A Stately Procession

Tasman Lake, New Zealand, March 27th, 2015

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Tasman Lake in Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand, on March 28th, 2015

A big part of being a nature photographer is no, not waiting, but watching. In fact, I might argue that that’s the best part of being a nature photographer: watching the beauty and wonder of the natural world unfold around you. And not just watching, but also experiencing. Hearing the sound of the wind as it rushes down a mountainside, feeling the raindrops as they splash your face, and smelling the petrichor of freshly wet soil. It’s in these moments you feel connected to the place you’re in, and the barrier between yourself and the “outside world” becomes less distinct.

While photographing icebergs at Tasman Lake I was fortunate to feel such a moment of deep connection and presence. The day was thick with thunderstorms and I was intent on capturing their drama. With a light patter of raindrops falling on my head I made the short walk to the Tasman River outlet, as this is where most of the icebergs in the lake end up. Seeing a few crepuscular rays breaking through the clouds at the head of the lake I quickly set up my camera, thinking they might disappear.

But rather than disappear the rays only grew stronger as they swept down the Tasman Glacier valley and out across the lake. And as those beams passed overhead and vanished behind me, more took their place at the top of the lake. This happened over and over, and for a full two hours I watched, heard, felt, and photographed this stately procession of light and shadow as it marched across Tasman Lake.

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Elemental Collision


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Laguna Jahuacocha in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru, on September 9th, 2014

It’s hard to imagine a better finale for my final night in the Cordillera Huayhuash than the one that unfolded at Laguna Jahuacocha. All trip my guide had been telling me how beautiful Jahuacocha was, how it was one of his favorite lakes. So I was looking forward to seeing it regardless of the weather conditions. And as it turned out he wasn’t lying: Jahuacocha is a beautiful aquamarine lake that sits just below the glacial-clad western flank of Jirishanca, a 6,100 meter mountain.

My first glimpse of the lake was from a striking overlook some 600 meters above the glacial plain, where the deep blue of sky was reflected in the surface of the laguna. As we descended the thigh-crushing 2,000 feet straight down the side of the hill toward the lake two things happened: clouds began to build and swirl around Jirishanca’s summit, and the sound of rushing water grew louder and louder.

The reason for the latter became clear as we bottomed out on the glacial plain: there was a magnificent hundred-meter waterfall cascading down the rocky hillside to the south. I immediately sensed the potential of this waterfall to add to a great image so as soon as I dropped my pack off in camp I came scrambling back up the hillside (to the grumbling complaints of my legs) to scout out a few compositions. Watching the light play across the landscape as the clouds danced in the sky and the water coursed by at my feet was an experience I’ll treasure. Watch the video below to get a feel for the scene that afternoon.

But it was still a few hours till sunset so I meandered back to camp to have a quick nap. When I woke from that I found the sky to be almost completely overcast, and even worse, the cloud deck itself was below Jirishanca’s peak. I was quite disappointed, thinking that not only would I not be able to see the mountain top itself, but also that the low clouds would blot out the setting sun and instead of taking photos I would spend my last night in Huayhuash cursing the weather. Little did I realize what would unfold just a little while later.

Despite the weather I gathered up my camera gear and made my way back to the waterfall and found the best composition I could, all the while wishing for the clouds to lift just a little bit. What I had failed to internalize during that trip is just how high the mountains in the Cordillera Huayhuash are. Jirishanca is over 20,000 ft in elevation, which means that the clouds obscuring its summit were probably still 19,000 ft above sea level. And 19,000 ft of air gives the sun a lot of room to shine through as it sets.

Which is exactly what happened: as the sun sunk toward the horizon it began shining into the gap between the clouds and the ground, illuminating Jirishanca like a search light. As the evening progressed the sunlight dipped into an amazing red frequency, which brought all four of the classic elements, earth, air, water, and fire, together in one of the most dramatic displays of light and landscape I’ve ever seen.

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33 Candles


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken on September 2nd, 2014 below Laguna Mitucocha and Jirishanca in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

I don’t personally put a lot of effort into celebrating my own birthday. But sometimes when the circumstances are right I’ll do a little something nice for myself. And this year I decided to fly myself to Peru and go for a trek in the Peruvian Andes. Specifically in the Cordillera Huayhuash, one of the most beautiful mountain ranges on the planet.

The timing of the trip was a bit iffy: near the end of the dry season, and because of that I wasn’t sure what kind of weather I’d experience. And like any good landscaper I was afraid of endless days of sunshine. So when I arrived in Huaraz, the trekking capital of Peru, and saw that the forecast consistently called for cloudy days and thunderstorms I did a little happy dance and set out on a 10-day, 100-mile walk through the Cordillera Huayhuash.

On the second day of the trek, my actual birthday, the scenery turned from merely pleasant to jaw-droppingly spectacular. Myself, another bloke from South Africa, Brett, and our guide spent my 33rd wandering around the flanks of this beautiful mountain, Jirishanca, lounging in the sun, and circumnavigating stunning Laguna Mitucocha. Toward sunset we retired to our camp about a mile from the lake and I watched in eager anticipation as dramatic clouds moved in around the mountain’s 20,098 ft high summit.

I went sniffing for compositions along this stream and found this choice spot boasting a beautiful view of the Jirishanca’s glaciers and snow-clad summit. Then as the sun sunk low into the western sky it lit the clouds from behind like nature’s largest candle. Happy birthday to me!

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Purple Mountain Majesties

Purple Mountain Majesties

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in the Pioneer Basin, Sierra Nevada mountains, California, on July 11th, 2014

When you think about what drives you you can come to some pretty funny conclusions. Like photography, for example. Did I really just drag my weary ass 10 miles over thousands of feet of elevation change just to press a button and record a few pixels? Why, I surely did! But of course it’s so much more than that, because it’s not really about the pixels, it’s about the experience. It’s about standing in that place and breathing in its timeless nature and rugged beauty. And it’s about finding the right spot to plant your two feet to capture an image that evokes the essence of what you feel in that moment. And that’s the real driver.

Which hopefully helps explain why after hiking deep into the Pioneer Basin in the John Muir Wilderness to seek a good location for sunset I decided to turn around and descend the 1.5 miles and 500 feet I had just ascended, 45-pounds of backpack fighting me the whole way. Weary I was, but the upper basin just wasn’t holding the views I was looking for. So I re-slung my pack about my shoulders and fought off the mosquitoes as I trudged back down to the lower basin, soaking my shoes in the process as I trod through rainstorm-sodden grass.

But those sort of discomforts are minimal, ephemeral, and are always eclipsed by the wonder and joy the backcountry instills in me. I found this stream channel leading into colloquially-known Mud Lake and knew it was the prime spot to watch the sunset unfold. But rather than an intense show of color, the clouds only light up with pockets of light. And in fact, the most interesting, evocative, and moody moment happened after sunset when the deep blue-hour tones helped the distant mountains glow in their purple majesty.

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Cooling Down

Cooling Down

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken on a five-day backpacking trip to the Pioneer Basin in the high Sierra Nevada mountains, California, on July 11th, 2014

Did you know that photography is just like exercise? I found that out myself a few weeks back while on a 5-day backpacking trip in the High Sierra. The first two days were like a warm up: I spent some time stretching, walked miles and miles, but never really flexed my photographic muscles. The two days in the middle were the real heavy lifting: grandiose scenery and divine light, requiring a concentration and effort that left me feeling mentally and physically pooped. The last morning of the trip was a chance to wind down: I rolled out of my tent before dawn and strolled down to the shore of this lake in the Pioneer Basin, where the reflection and lovely morning light made my job as a photographer easy. A nice little way to “cool down” mentally and photographically after a great trip.

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In the Moment


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken in the oak savanna near Table Mountain in Jamestown, California, on April 26th, 2014

Photographers are often preoccupied by moments. We spend our days hunting for compositions and aligning elements so that we know where to go when The Moment hits. Now this is a great way to consistently experience great beauty but I fear it also has an unintended consequence: one of taking us out of the moments we’re in right now.

After all, how can you be present in the here and now if you’re constantly thinking about what the place you’re at will look like at some other time? And even when those wonderful moments arrive it’s not unusual to spend that time thinking about what’s next. The light is great now, but what will it look like in five minutes? It’s a common affliction, though perhaps it affects me more than most.

However, on a recent shoot in the oak savanna near my house, there was no temporal displacement of my mind. I could tell that this was the defining moment of the evening and I was present with all my senses. Even after I had taken enough shots to know I had a “keeper” I just sat and watched the scene. I wasn’t thinking about other compositions, other locations, or other times. I was simply there, enjoying being in the moment.

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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.

Sun Spots


Taken in the salt flats of Salt Creek, Death Valley National Park, on February 21st, 2013

It’s amazing what you find with a little wandering. And in Death Valley there is lots of space to wander. A photographer friend of mine hinted that these bizarre salt circles might be lurking out in the salt flats near salt creek, so early one morning I set out for a wander. I meandered past reflective streams, furrowed cracks of earth, and baked salt pans. Then, out of nowhere, I stumbled upon these dots. As luck would have it the rising sun cast a nearly perfect sundog across the haze of clouds to the east and created a beautiful symmetry to the scene.


Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite, Black and White

Taken at Tunnel View in Yosemite Valley on May 9th, 2013

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park. In early May Yosemite was hit by a thunderstorm that involved, according to a local park photographer, the most intense downpour of the last 15 years. As I waited and watched the roads and parking lots turn to rivers, pea-sized hail crashed down on my car in a deafening cacophony. Then, as quickly as it began, the tempest abated. And I had one thought: get to Tunnel View to watch the clearing storm. I arrived to see some of the most beautiful and dynamic light I’ve ever seen at this vista, and I made a number of dramatic photos. This intimate shot of Bridalveil is one of my favorites from the evening as for me this scene epitomizes Yosemite’s timeless and mythic beauty.

Zen Garden

Ibex Sand Dunes abstract photo, Death Valley National Park

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at the Ibex Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park on November 13th, 2012

Sand dunes can be the most peaceful place on the planet, if you can find the right ones. All of them have the magic ability to soak up sound and render the landscape breathlessly quiet. But few of them have the same feeling of pristine isolation as the Ibex Sand Dunes in the southern part of Death Valley. Every time I visit them I experience peace and quiet in a whole new way.

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Southern Splendor

Sealy Tarns, Mt. Sefton, and Mt. Cook, Aoraki National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Taken from the Sealy Tarns in Mt. Cook / Aoraki National Park, New Zealand on April 26th, 2012

The trail description didn’t make it sound bad at all: “Track starts out gently then ascends steeply to the Sealy Tarns.” A pretty unassuming description. Glib, even. But I learned my lesson the hard way: in New Zealand, when a trail guide says steep, it means steep. In truth it was a staircase from hell. To take my mind off my aching lungs and shaking legs I tried to count the number of individual stairs in the climb but I lost track somewhere in the two thousands. When I finally reached the top and saw this magnificent view at sunset, that endless trudge seemed like a small price to pay to witness the splendor of the Southern Alps.

Mountain Light

Mountain Light

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Hooker Lake in Mt. Cook / Aoraki National Park, New Zealand on April 25th, 2012

It turns out that glacial lakes are cold, really cold. Not that I noticed right away. I was wearing hip waders so I could stand thigh-deep in the just-above-freezing Hooker Lake while shooting icebergs and Mt. Cook at sunset. Because I wasn’t wet, I didn’t feel the cold right away. No, it was only after I’d been standing in the water for 40 minutes then tried to move that I felt it. My legs had turned to cold iron, and I could practically hear the creaks as I willed them to move back up to dry land. All in a day’s work, and well worth it for a sight like this one.

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