite spots along the trail.  Maroon Creek was still flowing fairly good and there was a spot that just spoke to me due to the composition that lay before me:

Moody Maroon Creek

Fall colors is such a fun time, but before you know it, it is all done and photographers go into a lull as we await the season change.  That isn’t to say there weren’t some photography hikes, but the plan was more about just hiking and enjoying the great outdoors than to be creating new images.  I did have a couple of fun adventures, using solar powered Christmas lights, in an effort to create images for my Christmas Card and other future uses.

December rolled in and it was time to head towards Arizona.  The last four or five years, I have stopped at the Grand Canyon en route to metro Phoenix, to do some photography and add to my portfolio.  This year, I decided to stay at Bright Angel Lodge (a cabin to the west of the lodge itself).  The plan was to hike up The Rim Trail to Powel Memorial or maybe even to Hopi Point and shoot sunset, then hike back, crash and get up to shoot morning twilight and sunrise at Mather Point.  The forecast was iffy that sunrise would be worthwhile, but I certainly wanted to see what transpired.

The hike along The Rim Trail is one I highly recommend; you have an opportunity to see the canyon from so many different angles and perspectives!  I arrived at Powel Memorial about 15 minutes ahead of sunset.  After setting up and doing a few test shots, I started to see the sunset light, so I focused on my goal.  As many times as I have visited Grand Canyon National Park, there is always something new, something special about the moments I spend in the park.  This sunset was truly magnificent!!

Powel Memorial Sunset

While I awaited the light to change more, I turned about 120 degrees to my left and was totally astounded by even more amazing color, so I turned my attention to that scene, adjusted settings appropriately and created this gorgeous image:

Sunset Color at Powel Memorial

Usually, I will stay well beyond evening twilight, because there is potential for magical photography moments.  This night was different; the looming storm I’d soon hear/see (the following morning) was changing the light enough that I decided it was prudent to begin my trek back to the cabin, have supper and prepare for the morning photography (little did I know the plan would change).

My alarm was set for 4:45am.  The alarm went off, I awoke to the wind howling and as I looked out one of the windows, it was snowing rather well.  I looked at the Accuweather forecast and weather radar; potential for a break in the weather, so I chose to sleep for another hour vice hiking over to Mather Point in heavy winds and snow.

When I woke up at 5:45am, the conditions were not getting any better.  Hmmm…what to do.

I was awake, though I did not see any potential for photography with the thick fog / snow / wind.  Eventually I did get up, packed up and drove over to the parking area near the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center and trekked out to Mather Point.  There was a small break in the weather, so I did create a few images, but the goal I had in mind was not going to come to fruition this day, so I packed up my gear and left Grand Canyon (Mather Point and other locations will be there for my next trip!).

Mother Nature has her plan and when things are not going according to your desires, you can try to fight the conditions or you can accept that conditions are not optimal and choose to return another time (or another time after that!).  After all, it’s more about being there, seeing the potential and enjoying what is around you.  If conditions are not perfect, you are not going to change that by whining.  More appropriate to accept the situation and plan to return when conditions are more suitable.

2015 has been an interesting year and one that seems to have flown by at Mach 3.  Going to try slowing things down a little in 2016, spend more time focusing on the details just that much more, perhaps spend more time in each location just looking for the smallest of details.  2016 goal setting to come real soon!!!

Exploring the Handies Peak Wilderness

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They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  I must admit, I have missed the creative process of writing though my motivation and capability to discover purpose in writing have been absent.  Adventures a plenty over the last few months exploring new places and hiking as much as I can.  I suppose hiking over 200 miles in the last 2-1/4 months would be something to write about…

What motivated me to get writing again is the rejuvenating of my spirit over Independence Day weekend, while 4-wheeling, hiking and creating images in American Basin, in the Handies Peak Wilderness SSW of Lake City, CO.

I departed from metro Denver at about 10:30pm on Thursday night with the plan to stop in Frisco, for the overnight.  Slept hard and got on the road by 7am.  Knowing everybody and their brother would be headed into the mountains, I wanted to get to my chosen destination area and get camp set up as early as possible.

My plan was to secure a campsite at Mill Creek Campground if one was available or if need-be, find a dispersed site somewhere between Mill Creek Campground and American Basin trailhead.  I was fortunate to get into the area early enough to have my choice of campsites.  I picked a suitable spot and got camp set up.

AmericanBasin_July2015-004

It was approximately 12:30pm and I was ready to head up to American Basin while the weather was still fairly decent.  The forecast for the weekend wasn’t looking great, following a trend for this summer of more moisture and slightly cooler temperatures.

Cinnamon Pass holds a special place in my heart; many years ago, my parents, sister and I spent some time in Lake city and during one adventure, we took our Chevy Suburban up over Cinnamon Pass.  Somewhere near the summit, we passed through a choke point that literally left us with only a couple of inches between the rocks and the Suburban.

My 4Runner is still wearing her stock shoes (tires) with ~37,000 miles on ‘em and close to being replaced, so I  was not prepared to go up over Cinnamon Pass just yet.  Besides, I was focused on wildflowers in American Basin, so off I was to explore the magnificence!

AmericanBasin_July2015-009

I had already crossed one stream on the way up and had one more to cross before getting to American Basin.  I chose my line and started to make my way across the stream.  The crossing was pretty easy overall, though I was a little nervous due to the limited tread and less-than-ideal tires for the conditions.  Once at American Basin, I had a task to complete before I could head off to create wildflower images.  My sister recently picked up extension tubes for her camera, so I wanted to create a few examples for her, so she had a reference from which to begin her experimenting.  Here is one example of the images I created for the extension tubes tutorial (70mm + 20mm extension tube)

70mm + 20mm Extension Tube

Tutorial tasks complete, I grabbed my gear and started meandering around, looking for wildflowers.  I found a nice cluster of Colorado Columbine that caught my eye:

Columbine in American Basin

As I continued my trekking around, I came across more of that unique purple looking paintbrush, that wasn’t familiar to me.  Using my Colorado Wildflowers App on my smartphone later, I found these to be “Rose Paintbrush.”  Mountain Goldenrod and Rose Paintbrush were plentiful in my trek:

Mountain Goldenrod & Rose Paintbrush

The clouds were becoming more noticeable and hints of thunder in the distance had me wondering how long the conditions would last.  This dark crimson wildflower around the basin is called “King’s Crown” and seemed to be rather abundant throughout American Basin:

King's Crown Portrait

A week prior, while hiking in the James Peak Wilderness, I came across some purple wildflowers that I had done some macro photography on…Parry’s Primrose!  The Parry’s Primose in American Basin were not quite a big, but they sure added a nice color to the scenery!

Basin Wildflowers

The Lake Fork Gunnison River was flowing pretty strong still due to the ever-present snow up high in the Handies Peak Wilderness.  As the clouds continued to get dark and ominous, I created one last image before I made my way back to the 4Runner and back to camp:

Lake Fork Gunnison River Wildflowers

Once back at camp, I made some dinner (Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles) and was going to start post-processing the day’s pics.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten my CF card reader or USB cable.  So, I headed into Lake City to see if the General Store had anything to facilitate my need.  As luck would have it, they had a CF card reader, so I purchased that and then updated the weather app on my smartphone.  The update didn’t make me very thrilled, as it called for rain overnight and potential for heavy rains all day Saturday (I wouldn’t bank on the forecast validity beyond 24 hours right now; conditions seem to be fluctuating quite a bit).

A little thinking during the rest of the evening, to figure out the game-plan for Saturday…

7 Years…Living life to the fullest!

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25 April 2008.  A day that changed my life forever.

I could dwell on the aspects that are negative in nature, but that would not change things!  I am still here for a reason and I choose to live in the positive!

Over the course of the last seven years, I have had a number of issues (medically speaking) that definitely affected my self-esteem, but perseverance is one thing my parents instilled in me very early on in my childhood.  As a result, I have not given up on finding answers to what causes the medical issues.  In the meantime, life presents so many adventures and it is my duty (if only to myself) to continue my journey exploring the corners of the earth and everything in between!

From Australia to the countless photography adventures throughout the United States, I am truly blessed to have the opportunities for exploration.  Below are just a few images from various adventures that I thought I would share.

2011_AdelaideSA

Melbourne Skyline

Royal Botanic Gardens

2011_VicGreatOceanRoad

2012_ArchesTwilight

2012_FallColors

2012_VoF_FireWave

Pink Bells

2013_MBWA_Wildflowers

Sunrise at Temple of the Virgins

2014_AdirondacksCabin

SCW Sunrise

2014_AZSunset

The Indian Peaks Awaken

Camo Ranger!

Sunset at Cape Royal

Mt. Wilson & Fall Foliage

Wildflowers & Ulysses S. Grant Peak

Blue Columbine

The Rio Grande Flows!

Twilight at Second Beach

Along the way, I have met a lot of really interesting people, made a lot of friends and learned that we all have a purpose!  Remember that YOU are here for a reason.  Live with purpose and passion!!

One final item to share, from something I found 20+ years ago:

The Time Bank

Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. 

It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. 

There is no going back. There is no drawing against tomorrow. You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today. 

Spring: A time of rejuvenation!!

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Rejuvenation…That is what Spring means for me.

This year, more so than many years prior, I am feeling substantially more rejuvenated.

Starting in late October 2014 and going through early March 2015, my physical, mental and emotional state was just not where it needed to be.  Battling some health issues for half of December, all of January and a large portion of February really had me down.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, things stabilized somewhat in March.  Turning my focus towards a trip to Big Bend National Park, I became excited to explore and create new images.  Aaron Bates (@AaronBatesPhoto) and I had been discussing a joint trip to @BigBendNPS for wildflowers, night-sky photography and whatever else may come to be during the trip.

The first of April finally came and the trip was on!  Arriving late on the 1st, I made it to the hotel near the airport by 11:30pm and quickly got myself situated for the morning.  Aaron picked me up and we endured the long drive from Austin to Big Bend NP.  Shortly before the entrance, we saw this field of yellow before us and just had to stop and do a little shooting!

Wildflower Prairie

As we entered the park, we noticed the wildflowers were looking pretty fantastic, so we knew that part of the trip would certainly be up to our expectations.  The weather forecast, however, was not looking to be very promising, for our intended goal of some night-sky photography…but we still resolved to give it a go, if feasible.

First up was finding a campsite.  Signage as we entered the park indicated our fortune may not be so good; campsites seemed to be in short supply.  We made our way to Chisos Basin Campground and after seeing the short supply, were almost resigned to taking one site for the first overnight, then grabbing a different one the next day if one came available.  As luck would have it, a site that was taken just before we got there, opened up for the whole time we be there, so we snagged that and got our camp set up.

Having camp set up, we made our way up to Window View Trail to get ourselves prepared for sunset.  The clouds on the western horizon weren’t looking like things would come together for sunset, but we still had some time, so we headed up to the Chisos Mountains Lodge dining room for dinner.  After dinner, we dropped down the hill to the Window View Trail and got ourselves in position to shoot sunset.

As the time approached for sunset, Mother Nature was not cooperating very well though there were a few moments where the light, clouds and scene were just gorgeous!

Red Window Clouds

Aaron and I hung around until a bit after evening twilight.  The longer we waited, the worse the cloud cover became.  One shot that Aaron was really keen to get (and subsequently me too, once he talked about the location a bit) was stars over Window Notch.  Sadly, the cloud-cover squashed that opportunity for night#1.

Next up was sunrise; given the forecast wasn’t looking great, we set the alarm so as to be able to get up and get out to a location for sunrise if the conditions prevailed.

The alarm went off and we both awoke to blustery and very overcast weather.  The likelihood of anything worthwhile for sunrise was negligible, so we decided to skip sunrise and see how things looked after a couple of hours.  The extra hour of snooze time was nice and after getting ready to start the day, Aaron and I headed out towards Chihuahuan Desert Trail area to shoot wildflowers.  The Ocotillo were a mix of blooming and still somewhat dormant.  Bluebonnet’s along the roadways were vibrant and plentiful.  One spot we stopped had a nice field of wild petunia’s, bluebonnet’s and marigolds!!

Wild Petunia, Bluebonnet's & Marigold's

We spent a couple of hours shooting as well as a drive down a dirt road on the north end of the park area.  The goal was to scout out good wildflowers for a stop as we exited the park, en route back to Austin.  In typical fashion, time flew by and we both were getting hungry, so we headed back to Chisos Basin to grab some lunch before we undertook the longest trek of the trip.

A full belly was good; our next location was a measly 6.1 miles away.  South Rim Trail is…hmmm…how should I say this…a great, but exhausting trek!  The first three miles of the hike are quite the butt-kicker.  Climbing from roughly 5300 ft at Chisos Mountain Lodge to almost 6600 feet of elevation.  A short section of up & down for .4 miles, then another 1.3 miles of up (another 600 feet of elevation gain in 1.3 miles).  Two hours and forth minutes from start to the South Rim area.  Not bad, carrying ~40lbs of gear (we did leave unnecessary lens gear to free up some of the normal weight) and 3L of water!

The views from the south rim are absolutely stunning and, when Mother Nature cooperates, could provide for some amazing night-sky spots.  Big Bend NP is noted for being one of the prime dark-sky locations in the USA.  The temperature change from Chisos Basin to South Rim was not significant…at first.  After 15-20 minutes of consuming some trail bars and hydration and taking advantage of good light to shoot, winds started to pick up and we both found ourselves realizing things could get a little dicey if we were to stay beyond twilight.  Sunset was less than stellar with haze along the basin floor and clouds obscuring what would likely have been a phenomenal sunset under normal conditions.  Still managed to create a decent image.

South Rim Trail Sunset

About the time twilight hit, we both knew that the clouds were not going to clear and any shot of night-sky photography was out the window…so we began the process of trekking back to Chisos Basin.  The 6.1 miles in didn’t seem as long on the trek back, though by the time we hit the saddle which indicates the last 3 mile section of downhill to Chisos Basin, both of us were feeling it in our knees, hips and back.  Every so often on the trek back, we would do a 540 (360 horizontal and 180 vertical) to make sure we didn’t get surprised by critters (Bears & Mountain Lion are known inhabitants in the park).  Other than some “Common Pauraque” that were making odd noises and sitting on the trail until we approached then buzzing us (low flight), the trek back was rather uneventful!

We arrived back at Chisos Basin around 11pm and we were both ready to get back to camp, make a hot meal and then crash!  Before we did though, we used the free wifi up by the dining hall to check the weather forecast for the next day and much to our dismay, sunrise and the full lunar eclipse did not look to be very promising for shooting.

Once ready to crash, the alarm was set so that we could check the skies.  When the alarm went off, Aaron looked out the tent window and the sigh was almost deafening.  Overcast skies meant we would not have any chance of capturing the event.  Major bummer, since we were really looking forward to using the dark-sky properties of Big Bend NP to our advantage.

Another morning to sleep in a little (perhaps an hour or so).  Then we got up, headed up to down to the Alon fuel station / convenience store for some coffee and make our way back to the wildflowers in the eastern side of the park.  Along the way, we came across a small group of orange Indian Paintbrush.  Unique color mandated stopping to shoot.

This little cluster was absolutely gorgeous and I took the opportunity to do some macro photography using an extension tube attached to my ultra-wide lens!!

BBNP_April2015-138

We finished up shooting these magnificent Indian Paintbrush and headed off to get some coffee.  Coffee in-hand, we headed to the west side of the park to see what could come about there.  Amid the vast landscape we shot wildflowers and did another hike, this time out to Cattail Falls.  The water was flowing ever so slightly and the sun was out just enough to enjoy this little oasis for about an hour.

One the drive back to the campground, to have an early dinner, we saw a blooming yucca plant with The Chisos Mountains looming large behind it and a small cache of wildflowers nearby as well, so we turned around and drove back to the spot and parked so as to spend a little time there.

Yucca Portrait

We got to the dining hall about 10 minutes before they opened for dinner, so we had a chance to use the wifi and review the weather forecast.  There was a chance the skies would be clear, so our plan to shoot sunset at the Rio Grande Overlook in the southeast part of the park had potential.

Dinner was pretty good.  If you are ever at Big Bend National Park, the Chicken Parmigiana at the dining hall is fantastic!!  Bellies full (once again), we set out for our sunset location.  Wildflowers distracted us a little and eventually we had to scoot or we would miss sunset.

The trek from the parking lot just beyond the Rio Grande RV Park up to the overlook is only about a half mile in length with about 300 feet of elevation gain.  The trail is a bit rocky, so watching foot placement is important as you don’t want to roll and ankle here!

The wind was a but of an issue once again, though the views were amazing.  As sunset time approached we were dealt another blow by Mother Nature.  Cloud cover obscured the sun almost completely…

Sunset at Rio Grande Overlook

Hiking back to the vehicle, we both talked about the need to return to Big Bend NP when the weather was more conducive to our photographic wishes.  The drive back to camp was spent discussing the game-plan for the last day.  We decided to get going early, break down camp and shoot as many wildflowers as we could on the east side, west side and then as we headed out of the park on the drive back to Austin.

Camp break-down took about 15 minutes and we were off.  In typical fashion, the skies were looking amazing and our day started looking up!!  There was still a slight breeze as we shot wildflowers on the east side of the park and the first couple of spots on the west side of the park.  Near the west entrance station, Aaron pulled into a turn-out to look show me the neat variation in soil color to the north.

A huge variety of wildflowers at this spot made both of us grab the cameras and tripods.  Seeing an Ocotillo bloom partially open, we both were shooting a variety of compositions to show the beauty:

Blooming Ocotillo

Cactus flowers were everywhere.  Such vibrant colors where a no-brainer to shoot.

Prickly Pear Color!

We finished creating images here and started driving out to Big Bend Ranch State Park to see what wildflowers we might see there.  A nice variety of flowers here and there; eventually we realized time had once again slipped away and we needed to make our way back to Austin.  Returning to Study Butte, Terlingua and the west entrance, we plodded along.  The 45mph speed limit made for a slower than desired drive.

Towards the north entrance to the park, a field of purple with spots of orange caught our eyes and yes, we had to stop one more time!  Aaron had some compositions in mind and while he was off doing his thing, I did a couple more macro shots, one of Globemallow:

Macro Globemallow

and one of Wild Heliotrope (aka Scorpionweed):

Macro Scorpionweed

Finally we left the park, heading up US-385 towards Fort Stockton.  Shortly before we got to Fort Stockton, we were driving through an area where a storm had recently passed through and seeing this storm off in the distance to the east, we both saw this storm as a great black + white composition (which we would later share out as a dual composition to show our visions were very similar).

SharedVision

The remainder of the drive to Austin was spent talking about this trip, plans for future trips to Big Bend NP and a few other locations where we could meet up and do some photography.  Feeling very rejuvenated by the fantastic trip to Big Bend NP, my outlook on things has improved quite a bit!  Wildflowers a breath of fresh air and getting in the first camping trip of the season sure helped as well.

Placing too much pressure on yourself can have adverse effects.  Wildflowers, beautiful vistas, camping and grand hikes were exactly what I needed to take that weight off!

Adventures along the Olympic Peninsula

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Many months of planning and departure day finally arrived.  My departure for the Pacific Northwest was on leading edge of a pretty large winter storm.  Many folks I talked with suggested I was nuts to be heading out of town, but I would not miss the opportunities available.  No moon, weather forecast for the area I was headed looking good, why not go? I arrived at Denver International Airport with 2 hours and 15 minutes before scheduled departure.  As luck would have it, 40 minutes before departure, the status changed on the gate information screen.  One more change occurred before we finally did get airborne.  Arriving at SEA two hours later than planned was not fun.  I managed to get my checked bag and my rental car in fairly short order for the short drive to Tacoma for the first night. I arose at a reasonable time and allowed myself time to leisurely get going, have some breakfast and start the drive to Forks, WA.  Along the way, I enjoyed the drive through the western side of the Puget Sound.  The sun peeked in & out of clouds pretty consistently.  At one point, I saw signs for Fort Worden State Park and decided I had plenty of time to get to Forks and the beach area, so I turned to take a little detour. During World War II, Fort Worden and the State Park that is there now, was used as a gun battery by the U.S. Army to protect the Puget Sound. OlympicNPTrip_Feb2015-016 As I walked around, I enjoyed the fresh air though I could sense the humidity rising.  Having my fill of the area, I got back in my rental car and started driving towards Forks by way of Port Angeles.  Stopped at a drive-through for some food while in Port Angeles and quickly got back on the road. Lake Crescent was looking pretty amazing, but the myriad of moss-covered trees and rocks were garnering more of my attention when I suddenly saw a small stream / waterfall and just had to stop. OlympicNPTrip_Feb2015-020 The area certainly has earned its’ reputation for having a lot of moisture.  I checked into my motel, grabbed my gear and headed out.  Time to go explore Rialto Beach and prepare for Sunset, though I prayed hard that the cloud-cover would disappear.  The drive from Forks down to Rialto Beach took about 20 minutes.  Once there, I started to gear up and felt a few rain drops, so I took my F-Stop Loka UL backpack off and donned my Gore-Tex rain gear, just to be sure I stayed dry. As I walked up the beach, the tide was still on its’ way out so I had to pay attention to incoming waves to be sure I didn’t get caught off-guard.  The first thing I noticed as I moved along the beach was the driftwood.  The logs were just huge.  One log had some amazing burls that I could only imagine what could be made from them if they were able to be harvested (not something that is possible). OlympicNPTrip_Feb2015-037 As sunset time approached, Mother Nature was not very inclined to cooperate.  However, with the clouds, driftwood on the beach and waves the opportunity for an interesting shot without sunset came about. Rialto Beach Driftwood Knowing the surroundings and reading the conditions is an important part of nature photography.  I spent a few minutes watching the cloud movement (or lack thereof) and decided that spectacular sunset conditions would not happen that day, so I opted to trek back to my vehicle and drive up and around to First Beach, to see what potential existed there. Making my way down to the beach, there were some even larger bits of driftwood.  Still not much to crank my chimes, so I did something that I normally avoid…I put myself in front of the camera. First Beach, Driftwood and Me A couple of minutes later, while I was trying to capture the motion of the waves, a stray dog started running around near me.  He seemed to enjoy running around in the shallow surf.  Eventually he ran off and I finished what I was doing, so that I could head back to Forks, for dinner. Changing Tides After dinner, I returned to my motel room and began the process of importing my images from the day.  Post-processing would happen either sometime during the day on Saturday or maybe Sunday while flying home.  I wanted to get a solid night of sleep and be prepared to get up for sunrise down at Second Beach. When I got up at 4am, the clouds were still present and it was still raining on & off.  I looked at the weather radar on my smartphone and decided to go back to bed and head to Second Beach mid-morning during low tide. Low Tide would provide better opportunities to explore Second Beach, if the weather cooperated, which it did!  The trek from the parking area down is about .6 mile.  As I started down the last 200 yards, I knew that I was in for a treat!  The first few spots I shot were intended to get a feel for the light.  I decided I needed to move down the beach a ways to get more of what I looking for, like these reflections of Crying Lady Rock: Crying Lady Rock I spent a few hours trekking around on Second Beach, working my way from the trail entrance South along the beach, then up the beach past Crying Lady Rock towards Natural Arch: Natural Arch Approaching mid-day, I was starting to get a little hungry, so I made my way back to the parking area, then back up to Forks for a quick lunch.  Next stop was to the Hoh Rainforest.  While this area is amazing and indicative of the massive amounts of rain that fall upon the Olympic Peninsula, I did not want to drive to another, lesser-known yet more impressive rainforest as I wanted to be back at Second Beach for sunset. The Hoh rainforest turn off of US-101 is only 13 miles South of Forks, but then you have another 18 miles along Upper Hoh Road to the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center and trailhead.  Given the limited time I had available, I opted to just trek around the “Hall of Moss” trail which is about .8 miles in length.  There were plenty of gorgeous scenes.  As I made my way along the trail, I found a fallen tree that had this unique moss growing on the bark.  Seeing an opportunity, I put on my 36mm extension tub and 16-35 f/2.8 II lens, zoomed out to 35mm, I practiced a little macro photography: Macro Moss Getting my fill of macro photography, I disassembled my inexpensive macro setup and put my 24-105 lens back on the camera body and continued along the trail.  I came across  another unique scene that required me to stop and make a few images.  A natural keyhole in a fallen tree with more of that moss growing: Keyhole Moss Time was flying by and I needed to get back to Forks and down to the parking area at the Second Beach Trailhead, so I could be on the beach and set up in advance of sunset.  The drive back was quiet and as I made my way down to Second Beach, I was excited for the potential. The day before, the cloud cover had wiped out any opportunity for sunset or twilight. Again, once on the beach, I made my way down the beach looking for just the right composition (I had a vision in my mind, so it was merely a matter of finding that spot).  Sunset was a few minutes away, but the composition I was really looking for was the sun just above the horizon, using a smaller aperture to create a star with Crying Lady Rock and the beach in the foreground.  My research ahead of time, to know low tide times enabled me to be able to have a vast amount of the beach available.  I considered shooting a little closer to Crying Lady Rock, but the composition did not feel quite right so I backed up about 15 yards and was more satisfied with the view. Second Beach Sunstar Sunset was pretty, though nothing overly spectacular.  The icing on the cake was only 25 minutes away or so.  Twilight.  One of my favorite times of day or night.  The moon was close to setting as twilight come around, adding to the overall vision I had during my pre-trip research more than I was expecting! Twilight at Second Beach Darkness fell over Second Beach quickly once twilight was over.  The dinner bell was ringing (or my stomach was telling me so! lol).  I had one more trek down to Second Beach in a couple of hours, to try a little night-sky photography, but first food. The two hours or so I spent tinkering around Forks gave me time to revisit my notes and get myself prepared for the night sky.  I removed my Canon 24-105 lens and put on a rented Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 lens from Borrowlenses.com.  I also put my CamRanger (with TetherTools hotshoe mount) on the camera body and connected up the USB <->mini-USB cable between the CamRanger and camera body and placed my iPad in the TripodClamps mount on the tripod.  I could have carried the normal backpack of gear with me, but I had already put about 8 miles on for the day and was getting a bit tired, so I wanted to keep the load light. About 9pm, I got in the vehicle and drove down to the parking area and trekked down to Second Beach.  I had chosen Second Beach for the night-sky work because it was darker than Rialto Beach and was a fairly easy trek.  If I wanted the sky to be even darker, I could have trekked to Third Beach though that trek is a bit longer than Second Beach.  The one thing I had forgotten (but quickly realized, once I started shooting) is that the Milky Way is less visible during Winter months. Milky Way over Quateata Ultimately, I still had plenty of fun and enjoyed practicing night-sky photography more, along with getting more used to using the CamRanger apparatus!  Over the course of the Spring, Summer and Fall months of 2015, I will be spending more time shooting the night sky, in addition to my normal range of landscape/nature photography.

Gear Review: CamRanger

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As 2014 came to a close, I had a bit of a revelation with regards to 2014; I had 10,000+ images for the year after traveling by far the most I had ever done in a given year.  The images I had created produced some of my best work to date.

But, being somewhat of a perfectionist (go figure, right?!), I wanted to step my creative quality up a few notches, so I started considering what it would take to accomplish my goal.

This may sound odd to some, but adding electronics to the mix was an idea I’ve had, to make the process of creating images, more efficient and effective.

So how the heck would including electronics in the mix make my images better?  The answer is fairly simple.  Many of us use the post image creation histogram to see if we’re capturing the scene before us correctly.  If you are not using the histogram, maybe now would be a good time to start.  The histogram (I prefer the RGB histogram, not the brightness histogram) allows the photographer to see where the light spectrum is with respect to the ISO, metering mode, aperture and shutter speed selections.

Okay, so now you are using the RGB histogram.  Great.  Wait, I thought you said you were including electronics in the process of making your image creation better?  Ha ha…I did!

So, now that I’ve prefaced this gear review sufficiently, the added electronics I am speaking of are:

  1. iPAD3 (or similar tablet device)
  2. CamRanger (primary item being reviewed here)
  3. Eyefi Mobi SDHC memory card

The screen on most DSLR cameras, while having a decent resolution, are just too small to really make quality decisions about the images that are produced.  Can you see the RGB histogram?  Sure.  Is the screen-size large enough to use for Live View?  Hmmm….For my purposes, I found myself longing for something larger.  So I started researching.  Initially, I tried using a mini-HDMI cable to Apple 30-pin connector to see the images and use my iPad3 for Live View.  Unfortunately, that was a total flop.  The cables were not that expensive, so I was not overly bummer, but still, I had a desire to see the scene before me when out shooting, in Live View mode on my iPad3.

Research and more research.  I came upon the website for CamRanger and was immediately intrigued.  This device works with a large number of the current Canon & Nikon DSLR cameras and offers features above and beyond the immediate need I had (Live View).  The list of features (and sub-features for major feature) is as follows (taken directly from the CamRanger Features page):

Live View

  • Wirelessly stream live view from the camera to the device
  • Double tap to increase magnification
  • Single tap to focus on an area or make an incremental focus adjustment
  • Perform focus stacking
  • Frame rate of 8 – 18 fps depending on the camera

Take and View Pictures

  • Wirelessly capture images in multiple drive modes
  • Thumbnails automatically appear on the top of the screen after taking a picture
  • Tap a thumbnail to view the image and its’ associated metadata
  • Images are saved to the camera care and optionally downloaded to the device (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, or Mac or Windows computer)
  • Optionally select to have images automatically view on the device

View Full Resolution Images

  • Double tap to view the image a full resolution
  • Supports full screen mode to maximize the screen size
  • Toggle a variety of overlays: AF points, highlight, shadow, grid lines, and aspect ration

Auto-View

  • Configure your device to automatically display pictures as they are taken
  • Toggle on “Client Mode” to remove camera controls from the device
  • Allows others such as clients, directors, or associates to quickly and wirelessly view the shots after they are taken by the photographer at the camera

Movie Recording

  • Start and stop movie recording
  • View video while recording
  • Focus adjustments and touch focusing
  • Movie features are very camera dependent, see supported cameras for more details

Intervalometer and Bulb

  • Configure as an intervalometer to take time lapse pictures
  • Supports bulb mode with typical control and by using custom defined shutter lengths
  • No need for your device to remain connected after starting

View and Set Camera Properties

  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • Metering Mode
  • Drive/Shooting Mode
  • White Balance
  • Image Format
  • Focus Mode (Nikon Only)
  • Auto Exposure Mode (Nikon Only)
  • Exposure Compensation & Bracketing
  • Software Auto-Focus toggle to toggle AF/MF

HDR / Advanced Bracketing

  • Configure CamRanger to take a series of pictures automatically varying Shutter Speed, Aperture or ISO
  • Images can then be post-processed with 3rd party software

View Camera Card Contents

  • View thumbnails of the images on your camera’s memory card
  • Select images to be permanently deleted or download them and save into your own device’s photo library
  • Double tap image to view full resolution image

Macro Photography

  • Provides a very precise focusing control
  • Great for situations requiring awkward camera placements
  • Perform automatic focus stacking to enhance depth of field (post processing with 3rd party software required)

Share Images to Multiple Devices

  • Take photos from either the camera or an iPad, Android device, Mac or Windows computer and have clients, directors, colleagues or students view the images or live feed from their own device using the “CamRanger Share” application which is specific for each platform
  • If the photographer has the watermarks feature turned on then the person using CamRanger Share app will see watermarks as well on their own device

Control or Tether Multiple Cameras from one computer

  • Control multiple cameras and CamRanger using the CamRanger Launcher application
  • Supported on Mac and Windows computers
  • The CamRangers in use require updated firmware
  • Requires the most recent CamRanger and CamRanger Launcher software

So far, in the two test sessions, I have found the device to be very easy to use.  Selection of ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, focus point, White Balance, etc. are all very easy to perform.  I have not yet tested the focus stack functionality yet nor have I tested Bulb / Intervalometer mode, but am confident that doing focus stacks or longer exposures with Bulb mode will be extremely easy!  The one thing I am very pleased with is the ability to see an image taken in full screen on my iPad3.  Sure beats Live View the smaller 3.2” LCD on the camera.

The CamRanger comes in a nice pouch with a pocket for the CamRanger and another pouch for the USB to mini-USB cable.  I also have a spare battery in the front pouch.  In the main compartment, I have the CamRanger and the Tether Tools hotshoe mount.

In the next month or so, I plan to use the CamRanger & iPad3 while on a photography trip.  Hopefully, the setup performs as it has thus far!  Below are some images of the CamRanger, Tripod Clamp, iPad3 along with some of the resultant images:

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Getting the creative juices flowing…

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The last few weeks have been a blur.  Much as I wish I could have spent much more time outdoors, I’ve not been feeling great.  Over the holidays, I endured three weeks of on & off medical issues that forced me to see my allergy doc.  After visiting with my allergy doc for 45 minutes, doing a slew of labs and getting the first few results, my allergy doc prescribed a modified med plan and a few other things which I won’t get into, but suffice to say, I’m not taking this lying down!!!

While I have not spent much time in my happy place (the great outdoors) the last few weeks, I have been pondering ideas and planning a couple of photography trips coming soon.  I also have a longer-term project I’ve been working on that continues to drive me nuts, to find just the right composition elements and location.  Eventually (being the stubborn ‘dutch-swede’ that I am. LOL) I will find the right location that has the elements I desire!!!

On Saturday, 17 Jan 2015, I felt a need to get out and start exploring.  Not only did I need to find the location, but I wanted to see the progress made on repairing US-34 from Loveland to Estes Park.  The temporary roadway is actually pretty amazing and I’m sure that once the roadway is finished, the chance of having flood related issues again should be minimized to the maximum.

On my quest to find “the composition location,” I drove around in Rocky Mountain National Park, going in through the Beaver Meadows entrance, up Bear Lake Road exploring the various off-shoots (Cub lake, Fern lake area, Moraine Park, Sprague Lake, Hollowell Park), then back to up to Deer Mountain Trailhead and down through Horseshoe Park area and back out through Fall River entrance/exit.  Over the course of exploring, I found a couple of spots that may well work for what I am wanting to do.

As I dropped down into the Horseshoe Park area, the light was pretty spectacular for mid-afternoon, so stopped, grabbed my camera and got to pressing the shutter button!  After doing post-processing on the image, using both a black + white version

RMNP-Scouting_B+W

and color version,

RMNP-Scouting_Color

then asking the public for their opinion, as much as I love black + white, the color version really conveyed exactly what I saw at that particular moment!

What surprises me most when looking at both the black + white and the color images is that they are the same image, just processed in B+W or in color.  I may re-do the post-processing of the black+white using my larger 27″ monitor to see if I can make the black + white work better from a tonal perspective.

The next few weeks will be spent looking over other locations up the Cache Le Poudre canyon to the north of Rocky Mountain National Park and a few spots in the Indian Peaks Wilderness to the south of Rocky Mountain National Park as well as anywhere else I happen to be that will meet my need.

The delicate balance (between office time and field time)

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What drives us to operate as though we were a jet airplane, able to sustain Mach 5 continuously?

How do we dance the delicate dance between our craft (for me, a photographer) and all of the other activities that we must do for our business, such as promoting our work on social media, interacting with peers, clients and potential clients both on social media as well as through email or phone calls?

Then, add into the mix the need to spend time going back through your image archive on a periodic basis to see if there are images you may have overlooked after a shoot, that are actually worthy of post-processing and you find yourself in a bit of a conundrum with time.

Recently, @rwongphoto posted a blog post regarding the need to reprocess old photos.  Richards blog post was spot on with regards to looking over old images and if you still have the raw files, leverage newer post-processing software and techniques to bring those overlooked images to life.

The delicate balance we must dance can, at times, feel a bit overwhelming.  There are only 86,400 seconds in a day and once those seconds are gone, there is no gaining them back.  At the end of the day, you should have made the absolute most of each of those seconds.

Time in the office, performing all of those tasks for running business may seem mundane, but I do believe that they are just as critical as the more preferred activity of being out in the field, scouting or shooting.

The more I consider the topic, the more I scratch my head.  I’d like to think I’ve learned how to multi-task pretty well.  However, the last couple of months, in doing some self-reflection and analysis of how well I things are going, I feel like I have been a bit lackluster in my overall performance.

Perhaps I bit off more than I could chew during the course of 2014 and being one to stay positive and keep charging hard, it is hard for me to slow down and possibly scale back my overall goals for 2015.  That said, I continue to evaluate my goals and desires for the year.  My photographic goals are all still in-tact and achievable, but as I look at those goals I am considering a bit of a shift in terms of what I want to accomplish on those shoots.  My creative and compositional technique have become (to me) a bit predictable.  I need to challenge myself to break out of the current norm and try different compositions.

Reviewing 2015 is going to be interesting, to say the least!

Returning to the subject of archive review and image re-processing, I was going through my archive the other night and came across a few images I had completely overlooked.  One I had not flagged at all, yet as I went through the images from that outing, I saw this image and wondered what I may have missed, so I flagged it and started to post-process.

The more I looked, the more the story came back to me, about the day.  It was a bitter cold day with much stronger winds than I would normally have done any shooting in.  There were moments where the wind would stop for a minute or two, giving me just enough time to frame a shot and create an image or two (maybe).  The indicating factor for the strong winds was the roll cloud above the Indian Peaks that had that soft, but clearly defined look!

The Indian Peaks Awaken

A few weeks later, during a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, a trip that I will remember for the rest of my life due to the absolutely amazing, yet highly unexpected conditions!  The image I re-processed from this trip was done because I really like how the snow was absent from the very tip of the dunes in certain spots forming nice lines, along with the light creating nice shadows.  This day was amazing simply for the fact that after waiting through a snowstorm after a early trek that day that was cut short (snow was coming down very hard and the light was too flat to even think about trying to shoot anything), a buddy and I returned to a gorgeous blanket of snow covering the dunes. The snow depth varied from 6” to probably 15” in some areas.  Mother Nature sure knows how to make a curve-ball day turn out much better than one may have anticipated!

Contrasting Dunes

The last image I have found, so far, is from a trek to Lake Helene in Rocky Mountain National Park.  A rock formation called “Little Matterhorn” fascinates me and provides a dramatic backdrop for composition at Lake Helene.  On this particular day, the weather was pretty good for snowshoeing…at least until I got to the spot near Marigold Pond about 1/4 mile away from Lake Helene.

As I approached this spot, I sensed the wind starting to pick up, which is usually an indication in Rocky that the weather may be changing.  Looking at the barometric pressure on my Garmin Tactix GPS watch, I did see a drop in the pressure, so I got myself set up and started to frame out the image below.  While I probably could have trekked to Lake Helene, the snowfall that Rocky Mountain National Park (and the whole St. Vrain valley) was pretty immense, and that led me to have concerns that a white-out would occur as I started my trek back to the Bear Lake Trailhead.  Yes, I have multiple GPS devices and sufficient safety gear, but that is no substitute for thinking strategically.

Suffice to say, I overlooked this particular image most likely because I did not really see the potential at first.  Going through the images from that trek, I saw this image was flagged, but had not had any post-processing done to the image.  After running the image through post-processing in Lightroom 5 and Silver Efex Pro 2, I like the composition.  Hints of something more allow the viewer to ponder what might be, beyond the small opening between the trees!

Peeking through to Little Matterhorn

So far, I’m through March of 2014 in my archive review.  How many more images will I find?  Then there is the question of how much time do I allocate to this task, as I need to get out in the field.  Quality over quantity though. Decisions decisions…

How often do you return to the same location?

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This morning, while engaged in a conversation on Twitter with @RWongPhoto & @chuq regarding re-processing images, I started thinking about this and I thought I would talk a little about my thoughts:

As photographers, we are in a constant state of activity, trying to get that perfect image from some magical location.

Here is a hypothetical (or real, depending on your view of your body of work) situation:  You have been going to a particular location to create that one absolutely amazing, perfect image.  After a few attempts, you finally manage to be at the location and everything comes together.

Now the question comes up, do you continue to return to that location to try and improve on your perfect image?

Here are some examples of a location that, while probably over-photographed, is one that I keep returning to, perhaps not the same time every year, but certainly fairly regularly.

August 29, 2012

Sunrise on the Bells II

September 24, 2012

Sunrise at Maroon Lake

July 21, 2013

Pink Bells

September 21, 2014

Spectacular Bells Sunrise!

As I look at the images, my gut sense is that the first and second images, from 2012 were the best creations so far.  The second is one I use for one of my business cards as I really was a magical morning.  But, I still lust for that one shot, that one day when I have all the components come together.

Do you return to the same location over and over again, even after you have created that one super magical image?  If so, what are your motivations to return?  What elements are you looking for to make the image be “the one?!”