Hey Bear (Grass)!

Hey Bear (Grass)!

citadel-mountain-glacier-national-park

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from the shrubbery near Gunsight Lake, overlooking Citadel Mountain, in Glacier National Park on June 18, 2016.

In 2016 I was invited to Glacier National Park to help Fusion TV film a short piece about the loss of the glaciers in the park. After filming wrapped I made plans to spend the next week in Glacier exploring the landscape, as it was my first visit to the park. My friends Elisabeth and Ty were also in the area and we made plans to meet up for a backpacking trip. After flipping through the options at the backcountry permit office we decided on a place called Gunsight Lake. It seemed very beautiful, and was relatively easy to get to: a 6 mile hike in with only a few hundred feet of elevation change. So on the afternoon of the 17th we hoisted our backpacks on, strapped on our cans of bear spray, and set off down the trail.

This was my first time in Montana’s grizzly country and as such I wanted to be prepared. The main rules to avoid bear encounters are 1) hike with other people, and 2) make lots of noise. That was easy enough as the three of us tromped down the path, oohing and aahing over the flowers and mountains surrounding us. A few hours later we rocked into camp, set our tents up, and waited for sunset (which was lovely). Then it was time to hit the sack, because sunrise comes very early in Montana in June. At around 5 am my alarm went off and we all wriggled out of bed and grabbed our cameras. Ty and Elisabeth went off to shoot sunrise by the lake, but I wanted to photograph a patch of wildflowers I’d spied on the hike in the day before. This meant heading off by myself into the dawn hours, breaking the first rule of avoiding bear encounters: Don’t Go By Yourself! Luckily I could still adhere to the second rule and I made a fine racket that morning, belting out songs at the top of my lungs about the sunrise, about bears, wildflowers, the creek nearby, and anything else I could think of. And it must’ve worked because the only sign of bears I saw that morning was the bear grass popping up in front of my camera.

Key Learning Tip:
It’s important to think of your photographs like visual stories. And just like a written story an effective photograph will have some kind of an opening hook to lure viewers in, details that help propel the story through the frame, and a finale. When using a wide-angle these three elements can be found in your foreground, middle-ground, and background. choose an eye-catching foreground element to draw your viewers into the frame. your mid-ground should give some environmental details that tell what a place is like. And your background element should provide some kind of visual payoff and sense of place. the more deliberately you choose these three elements for your photograph, the stronger the visual story you will create.

See more beautiful Glacier National Park photos here.

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Electric Light

Electric Light

Neon-Canyon-Escalante-Utah

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from a bluff overlooking the entrance to Neon Canyon near Escalante, Utah, on October 10, 2016.

In late 2016 my Hungarian friend Julia let me know she was planning another trip to the America Southwest. She’d lived in New York for six years and during her time there a yearly pilgrimage to Utah was a staple in her spiritual diet. And since I enjoy exploring southern Utah almost as much as my own beloved Sierra I leapt at the chance to head out there for 10 days of canyon goodness. Julia recommended we make a backpacking trip into one of the more famous canyons in the Escalante area, Neon Canyon, and having never been there I was happy to agree.

The hike in to the entrance of Neon canyon is fairly easy, if a little boring and exposed: five miles of trudging across sandy, rocky desert, followed by a startlingly quick descent down to the Escalante River. A thigh-deep ford of the river, followed by 50 feet of knee-deep, sucking mud, and you’re in the mouth of the canyon. Then the question becomes where to put your tent. After exploring a few bends up canyon we settled on a wonderful bluff a few hundred feet above the seasonal creek that has hollowed out the canyon.

From our campsite we could see a clear use trail leading to the top of the cliffs to the west so we wandered up that way and found a high perch with incredible views of the Escalante River to the west and Neon Canyon to the east. We spent the next day exploring Neon Canyon, which ends with a truly spectacular sandstone cathedral. As well as Ringtail Canyon, an extremely tight and narrow slot which at the time was chest-deep with frigid water. Brrrr.

On our final morning of the trip I woke up early and hustled up the use trail to the canyon rim. And although the day began with relatively few clouds in the sky they soon developed, and filled the heavens horizon to horizon with puffy, colorful goodness. I set up my camera low between two giant boulders and used a number of technical techniques (including focus stacking and exposure blending) to capture the beauty of the morning. All that was left to do was tear down camp and hike back out.

Check out these behind the scenes photos:



See more beautiful Escalante photos here.

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The Berti Bomb

The Berti Bomb

dolomites-rifugio-berti-italy

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken above the Rifugio Alfonso Berti in the Dolomites, Italy, on July 18, 2016

Rifugio-Berti-Dolomites-Italy-HikeThe Dolomites are full of quaint little gems of huts, and Alfonso Berti is certainly one of them. A fun, 1-hour hike through extraordinary scenery leads to the hut, which boasts pristine alpine views in every direction. The beauty doesn’t end there though. Trails lead off higher up over, through, and around the mountain cirque. In fact, you can see the Rifugio in the lower left part of this snapshot from an afternoon scamper I took with my buddy Cip. On our second night staying at the hut we hiked up an hour or so to the northwest ridge of the mountains, to where WWI trenches are still in place, and still explorable. As afternoon turned into evening clouds built up and began to interact with the sun in glorious ways. Just before sunset I stumbled on a patch of wildflowers that complemented the color of the clouds as the sky exploded, a true Berti bomb.

 

 

Key Learning Tip:
It’s important to think of your photographs like visual stories. And just like a written story an effective photograph will have some kind of an opening hook to lure viewers in, details that help propel the story through the frame, and a finale. When using a wide-angle these three elements can be found in your foreground, middle-ground, and background. choose an eye-catching foreground element to draw your viewers into the frame. your mid-ground should give some environmental details that tell what a place is like. And your background element should provide some kind of visual payoff and sense of place. the more deliberately you choose these three elements for your photograph, the stronger the visual story you will create. 

 

See more beautiful Dolomites photos here.

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Heads in the Clouds

Heads in the Clouds

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in the Cocora Valley in Colombia on April 22, 2017

The wax palm is the world’s tallest species of palm tree. Amazingly, they spend their first few decades on the ground, building a crown of fronds that lifts barely a few meters from the earth. But once they reach their teenage years the trees rocket skyward, reaching as high as 200 feet. In the Cocora Valley, where the trees have reached almost legendary status, thunderstorms and humidity reign. There is often a lingering mist of clouds sweeping down off the mountains through the valley, blanketing the trees in a thick of cloud. But like thunderstorms everywhere those in the Cocora Valley often begin to lift and evaporate around sunset, allowing the beautiful tropical light to drizzle in.

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Los Cuernos

Los Cuernos

Cuernos-del-Paine-Chile

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from the Lago Grey area of Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, on February 26, 2017.

Chile’s most famous national park is Torres del Paine, which means The Blue Towers. And although those specific towers are striking -gigantic monoliths of rock jutting thousands of feet into the sky- they are somewhat inaccessible. Most people will only ever see them from far away, from a viewpoint miles and miles and miles away from the towers themselves. In contrast, Los Cuernos del Paine (The Blue Horns) are omnipresent in the park. The most famous, the most iconic views of Torres del Paine all involve Los Cuernos. And with good reason: these enormous columns of rock erupt over 6,000 feet from the shores of the lakes below. Their craggy nature give them an incredible character and aesthetic, and they are surely some of the most well-known and iconic mountains in the world.

Being mere miles from the western Chilean coast, this sub range of the Andes is also subject to a battering by the severe weather of the southern latitudes. Ferocious winds, blustery squalls, and intense downpours can spring up out of nowhere, mingling with perfect sunshine in a frustrating display of fickleness. But that same weather, when it hits Los Cuernos, often dances and plays with the light and atmosphere in a way that is a delight for photography.

On this particular day, after a beautiful morning exploring the Lago Grey region of Torres del Paine National Park, I was driving back toward my campsite as the winds picked up and began howling over the peaks. That led to the formation of incredible interlocking lenticular clouds over Los Cuernos, all of which basked in the afternoon sunlight.

Key Learning Tip:

It’s easy to over-complicate composition. In those moments where I’m not sure how to compose a scene I tend to fall back one of the simplest “rules” of composition: the Rule of Thirds. The rule states that you divide your frame up into an imaginary Tic-Tac-Toe board and place important objects in your photos along the lines and intersections of that grid.

In this image you can see I’ve done exactly that: the sky gets a third of the photo. The grass and forested hills at the bottom of the photo get a third. And the mountains in the middle get a third. So simple, yet so effective. Also notice where I’ve placed the most prominent tower in the scene: its most eye-catching, sunlit section is placed on the upper-left third intersection point. It’s a power point in the image and your eye goes right to that tower.

So the next time you’re stuck trying to figure out a decent composition don’t be afraid to fall back to the tried-and-true Rule of Thirds.

See more beautiful Chile photos here.

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Montaña Colorada

Montaña Colorada

montaña-colorada-bolivia.jpg

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken somewhere in remote southern Bolivia on April 9, 2017.

Southern Bolivia is a land of extremes: altitude, dryness, vulcanism. It’s a weird and marvelous place full of natural wonders. In a sub-range of the Andes, somewhere down there, there is a mountain cascading with minerals. Each mineral is a different color, and when the sun strikes the hillside they light up in a peacock-esque display of color.

Key Learning Tip:

In landscape photography it is hammered into our heads that we should only ever take photos at sunrise and sunset. But the truth is that there are certain kinds of landscapes that work very well in bright, direct sunlight. For example, high contrast black and white photos can be great in direct sun. Or intentional panning shots. Or macro photos. Or, as in this case, intimate images of landscapes with smooth curves and flowing lines. Think rolling agricultural land like the Palouse, sinuous sand dunes in Death Valley, or the beautiful mineral deposits of Montana Colorada in Bolivia.

In fact, this photo works better because of the direct sunlight. The neutral color of daylight brings out the colors throughout the whole spectrum, not just the reds or blues. And because the sun was directly behind me as well it eliminated the shadows of the landscape, allowing the shapes and colors to take center stage.

Remember, the best light for any scene is light that enhances the features of the landscape that you want to emphasize. So if direct sunlight is working for your scene then use it and shoot!

See more beautiful South America photos here.

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Ice See You

Ice See You

Perito-Moreno-Ice-Tunnel-Argentina

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


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

People are drawn to glaciers in a powerful way. I think it’s because there’s almost nothing so foreign from our daily lives as a strip of ice miles wide that slowly and inexorably slides through mountain valleys, carving them up, and depositing ice and rock in the landscape below. I too am drawn to glaciers and I relish every chance I get to explore on top of one. During my visit to Perito Moreno I went on a guided excursion that explored a tiny part of the glacier, probing some of its fascinating features, including moulins, crevasses, surface rivers, and impossibly blue ice. But one of the most mesmerizing features we explored was a 3-foot high ice tunnel that provided fantastic views of the snow-capped peaks ringing the valley. To me it seemed like nothing so much as a gigantic frozen eyeball looking out on the world.

Key Learning Tip:

One of the best tips I’ve learned about connecting your viewer to your scene I picked up from Pulitzer-prize-winning photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice. She told me that she loves the power of layering and framing to draw viewers into her photos. In her work you often see exactly that: photos of two men talking, viewed through the windows of a car. Or a baseball player greeting the press, viewed from the dugout. It’s an effective technique and it makes us feel as though we are participating in the moment being photographed instead of simply looking at it.

In this photo I used the same technique to photograph the distant mountains of Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, as viewed through a tunnel in the Perito Moreno glacier. As a result you don’t feel separate from the landscape. Instead you’re immersed in the glacial ice, peeking out onto the gray, rugged landscape beyond.

See more beautiful Argentina photos here.

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From the Clouds

From the Clouds

Cerro-Torre-Day-Hike-Argentina

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from a viewpoint of Cerro Torre on the trail to Laguna Torre in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, on March 8, 2017

The weather in Patagonia is notoriously fickle. Clear skies give way to thunderous downpours and vice versa. While spending a few days in the charming town of El Chalten in Argentina I was hoping for the latter. We’d seen rain, rain, and more rain. On this particular day the forecast showed the rain breaking up in the afternoon, and so I planned an overnight trip to Laguna Torre, one of the most famous spots in Los Glaciares National Park. 11 am came and the rain was till falling. Noon, and still the rain persisted. 1 pm, and the rain continued. Eventually I began to run out of daylight and so decided to start the hike regardless of the weather and packed up my backpack and camera equipment. I hit the trail exactly 2 hours before sunset with intermittent splatters of raining squelching down out of the sky.

The hike to Laguna Torre is just about 9 km, or around 6 miles. I knew I could hike that distance in two hours but it would be a hustle. Thankfully the trail is relatively flat and at low elevation, which meant I could cruise. The more I hiked the more the clouds broke up, and about halfway along the trail I came to a vista which provided a dramatic view of Cerro Torre, one of the most iconic peaks in the world. The broken clouds allowed sunlight to filter through, creating a dreamlike atmosphere through which the peak poked its craggy head. After snapping a handful of shots I set off down the trail and did reach the lake before sunset. Though by that point the clouds had come in thicker and rain was once again falling. I didn’t see Cerro Torre for the rest of the trip, making me happy I’d stopped when it was rising from the clouds.

Key Learning tip:

One of the difficulties I faced when creating this photo was the lighting. The scene was back lit, the clouds were incredibly bright, and the forest was quite dark by comparison. The challenge was to find an exposure that would allow me to hold detail in the both sky and the forest.

When faced with a scene that has extreme dynamic range (lots of bright highlights and deep shadows), you have a couple of options. I believe the easiest approach is to focus on maintaining detail in your highlights. My workflow 99% of the time in this situation is to continue to darken my exposure until my histogram and highlight warning (“blinkies”) shows no blown out highlights.

I know that my digital sensor will pick up tons of detail in the shadows even if it doesn’t show it on playback. Nevertheless it will be possible to recover those shadow details in post much more easily than it would be to recover blown highlights.

For this photo, you can see what the raw image looked like when I captured it in the field. I prioritized maintaining detail in my bright clouds. As a result the scene is very dark, and parts of the forest almost look black. But once I brought the raw file into Lightroom I was able to recover an incredible amount of shadow information in order to show details throughout the scene.

See more beautiful Argentina photos here.

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Corrugation

Corrugation

zabriskie-point-badlands-death-valley

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken near Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, California, on December 3rd, 2017

While teaching a workshop in December of 2016 in Death Valley with Jim Patterson, we wrapped up our four days instruction with a final sunrise shoot at Zabriskie Point. This area is known not only for the famous features of Manly Beacon and the Manifold, but also for its incredible, tortuous, and twisting badlands. The folds of earth overlap in a mind-bending array of patterns and textures that are heaven for a photographer. After our group took their final frames and we started the short walk back to our cars I came around a bend and noticed sunlight filling up one side of a diagonal canyon. The light, shadow, and reflections made for a stunning scene so I whipped out my telephoto lens and grabbed a quick shot. But when I got home later that night I discovered I had blown the depth of field on the shot and the background was slightly blurry. I needed a redo.

So every time I visited Death Valley in 2017 I shot sunrise at Zabriskie and waited for the light to fill up this canyon the same way. But due to the changing seasons and difference in the sun angle the quality of light was never exactly the same. Until a year later. Again we were leading a workshop in Death Valley, and again our final stop was Zabriskie Point. But this time I was prepared: I knew the light would behave and I made sure I had my camera on my tripod, and the focus and depth of field dialed in exactly how it needed to be. Then it was only a matter of time till the sunlight reflected off the Zabriskie Point Badlands just how I needed it, and I snagged this photo.

See more beautiful Death Valley photos here.

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Chalice

Chalice

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken from somewhere along San Joaquin Ridge near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, on September 6th, 2017

The moon moves surprisingly fast. You’ve probably noticed this a time or two yourself: the moon is sneaking up over the horizon, huge and beautiful and orange. Then before you realize it it’s floating high in the sky in a pool of inky blackness. And when the moon is about to set it seems to go faster still. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of thing. The other funny thing about how the moon moves through the sky is that it doesn’t go in a straight up-and-down line. Rather, from where I live in Mammoth, it almost seems like the moon traverses a 45° incline: As it drops lower in the sky it appears to move an equal distance to the north. Both of these things make it tricky to position the moon exactly where you want in a photo. In fact, you have to be mobile and agile and be willing to chase the moon a bit in order to sneak it into the perfect position. In this case the moon began to approach this wonderfully craggy notch in the Minaret ridgeline but I could see it wouldn’t quite be positioned perfectly in the slot. So I scooped up my tripod and lens and sprinted northward through the pumice to get in position. As the moon sank toward the notched I continued to fine tune my location as well: 20 feet to the north. No, too far, back 10 feet to the south. Perfect. The moon dropped into the notch and I was able to take this single photo before it slunk out of position again. Luckily my efforts paid off and I had managed to time things just right: with the mountain chalice holding the full moon.

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Window to the Sky

Window to the Sky

pioneer-basin-john-muir-wilderness-reflections

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken in the Pioneer Basin, John Muir Wilderness, high Sierra Nevada mountains in California on July 11th, 2014

At the tail end of a 5-day backpacking trip through the John Muir Wilderness I woke up to that rarest of Sierra sights: clouds in the sky at morning. After shooting the blazingly colorful sunrise near the shores of the lowest Pioneer Basin lake I was amped up and excited to continue photographing. I wandered up Mono Creek looking for interesting compositions and came across this bend in the stream. A deep, wide pool caused the creek flow to slow down to a snail’s pace, allowing perfect reflections to form in the surface of the water. The clouds overhead diffused the morning sunlight on the landscape and with the help of a GND I was able to capture the painterly light bathing the scene.

See more beautiful Sierra Nevada photos.

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Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

doubtful-sound-new-zealand

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand on May 5th, 2016

In 2016 a friend and I took an overnight cruise through Doubtful Sound in New Zealand. That experience remains one of the highlights of my life. Honestly it’s just about impossible for me to do justice to the place, either through pictures or words. The magnitude and grandeur of the walls rising straight out of the water….The unearthly, mythical atmosphere that surrounds you….The innumerable waterfalls cascading down the beech-lined cliffs. It’s truly a magical place. To give you a sense of just how unusual and special Doubtful Sound is bear in mind that the water you see in this photo is the ocean itself (the ocean! Utterly dead and calm), and I shot this photo from the deck of a boat gracefully plying the Sound.

See more beautiful Fiordland photos here.

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