Travels and Stories

Photographing an Icon

Maroon Bells in autumn, White River NF, CO, USA

Maroon Bells in autumn, White River NF, CO, USA

Some photographers love photographing icons, and try to visit as many as possible. Others avoid them at all costs.

But I think most of us have mixed feelings about them. These iconic spots have a certain undeniable appeal. There are good reasons, after all, why these places have become iconic: they’re great locations. With the right conditions, it’s possible to capture some beautiful images at these spots. They work.

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Colorado Autumn

Autumn hillside with aspen and spruce trees, Pike-San Isabel NF, CO, USA

Autumn hillside with aspen and spruce trees, Pike-San Isabel NF, CO, USA

Claudia and I are in Colorado, chasing the fall color once again. By Colorado standards this is a below-average year for autumn color. Apparently a mid-May snowstorm damaged some of the just-sprouting aspen leaves, and those leaves are turning brown or dull yellow before falling off.

But many of the aspens seem to be undamaged. And it’s Colorado after all, where there are so many aspens that even in a “poor” year you can find plenty of colorful trees. And we’ve had some great weather, with rain, snow, fog, and lots of interesting clouds. The combination of weather and color has been really fun to photograph, and the constantly-changing conditions have kept me going from sunrise to sunset every day. Here are a few images showing some of the best moments so far, and I’m sure I’ll post more soon.

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Eclipse Journey

Solar eclipse sequence, Sawtooth Mountains, ID, USA, August 21, 2017

Solar eclipse sequence, Sawtooth Mountains, ID, USA, August 21, 2017



Watching the eclipse was an amazing experience. But for Claudia and me, getting to that moment was quite a journey.

I first heard about this eclipse several years ago, and started making plans to photograph it. But I didn’t make any reservations because I wanted to stay flexible, and be able to go where the weather looked best.

Months ago I virtually scouted locations along the eclipse path using online photographs, Google Earth, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D. I knew that thousands of people would capture beautiful, closeup photographs of the eclipsed sun. But I’m a landscape photographer, and wanted to incorporate the eclipsed sun into a wider scene. As I wrote in my last post, that was difficult to do with this eclipse, because the sun would be so high in the sky. You needed something tall in the foreground, or else you had to get the camera down low and look up at a foreground object.

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The Painted Hills

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, with desert candles, blazing stars, tansy phacelia, and hillside daisies, Carrizo Plain NM, CA, USA

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, with desert candles, blazing stars, tansy phacelia, and hillside daisies, Carrizo Plain National Monument. I used a wide-angle lens (20mm) to be able to look down into the stand of flowers in the foreground and show more of the orange color (the blazing stars), while also including part of the colorful hillside in the background. 1/6 second at f/16, 800 ISO.

Many years ago – perhaps around 2005 – I saw a striking photograph of flowers in the Temblor Range, bordering the Carrizo Plain. I wanted to go there, and in April of 2006 I did, finding a route up the steep ridges of these mountains to a colorful hillside. The flowers weren’t as abundant that year as they were in the photo I saw, but it was still beautiful, and I was able to make a couple of images I liked.

In 2010, after seeing reports of a great flower bloom in the Carrizo Plain, I returned to the area and hiked up into the Temblors again. It was spectacular – the most amazing flower display I had ever seen. I could only spend one afternoon and one morning there, but it was a wonderful 24 hours. The hills were enveloped in thick fog on my one morning there, and spots of sunlight breaking through the fog created some beautiful light. I could see, however, that the flowers wouldn’t last long, and I wasn’t able to go back that spring, but ever since then I’ve wanted to return.

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The Floweriest Piece of the World

Endless flowers, Carrizo Plain NM, CA, USA

Endless flowers, Carrizo Plain National Monument. This was a very contrasty scene, so I bracketed five frames, each two stops apart, and blended them with Lightroom’s HDR Merge. Normally I would try to capture a photograph like this when just the edge of the sun first peeked over the horizon, in order to avoid lens flare. I did that here, but then kept shooting, knowing that the sun needed to get above the horizon to light the foreground flowers. In this image, made about two minutes after the sun first appeared, the sun was high enough to create some beautiful backlight on the flowers, but luckily there was still no flare. 22mm, f/16, 100 ISO

“The valley of the San Joaquin is the floweriest piece of world I ever walked, one vast level, even flower-bed, a sheet of flowers, a smooth sea ruffled a little by the tree fringing of the river and here and there of smaller cross streams from the mountains.” — John Muir

“The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April, and May, was one smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom, so marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to the other, a distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at every step.” — John Muir

The once-vast flower beds of California’s Central Valley that Muir described were paved over and plowed under a long time ago. Yet there is a small corner of California that, in a good year, still resembles Muir’s descriptions: the Carrizo Plain.

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Zodiacal Light

Zodiacal light over Manly Beacon and a dust storm, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Zodiacal light over Manly Beacon and a dust storm, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

On the last night of our Death Valley workshop we went down into Golden Canyon, preparing to capture a star-trail sequence above Manly Beacon. As the skies grew darker we noticed a low cloud in the main valley, behind the Beacon. It looked like fog or mist, but that didn’t make sense, since there hadn’t been any recent rain, and, well, we were in Death Valley, the driest place in North America. So we figured it had to be a dust storm.

It was gusty in Golden Canyon, but not windy enough to create a dust storm. Clearly, however, it was windier in the main valley. And the dust cloud seemed to be moving our way. We debated whether to leave or stick it out. It didn’t seem likely that the dust cloud would reach us, so we decided to wait a bit longer, and then a bit longer again.

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