Photo Cascadia Blog
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In March of this year I had the unforgettable opportunity to participate in a photography tour of Patagonia with my friend and fellow photographer, Christian Heeb. This article is a brief account of that trip in words and images.
Christian and his wife, Regula, planned and organized the trip through their company, The Cascade Center of Photography, which offers photography tours, workshops and classes, both in the western US and to exotic locations around the world. The Heebs have been traveling and photographing all corners of the planet for nearly three decades and Christian has published over 150 books of his travel photography. I was along on the trip as a co-leader to provide photography instruction and to help drive endless miles of gravel roads. The southern Andes mountains of Patagonia have been a mythical place to me since I was 19, when I first read about the terrifying mid-20th century climbs of Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the Towers of Paine. Later, in the early 1990s, Galen Rowell’s photos of the Cuernos del Paine and Fitz Roy rooted the mystique of Patagonia firmly in my imagination. After almost 30 years of dreaming I finally made it there. Traveling with us were nine clients from the United States and Switzerland, all talented and adventurous photographers as well as wonderful travel companions.
If you aren’t familiar with Patagonia, it is a region that covers the southern portion of South America and includes parts of both Chile and Argentina. The name Patagonia comes from the word patagón used by the explorer Magellan in 1520 to describe the native people who his expedition claimed to be giants. It is now believed that the people he called the Patagons were the Tehuelches, who tended to be taller than Europeans of the time, but certainly not giants.
The Andes mountains reach south through Patagonia, with Chile to the west and Argentina to the east. West of the Andes is wetter with many lakes and fjords. East of the Andes is dryer and consists of desert, plains and grasslands.
Much of the higher Andes range in Patagonia is covered by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s second largest contiguous extrapolar icefield after the Greenland icefield. The icefield feeds dozens of glaciers that flow down out of the mountains, including the Grey and Perito Moreno Glaciers which we photographed.
Our trip began in the Chilean port town of Punta Arenas in the Strait of Magellan. We spent two weeks driving north, up to Torres del Paine (pronounced PIE-nay) National Park and then along Ruta 40 in Argentina, eventually crossing back into Chile and ending at Puerto Montt.
The direct driving distance from Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt is about 1,200 miles, but our circuitous route totalled more than 3,000 miles. Ruta 40 parallels the Andes mountains and spans Argentina from north to south. It is one of the longest roads in the world. The southern part of the route that we traveled is largely unpaved through sparsely populated territory. It has become a well-known adventure tourism journey, although there are now plans to pave it.
Hats off to Christian and Regula for overcoming the substantial logistical challenges of organizing a trip of this magnitude. Every detail of the trip was meticulously planned, from the rental SUVs and border crossings to plotting our route and fueling points to finding great locations, lodging and food even in remote villages, like the one we stayed in near Lago Posadas in the Santa Cruz Province.
As I mentioned, Patagonia first entered my imagination as a land of unlikely rock spires and ferocious weather which vanquished even the strongest and most cunning alpinists. Later, the photographs of Galen Rowell made me yearn to explore the region with a camera. In recent years Patagonia has become a sought after destination for landscape photographers around the world.
But what makes the region so enticing to photographers? Certainly Torres del Paine National Park and the Mount Fitz Roy range are among the most striking mountain landscapes in the world.
Beyond that is the remote and rugged nature of the land, the endless expanse of plains, fjords, glaciers, lakes and rivers, the abundance of wildlife and the dramatic weather and light. The proximity to the ocean, the strength of the winds and the abruptness of the mountain range cause the weather to be unsettled and rapidly changing, creating a continuous show of visually captivating cloud formations and atmospheric conditions. In this way it is not unlike the weather and light common to the Eastern Sierra Nevada in California.
We were fortunate to have great conditions for photography almost every day. However, I am aware that the weather can also be extremely harsh. Like Alaska, the mountains can be hidden in clouds for weeks at a time and the winds can be powerful enough to blow the water right out of the lakes.
For me this was a journey of a lifetime, both as a travel adventure and as a photography experience. It was made even better by all the wonderful people who joined us. I only wish that I could go back to Patagonia with Christian again next year. He and David Cobb will be leading a similar trip to the region, but it will be timed for fall color and will also explore more of the Chilean side of the Andes. Don’t pass it up if you have the chance. If you are interested you can find out more here.
After two weeks in Patagonia half of our group continued on to Easter Island. I’ll follow up with images and stories from that adventure soon.
If you have any questions about traveling and photographing in Patagonia, or a Patagonian experience of your own you would like to share, you can leave me a note in the comment section below.
At least half the journey is about the people and the experiences. The following gallery shares some behind the scenes images from the trip (taken by Christian or Regula Heeb). Enjoy!
Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
It was a few summers ago I was photographing sunrise at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast. A place where you can easily sit mesmerized by the flow of the waves crashing into the earth toned cliffs. On the short “hike” to the end of cape I pass the usual gigantic sign warning of dangerous cliffs ahead that can result in possible injury or death. I have passed the sign and gone through the fence that is nothing more than a visual obstacle, many times before. I take the warning seriously each time while ensuring I am constantly aware of my surroundings.
It’s on this trip I start to think that I am fortunate to be able to go here and I hope this always remains the case. I am glad to be able to make this decision rather than be limited because I am told what is too dangerous for me with complete restriction from the area.
Fast forward to present day and things look a little different. In less than a year there have been over a half dozen deaths as you can see in this article from people falling off the cliffs. Likely everyday people just out to have fun and not necessarily there specifically for photography. My heart goes out those that lost loved ones from these tragedies. Sudden loss sucks, nothing more to say.
“Washing Machine” sitting lower down the near the water with a few visitors looking from the more secure viewpoint above.
Due to recent tragedies the local city is looking to install more fencing that is likely meant to to keep people out along with additional enforcement in the area. I get the concern, it’s real. Yet most of me feels like we should be careful limiting places like this solely because of danger. If the city does restrict the location I will be thankful I had my time there to enjoy it’s beauty along with a few photos in my portfolio. That said I don’t like my public locations being limited solely because of potential danger. I get doing it for it ecological, wildlife or similar concerns but not danger. Give me fair warning of the risks along stating potential lack of rescue should things go awry and I will make my own decision. I will say the decision for me usually results in the low to medium risk route anyway.
“Dory Boat Sunrise” a view of a lone dory boat heading out to sea with Cape Kiwanda sea stack towering above.
I am not out to live life dangling on the edge, literally and figuratively, yet life is not meant to be safe guarded and bubble wrapped around every corner either. There are people that climb mountains, scale cliffs, skydive or myriad of other outdoor activities with some level of risk that will live a long life while others won’t. That’s reality whether we like it not.
Besides Cape Kiwanda this came to mind when I was last in Kauai, Hawaii a couple months ago. Spouting Horn is a popular spot and it used to be open to wander down along the shore with adequate warning signs for those that proceed beyond the view point. I had not been in a few years and I went last trip. Now it clearly states a fine will be issued if you go beyond this point with a longer fence and railing in place. Another location with access reduced for my safety and thus limiting my photography as long as I want to follow the rules. I realize they are doing it for the average person that is not exercising any caution whatsoever or those aspiring to be a candidate for the Darwin Awards. I still don’t necessarily agree with it.
“Far Out!” interesting colors and lines on wet sandstone out near the furthest point before there is nowhere left to go.
I am sure you can think of some places that you like to go that have had similar restrictions put in place. What do you think, should we have safety restrictions or closures in place at these beautiful locations or be able to decide for ourselves? Do you not care and simply go past them to the photo you are after no matter how big the deterrent?
Welcome to 2016 on the Photo Cascadia blog. I have the distinct honor of being chosen to write the first article of the new year. Actually I drew the short straw, but either way I’m excited to be kicking off Photo Cascadia’s sixth year of sharing, learning, exploring and inspiring here on our blog.
Back in October of 2015 I lead a photo tour in the Eastern Sierra through the Cascade Center of Photography with Christian Heeb, one of the most versatile professionals and experienced travel photographers around. The two of us, and our intrepid group of photographers, spent a memorable week exploring the mythical landscapes along Highway 395. The following is a photo journal of the trip. All of these photos were taken by Christian and myself. Christian is the people photographer, so he’s not in many of them.
The Eastern Sierra is a land of legends. Every landscape evokes geologic and volcanic legacy, Native American history, explorers, pioneers, the gold rush, famous mountaineers and one of the birth places of the American national parks and environmental conservation movement. The expanses are big, the mountains are grand and the landscapes are varied. Of course, the Sierra Nevada has inspired some of the most well known American photographers, Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell not the least among them.
The area is so large and parts are so remote that a lifetime of exploring wouldn’t allow you to see it all. Some of the most scenic and photogenic locations are in the high mountain wilderness, deep in canyons or far out in the remote desert and only accessible by those who are especially adventurous and fit. However, it also has many world class photography locations which are accessible by car or with short hikes. This makes the Eastern Sierra a great destination for any photographer and a popular area for photography workshops and tours like this one. There are so many good locations which can be accessed by a group workshop that one week almost wasn’t long enough.
Christian and I planned our tour to be timed with the peak of autumn aspen color. Like anywhere, the fall color quality and timing varies from year to year, but most often it peaks near the third week of October. During our visit some of the highest elevation groves were past peak, but the middle and lower elevation colors near Lee Vining, June Lakes and Bishop Creek were at their height. During the fall season the temperatures are generally very pleasant. Mornings at the higher elevations can be below freezing, but daytime temperatures were quite comfortable at 60-75 F (15-22 C). The busiest time in the Sierra is summer when it is overrun with tourists, backpackers, mountain bikers, climbers and campers. In October, some areas still get quite a few visitors, but nothing close to the crowds of summer, and we were the only people at several of the places we went.
Our trip covered the region between Mono Lake on the north and the town of Lone Pine on the south. The distance between is over 100 miles, so we based out of a few different towns during the trip to minimize driving time to our sunrise and sunset locations. As you can see from the images, we had some spectacular light and weather conditions.
Most important of all is the fun we had. We had a wonderful and diverse group of talented photographers. People came from all over the west and as far as Florida, Maryland and Switzerland. Everyone was enthusiastic, positive and energized. I think everyone learned a lot, made new friends and had lifetime experiences. We also laughed a lot and captured some spectacular photographs. Photo credit for this next collection of workshop images goes to Christian Heeb.
I work with Christian and the Cascade Center of Photography regularly. They are one of few dedicated photography centers in the Western US and a great resource for all types and levels of photographers. Each year they offer a wide selection of classes, workshops and tours. Classes for all levels and genres of photography are held in Bend, Oregon, where the center is located. They also lead tours all over the world. Christian and I will be taking a group to Patagonia and Easter Island in March and they have trips to Cuba, France and Morocco on the calendar, just to name a few.
All of the locations in this article are open to the public, have good access and ample information can be found on them with quick web searches. Following are some additional resources for the Eastern Sierra you may find helpful.
- Michael Frye’s Sierra Blog Articles. Michael is one of the most knowledgeable, experienced and talented photographers currently in the area.
- Photo Trip USA’s Photographing California Volumes 1 and 2 by Garry Crabbe and Jeffrey Sullivan.
- Mono County Eastern Sierra Fall Color Report
- Sierra National Forest
- Inyo National Forest
Yet again another year has flown by which brings time to look back on the past and what might lie ahead for the new year. Going strong for six years with no signs of letting up on the gas. We grew by a whopping 16.6% with Erin Babnik joining our crew. We continue united with our mission “learn, explore, create” as we intended from the beginning. Just like a rock concert I was at last week when the band said they would not be where they are without their fans, a similar statement could be said for all of you. A sincere Thank you to all of our subscribers and viewers to the newsletter, blog, social media and any other rock you lifted up to find us!
It’s always a good time looking back at the photos each of us from Photo Cascadia captured over the last year. Wherever the road took you in 2015 for your photography we hope you enjoy looking back at what it means to you while giving a chance to reflect on what life is all about and what matters most. Photographing what mother nature has to offer reminds us that we learn as much or more from simply being out and about than anything we could read or watch online. This quote says it best.
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
- John Lubbock
As we wrap up the year and take a few weeks off from the blog we invite you to take a few minutes to view a few of our favorites from the team this past year. Slideshow is best viewed in HD. Happy Holidays and New Year!
Late last year we were out as a Photo Cascadia group along the Oregon Coast when the idea was brought up to head to the Canadian Rockies for fall 2015. I was in! I had not been there while it sat on my list of must see places to visit for too long. Fast forward to the last week of September 2015 and we were off for a one week trip.
After the first 6 hour leg from my house in Portland, Oregon I met up with Chip in Spokane, Washington to finish out the next 6+ hours to our destination and meet up with Sean and Zack who had already been there a day. After a long day we arrived at Lake Louise Campground shortly after sunset. No sunset photos that night. We pulled in. Hung out with Zack and Sean for a bit while eating dinner then off to catch zzz’s for sunrise.
Getting up this time of year for sunrise feels like a treat after the droopy tired eyes of summer. We made our way to our first photo stop, sunrise at Moraine Lake. I expected busy. It was a little more than I expected. Far and away the most crowded location on this trip photographing with 100+ of my closest friends. Amazing to see yet it loses the appeal a little for me with that many photographers all jockeying for limited space. I kept setting up high in the trees, in the dark, only to find someone else eventually moving around already setup in my shot. One gal was getting aggressive when a photog got too close and he wasn’t moving. I was waiting for a fight but he eventually moved. I left the main viewing area on the top to join my peeps along the shore where I had a great rest of the morning with this splendid view!
This trip would not involve lollygagging around the same campsite for multiple nights. We had breakfast in town, back to camp to pick up Chip’s trailer and then off to the next location, Yoho National Park. A rather short drive away (~ 20 kilometers) we checked in at Kicking Horse Campground which was a good location in the middle of Yoho Park.
We spent the afternoon checking out Takakkaw Falls, walking part of Emerald Lake shoreline and then finishing with sunset at Emerald Lake. It’s only seconds after arriving here to know how it got it’s name. “Hiking” around the lake is more like an extended nature hike. At least the section we did was pretty flat yet very scenic. As we all know not all great scenic photos require long bouts of strenuous activity.
Up plenty before daylight and off to Bow Lake for sunrise. The drive was about 50 kilometers. The wind was whipping pretty good. I was not happy with any of my images from this morning yet we had a fun time regardless. The clouds rolled in and we could tell things would get wet later in the day. Back to Kicking Horse for breakfast at camp, fill up on water and off to the next campsite closer to the Bow Lake area.
Our next stop was Mosquito Creek Campground on Ice Fields Parkway. We filled up on water before arriving as this time of year it’s a dry campground because overnight lows dip below freezing. By the time we arrived the rain had already started dropping. We spent the afternoon chilling in our campers reading, listening to podcasts and napping. Having warm dry shelter was very welcome at that moment.
After getting bored we decided to drive and see if could find a place to have a beer. First stop was Bow Lake restaurant. The lady at the desk was indirectly kind in trying to say the restaurant was for guests only yet suggested we head a ways down the road for a bar. Mind you this is National Park with few places to stop and all tree lined roads. After driving another 40 km in the pouring rain at dusk we arrive at the mildly depressing oasis called Saskatchewan River Crossing. We were happy to have this place pretty much to ourselves sitting on couches drinking a beer and snacking on mediocre wings. Out into the rain and 50 km later we are back at camp. Rain still pouring outside we eat dinner in the camper then hit the hay.
I wake up shortly before dawn. I step outside the camper and can see nothing but endless grey with rain still coming down. Feels like home. We decide to bag sunrise and go back to bed. What seemed like 5 min later, in reality over an hour, I wake up and look out the window to see a huge patch of blue sky. Shorter than the click of a shutter I yell for Chip to wake up and jump out the camper. No courteous knock, I whip open the door to Sean’s camper and say “get up now, we need to leave!” Minutes later we are on the road. It did not take long to see this was going to be a fantastic morning. The snowline went down low overnight but only brought a dusting. With the sun coming over the horizon and quickly clearing skies we had to act fast. After pulling into Peyto Lake we made a short hike to an area with a perfect view and away from the main viewpoint.
While still on a morning high from the scene at Peyto Lake we make our way down to wander around Waterfowl Lakes. After breakfast back at camp we decide very early tomorrow is the time to make it up into Lake O’Hara with the slowly clearing weather pattern.
Midday we head back into Lake Louise Village for supplies. Mainly the $6 dollar bear spray rental since I left mine back home. I know now I can take it across the border next trip. As the kid in the store weighs the bear spray he proceeds to tell me that if I end up using it and the weight is not the same upon return I will have to buy it. My response “if I have to use this I have much bigger concerns than the retail price of a can of bear spray!”
That night we photographed sunset along Waterfowl Lakes. The partly cloudy skies made for a really nice scene. We don’t stick around long as we need to hit the sack early since wake up will be 3:15! No time for s’mores or kumbaya this trip.
My soothing alarm ring goes off at 3:15 am. Surprisingly I slept better than expected and feel pretty good. We eat a quick breakfast, as much as my body wants to eat this early in the morning and out into the morning cold crisp air we head as we start our trek to Lake O’Hara.
Spots in and around Lake O’Hara are amazingly scenic like out of Lord of the Rings or where you truly might find that pot of gold with a leprechaun. This is the reason it’s not easy to get there. For most normal people there are two options; camping or the lodge. Both options book up months in advance. Our plan would be to hike the 11 km gravel road in the dark to make it by sunrise. You can see why I rented bear spray. Although we were a group of four it’s prime bear country. With our head lamps moving around like the light in a lighthouse and plenty of “hey bear” shout outs we arrive at Lake O’Hara shortly before sunrise. I would not necessarily recommend this approach yet it worked for us.
We quickly find out the hiking is not over. We have at least a few more kilometers of all steep terrain to make it where we want to go. I am on a high and power through the next part. The sky starts getting lighter to slowly reveal this magical landscape. We spend a couple hours hiking around and taking photos. Honestly it’s a place you could stay all day with the perfect conditions we had yet we needed to ensure we could get a bus out. We leave it behind taking our photos as constant reminders for years to come.
We decide our next stop is Kananaskis. Kananskis Country is known for large photogenic groves of aspens. After the 160 km drive (about 2 hrs) we were pretty wiped considering the early morning wakeup call and long hike. We pull into a campground in Kananaskis area and take a long nap.
We decided on Wedge Pond for sunset, a short jaunt from camp. The golden aspens line the pond and do not disappoint. Not only did we have a beautiful view yet on the other side of the pond were what appeared to be two female yoga instructors doing poses in a wildly colorful yoga pants while a male photographer taking the shots was cheering them on. They were the only people there besides us.
Up the next morning and fortunately another not too far away drive which allowed for a more normal wake up time. It was a nice little marshy pond area not far from the road with a perfect view of Mount Kidd. A thin layer of ice continued growing on the small ponds as we photographed which was all we needed to tell us the temperature outside.
After that we spent the next few hours chasing around different aspen groves before the light got too harsh. Daytime photos are beautiful with golden aspens mixed with blue skies yet we had other plans in mind given it was our last day.
A late breakfast and on the road to the town Banff we go. There is a campground just outside of town where we setup camp. After “roughing” it for the week we decide an evening on the town is in order to finish this phenomenal trip. I highly recommend a soak in Banff Hot Springs and grabbing a beer with dinner at Banff Brewing Company. The next morning before dawn we head home.
If you have not been it’s a must add to your bucket list. In my home state of Oregon I feel lucky to live near mountains to play and photograph yet in all honesty they feel less dramatic in scale and size when comparing the endless large mountains around every turn in the Canadian Rockies.
Timing: The first part of any fall color foliage trip is timing. We all had it Sharpied in our calendars many months in advance and while peak fall colors certainly change every year none of us had much wiggle room. Fortunately our timing could not have been better. Normal peak for this area is middle to late September. As a side note you can easily spend a couple weeks in the Canadian Rockies and still feel like you are only scratching the surface.
Transportation: Living in the Pacific Northwest we are in reasonable driving distance. I only lug all my camping or backpacking equipment at 30,000 feet when necessary. The drive was about 12 hours, pushing the envelope to do it one day. Flying you will likely need to come through Calgary, the closest International airport at 120 kilometers from Banff.
Weather: This time of year you need everything from t-shirts to thick down jackets. We experienced snow, rain, wind and bright blue sky mild days. Be prepared for it all. Our coldest morning was about -3 degrees and our sunny warmest day about 15 degrees Celsius.
Lodging: There are plenty of options from budget camping to deluxe pampering hotels. We would be camping the whole time which made it very cost effective. Campgrounds we stayed at in Yoho and Banff ranged from $18 to $27 Canadian a night with additional $8 if you want to have a campfire. Beautiful Lake O’Hara I mentioned, lodging is a mere $600 to $900 CA a night for two.
Locations: Overall there many different parks and places that are part of Canadian Rockies yet we had no problem filling the days with our focus on three of them…Kananaskis, Banff and Yoho National Parks.
Physical Activity Level: You can make it as adventurous as you want from photographing out the window of your resort room to backpacking deep into the mountains. If money is no object then the best of both by staying at mountain lodges in the back country. Given we had only a week most of our locations were short hikes to nature walks with one long strenuous hike.
By David Cobb
The first time I explored Croatia was when I crossed the eastern border through the countries of Montenegro and Albania. Six years later I explored the western portion of the country arriving through Slovenia. Both times I was greeted by friendly faces, wonderful food, and beautiful scenery to photograph. On my first visit I had time constraints so I only made it as far as Dubrovnik, but the second time I was able to explore more of the country along Plivitce National Park as well as some of the towns and villages along the Istrian coast and a bit further inland.
Dubrovnik is a photogenic city along the Adriatic Sea. The old town consists of many ancient churches, and its polished streets make for great reflections during night photography. Climbing the wall of the old fortress you can shoot down into the city and pick out patterns amongst the rooftops.
Along the western end of the country lies Plivitce National Park and its many lakes and waterfalls. Fall here can be spectacular, and there are so many grand waterfalls it’s hard to know where to begin photographing so just start and explore. I recommend you plan on spending more than a day here.
Inland near the Istrian coastline are a number of hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards. The small towns surrounding the ancient castles are more photogenic when you walk the stone streets—and offer views down to the surrounding agricultural fields that make for great pattern photography.
The Istrian Coast is beautiful too, with its beaches and cliff-side views. As always in Croatia, the towns along the coast are most photogenic and are photographed best during sunrise, sunset, and night.
There is still so much for me to explore in Croatia, especially in some of the backcountry river canyons and mountain ranges. I plan on seeing and exploring more when fellow Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw and I join Luka Esenko for a fall color workshop here in 2017. There are still a few spaces available in the workshop for those interested in experiencing this great area.
By Kevin McNeal
The 2015 Yosemite in Spring photo tour began with expectations of lush green landscapes, spring-fed waterfalls and endless bloom of dogwoods—and Yosemite did not disappoint. After meeting my group at the Fresno airport we made the journey north through Wawona and into Yosemite National Park. En route we took the opportunity to look at a few of the anticipated highlights of the park. Our accommodation for the week at Yosemite Lodge was nestled right in the heart of the valley, so we would have access to many locations that were a short distance away.
Our first photo session was special as it was a night with a full moon and the anticipation of moonbow photography. This event occurs as a full moon in spring or early summer shines directly on a rushing waterfall to create a nighttime lunar rainbow. Mist from the waterfall, a dark sky, bright moonlight and the right “rainbow geometry” must all come together. Following dinner, our group was at Lower Yosemite Falls to see the rainbow and get good images of this spectacular event.
The following morning we were at Ahwahnee Lodge for breakfast and enjoyed some time to photograph the classic lodge in its stunning setting among blooming dogwoods. Photographing the interior of the lodge gave us a chance to practice some creative photo techniques. Later, returning to Yosemite Falls, we found some unique compositions and practiced our skills using a neutral density filter to photograph long exposures on the waterfall to create a different mood. Following lunch, El Capitan Bridge provided many opportunities for shooting reflections in the Merced River. The river was running very nicely considering California’s drought conditions. The lush green vegetation was better than expected and provided some nice backgrounds. At sunset we continued our exploration of reflections by shooting images of Half Dome in the Merced River near Chapel Meadow.
Starting out very early the next morning we drove to Tahiti Beach, a special spot along the Merced. It was a good morning for reflections in the river and in spring-fed pools and we were treated to stunning light on the Three Brothers and iconic El Capitan.
After a well-deserved late breakfast, we took a park shuttle bus—exciting for everyone as it was reminiscent of summer camp—to Mirror Lake. Taking our time hiking the 2-mile trip to the lake and back, we stopped along the way to photograph waterfall cascades. The lake provided some of the best photographic opportunities we had, including numerous unique reflections.
After dinner that day we headed out to the stone arch of Pohono Bridge to photograph spring dogwoods and sun stars. This gave us some good practice using creative techniques. We focused on both the dogwoods and a sun star to really capture both in the same image. We were even able to shoot some stunning late light under the Pohono Bridge. In the last two days we had found some incredible photographic compositions along the Merced River.
Still excited from the night before and the images we shot, the following day we looked for more interesting compositions at the Swinging Bridge which spans both sides of the Merced River. Here, the sunrise light hits Upper Yosemite Falls and reflects nicely in the river, making everything around it look lusciously green. We took the morning to shoot at a spot we found where we could photograph in all directions—and had something different to shoot every time.
After spending the last few days in Yosemite Valley we got news that Tioga Pass and the Upper Yosemite Road had opened. This was a nice surprise as the pass does not usually open up until late May. We spent the rest of the day on the journey over Tioga Pass, traveling to Lee Vining for dinner. Along the way, we found many places to shoot, including an out-of-the-way lake that was perfect for reflections. A stop at Olmstead Point provided one of the most stunning vistas of Half Dome, where we focused on finding unique compositions and using some of the photogenic solo trees in the image. We returned to Yosemite Valley for a sunset shoot at Tunnel View where some dramatic clouds made the breathtaking scenics even better. After a great day of shooting we headed back to our lodge for some well-deserved rest.
The next morning we woke to some very atmospheric mist and fog in the valley, making for interesting images at El Capitan Meadow, including some early wildflowers. After hearing news of overnight snow in the upper elevations of the park we drove to Tuolumne Grove for some forest scenes with snow falling around the giant sequoias.
Our final full day of the tour began with photography along the low-lying mist-draped Merced River. Then, as the fog began to lift, rolling in and out of the valley, Yosemite’s dramatic rock formations covered with the fresh snow rose out of the mist. I think we photographed just about every spot in Yosemite Valley when we saw those amazing conditions! While we were shooting in Cook’s Meadow we even had the rare opportunity to see two coyotes playing with each other for almost an hour—all while the surrounding peaks were providing some unforgettable moments. That evening we celebrated our day of success at our final group dinner.
In one week, we had experienced enough drama in the Yosemite’s springtime weather conditions and created stunning images to last us a long time.
On our final morning of the tour we were ready for an early start back to the Fresno airport, but rather than stopping for breakfast, we decided to take our last opportunity to look for the early morning fog which had made for some spectacular shooting conditions. Within minutes we knew we had made the right decision. Cook’s Meadow was lit up with beautiful morning light mixed with the low-lying fog—making it the best morning we had yet. We got some great shots and even made it to the airport in time!
We had captured Yosemite’s expected iconic landscapes, cascading waterfalls and creamy-blossomed dogwoods, but we also left with images of rare moonbows, unique “reflectionscapes,” unanticipated vistas, sequoias in a snowfall, playful coyotes, and dramatic low-lying tendrils of fog in Yosemite’s deep valley beneath towering rock peaks. Saying our good-byes we were already looking forward to reliving the week through our images.
I just finished up a very enjoyable workshop season down in the Palouse region of Washington State. As many of you know, I live just on the North side of this beautiful area and I am lucky to be able to visit often and give multiple photography tours and workshops during peak season. This was my first time back since my little boy David was born. I had a wonderful group of clients this year and we had some really great conditions. I did a quick edit of some of the images we were after this spring and wanted to share some with you. The above and below images were shot from Steptoe Butte at sunrise while some nice fog rolled in and out of the hills.
Shortly after sunrise on our walk back down to the car, we found this nice patch of wildflowers and had some fun shooting them with these three trees up on the hill. A focus stack was needed for this shot. The flowers were blowing around a bit, and I didn’t want to go too wide and make the trees too small, so I used my 24-70mm zoom lens and shot a series of images for a blend in Photoshop to get good sharpness throughout the image.
While out and about, we found this fascinating structure and photographed it for a while. The whole thing was made out of 2×4’s and none of us could figure out what it was. It had these hatch doors through each wall seen in the shot below looking through.
The Canola was a little late this year because of an early freeze but we found a really nice patch just out of Colfax.
A trip to the Palouse just isn’t complete without a stop at a barn or two.
With clouds overhead, there can be some great spot lighting during times of the day other than sunrise or sunset.
Catching the sunrise up at Steptoe Butte is a must.
Although Steptoe Butte is a favorite, there are many other places to photograph the sunset.
Many techniques used on these images are demonstrated in my image editing videos
For more images and info on my workshops visit my website chipphillipsphotography
There are a few photographers I have met that don’t have any immediate family, by this I mean no significant other and no children. The majority of us have at least one or both. If you are young maybe none of the above still applies yet give it time and it will likely change. I have heard the comment many times that you can’t mix family and photography very well into the same trip and if you want good photos you need to have a photography only trip. I used to think that was mostly true before changing my tune over the years.
Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I understand it’s a completely different dynamic when you are out on your own or with a few friends photographing versus as a family trying to make time for photos. That said it can work with the right perspective. I am married with young children. I experience family trips in beautiful places working on balancing it all out. Landscape photography is certainly harder than other professions or hobbies that might be all at home or local, rather than requiring travel. Now I look back with quite a few photos in my portfolio from trips taken with my wife, just the kids or the whole family even if they are not carrying a camera or with their radar always on for photos like me.
There is one photo that for some reason sticks out in my mind which relates to this topic. It is from well-known Marc Muench, and I saw it a number of year’s back when he posted on Facebook. You can see more in the link, yet in short it’s about having a small window to get the shot before a child needs your attention or are playing in the middle of shot quite possibly changing the scene. The photo is beautiful storm sky scene and had he not made any comments about his children playing while photographing I would have seen only the serene scene in my head. Without additional context you simply don’t know what is happening outside the view of the lens.
Fortunately I have an amazing wife who is supportive of my photography, and kids that love being outdoors which certainly makes it easier to walk the balance beam of family and photography. That aside there are things to think about that can help balance out unreasonable expectations from reality to make everyone happy in the end.
1. Communicate what your intentions of a trip are ahead of time. If you have one thought and your family has another, these will collide during the trip and you don’t want that.
2. Don’t force a family trip into being 100% about the photos you want to capture. Be okay not getting every shot and moment. Your camera is not the only focus.
3. Support your significant other for their passion or hobby. Your intense burning desire to sprint out the door for photos may not be met with the same level of enthusiasm by your partner if it’s only one sided.
4. Don’t sulk about missing a great sunrise or sunset. Trust me this is not easy yet I am a little more at peace with this now than I used to be when I started photography.
5. Plan your photo trips and family trips (when possible) so it’s not always a surprise. We use a shared online calendar so my wife and I are always in the know of each other’s plans. For example if there is a low tide I want to hit on the coast I add it to our shared calendar so it’s visible to her what I am planning to do.
6. Realize you cannot take endless time scouting and photographing when on a family trip. Ask yourself if this scene is one you want to take or move on. It’s the difference between a scene that you clearly see a great composition vs one you know has good potential yet might take a while working it to get what you want.
7. Take photos of your family; then they won’t feel like it’s all about you. Sometimes they add to the scene for your landscape photos not to mention memories.
8. If you have a young child that still takes naps leverage this. Get up early on the trip for sunrise photography and then catch up on sleep later on during the kids nap time (assuming someone is there while he/she sleeps in). It’s a win-win with photo time and losing little family time.
9. Don’t think every trip needs to be a big multi-week production of thousands of miles on the road or multiple layovers. In many cases a 3 to 4 day trip just for photography allows you to focus without worrying about the balance for a long trip. The reverse can be said too.
10. Include your kids in your photography (hoping they have an interest). Let them take a photo with your camera and show it to them on the LCD. Show them what the buttons and settings do. Even if nothing ever happens to that file it’s the connection to what you’re doing that matters.
11. If you like to spend time with your photography outdoors for hiking, camping and the like don’t wait until your kids are older to expose them to that life. Start young and you will see there is a good chance they will grow to enjoy it making it easier and more fun for everyone later on.
12. If it’s a short single day trip and you have different camera systems bringing your smaller light weight system might be a better approach (ex: your mirror-less system). At least if you bring your larger camera system leave some of your arsenal of lenses and accessories behind so it doesn’t give the appearance you are taking over the day.
It’s been an internal tug-o-war for me since the relationship between photography and I became serious about a decade ago that only over the last couple years have I dealt with much better. Although I love taking photos of primarily nature it’s the photos I have of my family from these trips that I will remember as much or more decades from now. In a matter of days I am off to the Redwoods for 5 nights with my family. The plan is a blended trip of family and photography. Wish me luck on striking the right balance!
If you have stories to share on what works for you (or doesn’t) please feel free to share with a comment on this post.
Last week we introduced and welcomed Erin Babnik as a new contributor to the PhotoCascadia blog. This week we are proud to publish Erin’s first feature piece. Make sure to visit Erin’s website to learn more about her and explore her exhilarating photographs.
By Erin Babnik
The American conservationist Aldo Leopold famously said that, to people with imagination, the most valuable parts of a map are where it is “blank.” He was of course referring to wilderness areas, which most people never see and have to imagine in order to appreciate what is there, how it works, and why it matters. Although his message was aimed at the protection of these areas, he felt that humans should have firsthand experiences with them. It may seem counterintuitive for someone to encourage human presence in areas that need protection, but he believed that it was necessary for us to develop personal relationships with nature—after all, to quote one of Leopold’s contemporaries, “we can only love what we know” (Aldous Huxley). He therefore praised outdoor activities that imposed minimal impact on nature while fostering awareness and appreciation of it. Landscape photography at its best rises to the challenge of that noble goal, giving photographers at least one good reason to spread out and explore those blank places on the map. What about more artistic reasons, though? As I hope to explain here, the rewards of exploration and discovery can be well worth the extra effort that may go into approaching new horizons.
It is easy to think of a map as a display of straightforward, factual information, but it is actually an interpretation of a place, just like a photograph is. A map picks out certain areas and omits others, telling us what is supposedly important to know. In general, any point of interest that features prominently on a map will have a correspondingly large corpus of photographs representing it; the more famous that a place becomes through photographs, the more likely it will be to appear prominently on a map, and vice versa. Just like a map, a large corpus of photographs will ultimately interpret a location, typically establishing a norm for it that repeats in photographs like a resounding echo. These patterns emerge for good reasons, usually because they do a particularly good job of communicating what is special about a place, but they also amount to a kind of conceptual baggage, both for photographers and for viewers of their photographs. Whether we like it or not, a norm will haunt a place, even if we attempt to avoid it—we can accept or reject a norm, but our efforts exist in relation to it either way. This predicament then extends to the viewer, since the process of viewing a photograph will involve whatever memories a viewer may have of existing imagery.
While preconceptions can complicate the creative process for a photographer, they certainly don’t condemn it, of course. On the contrary, representing a well known view comes with its own set of benefits, and those include more than just the tangible rewards of popular appeal, such as predictable print sales or image licensing. Some creative strategies actually depend upon familiarity to serve as a premise, allowing a photographer to expand upon existing ideas or to engage in visual storytelling in ways that might not be possible otherwise. For example, a photo of a blooming meadow will take on a new layer of meaning if its location is best known for a lake that filled the space before it evaporated. Similarly, a photo of a famous landmark may be particularly interesting or meaningful if it shows that landmark from an ‘unusual’ vantage point. In either case, the ‘different’ photos benefit from familiarity by creating a sort of dialogue with it.
So while the photographer who strives for creativity will find much of value in approaching those bold points of interest on the map, doing so can feel like an act of negotiation, of working within certain creative limits. To be sure, there is room for discovery at any location, but venturing out to relatively unknown territory can throw the creative doors wide open. Any view that we find independently becomes a blank canvas of sorts; it presents a whole range of wonderful creative ‘problems’ to solve. What is the character of this place? What is particularly special about it? What conditions might best bring out its character? Which features here are essential to communicating the experience of this location? How can those features be presented most legibly? Answering such questions gives a photographer the opportunity to ‘define’ the location and to do so with a greater reliance on personal intuition—the less that we have to ‘think away’ other interpretations of a place, the more able we are to have a visceral response to it.
Naturally, more remote locations tend to offer the most opportunity for discovering seldom seen views, but even very accessible places sometimes have areas that get overlooked simply because they lie in the blank place on the map. Operating with an explorer’s mentality can land us deep in the wilderness or right in our own local ‘neck of the woods,’ but either way, we will be invoking a creative process that can be incredibly rewarding. Indeed, researching lesser known areas raises numerous questions that can get the creative gears churning before we ever even leave home. What might I find there? What would I like to find there? How might this place differ from others with similar qualities? How might this place be affected by the seasons? Thinking through the possibilities at this stage becomes a prelude to the visualization process that takes place on location, priming the mind for seeing opportunities upon arrival. In this regard, the photographer is led more by imagination than by knowledge, which is arguably more conducive to creativity. Regardless of where our exploration may take us, we are bound to benefit from the creative exercise, even if we don’t strike pay dirt on every outing.
For anyone who is inclined to explore more remote locations for landscape photography, there are a number of resources that can aid in the process. Using Google Earth to explore an area virtually can be a great place to start, allowing the identification of potentially photogenic features and alignments. Topographical maps can also be very helpful in this regard, especially when researching areas where elevation varies a lot and can have a big effect on the types of terrain that might exist there. For example, for mountainous areas, it can be helpful to know if a location is below the tree line, where forests may obscure views. Satellite imagery is another digital resource that any explorer should consult, with the understanding that older satellite images can be quite inaccurate. It is always a good idea to check the date of a satellite image and to look for multiple sources of such imagery. There are companies that sell very high-resolution satellite images that could be worthwhile investments if the images are very current and can aid in the location of desirable features. When exploring on foot, it is immensely helpful to have a good topographical map app that supports offline maps and the creation of waypoints; being able to mark discoveries and to navigate towards areas of potential interest with ease will increase both efficiency and the overall enjoyment of the process.
Although venturing into the unknown is always a gamble, the rewards can be tremendous. There is nothing quite like the thrill of discovering a vantage point, feature, or composition that provides a sense of creative pioneering. Whether an act of exploration takes us to distant lands or to an overlooked niche in our own neighborhood, it always takes us to a creative space that is destined to pay dividends in our future creative efforts. The suggestions included here for finding areas of photographic potential are just some of the more practical ones; anyone who has other recommendations is very welcome to include them in the comments below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.