2019 Calendar: The stories behind the images

 

I am excited to announce that my 2019 Calendars are now available.  Here are the stories and also hopefully some of my not too random ruminations  to go along with the images!

There are two calendars available, a standard size offered at $21 and a large size calendar offered at $35. 50% of the proceeds from the sale of the Calendars will go to support the Washington Nature Conservancy and the remainder will help offset my operational costs.

 

 

Spirit Angels in the Forest SS

January: Spirit Angels in the Forest

When I fell asleep Saturday evening I had no plans hiking the next day.  But when I woke up about 5AM feeling wide awake and calculated that if I left for Poo Poo Point soon I could be at the top before sunrise–this all changed. I decided to go and I am glad I did! It was one of those mornings where the valleys are filled with a sea of fog moving like spirits through the forest. As the sun rose interesting combinations of warm and cool light ensued. I used my 200-500 telephoto lens to capture about 700 images and the constantly changing drama and action.  Even in the field, however, I knew this image was the one that best captured the feeling of this place and time!  Sometimes one is just in the zone and it all comes together-weather and atmospheric condition, the forest, imagination, vision, ones inner state of mind, emotions, weather, and technique–all working together seamlessly together in a state of flow to bring to the light of day an image that lurks just below the level of consciousness.   For more on capturing this type of image see my blog post Forests in the Mists: Windows into the Active Imagination.

 

 

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February: Gold Creek Pond Winter Skies

This image is of Gold Creek Pond close to sunset on a late December evening. It was cloudy most of the day but toward sunset there were brief openings in the clouds to let in some beautiful light.   Kendall Peaks are in the distance which were the destination for many of my previous snowshoe trips.   On this trip, the snow around the pond and up the valley was very compact so my micro spikes were sufficient and snow shoes were not needed.  As I stared across the pond I noticed the bridge and Kendall Peaks rising above the forest.  Often I have hiked around this pond on snowshoes and also up the long winding trail to the top of the peaks.   In the long moments of reflection leading up to this image I would often flash back to these earlier experiences, but some how the beauty of this place—its silence, interspersed by the occasional duck calling or light wind blowing– would bring me back to the here and now .   In the mountains it is almost like we experience eternity one moment at time.   In this moment I knew I would return to this place again and again.  In landscape photography there is a lot of waiting for the right moment to arrive.  But it is this waiting in beautiful place like this that I often like the most, experiencing the timeless wonders of nature.

 

 

Taming of the Storm

March–Mobius Arch: Taming of the Storm

On my first full day at Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills there was an unrelenting wind and rain storm for a good part of the day until just before sunset. I lost power at my Hotel in Lone Pine, but when I saw the sun break through the clouds and the wind subside I went back to the Arches and was able to get set up just in time for this image. By the next morning is was nothing but Bluebird Skies as far as the eyes could see   For many, stormy weather is a signal to cancel plans for an outdoor excursion.  But for us photographers it is often a signal to us that it is time to go!

 

 

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April–Daffodil Field Evening Reflections

Daffodils bask in the evening light and are reflected in the water spanning long rows of flowers.  Bright yellow daffodils are the first to bloom in the flower fields of the Skagit valley often as early as late February.  The weather at this time is usually still cool and damp, sometimes even cold.  The fields are wet and muddy making setting up to take images an invitation to play and roll around in the mud!  This is one of the beauatiful Roozengaarde fields that are scattered throughout Washington’s Skagit River Valley.  The Roozen family business of growing Tulips, Daffodils and Irises is the largest in the world, covering Skagit Valley with more than 1000 acres of field blooms and 16 acres of greenhouses.

 

 

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May–Morning Dew

The Roozengaarde Tulip fields in Washington’s Skagit Valley awaken to a fine mist of morning dew as the sun arms reach over the distant mountains and envelop the fields. This year heavy spring rains flooded many of the field rows with standing water creating wonderful opportunities for silhouettes and reflections. A few of the fields were so bad that Roozengaarde closed them to any public access. Please respect their wishes and remember we only have access to these private field due to the good graces of Roozengaarde.  Getting to these fields for sunrise can be a bit of a challenge for those of us in the Seattle area which is about two hours away.  This year I scouted the fields the day before, spent the night in a comfy hotel, and made the long walk to this field using headlamp to be on site before dawn.  Had I not  scouted earlier, finding this spot in the dark would have been difficult if not impossible!

 

 

Diablo Lake Sunset

June–Diablo Lake Sunset

I have always just sped by this lake on my way back from the North Cascades, but last June on the way back from a hike and seeing the parking lot empty, I decided to spend a couple of hours exploring this iconic overlook. I love the fjord like quality of this lake and the teal color of the water seals the deal with me! With the earlier hot weather and rapidly melting snow, the water was flowing very good in the North Cascades now and it seemed like every quarter of a mile there was a seasonal waterfall, some spilling water directly onto the road!

 

 

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July–Heather Pillows at Sunset

I just love where I live in the Pacific Northwest. I left my house one day in July on an impromptu trip and three hours later here I was in Paradise heading up the Dead Horse Ridge Trail to Panorama Point! If I was a dying horse these heather pillows would seem to be a beautiful final resting spot. How do these trails get their names anyway?  Heather are some of the first flowers to bloom after the snow melts usually right after the Avalanche and Glacier Lilies make their appearance.  The contrast of the pink magenta flowers and the surrounding new green foliage to me is just striking.  Spring comes to these meadow a little later than down in the lowlands, around the middle of July!

 

 

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August–Islands in the Sun

A beautiful bonsai rock is bathed in light from the sun that is setting below a ridge above Chimney Lake in Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness.  I took this image on the last night of a week long multi-day backpacking trip with the Sierra Club.  The day before I did some scouting around the lake and was immediately drawn to this series of rocks leading up to this bonsai rock.  Chimney lake is somewhat difficult to photograph because the shoreline close to the water lacks remarkable features and the mountain on the backside of the lake is a long and fairly uniform ridge also lacking distinctive features.  This bonsai rock I thought would give the lake character and a more distinctive identity.

Capturing the scene at  sunset would be a challenge because the sun sets behind the ridge a good 90 minutes before the actual sunset leaving the lake and surrounding mountains in deep shadow.   I decided to photograph the rock earlier in the evening and when I approached the site I noticed  sun’s star also reflected in the lake.  At this time the light was way too intense causing massive flare even with a lens that is not prone to flare.  There was a short window of time, however, about a couple of minutes, when the flare was manageable and the sun star was still reflected in the lake.  It was during this brief period of time I captured this image!  A few seconds later the sun star reflection disappeared, and about a minute later the sun sank below the distant ridge and the entire lake area was in deep shadow.

 

 

Rock Tapestry

September: Rock Tapestry

The grand vistas of Death Valley Park including Zabriskie Point, the Badlands, Badwater, and Mesquite Flat Dunes seem to get all the attention.  But what I found most interesting at Death Valley are the more intimate and often abstract small area scenes deep inside the various slot canyons.  I am sworn to secrecy about the location of this image, but the location really does not matter so much for an image like this.  Venture into any of the canyons and wander deep inside, then pause not just for moments but extended periods of time to take in the small wonders of these canyons.  Study small areas on the walls and look for interesting patterns, lines, shapes, and contrasting colors.  Images will reveal themselves to you in time.  One just needs to stop and listen to the silent sounds written on the canyon walls.

 

 

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October: Clearing of the Morning Mist

As the early morning mists clears out of the Enchantments Basin and Leprechaun Lake, a thin mist still hovers over Prusik peak creating a soft and airy feel on the granite walls of the peak extending down to some of the autumn larches.    I find Leprechaun to be the most interesting of all the Enchantment Lakes with its various peninsulas and channels spread out across the lower Enchantments basin. To me it is more like a half of dozen lakes than just one.  Soon after this clearing high winds would blow in snow clouds with flurries at night and a full fledged snow storm the next day.  We found a nearby high location with cell phone reception and learned that the storm would last several days.  We decided to leave the next morning heading down the steep mountainsides in at least six inches of snow with micro spikes on our boots and gloves on our hands!

 

 

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November: Kubota Maple Early Morning Light

I took this image in November at Kubota Garden as the diffuse sunlight making its way through clouds and trees was just beginning to illuminate the delicate now bright orange leaves of this legendary Japanese Maple.  Part of the look and feel of this place is the stream and water that surrounds this tree that sits on a small peninsula.  The tree is also surrounded by and sits below a mixed forest of much taller deciduous and evergreen trees providing a sense of enclosure. With my frequent pilgrimages to this place only 15 minutes from my home, I think it is safe to say that I periodically worshiped this beautiful tree!

It was a sad day for me, however, when I returned to the tree in April of this year and found out that an almost unbelievable rumor I heard was in fact true.  This legendary Japanese Maple Tree fell victim to a huge fallen tree in a storm, fatally crushing the Japanese Maple and now the tree is no more. They have planted a new smaller Japanese Maple from another location in the garden that has good form and symmetry, but it will take years for it to reach the size and stature of the one in this image. The long process of renewal now begins.  The lesson I learned from this episode is not to take anything in nature for granted.  The only thing that is eternal in nature are the ever renewing cycles of creation and rest.  Somewhere it is always Spring, and somewhere it is also always Autumn.  And somewhere a new tree has just sprouted from seed that will be the next beautiful legendary tree that captures the imagination of our children’s children children.

 

 

Mt. Si Reflections

December: Mt. Si Winter Solstice

One can feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and inspiration through finding beauty in familiar and ordinary places.  Often this beauty is not obvious and may be hidden.  This is one such place, no more than a half hour from my house at a park in the Snoqualmie Valley used primarily to walk dogs.  To approach this pond I needed to go through sticker bushes that found their way into my boots and skin, and finding a relatively uncluttered perspective was no small  exercise.  But nowhere have I gained more traction in developing my skill set than in presenting an ordinary place in the best light.  This is also the ultimate confirmation to others that you have arrived as a photographer through your ability to make even the ordinary look good.  Often this beauty was recognizable to us all along, but conveying this beauty that is often very personal  to others remains a huge challenge.  But if one can communicate a sense of your “Feeling” of a place at these somewhat ordinary and mundane locations, think how much easier it will be to do this at iconic sites and other places where the beauty is so obvious to everyone!  For more on finding sources of inspiration see my blog post Sources of Inspiration for Nature and Landscape Photography: Finding Your Photographic Vision.

 

 

Sources of Inspiration for Nature and Landscape Photography: Finding Your Photographic Vision

 

Inspiration and Vision: Early Beginnings

What originally brought you to Landscape Photography?  The answer I hear from most people when faced with this question is that “I had a desire to share with others my experience of visiting beautiful places while traveling, hiking and backpacking.  Typically these experiences are charged with deep emotions that have a profound and lasting effect on the individual.  But the resulting images often fall way short of expressing the emotions and feelings surrounding the sense of place.  Instead the images are largely documentary and also are not good even from a technical perspective.  But make no mistake, the photographer felt a great sense of inspiration at the moment of capture.

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“I may pass this way again”

Often we will return to a place as our photographic skills evolve to rekindle and capture the emotions we originally felt as we were just starting out in photography.   This is such a place and last week I made this return journey.

 

Inspiration and Vision: Progression

The desire to better capture the emotions and feelings surrounding a sense of place helps motivate the photographer to learn.  The photographer begins the process of learning the technical aspects of photography: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus, angle of view, image development, etc.  This is learning photography as a craft.  The photographer also begins learning the basics of composition: lines, shapes, patterns, subject placement, light, creative processing, etc.   This begins the process of learning the art of photography. But as the photographer embarks upon this path of learning, he or she may feel that some of the energy and enthusiasm that originally brought them to landscape photography is missing.  It is easy to get  caught up in the technical and learned compositional approaches to photographay.  The process becomes almost mechanical and may not be in touch with a vital link to the world of feeling and emotion and who one is as a person.  It is at this point that the landscape photographer begins looking for new sources of inspiration.

Morning Dew

Morning Dew

I felt a tremendous sense of emotion that touched the depths of my soul as this scene slowly evolved as the sun rose over the tulips fields shrouded in mist and morning dew.  All of the techniques involved in capturing this image, including the near far compositional approach emphasizing the dew, reflections and sun’s rays— were directed at expressing my emotions and feelings of this place at this most memorable time.  I did not employ technique and compositional artistry for its own sake.

 

Sources of Inspiration

I will now discuss each of the following sources of inspiration.  Some of these may seem surprising to photographers and contrary to the advice they may have received from other influencers, but bear with me and I will establish the value of each of these sources of inspiration in helping guide one’s photographic journey.

  1. Visiting Iconic Places
  2. Published Images
  3. Other Photographers
  4. Going off the Beaten Path
  5. Alternative Perspectives
  6. Going to New Places
  7. Beauty in Familiar and Ordinary Places
  8. Taking a break from Photography
  9. Keeping a Journal
  10. Internal Sources of Inspiration

 

(1) Visiting Iconic Places

Wild Geranium Tetons Sunrise

Wild Geranium Tetons Sunrise

This image was taken at the iconic site of Oxbow Bend in Grand Tetons National Park.

It can be challenging to create a unique composition in an iconic place, but if one follows their instincts and intuition for what is interesting in the scene and perhaps also receives a blessing from mother nature of unique weather and flora, it is not only possible but also probable.   Iconic places are iconic for a reason.  They have the power to instill strong emotional reactions and even have symbolic value in our collective psyche that can be tapped into and shared instilling similar emotions in others.  Every year individuals and families make pilgrimages to such iconic sites as Oxbow Bend, Yellowstone Falls, Crater Lake and others for precisely this reason.  Never underestimate to power of visiting an iconic site.

Eye of the Crater

Eye of the Crater: Crater Lake National Park

 

(2) Published Images

In our modern internet world images are published in a number of ways.  Some are published in traditional sources such as printed magazines such as Outdoor Photographer or presented in physical galleries, but increasingly images are published in online magazines such as Landscape Photography Magazine.  Perhaps the most accessible source of images is Social Media which includes Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and 500px.  There are also websites where we can find the work of individual photographers and their blogs.  All of these sources of published images can serve as great places for photographers to go for inspiration.  It is important, however, when viewing these images to prioritize ones time, looking at the images that are not only good but also resonate with ones  own artistic sensibilities.  It is also important to engage in what Miles Morgan calls “Active Viewing”.   To quote Miles:

“By “actively view” I mean that you aren’t just looking at pretty pictures. You’re trying to figure out WHY you like the image. What makes the image work vs. the other images you find less appealing? How can you incorporate those techniques yourself? What images DON’T interest you? Why not? How can you avoid the pitfalls that made the photograph less intriguing?”

In viewing published images we are not trying to replicate what others have done.  Although it is possible that a published image may provide inspiration for reinterpretation  of what others have done, the process of active viewing is better viewed as a process that will help us grow and better equip us to fulfill our own vision of an altogether different place and time.

 

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Epiphany

This image of the Enchantments was recently published as the final frame in the July issue of Landscape Photography Magazine.  For more on my Enchantments adventures see Visiting and Photographing the Enchantments.

 

(3) Other Photographers

None of us are an island onto our self and we are all indebted to not only those who came before us but also to landscape photographers currently operating in the field.  One can find an immense source of inspiration through following the life and work of photographers who we admire.  I recommend picking only about three or four to follow in depth.  Questions to consider include:

  • What makes the photographer tick?
    • What brought you to photography?
    • Who inspires you?
    • What is the photographer’s signature style, and has it changed over the years?
    • What are the stories behind the photographs

To truly appreciate the work of the photographer we need to get to know who he or she is as a person, which will of course take time and effort.  If the photographer is featured in a podcast, listen to it.  Read their blogs and social media posts.  Watch their tutorials.  Reach out to the photographer, let them know you are inspired by their work, and cultivate some one on one communication, perhaps even friendship.  If they offer workshops, attend their workshop.

As I have progressed as a photographer over the years their are several photographers whose work I admire that I have reached out to.  These include Art Wolfe  (I attended a workshop early on and various presentations and have read many of his books), Candace Dyar (attended a workshop and communicate with her frequently),  Nick Page (regularly listen to his podcast and watch his tutorials) and Michael Gordon (recently participated in a one on one  workshop and tour in the Death Valley).

Along somewhat similar lines, many landscape photographers find inspiration and even a sense of belonging in joining other photographers for social photography in the field.  This can be done formally through clubs or more informally through meet ups and circles of friends deciding to get together.  Companionship and collaboration with like-minded people can also facilitate additional learning as one sees how others approach the art and craft of photography.  My only caution here is that although we are social by nature and need this kind of interaction, it is also true that to fully blossom as an artist one needs to ultimately cultivate more inner sources of inspiration.  I will discuss this more later in the article in the tenth source of inspiration, inner sources.

5 Here Coses the Sun

Here Comes the Sun by Candace Dyar

I have been following the work of Candace for about five years now and just love her painterly approach and color harmony in her images.

 

4 Unrest

Unrest: Nick Page

It has been amazing to watch Nick progress as a photographer over the past few years We are witnessing the appearance of a new Northwest Icon (and entertainer to boot!)

 

(4) Going off the Beaten Path

Going off the beaten path or taking the road less traveled can provide fresh perspectives and inspiration through the process of discovery.  This also increases the likelihood that your vision will be unique allowing you to take better ownership of your vision.  Because these spots are also far less photographed, the influence of other photographers on your vision will be less.  Some of the absolute best times in my life as a photographer occurred when I felt  I was experiencing nature in a way that few if any have witnessed before.  Of course part of this is how we bring our own thoughts, emotions and feelings to the landscape, but the other part of this is the landscape itself speaking to us, sharing with us the unique spirit of the place and time that few get to see.  Going off the beaten path can also take the form of a multi-day backpacking trip into the wilderness, the ultimate source of inspiration.  For more on this see my blog post Multi-Day Backpacking and Photography

8 Boulder Falls

Boulder Falls

Off trail somewhere in the Snoqualmie National Forest

 

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Rivers Bend: Eagle Cap Wilderness Area

 

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Image Lake at Sunrise

I reached this beautiful lake in the Glacier Peak wilderness  area, and 18 miles in, as part of a multi-day backpacking trip.  For more on this adventure see Visiting and Photographing the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area: Spider Gap – Buck Creek Pass Loop.

 

(5) Alternative Perspectives

Most landscape photographers at the current time demonstrate a preference for wide angle color photography that seems ideal for the Grand Landscape, balancing foreground, mid-ground and background elements.  The over reliance, however, on this formulistic approach can often seem contrived to others and also can be self limiting.  Expressing what we feel about a place and time often calls for a different perspective.  One can usually find new sources of inspiration through experimenting with alternative perspectives including the use of Telephoto, Macros, Abstracts, and Black and White.  For more on alternative perspectives see these two blog posts: One: Going Wide, Going Narrow, Creating Layers of Beauty and Two: Forests in the Mists: Windows into the Active Imagination.

 

Spirit Angels in the Forest SS

Spirit Angels in the Forest: 400MM Telephoto Perspective

 

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Jade Vines: Macro

 

Rock Tapestry

Rock Tapestry: Abstract

 

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Mystery: Black and White and 500mm Telephoto

 

(6) Going to New Places

Visiting a new (to you) place can be a powerful source of inspiration building excitement, passion, and enthusiasm.  One often experiences completely different landscapes than one is accustomed to see and this helps separate us from our habitual way of  viewing and experiencing our small world leaving us open to fresh visions and possibilities.   I try to plan one or two trips a year to places that are markedly different than my own native Pacific Northwest.  This year I visited Kauai and  Death Valley.

Kauai 2018 Poi Pu092

One with the Ocean

When reviewing my images from a a trip in February to Kauai, this one surprised me the most.  I did not at all see my shadow and silhouette in the spray of the wave at the moment of capture.  But there I was, walking into the ocean of Kauai’s Shipwreck Beach, tripod in hand, one with the Ocean!

 

Mosaic Canyon Wooden Grains

Death Valley: Mosaic Canyon Wooden Grains

 

(7) Beauty in Familiar and Ordinary Places

One can feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and inspiration through finding beauty in familiar and ordinary places.  Often this beauty is not obvious and may be hidden.  No where have I gained more traction in developing my skill set than in presenting an ordinary place in the best light.  This is also the ultimate confirmation to others that you have arrived as a photographer through your ability to make even the ordinary look good.  Often this beauty was recognizable to us all along, but conveying this beauty that is often very personal  to others remains a huge challenge.  But if one can communicate a sense of your “Feeling” of a place at these somewhat ordinary and mundane locations, think how much easier it will be to do this at iconic sites and other places where the beauty is so obvious to everyone!

Bleeding Heart659 copy for crop

 

 Bleeding Hearts of the Forest

I make this small journey  through a quite ordinary forest close to home almost daily but one day last spring this scene jumped out at me, and I rushed home to fetch my serious camera and tripod to create this image! 

 

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Foggy Trail

Most people zip up or down this section of trail through second growth forest on their way to Mt. Si- a first flank peak close to the Seattle area.  But on this foggy day I immediately recognized the potential for impact and beauty on this ordinary stretch of trail.   This trail is so much more than just a conditioning hike (how it is typically regarded).  It is a sanctuary of exquisite beauty just waiting  to be discovered.

 

(8) Taking a break from Photography

Many of my colleagues have taken a break from social media.  Social media, although very useful for gaining exposure,  can also consume too much of our time and influence our creative choices if we chase after popularity.  But just as social media can stand in the way of creative fulfillment, so can photography itself.  Often times we need a break of sorts, a vacation free from photography.  When we return from this vacation, we often will have a much clearer view of where we need to go from a creative perspective.  Experts have known for a long time that excessive and obsessive work  toward a goal (the workaholic syndrome) can actually hinder creativity due to loss of perspective.  Landscape Photography is no exception to this rule.

Often time during a break from photography one can find new sources of inspiration through such activities as reading books, long walks in the woods without a camera, visiting art galleries, and reconnecting with old friends.  I regularly listen to audio books while taking long walks in the forest.  These audio books include biographies on Emerson and John Muir, Emerson’s Essays, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and other titles.

(9)  Keeping a Journal

Julia Cameron in her classic book, The Artist’s Way, established two key activities that help the Artist find new sources of creative inspirations.  Both of these activities help connect the artist to his/her authentic self which is the source of all creativity.  The first activity is keeping a daily journal.  Spend 10 or 15 minutes a day writing in your journal what ever comes up-thoughts, emotions, feelings, impressions.  This journal is not specifically about photography and is more open ended than that.  The purpose of journal writing is getting one more in touch with ones inner self and the subconscious, to fully awaken to who one is as a person.  The next activity is establishing a date with oneself at least once a week.  Landscape photographers need time alone in nature to better connect with who they are as a person uninfluenced by the thoughts or actions of others.  These artist dates will also provide the basis for journal entries that no one reads other than our self.  For more on the authentic self, see my blog post Finding your Photographic Vision and the Search for the Authentic Self.

 

(10) Internal Sources of Inspiration

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.  Who looks outside, dreams.  Who looks inside, awakens..” –Carl Jung

“Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self.  There is something which you can do better than  another.  Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that.  Do the things at which   you are great, not what you were never made for.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance.

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Submerged Leaves Under Water

Tapping into Internal sources of inspiration should be the guiding light for all of the the previously mentioned sources of inspiration.  What we are talking about here is getting in touch with the right side of the brain, the wellspring of creativity, emotions, imagination and the subconscious.  We leave behind all societal expectations about where we should go with our photography and art.  This is a journey that  marks the return to nature and our true nature and authentic self.  We create images as expressions of this authentic self.  This marks the integration of the internal and external landscape, with a soulful nature guiding us symbolically to a spiritual  world.  This is a world of paradox.  Even as we descend into the soulful grasp of earthly nature, we are lifted up into a more lofty spiritual realm.   We need both.   Images have emotional impact, and images tell our personal story.  Images now move beyond documentation as we share our experience of a time and place.   The images themselves help us and the viewer transcend this earthly world, and evoke a mood that points to matters that may seem beyond comprehension, the world of pure idea and spirit.   This is nature and landscape photography as art.

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Where the Angels Roam: Mt. Rainier National Park

Conclusion

When we are in a creative rut, many of us need to look to new sources of inspiration.  All of these sources of inspiration discussed in this post can help us in our journey to live a more authentic life when the progression is from external to internal sources of inspiration.  Living a more authentic life will ultimately also provide the needed inspiration for reaching our creative potential with landscape photography.

“Man is never so authentically himself than when at play” –Friedrich Schiller

What Schiller meant by play (also often referred to as a state of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)  is when one follows with passion and joy his or her calling,  For me this is Nature and Landscape Photography and I suspect for many who are reading this it is for you also.

 


Thanks for reading this blog post.  I greatly appreciate this and would love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment with your thoughts on this posts.  If you would like to receive additional posts like this please also follow this blog either through word press or a request for email notifications.  Thanks!

 

Multi-Day Backpacking and Photography

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir

Multi-day Backpacking can provide an immersive experience into the wonders and mysteries of nature providing a powerful source of inspiration to the photographer that is rarely available in trips of shorter duration.  What I have noticed on my many multi-day trips is that it takes at least a couple of days to disconnect from the concerns of the day to day world and tune in to the subtle heart beat of nature’s calling.  At day three the wilderness almost seems like an extension of oneself, and this is soon followed by the realization that we too are nature.  The American Transcendentalist Emerson established nature as the liberator of our creative self.

“Nothing divine dies. All good is eternally reproductive. The beauty of nature reforms itself in the mind, and not for barren contemplation, but for new creation. Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature – Chapter 3: Beauty, 1836) 

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Walking into a Dream: This  view is looking out to the patrol cabin and Mt. Rainier from Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, one of my favorite places along the 100+ mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier National Park.  Although it is possible to do this trip in five days, for photographers I recommend a minimum of 10 days.  I did the trip in 11 days and wished I had more!

Our true nature is that of creativity, but often it is difficult to hear its calling when we are following instead the drum beat of our jobs, societal expectations, and desires to be popular on social media.  What better way to cut loose from these muffling sounds, and listen instead to the still small voice of nature?  Tune out to all this clutter and noise and  tune in to nature and creative renewal as part of a multi-day backpacking trip!  The rewards of this experience will pay dividends once you are back navigating through the day to day concerns of your life and will be spiritually transforming.  Although we cannot all realistically spend most of our life immersed in the wilderness, we can carry this experience back with us through the renewal of our spirit.  This spirit can be creatively renewed again and again through annual pilgrimages to the back-country with multi-day backpacking trips.

 

Glacier Peak 2017 Images1896 copy

Tda-ko-buh-ba Sunrise: Beautiful pasque flowers gone to seed and Image Lake awaken to a rosy sunrise underneath Washington’s most remote volcanic peak, known by the Suak Indian Tribe as “Tda-ko-buh-ba”, but also known as Glacier Peak. This location in the Glacier Peak Wilderness comes as close to heaven on earth as anything my imagination can possibly conjure up. Looking out across the meadow and lake to Glacier Peak one feels the pure essence of a wilderness area, an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by people, and where we are just visitors who cannot remain in a place of such unspoiled beauty.   We reached this location on the third night of our backpacking trip making this trip an obvious choice for a multi-day backpacking adventure.

In this blog post I will discuss the following: (1) Why a Photography Oriented Multi-day Backpacking Trip, (2) What to Carry, (3) Camera Gear, (4) Getting in Shape, (5) Selecting a Team, (6) Finding Your Photographic Vision, and (7) Destinations.  The chart below contrasts a typical backpacking trip with a photography oriented backpacking trip.

Typical and Photography Multiday Backpacking

Photography backpacks are much different from a typical organized backpacking trip. The pace and tempo of this trip is centered around photography.   This means frequent stops along the trail and organizing the schedule to be at the right places for at least a two to three hours window around sunrise and sunset.  Breakfasts on photography backpacking trips are usually eaten late and dinners early because it is important to keep the mornings and evenings open for photography.  Most movement from place to place will occur during the middle of the day arriving at the next camp well in advance of  the evening hours which means keeping daily backpacking distances reasonable where possible.

 

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Rivers Bend, Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, Oregon.  To properly experience the vast Eagle Cap, a multi-backpacking trip is essential. This particular valley originally looked quite unremarkable to me and I struggled to come up with a compelling composition.   This area of Eagle Creek is not typically thought of as an iconic site.   But as I explored further down the valley I saw this bend in the river that caused me to think back on Ansel Adam’s image of Oxbow Bend in the Grand Tetons.  I attempted to photograph Oxbow Bend a few years ago but I felt I was recreating someone else’s composition.  But here in the Eagle Cap, I had no such concern.  The same emotional impact I felt when viewing Ansel’s Oxbow Bend image I now felt with even greater intensity and this helped to provide the creative energy I needed for this image.

What to Carry

Maintaining a good comfort level on a multi-day backpacking trip has everything to do with keeping weight of the backpack at a manageable level of between 35 and 45 pounds. This challenge is especially hard for us photographers because not only do we need to carry a full array of  backpacking gear, but also we need to carry camera gear including a tripod.  For a multi-day backpacking trip, we will of course need the ten essentials, but will need to go far beyond this if the trip is going to be an enjoyable and a worth while experience.

 

Ten Essentials

(1) Navigation (map and compass)
(2) Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
(3) Insulation (extra clothing)
(4) Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
(5) First-aid supplies
(6) Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
(7) Repair kit and tools
(8) Nutrition (extra food)
(9) Hydration (extra water)
(10) Emergency shelter

The following heirarchial criteria will help guide us to the selection of the right equipment.

(1) Need
(2) Function
(3) Light Weight/Ultralight
(4) Bulk
(5) Cost
(6) Style

For every item that we pack one must ask if this item is needed and what function does it serve?  If there is no need that has to do  with protecting us and keeping us safe from the elements, that item may need to go into the nice to have but not necessary list that we keep to a bare minimum–for example camp chairs, bulky and heavy solar chargers, etc.  Although it is important that equipment is light, it is also important not to be so obsessive about reducing weight that one compromises a basic need and function.  For example, taking a minimalist first aid kit for a group of six people for a week or more in the wilderness is not a smart idea.  Accidents can and do happen even to the most prepared and an appropriately sized first aid kit will be required.  The same goes for backpacks.  It often takes weight to carry weight.  One of the most frequent complaints I have heard from ultra light backpackers with camera gear is that their backpack is so uncomfortable and is disproportionately distributing the weight to their shoulders rather than hips.

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Here Comes the Sun: On a cold, cloudy and misty day in the middle of October, the sun likes to tease us, occasionally with breakthroughs, instilling hope, of a clearing to come. These hopes are usually dashed but I love the drama, and would go to the Enchantments again and again to experience it!  The Enchantments are best approached as part of a five to eight day Multi-day Backpacking Trip.  When in this much beauty, why would anyone want to leave sooner?

 

It is not only important that the equipment be light but also of low bulk.  This allows us to use a smaller backpack that is typically lighter and better balanced on the body.  Light and ultralight equipment can be expensive but sales can often be found at the REI Garage and Backcounty.com.  Although style is a consideration, style needs to flow naturally from need and function if it is going to find a place on our equipment list.

Every time I get prepared to go on a major backpacking trip I methodically go through this list before the trip and gather all the equipment together, checking off items one by one.  At the end of the trip I do a post trip analysis of what items I did not use and consider revising the list for the next trip.

 

Equipment List

Equipment List

 

Awakening

Awakening: While camping on Copper Ridge I woke up to this sunrise with the fog quickly rising from the valley below. A few minutes later the entire ridge was engulfed in fog. Copper Ridge is located in North Cascades National Park and is typically reached as part of a 4 to 7 day backpacking trip that also includes Whatcom Pass. This area receives a large amount of rain and fast changing weather even in the summer months which presents its challenges but also some great photographic opportunities. 

 

Camera Gear

My recommendation is to  take only two lenses and at the most three.  The lens that I find most useful on most multi-day backpacking trips is a wide-angle zoom closely followed by a macro lens that also doubles as a telephoto lens.  On my last trip I brought a Sony A7R3 mirrorless camera, a Zeiss 16-35 4.0 lens, and a Sony 90mm 2.8 macro lens. The wide-angle will work great for including important foreground details in the grand landscape composition and the macro telephoto works perfectly for flowers, small area compositions, abstracts, a compressed perspective,  and wildlife at a relatively close range.  With the Sony A7R3 one can easily switch to cropped mode making the macro lens effectively a 135mm telephoto.  One may want to substitute a 70-200mm 4.0 zoom for the macro lens and perhaps bring a small fixed focal length 2.8 manual focus wide angle for stars, but do not fall for the temptation of bringing any more than 2 or 3 lenses.  For more on the use of wide and telephoto lens perspectives in the field check out my blog post: Going Wide, Going Narrow, Creating Layers of Beauty

My entire system including the Induro Stealth carbon fiber tripod weighs less than seven pounds.  Bringing a mirrorless system brought the weight and form factor down considerably .  If I brought my much more bulky and heavy Nikon D810 DSLR and equivalent lenses I would have easily carried an additional three pounds.   It is noted that it is not just the weight that one needs to keep at a minimum but also the bulk of items, because with less real estate one does not need as big of backpack to carry all the equipment.  As previously mentioned, bigger backpacks tend to be heavier and also do not balance weight as good as a smaller backpack.  Mirrorless cameras and most lenses designed for mirrorless are much smaller than their DSLR counterparts.  The chart below compares the weight of the newest Sony A7R3 and Nikon 850 cameras for equivalent systems.

Sony versus Nikon

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Lozier Lake, Wind River Wyoming. Honorable Mention and in the Top 100 finalists for Natures Best/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest.  Wyoming’s Wind River Wilderness Area is one of the best locations for planning a major Multiday Backpack that I know of.

I recommend that you store the camera, lenses, and accessories in a small F-stop ICU.  This fits perfectly into the Kangaroo pocket of my Gregory Baltoro 75 backpack.  I do not recommend backpacks specifically designed for camera equipment and gear from companies such as F-Stop, Lowe Pro and others because they do not carry multi-day backpacking loads nearly as well as conventional backpacks from Gregory  or Osprey.

My Sony A7R3 with 16-35 4.0 Lens and 90mm macro in a F-Stop Small ICU

 

 

The Gregory Baltoro 75 Backpack: Notice the large Kangaroo Pocket on the front that easily accommodates a small F-Stop ICU. 

 

There are two very important photography equipment requirements in multi-day backpacking that I have found many people do not think about until the need becomes apparent.  The first requirement is that you will need a camera available at all times while actually on the trail backpacking.  The second is that once at camp you will need some means to conveniently carry your full frame camera equipment and tripod around.

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Maroon Bells Secret Garden:  A flower meadow basks in the glow of the warm evening light at dusk somewhere below Buckskin Pass in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness Area, Colorado. Although most people know the Maroon Bells primarily through the post card image of Maroon Lake, the wilderness area actually spans a large area that offers multiple opportunities to frame a unique composition. You will need to go backpacking, however, to find these spots. I took this image as part of a seven day backpacking loop trip over four 12,000 foot passes. This was one of the best backpacking loop trips I have ever taken and mid July is excellent to experience the flowers in full bloom.

 

Photographic opportunities abound on a multi-day back trip while actively backpacking on the trail,  but to take advantage of these opportunities you will need quick access to a camera.  Although there are many ways to carry your interchangeable lens camera while backpacking, personally I have found all of these ways somewhat awkward and inconvenient when carrying a multi-day backpack.  I have also noticed that when backpackers use such devices as a holster, a chest pouch, or a shoulder mounted peak one,  the  use of these devices is typically only temporary and then the user gets tired of their awkwardness and into the main backpack the camera goes.  What I recommend is to carry a second camera: a high quality and light weight point and shoot camera that fits easily into a pocket, such as the Sony RX100.   This is the camera you use while hiking from point to point while carrying your multi-day backpack.   It only weighs 8 ounces, has the full array of both manual and automatic controls, and is capable of capturing excellent images and raw files.  As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you!  Once at camp of course you will use your larger full frame camera.  Although an I-phone or the like is good for an occasional snapshot, especially those that include people, the ability to manually control the RX100 along with its much larger sensor size coupled with malleable raw files, makes this camera a better choice for most applications.

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Sony RX100

Many backpacks now come with a secondary built in day pack that can be used to carry a full frame camera, lenses, tripod, and a few essentials once you are at camp and in the field.  I pack my camera in a small F-Stop ICU that fits in a Kangaroo Pouch of my Gregory Pack.  Once at camp I take the ICU out and put it into the pack within a pack that is included with the Gregory.    For an even better option, Marmont also makes an excellent ultralight pack called the compressor that weighs 8 ounces that can accommodate an F-stop ICU, lunch, extra clothes and gear, a water bottle and a tripod.  Although some people just empty out their larger pack and use it as a day pack, in my opinion this is awkward, limits mobility, and also forces one to put all unneeded gear now somewhat disorganized  inside the tent.

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Getting in Shape

Many people are very surprised at the difficulty of the trip once they embark on their multi-day backpacking adventure.  This multi-day backpacking trip requires extensive prior conditioning if you are going to enjoy the trip in comfort.  Before beginning your journey take multiple day hikes that involve elevation gain in the range of two to four thousand feet, for example in the Seattle area: Mail Box, Granite Mountain, and Mt. Washington.  Also before launching off, go on a couple of overnight backpacking trips of six miles or more and two to three thousand elevation gain with a backpack in the range of 35 to 45 pounds.  There is nothing like actually hiking and backpacking for conditioning, and although time spent at the fitness center helps, this alone will not prepare you for the Multi-day Backpacking experience.  The getting in shape experience also includes trying out some of the equipment you will be using in the field ahead of time, especially items like Hiking Boots that need to be broken in and a Tent that you need to be able to pitch quickly without the need to follow written instructions.

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Ediza Lake Sunrise:  The Ansel Adams Wilderness Area, approached from the Eastern Sierra, affords splendid opportunities for multi-day backpacking.  But be prepared for a variety of challenging circumstances including river crossings, the elements, and some cross country travel.  On this trip I encountered one of the worst hard driving rain storms in my life that finally passed over shortly before taking this image.

 

Selecting a Team

For multi-day backpacking trips I recommend keeping the number of participants at a small number, at the most five or six, to make sure each of the photographers has a quality experience and participants are not stepping over each others toes trying to get the image.  Keeping the team size small will also help reduce the footprint on environmentally sensitive areas–as always our motto is to tread lightly and leave no trace.  For more on the potential impact of photographers on the environment see Wilderness Gone Viral.  Participants should also be carefully screened as this is physically challenging, and not everyone may be in sync with the pace, rhythm, and goals of a photography oriented backpacking trip.  Non-photographers can participate in the trip and there are even some advantages of having their presence.  They can offer a counterbalance to the often overly driven demeanor of photographers, reminding us to slow down, and appreciate the natural world for what it is, without always trying to immediately shape the experience into an image.  Non-photographers can also provide needed logistical and other support to the photographers, but as mentioned, they must be OK with the trip being primarily oriented around photography.

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Colorado’s expansive Wemminuche Wilderness Area home to some of the best Mult-day backpacking.

Finding your Vision

Although a multi-day photography trip is oriented around photography as one of its primary goals, finding your vision for the area will require that you meet nature on its own terms.  Before even reaching for the camera, take a deep breath, look around, engage all of your senses and imagination in tapping into the heart and soul of nature.  What are the elements of the scene that you find most interesting and how do they effect you at both mental and emotional levels?  What feelings, memories, and perceptions does the scene and these elements bring to the surface?  This is not an activity that spans just a few moments of time but is a meditative state that can span hours.  Be sure to arrive at the scene well ahead of time to do this necessary inner work before launching off on a photo tirade.   This meditation will provide the necessary support for giving your personal vision expression in a photographic image.  More on this can be found on my  blog post “Finding your Photographic Vision and the Search for the Authentic Self” and a  related post Forests in the Mists: Windows into the Active Imagination.

 

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Morning Mist: First light over a misty Lake Lacrosse, Olympic National Park. No matter which route one takes, this lake is about a 20 mile plus hike, making it suitable only for a multi-day backpack for maximum enjoyment.  I approached this area as part of a east to west trek through the park involving the use of a shuttle service.

 

Destinations

There are many excellent destinations for a Multi-day backpacking trip and I have provided images of many of them throughout this blog post.  Two that I highly recommend and I have written blog posts about include Visiting and Photographing the Enchantments and Visiting and Photographing the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area: Spider Gap – Buck Creek Pass Loop.  The Enchantments are best accomplished in about a five to eight day trip to fully immerse yourself in this awe inspiring area and assimilate its beauty.  I recommend going in fall when the Larch Trees turn gold.  The Glacier Peak Wilderness loop trip is best done in early August when wildflowers are at their peak and you will want to have a minimum of seven days scheduled and ideally more to experience this heaven on earth.  Be sure to visit the blog posts above for more on these areas.

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Goodbye My Friend:  The Enchantment’s Leprechaun Lake as we were leaving an approaching snow storm.  Fall time backpacking in the Enchantments involves extra preparations for cold weather and the use of microspikes to safely walk on potentially slippery surfaces.

 

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Ripples along the Lyman Lake Shore.  This image is from my multi-day backpacking trip to the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area in August. What a beautiful and restful place to camp after going up and over Spider Gap and the Lyman Glacier!

 

Conclusion

Multi-day backpacking can be a powerful source of new found inspiration with complete immersion in nature for a week or more, an opportunity to temporarily disconnect from the day to day routine and distractions, and connect to Nature, one’s Authentic Self, and source of all creativity.

“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere, the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling, vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” John Muir-Sierra Club Founder.

Forests in the Mists: Windows into the Active Imagination

Of all the different landscapes I have in encountered in my many journey’s throughout the US and the world, there is none that moves and inspires me more than the feeling I get when walking just above mist, fog and clouds moving through a Pacific Northwest Forest.  I just love photographing in these conditions. With the fast changing action caused by fog, mist and clouds mingled with light moving through the forest canopy, possibilities for compositions seem almost endless. It is almost as if the forest is a blank canvas mirroring ones internal thoughts, dreams and visions, all captured through the lens of the camera and later processing.

 

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Spirit Angels in the Forest

In this blog post I will discuss will discuss several factors that go into the creation of the Forest in the Mist image including (1) location ; (2) state of mind ; (3) equipment: (4) technique; (5) active imagination; (6) composition, and (7) processing.

 

(1) Location

Although most of the images in this blog post were taken at a single location, Poo Poo Point in the Issaquah Alps, one can find similar opportunities throughout the Pacific Northwest.  I find the best locations for shooting are along the ridges of the foothills and first flank of peaks of the cascades, with forests trailing down to the wide open valleys below.  The valleys are important because they are the first to fill with fog and then when the morning sun rises, the fog and mist lift and rise moving in a constantly changing fashion through the trees as the mystery of an ethereal world comes in and out of view.

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Island in the Fog

 

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Forest Carpet of Clouds

 

(2) State of Mind

Making images of forests in the mists is not as much about exact locations as it is about ones state of mind.  As previously mentioned, one can  find these vistas just about anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, but will you be ready for the mystery and recognize this ethereal beauty when it arises?  Many will likely answer this question with a resounding yes, but the true answer is likely not nearly so forthright.  One needs to be in the right state of mind.  Looking out at this foggy and misty world through a long telephoto lens one is no longer pondering the wide open grand landscape, but rather a very small section of the macro world.  Scenes transpire and evaporate into evanescence in a matter of seconds and then reappear in different shapes and forms in a seemingly endless cycle.  Looking at such drama is like looking through a window into ones own soul.  What attracts you to this small section of the misty landscape rather than another?  A rational approach to answering this question may not get you very far.  With the environment changing so fast there is no time to precisely compose.  One is not so much aware of things here as they are, but rather ones experience of a fast changing landscape.  And with this much movement and change, our experience of the scene will direct where our attention goes and ultimately the moods and emotions inherent in the images.  Presence and stillness are required, a willingness to let go and go with the flow, and to be a part of the flow.  In essence, we become part of the landscape, with our inner self, emotions, and feelings moving freely through the mist of the forest.

 

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Secrets of the Forest

 

(3) Equipment

The equipment I recommend for capturing beautiful moody and atmospheric images of forests in the mist includes a full frame digital mirrorless or DSLR camera and a long telephoto zoom lens.  For most of the images in this series I used a Nikon D810 along with a Nikon 200-500mm 5.6 lens.   Although the Nikon 200-500 is one big beast of a lens weighing approximately five pounds and being 10.5 inches long, it is not nearly as heavy as its F 4.0 counterparts.  The lens has a very capable Vibration Reduction (VR) which can be used even when the lens is resting on a tripod which is very important because even the slightest movement of the lens can create blur with a telephoto zoom this large.

Although one can of course also compose images with other focal lengths such as wit a 70-200mm zoom or even a wide angle zoom, it is a long telephoto zoom that is going to maximize your flexibility in capturing the best compositions in the field.  The best compositions are most often very small areas of the larger scene best captured at focal lengths of between 400 mm to  about 700 mm.   Even small movements left, right, up or down, will result often in entirely different compositions.  Using these large focal lengths will also create a pleasingly compressed perspective.  This will transform a scene that at shorter focal lengths would appear rather flat with  major areas of dead space to something with well placed composition elements filling more of the frame.  Although the Nikon lens only goes to 500mm, going beyond this can  easily be achieved by either shooting in cropped sensor mode or by simply cropping the image in post processing.  The quality of the files from the Nikon D810, Nikon D850, Sony A7R2 and A7R3 can easily handle cropping by as much as 50% or even more.

 

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Lost in the Forest

(4) Technique

One must keep in mind when discussing technique in photographing forests in the mist that technique is all in service of creating images that are also projections of our own inner vision.  As previously mentioned, the images are not of the scene as it is but rather our experience of the scene.  More on this when we discuss the “Active Imagination” and how this relates to creating images.  But clearly there are actions of a more pure technical nature that warrant review that will help us harness our vision.

I always scan the scene first with my own eyes looking for areas of interest.  Remember areas of interest will be fleeting, but one may still look for the dominant recurring patterns in the scene by answering the following questions: (1) which direction is the mist moving –up from the valley, or down from the ridges? (2) What sections of trees come in and out of view? (3) Are the trees deciduous or evergreen or some of both?  (4) do the trees follow the lines of ridges and are these lines curved or straight? (5) Are there islands of trees separated by fog, mist or clouds?  (6) Where is the source of light and how is it penetrating the clouds and mist?  (7) Is there a layer of clouds over the fog and mist? (8) What colors, texture and tones are present?  Once I have an understanding of the answer to these and related questions I will only then mount the lens with camera attached to the tripod.

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Behind the Scenes PC Stuke Sowie

 

Long telephoto lenses will magnify the impact of any movement of the camera and lens resulting in blurry images.  A long telephoto lens needs to be mounted onto the sturdiest tripod you can reasonably carry using a tripod color as the point of attachment and not the camera itself.   This will help reduce the chance of shake and vibrations associated with the use of a very long and heavy lens.   If possible it is best to mount the lens on the tripod with the legs only partially extended minimizing the use of the extended legs that are smaller in diameter.  This will result in a sturdier tripod less effected by movements caused by wind.  Never use the tripod’s center column unless absolutely necessary.

Additional steps to reduce vibrations and any camera and lens movement include the following: put the mirror in lock up position (or use a mirrorless camera), use a cable release in combination with a self timer, and enable use of electronic first curtain shutter.   Electronic first curtain shutter (EFCS) used either with mirrorless or with the DSLR mirror up makes it so the start of the shutter motion isn’t even mechanical (the camera basically just starts recording the exposure because the shutter is already up, so there are fewer parts moving to create vibration.   Even with mirror lockup on a tripod and proper technique, without EFCS enabled it’s easy to get blurry results at certain shutter speeds (from around 1/100 to 1 second) with long lenses.  With the EFCS enabled, use a 3 second exposure delay mode combined with the 2 second self timer (5 seconds total) and a remote, and that will be  enough time for camera and lens to settle.

To even further reduce vibrations cause by wind experiement with the use of VR.  VR on newer lenses have either a tripod mode or the lens automatically detects the use of a tripod.   Try taking images with and without VR.  Use of VR will often  make a huge difference for the better, other times it seems to make things worse.  Finally experiment with the use of different ISOs.  I always take a series of images at several different ISOs.  I always start by attempting to use the cameras base ISO because ultimately if conditions are sufficiently good this will result in the best file.  In order to ensure success, however, I also try ISO 400 and even ISO 1000, especially when shooting in low light, to get at faster shutter speeds that may be less succeptible to the impact of any camera and or lens movement.

Once the camera is mounted on the camera and you are ready to shoot, start at the widest focal lenght  because it can be very diffcult to find and isolate your intended subject at 500mm.  Alternately look at the subject with your eyes and through the viewfinder until you lock on the subject and then move to the desired longer focal lenth.  Remember the scene will be fleeting  and the cluods and mist may be moving fast so you will need to repeat this process again and again during the shooting session.

 

Active Imagination

“Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.”  Carl Jung

Forests in the Mists offer a fertile playing ground for the Active Imagination and finding the inner source and drive for creativity.  For the Active Imagination to come into play it is necessary to let go for a period of time of our conscious attempts to deliberately control every step of the photographic process and enter a state of flow.  The first stage of the active imagination is like dreaming with open eyes.  Active imagination is a method of assimilating unconscious contents  (dreams and fantasies) through some form of self-expression, in our case photography.  With a constantly changing landscape with the mist and clouds moving through the forest coming in and out of view, it is difficult if not impossible to be too deliberate in our actions because if we do, the scene will evaporate before our eyes before we have a chance to capture the image.

In the second stage of Active Imagination, we go beyond simply observing the images, consciously participate in them, taking notice of emotions and feelings, and  honestly evaluating what they mean about oneself and a willingness to act on these insights. This is a transition from a merely perceptive mode to one of judgment.  It is in this second stage where the craft of photography comes into play for the creation of art that is not only part of ones immediate experience and personally meaningful,  but is also is connected to the the physical world, forest in the mists.  This is like a dance between our conscious and unconscious self, with neither being in total control.  What emerges from the dance is a stronger sense of self, and a visual metaphor for the dance, in the form of a photograph that is art.

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Stairway to Heaven

 

Composition

Composition can be very challenging in an environment where nothing is still and scenes are fleeting, but it is not impossible if one is not overly judgmental.  Remember this is a play between the fantasies of our unconscious mind and our conscious self.  One must be willing to dance, not getting too attached to precisely formulated and deliberate actions.  I take many images, one right after the other, looking for composition elements such as lines, curves, repeating shapes, a balance of warm and cool tones, and layers of interest that will help provide a sense of depth to and otherwise compressed telephoto perspective.  This is not the time for just taking just one or two sequences of images as many do at an iconic grand landscape scene.  This is also not the time for being overly critical of oneself, but just to engage in the flow and dance of creative photography.  There will be time for curating and reducing the number of images to a manageable level later.  But even here one must be careful not to overly curate.  These images will provide insight into your own soul and creative journey.  Many, not just a few, will provide the visual trail that leads to a better understanding of your authentic self.  Your viewers will have a much better sense of who you are as a person and your journey through viewing a more complete portfolio.  For a more on Finding Your Photographic Vision and the Search for your Authentic Self click here.

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Mystery

 

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Layers and Tiers of Clouds and Trees

 

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Trees Floating on Clouds

 

Processing

Usually I can capture all the dynamic range I need with either my Nikon D810 or Sony ARR3 camera and do not need to exposure blend.  In raw development, however, I will often use a graduated filter to reduce exposure to the upper par of the scene.  In difficult cases I will double process the image, one image processed for highlights and the second for the shadows or darker parts of the scene and then blend the two in Photoshop.   A key processing step for Forests in the Mist is global and local area adjustments of white balance.   I will first decide if I want to give the entire scene a warmer or cooler tone and then apply a global adjustment if needed.  I will then, however, selectively cool or warm up different parts of the scene paying close attention for where the source of light is in the image.  The portion of the image closer to the light source may need warming up, and the portion further away may need cooling down to get at the contrast between warm and cool light that is consistent with my experience of the scene.  I may also add either globally or selectively a little more magenta to the image if it has a green bias.  In raw development I will open up the shadows moderately and make sure the image has sufficient brightness.  I generally do not play with the clarity and haze adjustments at all unless there are local areas of the scene that need a little boost because there is little or no definition.  These scenes are naturally rendered soft so the grunge look is neither neither or desired.

In Photoshop my main adjustments are for contrast using Luminosity Masks.  For this I usually start with the lights using a curve adjustment with a multiply blending mode and then raise the center of the curve.  I will then adjust the darks and mid-tones using levels adjustments to improve the contrast in the image and get the image to have more pop.  I then will consider applying a light Orton effect if needed (the scene is already inherently soft due to atmospheric conditions).  I may or may not sharpen the image depending upon how shapening effects the image.  Too much texture or micro contrast in a Forest in the Mist image is not necessarily a good thing where a softer less contrasty image usually works best.  If I need to do a color adjustment this comes last but usually with the contrast adjustments in the previous steps the image already has good color.

 

 

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Ephemeral

 

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Behind the Veil of Nature’s Mystery

 

Conclusion

If you are looking for new avenues for creativity in your photography consider taking a walk into Forests in the Mist.  This mystical forest is ripe with mystery that is fertile ground  for unleashing creative forces through the Active Imagination that will not only find their way into your images but also help you develop a more evolved sense of your authentic self .  This more evolved self will most resonate with network of friends and acquaintances who will be able participate in your artistic journey through your images.

 

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Misty Forest

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Visiting and Photographing the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area: Spider Gap – Buck Creek Pass Loop

The Spider Gap -Buck Creek Pass Loop in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area of Washington State, USA ranks as my favorite multi-day backpacking trip of all time.  This is a land that although not far from the greater Seattle area truly embodies the essence of a wilderness area, “an area where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by people, and where we are just visitors who cannot remain in a place of such unspoiled beauty.”  Here is a land with vast ancient old growth forests that extend as far as the eye can see up wild river valleys.   These forests suddenly reach equally large and expansive high mountain emerald green meadows filled with a vast variety of wildflowers in a kaleidoscope of colors.  Here is a land where glacier remnants of the ice age provide the access route over gaps that lead one to the very heart of a wilderness experience with chains of turquoise blue mountain lakes, endless trails and landmarks with names like Flower Dome, Fortress and Chiwawa Mountain, Suiattle River, and Middle Ridge.   At the center of of it all is paradise itself at the tranquil and peaceful Image Lake that sits underneath Washington’s most remote volcanic peak, known by the Suak Indian Tribe as “Tda-ko-buh-ba”, but also know as Glacier Peak.  Here is a land where you can get directly in touch with the elemental forces, beauty and mystery of nature; and find your long lost destiny everywhere in the wilderness that surrounds you.  Welcome to heaven on earth!

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Glacier Peak and the Image Lake Basin

The Glacier Peak Wilderness area  is a 566,057-acre, 35-mile-long, 20-mile expanse of land located northeast of Everett Washington, just south of North Cascades National Park, and about twenty miles northwest of Leavenworth Washington.  The area is characterized by heavily forested rivers and streams, steep-sided valleys, and dramatic glacier-crowned peaks.  The dominant geologic feature of the area is 10,541-foot Glacier Peak. It is the most remote major volcanic peak in the Cascade Range and has more active glaciers than any other place in the lower forty-eight states. Glacier Peak is a volcanic cone of basalt, pumice, and ash which erupted during periods of heavy glaciation.

I have ventured into the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area countless time during my life, visiting Image Lake six times and completing this loop twice, most recently in a Sierra Club trip in a 2017 trip led by Mike Bolar and Leah Maddoff.   I find the Sierra Club outings well organized, generally supportive of my photographic goals, and my thoughts on wilderness and conservation resonate well with the club’s goals and participants.   In the future I plan on leading my own Photography Oriented backpacking trip in this area.  I never tire of visiting this area and each time the wilderness presents itself to me a new and fresh way,  providing inspiration for  the further development of my photographic vision.

In this post I will discuss visiting and photographing the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area along the Spider Gap – Buck Creek Pass Loop including the following topics: Basic Route, Getting there, When to Go, Photography Oriented Backpacking, Finding your Vision, Conditioning, Importance of Packing Light, Camera Gear, and a Day by Day Itinerary.  In the day by day itinerary I will provide some insights and guidance for photographic opportunities, subjects and compositions.

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Image Lake Morning Light

Basic Route 

The loop trip spans a distance of 44 miles.  I recommend that you do the loop trip counter clockwise entering in through Phelps Creek and heading up through Spider Meadows to Spider Gap.  The reason for this is that you will need to go up and over the Spider Glacier and if the the snow is too hard to navigate safely the trip will need to be cut short.  Better to do this at the beginning of the trip than toward the end where it would take days tor a return trip back to the car.  The two times I did this loop trip in August the snow was not icy , but every year is different and one needs to take the necessary precautions. Once at Spider Gap the route descends the glacier down to Upper Lyman Lakes, over to Lyman Lake, out to Cloudy and Suiattle Passes, over to Image Lake and then out through Buck Creek Pass and back to the Car.

 

Getting There

From Everett head east on US 2 for 85 miles to Coles Corner. (From Leavenworth travel west on US 2 for 15 miles.) Turn left onto State Route 207 (Lake Wenatchee) and proceed 4.2 miles to a Y intersection after crossing the Wenatchee River. Bear right onto the Chiwawa Loop Road, and after 1.3 miles turn left onto the Chiwawa River Road (Forest Road 62). Proceed for 22 miles (the pavement ends at 10.8 miles) to a junction. Bear right onto FR 6211 and proceed for 2.3 very rough miles to the trail head at the road’s end (elev. 3500 ft).   For the last 2.3 road miles I recommend at a minimum cars with all wheel drive and higher ground clearance such as a Subaru Outback or Forester.  The hike ends just north of the Phelps Creek Campground, requiring a 3-mile road walk back to your car at the end unless a shuttle is arranged.  On my last trip we left a couple of cars at the Phelps Creek Campground and took a couple of other cars to the trail head allowing us to shuttle people back and forth eliminating the need to hike the road back up to the trail head.  Parking is limited and often not available at the trail head on weekends so I strongly recommend starting this loop trip around the middle of the week.

When to Go

The best time to go on this trip and experience the wildflower bloom at or close to peak is from fourth week of July to about the middle of August.  The wildflower bloom changes from year to year but I have found on most years this is the best window of opportunity.  In early  July there will be significant snow still in many areas of this trip so I do not recommend going then.  Glacier Peak also has fabulous Fall color so another possibility for scheduling a trip around autumn colors is the last week of September through the first week of October which typically is an “Indian Summer”.  Going later than this carries a greater risk of inclement weather.

Multi-day Photography Oriented Backpack

My recommended itinerary is organized entirely around the concept of a photography oriented multi-day backpack.  Photography backpacks are much different from a typical organized backpacking trip. The pace and tempo of this trip is centered around photography.   This means frequent stops along the trail and organizing the schedule to be at the right places for at least a two to three hours window around sunrise and sunset.  Breakfasts on photography backpacking trips are usually eaten late and dinners early because it is important to keep the mornings and evenings open for photography.  Most movement from place to place will occur during the middle of the day arriving at the next camp well in advance of  the evening hours which means keeping daily backpacking distances reasonable where possible.  For multi-day backpacking trips I recommend keeping the number of participants at a small number, at the most five or six, to make sure each of the photographers has a quality experience and participants are not stepping over each others toes trying to get the image.  Participants should also be carefully screened as this is a physically challenging backpack and not everyone may be in sync with the pace, rhythm, and goals of a photography oriented backpacking trip.

Finding Your Vision

Although this trip is planned around optimizing photographic opportunity, it is important to note that the antecedent conditions for creative photography and finding ones own vision are experiencing nature on its own terms and getting in touch with one’s authentic self.  The descriptions and recommendations offered here are only guides, a starting point if you will.  The expression of your personal photographic vision for Glacier Peak will come about through the intersection of your own inward journey with material world and spirits of nature.  More on this can be found on my recent blog post “Finding your Photographic Vision and the Search for the Authentic Self” .

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Liberty Cap from Buck Creek Pass

 

Conditioning

Many people are very surprised at the difficulty of the trip once they embark on their adventure.  This multi-day backpacking trip requires extensive prior conditioning if you are going to enjoy the trip in comfort.  Before beginning your journey take multiple day hikes that involve elevation gain in the range of two to four thousand feet, for example in the Seattle area Mail Box, Granite Mountain, and Mt. Washington.  Also before launching off, go on a couple of overnight backpacking trips of six miles or more and two to three thousand elevation gain with a backpack in the range of 35 to 45 pounds.  There is nothing like actually hiking and backpacking for conditioning, and although time spent at the fitness center helps, this alone will not prepare you for the Glacier Peak Loop experience.

 

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View at Sunrise from Image Lake Camp

 

Importance of Packing Light

Maintaining a good comfort level on a multi-day backpacking trip has everything to do with keeping weight of the backpack at a manageable level of between 35 and 45 pounds. This challenge is especially hard for us photographers because not only do we need to carry a full array of  backpacking gear, but also we need to carry camera gear including a tripod. On this loop trip you will also need to pack Micro Spikes which weigh about one pound and and least one trekking pole for going up and over the Spider Gap Glacier.  One needs to think carefully through what one brings along because every ounce counts.   I strongly recommend to photographers to carry an ultralight sleeping bag, tent, rain gear, clothing etc.  But this does not mean accepting significant compromises in functionality.   Ultralight gear can be expensive, but there are deals to be  found at the REI Garage, Backcountry.Com and other outlets.   Although reducing weight is essential for comfortable backpacking and a enjoyable experience, make absolutely certain that you pack all the ten essentials.   In a future blog post on Multi-day backpacking I will include a complete equipment checklist that I use to plan every one of my multi-day backpacking trips.

 

Ten Essentials

(1) Navigation (map and compass)
(2) Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
(3) Insulation (extra clothing)
(4) Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
(5) First-aid supplies
(6) Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
(7) Repair kit and tools
(8) Nutrition (extra food)
(9) Hydration (extra water)
(10) Emergency shelter

 

Camera Equipment

My recommendation is to  take only two lenses and at the most three.  The lens that is most useful along the loop is a wide-angle zoom closely followed by a macro lens that also doubles as a telephoto lens.  A light weight normal focal length fixed lens will also be useful in creating tight compositions of Image Lake with Glacier Peak on the horizon.  On my last trip I brought a Sony A7R2 mirrorless camera, a Zeiss 16-35 4.0 lens, a Sony 90mm 2.8 macro lens, and a Sony 55mm 2.8 lens.  The wide-angle will work great for including important foreground details in the grand landscape composition and the macro telephoto works perfectly for flowers, small area compositions, abstracts, a compressed perspective,  and wildlife at a relatively close range.  One may want to substitute for the 55mm 2.8 a small fixed focal length 2.8 manual focus wide-angle lens for stars.  But do not fall for the temptation of bringing any more than 2 or 3 lenses. My entire system including the Induro Stealth carbon fiber tripod weighs less than seven pounds.  Bringing a mirrorless system brought the weight and form factor down considerably .  If I brought my much more bulky and heavy Nikon D810 DSLR and equivalent lenses I would have easily carried an additional three pounds.   It is noted that it is not just the weight that one needs to keep at a minimum but also the bulk of items, because with less real estate one does not need as big of backpack to carry all the equipment.  Bigger backpacks tend to be heavier and also do not balance weight as good as a smaller backpack.  Mirrorless cameras and most lenses designed for mirrorless are much smaller than their DSLR counterparts.

There are two very important photography equipment requirements in multi-day backpacking that I have found many people do not think about until the need becomes apparent.  The first requirement is that you will need a camera available at all times while actually on the trail backpacking.  The second is that once at camp you will need some means to conveniently carry your full frame camera equipment and tripod around.

Photographic opportunities abound on this trip while actively backpacking on the trail,  but to take advantage of these opportunities you will need quick access to a camera.  Although there are many ways to carry your interchangeable lens camera while backpacking, personally I have found all of these ways somewhat awkward and inconvenient when carrying a heavy multi-day backpack.  I have also noticed that when backpackers use such devices as a holster, a chest pouch, or a shoulder mounted peak one,  the  use of these devices is typically only temporary and then the user gets tired of their awkwardness and into the main backpack the camera goes.  What I recommend is to carry a second camera: a high quality and light weight point and shoot camera that fits easily into a pocket, such as the Sony RX100.   This is the camera you use while hiking from point to point while carrying your heavy backpack.   It only weighs 8 ounces, has the full array of both manual and automatic controls, and is capable of capturing excellent images and raw files.  As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you!  Once at camp of course you will use your larger full frame camera.

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Wildflowers and a Mossy Stream leading to a Cairn and Upper Lyman Lakes
Image shot on the fly with my pocket camera, Sony RX100

Many backpacks now come with a secondary built in day pack that can be used to carry a full frame camera, lenses, tripod, and a few essentials once you are at camp and in the field.  I pack my camera in a small F-Stop ICU that fits in a Kangaroo Pouch of my Gregory Pack.  Once at camp I take the ICU out and put it into the pack within a pack that is included with the Gregory.  Although some people just empty out their larger pack and use it as a day pack, in my opinion this is awkward, limits mobility, and also forces one to put all unneeded gear now somewhat disorganized  inside the tent.

Itinerary

The recommended Itinerary for a this photography oriented backpack is shown in the chart below.

Mileage Chart

Here is a basic map of the loop trip route.

Map 1

 


Day One: Phelps Creek Trail Head to Spider Meadows

The first day of your backpacking trip gently climbs and winds its way through old-growth forest and after about 5 miles reaches beautiful spider meadows.  Some great camping spots that also offer protection from wind are located in the forest just to the east of the beginning of the meadow.  This puts you very close to the most photogenic spots which tend to be located more toward the beginning of the meadow.  Water is readily available from Phelps Creek which runs through the meadow from north to south on the east side.  I recommend that you arrive at Spider Meadows on a weekday because the meadow can be very busy with weekend campers due to its relatively ease of accessibility.  I am not sure how the meadow received the name, but the meadow is anything but creepy, and in fact I found it abundantly peaceful, serene, and beautiful.  Please note,  I also did not see a single spider during my two visits!

The meadow contains a variety of wildflowers including Valerian, Purple Asters and Indian Paint Brush which bloom from mid-July through August.  Good near far compositions can be achieved using a wide angle zoom, placing the tripod low and inches away from a cluster of flowers.  Explore the meadow looking for tighter clusters of either a single or variety of flowers with leading lines, patterns and or transitions through the meadow and out to the peaks on the  horizon.  Although both early and evening light is good in the meadow, I found evening light to be be best in this deeply recessed meadow that sits below Phelps Ridge and Red Mountain towering above.

 

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Spider Meadows
21mm, 1/8s, ISO 400, a focus stack of 5 images at F11

 

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There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.
– Thomas Jefferson  22MM, F16, 1/25s, ISO 200

 

Day Two: From Spider Meadows to Lyman Lake

This day will be the most thrilling and adventurous of the entire journey, taking you through the entire length of Spider Meadow, crossing Phelps Creek, up a series of steep and abrupt switch backs to the foot of Spider Glacier.  At this point it is time to put on the Micro Spikes to follow what will undoubtedly be a boot beaten path through the snow up to Spider Gap, 7,900 feet in elevation.  Then it is a long descent down the glacier until finding cairns at the base of the glacier close to Upper Lyman Lakes.  Follow the cairns on a sketchy trial past Upper Lyman Lakes until finding the well developed trail to lower Lyman Lake, your campsite for the night.

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Backpackers heading up to Spider Gap

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From Spider Gap looking down to Upper Lyman Lakes

Although this is likely the most adventurous part of the multi-day backpacking trip, it is also the one the demands the most caution.  Typically the snow in late July and early August is reasonably soft and not hard.  But if the snow is icy it is may not be safe to travel without crampons, an ice ax and knowledge of self arrest techniques.  Since you are already carrying extra weight for your camera gear you will likely not be carrying also an ice ax.   Both times I did the loop trip the snow was reasonably soft in August and all that was required were Yak Tracks or Micros Spikes.  I strongly recommend metal Micro Spikes because they afford a higher level of traction than the rubber Yak Tracks.  Also helpful is at least a single light weight trekking pole for balance and to probe the snow ahead of you to make sure it is solid.  If the snow is icy do not attempt going up and over Lyman Glacier and just settle for camping below the gap.

Although both horizontal and vertical compositions work well, I found the vertical perspective works the best to balance the foreground, mid-ground and background elements.  The best images usually come from balancing important foreground details with the larger scene using a moderate wide angle lens.  Drifts of flowers and moss, snow drifts, and rocks all help lead the eye down the mountain side to the beautiful Turquoise waters of Upper Lyman Lakes and further out to the peaks on the horizon including Bonanza and Chiwawa.   To give adequate emphasis to the foreground details you will need to get lower which may mean temporarily taking off your backpack to compose the shot (or you can be a masochist like me and just stoop down with heave pack on!).

Once a well developed trail to Lyman Lake is found, continue your descent to the juncture with trail 1286 and take a left going to a bridge that crosses the outlet of Lyman Lake.  In the summer of 2017 this bridge was damaged but still crossable one person at a time.  Continue walking north around the lake going left again at a sign that says camps.  There are some excellent camps with views looking all directions at an inlet stream on the west side of the lake, about a half mile in on the camp trail.  Photographing Lyman Lake can be tricky as this lake is deeply recessed with strong shadows even at early evening or morning.  Explore the lake shore going to the north for the best wide angle compositions that will include interesting foreground details.  Take at least two exposures, one for the foreground and one for the sky, to make sure you have adequate dynamic range for post processing.

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Lyman Lake Evening Light

 

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Lyman Lake Shore- A Horizontal Perspective

 

Day Three: From Lyman Lake to just below Cloudy Pass

Head back to the main trail 1279, going left uphill toward Cloudy Pass.  This will be a very short hike of only 2.6 miles and 700 feet elevation gain.  One may be tempted to just skip this altogether and head to the crown jewel of Image Lake.  But I strongly recommend that you include this beautiful wildflower meadow just below Cloudy Pass in your trip agenda.  This will be one of the most productive areas for creative photography with great sunset and sunrise images from Cloudy Pass,  looking out to the east at Bonanza and Chiwawa Mountains, and to the west to Plumber and Sitting Bull Mountains.  In addition to the grand scenic opportunities of this area there will be ample time for capturing more intimate scenes of the meadow itself.   The camp area will be found about 300 feet before Cloudy Pass where the meadow flattens out off on the right side of the trail.  A small stream for water travels through the meadow.  Look for existing campsites and a durable surface and as always, leave no trace.

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“The hills are alive with the Sound of Music”
Lyman Lake from Cloudy Pass

 

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Looking to the West form Cloudy Pass, Fog Bank at Sunrise

 

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Cloudy Pass flower Meadow

 

Day Four and Five (layover day): From Cloudy Pass to Image Lake

After your sunrise photo shoot, break camp and head back up to Cloudy Pass and descend down to the west until you find a trail intersection.  Take the one that goes to the left that is called a “Hiker Shortcut”.   It will rejoin the main trail that will connect with the Pacific Crest Trail at Suiattle Pass which is not particularly photogenic.  At this point you will have traveled about two miles.  After a short distance on the Pacific Crest Trail turn right onto the Miners Ridge trail for a two night side trip to the crown jewel of our trip, Image Lake, about 3.5 miles from Suiattle Pass.  The Miners Ridge trail to Image Lake steadily climbs up a series of switchbacks and eventually breaks out into a very large mountainside meadow that goes as far as the eye can see with Glacier Peak always in full view.  In late July through the middle of August this meadow rivals the Paradise flower fields in its magnificence and splendor and you will want to have a camera constantly in hand.

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Flower Fields and Glacier Peak from the Miners Ridge Trail

 

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Miners Ridge Bouquet of Flowers

 

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Full Expanse of Miners Ridge

Camping is not allowed around Image Lake itself to protect the fragile meadows and also to help ensure that everyone has a quality experience and can  enjoy the lake without looking at tents pitched everywhere around the lake (as was the case  long ago).  I strongly recommend that photographers plan on staying two nights at Image Lake.  There are several reasons for this: (1) it increases the chances that you will  experience good lighting and weather conditions.  It would be a frustrating to say the least to travel this far and miss out and good photographic conditions; (2) the area around Image Lake and back toward Miners Ridge abounds in photographic opportunities and one needs ample amount of time to explore these areas and compositions, (3) you have arrived at a paradise and heaven on earth, enjoy it!; and (4) for those who just cannot stay put there is an about 8 mile round trip trail to the extremely remote Canyon Lake that also has views of Glacier Peak!

 

 

Return to Oz

Return to Oz

In the above image a  image a somewhat ominous and at same time auspicious long standing wave cloud rises like a tornado along side Glacier Peak and Image Lake just before sunrise. Weather events like this one obviously do not happen often, but your odds of experiencing interesting weather increase the longer you stay at Image Lake.

Image lake, unlike Mt. Rainier’s Reflection Lake, actually does not have much of a reflection unless you are  right at the shoreline and then Glacier Peak is not very prominent and is only partially visible above the trees on the distant shore.  The best views can be found by hiking up the way trails on the east side of the lake.  The quality and character of the view will change at different elevations and depending upon if Glacier Peak is centered above the lake or is situated more to the right side.  Both compositions are good.  Going way above the Lake toward the top of Pyramid Peak also offers spectacular views.

 

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Tda-Ko-buh-ba Sunrise
29MM, F11 focus stacked, 1/5s, ISO 800 (for wind)

In the above image, beautiful pasque flowers gone to seed and Image Lake awaken to a rosy sunrise underneath Washington’s most remote volcano, Glacier Peak.  The quality of the light and how it effects Glacier Peak is much different in the morning than the evening.  In the morning the peak appears more crisp and has better definition.  In the evening it is much more of a softer look as one is looking more directly at the sun and a blue haze that typically covers the peak.  This usually clears up once the sun has actually set.   Both wide angle and normal focal lengths work well, with wide angles emphasizing more foreground details and normal focal lengths emphasizing the peak and the lake itself.  A moderate telephoto perspective of about 90 mm will bring details of the peak to life but you will only be able to include a portion of the lake.  For more on this see my blog post “Going Wide, Going Narrow, Creating Layers of Beauty in the Landscape”.   Although most images of the lake are taken as a horizontal, vertical images carefully framed will offer in a unique layered perspective.  Always take a vertical!

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Image Lake just after Sunset
55MM, F11, 1/13s, ISO 800

 

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Image Lake at Dawn 90MM

 

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Image Lake at Sunset
35MM, F11 focus stacked, 1/50s, ISO 800 (for wind)

 

Day Six and Seven (Layover Day): From Image Lake to Buck Creek Pass

You will want to get an early start because this leg of the trip will be the longest in terms of miles (12.8) and there is also significant elevation loss and gain.  Retrace your route along the Miner’s Ridge trail back to the Pacific Crest Junction.  Take a right heading south at the junction following the Crest trail for 1.5 miles and then turn left on trail 789, dropping about 1,000 feet through beautiful Ancient Forests to a crossing of Miners Creek.  Now it is time to gain all that lost elevation back again as you climb up to the meadows of Middle Ridge, where Glacier Peak in all her splendor is visible once again.  Continue on past the turn off to Flower Dome (we will return here later) and on to the turnoff to the camps at Buck Creek Pass.  The camps furthest out along the camp turnoff trail are excellent and will provide you with the best privacy in this area that can be very busy, especially on weekends.

 

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Lupine Flower fields along Middle Ridge

Once you setup camp and have an early dinner, it is time to take a sunset hike to Flower Dome.  Head back about a half mile to the turnoff and then  about another mile to Flower Dome.  Flower dome is  relatively flat on top, and as its  name would suggest is covered with flowers.  Beautiful compositions abound in every direction: wide open lupine meadows, the Suiattle River Valley, and majestic peaks including Glacier, Fortress and Helmett Butte.

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Sierra Club hikers arriving at Flower Dome

 

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Waves of Lupine and Light

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Sunset from Flower Dome

 

On the next day get up well before sunrise and before breakfast make the short trek back to the main trail and large mountain side meadow where there are beautiful views of Glacier Peak and Liberty Cap.  Moderate wide angle compositions will help integrate attractive foreground details with the prominent peaks including Liberty Cap and Glacier Peak.  Telephoto compositions featuring primarily the peaks are also possible.

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Glacier Peak at Sunrise from Buck Creek Pass

After breakfast head out on one of the most spectacular day hikes I have ever taken to Liberty Cap and High Pass.  The trial departs right from the campsite and steadily climbs the slopes of  Liberty Cap and then straddles just below a ridge until eventually arriving at High Pass.  The route goes through some spectacular flower fields when in bloom.  Ideally you will be doing this hike when partial cloud cover provides some filtration of the sun’s harsh rays creating opportunities for mid-day photography.  But if not just be present and enjoy an incredibly awesome experience in the heart of Glacier Peak Wilderness Country.  The hike is about  seven miles round trip so pack a good lunch and perhaps also dinner (enjoy the sunset, and return to camp using headlamps!).

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Wildflowers and Peaks along the trail to High Pass

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Gentium Flowers along the High Pass Trail

 

Day 8: From Buck Creek Pass back to the Car.

Backpack out from Buck Creek Pass on a long but  steadily downhill  9.6 miles to the Phelps Creek trail head.  Congratulations!  You just completed what undoubtedly will be one of the most memorable, satisfying, and photographically productive trips of your life, having traveled deep into a personal wilderness experience that will help shape the very essence of who you are as a person for years to come.

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2018 Calendar: The stories behind the images

I am excited to announce that my 2018 Calendar is now available and can be purchased through this link  Erwin Buske Photography 2018 Calendar.  As was the case last year, I will donate ALL proceeds to the Nature Conservancy.  Here are the images for each month along with some stories behind the images.  All images were taken in about the last twelve months and feature locations either in Washington State or somewhere near Washington.  Thanks everyone for your support and interest over the past year!

 

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January: Early Winter Magic

This image is of beautiful Gold Creek Pond close to sunset yesterday evening. Operating the camera was quite a challenge in the freezing cold temperatures made worse by occasional gusts of wind across the pond, but well worth the effort. I took out my water bottle to stay hydrated and placed it on a snow covered log-less than 15 minutes later is was more ice than water! The hike up Gold Creek was awesome also. I just love this area! Sony A7R2  22MM F16, 1/10S, ISO 100

 

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February: Hall of Mosses Deer Crossing

My daughter Caroline and I spent three days at Kalalock along Washington’s Pacific Coast over her spring break, with visits to Ruby Beach, and the Hoh and Quinault Rain Forests. The weather was at least ten degrees cooler there than here in Seattle and the rain storms came at intervals of about every 15 to 30 minutes. In between storms, however, there were epic conditions for photography with frequent sun breaks and also a few bright colorful rainbows!  Here in the Hoh Rainforest as soon as we parked the car the rains subsided creating an opening for us to hike the Hall of Moses trail along the Hoh River.  Beautiful filtered light entered through the forest canopy creating a soft glowing mysterious look. I set up my tripod at this group of Maples and Caroline said “Daddy there is a deer!”. I said where! And sure enough a deer walked into the scene I had already set up as I was looking through the viewfinder, at which time I cranked up the ISOs to freeze motion and started firing away the shutter!  Nikon D810, 36MM, F14, 1/200s, ISO 1250 to freeze motion.

 

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March: Ecoloa Beach Overlook: Flying West

It was a very awe inspiring experience this early evening to watch the movement of clouds and play of light on the waves. The perspective from the Ecola Overlook is one I never tire of and I find that the early evening light is best for this scene. It was particularly inspiring this evening with the dramatic clouds forming a ring around the sky and a passing gull flying through the scene.  Nikon D810, 28MM, F14, 1/320S, ISO 200.

 

 

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April: Ballad of Big Pink

This image is of sunrise at Roozengaarde Tulip Fields.  This is an example of an image that I did not consciously plan to take and by the good graces of the universe I arrived at the scene with little if any time to spare in order to capture the sun rising.  I planned to head out to the Skagit Valley from my home nearly two hours away around noon.  But at about 3AM I awoke wide awake from sleep and on a quick impulse decided to go then in order to make sunrise.  I arrived at the general area of the Tulip Fields but could not find a suitable field and place to pull the car to the side of the road even as the sunrise was starting and beautiful colors will filling the sky.  I thought at this point that I totally missed it in terms of “getting the shot” and as I was driving to get some coffee and breakfast I noticed a group of cars parked at the edge of what appeared to be a Tulip Field.  I quickly pulled into a field parking area and more clearly saw these pink tulips about a couple of blocks away.  I quickly grabbed my photo pack and  ran down the muddy path arriving just in time to setup and shoot!  Sony A7R2 35MM, F16, 1/2S, ISO 125

 

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May: Palouse Waves and Patterns

This image is of Palouse Waves and Patterns as viewed from Steptoe Butte.  When one  first arrives at Steptoe Butte the temptation is to take wide sweeping panoramas of the area, but in my experience the best shots are more of the narrow field images that emphasize the waves and patterns of the rolling wheat fields.   This image was taken with my 300MM lens with a 1.4 teleconverter attached.  Nikon D800, 300MM, F13, 1/15S, ISO 100

 

Rebirth

June: New Morning

At no time is the transformation of Mt. St. Helens more apparent than early summer when the first flowers appear in large drifts cascading down the mountainsides. Within my own lifetime I have witnessed a change going from ashes to Eden~  This image was taken just after sunrise.  This is a focus stack of several images taken at F8, 16MM,1/50s, ISO 400mm, Sony A7R2.

 

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July: Walking into a Dream 2

The best wild flower meadow that I know about is this one at  Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, Mount Rainier National Park. This cabin is perfectly situated in as beautiful setting as I could ever imagine and when approaching the cabin through the meadow it is like walking into a beautiful dream. Indian Henry, known as Soo-Too-Lick, early on (1883) guided several familiar names to Mt. Rainier including the Hunting Grounds, these familiar names include James Longmire, Philemon Beecher Van Trump and John Muir. Indian Henry was a Cowlitz Indian, beloved by many people.  Sony A7R2 29MM, F16, 120S, ISO 200

 

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August: Image Lake at Sunrise

Beautiful pasque flowers gone to seed and Image Lake awaken to a rosy sunrise underneath Washington’s most remote volcanic peak, known by the Suak Indian Tribe as “Tda-ko-buh-ba”, but also known as Glacier Peak. This location in the Glacier Peak Wilderness comes as close to heaven on earth as anything my imagination can possibly conjure up. Looking out across the meadow and lake to Glacier Peak one feels the pure essence of a wilderness area, an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by people, and where we are just visitors who cannot remain in a place of such unspoiled beauty. Image Lake is not very accessible and I approached the lake as part of an extended 7 day backpacking trip with the Sierra Club in August of 2017. Our route took us up and over Spyder Gap’s Lyman Glacier, scrambling down into the Lyman Lake Basin, up and over Cloudy Pass, over to Image Lake, and out through Flower Dome and Buck Creek Pass-about a 60 mile loop trip including side trips.
Western pasqueflower, or Anemone occidentalis has a less than showy bloom but you won’t miss the next stage, which resembles a fuzzy mop of hair. An early bloomer, the seed pods last all summer on mountain slopes and meadows in middle to high elevations. This is a focus stack of 6 images taken at F11, 29MM, 1/5s, ISO 800 (to reduce movement caused by wind.

 

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September: Where the Angels Roam

This image is from my trip to Mt. Rainier in September of 2017. While driving up US 410 to circle around Rainier I passed through thicker and thicker smoke. This summer almost half of the days have been like this, drab and smoky due to forest fires in the area including the Norse Peak Fire on the northeast side of Rainier. The smoke actually helped me at Silver Falls as it combined with clouds to produce some spectacular mid-day filtered light. But this same layer of clouds and smoke did nothing but diminish the view of Mt. Rainier to the point where it was almost unrecognizable through the haze. I felt some winds blowing in the area and on a hunch, I thought Bench Lake would be a good place to go for sunset if some of the smoke would just blow away. It took almost ten minutes before sunset for this to happen, but for ten precious minutes the reward was absolute bliss, and some of the best light I have ever seen in this area!  Sony A7R2 23MM, F16, 1s, ISO 100

 

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October: Guardian of the Camp

The small peninsula in the Enchantments upon which we made our camp was evidently the home of this particular Mountain Goat who was our almost constant companion during our stay at the Enchantment Lakes!  The closer I moved toward the goat the closer she also moved toward me.  With the Kid goat not far away, I decided to go not closer than this!.  Sony A7R2, F14, 1/160S, ISO 100

 

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November: Elowah Mystery of Autumn

This image is of beautiful Elowah Falls looking through the veil of moss covered boulders sprinkled with maple leaves, moss covered branches and the warm atmosphere of Autumn.  Getting this image was no small challenge, not so much because of the difficulties of navigating a steep and slippery hillside down to this shooting location, but because once I arrived I saw about six unattended tripods planted right in the river in front of me.  Luckily the workshop leader agreed to temporarily move his group out of the way so I could capture this shot.  I am hoping this area will be spared by the recent Eagle Creek Fire, but if not it will be wonderful to experience the renewal of this area in the years ahead.   Sony A7R2 16MM, F11, 1/4s, 1S0 160, this is a focus stack of several images.

 

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December: Garfield Whispers of Winter Approaching

In early December, I took one of those long hikes in the light rain that makes me happy I live in the Pacific Northwest-yes I love hiking in light rain! This time I headed west (rather than east) along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, past rainy creek and on to Pratt River. What a spectacular section of trail through the rain forest! I especially like the sounds of the light rain falling on the trees and bushes against the constant roar of the Snoqualmie River occasionally with the accompaniment of small creeks and streams swollen with near constant rain. There was only one brief opening and I retook this image, this time with a dusting of snow on Garfield Mountain and some clouds rolling through the valley.  This image won third place in the Washington Wild (a Conservation Advocacy Group) 2017 photo competition.  Sony A7R2, 16MM, F16, 8s, ISO 125, 5 stop neutral density filter

Finding your Photographic Vision and the Search for the Authentic Self

One character trait that I have found in Landscape Photographers is that they are always searching.  They are searching around the next bend for a better perspective for their subject, be it a mountain, lake, or field of wildflowers.  They are also working with previously unexplored ways (to them at least) of creating images: black and white photography, abstracts, new processing techniques and macros.  They begin exploring the use of a more telephoto perspective, perhaps a tilt/shift, or an extreme wide angle lens.  Landscape photographers will research for hours looking for a unique destinations or composition finds.  All of this searching and exploration typically occurs against a background of constantly evolving sense of self and who the photographer is as a person. But the landscape photographer may be barely aware the he/she is changing as a person.

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Denali Polychrome River Delta & in Monochrome (120 mm) 

 

The Photographers Path

I have read through a large number of bios of landscape photographers (including my own) and there seems to be a common thread of what brought them to landscape photography that goes something like this.  “Early on I started out my photographic journey with a desire to share the incredible beauty I was witnessing during my hikes, backpacks and adventures in the great out of doors.  I purchased my first camera and started taking and sharing images.  Although these images were not that good people reacted favorably to them which helped encourage me to develop my photographic skills which are still evolving to this day.”  There is often little mention in these bios of any inward journey or even personal struggles that helped shape who the photographer is today.

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Secrets of the Forest (Poo Poo Point, but such a scene could at a forest anywhere 470 mm)

 

Conformity in Photography

Recently I have read numerous posts and essays from accomplished landscape photographers who are concerned that we are headed toward a visual conformity of images and styles in the field of landscape photography.  These posts often place the blame on the social media and how it acts to influence the behavior of the photographer causing people to gravitate to the same iconic sites and compositions that seem to be popular on the internet.  The antidote to all of this is typically to distance oneself from the influence of the social media, stop shooting iconic sites, start exploring out of the way previously undiscovered places, and to put down the expansive wide angle lens and take up different approaches to photography including abstracts, black and white, macros, etc.

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Wild Geranium Sunrise at Oxbow Bend (Iconic yes but I believe this is unique 23mm)

 

I struggle with this characterization of events that have led to the current conformity of visual content and styles in landscape photography and also the recommended steps to separate oneself from the herd.  Finding ones photographic vision is intrinsically related to a lifelong journey of discovery of ones authentic self.  If one is firmly planted on this inward journey one can faithfully deliver ones photographic vision at either an iconic site or at one known to no other.  What makes one vision unique is not the physical location but the integration of one’s inward journey  with the physical landscape.  I am constantly amazed that  just when I thought I have seen everything when it comes to an iconic landscape someone will come along with a very unique vision for that place.  What I typically notice with such photographs is a tremendous sense of enthusiasm for the iconic site and a story where the photographer shares some of their inner journey, often emotionally based, that helped shape the image.

 

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Spiral (35mm)

 

There is little doubt that changing ones shooting style, lets say trying black and white or macros, can help develop the photographers skill set and may even remove blocks in the way of bringing his/her vision to fruition.  But these steps should not be mistaken for the vision itself.  There are plenty of black and white images that lack vision just as there are hundreds of images of obscure and unknown places that slip into mediocrity.  A transition to a different photographic style and shooting locations also makes sense as a marketing strategy to better differentiate ones product.  But vision is ultimately connected with integration of ones inner landscape with the the outer landscape, not  a particular kind of photography or location.

 

 

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Foggy Trail (Mt. Si the most traveled trail in King County looking quite different! 16mm)

Social Media

To me social media has received a bad rap in all of this.  If anything the social media is neutral and merely a reflection of the photographic community.  There is no doubt that blindly chasing the social media in order to achieve greater popularity will cause people to gravitate to iconic sites, image cliches, excessive use of wide angle compositions, and eye candy sunrises and sunsets.  But the social media itself is not responsible for this behavior.  Each photographer must choose how to convey his/her photographic vision.  It is not a personal vision if one is merely recreating compositions and processing methods of those who came before them.

I would go as far as to say that any photographer that has rose to popularity in the past five years and perhaps going back even as far as ten years owes his/her rise in no small measure to being discovered by the social media.  With perhaps a few exceptions they would be all virtual unknowns if it were not for the ability of social media to bring them visibility.  Even as the photographer gets discovered by the social media, many will then attempt to distance themselves from what brought them to fame and this is typically done in critical discussions of the social media on you guessed it the social media itself!  It is understandable, however, that photographers would eventually take this step of limiting the effects of social media, sometimes even going into a social media celibacy. The path of discovering ones true creative potential, ones authentic self, may demand just this.

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Prickly Pear Macro (105mm Macro)

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Jade Vine Abstract (105mm Macro)

 

The Authentic Self

That we can discover ourselves suggests that there is more to us than we know and we are mostly a mystery to ourselves. We do not know “all we are.”   There is a movement in evolution of American history and culture called Transcendentalism that will help us in the understanding of the Authentic Self.   Depth psychology pioneered by Carl Jung can also help us in understanding concepts that will shed some light on what it means to discover one’s Authentic Self.

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Indian Beach Dreamtime Stepping Stones: Jung thought dreams provided important insight into the workings of the unconscious mind (19mm)

 

Transcendentalism

A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature.  A common theme especially in the writings of Thoreau is going back to nature to find one’s self in other words finding ones own Waldon Pond!  Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly self reliant and independent.  Key figures in the American transcendentalist movement include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  Adherents believe that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with as little attention and deference to past masters as possible.   Transcendentalists have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community can form. Even with this necessary individuality, transcendentalists also believe that all people possess a piece of the Oversoul or (God). Because the Over-soul is one, this unites all people as one being.

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Spirit of our Ancestors (A different view of iconic Spirit Falls) (16mm)

Now you are probably asking what has this to do with Landscape Photography?  Finding ones self will involve becoming more self reliant and limiting the influence of others and the social media on ones own creative development.  Finding ones self may also involve a more deliberate return to nature and meeting nature on its own terms without preconceived notions for an image.

“Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self.  There is something which you can do better than another.  Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that.  Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.”

—-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

 

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Rivers Bend Eagle Cap Wilderness (I have never seen this photographed before 16mm)

Depth Psychology and Carl Jung

The self in Jungian Psychology is an archtype signifying the unification of consciousness and unconsciousness in a person, and representing the psyche as a whole.  The Self is realized as the product of individuation which in his view is the process of integrating one’s personality.  Jung, like the Transcendentalists considered that from birth every individual has an original sense of wholeness – of the Self – but the development of a separate ego-consciousness diminishes the sense of Self.   This process of ego-differentiation is necessary providing the skills one needs to make a living and survive in society and is the task of about the first half of one’s life-course, though Jungians also saw psychic health as depending on a periodic return to the sense of Self, something facilitated by the use of myths, initiation ceremonies, and rites of passage.  The task for the second half of life (may be earlier for artists) has more to do with individuation and the integration of unconscious (personal and collective) and conscious elements in order to achieve the health of the pysche as a whole.  This involves confronting ones own shadow or parts of one self that one does not want to acknowledge as one progresses to self knowledge.

Now again you are probably  wondering even more what does this have to do with landscape photography?  Finding ones vision in photography will require a lifelong path of self discovery and the road ahead will be difficult to follow and ultimately can be only followed by the self reliant individual alone.  Just as new landscapes are discovered, the individual will discover previously hidden parts of him/herself that will set a new course for the journey.  Great works of art are often created not so much with the completion of this journey but during the emotionally charged struggles along the way as one resists coming to terms with all elements of who one is as a person  This is the journey of the artist and what Joseph Campbell referred to as the hero’s journey.

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Misty Morning at Yellowstone Falls (Iconic yes but definitely a different mood!  Iconic sites can have symbolic value in the collective consciousness  62mm)

Authentic Self Revisited

Finding ones authentic self for most of us is not a journey that will end anytime soon.  Just when I think I know myself I will find out I do not know myself hardly at at all.  And that is how it should be.  It is a process of self discovery coinciding with our photographic journey.  Ones emotions rising out of the process of self discovery will merge with and become part of ones feelings about the landscape and together find their way into the artists photographic creations.  If you stay in tune to this struggle and journey it will shape your vision as photographer allowing you to distinguish yourself  both shooting the iconic subject and your favorite haunts that no one else knows about but you!

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Sounds of Silence (A seldom photographed spot along the Kendal  Snowshoe Trail 18mm)

Thanks for reading this blog post.  Your comments, concerns, and perspectives on this issue are all welcome!  If you like this post and want to see future posts please subscribe to the blog.  Thanks again!

 

 

 

Visiting and Photographing the Enchantments

The Enchantments are calling!  This in an enchanted land of beautiful azurite and indigo blue high mountain lakes  with names like Leprechaun, Perfection, Inspiration, and Temple Lakes.  In Autumn, stunningly beautiful larch trees turn bright orange colors that glow in soft luminous light.  Large peaks made up of huge slabs of granite with names like Prusik, McClellan, and Little Annapurna rise high above the lakes and are reflected beautifully into the calm waters as the  sun rises and sets.  The granite rocks around the lakes almost look like they were placed there by the Gods to create leading lines and curves to transport us into the beauty of each lake and the surrounding landscape.  This in short is a photographer’s paradise, as close to heaven on earth as we will get in our mortal lives.

baseline-for-white-balance-changescompLarches in the Enchanted Mists

The Enchantments are located in the northeastern section of Washington State’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, USA, close to the town of Leavenworth.  I consider the Enchantments are one of the wonders of this world and I harbor great memories of these beautiful blue and rock-bound lakes spanning the last four decades of my life. I have made a journey to this iconic site about every ten years since my late teens. When I received an email notice in CY 2015 that I had won the Enchantments Lottery I was totally stoked!  This time the trip felt like a return journey, somewhat like a spiritual pilgrimage to my roots–a pristine wilderness that has helped shape my photographic journey. With permit in hand, I organized a six-day backpacking trip as a photography oriented trip through the Seattle Mountaineers. Photography backpacks are much different from a typical organized backpacking trip. The pace and tempo of this trip is centered around photography. This meant frequent stops along the trail and organizing our schedule to be at the right places for at least a two to three hours window around sunrise and sunset. I deliberately kept the number of participants at a small number, five, to make sure each of the photographers had a quality experience and were not stepping over each other trying to get the image. Participants were also carefully screened as this is a physically challenging backpack.

I was even more thrilled the following year when a friend, Kris Harken, reached out to me with an invitation to join his team to visit the Enchantments once more in CY 2016.  This time I could capture all those compositions I realized I missed in the previous year!  I think it would take multiple lifetimes of annual trips to fully capture the beauty of the Enchantment, this area abounds in so much nuanced beauty.  On the last trip we were forced to leave early due to heavy and unrelenting snow so I did not shoot all the site I had previsualized.  Hopefully I will return to the Enchantments soon or perhaps in my next life!

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Leprechaun Lake

In this post I will discuss visiting and photographing the Enchantments in Autumn including the following topics: Getting a Permit, Route, Conditioning, Cold Weather Preparations, Importance of Packing Light, Camera Gear, Compositions, Light, Wildlife, Larches, and the Magic of the Enchantments.

Getting a Permit

Going to the Enchantments requires a permit for overnight camping.  This requirement is strictly enforced by the Forest Service to reduce the environmental impact that comes with too many people loving this place to death.  From the Okanogan Wenatchee Forest Website: “Due to the overwhelming popularity of this unique area, all overnight visitors must obtain a limited entry FEE permit for trips planned between May 15 and October 31. Demand for overnight permits far exceeds the number available, therefore advance reservations are highly recommended. A pre-season lottery is held in February through early March of each year to allocate the majority of permits.  Following the pre-season lottery, remaining permits are available on a first come, first served basis through the recreation.gov advance reservation system. A small number of permits are available on an unreserved daily walk-in basis.”

Because this area is extremely popular, far more people apply for a permit than there are permits available, especially in Autumn.  Only 60 people are allowed in the Core Enchantment area at any one time.  The good news, however, is that a permit holder can lead a trip that includes as many as eight people.  So even if you are not lucky enough to get a permit, someone you known many be kind enough to invite you on their trip!  There are different Enchantment Lakes permit zones and the most desirable one is the Core Enchantment Zone because it allows you to camp at the lower Enchantment Lakes for up to eight nights.  Keep in mind that the lower Enchantment Lakes are about 7,000 feet high in elevation and offer the best views of large collections of larches.

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Leprechaun Lake Sunrise

Route

For my last two trips to the Enchantments, we entered through the Snow Lake trailhead just outside the Washington town of Leavenworth along the Icicle Creek. The first day we climbed approximately 3,500 feet over five miles to the beautiful deep woods Nada Lake. Then on the next day we hiked past Snow Lakes then scrambled up the steep trail to the Enchantments Leprechaun Lake where we camped for three nights before returning through Nada Lake .  Although this route is longer and involves more elevation gain than going over Asgard Pass (the alternative route), generally it involves less steep climbing, traversing through scree and boulder hoping.  I love the sense of a journey that one gets taking the route through the Snow Lake trail entrance.  Camping at beautiful Nada lake offers a great transition zone between the sub-alpine and alpine helping whet the appetite for even greater beauty ahead.

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2016 Enchantments0387compr1Nada Lake Sunset

Conditioning

Many people who are lucky enough to get a permit and very surprised at the difficulty of the trip once they embark on their adventure.  This multi-day backpacking trip requires extensive conditioning if you are going to enjoy the trip in comfort.  Before beginning your journey take multiple day hikes that involve elevation gain in the range of three to five thousand feet, for example in the Seattle area Mail Box, Granite Mountain, and Mt. Washington.  Also before launching off, go on a couple of overnight backpacking trips of six miles or more and two to three thousand elevation gain with a backpack in the range of 35 to 45 pounds.  There is nothing like actually hiking and backpacking for conditioning, and although time spent at the fitness center helps, this alone will not prepare you for the Enchantments experience.

Cold Weather Preparations

In most years peak season for the larches is the last week of September and the first week of October.  Go any earlier and one risks the larches still being partially green.  Go later and one risks the larch trees being stripped of their orange needles due to fierce wind storms that pass through the area.  Although during this time the Enchantments experience what is known as the Indian Summer with warm days and cool crisp nights under cloudless skies, this is punctuated by storms passing through the area that can bring freezing cold temperatures, dark gray moisture laden clouds, and snow.  It is not uncommon to wake up to 2 to 6 inches of snow and temperatures in the teens.  This happened on both of my recent trips.  So cold weather preparations or in order.  This means a four season tent, a sleeping bag that can go down to 15 degrees or below, multiple layers of warmth, head to toe water proof rain/wind gear, gloves, and a warm beanie type hat.

Winter LayerscompFusion of Fall and Winter at the Enchantments

Importance of Packing Light

Maintaining a good comfort level on a multi-day backpacking trip has everything to do with keeping weight of the backpack at a manageable level of between 35 and 45 pounds.  This challenge is doubly hard for us photographers because not only do we need to carry extra layers of warm clothing and a four season tent, but also we need to carry camera gear including a tripod.  One needs to think carefully through what one brings along because every ounce counts.  I strongly recommend to photographers to carry an ultralight sleeping bag, tent, rain gear, clothing etc.  But this does not mean accepting significant compromises in functionality. Three season tents will be crushed under the weight of a heavy snowstorm and a sleeping bag that only goes down to 35 degrees will not keep you warm when temperatures dip down into the teens.  Ultralight gear can be expensive, but there are deals to be  found at the REI Garage, Backcountry.Com and other outlets.

Camera Equipment

My recommendation is to  take only two lenses and at the most three.  The lens that is most useful at the Enchantments is a wide-angle zoom closely followed by a telephoto zoom.  I have never found the need for a standard zoom at the Enchantments except to take candid images of people and an I-phone will work just fine for that.  On my last trip I brought a Sony A7R2 mirrorless camera, a Zeiss 16-35 4.0 lens, and a Zeiss 70-200 4.0 telephoto zoom.  The wide-angle will work great for including important foreground detail in the grand landscape composition and the telephoto zoom works perfectly for small area compositions, abstracts, a compressed perspective,  wildlife and even macro.  One may want to supplement this with a small fixed focal length 2.8 manual focus wide-angle lens for stars.  I brought the Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 for this purpose.  My entire system including the Induro Stealth carbon fiber tripod weighed in at about seven pounds.  Bringing a mirrorless system brought the weight and form factor down considerably .  If I brought my much more bulky and heavy Nikon D810 DSLR and equivalent lenses I would have easily carried an additonal three pounds.   It is noted that it is not just the weight that one needs to keep at a minimum but also the bulk of items, because with less real estate one does not need as big of backpack to carry all the equipment.  Bigger backpacks tend to be heavier and also do not balance weight as good as a smaller backpack.  Mirrorless cameras and most lenses designed for mirrorless are much smaller than their DSLR counterparts.

Compositions

The lower Enchantment Basin consists primarily of boulders and slabs of polished granite. For grand wide-angle landscapes, one of the keys to finding a successful composition involves finding one of these granite slabs or collection of slabs and boulders that provide leading lines and curves that transport the viewer into the larger scene that will often include a lake and a prominent peak.  This is also how to make your composition unique.  There are literally hundreds of these slabs and boulders surrounding each of the lakes.  Out of any one slab, I could make literally hundreds of different compositions simply by getting closer to the lake or moving further away, changing focal length, and rising and lowering the camera and the direction of the lens ,  working with the ever-changing light.  You do not need to worry about stomp comping here if you work the scene as just described and follow your own intentions for the scene in executing your personal style and vision.

0497EnchantmentsAnd8morer2Stepping Stones to Enchanted Autumn

In the above scene notice the stepping-stones in the foreground leading down to the lake. In the next image I decided to follow one of the granite slabs to an area above Leprechaun Lake and this created an optimal viewing platform and foreground that transported my eyes down the mountainside to the lake and McClellan Peak beyond.  There is a strong line going from the right side of the image to the left that also forms a U shape curve in the lower right section of the image.  The key is to make sure the foreground is well-integrated with the larger scene and do not just select the foreground because it is appealing in its own right.  Orienting the scene around foreground will often make the composition look forced rather than bringing a more organic and free flowing feel to the image.  Look at the scene and how it effects your mood and emotions, determine your intentions, and only then start working the technical details of focal length, specific foreground details, tripod placement, ISO, F-stop and shutter speed.

Slopping Rock CompEnchantments Sliding Rock

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The classic composition in the Enchantments typically involves one of the prominent peaks reflected beautifully in the water of one of the lakes.  But you can make yours more unique by also including attractive foreground elements and framing of the peak and reflection such as I was able to accomplish in the next image.

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A telephoto zoom lens is indispensable for smaller area compositions that feature the lines and patterns of the granite slabs and boulders punctuated by blazing orange larch trees..  It takes some training of the eye to isolate an area of the larger scene that will make a good composition but it is well worth the effort because these compositions will be very unique and help balance out an Enchantment Lakes portfolio that is heavy on lake images.  This is an area I plan to work far more in future visits to the Enchantments.

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0818EnchantmentscompAutumn Larches below Granite Cliffs

A telephoto lens can also be used to capture even smaller subjects and details such as this next image of a snow-covered larch branch.

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Lighting

Most of the featured images I have seen of the Enchantments are taken at sunset which is a great time to capture soft light, and colorful dramatic clouds and skies.  This, however, in my opinion is not the best time to capture well illuminated larches.  I have found the best light to actually be about an hour after sunrise and about an hour  before sunset.  Digital enhancement and painting on light can only go so far if the light was not there in the first place.  The lower Enchantment basin is deeply recessed beneath the towering peak and it is only then the light will penetrate low enough to sufficiently illuminate the larches to get the desired effect.  The lighting will also be far more nuanced in this time period with areas of light and shadow.  If there are clouds and mist in the area and the sun can still get through, the effects will be even more splendid.

Leprechaun Sunset  Leprechaun Lake at Sunset

larches-with-character-compEpiphany (Leprechaun Lake one hour after sunrise)

Tidelands no StackCompLeprechaun Lake Tidelands (One hour after sunrise)

Fish and Wildlife

The lower Enchantment Lakes are teaming with trout, and this area is one of the best in the Alpine Lakes for the sports fisherman.

Caroline Buske Family PhotoKris Harken’s Lucky Day

There are Mountain Goats in abundance at the Lower and Upper Enchantment Lakes.  You can expect them to wander into your campsite in the mornings and evenings creating multiple opportunities for both wide-angle and telephoto capture.

2016 Enchantments0001Guardian of the Camp

0270EnchantmentsMama and Kid Goat checking out the intruders!

Larches

About one hour  after sunrise and one hour before sunset the Larches are at their best.  In this next image I captured a beautiful collection of side-lit larches reflected in a small tarn.  It is also possible to find single specimens to capture the beauty and character of an ancient larch.

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The Magic of the Enchantments

In this post I have  expressed my own perspective about capturing the magic of the Enchantments.  I hope some of what I wrote here will  provide you some helpful guides as you follow your own instincts, personal vision and style in creating your own images that capture the Magic of the Enchantments.   Thanks for looking, sharing and your comments are always greatly appreciated.

Utopia, Costa Rica, and Peace on Earth

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Lyrics from JOHN LENNON’s Imagine

Last week my wife Julia, our daughter Caroline and I flew to San Jose, Costa Rica for a 8 day tour of this beautiful country with Caravan Tours.  I am not much for guided tours, but we heard good things about Caravan and thought it would be a great way to introduce ourselves to Costa Rica.  On the tour bus heading to our first stop at the Poras Volcano National Park, I chatted with a tour participant about Costa Rica.  I said that we heard that Costa Rica is a tropical paradise, a stable democracy, educated, and relatively affluent for a Central American Country.  She said YES, this place is UTOPIA!   Utopia–hmm, the last time I thought about Utopia was back in the sixties (which for me was really the seventies) when “Give Peace a Chance” was a mantra for a anti-establishment generation fed up with wars in Southeast Asia.  Many  of us focused our attention on finding a more perfect green, and peaceful world only to later to be co-opted into a me generation more focused on career growth and the trappings of rising affluence and status.  Utopia, lets hold that thought while I introduce the first stop along our tour!

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Poas Volcano Crater and Lake

I feel lucky that during our brief visit to Poas National Park that we were able hike through the cloud forest and see the Poas Volcano Crater and Lake. The Volcano and Lake are only visible about 30% of the time, so one is throwing the dice with a brief visit. Poas has erupted 39 times in the last two centuries and is a very active volcano. The crater is over 8,000 feet in elevation.

Costa Rica is one of the most progressive nations on earth when it comes to protecting its wild areas with over 30% of the nation consisting of National Parks. By way of contrast the US is about 14% with much of that land in Alaska. Everywhere I went in Costa Rica it was evident the Government and People were going through great lengths to protect the natural environments and endangered species.  Costa Rica was twice ranked the best performing country in the New Economic Foundation’s (NEF) Happy Planet Index, which measures environmental sustainability, and was identified by the NEF as the greenest country in the world.  Costa Rica officially plans to become a carbon neautral country by 2021.  So Costa Rica, while perhaps not exactly Utopia, ranks high as a country that has gone farther than others in taking steps to ensure environmental sustainability, protection of natural beauty and habitat, and reducing its environmental footprint.

After the Poas Volcano we headed toward Fortuna and the home of another beautiful Volcano, Arenal.  Along the way we stopped a beautiful church, the  Iglesia de San Rafael, located in the mountain village of Zarcero, Alajuela.  I just loved the effect of the afternoon light coming in through the stained glass windows.  This church and many others that dot the countryside also serve as a reminder that this nation is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, a unifying cultural influence.  If this place is Utopia, religion still has a strong role in the lives of the people.

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Iglesia de San Rafael

Along the way we also passed through coffee, banana, guava, and pinapple plantations-a reminder that although tourism plays an important role in the Costa Rica economy, so does agriculture.  Increasingly, however, Costa Rica uses immigrant labor from Nicaragua to harvest their crops, as the pay is not adequate for most Costa Rican’s who have grown accustomed to the highest standard of living in Central America.

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Banana Flower Blossom

Our next stop and home for two nights was our hotel in Fortuna, located right at the base of the Arenal Volcano National Park.

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Arenal Volcano at Sunset

Arenal is one of seven historically active Costa Rican volcanoes along with Poás, Irazú, Miravalles, Orosí, Rincón de la Vieja , and Turrialba and is considered one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. It has been studied by seismologists for many years.The volcano is located at the center of Arenal Volcano National Park in the northern part of the country.  In 1968 it erupted unexpectedly, destroying the small town of Tabacón.  This serves as a reminder that although in certain conditions this country looks beautiful, calm and peaceful, there are explosive volcanic and potentially destructive forces lurking underneath the ground that at anytime can erupt and change forever the landscape as we know it.

The next day we were back on the bus for a field trip to a Rio Frio river cruise through the Costa Rican jungle and the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, way up north toward the Nicaraguan border.  Along the way our tour guide Rebecca informed us that Costa Rica is a nation without an Army.  In 1948, Jose Figueres, then president of Costa Rica, made a fiery and eloquent speech, after which he took a sledgehammer and bashed a hole in a huge stone wall at the nation’s military headquarters, Cuartel Bellavista. Its imposing towers and massive gates had loomed over the capital city of San Jose since 1917, the country’s premier symbol of military power and the home of the “Tico” military establishment.

Figueres was not just being a showman; he was announcing something truly extraordinary: Henceforth, Costa Rica would take the almost unheard-of step of renouncing its military. At the conclusion of the ceremony, he publicly handed the keys to the minister of education, announcing that Bellavista would be transformed into a national art museum and the nation’s military budget would be redirected toward healthcare, education and environmental protection.

Figueres was painfully aware that Costa Rica’s military, like that of other Central American states, had been used to suppress domestic uprisings and undertake coups, especially against governments perceived to be left-leaning like his (even if they were actually more middle of the road).  Eliminating the military would also eliminate the possibility of military coups.  But how does a country surrounded by unstable neighbors protect its borders without a military?.  Somehow Costa Rica has managed.  When Nicaragua made a territorial claim to a Costa Rican island on the Carribean side of the nation, kicked out the Costa Rican residents, and built a military airport things got testy. But a simple meeting at a San Jose hotel conference center between Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, the President of Costa Rica and Obama was enough to diffuse this crisis. Nicaragua gave up its claim and Costa Rica gained a new airfield.  I kept thinking to myself that if more nations eliminated their military the world would be a much more peaceful place and once again I started dreaming of utopia.  The Utopian vision may never be fully reachable, but it is a vision that can help guide us to a more evolved world with fewer if any military engagements.  Realistically this is not be possible for superpowers like the USA, but it is certainly possible for the nations of Central America, and without exception they would be better off.

Time to awaken from this utopian dream and get back to reality.  We are on the river cruse through the jungle and we come to the banks of the Rio Frio River where there is a group of White Face Monkeys.

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White Face Monkey

This Alpha Male White Face Monkey separated himself from a pack of monkeys playing on the river bank. He walked out on small tree branches close to our boat, aggressively started banging branches toward our boat and making loud noises signaling for us to go away. The captain only staid here a few brief moments, during which time I was able to capture this shot.

The next day we enjoyed fresh Costa Rican coffee at sunrise and headed out to the JW Marrior Resort at Guanacasste Beach along the Pacific Ocean.  We felt blessed to see the volcano in full view as the chance of seeing this is no greater than about 30%.

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Arenal Volcano in rare full view at Sunrise 

Guanacaste Beach is located along the Pacific Ocean in an area that a lot of Americans have chosen as their new home in retirement. Although attractive, this dry and hot area would not be my first choice and I preferred the cooler jungle areas around the Arenal and Poras Volcano’s. I can understand the attraction, however, for the scores of American Baby Boomers who call or are planning to call Costa Rica their new home.  They can find their peace of near Utopian beach paradise for a fraction of the cost of places such as California, Florida and Hawaii.

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Guanacaste Beach Sunrise

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Lone Tree Guanacaste Beach 

After leaving Guanacaste Beach we headed south toward Panama for another jungle cruise and a chance to see crocodiles in the wild along the Tarcoles River.

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This Croc is patiently waiting for his lunch. How would you like to be the dental hygenist responsible for cleaning this guy’s teeth?!  While Costa Rica may be as close to Utopia as one can get here on earth, there is danger lurking in the waters of the rivers, and I would not recommend swimming!

Nest up on our tour and final destination is the San Bada Hotel just steps away from Manuel Antonio National Park.

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Floating Free as a Bird 

Here is a sunset view from the roof top of the San Bada Hotel, where we just arrived after a long drive and were in desperate need of refreshment. This also just happened to be happy hour with unlimited complementary Pina Coladas! How would you like to be the paraglider gliding through this scene?

So back to our opening question: is Costa Rica utopia?  Well after an eight day tour through the country and doing some of my own research, I would say not.  There is still crime in this country and also a significant number of people are living close to the poverty line. But the nation is blessed with a climate, natural beauty, culture and government that has brought the country closer to the Utopian vision than just about any other place on earth. For a young Costa Rican coming of age, I am certain that it is comforting to know that their nation has undertaken the right decisions to ensure that they are not only prosperous now but also that the beautiful environment in which they live is sustainable not only for the immediate future but also for future generations.  It is also comforting for them to know that their nation’s resources are not being used to support a military that historically has worked against the evolutionary development of the nation, but instead these resources have been directed toward education and the well being of its  citizens.

Thanks everyone for taking time to read this blog.  Your comments and feedback are always greatly appreciated!  Thanks again for looking!

Wilderness Gone Viral

Are we loving our wilderness and natural areas to death?  Social media is creating an increased awareness among photographers, backpackers and hikers of new opportunities to visit beautiful locations in our National Parks, Forests and Wilderness Areas.  Thanks to Facebook and Instagram this information now travels like wild fire, especially when someone posts a beautiful image of a previously not so well known location.  Some of these images come from professional photographers, but they also come from people who have developed the knack for taking awesome images with their cell phones including selfies against a background of nature’s infinite splendor and beauty.

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Franklin Falls Love and Death

Above is an image from a couple years back of Franklin Falls. During the year I took this image I showed up at these Falls a couple of times and in both instances there was absolutely no one there, just the sound of the water, otherwise silence and solitude. No such luck anymore! This landmark close to Washington State’s  I-90 has become the latest hot-spot to attract throngs of visitors including some groups approaching fifty or more people. I have seen a few images this year where there were literally over a hundred people around the Falls, one was recently published by the Seattle Times. Now it is easy to understand why this is so, this place is absolutely beautiful, especially in Winter. Everyone has an equal right to go there. Social media increased awareness of the site, now everyone wants to go and shoot that precious selfie with the ice covered falls in the background!

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A multitude of people at Rattlesnake Ledge on a Sunday Afternoon

All of this raises an interesting dilemma for photographers. Do I let people know precisely where an image was taken, or should I just be general and not share important details? For the most part I have chosen to share the detail and am likely at least partially responsible for throngs of people loving certain sites to death.  Anytime I have an image that goes viral, I notice a definite uptick in people going to that very same location.  Now of course I am not that only one that contributes to this and there are photographers with far more influence than me who also contribute to making sites go viral.  But as others go to the same site, they encourage still others to go, and so on and so forth as droves of people head to a trending site.   The sites we are talking about, however, are not only online but also occupy physical space in the great outdoors!

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Gold Creek Pond (I have seen about a twofold increase in visitors this year)

What is a photographer like me to do?  Should I stop  posting pictures on Facebook so at least I do not help nurture too much awareness of a beautiful landscape?  For the most part I have chosen to not do this and here is the reason why.  Awareness is one of the best ways to protect a beautiful landscape.   The most dedicated and passionate supporters of our natural areas are people who visit them on a regular basis.  So in one sense the more people that visit a natural area (National Parks, other Public Lands, and even Private Lands), the better.  But although awareness is one of the best ways to protect a beautiful landscape, it is also potentially the cause of lowering the quality of the wilderness experience.

Some of you may ask: “Erwin-should not we keep our secret spots private and not let others know about them?”  In part I agree with this and I have a few places that I keep secret also.  But if you are going to post images of these private spots on social media I doubt they will be secret for long.  People can use an image as a basis to search and make a correlation with google earth to find out the exact spot.  This search process is similar to face recognition except in is site recognition.  The cat almost always finds its way out of the bag!  So if you truly want to keep it secret, do not post an image on Facebook or Instagram at all!  One of the only ways to currently capture images that have not been posted too much already on social media is to go to difficult to access areas.  Many well known photographers are doing just that in order to keep themselves in the social media limelight.  It is just my opinion, however, that the ultimate test of an accomplished photographer is not getting images where few have gone before, but rather their ability through creative photographic and processing techniques to make even the seemingly mundane and familiar look beautiful.  Nowhere is this ability more needed than with raising awareness of the need to protect public lands because if the truth be known much of the vast expanse of lands that are public are not considered very attractive or interesting at all. Photographers can help in this regard by presenting even these areas in the most favorable light.

It is encouraging to know that we can have a high level of awareness of a landscape and still control the number of visitors if a government agency reduces the number of visitors into an area through the adoption of a permit system.  This is what has been done for backpacking at both the Enchantment Lakes and also Mt. Rainier National Park.  Both of these areas are considered environmentally sensitive and simply cannot absorb the impact of an uncontrolled number of backpackers.

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Larches in the Enchanted Mist (Enchantment Lakes Core Area)

Mt. Rainier National Park has done a great job over several decades in not only reducing any further environmental impact caused by uncontrolled visitation, but has actually manged to restore meadows and shorelines in many parts of the back country.

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Bench Lake Early Morning (Mt. Rainier National Park)

Although a great job has been done in reducing environmental harm at both the Enchantments and Mt. Rainier there are still problems.  The Enchantments allows an unlimited number of through hikers that make the arduous trek in through Aasgard Pass and out through the Snow Lake Entrance.  While anyone making this trek in a single day deserves recognition for this accomplishment, there are just too many people doing it. When I was at the Enchantments last year there was literally a steady procession of people all day long hiking through the enchantment lakes core area.  At some point, unfortunately, a permit will also need to be required for the through hike in order to maintain a good quality wilderness experience and minimize damage to the environment. When I was at Mt. Rainier to take the above image of Bench Lake there was a group of young men camped right out at the lake shore which is strictly forbidden.  Why were they there?– to get that precious image of the feet hanging out through the tent door looking out to the lake and Mt. Rainier!  When we confronted them they pleaded ignorance, but I think they knew exactly what they were doing wrong and should receive the maximum fine of $5,000 and 6 months in jail.  I might be a little extreme here!

Personally I think everyone in our nation has the right to visit our national parks, forests, and wilderness areas.  Any kind of allocation scheme for providing permits needs to treat everyone fairly.  It my opinion it is elitist to think that one person has more of a right to visit an area than another, including photographers.  If the right to enter into a wilderness landscape is restricted through a permit process, there needs to be alternatives for the scores of people that need to have contact with natural areas on a regular basis.  This means that some areas cannot be subject to the permit system.  Mt. Rainier has adopted this policy in the areas around Paradise, Sunrise, and Tipsoo Lakes.  Access is only limited by the number of parking places for vehicles.  Areas that are not environmentally sensitive likely should also not be restricted.

Social Media has also increased awareness of beautiful sites where access to the site is over private property.  Such is the case with Washington’s Spirit Falls close to the Columbia Gorge.

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Water Spirits in the Forest (Spirit Falls)

The White Salmon River is a designated national scenic river and therefore has certain protections.  To the best of my knowledge property owners do not own the river itself. When hundreds of people began making the journey to the falls, spurred by Facebook and Instagram photos, private property owners clamped down and cut off access to the primary route to the falls.  Personally I do not feel that even a private property owner has the right to prohibit access to such a beautiful site, and it will be interesting to see how this one plays out in the future.

Landscape photographers when conducting photographic workshops can also contribute on a larger scale to a lower quality wilderness experience for others.  I have personally witnessed this at locations such as the Columbia Gorge and Zion National Park where large groups of photographers participating in workshops commandeer the best viewing areas for themselves.  At a recent trip to Elowah Falls there were so many unattended tripods in front of my viewing area where I set up my tripod earlier I had to just give up.  There were also non-photographers in this area that wanted desperately to take in the same scene but could not do so.  Also at Mt. Rainier I have seen large areas of freshly trampled flowers soon after a workshop vacated the area.

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Elowah Falls

Most national parks and forests closely regulate conducting workshops within their borders but there is loose enforcement and even when photographers get permits they do not always adhere to the rules and regulations.  Many do not even bother with permits, and associated requirements for first-aid certifications and insurance.  Personally I do not think there is enough wilderness bandwidth to accommodate the huge number of photographers on the workshop bandwagon and there will need to be some kind of lottery system to allocate permits for certain areas along with better enforcement of current rules and regulations.

Our nation is entering into a challenging time where some elected officials would like to make our National Parks and Public Lands available for commercial use including drilling for oil.  Advocacy and direct political involvement, although critically important, are not the only ways to help protect and preserve our wild areas.  Increasing public awareness of our wild areas exerts a powerful influence even if there is a potential downsides of people loving a place to death.  As more people visit our wild areas it will become increasingly important to share knowledge through social media of good environmental stewardship and there will also likely need to be an expansion of the permit system.  Environmental stewardship is key and I will discuss this in a future blog post.  Thanks everyone for reading this blog entry and let me know your thoughts and concerns along with your honest feedback!