Spontaneity

Spontaneity

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken On the Darwin Bench, Kings Canyon National Park, California, on June 27th, 2020.

The plan was to hike the full 51-mile North Lake to South Lake loop in four days. But after two days and 27 miles my friend, Ryan, and I were feeling completely knackered. Pushing on to complete the original plan was doable, but it would have meant long, exhausting days on the trail which left little time for photography or simply enjoying the wilderness. Instead we spontaneously decided to switch things up and take a shortcut back to the car, heading through Darwin Bench to Lamarck Col. This would shave 20+ miles off our total trip and give us plenty of quality time with Mother Nature.

After sleeping in a bit on day three of the trip we set off for the short (but steep) climb to Darwin Bench, where we set up camp for the night. Then we set off in search of stunning scenes, which were in no short supply. The Darwin Bench is a spectacular place which provides marvelous views in all directions. I was particularly drawn to the view to the south, which looked out over Evolution Valley and a prominent triangular peak known as The Hermit. Once sunset itself arrived, color and light exploded in the sky, and swept across the mountains. I loved how the shapes of the clouds mirrored those of the rocks in the stream, and how the warm tones of sunset played beautifully off the cool tones in the shadows. 

Our spontaneous decision to leave our initial planned turned out to be the right one.

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Gradient

Gradient

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at South Tufa, Mono Lake, California, on June 1st, 2020.

I’ve been fortunate to see many spectacular moments of light at Mono Lake. But what was special about this particular night was the way the warm tones in the west transitioned so beautiful to cool tones in the east. Those complementary colors were reflected in the light and shadows on the tufas as well.

I wanted to showcase those color transitions so I created this composition which utilizes two tall tufa towers as a natural frame for the scene.

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Happy Bear-thday

Happy Bear-thday

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in the Bear Lakes Basin in the High Sierra, on September 2nd, 2020.

The Bear Lakes Basin is not an easy place to get to. Whether you approach from the east, west, north, or south, you are in for a serious amount of elevation gain, cross-country travel, and long distances. However, the rigors of the hike make the destination all that much sweeter. The Basin is a granite playground dotted with about a dozen lakes that follow the theme of the Basin’s name (Claw Lake, Den Lake, Little Bear Lake, Big Bear Lake, White Bear Lake, etc…). And standing sentinel at the west end of the Basin is magnificent Seven Gables, one of the most striking peaks in the Sierra.

On this particular trip my friend, Joe, and I endured the challenges of the hike in with some wildfire smoke thrown in for good measure. At times we questioned the sanity of choosing this particular destination. But when we arrived in the Basin I immediately saw the photographic potential of the place. We had timed the trip to coincide with the full moon and I knew there was a good opportunity to shoot the setting moon at sunrise at some point during the trip. That day happened to be my birthday as well. 

When I rolled out of bed on that particular morning, the moon was shining in my face like a searchlight, and I ran to the edge of some nearby cliffs to line up this shot. Happy bear-thday to me!

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Dwarfed

Dwarfed

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in the Alabama Hills, California, on January 26th, 2020.

From the Alabama Hills you can see six of California’s tallest mountains, each over 14,000′ high. However, the view is dominated by a smaller summit known as Lone Pine Peak. Thanks to its proximity to the Alabama Hills, as well as its unbroken 9,000-feet east face, Lone Pine Peak looms over the landscape in a display of sheer grandeur. In this photo I wanted to emphasize this grandeur, so I placed a human figure in the frame (a self-portrait, taken from roughly 300 feet away) to create a strong contrast and sense of scale for the mountain.

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The Endless Dance

The Endless Dance

The Story Behind This Photograph:

In the moment I was creating this photo, all I could think about was making sure I had the right focus, exposure, and composition. But in the days since then I’ve had time to reflect a bit more on the unbelievable age of these trees and what they’ve seen. With the oldest bristlecones topping the 4,000-year mark, it’s not impossible to think that this particular tree could be 2,000 years old or more. Imagine the things it’s seen and endured. In all those years it would have seen the full moon rise and set an incomprehensible 24,000 times. It’s an endless dance that I feel privileged to have witnessed merely a few dozen times.

The band of pink and blue you see in the sky is what’s known as the Belt of Venus, which occurs right around sunrise and sunset on clear days. The pink layer is sunlight bouncing off the atmosphere. The blue layer is Earth’s shadow. It’s one of my favorite atmospheric phenomena, not only because of the beautiful complementary colors it creates, but also because it reminds me that we are all living on this finite ball of life, floating in the endless expanse of space.

Tech notes:

Can you guess what the hardest part of making this photo was? Simply finding the right tree! To celebrate the 2020 Halloween Blue Moon I wanted to photograph it aligned with the coolest, spookiest trees around, the ancient Bristlecone Pines. But although there are thousands of Bristlecones in the White Mountains, not just any tree would do. In order to work well for this shot, the right tree would have to check four important boxes:

  1. It would have to be aesthetic, with the right combination of living and dead branches. Bristlecones that are fully alive top to bottom just look downright shaggy!
  2. It would have to be growing on a narrow north-south ridge so that I could align the moon behind it.
  3. It would need to be isolated from other trees and any distractions or obfuscating elements.
  4. There would have to be another small ridge or hill nearby that I could shoot from at the same elevation as the tree. If I shot from too high up the tree will blend into the landscape behind it. If I were too low, the moon wouldn’t appear behind the tree until the sky and landscape are totally dark.

Who says I’m too picky??? 🙂 It was a frantic, fun race that particular afternoon to find a tree that fit these criteria, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I stumbled across this beauty about 45 minutes before moonrise. It gave me just enough time to plot out the correct angles and distances, get into position, and shoot! All in all I captured approximately 50 images of the moon gracefully rising above this tree. But this frame, which captured the warm end-of-day light flowing across this ancient arboreal beauty, was the best of the bunch.

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Skeleton

Skeleton

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile, on March 11th, 2017.

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Lion’s Roar

Lion’s Roar

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand on April 11th, 2016.

While on a photo tour of New Zealand’s South Island our group was treated to a spectacular light show as the setting sun shone three fiery beams of light through the fjord, igniting a wall of rain perched in front of a mountain known as The Lion.

For a sense of scale, the “small” waterfall visible in the center bottom of the photo is 500-foot tall Stirling Falls.

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Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in the Empty Quarter of the United Arab Emirates on December 26th, 2019.

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Twists and Turns

The Story

Taken in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, on March 11th, 2017 while on assignment for the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye lens.

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High Plains Drifter

High Plains Drifter

vicuna-atacama-desert-chile

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken in the high desert near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, on April 5th, 2017.

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Alabama Hills Sunset

Alabama Hills Sunset

alabama-hills-sunset

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken in the Alabama Hills, California, on December 5th, 2016.

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Moonset Kingdom

Moonset Kingdom

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken on a ridge overlooking the Minarets near Mammoth Lakes, California, on September 6th, 2017.

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