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The Best Images of 2014; A Year of Exploration!!

Another year is coming to a close.  How quickly the years seem to pass as I get older.

Building upon my explorations of 2013, I created a list of [photographic] goals to accomplish for the year.  A number of my photographic location goals for the year were met and a few were not met just yet.  A few of them were attempted or planned, but due to unforeseen circumstances, had to be delayed or skipped for another time.

Of course, shoot location goals are but a small part of what each year consists of.  Learning how to maximize use of Social Media, balancing that along working has been an interesting challenge.  Definitely a lot more to learn in this area, but I am ready to tackle that head-on.

Photography has been a part of my life, that I can remember, since the first opportunity I had to take a picture with a Rangefinder Leica my Dad had let me use once while we were camping near Flagstaff, AZ in the Summer of 1968.  Since that time, between my Dad and my maternal grandfather, I endured a lot of slide-shows and adventures which would ultimately shape my passion for photography and spending so much time in the great outdoors.

January was a bit of a bust for me; I had too many “life” things going on.  As the month wore on, I felt the need to get out, so I booked a room in Alamosa, CO for a couple of nights, so I could try yet again, to create the elusive images that I have envisioned, at Great Sand Dunes National Park.  A buddy of mine who likes to get out for snowshoeing was interested in going as well, so that helped split the expenses.

The trip down was an adventure all by itself in that we had a huge snow storm passing through the area.  But, you just never know, so we continued on.  We decided to go out and see what kind of light we would have before we checked into the hotel.  There were very few people there, which is part of why I like going to the ‘dunes in the Winter.  We trekked around, created a few images, but nothing super spectacular.  Soon the light was gone, so we worked our way back to my truck and drove to Alamosa.  The forecast for the next morning called for cold temps, possibly some icy roads, but decent otherwise!

We awoke to icy roads and after driving out to Great Sand Dunes and hiking for about an hour with light snow falling turning to heavy snowfall, we opted to go back to the hotel and see what else we could shoot while the storm front passed through.  Later that afternoon, we headed back to the dunes and were greeted with a 8 – 15” blanket of snow covering the dunes!  Knowing where I wanted to shoot, we made our way in that direction.  I’ve used snowshoes on the dunes in the Summer months a couple of times (sure looks funny, but help get up the dunes more simply).

If you have never seen snow-covered sand dunes, let me be the first to say “wow!”  The dunes looked so peaceful & serene.  Having created a number of images, using various locations and tripod heights, I came to the conclusion that the low angle was best.  I had created both color and black + white compositions and while both were favorites, the color image really allows the viewer to grasp the sense of scale, shadows and scene best!  Laying on the snow, with my Gitzo tripod flat on the ground, my camera was literally 6” above the ground.  My buddy was laughing at me as I lay on the snow looking through the viewfinder at the magnificent scene that lay before me!!

A Low Perspective

Next up in my Best of is a snowshoe trek to Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.  A buddy wanted to get back into snowshoeing and despite having lived in metro Denver for a number of years, had never been to Rocky.  Before we headed out, I asked him if he had any issues with deep snow and he exclaimed “not at all.”  So, rather than take the more direct route (because I wasn’t focused yet), we headed the backwards way.  By the time we arrived at Fern Pool, I realized the error of my ways and knew that we had to go up over the ridge to Cub Lake.  Getting there, however, would be more of a challenge than either of us realized at first.

The Fern Lake Trail had been used a bit, so the snow was semi-packed with only a few spots of powder at 6-8” in depth.  After crossing the bridge and trekking in 18” of powder for about a quarter mile, we both stopped for a breather and a bearing check.  The landscape is so much different when completely covered in snow and a light wind is kicking up snow.  Eventually, after a lot of effort, we summited the ridge and could see Cub Lake, so we continued on.  I had a vision earlier that week of a black + white composition from the middle of cub lake and like the sand dunes, laying on the snow to capture the shapes, patterns and snow granules as well as Stones Peak and the clouds above.  Mother Nature held the wind at bay for about 15 minutes (thank you very much!) while I created images.  So much fun!

Frozen Cub at Stones Peak

Anyone who has been to the Grand Canyon will have had to embrace the crowds the flock to the South Rim.  Many years ago, when I was little boy, I remember a trip from our campsite outside of Flagstaff up to the North Rim.  I had not been back since.  That changed in May.  Again, I must thank Mother Nature.  She provided an absolutely AWESOME sunset while at Cape Royal.  Camping there for a few days, right after the North Rim opened was awesome.  Not surprisingly, the campground was absolutely full shortly after I had completed setting up my campsite.  First up was Cape Royal. I chose Cape Royal during research based on the data from The Photographer’s Ephemeris.  The location was perfect and among the many images I created, the one that was created at sunset was definitely one eh best of the year!

Sunset at Cape Royal

The summer months were busy with private client work and before I knew It, I was beginning research & prep for a commercial client shoot in Telluride the first few days of October, followed by a 25 day road-trip for the remainder of October.  Just ahead of the Telluride work, I had a quick overnighter trip to Aspen for a sunrise at the Maroon Bells.  I have created many images here and had a new spot to try out, only I was thwarted by the Rangers who had put up a barrier preventing access to the area where I needed to, due to moose in the area.  Since I had arrived on-site well in advance (90 minutes prior to morning twilight), I trekked back to Maroon Lake to join the masses.  Yes, I have already created many images of the Maroon Bells here, but I could not just waste the twilight and sunrise!  Sunrise was okay; nothing special in my opinion, so after sunrise was done, I headed out to hike up the trail towards Crater Lake, to see what I could find.  A technique I had been wanting to experiment with came into play as I walked through the woods.  Creating abstract images is not something new, though I had never really attempted the technique.  While I trekked along, I saw a group of aspen trees and with the available light, I knew this was the right spot to try, to create an abstract.  A few try’s later, I was successful in creating an image that kind made me giddy.  Silly perhaps though anytime another tool can be added to your kit, you should embrace that, for you never know when that tool may need to come into play for a customer!

Abstract Aspens

The days following my trip to the Maroon Bells, I noticed the weather forecast for Telluride was looking pretty stellar followed by some less than stellar weather.  My client had specific needs and I wanted to be sure I did my due diligence to create images that would fit the needs.  Locals call fall foliage time “Telluride Gold” (#TellurideGold is commonly used on Twitter).  The season was starting to get into full swing and as I hiked up the 18th fairway of the golf course, I did a 360.  Halfway through my turn, my eyes took in the fantastic clouds coming in over “the wilson’s.”  The clouds looked angry and ready to just dump moisture on the area.  A fifty-fifty split of color and green trees made for a pretty image with Wilson Peak & Mt. Wilson standing majestically below the angry clouds rolling overhead.

Wilson Gold II

Once I had completed my client shoot in Telluride, I returned home to Denver, to begin preparing for, packing and loading up my 4Runner for a road-trip to fill out the rest of October.  The road-trip had three main goals: 1) Research / scout various areas around the country for future trips where more focused exploration and photography could take place, 2) In a few select locations, create images and 3) Pick up a couple of items from my Uncle in Schenectady.  These items will be discussed in more detail in 2015.  On the 3rd day of my trip, I had a scene in mind, after living in Grand Rapids & Kalamazoo for a few years…Ludington harbor at sunset and evening twilight can be truly beautiful.  I arrived at Ludington Harbor with about 10 minutes to spare (got a little side-tracked as I crossed the Upper Peninsula).  I made my way out to the point and set up.  Sunset was pretty; the clouds and color were really starting to pop as twilight approached.  I prepared for a long exposure and at twilight time, started the exposure.  The harbor water calmed and the colorful sky really really popped!

Breakwater Twilight

A number of days later, while spending a few days in Acadia National Park (camping at Blackwoods Campground), I had the great fortune to come across this really neat spot near Jordan Pond.  I was planning to hike around the west side of Jordan Pond when an outlet stream with a small stone bridge allowing crossing of the stream caught my eye.  Making my way down the small outlet stream a ways, I turned around and sure enough, what my mind had seen was just spectacular!

Jordan Pond Nature Trail Bridge

The last segment of my road-trip was approaching; Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee are loaded with waterfalls.  Fall foliage and waterfalls…does it get any better?  Hmmm, nope!  The day before I was to start making my way home, a buddy and I headed out to explore some of the waterfalls he was aware of in the area.  The second of the two are the subject of the next two images.  One a black + white composition that was the first thing I saw once I had made my way about midway up the right-hand side of the waterfall:

Bald & Silky

The second a color composition showing a part of Bald River Falls that I suspect the vast majority of visitors would not likely see.  Getting up to this point wasn’t super difficult, but definitely not something that many of the people I saw standing on the River Road bridge would do.  A mixture of fall foliage, silky waterfall and a pool of water midway down the fall:

Bald Pool

The temperature was dropping and my final morning as I packed up my 4Runner to leave was met with near freezing temperature with the sun starting to rise as I rolled out of my buddies driveway.  Knowing the area a little now, I knew that if I hurried (safely), I could get to a particular spot at the west end of the Ocoee Gorge just as Ocoee Lake begins where some trees grow up out of the water, and if the conditions were as I thought they might be…well, I would have another one of those images that are a keeper!

I arrived on-location a couple of minutes before sunrise and sure enough, there was a fantastic mist coming off the water.  I set up, made sure my settings were right and pressed the shutter release.  Mist, reflections, fall foliage and a hint of sunrise that I call “Ocoee Mist.”

Ocoee Mist

November was a blur.  I had more travel this month than I had planned, including an emergency trip to Phoenix.  After returning home, I took a little time to myself and then I the “massive storm of the century” was forecast for California.  I knew what might bring some really cool clouds and weather to Colorado in time.  I’ve had a vision of sunrise at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park for a while now.  A gut feeling told me that I needed to be up there on Saturday morning, the 13th of December.  My last check of the weather on Friday night showed that conditions “could” be optimal.  To sleep I went.

The alarm went off at 4am and I had not slept real well.  Almost rolled over and skipped the trip, but my gut told me to get up and get a move on!  Upon arrival, I grabbed my gear, set up, created a couple of test shots and then prepared for twilight (or what I thought was twilight as I wasn’t really paying attention to the clock).  I looked up and the utter ecstasy of what I saw could not have happened at a better time:  Reflection of the sky on the ice of Sprague Lake, silhouetted mountains and a fantastic sky.  Even though the title is “Twilight Approaches,” the time was 10 minutes beyond:

Twilight Approaches

Rounding out my 2014 submission is one that has a special meaning for me personally.  The Adirondacks are a place one of my heroes called home.  The creator of “The Long Path,” the Mohawk Hiking Club and the Schenectady Wintersports Club and inventor of cloud seeding.  Vincent J. Schaefer loved the Adirondacks and his kids did as well.  My Aunt still has a cabin just up the hill from grandpa & grandma’s.  During my October road-trip, I had the great fortune to spend a couple of nights at my aunts cabin.  Memories from past visits came back to life the moment I opened the door to Hearthhaven, as the aroma of the fireplace wafted by me.  Grandpa always had a fire going in the fireplace and that wonderful aroma has stuck with me throughout the years.  Words cannot accurately express how grateful I am for the opportunity to spend those nights reliving memories and creating new ones.

My final image for 2014 – Best of is that of Hearthhaven after twilight.  Two lights on inside the cabin, specifically to cast a warm glow and a long-exposure to capture the beauty.

Adirondack Glow

Thank you for taking the time to read through my story of 2014 and those images that I call my “Best of!”  Every image we create has a story, some more colorful than others, some a more serendipitous moment that we are just grateful for the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.  I am confident that 2015 has even more to offer!!!