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Every autumn there is a great chance to see some of our national parks dressed in fall colors. This year I was excited to lead the group to Yosemite National Park. It is
known to have some of the grandest landscapes in North America. People from all over the world visit Yosemite at all times of the year, but no season is prettier than autumn. The park’s open meadows turn golden with the changing seasons, frost covers the layers of grasses, and the leaves on the trees turn vivid colors of yellow, orange and red. The scenic elements of Yosemite all come together during the autumn. Waterfalls gracefully stream down the larger than life walls of granite, framed by the golden leaves, making their way to the Merced River. The Merced winds its way from start to finish through the middle of the Lower Yosemite Valley. It is in this central heart of the park where everything combines that is the perfect place to photograph in autumn.
The tour began when the group left the Fresno Airport and headed north for Yosemite. On the drive into the park we were met with autumn hues everywhere, especially as we got nearer to our destination. The fall foliage was at its peak and the group was soon motivated to get out and shoot. This fall season was a little different from other years—in a good way—as Yosemite had significant rainstorms, which caused a massive amount of water to flow into the valley. The iconic waterfalls, such as Upper Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls, were pouring out large volumes of water, making for a great combination of autumn color and cascading falls.
Let me give you a glimpse into one day in Yosemite National Park during autumn. On our first morning we headed to an area known to locals as Tahiti Beach on the mighty Merced River at the base of El Capitan and the Three Brothers for the sunrise. The group lined up against the shore of the river and photographed with their widest lenses looking for reflections in the quiet pools. This unique location provides several vantage points of the iconic peaks reflected in the river. Again, because of this year’s excess water from the rains, the group found all kinds of rain pools to photograph reflections of fall foliage and the granite peaks of Yosemite.
During the morning the waterfalls and mountains were photographed framed by the colors dressing the trees. Throughout the day we continued photographing along the Merced River, focusing on as much fall color as we could find. As the day warmed, and recent rainwater began to evaporate, the mist rose from the Lower Yosemite Valley. This made for fantastic atmospheric conditions, especially when combined with the colors from the trees.
The highlight of the day was when we came upon a single elm tree in the middle of a meadow with a “spotlight” shining down upon it. At the time most of the valley was in clouds, but an opening in the sky allowed light to shine on this one solitary tree. The combination of the mist, the fall colors, and the light created the perfect conditions. We shot the tree from all kinds of angles as the light lasted for several minutes before moving on. Then, a few minutes later, we found another meadow with atmospheric mist combined with frost. This time the sun peeked through the mist and the crepuscular rays illuminated through the wall of trees and showcased the frost and golden color of autumn.
After having a quick bite to eat the group jumped back into the van ready to locate more fall color in the park. Walking along the Merced River we made our way to El Capitan Meadow and El Capitan Bridge. Standing on the bridge you can photograph in any direction and get perfect fall reflections with the backdrop of El Capitan or the Cathedral Spires mirrored in the river. With the challenges of shooting due to the different kinds of light, the group took a shot at exposure bracketing and HDR. For some of the group this was the first time ever trying this technique. Exposure bracketing is the process of taking several different exposures of the same scene without moving the camera on a tripod. At the end you have several different exposures of a scene to combat the variety of different types of light in one scene. Later, during processing, all of these different exposures are combined into one for one evenly exposed image.
One of the many outstanding features in Yosemite is the number of stunning peaks that rise from the valley floor and are lined up next to one another. This makes for great landscape panoramas. Throughout the day the group put together several panoramas from several locations in the park.
For our sunset shoot we headed to the unbelievable scenic viewpoint at Tunnel View. As the sun began to set and the pink pastel hues began to appear the group waited in anticipation. With the combination of Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls all in one scene it was a memorable sunset shoot that no one would soon forget.
After a full day of shooting autumn color in Yosemite we headed back to our lodging for a group dinner and some well earned rest. And that was just our first day!
There are a number of reasons I’m drawn to photographing ghost towns. Perhaps it’s something to do for a change of pace, maybe it’s photographing the history of a bygone era, or possibly it’s my fascination with dystopian literature. But mostly it’s just fun. I’ve photographed ghost towns from Alaska to Mexico. Most of them exist from the boom-and-bust of the mining era, while others are from the days of Manifest Destiny gone awry; leftovers from a time when Americans thought if we moved to arid lands for cultivation then the rain would follow.
The ruins these people left behind are in different states of disrepair. Some are preserved as parks, some are not and are left to crumble, and others are resurrected as artist colonies for an affordable place to work and live. Whatever their state, there is always something to explore and photograph.
I’ve explored and photographed the well-known ghost towns (i.e. Bodie) to the little-known towns (i.e.) Farlin. Hell, I even did a ghost town long-distance walk across the Yukon and Northwest Territories on the 221 mile (355km) Canol Heritage Trail, and followed a World War II oil pipeline through the wilderness. The walk past little-used and abandoned autos, pump-house towns, and work stations was fascinating. Additionally, I walked the 33-mile (53km) Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia that follows a land of artifacts and relics from the Klondike Gold Rush. But you don’t need to walk long distances for most ghost towns; they’re on maps and a good AWD vehicle will get you to most of them. Just remember that the majority of ghost towns are at a higher elevation and not lowland valleys, so you might need to wait until summer for access.
Upon arriving for the first time, I like to get that establishing shot. Maybe it’s an overview of the entire town from a nearby highpoint, or possibly it’s a shot of one of the more prominent buildings in town like the mine itself. If the light is not right, I’ll come back to that establishing image as the light improves, but at least I’ve found what represents the town as a whole. Once I have the establishing shot, I begin to look for the intimate. Ghost towns are known for what’s left behind. It could be a table setting, an old poster still on the wall, or implements hanging from the ceiling, but I look for those things that might tell more of the story of the place I’m photographing.
Ghost towns usually have plenty of texture and plenty of rust that can create interesting patterns of shape and color. I look at the old boards for details of pattern and rusted old cars with peeling paint can offer a myriad of abstract compositions too. If artists are moving into the area, look for the weird. Near a Nevada ghost town I photographed, there was a whole field of cars planted in the ground grill first. The exposed sections of the autos were covered with graffiti art exploring life, politics, and the exotic.
Since this is a ghost town, also look for the creepy. I had one ghost town all to myself in the middle of Montana. I walked into an old abandoned hotel to look around and then heard something upstairs. When I walked upstairs I just saw a long hallway of light and dark, and thought to myself, “I’m not going down there.” But I did try to capture in a photo the way I felt at the time.
Also when you’re visiting a ghost town look for the cemetery; there is always one nearby. Some can be quaint, others historic, and still others a bit spooky. Any way you capture them, the images can be interesting and will also help tell the story of place. Ghost towns are also a great place for night photography, and light painting the old buildings while photographing the stars overhead can make for a fun evening shoot. If you’re photographing at night, use common sense and leave the steel wool at home. Sparks from these efforts can level a whole town, and enough historic relics from California to Florida have already been lost to photographer’s fire.
In 2017 I’ll be returning to Montana to conduct a photographic loop of the western ghost town locales. I hope you can join me. You can click here for more information.
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.
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.
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
On social media I get asked all sorts of questions but one of the questions a lot of people are curious about is what happens when a photographer takes a photo tour and what can they expect.
So for this blog I am sharing my trip report from my recent travels to Fairbanks Alaska and what we did and some of the places we visited as well as the activities the group did together.
The 2015 Fairbanks Photo Safaris Tour started off with an introduction dinner at Pike’s Restaurant. This gave everyone a chance to know a little about everyone in the group. After dinner with a promising Aurora Borealis forecast for that evening we decided to get an early start and head up to a great hilltop view called Mount Skiland. This 360 view of Fairbanks and the surrounding area gave an excellent place to photograph Northern Lights. We had been blessed earlier in the week with a lot of new fresh snow and this really made for some spectacular winter landscapes. When combined with the Northern Lights we could not have asked for a better setting. The group was given an orientation on where to best to photograph the lights and had a nice hot cup of hot chocolate. It wasn’t long after the orientation that the magic began and the dark sky had now become dancing beams of vivid greens and reds. Our first night had been a success and we all headed back to the hotel exhausted but too excited to sleep.
The next morning we awoke to sunny skies and snowy surroundings. Some of the group slept-in while others enjoyed a breakfast. After breakfast the group headed out to watch Dog Mushing at the Alaska Dog Mushers Association. The timing could not have been any better as we got to witness a timed trial race where competitors came from all over the world to race. The race would consist of teams of four and six team dog sled races that would race against the clock and their times would be cumulatively added over the two days. Teams of dog mushers would come rushing down the tracks every two minutes with excitement in the racers eyes and voices. They had a way of communicating with one another that was fascinating to hear. We decided to split the group in half as some wanted to photograph the starting line and others wanted to shoot within the snow capped forest. The event lasted most of the afternoon and everyone came away with some great action shots of the dogs and the dog mushers. With everyone hungry from all the action we headed to a close Italian restaurant named Geraldo’s that served some excellent food that really hit the spot. It was nice as the also had a buffet that people really could dig into and really try different types of food. Later that night after some rest at the hotel we got together for a nice dinner at the Cookie Jar Restaurant. This experience will soon not be forgotten as we had a very funny waitress who was very forthcoming with suggestions and places to eat while in Fairbanks. The group ate well as we had another night of photographing the Northern Lights ahead of us. With full stomachs and dressed warmly we headed back to the same area as the night before. Mount Skiland worked out well as it offered a warm chalet for participants to warm up and eat while waiting. Inside the chalet the TV on the wall were hooked up to the webcams so that everyone could see whether the lights were happening. This was a really nice bonus, as we could all stay warm while we waited anxiously. Within a short period the lights had appeared as promised and we were given another magic show where no of the group left disappointed. With several different areas to shoot everybody got a chance shoot from multiple perspectives in photograph the lights in all directions. Although the temperatures were cold this did not matter to anyone in the group. After hours of dazzling light and excitement the group headed back to the hotel.
With are success from the past day of dog mushing we decided to head out and photograph the dog mushers again but try different viewpoints. We also got a chance to see some of the dogs come out of the kennels and hear some background history on the sport. It was a nice chance to see a wide spectrum of dog mushing and all the events that go into a successful event. After dog mushing we headed to the iconic Daddy’s Barb-b-Que for some excellent ribs. At the restaurant we got a chance to take lots of group photos and relive some of your favorite moments thus far. After lunch the group famished from a good meal headed back to the hotel for some rest.
Later that afternoon we all attended the Ice Sculptures and Carving that presented some of the world’s best ice carvers. We decided to head there around sunset so we could photograph the ice sculptures against the backdrop of the sunset, which turned out very nicely. As the sun disappeared and the night set in we then got to shoot the ice sculptures at night when the lights spotlighted the ice carvings.
After a full evening of shooting the ice carvings we went for dinner at the Pikes Landing, which provided some warmth and time to relax. This was well needed as we headed out for another successful night of photographing the aurora borealis after dinner.
The next morning the group packed up as we had a late lunch and headed out of Fairbanks to the Chena Hot Springs Resort. The resort has always been one of the top destinations in the world to view Northern Lights and has several winter activities to keep everyone busy during the day. Later in the day we got settled into our new rooms and headed back to the restaurant for some tasty food. We got a chance to all eat in a private room and enjoy some of the five star food. We all well knowing we had a exciting night ahead of us photographing the lights. The group assembled together as dark settled in and we had arranged a snow coach to take the group up to the top of the mountain overlooking the resort. The view was second to none and provided and excellent vantage point for shooting the lights. While waiting for the show to start we all enjoyed some hot chocolate inside the warm lit yurt. The group got a chance to listen to a live band while waiting. Shortly there after the sky turned vivid colors of green and the group got another night of shooting under the magic skies of Alaska.
The next morning the group got out together to shoot around the resort as the winter snow had provided some idyllic scenes for photographing. We got to shoot some frozen ponds, hoar frost trees, and the sun rising through the snow capped trees. It wasn’t long after that that our hungry was calling out for lunch while others enjoyed some time in the hot springs which was a highlight for some of the group. With a short rest the group met up again for a private tour of the dog mushing and history of the events. This was a nice chance to get to pet the dogs as well as photograph them. All of the dogs were excited to have company and provided lots of excitement. We met for dinner later in the afternoon and were met with excellent food again.
As the light faded and the night began the group decided to shoot the Northern lights around the resort to shoot different subjects with the lights. There was plenty to shoot as we had igloos, barns, abandoned cabins, rivers, birch trees, and even an airplane to shoot under the stunning sky. We shoot until the early hours of the morning before retiring for the night.
The next morning some of the group got together to explore the outer regions of the resort and find new possibilities for the upcoming evening of Northern Lights. With a stunning rustic atmosphere the settings could not have been better for shooting. The group throughout the day got some time to relax and take another dip in the Hot Springs. With some of the new possibilities the group headed out for another night of lights where the group leader had brought out his yellow tent and made some different options for subjects. The group huddled around the tent as the Alaskan sky had not let us down. The night had lit up and the night could be heard with cheers all night from its audience.
Night after night we had been fortunate enough to see the Aurora Borealis and capture it in some of the most stunning winter conditions. The group had a chance to photograph in a variety of settings and even had a chance to experiment with different settings
The next morning we all conversed about how lucky we had been to see the magic of nature and headed back to Fairbanks for one last goodbye dinner at the famous Pump House Restaurant. Here we relived the experiences and talked about our favorite things we had seen. We even got the opportunity to try some of the local food that was pretty impressive.
On a full stomach we headed back to the hotel for a well deserved rest. The photo tour had come to a rest but we knew the memories would last a lifetime.