Terra Galleria Photography

Thankful for our national monuments

I am thankful to still have my health, the support of my family, for the vaccine and with it the ability to gather together with all loved ones. I am thankful for the support I receive from you, my readers. There are, however, bigger things. On December 4, 2017, following a review, President Trump had ordered size reductions to two national monuments located in Utah. Bears Ears went from 1.3 million acres to nearly 230,000, only 15% of its original size. Grand Staircase-Escalante was reduced by roughly half, from almost 1.9 million acres to about 1 million. This unprecedented attack on our public lands prompted me to embark on a journey to all the 22 national monuments under review, culminating with the release of Our National Monuments two weeks ago, a book that I had announced one year ago to this day. The project has consumed me for four years, so naturally, I am thankful for the change of administration and Secretary Haaland’s actions, leading to President Biden’s restorations of the two national monuments to their original size on Oct 8, 2021.

President Biden stated during the signing ceremony “This may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done so far as president”, yet it took him 258 days from his inauguration to fulfill this campaign promise. I guess the political process is never easy. President Biden also went a step further from merely reversing Trump’s actions, issuing new proclamations (Bear Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante) that are not merely repeats of the originals, mandating new management plans, and including language that may pave the way for phasing out grazing rights. On that day, he also made the first presidential proclamation of Indigenous People’s Day. It may not be a coincidence that the restoration of Bears Ears embraced indigenous knowledge and honored tribal leadership in both the protection and management of this living landscape. When President Clinton proclaimed Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996, neither protection of sacred sites nor tribal access for traditional uses were mentioned. Both were central in the Bears Ears proclamation of 2016, and both have been incorporated in the new Grand Staircase-Escalante proclamation.

Besides the two Utah monuments, President Biden also restored protections to Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, proclaimed by President Obama. The 2017 national monuments review included five marine national monuments. I am thankful to photographer Ian Shive for his work that allows us to glimpse places that would otherwise be inaccessible to us, and his collaboration in Our National Monuments. A screening of the Jean-Michel Cousteau PBS documentary Voyage to Kure inspired President George W. Bush to proclaim the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument, the first national marine national monument, and at one time the largest protected area in the world. He would follow up that designation with the three other marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean. However, they were not meant to become visitor destinations.

On the other hand, the national monuments managed by the BLM and the USFS embody the principle that public lands are open to the public, in a spirit of freedom and exploration as American as the lands themselves. As they never closed during the pandemic unlike the national parks, I am thankful that the isolated experience provided me much-needed relief over the past two years. I am thankful to the BLM and its personnel who has been working for 75 years to protect our nation’s public lands. Conservation starts with community. Places are best protected when a group of local citizens leads the advocacy efforts. I am thankful that citizen organizations have lent their voices to each of the 27 national monuments in Our National Monuments. I am thankful for the 11 national monuments proclaimed under Secretary Jewell’s watch and for the foreword she wrote for the book.

Now that they have been reversed, were the presidential actions of 2017 just a bad dream? This attack on our national monuments had a few beneficial unintended consequences.

It reminded us of the importance of the Antiquities Act. Used by 16 Presidents from both parties, its versatility made it a cornerstone of preservation in America. I am thankful for the thirty national parks that were first protected as national monuments. Scientists back a new goal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030 to protect the earth’s climate and biodiversity. I am thankful for our new extensive parklands with federal protections, which over the past half-century, have all been national monuments, almost all BLM. To preserve the future of public lands, we must protect the Antiquities Act as vigorously as our lands.

It reminded us that fragile landscapes, struggling with a changing climate and surging visitation, need informed management based on the long term and for the benefit of the country as a whole. They must not become political fodder in a divided nation, changing with each new presidential administration. It reminded us of John Muir’s appeal that “the battle for conservation will go on endlessly.” I am thankful that many realized that we can no longer take designations for granted and worked so hard for the current outcome. As citizens who care for lands that belong to all of us, we need to remain vigilant and involved. It prompted me to set out to see for myself the magnificent landscapes of the parks less traveled, an experience borne of disheartening circumstances, but for which I am eventually thankful. I hope Our National Monuments inspires you to embark on your own journey, and if the experience enriches your life, you will help ensure the same experience is available for our children and grandchildren. Happy Thanksgiving!

Return to JMT backpacking

This spring, I returned to an adjacent segment of the John Muir Trail, a quarter-century after my first visit. How did things change, particularly with respect to photography? Although I carried my 5×7 camera, my first backpacking trip about 25 years ago was mostly a fun outing with friends on a short section of the John Muir Trail (JMT). Since then, I’ve gone backpacking on more occasions as part of my project to photograph the national parks. Those trips weren’t mainly about walking and spending time in the wilderness, but rather about accessing and photographing destinations whose depth in the backcountry made them unpractical to reach during day trips. Having released Treasured Lands in 2016, the next year, when I climbed the Grand Teton, I did something that had become rare outside of family trips: embarking on an outing whose main purpose was not photography. I was looking forward to more of those mountaineering trips. However, the end of the year 2017 brought the reductions in size to Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I needed to go back to work, starting a new place-based project centered on national monuments in early 2018. By June 2021, after six extremely busy months of writing and designing, I had finished the work on Our National Monuments, and it was time for a long-due vacation. Was there a better choice than the John Muir Trail?

After hiking the trail solo, my brother-in-law Nhon, wanting to share it with family members, offered to take them on the trail the previous year. However, his plan of 20-mile days turned out to be too ambitious for the others. The group bailed at Devils Postpile. After two weeks of rest, some of them went back to the trail, but beset by altitude sickness, blisters, stomach issues, and exhaustion, they exited early again. This year, the plan was to restart where they had left off at Kearsarge Pass. This was precisely a section of the trail I had not hiked at all before except for the descent from Mt Whitney to Trail Crest. With a more reasonable plan of 10-mile days, about 44 miles with 12,000 feet elevation gain in five days, with the promise to carry our food and collective gear (including a tent for comfort), I convinced my wife to join, although she had not gone on any backpacking trip since the birth of our children.

That southern section of the John Muir Trail is demanding. Between Kearsarge Pass and Trail Crest, it offers no escape routes. The trail’s altitude is consistently high to the point that another brother-in-law, Phuong, despite having hiked more than 600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to Kennedy Meadows in the weeks prior was still feeling the effects of altitude. Several sisters felt nauseated and could not eat enough. As the trail crosses the highest point of the entire Pacific Crest Trail at Forester Pass (13,153 ft, 4,009 m), hiking in early June, we were concerned about dangerous snow-covered sections. Fortunately, the snowpack this year was the lowest I have ever seen, and we breathed a big sigh of relief upon reaching the pass. Even though it turned out that the John Muir Trail is quite hard, a notion vividly conveyed in Ethan Gallogly’s The Trail.

JMT, Kings Canyon National Park

However, that fact facilitated my photography endeavors. On long-distance hikes, making fine photographs is a challenge for several reasons. Carrying photography gear is only one of them. All the others had switched to ultra-light gear. Not following the hiking scene, I was the only one using a traditional internal frame backpack from Dana Designs weighing more than 6 pounds empty, but I think it was necessary to carry my load. With the bear-resistant canister, tent, and sleeping bag, my backpack was full, although I had kept the photography gear to almost a minimum. I had brought one Sony A7R4, 24-105mm f/4 and 12-24mm f/2.8 lenses, and the Leofoto small LS-224C tripod (described here), the later mostly for night photography and timelapses. Accessories were limited to half-a-dozen batteries and a polarizing filter. Compared to the 70 lbs backpacks I carried at a younger age, the 40-50 lbs weight seemed reasonable, yet compared to other family members, it was towering high, and each time I stopped, I could not wait to take it off my back. As I aged, I was definitively grateful that equipment has become much lighter for somewhat comparable image quality.

Even if you were to photograph with a phone, you’d still be subject to the main challenge, which is timing. You are rarely at the right time with the most favorable light since the need to progress dictates your schedule. The time to photograph with the least constraints is in the evening, but since each day we woke up before dawn to make an early start, on those long summer days evening photography ate up precious sleep time. We were a group of seven. When you hike with a group, you don’t want to make others wait for you. But when you stop to photograph while hiking, within just a few minutes, the group has moved surprisingly far from you. On that trip, I was able to cope with this situation only because of the fitness I maintain – those runs every other day when at home paid off. Usually, I carried the camera around my neck with a Photoflex Galen Rowell-branded waist camera pouch (long discontinued) to distribute its weight and prevent it from bouncing, making access quick. The other lens stayed on the top of the backpack in a pouch. On sections of trail where I did not expect photographing, I also stuck the camera, in its pouch, on top of the backpack. During the day, I handheld all the photographs. This was possible because of image stabilization since stopping down and using a polarizer eat shutter speeds. My wife and I trailed the group, and after stopping to photograph, I was able to catch up with her within minutes. Still, I had to find compositions quickly.

I made about 900 exposures. In the end, except for the sore shoulders, I felt that photography didn’t detract from my experience in the wilderness, but that the additional challenge made it more interesting and alleviated the unnatural pace of hiking with others. Having spent recent years in more arid and lower-elevation lands, I had somehow forgotten how beautiful the High Sierra was. The photographs are far from conveying the entire experience, which is also made stronger by the effort and difficult times. Yet, they can serve to awaken memories not depicted, and that’s why we cherish them.

JMT, Sequoia National Park

The Backpacking Trip

I first connected with the wilderness on the high peaks of the Alps. Besides the setting of that world new to me, mountain climbing captivated me because of the intense concentration it fostered. During technical ascents on steep faces and ridges, there is nothing but you and the mountain in mind, as the only concern is reach the summit and not to make a fatal move. Focussing on rock and ice, I felt part of a limitless universe. I did not think about how limited was the theater in which my outings took place. The Mont-Blanc Massif, the crown jewel of the Alps, is sandwiched between the sizeable towns of Chamonix in France and Courmayeur in Italy, only 13 miles apart from each other.

Those mountaineering outings were mostly two days affairs. The first day – or afternoon, you would hike to a mountain hut. The western Alps are home to a dense network of those structures. They range from full-service hostels with meals accomodating more than a hundred and located on trails accessible to families, to tiny shelters precariously perched on mountain ridges reachable only by serious alpinists. What they have in common are bunk beds and thick, heavy blankets. You don’t have to burden yourself with even a sleeping bag. That helped make possible ascents of uncommon length and difficulty. The second day you’d get up in the wee hours, hopefully summit and then descend all the way back to the valley. I remember only a handful of times when my outings spilled over a third day and only two forced bivies. One took place in 1989 when, during the first recorded solo ascent of the Jaccoux-Domenech route to Mont Blanc (trip report in French), I arrived in the vicinity of the hut at night and could not locate it. The other was two years later on a ledge when we didn’t climb fast enough on the Bonatti Pillar of Les Drus – a landmark route since then totally obliterated by a series of huge rock falls in the summer of 2005, caused by global warming.

After I climbed Denali in 1993, everybody I met in America assumed that I had a huge backpacking experience. You may be surprised to learn that the Denali ascent was my first multiple-night outing carrying a tent and a sleeping bag. Because of the Arctic environment and the peculiar logistics of dragging a sled on the glacier, going up and down the main camp twice to ferry supplies, and then waiting for a weather window, I view it more as an expedition than a backpacking trip. Back from the Mountain, during my spare time, I embarked on a series of multi-day big-wall climbs in Yosemite. In that vertical world of high cliffs, I watched the hours pass and the shadows move across the valley below during the lengthy belays. However, I was mostly stuck on a very steep rock, making very slow progress upwards. In my days in the Alps, I viewed hiking as mostly a way to approach a climb. Because of all the new scenery I saw in the national parks, I began to spend more time on trails, but that was limited to day hikes.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1995 that I embarked on a multi-day backpacking trip. Like for my first visit to Yosemite and to Death Valley, the trip was organized by students from the UC Berkeley outdoor club CHAOS. This particular memory was brought out because my friend Ethan from the CHAOS days just released this week his promising debut novel, The Trail, which takes place on the John Muir Trail. That first backpacking trip also took place over four days on the John Muir Trail, or more precisely, a short section of its 211 miles, common with the Rae Lakes Loop, but starting from the east side via Onion Valley and Kearsarge Pass and exiting at Sawmill Pass.

Maybe it was a fortuitous coincidence that for my introduction to the High Sierra, I hiked a segment of the trail that mile for mile contains some of the most stunning scenery in a mountain range famous for stunning scenery. It is not for nothing that it is one of the most popular hikes in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, if not in the entire Sierra Nevada according to the National Park Service. Our itinerary covered less than 40 miles. Yet there was so much more terrain variety and natural delights close at hand than at the places I concentrated on as a climber. Streams, meadows with wildflowers, trees contributed to creating a gentle wilderness. All the cares of the world were gone, as all I had to do was to walk and camp, freeing my mind for looking.

Mild weather also helps make the Sierra Nevada a great introduction to backpacking. Sunny skies grace the range 300 days a year, and not needing to carry a tent not only lightened my backpack but also increased my sense of connection with the wilderness as I slept under the stars, completing my immersion in the Range of Light. The only thing I could have done without were the droves of mosquitoes at sunset! In those years, I was fit enough that carrying my 5×7 camera, a series 2 tripod, and a 35mm camera in addition to the backpacking gear didn’t feel like a burden. The trip gave me the confidence that I could carry it anywhere in the wilderness for my fledgling project to photograph the national parks. Hiking with the group, there were only a few times I could set it up – including all the photographs on this page. I returned from the trip with only a dozen different exposures. But I didn’t mind, because I felt that they captured the impressions of a new experience in nature and a new beginning.

FLIP-MA?

“Flip-ma” is how you pronounce the acronym for the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976. Today marks its 45th anniversary. What is it, and why should we care?

America’s public lands represent 640 million acres, managed by four different agencies. The oldest of them is the US Forest Service (USFS), established in 1905 to manage the National Forest System (192 million acres) and “use these lands wisely for the present and future generations” via forestry, grazing, and mining. The National Park Service (NPS) is the most well-known and beloved, but out of the four, they manage the smallest area (79.8 million acres). By contrast with the USFS, the NPS mission is to:

conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
That mission was assigned to the NPS at its creation in 1916 through a federal law called the National Park Service Organic Act. In addition, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) manages for conservation the National Wildlife Refuge System (95 million acres of land, plus oceanic waters). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the lesser known agency and its mission is less obvious. What makes that agency important is that overseeing 248 million acres, about 10% of the land surface of the U.S., it is the largest land caretaker in the country. The FLPMA could be viewed as the BLM’s organic act – its mission statement as a government agency.

To understand the lower-profile status of the BLM, we must go back to its history as caretaker of leftover lands. After World War I, public lands in America fell into three categories. The USFS forests for multiple uses, the NPS parks for conservation and recreation, and the rest of federal lands. The general policy was to continue “disposing” of them under the auspices of the General Land Office by sale to private interests, states, or transfer to another federal agency. However, due to their ruggedness and aridity, nobody wanted to buy those lands for development or farming, and the technology for locating fossil fuels had yet to be invented. Nor was there any interest in putting them in national forests or national parks. In 1934, Congress determined that they had interim value (pending disposal) for grazing and established the (Taylor) Grazing Service to arbiter rights. In 1946, the General Land Office and Grazing Service merged into the Bureau of Land Management, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

In 1976, thirty years after its establishment, the BLM was finally assigned a mission with the FLPMA (full text). Today, the vast majority agree that public lands that belong to all Americans should remain in public ownership and not be made available for sale. During the frontier years, the West was for grabs. Given that states lack the resources to manage them effectively, even today, the transfer of federal lands to the states would eventually result in the sale to private interests. Repelling thousands of out-of-date land management laws, including the Homesteading Act of 1864, the FLPMA stated for the first time that:

public lands be retained in Federal ownership unless […] disposal of a particular parcel will serve the national interest.

Today, we recognize the intrinsic value of the BLM lands for public use. It was the FLPMA that formally established the policy of managing those lands in a resource-oriented, multiple-use way, to:

protect the quality of the scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archaeological values; where appropriate, protect and preserve certain public lands in their natural condition; provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals; provide for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use.
Not only does the BLM manage more public lands than any other federal agency, only a tiny portion of them (currently less than 15%) is protected – as opposed to 100% for the NPS and USFWS and 25% for the USFS. Therefore, the BLM lands offer the most significant conservation opportunity of our times. We could make considerable strides towards the 30×30 initiative of conserving 30% of our lands and waters by 2030 by just increasing the percentage of protected lands with the BLM system. The FLPMA paved the way for that to happen by recognizing the conservation value of those lands.

If the BLM was to transition towards a conservation-minded agency, per Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt’s vision, it needed to receive something to conserve. That something came in 1996 with the proclamation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the first national monument assigned for management to the BLM. In 2000, the establishment of the National Conservation Lands under the care of the BLM created our newest network of protected lands. They would include almost all the landscape-scale national monuments proclaimed after 1996, adding a total of more than 7 million acres of newly protected lands, more than in any other system. The Antiquities Act (discussed at great length here) made their proclamation possible, but without the framework of the FLPMA, we wouldn’t have protected most of the national treasures that are the subject of Our National Monuments.

Calf Creek, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photographed in 1996 on 5×7 film

Tripod Tales – (almost) all the tripods I have used and what I’ve learned about them

When I photographed in the Alps in the early 1990s, I didn’t even own a tripod. My camera support of choice was a clamp that could attach to the adze of an ice-ax. Upon arriving in America in 1993, one of my first purchases was a tripod. Many photographers have wasted money by starting with flimsy tripods, but at that point, I already knew enough to go directly to a good one. Today, there is a dizzying array of tripod offerings. At that time, the choice was essentially between Gitzo (twist lock, expensive) and Bogen (flip locks, economical). Even though I was envious of how fast my roommate folded his Bogen, it was an easy choice, given how everything Galen Rowell did influenced me. In this write-up, I’ll tell you why I moved from one tripod to the next, and in the process quickly outline the strengths and weaknesses of each of them.

Gitzo

In 1993, Gitzo’s line of tripods was quite simple. They came in series from the smallest to the largest, denotated by a number from 0 to 5. Within each series, you had a choice between 3 sections and 4 sections. The larger tripods (series 3 and up) offered a choice of a regular, geared or no center column. I bought their series 2, 4-section tripod. Only one year later, Gitzo announced the first carbon fiber tripod, the Mountaineer (initially only available as a series 2). It promised a savings of one-third the weight, better mechanical characteristics, and no hands frozen by contact with bare metal. Its price of several times more than the aluminum model, was unheard of for a tripod. However, the innovation was irresistible, and I quickly made the switch, reselling my not-so old tripod. I bought a 3-section tripod rather than 4-section. For general use, the more compact folded size of a 4-section tripod was not worth the additional setup time and the diminished rigidity caused by one more joint and smaller leg diameters.

I would supplement it with a series 1 tripod primarily for travel and a series 3 for large-format photography (Gitzo 1325, 2035 grams; with RRS BH-55 head, 2900 grams), both carbon fiber. No going back to aluminum! I tried to use the series 1 for a while on trips with long hikes, even with my 5×7 camera. After making a photograph at the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I secured the tripod to my backpack. As I shouldered it in a swinging motion, the tripod detached itself and fell into the raging waters. My large-format camera was now useless without a tripod, and I scrambled up the gully quickly to try to catch a sunset photograph at least. The Gitzo series 1 weighs 1160 grams versus 1440 grams for the series 2. Remembering my times with the series 1, I did not think the savings in weight were worth the loss in utility and subsequently used the series 2 even for long hiking and traveling. When working closer to the car, the series 3 was my choice, especially on windy days when its improved rigidity made a difference.

The Mountaineer tripod lasted me until the early 2000s when it became inoperable. It was all my fault. Among other outings, I had taken it on a two-week kayaking trip in Glacier Bay National Park. Due to the lack of space on the kayak, I lashed it on the kayak’s hull. During a trip to France, I walked into the Gitzo factory in the suburbs of Paris, looking for service for its overly tight legs. The technician explained that they had swollen due to repeated exposure to saltwater. I made a mental note to always rinse my next tripod (Gitzo 1227), basically an evolution of the same model, after any use in saltwater.

One of the inconveniences of the Gitzo twist locks is that you always had to make sure you unfold or fold the legs in the proper order. If the sequence was wrong, the legs would spin frustratingly. Each time I handed the tripod to a non-photographer friend trying to be helpful, they never succeeded in locking the legs. Although using the correct sequence had become second nature for me, after a few years of Gitzo introducing an anti-leg rotation system, I upgraded to a Gitzo GT2531 (discontinued, current is GT2532) because my old tripod’s operation was no longer as smooth as when new, with one leg lock tending to slip.

A few years later, that tripod began to develop a problem I didn’t have at all with my previous Gitzos: the pivots at the apex became loose. Curiously, tightening the screws (with an annoyingly non-standard key) did not help. My brother-in-law, a mechanical engineer, tried all sorts of ideas to fix that problem of floppy legs, but the issue always re-occurred once in the field. In the while, Gitzo had been acquired by Manfrotto, and their technical support was irresponsive. It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to fix that tripod by cannibalizing parts from my older (the one without anti-leg rotation) tripod. Meanwhile, I needed an entirely functional tripod and the premium price of the Gitzos did not seem justified anymore.

Induro

By the early 2010s, several manufacturers offered Gitzo-inspired tripods. You could tell it was so because of their nomenclature, which closely followed the Gizo series numbers. Needing a second tripod for a winter trip to Alaska, I bought an Induro CLT-203. The 2 stands for series 2, and the 3 for the number of sections. A series 2 from Induro had weight, leg diameters, and heights quite similar to a series 2 from Gitzo. Although a bit heavier (1575 grams) and maybe a tad less rigid than the Gitzo 2531 (1440 grams), it appeared reassuringly well built. It came with nice extras such as a carrying case, built-in foam tube covers that are great in freezing temperatures, interchangeable feet, all for a lower price than the Gitzo. Since I anticipated using it in the snow, I purchased specialty snow feet that included baskets similar to the ones found on ski poles. One evening, I set up a medium telephoto for a long exposure of the road at dusk. I waited for a car to drive by so that the red of its tail lights would make a red trail against the blue tones of the snowy landscape. After reviewing the image on the LCD, I was disappointed that it wasn’t sharp due to motion blur. Traffic is not too frequent along the George Parks Highway, so it took a while to make a second and third attempt, with the same results. By that time, the window of opportunity with the right light levels was gone – and we were freezing. Just as a test, I borrowed my friend’s tripod to photograph the empty highway, and the image turned out sharp like the one he previously made.

When using the Induro in the snow for northern light exposures up to 15s, the images were sharp. However, I couldn’t shake up the memories of the evening on the George Parks Highway, and upon coming home, I returned the tripod. It was only several years later that I thought of a possible explanation for what had happened. The snow feet, instead of ending with a rubber tip, had metal tips and somehow they may have been responsible for amplifying vibration, rather than the tripod itself. To be continued…

Feisol

After returning the Induro, I bought a Feisol CT-3342, another series 2, 3-section tripod. It had three immediately appealing characteristics. It came with a center plate rather than a center column, could fold in reverse around a small ballhead (my choice was the Markins Q3i) for compactness, and at 1200 grams was lighter than both the Gitzo (1440 grams) and the Induro CLT 203. At first, I could see only one drawback besides the less solid build. The angle at which the legs spread was too small. I suppose the manufacturer designed it that way to claim a taller working height – an important consideration for a tripod without a center column. But that made the tripod less stable and more vibration prone than it would have been with a larger spread angle. In the field, another weakness proved more annoying. The tripod seemed to be more affected by grit getting into the lock systems than the two others. When I took it into water-filled slot canyons during my trips to Zion, I had to disassemble it and clean it several times a week to keep the legs operating smoothly enough.

During one of those canyon explorations, as I was swimming through a long watery passage, I flipped around to swim on my back – easier this way with a substantial backpack, and this keeps your hands out of the freezing water. When I emerged from the water, I noticed that the Feisol was gone. It had fallen into the water from my backpack. Me and a companion returned into the water to try to fish it out, but the water was too murky, deep, and frigid. My tripods do not seem to like water! Although I think the Feisol would work fine in clean environments such as cities, for nature photography it was too sensitive to dirt. That’s unfortunate because there is still no lighter full-size tripod on the market. It is actually lighter than several of the “travel tripods” that do not even approach it in stability and usability.

I gave Induro another try, and it has been working OK as my primary tripod, requiring less cleaning than the Gitzo. The legs do have a tendency to loosen at the apex, somethingthat never happened with the earlier Gitzos even after years of use. However, this is quite workable since tightening the screws using the same hex key as the one for the quick-release plate fixes the problem for weeks.

Leofoto

Maybe because of aging, during my long hikes, I did not feel like carrying the Induro and sometimes headed out without a tripod. This led me to look again for a lighter tripod. After extensive market research, I think the Leofoto LS-224C is the most lightweight, usable tripod, especially combined with its included ball head. The legs weigh only 725 grams, and the total weight with the ball head is 900 grams. For comparison, the Induro with the trusty RRS BH-40 ball head is 2100 grams, while Gitzo with the Markins Qi3 is 1820 grams. The Leofoto is also an excellent value at $220.

Sure, it doesn’t extend to full size, but besides the comfort of not having to crouch, eye-level is rarely the most dynamic way to position a camera. Galen Rowell modified all his small Gitzo tripods by removing the center column and sawing off its locking mechanism. I think he would have been appalled by the much-hyped (and expensive at $600) Peak Design travel tripod that requires you to extend the center column every time. On the other hand, he would have been pleased with the absence of a built-in center column on the Leofoto. Center columns can be helpful since they provide a significant height extension with little added weight. Leofoto offers an interesting solution in the form of a center column that screws into the tripod platform. It takes more time to install it than just extending it like with other tripods since you also need to unscrew the ball head. However, when you don’t need it, it doesn’t degrade the tripod’s stability, and of course, you can leave it home to save 105 grams. I only wished that, unlike the Feisol, they would have designed it with a wider leg spread angle. Nevertheless, the Leofoto is nowadays what I carry on backpacking trips or as a second tripod.

My current tripods: Leofoto LS-224C, Gitzo GT2531 with Markins Q-Ball Q3i, Induro CLT-203 with RRS BH-40, Gitzo 1325 (for sale, contact me if interested) with RRS BH-55.

Our National Monuments pre-order – National Public Lands Day

Last Thanksgiving, I announced a new book depicting all the national monuments subject to the review of 2017. We missed the initial target release date of National Public Lands Day today. However, I am pleased to confirm that Our National Monuments will be published on Nov 9, with a special pre-publication offer ending on that day.

Our National Monuments breaks new ground as the first photography book entirely dedicated to America’s national monuments. While the book includes only a subset of them (the 27 monuments at risk from the review), they comprise the vast majority of the large, park-like monuments. I am so grateful to 27 local citizen associations caring for those national treasures to make Our National Monuments the first book with their perspective, to former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for her first foreword, and to Ian Shive for his photographs and words – they made it possible for this book to be the first to depict all the marine national monuments. I reprised the innovative format of Treasured Lands that combined an art book and a guidebook, depicting each national monument in depth through a selection of representative highlights with keyed maps and location information. There is much there, but I won’t elaborate further on the book’s contents since details and more spreads are provided on the book’s website.

Treasured Lands was the almost accidental byproduct of more than two decades of explorations driven by a desire to experience the diversity of the national parks and photograph them in large format. After the review, President Trump eviscerated Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments in December 2017. I immediately resolved to take action the only way I knew by visiting and photographing the 22 land-based monuments. I had the concrete goal to publish a book that could help conservation organizations raise awareness of those lands. Leaders of the Conservation Lands Foundation, the umbrella organization for many community-based advocates participating in the book, have confirmed how useful Our National Monuments will be for their efforts. To be most impactful, this contribution had to come out in the two-year window when a debate about protections of those lands could be re-opened and political action taken. I had to complete the project within just three years. The pandemic made it more challenging, but embodying the principle that public lands are open to the public, at least the BLM national monuments remained freely accessible. The pandemic also complicated publication logistics, resulting in significantly increased costs, but I plowed ahead to ensure a timely publication.

Treasured Lands, conceived as a tribute, is now in its 6th printing. Its success stems from being a best-in-its-class book on a popular subject. The lands and waters depicted by Our National Monuments are quite obscure – if they can even be identified as such from the book title by most people. Therefore, I do not expect the book to be as commercially successful. Selling out the copious first printing would only cover my writing and publishing time at minimum wage. As for the travel, that I was privileged to have spent months in those beautiful landscapes was in itself enough of a reward. On the other hand, the general lack of awareness of those lands is also why I felt this book is needed. I hope to inspire readers to discover, visit, love, and protect those beautiful and critically important public lands. In Treasured Lands, I tried to highlight lesser-known parks and sometimes lesser-known corners of well-known parks. The new book goes a step further in highlighting lesser-known lands. On National Public Lands Day, we appreciate the lands that belong to all of us and maybe try to give back by volunteer work. Our National Monuments is my gift to our public lands and those who care for them.

Our National Monuments back cover

The front cover of Our National Monuments features a photograph from Ironwood Forest National Monument located in Southern Arizona made with a super-telephoto lens. The twenty-two land national monuments in the book have fewer geographic diversity than the national parks. Within that range of possibilities, I chose an image as different as possible for the back cover. By contrast with the Sonoran Desert, Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon is the lushest of the twenty-two monuments, and the image was photographed with a super wide-angle lens. Instead of filling the back cover with marketing copy, I felt it would be more appropriate for an art book to print a photograph with no text besides the indispensable barcode:

I had traveled by myself for most of the national monuments project, except on three occasions. Cascade-Siskiyou was one of them, as Ashland-based noted photographer and educator Sean Bagshaw went hiking with me. Although it was late June, the afternoon temperatures were unseasonably cold. Once we got on the ridge of Boccard Point (trail directions) the steady wind cooled us further. I could see that Sean was feeling the chill, so I appreciated very much that he was willing to hang out until sunset, even though as someone who lives barely more than a dozen miles away he could come back at any time. There was still quite a bit of time before total darkness, but I decided to wrap it up quickly. I set up for one of the last photographs of the day.


f/11

The last rays were coloring the clouds with the sun had already below the horizon. They were covering much of the sky, so it was quite dark. The bright yellow flowers added a bright counterpoint to the generally cool tones. The problem is that the stiff wind caused them to move constantly. A lull would not come soon, and the color was quickly vanishing from the clouds. I needed an aperture of f/11 to get both the flowers and the background in focus, but it resulted in a shutter speed that was too slow to freeze the motion of the flowers. In a field of wildflowers, a few blurred flowers can add dynamism to an image, but here, with so few flowers, each such a focal point, I felt their blurriness to be a distraction.


f/5.6

I could have increased ISO, but that would have resulted in a less detailed image. I could also have made an image with a slightly out-of-focus background at a wider aperture and higher shutter speed (above). Compare the difference in the following 50% detail view – you can click to enlarge.

Instead, I aimed to create a flawless image with a little help from digital tools. My solution was a focus stack with a wider aperture. Although not a single exposure, I feel the photograph remains true to the scene, standing for an image that a high-quality, high-ISO camera would have captured in a single exposure.


Focus stacked with Helicon

I made two exposures, one focused on infinity and the other on the flowers, with the intention of blending them. For the first one, I stopped down the lens to its best-performing aperture, f/8. For the second one, I used f/5.6 that resulted in a shutter speed of 1/25s, fast enough to render the flowers sharply. Usually, the specialized Helicon Focus software produces better results than Photoshop’s focus blending, but not in this case.

There was significant ghosting in the foreground, as can be seen in this the detail view above – you can click to enlarge.


Focus stacked with Photoshop

Photoshop rendered an image that looked better. When reviewed on-screen, it passed my initial scrutiny. I have often found that details easily missed on a screen jump at me on prints – resulting in much-wasted paper. I hadn’t printed that image, and when the proofs came back, I immediately noticed the artifacts in the top right corner resulting from the wind blowing the tree branches to two different positions between the two frames. The highest branch exhibited ghosting. To fix the problem, instead of relying on software, I blended the two frames manually, loading them in layers and adjusting their visibility with the brush tool.


Focus stacked manually

The differences are hardly noticeable when viewed on the internet and even less so on a quickly scrolled social media post. I suspect all the single-frame approaches with high ISO or f/5.6 would have resulted in an image acceptable for most viewers. However, to an attentive reader, not to mention a photographer, the defects would be apparent even at the relatively small print size of a 10×12 book page of Our National Monuments. With the hope that my images can hold and reward attention, I strived for better craft. You never know what an image may be used for.

Hiking with camera and tripod

In a previous post, I explained why the main situation when I will not use my tripod for landscape photography is when hiking a long distance. Whether the hike is “long” is a personal and subjective assessment. In this post, after discuss how I handle the camera and tripod on the trail, I’ll give as few examples some choices I made in recent years while photographing Our National Monuments.

How to carry the tripod

There are three ways to carry your tripod:
  • Hand carry is my preferred method for any short hike, or a section of a hike when I photograph frequently. It offers the most flexibility for moving around, as you can switch hands, carry the tripod collapsed (better maneuverability and balance), or extended (quicker to use). You can rest your hands by cradling the tripod under an arm. If needed, you can also hold it by the top as a walking stick, for instance, to balance yourself on rocks while crossing a stream. When I hand carry the tripod for any distance, usually I do not like to leave the camera attached, as the combination feels too heavy. Instead, I carry the camera over the neck and shoulder with its strap.
  • Over shoulder provides better support and therefore is more suitable for carrying the camera mounted on the tripod. For even better support provided you are on a wide trail, you can close two legs together, open the third leg, and distribute the weight on both shoulders. I am not a big fan of carrying the camera mounted on the tripod because it encourages you to set up the tripod first thing, whereas I prefer to find the viewpoint first and set up the tripod last. Therefore, I rarely use that method, except when I am in such a hurry that I want to avoid folding the tripod – mounting/dismounting the camera is almost instant with a quick-release system.
  • Attached on backpack is my preferred method on long hikes when photography is unfrequent. The main reason for that is that I like to use hiking poles for long hikes, especially on steep terrain and/or cross-country, and those require that both hands are free. When switching to hand carry, I have either to fold the poles or hold both of them with the other hand. I guess some photographers do not like the extra time required to take the backpack off and open the tripod. I welcome the opportunity to relieve my back from the weight of the backpack, as opposed of having it weight on me while I am composing.

Two mountain hikes

Try to guess for which hike I carried the tripod:

I did not carry the tripod for the first hike, although it was significantly easier. It is because of timing. I did not plan to linger on the mountain at sunset, but instead to drive home that night. Arriving at the summit in midday, there was plenty of light to handhold even a telephoto lens. The most marginal exposure was a forest scene in cloudy conditions where I needed to stop down a 50mm lens to f/22 for depth of field, resulting in an exposure of 1/25 sec, ISO 400, all manageable numbers.

On the second hike, by starting at 2:30am, I got on the Devils’ Backbone at dawn, where I anticipated that the ridge would offer great views. The exposure for the first picture was 17mm, 20 sec at f/8, ISO 100. I carried the tripod attached on the backpack until the ridge and first light, then hand-carried it until about one hour after sunrise, then put it back on the backpack. On the way back, I stopped at San Antonio Falls that I photographed in the shade in the late afternoon. As is often the case for waterfalls, I wanted to be able to use a slower shutter speed, in this case, 95mm, 1/4 sec at f/13, ISO 100 for the second picture. I probably would not have been able to make the low-light images and waterfall images without the tripod, so it was worth the extra effort.

Two long hikes

Try to guess for which hike I carried the tripod:
  • Paria Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument: Started and ended at night, 20 miles round-trip, flat.
  • High Creek Camp, San Gorgonio Mountain, Sand to Snow National Monument. Started in the morning, ended at night, 14 miles round-trip, 4000 ft elevation gain.

I carried the tripod for the first hike. I anticipated that the canyon would be full of photographic compositions and most of them would occur with the brightest element being the canyon walls lit by the relatively dim reflected light bounced by other walls. Indeed, the first exposure above made at midday was 1/13 sec at f/8, and the second in the afternoon 0.5 sec at f/11, both ISO 100. My timing also meant that I would be in the canyon at pre-dawn and past sunset. You can see more of those photos by following the link. Despite the longer distance, it is also the easier hike of the two, because it is flat: elevation gain always trumps distance.

I did not carry the tripod for the second hike. It was more strenuous and I didn’t anticipate too many photo opportunities. When I started, I thought there was a good chance I would have to turn around without summiting and even before reaching treeline, because it was winter and I did not have crampons. That is exactly what happened when above High Creek Camp, some 2.5 miles before the summit, the slopes became too slippery to continue safely, especially with no one else on the mountain. This would possibly leave me only with views obscured by trees. Sure, one can always make an “intimate” photograph, but then there is no need to hike that high. In fact, that’s just what I had done at sunrise time on a two-mile hike – with tripod (exposure for snowy forest: 70mm, 1/5 sec at f/16, ISO 100). That was why I started hiking the mountain only in the morning. And in case I ended up summiting, this would have been a brutal hike of 5500 feet elevation gain. However, I did find a few openings between trees and timed my hike to be near sunset time there. Half an hour before sunset, exposure was a comfortable 65mm, 1/80 sec at f/9, ISO 250. I hiked down to the next opening that I had spotted. The sunset image below is one of the last photographs I made on that day. Did image stabilization save the day?

Shooting straight towards the sun in the west, the shutter speed was 1/400s at f/8.0 ISO 100. Who needs a tripod?

National Park Service Visitor Guides: A Brief History

A case could be made that the National Park Service (NPS), which celebrates today its 105th anniversary, would not have existed without the National Park Portfolio. In the early years, park rangers and guides were enough to provide guidance to the small number of visitors. However, as the visitation grew and visitors became more autonomous, another type of publication grew in importance: the visitor guide. The National Park Portfolio was the foundational publication of NPS, however, the map and visitor guides have become its most defining publications.

The first thing handed at the entrance station, it explains how to use the park, as well as telling its story. Beyond its utility, mirroring the place, it served as a physical embodiment of the park, a memento of visits to many. There is much to be learned about the history of the parks in studying older visitor guides, as exemplified by the evolution of our attitudes towards bears. In this article, I will insead focus on the evolution of the designs. So that you have a baseline to compare cover designs, this will be illustrated with visitor guides of two national parks, Yosemite and Grand Canyon.

Like the National Park Portfolio fascicules, the first national park visitor guides issued by the NPS were stapled booklets of the size of the common book format of the era, 6×9 inches, sometimes referred to as “octavo”. Initially, there was one for each of the 9 parks included in the Portfolio, plus Wind Cave National Park and Hot Springs Reservation. The covers were designed conservatively, with serifed type, centered and laid out symmetrically. The information on the cover, beyond the name of the park and its state, included additional details such as the names of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and NPS director, caption and credit for the cover photo, the opening season for the park, and the year of the booklet. Besides minor variations in the information included and in wording (“General Information”, “Rules and Regulations”, “Circular of General Information”), the design remained basically the same for more than a decade. The booklet was stapled in a curious way, with the staples placed 1/8″ from the spine from the first page to the last, and then a cover page of a glossy stock with photos glued over the spine.

By the end of the 1920s, the number of national parks had grown to 21, and the number of visitor guides to 17. Starting from 1933, all subsequent booklets were stapled through the spine. From 1933 to 1942, the NPS reduced the amount of information on the booklet covers, eventually dropping all the additional details beyond the name of the park and the state from the cover. The number of pages decreased, with the most bureaucratic contents being dropped to make room for more practical visitor information. At the same time, the amount of design increased, with each year (except 1935 and 1936) bringing a new cover design adopted uniformly through all the national parks. Some years even saw more than one design. The effort to improve the booklets in such a directed way reflected the new considerable means acquired by the NPS as the result of the New Deal and the 1933 reorganization.

No new visitor guides were issued during the war, and after it ended, in the free-wheeling post-war years, uniform design standards were relaxed (much more so than is apparent from our two examples). In 1946, out of the 26 national park visitor guides, 12 were 6×9 booklets and 14 had a narrower 4×9 format. By the mid-1960s, all had transitioned to a fold-out brochure with the narrower format. Not only it was more practical to carry, but also, once unfolded, it allowed for a larger map. However, the way the brochures was not uniform way. Some folded both ways onto a single sheet, others folded only along one direction, usually along two panels, with staples holding spreads together.

1966 marked the completion of the “Mission 66” project that focused on park infrastructure – much of each still the backbone of many parks – the only time besides the New Deal years when the NPS was fully funded. The mid-60s saw not only the introduction of color on the visitor guide covers, but also, for some parks, they featured for the first time graphic design rather than photographs. Others continued to use photography, but often in a more abstract way, featuring a close-up rather than a wide landscape. This was the period with the most creative diversity in design among the covers.

Maybe as a reaction to that kaleidoscopic approach, in the late 60s, a new design standard, nicknamed “pocket guides” or “minifolders” emerged for most parks (35 of them) – although not adopted by all of them. The cover consisted of a colored plain background. Reflecting the slowing rate of economic growth and the increase in park visitation, the brochures were more spare and economical. They folded both ways to an unprecedented small format of 3 1/4″ x 5 5/8″ and most of them opened to a size 10 1/4″ x 16 1/4″ map once unfolded, leaving relatively little room for information on the other side. For some parks such as Yosemite, the pocket guides design lasted until the 1980s, when all the visitor guides transitioned to the “Unigrid” standard described next. Other parks such as the Grand Canyon experimented with a return to a larger format, now folded both ways, in order to accommodate more information. Thus visitor guides continued to reflect the spread-out nature of the park system.

This started to change in 1977, when renowned designer Massimo Vignelli introduced the Unigrid standard. The most visible characteristic was the black band at the top with large white sans-serif type (initially Helvetica) for the park name that today remains one of the main “branding” elements of the NPS. But more important was the grid itself, based on the 8 1/4″ x 4″ panel corresponding to fold lines that could flexibly be used in single-width or double-width combinations and repeated up to six times in height. Standardized among all NPS units, the new system not only contributed to a unified visual identity but also allowed for a cost-effective way to mass-produce an array of brochures of different extents, making it possible to carry an amount of information as comprehensive as needed for a particular park. The first unigrids appeared in 1979, and by 1996, all the national parks had fully transitioned to the new system. Although Vignelli made many other contributions that affected our everyday life, he recognized that

… of all the projects I have worked on during my long career in design, this one has affected more people than any other …
With its consistency and effectiveness, the Unigrid came to embody the mission of the NPS to make the parks accessible to the people.

I have been collecting NPS visitor guides with an eye towards compiling a combined history of the NPS and of graphic design. My 28 years of travel to the national parks has resulted in a voluminous collection, but since I started in 1993, I was missing the pre-unigrid visitor guides. Unlike books, they are ephemera that were given away, not cataloged, and overall quite elusive. If you have some for which you’d like to find a good home, especially from those NPS units that are currently designated national parks, I’d appreciate it if you let me know!

Tripod: to carry or not to carry?

When I started landscape photography in the 1990s, I could not imagine working without a tripod. The medium of reference was Fuji Velvia, 50 ISO, and there was no image stabilization. Even on bright midday, deploy a polarizing filter and stop down for depth of field, and you come perilously close to the limits of hand-holding speed. Now one can routinely crank ISO into the four figures. Moreover, the most recent mirrorless cameras claim five f-stops of stabilization built into the camera body: with wide-angle lenses, shutter speeds of a quarter or even half a second can result in usable images. So has a tripod become dispensable?

For more than a decade, my primary camera was a 5×7 inch wooden large-format camera. With those, hand-holding is not even a realistic option, not only because of the bulk, weight, and slow shutter speeds but mainly because there is no separate view finding device, unlike on the “press cameras” used by photographers such as Weegee. Once you configured the camera for exposing film, there is no more viewing of the composition as the film holder blocks the ground glass view. For a few years, when working less than a mile from the car, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the Zone VI tripod. The thing, basically a surveyor tripod, weighted 16 pounds, plus a 4-pound pan-tilt head. I got wiser with age, realizing that burdening oneself with equipment is not the way to enjoy your surroundings. Yet, more often than not, I find myself carrying a tripod. Why?

Working deliberately and with precision

Back then, I adopted large format photography mainly for the promise of higher image quality. But in the long term, long after digital capture had caught up with large format film, I had progressed from the habits I acquired by working with the large format camera. The process forced me to slow down and to work more deliberately. If your camera is too easy to use, you can pretend it is cumbersome. A tripod helps going in that direction. In general, I photographed at most a dozen compositions per day with large-format film because I had to make each one count. Similarly, when working with a tripod, I produce fewer frames than handheld, but usually with a higher “keeper rate.” This saves much time in editing.

Getting the camera set up on the tripod does require some effort, especially on uneven terrain, so before committing to a particular position, I take the time to evaluate the alternatives through my eyes. Does moving a few feet left, right, back, forth make a difference? How about a lower viewpoint? You sometimes read that working hand-held liberates your creativity because you are freer with viewpoints. Not so. You evaluate all viewpoints, and only after you make a choice does the tripod gets set up.

Once the camera is on the tripod, you are relieved of the task of holding the camera in a stable way. It is much easier to take your time evaluating every aspect of the composition, one at a time, such as frame edges since you can more easily make minute adjustments in framing and decide in an exacting way what to include or exclude. The process has resulted in more precise and stronger compositions for me.

Mastering time

With the composition established, I can wait as long as needed for desired conditions: the breeze to die down so that vegetation is rendered without motion blur, the clouds to complement the landscape, and the light to fall on the right spots. Meanwhile, I can even explore other possibilities with a second camera, knowing that if the conditions converge, all I have to do is click the shutter of the camera already set up. Suppose I want to free myself entirely from having to attend that camera. In that case, I can even set up a time-lapse sequence that serves a dual purpose: stills and motion. And for capturing any nature video, a stable platform is a must.

In wildlife photography, interesting behavior is often crucial and requires much patience to capture. Besides the stability demands placed by longer lenses, those telephoto lenses are heavy. Who can hand-hold such a lens closely trained on a bear while waiting for them to make that split-second salmon catch?

In landscape photography, some subjects benefit from even longer exposure time than image stabilization can provide. Depending on the camera and lens used, it may be possible to hand-hold in a hit or miss way (meaning resulting in a fraction of usable images, for numbers with a 50mm lens on Canon EOS R5 and Sony Alpha 1, see this test) until a quarter to half a second, which is already incredible. But pre-set shutter speeds go beyond 1 second on every camera for good reason. By the way, am I the only one to wish that camera manufacturers would provide pre-set shutter speeds longer than 30s rather than forcing you to use Bulb? Moving water can often benefit from those multi-second exposures. They are mandatory for the night starry sky. Some of my favorite light occurs at dawn before sunrise and dusk after sunset. The darkness makes multi-second exposures necessary.

Achieving ultimate image quality

You’ve spent a serious amount of money on cameras and lenses. Having the camera on a tripod ensures that you make no compromises so that image quality is the best that you can achieve with your equipment. This may or may not be important to you, but personally, I still view the print and printed page as the ultimate expression of a photograph. Defects not visible in a screen-sized image become very apparent in print.

Without the tripod, you have to balance all three components of the exposure: fstop, shutter speed, and ISO. You’ll probably try several combinations, and make several “assurance shots” as well. That takes away time and energy that could be spent instead on composition. With the tripod, you just use your desired settings without second thoughts. You can shoot at base ISO that always results in better detail and less noise than higher ISOs. You can stop down the lens as needed for depth of field without worrying about the resulting slow shutter speed. Sharpness is less likely to be reduced by camera vibration. Focus can be refined manually by checking 100% magnification without distracting vibration and making comparisons. Tilt and shift lenses can be appropriately adjusted.

It is possible to use multi-frame techniques such as exposure bracketing and focus stacking. While the former is becoming less valuable with the sensors increasing dynamic range, the latter has only grown in utility with the sensors increases in resolution. Thanks to Photoshop’s auto-alignment, it is quite possible to hand-hold and bracket exposures if you use fast shutter speeds, a fast shooting rate, and automated exposure bracketing. However, if you don’t have automated focus bracketing on your camera (my Sonys do not), creating a focus stack handheld is a more uncertain proposition.

How I deal with it

I always have a tripod in the car. There are two types of situations when I leave it there. The first situation is if I do not anticipate making a photograph where one of the three criteria above is of importance. A simple and straightforward composition. A bright day with no particular time exposure requirements. Undemanding image applications. However, quite a few times, unanticipated opportunities have presented that made me regret the choice and come back to get the tripod. So that it doesn’t happen, I generally carry the tripod but do not feel an obligation to use it. Adding it to my camera backpack doesn’t prevent me from working fast, only slightly heavier. Better to have it when needed if taking it is not too much of a burden.

This brings us to the second situation when long hiking is involved. If you spend so much more time hiking than photographing, is it worth it to carry heavy equipment when any additional pound reduces the enjoyment of the hike, knowing that it makes a decisive difference only for a fraction of the photographs you may make? Burdening yourself on the trail also wears you down physically, a condition not conducive to creative work.

Even though, while I find the compromises in precision and image quality that come from hand-holding quite workable with modern cameras, if I anticipate finding myself out in dim light at a key location or photographing a significant amount of moving water, I will still make sure to bring a tripod, even if a smaller one than normally used. It is a game of guessing probabilities of the tripod being justified. Since we are talking about guesses, do you think the following image, among the last I made on a long day of hiking, would justify the tripod? Look for the answer in a follow up post.