Tag Archives: landscape photography

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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Livin’ La Vida Fotografia: Part One

Despite mostly bad weather, we did have a few opportunities to get out and explore Chingaza National Park, which lies just southeast of Bogota, Colombia

When returning to the United States after an overseas trip, the first required task ahead of you – prior to going through customs or baggage claim – is a screening at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency’s passport control area. Think long lines and a pod of glass encased booths with unsmiling border agents. The purpose of this formality is to have your passport and documentation checked out as well as having agents possibly ask you a few questions about your trip. For me, that sometimes includes an inquiry as to why I was visiting the country from which I am arriving. This always irritates me a little. Why? If it’s legal, it’s none of their damn business. You just can’t say that.

My reply is always truthful, yet vague. If you offer too much information it only invites a more intrusive set of questions that feel like a dangerous game of “gotcha” even though you have nothing at all to hide.

Then again, you can’t be too vague either. An answer along the lines of, “because I felt like it” will likely land you in a small room, under a hot lamp with a few stone faced, humorless inquisitors and a missed connection to boot.

“For photography,” I say and this reply satisfies quite often enough. I might even get a genuinely friendly response such as, “Oh I imagine (insert country name here) is a beautiful place for that” or something along those lines.

Upon arriving from Bogota, Colombia that answer left the Miami agents less than convinced.

“Photography? You mean, like taking pictures?”

This calls for mucho self control on my part.

“Yes, exactly like taking pictures.”

They then want to know of what and where I was practicing photography; if I know people in Colombia; how did I come to know these people in the first place; did I buy any photo equipment there; if not, what did I buy?

I can’t tell you how tiring and banal these overtly loaded questions are, not to mention slightly insulting. We are all aware of Colombia’s mostly unfair reputation so why don’t we avoid any further delay and just ask where I’m hiding the blow?

Then again, their lack of good faith could rightfully be forgiven seeing that not too many gringos travel to the Land of El Dorado for the sole purpose of photography. But that could be changing soon. Photographers can draw inspiration from a varied set of natural environments and climate zones: the Amazonian rainforest with it’s dizzying array of biodiversity; the snowfields and glaciers of the northern Andes mountain range with the highest peaks reaching over 18,000 feet; the tierra caliente of the lowlands and tropical Caribbean islands; and the wet Pacific coastline. This makes Colombia one of most naturally diverse countries on the planet, ranking third in the entire world in the number of total living species and number one in bird species.

So I arrived in Bogota with high hopes after receiving and accepting a speaking invitation and separate weekend teaching assignment with La Bloom Photo School, where a group trip to nearby Chingaza National Park was planned. But first, I wanted to explore the city and countryside and I allowed an extra week on my own for this purpose.

After checking into the hotel, I took a leisurely walk around the block to get a feel for the sights, sounds, and rhythms of this new place. It didn’t take long for me to notice that something was obviously wrong here. The armed guards at nearly every intersection and restaurant didn’t give me much pause at first but the explosive-sniffing dogs at the entrance to each hotel, parking deck, and government building was, I admit, a bit unnerving.

I tried to have a taxi take me to Bogota’s historic city center right before sunset for some twilight and long exposure photography. When asked for a destination, I just said, “oh, just drop me off anywhere here” as I pointed to a location on the map I was holding. He refused, for my own good. My Spanish comprehension is at best passable, but I know a good scolding when I hear one, no matter the tongue. It was beyond foolish to be downtown at night alone, was the message in so many words. Yet undeterred, I tried another and was refused once more.

On my return to the hotel, I was struck by a man on a small motorcycle while crossing one of Bogota’s chaotic streets. Famously chaotic or not, he shouldn’t have been swerving through and around stopped traffic at an intersection and then fail to stop at all once he arrived at the light. For this, he paid dearly as the forward motion of his bike was immediately arrested by contact with my body while he, now separated from said bike, continued airborne in that same forward direction unabated until terminal impact with the pavement.

This traffic-stopping scene drew many awed looks from nearby drivers and pedestrians, as I stood over the wreckage virtually unscathed. He was okay as well, just bloodied up a bit, but still was taken to the hospital in an ambulance as a precaution. After a very short interview with police, I continued my walk back to the hotel, all the while mulling the inauspicious start to the trip.

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Where The Huldufólk Abide

Gasadalur Waterfall and Village, Faroe Islands (Denmark) Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 16-35mm @ 21mm, 1 second @ f16, ISO 160

Sunrise comes super early to the Faroe Islands but not that it really mattered. My weeklong stay was dominated by foreboding, pewter grey skies, fog, rain, wind, and often all of the above simultaneously. This was also true of Iceland during the ten days preceding my flight to the Faroes, but somehow this felt even worse. The islands seemed genuinely angry at my arrival and its displeasure was measured in buckets of the falling wet stuff.

I jokingly made reference of this to an English-speaking gentleman at the airport and he (jokingly?) said it might be the Huldufólk, The Hidden People or elves who reside in another dimension. The native range of these mythical creatures apparently extends to both Iceland and this small Danish island in the North Atlantic.

“You do believe in elves, don’t you?” he asked in a lyrical, Scottish brogue but without any hint of irony.

“You ever hear of Bigfoot?” I responded in my best sarcastic American snarl. He has, in fact, not heard of Bigfoot

“Never mind,” I said.

So for the next four and  a half days, I cursed the rain and my doomed trip to these beautiful set of islands. I cursed my lack of planning (I was sleeping in the car), the cold nights, the jet stream, and the stupid elves too. Especially those vile little creatures.

You do believe in elves, don’t you?

Shut up, please!

So, you are probably reading this and thinking, so what about the image at the top of the page?

The ideal script would go something like this: It’s my last night in the Faroe Islands and I’ve been shut out. The bad elf voodoo has brought me to me knees and has finally made me a believer. As I drift off to sleep that night, I repeat the refrain, I do believe in elves. I do believe in elves. I do believe… The next morning, epic sunrise, right?

Wrong. I got lucky. Luck. Now there’s something I can believe in.

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