A Chainsaw and a Ladder


Taken near the Marie Lakes, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Eastern Sierra, on July 3rd, 2013

There are a few pieces of photography equipment I consider indispensable when I’m in the backcountry: a camera and tripod of course, and a few filters and accessories. Who would’ve ever thought I’d wish for a chainsaw or a ladder to be part of my kit? While backpacking in the Sierra high country I found myself in the Marie Lakes Basin as a stunning sunset erupted over Mt. Lyell. I had scouted this cascade earlier in the day and thought it would make an excellent foreground element for a photo. When time came to shoot I found my compositions limited by the rock I was standing on (another six inches to the right and I’d have fallen into a crystal clear pool of Sierra snowmelt), and thus I was forced to include some bushy trees, thrusting their way up between myself and the horizon. Now I would never ever go so far as to actually saw a tree down to improve a photo, but in my imagination that night the wood chips were flying as I clear cut those conifers to give me an unobstructed view of Mt. Lyell, Yosemite, and the sunset to the west.

The Reason


Taken at Island Pass in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Eastern Sierra Nevada, on July 4th, 2013

Why do photographers do the things we do? Why do we hike so much our packs chafe us raw? Why do we huff, puff, and sweat our way over 11,000 foot passes? Why do we subject ourselves to the relentless attacks of thousands of mosquitoes? Why do we rush to the mountains at the first sign of bad weather, when all the sane people are heading for cover? Why do we crick our backs on rocky ground while being battered by hail? Why do we climb thousands of feet only to turn right back around? Why do we seek the discomforts of the backcountry at all? Oh I don’t know, sometimes I think the reason is pretty darn clear.

See more beautiful Sierra Nevada photos in this gallery.



Taken in the Marie Lakes Basin in the Ansel Adams Wilderness just east of Yosemite on July 3rd

Early July 2013 brought sweltering temperatures to California, and the extreme heat resulted in thunderstorms and clouds building along the Sierra crest for days at a time. I planned a backpacking and photography trip from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite to June Lake, right along the Sierra crest, to take advantage of the light these storms were sure to bring. On my second night out, in the Marie Lakes Basin, this sunset unfolded over Mt. Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. The end of the day brought not only color to the sky, but hordes of hungry mosquitoes to the basin. And since I was the largest mammal around for miles, it was a free-for-all feeding frenzy on me. And despite my layers of clothing and liberal application of bug spray I estimate I sustained about 200 bites this evening.

Grant Lake Aspens in Fall

Grant Lake Aspens in Fall: Golden Fall Foliage near June Lake, CA

Taken near Grant Lake, June Lake Loop, Eastern Sierra, on October 29th, 2012

The plan was to camp at 11,000 feet on a late-season backpacking trip. Well, we made it through the first night, barely. Simply put, it was damn cold at altitude. Too cold. So rather than suffer through another sleepless night my friend and I decided to head to lower elevations to see if we could sniff out any lingering fall color. Near Grant Lake on the June Lake Loop, we happened across a grove of aspens that was still ablaze with color and spent a happy few hours wandering among the trees, snapping photos in the glow of the soft, golden light.

Stanislaus National Forest Residency Photos

In September, 2012 I was awarded an artist residency through the Stanislaus National Forest and 3 Forests Interpretive Association Artist in the Woods Program. After applying for the program and beating out a number of other applicants, I was given the opportunity to live and photograph in the Sierra High Country for two weeks (unfortunately reduced to 10 days due to scheduling conflicts). I stayed in a sweet little cabin at Baker Station on Highway 108 near Sonora Pass and spent my days roaming far and wide through the forest, hiking, camping, backpacking, and of course, taking photos.

My usual style of photography involves photographing grand landscapes under dramatic light. Unfortunately the residency landed smack dab in a window of calm, clear weather between two sets of dramatic thunderstorms. For me that meant clear, boring skies for nearly the entire time I was there. Which was good in a way because it forced me to look outside my usual paradigm and interpret scenes in ways I normally wouldn’t. The result was a high number of  abstract and intimate landscape shots, and surprisingly few “big picture” type images. Enjoy!

If you’d like to read more about my adventures during this wonderful residency, as well as see lots of behind-the-scenes photos and videos, check out my day-by-day breakdowns (links will become active as the breakdowns are written):

  • Day 1: Welcome!
  • Day 2: Sonora Pass and St. Mary’s Pass
  • Days 3 & 4: Blue Canyon Backpacking trip and Trail of the Gargoyles
  • Days 5 & 6: Photography Workshops
  • Day 7: Fixing an exploding coolant system on my Eep!
  • Days 8 – 10: Emigrant Wilderness Backpacking trip to Granite Dome

And please share your thoughts and comments below. Cheers,


Steps and Streaks

Thousand Island Lake sunset, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Long Exposure Photo

Taken at Thousand Island Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Eastern Sierras, on October 6th, 2012

A place of timeless beauty, Thousand Island Lake sits high up in the Sierra near Mammoth Lakes, California. In this shot I wanted to give a sense of the enduring wonder of the place so I included these ancient granite blocks. I also used a minute-long exposure to give an ephemeral feel to the clouds.

Sky Island

Thousand Island Lake sunset, Ansel Adams Wilderness
Taken at Thousand Island Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California on October 6th, 2012

Thousand Island Lake has always struck me as a magical place. A place of great and stark beauty where mountains soar and waters reflect the sky. And in the lake itself are dozens of tiny granite islets harboring meadows, dwarf pine trees, and a chipmunk or two. The real magic of the place comes out during calm evenings and mornings when these little granite worlds sit in the still reflection of the lake, seemingly floating in the sky.

Some Views Are Worth the Itch

Picture Peak and stream, Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains

“The mosquitoes will eat you alive.”

2011 had been an extremely snowy year in the Sierra and the massive snowpack was keeping the meadows marshy and bugs buggy a full month later than usual. As I chugged my way up the Blue Lake trail into the Eastern Sierras’ Sabrina Basin that refrain kept ringing in my ears and I debated turning back because of the dire warnings.

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Picture Peak

Picture Peak and Moonlight Lake in the Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierras

Taken at Moonlight Lake in the Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, on August 22nd 2011

“The mosquitoes will eat you alive.”

2011 had been an extremely snowy year in the Sierra and the massive snowpack was keeping the meadows marshy and bugs buggy a full month later than usual. As I chugged my way up the Blue Lake trail into the Eastern Sierras’ Sabrina Basin that refrain kept ringing in my ears and I debated turning back because of the dire warnings.

Yet 45 minutes into the hike I was still bite-free. I began to think the mosquito warnings were just a bit of overblown trail rhetoric, the kind of things you whine and bitch about but really aren’t all that bad. The more I hiked, the more confident I felt that things had been blown out of proportion. “Those foolish people and their mosquito talk, what were they afraid of. Ha ha ha, I’m so cool, and they are not.” And then I decided to stop and check my map.

Like little bloodsucking ninjas, a horde of mozzies swept out of the shadows to inflict bodily harm upon me. Every patch of my exposed skin was a target as they relentlessly swooped in to slurp the blood out of me. There was only one way out of this: keep walking.

But the mosquitoes weren’t going to be fooled that easily. Oh no, they had caught my scent and were sticking to me like tiny bloodhounds. So I fell back on another alternative: DEET, lots and lots of DEET. I imagined I could hear the mosquitoes sizzling and popping whenever they touched down on the chemical death now covering my body. But I didn’t feel any sympathy; quite the opposite: I was almost dancing in my petty triumph.

Over the next few days I fell into a standard routine: walk, DEET, swat. Eventually the mosquitoes and I came to an uneasy truce and they seemed to understand that if they got too close I was going to turn them into mosquito pulp. Soon the bugs stopped bothering me altogether and gave me the freedom to take pictures. Even the occasional sneak attack didn’t rile me up, because I learned a valuable lesson that trip: some views are worth the itch.

Shooting Stars by Moonlight

Shooting stars at Moonlight Lake, Sabrina Basin, High Sierra

Taken at Moonlight Lake in the Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierra, California on August 22nd, 2011

Forget coffee, forget Redbull. Nothing gets me zipping along first thing in the morning like some high Sierra backpacking. On my last morning of a trip to the wondrous Sabrina Basin near Bishop, California I rolled out of my tent at first light in order to capture the warm glow of the rising sun as it hit the 13,000 foot peaks surrounding my campsite. Despite not sleeping well, I felt charged up as I hiked the mile to this patch of shooting stars I had found while scouting Moonlight lake the day before. I set up my shot and waited for the light to reach the far shore of the lake, all the while burning off my excess energy by smashing the mosquitoes intent on having me for breakfast.