Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken from frozen Upper Cathedral Leak near Cathedral Peak in Yosemite National Park on May 2nd, 2014.

After slogging through four miles of slushy snow I reached Upper Cathedral Lake just after sunset. Exhausted from the tiresome hike in I didn’t try to photograph the lingering colors of sunset, but rather set up my camp in the waning light. As evening cooled down it sucked all the moisture out of the air and soon the skies were so clear and crisp they almost seemed solid.

A handful of stars began to scintillate in the inky blue sky above Cathedral Peak and as the night deepened more and more pinpoints of light added their sparkle to the sky. By about 9:30 pm thousands of brilliant flecks of light encrusted the sky. A crescent moon just above Mt. Tressider was adding a faint glow to the ice and snow on Upper Cathedral Lake and I used a long exposure to bring out the sparkles, both in the sky and on the ground.

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A Cold Day in Church

Cathedral Peak Yosemite Winter Sunset

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken from a granite outcropping overlooking Cathedral Peak, Yosemite National Park, on May 3rd, 2014

On the first day Tioga Pass opened this year I found myself loading up a bear canister with salami sandwiches and chocolate for a hike into Upper Cathedral Lake. No one was really sure what the trail conditions would be like, but the guy at the wilderness office in Yosemite Valley estimated the snow on the trail to be “patchy but manageable.” And it totally was, for about 1.5 miles. After that the snow cover became 100% and since I neglected to bring snow shoes I enjoyed postholing for the next few miles through deep snow drifts.

But even at the staggeringly slow pace of one mile per hour I eventually reached the lake, just after sunset. I missed the opportunity to shoot that night, but fast forward 24 hours and I found myself on this granite outcrop between Upper and Lower Cathedral Lakes. I had a grand view of the majestic Cathedral Peak and the dramatic clouds beyond. And although this photo doesn’t show it, a biting wind was blowing, dropping the perceived temperature into the low teens. Still, it was an uplifting experience!

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Yosemite Falls Moonbow

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Taken from halfway up the 4 Mile trail in Yosemite Valley on April 13th, 2014

The Yosemite Falls Moonbow is one of those rare visual phenomena that attracts visitors and photographers from around the world. Each spring the waterfalls in the park gush with snow melt and release vast plumes of spray into the air. Which means that when the moon is full (or nearly so) during the months of April, May, and June, it sits at the perfect geometry and shines with a bright enough light to cause a rainbow to appear in the mist of the falls. Now, moonbows can actually be seen on any waterfall where there’s enough spray and you can get the alignment right. But because the Yosemite Falls Moonbow is so grandiose and only happens a handful of days a year it has become one of the most famous moonbows worldwide.

In April of 2014 I wanted to capture the Yosemite Falls Moonbow from a unique vantage point, rather than from the typical viewing area up near the base of the lower falls. Any rainbow appears directly opposite from its light source, in an arc 42 degrees out from the direction of the light. Because the full moon was so high in the sky on the night I shot this the moonbow was going to appear fairly low. Meaning that if I wanted any chance of seeing the moonbow on the upper section of Yosemite Falls, it meant that I had to get high up along the south rim of Yosemite Valley.

So at 9 pm I packed up my camera gear and hiked up the 4 Mile trail, a steep path that leads from the Valley floor to Glacier Point, some 3,000 feet higher. About halfway up the trail I found a clearing in the brush with an outstanding view of the entirety of Yosemite Falls. The moonbow is often faint, or even invisible to the human eye, only appearing in the camera after a long exposure. So I took a quick test shot from my vantage point and lo and behold: there was the Yosemite Falls Moonbow, shining out brilliantly. I spent the next few minutes tweaking my composition and dialing in my camera’s settings, then watched and shot for the next hour as the falls danced and swayed in the wind and the moonbow shimmered in the mist below.

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The Beaten Path


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Taken in the Marie Lakes Basin in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Eastern Sierra Nevada, on July 3rd, 2013

There sure are a lot of beautiful places out there. Why then do we feel compelled to visit the same ones as everybody else? Is it the desire for a shared experience, a chance to create community and fraternity? Or is it the safety of knowing with certainty that our adventures will happen in beautiful locations? And if that’s the case, how is it that we can feel a simultaneous and completely contradictory compulsion for discovery? Or how when we find some quiet, pristine nook of wilderness we exclaim, “And I was the only one there!” Odd how our adventures in the woods contain a seemingly paradoxical desire to stay on and stray from the beaten path.

This shot from the Marie Lakes Basin was created out of that very dichotomy. I started this backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail out of Tuolumne Meadows, arguably one of the most famous trails in hiking. And indeed, for the first day and a half I passed a person every 20 to 30 minutes. “Isn’t this incredible? Isn’t life awesome?” we’d say, relishing in our shared experience. But then, I felt the urge to stray from the path.

Hiking cross country over a few granite ridges and saddles, I found myself in the striking Marie Lakes area, without another soul around. I hiked all around the basin, hopping creeks, scuttling over granite aprons, and climbing talus slopes. That evening, toward the tail end of sunset, I positioned myself above this cascade and captured this view as twilight faded. There wasn’t another person around for miles. So are the best experiences on the beaten path or off? Perhaps a combination of both.

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1000 Points of Light


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

Our day started with a fun off-trail scramble up to the top of a saddle between Minaret Lake and Cecile Lake. From there it was talus hopping to the ridge above Iceberg Lake. Then a sketchy downhill talus and boulder-field traverse (made even sketchier by the cumbersome nature of our 45-pound packs) to the outlet of the lake. 1.5 hours to cover a half mile of terrain; oh yeah, that was interesting. But from the outlet of Iceberg onward we had it made: we met up with the trail again and had 12 easy miles of on-trail tramping to make it to our destination that night: Thousand Island Lake. Clouds built up all afternoon during the hike and by the time we had arrived at this scenic gem of a lake the sky was tantalizing, especially above beautiful Banner Peak. I dropped my pack at the first available campsite and went scampering down to the lake shore to shoot. When the sun dropped behind Banner Peak and the clouds lit up in this mackerel sky, it was the perfect end to a great high Sierra day.

Check out some behind the scenes video from just after this photo was taken:

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2 pm


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet near Girdwood, Alaska, on January 6th, 2014

One of the coolest things about photographing Alaska in the wintertime is that the sun barely gets above the horizon. So while there isn’t much light in general, what light there is almost always has a golden hour character to it. Which means that in places like the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet you can get a six-hour long sunset. Good light at 2 pm? I’ll take it!

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Where the Bullfrogs Jump from Bank to Bank


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at twilight along the Merced River in Yosemite Valley on April 24th, 2013

Not much to say about this image. Just enjoying a tranquil evening at one of my favorite spots in Yosemite Valley. Happened to catch a nice sunset and took this shot during the blue hour twilight afterward.

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Behind the scenes of this photo

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

This photo was taken on my lone backpacking trip in the summer of 2013 before I severely injured my left big toe and was left unable to hike for months. The view from the summit of Island Pass is nothing short of fantasy-esque in its beauty. Even though I got to the pass around noon, I decided to wait and see if the July thunderstorms would build up as they had every other afternoon. Sure enough, at about 2pm huge cumulus clouds began forming over the Sierra crest. By 4pm hail was falling, and I retired to my tent for a nap. The storm broke at 5:30 and I whisked my camera out to this tarn to photography the clearing storm as it billowed and blew over Banner Peak.

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Fall Into Winter


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Taken along the Merced River in Yosemite National Park on October 28th, 2013

In late October 2013, a decently-sized storm hit the Sierra, bringing cold, wet weather to the area. Where I live this manifested as an series of rain showers. But in Yosemite Valley, which is higher and colder, the precipitation came in the form of snow. The Yosemite Conservancy webcams showed a winter wonderland, with the Sierra high country covered in white. Even Yosemite Valley was getting dusted. With the weather forecast predicting the storm breaking up around sunset, I put my butt into high gear and drove to the park. Once I got inside Yosemite’s borders the rain I had been driving through turned to snow and my windshield was getting plastered with thick, fat flakes. Amazingly, despite the unequivocally wintry conditions, the park’s dogwood trees were still resplendently displaying their vibrant fall foliage. Everywhere I looked I saw bright pinks, reds, and oranges. One of my first stops once I hit Yosemite Valley was a bend in the Merced River which boasted this amazing view of El Capitan and a the clearing storm. And while the snow on the Valley floor had already melted off, the storm itself was still swirling around El Cap, creating a beautiful contrast between fall and winter.

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Frame Up at Convict Lake


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Convict Lake in the Eastern Sierra on October 16th, 2013

Here’s a shot I took while doing the final scouting for my Eastern Sierra Fall Photography Workshop. It’s a different take on an iconic eastern Sierra location, Convict Lake. Believe it or not, my camera was less than 12″ off the ground for this shot -it was the only way I could get some separation between the golden tree leaves and Laurel Mountain in the distance. Often the most interesting vantage point is anywhere other than eye-level. Don’t be afraid to get low to get a unique view!

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Home Stretch


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Tioga Lake just outside Yosemite National Park on November 12th, 2013

I love all kinds of landscapes, from the coast to the desert, but the truth is that I am a mountain boy at heart. Because I live in the Sierra Nevada foothills I get to pass through some of the most beautiful mountain terrain in the world, including the wondrous scenery along Tioga Pass. Even though this spot, Tioga Lake, is a good 2 hours and 45 minutes from where I live, it still feels like it’s close to home. And it’s tough not to feel incredibly fortunate when you have a backyard this beautiful.

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Weak Spot


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Taken during a clearing storm at Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, on October 28th, 2013

If you ask me about shooting the classic photography icons, 99 days out of 100 I will rail against it. “No!” I will shout, “they are beautiful but boring! You can find so much more interesting and unique stuff just by taking a look around and gambling with uncertainty.” In other words, 99% of the time I’m a vociferous proponent of making your own tripod holes. But I have my weak spot. My kryptonite, if you will. If you don’t know this spot, it’s known as Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, and on any given night you might find 80 photographers lined up cheek to cheek to photograph the incredible view. In most cases I’d avoid a scene like that like the plague. But when it comes to Tunnel View, I just can’t resist. It’s too dang awesome. It’s also one of the best places in the world to watch a clearing storm, so a few weeks back when a snowstorm dumped fresh white goodness in the park, I cruised up to the View to watch the coincidence of sunset and storm. And I’m glad I did because the light at sunset was quite lovely, plus I ran into a few other photographers I’m fans of but had never met. It turns out sometimes there are perks to shooting the icons.

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