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


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:

Map courtesy of:

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!


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!

A November Hike To Remember

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend some quiet time alone in Aravaipa Canyon; a relatively unknown wilderness area in Southeastern Arizona. The canyon forms the northeast border of the Gailuro Mountains, a rugged and remote chain of sky island peaks topping out at just over 7600 feet.

My plan was to spend a couple of days and nights to capture peak fall foliage. The canyon is intersected by Aravaipa creek, which is lined with cottonwood and sycamore trees. The combination of a riparian environment mixed with a lower Sonoran desert ecosystem gives the area its unique identity and makes it a special place to visit.

"Season of Change" The first real glimpse of fall just at section of small rapids as the canyon began to tighten.

“Season of Change” The first real glimpse of fall occurred at scenic section of small rapids where the canyon tightens.

My journey started on the west side of the wilderness, which requires a walk through 1.5 miles of private land. I began my hike at noon and could tell right away that it was too early for peak colors as most everything was green.

Soon after, my adventure began in earnest as the canyon walls closed in and dramatic vistas accentuated the placid scenery. I also noticed the color change was better as I progressed upstream. The warm, desert breeze was wonderful for walking, but added to the challenge of making high quality photographs. Despite the obstacle, I still managed to capture a few keepers.

“Veil of Stone” I was immediately captivated by the exquisite beauty of the rock walls. Dramatic golden foliage showcases the beauty.

The extra time spent photographing in the wind and my late start prevented me from reaching my goal of camping 8 miles into the canyon. As night began to settle, I discovered a small, sandy bench sheltered by a huge rock overhang that overlooked a bustling area of the creek. After setting up camp, I spent the last hour of daylight looking for expressive scenes that would help define my creative vision.

I was drawn to this boggy hole delicately covered by a smattering of decaying leaves in various stages.

“Fade to Black” I was drawn to this boggy hole delicately covered by a smattering of decaying leaves in various stages.

It was a long, dark, comfortable and quiet evening. I drifted off to sleep to the soothing sounds of the creek.

The next morning was thoroughly pleasant and after breakfast I set out to investigate. Although the air was still – clouds move rapidly through the sky and the chilly water tingled my feet. I encountered a couple from Alaska, who mentioned they had seen bighorn sheep in the area where they were camping. I continued my journey, but did not notice any wild animals…I captured this scene before reluctantly turning around.

"Untitled" My turnaround point - 5.25 miles into the canyon

“Untitled” My turnaround point – 5.25 miles into the canyon

It was on my way back to camp that I spotted a trio of sheep grazing in the nearby cliffs. It was the white fur of their backsides that caught my attention. At first, I discretely captured pictures – thinking my presence might disturb the animals. This however was not the case as they seemed intrigued and mindful of my presence, but not at all frightened.

"Cliff Dwellers" Probably my favorite shot of the sheep with dad settled in on top overlooking the family.

“Cliff Dwellers” Probably my favorite shot of the sheep with dad settled in on top overlooking the family. (Click on image to view large.)

I believe the sheep were a family of three – a male, female, and sibling. The calf turned out to be the most difficult photograph as it was constantly straying and grazing. The adults, on the other-hand, were more stationary – eating less and sunning themselves on a large, visible outcroppings. I spent two blissful hours photographing the trio before I made my way back to camp, packed up, and hastily exited.

Although I had originally planned to stay for two nights, I decided to leave early due to the foreboding weather forecast. As the sky darkened, my pace was vigorous and I returned to my vehicle an hour before sunset. The wind had picked up and the smell of rain was in the air. I felt the first drops while loading up my gear. By the time I stopped for dinner it was a downpour! My decision to exit early was the right one and I hope to return in a couple of weeks to finish my adventure.

"King of the Mountain" A healthy adult male specimen.

“King of the Mountain” A healthy adult male specimen.


"A Precious Place" The banks of this portion of the canyon were so delicately and intricately lined with trees.

“A Precious Place” The cozy banks of this portion of the canyon were so intricately lined with trees.

Three Classic Rock Songs That Remind Me of Landscape Photography

Shot in the Dark by Ozzy Osbourne (1986) – One of my favorite songs by Ozzy also reminds me of the ups and downs of capturing photographs. This phrase isn’t so much about taking pictures at night, but capturing an image when you really don’t have any idea whether or not it’s going to turn out.

Let’s face it: capturing high quality landscape scenes is a tedious process. My standard method of operation goes something like this:  determine composition, set up tripod, remove camera from case and select appropriate lens, add filters, balance camera using bubble level, adjust technical settings, capture image use remote control, and put everything away. While this doesn’t sound like much, but it can quite a process, especially if you are traveling with 40 pounds on your back like I was the night of this image.

I chose this particular shot as my example because I honestly had no idea whether this was a picture that would make it off of my memory card and onto my website. Some shots are slam dunks, while others are more of a flip of coin. As photographers, every shot we choose represents an opportunity cost – we can’t pause time and be at two locations at once. “Shot in the Dark” is about taking pictures and keeping your fingers crossed they turn out.

"Plateau of Vision"  Weminuche Wilderness

“Plateau of Vision” Weminuche Wilderness

Dust in the Wind by Kansas (1977)  This melancholy song doesn’t have anything to do with dying, but more a literal interpretation of two primal and inescapable elements of landscape photography – “Dust (and) the wind.”  One thing I know for sure is that any person who engages in a multi-day landscape photography excursion thinks about these two elements at some point in time during his/her trip. Living in the Southwest this is especially prominent where a strong breeze will literally fill the air with “Dust in the Wind.”

I almost lost my tent during this short, overnight backpacking jaunt in Texas. The winds were so strong the morning after this sunset image one of my tent poles was badly damaged and I could barely see from all the dust – even though I was wearing sunglasses to protect my eyes!

"Peace I Give You" Big Bend National Park

“Peace I Give You” Big Bend National Park

You Can Do Magic by America (1982) This catchy, yet somewhat cheesy love song can also be great inspiration for photographers. It’s more than being at the right place at the right – although that’s definitely part of it. You still have to know how to execute when all the elements are aligned and also have a creative vision for your final product. When that happens…look out! A typically mundane scene can come alive and seem magical. One of the most recent examples of when this happened to me was this past March in Joshua Tree National Park. A prolific bloom coupled with a full moon breathed life into a scene that at times, I imagine, looks stark and desolate.

"Desert Magic" Joshua Tree NP

“Desert Magic” Joshua Tree NP

I hope you enjoyed this post – KEEP ROCKING – and let me know your thoughts or share your songs that are meaningful to you in your photography endeavors.

Aspen Mania!!

I recently returned from a trip to SW Colorado to capture the fall colors of the season. My original intent was to stay 8 days and travel hundreds of miles all over the southwestern and central portions of the state. Some, of which, I had never seen before.  This would have made for my most ambitious autumn undertaking in Colorado to date.  Alas, it was not to be!

As many of you may know, autumn color arrived later than expected this year in CO and my timing unfortunately was a bit off.  This wasn’t a surprise as I was keeping track of the state’s foliage progressions.  However, I couldn’t do much about it because I was already locked into the dates that I preselected.

What I wasn’t aware of that would become an issue were the reports that started turning up about potential swaths of forest suffering from leaf mold. These began surfacing the night of my arrival. From what I’ve read, this was in part due to the unusual amounts of rain the state received in August as well as a few early season snow storms. In retrospect, I thought the scrub oaks this season looked fantastic while the aspens were very slow to turn and the majority suffered from some extent of leaf mold. This varied from minor to moderate or even major and definitely resulted in diminished color in some areas.

These two factors were enough to change my plans…greatly condensing my area of exploration into a few of the spectacular places that I had visited before, but were experiencing peak color at the time. Additionally, I also decided to cut my trip off early because I didn’t think it was worth investing the extra money to visit places that weren’t going to meet my autumn expectations. Oh well, God willing there is always next year!  That being said, I still was able to capture a delightful smorgasbord of colorful images. Without further ado I hope you enjoy my partial and random display of the pictures!


“Impressions of Autumn” captured at: F/10, 115mm, ISO 400, 1/3 exp.

The image above is definitely one of my favorites from the trip. The colors, forms, and light all combined to create an impressionistic scene of the season. The image below was captured on a mountain near Vallecito Lake, about 25 miles northeast of Durango.  Despite a tremendous amount of fire damage suffered back in 2002, the area still has some of the best looking and most photogenic aspen trees that I’ve seen. Unfortunately, I was way too early to get to capture the best color, but I still came away with this image that I made on the last morning of my trip.


“V” captured at: F/10, 300mm, ISO 400, 1/3 exp.

I was astonished by the color of the aspens in this image below. It was definitely the best color from these majestic trees that I witnessed on my trip. I returned to location twice and would have made a third trip, but it was too windy.


“Gracefully Aging” captured at: F/6.3, 300mm, ISO 1000, 1/160 exp.

I spent over an hour photographing this stand of aspen trees located near the town of Ouray. This black and white image was one of my favorite compositions from the session. I was fortunate not to have to deal with the wind on that particular morning.


“Full of October” captured at: F/10, 200mm, ISO 640, 1/8 exp.

The last image in this post was actually the first picture I captured on my trip. After driving 90 minutes before sunrise to reach this location, I walked around for about an hour before this  captured my attention. The sunlight was just moments of away from washing out the scene when I made this image.


“Window into the Soul” captured at: F/10, 100mm, ISO 800, 1/6 exp,

You will find even more photos of my autumn CO trip in my new releases gallery. Be sure to check back frequently as I have finished editing all the images from this trip. I’d also love to read your feedback including your favorite image of the five listed above.


Backpacking Rock Creek, Weminuche Wilderness part 1

Last month I was fortunate to take an epic, solo five day backpacking trip into the Weminuche Wilderness in Southwestern Colorado. I worked out well because one of my best clients currently owns a property just minutes from the Vallecito Creek trailhead, which I used to access the area. From my research, I knew that Rock Creek Trail supposed to be one of the most scenic spots in the wilderness and that it also had good camping. That was my first night’s goal, which was an ambitious one considering the distance was a little over 14 miles!

I was on the trail by 7am carrying approximately 40 – 45 lbs on my shoulders, including about 10 lbs of camera equipment.  For those of you who don’t know, Vallecito Creek Trail is relatively a long trek stretching south to north approximately 25 miles through a dense wilderness of 13,000 to 14,000 foot peaks usually staying within an earshot of the creek.  That’s almost half the distance from Durango to Silverton!  It’s not a particularly strenuous trail although the first couple of miles have some serious ups and downs.

The gorgeous colors and dramatic cliffs of Vallecito Creek.

The gorgeous colors and dramatic cliffs of Vallecito Creek.

There are two bridges that cross particularly deep, narrow, and scenic sections of the creek one occurring at the three mile mark and the second at about 5.5 miles in. These were my first two planned rest points. My normal hiking pace is 3 miles per hour so I knew I could reach the first bridge in about one hour and second in nearly the same amount of time.

A camera phone snapshot of bridge #2 with a quick process in Silver Efex Pro.

A camera phone snapshot of bridge #2 with a quick process in Silver Efex Pro.

It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed watching the rising rays of the sun make its way down the canyon. The trail was empty, the birds were chirping, and the temperature was in the low 60′s. The first six miles were a delightful foray into the forest.

About a mile past the second bridge there is a  ford of Vallecito Creek. The water was approximately knee deep, frigid and swift, but rejuvenating and easy on my feet. More than anything, it was a time consuming affair as I tied my hiking boots onto my pack, changed into some old sneakers, and then dried them out before changing back on the other side.

It was shortly after this time around mile 8 that my pace began to slow. The day was warming up and the weight of my pack was beginning to take its toll on my shoulders. By mile 11, I was getting to the point of exhaustion and my initial once an hour breaks had turned into brief stops every ten minutes to relieve my aching shoulders. It was also about this time that it began raining quite hard with lightening and thunder compounding the issue.

The trail was muddy, the foliage was wet, but the weather began to clear by the time I rolled into camp around 3pm. (It would have been sooner, but I stopped to talk to a nice accountant turned peakbagger from Littleton, CO.) The next two hours were spent: resting, getting water, setting up camp, eating dinner and drying out my gear. I finally set out to explore Rock Creek by about 5:30pm.

Witnessing intense colors of Rock Creek.

Witnessing intense colors of Rock Creek.

Rock Creek gets its dramatic colors from the rich iron deposits in its waters. Although it made for a longer walk, I decided to play it safe and treat my water from Vallecito Creek, of which Rock Creek is a tributary. I had about less than a couple of hours of good light to take pictures and all that you see required some bushwhacking as the creek was less than accessible from the trail.

Lots of cascades and pools along the lower portion of Rock Creek.

Lots of cascades and pools along the lower portion of Rock Creek.

Overall, I enjoyed the area greatly although I was a little disappointed in the overall health of the surrounding forest. There were a lot of dead trees in the area, which made finding suitable compositions more difficult. Just above this area the creek loses its striking orange colored rocks.

I would have liked to get more separation in the rocks for this image, but was carrying my lightweight that doesn't go up very high.

I would have liked to get more separation in the rocks for this image, but was carrying my lightweight tripod that doesn’t go up very high.

Looking forward to sharing more with you from this trip in future posts and I hoped you enjoyed this report and accompanying photographic essay. I welcome all comments and questions!


Subject matter – A defining characteristic of every landscape photographer

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That’s the old expression right? Pick up any landscape photography book and you can about read about tips from capture, to processing, composition, and of course – what places to go to get the best shots.  

What I am trying to explore in this think-out-loud blog is why do we visit the places that we do? Also, what goes into my decision making process?  My goal with this piece is to learn something about myself as well as share something that I consider an integral part of my creative process with those of you who are interested in my work.

The biggest factor in my decision making process is geographic location. I assume this is probably the case for most of us right? As a resident of Arizona, it is not possible for me to jump in my car and drive to New Zealand. Sure, that’s an extreme example, but you get the point.  Another factor that influences my portfolio is where my family is located. I know many of us combine trips visiting family and friends with a little bit of photography sprinkled in to balance things out.

This image was captured during a long day trip from my hometown of Harrisburg, PA.

This image was captured during a long day trip from my hometown of Harrisburg, PA.

Moving on past geography, money is also another critical factor.  I say this specifically in terms of the cost of traveling somewhere. How much is it going to cost to get there and back? Everything needs to be considered. You have airfare costs, baggage fees, rental car costs, lodging, gas, food, etc. I am sure you know the routine.  

However, one critical factor that is sometimes overlooked is how far in advance that we are able to make our plans. This involves more personal factors than anything else. Some of this we can control and some of it we can’t. Consider this: committing to something in advance involves risk. You are allocating emotions, time, and money to a purpose that may not happen at the pre-determined time due to unforeseen circumstances in the future. I think some of it boils down to personal comfort level while part of it is our individual approach to life. Some of us have greater commitments/responsibilities and there is more uncertainty about what the future may hold and how much time we can allocate to visit places on our buckets lists.

Captured during a 6 week long road and backpacking trip in 2009. Ridiculous amounts of planning went into executing that trip.

Captured during a 6 week long road and backpacking trip in 2009. Ridiculous amounts of planning went into executing this particular trip.

There is also this issue of what I call commitment. How dedicated are we to doing what is necessary in order to proper prepare ourselves for the places that we’d like to visit? I know for me this is a huge priority and something that constantly challenges and motivates me.

A related consideration is my experience and skill level. There are some places that I’d like to go where I just don’t have the necessary skills to get there (safely) without hiring someone or getting additional professional training.  It is critical for all of us to know our limitations. Experience is slightly different in that it is more a matter of getting your feet wet so to speak and building up to more demanding trips in the future.

A recent capture from a physically demanding hike and a mentally challenging location.

A recent capture from a physically demanding hike and a mentally challenging location.

So let’s get to the real heart of the matter. The more specific questions that I start to look at when planning.  Here are some of the most important questions that I ask myself:  How much time do I have? How big is the area? Have I been there recently? If so, how long ago or is this someplace new? How long does it take to get there? Will there be any interesting places to stop at along the way?  What is the weather forecast? Is this the best time to visit? Are there any recent natural disasters that I need to know about? What is it specifically about the area that appeals to me? Are there unexplored places that I can visit? What kind of options do I have for hiking? Is there a strong network of intersecting trails? If so, how far am I willing to travel by foot? What are the attitudes and elevation gains? Will there be a bug infestation? Or possibly dangerous wild animals? What are the other natural pitfalls that I need to contend with? What is the camping situation? Do I have to get permits? If so, how are the permits acquired? What is the water situation like? Do I need to bring my own or is it readily available? Are there hotels and restaurants in the area or do I have to travel a distance to find one?

Earlier this week, I read about an unfortunate hiker death on this dangerous trail.

Earlier this week, I read about an unfortunate hiker death on this dangerous trail.

These are all questions that go through my mind every time I plan a long trip. Sometimes I struggle for hours or even days trying to figure out where I want to go; while at other times it is an instant decision with only the fine details that need worked out.  I wish I could tell you that it is something more than that. I wish that I could eloquently articulate about my inner being and higher consciousness that somehow influences the fabric of who I am. It’s just not me though – at least I don’t think so. In reality, I think my approach is analytical based on business and pragmatism. It’s how well I know myself. I hope somehow this has helped you in your own journey to define your horizons as a photographer and maybe shed a little light into who I am as a person. Happy travels and please be sure to share your thoughts here!