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Slot Canyon Photography Tips 2012

29 Jun

Many of my new images feature some rarely photographed slot canyons in Utah and it got me thinking about more tips to share with you regarding this specialized type of photography. I’ve written on this subject before and I hope this post builds and expands on the information I’ve shared with you in the past. Without further adieu…

Patiently Study Your Subject Matter – One of the best things about photographing slot canyons is the light is always changing. Furthermore, it’s sometimes better in the middle of the afternoon. How cool is that? What I am getting at here is if you don’t have to worry about crowds of people (A.K.A you are not photographing Antelope Canyon.) Then you’ve got time to work the area you are in for the best possible composition. For instance, take this picture…

Image

2 images blended for dynamic range. The primary image captured at F/22, ISO 160 and 2.5 second exposure.

While I am certainly pleased with the finished product, in actuality I struggled quite a bit with this composition. In fact, I’d estimate I spent nearly 45 minutes here before I actually found something that I could use! Again, what’s my point? Just to be patient. Take your time. Unless it’s partially cloudy day and the sky is moving fast you should have time to work your subject without worrying about the light disappearing in a matter of seconds or minutes. That brings me to my next point…

Relax – I don’t know about you but I can get worked up especially when I am in front of a scene that I know is special. My adrenaline is pumping – maybe it’s a difficult hike, a precarious ledge, or a tight squeeze – whatever the situation is just try to chill. Think about what you are doing and be in the moment. Finally…

Image

2 shots blended for depth of field. F/9, ISO 400, .8 exposure

Get A Good Guidebook and Read It – To find the best locations, perusing the Internet for information is not the best solution. You need to be Johnny on the spot. (Either that or you can hire me) These locations are remote, difficult to find, and even a good guidebook sometimes doesn’t paint an accurate picture as to what you’ll find when you do get there. (If the directions are even accurate.) My point is this – you need some handy dandy reference material when you are out driving around.

Studying maps, researching locations online – that stuff is all helpful to a certain point, but if you are not familiar with the location, you are going to need reference materials when you are out in the field. Otherwise, you are not going to truly comprehend what you are reading because you are not familar with the area. Heck, I’ve spent hours online just researching guidebooks! Let alone reading them. Count on spending many hours pouring over the fine print to find that needle in a haystack.

The good news is this can be done from where you sleep in the back of your car, at the trail head, or from a toilet seat in your hotel room. Just remember to bring the book with you on your trip. I know this sounds stupid, but when you start accruing guidebooks and you bring 3 or 4 along – it’s easy to forget one. I forgot probably my best guidebook for this trip!

I know these “tips” sound like overstating the obvious, but Don’t Take Your Time For Granted. Maximize It!

To see more of my images please check out my new release gallery found here http://www.wildmoments.net/gallery/new_releases/  and as always – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Top Internet Websites for Trip Planning

4 Jul

One of the questions I was asked in a recent interview about photography was in regards to how I did my research to  information for the places that I go.  We’ve covered this topic before and today I thought it would be helpful  to list the top websites that I use for trip research. Most of these are pretty obvious, but I’ll explain to you how I use them.

Google
There are a couple different ways to use Google for Internet searches. The web search is the obvious primary function. The search topics I look for are the names of hikes or places and pictures.  One useful feature of this site  is the Google Images. This is an excellent way to find information. Not only is the search done by pictures, but it takes the user to the landing pages of those images. Sometimes this kills two birds with one stone. Instead of searching for articles containing your keywords, you do a keyword search on pictures and clicking on the image takes you to information on the pictures.

Amazon
For online book or map purchases, I believe Amazon is the best retailer. The navigation features of the website are user friendly, they offer suggestions for related products, and the prices and customer service are generally very good. I almost always use Amazon to purchase maps and guide books for areas outside of my home state, where it is harder to find information at your local bookstore.

Flickr
Flickr is probably my favorite site for obtaining or viewing images on places I am interested in visiting.  It is not necessary to have a membership in order to search and see results on their site. You can see my Flickr page here.

You Tube
I like this site for hard to find areas, especially when it comes to backpacking trips. Videos often times give even more significant and realistic impression of the places you are trying to research.

Nps.gov
NPS has several useful features that are sometimes worth checking out depending on when and where you are traveling. Each park has its own website so the layout and usefulness varies from site to site. Thus some sites have information and navigation features that are easier to use and find than others. The top reasons I visit are for viewing general park maps, getting contact information for the ranger stations, useful links for the weather and activities, and checking the park’s webcams.

Weather.com
In the last ten days before a trip, there is no site that gets more use than this one. The only other site that has a longer extended forecast is accuweather.com Other weather sites that I frequent are weatherundergound.com, who also has the best mobile site for weather and weather.gov, which is the national weather service’s web page that also gives the most detailed information available on issues like forest fires and storm advisories.

Trip Advisor.com
This is my default site for doing research on hotels and places to stay. I think Trip Advisor has the best and most honest reviews online. To books the hotels, it usually works best if you just go to the hotel’s actual website. Another useful site that I usually refer to for reviews is hotels.com, although I don’t trust the reviews on it nearly as much. It has a useful search feature of organizing hotels by cost, which is normally very accurate and current, and includes last minute deals.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and found this information helpful.  If there are any websites that you love to use that I didn’t include please feel free to let me know. It always rewarding to hear from users!

Wild Moments #3 Lost in the Desert – The Expedition Pt. 1

3 Feb

In December  2004, I ventured into the Rincon Mountains of Saguaro National Park East for my first solo backpacking trip. It was a trip that I’ll never forget. For those of you that don’t know, the Rincon Mountains are part of the “sky islands,”   a group of mountain chains in the Coronado National Forest of southeastern Arizona that draw their name from the extreme biodiversity found within the topography.  The largest of the sky islands is Mt. Graham. At 10,720 ft, it is also the third highest peak in the state.

The Rincon Mountains top out at 8,664 feet, but draw distinction as being some of the roughest mountains in the state. A few years back, I read a book about hiking the Arizona Trail and the author claimed the Rincons, which traverse the state from north to south, were the most difficult part of the 772 mile hike.  Although there are over 100 miles of trails in the Rincons, there is one trail that serves as the artery into the park. It’s called the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail and it’s the one most backpackers use. It is an 18 mile trail (roundtrip) that journeys on the spine of the Rincons into the heart of the mountains. From its terminant, it is a manageable day hike to reach the top of the mountains.

I started out in mid morning on a typical December day. Temperatures were in the high 60s and it was sunny and relatively warm. At the trailhead, the topography is lower Sonoran desert. You’ll see a veritable display of plants such as saguaro, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and barrel cacti as well as mesquite and palo verde trees amongst others. As the trail begins to climb, the topography soon changes.  Lower Sonoran desert gives way to high Sonoran desert and the larger cacti soon disappear. They are replaced with large boulders, wild grasses, and more trees. (If you are interested in the different biotic zones of this hike, you’ll find more information here)

By the time I reached camp near the seven mile mark, the temperature had dropped about  15 degrees. There were patches of snow at the campsite. When night began to fall, the wind picked up considerably and  the temperatures plummeted. Backpacking in the Rincon Mountains is not for the faint of heart. This was just the beginning of my adventure…(I’ve got my pictures from this hike on another hard drive and I will update this post with a few shots before my next post.)

Tucson Barrio

27 Jan

Joyce and I are back from an awesome weekend in Tucson. I have to say that here  in Phoenix, the city of Tucson sometimes is portrayed negatively and unfairly (in my opinion) by many of the local print publications. It is unfortunate because Tucson has a ton of character on its streets that  really isn’t as evident here in the valley. Although it has grown dramatically in the past ten years, it still maintains the feel of its Spanish roots. Tucson has also down a good job of preserving historic sites. The Mission at San Xavier del Bac just south of the City is a shining example painstaking preservation efforts. In addition, Tucson has some killer mountains on all four sides and probably the best saguaro forests in the country. Saguaro National Park is a must do trip on any visit to the Tucson area.

Today I want to talk about the Tucson barrio.  As many of you may know, I volunteer for Friends of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. It was through the Friends organization that I first learned about this  amazing place. They do a workshop there in the spring and reading about this place captured my imagination.  I’ve always been interested in photographing doors and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. The brilliant colors and unique architectural features in the barrio are mesmerizing.

With a weather forecast of clear, blue skies all weekend long I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to capture some urban art in the heart of the “Old Pueblo.”  Joyce and I spent several sunrises there capturing the colors and atmosphere of the unique barrio. Below is one of my favorite images from the trip….

I prefer the distressed look on the abandoned properties as opposed to the cleaner presentation of many of the remodeled homes in the area

Joyce captured some fantastic shots too. Even though this home is remodeled, I think the light shining in the middle of it really makes this shot for me. It is definitely one of my favorites…

The barrio is a really cool place if you are interested in this type of photography. We felt the best location was in the vicinity of Stone and Cushing streets in downtown Tucson. If you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth a look. My next post will most likely be on Monday, until then, have a fantastic weekend!

A Sure Fire Way to Improve Your Landscape Photography….

21 Aug

I am feeling compelled to share this tip with you before the weekend and my hope is that you’ll find this advice solid, useful, and rewarding. Before we start, I’ll admit I am guilty of skipping around on my blog posts and this one is no exception. As a result, I will continue my last series about sharing your photographs online next week.  Allow me to briefly provide you some context  for this post and where the inspiration came from. Lately, I have returned to many images already in the archives or previously posted to reprocess in hopes of a better result.  So far, I am very pleased with the results.  This has been a season of less travel for me, and  I haven’t taken what I consider to be a major trip (more than a week in the wilderness) pretty much all year. 

Being grounded in society like this really helps provide perspective on my time outdoors;  it is something that I cherish, relish, and value very much. Sometimes, when you out there so long (at least for me) one can get a little desensitized to the special meaning of their surroundings. While reworking some of these older images and through feedback from posting them online, I’ve seen once again how incredibly spectacular some of the places are that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. 

That brings me to the topic of this post:  Want to be a better landscape photographer? Well, besides enrolling in a photography workshop (another post at a later time, improve your research skills.  It dawned on me that I rarely just show up and luck into a great photograph. For me, it is much more than that – it takes time and efficient planning.  For your convenience, I am including a list on the steps I go through when planning a trip, and the questions that cross my mind and that I need to answer in order to move forward. (Not all steps will be applicable to everyone) 

1. Dates: When are you going to go? How much time can you spend on this trip?  This is pretty much my first step in planning a trip. I’ve got to decide when and for how long. We all have extenuating circumstances that help dictate or shape the dates of our trip – so I normally don’t precede any farther until I can confidently answer both these questions. 

2. Location:  For me, the location is always determined by the date and the amount of time I can spend on the trip.  Most of the time, I drive. For instance,  if the trip is less than three days, I won’t go out of state. If it is for a week, I’ll drive further to parts of a neighboring state like California, Utah, Nevada, or Colorado. If it is two or more weeks, I’ll consider driving somewhere like Northern California or Wyoming. The second part of this equation is the time of year: Obviously, we aren’t taking any backpacking trips in the Sonoran Desert in July and I am not planning on driving to Wyoming in January either. I generally try to maximize the season. That means go where the going is best….     

3.  Specifics:  The first two steps are pretty obvious. This step is where the rubber meets the road. It’s good to get a little dirty here.  I start with maps. Normally, AAA state road maps work best as the wilderness areas are well-marked in green. For instance, if I am going to Yosemite, I might look also at the areas around Yosemite to see if there is any interesting worth checking out. For some parks, like Yosemite, a lot of your options are decided by which way you’ll be driving so I like to determine that first so it gives me a clearer path of direction. (Excuse the pun) 

Along with all my maps my hiking book collection is an indisposable resource for my photography. This is just part of the collection...

 

 

So now you now where you want to go, when you want to go, for how long you are going, and which way you are going to be driving. Now the hard part; what are you going to do when you get there? For the sake of time, here’s a list of recommendations, advice and questions to think when planning this important leg of your journey. 

1. What are my physical limitations and what do I feel comfortable doing? 

2. If backpacking, do I need a permit and should I reserve one? Where do I get the permits? What are the best campsites?  What are the camping restrictions? 

3. What dangers do I need to be aware of and educated on?  (Wild animals,  flash floods, creek or river fording, unmaintained trails,  precarious climbs) 

3.  Which camera equipment should I bring?   

4. Where are the best places to stay should I need a hotel? 

5.  What is the elevation gain/loss of the hike? How many miles will I be traveling? 

1. Buy and study the guide books – the more research you do the better. 

2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – don’t be too ambitious in your planning, allow for layover days and for days just to explore the area (just make sure you have the right area) 

3. Monitor the weather reports 

4. Spending time learning the topography of the land and learn or read about when are the best times to shoot. 

5. Get there early and stay late if possible. 

6. Schedule layover days for scouting expeditions 

7. Make safety a priority & have fun!!

Top 10 Parks for Summer Travel #8

18 Jun

8. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Pros: Breathtaking Views,  Abundant Wildlife, Centralized Location,  State of the Art Visitor Center, Easy Access, Family Friendly

Cons: Small in Size, Sometimes Overcrowded, Very little natural water

Dates of Visit: August ’06, August/September ’09,  May ’10

Bryce Canyon is probably the hottest park on this list right now as I continue to enjoy myself more and more every time I visit. In fact, this park has gone from a middle of the road contender to one of my favorites in the country. Although it is smallest in size on this list, it packs quite a punch. If you have never visited, the scenery here is second to none. Jaw dropping at first sight and continually beckoning the interpid sole.

Unbelievable scenery awaits you at Bryce Canyon

The base elevation of this park is over 8,000 ft. making it the coolest national park in Utah during the summer. There are two rather large campgrounds inside the park and several more just on its outskirts.

Furthermore, summer also means monsoon season and  Bryce Canyon is certainly known for its spectacular skies. Sunset and sunrise views here are both fantastic, arguably some of the best views in the world. I give a slight edge to sunrise for photography as most of the park’s vistas are facing East and the color is slightly better.

There are about 40 miles of hiking trails in the park, which is substantial considering its size. Hiking is relatively difficult here because of three reasons:  1) all the trails descend into the canyon 2) the air is thinner 3) there is no water in the canyon. There are backpacking opportunities as well and getting a backcountry permit is relatively easy because this park is more geared for tourists rather than hardcore hikers.

There are two items of interest that have specifically captured my attention that I want to talk about. First off, the trees in this park are absolutely beautiful. I could spend days here wandering around looking at the distinguishing character of the trees. The way they are set apart and scattered amongst the red rock makes it seem like a natural chess board. In my opinion, this is a very underrated aspect of the park.

The trees are fascinating at Bryce Canyon

The second suprising tidbit about this park is the abundance of wildlife. Now, I haven’t seen a lot of diversity, but cruise the main road in the park at sunset and you’re sure to see some deer and or antelope grazing in the meadows. There are quite a few birds in the parks as well…..

Because of its location, there are plenty of opportunities for other forms of recreation in and around the park. Whether it be ATV’s (certainly not my thing), fishing, swimming, rodeos, horseback riding, rock climbing, bicycling, etc., it is all here. For a first time visit, I’d suggest spending a solid week in the general area devoting about 1/3 of your time specifically to Bryce Canyon. At any point in time, two to three nights seems like the perfect stay there. It’s just simply not that big of a park to spend a week or longer there.

A visit to Bryce Canyon wouldn’t be complete without the mandatory stop at Ruby’s. The folks at Ruby’s basically discovered Bryce Canyon and put it on the map so they are the only game in town. Ruby’s is like the grand central station of Bryce Canyon. It has everything you need, want, or forgot from high-end souvenirs to groceries and sporting goods. Of course, don’t forget to try the buffet. I’ve personally sampled it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your dining options are pretty limited in these parts and for that fact alone – I do endorse this buffet.

At $11.99, lunch is a dollar more than breakfast I believe and much better quality. It’s not the greatest selection in the world, but it is hearty, decent quality, standard american fare:  salad bar, soup, chicken, pork, corn, carrots, beans,and a pretty killer desert bar that features some scrumptious brownies and soft serve ice cream. (The desert bar is not available for breakfast) It also runs until 5pm before it switches to dinner and the prices goes way up. If you get there at 4:30 you’ll pay for lunch and get to eat dinner, which basically involves adding some fish and maybe beef. Between shopping and eating plan on spending at least a couple of hours there. It is actually a pretty cool place and most of the employees are helpful and friendly.

So there you have it, Bryce Canyon in a nutshell:  indescribable views, amazing colors, special wildlife, the best buffet around, and literally bus loads of Europeans everywhere. This park is awesome. Please don’t make the mistake of just driving through. Get our your vehicle and explore! That is a fantastic place and highly recommend a summertime visit.

Top 10 Parks to Visit During the Summer

11 May

Today, we are going to start with our first ever Top 10 List, the best parks to visit during summer travel. My goal is to make these posts as fun and informative as possible. Starting today, with number 10  – we’ll count down in our blog to the number one national park in the lower 48 to visit during summer travel.

 Please keep in mind, I define summer as the period of days starting on June 21st and ending on September 21st.  Before we start, one thing I’d like to make clear is that I have not visited all the national parks – so for the sake of this list I am only including the parks I have visited during the summer. Also, I am unable to access some of my computer files right now so I will update each park on this list with a picture sometime in the near future.  I hope that makes sense! Without further a due…

10. North Cascades National Park, Washington    http://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm

pros:  small crowds/solitude, pleasant temperatures, world-class scenery & adventure

cons:  inconsistent weather, poorly maintained roads, unusually dangerous terrain, limited amenities and services

date(s) visited:  August 2007

I have only had the privilege to visit this park one time and it was at the end of August a few years ago. I was there to do a charity climb for the non-profit group Big City Mountaineers. I spent about 4 days there and the weather was extremely erratic. The first day and half it was beautiful – sunny skies, highs in the 80’s…let me give you a picture. Snow capped mountains, dramatic vistas, glacial fed lakes, incredible waterfalls, lush greenery, endless beauty. The night after our climb of Mount Shuksan, I was awakened to the sound of snow cascading off a 1000 foot cliff. It was amazing. 

Then it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. It actually never stopped. And it rained hard. It wasn’t a drizzle that you can go out and walk about in.  I actually had to leave early because I just couldn’t anything it was raining so hard.

Despite all the spectacular scenery, the one thing that left the most lasting impact during my visit was the lack of crowds. I visited the main visitor at 4pm on a Saturday and it was practically dead. I couldn’t believe it. What a surprise!

One other thing that really got my attention was the topography of the land. It is extremely rugged and dangerous. You really can’t hike off trail. It is just too overgrown with thicket hiding unexpected drop offs. The rocks around the water here are extremely slippery. Just writing this conjures up so many incredible memories of this place.  Because its been a few years and I have only visited it once, I think this park would move up the list before it moved off.  It is certainly that special.

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