Lake Tahoe by Boat

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.

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Ahoy!  Our classy (and classic) waterski boat may be small, but she is mighty.  This little lady can still turn heads – and some tight turns! – on the water.

A few things to know about boat camping:

  1. All the stuff that used to fit in the back of your truck now needs to fit in your boat.
  2. All the stuff in your boat needs to stay dry (easier said than done).
  3. Your boat still needs to FLOAT once loaded down with all your stuff.
  4. 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…
  5. 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.
  6. After you unload your stuff, you have to moor your boat.
  7. 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.

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Emerald Bay sunrise.  Not all that glitters is green.

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.

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Hey, that’s ME!  I’ve started to “put myself in the picture” on my photography adventures.  I like how this image reminds me of my place in this moment.
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Sunbursts.  I can’t help myself.  🙂
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Stand-up paddle boarding is big on Lake Tahoe.  Nothing like a sunrise stroll around the bay to bring life into perspective.
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When I woke up and saw that there were no clouds in the sky, I was bummed.  But then I realized that there is beauty in what is not there, too.
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Every day, something different.  Maybe the clouds aren’t as dramatic, but the lake is freakishly calm.  I like how these dead branches seem to melt into the sublimely smooth water.

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.

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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.

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On the road again…heading to The Beacon for goods and grub.  And maybe an ice cold pint in their Sand Pit.  Lake living at its finest!
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Getcha motor running’…
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Just some starlings on the dock that caught my eye.

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.

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A serious storm sweeps across Lake Tahoe.  Not unusual for summer, but you want to avoid being on the lake when weather like this blows in…

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.

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A double rainbow!  One of the most vivid displays I have ever seen.  Thank you, thank you storm and the unscheduled dinner break that kept us here for THIS.
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That happy feeling you get when you successfully photograph a double rainbow.
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I chided myself for leaving my tripod back in camp.  Still, I managed to get this panorama by holding my breath, steadying my camera, and twisting my torso 210 degrees.  Oouf.

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.

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The Vikingsholm Castle is a fixture on Emerald Bay.  This beautiful mansion was built at the turn of the 20th century and is a study in Scandinavian art and architecture.
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I think the docent said this was a peasant chair.  Um, seriously?
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Meals were shared in this dining room.  Although the hostess was gracious and welcoming, it was imperative that everyone show up at the appointed hour(s) to dine together.  Yes, there were four daily meals on the schedule, and you must be present for all!
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Hood ornament from one of the vintage Dodge Rams that was used to chauffeur guests to and from the mansion.
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There’s something ghostly about this “sun” room…*shivers*
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Fannette Island, part of the Vikingsholm estate.  The little stone structure on the top is a tea house that was used in the summer.  Now abandoned and crumbling, it sure looks creepy under a threatening sky…
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Hit the trail!  Rubicon Trail is one of the prettiest in all of Lake Tahoe.
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Whoever built this bridge…rocks.
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You can’t fully appreciate the bold green and blue hues of Emerald Bay unless you hike above the water.  The views from the Eagle Point Trail are especially stunning.
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This guy totally gets the Dad of the Year Award for power boating this kayak (and his kids) back to shore during a serious cloudburst.  Fierce.

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.

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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!

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What’s in your igloo?

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.

Cheers!

Jessica

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The M.S. Dixie II on her nightly dinner cruise around Emerald Bay.  If you don’t have your own vessel, this steamboat is a fantastic way to see the lake!
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Two paddle boarders strike a pose against the Nevada mountains as they cruise by the mouth of Emerald Bay.
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Wheeeee!!  Who wouldn’t want to try THIS on their next trip to Lake Tahoe?

Santa, all I want for Christmas is a 400mm lens…

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.

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Baby pronghorn and mama (400mm)

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,

Jessica

***

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.

 

Bison

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Birds

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Bears

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Pronghorn

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Mountain Goats

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Marmots & Ground Squirrels

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Deer, Elk, & Moose

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Insects

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Yellowstone & Grand Tetons: A Different Perspective

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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:

  1. How do I take a picture of X that provides a new and fresh perspective?
  2. 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!

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Everyone knows the Tetons are tall – but did you know the sky is higher?  In this image, I chose to make the wispy clouds the subject by moving the mountains to the bottom quarter of the scene.  This emphasizes the connection between weather and the mountains, telling the story of how each shapes the other.  I also took a vertical approach to this landscape, which gives extra height and scale to the photo and encourages the viewer to “look up.”
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Here is another image where I took a vertical approach to a classic landscape.  Making something that is usually big (mountains) into a focal, yet small part of the scene provides visual interest and gives this landscape from Yellowstone a unique perspective.
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The geothermal  features at Yellowstone are well-documented, from pictures of gushing geysers to aerial images of the Grand Prismatic Spring.  By crouching down and framing the vibrant orange patterns of this spring against the cool blue of the lake water and sky, I was able to create an abstract image that also tells the story of “fire and ice”, which is vital to the geology of this geyser basin.
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Speaking of geysers, how do you take an image of Old Faithful that’s hard to replicate?  Sometimes you get lucky.  Old Faithful erupted minutes before this spectacular sunset, enabling me to backlight it’s last hisses of steam with golden light from the horizon.
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Another take on Old Faithful, this time with the tourists as the subject.  By framing them at the bottom of the image, with Old Faithful at full eruption in the center, I was able to capture the simultaneous energy of both the geyser and the people watching it.

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Wildlife photography opportunities are plentiful in Yellowstone, especially when it comes to pronghorns.  Yes, I’ll admit, I took plenty of pictures of these animals grazing and chewing their cud!  But with a lot of patience, and some good fortune, I was able to capture the three images above which show natural emotions (love/security), features (eyes), and activities (grooming) of these amazing animals.

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I love love LOVE color, so naturally I wanted to focus on the amazing color palette at the geysers and thermal pools in Yellowstone.  Picking an interesting feature as the subject (first picture), having my husband pose against a vibrant thermal backdrop (second picture), and using the unique picoted crust of the pool to frame the waters within (third picture) are three different techniques I used to bring a different perspective to these iconic pools.

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The lovely old barns at the Mormon Homestead at Grand Teton National Park are some of its most photographed features.  Most photographers will show up before dawn to capture the first rays of light hitting the barns, with the Tetons softly illuminated in the background.  Few would attempt a midday shoot because balancing the exposure of the structures with the mountains proves to be darn-near impossible.  But with some creative black and white editing (first picture), focusing on barn details that are more evenly illuminated (second and third pictures), and moving the structures to the background to tell a different story (fourth picture), I was able to make good use of “bad” light – and was forced to come up with new ways of photographing this landmark in the process!

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Yellowstone may be the biggest national park in the United States, but it’s the small wonders that make it it truly special.  While photographing bison and big geysers is an obvious must-do for any nature or travel photographer, I also chose to focus on the tiny details to show that this park really is the sum of its parts.  With help from some backlighting (first picture), selective focus (second picture), and creative composition (second picture) I attempted to show the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

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Stories of struggle are very real in nature, but are often glossed over by stunning photographs of snow-capped mountains or ocean sunsets.  In these two pictures, I try to show a different side of two nature icons: a bison and a forest.  By shooting in the middle of the day and editing in black and white, the bison’s rough winter coat and weary stance become the focus and tell a story of strength gained through hardship.  The bottom image of a stand of dead trees tells the story of the devastating Yellowstone fires.  This story is strengthened by an overcast sky that gives the illusion of smoke when edited in black and white.

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Finally, a national park trip is not complete without a trip to towns that surround it to get a taste of the local flavor (ok, and I’ll admit, maybe an ice cold beer or ice cream cone, too). The four images above all evoke a sense of place that is indigenous to the towns, yet is also shared with the neighboring national park.