Following advice of an instructor, I periodically look through my Lightroom catalog to see if my opinion of an image has changed or if I’ve learned some new post-processing technique that will make an otherwise dull composition sparkle.  And it’s fun to see all the places I’ve taken my camera to make images of cool places.

But sometimes there are images that just puzzle me.  Here’s a scene on MacDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.  I was playing around with medium format slide film, trying to see what the dynamic range might be from light to dark.  Slide film is notorious for having a narrow range and little latitude for exposure.  Get off 1/2 stop from just right and you’ll lose something in the highlights or shadows.  So, this scene seemed a good place to test it out.  The image was scanned a few years ago and I’m just now getting around to working on it – nice about digital, it can wait.  A little curves adjustment, a little shadow adjustment, some sharpening, and I see the latitude was more than I expected and dynamic range was pretty good.  Then I started looking at the actual image and wondering…..

20110914-4-018….WHERE WAS I STANDING?!?

I really don’t remember being out in the middle of a raging creek and from the looks of this one getting out there would be something that should stick in my mind.  Trying to picture the trail along the creek I don’t remember a bridge or overlook or even a big rock jutting over the water.  Hard as I might I’m just not recalling how this image got made.  Sure looks like it was fun, though.

Yeah, for all the metadata cameras keep up with sometimes you still have to write things down.  Doubly so for film cameras.  Especially when used by crazy photographers.

Too crowded – just a matter of perspective?

Talk about visiting national parks and eventually someone will complain about how crowded they are – too many people to enjoy the place.  Since I avoid crowds unless absolutely necessary, I’m sensitive to this and wonder if my visit will be disturbed by too many people.

But then a friend of mine reminded me of something I’d observed at many parks but just hadn’t incorporated into my thinking.  Crowds exist because large numbers of people behave in a similar manner.  If you behave in a different manner, you can escape being part of the crowd.  Then you just have to decide which is more inconvenient – dealing with crowds or dealing with doing things different.

On a recent trip to Yosemite we made it a point to get into the park before 7am with the intention of seeing certain sights before the masses showed up.  And it worked.  Plenty of open scenery for photography, no juggling around for a parking space, no crowds on the trails (other than wildlife).  For probably 2-3 hours in the morning it felt like we had the park to ourselves; same feeling late in the afternoon.  We started asking “where is everybody?” although in the middle of the day the answer was very apparent as the crowds streamed into the valley.

It reminded me of visits to other parks and the benefit of early morning timing.  As a landscape photographer I’m looking for that light just before sunrise and just after sunset – the middle of the day is generally not going to light up the scenery in an interesting fashion.  Turns out most tourists to national parks want to vacation, meaning they sleep in a bit.  So, except for other crazy landscape photographers and long-trail hikers, there’s usually no one around.

Lower Yosemite Falls, after lunch

Lower Yosemite Falls, after lunch

We’d visited this site before and I had the typical shots I wanted so we thought it’d be interesting to see what it’s like when everyone else decided to show up.  It’s hard to see but there are people from the foregound all the way to the base of the falls.  I rarely compose with people in the scene but this was something I wanted to talk about later so I waiting until the number of people seemed at a maximum.

Hidden Lake trail, Glacier National Park, late morning

Hidden Lake trail, Glacier National Park, late morning

This is one of the more popular trails in the park and there are generally people on it all the time.  This was probably a light traffic day but as you see users of the trail run to an assortment of characters.  What’s nice about this trail is behind me there’s an overlook to Hidden Lake that gives a great vista to the western part of the park, and there are rarely people in the scene.

 

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Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

Although it looks pretty isolated, standing on either side of me are about 200 people, all looking the same way.  You don’t necessarily need a backcountry hike to make a nice landscape image.

Yellowstone National Park, early morning

Yellowstone National Park, early morning

As you see from the empty trail, this area doesn’t see much traffic until the tourists start wandering around the park after breakfast.  Strolling off the walk-way in some parts of Yellowstone can be hazardous so you don’t have the freedom to find a more isolated scene.  In this case being up early is an advantage.

Highline Trail, Glacer National Park, mid-day

Highline Trail, Glacer National Park, mid-day

That trail in the bottom left is another very popular one in this park.  The place is so immense, though, all you have to do to capture an unpopulated image is just to wait until the hikers walk out of the scene.

Half Dome,  Yosemite, late afternoon

Half Dome, Yosemite, late afternoon

In the upper end of the valley are several campgrounds, which are packed during the summer (this image was taken in mid-July).  To the right of this scene is a road lined with parked cars and campers; to the left is a campground packed with tents.  In spite of my bias against people in pictures, I waited for these folks to walk into the scene because I wanted them to provide a frame of reference for the size of the trees and Half Dome.  In spite of the crowds on either side of the scene, I could have easily waited until there was no one on the trail.

Another piece of advice I’ve read lately is that the vast majority of tourists to national parks are only interested in what they can see from the road.  Either they are in a hurry to see lots in a short period of time, or they aren’t interested in hiking very far from the road.  The advice was simply to walk away from the crowds – usually only takes a mile or so to have the trail pretty much to yourself.

Tuolumne Canyon from Pothole Dome, Yosemite

Tuolumne Canyon from Pothole Dome, Yosemite

This is a panoramic I made by walking to the top of a small dome in Tuolumne Meadow at Yosemite.  The hike took me about 20 minutes of walking up a steady incline.  I was on the top about 30 minutes shooting scenes like this.  I never saw another person while there, nor did I meet anyone on the way back.  My assumption is the walk was too much for the casual tourist and not thrilling enough for the serious hiker.  Great for me – I got to make images like this and enjoy the quiet.

So what’s the point?  Yes there are more and more people visiting national parks.  It’s great that we have taken it upon ourselves as a country to preserve these unique and beautiful places.  People should be proud of them and interested in seeing what they contain.  Do I need to get over my comments about them being too crowded?  Seems that way since there are some simple decisions I can make that will enable me to see and photograph what I want without having to fight through a mob.

What’s been your experience?  And what do you think of this?

Heard a story on NPR today about a group of scientists who are researching possible effects of the California drought on the state’s oldest residents – the sequoia.  Although these giants are resistant to much of what goes on around them – pretty sure in 2000-3000 years they have handled all the quirks of California ecology – people are worried that this may be a new experience for them.

Mariposa Grove, Yosemite

Mariposa Grove, Yosemite

Walking in this quiet place you don’t notice the 500 gallons of water being sucked up by each tree, hauled hundreds of feet into space to nourish the needles and limbs way up at the top.

Muir Woods, San Francisco

Muir Woods, San Francisco

Once the ground is dry, though, all the best hydraulics nature has can’t supply enough water.  The scientists have noticed the upper limbs are brown on some trees and some have lost their needles.  The research to understand this is taking place on two fronts.  One group is climbing the trees (every kid’s dream!) to place water sensors at different heights to measure respiration.  The other group is taking aerial photos through various filters to identify healthy vs. sick trees.  Their hope is to determine the cause of the dying and to find key signs to watch for to measure changes in the forest.

A hopeful forecast is an El Nino forming, with expected heavier rains in the near future.  Otherwise, think of having to water this garden….

What would we do without trees?  For many of us, their forms define that part of country that is not “town.”  Ask a child to draw a landscape and trees are a defining element in their vision.  Trees frame our perspective of the sky and horizon.  And guide us through the forest.

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Seasonal splendor

Summer heat is building, even in Wisconsin.  Between the moisture and the sunshine it feels like we’re much farther south so I can’t imagine what it must be like in the lower latitudes.  Fortunately it doesn’t stay around here that long and the air conditioning takes the edge off fairly well.

One positive for photographers is these are the days of big puffy clouds.  And with all this sunlight how can you not go IR?!

Pergola and vine

Surrealistic garden

Awaiting afternoon tea

Summer field and trees

I like the first one most of all.  Something about the side-by-side contrast of structured shape and organic chaos, along with the tonal gradations throughout the image.  The shadows and highlights both have nice structure so you can sense the texture and details across the image.  It “feels” more artistic than the others.

The second one has a somewhat avant-garde look to it, like an album cover from the ’60’s where being strange but recognizable was a sign of coolness.

The third is a basic garden composition – could work as simply B&W or IR.  It’s a documentary shot.

The last one is a scene I’ve been watching for a few days.  The field was recently cut and is a golden yellow color, interspersed with the green trees and framed by the forest in the background.  It really got interesting when the clouds showed up.  As you see, the cloud overhead doesn’t let a lot of IR through – the shadow is very dark.  But in the bright parts the IR glow is very apparent.  I get the sense of a wave of light rolling toward the camera, expected to break right in the shadow area.

The downhill seasonal slide to fall means foliage changes and back to color photography.  For now B&W seems to tell the better story.

Harsh light means put on an infrared filter

Who cares that the wind is blowing the landscape around or that the sun is beaming down from a noontime sky.  Those are simply factors to contribute to other-worldly images.

ISO 400, 10 sec. exposure, f/8

ISO 400, 10 sec. exposure, f/8

ISO 400, 10 sec. exposure, f/8

ISO 400, 10 sec. exposure, f/8

ISO 400, 10 sec. exposure, f/8

ISO 400, 10 sec. exposure, f/8

The moving leaves in these long exposures just amplifies the “glow” on the foliage.  The stationary subjects jump out from their backgrounds and surroundings.