Pyramid Island - Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

I have posted a number of photos from the town of Jasper. The town is located within the borders of Jasper National Park, which was recognized as a national park in 1930. The town itself was only recognized as a municipality 71 years later in 2001. The town's southern border begins at the northern terminus of the iconic Icefields Parkway. It is surrounded by two mountain ranges and one mountain to the north. To the west of Jasper, the Victoria Cross Ranges provides a border. To the east, the Maligne Range provides another border. To the north, Pyramid Mountain forms the third border.

Pyramid Mountain, pictured in this photo, is quite close to the town (approximately 6 miles from the center of Jasper). It is an easy place to visit and it almost seems that it is part of the town. As you approach the mountain, it seems that everything here is named Pyramid. In the photo, the mountain is reflected in Pyramid Lake. That man-made walkway leads to, you guessed it, Pyramid Island. The island is quite nice, but I prefer to capture it from the eastern lakeshore where you can get a great view of all three. If you have a good sunrise like I had on this morning, the whole scene seems magical.

 

Rising Above - Sanibel Island Light, Sanibel, Florida

Just about time for my annual visit to Florida to escape the New England winter for a short time. I never thought that I would become a part-time "snowbird". For those of you who don't live in the Northeast, snowbirds refer to the many people (usually retired) that flock to Florida to escape the winter cold. Truth be told, the winter here in New England has been quite nice. Not a lot of snow and the temperatures have not been bad at all (of course, I just jinxed us). Over the past few years, we have visited many parts of Florida to see which areas we like the best, looking forward to some time in the future when we become full-time "snowbirds" in the winter months. Our favorite so far are the many towns on the western coast of Florida (we have yet to visit the panhandle). This trip we will be visiting Sanibel Island for a short time and I will get an opportunity to visit some of my favorite stops there like the Sanibel Island Light, pictured here.

Many Glacier - Glacier National Park, Montana

Mount Grinnell

I am still going through the photos that I shot last year and I am starting to make a little dent in them. As I go through my 2016 photos (probably over 25,000), they bring back so many memories of the locations I was fortunate to have been able to visit and the many friends I was able to shoot with. Memories come back quickly with almost each photo. I also remember the many days when Mother Nature shut us out (I try not to remember them) and the days when we were blessed by Mother Nature. The must be a scientific equation out there that tells us how many bad days are forgotten when you get one great day. My unscientific conclusion is probably 4-5 times.

In any case, this morning that I spent at Many Glacier Hotel with Jeff Clow was certainly one of the great days for me. The sunrise was simply amazing, lighting up the majestic Mount Grinnell and its surrounding mountains with the soft light you dream to get. On this morning, the wind was a bit strong, creating some serious ripples in Swiftcurrent Lake. Fortunately, this little section of the lakeshore was surrounded by a wall of stones giving me some still water so that Grinnell's mountaintop was reflected perfectly.

In the Weeds - Banff National Park, Alberta

Many of those who follow me will remember my now infamous encounter last year with a grizzly bear in Banff National Park. I was fortunate to walk away from that meeting. On that same trip, we encountered quite a number of bears, including this black bear that seems to be right next to me. I am happy to report that, unlike my meeting with the grizzly, this black bear was pretty far away. I captured him with a focal length of 550mm, which for me is a much safer distance from a wild bear.

If you are into wildlife and you are planning to visit Banff, head there in June. The wildlife is plentiful and they are just coming out from the winter snows. If you are real lucky, you might find some babies along with their mothers (be careful not to get too close when there are babies around). An added bonus is that the mountains have a lot of snow that give a much different look than in the later summer. It has become my favorite time of year to visit my favorite place in the world (so far). If you can't make it in June, don't get discouraged, Banff is always awesome any time of the year.

Rising Mist - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Oxbow Bend

What can I say about a location that is iconic and photographed millions of times over the years that hasn't been said before?  Almost every photographer that is semi-serious who visits the Grand Tetons will head to Oxbow Bend and take photos there. The serious ones are there for sunrise hoping to get the classic shot. What makes Oxbow fun is that the weather patterns often make what sunrise looks like so different on a daily basis. There are days when the clouds are so thick that you can't see Mount Moran, or the sun for that matter. On those days, sometimes a quick break in the clouds will light the top of Moran for seconds. Other days, like the day I shot this photo, there's not a cloud in the sky. Then there is the mist of the Snake River. Sometimes it's there and sometimes not. Then there is the wind that dictates whether you will get a great reflection in the river or not. I could go on and on with the variables. That is why I keep going back. I am never sure of what this iconic scene will look like.

Winding Road - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Before my trip to Death Valley, Jaki Good Miller and I visited Valley of Fire State Park about an hour north of Las Vegas. The red sandstone formations in this park conjure up what I think Mars might look like if I ever visited (it is not called the Red Planet for nothing). The Valley of Fire  was formed from shifting sand dunes 150 million years ago. Whether on Mars or millions of years ago, I doubt there would be an asphalt road leading through the landscape. Having shot so many times with Jeff Clow, a master of road shots, I know a great one when I see one. This is one of my favorite ones as it curves through the rock formation, seems to disappear, and then reappears in the distance in the upper right before it turns left creating a vanishing point. 

Above it All - Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

There is a saying among landscape photographers, "Always look behind you". This happens when something majestic is in front of you and your focus is fixed on it. Sometimes there is a very compelling scene that you are missing that may not be quite as majestic but is beautiful nonetheless. The back story - I was in Mount Rainier National Park for two night and was totally shut out on the first night. The fog had settled on the mountain and I could hardly see in front of me. The next morning, I wanted to get a reflection shot of Rainier from the hopefully still waters of Reflection Lake. It was clear when I left, so I had high hopes for "the" shot. As I drove down into the valley where the lake is located, the fog reappeared. "The" shot was not to be, as the fog was gone from Rainier but not the valley. I headed back to the hotel and started hiking up the Skyline Trail toward the towering mountain. I was mesmerized by the snow-covered peak, and then something in my subconscious told me to turn around. When I did, I saw the valley with the fog that had caused me to miss "the" shot but gave me a different one.

Harvest - Steptoe Butte State Park, Washington

Last week I posted a photo of a scene from the backroads of the Palouse and compared the golden colors of the harvest to the green colors of spring. I won't retell that story. Instead, I'll take you to the number one destination in the Palouse of every serious photographer who visits -- Steptoe Butte State Park. It doesn't matter at all what season of the year it is, the views from the top of the butte are simply outstanding, particularly at sunrise and sunset. From the top of the butte, you get a 360° view of some of the most fertile farmland in the world. Your first temptation is to capture all of the scene that you can, going as wide as you can. In my opinion, the beauty of the surrounding landscape is lost shooting wide. Shooting a panorama is even worse. The best bet and my favorite way to shoot there is to put a long lens on the camera. Then pick out sections of the landscape, trying to capture the undulations and details of the scene using the golden hour light to accentuate them. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of compositions that can be captured that show the beauty of the Palouse. This is one of my favorite compositions, showing the Whitman County Growers building in the distance. 

Chairs With a View - Jasper National Park, Jasper, Alberta

There are so many places that you can visit in Jasper National Park (it is 4,200 square miles, after all) that it can be overwhelming to prioritize what to do next. Even places that are not on anyone's list have views to die for and you can imagine yourself taking it in for hours. Jeff Clow and I did a day trip from the town of Banff one day up the Icefields Parkway to visit the town of Jasper. That is a long day, but when you drive one of the most beautiful roads in the world, it doesn't seem that long. As we reached the outskirts of town, we noticed these colorful chairs at a roadside motel/hotel, but our stomachs were growling so we keep on going. After lunch and a quick stop at Pyramid Lake, we headed south to Banff. Remembering the chairs, we pulled into the parking lot to see the views from the chairs. Even though the weather had changed a bit to the worse, it was clear that the view was a million dollar one that we would have to visit on another day.

Light and Shadow - Death Valley National Park, California

The western United States has so many vast vistas that landscape photographers love to visit and capture on digital film. Many of the locations just scream to be captured in their entirety. In order to capture what we are experiencing, we often use wide-angle lenses or shoot panoramas. In fact, in my case, I believe that I see primarily wide (somewhat similar to some photographers "see" only in color while others "see" in black and white). Unfortunately, shooting only wide landscape photos results in missing quite a number of smaller photographic opportunities that are  part of the overall scene. Over the years, I have trained myself to get the wide, expansive shots and then work within the scene to select compositions that are equally dramatic in their own way. I do this by either moving around or using longer lenses (or both). Shooting from different perspectives, angles and height give a lot of choices once I get back from a trip.

This photo is from Death Valley at the popular Zabriskie Point. The view from the point is simply amazing at sunrise and qualifies as a large 180° vista. In the distance are some of the mountains of the Amargosa Range. In between the point and the mountains is a valley that has some seriously beautiful rock formations. After shooting the vista, I hiked down lower to get some of the details of the scene. I particularly liked the layers and details of the rock formations that were accentuated by the play of the morning light and shadows.

Waiting - Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana

Waiting for sunrise takes a lot of patience for me. I am not known as the most patient person in the world, so setting up a composition and standing there for a long time can be challenging. When I begin to feel impatient, I take a deep breath to relax and realize that I am standing in front of a beautiful landscape that I should absorb. There is a silence and tranquility present that soothes your soul if you let it in. I realize that many people would trade places with me in a heartbeat. These thoughts help me relax and results in a better photograph.

As I re-examine the scene, I see the blue and purple hues of the civil twilight coming through. I also notice that the light from the sky, coupled with light from a nearby building, is giving the top of the boats a subtle glow. Checking my settings, I take the photo and, because of the lack of light, the shutter stays on for 30 seconds. This causes two thing that I love. First, the ever present boat moored away from the dock takes on a ghostly look. Second, I see the red tail lights of a couple of cars in the distance that adds a bit of interest above the boats. I wish I had planned that but I will take it.

Backroads - Palouse, Washington

I have been to the Palouse two times now, once in June and the other in late August. To say the experiences were different would be an understatement. In June, the farmland is all shades of green. When the wind blows, you can actually see the top of the crops moving, as if they headed in the direction opposite of where the wind is coming from. Although you can find the huge and powerful farm equipment here and there, there is not much of it in use. That is because the seeding was completed weeks before which created this "sea" of green across the landscape.

Fast forwarding to late August, everything has changed. The harvest was well underway. Brown replaced green as the dominant color. While many fields still had crops that could show the movement of the wind, more had the look of the farmland in this photo. Where there was an absence of large farm equipment in June, there was equipment everywhere cutting and hauling crops in large trucks. You knew where the the harvesting was happening by looking at the clouds of dust in the distance. 

So, you might suspect that June is a better time to visit. On my first day of harvest, I would have agreed with you. By the end of my visit, I had a much better appreciation of harvest time, as I think that my initial reaction was more in shock at the change. I still prefer the spring season, but not by that much. I think  that had I visited at the very start of the harvest (which is hard to predict) it might have been an equal match.

Glorious Evening - Myers Creek, Gold Beach, Oregon

I am real excited to be heading back to the Oregon Coast this coming April for a scouting trip with Jeff Clow. I have been to this gorgeous part of the US a number of times and I think Jeff can add this to his ever growing destinations for his wonderful Photo Tours (Jeff has not visited Oregon yet). We plan to scout all 363 miles of the coast over a 10 day span. During this trip, we will be visiting over 150 locations on the Oregon Coast, many of which I have photographed and some that I have never visited. I am always amazed at how much information is on the internet when doing research.

I am sure that if I asked people who have spent some time on the coast and asked them what their favorite location was, I'd get tons of different answers. For me, this scene, which is just a little south of Gold Beach, is my favorite stop. It doesn't have a specific name that I know of but, when you drive south around a curve and see it, you have to stop. I took this photo in late afternoon of the sea stacks bathed in great light. To give you a sense of how big they are, if you look on the beach to the left of the big stack, there are two little specks that are people walking on the beach. 

Sandstone Wonders - Fisher Towers, River Road, Moab, Utah

River Road (also known as the Colorado River Scenic Byway or Route 128) is one of the most beautiful drives in the Southwest. It is often overlooked, as its competition is Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The road follows along the Colorado River for 44 miles, but you only get glimpses of it along the route. Don't worry though, the sandstone rock formations are everywhere, many of which are quite impressive. This section of the road, known as Fisher Towers, attracts visitors for its rock climbing and trails. On a nice day, you can usually see the rock climbers on the fins that measure between 1,000 and 2,000 feet in height from the mesa.

For those who want to photograph the sights on River Road, my advice is to shoot both in early morning light and late evening light. Because of how River Road is geographically situated (at least in March), one side of the road is bathed in great light while the other is in shadow. By going in the morning and evening, you will get great photos of the rock formations on both sides and you will be glad you did.  

Blue Hour Sky - Monument Valley, Navajo Nation

Like most photographers, I love a great sunrise, especially when you have iconic subjects that anchor your photo in the foreground. The great colors don't necessarily start when the sun peeks over the horizon. The light show actually starts well before sunrise and comes in five distinct phases. Each stage has a name: Astronomical Dawn, Nautical Dawn, Civil Dawn, Sunrise and the Golden Hour. I won't bore you with the description of each, but serious photographers will get to a location much earlier than the time of sunrise. To give you an idea of how long each lasts, these are the times today in Connecticut:

  • Astronomical Dawn (the time before this is Full Darkness) - 5:35am
  • Nautical Dawn - 6:08am
  • Civil Dawn - 6:42am
  • Sunrise - 7:12am
  • Morning Golden Hour - 7:12am (lasts for a little over an hour)

As you can see, the light starts over an hour before sunrise happens. So, if you want to experience the full breath of light at dawn, set your alarm clocks earlier. This photo above was taken at the beginning of Civil Dawn of the Mittens and Merrick Butte in Monument Valley. Anyone just getting there at sunrise would still have a beautiful golden sunrise, but would have missed these colors and not have been aware of what they could have had.

Volcanic Plug - Kayenta, Arizona

Last February, Jaki Good Miller and I flew into Albuquerque and headed out on a five hour drive to one of my favorite places on Earth, Monument Valley. We had hoped to get to the 13-mile marker north of the Valley to get a sunset shot of the famous road shot made famous in the movie, Forrest Gump. Our timeframe was tight and we weren't sure we would make it. Of course, landscape photographers can be easily distracted when the light is terrific and a new and different subject appears. Cue in the volcanic plugs that we spotted about a half-mile south of the Valley. The biggest plug was the 1,500 foot high Agathla Peak, which I posted last year. In the fields around the peak there were a number of smaller volcanic plugs, like this one that made nice subjects themselves.

So, what is a volcanic plug? I'll be honest, I never heard of the term before and only learned about them when researching Agathla Peak. Simply put, they are a volcanic rock created when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano. A plug can cause a build-up of pressure if molten magma is trapped beneath it, which could lead to an explosive eruption. I don't know whether that is the case here, but I was interested in other volcanic plugs in the US. Turns out, two places that I have visited before, Morro Rock in California and Devils Tower in Wyoming (featured in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind) are volcanic plugs. Who knew?

Chandelier - Wilderness Lodge, Disney World, Florida

One of the things that Disney does so well is creating their resorts so well that you think you have been transported to somewhere else. Take this photo of one of the buildings that comprise their Wilderness Lodge. The lodge was built in 1994 and Disney's goal was to recreate a turn of the century themed resort hotel that had the look and feel of the National Park lodges located in the Pacific Northwest. The main building was modeled after the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park. An artificial geyser and hot springs are located on the resort grounds.

This photo was actually taken in the adjacent Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, which opened in 2000. We stayed there a few years ago and I took this from the center of the first floor looking up at the timbered ceiling. The Villas were themed to look like lodgings that were built by workers on the transcontinental railroad. 

Park Avenue Pano - Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

There are some places where you cannot easily transfer what you are seeing to a photo. They usually are vast landscapes that span 180 degrees or more. Yes, you can capture parts of the scene by zooming into subjects within the scene, but they don't give a true look to the whole experience. That is where panoramas come into play. For those who don't know how a panorama is created, it is a series of photographs that are taken of a scene and then stitched together in post-processing to create one combined photo. Alternatively, today's smart phones and mirrorless cameras have a panorama feature that allows for the pano to be stitched inside the phone or camera. The downside is that quality of the resulting file of the latter method is a bit inferior. The other disadvantage is that all panos end up as a very thin photo (unless you stitch together another "row" of photos) that doesn't always transfer well to the internet (especially Facebook).

The photo above is a pano of one of my favorite places and hikes in Arches National Park, namely Park Avenue. The vantage point where I took this photo is the beginning of the trail which ends up where the two sides converge in the center. It is not a strenuous hike but so rewarding. As you walk down of the center of the landscape and look up at the towering sandstone, you realize how Park Avenue got its name.

Remains - Cook Bank, Rhyolite, Nevada

Most ghost towns have a unique story and Rhyolite, Nevada is no exception. Located near Death Valley and 120 miles from Las Vegas, the town was a mere teenager before its death. Its lifespan lasted only 15 years. It was founded in 1905, like many towns of its time, as a result of he discovery of gold. It was made home by thousands of prospectors and miners looking to get rich. Investors came in to build the town, providing it with telephone, electricity, buildings, a hospital, a newspaper and an opera house. By 1907, the population approximated 4,000. In 1908, as the main mine began to dry up, an investor ordered a study and the results were not promising. The exodus began, with only about 1,000 remaining by 1910. It took another 10 years for the remaining residents to vacate the town. Since then, it has been used in motion pictures and is also a tourist attraction. The building in the photo was the Cook Bank which also served as a Stock Exchange. 

Glowing Mountaintop - Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Anticipation. It builds up from when the second the alarm goes off at 3:30am. After you shake off your groggy head and begin to think clearly, you check your weather app. Great news. Sunny with clouds. You peek your head outside your hotel room and look at the sky. Yep, it might be a killer sunrise. As you drive to your location, the anticipation begins to build. Once you arrive, it is still dark. You don your head lamp and determine where you want to set up your tripod. Check your settings. Take a couple of test shots. You are always amazed what today's camera sensors register in the darkness. And then you wait. You take a few more shots because there is nothing else to do even though you know they will never see the light of day. The it finally happens. The clouds start lighting up. You now know it is going to be a killer sunrise. The minutes pass by like hours until you start to see the tops of the mountain start to glow. This is when you can't be distracted because you know that this light show will last mere minutes. After the sun is up high enough to light the mountain, you begin to relax because you know you got some good photos. You know that you will shoot the rest of the day, but already the anticipation is beginning subconsciously  for tomorrow's sunrise.