Tuesday, January 19, 2010

National Geographic Central Cascades Map

Spray Park has always been one of my favorite destinations in Mount Rainier National Park. The hike to it is relatively short by hiking standards. It offers some of the best wildflower displays in the park. And it provides incredible up-close views of the mountain. The park is a paradise for photographers - offering numerous lakes and tarns as well!

Others appear to agree as I have sold more images from this side of The Mountain than any other.

So it is with great pride that I share my recent endeavor with National Geographic and their Central Cascades map.

You may download the digital version of the map for free here.

Added: This image also accompanies an article by Terry Richard in today's (Wednesday) Oregonian explaining the scope of the project, and the partnership of The National Geographic Society, traveloregon.com and experiencewa.com in putting it together. It's a very informative piece and a recommended read.

(link fixed!)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Zoolights at Point Defiance

Every year I try to make a point to take the family to Zoolights at the Point Defiance Zoo. It's just an amazing show of lights! They really go all out in their decorations, and the effort shows.

Two years ago I enjoyed my first visit to Zoolights, and the highlight was easily the replica of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, with both Mt. Rainier and a rainbow behind it (see the photo on their web site). The bridge had extra lights below the deck, which really brought attention to it. The old and new bridges are well represented, and include red twinkling lights on the deck of one, and white tinkling lights on the other (headlights and taillights!).

This year the bridge was much darker and harder to see. But Mt. Rainier and the rainbow were much more prominent. I also think the administrative building was done up much better as it was certainly a centerpiece for many of my compositions.

There are also many animal light displays, including orcas, penguins, reindeer, etc. Lots to see!

I recommend arriving early to avoid the crowds, for parking as well as viewing the lights. The gate usually opens at 5:00, and punctuality is good. I've also discovered that viewing the lights after the holidays lessons the crowds substantially, though it is a short window.

As for photography, it's not as difficult as you might think with people wandering all around. Your exposures will likely be 3-5 seconds or more, depending on your aperature. So you can get away with some people movement in your compositions, just so it is in the distance and not obscuring a light display. I've found that rarely do I have to wait longer than 4-5 minutes for a composition to become available less people, and often the time is less. Even the busiest displays can become "people free" with an extended wait. So if you see a composition you really like, patience should win out.

I would plan on spending at least a couple of hours at Zoolights. If photographing, probably even more. There is just so much to see and so many compositions available. Grab some food and a hot cocoa at the concession stand when you feel you need a break, and then go view some more!

After Zoolights, we checked out another light display that I just learned about in Spanaway - Fantasy Lights. Fantasy Lights is very different than Zoolights in that you drive through them. They are also much more spread out, and offer a lot of motion in their displays. It was a lot of fun driving down a driveway with our lights off while reindeer jumped over us, canons shot presents over us, etc. Oh, I'm giving too much away!

The Fantasy Light drive is 2.5 miles long, at 5 miles per hour. You can stop any time, but you're not allowed to get out of your vehicle. It's very entertaining for the family, but somewhat challenging for photography. In fact, this was simply a scouting mission for me - my camera never came out of its bag.

Next year I have marked my calendar to do the walk through Fantasy Lights. That's right! A week before they open the display to the public, they have a special night when people can walk the 2.5 miles, photographing at will and leisure. Care to join me?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Leavenworth During the Holidays

As a climber and hiker, I have spent a lot of time around Leavenworth. A LOT of time.

Spring is a great time for rock climbing along Icicle Creek. It also attracts bicyclists and kayakers.

Summer is excellent for hiking and climbing in addtion.

Fall brings the rewards of the larches turning, rewarding hikers and photographers traveling from great distances to experience their beauty.

In winter, the area offers snowshoeing, skiing, and even ice climbing.

But there is something more...

Yes, the holiday lights! From mid-December through Valentines Day, the Bavarian village of Leavenworth is transformed into a grandeur of lights. They seem to cover every building, every tree, every...well, you get the picture! It's quite a sight to behold. Add to it the shopping, all the good food, sledding for the kids right in town, and it makes the perfect holiday geteway.

Due to scheduling, I only had a day to spend there with my family this year. But we made the most of it! The kids played on their new sled for the first hour, then it was off to Gustav's for a long-anticipated burger. We followed that up with some shopping at various gift shops around town. Finally, I finished off the evening with a few hours of photography after the sun set. Temperatures began in the low 30's middle of the day, but dropped into the upper 20's by evening. Be sure and dress warm!

What could be better than a full day in Leavenworth during the holiday season? Two days! There is plenty of Lodging in and around Leavenworth, but you need to plan well in advance as things fill up fast. However, lodging can easily be found just 20-30 minutes away in Wenatchee, last minute, for $50-$60.

The advantage of a stayover is that you can save the drive back over the pass(es) for daytime, as well as enjoy the evening around town as the crowds begin to dwindle.

There is certainly plenty of photography to be done in the evening, as I hope my pictures attest to. But the streets are busy and cluttered with vehicles and people and headlights and taillights and...well, again you get the picture. Lots of movement when you're shooting 5 second exposures to capture the lights.

A better time for photography is actually early morning before and shortly after sunrise. The streets are bare and you can compose at will. Yes, this is a great reason for photographers to stay for a second day!

Coming up next, I'll have ideas for lights a little closer to home for us westsiders.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Seattle Skyline

Happy New Year! It is hard to believe that 2010 is already upon us, and that Christmas came and went so fast.

2009 held some great memories for me. It held some sad ones as well. I don't spend a lot of time reflecting on the past, admittedly. Life just seems too busy to have the time to do so. In fact, I really need to start thinking about my plans for 2010 so that I can begin preparing! So many trips to plan and so little time! Yosemite? The Canadian Rockies? The Southwest? Alaska? The Sierras? Death Valley? I don't know. But I need to start thinking about it.

How about you? Any interesting plans for the new year? I hope so. And I hope you have a lot of fun experiencing them!

December brought a lot of fun my way. Shortly before Christmas, I turned a year older and celebrated the weekend in downtown Seattle. Rain kept the camera in its bag, but that's OK. It had plenty of other opportunities to come out. Those opportunities included Snoqualmie Falls (see previous post), Leavenworth, and these pictures of the Seattle skyline across Elliott Bay from West Seattle.

I find Seattle to be a fun place to photograph in the winter months, particularly during cold spells. Cold temperatures mean clear air and excellent visibility.

I enjoyed three different locations for these images; the pullout off Admiral Way, Hamilton Park off California Ave., and various viewpoints along Harbor Ave. near Alki Point. I'm not sure which of these are my favorite. They each have something different to offer and are all worth visiting.

The pullout off Admiral Way offers a fantastic view point of the city. I particularly like this angle in late afternoon during the winter months as the low angle of the sun reflects off the downtown buildings in almost blinding fashion.

Hamilton Park is located on California Ave, just before it begins to wind down to Harbor Avenue. It offers a great vantage of sunset over the city and, because of its high vantage, offers separation of the ferry boats and other maritime vessels in Elliott Bay. OK, maybe this one is my favorite!

Harbor Avenue is the road that stretches from the West Seattle Freeway north along Elliott Bay to Alki Point. It offers many, many viewpoints - especially as it nears Alki Point. From Hamilton Park, simply follow California Ave. north as it winds down to the waterfront and intersects Harbor Ave near Salty's. Turn left and head towards the point.

The views near Alki Point across Elliott Bay really add perspective to the buildings and skyline of downtown Seattle. Unlike Hamilton Park directly above, you are now looking UP at the buildings across the water. I find this location particularly pleasing after sunset as the city lights begin to come on. Other opportunities tend to arise here as well, such as wildlife, boats, divers, etc.

I have many other parks I want to visit yet, including Kerry Park with its famous view of The Space Needle and the city. But these are my favorite locations in West Seattle. I hope you like them too.

There should still be many opportunities yet this winter to get out and photograph or simply enjoy some of the fine views around Seattle. I hope you find the time to do so!