Being prepared - Adventure a Day 8

While I'm not a prolific wildlife photographer, I either lack the patience or monetary funds to give it its proper due, I do capture the occasional image.  Some of my wildlife images are made through actual planning and hard work, but I'd say the majority come through luck while pursuing landscapes; this image is one of those occasions.


In preparation for the 2nd revision of my Colorado Fall Colors eGuide I made a visit to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I had visited the falls in previous summers and while I noticed a few aspens, it didn't seem like a hot autumn spot.  I was actually convinced by a friend to give it a shot and we met in the park with plans to photograph the falls followed by Bear Lake.

Alberta Falls is a short hike and soon after leaving the trailhead we came upon the stunning scene of a trail winding through golden aspens next to a thundering waterfall.  We spent the next hour or so photographing the location with the best spot actually being above and looking down the falls, towards the small grove of aspens below.  With a new location wrapped up we repacked our gear and headed for the car.

As we hiked up the last steep ascent to the parking lot we were again immersed in a grove of aspens.  Suddenly, I heard a loud bugle to my right, and I turned to see a large bull elk calling to its small harem.  As I said before, I'm not typically prepared for wildlife photography but in this case I had two factors working in my favor.  The first was I had recently bought a chest pack for my F-Stop bag, allowing me to hike with my camera easily accessible and ready.  The primary reason behind this was actually to facilitate taking more photos as the hassle of removing my gear would sometimes stop me from photographing a less striking scene (I know, lazy right?).

The second factor working in my favor was that the bull was not only really close, he was close enough to get a good frame with the 24-70mm lens already on my camera.  I quickly whipped out my camera, boosted the ISO, dropped my aperture, and manually focused for accuracy in the dense forest.  This is where knowing your camera well can really help, because as soon as I took a few shots, the bull moved out of the trees and into the much less photogenic parking lot.  Unfortunately, my friend wasn't able to get to his camera in enough time and missed the opportunity.  While my skills definitely helped on this adventure, it was mostly the luck of happening upon the elk at the right time with the right gear ready.  I still hike and backpack with my chest pack despite the occasional annoyance at wearing it, the lessons of that experience continually earned.

House on Fire - Adventure a Day 7

As I sit in my car after sunset in one of Utah's amazing state parks I find myself reflecting on the day's photography.  It's rare I get to spend a day in Utah photographing completely new locations, but last minute changes facilitated exploration.  After getting a late start on Tuesday, I arrived in Moab hoping to grab a quick sunset before moving on.  I reached out to a friend for suggestions on spots with all the recent rain, and one in particular grabbed my attention.  The location isn't popular, but I had seen photos of it before and was excited to visit it.

Thinking I could just grab quick directions online I scoured Google to no avail.  Now before you belittle my Googling skills, I'll have you know I'm a State Science Olympiad champion for using the web, oh yeah, that's right.  Anyways, I attempted to get more info without luck and started looking at landmarks in sample images and searching Apple Maps in 3D.  After lots of pinching and zooming I thought I had finally located the spot and a way to get to it, but unfortunately sunset was rapidly disappearing in the distance.

I decided I really wanted a shot at the new location and changed plans to search it out at sunrise.  After wasting time online and reading, I finally grabbed some sleep in the 4runner awaiting tomorrow's adventure.  I awoke early enough to the usual bleat of my iPhone's alarm but discovered temps hovering above freezing.  Cold usually isn't a deterrent for me, but many a camper know the allure of a toasty sleeping bag and warm dog.  I finally roused myself out of the car and threw on my gear, just as color was starting to touch the sky over an hour before sunrise.

When I teach photo workshops I can be overly zealous at times in ensuring my participants are at a location early enough, something I wished I forced more on myself.  Thankfully the hike wasn't far and I made it just in time for epic morning light, the full story of which I'll share another time.  With a new amazing location in the books and hour of well spent time, I prepared to head to my next location, Escalante.  In a moment of rare initiative overcoming my dislike of cold-calling, I decided to phone the visitor center first and check conditions.  After a few disappointing minutes I discovered my next days plans were out the window due to roads closed for the foreseeable future and more impending thunderstorms.

Not all was lost and I now had the choice of heading to a familiar spot, Capitol Reef, or to yet unvisited Monument Valley.  I prepared to hit the road towards southeast Utah and pulled out guide books for location research.  I optimistically planned multiple new spots along my route with sunset at MV, not the most realistic looking back.  I find myself spending more time at locations enjoying the intimate details and atmosphere, and while I may hike fast, I still take as much time as most.  I changed and revised plans as the weather started to settle in and finally visited a location I've been eyeing for years.  The amazing House on Fire featured in this post was not only along my way, it was only a 1 mile hike up a fairly level canyon.

I spent the next hour taking a few photos but mostly enjoying the area, finally persuaded by my kelpie, Koda, to start moving again.  When I reached the trailhead the sky was continuing to darken and the dull grey discouraged my further plans to Monument Valley.  I instead decided to stop at the little known Utah state park, The Goosenecks, on the hopes of possible cloud break and sunset.  Sunset was lackluster but the view wasn't, a win in my book.  After a few night images I retired to the 4runner with Koda to write and listen to smooth acoustical guitar, another win in my book.

Workshop in the clouds - Adventure a Day 6

Perseid meteor shower over Trail Ridge Road 

Perseid meteor shower over Trail Ridge Road 

This year I taught a night photography workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park. As the date approached the forecast was looking worse and worse with building evening thunderstorms every day. It's usual in August to have afternoon thunderstorms but typically they're gone by the time night presses in.

One of my clients was concerned about the weather and understandably decided last minute to not come to the workshop. I was still fairly confident we would have clear skies at some point in the night, I just wasn't sure at what time or for how long. Thankfully my worries were eased and the cloud cover on our first evening parted and the Milky Way was revealed.

Unfortunately our good luck was limited the first night and after a couple hours of shooting, fog starting to roll in and blanket our lenses with dew. We saw a number of meteors from the Perseid meteor shower but not a Sky filled with them that first night's clearing. For our second night I decided to head up to Trail Ridge Road to get the darkest skies as possible in the park and increase our field of view.

Again the same scenario played out and and cloudy skies parted to a blazing Milky Way and meteors popping everywhere. Without a strong foreground element I decided to set up my tent without stakes on a rocky area that wouldn't impact the fragile alpine tundra. I then proceeded to light up the tent and help everyone with their exposures. As we left our cameras running we saw meteor after meteor after meteor, the most I have ever seen in one night. They were all over the sky, so not many were ending up near the radiant source but we all enjoyed the view nonetheless.  

The night was over all uneventful besides chasing off a curious coyote and soon the clouds rolled in again. We all left happy and enthralled from the night's adventure from one of my favorite nights in Rocky Mountain National Park.