Tuesday, April 26, 2011

May/June Issue of Washington Trails Magazine

May/June Washington Trails Magazine
Washington Trails Association (WTA) originally started out as Signpost magazine in 1966. They have created Washington's largest volunteer trail maintenance program, and work actively to protect our trails and wilderness.  If you're not familiar with them, I strongly encourage you to visit their web site.  They offer a wealth of information for hikers, including current trail and road conditions, current issues affecting our trails and wilderness, information on volunteer programs, magazine subscription, and more.

I've been involved with WTA for many years.  My "Early Light on Prusik Peak" image won First Place in Landscape in their 2006 Pacific Northwest Photo Contest.  Since then, I've contributed images to their magazine and web site, and served as a panel judge for their annual photo contest.

The new May/June Washington Trails magazine includes one of my images of  Mount Rainier on its cover.  This image was taken just last summer from Spray Park in the evening hours as light softened on the mountain.  It was a beautiful evening to be in the mountains.

More of my images appear within the magazine.  They include an image of the Quinault River taken from Pony Bridge (Olympic NP), and also a couple that accompany an article penned by Eli Boschetti, offering suggestions for backpacking in Mount Rainier National Park.

If interested, you may view more images in my Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park galleries.

As always, thanks for visiting!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Photographing Devil's Cornfield in Death Valley National Park

Arrowweed at Devil's Cornfield
What trip to Death Valley National Park is complete without photographing a weed patch?  As funny as that sounds, arrowweed is a fantastic subject matter in the evening hours, catching the sun's soft rays as sunset approaches and turning a brilliant gold while casting its soft blue shadows.

Devil's Cornfield is located along CA190, about half a mile west of the Scotty Castle Road junction.  Parking is limited to pullouts alongside the road.  Though arrowweed is present on both sides of the road, the larger, more interesting stacks are located on the north side of the road, bordering the Mesquite Flat Dunes.

The area is certainly interesting, and offers much wandering and exploring for the "perfect" stack or line of stacks.  Erosion has played a key part in shaping the soil, exposing the roots and shaping the stacks of the arroweed.  Despite this intrusion, the plants thrive thanks to the underground waters of Salt Creek.  Coyotes and other wildlife can be seen the area.

Devil's Cornfield and Kit Fox Hills
As evening light arrives, the arrowweed stacks turn golden and the Kit Fox Hills to the east create a superbly scenic backdrop.  The light on the arrowweed is quick-lived - it changes fast.  Before you know it, they are in the shadows and you find yourself with a smile on your face, having witnessed another fantastic moment in Death Valley, and hopefully having captured the moment.

I arrived to this location with low expectations.  I left thoroughly impressed.  Don't overlook this gem!

Normal to wide-angle lenses best serve this area.  Be sure to bring a polarizer and GND filters if planning to include the Kit Fox Hills in any of your compositions.

More images from this area can be viewed in my Death Valley National Park gallery.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Photographing Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley National Park

Mesquite Flat Dunes at sunrise.
The Mesquite Flat Dunes are often referred to as Stovepipe Wells Dunes due to their close proximity to the town.  They are located about 2.2 miles east of Stovepipe Wells, to the north of CA 190.

The dunes are a popular draw to hikers, photographers, sand dune surfers, and more.  As a result, the dunes can get tracked up in a hurry, much to the frustration of photographers.

Though evening can provide excellent photography result with colorful skies to the north, sunrise is the ideal time to photograph the dunes.  The biggest reason for this is simply the tracks in the sand.  As the dunes are very popular during the day, evening finds the area victim to the evidence of all these visitors.  If you are lucky, overnight winds will erase such evidence, allowing you a fresh start in the early hours.

Sand ripples at Mesquite Flat Dunes
Clear skies at sunrise offer numerous photographic opportunities.  Early light turns the dunes golden, and ripple patterns in the sand are highlighted with shadow definition.  Light is best 15 to 30 minutes after sunrise.

As the sun rises shadows become more pronounced and one can play with negative space between the dunes and line patterns.

I recommend finding an area not recently visited by others, and looking for a prominent spot with lots of texture and offering views of higher, more prominent dunes for you subject matter.  This will give you lots of options and you will be surprised at how quickly time flies!

As the sun rises higher in the morning sky, you can wander down into the depressions and find other interesting compositions.  Rock "tile" and mesquite trees and offer additional elements to play with.  They can be an additional element to your composition, offer isolation opportunities, or in the case of the rock "tile", offer very fun abstract possibilities!

Mesquite Flat Dunes in spring.
In contrast to clear mornings, overcast light flattens out the dunes and will diminish the contrast that defines shapes, texture and patterns.

Be sure and keep your eyes open for critters and animal tracks.  Sidewinder, deer and coyote tracks can be fun to encounter and offer interesting photo ops.  Lizards are also a common sight.

All lenses should be made available during your visit to the dunes.  Normal range and wide angle lenses will allow you to play with the ripple patterns in the sand and add depth to your composition.  Zoom lenses will allow you to isolate distant dunes and work around tracked up sand.  They will also allow you to play with shadows and negative space.

I recommend taking an evening walk to scout the area you wish to photograph, then return in the morning to shoot.  Again, cross your fingers for overnight winds to erase the previous days tracks.  When planning your visit to the dunes, try to time it after a windy day or night, or even during a windy morning (make sure to protect your camera).  My visits were during calm conditions and I found the amount of tracks to be extremely frustrating.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Return from Yosemite and Redwood National Park!

I've just returned from Yosemite and Redwood National Park, and hope to have some images to share soon from this fun trip! I will also resume my posts on photographing Death Valley National Park. So much to do!

As always, thanks for your interest and I hope you will find the information I share to be informative and insightful.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Photographing Badwater in Death Valley National Park

Badwater salt polygons and
Black Mountains
Badwater is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and a popular draw for most people visiting Death Valley National Park.  The salt polygons are a curiosity draw, offering a unique viewing experience and a chance to walk amongst a different landscape than most are accustomed to.  Oh heck, they are cool!

Don't expect to be alone here in the evenings, but seek solace in the fact that the any crowds are easy to leave behind.  How?  By simply walking further out into the salt pan.  The further you walk, the better the polygons become as you leave the wandering foot prints behind.  By the way, evening light is fairly forgiving towards light footprints.

Most likely you will encounter other photographers along your walk, and it is fun to set your tripod up near one for some pleasant conversation and story sharing.  Since you will be shooting either north or south and the foot path is east-west, it's pretty difficult to be in each others way.
Sunset over Badwater salt polygons

Definitely consider the effects of the salt on your camera gear and clothes.  They are very real and corrosive.  Refrain from letting any of your camera gear come in direct contact with the salt, and be certain to clean your tripod feet and legs immediately after your shoot.  Knee pads and/or a small sitting cloth is also recommended so that you don't have to kneel or sit directly on the salt.

 The salt polygons are excellent to photograph in mornings or evenings.  Evenings offer afternoon light on the Black Mountains to the east.  Mornings offer brilliant light on Telescope Peak and the Panimint Range.

Early light on the Panimint Range above
uplifted salt crusts near Badwater.
Arriving in late afternoon, you will likely find many tourists near the parking lot and for the first 1/4 mile or so of the walk out on the salt pan.  Beyond, the numbers will dwindle.  As sunset approaches, they will mostly disappear and you will find only a handful of other photographers around. 

Early mornings will also find you with limited company.

Just a 1/4 mile south of the Badwater parking lot the road rounds a Sharp bend and offers a wide shoulder for parking.  A short walk leads the curious photographer to some very interesting uplifted salt crusts.  I found these extremely photogenic with lots of compositional options incorporating the Panimint Range and Telescope Peak. 

I spent two mornings here (alone), and two evenings at Badwater.  I found this arrangement to work out well.  I definitely recommend visiting this area multiple times during your visit.  Another location, referred to as "devils fortune cookies" is located only a short distance further south (not obvious from the road, so you will need to scout).

Early light on Telescope Peak and the Panimint Range above
uplifted salt crusts near Badwater.
Normal range and wide-angle lenses are excellent for this area.  Consider graduated neutral density filters a must, and a warming filter a friendly addition.

Badwater is located 18 miles south of Furnace Creek along CA 190.  Allow yourself extra time for the walk out along the salt polygons or to scout the uplifted salt crusts.  Most importantly, enjoy!

More images may be viewed in my Death Valley Gallery if interested.

In closing, I must qualify all the information you just read above.  During the winter of 2010/2011, floods apparently dissolved much of the polygons and salt crusts.  My friend Jon Cornforth visited the area this spring and reported them to be gone, and that their return is expected to take a few years.  I would encourage you to contact the park directly for specific information if planning a visit.

I will be leaving for Yosemite National Park and Redwood National Park shortly.  I will continue my Death Valley posts upon my return, and hopefully have new images from my trip to share!