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New Work: Sequoia National Park – Part 1

Sequoia National Park in winter Tree Trunks, Sequoia National Park, CA
Mamiya RZ67 on Ilford Delta 100 film

1/2 at f/16

- Click Any Image for a Larger View - 

I spent the first weekend in March in the beautiful Sequoia National Park to try my hand at photographing these majestic trees. Nestled on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, this region played an important role in the creation of the national park system as we know it today.

It was in the shadow of these giant trees that naturalist John Muir and the great president Theodore Roosevelt slept under the stars after sneaking away from the president's cavalcade of security and advisors. Roosevelt wanted to spend time in the woods that Muir's writings made famous (along with Yosemite Valley) to see for himself what made them national treasures worth protecting. He wanted the solitary experiences that Muir described, unspoiled by his staff and modern amenities.

After several days in the wild with Muir, Roosevelt's passion for protecting these treasures, like the Sequoias, burned with an intensity like never before. This single experience served as a catalyst for an already growing national movement for environmental protection and began a series of historic events as Roosevelt set aside more and more land for public appreciation and recreation.

When you're amongst these giant Sequoias, it's plain to see how they could have such a profound impact on Muir and Roosevelt. They are truly amazing organisms. One can't help but feel like little more than an insignificant blip in the history of this planet when standing with these enormous trees. They sprouted long before you arrived, and they will stand long after you're gone.

Sequoia Trees in Sequoia National Park in winterBig Tree Trail, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

1 second at f/40 - Red #23A filter with 1-stop split ND
(See the bench at the foot of the tree?)

I planned this trip with hopes of photographing them in fresh snowfall. But as all nature photographers know, getting the weather to coincide with your hotel reservations is the biggest challenge of it all.

Although I arrived to plentiful snow on the ground, it was old, dirty snow that just didn't highlight the beauty of this place like I'd hoped. I tried my best using my large format and medium format cameras with black and white film, but it was tough to capture what I envisioned. If only the clouds would have granted me a gift of just a few fresh inches of snow...but alas, it was not meant to be.

Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, CAKaweah River, Sequoia National Park, CA
Mamiya RZ67 on Ilford Delta 100 film

1/8 at f/16 - Polarizer and Red #23A filter

Big Tree Trail in Sequoia National Park, CABig Tree Trail, Sequoia National Park, CA
Shen-Hao HZX-45IIa on Ilford Delta 100 film

1 minute at f/22 - Red #23A filter

I managed only a few photos in the snowy areas that I'm proud of. I worked hard to find spots with clean, uncluttered and un-trampled snow, but there just weren't many areas that worked. Plus, with the majority of roads closed for the season, I was quite limited on where I could go.

After all was said and done, I found my favorite compositions at a beautiful overlook called Beetle Rock. Those pictures will come in Part 2 of this post. So stay tuned!

Sierras in January: Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post "Sierras in January: Part 1", this "Part 2" post will be all about the snow scenes from around Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining.

Snow scene near Lee Vining, CA

The storm came in strong on our second day there, dumping tons of fresh powder all over the landscape just north of Bishop. The driving conditions made me a little nervous at first, since I have virtually no experience driving in the snow. That, and my only previous experience driving in the snow entailed 2 bad spin-outs on a narrow mountain road. But this time around, I had 4-wheel drive and ABS brakes to help me out. In the end, it was much less treacherous than I imagined.

Snow scene near Lee Vining, CA

Snow scene near Lee Vining, CA

What really gave my patience and nerves a run for their money was the wind. I've been in some crazy strong winds before, but never with air temperature in the 20's. Woo, was it cold! My visit to Convict Lake in late afternoon was especially brutal. I think the wind chill must have been down in the low teens (you guys out in Minnesota must be laughing at me right now).

Strong winds, in my opinion, are some of the toughest and most frustrating conditions to shoot in. You can't keep the tripod stable, you're trying to hold on to 3 or 4 different things at once, your clothes feel like mesh...but what made it even more difficult were the splashes of water coming off the lake and settling on my filters, then freezing near instantly.

Boy, did it try my patience.

Convict Lake in Winter

Shooting in the snow was a little difficult in general because the snowfall never fully stopped, but there was a break in storm in the afternoon when I happened to be near some old, run-down structures on the side of Highway 395. For those of you familiar with the area, you've probably seen these two little houses between Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining. They weren't the grand, sweeping vista I wanted, but they were good photo subjects nonetheless.

Run-Down Houses Near Lee-Vining, CA off Highway 395

Run-Down Houses Near Lee-Vining, CA off Highway 395

Run-Down Houses Near Lee-Vining, CA off Highway 395

But my favorite snow photos from the trip were from alongside the 395 right near the junction to Mammoth Lakes. The strong winds were kicking up snow off the mountain peaks, creating gorgeous layers and dramatic light.

Snow and wind near Mammoth Lakes, CA

Snow and wind near Mammoth Lakes, CA

Snow and wind near Mammoth Lakes, CA

And here are a couple videos I shot on my iPhone of the road conditions:

[vimeo width="550" height="309"]http://vimeo.com/36318005[/vimeo]

[vimeo width="550" height="309"]http://vimeo.com/36318730[/vimeo]

Overall, the trip was great, but as I mentioned in the previous post, I didn't feel like I was quite on the top of my game. Oh, well. It happens. There's always next winter...

Sierras in January: Part 1

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

With all the recent activity on getting ready for my gallery showing and artist reception, I haven't had much of an opportunity to look through the photos from my recent trip to Bishop, CA. But I finally got a calm in the storm that is my schedule, so I thought I'd browse through them and post a few shots for you to see.

The trip to Bishop was only 3 days long and I went on it with the goal of capturing some beautiful snow scenes in the Eastern Sierra. But there's just a few problems with that specific goal... First of all, it's been a horribly dry winter, and the lack of snow in these mountains has been a topic of conversation all season. Secondly, almost all the main passes through the Sierras are shut down in winter, which means I wouldn't be able to get to very many places. And finally, a storm was supposed to roll through the area the second day I was there.

The storm was good news and bad news. The good news was that I would get some fresh snow on the landscape. The bad news was that the heavy cloud cover would make my sunrises and sunsets almost non-existent.

Overall, I was a little bit disappointed with my photographic performance on this trip. It felt like I was in the wrong place at the right time on several occasions and I was, for some reason, having a difficult time capturing the full magnitude of the beauty I saw. Normally, I can make a place look much better in the photos than in real life. But here...I just wasn't on my A-game.

But nevertheless, I think I got some good photos (and a few great ones) to share with you. I figured I'd divide my trip up into 2 blog posts, not by date, but by the two main locations I visited throughout the trip. This first post is everything from the Alabama Hills at the base of the Sierras near Lone Pine. I visited this area 3 times on the trip and I just loved it. The scenery is unreal - lots of fun to explore. The second post will be all my winter snow scenes from the areas around Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining.

The Alabama Hills Recreation Area is an expanse of immense, round, granite rock formations that spread out beneath the majestic Eastern Sierra peaks. Tons of movies and commercials have been filmed here, and for good reason. There is really no other place on Earth quite like it.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

The Alabama Hills contains a few semi-famous arches that I had the opportunity to visit. Truthfully, photographing these arches was not real high on my t0-do list because it seems like everyone has photographed these things and they've all done it about the same way. Also, many others have had much better sunrises and sunsets to work with than I did. But I took some shots anyway...nothing I would frame, but it was nice to check them off my bucket list.

This first one is Lathe Arch. It's hard to tell in the photo, but this arch is very tiny. It only spans about 3 or 4 feet side to side and rises about 18 inches above the rock below it. Interesting shape, though.

Lathe Arch in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

And this bad-boy is Mobius Arch. I'm 6'2" and I can stand up straight underneath it. There are a ton of great photos of this arch all over the net. I wish I'd had a better sunset to work with here, but what can you do?

Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

The rest of these photos were taken all over the Alabama Hills. I was playing a lot with different foregrounds to help pull attention to Mt. Williamson in the background.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my trip!