Terra Galleria Photography

Year 2014 in Review and 2015 Greetings

I wish everyone a year 2015 full of happiness, health, and success. My sincere thanks for your continuing readership and interest in my photography.

In order to explore some of the corners of the National Parks that had escaped me so far, in 2014, I was going to engage in more water-based adventures: rafting, canyoneering, scuba diving. As you’ll see, this didn’t quite work as well as I had hoped. I’ve still kept water (in one form, or another) as the theme of this eclectic selection of images.

Moonset over Shwedagon Pagoda and Kandawgyi Lake, Yangoon, Myanmar

I spent most of January in South-East Asia, first leading a photo tour in magical Myanmar. For details, see the the 6-part Myanmar photo tour diary. After the photo tour, I visited family in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, during which time I added images to the series HCMC, a work which attempts to come to terms with Vietnam’s history.

Aerial view of salt marsh. Palo Alto, California

In February, I began to experiment with drone-based aerial photography using a DJI Phantom 2. Here is the first 360 aerial pano I made above my home with the standard GoPro camera. This is a natural extension of the ground-based 360 Degrees Spherical Panoramas explained here. I started to modify the aircraft to carry a much better (for stills) Ricoh GR camera. In the spring, results with early iterations of the new rig, such as this one, were promising enough.

Site of JFK’s assassination. Dallas, Texas

In late March, I took my first trip ever to Texas that didn’t consist of flying to El Paso to visit the West Texas National Parks (Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains). The occasion was to attend Fotofest in Houston, to seek feedback about a new direction I’ve been exploring in the National Parks – for an example, see The Window. It was the first portfolio review that I attended, and I found the experience very rewarding. During Fotofest, I photographed Houston. After my portfolio review sessions, I drove the “Texas Triangle” delimited by the cities of Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, which I found to each have a distinct character. See the gallery of images of Texas I made in about a week.

Lithodendron Wash, Black Forest Wilderness. Petrified Forest National Park

In late April, I traveled to Flagstaff, AZ. It was supposed to be a flight, but as a snowstorm closed the airport, I arrived there by airline bus from Phoenix. I obtained an overnight backcountry permit at Petrified Forest National Park. Regulations stipulate that you need to leave your car at least one hour before park closing time. They are strictly enforced! As I was still fiddling with gear at that time, a ranger voided my permit on the spot. Next day, I managed to check out the Black Forest Wilderness as a day trip.

River-level view of red walls in Marble Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park

Petrified Forest was a prelude to the 12-day Grand Canyon by raft workshop that I was co-leading with Oliver Klink. Unfortunately, after an excellent first half of the trip, I was injured while riding the Horn Creek Rapids and had to be helicoptered out. For most of May and June, I was in pain and unable to move much, resulting in cancellation of canyoneering plans. By the end of June, I had improved enough to be able to make a quick trip to Yosemite, with the assistance of my wife, to be interviewed by Al Jazeera America for a short Yosemite Grant 150th anniversary report also featuring Carleton Watkins and Ansel Adams, although you can see on the video that I was far from recovered.

Palm trees on Salomon Beach. Virgin Islands National Park

In August, we took a family trip to Cozumel. Afterwards, I revisited St John, Virgin Islands. The most interesting part of the trip was to explore the secluded south side of the island. However, I found the “tropical atmosphere” I was looking for on a beach only a mile from the island’s main town, Cruz Bay. Although one of the most pretty beaches in Virgin Islands National Park, it is relatively quiet because of the need to hike to get there. The tree on the left is quite small, I sat down on the sand for this composition, to make sure its palms didn’t overlap with the trees fringing the beach. My bad luck with water continued. I brought a underwater housing for my Canon 5Dmk2, carried at great effort and expense (Spirit Airlines charges outrageous fees for the third bag). It flooded on my first dive, ruining the camera – and any prospect of subsequent underwater photography. Despite this glaring miss, I’m still proud of my gallery of pictures of Virgin Islands National Park.

Aerial view of reef, Elliott Key, and Biscayne Bay. Biscayne National Park

Back in Florida, Biscayne National Park hadn’t found a new concessionaire in a year, so there was no public transportation to the islands. I couldn’t find any affordable boat to rent, even with help of friends from Miami. Instead, I hired a pilot for an hour of aerial photography. As great as drones are, they don’t get you there like a plane.

Meadow fire and moon rising. Yosemite National Park

On September 7th, I heard of the Yosemite Meadow fire on Twitter and saw a few dramatic photos on the 8th. Unlike others, the fire happened in the scenic heart of the park, next to Yosemite’s icon, Half-Dome. I drove to Yosemite, making a time-lapse video as well as photographs.

Lake Chelan, Stehekin, North Cascades National Park Service Complex

In October, I returned to the Pacific Northwest to try and capture autumn foliage in this part of the country. My timing worked well for the North Cascades Alpine Larch, which I was even able to photograph at night on the last dry day of the trip. I also reached my second goal, an autumn visit to Stehekin, arguably the most remote community in the lower 48 states, on the final days of the year with services.

Confluence of North Fork and Sol Duc River in autumn. Olympic National Park

In both Mount Rainier, and Olympic National Park, it was raining steadily. I didn’t see a single sunset nor sunrise, but the soft light was great for capturing the foliage as rain brought out colors in the old-growth forests. A blog post will follow, in the while, see images of Olympic National Park fall colors.

Aerial view of Bay Bridge, downtown, and piers. San Francisco, California

I had lost some motivation in flying the Phantom 2 due to the NPS ban. It wasn’t until the summer that with great help from my brother-in-law Nhon Vo (a mechanical engineer by trade), I had a better Ricoh GR rig. By the autumn, we had a complete solution including tilt control. I used it to create the photograph that illustrates Seasons Greetings, as well as this Ricoh GR 360 aerial pano that I invite you to compare resolution-wise to the one made in February with the GoPro.

As I reflect on the past year, I realize that despite difficulties that initially led me to view it as a disappointing year, I have been more privileged than most. Part of my job, I visited several great destinations worthy of being on a lifetime list. I expanded technical skills to include drone aerial imaging, and found some validation for a more conceptual approach to photography I’ve been pursuing for a few years. Although I still feel some pain in my shoulder, I’ve regained enough functionality that my therapist discharged me in December. I am grateful for 2014, and I wish you also found reasons to be grateful too. Looking forward to a great year 2015!

Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas wishes to who celebrate, and seasons greetings to all!

The photograph depicts Christmas in the Park on Plaza Cesar Chavez, the heart of downtown San Jose, California, with the landmark Fairmont Hotel and the new City Hall designed by Richard Meier in the background.

Here are a few technical details about this unique photograph. Measuring 5000×6500 pixels, it is assembled from two images captured by a Ricoh GR flying on a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter using a custom camera mount with remote tilt control. No off-the-shelf aerial platform could have produced this photograph:

  • images were shot at f/2.8 1/30s & 1/90s, ISO 1600
  • total vertical field of view is about 80 degrees (equivalent to 20mm lens on camera in portrait orientation, or a 14mm lens in landscape orientation)
  • Ricoh GR is a APS-C camera with 28mm (equivalent) lens sharp wide-open
  • due to crowded location, a larger drone would have been problematic.

New Series: “The Window”

The photography for which I am known so far depicts the National Parks as wilderness. However, while collaborating with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, I became more aware of their nature as a human construct. The National Park Service Organic Act states two goals: to conserve the natural scenery and to provide for its enjoyment by the public. In parallel with my nature work, I have been working on a few series that examine how the components of this construct direct the way we look at nature.

The Window looks at the landscape through the visitor centers, the architecturally diverse buildings most associated with the national park experience, which form a conceptual reflection of the park. By focusing on a window, I create a richly layered photographic image, merging inside and outside to reveal relationships. The land, to which we turn our back, is framed as a small, blurred reflection in the window – with careful camera placement and the use of lens shift, my own expected reflection was excluded without using digital manipulation.

The series reference aesthetics that have influenced the development of the national parks. The Picturesque is an aesthetic ideal which arose as a mediator between the ideals of the beautiful and the sublime in the late English 18th century. Picturesque-hunters used Claude Glasses – tinted portable mirrors to frame and darken the view – named after the 17th century landscape painter Claude Lorrain.

National Parks have been photographed from their creation – with photography heavily impacting their history. Some people think that with the huge amount of pictures made in the park, there isn’t much new to say there. In this work, I tried to raise to the challenge of creating a fresh body of work about the National Parks. Did the series surprise you ?

See the whole series

Best Photobooks 2014: the Meta-List

Here’s this year’s meta-list of best photobooks, seeded with the Aperture/Paris Photo PhotoBook Awards Shortlist and based on the phot(o)lia compilation, which I encourage you to visit to follow the links to those lists. The methodology is the same as for the Best Photobooks 2012 Meta-List and Best Photobooks 2013 Meta-List. Note that some links consists of compilation of lists by multiple contributors: BJP (6), Emaho (15), Vogue Italy (28), Fotopolis (8). In that case, each of the lists has been considered independently, so the total of lists used to derive the Meta-List is actually 113! For the sake of independent comparison, the Meta-List does not use the Photo-Eye 2014 Best Photobooks compilation, although there are some overlaps between their 29 contributors and the Meta-List’s.

Update Jan 3, 2015 – from 52 links (113 lists)

(22 votes)
Disco Night Sept. 11. PETER VAN AGTMAEL Red Hook

(21 votes)
The Epilogue. LAIA ABRIL Dewi Lewis

(20 votes)
Hidden Islam. NICOLÓ DEGIORGIS Rorhof

(16 votes)
The Winners. RAFAL MILACH GOST Books

(13 votes)
Carpoolers. ALEJANDRO CARTEGENA self-published
Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty. MAX PINCKERS self-published

(12 votes)
Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down. EUGENE RICHARDS Many Voices Press

(11 votes)
Sequester. AWOISKA VAN DER MOLEN Fw: Books

(9 votes)
Grand Circle Diego. CYRIL COSTILHES Akina

(8 votes)
Wild Pigeon. CAROLYN DRAKE self-published

(7 votes)
I. EAMONN DOYLE self-published
Silent Histories. KAZUMA OBARA self-published

(6 votes)
Linger (Teikai). DAISUKE YOKOTA Akina Books
No Pain Whatsoever. KEN GRANT Journal
Red String. YOSHIKATSU FUJII self-published
Russian Interiors. ANDY ROCCHELLI Cesura Publish
The Night Climbers of Cambridge. THOMAS MAILAENDER Archive of Modern Conflict
The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip. DAVID CAMPANY (ed) Aperture
Trepat. JOAN FONTCUBERTA Éditions Bessard

(5 votes)
Afghanistan. LARRY TOWELL Aperture
Back to the Future (limited edition). IRINA WERNING self-published
Bedrooms of the Fallen. ASHLEY GILBERTSON University Of Chicago Press
Does Yellow Run Forever? PAUL GRAHAM Mack
Illustrated People. THOMAS MAILAENDER RVB Books
Photographs for Documents. VYTAUTAS V. STANIONIS Kaunas Photography Gallery
The Ninety Nine and The Nine. KATY GRANNAN Fraenkel Gallery
Tranquility. HEIKKI KASKI Lecturis

(4 votes)
A Field Guide to Snow and Ice. PAULA MCCARTNEY Silas Finch
Chewing Gum and Chocolate. SHOMEI TOMATSU Aperture
Die mauer ist weg! MARK POWER self-published
Events Ashore AN-MY LÊ Aperture
Invisible City. KEN SCHLES Steidl (reprint)
Land Without a Past. PHILIP EBELING Fishbar
Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit. Getty
Night Walk. KEN SCHLES Steidl
Photographers’ Sketchbooks STEPHEN MCLAREN & BRYAN FORMHALS (Eds)
Prolifération. GEERT GOIRIS Roma Publications
Rich and Poor. JIM GOLDBERG Steidl
Running to the Edge. JULIA BORISSOVA Self-published
Something like a Nest. ANDY SEWELL self-published
Still Moving. DANNY CLINCH Abrams
The Notion of Family. LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER Aperture
The Photobook: A History, Volume III MARTIN PARR & GERRY BADGER Phaidon
The Whale’s Eyelash. TIMOTHY PRUS Archive of Modern Conflict

(3 votes)
19.06_26.08.1945. ANDREA BOTTO Danilo Montanari
A Drop In the Ocean. SERGIO ROMAGNOLI Éditions du LIC
Asylum of the Birds. ROGER BALLEN Thames & Hudson
Bad Luck, Hot Rocks. RYAN THOMPSON & PHIL ORR The Ice Plant
Bible. MOMO OKABE Session Press
Centro. FELIPE RUSSO self-published
Crystal Love Starlight. MAYUMI HOSOKURA Tycoon Books
Eleven Years. JEN DAVIS Kehrer Verlag
Family Love. DARCY PADILLA Editions de la Martinière
Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood ZUN LEE Ceiba
Forest Hills. BILL SULLIVAN S_U_N Books & Editions
Fractal state of being. SARA SKORGAN TEIGEN Journal
Frontcountry. LUCAS FOGLIA Nazraeli Press
Gold Coast. YINAG ANG Self-published
Mediodía. DAVID HORNILLOS Dalpine
Mother and Father. PADDY SUMMERFIELD Dewi Lewis
Neither. KATE NOLAN Self-published
Office Romance. KATHY RYAN Aperture
Ojō shashū: Photography for the afterlife. NOBUYOSHI ARAKI Heibonsha
Particulars. DAVID GOLDBLATT Steidl
Party. Quotations from Chairman Mao TseTung CRISTINA DE MIDDEL Archive of Modern Conflict & RM Verlag
Periscope. JOSE DINIZ Editora Madalena
Photobooks: Spain 1905-1977 RM/Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofía
Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh. ELEANOR MACNAIR Macdonald Strand/Photomonitor
Printed in Germany. CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS Walther Konig
Reenactment MSf. ARWED MESSMER (Ed) Hatje Cantz
Saul Leiter: Early Black and White Steidl / Howard Greenberg Library
Sudden Flowers. ERIC GOTTESMAN Fishbar
Taxonomy of a Landscape. VICTORIA SAMBUNARIS Radius
Testament. CHRIS HONDROS powerHouse Books
The Catalogue Box Verlag Kettler/The PhotoBook Museum
The Oldest Living Things in the World. RACHEL SUSSMAN The University of Chicago Press
The Plot Thickens. JEFFREY FRAENKEL (Ed) Fraenkel Gallery
Tsugaru. ICHIRO KOJIMA Izu Photo Museum/NOHARA
Typology. 1979 JOACHIM BROHM Mack
Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found. JOHN MALOOF Harper Collins Design
Woman With a Monkey- Caucasus in Short Notes and Photographs.JUSTYNA MIELNIKIEWICZ Self-Published

(2 votes)
A Road Through Shore Pine. ROBERT ADAMS Fraenkel Gallery
Amelia and the Animals by Robin Schwartz Aperture
Anhill (meteorites). AUGUSTIN REBETEZ RVB Books
Araki Teller, Teller Araki. NOBUYOSHI ARAKI & JUERGEN TELLER Eyesencia and Match and Company
Bail Bond. CLARA VANNUCCI Fabrica
Becoming Simone. ALESSIA BERNARDINI Self published
Black is a Matter of Taste THEO VAN DUSSELDORP Salvo-periodiek
Boiko. JAN BRYKCZYNSKI self-published
Bronx Boys. STEPHEN SHAMES University of Texas Press
Cairo Diary. PETER BIALOBRZESKI The Velvet Cell
Chizu (The Map). KIKUJI KAWADA Akio Nagasawa Publishing (reprint)
Confessions for A Son. MCNAIR EVANS Owl & Tiger Books
Country Fictions. JUAN ABALLE Fuego Books
Dark Knees. MARK COHEN Éditions Xavier Barral and Le Bal
Dust. NADAV KANDER Hatje Cantz
Ebifananyi I – The Photographer Deo Kyakulagira. ANDREA STULTIENS YdocPublishing_HIPUganda
El porqué de las naranjas. RICARDO CASES Mack
Entre Entree. STEPHAN KEPPEL Fw Books
Esto ha sido (This Has Been). LUIS WEINSTEIN Self-published
Everything Will Be OK. ALBERTO LIZARALDE Self-published
Evidence. DIANA MATAR Schilt Publishing
Garry Winogrand. Yale University Press
Go There. GEN SAKUMA Roshin books
Going Home. MUGE Yanyou Di Yuan
Here and Now: Atomic bomb artifacts. MIYAKO ISHIUCHI PPP Editions
Horst: Photographer of Style. HORST Skira Rizzoli
Imaginary Club. OLIVER SIEBER GwinZegal and BöhmKobayashi
Inventio. YANN HAEBERLIN Self-published
Invisible Maps. ANDRZEJ KRAMARZ Muzeum w Gliwicach / Czytelnia Sztuki
Islands of the Blest. BRYAN SCHUTMAAT & ASHLYN DAVIS (Editors) Silas Finch
James Karales Steidl / Howard Greenberg Library
Karaoke Sunne. JH ENGSTRÖM & MARGOT WALLARD Super Labo
L.A., 1971. ANTHONY HERNANDEZ Silas Finch
Lakes and Reservoirs. MATTHEW BRANDT Damiani
Leon Levinstein Steidl / Howard Greenberg Library
Lessons in Posing Subjects. ROBERT HEINECKEN Triangle books and Wiels
Lost and Found Project: After the Japanese Tsunami MUNEMASA TAKAHASHI Akaaka
Love on the Left Eye. NOBUYOSHI ARAKI Taka Ishii Gallery
Maydan – Hundred Portraits. ÉMERIC LHUISSET André Frère Éditions
Melting Away. CAMILLE SEAMAN Princeton Architectural Press
Namekuji Soshi Gaiden. MASAHITO AGAKE Sokyu-sha
Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk. CHRIS STEIN Rizzoli
Negatives are Stored. VLADYSLAV KRASNOSHCHOK Riot books
Object Matter. ROBERT HEINECKEN Museum of Modern Art
On a Wet Bough. KELIY ANDERSON Staley Waltz Books
One road. KAZUO KITAI Zen Foto gallery
Pandora’s Camera. JOAN FONTCUBERTA (Essays) Mack
Pastoral/Moscow Suburbs. ALEXANDER GRONSKY Contrasto
Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography PETER BARBERIE (Editor) Yale University Press
Photographer’s Paradise: Turbulent America 1960-1990 JEAN-PIERRE LAFFONT Glitterati
Photoshow. ALESSANDRA MAURO (Editor) Contrasto Books
Pigeons. STEPHEN GILL Nobody
Portraits. MARTIN SCHOELLER teNeues
Random and Pointless. ED TEMPLETON Deadbeat Club Press
Shot at Dawn. CHLOE DEWE MATHEWS Ivorypress
Soviet bus stops. CHRISTOPHER HERWIG Self-published
Stigma. ADAM LACH Self-published
Still. KASIA KLIMPEL self-published
Strange Paradise. CHARLIE RUBIE Conveyor Editions
Studio 54 TOD PAPAGEORGE Stanley/Barker Editions
Syria Al-Assad. OLIVER HARTUNG Spector Books
The Big Book. W. EUGENE SMITH University of Texas Press
The Day the Dam Collapses. HIROSHI WATANABE Daylight Books
The United States 2003-2013. MOSSLESS MAGAZINE
This Year’s Model. GO ITAMI Rondade
Topographies. MONICA URSINA JAGER Kodoji Press
Touching Strangers. RICHARD RENALDI Aperture
Transition. LAUREN MARSOLIER Kerber
Veramente. GUIDO GUIDI Mack
Vertigo. DAISUKE YOKOTA Newfave
Vienna MMix 10008/7000. JULES SPINATSCH Scheidegger and Spiess
Walker Evans: The Magazine Work WALKER EVANS & DAVID CAMPANY (Editor)

Warrior 2015 National Parks Calendar

I don’t publish calendars myself. A bit too tough of a business for me – kudos to photographers who dare to do so. However, I regularly license images to calendar publishers, so if you are so inclined to purchase a calendar with my images, you were able to do so for the previous years. 2015 continues this trend, however this time the publisher is Warrior. You can purchase the calendar, or just see it presented by a former marine SEAL, here.

Since we are on the subject of warriors and National Parks, with Veterans Day just a few days ago, check out the 59 Veterans project which aims to help veterans start new careers while creating a 3D video record of the 59 US National parks. Thanks for your service!

An Autumn Visit to Stehekin

Next to the wilderness park that is North Cascades National Park, the historic resort community of Stehekin, situated in Lake Chelan National Recreation area, offers nice amenities in a uncrowded, scenic valley with great hiking trails, some leading into the National Park proper. Arguably the most remote community in the lower 48 states, reminiscent of Alaska, Stehekin can be reached only by floatplane or ferry starting from Chelan, fifty miles south. Getting to Stehekin is part of the adventure. Last October, I visited Stehekin to check out this intriguing community and explore another seldom visited corner of North Cascades National Park at the peak of fall foliage.

In summer, by combining an incoming trip with the Lady of the Lake Express (leaves at 8:30am, arrives at 11:00am) and a return with the Lady of the Lake II (leaves at 2:00pm, arrives at 6:00pm), it is possible to visit in a day with a layover of 3 hours. That would allow you to take the bus to Rainbow Falls and walk back 3 miles to the landing, taking in glimpses of the Stehekin River and views of Lake Chelan along the way. Rainbow Falls, a highlight of Stehekin for many visitors, is quite impressive, with a total of 470 feet drop, the first 310 feet being continuous.

However, it would be preferable to stay for at least two nights, taking advantage of amenities such as comfortable lodges with great food, outdoor outfitters, or backcountry-like camping accessible by a shuttle bus. Operated by the park concessionaire, the shuttle bus is the only public transportation in the valley. Biking is great (bikes can be rented in Stehekin) if you don’t have a heavy backpack. In 2014, for the summer season lasting from June 14 to October 5, the shuttle ran four round-trip trips each day. The 11-mile trip from the boat landing to the end of the road at High Bridge takes one hour each way. In the late season, from Oct 6 to Oct 13, the shuttle ran only one time a day.

I set out to visit Stehekin on the second week of October because this would be the time when autumn foliage would be peaking in the valley, which sits at a low elevation of about 1,000-1,500 feet. Because of the limited transportation options, and especially the fact that on the day of my arrival, I would miss the shuttle which starts at 9:30, I packed like I would for a backpacking trip. Upon arrival at the Stehekin landing, I was greeted by steady rain. Instead of hiking to the Harlequin campground as I had initially planned, I looked for transportation to the High Bridge campground. The nearby Stehekin Valley Ranch would have been a comfortable place to stay, but it had already closed for the season. After asking several locals, I happened upon photographer Mike Barnhart – a fifty year long valley resident – who agreed to give me a (paid) ride.

Getting out of the truck at the High Bridge campground in the rain, I was delighted to see that the shelter built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps was still in great shape, and quite roomy. I left my overnight gear, and proceeded to the trailhead, just a hundred yards from the campground. Several hikes of various difficulty start near High Bridge.

For the afternoon, I chose the Agnes Gorge trail (5 miles RT, 300 feet gain) since it traverses various forest terrain, including some aspens which provided color.

The trail ended with glimpses of an impressively narrow gorge, a subject that also benefits benefit from the soft light of the cloudy day.

The forecast for the next day had called for partly cloudy weather, so I set out to hike Gregor Mountain, the most prominent peak in the Stehekin Valley, reached through a quite brutal 15-mile hike with more than 6,000 feet of elevation gain.

After hiking a mere 1.3 miles, I arrived at Coon Lake. The modest body of water offered so many different compositions reflecting autumn color that it was difficult to leave.

Seeing that the weather was turning cloudy, I scrapped my plans to hike up the mountain. Instead, I spent more time looking for intimate views. I hiked up just high enough to get some views of the lake from above – which, as expected, were a bit flat in that weather.

On the third day – the last day when the shuttle was scheduled to run – since I was well rested, instead of waiting at High Bridge, I hiked down the road to grab some images of the Stehekin River.

I caught the shuttle about 2 miles from High Bridge, around 10:45am, and rode it to Rainbow Falls, leaving my backpack for the driver to drop at the deck. After spending 45 minutes at the falls, I walked to the landing, making stops along the way to photograph the community and the lake, before boarding the Lady of the Lake at 2pm to return to Chelan.

Images of Stehekin: the community, Stehekin Valley, Along the trails, Lake Chelan.

North Cascades Alpine larch at night

The dark coniferous forests and imposing mountains of the Cascade Range do not look like an obvious place to look for fall color, but within North Cascades National Park, there are places with impressive displays if you know where to look. In 2010, I had traveled to the North Cascades in late September looking for fall foliage. However, I knew I could find better. Not only the rainy weather had prevented me from photographing at higher elevations, but also I was too early for the subalpine larch, which, curiously for a high-elevation tree, turns later than other trees down in the valleys.

The most unique tree to the area, the subalpine larch (often called alpine larch) is a rare Pacific Northwest deciduous conifer whole needles turn bright gold before falling in mid-October. Besides the northern rockies, the range of the subalpine larch is limited to a narrow band on the eastern ridge of the Cascades – coinciding with the park’s eastern boundary. The subalpine larch requires a dry climate and high elevation. To the west, the climate is too wet, whereas to the east, the elevation is too low. Places to see them in the North Cascades are all reached through trailheads along Highway 20 on its portion east of the main range. The easiest is maybe Blue Lake (4.5 mi RT, 1050 feet elevation gain), while the most popular is Maple Pass (part of the great 7.2 mile, 2000 feet gain Heather – Maple Pass Loop with beautiful views of Lake Ann). I chose instead to hike to Easy Pass (a misnomer: 7 miles RT, 2,800 feet gain) because I knew that from the pass I would be able to photograph views deep into North Cascades National Park with the subalpine larch in the background. On the loop, most of the great views are outside of the park itself.

Another reason for this choice is that I had planned create new night images at the pass. They would be possibly the first night photographs of the alpine larch photographed in the park – a Google Image search for “larch night north cascades” did not turn any night images. I would normally camp. However the park service doesn’t allow camping at the pass itself, and the nearest authorized campsite is more than 1,000 feet down on the other side at Fisher’s Creek. With no close proximity camping possible, I devised an odd plan. I would start in late morning and arrive with a few hours of daylight, then stay after dark to photograph, and return at night, aided by the full moon. Since I would be hiking down in the dark, I preferred a in-and-out hike to a loop, not only because I wouldn’t be encountering unknown terrain at night, but also because I wouldn’t miss photo opportunities on the hike.

I crossed path with hikers going down. There were some good views on the trail, but by mid-day, the valley that it was following was mostly in the shade. Once I reached the pass, they became spectacular in all directions. True to what the ranger told me, the larch trees, which were mostly absent from the trail, were densely clustered on the crest. I regretted not starting earlier so that I would have had more time to explore around. Arriving at the pass in the afternoon, I photographed cross-lit trees along a slope that was just getting in the shade, and also backlit, two situations that helped emphasize the tree’s colors. After photographing wide views in all directions, I looked for close-ups of the trees and their needles. The heavy 100-400mm telephoto that I had lugged up the pass helped me isolate them against the background of a mountain face in the shade, which created contrast with its darker tone and blue tint. However, I also liked the complementary texture of a rock wall when both the trees and the wall were kissed by the last light of the day.

I normally try to avoid planning trips around the full moon, because although it is delightful for hiking and for photographing in the city, it is the least favorable time of the month for night photography of natural scenes. However I happened to be here by the full moon as I had initially hoped to photograph the lunar eclipse. It turned out that after I announced on social media that I had booked a flight for the next morning and planned to be at Shi-Shi beach next night, a few photographers pointed out to me that the eclipse was to take place on the same night, not the next night. Oops! I had a second reason for taking the trip at that time. The next few days would be my last chance of the season to visit Stehekin (more on that in the next post) and bad weather was moving in.

The problem with full-moon photography is that if you fully expose an image, it will look just like a daylight image, with only a few stars added to a very bright sky. To get around that challenge, the solution I have found is to underexpose and add some of the artificial light – that make moonlit city scenes work. I used a 2-stop hard edge GND (although you don’t necessary think about them then, they are also useful by night !) to reduce the sky’s brightness and illuminated the subalpine larch with a bright flashlight. Without the GND, the sky would not have a night-time appearance, especially since the numerous clouds catching moonlight were very bright. As seen on the background, without the additional illumination, the trees would be very dark and their colors lost.

I normally prefer the sharper and wider Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 for night photography, but since it doesn’t take normal filters, I carried instead a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8. I made my first night exposures about one hour after sunset, just as the moon was rising. They required an exposure of 30s f/2.8 ISO 3200. Just one hour later, the moon was illuminating enough of the landscape that I could change to different compositions in which the mountains were more present. By that time, the exposure was reduced to 20s f/2.8 ISO 1600. After standing around at the pass for several hours at night, I was beginning to feel a bit of a chill despite wearing all my layers. Confident that I had nailed the shots (all night images are single exposure minimally processed only in Lightroom), I headed down. It turned out to be the last clear night I would see on my trip.

More photos of North Cascades National Park

Yosemite’s Meadow Fire Photos and Video

Sierra Nevada forest fires are part of the cycle of nature. Lightning started one such fire weeks ago within the designated wilderness of the Yosemite National Park, in Little Yosemite Valley between Half Dome and Mount Starr King. On Sunday afternoon (Sept 7, 2014), fanned by high winds, it exploded all of a sudden, belching plumes of smoke that could be seen from as far as Reno. All trails starting from Happy Isles, including Mist and Half-Dome closed down. More than 100 hikers had to be evacuated, many of them by an helicopter airlift from the top of Half-Dome.

I heard of the fire on Twitter and saw a few dramatic photos on Monday morning. Some very extensive forest fires had been burning at the periphery of the park over the past couple years, but this time it happened in scenic the heart of the park, next to Yosemite’s icon, Half-Dome. After picking up my kids from school on Monday, I drove to Yosemite.

Until the 1960s, complete fire suppression was the only fire policy in national parks and national forests. However, environmentalists such as Aldo Leopold had recognized long before that wildfires were beneficial to ecosystems – being needed for the propagation of some trees. In the 1960s, it was indeed discovered that no new Giant Sequoia had grown in the Sierra Nevada. Since fires are somehow inevitable, if none are allowed to burn then the undergrowth fuels will keep accumulating, leading to risks of huge fires – such as last year’s Rim Fire which started on national forest lands that do not have controlled burns like Yosemite. As the Wilderness Act in 1964 encouraged respect for natural processes, the Park Service changed its policy, to normally let fires run their course with just a fire watch, as they could be contained within fire management units and objectives.

However, this year, 80% of California is subject to “extreme drought” conditions. Yosemite has been so dry that the Park Service were concerned the Meadow fire would attain gigantic proportions if left unchecked after its Sunday expansion. Therefore, they proceeded to combat it vigorously, to good effect. The entire Bridalveil Creek campground was used to house some of 400 firefighters. They worked so hard that the fire’s activity had already diminished a lot by Monday night, and then even more by Tuesday night. As this morning, I read that the Half-Dome trail is expected to re-open this Saturday.

Watching the destruction of some of the forests where I had backpacked brought some sadness, although I knew that nature would eventually recover. Although I missed the most spectacular night, I was still fortunate to witness this awesome sight on two nights and the day in between, and I am glad that the fire is under control. I tried to make iconic landscape photographs including the fire, rather than concentrating on it. For that, my favorite viewpoint was from the hairpin turn just before Glacier Point. I also hiked to Sentinel Dome by day and night, where I found unusual images of the smoke filling up the surrounding valleys – Yosemite Valley was very smoky. I’ve mixed images from both nights below, but you can tell them apart, as the moon was rising earlier the first day, and the plume was more clearly defined. Any favorite ? What do those images make you feel ?

Wilderness and National Parks

The US was the first country in the world to establish a National Park. Fifty years ago today, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, the US also became the first country in the world to define and designate wilderness areas. The landmark law provided for the first time the legal definition of wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”, in the lyrical words of Howard Zahniser, the author of the Act. Establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System, the law put in place federal protections meant to be permanent for Wildernesses. Like National Parks – and unlike National Monuments, which can be established by presidential authority – designation of a Wilderness requires approval by congress. Initially, Wildernesses started at 54 Forest Service-administered areas that totaled 9.1 million acres. Today, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to 758 areas that total just under 110 million acres, administered by four agencies. Here is a listing of Wildernesses by state and an interactive map.

The National Parks are defined by the icons as they were set aside for their exceptional scenic values. By contrast, Wildernesses are lands that have retained their primeval character and have outstanding opportunities for solitude. Instead of the icons and easy access which draw tourist visitation, I see them as offering a beauty to be discovered by personal explorations, away from the crowds.

With that in mind, I was a surprised to see amongst the award winners of the “Wilderness Forever” Photography contest, images made from locations such as Horsetail Falls in Yosemite Valley and the road bridge over the Virgin River in Zion, where you park nearby and stand elbow-to-elbow with fellow photographers at sunset. Denali Wilderness occupies 16,444 square miles, yet the grand prize winner was photographed at the most iconic spot in the park, Wonder Lake, which is not included in Denali Wilderness – being roadside. Since rules emphasized that photographs had to be taken in Wildernesses, aren’t you wondering why the jury – certainly a very knowledgeable and well-qualified group – made such choices ?

While both National Parks and Wildernesses provide for protection and enjoyment, Wildernesses go a step further in protection, excluding mechanical or motorized travel (and therefore roads) and buildings.

I like the fact that the National Park Service has strived to make the National Parks easily accessible to anybody, through construction of roads engineered to take in the best scenery in the country, and development of excellent facilities. An easy visit can lead many to realize that they can enhance their lives by connecting more with nature. I was grateful for road access while lugging my large format photography equipment, however, I find the slower pace of the trail or paddle, and the total immersion in nature that it provides, a more authentic and satisfying experience than stepping out of a car to photograph a wild-looking scene. Experience is the foundation of my photography, one of my the primary goals being to inspire people to go and seek the experiences that I had.

Although they represent two different approaches to conservation, National Parks and Wildernesses often coincide. The National Parks, where I have focused much of my work, are home to many Wildernesses. 53% of National Park Service lands are Wilderness, as comported to only 19% of Forest Service lands, 14% of Fish and Wildlife Service lands, and 4% of Bureau of Lands Management lands. In addition to the well-known icons of the parks, I have strived to explore those wilderness areas, on long trails or backpacking trips. I count myself as fortunate to make a living while sharing my experiences in the natural world through photography, but more importantly today, I am grateful that those who came before me, such as photographers Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and Philip Hyde, contributed so much to the preservation of these special places, where future generations will be able to have the same experiences that I had. Here are ten photographs made in the designated Wilderness areas of National Parks. Do you recognize any of the locations ?

150 Years of Photography in Yosemite

June 30th, 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, the 1864 bill signed by Abraham Lincoln – in the midst of the Civil War, which set aside in perpetuity the world’s first parkland for public use.

Seed of the Future by Dayton Duncan, elaborates on how the national park idea was born and evolved in Yosemite. Yellowstone became famously the world’s first national park only because at that time Wyoming was a territory (thus unable to administer Yellowstone, requiring government administration), whereas California was already a state. The book is a great read about Yosemite’s early history. Although some of the material appeared in the first two episodes of the National Parks PBS series, I enjoyed this more detailed refresher.

Photography acted as a driving force in the establishment of the park, because at that time, unlike words, drawings, or paintings, nobody questioned the reality of photographs. White men discovered Yosemite after the invention of photography, so American landscape photography has been there from the beginning and its development became intimately tied to the park.

Charles Weed (left) made the first photographs of Yosemite in 1859. However Carleton Watkins (“Yosemite Valley from the Best General View” (1866), right), who began to photograph in Yosemite two years later, quickly eclipsed his work. Although this was a vast and unexplored park, Watkins often worked from the same exact locations as Weed. However, he consistently made better compositions by changes in camera position and light. For instance, the tree is better placed in this photograph, avoiding a merger with the valley rim. The most obvious improvement was print size. At that time, no enlargement was possible, so to obtain a larger print, you needed to produce a larger negative with a bigger camera. Watkins brought an 18×22 inch camera to Yosemite – together with 2,000 pounds of equipment, as glass plates had to be coated and processed in the field, a mind-boggling technical achievement. Photographers and esthetes may point out to the superior artistry in Watkins work, but I think it is the size that captured the public’s imagination.

Watkins photographs of Yosemite quickly set the standard. They were circulated in Congress in 1964 to gather support for the Yosemite Grant. Seeing them in person, I was astonished by the beauty of the prints, which have exquisite detail and tonality. The comparison with the immense majority of modern prints is humbling and goes some ways to explain why you don’t often see contemporary nature landscape photographs in art museums. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can view them for yourself at the exhibit Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums. The exhibit closes in less than two weeks, but if you miss it, the surprisingly affordable catalog is well worth checking.

Man and Yosemite: a Photographers View of the Early Years by Ted Orland discusses in detail the work of the 19th Yosemite photographers. In the 20th century, Ansel Adams set a new standard for Yosemite photography with his sophisticated style and technique, as can be seen by comparing his “Clearing Winter Storm” (1944) to Watkins “Yosemite Valley from the Best General View”. Ted Orland concluded “Man and Yosemite” with those words: “So pervasively has his vision become ours that many of the million people each year who photograph Yosemite Valley do so with the hope that, if everything turns out just right, the result will not simply look like Yosemite, it will look like an Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite“.

Last June, I was honored to be interviewed as a representative of 21th-century photography in a short TV report featuring Carleton Watkins and Ansel Adams by Al Jazeera America – two weeks after being quoted by Fox News. To play the 3-minute video, enter the password “yosemite” below or in this link if the embed below doesn’t show up.

The half-hour interview discussed the history of photography in Yosemite and the possibilities to create new work there, but the footage was edited to thirty seconds. I thought you might enjoy my comments about my 2002 winter sunset photograph shown in the TV report.

I don’t consider the existence of so many great Yosemite photographs a hindrance. Rather, they provide a useful yardstick against you can measure yourself and try to go beyond – if only occasionally. Adams photographed many times from Tunnel View. His books (see survey) “American Wilderness” and “Ansel Adams at 100″ include series of photographs from that viewpoint. I felt that Adams “owned” the view so much that I consider my work there to be an hommage. For a long time, I had wanted to make a photograph that Adams hasn’t made before, while using his most often repeated composition. So I sought a photograph in which color would be an integral part, one which would not work in black and white. This meant looking for color contrast. The Yosemite granite walls being grey, the most color contrast would be found at sunset between the warm illuminated cliff tops and the valley bottom, which would turn blue in open shade. Most evenings, the valley bottom would be too dark, but fog in the bottom would lighten it up, and enhance the blue tint. One evening, as I was in the Valley, I noticed the fog forming and a hole in the western horizon. I rushed to Tunnel View, and here was my gift. The color added a new mood and emotional impact to the (kind of) 150-year old view.

Are you still photographing at Tunnel View ? Does the long history of photography in Yosemite inspire you ?