Unless you’ve been living under a rock (a very sheer, 3000′ tall granite rock), you’ve heard about the landmark free solo ascent of El Capitan that climber Alex Honnold made this week. Free soloing is exactly as it sounds – climbing by yourself, without any safety gear to secure you to the rock except your own two hands and feet. It’s about as risky as it gets, and when you combine free soloing with a granite face higher than the world’s tallest skyscraper…well, we just summited a whole new level of crazy.
Without any warning, without any fanfare, the internet suddenly went ablaze this week with stories of this amazing feat of physical and mental dominance. I mean SERIOUSLY – who does this??!! I can’t even shimmy within 5 feet of a 30 foot vertical drop without a jolt of leg-liquifying adrenaline pulsing through my vertiginous joints. How does someone have the power and nerve to climb the incredibly flat, notoriously fragile face of a cliff that is over a half mile high? Without ropes? Without a safety harness? Without a parachute or wing suit or paraglider or God knows what to ensure a pleasant glide to the bottom should one of your 3,000 steps fall short? Can someone please explain to me….HOW DOES SOMEONE DO THIS?????
The point is, we can’t explain it. That’s why Honnold’s story has captivated us so much. He has single- (or, more appropriately, double-) handedly thrown not just the climbing world, but the world of rational thought into an existential tailspin. Because it’s not just his awesome athleticism that is inspiring – climbing El Cap in under 4 hours is insane enough to make him the stuff of legends – it’s the mental muscle it took to overcome the very real, very human fear of falling/dying and will himself to do something humans (or really, any animal) aren’t supposed to do. Didn’t he ever look down and think, “man, that’s pretty far, I kind of wish I had my ropes with me today?”
In the short snippets of interviews with Honnold that have already been released, he mentions that mental preparedness is just as important to his free solo ascents as physical fitness. That’s why we didn’t hear anything about this landmark climb until after it was all said and done. Heck, his MOM didn’t even know he was doing it, which in retrospect, was a fair call there, Honnold. For him to believe, truly believe that he could do the incredible, he needed to only be surrounded by others who believed he could do it. Too much worrying, too much hype, too high of expectations and his whole chi could go haywire. Which pretty much meant Honnold’s circle of trust centered around himself (and a handful of National Geographic photographers, videographers, and journalists that may or may not have believed he could do it, but wisely thought it best to keep those thoughts to themselves).
In celebration of what is either the craziest or most inspiring thing to happen in Yosemite this year, I thought I’d share some rock-centric images from my April trip to the park. Congratulations to Honnold for proving that what was once impossible can become incredible – if only we look within, and then UP.
No matter how advanced digital photography gets in color capturing and printing technology, there will always be a special place for black and white photography in Yosemite.
John Muir was spot-on when he christened this natural gem the “Range of Light.” The rugged 2,000+ foot granite walls sheltering the narrow Yosemite Valley, with its northeast-southwest orientation, make for spectacular plays of reflected light and deep shadow all through the year. Anyone who photographs in Yosemite is aware of the challenges that such hard contrasts in light can bring to a full color image. But when viewed in black and white, these hard stops reveal texture, form, gravity, and emotion that aren’t immediately obvious in the full color scene. There is a sensitivity and richness that comes through when the color is stripped away and the landscape laid bare.
Ansel Adams was, of course, the king of black and white Yosemite photography. If he were alive today and had the option to record his vision in color, I wonder if he would see things differently? I’m secretly glad he didn’t have a palette of technicolor tools at his disposal. There’s a reason why, despite having access to advanced technology, millions of photographers continue to emulate his style. Adams’ images are so clear, so honest, so strong yet delicate in their handling of light and darkness. It’s like watching a ballet unfold frame by frame. Without the beautiful distraction of color, a whole new world opens up that invites a new kind of contemplation.
This January was my first winter camping trip to Yosemite. Although I did not approach every scene with the intent of capturing it in black and white, I found that I was often pulled that direction in my editing. White snow, black shadows, bare tree branches outstretched against a pale gray sky…all lent themselves perfectly to the black and white approach.
What do you notice first in each of these images? Would you see something different if they were in color?
I had forgotten it was the winter solstice when I set off for a photo walk yesterday afternoon. I just knew it was a beautiful day and I desperately needed a break from my desk. For the past week I have been heavily focused on editing and marketing, a task familiar to many photographers during these short dark days. Between the sedentary nature of my tasks and a constant craving for sugar cookies, my body was aching, and it finally succeeded in sluggishly nudging me off my chair to get a little fresh air.
I grabbed my camera and my 35mm with no real goals in mind other than to have some fun and give my creativity a workout. I happened to be at my mom’s house, which is next door to a strip of open space that I just love to walk to. I slung my camera over my shoulder, stuffed my Fitbit into my pocket, and headed out the door to do some exploring.
Without a model, my photo walks are pretty predictable: Take a couple photos of nature. Take a few more photos of nature. Oooh, look at that tree! Snap snap. Wow, beautiful sunset. Snap snap snap. Ahhh, now it’s twilight. LOVE those colors. Snap snap snap snap snap.
As I relaxed into the evening, blissfully enjoying and engaging in the wilderness around me, I became aware of how peaceful it was. No wind, no rain, just the silent slipping of the winter sun below the horizon as the birds called from the rushes. I remembered then that it was the solstice, and the moment took on new meaning. From this sunset forward darkness would cede to light, and with it the regeneration of life. There was something very circadian about it all. The world may be topsy turvy at times, confusingly raw and occasionally wrong, but nature will always find the balance.
When I got back home to my editing desk, I gravitated towards the images that spoke to this balance between light and dark. I wanted the images to show a candle of hope amidst the shadows. Though darker than my typical work, I don’t feel like they are sad or depressing, but rather emotionally deep and grounded.
There is wisdom in winter.
Happy Solstice – and may you follow the light into 2017!
Pssst…I’l let you in on a local’s secret: Yosemite National Park is horrible in the summer. When the waterfalls are raging and the days are long and warm, there is no place I’d rather NOT be than Yosemite. During this extremely popular time of the year, there are throngs of people and cars clogging every walkway and road, dirty air fed by forest fires and Central Valley smog, and a dry, sweltering heat that leaves me pining for air conditioning and a freezer full of Mint Oreo ice cream.
Pretty much every month outside of June, July, and September is better for visiting, although I think Fall is the best. There’s a cool crispness to the air…mmmm, that pristine mountain kind filled with the fresh, lung-scrubbing fragrance of damp pine needles and joyously littered with a colorful confetti of falling leaves.
There’s also that glowing, golden sunshine that bathes the Valley Floor during the day, a luscious light that only comes at this time of year. It’s warm and beautiful, especially as it illuminates the face of Half Dome in the mid-afternoon.
This past weekend Steve, Mila, and I went “glamping” (i.e. tent camping, but with enough kitchenware and bedding to stock a Macy’s Home Store) in the shadow of the world’s most famous monolith. What ensued were several days of peace and rejuvenation in this idyllic park. Although I said I’d go easy on the photography this trip (really, how many pictures of Yosemite Falls do I need??), I scrapped that idea once I immersed myself in the splendid beauty of Yosemite.
A recent rain storm had erased the memory of summer, wetting the soil and refilling the High Sierra watershed, bringing the famed waterfalls to life again. The fall colors were peaking, the light was amazing, and I just couldn’t help myself!! Scroll down to see more of my photos from our Yosemite Fall “Glamping” Trip.
Have you been to Yosemite? If so, when is your favorite time of year to visit? Litter my my blog with comments, I’d love to hear from you!
P.S. – One of these days I’ll post on the finer points of “glamping.” Mila still doesn’t understand it – like why would you take all the comforts of home to someplace that’s NOT home – but believe me, it’s kind of a thing these days!
There’s delicacy and beauty in the tiniest things in Yosemite.
Beetles carve curious mazes through fallen logs.
Dark and brooding…
Light and airy…
And slightly mysterious.
Wildflowers gone to seed in a meadow.
These cool cruiser bikes can be rented at Curry Village (aka Half Dome Village).
Darn. It’s taken. 😦
Saturday Night Plans: Wrap up in dad’s sweater like a burrito and watch Mom try to light the campfire.
Don’t go camping without ’em.
We may glamp, but that doesn’t mean we don’t go vintage!
A healthy buck makes his way across Ahwahnee Meadow.
Nature is groovy.
Don’t mind me.
Pointillistic reflections in a puddle on the Mirror Lake trail.
When we explore, we like to take the road less traveled.
Playing in the leaves.
Like I said…best of friends. Mila goes everywhere with us!
There’s nothing like photographing people in one of their favorite places. Last week’s family session in Yosemite Valley with the Beels was certainly a prime example of that. Brett and Lindsay Beel share a love for Yosemite, born of their passion for rock climbing, so it was only natural that they introduce their new little man to the mountains as soon as possible!
Nolan made his first national park visit at the tender age of 1 month and 1 day. Yes!!! You heard that right. For a newborn, he weathered the outdoors unbelievably well and was quite content to be held by Mom and Dad as we played around in Cook’s Meadow. Judging by how comfortable and relaxed he was, I’m thinking this is just the first trip of many! Babies everywhere: the bar has been set, and it is HIGH. 🙂
Congratulations Brett and Lindsay on the new addition to your family. I know you’ll miss Yosemite when you move to Pennsylvania, but here’s hoping that these photos remind you of your special time in California. Thank you for inviting me to share in these memories with you.
A couple of weeks ago Steve and I embarked on yet another camping adventure – but with a twist! We dusted off Steve’s classic Ski Nautique, dumped all our gear into water-proof totes, and hit the road for a boat camping weekend on Lake Tahoe.
A few things to know about boat camping:
All the stuff that used to fit in the back of your truck now needs to fit in your boat.
All the stuff in your boat needs to stay dry (easier said than done).
Your boat still needs to FLOAT once loaded down with all your stuff.
People who aren’t used to seeing tiny boats loaded 4′ high with ice chests and fire pits are going to stare at you. Wave and smile, wave and smile…
Once you get to your campground, you need to unload your stuff and get it to your campsite. Enter wheelbarrows and very bumpy dirt trails.
After you unload your stuff, you have to moor your boat.
After you moor your boat, you need to get back to shore. Oops, this is where an inflatable kayak would have come in handy…
When condensed like that, boat camping can sound like a drag! But it really is a lot of fun. Especially at Emerald Bay, which is hands down one of the prettiest places in all of Lake Tahoe.
Camping at Emerald Bay gave me a good excuse to get up at dawn for sunrise photography. Actually, I had zero excuse NOT to get up, as the bay was right at my feet every morning, beautiful and serene, beckoning me with bright colors or placid waters. I had so much fun documenting its many different looks and moods in the few short days that I was there.
Sunsets, by the way, weren’t too shabby either! Although the sun sets behind the mountains that encircle Emerald Bay, afternoon storm clouds sometimes reflect the colors of a glorious sunset, giving us a window into something that we cannot see.
Boat camping at Emerald Bay is quite remote, as there are no markets or restaurants within walking distance. You can’t just casually jump in your car to head to the store to pick up some ice, or go for a tour around town. What you CAN do is jump in your boat and head to the nearest marina for food, supplies, and good ol’ lakefront entertainment.
The Beacon is known for its tropical cocktail, the Rum Runner. Perhaps señor had a few too many?
While we sipped libations in the Sand Pit and listened to live music from local bands, a rumble of thunder echoed in the distance. I checked the weather forecast on my phone and saw a storm warning for the lake for the next hour or two. A quick pitstop quickly turned into a dinner break as we waited out the weather.
I ordered the fish and chips. Yum yum yum. And waited. Midway through my third filet, I looked outside and saw light breaking on the water. My heart skipped a beat as I registered what sunlight combined with retreating storm clouds means. Steve’s heart skipped a beat too. Except what he was looking at was our boat, which had broken free of its mooring. We both ran out to the shore and got to work.
While heading out on the boat to explore the lake is fun, it’s also nice to explore Lake Tahoe from land. Good thing there are plenty of opportunities for that right from our campground. One day we hiked the Rubicon Trail, another day we walked around the south end of the bay, and one afternoon we toured the famed Vikingsholm Castle. Sometimes we just chilled on the beach and read a book while the waves lapped at our feet.
We even got treated to a 30 minute show by one of the resident osprey of the Emerald Bay. These birds build their nests in the tops of the tallest trees, close to the shore, so that they can scan the water for fish with their insanely sharp eyes. Then they swoop down and it’s like, sayonara fishie. Such is the harsh reality of life in the wild.
Those who camp with us know that, well, we don’t really “camp”, it’s kind of more like “glamp.” As in, dehydrated veggies and meals-in-a-pouch don’t even come close to our meal kit. Here’s an especially tasty 2014 Tolosa Central Coast Viognier that we paired with, I am not ashamed to say, bacon mac ‘n cheese. Chowzah!
Would I boat camp again? Absolutely. Would I do it immediately? Probably not. It’s definitely a more expensive way to travel, if you don’t already have a boat docked on the water, and you certainly aren’t as mobile as you are on land or foot. Some of the peace and quiet of the outdoors is, understandably, shattered when you combine outboard motors with alcohol-fueled party boats. But on the positive side it gets you out on the water to enjoy a new perspective, and isn’t collecting new perspectives the main reason why we travel?
Until next time…here are a few more images of water fun to whet your appetite for a lake adventure.
Last month’s trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park already feels like last year! I edited some images and then shuttered the gallery for awhile as I focused on other photography jobs. Today I dusted off the cover and dived in to my wildlife photographs – and boy, was I amazed. Not necessarily amazed at myself, even though it took some definite skill to compose and take the shots, but amazed at the lens I used to capture them. And that is why I am telling Santa…
All I want for Christmas is a 400mm lens.
A Canon 400mm f/4.0 DO IS ii, to be exact, although I know that if my accountant has anything to do with it I’ll be settling for a gently used copy of the version i lens, which I hear is just as good. And that $4K in price difference between the two (yes, we are talking G’s here) will take me on many a wildlife safari, so I think it’s a fair bargain. Ahhh, but I had to go ahead and rent the EXPENSIVE one, and many of the images you see here would not have been possible without it.
It’s true, renting lenses is the way to go if you a) can’t afford the investment yet, b) want to try before you buy, or c) both. I have rented through BorrowLenses.com many times and have always had a great experience. Renting a lens has helped me decide on which ones I need to add to my arsenal and which ones I can pass or hold off on. BorrowLenses.com even shipped the 400mm lens directly to Yellowstone, so I avoided having to pay for the rental during our travel days. Other than a slight hiccup on the part of the lodge I shipped it to (which nearly cost me my composure…oh, just nearly…), it was smooth as silk and I enjoyed all 10 days of my “vacation” with this beautiful Canon lens.
Why a 400mm lens?
There are several reasons why a 400mm lens – at least – is a MUST for wildlife photography. Probably most importantly is that it allows you to get close to the animals without disturbing them or endangering yourself. At least 25 yards is recommended, which is a distance that even a lens this long can barely cover. Another reason – and this is for THIS Canon lens in particular – is that it is incredibly lightweight for its size and has image stabilization to cancel vibration. These two things enable you to handhold your camera and still get razor sharp pictures. I was just blown away. I’m very much a “shoot when I see it” kind of wildlife photographer, and the thought that I could miss a great shot because I was setting up a tripod to hold a heavy lens pains me to my core. With this lens, a monopod or tripod might help, but it isn’t always necessary. In fact, most of the photographs here were taken without one!
Lastly, and most importantly, this 400mm lens is just a supreme piece of glass. Sharp. Saturated colors. Beautiful bokeh (blurry background). Everything you could want in a quality piece of glass, and then some.
To be honest, not all of these images were captured with the 400mm lens. Some were taken with my trusty Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS ii. Also an amazing piece of glass! I wanted to include all my wildlife images in this post. However, if you’re wondering, most of the close-up shots of birds and large game were taken with the 400mm lens.
So, should I get a 400mm lens?
You tell me. Or petition Santa. I promise I’ve been very good this year! 😀
Wishing on a star,
P.S. – If you see something you like, all images are available for purchase, starting at $15 for an 8″x10″. Message me to find out how to buy.
Showing a different perspective of a popular travel destination is not without its rewards and challenges. The Reward: we have the opportunity to show people a piece of the world that they may not have had – or might NEVER have – the chance to see. The Challenge: we are more often than not photographing a site or scene that has been captured tens of thousands of times before (Half Dome? Check. Eiffel Tower? Double-no, Triple-Check!). There may be two dozen photographers standing next to us at any given time, capturing the same scene at the same time as we are! Not to mention all those great images that have been taken before, and that no doubt will be taken after ours. All this begs the question: “How will MY image stand out?”
Whether it is travel, wedding, portrait, fashion, commercial, or any other field of photography, the challenge to stand out remains the same. An image needs to simultaneously communicate and resonate for it to have power and impact.
To increase my chances of taking memorable photographs, the two questions I try to ask myself are:
How do I take a picture of X that provides a new and fresh perspective?
How do I take a picture of X that communicates a feeling – either my own, that of the subject, or how I want the viewer to feel?
Both are important, and I honestly can’t tell you which comes first to me – it’s kind of a chicken and egg sort of thing. Sometimes in the rush to capture the moment one question doesn’t get addressed, and I go back and look at my image and say, “gee whiz, I wish I would have framed my subject differently, or changed the exposure just a touch, or had a more narrow depth of field, or…” *shaking head* Photographers never stop living and learning through the lens!
I have been traveling through the National Parks a lot this year, primarily because I love exploring nature and have always made national parks part of my life. But this year is the centennial, which has driven me to visit more parks and be more focused in my travel photography of these places. Most recently I was camping through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
We all know how heavily trafficked these parks are, especially during the time of year when I was traveling (summer). We also know how iconic many of the features of these parks have become, from wildlife to rock formations to mountain vistas to geothermal features. There’s not a whole lot of photography that hasn’t already been done in these parks – so my challenge was to approach each classic photo op with a fresh eye and the all-consuming goal to show things differently.
Below are a few images of iconic subjects/scenes in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and the artistic decisions I made to show things differently. Do you think I found a new perspective? Did the image communicate feeling? Yay, our nay, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!