Magic

Magic

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in Gardiner Basin in Kings Canyon National Park, California, on July 19th, 2018

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Stuck

Stuck

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken at one of the many beautiful lakes in the Gardiner Basin in Kings Canyon National Park on July 20th, 2018.

I almost lost my shoes to the accumulated muck on the bottom of this lake. Kinda like stepping in a six-inch deep layer of snot. I don’t know what that stuff was for sure, but I’m assuming it was made of the decomposing bodies of other photographers who got trapped in it.

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Electric

Electric

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Stirling Falls in Milford Sound, New Zealand on May 4th, 2018.

Stirling Falls in Milford Sound is surely one of the world’s most unique waterfalls. First of all, it’s tall, stretching nearly 500 feet in a pure, elegant drop from its precipice down to the rocks at its base where it crashes and splatters in cacophonous melody. If it ever looks small it’s only because it’s being dwarfed by the mile-high mountains surrounding it that erupt almost vertically out of the fjord. Secondly, the waterfalls leaps into space only to land directly on the ocean below it. There is no land to interrupt the descent; it’s a free-fall with a salt water landing. The height of the falls and the ocean landing contribute directly to the third unique thing about the waterfall: if the flow of water and the direction of wind is just right, a marvelous display of interference patterns appears at the base of the falls, radiating out from the crash zone like so many jagged rings of electricity. The electricity extends from the waterfall to you. Something about the sounds, the grandeur, the dancing mists, and the beauty of the location makes your hair stand on end, and causes energy to course through your body.

I’ve photographed Stirling Falls from a boat about half a dozen times now and while the experience is always incredible, this particular voyage was the first time I saw these radiating lines of force. As we rounded the cliff to reveal the falls I was dialing in my settings and snapping a few quick test shots to ensure my exposure was spot on. The boat spends 3-4 minutes at the falls, though in the moment it only feels like seconds. And so for me it’s an adrenaline-fueled race against time. My senses start to tingle and my fingers get itchy. On this trip I started off photographing some intimate scenes with my longer lens but as soon as I saw the patterns at the base of the falls I switched over to my wide angle and began snapping away. I had only enough time to create 20 frames over the course of 55 seconds before the boat started to rotate out of position and back away from the falls. But those 55 seconds were some of the most breathtaking and exciting of that particular trip to New Zealand, and they kept me grinning the rest of the day. Even as I write this I am reliving the excitement of the moment and feeling the joy and exuberance wash over me in little electric waves.

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Smoky Spectrum

Smoky Spectrum

minaret-vista-sunrise-fire-smoke

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from near Minaret Vista in Mammoth Lakes, California, on July 9, 2017.

Over the 2016-2017 winter Mammoth Lakes received a large amount of snow, to put it mildly. This meant that many roads in the area, such as the road to the Devil’s Postpile National Monument and Minaret Vista, remained closed long after they typically opened. So on the final morning of a High Sierra photography workshop we roused the participants extra early and began the 45-minute walk from the road closure to the Vista.

We arrived to find a decent amount of snow lingering in hard crusts all over the top of the ridge and ambled around it looking for good vantage points. Despite the huge snowfall and massive quantity of spring runoff wildfires had sprung up in the previous weeks throughout the Sierra and we saw the Long Valley Caldera to the east sitting thick and heavy with smoke. As the sun rose above the Glass Mountains it lit the clouds above a deep crimson and turned the smoky haze in the valley shapes of burnt oranges and yellows. With each ridge closer to us the haze grew less, which allowed the natural colors of the forest to shine through, creating a breathtaking spectrum of colors.

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Phantasm

Phantasm

stirling-falls-milford-sound-new-zealand

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from a boat cruising down Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand on April 12th, 2016.

Stirling Falls is an impressive waterfall by most standards of the world: it’s a thunderous, 500-foot, single-drop falls. What makes it even more incredible is the fact that it plummets from the mountains directly into the ocean. And it does so in Milford Sound, one of the most scenic locations on the planet.

However, getting a photo of the falls is not easy. The only access to the Stirling Falls is by boat, and even the largest boats are subject to a rocking and swaying that makes shooting from a tripod essentially impossible. Not to mention that the falls itself puts off so much spray that your lens is often coated with water droplets within seconds.

In order to combat these issues for this photo I extended a single leg of my tripod, turning it into a monopod. This allowed for increased stability with some freedom of motion. I also used a telephoto lens; not only did this allow me to isolate just this fascinating interaction between the rocks on the water, but it also allowed me to focus past any droplets on my lens. Then I used a shutter speed of 1/15 sec, which was slow enough to show motion in the fast-falling water, but fast enough to capture the detail in the rocks.

In the end I loved the fantastical shape created by the rocks under the cascade, as it seems everyone sees something different in the photo.

See more beautiful Fiordland photos here.

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Temple of the Moon

Temple of the Moon

temple-of-the-moon-capitol-reef-national-park

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken in at the Temple of the Moon, Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, on October 11, 2016.

The Temple of the Moon in Capitol Reef is a striking rock formation: it literally looks like a church made of mud and stone that rises hundreds of feet above the desert floor. And yet on my few visits to the park I’ve had trouble photographing it. Conditions never quite aligned for me to take a noteworthy photograph of the monolith. Until a visit in 2016, that is.

My friend Julia were on a whirlwind desert camping and road trip and almost on a whim decided to buzz out to Capitol Reef. We arrived in the park in the afternoon and decided to venture out for the night to the Cathedral Valley. Despite recent rains (even some sprinkles as we drove out), the backcountry roads were in good condition -minus a wash or two here and there- and we made good time to the area.

Arriving late at night under a waxing gibbous moon we hopped out of the car to see a series of high clouds streaking across the night sky. Even better was the full halo being created in the clouds by the light of the moon. I immediately grabbed my camera equipment and went sprinting off into the desert to line up a composition which placed the moon at the apex of the tower. In order to get a good exposure with clean details I decided to shoot some longer exposures of approximately 90 seconds. The tricky part was anticipating the moon’s movement during that 90 seconds so that the average position appeared to be directly above the tower.

After a series of frustrating but fun test shots I was able to make this image, which showed the moon and its halo, as well as a secondary spire on the Temple.

See more beautiful Capitol Reef National Park photos here.

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Perito Moreno Petito Panino

Perito Moreno Petito Panino

Perito-Moreno-Glacier-Argentina-Los-Glaciares

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken at the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina on March 2, 2017.

In early 2017 I was on assignment for Nikon, creating sample images for their brand-new 8-15 mm fisheye lens. While I was a little perplexed initially about how best to use the lens I soon uncovered some of its secrets in regards to landscape photography. One of the coolest things about the lens is it provides a 180° circular field of view at 8 mm. When zoomed to 15 mm the FOV is still nearly 180° corner-to-corner, meaning you get around 150° across the frame. For those not familiar with the technical details of photography, allow me to simplify: 150° across the frame is insanely wide. It’s so wide you have to struggle not to accidentally include your feet in the bottom of the photo when shooting vertically.

It’s also so wide that it means you can shoot panoramic-style photos in a single frame. No stitching required, no panoramic ball heads, and no nodal point calculations. In this case it meant I could shoot this panoramic view of the extraordinarily massive and breathtaking Perito Moreno glacier in a single shot.

For this particular photo I visited the glacier three separate times, mostly under gray and rainy skies. But on this day I finally got a break in the clouds, a little atmosphere, and a little nice light on the glacier itself. Perfect conditions to make a nice little pano shot of the glacier, or a Perito Moreno Petito Panino.

See more beautiful Argentina photos here.

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Miñiques

Miñiques

miniques-volcano-atacama-desert-chile

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from somewhere in the Atacama Desert, Chile, on April 7th, 2017.

The Atacama Desert is one of the most surreal, entrancing landscapes I’ve visited. It’s incredibly stark and dry, and in some areas there is literally zero plant life. In many ways the folded earth and giant salt pans vividly remind me of Death Valley in California. But just when it starts to feel familiar the Atacama will throw you for a loop.

First off is the elevation. Instead of being low and hot like Death Valley, the Atacama is high and cold, with elevations ranging from 7,000 to 19,000 feet. There are brightly-colored flamingos that inhabit mineral-rich lakes that are toxic to humans. And of course, there are the volcanoes. A chain of enormous volcanoes runs north-south, roughly along the Chile-Bolivia border. Each of them is snow-capped, hulking, and surrounded by a landscape that is inhospitable to all but the hardiest plants and animals.

One of the mightiest of these is Miñiques, which towers above the landscape at nearly 19,400′. It’s an enormous complex of peaks, craters, lava domes and lakes that is visible for miles in any direction. While out exploring the landscape south of the town of San Pedro de Atacama I spent the afternoon wandering around the attraction of Las Piedras Rojas (the Red Rocks). But getting on toward sunset I spied lenticular clouds forming on the lee side of the Miñiques volcano and knew it could make for an interesting photo.

Gunning the rental sedan down the rough and bumpy road I drove to a vantage point where I could get the volcano, the clouds, the moon, and the scrubby landscape all in one frame. As the sun dropped below the horizon it lit up the lenticulars a gorgeous shade of fuchsia and I was able to capture this photo.

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Where Does the Time Go?

Where Does the Time Go?

four-mile-beach-santa-cruz-rocks-waves-sunset

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken at Four Mile Beach in Santa Cruz, California, on January 30, 2012.

When I took this photo back in 2012 and shared it on flickr, my original caption read: “it seems to me that the days are simply flying by lately. I wake up, then before I know it it’s time to go to bed again. What the heck, where does the time go?” And now, looking back over six years later the sentiment rings doubly true. Where indeed does the time go? I spent FOUR YEARS living in Santa Cruz exploring the coastline and taking photo after photo of crashing waves. Four years seems like a long time, and in truth those years entailed hundreds of nights spent at the ocean, but looking back I realize I’ve already been gone from Santa Cruz longer than I ever lived there.

And then I think about all the adventures I’ve had since then, all the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, and those moments too have just flown by. In the end you can only have one takeaway from a reflection like this: life is short and goes by too quickly. So take advantage of all the moments you can to spend time building beautiful memories in places that make you happy with people you care about.

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Light Sandwich

Light Sandwich

palouse-washington-tree-clouds

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken along the side of the road near Colfax, Washingon in the Palouse on June 10th, 2017.

Jim Patterson and I were up in the Palouse scouting for a workshop we were holding in a few days. Driving around the beautiful backroads and highways of the region Jim mentioned a tree he’d seen in a few photos and would like to find. In one of those bizarre moments of serendipity minutes later we rounded a bend on the road and saw the exact tree hiding in a small valley between two hilly fields. We sailed past, slammed on the brakes, whipped around and drove back to investigate. Finding a small turn off just barely big enough for the car we jumped out, confirmed it was indeed the tree he was looking for, then marveled at our luck while grabbing a few scouting snapshots.

A few days later with the workshop in tow and ponderous, thick clouds filling the sky overhead we once again stopped at the tree and walked our photographers around the scene suggestion different ideas and compositions. As I was showing a couple of photographers some telephoto shot ideas the sunlight slipped through a crack in the clouds overhead and lit up just one side of the tree along with the hillside behind it. The deep shadows on the ground in front of me combined with the moody skies above made it seem as though I was about to sink my teeth into a light sandwich. So I did, I clicked the shutter, and it was delicious.

See more beautiful Palouse photos here.

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Barely There

Barely There

mt-whitney-moon-alabama-hills

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from somewhere in the Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra, California on February 17th, 2018.

On a clear weekend in mid February a friend and I camped in a place that is endlessly fascinating, the Alabama Hills. Aside from being one of the oldest and most interesting rock formations in the US, the ‘bama Hills serve as an excellent vantage point to gaze at California’s high peaks. Williamson, Russell, Langley, Le Conte, Lone Pine Peak: these mountains dominate the skyline for dozens of miles in any direction. And of course, you have the tallest of them all, Mt. Whitney. Although Whitney is tucked back in, nestled in its mountain throne, and doesn’t look quite as imposing as the more easterly summits, one only has to zoom in with a telephoto lens to see the magnificence of the peak, along with its two attendant needles.

On this trip I wasn’t really planning to do any serious photography, but after checking with my favorite app, PhotoPills I saw that a tiny crescent moon (4.3% full) would be setting over Mt. Whitney, as seen from one of the dirt roads in the area on February 17th. I thought it would be cool to shoot an extreme telephoto image of the crescent as it sank behind the mountains, and positioned myself to do just that.

But after the sun went down and the sky began to darken the moon’s disc became easily visible. What a gorgeous sight that was: the tiny sliver of sunlit moon blazing like a beacon in the sky, then the paler, more subtle disc making itself visible like a visual aftertaste. Knowing the sky would be pitch black by the time the moon actually sank behind the mountains (meaning I’d lose the silhouette of Whitney), I lined up this wider shot, capturing the crescent moon, the full moon disc, the inky blue sky, the silhouette of the mountains, and even a few of the brightest stars. This is a single shot, no compositing, taken with a Nikon D850 and 200-500mm lens at:

ISO400
f/5.6
2 sec
320 mm

See more beautiful Sierra Nevada photos here.

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Hallelujah

Hallelujah

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken from the Mueller Hut in Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park on May 16, 2016.

There are three things that can get you into trouble when you’re playing in the mountains. The first is overconfidence in your abilities for the terrain. The second is not being prepared in terms of equipment. And the final thing is changing weather. A lot of times you can work through one of those issues and be alright. But when those things start to collide and you have cascading failures, that’s where you can get into a serious situation.

That was exactly what happened when my friend Jessica and I decided to hike to the Mueller Hut in Aoraki / Mt. Cook National Park in New Zealand in May of 2016. The Southern Alps were getting blasted by storm after storm, making trekking difficult, but when we spied a 24-hour break in the weather forecast we decided to head up to the hut. Unfortunately for us the break turned out to be much shorter than we expected and brought much colder temperatures with it, including two days of blizzard conditions.

To make a long story short, we ended up being stranded in the hut for three days, ran out of food, and built a mattress fort to stay warm. In addition I also missed my flight back home to the US. After those three days of enduring the battering of this storm, the accompanying winds, thunderclaps, and avalanches, we woke up our final morning in the hut to extraordinary calm and clear skies. We walked outside to find three feet of fresh snow blanketing the surrounding countryside, and some of the most intense alpenglow I’ve ever seen igniting the atmosphere.

That, along with the news that the Department of Conservation was sending a helicopter to extract us from the hut (we couldn’t descend the hiking route due to extreme avalanche danger), led to a profound Hallelujah moment.

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