Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Aspen, South Fork Bishop Creek

You may not know the names, but most people can immediately recognize most of the iconic views of the west. Tunnel View in Yosemite, The Narrows in Zion, and Oxbow Bend in The Tetons come to mind. As a photographer, I know where most of them are but there are a few spots that you stumble across by accident.

I was driving up the South Fork of Bishop Creek in the Sierra Nevada, when I noticed a grove of Aspen. across the canyon As soon as I set up my tripod and put on a longer lens, I knew I had seen these trees countless times before over decades of pouring though books, calendars, and magazines. In face, these trees may have been photographed more than nearly any other patch of fall color. As I worked every composition I could think of, I thought about how many photographers had stood at this very same pullout alongside the road, camera on tripod, shooting across the valley. Yeah, it may not be my most unique image, but there was something rewarding about putting my own stamp on this popular spot. If you find yourself in California near Bishop, take a drive up the valley and see if you can find them. If it's a sunny autumn day, I bet you can.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Falls Creek, Washington

There may be taller, grander, or more spectacular waterfalls in Washington but my favorite, without a doubt, is Falls Creek Falls in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (even with the uninspired name). There is something about the way the water looks and sounds as it pours over the rocks that I've never found anywhere else. A short and easy one mile hike through a mossy forest brings you to an overlook perched across the canyon from the falls. Just before the overlook, a short and difficult scramble trail leads to the base of the falls but is not recommended for inexperienced hikers. I suspect weekends on the trail tend to be busy but I have yet to ever meet a single person mid-week when I have visited.

Click here for another image from the base of the falls.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

The Oregon Dunes on the coast of southern Oregon are the largest coastal sand dune complex in North America. Most of the dunes allow OHV use. While very popular and fun, the constant use of the dunes by vehicles does mesh well with landscape photography. However, there is one area that is hiker-access only. If you wander a little ways into the dunes, it is easy to find a trackless stretch of sand. The evening I was there, the onshore wind was relentless and I did not dare to get my camera as close to the ground as I would have liked to. Most of the images were taken at eye-level but the dramatic contrast between the clouds and evening light on the dunes made for some great shooting. As soon as the light started to fade, I left my camera gear in a protected area and slid down some of the nearby dunes. A sandbox is a sandbox after all....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

South Fork Snoquamlie River

Another shot from my "Day Of Freedom." This is the South Fork Snoqualmie River along the hike to Franklin Falls in the Cascade Mountains.  For much of the year, the river runs far too fast and high to ever think about getting out on the rocks to get a shot from the center. Even a few weeks earlier, when I was on this trail with my son and some friends, the river was still swollen with snow melt. When I made it back by myself last week, I could safely hop the rocks to the center and set up shop.

For you tech junkies out there, the exposure was 2 seconds at f/11 using ISO100

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sunset-September 10, 2001

I'm sure everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. Merril and I were on a camping trip in Sequoia National Park in California.  I remember waking up and hearing the noise level in the campground rise as the news spread from tent to tent. I remember leaning into the window of a park service vehicle and listening to the news on the radio set. I remember seeing the rangers with semi-automatic rifles at the entrance station as we left, and I remember seeing the first footage of the attack in a McDonalds somewhere in the Central Valley. Most memories of that day are surprisingly hazy, but I do remember the night before with crystal clarity.

We hiked up to the top of Moro Rock after dinner. If you have never been there, you really should some day. Summers on the Rock can be packed but after Labor Day, the crowds thin out and the trek up the stairs and across the granite can be downright relaxing. Throw in the scent of baking pine needles, the cool early autumn breezes off the high country, rocks radiating the heat of the daytime sun, and the short hike can be the perfect evening experience. We watched the sunset over the foothills and I ran enough rolls of film through the camera to be able to justify deducting the trip as a business expense (it really was a personal getaway for the two of us). The sunset was mediocre but it did light the granite walls across the canyon with enough color to create a few nice frames. More importantly, we held hands and watched the sun set on our little corner of the planet. We walked back to the car, drove back to the campsite, and ducked into the tent with no idea what would happen over the next morning, days, weeks, and years.

For some, their world truly changed the next morning. Many families lost loved ones, and over the next decade, many families endured hardships as loved ones fought battles overseas. My thoughts and prayers will always be with them. For most of us though, our world didn't change much that morning. We suffered minor inconveniences but in reality, only our perceptions of the world changed. It suddenly seemed a much more tumultuous and dangerous place. 

The next decade seemed decidedly less smooth than the previous one. In reality, the economy had started to fall apart before 9/11. The tech bubble had popped earlier in the year and we were already sliding into a recession, but the attacks seemed to put the nail in the coffin. The easy life of the previous decade was over. During the next years, we fought multiple wars and endured seemingly endless economic and political crises. We also had successes. We developed new technologies and made major advances in science. We learned and we adapted.

After the last decade, anyone who tells you what will happen during the next ten years is a fool. Maybe we will triumph over all our differences, maybe we will be in for another decade of bubbles and bursts, or maybe our modern savior of technology will solve every problem known to mankind (sarcasm intended). As I look at this photo, I gain strength knowing one thing. No matter what happens, the earth will spin, economies will surge and sputter, people will live their lives, and the sun will still shine the last light of day on the granite walls of the Sierra Nevada. You just have to be willing to see it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Parenting and Photography

I am a parent first and a photographer second. I didn't realize this four years ago when my son, Z, was born. Instead, it has slowly crept into my mind over a period of time. My wife, Merril, works long and hard hours at a local hospital so we can afford some basics of life that my career of photography can’t always provide (like shelter, food, etc.). I stay at home most of the week and try to figure how to take care of my son. We have only a few days together as a family and when we do, it never feels right to use them for photography.

In between my responsibilities, I carve out minutes here and there to do some shooting. When Z was young, I trained myself to type one-handed while I held him during his naps. I spent late-night hours scanning film and uploading images to stock agencies. What I didn’t get was time to immerse myself deep in the woods or high up on the mountains. I keep trying but attempts to find large amounts of time to spend on photography are always blocked by the realities of life that parenting demands.

When Z first began to walk, I began my quest to combine my nature photography and parenting. We started with walks around a small pond and, as he grew older and stronger, we graduated to longer walks in the mountains. We explored together, taking time to stop and talk about all the twigs, bugs, and leaves along the path. He was still small though, and required my constant attention. The camera gear got left at home.

Last week, we took Z camping for the first time. I chose Dungeness Spit on the Olympic Peninsula. It had flush toilets, a playground, plenty of trails, and close proximity to civilization should the youngster completely rebel at the idea of camping. It also had the longest natural sand spit in the country and maybe, just maybe, the chance to sneak away for a little photo excursion. I started to pack the car and quickly filled the back seat and cargo area. No matter how hard I tried, I could not fit everything the three of us required into the car. I knew what had to be left behind, my camera gear.

The trip was a success anyway. Z never complained or asked to go home. In fact, he desperately wanted to stay on the final morning. I had a blast watching him and was another step closer to joining my parenting and photography life into one.

I had a hard week after that. Merril went back to work, there was no camp or school to give me a break during the day. I could not seem to get a moment to myself and I guess it showed. Merril came home Monday night and told me she was staying home the next day. She also stated in no uncertain terms that I was to leave, take the day for myself, and not show my face around the house till well after dark.

I drove as fast as I could to the mountains the next morning. All day, I hiked to waterfalls and lakes. I stopped the car whenever I saw something I wanted to check out. I sat by rivers and watched the water pour over the rocks. I relished driving the rough dirt roads, throwing a plume of dust in the air, and singing with the stereo as loud as I could. There was no little voice in my head (or from the back car seat) telling what to do. For one day I was free. Free like I was before my son was born. Free to wander. Free to explore. Free to do whatever the hell I felt like. And yes, I took some photos (quite a few as a matter of fact).

I got home well after dark, kissed my wife goodnight, and crept into Z’s room. I sat in the chair and watched him sleep like so many long nights before. I watched his fingers move as he tried to complete some task during a dream. I watched his face change expressions and I could feel the connection between us; the bond that has been built up over the years. It felt great to be away for a day but it felt even better being home. I closed my eyes and just listened to him breathe.

I’m taking Z hiking again this weekend. It will be just the two of us (Merril is working again.) Maybe we will hike to a lake, to a meadow, or perhaps we will never make it anywhere and just hunt for sticks along the trail instead. Wherever we end up, we will have fun. There is only one thing that is certain. The camera gear will have to stay home and I am OK with that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Franklin Falls

Franklin Falls is on the South Fork Snoqualmie River in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. The spot is a very heavily visited area frequented by families with children. I've been there several times with my son but finally went back with just the camera gear. On a Tuesday night shortly after dinner, I had the place completely to myself.