2016 plans

January – Tetons

February – Bryce Canyon

April: Columbia Gorge

June Early: Tushars

June Mid: Uinta Cabins

June Late: Lost River Range

July: Cirque of the towers

July: Middle Basin

August: Titcomb Basin

August: Rock Creek-Deadhorse Uinta Loop

September: Red Castle

September: Rocky Mountain NP

October: Great Basin NP

November – Coyote Gulch

 

Where are the photos?

Despite having spent more miles and nights on the trail than I ever have before, I have taken remarkably few photos this year. I am not sure what has happened. I have found my motivation for photography tapering off to non existence this summer. I don’t know if it’s because of the feeling that I just can’t compete with all of the other photographers, or if it’s the fact that I have been distracted with a new baby arriving soon, or if it’s simply a temporary change in interests that will resolve itself with time. Whatever the reason I am writing off this summer as an exploratory summer as I spent many trips checking out places I have never been to before. At any rate I’ve had very few photos to post on here this year, but here is one that I managed to capture while on an evening picnic with my family this July.

clarity_web

The sun sets over the high foothills of the Uintas mountains. 

Some Ramblings

Welcome 2015.

One of my goals for this year was to get 500 trail miles in. A goal that I thought was pretty far out their when I set it, but am quickly realizing is very obtainable. I intentionally did not set any goals directly related to photography. I have realized that when my primary goal is to capture a good photograph, I enjoy the experience less and less. Nature for me is amazing and restorative no matter where I am or what the weather is doing. There is truly something of beauty to always be seen and appreciated in the outdoors, whether it would make an award winning photograph or not. I feel like many photographers these days fail to see this simple truth, and unless conditions are ideal go home grumbling and upset that they didn’t get their “wall hanging photograph”. This is one of the main things that bothers me about the current state of landscape photography, the idea that only the most amazing places under the most special circumstances are worthy of a photograph. I have heard several prominent photographers say something along the lines of “As I have photographed more and more it takes increasingly better views and conditions to really wow me” I feel like it’s missing the forest for the trees. I try not to by an opinionated douche bag, I just know that for a while my constant pursuit of “light” and “amazing conditions” really ruined my appreciation for nature. The more I was concerned with capturing that special photograph the less I appreciated the landscape, the harder it was for me to lose myself in nature, and the less peace and tranquility I got from being in the outdoors. In short it just wasn’t working for me. These days I go out because I want to be out, I bring my camera with me in case something special happens, but if it doesn’t I still love the time I am able to spend outside.

I’ve written on here before how my taste in photography has changed over the last few years. Photographers who I used to admire and greatly look up to no longer inspire me. I haven’t been sure for a long time what has caused this change in tastes, but I think I finally nailed it down. I am drawn to images that make me feel like I am standing there, looking through a window into the landscape. Very few photographers seem able to create that feeling for me, even most of my own images don’t qualify. while Marc Adamus, or Ryan Dyar, or Miles Morgan all have beautiful images in their portfolios, none of their images create this sensation for me. They are beautiful, but they don’t transport me. Perhaps it’s the heavy processing, or the fact that they all feel the need to add fake glow and haze to their shots, or that they are overly dark and moody, or perhaps it’s the extreme wide angle views often shot from a mere inch above the ground. I am not sure exactly why, but none of their images make me feel like I am standing there looking into the landscape. It’s a rather ambiguous and abstract concept, but is something I am trying to strive for in my own work.

2015 is shaping up to be a great year for me. I am trying to get out more and more. I have many really exciting trips planned for this year. My enthusiasm is sometimes tempered by the realization that I have a job, a family, and a new baby coming towards the end of the year, but luckily I have a wife who supports my obsession. Here is to a great year!

 

Trip Report: Zion NP

eternity_web

The desert throws into stark relief how important water is in our lives, and exactly how powerful it can be over the course of thousands of years. 

I had the opportunity to go to Zion NP for 4 days this past month. Zion is my favorite national park in Utah, this was my second year going down for the fall colors.

Wednesday started out with the 4 hour drive down to the canyon. I was reminded that I am pretty lucky to live so close to places like this. After setting up camp I decided to explore for a while and see what I could find. I contemplated shooting the bridge scene at sunset, but couldn’t force myself to stand in line with 20 other photographers shooting the exact same thing. I had a nice drive up the canyon road and through the tunnel. This section of the park was very pretty but I didn’t find anything to shoot for sunset.

The following morning after a long sleepless night Preston and I went into the narrows. We missed the glows, and I came away with only 2 shots showing some very faint glowing light within the canyon. A stark contrast from the year before when I seemed to hit every spot at the perfect time. I’m not sure what happened this year. It was still an enjoyable experience, I love walking through that river with the towering sandstone walls around me.

The next day we headed up the Kolob Terrace road to start our hike into the Left Fork of North Creek, or the Subway. I am not a canyon guy so heading in from the top was out of the question. Luckily most of the nice stuff can be seen by hiking in from the bottom. I had heard some pretty terrible things about this trail, but took most of what I read on line with a grain of salt. The good news is it isn’t as bad as most people say it is. The bad news is it is still a bit rough with a very steep decent into the canyon, and then 3 miles of climbing over trees and boulders. Most trail guides claim it is 3.5 miles, my GPS showed 4.9. I don’t know if its really that much longer or if its the insane amount of river crossings and obstacles you have to climb over that adds the extra mileage.

dreams_web

When you hit these cascades you know you are almost there.

oasis_web

The goods at the end more than made up for any pain experienced on the hike. I am not completely  happy with this shot, I may just have to make a return trip to try again. 

We had the place to ourselves for a few hours, a nice refreshing change from the thousands of people you encounter while in the narrows. On the way out we tried to stick to walking in the river whenever possible, this made the going much faster and enjoyable. The next day we headed into the narrows again. On the first day we were too early for the light, on this day we were too late for the light, it was a bit frustrating not hitting anything at the right time again, though I did get one image that I am pretty happy with. I suppose I will just have to return again.

around_the_bend_web

The only shot I came away with from the narrows that I was happy with. I will just have to come back. 

All Dressed Up

Recently I’ve started looking at the works of some of the classic landscape photographers. Photographers who workedbefore digital using large format film cameras. I came across a really interesting blog post from David Leland Hyde, the son of classic and pro photographer Philip Hyde, who was a student of Ansel Adams. He says this.

At the same time, Dad never waited for special lighting, weather, rainbows, sunsets, moonrises or other special effects of nature all dressed up on her best day. His goal was to capture the subtle beauty of nature as is, in her everyday wardrobe. Some of his work is dramatic, but much of it is more refined and delicately subdued. He studied geology, archaeology and the natural and human history of an area before photographing it. His photographs were invocations honoring place, rather than art for art’s sake. Dad’s goal was similar to that of his mentor and friend Edward Weston, the father of modern photography: to take himself out of the picture as much as possible, limiting the always present imposition of the photographer’s own interpretation.

I thought that was a really interesting thought. These days photographers have gone to the other extreme. Constantly seeking out those special conditions, not even bothering to take their cameras out unless it is an epic light show. I kind of touched on this subject earlier when I talked about good light vs incredible light. These days we want to show nature in those extremely rare situations where she is “all dressed up”. It seems earlier photographers had a very different goal, to portray nature in her everyday wardrobe, to find the beauty in a simple scene, in normal every day conditions. I think this is why some of these older photographers appeal to me so much, I look at their work, and I can believe that if I were to visit those places I would have a very good chance of seeing it just as it looks in their images. Their images don’t catch a special effects moment, they catch the reality of the landscape.

I’m not sure I am ready to go all the way towards that extreme, for I don’t believe one is necessarily right or wrong. I find it a refreshing change though. Part of me wonders if they simply didn’t catch those moments because the technology of the day didn’t allow for it, whereas these days it does. I think it is worth thinking about our goals though. Are we trying to capture nature in her fleeting moments of glory, or are we trying to capture the glory in her everyday moments. An interesting question that I think every photographer should ask themselves.

Planning for 2015 and the Hydra Beast

The shooting season for 2014 has been an interesting one. My epic plans for 2014 ended up getting squashed, my trips planned for the Tetons, Winds, and Colorado all came crashing to the ground. The plans for my backpacking trips to the Uintas also imploded on me, leaving me with a  measly 3 nights in the Uintas. It’s frustrating living so close to so many amazing places and not being able to get to them. I sacrificed a lot so that I could make the trip to the Northwest happen, and then that trip was hijacked by a traveling companion who didn’t want to do any hiking. I am still holding on to hope, for fall color is in the near future, and the odds are it will be a much better year than last year. I also still have my 4 day trip to Zion in October coming up, I look forward to that one all year.

My list of places I want to visit keeps growing, and it seems that whenever I go somewhere on my list it only causes me to add 3 more places to that list. It’s the hydra beast. I’ve seen people criticize Americans for not traveling abroad much… can you blame us? The American West has enough scenery to keep one busy for their entire life. I could never leave Utah and not run out of places to go for a very long time. It’s amazing and frustrating all at the same time.

Even though 2014 is not over yet I have started writing down my plans for 2015. With the possibility of a new baby in the fall, I feel like I have to pack it all in before October. So I present you with my 2015 plans. It’s probably overly optimistic, but hopefully they pan out better than my plans for this year. At any rate it will be interesting to review in a year and see how reality differs from ideal.

January: Bryce Canyon, Utah

February: Arches and Canyonlands, Utah

March: Needles, Utah

April: Capital Reef, Utah

May: Notch Peak, Utah

May: Escalante, Bucksin Gulch, Utah

June: Green River Lakes, Wyoming

June: Christmas Meadows, Uintas

June: Bear Creek Lake, Idaho

July: Amethyst Lake, Uintas

July: Deadhorse Lake, Uintas

July: Allsop Lake, Uintas

August: Elkhart Park, Windrivers

August: Alice Lake, Idaho

August: Middle Basin, Uintas

September: Surprise Valley, Idaho

October: City Of Rocks, Idaho

November: Zion, Utah

 

Trip Report: Timpanogos

timp_basin_web

Purple daisies soak up the last light of the day below the summit of Mount Timpanogos. 

Finally after 15 years I got up on Timpanogos again. Ever since getting back into photography a few years ago Timpanogos has loomed over my house calling my name. This week my backpacking trip to the Uintas fell through, it was the perfect opening for a run up Timp.

This is far and above the most popular hike along the Wasatch Front, and for good reason, It’s a gorgeous hike and contains some of the prettiest alpine scenery in the entire state. If you can look past the hordes of people hiking up the trail it can be a very enjoyable hike. Not too steep, though it doesn’t let up for the almost 8 miles to the summit. I hit the trail at around 4:00 and due to it being a weekday and the cloudy weather I saw surprisingly few people along the trail. I got into the basin at around 6:30. When you come up over that final hill and see this meadow unfold before you it’s really awesome, I got all giddy like a school kid. Unfortunately I had completely exhausted my water supply on the trip up here. I needed some water, and it didn’t look like there was any to be found. I wasn’t worried because I knew there was a lake in the next basin, but I really didn’t want to walk the 1-2 miles over there just to get water. Am I ever going to learn to bring enough water?

Fortune would have it that I found some water while walking over to the lake. That little snowfield at the bottom left of the picture contained a nice little pond that I was able to filter some water from. While I was filtering my water the clouds broke and the entire basin filled with really nice light. I was kicking myself, knowing that I may not get any more light for the rest of the evening. After I was done I headed back to the North side of the basin and found this nice patch of flowers and waited, waited some more, and then waited some more. Finally about 15 minute before sunset the clouds broke just enough to let some light onto the distant peak. Click. It didn’t turn out to be a very epic sunset, though I was very grateful to have the light that I did get knowing I wouldn’t make it up here for another year.  Honestly though, I am kind of over my obsession with incredible light (see previous blog post). I find myself liking this subtle and peaceful light more and more, I really enjoy the honest, realistic, and more peaceful nature of it. Okay maybe I am not completely over seeking that crazy light, but I find myself a lot more content these days when I don’t get it.

After shooting the sunset I went and scouted out a nice place to set up camp. This would be my first time camping solo in the mountains. It turned out to be a rather uneventful night. I made the mistake of pitching my tent on a not perfectly flat stretch of ground and paid for it the entire night by sliding off my sleeping pad. Between that and the animals walking through my camp every 40 minutes I got very little sleep. In the morning I was greeted with no clouds over the peak and decided to head back down the mountain. While I mentioned that the hike up wasn’t too bad, the hike down just about killed me. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or the constant steepness of the trail, but the hike down felt like a death march. I thought I was never going to get back to the car.

All in all it was a very enjoyable trip and one I think I will try to make every year.

Trip Report: Uinta Wanderings

hayden_peak_murdockThe views of Hayden Peak and ridge line from half way up Murdock Mountain. Smoky skies made it hard to get any decent shots on this trip. This was one of my favorite compositions from the trip, and I think will be a spot I visit in the future for some nice evening light.

It seem the more time I spend in the Uintas the more time I want to spend in the Uintas. While not as grandeur or as majestic as other mountain ranges in the west, the Uintas have a unique character that keeps me coming back for me. Arguably the best scenery in the Uintas is deeper into the range, but I continue to find the area along the Mirror Lake Highway beautiful in it’s own way.

On this particular day I decided to hit up some random lakes along the Mirror Lake Highway. My goal was to find a good composition for photographing Hayden Peak. I call Hayden Peak the sentinel of the Uintas. I am always taken with that peak, as you come up and over the summit near Bald Mountain it appears on the skyline as a gnarly and foreboding rock. Some day I want to climb it, but for now I will be content to photograph it.

The Highway was a zoo, I had never see so many people along the Trial Lake area. Cars were lined up along the Highway for a quarter mile up and down from Trial Lake. Ugh. The Uintas amaze me though, it’s very possible to find solitude and peace here, even when it seems all of Salt Lake City is up here fishing. The secret? Walking. A mere 5 minute stroll up any of the dozens of trails in the area will quickly put you on your own.

I started out at Butterfly Lake, a popular and busy lake. The views of Hayden Peak from here were pretty good, and there was a meadow with some incredible flowers just to the west of the Lake. It’s busy though, with a campground just South of the Lake.

butterfly_lake_flowersSome nice yellow flowers found in a boulder field just north of Butterfly Lake. 

Next up was Bud Lake. I saw one person camped on the shores of this lake. The water lilys were impressive, but the views of Hayden Peak was marginal at best.

Next up was Bonnie Lake. I saw no one at this lake the hour that I was here, despite the fact that it was a 5-10 minute walk from the road. There were some nice meadows west of the lake filled with Indian Paintbrush and Elephant Head flowers. The views of Hayden Peak from this area were really nice. There were several really good camp spots around the lake. I will definitely return here at some point, it would make an excellent camping spot with small children.

bonnie_lakeThe view of Hayden Peak from Bonnie Lake. You can see the nice flowers and lilys in this shot. The air was cloudy however and obscured most of the detail of the peak. 

Next up I decided to climb Murdock Peak, the rocky hill just south of Bald Mountain. The views from the top were nice, though the smoky air made it hard to see much of anything. It was a pretty easy climb up the talus slope to get to the wide flat summit. Someone had constructed a nice rock chair at the top. On my way down I found a grassy area that gave some really nice vistas of Hayden Peak.

hayden_peakThe view of Hayden Peak from the summit of Murdock Mountain. 

summit_chairMy summit chair at the top. Someone had a fire up here at some point. 

Next up, Ruth Lake. This is a really nice lake, though quite popular. A short 1 mile walk from the road. Ruth lake was surrounded by wildflowers, every edge of the lake seemed to be thick with Paintbrush, Lupines, and Elephant Head flowers. Water Lilys on the lake had bloomed with their nice yellow flowers.

ruth_lakeThe view from Ruth Lake. I love those lilys. 

Just a couple minutes north of Ruth Lake lies Naomi Lake. Another really pretty lake surrounded by thick fields of flowers. If I were backpacking this is where I would stay. Much fewer people than at Ruth Lake.

naomi_lakeNaomi Lake. I loved this field of flowers, it contained just about every type of my favorite flowers. 

Next I went cross country to an unnamed lake west of Naomi. No people. Next was Hayden Lake. This is a pretty lake. While it doesn’t have the views of  Hayden Peak that Ruth lake has, nor the wildflowers crowding it’s banks, the actual lake is much more scenic. There is a large talus slope to the west of the lake that I climbed and was given some nice views to the east. I saw one random person fishing here, but other than that had it to myself.

hayden_lakeThe view from up on the talus slope west of Hayden Lake. 

hayden_lake_flowersThere were lots of these little guys growing in the talus slope. I had never seen them before and have no idea what they are called. 

Next I hit up an unnamed lake North of Hayden. A pond more like it, but it was pretty with the towering talus slope of Lofty Peak to the South. Next another random unnamed lake to the east. I am starting to think it’s not possible for any one person to see every lake in the Uintas in their lifetime. That was it, 9 lakes, 1 peak, 10.2 miles. Only in the Uintas.

unnamed_lakeThe inlet stream to the unnamed lake North of Hayden Lake. Lofty Peak in the background, there is a lake up there on top…. maybe next time. 

 

Incredible Light Versus Good Light

albion_paintbrush_webAn example of good, not incredible light. Because of good subject matter and a strong composition I feel it makes an excellent photograph anyway. 

Landscape photographers are always chasing the light. That incredible light that lights up the sky in purples, reds, and oranges; that washes across the landscape and bathes everything in soft colorful light. We live for those moments, but for most of us those moments come rarely. With as much as I go out shooting I only get that type of light 2-3 times a year, and often it comes so quickly that I don’t adequately capture it. Incredible light is rare and it’s why photographers frequently go out in adverse weather conditions, that’s when this type of light is most likely to happen.

Good light on the other hand is much more common. While still not happening every time I go shooting  I probably get good light a quarter to a third of the time that I shoot. Good light is nice light but not mind blowing. It’s light that with the right skills, composition, and subject manner can produce a very pleasing image. With incredible light it seems you can simply point your camera anywhere and because the light is so amazing you have a great shot. With good light the photographer has to rely on their own composition skills and vision to make the shot happen.

In a lot of ways I find myself preferring shots with good light over incredible light. I know that it took more skill to create those shots. The images are also more believable. I look at them and know that if I were to visit that place, it shows a pretty good idea of what I could expect to see. They work because the photographer did their job and found beauty in otherwise pretty normal circumstances. I like that refreshing honesty in an image. I think if most photographers accepted that incredible light is indeed rare, that it is a gift not an entitlement, than we would see a lot less heavy editing, people trying to turn something into something it’s not with heavy doses of Photoshop. We would also see a lot fewer photographers running around grumbling about how the light isn’t good enough and ultimately getting no satisfaction from their photography, only frustration. I’m still chasing that light, but I’m also trying to learn to use the good light when it is given to me.

 

Trip Report: Horse Flats

serenity_webI’m always amazed how the same place can feel so different under different conditions. I have been here a dozen times, but it felt as unique on this morning as it did the first time I came up here. There is something to be said about getting intimately familiar with a location. 

I get excited whenever I see the weather forecasting a nice storm. inclement weather always provides the most interesting conditions for landscape photography. This last week we had a storm come through. I accordingly planned to hit up the mountains the following day, hoping that the effects of the storm would linger through the following morning. I headed up to Horse Flats on the Alpine Loop. It’s a nice meadow, with a great view of the sunrise, and is a pretty short hike, so I can get there and back and still be to work by 8 o’clock.

When I stepped out of the car at the trail head I was struck by the smell of the mountains after a rain storm. I don’t know what it is with that smell, but it calms my spirits and invigorates my mind like nothing else can. It’s a drug for me, I only wish I could bottle it up so I could take a deep breath of it when I am in the midst of the daily grinds of life.

I had a nice little walk up to the meadow. The clouds looked promising but as I got higher I realized that the horizon was completely blocked off with clouds, thus greatly reducing the chances of me getting a good light show. I wasn’t giving up yet however and I was able to find a nice little patch of flowers, setup my shot, and waited to see what would happen. I didn’t get the light show I wanted, but as has happened before mother nature had something different planned for me. About ten minutes later the meadow in front of me starting quickly filling up with fog. It rolled in within a minute and filled the entire lower portion of the meadow, it drifted around for a few minutes, and then blew out just as fast as it had come. So while I had wanting something dramatic with an explosion of color in the sky, I ended up with something that I think is actually a bit more special, a softer and more peaceful scene.