Archive for the ‘Photo Travel’ Category

Tam McArthur Rim – Backpacking Trip

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

As you might have gathered from my website or prior blog posts one of my favorite wilderness areas is venturing off into Three Sisters Wilderness of Central Oregon. Even though I have been many times there are still new places in this wilderness to visit. One of these I have tried a couple times before but been unsuccessful is Tam McArthur Rim. All prior trips didn’t work out because I was too early (too much snow) or too late (no snow).

View from trail of Three Creek Lake and Tam McArthur Rim (iPhone 6s panorama)

I mention the too early or too late for a couple reasons. If you are early you can likely still make it up with a completely snow covered trail yet know the first .75 to 1 mile is pretty wooded so have a map and GPS. If you go too late when the snow has vanished for the season there is no water. Your only water is on your back and that won’t do well for me to backpack. Plus too late in summer and the peaks have less snow which is not as photogenic, little shade from the heat, and there will likely be more people. Well this year my friend and I timed it right minus the total blue bird skies which means don’t expect colorful sunrises and sunsets in this post. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Me standing on lower portion of McArthur Rim looking over Three Creek Lake (iPhone 6s taken by my friend)

All images were with my Sony a6000 except for a handful of snapshots taken with my iPhone. I will fully admit it was one of those trips where I was going the semi-lazy route and probably used my iPhone more than I normally would. You know the saying. The camera that is closest and easiest to get it is the one you will use most.

As the sign articulates trail may or may not be clearly visible. Be prepared to navigate without trail as needed. (iPhone 6s)

Getting There
The trailhead is located just before the campground at Three Creek Lake. Rather than spell it all out here, I would recommend this link to get more details. If you are familiar with Sisters, Oregon the trailhead is only a matter of about 25 to 30 minute drive from here. It does require a Northwest Forest parking pass.

The harsh light and dark shadows along with dull gray and canyon red made for an interesting abstract of contrasts (iPhone 6s).

The Hike
As far as hikes this is not a long or steep one overall. Depending on where you finish up the hike or backpack trip it’s about 5 to 5.5 miles RT and 1,200 to 1,400 feet elevation gain. If the snow is melted you have a trail the first half. After that the trail fades in and out yet as long as the weather is decent navigation isn’t tricky. We hiked the full distance to the edge of the rim near broken top to camp for the night.
You can hike up further closer to Broken Top than you see in my photos yet we did not do that this trip.

Google Maps of Tam McArthur Rim
Staying Hydrated
I have not taken the hike up here late summer but I am sure it’s a big dust bowl, hot and waterless as I have hiked other areas of Three Sisters Wilderness during the summer months. As mentioned if you go when the snow is melting you can usually find a small run off area. That said it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s a really gradual slope in most places thus the water absorbs into the sandy volcanic soil before it pools up. We found one really good spot about a 1/4 mile walk from camp.
You certainly can pack in all the water you need which is fine for the day but staying overnight for a night or two you need to have drinking and cooking water. I am not eager to pack that much H2O!

Not much better place to have breakfast than sitting with a view like this! (Sony a6000)


More interesting rocks. Basalt looking more like Swiss cheese from the trapped gases that bubbled out thousands of years ago. (iPhone 6s)

When to Go
We went the last week of June and based on past experiences in this area late June to early July is likely the best time. Obviously it varies every year depending on snow pack. I look for updated trail reports on Deschutes National Forest website; they are pretty good about providing updates on many roads and trails. I have been here before around the same time of year where I had to park the car before Three Creek Lake because snow was still blocking the road. The trailhead starts at 6,550 feet meaning it can take a while for full access on road and trailhead free from snow. Keep in mind when the snow first melts this also is prime mosquito breeding time. Bbzzzz! They were pretty bothersome at the car but shortly up the trail they diminished with none at camp.

My buddy Josh hiking up one of the steeper slopes on the rim. (iPhone 6s)

What to Photograph
The peaks to be seen seem like they are endless on a clear day yet up close you have Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and all Three Sisters as far as larger peaks go. Then there are many other smaller mountains and buttes. Not a bad vantage point. Besides that you can peer down to Three Creek Lake and Little Three Creek Lake. Very cool wind bent and sculpted trees. No shortage of interesting rocks which I am always intrigued by.
It’s important to note that you have some nice views looking north to vast open landscape. If you are wondering why you can’t see Broken Top or Three Sister mountains you have to hike to the end of the rim to get that view.

The ghosts of Tam McArthur Rim live on! Old tree near camp. (Sony a6000)

Overall this is a 5 star hike or backpack trip for the sheer number of mountains and views you get without needing to trek very far. Oh and how can I forget about the best part? Completing any hike on a warm dusty trail day is not truly complete until you cool off swimming in a cold lake. Three Creek Lake fits the bill perfectly! Have a good time hiking, photographing, and of course swimming.

Sunset light warms up landscape features along the rim looking towards Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain. (Sony a6000)


Sunrise alpenglow lights up Broken Top and Three Sisters. Click image to view pano large. (Sony a6000)


I saw this opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. My buddy Josh standing on the edge of the cliff starring off towards Mount Jefferson and Mt Hood with Little Three Creek Lake below. (Sony a6000)


Finding Fall Colors On Mount Rainier – Kevin McNeal

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016
Images from Tatoosh Range on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Last Light Squeezes Through On Mount Rainier From Tatoosh Range

Autumn is a favorite time for photographing in the Pacific Northwest. There are so many places to capture fall colors but nothing quite compares to photographing Mount Rainier in autumn. The Pacific Northwest and Mount Rainier make the perfect combination of elements needed for stunning images of fall photography. Not only is Mt Rainier known for its larger than life size but it picturesque lakes, waterfalls, meadows, and tundra. Although it varies year to year I find the best time for fall colors is the last week of September to Mid-October. But the color usually lasts until the first week of November when the snow first starts. Check fall reports on the Internet and the Mt Rainier website for more up to date information. There are two main areas to visit when going to Mt Rainier, which are the Paradise side and the Sunrise side. Both have excellent fall color and a host of different aspects to photograph. In my experience the fall colors start a few weeks earlier on the Sunrise side. The best places to photograph on the Sunrise side are Yakima Peak, Emmons Glacier (Silver Forest Trail), and the Tipsoo Lake area. Take time to explore around Tipsoo Lake especially the Naches Peak trail and both the Upper and Lower Tipsoo surrounding lakes. Early morning around Tipsoo Lake usually has a host of colors and mist that make for excellent atmospheric images. When photographing in late September the stunning sunrises make for great fall conditions. In terms of the foliage high elevation red huckleberry and larch is what you can expect to find on Mt Rainer. The other types of foliage you see are cottonwoods, willows, elderberry, aspen, tamarack (western larch) and deciduous trees. Although there are several types of foliage to shoot in autumn on Mt Rainier my personal favorite is the Red Huckleberry. The red is visually very impactful and always sticks out above other fall foliage. Look to incorporate the red huckleberry when combining it with areas of water like lakes and ponds that mirror the color of red. The red huckleberry is the first sign of fall color followed by larches, which tend to occur at the later stages of autumn.

Images from Pinnacle Peak trail on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Storm Clouds Moving Over Pinnacle Peak

When it comes to photographing on the Paradise side of Mount Rainier I always like to start off looking for fall colors at the Paradise Inn which has a great view of the mountain and the best displays of fall color right at the visitor center. Heading up the pathway to Myrtle Falls the views only getting better as well the color. Look to incorporate waterfalls as well as the mountain when making your way up the mountain from the Paradise side. Although the hike can be somewhat strenuous the hike is worth it. If you keep along the paths they converge into the Paradise Valley where the mountain is in full view but also if you turn 180 degrees away from the mountain you get grand views of the Tatoosh range. The Tatoosh Range looks best at sunset. The Paradise Meadows also makes a great sunset spot when the weather looks active and the clouds are moving in. Sometimes the clouds move over Mt Rainier making it impossible to see but the action on the Tatoosh Range gets color. So in essence it’s your safest bet if you are looking to capture some fall colors on the mountain.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Lenticular Clouds and Sunset Colors Surround Mt Rainier In The Paradise Meadows

If you continue up the hill past Myrtle Falls you will eventually reach the Mazama Ridge. It’s my favorite area to see the mountain and fall color. With wide-open meadows of fall color and full views of the mountain it makes for an excellent combination. The total hike in and out from the Mazama Ridge is about 4 miles but there are several areas to stop along the way for fall colors. If you like to shoot reflection images of the mountain you can’t do better than both the Reflection Lakes and Bench Lake areas. I always make an annual stop at these lakes early in the morning to capture both atmospheric mist and fall colors.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Fall Colors and a Lenticular Cloud from Mazama Ridge

Another favorite of mine for great views of the mountain is the hike up to Pinnacle Peak saddle and the surrounding areas. There are great views of Mount Adams as well from up here. The hike is short but steep. Once at the saddle I explore around the area for good compositions and color.

Images from Pinnacle Peak trail on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Beginning of fall colors and a sunburst in the Tatoosh Range

Images from Pinnacle Peak trail on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Fast Moving Clouds Blow Across Pinnacle Peak

The hikes around the lake also present many possibilities to shoot more intimate shots of autumn. If you are looking to capture images of fall color and forest scenes then head into the Grove Of Patriarchs. Many short hikes in this forest provide stunning forest views of the tall trees and fall colors. To get really creative try photographing really low to the ground and look straight up with the camera and shoot fall colors and the trees together. With so many places to photograph on Mt Rainier you always have many options available.

If you are lucky enough to live close to the mountain September is a great time to watch the mountain for unusual weather activity. Because the elevation of Mt Rainier is so high it creates its own weather system. So your chances of seeing unusual weather patterns like lenticular cloud buildup is quite possible. In layman terms lenticular clouds are those clouds that look like UFO’s in the sky but are caused by encounters with obstructions in the sky like very high mountain peaks. Known also as “wave clouds” they make for very interesting patterns and when combined with fall colors make for ideal conditions. In autumn I check the webcams quite often looking for a buildup of these clouds as it takes often several hours to buildup. The Paradise Valley makes for one of the best spots to see this unique weather pattern. The other place that I will often head to if I see these weather patterns is along the Silver Forest Trail, which is about .5 of a mile from the parking lot at the Sunrise Visitor Center.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Unusual clouds called Lenticular build up over Mt Rainier from the Sunrise Side

With so many options on Mt Rainier to photograph as well as the diversity of colors it makes for the perfect place to photograph. Combine all of the elements of unusual weather, stunning sunrises, and atmospheric conditions and Mt Rainier makes for the perfect autumn spot to photograph.

45 Things I Have Learned From Photography

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Over the last couple years I have been taking notes on my phone of various thoughts on what I feel have learned from my time in photography. Hard to believe it’s been a decade now since I started to take it seriously. Along with these random thoughts I referenced some of my past presentation slides and some were created as I typed this post out. Those that know me should not be surprised. I like lists and that is really all this is! I am sure I will get the question… why 45? It’s simply because that is what I ended up with. It’s not some magic number that represents anything special.

Ground Rainbow
1.    New or expensive gear can be nice yet does not make you a better photographer. It’s good to follow what is coming out and changing without pulling out that credit card for every announcement.
2.    The rat race of social media is not worth fretting over counting likes, comments and shares. Sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind.
3.    A sense of camaraderie and making friends in photography is very important. Don’t always fly solo.
4.    A good outdoor trip with few to no keepers is still better than being indoors. It’s the experience that helps shape who we are.
5.    In my early years I thought my work was awesome but it really stunk like a skunk and I am fine with that. Everyone starts somewhere. I can never stop growing and learning.
6.    Don’t under value your own work. Always selling your work for peanuts does not help you or the industry. It’s okay to say no to some requests.
7.    Be open to feedback, whether it’s praise or constructive critique. Simply being open to listening to others opinions does not mean you have to change your work. On the flip side be respectful when you provide feedback.
8.    No matter the accomplishments (or failures) it’s still a photo and I am still the same person. Don’t pat yourself on the back too much nor give yourself too hard of a time.
9.    Placing well or winning a well-known photography competition will not bring you fame or fortune.
10.    If you send a photo out to a client with a known flaw they will find it. I learned to always spend the money to reprint when needed.

Rock On!
11.    The one photo you post on your website that you can’t print large for whatever reason, is the one someone will request large.
12.    My horizon will be off by 2 degrees no matter what tools I use in the field. Horizon correction software was made for people like me.
13.    Abstract photos often get little love online (or in general) but I post them anyway because I love them. Even when photography is a business there needs to times when it’s be purely for you.
14.    Everyone has at least one piece of equipment they will regret going the ultra-cheap route. Mine was remotes going through 6 in about a year before learning my lesson.
15.    Although I love to travel I won’t be able to visit every place on the planet that I see in other photographers photos. I am fine with this. Be happy where you can get to and just enjoy getting out.
16.    In nature photography there’s much more than photographing colorful sunrises and sunsets day in and day out. Don’t forget to look down and all around at all times of the day and in all weather.
17.    Trying to ‘fix’ a photo in post processing that was shot poorly is usually like trying to salvage a half sunken ship. Get it right from the beginning.
18.    The most amazing sky an hour or two before sunset will often end up being the biggest dud by the time the golden hour comes.
19.    Sometimes you need to leave the camera behind (or stop chasing new scenes) and focus on family. Trying to do both all the time won’t make you or the family happy.
20.    Taking an amazing photo, whatever that means at the time for me, does bring a sense of elation and high that likely only other photographers understand.

Snowline II
21.    I went through a funk more than once where photography carried little interest or inspiration to me for months. We all go through phases. Let it ride knowing you will come out on the other side.
22.     Collaborate where and when you can. I wouldn’t be writing this blog post for the Photo Cascadia site right now if I wasn’t open to collaborating with others (who in the end have become good friends).
23.    Your equipment will fail you at the most inopportune time if you photograph enough. I have many stories with a full corrupt CF card from a wedding where I was the sole photographer near the top.
24.    Try saying “Woah look at the body!” out loud at work while viewing the latest camera online. Guarantee you will get some interesting looks and responses.
25.    No I won’t license my image for free to use in an article where you will place my website URL while I will wait for the inquiries to purchase my work come pouring in.
26.    It’s okay to compare your work to others as a means of learning and growing with your photography. Doing it thinking others are good and you’re not is self-destructive.
27.    I am merely a single pixel in a very large sensor we call earth and a tiny blimp on the radar of time. I don’t take myself too seriously and neither should you.
28.    Nature photography and loving the outdoors is something my wife and I had in common when we met and still do today. I am always thankful for the support she shows to this endeavor called photography.
29.    I try not criticizing others work solely because it doesn’t align with what I think is great photography. Simply because I don’t think it is great doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy.
30.    I have learned as much (or more) from bad photos as from good photos I have taken. It’s never a complete waste.

Rocky Candy
31.    You can do pretty much anything in post processing except replicating what a good polarizer can do when it comes to removing glare. It’s not a tool to leave behind.
32.    No matter how well you know your equipment there will be a time(s) you make a rookie mistake. When taking photos the day after night photography don’t forget to bring down that ISO or changing back to RAW after photographing your kids soccer game.
33.    Take risks with your photography without risking your life. If you are not around to enjoy taking photos it obviously wasn’t worth it.  Fortunately I am here to write this.
34.    Study. Whether it’s studying how you take photos in the field or studying photography online or many other ways, it’s all important to avoid becoming stagnant. The only constant in life is change.
35.    If you care about your photos read the fine print before submitting to photography contests. You may be giving the rights away without knowing it.
36.    Don’t worry much about ‘comp stomping’ as being original with every photo today is hard even in best of intentions. Your style and creativity will come in time.
37.    It’s not worth the effort and cost to print my own work. I will always use a lab.
38.    Take time to get your work printed even if it’s small prints or books. It’s a shame to leave everything you photograph to online viewing only. Viewing your work printed is seeing it in a different light.
39.    Be leery of projects that require investment of time and or money that give a guaranteed return for someone else but not you. I have been burned a couple times not seeing the warning signals soon enough.
40.    Use your animal instincts and don’t forget to chimp before you leave the scene. Coming home and saying @%#&! because you missed something that would have been an easy correction is painful.

Morning Transitions
41.    If you don’t own a good tripod and ball head, stop reading this article now and go buy one immediately. All the best equipment means little with nature photography if your tripod sucks.
42.    Leading workshops is hard work to do it right. If you don’t care about being a true guide/teacher to others and it’s only for the all mighty dollar or to simply grow your personal photo collection, do everyone a favor and don’t hold workshops.
43.    No matter how much technology advances understanding composition is paramount. The best camera technology isn’t going to set the camera up for you, tell where to place your tripod legs and what to focus on… at least not yet.
44.    Watching your children taking their first photos that are more than snap-shots is a very cool and rewarding feeling. Especially when they are as excited about it as you are.
45.    Less is more. Do what you can to simplify elements in your composition. One of the larger challenges as nature photographers is to take busy and chaotic scenes from Mother Nature to make a compelling photograph.

I am sure I could keep typing with endless thoughts on what I have learned from photography yet this is good stopping point and enough to ponder for those that took the time to get this far in my post. Whether you have been interested in photography for 45 days or 45 years, feel free to share what you have learned from your time behind the camera.

Acadia National Park in Spring

Thursday, July 14th, 2016


 AcadiaNP-May2016-2347Photo: Colorful rocks that more resemble marbles more than rocks at Little Hunters Beach – Acadia National Park, Maine

In May of this year I had an opportunity to spend a few days in Acadia National Park. If you are not familiar with the area it’s in the state of Maine, one of the six states making up the New England region. When it comes to photography the area is certainly more known for visiting in fall season to capture vivid red, yellow and orange colors from the plethora of deciduous trees filling the landscape. Fall season aside there is still much to see and photograph during the other three seasons, including spring. In spring the trees and foliage are in full bloom with an array of green hues to fill up your camera lens.

While a few days allows for seeing the main sites I would overall recommend a couple more beyond that to check out more of the area and get on a couple more trails or kayaking. I will also say I am someone that typically researches quite a bit ahead of time for any trip of a few days or more. This one I pretty much winged it. I give that caveat ahead of my trip review for additional context.

When I got into Acadia it was the Friday starting on Memorial Day weekend. I was certainly prepared for jammed roads, too many tourists and little space. Much to my surprise it was not bad at all with plenty of moments to take in the area without too much commotion.

There are many options just outside of park as well as some inside the park, including camping. Since lodging when I travel by myself literally means a decent place to sleep, and nothing more, I chose an inexpensive motel on the main highway just outside the main entrance of the park. It worked out well for me.

In the park options are limited. Just outside the park there places like Bar Harbor with plenty of options. As said before I was mainly there to see sites. I hit the local grocery store and used the fridge at the motel. Don’t forget to eat plenty of lobster, it’s pretty much everywhere.

You can actually fly into Bangor International which is only about a 45 mile drive to Acadia. I happened to already be in Portland (Portland, Maine that is not to be confused with my hometown Portland, Oregon) where it made sense for me to drive the 160 miles vs getting on another plane.

There is a little bit of everything here from small ponds to ocean waves and lush forests to mountain views.  The Park Loop Rd is the main route in the east portion of the park. One thing I like about the setup of the main loop is the one-way two lane feature where the right lane doubles as a parking spot in most parts. For photography this is great. I see something I like and can literally stop the car in the middle of the road to get out and take photos. Yes this means that once you pass a spot the only way back to it is doing the full loop again but the pros outweigh the cons.

Whether you like rough rocky shores or small town boat harbors ANP has them as well. The iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is located outside the busiest part of the park and worth checking out. Truth be told I was looking forward to photographing the Portland Head Lighthouse more, yet on my visit it was dressed in scaffolding for maintenance, maybe next time.

Foggy Forests
The first afternoon and morning of my second day brought spells of fog which made for some great atmosphere to photograph. We often talk about national parks being too crowded and for the most part I agree with that. Yet on my first evening I was photographing this fine grove of ferns and I had wondered if the park was closed and I got locked in! I spent 15 to 20 minutes standing on the road photographing this scene in the early evening with not a single car coming by and it was on the main park loop. All I could hear was the sound of occasional water dripping and leaves waving when breezes came through. It was fantastic.


The next morning as the sun scorched it’s way through the fog there was fine scenes I encountered. On this foggy road I ‘parked’ my car just behind where I stood to take this photo. Only a couple cars and runners strolled through.

A short ways down the road is Beaver Dam Pond aptly named with the number of beaver domes I saw.  The fog provided a still reflection that disappeared as I photographed and the fog was blown away.


My good friend and fellow Photo Cascadia team member did tell me there are good options for photographing rocks. There certainly are some cool finds. While my hair got soaked to the point water was running down my face from the dense fog I found this neat rock formation. I am thinking boot yet I also see a dolphin. What do you see?

The lines and patterns drew me in here. I felt like I was coming across the bones from an archaeological dig looking at parts of how these rocks presented themselves.

Perhaps the most fun to see and photograph rock wise was Little Hunters Beach. There is no big sign to show you the way; you can easily miss it if you aren’t looking for it. It’s like one gigantic bag of marbles were dumped on the shore. Can’t remember the last time I saw this many beautiful rocks in one spot.


Some of the best views are up on Cadillac Mountain; at just over 460 meters is the highest point which feels low until you remind yourself you are on the ocean. You can hike just a short ways and be away from the masses. If you are a curb side shooter this place works too. Don’t be fooled thinking that just because you are nearing summer and sunrise is before 5 am that it will be quiet. Boy was I in for a surprise. Hundreds were up there to watch the sunrise, most just to experience the scene not to photograph.

This sunrise was the best I had all trip and the sliver of sun poking through was all we saw before the clouds engulfed it. This foreground seemed fitting as the rocks look a little like lobster claws.

Looking inland at sunset, near the top of Cadillac Mountain while the bugs were nipping strong from my head to my toes.

Sunset on Cadillac Mountain looking towards Bar Harbor. I imagine kayaking to those small islands would be fun.


Japanese Garden
If you prefer a little more man made than pure nature there is very nice little Japanese one right outside the park called Asticou Azalea Garden that is free to visit.


Definitely cannot forget about getting down close to the rugged rocky ocean shoreline. I get mesmerized watching the waves slosh around. Thunderhole is a great place to see if you can time it right for waves. During my time there the water was too calm for much action according to one of the rangers. No worry for me plenty else to see.

I left the few folks in this photos sitting on a rock ledge to show scale better. See if you can spot them.


Final Thoughts
All in all it was a pretty quick trip yet a fine place to spend a few days photographing and exploring. If you have never been it’s certainly one to add to your bucket list. I hope to make a trip back during fall in the future.

On the subject of national parks I will get on my soap box ever so briefly. With the staggering increase volume of visitors each year to some of the major parks in the United States it’s no wonder we are seeing the many headlines of a small number of people making poor decisions negatively impacting a park landscape or wildlife. I would say mostly I have seen stories from Yellowstone this year yet that park is not alone. Others may not agree with me yet I feel the most popular parks are approaching a crisis. If we don’t effectively manage through the high visitor rate that appears to be continuing upward I fear a system of national parks we know today may be a lot less enjoyable 30 to 50 years from now. Although I don’t love permitting systems or limiting access to what we deem ‘our national parks’ I am beginning to wonder if the peak seasons at large popular parks need to entertain new ideas to effectively limit traffic, both number of people and vehicles. I won’t dive into a deep debate here, simply something to ponder. On that note get out there and enjoy your parks as I will be doing the same this summer with my family.

Easter Island: Photographing The Last Place On Earth

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua, might be considered the last place on Earth for a number of reasons. For example, it is one of the points of land on the planet furthest from any other point of land. Other than New Zealand and Antarctica, it was also one of the last places on Earth to be inhabited by humans. Once the Rapa Nui people had lived on Easter Island for several hundred years without any visitors and without ever making it back to other islands or continents themselves, they began to wonder if the rest of the world sank leaving them stranded on literally the last place on Earth. Finally, Easter Island is one of the last places on Earth I ever imagined having the opportunity to visit and photograph.


In my last article I shared photos and a trip report from the photography tour I helped lead in Patagonia with Christian and Regula Heeb, owners of the Cascade Center of Photography. Christian is one of the world’s most published and prolific travel photographers and there are few places he has not visited, but Easter Island was one of them. At the end of the Patagonia tour the Heebs scheduled an extension trip to Rapa Nui. Six of our group, including myself, continued on from Santiago, Chile to spend several days exploring and photographing there. I recently was interviewed about the Patagonia and Easter Island trips on The Traveling Image Makers podcast. You can listen to that podcast HERE.

Tongariki, the largest group of standing moai on the island. They are also some of the largest.

Tongariki, the largest group of standing moai on the island. They are also some of the largest.

It is fair to say that Easter Island is probably not a location most landscape photographers would prioritize. It is expensive and difficult to get to and it is small and windswept. If tropical seascapes and landscapes are your photography goal, there are certainly more beautiful, larger, more diverse and easier to reach islands and tropical regions. For me, the culture, folklore, history and ecology of the island made it an intriguing place to visit and the imposing visual of the moai standing watch around the island were alluring to me photographically.

This is Rapa Nui: turquoise water, rocky shores, windswept rolling hills and wild horses.

This is Rapa Nui: turquoise water, rocky shores, windswept rolling hills and wild horses.

Easter Island, so named because the first European explorer arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722, is best known for the massive stone moai statues the Rapa Nui carved and placed in multiple locations all around the island, but the history, culture and eventual plight of the Rapa Nui people make the tiny island all the more fascinating. The island itself is very small, just 13 miles long and as little as two miles wide in some places. From the highest points you can see all the way across the island in any direction. The nearest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island, 1300 miles away and the nearest continental land is central South America, 2200 miles away.

Dawn moon set at the Ahu Tahai moai group.

Dawn moon set at the Ahu Tahai moai group.

Polynesian people most likely arrived on the island between 900 and 1300 years ago and created a thriving society. Easter Island was forested and had a stable ecosystem at that time so natural resources, farming and fishing enabled a comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately it seems that overpopulation, over harvesting and the introduction of the Polynesian rat eventually led to deforestation, extinction of the native birds and damage to the ecosystem. The population of the island could have been as high as 15,000 in the 1600s, but by the time the first Europeans visited in 1722 it had declined to an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people. By the late 1800s disease and Peruvian slave traders had reduced the population to just 111.



The statues were created as part of the clan based society with one clan wielding power over the other clans through a high chief, the eldest descendant of the island’s legendary founder, Hotu Matu’a. There are 887 moai on the island, some of them standing, but many were knocked over, toppled in transport or were never completed and are still in place in the main quarry.

Toppled moai with partially buried statues and the volcanic crater quarry, Rano Raraku, in the background.

A Toppled moai with the partially buried statues and the volcanic crater quarry, Rano Raraku, in the background.

Partially buried statues at the Rano Raraku quarry site.

Partially buried statues at the Rano Raraku quarry site.

According to National Geographic, “Most scholars suspect that the moai were created to honor ancestors, chiefs, or other important personages.” For hundreds of years the creation of the statues was believed to be a way for the living to connect with dead ancestors and for the ancestors to provide for the needs of the living, including power and wealth. Rapa Nui villages were mostly located near the coastline with groups of statues standing nearby with their backs to the ocean, watching over the island.

Nearly all the moai were placed on stone platforms called Ahu located near the shore. The statues stand with their backs to the ocean watching over the island.

Nearly all the moai were placed on stone platforms called Ahu located near the shore. The statues stand with their backs to the ocean watching over the island.

The ancestor cult that worshiped the moai statues eventually faded, however. Warriors known as matatoa gained more power as the island became overpopulated and resources diminished. In the late 1700s the Ancestor Cult ended, making way for the Bird Man Cult. Beverly Haun wrote, “The concept of mana invested in hereditary leaders was recast into the person of the birdman, apparently beginning circa 1540, and coinciding with the final vestiges of the moai period.” This cult maintained that, although the ancestors still provided for their descendants, the medium through which the living could contact the dead was no longer statues, but human beings chosen through a competition. This competition was held each year and required the matatoa to climb down high cliffs to the ocean, swim through shark infested waters to a small off shore island and wait there for migrating sooty turns to arrive and begin nesting. The first matatoa to find a turn egg, swim back to the main island and scale the cliffs without falling or breaking the egg was the winner. The title and power of the birdman was then bestowed upon the warrior, or more commonly a wealthy older chief who had hired him to be his representative champion.

Lone statue with top ornament replaced and eyes whitened in the way they would have been.

Lone statue with head ornament (probably representing a hair style) and eyes whitened as they would have been.

Another ramification of deforestation and dwindling resources was fighting among the clans and toppling of each others statues. The European explorers who came to Easter Island in the earlier 1700s reported seeing many statues standing all along the coastline. In 1774, British explorer, James Cook, reported noticing that some of the statues had been knocked over. In 1825 the British ship HMS Blossom arrived and reported seeing no standing statues. The only statues still standing were the ones located on the side of the crater below the rock the quarry where they were carved. This was due to the fact that soil erosion on the steep slope had caused the moai to be partially buried over time, making them topple proof. The toppled statues remained in this state until 1956, when the first statues were re-erected. To date about 50 statues have been put back in their upright positions.

Moai at Ahu Nau Nau, the location of the first settlement on the island.

Moai at Ahu Nau Nau, the location of the first settlement on the island.

During our five days on the island we photographed most of the main moai sites that have standing statues, some of them multiple times and at different times of day. Since I had previously seen many documentary and archaeological images of the moai, my goal was to create photographs that were unique, dramatic and gave a sense of the statues in their environment. All of the statues are protected and part of the national park system. It is prohibited to touch them or access certain areas, some of the sites are only open during the day and the most popular sites can be crowded during the day and at sunset, so there are some challenges to finding the right composition and not having people in the photos.

For me this was a wonderful life experience. I am happy with the photos I was able to capture, especially the long exposure image of the Tongariki moai group under a full moon. Mostly I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit such a remote spot on the planet and one with such an interesting and storied history and culture.


Tongariki moai under a full moon…on my birthday no less!


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

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Patagonia: A Photography Adventure of a Lifetime

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

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. I recently was interviewed about the Patagonia trip on The Traveling Image Makers podcast. You can listen to that podcast HERE.


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.

Land of the gaucho. Gauchos, the Argentine version of  the cowboy, are legendary in Patagonia. There is a long tradition of ranching on the Patagonian steppe.

Land of the gaucho. Gauchos, the Argentine version of the cowboy, are legendary in Patagonia. There is a long tradition of ranching on the Patagonian steppe.

Wild horses are a common site on the Patagonian plains.

Wild horses are a common site on the Patagonian plains.

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 9,000 year old hand paintings in the Cueva de las Manos were possibly made by ancestors of the Tehuelche people.

The 9,000 year old hand paintings in the Cueva de las Manos were possibly made by ancestors of the Tehuelche people.

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.

Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine National Park.

Mount Fitz Roy.

Mount Fitz Roy.

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.

The ice at the tongue of the Gray Glacier glows a spectacular blue color when back lit by the sun.

The ice at the tongue of the Grey Glacier glows a spectacular blue color when back lit by the sun.

Portrait of a mountain. Cerro Paine Grande towers over Lago Grey.

Portrait of a mountain. Cerro Paine Grande towers over Lago Grey.

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 idyllic lakes district near the town of Bariloche, Argentina.

The idyllic lakes district near the town of Bariloche, Argentina.

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.

Lenticular cloud over Mt. Fitz Roy. The native name, El Chalten, translates to "smoking mountain". Fitting.

Lenticular cloud over Mt. Fitz Roy. The native name, El Chalten, translates to “smoking mountain”. Fitting.

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.

Insane Patagonian wave cloud at sunset over Lago Posadas.

Insane Patagonian wave cloud at sunset over Lago Posadas.

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.

The Cuernos del Paine or Horns of Paine. Paine is an indigenous word that means the color blue.

Los Cuernos del Paine or the Horns of Paine. Paine is an indigenous word that means the color blue, which probably refers to the glacial lakes and not the towers themselves.

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.

First light on the Smoking Mountain, Fitz Roy.

First light on the Smoking Mountain, Fitz Roy.

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.

Rio Paine waterfall, Torres Del Paine National Park.

Rio Paine waterfall, Torres Del Paine National Park.

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.

Wood and Stone, Torres del Paine National Park.

Wood and Stone, Torres del Paine National Park.

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

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Limiting Vantage Points – For Your Safety

Monday, April 4th, 2016

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. 

Thor's Fist“Thor’s Fist” as seen from the outer point of Cape Kiwanda on a hazy summer sunrise.

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“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“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!“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? 

Eastern Sierra Autumn Workshop Photo Journal

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

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.


Photo Cascadia – Best of 2015

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

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!


Canadian Rockies During Fall – Trip Report

Monday, November 30th, 2015

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.

Day 1
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.

Day 2
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!

No Escape

Along the shore of Moraine Lake. Colorful rocks allow for different photo opps from the usual and well known viewpoint above.

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.

Turquoise Reflections

Sunset along Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park of British Columbia.

Takakkaw Falls

The wind blows the water on Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park of Canadian Rockies during a daytime long exposure photo.


Day 3
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.

Day 4
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.


Just above the snowline after a fresh dusting of fall season snow. Looking down on Peyto Lake in Banff National Park of Alberta Canada.

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.

Bear 1, Moose 0

A reminder that we are visiting the land of wild animals and you never know what is waiting around the next bend. A skull and antlers from a moose left with scars, a likely lost battle between bear and moose. Canadain Rockies of Alberta.

Soaking It All Up

Self portrait soaking up an amazing morning view as we scout for the best spots and compositions.

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!”

Multiple Views

Friend and fellow Photo Cascadia team member Chip Phillips photographing in the Canadian Rockies at Waterfowl Lakes.

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.

Day 5
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.

Rocky Mountain High

After hiking in the dark for about 9 miles and about 2,000 feet we arrived for sunrise. It was a high to see this scene unfold out of the darkness. Near Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park of Alberta Canada.

Mountain Shapes

The edge of the lake forms a perfect inverted mountain. Above Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park of Alberta Canada during fall season with golden larches.

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.

Golden Line

Aspens in full fall season glow along the shore of Wedge Lake in Kananaskis area of Alberta, Canada. Mount Kidd in the background.

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.

Day 6
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.


Several smaller ponds merge into a larger with a view of Mount Kidd in Kananaskis area of Alberta Canada during fall. The morning was cold with thin ice on the ponds and frost on the foliage.

Aspen Dreaming

Aspen trees glow yellow in the bright early morning sunshine. Kananaskis Country. A little different processing than my usual with a high key approach.

Aspen Freeze

The ground was covered in a dense frost enhancing an already beautiful scene. Kananaskis area of Alberta, Canada.

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.