I shot this image in the fading light. The sun was close to setting and the canyon wall was catching some really warm light and bouncing it into these cascades. I got in the water to get the best angle on this image.
I also liked the vertical composition as well. I decreased my shutter speed on this one to record a little more clarity in the flowing water.
I shot this small waterfall in the upper section of the canyon a bit earlier in the afternoon. The light was dappled and I waited for it to be partially obscured by the passing clouds. The soft light added a nice touch of highlights to the foliage without being too bright to balance the rest of the scene.
I am always on the lookout for abstract designs. When I found this small band of cross bedding I knew I had to get the shot. This was a little tricky getting down to as I had to cross the stream and down climb a series of slick cascades to get the right perspective on the image. I got fairly soaking wet and almost fell hard a few times.
On a recent adventure to the Colorado Plateau, after leading a 5 day photo workshop in Moab, Utah, good friend and colleague Ian Plant and myself spent a night out at the Towers of Silence in Wahweap Wash. Wahweap Wash Hoodoos are located inside the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on the southern Utah border near Big Water and Lake Powell. There are two ways to get to the hoodoos, you can either drive in via a series of rough 4×4 roads from Cottonwood Canyon or if you happen to be driving a little piece of crap rental car, you can walk up from just outside of the town of Big Water.
We started our hike late in the afternoon under the burning heat of the spring sun and slugged and kicked our way through pockets of deep sand and many, many stream crossing before reaching the Towers of Silence after about 6 miles of walking. The day was clear and only a few clouds floated by in the sky. We quickly set up our camp for the night and then grabbed our camera gear in search of a few compositions in the fading light. I was at first, not very excited about the evening shoot. The lack of clouds and no direct light on the stone hoodoos was not looking so good for creating any dramatic landscape images. Either way, I headed out and started searching for possible nightscape compositions.
To my surprise while scouting out a comp for a possible nightscape, I noticed a single cloud blowing in from the east and just beginning to catch the last magnificent rays of sunset light. I quickly framed up a wide-angle composition from below the tallest and most photographed Hoodoo and patiently waited for the cloud to drift over head. To my luck and surprise, the cloud held onto the amazing light just long enough to get off a few shots before the show was over.
After catching those last rays of light, I moved into position to record a static star field image of the Tower of Silence. Only after working on the shot for about 15 minutes, I went for my fleece only to realize I had left it back at camp. The desert night was quickly becoming very cold and so I told Ian that I was going to retreat back to camp to get warm and start a small squall fire to keep us warm over night.
About an hour later, Ian came running back into camp thanking me profusely for starting the fire. We didn’t realize it at the time, but my small fire had been enough to illuminate the canyon walls and hoodoos of in the distance. Ian announced that he had spotted a white ghost hoodoo that I scouted earlier in the day that was catching light and a faint shadow on the back of the canyon wall. We ran of into the darkness to investigate the possibilities of shooting a starscape .
After a few high ISO test exposures and careful framing of the composition ( I was trying to pay careful attention and do a bit of guess-work to have the north star off-center to the right so the star trails would lead the eye back towards the hoodoo and it’s shadow), I was now ready to run my 40 minute exposure. I tripped open the shutter and we both fumbled our way back into camp. After a quick drink, we were off towards the wash to find dead wood to continue to stoke the fire making sure the scene was properly illuminated and bright enough for the shadow to cast on the canyon wall.
After a few drinks it was off to bed for a long cold night. My gear kept me warm and I awoke in the morning at dawn feeling refreshed and ready to go. We just so happened to be at the Towers at the right time of the year to get direct first morning light. I started out back on a hill shooting the towers with my telephoto lens to compress, but was unhappy with the results. I moved in close and used my wide-angle and the curving white badlands to lead the eye into the scene.
After a great morning shoot, I headed back to camp to pack it in and have a quick bite to eat. The sun was still quite low in the morning sky and the desert sage caught my attention in the backlight. I pulled out my telephoto and went waking along the wash looking for the right composition. I was lucky to find it before the sun moved too high in the sky and the soft glow was over.
As a full time professional nature photographer, I often find it essential to shoot icons. I don’t usually want to or have a great drive to photograph in these locations for one reason alone. They’ve been shot too many times before. Take Delicate Arch for example. This is arguably the most photographed natural arch in the world! People come from across the globe to visit Arches National Park and hundreds, if not thousands of photographers flock to this location every year. The vast majority of the herd take the same shots from the same vantage points. You can see the finely worn indentations of tripod holes pounded into the slick rock. So why would I want to visit this location and is it possible to come away with a unique image?
To answer the first question, the reason I came to shoot Delicate Arch was because I was one leading a photo workshop in Arches and Canyonlands, and it would be sacrilege to not take the group to the most iconic arch in the world while on a workshop in that very park. And the second reason, it is an absolutely beautiful location and if I want to further market and sell my images from the southwest than I had better have a nice and hopefully unique collection of images from these desert icons. So starts my thinking on just how unimaginative most photographers can be. While at Delicate Arch along with at least 100 other tourist and at least 15 other photographers, all of the tripods were all lined up in the classic position at the back of the bowl to shoot the arch against the La Sal mountains, the classic shot. Let me be honest here for just a moment. Do I have a classic shot of Delicate Arch from the back of the bowl? Yes! Would I shoot it again from the classic position? Yes I would, but only if there was something truly magical happening. I mean I would need some really dramatic clouds over those La Sal’s or a double rainbow cresting down on the arch with a pot of gold on the other end. The evening we were up there with the group there were no dramatic clouds, no rainbows and no leprechaun touting a pot of gold. Just your average high pressure skies and not a cloud in sight! It’s under these conditions that a photographer must begin to really think outside of the box and work hard to create a unique image of an oft photographed subject.
Take this image for example. When we first arrived up top and after consulting with my group, I do what I most often do when shooting a location, leave the camera in the bag and take a walk around. I study the subject, the light, the weather, look at the angles and try to get into a rhythm with the place. That’s when I came up under the backside of the arch and noticed that the sun was arcing it way down and towards the opening of the arch from the back end. I went back and got the group and drug them down to this spot. For this image I set the camera low to the ground with an extreme wide angle to include not only the arch but also the area of sandstone catching light in the immediate foreground. I patiently waited for the sun to set into the small opening and them began to create the images. Often times the difference between a good image and a great image is the decisive moment!
As sunset approached, I found a spot just below Delicate Arch with some great sandstone striations leading the eye deep into the image and creating strong visual impact. I set my camera low to the ground and kept inching forward every couple of minutes as the sun retreated towards the horizon and the shadows grew longer on the sandstone. This shot was taken just as the sun was about to crest the horizon. The warm side light, raking shadows and color juxtaposition between red sandstone and blue sky was so arresting. I couldn’t have picked a better spot to record the last wonderful play of light and land at this icon of the west.
Be sure to visit my website for our current schedule of photo workshop near and far as well as browse our galleries of fine art prints, purchase boos on nature and landscape photography and visit our photo tips page for thoughtful tutorials and insights on the making of my images from capture to post processing.
I just returned home from 13 days in southern Utah with fellow photographer and friend Ian Plant. The first part of the trip was spent leading our Arches and Canyonlands Creative Vision Photo Workshop. After that we spent time in the Page and Escalante area backpacking and exploring slot canyons and sandstone rims.
This is a shot from the last evening shoot with the workshop group. After the light faded, we positioned the group below Delicate Arch and set up a starscape. This is a 30 minute exposure at 1 hour after dark with a twilight exposure for the glow on the horizon blended in. The arch was illuminated with about 20 flash bursts and a red gel.
Thanks for having a look and best of light,
Check out my latest instalment, Counterpoint and Visual Harmony, at my Impressions of Nature photo blog!
Visit Impressions of Nature to read more.
Wow, what a whopper of a winter it has been here in the mid atlantic states, and a good thing for me since I have had no time to travel out west chasing big landscapes and big light in the Rockies or Desert Southwest. Truth be told, the vast portion of a pro nature photographers time is spent behind the soft and seductive glow of the monitor. Responding to emails, writing, making reservations and obtaining permits, planning workshops and tours and prepping images for the web and print sales. Sounds like fun doesn’t it. Still wanna do this full-time? Hell yeah!
Well anyway, back to this norse winter of sorts that we are having back east. Let me throw a few numbers at you just to give you lucky folks who happen to live in parts of the world that see lots of snow and ice every year how much of the white stuff we got in the past couple of months. The average total snow accumulation in Maryland is 18 inches per season. So far this year we have received over 75 inches of snow with higher amounts in the Appalachian Mountains of 180 to over 200+ inches so far this season. So what do you do when you are trapped close to home and can’t break away to travel to more exotic locals, work the area in which you live.
Now for a nature photographer living back east, this is a challenge. We have no big 14,000 foot volcanic peaks, monumental glaciers or wind sculpted canyons. What we do have is lots of rolling hills, small mountains and barren forests to work with. Sounds like it might be a better idea to stay in the warm retreat of my office then to brave the icy roads and freezing cold temps in search of new images right! Not so, not for me anyway. I know most nature photographers on the East Coast either get the hell out of dodge or simply work on other projects untill spring arrives. This gives me a unique opportunity to get out into the field and produce new images of oft photographed locations that others reserve for warmer months.
The image above was taken after the first record snowfall in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia. Over the course of this storm the mountains and valleys around Davis and Canaan Valley got over 4 feet of snow in 48 hours. Needless to say the conditions were amazing and it transformed this area into a winter wonderland. The trick to getting good winter images is to get out in advance of the storm or right after it passes. I arrived up on the mountain as soon as the roads were passable and hiked up on Backbone Mountain to get this shot. The chaos of the woods was a real challenge and I searched for nearly an hour before I found a section of tress with good separation. The sun star was a must to add a that touch of visual drama to this image.
Later on that day, clouds began to roll in from the west. I knew this might be my only chance to get any dramatic light for the next week as another storm system was approaching with the promise of more snow and even some rain in the forecast. I hiked out to Pendleton Point which overlooks Blackwater Canyon facing south-west, a perfect spot for sunset light. I was surprised on the way out that there were no other snowshoe tracks. This promised the chance of shooting the overlook free of foot prints in the snow. I arrived on location an hour before sunset and set up my composition and then made some warm tea and waited for the light. It was a spectacular show and the only dramatic light I got this entire winter season!
A few days later on the trip, after more snow and record cold temps, I made my way down to Elekala Falls. I was incredibly disappointed to find that the waterfall was completely frozen with a 2 foot layer of snow sitting on top of it. Not a very exciting image to say the least! As I sat in disappointment at the base of the frozen falls, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the amount and color of the ice that formed on the rock wall to the right of the waterfall. I was getting ready to pull out the camera and begin to shoot some tight images of the ice when i noticed a small circular break in the ice sheets to the left and up the side of the steep embankment. I gingerly and carefully climbed and fought my way up to the opening and found that it was just wide enough for me to squeeze through lying on my belly. I made my way into the ice cave and was flat-out blown away with the beauty of this hidden gem. Strapping on my crampons, I made my way down the small cave and found a few jagged rocks that were perfect power shapes to lead the eye into a wide composition of the cave. The yellow and blue color of the ice was like a colored gel and bounced the most beautiful and soft light into the interior of the cave.
Later on that day after shooting the ice cave, the temps began to rise and in moved the rain. I couldn’t believe it! Just my luck I thought as I sat in the warm retreat of the lodge. It rained all night, and hard. By the next morning, much of the snow that had blanketed the landscape was gone and the waterfalls were liberated from winters frozen embrace. Looks like my luck wasn’t so bad afterall! I made my way back down to Elekala Falls and carefully climbed out across a partially ice and snow-covered rock ledge to get into position for a more dramatic wide-angle composition. The wind was gusting and in no less that 60 seconds I was completely soaked! Needless to say, keeping my lens free of water was a huge challenge. In order to get this shot, I ended up shooting close to 25 images. Only one was clear enough to process.
I also took the chance to get down to the base of Blackwater Falls for some compositions of the partially frozen waterfall. Instead of shooting a the falls in its entirety, I focused on recording vignettes. This was my favorite image that series of shots.
A few weeks later, after another round of office work, I returned to the Potomac Highlands. The trip coincided with another record snowfall in the mid Atlantic of over 50 inches. I was immediately amazed with the conditions this time around. The snow storm that pounded the region also coated every single tree on the mountain tops in a fine layer of ice and hoar-frost. The contrast between the bright snow and dark trunks was too great to pass up, and I spent two days shooting isolated scenics on Keyser Ridge and Backbone Mountain.
Forest intimate on Backbone Mountain. This image was shot during blizzard conditions the next day. The snow and wind was blowing the limbs of the tree and I had to bring up my ISO from 200 to 400 and shoot at F8 in order to freeze the motion. Critical focus and Depth-of-field were essential to get the image sharp from front to back.
The graphic nature of the trees and the contrast between bright and dark tones was the perfect combination for creating an abstract image of the forest. For this shot, I set my Nikon to record a 10 shot multiple exposure and panned the camera up following the line of the trunks for each shot. This technique created a stacked impressionistic look.
And finally, the last image I will share. This is one of my personal favorites from this winter. It certainly won’t get a big response on any of the forums like NPN or DA simply because it’s not a big landscape with knockout light, but for me these intimate and thoughtful vignettes speak on an entirely different level. First of all, you need a sensitive eye to even see the image. Secondly, creating a good composition is often more of a challenge and the photographer needs to really focus on abstract constructs to make it work. In this image, the counter point between the vertical lines of the ice and horizontal bands in the rock wall in combination with the softer texture of the ice juxtaposed with the highly textured and colorful rock wall and lichens makes for a killer combination.
While I’ve got your ear, or eyes I should say, let me indulge myself in a bit of shameless self promotion. He’ll if I don’t do it, nobody will!
My course, Fine Art Abstract Photography – The art of seeing and special techniques starts on March 1st, 2010. NPN online courses are conducted in “virtual classroom” private forums. Students are granted access to the virtual classroom for the duration of the course. All lessons and interaction with the instructor (and other students) take place in the virtual classroom. Each course includes six lessons, which are presented in publication-quality PDF format. Each lesson is allotted one week for completion and includes a shooting assignment. The student may post questions in the virtual classroom at any time during the week for the instructor to answer. Once the assignment is completed, the student will post their work in the virtual classroom for instructor and peer review. For more information or to enroll, click here.
I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be leading a Creative Vision workshop with Ian Plant in Arches National Park, Utah, from April 4-8. Although Creative Vision workshops are held in some of the most beautiful locations in the country, they are more than just scenery tours. Rather, the goal of each workshop is to allow participants to fully explore their personal artistic vision, and to challenge their perceptions to take their photography places they never dreamed of before. We focus on a number of professional field and digital darkroom techniques to help participants create dramatic and powerful nature images. For more information or to enroll, click here.
I have some really exciting mini workshops scheduled this spring in the Mid Atlantic including Waterfalls Of White Oak Canyon, West Virginia Waterfalls in May and a 3 day workshop in Shenandoah National Park in June shooting the new-born fawns and mountain scenics in the park. Most of my workshops fill up months in advance, so if you are interested in joining the group, get in your reservations as soon as possible. You can see all of my mini workshops and well as location workshops and tours around the country at my website.
And finally, check out my cover image and feature article in this months edition of Outdoor Photographer magazine.
I am happy to announce our first Creative Visions workshop for 2010 in the rugged and beautiful canyon country of Moab, Utah. This workshops shooting locations will take place in Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point and other slickrock locations surrounding the Moab area.
Looking to take your creative expression to the next level? Creative Vision Photo Workshops are designed to challenge you to reach new heights with your nature photography. Join Creative Vision instructors Ian Plant and Joseph Rossbach on an intensive, multi-day field and classroom instructional workshop that will help you create photographs you’ve always dreamed of making.
Arches and Canyonlands National Park contain some of the most breath taking scenery in the United States. Chocked full of hundreds of natural arches, slick rock canyons, balanced rocks and wild vistas this 5 day workshop will explore the very best these two locations has to offer.
The dynamic forces of wind, water and geologic upheaval have created a landscape of extraordinary beauty and have left for us a plethora of photogenic treasures. We intend to visit as many of them as possible during visits to Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point State Park, capturing the textures, contrasts, and surprising formations of this high desert region.
When I arrived in the park last week, the temps had hovered in the mid teens for a 10 days before and all the waterfalls were solid blocks of ice. By the last day of the workshop, the temps had risen to the upper 30’s and it rained for one solid afternoon creating a flash floods of melting ice along the streams and rivers in the park. In order to get this composition, i climbed out across an ice and snow bridge for the best perspective. The water was raging and a solid breeze was blowing sheets of water on the front of the lens saturating everything. I was able to get off one image without water on the lens. This image is of Elekala Falls in Blackwater Falls State Park, WV.
Upcoming Photography Lectures/Presentations:
- January 25, 2010 – Salem County Art League, New Jersey. http://www.salemcountyartleague.com/
- February 2, 2010 – NVPS, Virginia. http://nvps.org/main/meetings/programs/tuesday_february_2nd_2010_-_pr/
- February 4, 2010 – Doylestown Photo Club, PA. http://www.doylestownphotoclub.com/
Don’t miss out on our Swallow Falls One Day Winter Workshop on February 13! ~ Only a couple space are still available for this workshop!!
In this one day winter workshop in Swallow Falls State Park, we will have a chance to photograph the many frozen waterfalls, ice formations and virgin hemlock forests of the park. I will be there to guide you to the best spots, help with any technical questions, critique images and get those creative juices flowing. We may also have a chance to visit Crainsville Sub Arctic Swamp and a special are known as the bears den. This workshop starts at sunrise and ends at sunset. We will break in the middle of the day for a big lunch and warm drinks.
Follow this link to register for the workshop online. Space is limited and spots are beginning to fill up fast!