Early December snow fell on Alleghany County, North Carolina. We got about six or eight inches, with deeper drifts in the usual spots. Of course, as a photographer, as the flakes start to fall, and it becomes apparent that we’re going to get some serious accumulation that will stick around for a while, I start thinking about the best spots to shoot, and how to get there before they’re disturbed, especially by other humans.
And I start checking the weather forecast to figure out when and where the light and snowscapes are going to be best, thanks to clouds, wind, and all those intricately interwoven variables we just can’t know.
December 9th, 02017
My father and I started on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the gate near Mahogany Rock Road, at the base of Bullhead Mountain. Technically, I can easily hike here from the house, but I wanted to save some time and get to some good spots while the conditions were good — and potentially before anyone else got there.
As I continue to travel the world—and spend more time exploring my own big backyard right here in North Carolina—I’ve come to realize that I can apply my academic training, professional experience, intelligence, and creative abilities in a combined effort over the next few decades to produce what I think and believe will be experiential documents worth consuming as materials for lifelong learning and understanding. I am conceptualizing an ongoing series of experiential documentation, taking appropriate form over time as ebooks, print books, magazines, interactive apps, websites, and perhaps even videos.
This concept first came to me when I was looking at a map of the United States and thinking about the difference between national parks and national monuments. Based on my personal experience onsite at various national monuments, coupled with my research and perusal of the maps of these monuments and the surrounding areas, I realized that I would love to commit to exploring and documenting a sense of place in each of these areas—demonstrating their importance as sacred spaces for maintaining the natural order of our relationship with the environment and all other species with which we share it.
So, to put a stake in the ground, I created a map of all the US National Monuments. (Yes, there is at least one that does not appear in the image.)
Inspired by my recent trip to Helsinki, which included a stay at the hostel on Suomenlinna, I decided to add UNESCO World Heritage sites to the map. I figured it would be interesting to see how many UNESCO sites in North America are within reasonable proximity to US National Monuments, thus allowing me to combine several locations into exploratory experiential documentation journeys of 1-3 months in duration.
During the entire month of August 2017, I traveled to Norway from the United States. Based on the fact that it is so easy to find cheap flights between European destinations, coupled with the relatively low cost of staying in hostels (not to mention the option of Couchsurfing for free), as well as the fact that I’d never been to Finland, I decided to take a side trip to Helsinki at the beginning of my travels.
I left the United States on the evening of July 31, connecting through Munich to Oslo on August 1, ultimately landing in Helsinki late that night. I was so tired that I didn’t realize I left my copy of The Snow Leopard (by Peter Matthiessen) in the seat back pocket on the plane until I got to the airport hotel. I was quite disappointed, as I was thoroughly enjoying the book, and had made several notes in the portion I had read so far. Matthiessen recounted an experience from the Himalayas that was strikingly similar to a recent stargazing experience I’d had while camping atop Mount Mitchell in North Carolina.
I love shooting winter mountain landscapes after a relatively heavy snowfall here in North Carolina. As the winter storm started on Friday night, I was happy to go to sleep knowing there’d be ample snow for a day of hiking and photography.
Sleeping in Saturday morning, my first excursion was a quick walk down to the small lake at the bottom of the hill. As anticipated, the lake was mostly frozen, and there was a brief reprieve in the continued snowfall and somewhat stiff breeze. I spent some time with my 7D on the tripod in the stillness, and then managed to snap a few decent phone shots as well. Continue reading Shooting the Storm – Winter Photography
I’m staying in Lone Pine, California tonight. Getting up at the crack of dawn and heading into Death Valley tomorrow morning for a few days of camping and shooting. It looks like the weather will be cooperating. I’m also hoping to find a nice spot to finally shoot a video for my Kickstarter campaign: http://kck.st/1eEDQxl
Earlier today, I managed to get a decent shot on my phone from the Mono Lake vista point on US 395:
Notice anything? There’s hardly any snow anywhere!!! Not a good sign.
I spent two nights at Bryce Canyon as well. The first night, I walked a few steps from my campsite to the rim of the canyon to play around with some night shooting, including the moon rise and, later a series of bulb shots. The 7D has a great bulb setting, and coupled with my tripod (of course) and a nice remote triggering system, I think my first endeavor with bulb shooting on the 7D was a success! I almost fell in the canyon, but I didn’t, so, all’s well that ends well. 🙂
The following morning I headed out on the Fairyland Loop trail (approximately 8 miles) and took my camera along with me, including my filter wallet. I started out with the rose UV filter while the sun was still low, but after a while I switched to the circular polarizer. After stopping for lunch, I came across this wicked shot of a twisted, burnt tree set against the red rocks, practically grabbing the sun (I think the lens flare is a nice touch!). This is, without a doubt the best shot I got in the canyon, and it’s probably the best shot I’ve taken so far on this road trip. In fact, given time, it might find its way on to my top ten of all time! If it does, who knows how long it might stay there?
Apparently, Great Basin is one of the least visited National Parks in the United States, averaging about 85,000 visitors per year. I camped at Wheeler Peak campground for two nights so that I could see as much of the park as possible, including a tour of Lehman Caves, a hike up to Rock Glacier, and reaching the summit of Wheeler Peak (13,063 ft) — in an apparently quick time of 1 hour, 55 minutes!
No tripods or flashes were allowed on the cave tour (for completely understandable reasons), so I did the best I could with an ISO of 6400 and the image stabilizer on my 18-135mm lens. Considering these constraints, I think the cave pictures came out quite well!
I can now say that I’ve seen and touched trees one hundred times my own age – many of these Bristlecone pine trees are estimated to be between 3000 and 3200 years old! There was actually a fairly nice interpretive loop trail set up through the pine grove on the way up to Rock Glacier — very informative, and a rather emotional experience.
As I stood on Rock Glacier beneath the towering spires of Wheeler Peak, the magnitude of the rocks was overpowering. I did my best to capture the power of these rocks with the lens I had on my 7D (in this case the same 18-135mm). I decided not to haul a tripod (or any of my camera bag, really) up the hill with me.
The next morning I topped Wheeler Peak, and after an afternoon nap, I decided to see if I could get any good sunset pics. Coincidentally, this was also the night of the full moon. I drove slowly down the 12-mile stretch of road connecting Wheeler Peak camp (at 9800 ft) to the Lehman Caves visitor center, looking for best spots to capture the sunset. I settled on a view of the range you see here, and I think it works pretty well. As I was snapping shots (yes, with a tripod this time!) I happened to turn around, and my jaw hit the ground. The huge full moon you see here was just peeking above the other mountains. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I quickly broke down my gear and raced back up to another overlook with a better eastern view. I whipped out my 100-300mm lens and (if I remember correctly) threw on a polarizer — I don’t have any ND filters for that lens (note to self…).
All in all, a successful couple of days shooting! Check out the entire set on flickr.
I had a lot of fun shooting at Mammoth Lakes while I was there in early June. On this particular day, I had finished fishing at McLeod Lake, and the trail from that lake had originated at the parking area next to Horseshoe Lake. I took my camera and started hiking the shoreline looking for interesting scenes. I’ve found that standing in the water with my tripod is the best way to capture these types of scenes — and of course thank goodness for neutral density filters!
I’ve been enjoying exploring the increased flexibility of my new Canon 7D, and although I like the fact that the new lens I got has image stabilization — allowing for on-the-fly closeups like this bee — I’ve come to realize that it’s causing me to forgo the tripod more than I should. I’m mostly happy with this shot, but I know it could be so much better with a tripod. The sad thing is, I had my tripod with me, strapped to my awesome new slingbag, but I just got caught up in the moment.
Ahh, well. Next time…