Tag Archives: landscape photography

Vignettes from Namibia: Sossusvlei and Deadvlei

The Sossusvlei and Deadvlei areas of Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park are true photographer’s paradises. I know this sounds like hyperbole and many locations are referred to as such, but in this case the claim really is true. The largest, most majestic sand dunes in the world reside here, as well as a surreal forest of dead camel thorn trees and a modest amount of wildlife too. Here are a sample of images from this area captured in May and June of this year. By the way, openings for the Wild Namibia Photo Tours 2015 are still available.

“Sweet Spot” Deadvlei, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM @ 93mm, 1/15 second @ f/11, ISO 100. Multiple exposures taken at various distances and focus stacked in Adobe Photoshop CC. As darkness fell over the Deadvlei pan, I caught the last bit of light on the dunes while using one tree as a frame for another.

“Sossusvlei” Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM @ 200mm, 1/320 second @ f/10, ISO 320. These dunes are the biggest in the world and yes, they are just as impressive in person.

“Casting Shadows” Deadvlei, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM @ 16mm, 1/60 second @ f/20, ISO 125.  Shadows create powerful radial lines across the hard clay pan of Deadvlei.

“Halloween Trees” Deadvlei, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 105mm, 1/50 second @ f/11, ISO 200.  When the dunes throw their shadows over the pan, the trees are transformed into frightening, nightmarish figures.

 

“Clean Cut” Namib Naukluft National Park, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 560mm, 1/80 second @ f/11, ISO 320. 560mm? Who ever said that super telephoto lenses were only for wildlife?

“Black Backed Jackel” Sossusvlei, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM @ 33mm, 1/160 second @ f/14, ISO 125, fill flash. 33mm? And who said wide-angle lenses were only for landscapes?

“Isolation” Deadvlei, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM @ 70mm, 1/30 second @ f/11, ISO 100. Complex compositions are visually engaging and challenging but sometimes simple delivers a stronger emotional punch.

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Of Radiance and Lameness

“Radiance” Some insane light at day’s end. Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah USA

Driving long, empty stretches of highway alone often lends itself to contemplation and introspection. If I’m not listening to audiobooks or music, I’ll sometimes but not always reflect on some of my shortcomings and how I can improve myself as a human being. Those who know me might find this to be surprising, but I do find that examining yourself – from the outside looking in – can be quite illuminating.

In the process, I think I’ve identified two major personality defects in myself that are somewhat troubling. One is a general lack of patience while the other is the fact that I get bored too easily.

I address the former defect by consciously trying to relax and accept frustrating situations that are beyond my control. This is a challenge and a trial to me but still well worth pursuing. For example, tourists in busy national parks tend to swarm into the scene I’m trying to photograph – all while seeming to have far too much fun in the process. At times like these I feel as if I should carry with me a rectal thermometer to gauge and monitor the onset of becoming an old fart.

Then I remind myself that they are, after all, entitled to be there too and I quietly accept the situation for what it is and wait for them to leave. After all, it’s difficult to justify a disdain for tourists while pretending you aren’t one of them yourself.

The latter defect has no known antidote of which I am aware. So instead of fighting it, I usually feed and propitiate the beast it by giving in and letting it have what it wants. In addition to a strong antipathy toward boredom, I do all I can to not be boring. That means that sometimes instead of agreeing with a conventional line of reasoning, right or wrong, I’ll happily play the contrarian or sarcastically protract an argument for its own sake rather than be bored or boring. In some social circles it’s called being a smart ass but it’s how I sometimes amuse myself nonetheless.

So when I wrote on my Facebook page yesterday that Balanced Rock in Arches National Park is the lamest photographic icon in the world, or something to that effect, I wasn’t necessarily feeding the aforementioned demons of ennui, although some of the comments and outraged private messages I received did amuse me greatly. That was well worth the effort.

George Carlin once quipped, “Somewhere in the world is the world’s worst doctor. Has to be! Process of elimination. And what’s truly terrifying is that someone has an appointment with him tomorrow morning.” George wasn’t disparaging doctors. He wasn’t even putting down the world’s worst….well, maybe he was a little bit. The point is that the world’s worst doctor could still be a pretty damn good one, there just has to be a best and a worst if you’re ranking them.

And so it goes with photographic icons. If I had to rank iconic scenes in U.S. National Parks, I would put Balanced Rock at or near the bottom of the list. It just doesn’t do much for me, especially when compared to Yosemite’s Tunnel View or the Tetons’ Oxbow Bend or the dozen or so other vistas that dwarf the bizarre phallic-looking rock formation that draws carloads of tourists with iPads and smartphone cameras in tow. It’s not a matter of respect for nature, as some accused me of lacking, it’s just that I have really good taste, that’s all.

Oops, I think I’m doing it again.

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Flashback: A Day in the Life, December 12, 2012

"Midnight's Children" Trollaskagi Peninsula, Iceland. Canon EOS 5D MarkIII, Canon 24-105mm f/4 @ 24mm, 30 seconds @ f/4, ISO 1250

“Midnight’s Children” Trollaskagi Peninsula, Iceland. Canon EOS 5D MarkIII, Canon 24-105mm f/4 @ 24mm, 30 seconds @ f/4, ISO 1250

Ed. Note: Portions of the post were published in December 2012 on the Earth and Light Blog

Often I’m asked what a typical day is like for a professional nature photographer.  I do my best to explain that it’s nearly impossible for me to answer since each day is unlike any that preceded it. In other words, there are no typical days. If I’m in the right mood, I might attempt to outline what I do and how my time is actually spent, which is usually met with disappointment and disillusionment by the questioner. It’s shocking to know what percentage of my time is spent actually creating images, in addition to how spectacularly unglamorous this whole business really is.

So here is a glimpse into my world, if for only a day (and it’s one of the better ones) and which also happens to be exactly one year ago today. The place?  Cold, snowy, dark, northern Iceland in mid winter.

December 12, 2012. Akureyri, Iceland  

9:10 am:  Just waking up and getting out of bed. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know 9 am is embarrassingly late for a nature photographer but please consider the circumstances. First, my body and circadian rhythms are still attuned to Eastern Standard Time. So if you subtract the 5-hour time difference, I’m really getting up at a much more respectable 4:10. Does that make you feel better? Besides it’s still dark outside so I’m not exactly missing out on much.

10:00 am:   After a shower and a few returned emails, I am out the door and looking for a quick lunch in town. There’s an intense red glow on the southeast horizon but the sun still has quite a way to go before it makes a proper appearance. I scarf down soup and salad at the Greifinn and drive toward Vatnsskarth Pass for some photos ops. It’s uncharacteristically cloud free. No clouds? This is new.

12:17 pm:  I can now finally see visible sunlight as the snowy mountaintops are bathed in a beautiful pink glow. But without any clouds in the sky, I’m just not jazzed about anything. I take a few obligatory images and shrug. Well I am here so what the hell?

12:50 pm:  I slip on my snow boots and a down jacket to hike and scout some locations for the evening. I find some rare open water for possible aurora reflections but I’m not entirely crazy about the composition. Yet at night with the aurora overhead, it might not be terrible. I make a mental note of some nearby landmarks so I can find the place later in the dark.

The Long Silence, Vatnsskarth Pass, Iceland

The Long Silence, Vatnsskarth Pass, Iceland

3:05 pm:  Back at the car and I’m changing back into my regular shoes after nearly backing the car into a deep ditch. The huge, clunky snow boots I was wearing wouldn’t allow me to step on the gas pedal without also catching the brake. And when I try to depress the brake, I also get the gas pedal or clutch. That almost cost me a hefty towing bill. It’s already nearly dark.

3:44 pm:  At the apartment again and it’s time for a nap. What is it about these short days that make me want to sleep so much?

6:25 pm:  Sitting on the sofa in my underwear looking over my images from Godafoss yesterday. They don’t suck too bad so I’m somewhat pleased. Next I check the weather and aurora forecast for tonight. Promising. The world news? Wish I hadn’t even looked. I’m bored. I’m hungry.

7:40 pm:  Dinner at a downtown Akureyri restaurant. Worst lasagna ever. Not surprisingly, Icelanders don’t do Italian food very well.

8:55 pm:  I slip into a nearby bar (Sorry I didn’t remember or write it down) for some local color and a cold Viking brew. The bartender tells me that over half the people here on the island believe in elves. This is my fourth trip to Iceland and it’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I nod knowingly.

9:31 pm:  After belting out an inspired rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun on karaoke, I bask in the polite applause of the two German tourists in a dark corner. I’m so outta here.

10:10 pm:  Driving out of town and scanning the sky for any sign of the aurora when I am startled by the brightest, most brilliant shooting star that falls slowly toward the northern horizon. It’s so bright and brilliant, in fact, that I reflexively duck my head. This is only one of several dozen I would see tonight as I am to find out later that the Geminid meteor shower is just starting.

10:46 pm Back at Vatnsskarth Pass and it’s really cold and really dark. There’s no moon and the aurora is looking spectacular –  intertwined ribbons of light stretching across the sky from east to west, horizon to horizon. Sometimes the large ribbons morph into smaller strands that slowly dance side to side, intensify, fade, before returning again stronger than ever. It’s easily the best display I’ve seen since arriving here in Iceland last week. The problem, however, is that the aurora has moved further south than the previous nights and the composition I scouted earlier in the day just won’t work. Back to square one.

11:40 pm:  Driving north along the Eyjafjordur toward the coastal town of Olafsfjordur when the aurora forces me to pull the car over. I turn off all the lights and begin taking a series of continuous 30-second exposures with the pale, eerie green lights over the mountains. Its not the type of image I had envisioned, but this is the big aurora display I had come here for. I spend the next two hours talking and shouting to myself (I tend to do that when I’m out alone). “Holy #%&@! This is #^&@ insane! I can’t feel my #%&@# fingers!” You know, that sort of stuff.

I mentioned earlier how little of our time as nature photographers is actually spent behind the camera creating images, as a percentage of our time as a whole. But for all the long silences – the travel, sitting around airports, driving, scouting, hiking, waiting out bad weather, just waiting in general, getting skunked, cold, wet, stuck or lost – the punctuated moments of pure magic like these are what we live for. Literally.

3:25 am:  Back at the apartment. I drop everything in the middle of the floor and stagger toward the bedroom, zombified. I’m sleeping in, damn it.

If you’re interested in seeing and photographing Iceland in more favorable conditions (think summer), I’m taking a group of lucky photographers there in July and there’s still a few spots left. Epic Iceland with Richard Bernabe

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Vignettes from Acadia

“Under a Blood Red Sky”
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, 4 seconds @ f/16, ISO 200

“Vermiculations on Duck Brook”
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200mm f/4 @ 98mm, 1/50 second @ f11, ISO 800

“Monument Cove”
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8, 30 seconds @ f11, ISO 320

“Lower Hadlock”
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200mm f/4 @ 126mm, 1/8 second @ f8, ISO 100

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CPCD #8 – Low Hanging Fruit in the Tetons, Wyoming

Too easy

If you’re unsure what a CPCD actually is, read this.

This crappy phone image isn’t from THE Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park, but it’s certainly close enough (actually, it’s better). Still, it’s easy, unoriginal, trite, unimaginative, and uber-conventional. It didn’t require working the scene very hard nor any extraordinary vision on my part. Some might argue that it required no vision at all, in fact. You could also make the assertion that I didn’t expend any hard work or energy here, that I simply reached for the low hanging fruit. Okay, fair enough. But the low hanging variety can often be just as sweet as the reward waiting at the top of the tree too.

This was captured this morning with my workshop group in the Tetons. It was fun, the light was sublime, and I was honored to share the moment with some awesome photographers with whom I’m spending this week. I really doesn’t get much better.

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