Grand Canyon Winter Storm Trip Report 2015

I recently finished processing my first batch of winter storm images captured in early March at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. I arrived on a late Sunday afternoon as the snow was falling.

A fast moving storm passes through the canyon walls near Grandview Point.

A fast moving storm passes through the canyon walls near Grandview Point.

It continued for the rest of the evening before eventually turning to overnight rain. The next morning about 8 inches of additional snow fell before the skies finally parted towards the late afternoon. This time yielded several productive hours of shooting although I was somewhat limited by my mistake of leaving my telephoto lens in my hotel room

IMG_8813-as-agave-wide-flat (1)

While light snow fell overnight, Tuesday morning did not disappoint yielding the most spectacular conditions of the trip.

Fresh snow and gorgeous morning light accentuated the already pristine scenery.

Fresh snow and gorgeous morning light accentuated the already pristine scenery.

This image was captured a short time later from a nearby vantage point. In the image above I concentrated on developing the color and accentuating the views while the below image I focused on bringing to life as much detail as possible.Castles Made of SnowThe storms were fun, yet challenging to photograph. The editing was even more difficult. Although sunset did not light up the sky on Tuesday evening, I was treated to about 30 minutes of exceptional blue hour photography. This is probably my favorite from that time.

Captured near Mather Point

Captured near Mather Point

I am sure that I have a few more gems to display from this trip, but this will do for now. I hope that you enjoy this brief photographic journey through time. If you have a moment, I’d love to know which image you like the best? Thanks!

 

Tips to Take Your Landscape Photography to the Next Level – Understanding Basic Aperture

What is Aperture and How Does It Impact Your Photography

Wikipedia defines aperture as “a hole or an opening through which light travels.” Where it gets a little confusing is the smaller the aperture the bigger the number (e.g. F/22) or the larger/wider the aperture the smaller the number (e.g. F/6.3). Now, maybe you are wondering what the ‘F’ stands for in this equation. It is basically a correlation to the adjusted size of the aperture.

image courtesy of www.Wikipedia.com  1) small aperture 2) larger aperture

image courtesy of www.Wikipedia.com; author: Mohylek  
1) large aperture e.g F/6.3  2)  small aperture e.g. F/20

The number on the side of your lens represents its widest aperture (e.g. F/1.8 above).  As a general rule of thumb, whatever number that is times it by a multiple of four will give you the aperture that is going to produce your sharpest image. However, these results vary from lens to lens. The best way to truly test this is to take the same picture at different apertures and view the results on your computer. However, keep in mind these results may differ at different focal lengths if testing a zoom lens.

Understanding aperture as it relates to depth of field

In landscape photography, most photographers want clarity from foreground to background. Generally, that is what is referred to as a large depth of field or DOF. To help you achieve this effect, I find it helpful to think of your camera’s aperture setting as metaphor for your eye as it is actually called the iris. When your eyes are wide open you can definitely see better straight in front of you and see more information as well; but you can’t see clearly out of your peripheral vision, especially if you are looking down or up. Meanwhile, if you squint or close your eye a bit a greater percentage of what you are seeing comes into focus, but the effect still is not optimal and you can only use it selectively. No one likes to walk around with their eyes squinted all the time just to see better!

The same principal is applied when trying to focus on something right in front as well as an object in the distant background. Your eye simply cannot focus on both objects at once. So, what am I getting at? Putting this altogether, if you are shooting with a wide angle lens <35mm and trying to capture a big scene from nearest foreground subject to distant mountains and sky…a smaller aperture e.g. F/16 is probably better. And that’s where many burgeoning photographers start. That will provide you with a greater percentage of clarity although what you are actually focusing on won’t be quite as clear. Conversely, if your subject matter is a little further away and your focal plane (the angle at which you are shooting) is straight a larger aperture e.g. F/10 will be produce at clearer image of your subject matter while still allowing for excellent depth of field.

Practical Application

The best way to decide in the field on what aperture without calculating hyperfocal distance (the nearest distance at which objects become acceptably clear) is to take some test shots with each of your lenses at different apertures, carefully review the images on your computer, and make a determination for yourself, which you think looks the best. Or if you don’t want to do that just do a Google search on your particular lens and its sharpest aperture and I’m sure you can find some opinions.

Once you’ve determined your aperture preferences, I recommend starting with those aperture settings in the field and then review each image on your LCD, zoom all the way in, and especially scrutinize the corners of your image. If your corners are acceptably clear, then you have achieved an acceptable DOF, but if your corners are still too blurry you’ll either need to 1) make your aperture smaller (higher F-stop) or 2) manually focus and use photoshop to blend your images for max DOF.

Depth of Field Blending As It Relates to Aperture

The advanced method of blending images at different focal points to achieve maximum depth of field has gained popularity over the last few years with the continuous amounts of technological advancements, especially with editing software. In certain circumstances and depending on the type of lens, depth of field blending is almost necessary to achieve optimal results. There are certainly many ways of doing this. It would be out of the context and scope of this article to go into detail about the various technical editing aspects of this technique. I bring it up because I found for myself using a mid-range aperture between F/10 – F/14 makes the process much easier because the extended depth of field makes transitions look more ‘seamless’.

Depth of field blending was necessary for this image of the Grand Canyon where the camera was pointed slightly down. I used two images both shot at F/14    to achieve this effect.

Depth of field blending was necessary for this image of the Grand Canyon where the camera was pointed slightly down. I used two images both shot at F/14 to achieve this effect.

Sunstars

One creative effect that is achieved almost exclusively by aperture usage is that of a sunstar or sunburst. Keep in mind this general rule of thumb…if you are trying to achieve this effect shoot at F/22. Other factors that influence sunstars are the lens you are using and the placement of the the sunstar in the composition. Let’s look at these two examples.

Captured with a Canon 16-35mm F/2.8 wide angle lens.

Captured with a Canon 16-35mm F/2.8 wide angle lens.

Burning October

Captured with a Canon 28-70 F/2.8 lens at 50mm

As you can see, there is quite a difference is the style of the effect. Both images were shot at sunrise. The top image of Mesa Arch was captured just minutes after sunrise, while the other image captured near the Dallas Divide in Colorado was about 40 minutes after sunrise. Just something to keep in mind.

To summarize, understanding aperture and using it to enhance your photography is important for a variety of reasons. We hope this post was able to streamline the technicalities of it to allow the photographer to focus on his or her creative vision while in the field.

Wildmoments.net Updates

Lately, I’ve been spending time updating my site’s ever-changing content. Now, with my total website inventory approaching 400 images, I’m going back through and ‘touching up’ some pictures that I feel could use a refreshing. I am constantly looking to improve my product and personalize my style. While this isn’t as effective as re-editing the image from scratch; it is a lot less time consuming.

In a joint project, I’ve also decided on a 2015 update of my online watermark. To date, I’ve used only one watermark for images on my website, which started at the beginning of 2013. Before that time, I simply did not use anything.

The oldest image on Wildmoments.Net captured in October of 2006

Where it all started! The oldest image on Wildmoments.net captured in October 2006 in Great Smoky Mountains NP (Click on image for larger version)

One of the reasons for my use of watermarks was that I began including larger versions of my work for display. When this website went live in March of 2010, all horizontal images were presented at 800 pixels in width. By 2013, most people owned faster computers and the wireless internet had become much more prevalent so I pushed the display size up a notch to 900 pixels.

A very remote lake captured while on a backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness. Note the slightly larger size and original watermark.

A very remote, off-trail lake captured while on a backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness in August of 2013. Note the slightly larger size and my original watermark.

Now, in 2015, I settled on a new, more personal and stylized font for my watermark as well as adding my name. The reason for this is two fold. First, my business name is technically Michael Greene’s Wild Moments and not wildmoments.net, which is my URL. Furthermore, my Twitter handle is Wildmoments1 and I would prefer not to have any more name disassociation with my brand. Check this image out:

A recent re-work of an image captured nearly 3 years ago in remote section of Canyonlands NP. Originally entitled "Gentle Desert" - it's now being called "The Vibe."  Note the fresh, new watermark.

A recent re-work of an image captured nearly 3 years ago in remote section of Canyonlands NP. Originally entitled “Gentle Desert” – it’s now being called “The Vibe.” Note new watermark.

Moving forward, all images will feature these graphics and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to update as many older images as I deem necessary. What’s interesting is that I experimented with many different watermarks in the past while displaying my work on my FLICKR. If you want to check out some of those shots – (some not available on my website) here is the link.

As a side note, while some photographers are now showcasing even larger sized images on their sites, I’m keeping mine at 900 pixels to keep bandwidths lower and load times faster as my content continues to expand. If you have an opinion of anything you’ve read or seen by me – I’d love to know what you think ; ) Happy Shooting!!

For your comparison, the 2012 version, entitled "Gentle Desert"

For your comparison, the 2012 version, entitled “Gentle Desert”

 

Inside Landscape Photography: The Making of a Photo

Today’s post involves the thought process, vision, and technique behind making one of my photos. The image that we are discussing today is called “Society of the Disengaged”. Here is the current version of this image…Fallen-leaves-Jones-Gap_5599 This image was captured in Jones Gap State Park in the middle of the afternoon on a stormy, autumn day. The technical camera specifications are: 70mm, F/20, 5 sec, ISO 100.

The story:  I was several miles deep within the park actively looking for waterfalls as the main trail began to venture up in the mountains towards a neighboring wilderness area. Despite moving further away from the primary watershed, I was enjoying the relatively steep, but steady grade of the trail and also noticed an improvement foliage as I ventured up the mountain. I was hoping to get some telephoto compression shots of the area. However, I didn’t find any suitable breaks in the tree line, but I did stumble onto this particularly interesting area of fallen leaves, which was also my turn around point.

My vision: What you see is what you get. I did not move anything on the ground to come up with this composition. In forming this image, I tried to avoid any twigs that disrupted the flow of the scenery and my initial impressions always involved the middle portion of the frame, which  I consider the strongest. Once I identify an area that I find appealing, I work outwards trying to ‘compose’ the rest of the scene around it. This is usually done by avoiding elements at the edge of the scene that disrupt or distract the viewers’ attention. In this particular shot, I felt the pine cones added some visual interest and obviously the different shapes and colors of the leaves were the other main drawing points. The spacing is good and I feel the scene is well balanced.

The captureA straight forward, single shot image. I used a low aperture to ensure the corners of the image were sharp and a warming polarizer to reduce glare. There wasn’t any wind to blow the leaves so a 5 second exposure wasn’t a problem on this day.

Processing: The biggest area to overcome when processing this image is obtaining proper color correction. A light rain had just stopped so I was fortunate in that the leaves were already saturated with water, which allows for greater vibrancy. As you can see, the reds can be quite strong. It is difficult to balance the colors for viewing ubiquitously across all monitors and it also depends on which browser you are using. Also, there was a warm color cast on the image. Eventually, I went back and employed some additional processing techniques to obtain further color separation, which I believe makes for a more aesthetically appealing image.

My original post.

My original post.

Title: The title is obviously a metaphor and represents more than one idea. The literal concept involves the leaves, which are now removed from their original habitat and share the same space with one another and are in a perpetual state of dying and constant change. As in life, this image represents a brief moment in time that will be replicated annually, but never duplicated.

Additionally, this is a social commentary on our world’s current state of affairs mostly involving our youth. Technology has created a different type of socialization process – one that resonates strongly with those under the age of 21. My intention is not to judge a certain demographic of people – it is merely a general observation about what I see in many public places. Technology has created an entirely new socialization process.

Well, if you made it this far thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this or have any comments please let me know!

 

2014 Autumn Smokies Trip Report

I had an opportunity to visit the Great Smoky Mountains for a few days this past fall, which in a way brought my landscape photography journeys full circle as this was the place of my first official photography trip back in 2006. Previous to that first grand adventure, I spent weeks pouring over detailed guidebooks to make sure I visited the most optimum places for photography in the park. Conversely, on this trip I spent almost zero time in preparations.

One of my favorite shots from the '06 trip.

“Covered” One of my favorite shots from the ’06 trip.

The primary purpose of this photo excursion was to capture the fall colors of the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina.  Ultimately, my timing did not work out for the best. From what I could tell, it was a down year all along the east coast for fall color with no symmetry in foliage changes. There were very few ‘peak’ trees while most were either unchanged, totally brown or leafless. It took about 2 hours of driving through the forest for me to figure out that I needed some new scenery. Enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Rapid detail along Big Creek Trail 2014.

Rapid detail along Big Creek Trail 2014.

I headed right to one of my favorite areas of the park that I visited in ’06 – the Big Creek Trail. En route…the mountain sides had marginal color and I didn’t have high hopes of finding prime scenery. What I did know, however, was that if I hiked back a couple of miles and gained some elevation there could be a huge difference in the color of the foliage. I was right! A four mile, late afternoon hike yieled some fantastic results with the picture below representing the most diverse and peak group of colors I saw during my travels.

"Circular Motion" 2014

“Circular Motion” 2014

After spending the night at the trail head I ventured deeper into the heart of the park arriving around lunch time the following day at Gatlinburg, TN. As expected, the traffic and crowds were thick and despite it’s small size and my familiarity with the city; navigating to some of the adjacent areas in the park was still tricky.

I ended up on Newfound Gap Road, which travels up the mountain and over the top of the park ending in its southern terminus just outside of Cherokee, North Carolina. For those of you who don’t know, the Great Smoky Mountains NP gets more visitors than any other national park and autumn is its peak season. Luckily, there were no bears as there were on my last visit in ’06, which can cause massive traffic jams as inconsiderate drivers stop in already congested areas for long periods to see the animals.

Still, finding places to shoot and pull off the road with so much traffic was tricky. The foliage was spotty as was the light and parking and the constant stream of vehicles in both directions created smog that lingered in the valley below the mountains rugged peaks.

I arrived that afternoon in Cherokee eventually making my way over to the charming mountain town of Bryson City, NC. After a late afternoon hike I enjoyed a delicious meal and excellent service at Bryson City Cork and Bean.

After another night at a trailhead I ventured out at sunrise on the Rowland Creek Trail – a remote area of the park that I had not previously visited or researched. As chance would have it, the light and conditions worked out well and spent most of the morning hiking up and down a portion of trail, getting my feet wet in the creek, and enjoying the quiet breezes of solitude and tremendous autumn weather. It was a wonderful day!

Altogether, I spent about 3 days and two nights in the park and explored several other trails in different areas, but the two aforementioned trails were the only two that were bountiful in terms of photography for this year. It was another short, but spellbinding trip and despite the park’s popularity it is very easy to find solitude in the 100’s of miles of trails and watersheds in the area.

"Graceful Waters"

Searching for Inspiration : The Art of Being a Landscape Photographer

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. - Ecceliastes 1:14

A New Approach to Landscape Photography

This blog is about a paradigm shift in my mental approach to taking better pictures. It’s about a little tweak in my psyche that has produced a more rewarding and gratifying experience while roaming the wilderness. However, before I tell you what I’ve learned it is necessary for me to explain where I’ve been.

Earlier in my career, my travels revolved around finding that next superior image. In other words, a goal oriented search for that  show-stopping picture, which I could proudly display to the world as the culmination of my hard work. It’s what you could call a “world-class” shot or one that screams, “Look at me!”  The type of photograph that anyone would love to call their own.

Show stopping light over Mather Gorge in Great Falls Park

Show stopping light over Mather Gorge in Great Falls Park

Hiking Versus Landscape Photography

I sometimes think that my intentions were more noble when I was just a mere hiker and didn’t bother carrying a camera during my travels. I was just as passionate as I am now only not so concerned with the light. Sunrises and sunsets were mostly viewed from the car and trips were based on my calendar and the weather. Nothing more. The main purpose of my journeys was for the fulfillment of feelings, both physically and spiritually.  In other words, it was personal.

Journey to Nowhere

A Journey to Nowhere

Serious, high quality landscape photography changed things. Now there was a new prize. A different outcome. A new reason for everything. What was once private now needed to be shared with the world.

Initially, this new pursuit could be viewed as superior. For instance, while hikers find solace in just being there, landscape photographers must be present at that exact, optimal moment of the day. Ready to successfully capture it forever.

Eventually, I began to understand the subtle nuances of light and started thinking through the abstract, mental lens of a camera frame. All of these aspects (and others) resulted in a more aesthetically pleasing experience. Through the duty of photography, I was able to actualize  transcendent moments like never before. It was like hiking 2.0.

It is easy to get your priorities mixed up while wandering the wilds alone in solitude trying to take pictures for a living. While the actual art of photography is one of many wonderful aspects of my occupation it is not hard to put the cart before the horse. Or in my case, the product before the process.

Somewhere along the line I became jaded. The personal contentment and spiritual nourishment that fueled my love for the outdoors gradually changed.  Maybe I took things for granted. Spending time in the wilderness became diluted by the pursuit of the superficial, an act which involved capturing something that I had no control over.

You see as a hiker I was just happy to be there. Now, everything had to be perfect. This idea resulted in a errant, incorrect approach to my craft. I had fallen into the trap about caring too much about what other people think.

It is easy to overlook the small details

It is easy to overlook the small details

A New Change

What I’ve learned is that approaching photography from this point of view leaves one feeling empty. A shallowness associated with vain pursuits. While the art of taking pictures can be psychologically draining, it should never get to the point where the reason for your first love is lost and what you are left with is the pursuit of something unattainable.

For me, the great outdoors was never about photography. It was my photography that was about the great outdoors. Unconditionally accepting everything that nature becomes helps me to accept the wilderness for what it is – wild and unpredictable. It is always changing and never stagnant. With that approach, finding contentment my surroundings will always be more important the discovering the perfect picture.

Storm Chasing at Organ Pipe Cactus NMorgan-pipe-map best

Tucked away in a sparse, dusty corner of Arizona lies the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, named after the sprouting, banana like succulent that exclusively resides there (US). Once infamously regarded as America’s most dangerous national park, this quiet, out-of-the-way spot gets its rep from its southern location  just miles from the border. Regardless of its “illegal” hazards, the land here is especially fertile and a veritable display of iconic desert plants showcase its beauty. Hence the park’s National Biosphere Reserve designation…one of just 47 in the nation.

Earlier this month I consummated my fourth visit to the park in the last 7 years. As usual, it occurred at the beginning of March, which is peak for wildflowers. Despite an unusually dry winter, my timing  was optimal as it coincided with a rare, early spring rainstorm. I made the two hour sojourn, from the western edge of Phoenix in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday. By this time, the storm was full force although the drive down did not produce as much rain.

It was after 4 pm by the time I reached the park and the clouds were swirling as I noticed a couple of fleeting rainbows in the distance. The wind was blowing and the light was dancing when I finally set up my tripod for the first time this year.

I settled in on a composition and then took various shots as the light playfully changed. This was one of my favorites.

"Freedom"  Gorgeous storm clouds on a beautiful spring afternoon

“Freedom”  Gorgeous storm clouds drape Tillotson Peak (3374 ft.) on a beautiful spring afternoon

Perhaps overstaying my welcome, the final moments of sunlight were waning as I returned to my vehicle to continue my journey on the 21 mile Ajo Loop road. I quickly grabbed this fleeting shot near the base of the majestic Ajo Mountains.

"Light of the World"  A spotlit view of the Ajo Mountains reveals an otherworldy scene

“Light of the World”  A spot-lit view of the Ajo Mountains reveals an otherworldy scene

Later that night, I opted to sleep in the back of my vehicle as the skies varied erratically between partly clear and ominously cloudy. Lucky break. About 10 pm, the park was hammered by a driving rainstorm that last nearly two hours. Awoken by the heavy rains, I couldn’t help but smile realizing the misfortune of those scattered about in tents, there was no way they could stay dry.

"Garden of the Blessing"

“Internal Essence”  Rare light captured from a prolific garden of flowering brittle brush

Fog occurred overnight, but I awoke to the realization of a clear, starry sky. Sunrise was uneventful, but the mood quickly changed as large swaths of low lying clouds eerily formed near the mountains placating the harsh light of the day.

The unobstructed views of my location afforded me with at least an hour and half of solid photography. As usual, I locked in on compositions and watched the light change minute by minute.

"Illuminated Ones"

“The Illuminated Ones”  Dappled side light dresses this stately stand of saguaro cacti

This was the most special time of my brief trip. I was enchanted by the condensation on the flowers, delighted in the chirping of birds as well as distant, beckoning howling of the coyotes. I internalized essence of the crisp, cool air and its placid stillness.  As the clouds engulfed the mountains and speckled sunlight dappled the scenery – the desert was at peace and all of its residents were enjoying the splendid weather. Glory to God!

Photography resumed after lunch, but the skies had grown mysteriously cloudier. Almost too cloudy. I wandered the desert in search of meaning, which seemed to come naturally on this day.

Deep views into Mexico are afforded in parts of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

“Garden of the Blessing”  Deep views into Mexico are afforded in parts of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Several more shots ushered in the late afternoon, which was crowded with clouds. However, the sky eventually started clearing and I climbed a petite, rock butte in hopes of a grand finale.

"Empire" Last light on part of the Ajo Mountains

“Empire”  Last light on the Diaz Spire (3892 ft.)

As the sun touched the horizon, the warm, glowing rays of last light burst fourth in splendor brilliantly illuminating the scenery. I opted for a filter stack, stopping my camera down, and opening the shutter for as long as possible to blur the swirling clouds.

Until next time Organ Pipe, the intimacy I share with this desert is near to my heart. It’s moments like these that are quintessential to the landscape photographer.

2013 Landscape Photography Year in Review

My Favorite Landscape Images of the Year

2013 was a year where I expanded my boundaries both metaphorically and physically. It was a year of stretching myself and adapting to unforeseen circumstances on the fly.  Overall, despite some major setbacks it was the most memorable year I experienced in the field. However, this post isn’t to share any personal stories, but to provide you with a synopsis of my travels and a sample of my favorite shots.

My calendar started off with a bang as I was fortunate to take a large-scale trip to New Mexico and Texas, where I visited both White Sands NM and Big Bend NP for the first time. Considering my length of stay, the light was mostly mundane and I came away with only about dozen or so keepers. However, I had some very memorable backpacking adventures! These are two of my favorites shots from that trip…

"The Wind Storm" February

“The Wind Storm” February, New Mexico

"Old West" March

“Old West” March, Texas

April was a quite month, but I traveled again in early May during a return visit to my home state of Pennsylvania, my first since 2010. Although I had originally planned for an earlier visit, my timing couldn’t have worked out better as it seemed to coincide with the peak of Spring. During my ten day stay I embarked on three, separate excursions where I captured this image below. This session turned out to be my most productive, single shooting day of the year…

"Zen" May

“Zen” May, Pennsylvania

The month of June brought what-was-supposed to be my biggest trip of the year. A three week, backpacking intensive tour of SW Colorado. However, on my drive into the Centennial State I encountered a major obstacle when I noticed a billowing, mushroom cloud of smoke visible 30 miles south of Farmington, NM. “The West Fork Fire” quadrupled in size that day eventually transforming itself from a small, localized blaze into a national news story. Huge swaths of wilderness were scorched, but it was the road closures that drastically altered my plans.

The fire severely limited the areas that I was able to explore and also affected the air quality eventually forcing me to cut my trip short by several days. I was lucky though as many local businesses were crippled by the lost revenue of the natural disaster as it occurred during peak tourism season. Below are my favorite images from approximately 12 days of shooting…

"Stand of Majesty" June

“Stand of Majesty” June, Colorado

"Joyful Morning" June

“Joyful Morning” June, Colorado

"Rare Air" July

“Rare Air” July, Colorado

The flames were gone by the time I returned to Colorado in mid August, but my itinerary this time around called for a single, grand adventure. I captured the image below over the course of forty plus miles on foot during a trek into the wild Weminuche, Colorado’s largest wilderness area. Pictured below is the 13,617 ft iconic peak known as the Guardian – probably my favorite shot of the year.

"August of Fire" August

“August of Fire” August, Colorado

My last visit to the Rocky Mountains in 2013 occurred six weeks later in early October. Unfortunately, my trip was (again) cut short due to extenuating circumstances. It was an unusual autumn in Colorado as color change happened much later than normal. Additionally, many areas were severely affected by leaf mold.

These factors resulted in an abbreviated version of my original itinerary as I spent less than a week  there when I had originally budgeted for two. I still came away with many splendid shots and this is possibly my favorite.

"Rolling Color" October

“Rolling Color” October, Colorado

I did get out to shoot in November, but not any of those images made my top picks. The last month of the year, was perhaps, my most busy in terms of photography. It produced three separate trips in three different states. Again, my timing wasn’t ideal for the conditions I was hoping for, but I still came away with several solid images. These were arguably three of my favorites from the month.

I’d love to read about your opinions. Please tell me which images you think are the best of the lot and I hope to share with you many more tales and pictures in 2014!

"Sounds of Silence" December

“Sounds of Silence” December, Arizona

"A Contemplative Cleansing" Pennsylvania

“A Contemplative Cleansing” December, Pennsylvania

"Overflow" December, West Virginia

“Overflow” December, West Virginia

Winter Waterfalls in Appalachia Part 1

Winter Hiking and Photography in Ricketts Glen State Park

major-falls-2

I was blessed with the opportunity to make two photography trips over the holiday season. The first was a Christmas Eve sojourn to Ricketts Glen State Park in Northeastern PA.

I’ve been visiting Ricketts Glenn, Pennsylvania’s most iconic state park, since my college days 20 years ago.  Not much has changed since then, except the park’s budding popularity and now manicured hiking trails.

The day was cold, overcast and blustery as I reached the deserted parking area. From the sounds of the rushing creek, I suspected water levels were high. I tried to time my trip accordingly, but as chance would have it I ended up visiting after a period of unseasonably warm temperatures. Coupled with heavy rains most of the snow in the area had melted. Now, the sub-freezing days were back and offered hope. Maybe I could see some small ice formations as well as travel on a mud-less, frozen trail. Snow was in the day’s forecast.

Ricketts Glen or “The Glen” as we affectionately call it – contains twenty-something named (and now signed) waterfalls that can almost all be viewed on a single, 5.5 mile, “lollipop” loop trail. This was my first winter visit to the park.

Map courtesy of: gonehikin.blogspot.com/

Map courtesy of: gonehikin.blogspot.com

Dressed in layers, I followed the tannin colored waters upstream towards the first of three primary waterfalls before the gorge splits in two. Although the temperature was brisk, I enjoyed the solitude of  the forest, the rust colored leaves decorating its floor as well as the  deep views afforded by its barren trees. As usual, the creek stole the show, its ubiquitous and soothing noises serving as a constant reminder to my purpose for the trek.

A view up a lower portion of Kitchen Creek downstream from the falls.

A view up a lower portion of Kitchen Creek downstream from the falls. Captured on the way out…

Flurries were swirling when I stopped for my first photo-op at the confluence locally known as “Waters Meet.” This is where the loop portion of the trail begins and where the majority of the waterfalls are accessed. This spread out area is perfect for relaxing and makes a popular stopping point – today I had it all to myself. 

 

Wide angle perspective from the middle of Waters Meet

Wide angle perspective from the middle of Waters Meet

I found the scenery challenging, but not truly compelling and lackadaisically flirted with several vantage points before the numbing of my hands alerted me onward. I was hoping for more ice in the higher reaches of the gorges and proceeded upwards with curiosity.

After carefully navigating some icy stretches of trail, I encountered appropriate subject matter  for the day. This fall had enough micro bursts of spray that a short freeze had decorated its cliffs in ice. Additionally, there were lingering remnants of the much more significant freeze. Perched on a car-sized boulder and using an umbrella as protection, I captured what was an obvious composition.

Looking up at the 60 ft. Ozone Falls

Looking up at the 60 ft. Ozone Falls

By this time, the idea of photographing white ground with snow in the trees was quickly becoming a reality. Then suddenly…just like that…it was gone. For a moment, the sun danced between the clouds decorating the landscape with brief glimpses of light, altering the somber mood of my occasion.

On my way back, I stopped a few times for images, but mostly lost deep in thought I was content to exercise. After all, I had a two hour drive home and a family Christmas party to attend. The snow flurries resumed again as I neared my exit adding to the mystique of the forest. I found myself looking back on numerous occasions – as if not wanting to say goodbye to an old friend. Alas, it was time to go.

New Images Coming Soon!

ricketts-river-2

Click on picture to (best) view large on black background

Happy New Year all! I am still playing catch-up from the holidays and I have about 10 unpublished images from this past year – mostly from December – that I’d like to publish before blogging about my favorite images of 2013.  This particular shot entitled, “A Contemplative Cleansing” was from my Christmas Eve visit to Rickett’s Glen State Park in northeastern Pennsylvania. Stayed tuned and check back to my new releases gallery as I will have new images posted within the next week!