Bush Key, Dry Tortugas National Park Monday, Mar 25 2013 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I visited the Dry Tortugas National Park while in Florida in December 2012. After exploring the Fort Jefferson on Garden Key a little, I decided to take a walk around Bush Key, connected to the Garden Key by a short sandbar that was conveniently dry for this visit. You can see that on this photo, taken from the top of Fort Jefferson. In the background and to the right, you can see Long Key, but more about that in a moment.

Bush Key, Dry Tortugas

Bush Key, Dry Tortugas

Bush Key is a tiny island by any measure, but it has an interesting and fragile ecosystem. The National Park Service web site states it is closed for visitors, but on the day I visited, there was only a sign asking that you stay on the sandy beach and do not attempt to walk into the interior of the island. This is to protect the habitats of several native wildlife species, particularly terns, which nest there.

There were numerous conch shells on the island, as well as some fragments of coral, and it took some effort not to step on some of this beautiful inventory. At some places, the going got tough, and I slammed my camera into the sand when I attempted to climb a sandy slope and lost my footing. The sun had a hard time poking through the clouds, but at one opportune moment, I snapped this shot of a sun-bleached drift wood against beautiful palette of green and blue colors of the waters of Gulf of Mexico.

Bleached Driftwood, Bush Key

Bleached Driftwood, Bush Key

Halfway around Bush Key, there is a sign asking visitors to refrain from walking onto the Long Key, which is home to many species of birds, some of which were quite majestic. It was easy to see swarms of herons, pelicans, frigate birds and other birds over Long Key. Walking along the other side of Bush Key, I saw this three-bird formation and snapped a few quick photos, of which this one seemed the most successful.

Flyover, Bush Key

Flyover, Bush Key

Shortly before reaching the sandbar again on the other side, I spotted two birds leisurely walking along the beach in front of me. I had my 85mm lens with me and slowly approached. I managed to take a shot of this guy, and I loved how the photo turned out, but at the time I didn’t know which species he is. I knew I’d have to find out, because I definitely wanted to share the photo here on the blog.

Blue Heron Male, Bush Key

Blue Heron Male, Bush Key

I then visited the bookshop at Fort Jefferson, showed the picture on my camera display to the helpful lady working there, and we went through a few books until we determined that this was a blue heron male. He was just turning into adulthood, which you can tell by the little “hair” lock flowing down the back of his head.

Overall, it takes a while to get to Dry Tortugas NP, but if you do it, you won’t be disappointed, whether you’re a snorkeler, bird watcher, or just a photographer.

Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, UT Saturday, Sep 22 2012 

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing

Back in May 2011, I traveled to the Zion National Park in Utah with my friends and photographers John and Tyler. You can see a few of the photos I brought back here, here and here. The goal was to create some nice landscapes worthy of our portfolios and to have a good time hanging out with each other in the process.

Halfway there

Halfway there

One of the things we wanted to do while in Zion was hike the Angel’s Landing trail. It’s not a particularly difficult or strenuous hike, although it climbs a total of 1500 feet (500 meters). The main appeal of it is in the very narrow ridge that you have to negotiate while getting to your destination. Angel’s Landing is a tall rock protrusion into the valley and it was so named because it was believed that only angels had the ability to get up there.

But up there we went, the three of us, navigating the trail that at one point consisted of a meter-wide path with a death-defying drop on each side. There were plenty of places where you had to hold on to the chains bolted into the rock along the way, so that you would not lose your balance and fall hundreds of feet down.

I remember passing a family that included a girl who couldn’t have been more than 7 years old; the family was on their way down while we were on our way up. The three of us guys spurred each other on by saying, “If a 7-year old girl can get up there, then we can get up there, too.”

View from the Top

View from the Top

The view from up top was excellent. The main canyon of Zion was both in front of us and around us, and we truly had the “top of the world” feeling. Of course, by the time we got up there, it was mid-day, and the light was “wrong” for truly breathtaking photos, so I never really got to show these before, except to friends and family. But here they are, if nothing else, as a document of where I’d gone, like a t-shirt I purchased later that day in Zion. The shirt says “I hiked Angel’s Landing.”

City Postcards: Seattle Monday, Nov 21 2011 

A few months ago, my friend and photographer Tyler invited me to spend a few days in the Pacific Northwest. Although our main target were the National Parks in the area (photos from Mt. Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park are coming shortly), I wanted to get a good look at the city of Seattle. So, here’s a selection of best shots that I created with my new Mamiya 7 camera; all photos were made on Ilford Delta 100 black and white film.

We’ll start this post with a view of Seattle’s most famous building.

Space Needle

Space Needle

I’ve been on top of a few famous buildings, so I didn’t want to spend time and money climbing on top of Space Needle. I’m sure the view is great, but I had limited time to spend downtown, and the ticket was slightly over priced. Nevertheless, it’s still a very cool, sleek structure, in the middle of the city, surrounded by parks and businesses of all kinds. We’ll come back to it in a moment.

Pike Street Market

Pike Street Market

Almost as famous as the Space Needle is the Pike Street Market. It’s blocks and blocks of shops and vendors, centered around the intersection of Pike Street and First Avenue. You may have seen the whole fish-throwing act; that’s right here. According to the clock, it was around 3:30 P.M. when this was taken. It was Thursday and it was lively; people having lunch, running errands, tourists with cameras around their necks, UPS truck deliveries… It’s a city center in many ways.

Coffee House, Seattle

Coffee House, Seattle

Rewind a few hours, and go back about a mile, and this is the scene in a more quiet part of Pike Street, further up on the hill. One other thing that Seattle is famous for is coffee, and the coffee houses are everywhere. This one caught my eye because it was particularly colorful, with its teal paint job and a gold window frames. And yet, as I often do, I preferred this b/w film shot to my color digital. Maybe it’s the old-school font in the name of the business that gave the whole scene a more serene, relaxed look.

Downtown Seattle, from Gasworks Park

Downtown Seattle, from Gasworks Park

The August days were surprisingly sunny, but this Monday started like a traditional Seattle day – gloomy, overcast, with a bit of a drizzle. I explored the neighborhood of Fremont and moved along the shoreline until I got to Gas Works Park. Tyler has made some fantastic images there, and I was excited to see the old machinery that still resides there, but the park is also a nice overlook to downtown Seattle on the other side of Lake Union. There’s Space Needle again on the right edge of the photo.

Machinery, Gasworks Park

Machinery, Gasworks Park

An interesting note about the machinery photo above is that I heavily corrected the vertical perspective in PhotoShop. In the original image, the chimneys were converging toward the middle axis of the photo. Because of the correction, the chimney on the left looks unusually large, but I’m satisfied with the overall result.

And, finally, here is my favorite photo. With only a few hours before I had to head back to Seattle-Tacoma International airport, I took a bus toward Volunteer park and then walked over to Lake View Cemetery. I wanted to visit one of the most visited grave sites in the US, the final resting place of Bruce Lee, my childhood hero and one of the coolest icons of the world of film. The cemetery office was across the street from the gate, so I stopped by to sign the guest book and pick up directions to find Bruce and his son Brandon.

How cool was Bruce Lee? Well, consider this: Steve McQueen and Chuck Norris were among the pall bearers at his funeral. Rest in peace, master.

The Dragon's Eternal Nest

The Dragon's Eternal Nest

Virgin River, Zion National Park Friday, Jul 1 2011 

On our first full day at Zion National Park, Tyler and John and I wanted to take another stab at the Emerald Pool Lakes trail. We had done it a few years ago, but felt we could come back and get some good photos on it. While the jury is still out on some of those photos, after we came back down to the valley, we had time to kill before sunset, so we went to the Riverwalk Trail, at the very end of the canyon.

Record snowfall has turned Virgin river into a raging torrent, much like what we saw in Yosemite a year ago. At the end of the Riverwalk trail is the start of the Narrows, for which Zion is famous for, but the Narrows trail was closed because, well, there was no trail, only a river.

Virgin River

Virgin River

So we took a leisurely stroll, taking our sweet time setting up our gear in between the children and squirrels and other critters roaming around us. With no direct sunlight inside the canyon, we were trying to look at unusual scenes that you wouldn’t normally notice if you looked for grand vistas and bold scenes.

This was shot on Kodak Ektachrome 100 slide film with my medium format Mamiya 645 1000s camera, and, while I had some nice results with this film before, this was just flat and boring. I loved the composition, and the watery blur was in a perfect balance between a milky artificial look and the instant snapshot. There was depth there, and content, but the colors just didn’t work. This was a “maybe”, and that’s how I presented it to Tyler.

Virgin River, before Tyler-ification

Virgin River, before Tyler-ification

He made a few subtle adjustments, some of which are beyond my scope as a digital artist. He made some color enhancement – there was a lot of reflected blue light from the sky, and the green trees now look a lot better against the red canyon walls. He also encouraged the shadows and made the highlights behave. I’m posting the main photo the way he edited it, with the “before” image (direct slide scan) posted smaller, for comparison.

Traditional Sunset, Eagle Crags, Utah Tuesday, May 17 2011 

I’ve been traveling with Tyler and John for four years now, for purposes of enhancing our friendship as well as our photography skills. And if there’s one thing that we bonded over more than over lens caps and ISO settings, it’s botched sunset shoots.

First, there was not one, but two sunsets in Monument Valley, a year apart, that left something to be desired. Then there was one when we didn’t get to Lake Powell in time on our way from The Wave, even though I hit 100 miles an hour to get there. There was one at Yosemite’s Tunnel View (although, the Sierras paid us back a few days later with a magnificent sunset from Sentinel Dome). And then the one when the skies finally cleared only when we were already many miles on our road out of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park…

If there’s one thing we can count on, that’s a less-than-perfect sunset.

Traditional Sunset

Eagle Crags, UT

And here we were, three hours before sunset, after a morning hike to Angels Landing, after driving up a bad dirt road, getting perilously off the hiking trail, setting up our tripods in between the bushes and trees, wondering if we will get rained on before the skies clear and allow some sunlight onto the peaks in front of us.

The peaks are called Eagle Crags, and they’re located just outside Zion National Park, near Rockville, UT. We saw them a few sunsets earlier, as they were the peaks getting the very last light, due to the fact that they’re outside the main canyon of the park, so the light lingers on them just a little longer. Tyler found a road on the map, and the road led us to a BLM hiking trail, which eventually goes all the way to the foot of the Eagle Crags hill.

Eagle Crags, UT

Velvia film shot, not as good as the digital

Skies were dark and foreboding, which made for a dramatic background. We were cheering for the sun to break through the cloud bank to the west and light up the red sandstone. We had reason to hope: it happened a little earlier, but it was not the magical “golden hour light”. I captured it on Fuji Velvia 50 film, shown here, and it looks nice, but it’s not quite the same as the main digital photo, taken just that much later. Light was changing fast, and I never snapped another film shot. I didn’t even time to change my lens – it was gone in a flash.

Still, we’ve seen some photos in the local galleries, and this formation, somewhat off the beaten path, offers great potential for some wonderful sunsets. On this evening, however, our tradition continued.

Nevada, USA Monday, May 16 2011 

This was the fourth consecutive year that I took a photography-focused trip with my friends Tyler and John. Even though we’ve been there before, we decided to come back to Zion National Park and explore it a little bit more. More on that later.

As on the previous trips to Southern Utah, we flew into Las Vegas, rented an SUV and drove north. This time around, we decided to stop at the Valley of Fire State Park, which is only a few miles off the main interstate.

The park is the home for many interesting rock formations, and several examples of petroglyphs, drawings carved in stone by ancient peoples inhabiting this area. This shot was taken from an elevated platform by the Atlatl Rock, where some of the petroglyphs can be seen up close.

Nevada, USA

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA

There are several things seemingly illogical about this photo. Clearly, there are no petroglyphs immediately visible. In fact, I was turned the other way, into the desert, bathed in the mid-day sun. Further, despite the fact that the whole idea of the Valley of Fire is that it’s the bright red sandstone that gives the rocks their attractive color, I was shooting through a roll of Ilford FP4 Plus black and white film.

But, I’m pleased with the way this turned out. The film’s sensitivity to red end of the light spectrum rendered the sand nearly white. The desert, dotted with bushes and dissected by a straight road against the backdrop of rocky hills and distant mountains, gives off a quintessential American vibe; even more specifically, a Nevada vibe.

Color of Nevada

So, it’s the wrong time of day to take a landscape photo, there is no clear subject, there is no color, and there are certainly no petroglyphs. And yet, at least for me, there is a story. For comparison, I included the digital color shot.

(NOTE: Ilford FP4 Plus film processed by the Dallas lab BWC.)

Nevada Falls, From John Muir Trail Tuesday, Oct 19 2010 

I mentioned in my previous post that I visited Yosemite National Park during peak water flow. Scott, John, Tyler and I wanted to spend a day climbing up and down one of the signature trails of the park, The Mist Trail, which that day could have been named The Enormous Plumes of Spray Trail. The section just under the Vernal Falls was the worst, and we were more concerned with protecting our expensive cameras from the water than with using them to take photos. On top of the falls, we had to change shirts and expose some soaked clothing to the morning sun.

The final climb to the top of Nevada Falls didn’t quite resemble an unrelenting cold shower like its counterpart downstream, but we still got plenty of gusts of wind that brought the chilling spray upon our weary bodies. By this time, sun hid behind some clouds and the temperature dropped a bit. Wind was strong, and the clouds were moving, which made photography a bit challenging due to the changing light.

We finally made it to the top and enjoyed lunch, before we got on our way back to the valley following the John Muir Trail to the other side of the falls, against a sheer granite cliff. Just after one last refreshment courtesy of some persistent snow melt, we paused to gather our strength for the descent. I fired off a few shots, including the one of the back side of Half Dome I posted earlier.

Nevada Falls, From John Muir Trail

I then changed lenses and tried a wider composition with my next shot, which is what you see here – notice the similar scattered light. At 17mm, pretty much everything is in sharp focus, and I really love the distorted clouds reaching for the corners of the image with Liberty Cap dominating the center. I hesitated to post this, because it was too similar to the earlier shot, but upon further review, I decided this photo has a character of its own and deserves a spot in the blog.

Vernall Falls, Yosemite National Park Sunday, Oct 17 2010 

Fort Worth’s Amon Carter museum recently displayed an exhibit of Ansel Adams photographs, which I was excited to visit. Like most people, I was exposed to his work through his most popular images, and seeing an actual print of the glorious Clearing Winter Storm was certainly a thrill. I even saw the original Monolith: The Face of Half Dome (although slightly mislabeled by the museum), a 1934 print on Dassonville Charcoal Grey paper; on my June visit to Yosemite National Park, I bought a reproduction of this amazing photograph and it now hangs on a wall in my bedroom. Finally, I came face to face with his photo book Taos Pueblo, wishing I could flip through the gelatin silver photo paper pages on which Adams individually printed the photos.

But, it was the lesser known Adams Work that really got my attention. A photograph titled Pinnacles, Alabama Hills was magical – vertical rock outcroppings covered with lichen platelets against the background of snow-capped mountains. The level of detail was tremendous and you can sense the pre-visualization that Adams was so famous for.

Then there were several images from Big Bend National Park, made in the mid-to-late 1940s, especially the Santa Elena Canyon, which is not merely a composition, but a symphony of rock and light. The photograph seemed to be asking me why haven’t I made the 10-hour drive to this National Park yet; not exactly in my back yard, but in Texas terms certainly not beyond reach.

In all of his work, Adams emphasizes sharp focus and eye for detail, even in grandiose vistas. His Half Dome, Blowing Snow is a testament to this, with its portrayal of the friendship between ice and granite. Another theme that is noticeable is his use of the sky in his photos. It seems as if he used red filters just about every time he expected to show the sky in the photo, so that it would appear darker than the clouds scattered across it.

And finally, here and there, there are traces of Adams the portraitist, whether he’s photographing an unnamed Woman Behind Screen Door or his friend Alfred Stieglitz in his studio. One realizes that such photos were probably not done with his view cameras, which require slower, more deliberate operation, but rather with a more compact 35mm camera, making Adams a well-rounded wielder of photographic equipment.

Vernall Falls, Yosemite National Park

To illustrate this blog post, I chose not to use any of Adams’s images, as they are easily available on the internet, albeit in form nowhere near deserving of a fine work of art. Instead, here’s one of my own offering from the trip to Yosemite; a digital snapshot that’s been on top of the “Maybe” pile for four months. It’s a photo of Vernal falls, inspired by an image by Adams. The master was able to get close up to the water, which indicates it was probably later in the year — we were there in peak flow season, and it was impossible to use any electronic equipment on that particular portion of the aptly named Mist Trail. This was taken from a bridge further downstream, and I rather liked the way sun found a few ways through the clouds to offer some pleasant highlights on the water and foliage around it.

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