Pacific Crest Trail Personal Portrait Project

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL HIKER PORTRAITS.

The Smith Boys, three generations of hikers from Tehachape, on Kearsarge Pass in the Sierra. We ran into them as we were returning to the PCT from our last resupply at Independence.

Here, finally, I am posting a collection of hiker portraits as personal photo project. Some of these images have already been published on previous posts from my PCT 2016 hike. I hiked the trail with a new camera, a Sony A6300 with a Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens, so I was learning the camera as I hiked and used it. As a way to learn the camera, as a chance to come out of my comfort zone as a photographer, and focus on a weakness, I set out to make portraits of select hikers I came across on the trail.

I did not take a tripod with me on my hike through Washington to save weight. I wanted to do something a little more dynamic as a self-portrait than the cliche “standing at Monument 78 at the border” shot, which I did anyway. Four miles from the border at Hopkins Pass I fiddled with the self timer mode and propped my camera on some rocks to make a few self portraits. The distant ridges in the background are Canada.

Don’t get me wrong. I also took plenty of images of other subjects within my normal area of expertise, like landscapes, hiking action and camp scenes. I did all my trail photography as a minimalist. I had no lighting. All I had was one camera and one lens. Sometimes I would run across hikers in the middle of a harsh sunny day and after a 5-minute conversation, try to make the best portrait image I could given the conditions. Other times I photographed hikers who became friends and hiking companions – most notably, the Frenchtastic Four. These were four millennials from France, all friends prior to hiking, doing this big adventure together in America. They were so awesome to hang out and hike with.

Nancy and Linda, two delightful women at the Stehekin, Washington Campground, who hiked in from Highway 20 at Rainy Pass. Linda, on the right, had a vintage rucksack – almost the exact pack I carried at Philmont Scout Ranch in 1976 except mine was burnt 70’s orange. They were camped next to me when I arrived and we talked for several hours.

My hope was that being in a wilderness environment and connecting with like-minded people would ease my apprehension of asking people to be photographed. It did help but I was surprised at how hard it was to overcome my extreme introverted persona even on the trail. I don’t feel these are earth shattering portraits by any means but I do feel like I’ve improved and that is a good feeling. Ironically, soon after we pulled off the trail, I was hired by a national client to make portraits, mostly sports portraits mixing natural with strobe lighting. Fortunately, they were pleased with the results.

Zed (Liam) is a Scottish Southbound hiker. He is a seasoned world traveler, having worked as a nurse and hiked in Australia, Tasmania and Iraq. He was the first PCT hiker I met on the trail, on day one, 4 miles from Harts Pass. I was starting my northbound “tag the border” hike and he was returning from his border tagging and continuing south. I didn’t photograph him then as it was raining. We leapfrogged each other regularly in the northern half of Washington. I photographed him here in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness. A day or two after this meeting he dropped his very expensive carbon fiber ice axe on the trail. I picked it up and carried it for two days and got it back to him at Snoqualmie Pass.

Gang of SOBOs in the rain and hail at Mica Lake, waiting for visibility to clear before heading up Fire Creek Pass. Sherry, Andrew and I went first despite the horrible weather. New hail and snow covered the trail and boot pack on the pass so we had to do a few minutes of GPS navigation to find the trail.

Lauri and I will be section hiking all of Washington this summer and I will continue with this project then.

Northbound thru hiker, “Hummingbird” (Tela) in morning fog on summit of Grizzly Peak just outside the southern boundary of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. She was the first PCT thru hiker I photographed both in action and here as a portrait. She had done most of the trail northbound being stopped by fires. So she was section hiking Washington northbound.

“Hummingbird” (Tela) in morning fog on summit of Grizzly Peak just outside the southern boundary of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. I wouldn’t classify this as a true portrait. It represents what I’m more comfortable with: action and environmental portraits. This was one of my most liked Instagram post from my PCT hike.

I never got her name but this is one of my favorite portraits of a hard working trail maintenance volunteer from 350 Blades, Washington Trail Assocciation and Pacific Crest Trail Assocciation working near Govermnent Meadow Camp and Mike Ulrich Cabin near northern border of Norse Peak Wilderness. I spent about 30 minutes talking to and then photographing several trail crew members.

This is CC, Color Coordinated, from the Class of 2015 who successfully thru hiked in 2015 northbound. I met her in the Norse Peak Wilderness in Washington. She was section hiking Washington only, northbound, because the previous summer it rained during most of her hike.

Section hiker, Dutchess, is a life coach and author. She teaches women over 50 how to backpack. Here she is in a hammock tent and camped where I stopped to have dinner nearby a stream. Her website is www.transformation-travel.com

Southbound thru hiker (SOBO) trail name “Neemore” (need less, want more) hiking in early morning at Scout Pass with Mt. Rainier in background

Thomas of the Frenchtastic Four, pauses along the Knife-edge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness as Juliette (seen in his right sunglasses lens) finishes crossing a snowfield.

Juliette and Thomas, a couple, part of the Frenchtastic Four from Paris, eating dinner at camp at sunset high up in the Goat Rocks Wildernness.

Pierre, part of the Frenchtasic Four, at camp near Old Snowy in Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. We just finished a 19 mile day. I hiked with him and his 3 other Parisian friends through the Goat Rocks. These four French friends did most of the trail southbound and stayed together for most of the trip which is remarkable.

This is Custard, and his human companion, Julie, section hiking in Washington in the Mount Adams Wilderness. Custard has his own hiking permit attached to his saddle bags. And he liked to be vocal. Too good to pass up on this totally candid moment.

This portrait essay would be incomplete without a totally candid shot of my sweetheart, showing that her left leg is now fully intact 4.5 months after breaking her tibia plateau. Here we are at camp on her first night on the trail last fall in the Sierra. A combination of weather, business obligations and realistic limits after healing from a broken leg, we only hiked 230 miles in the Sierra, dodging a few snowstorms and storm force wind events. We will be back in late summer/fall, 2017 hiking through Washington, southbound.

Hotwater (Brooke) is a Canadian southbounder who caught up with us as we were heading to Sonora Pass. We were both resupplying at Kennedy Meadows Resort. This is him packing up on the porch of the main lodge. Another hiker, Honey Badger, from Georgia is in the background.

Spicerack (Aly) was a successful southbound thru hiker. I met her way up in Washington in early July as I was heading north to tag the border. She was heading south after tagging the US/Canada border. We chatted in the rain and cold but regretfully I didn’t photograph her then. I got a second chance when she arrived at Kennedy Meadows resort near Sonora Pass in October and I photographed her and her friend, Crusher, as she was heading back out to the trail.

Lauri hiking into Tuolumne Meadows during the beginning of the snowfall that eventually closed the road over Tioga Pass into Yosemite a few days later.

Not exactly a classic or flattering portrait but nonetheless, graphic and realistic. This is the price you pay for having not learned that skin can atrophy like muscle, when not used for 4.5 months. Her right foot was unscathed. I took this during a layover day in Mammoth Lakes.

Best Of 2016 – New Mexico to Alaska and Points In Between

In this post I am showcasing a selection of my most memorable images of 2016. Each one has an expanded caption providing context on how the image came to be.

Are these really my “best” images of the year? Hard to say. The hardest part in doing a “best of” series is narrowing your selects down to a reasonable number. Photographers, even with 20+ years of commercial experience, are still their own worst editors. To help with my selection, I relied on the opinion of others. First, I chose 6 of my top 10 Instagram posts of 2016. Next, I chose several selects from 4 memorable assignments. The remainder are personal favorites with little regard for their commercial potential. They are shots that represent milestones for me or just shots I really dig. My personal favorites include a mix of Alaska and Southwest landscapes and some from my Zion workshops.

Instagram Top 10 – Spring photo workshop, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F/4L IS at 28mm ISO800 1/40 sec @f6.3 hand held with Image Stabilization.
This is Roxanne, one of my Alaskan friends that took my spring workshop. After the workshop, she hung around so we could go to places that we can’t go to during the workshop like hidden slot canyons that I don’t reveal. This shot is a bit cliche’ but it is my top Instagram post for the year. It also got picked up by Canon USA and Canon UK where it received thousands of likes.

I always try to challenge my photographic weaknesses, mostly shooting candid portraits. I define “weakness” as being uncomfortable or unconfident that I am making good images in a genre that I normally don’t shoot much of. I like action and environmental portraits better than static ones. I tried this mainly on the trail as I anticipated instant camaraderie with fellow trail hikers. Even then, I only “clicked” with a few fellow hikers that I felt comfortable photographing at close range. Fortunately, 2 of my action portraits, one from the PCT, made my Instagram top 10. That gives me some validation that I am getting better at portraits!

Sometimes great images just fall into your lap. But that is the exception, not the rule. There are a few here where that happened. For example, on a foggy ridge just outside the Glacier Peaks Wilderness on my southbound Pacific Crest Trail hike through Washington, I almost literally “ran into” Hummingbird, a northbound hiker. 5-minutes later, I made an on-the-spot action portrait of her that became my favorite trail portrait and my second most popular Instagram post of 2016.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70/F4 at 26mm ISO400 1/25sec @f6.3, with B+W polarizer, hand held.
This shot exemplifies the ideal of spending more time finding the image than actually shooting it. We arrived at this location at Island Pass in the Sierra in mid-afternoon with the mountains you see in harsh backlight with a stiff breeze across the lake. This is Banner Peak, an icon around Mammoth Lakes and the Minaret Range. Most people shoot this from the well-known Thousand Island Lakes which was 2 miles further down trail. After analyzing where the morning light would be, we decided to stay here to make sunrise shots. When my iPhone alarm went off on this frosty fall morning, we were blessed with clear skies and calm winds. Lauri knew exactly what to wear and where to go. I knew exactly where to shoot from to frame up a pleasing horizontal and vertical versions of this image.

More often than not, great images are the result of spending more time finding the image than the actual shooting. Your ability to find and exploit great light, to make light when Mother Nature isn’t helping, and to read your subject’s emotions and personalities directing and motivating them to get what you are after visually are all important skills beyond your technical mastery that define who you are as a photographer. They define your vision and it is your vision, not your equipment, that gets you hired. On assignments and personal productions alike, there are always problems to solve and creative soul searching to do that lead to great imagery.

As a workshop leader and instructor, teaching and motivating others on how to take better images, I am careful to make sure I always practice what I preach, placing more emphasis on vision and creativity than on technique or equipment. Focusing and improving on your life skills and creative vision make it possible to fully exploit unforeseen, “fall into your lap” photo opportunities even when you are on assignment executing a shot list. It sure helps keep photography fun!

Personal Favorite – Turnagain Arm, Alaska
Canon 5DIII 24-70F2.8L at 29mm ISO100 1/3 sec @f16 with Singh-Ray 3 stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter
Lupine wildflowers at sunset along Turnagain Arm, near Girdwood, AK. Been shooting these for decades. Never gets old. I just keep updating my landscapes on newer digital sensors. The sky, the water level and color, and feel of the light are always different.

Assignment Image – Clovis, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F/2.8L at 40mm ISO320 1/500 sec @f7.1 with ST-E3 transmitter and 600RT speedlite with Spinlight 360 grid.
I got another chance to make some sports portraits using our strobes and mixing the light with the waning sunset colors and stadium lights at the Clovis High School. This was Rohan, a Wendy’s High School Heisman 2016 national finalist.

Personal Favorite – Tonto Trail backpacking, South Kiabab Trail to Grandview, Grand Canyon National Park.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 16mm ISO3200 15 seconds @f4
This is our friend and fellow photographer Ike on a November backpack trip. At an at-large camp above the Inner Gorge with virtually no light pollution, we were shooting lit tents (Lauri painting with a headlamp) when I noticed his LCD screen illuminating his face. So I made him next to his tent my subject allowing the very low intensity light from his camera LCD to paint him with light. Ike did great holding still for 15 seconds. I shot this with my new backpack camera, the Sony A6300 mirrorless with Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Subway, Zion National Park, Utah
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 17mm ISO100 1/20sec @F/16 with B+W circular polarizer
After our Zion Fall Landscape Workshop, I got a permit for the Subway, a 6 mile hike to this very spot. We can’t go here during the workshop so I went here the day after it ended and one of my participants went with me. I’ve been at the Subway multiple times but the last 5 times has been from the top down, which most photographer’s don’t do since the top-down route is technical and involves swims and rappels. When I do that I focus on the adventure side of the Subway. I wanted to go back and re-do a lot of landscapes on newer cameras. When we got here there was a group of 6 people lined up all across this scene. But no other shooter saw this angle. When one photographer pulled out I went to his spot but I decided to stand in the waist deep pool behind me and shoot this low angle. I asked the photographer to my right to move over slightly (which he obliged) but I still got a piece of his tripod in the image.

Assignment Image and Instagram top 10, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 20mm ISO200 1/125sec @f16 with St-E3 on camera and 600RT with Spinlight 360 with half cut CTO and 1/4″ grid
This is from the La Tierra Trails in Santa Fe. I love working action with more than one person and using off camera lighting and making it all work. I prefer to shoot into the light with some sort of natural fill light (snow, sand, light colored dirt or walls) and then using off camera strobes to supplement the light. This is the type of assignment shooting I love doing the most.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Cascade Mountains, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 44mm ISO400 1/500 sec @f7.1
Southbound (SOBO) thru hiker trail name, “Neemore” (need less, want more), hiking in early morning at Scout Pass with Mt. Rainier in background. I met Neemore at like 6:30 am at Scout Pass as I was frantically looking for my lost spoon, my only eating utensil. He simply gave me his spoon (which was identical to the one I lost) saying he wasn’t using it and thanking me for lightening his pack. People rarely look good with direct sunlight but the sun was just on the horizon and still soft enough to make a decent front lit portrait.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 19mm ISO400 1/20sec @f8 with B+W circular polarizer
First light on peaks above Lemah Valley with reflection on small nameless pond near timberline. This was the first location on the trail where I had to remind myself that this hike was not just about making miles. I stopped here in mid-afternoon and stayed predicting that I would get nice first light on these peaks. The altocumulus clouds were a plus. I did not bring a tripod on this stretch so I relied on the image stabilization in the camera to help. It did great.

Instagram top 10 – PCT, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss16-70F/4at 70mm ISO400 1/80sec @f9
Most long distance hikers adopt trail names. Somebody else gives you one and you can choose to accept it. They are often funny and easier to remember than real names. But, I do know her real name as well. This is northbound PCT hiker, “Hummingbird”, walking in the fog as she was approaching the Glacier Peak Wilderness. We talked for a good 5 minutes. She has a warm and outgoing personality and she was the first person on trail that I asked to photograph. I could not pass up such a great subject in soft light that makes everyone look good. She is the real deal and about as authentic as you can be as a thru hiker. This is my favorite trail portrait from all of my hike.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Washington Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 41mm ISO400 1/60 sec @f9 hand held
After a frustrating week of wet, cold weather with very little good light, in July, I awoke on the summit of Grizzly Peak in fog. But this time I rejoiced knowing that at some point the fog would thin and I would get some great sun shafts. This was quite a treat after a week dry spell in photos.

Instagram Top 10 – Hikers on Portage Pass, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 200mm ISO400 1/500 sec @f4
I put together the 3 things needed to get a good image. We went to a target rich scenic area, I was with amazing and photogenic talent, Lila and Kelly (both of whom are life long Alaskans and intrepid hikers), and be there in good light. With all that, everything else just falls into place. Hiking Portage Pass with views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal, Prince William Sound, Chugach NF, Alaska

Instagram Top 10 – Hikers on Portage Pass, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4L at 17mm ISO400 1/640 sec @f9 with Singh_Ray LB polarizer.
I put together the 3 things needed to get a good image. We went to a target rich scenic area, I was with amazing and photogenic talent, Lila and Kelly (both of whom are life long Alaskans and intrepid hikers), and be there in good light. With all that, everything else just falls into place. Hiking Portage Pass with views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal, Prince William Sound, Chugach NF, Alaska

Personal Favorite – Stock production.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 17mm ISO400 1/640 sec @f8
This was completely different from what I planned on shooting and I am glad I have the ability to be adaptable and think outside the box. I planned on doing hiking scenarios with a young couple at Byron Glacier. But Whitney, one of my favorite people to work with, shows up with a new, clean car with a sun roof. If anyone can pull off still looking good with a 17mm lens in their face it’s Whitney. I knew she excels at enthusiastic expressions. I quickly summed up the resources I had in front of me and remembering the credo of “shoot what’s happening”, I abandoned, or rather postponed our hiking plans to shoot this concept on a beautiful early evening in Portage Valley. Please, no comments about how I am promoting unsafe activities. We were well aware of the Bear Valley to Whittier tunnel schedule and we did this on a half mile stretch with virtually no other vehicles on this side road.

Assignment Image – Chartered Sport fishing from Seward, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F2.8L at 42mm ISO400 1/400 sec @f10
Photos can be made more compelling by finding interesting and unique perspectives. Being a fisherman myself, one of the crew members brought a flyfishing float tube and fins so I could get in the water and get this nice low angle of a charter fishing boat in Thumb Cove. The tides are always changing so I am shooting while kicking with my fins to keep from spinning around and drifting too far from the boat. And, yes, even with thick fleece pants and waterproof chest waders, this glacial water is still damn cold!

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Buckskin Canyon, Paria Wilderness, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 176mm ISO1600 1/160 sec @F4.5
After our Spring Landscape workshop in Zion, I took some friends and fellow photographers to Buckskin Canyon – a well known and popular place amongst photographers. It was a great day. Remembering Jay Maisel’s words, “If you are shooting something everyone else shoots, make it your own.” So I began keying in on people’s expressions and emotions seeing this magical place for the first time. This is our friend and fellow photographer Tammy. I’ve worked with her before as talent and I saw that she was very impressed with this location and experience so I asked her to re-create her expressions I saw earlier. The best part was that others got to see my whole creative process from coming up with the idea to creating the shot to the post processing.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F4 at 17mm ISO100 1/15 sec @f16 with Singh_Ray 3 stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter.
When I find a place I really like I go back there multiple times at different times of the year, if feasible. This is one of my “go to” sunset locations overlooking Hop Valley. The clouds, and sun position are always different. My favorite landscape technique is to shoot backlight with reflective subject matter, like the light sandstone which helps bounce warm light around. After our Spring Landscape Workshop, I took a few participants to this location where we can’t legally go to on a commercial workshop.

Instagram Top 10 – Sunset over Hop Valley, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4L at 17mm ISO400 1/20sec @f16 with 3-stop soft step graduated neutral density filter.
This is how we ended the day on a very challenging shoot. This is Heidi who has shot for us for years in Alaska. This was her first shoot with us in Utah. I was in a funk because Lauri had broken her leg earlier in the day. (We didn’t know it was broken at the time.) She was resting comfortably at our friends house in Springdale and encouraged me to go out and do our planned shoot. Heidi is just awesome and has time after time saved a shoot when my creativity wasn’t where it needed to be. Luckily, I knew the location and we shot a bunch of stuff earlier with her partner, Hunter, as a couple. When she did this I knew it was golden. Getting great talent is half the battle.

Personal Favorite – Winter trail runner, West Rim Trail, Taos, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4 at 155mm ISO400 1/1000 sec @f7.1
It is rare when I can get someone doing something while there are big flakes falling with no wind. Usually, it’s too cold, windy, or no talent is available when soft snow is falling. This is Kendra who is the real deal and hikes and or runs daily. She is on the very popular West Rim Trail, a 7-mile trail with a gentle grade that has great views into the Rio Grande Gorge. I almost always use a telephoto to help emphasize the snow. This one was tough to choose as Kendra is really photogenic and I wanted to show her face. But the running away from the camera and the contrast of the trail unfolding in front of her captured my imagination more.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Emerald Pools, Zion National Park, Utah in winter.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 70mm ISO100 1/2sec @f16 with circular polarizer
This is another example of bad weather = good images. The falls don’t run all the time. With the sun out, the light would be harsh and contrasty. With the new snow melting, the falls were running strong, and great colors and saturation were happening. I love snow in the desert! A similar to this was selected for a State of Utah Calendar.

F-stop’s SOBO Hiking The PCT – Tuolumne Meadows to Cottonwood Pass

10/7 – 10/10 Tuolomne Meadows (Yosemite National Park) 942.5 to Agnew Meadows (915) &
10/11 – 10/14 Onion Valley Trailhead over Kearsarge Pass to Cottonwood Pass (750.2) – 80.9 miles

Total miles hiked to date: 660.4

Lauri watching sunrise on Banner Peak from Island Pass

Lauri watching sunrise on Banner Peak from Island Pass

We are now off trail again probably for the rest of the year. After 218 miles through the Sierra and after going over the highest pass on the PCT, Forester Pass at 13,200 (luckily in stellar weather), we bailed out at Cottonwood Pass. Looking at the weather we are having as I’m writing this in Mammoth Lakes where it feels much like Anchorage in October, I am glad we are off the trail. We are hearing reports of 9 inches of snow above 10k. As much as I love backpacking and will NEVER quit as long as I am physically able, I’m not sure if a continuous thru-hike is for us. But we will try again next year. We are already planning a section hike next year doing Washington and Oregon, southbound again. That will only be a measly 950 mile hike. And Lauri gets to see all the awesomeness of the Washington Cascades and maybe it won’t rain and snow half the time.

There are 3 primary reasons we pulled off trail.

First, the photographer in me took over my desires. The late season and drought meant long water hauls the further we got from Forester Pass. I began seeing 12, 18 and 30 mile distances between reliable water sources further south. Our packs were heavy enough without having to carry 8-10 lbs of water.

Like the high Rockies, the high Sierra is off-peak season and all the tundra is brown. I can see the effects of the severe drought here, sadly, and the landscape is starkly lacking in color while lower elevations, such as the Owens Valley, have a lot more color and more photo ops. In this section, I discovered the Minaret Range north of Mammoth Lakes in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and while there, despite the freezing mornings, I didn’t want to leave! In fact that section was the highlight of this section hike. A day either side of Forester Pass was also fantastic. A day south of Forester Pass, the Sierra took a turn for the lower and less interesting. We got spoiled being immersed in this beautiful and quiet high elevation wilderness through the remote sections of Yosemite and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks. All I wanted to do was get back to some of the more photogenic places we had recently hiked by. I know it sounds kind of elitist, but I got bored with the scenery I saw in front of me heading to Kennedy Meadows and the prospect of camping close to roads and undoubtedly hearing vehicle noise and gunshots the closer we got to Kennedy Meadows. Prior to the PCT we have always sought out wilderness areas to backpack in. A big adjustment for me is dealing with the fact that not all of the PCT is in wilderness. Much of it goes near and across roads, dams, power lines and other things I’d rather not be around. I guess I’m not ready to motor through the less desirable sections of the PCT knowing we could be more productive photographically in areas close by.

Second, I really underestimated the impact of the shortening days. Considering the following factors, Lauri’s pace, restricted amount of food we could carry in a bear canister, and an 11-12 hour hiking day it started feeling like a forced march. I felt like we were having less time to really enjoy the trail and had to make miles. The routine was to get up at 6am and pack up everything up by headlamp, half the time in sub freezing weather to hit the trail at sunrise, (about 7am the day we bailed out over Cottonwood Pass) and hike until about 45 minutes before sunset, set up camp and eat dinner as it was getting dark. We camped mainly at high elevation for views and photo ops and thus could not make campfires. So by 7pm we were in the tent for 11 hours to stay warm. Honestly, we were lucky and only had a few cold mornings where water bottles froze and hands became painful breaking camp and hurt for an hour or two until body heat from hiking kicked in and thawed out extremities.

After dressing in all our warm layers and eating, it is easier to pull the tarp tent away and just pack everything up without the confines of the tent walls.  We use custom cut Tyvek house wrap as ground cloths.  To save weight, we left the bug insert and bathtub floor insert to our tarp tent at home.  No  bugs or creepy crawlies in the high elevation cold of fall.

After dressing in all our warm layers and eating, it is easier to pull the tarp tent away and just pack everything up without the confines of the tent walls. We use custom cut Tyvek house wrap as ground cloths. To save weight, we left the bug insert and bathtub floor insert to our tarp tent at home. No bugs or creepy crawlies in the high elevation cold of fall.

Finally, Lauri had to listen to her body and most importantly, the doctor. This hike was a test and was both a success and a setback. I’m really proud at what she accomplished, hiking 218 miles with a 25-32 lb. load through the tough climbs and descents of the High Sierra only 4.5 months from her leg break. Most long distance hikers I spoke with talked about needing 300-400 miles to get really trail hardened feet and legs. That was my experience as well. It took most of Washington for me to sustain daily 20+ mile hikes day after day with out having to live on Ibuprofen. We just simply did not have the time to build up to that before winter hit the high Sierras. She had to try and remain optimistic. The doc said try but that if sustained multi day pounding caused too much pain and inflammation that she might be impeding the healing process. So more rest was called for. All in all, she averaged 15 miles days with a couple close to 18. I think living at high altitude really helped. I marched up Kearsarge Pass at 11,700’ and Forester Pass at 13,200 without feeling affected at all by altitude.

On days when the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority bus was not running, we resorted to hitchhiking

On days when the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority bus was not running, we resorted to hitchhiking

As with Washington, this hike introduced us to some great locations to go back to, and we also met some great new people. I do enjoy the trail culture and hanging out with other “hiker trash” and experiencing the generosity of trail angels who helped us out. I feel like living out of a backpack and hitchhiking on the highway to and from and between trail access points gave us a taste of the 60’s free spirit lifestyle that we missed, since we were only elementary school kids in that decade. That’s OK. Better late than never. Anyone know when the next Woodstock will be?

Two young ladies from Seattle hiking the JMT (John Muir Trail) which shares a stretch along with the PCT.

Two young ladies from Seattle hiking the JMT (John Muir Trail) which shares a stretch along with the PCT.

Time to put miles on hold. Luckily, we gave ourselves 3 full days to cover the 27.5 miles from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite NP to Mammoth Lakes. That made for a leisurely pace for a thru hiker. When we passed by the small pond at Island Pass in mid afternoon we both knew we would camp there and shoot this stellar scene at first light. The view of the jagged Banner Peak with potential reflection and favorable orientation to first light was too good to pass up. I was living what I preach. In my workshops I stress that 80% of the success of an image is simply finding the right image and being able to forecast when all the components of a good to great image will coalesce. The actual shooting is only a minor part of it. When I hike, I occupy my mind by constantly analyzing what will make a great image. I stay keenly aware of where the sun will be at the ends of the day and what areas give the best color and most interesting lines. As a general rule, I try to camp high where the views and light are. That comes as a risk of dealing with the perils of exposure to the elements.

It’s all a gamble. Sometimes you have to accept that all your patience and determination and what you “thought would make a good photo” just doesn’t pan out. Gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. In this case it all came together and in the 700 miles I’ve hiked, scenes like this where it all came together were the exception not the rule. The afternoon gave me the time to scout viewpoints and develop my vision for the morning. I thought about the shots all night as I tossed and turned, fearful I would miss my alarm and the best light which comes at you fast at sunrise. Several times during the night the wind blew and I got concerned. When the alarm went off and I looked at the scene, a feeling of calm and elation came over me. I knew we had this in the bag! Yeah it was cold. Get over it. Be numb to it. Get out and do your thing. This is what you live for and it is all right here in front of you! This didn’t fall into your lap. You recognized it, waited for it, and put it all together. This is what it is all about.

We are not quitting hiking. In fact we spent another week day hiking parts of the Eastern Sierra and will post another blog about that. We are off to the Grand Canyon for more backpacking and hiking before leading our Zion Fall Landscapes workshop begins.

TRAIL SCENES:

Banner Peak at dawn from Island Pass

Banner Peak at dawn from Island Pass

Camped just 4 miles north of Forester Pass at 11,000 feet.  Enjoying a few minutes of rest before getting the inside of the tent ready for the night.

Camped just 4 miles north of Forester Pass at 11,000 feet. Enjoying a few minutes of rest before getting the inside of the tent ready for the night.

Fall colors in the tundra along the trail at Island Pass

Fall colors in the tundra along the trail at Island Pass

Rocks stairs leading towards Donahue Pass. These stairs are often found as one approaches passes in the Sierras.

Rocks stairs leading towards Donahue Pass. These stairs are often found as one approaches passes in the Sierras.

Trail blasted into a granite cliff on the south side of Forester Pass.

Trail blasted into a granite cliff on the south side of Forester Pass.

Lauri walking among high elevation foxtail pine forest at 11,000 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park along the PCT

Lauri walking among high elevation foxtail pine forest at 11,000 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park along the PCT

Lauri walking among high elevation foxtail pine forest at 11,000 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park along the PCT

Lauri walking among high elevation foxtail pine forest at 11,000 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park along the PCT

Crabtree Meadow at the junction of Whitney Portal/JMT and the PCT

Crabtree Meadow at the junction of Whitney Portal/JMT and the PCT

TRAIL PEOPLE:

pct_2016_michael_deyoung_sierra_yosemite__dsc1905

3 generations of hikers on Kearsarge Pass.  We met these gents as we were getting back on the trail from our resupply at Independence

3 generations of hikers on Kearsarge Pass. We met these gents as we were getting back on the trail from our resupply at Independence

Emerson, a PCT Hiker, using a solar charger on his smartphone just below Kearsarge Pass

PCT Hiker using a solar charger on his smartphone just below Kearsarge Pass

self portrait at Forester Pass at 13, 200 the highest point on the PCT

self portrait at Forester Pass at 13, 200 the highest point on the PCT

All images captured using a Sony a6300 and a  Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

F-stop’s SOBO Hiking The PCT – Echo Lake to Tuolumne Meadows

9/23 – 10/3 Echo Summit Trailhead 1090 to Tuolomne Meadows (Yosemite National Park) 942.5 – 147.5 miles

Total miles hiked to date: 579.5

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SIERRA.

Last light from Dorothy Lake just inside the Yosemite Wilderness.

Last light from Dorothy Lake just inside the Yosemite Wilderness.

I’ll try to keep this blog shorter on text, with lots of pics to look at.

This section had many firsts for us. The first first is finally, FINALLY, after 4.5 months of healing from a fractured tibia plateau, Lauri is on the trail! This section was a test to see how her stamina would evolve and whether she would be strong enough for the 125 mile long haul between off-season resupply points (Mammoth Lakes to Onion Valley TH) in the highest of the Sierra with shortening days, chilly mornings and daily big climbs of 2500’ to 4000’ to 11 and 12 thousand feet.

This was also our first time hiking in the Sierras and I was excited about that. The whole region is in severe drought and with late season vegetation mostly brown the landscape is surprisingly stark with only a few colors: grey, brown, blue, conifer green with splashes of riparian autumn colors. I knew I would be challenged visually and have to rely on great light and strong color created by the light to carry my images.

This was also the first time we cold contacted trail angels in South Lake Tahoe who opened their hearts and home to us to help launch the trip. It is wonderful to know there are gracious people out there willing to help adventure seekers like PCT hikers.

This was also the first time we hitchhiked together over a long distance but it turned out just fine.

We passed this camp and Yosemite-esque view in mid morning wishing we pushed farther the previous day and camped here!  These cliffs would have lit up fiery pink in the last light of the day.  Discovery and imprinting of places to return to for photos are part of the journey.  In a way it is good to feel the pain of having missed something you know would have turned out great images.

We passed this camp and Yosemite-esque view in mid morning wishing we pushed farther the previous day and camped here! These cliffs would have lit up fiery pink in the last light of the day. Discovery and imprinting of places to return to for photos are part of the journey. In a way it is good to feel the pain of having missed something you know would have turned out great images.

We were fully prepared for and expecting cold, heat, dry, wind and snow and we got it all. It doesn’t mean we liked it but we were expecting it. Hiking through the snow on our last day into Glen Aulin and Highway 120 at Tuolumne Meadows was quite peaceful and soft as we walked through an empty wilderness in off season, knowing that a month earlier this very trail was a highway full of hikers.

Camp in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.  Lauri blowing up a Sea to Summit pillow.  We got used to going to bed between 7-7:30pm.  This was one of our warmest nights on the trail camped at about 9000 feet.

Camp in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Lauri blowing up a Sea to Summit pillow. We got used to going to bed between 7-7:30pm. This was one of our warmest nights on the trail camped at about 9000 feet.

Hats off to the Ultamid (www.hyperlitemountaingear.com). It seems like most hikers like to camp in river bottoms with shelter near water. Not me. As a photographer, the views and best light are up high. So is the wind and the full bite of any nasty weather. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid can be a bit of a pain to set up but it tests well against brutal winds and, when set up properly, it can easily withstand 40-50 mph winds. We tested that several times on the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) and in Alaska with fierce katabatic glacier winds.

Our first night was started calm with great sunset images. We awoke to brutally cold winds at sunrise and had to pack everything up inside the tarp then taking it down was a two person operation. (We left the bug insert behind to save a pound thinking that in a dry climate and no bugs it was not needed.)

Not all of the PCT is pretty and jaw dropping wilderness and the first 75 miles south of Echo Lake certainly proved that. We crossed 2 paved passes before landing at Sonora Pass for an unexpected hitch to Kennedy Meadows Resort for a shower and fatty salty food. Lauri got a blister on day 2 and it got progressively worse until we pulled off trail on 10/3 after 12 days. Sadly, the Leuko Tape we applied only seemed to make it worse. She wore her sock for the last three days concerned about removing it would re-open the raw skin below.

We started slow, going 12 miles the first day and gradually ramping up to 18 miles. We throttled back on the last 75 miles from Sonora Pass to Tuolumne Meadows. Some of the guide books labeled this section as some of the toughest trail on the PCT. Having hiked Washington, this was hard to believe. The elevation profile indicated some decent climbs with a couple in the 2,000 – 2,500 foot range. But it was the track itself that was laden with loose rock and steep, short step ups and downs that made it slow and difficult. None of the “dangerous” fords existed this late in the season and we only had to wade across a very benign Kerrick Creek.

The first 8 miles southbound from Sonora Pass stayed on a high traverse above 10,000 feet with great views of the Emigrant Wilderness.  Here we are up and going at 7:30am with sunlight streaming through a pass.

The first 8 miles southbound from Sonora Pass stayed on a high traverse above 10,000 feet with great views of the Emigrant Wilderness. Here we are up and going at 7:30am with sunlight streaming through a pass.

Watch out for Hunters. One of the things I don’t particularly like about the Guthooks App is that I feel it gives you tunnel vision of the trail and does a poor job at revealing when you are around a lot of jeep and ATV roads. The Halfmile Maps are a little better but for someone who needs reading glasses to see that map they are not much better. Unfortunately, we walked from Echo to Carson to Ebbetts Passes during opening weekend of deer season. Only one of the many hunters we saw wore any sort of hunter orange. Along that whole stretch, we could not escape the constant annoying frequency of Harleys, ATV’s or gunshots. After an 18 mile day, we did not realize we were camped a mere few hundred yards from a dirt road running parallel to the trail where we heard 30 rounds fired off near sunset and vehicles running up and down the road. Fortunately, things quieted down after dark. Let your presence be known if you are in a popular hunting area. I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a lightweight orange vest.

Yeah, it coulda been a bear but probably wasn’t. I tell myself and others I talk with that just because you hear loud noises in the woods doesn’t mean it is a bear. Other big animals such as deer, elk, and cows step on sticks in the night in an otherwise quiet landscape. Even a raccoon or porcupine, neither of which are very stealthy, can cause a loud ruckus as they lumber across dry leaves or sticks. But there we were, camped at Dorothy Lake, just inside the Yosemite Wilderness where bear canisters are officially required. As usual, we were in bed near 7:30 with our bear canisters and an OR food bag with stuff that didn’t quite fit in the canister just hanging about 8 feet off the ground in a limber pine about 50 feet from the tent. Just after dozing off I heard the loud crash of a big animal getting ever closer to the tent. Lights on, voices yelling, hands clapping, it took about 5 minutes (an eternity in our mind) for the “animal” or Sasquatch to wander off. Out into the cold, we took our food to the next (unoccupied) camp about 200 yards away and went back to bed. Didn’t sleep well that night but the food bag was untouched the next morning. I guess we had nothing appealing for Sasquatch.

This leg, and especially the first 75 miles, was a test for Lauri. She has done amazingly well and I’m proud of how far she’s come. But it takes more than two weeks of sustained hiking to build your stamina up and get hardened “trail legs.” Given the shrinking daylight, the elevation gains and losses and having to carry bear barrels, she admits she is not ready for the highest of the Sierra. So we are skipping the 125 miles from Mammoth to Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley TH and saving it to when she is stronger. After ferrying our vehicle around, we will complete the Tuolumne to Mammoth section then transfer south to Onion Valley Trailhead where we will attempt to hike to Kennedy Meadows South and end at Walker Pass before heading to Zion to teach our Fall Landscapes photo workshop.

It has been great to meet new trail angels, new SOBO’s and re-meet hikers we met earlier, including Spicerack and Crusher, and the Frenchtastic 4. Can’t wait to see those folks again. Back on the trail. Until next time …

TRAIL SCENES:

Morning descent through manzanita and aspen groves, Yosemite Wilderness

Morning descent through manzanita and aspen groves, Yosemite Wilderness


Fall colors at Dorothy Lake near first sunlight.  We were filling water bottles as we were leaving camp.  We left late this morning due to some photography of the calm lake and fall colors.

Fall colors at Dorothy Lake near first sunlight. We were filling water bottles as we were leaving camp. We left late this morning due to some photography of the calm lake and fall colors.


Lauri at sunset just a few feet from our high camp above 10,000 feet close to Sonora Pass.

Lauri at sunset just a few feet from our high camp above 10,000 feet close to Sonora Pass.


Back on the trail late in the day.  Sunset above Sonora Pass above 10,000 feet.

Back on the trail late in the day. Sunset above Sonora Pass above 10,000 feet.


Dinner near sunset our first night on the trail in the Sierra.  We camped too close to Carson Pass and woke up to brutally cold winds

Dinner near sunset our first night on the trail in the Sierra. We camped too close to Carson Pass and woke up to brutally cold winds


Almost every PCT hiker who filters their water uses the Sawyer filter which Lauri is using here in a beautiful clear and very cold Sierra mountain stream

Almost every PCT hiker who filters their water uses the Sawyer filter which Lauri is using here in a beautiful clear and very cold Sierra mountain stream


After a frigid mid 20s morning with frozen water bottles and fingers, we hiked most of the day to Tuolumne Meadows in beautiful soft, orographically enhanced stratiform snow.  Around lunch time, the snow started sticking to the ground.

After a frigid mid 20s morning with frozen water bottles and fingers, we hiked most of the day to Tuolumne Meadows in beautiful soft, orographically enhanced stratiform snow. Around lunch time, the snow started sticking to the ground.

TRAIL PEOPLE:

Starting at Echo Summit Trail Head in South Lake Tahoe

Starting at Echo Summit Trail Head in South Lake Tahoe


SOBO Spicerack at Kennedy Meadows Resort. She was given a "bouquet" of flowers to which she is carrying to the southern monument in Campo, CA.

SOBO Spicerack at Kennedy Meadows Resort. She was given a “bouquet” of flowers to which she is carrying to the southern monument in Campo, CA.


SOBO'S Crusher (left) and Spicerack were some of the first SOBO's I met north of Harts Pass in Washington in July before any of us had trail names.  We met on a cold wet day near Walker Pass.  In a senior moment, I never took pictures of them that day like I should have.  I was pleasantly surprised to meet them again at breakfast at Kennedy Meadows Resort.  I was blessed with a second chance to make some images of them, although not in an ideal location.

SOBO’S Crusher (left) and Spicerack were some of the first SOBO’s I met north of Harts Pass in Washington in July before any of us had trail names. We met on a cold wet day near Walker Pass. In a senior moment, I never took pictures of them that day like I should have. I was pleasantly surprised to meet them again at breakfast at Kennedy Meadows Resort. I was blessed with a second chance to make some images of them, although not in an ideal location.


SOBO Hotwater (from Canada) and NOBO Honey Badger in the background at Kennedy Meadows Resort.  We passed Hotwater still sacked out in his tent along the trail early in the morning.  He passed us about lunch on our final day to Sonora Pass where we both hitched into Kennedy Meadows Resort for a Nero. ("Nearly Zero" miles hiked on a given day.)

SOBO Hotwater (from Canada) and NOBO Honey Badger in the background at Kennedy Meadows Resort. We passed Hotwater still sacked out in his tent along the trail early in the morning. He passed us about lunch on our final day to Sonora Pass where we both hitched into Kennedy Meadows Resort for a Nero. (“Nearly Zero” miles hiked on a given day.)


2016 Trail Angels of the Year, Joe and Terri Anderson of Casa de Luna gave us a ride from Lee Vining to the Davidson House Hostel in Mammoth Lakes.

2016 Trail Angels of the Year, Joe and Terri Anderson of Casa de Luna gave us a ride from Lee Vining to the Davidson House Hostel in Mammoth Lakes.


Horton, our muskox mascot, has been going on all of our adventures since 2003.  Being an arctic animal, he welcomed the snow and cold more than most of us would.

Horton, our muskox mascot, has been going on all of our adventures since 2003. Being an arctic animal, he welcomed the snow and cold more than most of us would.

All images captured using a Sony a6300 and a  Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

F-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – White Pass to Trout Lake

8/3 – 8/6

White Pass 2292.4 to Trout Lake 2226.4 – 66 miles passing through the Goat Rocks Wilderness and Mount Adams Wilderness

Total miles hiked to date: 432

Goat Rocks Wilderness: This last section was only 66 miles and I would not have missed it for the world! I knew it was popular and that I would see an increasing number of people as I progressed south. Mile for mile I still think the North Cascades had the most stunning scenery all around you but the Goat Rocks, and specifically the Knife Edge, was to die for. In fact, just south of the Knife Edge we camped after a l9 mile day with the best view and best high camp to date. In addition to the stunning close mountains, we had sweeping views of Washington’s two highest volcanoes, Mt. Rainier, now to the north, and Mt. Adams dominating the southern skyline. Along this route were abundant wildflowers, lots of water, and lingering summer snows. The trail stayed above timberline for a long time and I love that!

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Juliet ascending the Knife Edge with Mount Rainier in the background.  I think this says it all about why we hike the PCT.  I still love the Washington Cascades.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Juliette (on Instagram @in_case_we_die) ascending the Knife Edge with Mount Rainier in the background. I think this says it all about why we hike the PCT. I still love the Washington Cascades.

The best part was hiking this entire section with the company of my new SOBO French friends, Thomas, Juliette (Dirt Arrow), Leo (Rainbow Trout), and Pierre (Refill). I had met them in Stehekin and we camped together the first night in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness then I leap frogged them a few times. We met again in Snoqualmie Pass where we had dinner and drinks. Rainbow Trout had a problem with his Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack and Lauri was able to help him get a replacement pack when we finished this section. (Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided great customer support.) We zeroed together in Packwood and hiked most of the Goat Rocks as a group. I was very appreciative to have them as companions and also as hiking subjects through this stunning section. Even though I was exhausted when we arrived at camp near 7pm after negotiating the Knife Edge, I found enough of a second wind to take some at camp and dinner lifestyle images of them in the warm evening light with sweeping views all around. So our first day was one of the best days hiking the PCT. It helped me, at least temporarily, forget about my agonizing feet.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  The Frenchtastic 4 ascending toward the Knife Edge, all with HMG packs

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. The Frenchtastic 4 ascending toward the Knife Edge, all with HMG packs

Finally a PCT Hiker Rhythm: I was finally feeling like a PCT through hiker on this section. Through the Norse Peak section I was able to link 20+ mile hiking days, in fact 3 in a row. We did this section in 3 days. We left near 9am the first day and only did 19 miles since that day involved climbing above 7000’ again over the Knife Edge. I learned a while back to take what other hikers say about snow crossings with a grain of salt. Yes there were a couple of long crossings around Old Snowy Peak but I did them without batting an eye. Guppy stuff really.

My daily schedule involved getting up at 5:15, doing a little photography up high, and leaving camp by 6:45. Then you walk all day, remaining on the trail for 12-13 hours. Most committed through hikers are this disciplined. The key to making your miles is not to walk fast but walk long. I still maintain a steady go all day pace. My pace was about 2.5 mph when on good track which consisted of wide, smooth dirt with a little give to it and it slowed down to 1.5 mph when going over loose talus or deep, narrow horse ruts. My pace is near that of most hikers on level ground and slower downhill. On uphill climbs I do pretty good. I have lots of lung and leg power and uphill climbs are the easiest on my heels. But the heat slows me down.

On the third day I was hiking by 6am, 30 minutes ahead of the other 4. We finished our 25 mile hike to Forest Service Road 23 above Trout Lake 12.5 hours later. On that day I met 8 SOBOS before 8am. On the second day, I was surprised I did over 20 miles because I spent a fair amount of time photographing alpine meadows and flowers with a Mt. Adams background and then chatting too long with NOBO hikers.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Dinner and camp just south of the Knife Edge at 6800 feet.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Dinner and camp just south of the Knife Edge at 6800 feet.

Will my pack ever get lighter? I still have the largest pack of any thru hiker and yes, sometimes I am self-conscious about it. For the Glacier Peaks section, my pack with camera, 8 days of food and 1 liter of water (there was no need to carry more) weighed in at 36 lbs. For Goat Rocks, I carried 4 days of food (we did it in 3) and my total pack weight with everything and 1 liter water was 29 lbs at the start. On our zero in Packwood I tried to get everything into the Hyperlite pack but it was just too tight and I felt like the thinner harness system would become an issue sometime down the trail with that weight. So I am sticking with my 4 lb custom made McHale pack. When the bugs disappear in the fall, I can shed 1.5 lbs of tent weight and the bulk of a small down bag by ditching the tub floor with bug insert on my Hyperlite Ultamid 2 shelter.

The French, as many other young hikers do, are all just sleeping on Z-rests. I can’t do that. I have a Ridge rest and an Exped Synmat air mattress. After 13 hours on the trail and eating dehydrated food and candy bars, I want a shot at sleeping comfortably. Overall I think I just take too much food. All the years of remote travel in Alaska have engrained in me to take extra food. Many hikers seem to cut it to a razor’s edge, coming into trail towns with virtually no food left. I ran into one hiker who was out of food and still trying to hike over 20 miles to White Pass. I’ve run into a fair amount of hikers who don’t set up camp until after sunset.

Pushing it to get the shot: On the second day, I met Click and Data, 2 other gray hairs section hiking. Click was lugging around a Canon 5D Mark III with I think either a 24-105F4/L or 24-70F2.8L. I just had to show him my Sony A6300 with equivalent lens, a Zeiss 16-70F4 that weighed half of the Canon outfit. I do still miss my Canon as I have the same outfit he was using. They told me about incredible fields of wildflowers below the north face of the 12,000’ Mt. Adams that I would encounter the next day. That’s why I got up and moving by 6am the third day. I wanted to push it to get some shots before the light washed out. I pushed 9 miles in 3 hours to make it to the location they told me about. I was a little late as we were getting into high angle backlight of late morning. I also met 8 other SOBOs on the way there and I tried my best to keep my chatting short.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Wildflowers and view of Mt. Adams

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Wildflowers and view of Mt. Adams

My longest stop was with a very nice solo woman with her white dog, Custard, who had his own saddle bags and permit. I took a few shots of Custard talking to me but I was still half focused on pushing on to the wildflowers. I had a senior moment and forgot to get Custard’s human companion’s name. I feel like an idiot.

I know dogs in the wilderness rubs some hikers the wrong way but I am a dog person and well behaved dogs and responsible LNT dog owners hiking are just fine with me. People who let their dogs run loose, chase wildlife and bark especially in camp do not belong in the wilderness.

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington.  Custard, the talking trail dog with his own wilderness permit near Indian Springs

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington. Custard, the talking trail dog with his own wilderness permit near Indian Springs

Back to Mt. Adams. Yes, I took images anyway, knowing that none would be sales worthy. I did it mainly to imprint this locations as a place to return to and do it right in the right light with a tripod. Mt. Adams is overshadowed by the iconic Rainier. Rainier also has more road access to fields of wildflowers with the mountain in the background. But honestly, Adams is just as photogenic and I saw potential for calendar quality images here. And it was only 5-6 miles from a dirt road trailhead.

Trout Lake Abbey: This sanctuary is worth the hitch and possible zero day. Trout Lake Abbey is a Spiritual Retreat center and certified organic farm run by Kozen, a bhuddist monk. This had to be the most peaceful place I’ve stayed. In fact we decided to stay another night. The accommodations are simple but beautiful and very reasonably priced. The breakfasts and company were also nice. Lauri found out about this from Cheri and Andrew (Reason Number 7), a SOBO couple I met in Glacier Peaks who are days and miles ahead of us. Not much to do in Trout Lake but eat at the cafe. Even if you are not a PCT hiker, go here. It’s worth it.

Views from the calming Trout Lake Abbey.

Views from the calming Trout Lake Abbey.

Venerable Kozen with his dog Ven and fellow SOBO hikers Juliette, Thomas, Pierre, and Leo on the porch of Trout Lake Abbey with "Trail Angel" Lauri

Venerable Kozen with his dog Ven and fellow SOBO hikers Juliette, Thomas, Pierre, and Leo on the porch of Trout Lake Abbey with “Trail Angel” Lauri

NOTE: I am off trail until September 5, principally to help Lauri who needed to return home to begin her recovery from her broken leg from earlier this year. It is time for me to sacrifice some and willingly support her as she begins her recovery and physical therapy after all she has done for me. It wasn’t right (even though she was willing) for her to drive 1200 miles in a day and a half to make her final appointment in Albuquerque last Tuesday (Aug 9), deal with physical therapy, mail my resupply packages, prepare new resupply packages, and then drive 1200 miles back to the Pacific Northwest all by herself. Therefore I am giving up completing the last little bit of Washington and the ceremonial crossing of the Bridge of the Gods as you cross the Columbia into Cascade Locks, Oregon. That day will come later (September). It’s her time now.

I also have to get ready to teach my pro studies workshop: Outdoor Photography 1 at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, MT later this month. There is still plenty to blog about and I plan on posting at least once a week for the rest of August and into September. So please stay tuned in for more of my PCT SOBO journey.

Upcoming blogs: What do you think about while hiking all day? and Backcountry Photography on the Washington PCT

TRAIL SCENES:

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Sunrise and Mt. Rainier from camp at 6800' just south of Knife Edge

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Sunrise and Mt. Rainier from camp at 6800′ just south of Knife Edge

Wildflowers along the trail with towering Mount Adams, the 2nd tallest mountain in Washington State at 12,280'.

Wildflowers along the trail with towering Mount Adams, the 2nd tallest mountain in Washington State at 12,280′.

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

Thomas and Leo crossing a glacial stream along the PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

TRAIL PEOPLE:

Pierre - trail name Refill due to his excitement that soda and ice tea refills are free here in the US.

Pierre – trail name Refill due to his excitement that soda and ice tea refills are free here in the US.

Juliette crossing  lingering August snows just below the Knife Edge with Mt. Rainer in the background

Juliette (trail name ‘Dirt Arrow’) crossing lingering August snows just below the Knife Edge with Mt. Rainer in the background

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Leo photographing paintbrush

Leo (trail name ‘Rainbow Trout’) photographing paintbrush in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington

Thomas (hasn’t accepted a trail name as of this writing) hiking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington

F-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – Snoqualmie Pass to White Pass

7/28 – 8/1

Snoqualmie Pass 2390.6 to White Pass 2292.4 – 98.2 miles

Total miles hiked to date: 366

This segment should be titled ‘Hiker to Hiker Trail Magic’

First, I hit two milestones in this section:  I passed the 300 mile point and, more significantly,  I completed my first 20+ miles a day here.  In fact I did 3 in a row and ended up hiking this 98 mile section in 4.5 days.  But my feet are a wreck and I just can’t seem to get my middle back muscles to relax.  Yes, I’ve stretched and rested and get temporary relief but with the pack on it just comes right back.  Because my heals are in agony due to painful and rotting calluses, I’ve been stepping on the ball of my feet first for 98 miles.  As a result, the balls of my feet including my toes are numb.  If there is any improvement it has to be my plantar fasciitis improving thanks to the persistent stretching I’ve been doing.

I had to take a zero in Packwood to try to recover a bit before the next section which is 66 miles over the Goat Rocks Wilderness.  If my heels and back don’t improve I may have to get off the trail for a longer period to recover.  Enough about my feet.

I felt strong enough to push on a little further even though I knew I was over the 20 mile mark for the day.  And this was my second 20+ mile day in a row.  When I crested Scout Pass at 6500’ in the shadow of the 4th highest mountain in the CONUS (Continental United States), I knew instantly that I was stopping here to camp.  The view of Mt. Rainier was the best I’ve seen yet and I felt strong about both sunset and sunrise images from the same vantage point.  The wind was cold and damp and the ragged edges of stratus clouds raced over the pass only to dry out and disappear on the leeward side I just hiked up.

Sunset and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500" with fog in valley below.  Forest fire smoke from fires in Washington and Oregon is seen over the summit.

Sunset and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500″ with fog in valley below. Forest fire smoke from fires in Washington and Oregon is seen over the summit. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

The pass was not labeled as a campsite on the Guthooks App or Half-Mile maps but 10 feet from the hitching post was a slopped spot just barely big enough to pitch my tent.  The stench of horse urine was worth the views.  I ate a quick dinner in the lee of some trees and quickly set up camp shivering the whole time.  The sun was lighting the fog below with evening blue shadows bathing the glaciers of Rainier.  Smoke from nearby fires drifted in front of the summit.  I was happy with what I had so far and spent an all too short, barely warm enough night where the wind never quit.  Unlike valley winds, ridge top winds tend to increase at night above a pronounced inversion.

Sunrise and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500" with fog in valley below.  Same vantage point as sunset image

Sunrise and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500″ with fog in valley below. Same vantage point as sunset image. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

The 5:15am alarm came early but I got dressed quickly wearing everything I brought to catch the first light on the mountain at 5:40 am.  I started breaking camp at 6am after sunrise shots.  My hands were cold enough to wear my gloves for the first time.  In all my excitement about making images I lost my spoon.  I was already leaving later than I wanted as I was desperately searching the area for it.  Not having anything to eat with felt almost as unsettling as running out of toilet paper with 3 days still to hike to the next trailhead.

Around 6:45am another SOBO wanders up to the pass and sees me pacing back and forth searching for my spoon.  It’s a nice young hiker whose trail name is “Neemore” (standing for need less, want more.)  He asks me what I’m looking for and upon hearing about my loss says he hasn’t used his spoon in 300 miles and just gives it too me.   He is “stoveless” and has subsisted on pop tarts, cliff bars and eating dry Ramen noodles.  I’m not ready for that extreme yet.  I’m fine carrying a stove.  Neemore also knows something about cameras and photography.  A successful AT thru hiker from Georgia, Neemore produces “How To” backpack videos and has a Youtube channel.  It is always good to chat image talk with other PCT hikers.

PCT SOBO thru hiker, Neemore (need less, want more) completed the AT last year.  I met him around 6:30am at Scout Pass where he gave me his spoon after I lost mine.  He does 'How To' videos for backpackers and posts on Youtube.  His Instagram handle is @neemorsworld.

PCT SOBO thru hiker, Neemore (need less, want more) completed the AT last year. I met him around 6:30am at Scout Pass where he gave me his spoon after I lost mine. He does ‘How To’ videos for backpackers and posts on Youtube. His Instagram handle is @neemorsworld.

I enjoy my breakfast with my new-found spoon and get off a little later than planned.  But that turned out be the best day of this section as the trail stayed high in the Norse Peak Wilderness with commanding views of Rainier, Mt. Adams, and the Goat Rocks.  This day more than makes up for the depressing forty mile section of clear cut logging I had just walked through.  For Southbounders, you definitely notice the trail improving and getting faster in this section over anything further north.

The day before, I run into a large volunteer trail crew, a joint venture of the PCTA and WTA, Washington Trail Association.  I spend an hour and a half making a few portraits and documenting some of the work they’ve been doing.

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Slowly but surely I am adopting to the PCT style of backpacking.  You are here to hike the trail, not chill in camp.  So I’ve fallen into a routine of getting my hike started before or at 7AM.  I spend 12-13 hours on the trail.  Sometime around lunch I break and dry my tent and any damp gear.  Even though the weather has been stellar this section it is still always damp in the morning.  Around 5-6PM I stop for dinner near a water source, then continue hiking for another 1-2 hours before finding a high camp.  If I want solitude I avoid camping near water sources – especially lakes.  It has been relatively easy to pack 2-3 liters another mile or two to a quieter dry camp.

I am meeting more and more hikers who are just tackling the PCT in state sections, Oregon, Washington, Oregon and Washington together.  A few hikers, including a long distance hiker and life coach in her 60’s, “Dutchess” ask me why it is important to do the whole trail in one season.  With all the time I have alone walking for 12-13 hours you would think I would have an answer but I don’t.  I fumble to explain why.  I’m also warming up to the idea of maybe not doing the entire trail in one season.  At this age you are more cautious about doing permanent damage to your body.  I’ve always been a strong hiker but a 5-7 day backpack trip is a completely different experience from a 5-month backpack trip.

I take each section at a time and try to listen to my body and be realistic about what it can handle.  The Goat Rocks section is coming up and it looks like weather will clear after a wet and cold zero in Packwood.  I will plan on 4 days through this 68 mile section.

TRAIL PORTRAITS

2015 NOBO Thru hiker, CC (Color Coordinated) is hiking the Washington section again this year to see what she missed during rainy weather last year.  In the Norse Peak Wilderness

2015 NOBO Thru hiker, CC (Color Coordinated) is hiking the Washington section again this year to see what she missed during rainy weather last year. In the Norse Peak Wilderness

Section hiker, "Dutchess" is a life coach and author.  She teaches women over 50 how to backpack.  Her website is:  www.transformation-travel.com

Section hiker, “Dutchess” is a life coach and author. She teaches women over 50 how to backpack. Her website is www.transformation-travel.com

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Neemore using an iPad mini in lieu of a smartphone on our last day stretch to White Pass where we both hiked 16 miles by early afternoon.

Neemore using an iPad mini in lieu of a smartphone on our last day stretch to White Pass where we both hiked 16 miles by early afternoon.

TRAIL VIEWS

Lupine along the trail with sun shining through ridge top fog from Puget Sound

Lupine along the trail with sun shining through ridge top fog from Puget Sound

Sunset and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500" with fog in valley below.

Sunset and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500″ with fog in valley below.

The first half of the Snoqualmie to White Pass section passes through old clear cut logging with a maze of roads criss-crossing the trail.  This was a very unappealing section of the trail and hard to look at for two days.

The first half of the Snoqualmie to White Pass section passes through old clear cut logging with a maze of roads criss-crossing the trail. This was a very unappealing section of the trail and hard to look at for two days.

F-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

7/23 – 7/27

Stevens Pass 2461.6 to Snoqualmie Pass 2390.6 – 71 miles

Total miles hiked to date: 268

Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

I tend to trust knowledgable people even when I haven’t experienced what they said I will. Yes, this early in the hike it was already starting to happen. I took off from Stevens Pass in yet again, bleak and wet weather, and walked over the ski area and down across the other side into a maze of logging roads and power lines. Until I reached camp on a pass that night I had walked 99% of my time in the woods that day. They told me the trail would be 90% mental and for the first time I was beginning to feel it and ask myself what am I doing here? I love backpacking and being in the wilderness but wasn’t so sure about this long distance trip where making your miles for the day seems to be the top goal. Still, I get up at zero dark thirty, break camp and hit the trail by 7am, sometimes earlier, to hit the trail.

I intended to hike this stretch in 3.5 days. My feet were feeling stronger and I felt I could finally do 20 mile days. Well that didn’t happen. It took 4 days plus a couple of hours because the trail overall was by no means a “cruising” trail. The weather cleared and we went from one extreme condition (wet, cool conditions) to the other (dry, hot conditions). Now I found myself doing long ascents in the blazing hot sun which really slowed me down. Sections of downed trees, especially in an old burn area, were equally slowing.

View of Mt. Ranier from one of the high points in the trail

View of Mt. Ranier from one of the high points in the trail. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

On the second day I finally meet up with Liam from Scotland. Earlier on the trail I found a very expensive carbon shaft with titanium head ice axe and hauled it out. I learn that it was Liam’s so when I got to Snoqualmie Pass we meet up again and I was able to return it to him. Mystery solved.

On my third day I stopped up high above the Lemah River Valley with great views above a huge burn area. There was a small pond with no name. I noticed I had only done 13 miles that day and it was only 3pm, but it looked like there was potential for a great sunrise reflection shot of the steep mountains around me. So I reminded myself that it wasn’t always about the miles. I stayed. The mosquitoes around that little snow fed pond were Alaska bad but that was OK. I used my head net for the first time this trip!

View from Pacific Crest Trail - Stevens to Snoqualmie segment. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

View from Pacific Crest Trail – Stevens to Snoqualmie segment Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

Up at 5:15am, the first light hits the high peaks in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and I made the shots I was after. And, I still hit the trail by 7am. This would turn out to be my second 19 mile day despite going through some bad deadfall many NOBOs (NOrthBOund hikers) warned me about. The best thing is after another nearly 3000 ascent, the trail stayed high most of the day with fabulous views of the best of the Cascades. Spectacle Lake is forever locked in my mind as a must return to spot. It is only a half mile off the PCT. If you are a photographer, there is much potential here for stunning sunrise and early morning shots of this emerald lake below some of the prettiest peaks I have seen in the Cascades.

I get to a camp above Joe Lake near 7pm exhausted. Ridge Lake is only 2 miles more but another 1000’ climb. I decide to push on so I can see Lauri at Snoqualmie Pass that much sooner the next day. With all the things you think about on this hike, I forgot how close I was to Seattle and how easy it is to buzz up I-90 to the pass and access this very popular wilderness. There were close to 50 people camped on Ridge Lake. This wasn’t exactly a wilderness experience but I didn’t care. I was motivated to get through those last 7 miles for the pass. I find a quiet spot and set up camp for the night.

Stevens to Snoqualmie Section hikers Devon and Matt

Stevens to Snoqualmie Section hikers Devon and Matt. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

Next morning, Lauri and I ate at the very PCT hiker friendly Aardvark food cart next to the Chevron Station and hung out with a group of SOBOs at the Drubru Pub that night. It was good to finally see the 4 French SOBOs I met in Stehekin as well as Liam. They are doing well and we will all hit the next 98 mile section to White Pass at various start times Thursday morning.

The next stretch of trail supposedly starts of a bit rocky for about 10 miles and then pretty decent trail the rest of the way. Looking at the trail map elevation changes, it looks like there will be a stretch of the trail where I will be above tree line for awhile. I’m looking forward to hiking in the high country again.

F-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – Harts Pass to Stevens Pass

7/10 – 7/20

(From mile marker 2620.9 slightly above Harts Pass to Stevens Pass 2461.6)

Total miles hiked to date: 197

I reach Dolly Vista campsite 121 miles south of the border, cold and wet with the higher peaks shrouded in cloud. My feet are in agony but I decide to push on 2 more miles to a single campsite and settle in for the night on a wooded ridge near 5500 feet. After dinner and setting up the tent I walk out to an overlook a short distance down the trail. I’m amazed at what I see. The Milk Creek Valley is below me with more ragged and sharp peaks thrusting above the stratus clouds on the other side. Looking down 3000 feet into the valley below I realize that Glacier Peak, Washington’s 4th highest, still rises another 5000 feet above me!

Cheri and Andrew descend the south side of Fire Creek Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Cheri and Andrew descend the south side of Fire Creek Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

The North Cascades are BIG mountains with steep rugged peaks and deep narrow valleys. Everything not covered with snow is verdant green. Other mountains reach higher elevations like the High Sierra and Colorado Rockies but the North Cascades have few, if any, rivals in terms of prominence and sheer majesty. I haven’t seen any roadside views that compare to what I’ve seen on the trail. The Glacier Peak Wilderness is fairly remote and the best scenery is in the heart of this glorious landscape at least a day’s hike from either end along the PCT.

Sunset over the Glacier Peak Wilderness, viewed from Grizzly Peak

Sunset over the Glacier Peak Wilderness, viewed from Grizzly Peak

Short break in weather near Suiattle Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Short break in weather near Suiattle Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

These mountains are no joke and I am amazed at how much punishment they can dish out, even in mid-July. I guess I’ve received a North Cascades baptism as a memorable start to my southbound PCT journey. I never expected to see prolonged hypothermic weather here on par with what we’ve experienced in Alaska’s coastal mountains and the Brooks Range above the Arctic Circle on our many wilderness trips there. What I like most about being out here is that one’s social-economic status means nothing. In the wilderness we are all equal.

I see on the map that I indeed will need to be on the peaks I’m looking directly across at. I will have to plunge 2500 feet down and climb 3000 feet up tomorrow to 6200 feet. There are some narrow breaks in the heavy cumulus clouds with splashes of sun. Maybe in the morning I will get some decent light. But again it never comes.

I begin my hike early the next morning and reach Mica Lake about lunch. Here I find a privy with quite possibly the best throne view ever. Of course I had to use it. No newspaper required. Just gaze out at the scenery.

Could be the best privy view in the U.S. at Mica Lake overlooking Milk River valley and the North Cascades, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Could be the best privy view in the U.S. at Mica Lake overlooking Milk River valley and the North Cascades, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Unlike the mostly high traverses from Rainy to Hopkins Passes, the Glacier Peak section, one of the longest between supply points at 108 miles, is characterized by steep climbs and descents, one after another. The highest and most stunning section to me was the high traverse between Red and White Passes. Once around Glacier Peak and entering the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, the trail mellows out with more gradual climbs and descents.

There is a serendipitous convergence of 8 SOBOS here on the shores of the mostly frozen Mica Lake. We are about to begin crossing the highest sections of the Glacier Peak Wilderness and the snow crossings of Fire Creek Pass, followed by Red and White Passes the next day. The weather closes in. Rain, hail, wind, and obscured peaks define the conditions I will see during most of my time in the high country. Again, we are dealing with a near constant hypothermic environment. I’m a bit disappointed in my $300 Outdoor Research Axiom jacket as the pounding rain quickly soaks through it and I begin to get cold. This is not condensation as I am not moving. This is simply failed performance of expensive gear that is supposed to perform in conditions like this. This is why I spend this kind of money on quality rain gear. Liam has an umbrella and he has convinced me that might be a worthwhile investment.

Gang of SOBOs in the rain and hail at Mica Lake, waiting for visibility to clear before heading up Fire Creek Pass.  Liam, from Scotland with umbrella, was the first SOBO I met a few miles north of Harts Pass.  Cheri, Andrew and I went first despite the horrible weather.  New hail and snow covered the trail and boot pack on the pass so we had to do a few minutes of GPS navigation to find the trail.

Gang of SOBOs in the rain and hail at Mica Lake, waiting for visibility to clear before heading up Fire Creek Pass. Liam, from Scotland with umbrella, was the first SOBO I met a few miles north of Harts Pass. Cheri, Andrew and I went first despite the horrible weather. New hail and snow covered the trail and boot pack on the pass so we had to do a few minutes of GPS navigation to find the trail.

Despite the continued driving rain and hail I am too cold to continue standing around. I cross Fire Creek Pass with little fanfare in 2 inches of new hail and driving wind at the pass. I camp that night in the woods near Kennedy Creek with a short break in the weather.

Andrew and Cheri, SOBOs from San Francisco, approaching Fire Creek Pass in rain, wind, hail and snow

Andrew and Cheri, SOBOs from San Francisco, approaching Fire Creek Pass in rain, wind, hail and snow

I reach Lake Sally Ann at mile 159 after another 17 mile battle with hypothermia across the highest section, over Red and White Passes. In fact I had to duck into some trees for an hour due to very close and frequent lightning to where I’m the tallest object around. I am shivering and most everything is wet. I get the tent set up in the rain and fog. Liam shows up a short time later and decides to stay here as well. That night I cook in my tent and dive into my bag before dark. It rains all night and my plans to get up at 5:30AM are delayed by the continued morning rain. At 7 I get up and quickly pack up a soaked tent, again. Since starting, there has been only one morning, in Stehekin, where I packed up a dry tent.

The weather breaks finally. Near 11AM I reach Saddle Gap with a large area of dry grass in the sun. I strip down naked unload my entire pack and spend the next hour drying everything and soaking up the sun. I didn’t care if anyone came by. I’d just smile and say hello. As it turned out I didn’t see another hiker until later in the afternoon.

Drying out everything finally after many days of rain and/or fog, at Saddle Gap

Drying out everything finally after many days of rain and/or fog, at Saddle Gap

Most of the talk among section and thru hikers alike has been the snow crossings in the high passes. I did all of them without batting an eye and without traction devices or an ice axe. I guess if you are a skier and have mountaineering and glacier travel experience, the snow crossings even across steep slopes didn’t phase you. You just take it slow and trust your ability and footing. My biggest concern was crossing literally hundreds of downed trees across the trail. We are not talking about your 8” Alaska birch. We are talking about your 80” Washington Douglas firs, hemlocks, and ponderosa pines strewn across the trail They were mostly wet and slippery and full of potential thigh puncturing or srcotum ripping protrusions. Some involved going over, taking the pack off and going under or way around, usually on a steep slope.

Looking back at the what I just hiked up, Red Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Looking back at the what I just hiked up, Red Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

I did meet a PCTA trail crew near the Suiattle River who just spent a week clearing sections of trail with all hand tools. That’s a lot of work. I am grateful for what they do and will up my donation to them. As far as I’m concerned they walk on water and I hope other hikers express gratitude for what these volunteer trail crews do for us.

I seem to meet more and more hikers as I progress south, mostly section hikers, or fellow SOBO’s with whom I am either leapfrogging with or who have passed me and kept going. Liam is from Scotland, who quit his job and is doing the PCT without any defined timetable. Then there are the 4 20-somethings from France, who were all roommates and like Liam, quit their jobs to do the PCT together. Then there is the couple from San Francisco. It’s good to see couples doing an adventure like this together and make me miss Lauri all that much more. I’ve met some “vintage” section hikers, but so far I’m the oldest SOBO out there.

Southbounder Nuthatch is doing 30 mile days through the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Southbounder Nuthatch is doing 30 mile days through the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

I’ve also met my first NOBOs who are within a few weeks of finishing. Some of them are up to 25-30 miles a day. A delightful young woman, who’s trail name is Hummingbird, meets me on the south side of Grizzly Peak. She is finishing the PCT northbound having been stopped last year near this point by fires closing the trail. A film major from Boulder, CO she is full of wanderlust and PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), embracing the simplicity of living out of a pack. And her pack is half the size of mine. It was fun to chat a little photography with someone who might make a career in the business. She is more than happy to let me take a few pics of her for the blog. But I am still struggling a bit with the performance of the A6300. I fumble a bit switching the focus to continuous and changing the focus point. Not wanting to hold her up I completely space out getting my shutter to a suitable speed for action, even walking. So I shot some nice images of her walking down the trail but the images have motion softness since I only shot them at 1/80 of a second instead of at least 1/250. Such is life. Even seasoned pros slip once in a while. I am still appreciative to Hummingbird for her patience and willingness to be photographed.

NOBO thru hiker, "Hummingbird", walking in the fog approaching the Glacier Peak Wilderness

NOBO thru hiker, “Hummingbird”, walking in the fog approaching the Glacier Peak Wilderness

Being in old growth forest is beautiful but I still am claustrophobic and much prefer the alpine even if it means being exposed to harsher and colder weather. I have been out of phase with the few good weather windows I’ve had since starting. My sunniest days have been deep in the valleys where hard sun is terrible for forest photography and with no clean sweeping views with first or last light. All my attempts to camp and photograph high were characterized by rain, flat light and obscured mountains.

Grove of ancient cedars along the Suiattle River, Glacier Peaks Wilderness.  These trunks were 8-10 feet in diameter.

Grove of ancient cedars along the Suiattle River, Glacier Peaks Wilderness. These trunks were 8-10 feet in diameter.

It wasn’t until my last night before reaching Stevens Pass that I had somewhat decent, though not stellar views and nice light on Grizzly Peak at 5500 feet. Though cold I played around with sunset getting some decent images. I woke up early the next morning to fog. But this time, the fog was shallow and the sun would shine through it making for wonderful shafts of light and a now distant Glacier Peak rising above it in blue sky. I delay breaking camp and spend some time making images. I still manage to leave shortly after 7AM.

View of PCT northbound and Glacier Peak in the background from Grizzly Peak, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

View of PCT northbound and Glacier Peak in the background from Grizzly Peak, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

Fog and sunlight on Grizzly Peak, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

Fog and sunlight on Grizzly Peak, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

I complete my last 15 miles by 3PM and meet Lauri at Stevens Pass. My plan is to take a zero in Mukilteo and see some friends and enjoy some spicy hot tikka masala and to give my agonizing feet a well deserved break. Well, one zero turned into two. I decide to listen to my body and rest one more day before hitting the trail through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It looks like summer will finally return.

I think I can average 18 miles a day now. I’m OK with that given my age and that I have been hiking less than 2 weeks. Just look for me, trail name: F-Stop, the old guy with the big (but custom fit) McHale pack. I start early, finish late, go slow (average 2mph) but I get there.

{Note: All images shot with Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.}

Self portrait walking over a suspension bridge in North Cascades NP on my way down Bridge Creek to Stehekin

Self portrait walking over a suspension bridge in North Cascades NP on my way down Bridge Creek to Stehekin

JS from Quebec and the very sweet and well behaved PCT dog, Luna, at the restaurant in Stehekin.

JS from Quebec and the very sweet and well behaved PCT dog, Luna, at the restaurant in Stehekin.

PCT SOBOs from France, on the bus from Stehekin to High Bridge

PCT SOBOs from France, on the bus from Stehekin to High Bridge

Hikers picking up a general delivery box at Stehekin Post office.  They get over a 1000 general delivery boxes for PCT Thru hikers.

Hikers picking up a general delivery box at Stehekin Post office. They get over a 1000 general delivery boxes for PCT Thru hikers.

Nancy and Linda, two delightful women at the Stehekin CG who hiked in from Highway 20, Rainy Pass.  Linda, on the right, had a vintage rucksack - almost the exact pack I carried at Philmont Scout Ranch in 1976 except mine was burnt 70's orange.

Nancy and Linda, two delightful women at the Stehekin CG who hiked in from Highway 20, Rainy Pass. Linda, on the right, had a vintage rucksack – almost the exact pack I carried at Philmont Scout Ranch in 1976 except mine was burnt 70’s orange.

Gorging on salmonberries in avalanche chutes

Gorging on salmonberries in avalanche chutes

View of Lake Chelan and Stehekin with a Beaver on floats.  Stehekin reminds me of some of the little hamlets in SE Alaska like Elfin Cove, Gustavus, Tenakee.  Stehekin has kind of a Talkeena vibe

View of Lake Chelan and Stehekin with a Beaver on floats. Stehekin reminds me of some of the little hamlets in SE Alaska like Elfin Cove, Gustavus, Tenakee. Stehekin has kind of a Talkeena vibe

F-stop’s SOBO Hiking The PCT – My Gear

{Note: Michael is nearly 200 miles into his SOBO PCT journey but here are a few thoughts he went through when preparing for the trip.}

There is an abundance of blogs where AT, PCT or CDT thru hikers dedicate a post to an itemized and detailed gear list. I’m not going to do that and re-invent the wheel. Instead I will provide commentary based on years of wilderness experience and highlight a few gear items in detail. I do appreciate reading other hiker’s gear lists as I always learn something new. There are just so many.

The key point to remember about what is the best gear for a long distance hike is that there is more than one right answer. The best stuff for long distance hiking today, such as packs, sleeping systems, shelters and accessories is being made by cottage industry manufacturers such as Hyperlte Mountain Gear, Gossamer Gear, Z-Packs, ULA, Western Mountaineering, Feathered Friends, AntiGravity Gear, and several others. I shop more and more on line now directly from cottage industry manufacturers. Sadly, REI, which I’ve been a member of since like 1982 keeps going more corporate, carrying popular mainstream brands. That said, I still spend a fair amount shopping there, especially for shoes and apparel. There are a couple of mainstream gear manufacturers such as Big Agnes, and MSR/Cascade Designs that are addressing the needs of ultra light backpackers with innovative lightweight and high performance gear like tents and sleeping pads.

A peak at "what's in my backpack"

A peak at “what’s in my backpack”

I can tell you this. Even though I’m a gear junkie and keep up with the latest and greatest in the ultra light hiking and backpacking world, I am just not a true ultra lighter. At my age, I’ve paid my dues and I want a little comfort. I just can’t sleep on a 1/4” foam pad cut to torso length using my extra socks for a pillow. So, I have an inflatable mattress from Gossamer Gear which weighs a little less than a pound. In lieu of that, I’ll use a slightly heavier inflatable pad from Exped or Thermarest. Sea to Summit makes some nice pads too. And that goes on top of a Ridgerest (by Therm-A-Rest). That extra 8oz is worth its weight in gold. If my pad deflates in the night, at least I will still have some padding and insulation from the ground. In fact since I’ve been using a Ridge or Z Rest under an inflatable pad, I’ve never had a “flat” on my sleeping pad. I bring a Sea-to-Summit Pillow. And I’ve opted for a Western Mountaineering Alpenlight 25 degree bag with overfill. Yes it weighs 2.2 lbs but it is large and roomy enough for me to move around in. Lauri can get away with a sub 2lb., 20 degree bag. I can’t.

My base weight is 18lbs. Add camera gear at 3.5 lbs and another 1.8 lbs for an ice axe and microspikes for snow travel and I’m far from ultra lighting. But it’s not too bad. I’ll be able to shed the snow travel gear hopefully before I leave Washington. Well, at least I’m getting my food right. I’m close to the 2 lbs per day on rations following the formula of my food packing at least 120 calories per ounce.

Since I’m blogging about the trip and I’m going alone initially, I am carrying battery powered things I normally would not take on a backpack trip including my iPhone 6s, a DeLorme inReach SE, with charger cords and a spare battery with USB that will run both of them for a bit longer. I also need reading glasses now to see maps and small LCD screens. I could shave a pound leaving the glasses and above mentioned gadgets behind. This is the price I pay for age, a little security with the inReach, and pro photo gear. Guess I’ll go cut that handle off my toothbrush now to help shave some ounces.

Of all the gear one takes on a long distance hike there are two that are most critical to get right: your footwear (shoes, socks, insoles) and your pack. I hope the reasons are obvious. Get those wrong and little else matters.

PACKS. For years, I’ve been a die-hard Gregory Pack fan. I’ve tried a couple of ultra light packs from ULA and Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I like them but they are uncomfortable when loaded with more than 25lbs. With my camera gear, I am just beyond ultra lighting. I like the HMG for day hikes and an overnighter even with photo gear.

Last year I sprung for a custom fit pack from McHale Packs out of Seattle. The website is a bit confusing. I still don’t know exactly what model I have. The fitting process was a little long, but in the end the pack is fantastic. It is modular and I can adjust it for day hiking with camera gear to outfitting it for a heavy expedition. My pack alone weighs close to 4 lbs., not exactly ultra light. I can make it a bit lighter by leaving lid, bear canister straps and accessory pockets behind.

This is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever had. It should be for what I paid for it. I can walk all day with pack loads 0f 40 lbs without any back pain. I paid a pretty penny for it – close to $1000. With as much hiking as I do, especially with heavy camera gear, I could justify the price. It is important that your pack FITS, and that you can walk all day long without pain, or hip or shoulder pad blisters. If you don’t have that, none of the bells and whistles matter.

SHOES. FIT is the most important thing over anything else. The powers that be in 1976 warned us to not come to Philmont Scout Ranch without a good pair of sturdy leather hiking boots already broken in, otherwise your boots might end up hanging on the ranch gate when you leave. My mom was very frugal and sent me on my first real backpack trip with cheap boots. My boots never lasted the trip and for all I know are still there. Since then and up until recently, I’ve been an ankle high, waffle stomper soled, leather alpine boot guy.

Nearly forty years later, I have been liberated! I now go with trail running shoes and have never felt better! I really like the double layer Wright Socks and I use custom orthopedics. After trying most of the major brands of lightweight hiking, trail running and adventure racing shoes, I guess I’m still an Italian shoe guy. I use La Sportiva brand shoes now. It’s the fit and feel more than anything else. I think the “ankle support” was a false sense of security. If you want ankle support, train! Hike and do strength training exercises for your ankles, foot and calf muscles.

I’m not a big fan of Gore-Tex in footwear. And this is from a guy who’s been hiking wet, muddy trails and wet tundra in Alaska for 28 years! Eventually, you are going to go through a stream, or mud bog and water will infiltrate your shoe from the top. When that happens with a Gore-Tex shoe it will take FOREVER to dry. For snow and short muddy trail sections, I have a pair of vapor barrier socks that weigh next to nothing that fit over my regular socks to keep my feet dry. If and when they get wet, those socks and my shoes will dry more quickly.

I discovered Dirty Girl gaiters while hiking a trail in Alaska. Yes they are the best thing since sliced bread. OK, they could offer a few more masculine patterns. How about a nice solid blue or a medium grey that could double as a white balance card? Is that too much to ask for?

A FEW MORE KEY GEAR ITEMS

STOVE: Anti Gravity Gear alcohol stove with Caldera Cone that custom fits my .6 liter MSR titanium pot. When the plastic fuel bottle is empty, it weighs a lot less than an empty steel fuel can used with a Pocket Rocket or Jet Boil. Going without stoves is admirable. It’s just not for me – yet.

SHELTER: Hyperlite Mountain Gear with bug insert. Weight is 2.6lbs with stakes and ski straps to put two trekking poles together. Remember this was intended to house both of us. I carry the tent, Lauri carries the stove and fuel. Now I’m carrying both. This tent is bomb proof and passed the all-night-pummeled-by-jet-stream-winds test with flying colors. I could go without the insert and save over a pound. In the fall I will, but for now I need a bug free zone when I’m at camp.

CLOTHES: There are several good choices of high performance and light gear for cold wet weather. My favorites are Patagonia and Outdoor Research. I think a few others, like Marmot and Mountain Hardware are just as good.

COLD AND WET: For cold wet weather I have a non-cotton, moisture-wicking layering system. I have an expedition weight Patagonia Capilene zip top from the early 80’s. The color, red, is hideous. But it is still the lightest, warmest layer I have. I carry Patagonia’s Houdini Jacket and puffy vest and a lightweight OR beanie and gloves. For rain and cold wind, I love my OR Axiom Jacket.

What piece of gear have you found to be your go-to piece?

f-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – Harts Pass to Manning Park

7/7 – 7/9

(From mile marker 2620.9 to Gibson Pass Road 2658.2)

Three Fools Peak - You can see the trail cutting across the slope in the distance

Three Fools Peak – You can see the trail cutting across the slope in the distance. Taken with Sony a6300 and Zeiss 16-70mm f4

I finally got started on July 7 at about 2pm. I made it to Manning Park, BC around noon on Saturday, July 9. I did 9 miles the first day, 20 on Friday and 8 on Saturday. What surprised me most about my start was operating in a constant hypothermic environment. It might have finally hit 50F in Manning yesterday when the sun came out. My feet got wet within 2 hours of starting and remained wet the rest of the time. I pushed hard on Friday, mainly to stay warm as it rained hard. I got about two 15 minute breaks Friday afternoon in the weather to make some images and set up camp just inside B.C. before it poured all night.

The plan was to return to Harts Pass yesterday and resume southbound but the rain caused a mudslide and closed the road to Harts Pass. No official word as of this writing if it is passable. It looks like more wet and cold through Tuesday. Summer will come eventually.

This is my second trip to the North Cascades. They are just stunning along the PCT. These mountains are big and steep and verdant green. It was a bit frustrating to pass by fields of wildflowers in the alpine in rain and fog. I had to camp in the trees both nights because of weather conditions and the mosquitoes are almost as bad here as I’ve seen in Denali or the Yukon tundra.

South side of Rock Pass in the fog

South side of Rock Pass in the fog

I camped alone and spent 99% of my time alone, seeing nobody. I chatted with most of the hikers I met who were all going south. Nobody chatted long as everyone I met understandably didn’t want to stop too long due to the cold.

I met 12 other SOBO thru hikers who all went up to tag the monument, including 5 solo young women, 2 young guys, a solo guy from Scotland, a father and son and only one couple. The last 2 guys I met at Hopkins Pass about 6 miles from the border. They said I was at the “Tail End” of a wave of SOBO’s who went up to tag the monument. Up until that time, the consensus among friends for a possible trail name was F-Stop. After all it is written right on my camera chest pack. But Tail End seems to describe my position in the SOBO pack, the old guy with the big pack in the rear. Another SOBO might see me if they take three consecutive zeros otherwise, NOBOs might be the only other PCT thru hikers I see.

I love sharing info with other hikers, but I have to take advice with a grain of salt. One guy said he had trouble finding the trail in places because of cross trails. I never pulled out my map. The trail was no problem to find. Others talked about the treacherous snow crossings and one person had to self arrest. The snow crossings, especially the north side of Rock Pass, looked more intimidating than they were. I used my axe for a margin of security there, but the actual crossing of the snow fields was pretty easy. I used the axe to glissade more than as an anchor. The Kahtoola micro-spikes were all but worthless in the wet snow and I will leave those behind.-

Overlooking Hopkins Lake on top of Devil's Stairway

Overlooking Hopkins Lake on top of Devil’s Stairway

My legs and lungs are strong. But I am not ready for a 20 mile/day everyday pace. My feet are hurting. No blisters. I rarely get those. But my plantar flared up again even though I’ve been doing some of the exercises prescribed by my PT. It has been pretty good up until yesterday where I may have overdone it on that 20 mile haul which included hiking over, under, and around large fallen trees.

Heading up Rock Pass

Heading up Rock Pass

On the first benign snow patch I busted a carbon fiber Black Diamond Z-pole. No more $160 a pair poles. They are light but no stronger than aluminum. They also serve as my tent pole so breaking them both could make it challenging.

Hopefully I can get back on the trail at Harts Pass today weather and road permitting. Some may think I’m a wuss for taking a zero because of more rain. But remember, photography is equally important to me and passing through this stunning alpine trail shroud in yuck is frustrating. I want to get some decent landscape images!

Self portrait at the Monument

Self portrait at the Monument

F-stop’s Camera Gear For The PCT Or Any Long Distance Backpack Trip

If you want pro results and performance out of your camera, a little versatility, and the ability to shoot beautiful twilight landscapes then forget ultra light backpacking. I am carrying the lightest outfit I’ve ever carried on a backpack trip and it still weighs in at 3 to 5.5 lbs depending on which tripod I take. So my base weight will always be more than the 13-15 lb average of most PCT hikers. Carrying this extra weight day in and day out may slow my pace down. I don’t know. After a lot of research and rentals, it is unthinkable to take a trip of this magnitude and NOT have a pro level and capable camera.

This is the death grip my perfectionism has on me. If that were not the case I would have gone with one of the fabulous 1” sensor cameras from Sony or Fujifilm. They are amazing in terms of performance and light weight. I just don’t see the quality in the files to be used in 18-24 inch calendars and magazine double page spreads.

My outfit will be minimalistic and consist of one body and lens, a few filters and a small but sturdy tripod. I’m apprehensive about not taking a speed light for lighting tents, and fill light on portraits and trail action imagery but that may change. My Sony A6300 is new to me and thus far I have not had the time to check out their speedlight system.

At camp on a wet July 4, 2015 near 13,000' in the South San Juan Wilderness, along the CDT, Colorado.  I'm shooting with the Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod with their lightest weight BH25.  I now have their Microball.  On the tripod is my Canon 5DIII with a 24-70/F4 L lens

At camp on a wet July 4, 2015 near 13,000′ in the South San Juan Wilderness, along the CDT, Colorado. I’m shooting with the Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod with their lightest weight BH25. I now have their Microball. On the tripod is my Canon 5DIII with a 24-70/F4 L lens

Clearing storm in the South San Juan Wilderness from our camp for the night at 13,000'.  I shot this on the Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod

Clearing storm in the South San Juan Wilderness from our camp for the night at 13,000′. This is the shot using the Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod from the position in the previous photo.

I’ve spend months researching what might be the best trail cameral outfit. For my needs and photographic style. My current Canon outfit is great in performance and quality. It is the weight that is killing me and has prompted me to search for another backpacking photo platform. It was tough to determine what outfit would best fit my demanding criteria of: professional image quality, performance, and weight savings and mobility for a very long trip. On my many backpack trips in the past 10 years I have just endured carrying heavier gear on 5-7 day backpack trips. I’ve carried a Canon 5D and 5DIII (I skipped the Mark II) with one lens, 2 filters and spare battery. My current outfit had been a Canon 5DIII with a 24-70F4L. That set up with a spare battery, polarizer and grad ND filters in the F-Stop Gear Navin case came in at 5 lbs. That does not include a tripod or speedite, both of which I find hard to travel without. Those 2 add another 3 lbs. So every day, I am carrying an additional 8 lbs of base weight over what other thru hikers carry.

There were many cameras that excelled in one or two of my 3 criteria mentioned above but only one that seemed to fit all 3. The 1” sensor point and shoot cameras are amazing! I just couldn’t fathom going to the places I will be seeing and only having a 1” sensor. Those cameras would be a limiting factor to calendar and big print sales. Many shooters thought the obvious choice was the Sony A7RII because of it’s amazing 42mp full frame sensor. I would love to have that many pixels in every image but do I really need them? That body with equivalent lenses just didn’t represent a significant weight savings over what I currently used. The ideal combination is the Sony A6300 with the Sony-Zeiss 16-70F4. This combination with spare battery and the same two filters weighs in at 2.9 lbs. A 2 pound weight savings on a backpack outfit that I’ll wear for 150 days is very significant!

At first glance the image quality is outstanding. It is better than what I thought it would be for a cropped sensor. It seems comparable to the Canon 5DIII with 24-70F4 combo with essentially the same number of megapixels at 24. It will take some time to get used to a different set of buttons and menu functions. So far I love the small, non intimidating size of both the camera and lens. It fits easily in the Navin case along with the filters. I normally carry the case on my chest for quick access while hiking.

I’m on the fence with a tripod. The ReallyRight Stuff Pocket Pod is very sturdy and light. When paired with their Microball head the support weighs in at .5lb. It is limiting as I have to find a rock or stump to perch it on or shoot in areas void of any tall vegetation and all my shots will be from a pica’s point of view. My old series 1 Gitzo carbon fiber with the lightest Really Right Stuff BH25 head weighs in at 2.1lbs. That is still a great weight for the height and sturdiness it offers. I will take it on a few stretches where I anticipate the potential for aspirational landscapes where I’m only carrying a few days worth of food. The stretches where I have to carry a week or more I will take the Pocket Pod.

My Sony/Zeiss ensemble for the Pacific Crest Trail

My Sony/Zeiss ensemble for the Pacific Crest Trail

About the gear picture: Camera: Sony A6300 with 64GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card. Lens: Zeiss Vario-Tessar 16-70/F4 ZA OSS (24-105 full frame equivalent). Filters: Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3 stop, hard step graduated ND 4×6 (I find the most useful for mountain/canyon photography), B+W circular polarizer (55mm). I have a pro Lee holder for grad ND’s. To save weight, I will hand hold the filter. Camera Support: Really Right Stuff: dedicated plate for the A6300, Pocket Pod with Micro Ballhead Case: F-Stop Gear Navin holster. Accessories: 2 extra SD cards, 2 extra batteries with charger, lens pen. The entire ensemble pictured here is 3.5lbs. This is the lightest pro level outfit I’ve carried on a backpack trip thus far. My Canon 5DIII with 24-70/F4 L ALONE, weighs this much. That doesn’t include tripod, extra batteries and filters! (Not pictured here: Gitzo 100 series (old, not made anymore) carbon fiber tripod with Really Right Stuff BH25 ballhead which weighs in at 2.1lbs. And it gets me up to a height of 45 inches.)

F-stop’s Thru Hiking The PCT As A Working Pro Photographer. What Is My Top Priority (besides not dying)?

I can’t believe it is finally here! I start my hike in less than a week. I am a 55 year old working pro photographer who’s been backpacking, hiking, skiing and doing long distance whitewater river trips pretty much all my adult life. I do several commercial assignments a year, teach a few workshops and do a few private mentoring and professional development sessions. What I’ve mainly been doing since 1992 is self assigned stock photo productions where are content is represented by several agencies. 

– Photographer Michael DeYoung working in Zion National Park carrying his custom made McHale Pack and F-stop Gear Navin case.

Photographer Michael DeYoung working in Zion National Park carrying his custom made McHale Pack and F-stop Gear Navin case.

The initial plan was for this thru hike to be a shared experience with my wife, best friend, business partner, photo assistant and frequent subject of the photo, Lauri. After all, we have over two decades of long distance shared wilderness experiences. She is recovering from a broken leg and likely won’t be hiking until September. We are remaining optimistic that she will join me through the Sierra. In the mean time, she has encouraged me to go solo while she provides trail support until she can join me upon recovery.

Sunset from section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail 2012

Sunset scene from section hike of the PCT from 2012

The plan is to start at Harts Pass, Washington, the northern most direct road access point to the trail on July 7. From there I hike north to the PCT border monument. To save time, I will continue to Manning Park, 9 miles from the border where Lauri will pick me up and return me to Harts Pass where I begin going south. Yes I am a SOBO, a thru hiker who is going southbound, from Canada to Mexico, part of the so called “wrong way gang”, as 90% of thru hike attempts are northbound. The NOBO starts as the U.S./Mexico border at Campo, California in April and hikes north. Apparently, the trail and it’s signage were designed to be traveled northbound. Every guidebook I have is written from a northbound traveler’s perspective. Work obligations, timing and crowd avoidance were my main motivators for choosing a southbound trek. I also get to hit the ground running and start in what I feel will be the most scenic part of the trail, the North Cascades! In 2012, We did a week long section hike, partly on the PCT in the Pasayten Wilderness.

One of the biggest challenges has been answering what would be my top priority for the trail. What is my main motivation for staying the course? Like most people my top priority was and basically still is, completing the trail in one season. But I also want to return with the best imagery possible. I would like to create salable images as well as document trail life and what it is like to live out of a pack for 5 months, as a personal photo project. 

When you know what it takes to get the best landscape and trail travel imagery it challenges your initial priority of having to go as far as you can each day. It is inevitable that I will pass by idyllic locations in the middle of the afternoon, knowing that I can create potentially great images there when the light is at it’s best near sunset, or even sunrise the next morning. Do I stay to photograph? Do I keep going to meet my 20 miles a day average only to camp down in the woods and away from a great scene when the light is screaming at sunset? I can see there will be sections of the trail where this will create a daily dilemma. On the other hand, the hallmark of a great photographer is finding beauty anywhere and seeing and capturing what many miss. Contrary to popular belief, aspirational imagery is not about the camera. It is about your creative vision, design skills and understanding of lighting. This trip will certainly challenge my creative skills as a photographer and I am looking forward to that. 

Though I will try my hardest to complete the trail this calendar year, in the end it is all about finding a balance of your priorities and recognizing that how you immerse yourself in the journey can be just as important as reaching the destination and having that feather in your cap. Making the trail in one season, come hell or high water would inhibit my creativity. Personally, I don’t understand the “make it in record time” mentality that many hikers seem to have. Sure, you cover the distance but there is a lot you don’t see doing that. I also know myself and the agony of being a perfectionist. I know from past experience, that in the aftermath, I will regret not making great images of locations I might only see once more than I will regret not having the title of completing the trail in one season. 

Camp from section hike of Continental Divide Trail

Lauri at camp with Hyperlite Mountain Gear DuoMid tent on section hike of the Continental Divide Trail (2015)

As with all hikers, there are financial realities to face as well. I will have to leave the trail for up to 2 weeks to teach a workshop at Rocky Mountain School of Photography and do a possible agricultural assignment. This time off trail will challenge the time I need to complete the trail in one season but the income is important. 

Barring injury or disaster, I plan on being out there for 5 months, immersing myself in everything PCT, camping and hiking as much as a successful thru hiker. I just may not make it as far because my perfectionism for the best possible imagery may prevent me from prioritizing the must make 20 miles a day average. I foresee having to push my hike through the Sierra as late in the season as possible. It has been done before. I have read blogs of thru hikers on Forester Pass and even Mt. Whitney in mid-October. It is possible, but risky. May mother nature be kind to us.

A detailed description of my camera ensemble will appear in the next blog.

Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photo Shoot

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Three women hikers taking photos of Portage Glacier with iPhone smartphones

Three women hikers photographing Portage Glacier with smart phones

We just produced and completed one of the biggest stock projects in a long time. Truthfully, the pressure of stock productions can be greater than some of the commercial assignments we’ve done primarily because we are financing EVERYTHING. Spending thousands on a stock production can seem like a huge risk and a crazy way to generate income but when I think about it we are not doing anything different than, say, Toyota. Actually, they spend millions researching and producing vehicles with hopes they will sell enough to keep them sustainable. We take the same approach with the help of some very smart and talented people on our team. It really is a team effort and the quality of the people you work with (in addition to my own creative ability) largely determines the quality of the imagery.

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Young woman motorist taking in the view along Turnagain Pass

Young woman motorist taking in the view at Turnagain Pass

When we lived in Anchorage, by the time March came along we were like most residents – sick of winter. But March is a great winter month in Southcentral Alaska. Usually there is still plenty of snow, the days are longer, and afternoons can be delightful – all with the great scenery and backdrops right off the roadside. The snow amount was unusually low when we arrived but we luckily got a significant snowfall just before we started our 11 day straight photo shoot marathon. All in all we shot over 20,000 frames and worked with 20 models. We did everything from roadside sightseeing and road tripping to fitness and backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. We had a variety of weather from soft warm snow to beautiful soft bright light and some crisp clear mornings. We were blessed to catch a couple of signature long lasting Alaska sunsets.

The project was exhausting but a blast and I’m optimistic about the sales potential. Here are a few samples.

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Snowshoer on Portage Lake

Snowshoer at sunset on Portage Lake

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - female hiker enjoying sunset along Turnagain Arm

Winter hiker at sunset – Turnagain Arm

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - snowshoer in snowfall at Turnagain Pass

Snowshoer in snowfall – Turnagain Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Friends snowshoeing at Turnagain Pass

Friends snowshoeing at Turnagain Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - low level view of road race

Low level view of racers on plowed road – Anchorage

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Father and sons hike across Portage Lake

Father and sons strike out across Portage Lake for winter hike

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - man taking sunset pictures with iPad tablet

Photographing a Turnagain Arm sunset with a tablet

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - young adults on scenic road trip

Young adults on ski/road trip admiring mountain views along the Seward Highway

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Family cross country skiing at Hatcher Pass

Family with adult daughter cross country skiing at Hatcher Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Guys enjoying a beer after cross country skiing at Hatcher Pass

Cross country skiers enjoying a beer at sunset at Hatcher Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Ski technician with iPad

Ski technician with iPad in ski shop in Girdwood

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Young couple climbing with backcountry skis at Hatcher Pass

Young couple climbing with backcountry skis at Hatcher Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - women running along Coastal Trail

Young adult women running partners along the Coastal Trail – Anchorage

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos -  trail runners selfie with Anchorage background

Runners along the Coastal Trail doing a selfie with an Anchorage backdrop

Favorite Images of 2013

Favorite Images of 2013 shot by Adventure Photographer Michael DeYoung

 

This is the longest blog I’ve put out so far. Hopefully it is broken down into easy to read segments. It is about my favorite images for 2013.

Usually my editors or my clients choose the best of my images and trust me, this is a good thing. This time I am choosing my favorite images for 2013 with a brief description as to why. This was a good exercise in practicing what I preach and doing a tight edit. Most photographers struggle with objectively editing their best work. That’s why this blog is about my “favorite” not necessarily my “best” work.   I mean I would like to think my favorite work is my best work, but that isn’t reality.  I will still show deference to my editors.

With nearly 42k images shot in 2013 and edited down to 10.3k in my Lightroom master catalog, it was tough to narrow them down to 13. (OK, I’m stretching the truth a little. I’m counting 3 very closely related pairs as 1 photo so total is 17.) Why 13? It’s not because it was 2013 but more because I’m feeling “anti 10.” Too many things seem to be “top 10 this” or “best 10 that.” Why is “10” the most popular number for a collective? Who knows? It could be due to the metric system or Moses. If Moses had come down the mountain with 9 commandments our magazine world might be different today. Magazine articles or blogs that read: “9 best whatever” don’t sound all that bad to me. Well, baseball and golf courses like 9 so it can’t be all that bad. How does 9 “whatever” relate to 13 photos? It doesn’t. It’s just silly thinking. Let’s look at some photos. Hope you enjoy them.

Skiers hiking up Kachina Peak to ski down Main Street, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Skiers hiking up Kachina Peak to ski down Main Street, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

PEAK EXPERIENCE. Sometimes timing is everything when going after the “killer shot” It takes me about an hour to hike from the top of Chair 2 at Taos Ski Valley to the top of 12, 400′ Kachina Peak. We picked a great day with fresh snow, blue skies, light winds and two great skiers. Everyone expects killer ski shots to involve air and exploding powder. For me pulling off a good ski lifestyle shot is more difficult. Hiking up Kachina slows me down and, as my lungs are searching for oxygen, it gives me time to think about crafting different shots. This shot is being used in an ad campaign to promote Taos as a winter destination. About a half hour later we started doing ski action shots with my two great skiers, Matt Gresham and Andrea Krejci.

On this action shot, shooting into the sun with a fixed 20mm lens, I asked Andrea to ski right at me and do a sudden stop about 5 feet in front of me. This is where I trusted her ability to execute a precision move and not mow me over. The reason I had her do this is because the terrain opposite the sun sloped downhill and away from me and thus not providing enough natural fill. I knew that if Andrea executed this move the way I envisioned (which she did – several times) she would create her own fill light at the last second.  It worked. This shot was used by the original client for the cover of the Taos Ski Valley Visitor Guide.

Skier carving a hard left turn on Main Street off Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Skier carving a hard left turn on Main Street off Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

THE GRAND ROYAL HIKE. Good friend John Hoffer, Lauri and I got to go where few people go to and what could be the most awesome and moving spot in the Grand Canyon – the Royal Arch. It took three days of backpacking to get here. As the sun was cresting over the top of the arch, I laid on my back and captured my two hiking companions with the 15mm fisheye. Leaving the arch involved a precipitous hike out and gnarly descent with a 20 foot rappel (with backpacks) down to the Colorado River and a two-day hike out along the Western Tonto and out Bass Canyon.

Hikers/backpackers standing beneath the Royal Arch in Royal Arch Creek, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Hikers/backpackers standing beneath the Royal Arch in Royal Arch Creek, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

BRING EARPLUGS NEXT TIME! This is a mental note I made to myself after sitting in a raft, 4 feet away from screaming 8 and 9 year old girls. This is a shot I had envisioned for several years but was never able to pull it off due to timing and scheduling. The original concept was to cast a group of college age women all enjoying the thrill of a raft trip. I still plan to do that. In this shot, all five people in the raft, the guide, Matt, and the four girls are all skiers and I worked with all of them the previously at Taos Ski Valley. When I saw how well the girls worked together I knew they would be a hoot in a raft. With the water being really low last summer, it seemed more fitting to have a younger crew based on the smaller rapids. We scheduled the shoot for later in the day for better light and I sat on the bow with my rig in a housing. This shot is a fav because of the girls and their energy and because I had envisioned this for a long time. This is a classic case where literally the success of this was 90% planning, 10% shooting.

group of four 8 and 9 year old girls screaming through a rapid on guided raft trip, Racecourse Run, Rio Grande, New Mexico

group of four 8 and 9 year old girls screaming through a rapid on guided raft trip, Racecourse Run, Rio Grande, New Mexico

GLACIER EXPRESS. These 2 were part of my assignment for the State of Alaska covering tourism in the Portage-Whittier area. Our tour included taking my two super models, Melody and her son, Adam, both lifelong Alaskans, out to Spencer Glacier were we would be in the very capable hands of Matt Szundy, owner of The Ascending Path, for a short paddle and glacier hike. I really wanted to capture a shot of a person feeling the wind and being enthralled with the scenery as the train whisked along through jaw dropping Placer River Valley. This was a very tight space as both Melody and I had to squeeze in the 4 foot space between rocking and rolling train cars. I have my back slammed up against the car opposite of Melody with my arm stretched out as far as possible blazing away. I knew that shooting really wide at such close distance would create facial distortion. I did not want to ruin her pretty face with the brutality of 17mm lens. This is one of my favs because it was a “longshot” and it is all Melody. She really pulled off a nice look that I was after and she held up well against the 17mm lens.

Passenger on Alaska Railroad's Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

Passenger on Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

After several near backbreaking sessions to get the shot I really wanted Melody stuck her head with her hair down completely out the window and I loved her long black hair flying forward. A quick re-positioning of the strobe and I got a light hearted shot I liked even better.

Passenger on Alaska Railroad's Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

Passenger on Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

CLASSIC TURNAGAIN ARM IN JUNE. The great thing about tourism assignments is they can involve landscape images in addition to the recreation, adventure and portraits involved in travel photography. Literally the day after we arrived in Alaska and not even fully unpacked we were down on Turnagain Arm where every few years there are epic blooms of lupine. Wait for a high tide around sunset (near 11:30pm here), employ 3 strobes and a 3-stop ND grad and presto, lupine at sunset shot. In full disclosure, since I am a commercial shooter I use all tools available to maximize visual impact. I strive to do as much as I can in the field. To fill in the sky I added some low clouds I shot a few days later near the same location at sunset.

Lupine along Turnagain Arm at high tide at sunset, Southcentral Alaska

Lupine along Turnagain Arm at high tide at sunset, Southcentral Alaska

BEARFOOT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD? I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked Denali Park and have driven the 90 mile road on permit and assignments for 20 years. Even though I focus primarily on landscape images there I still have a healthy file of wildlife – including bears from Denali. I am not a big fan of “wildlife on the road” shots either. This is my only decent shot from Denali this summer. Because of assignment demands I was only able to use 2 of my 10 allotted days and we were basically weathered out, as in no mountain. We followed this young bear early one morning as we were heading west for Wonder Lake. Park rules say you can’t force wildlife off the road. Generally, they leave the road in a few minutes anyway but not this fella. No, we crawled behind him for 45 minutes stopping and shooting whenever I saw a decent composition. We could have pushed him off the road. It was just us and the bear but we behaved and just let it go. The foot makes the shot. In post I brought back a little of the dusty backlit morning sun feel that we sometimes see there. It was just a subtle tweak.

Young grizzly bear walking on road in morning, Denali National Park, Alaska

Young grizzly bear walking on road in morning, Denali National Park, Alaska

NEVER TIRE OF THAT MOUNTAIN. I always look for new ways (at least new to me) to show North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley (a.k.a. Denali). Believe it or not I have never shot much in Denali State Park. I was astounded how quick it was to get to this location from the road. The thing is, you can’t see this from the Parks Highway. Last summer we had an exceptionally long stretch of clear and I mean HOT days. In an hour and a half we were able to walk through the horrifying mosquitos in the bog and forest below to the less horrifying mosquitos on the tundra of Ermine Hill with this commanding view of Mt. McKinley towering above the rest of the Alaska Range. We went up here a few days earlier and shot on assignment with 2 hikers for the State of Alaska tourism. On this shot, Lauri and I went by ourselves and ventured higher and off trail to this little knoll. We went early to avoid cumulus clouds obscuring the 20, 320′ peak. The light is “good” not “great” but I am always a sucker for a good shot showing the scale of Denali relative to a hiker. It is not as easy as you think and I just love this south side view.

Lauri on Ermine Hill in Denali State Park dwarfed by Denali viewed from the south

Lauri on Ermine Hill in Denali State Park dwarfed by Denali viewed from the south

MY FAVORITE SHOT OF THE SUMMER with some super outdoor ladies. This is another case where talent and timing are EVERYTHING! A couple of years ago I did a ladies getaway as part of a campaign promoting South Carolina. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to do this my way. Well, after dealing with assignment pressures all summer I was able to get a group of outdoor, lifelong Alaska ladies together who just have GREAT synergy. Meeting after work, my crack team of Lauri and our hard core talent hiked 5 miles in one of my favorite haunts, the South Fork of Eagle River Valley, to shoot an hour of a ladies backcountry getaway, pack up and hoof it back to the car after 10pm returning in the waning August light. My plans to shoot with a warmly lit alpine peak backdrop quickly eroded when low clouds off Cook Inlet started invading the valley. So I turned into the setting sun, employed our speed lighting skills and captured this shot of the ladies enjoying a glass of wine at camp perched on this rock. I would never tire of doing shoots like this. Too bad it rains so much and people have to work all the time!

Four women camping and conversing with drinks at sunset, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Four women camping and conversing with drinks at sunset, Chugach State Park, Alaska

LEAP INTO THE LIGHT.  Sometimes you just gotta play and test some lights.  I was getting ready for my Speedlights,  Camera,  Action workshop that I teach and thought it would be a good idea to just test all the lights and sharpen up what I wanted to demonstrate.   So we took Lila and 3 speed lights, 2 on stands with 1/8″ grids, and one overhead with a soft box and lit Lila up as she is running along a hill in the dark green woods surrounding Anchorage.   Love the woods and all the devil’s club but man, is it dark in there!  So thankful for portable, wireless, TTL speedlight systems.

Trail runner leaping over log, Coastal Trail near Anchorage, Alaska

Trail runner leaping over log, Coastal Trail near Anchorage, Alaska

 

WELCOME TO MY WORLD. This shot is from the Business of Outdoor Photography class that I teach at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana. This was our last field shoot and I got to take my group to Holland Lake to do a sunset shoot DeYoung style. We hiked out to Holland Falls late afternoon dealing with forest fire smoke, rain, hail, thunder and lighting. Those who were patient were rewarded with this well above average sunset overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains. Then we hiked back returning to the trailhead under headlamp. All in a day’s work.

Photographer at sunset, overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains, Montana

Photographer at sunset, overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains, Montana

ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES. This is out of the box for me, or should I say, “in the box.” I’m not an indoor shooter but my awesome editor at one of my agencies worked with me on doing a series of personal trainer and client fitness shoots. Well, fitness is right up my alley so why not take it indoors once in a while and stretch my lighting skills. Why this shot is a fav is because I was able to actually execute what I visualized. When I saw what Jennifer was capable of, I wanted to focus on her intensity as she threw a punch with trainer David Garver at Aura Fitness in Taos, New Mexico. I am programmed to usually use big soft boxes or scrims when photographing women. To keep it real and show a more raw training environment including some real sweat, I kept my light on the harder side. I think Jennifer still looks great. How can you go wrong with those eyes! I took a related shot that focused on David after the training session.

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

25th CELEBRATION IN THE DOLOMITES. Lauri and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary hiking Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites and I’ve blogged about that earlier. Yes, this was a personal trip but to do it without bringing a camera ensemble and at least trying to capture pro images would be unthinkable especially in a place like the Dolomites. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty good feel for knowing when to put the camera down and enjoy the moment and the company you are with and when to get serious and make an image. Any place I go be it on assignment, shooting stock or just personal I at least try to capture that one shot that sums up the essence of the place and why we are there. We were only at each place for a day so I have to make use of all my skills to make compelling shots. This is our second morning leaving Prato Piazza. I loved the pastoral nature of the valley beneath these towering peaks. We went out early, before breakfast to catch sunrise light on the trail we would eventually leave on. I was blessed to get some radiation fog below us as I had Lauri walk toward the trail sign. There were clouds to the east blocking light on the foreground. The way the terrain was situated didn’t lend itself well to using a graduated ND. So I took separate exposures and blended them in post to capture the feel I wanted. Of the thousands of shots I took documenting our trip in the Dolomites, this one says it all to me.

Hiker leaving Prato Piazza Rifugio along Alta Via 1 route at sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

Hiker leaving Prato Piazza Rifugio along Alta Via 1 route at sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

FIVE MINUTE SUNRISE SHOOT AT ZION. In the mid latitudes or prevailing westerlies (the westerlies shift seasonally) there are two scenarios that predictably produce dramatic light. They are approaching storms at sunrise and clearing storms at sunset. This was shot on the morning of an approaching cold front and Lauri and I raced from Springdale up to one of our familiar valleys on the East Mesa section of Zion National Park. We had scouted this the morning before. The light on the cliffs and the color in the clouds lasted maybe five minutes but we were ready for it. Off camera speed light with a grid was used to pull Lauri away from the dark background. Five minutes done. Flat stormy light the rest of the day. This was the first week of November and due to unseasonably cold temps, we were late for fall color this year in Zion Canyon. This shot was the best we got.

Hiker on slickrock on East Mesa at sunrise, Zion National Park, Utah

Hiker on slickrock on East Mesa at sunrise, Zion National Park, Utah

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME, OR NEAR ANYTHING FLAMMABLE.  I love it when an unplanned street shot works out.  I don’t do that a lot.  Such was the case with a Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration on Bent Street and the John Dunn Plazza in Taos.  Melarie Roller was out twirling her flaming firestick or baton.  Even though we are shooting from the hip, we don’t sacrifice good technique.  Lauri was working the gridded speedlight off camera and I was using a slow shutter to blur the motion of the baton while the strobe rendered her sharp.  During a break prior to this shot I had asked her to stand closer to this group of kids and face the camera so I could make this shot.  No model releases, nothing serious, just out having fun and celebrating the holidays.

Melarie Roller performing at Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration in Taos, New Mexico

Melarie Roller performing at Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration in Taos, New Mexico

 

 

Editing a 2-day Shoot from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico. Photographer at sunset with incoming flock of snow geese

I can’t think of a better place to practice action photography on birds than the Bosque del Apache NWR during the winter season.  When we were there on Dec. 17 and 18, the snow geese count was 51K and the cranes were only 4400 – a little thin based on past experience in mid December.   If you go to shoot commercially (i.e. make stock sales of cranes, geese, and other waterfowl) it is pretty much low hanging fruit as supply of crane and geese images is astronomically greater than demand.  However, if you go there for fun (which I do now) it is just a blast to hang with the wintering birds and shoot like there is no tomorrow.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico, snow geese and sandhill cranes crowded together at sunrise

To get great shots here you need to learn the daily patterns of the birds, shoot at sunrise and sunset, pay attention to your lighting and background, and employ a solid action photography technique.   Just like salmon fishing on the Kenai Peninsula (fish with the crowds ’cause that’s where the fish are!), you can’t go wrong following around the crowds of tripods and big lenses–if you can see them.   (And now to poke a little fun at my fellow photos.)   Apparently many shooters also believe that you need to have your lenses, tripod legs and body wrapped in camoflauge to get good shots here.  Fortunately I didn’t notice the birds flying any closer to decked out in camo dude with mondo lens than they did to Lauri and me.  Well, regardless of the gear or garb, in the 20 years I’ve been going there, virtually all of the shooters are cooperative and respectful of other photographers.  I wouldn’t call the photo experience here “combat” photography but more of a festive “social” photography scene.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico. Shooting sunrise with a Canon 400/F4 DO from the Flight Deck

Most of my shots are with a Canon 1D Mark IV and a 400/F4 lens, sometimes with a 1.4X version 3, but mostly without.  For mass fly-offs, people shots and most video clips, I used the 5D Mark III with 24-70/f2.8.  We shot for two days – mostly 2 sunrise and 2 sunset sessions.   Shooting flying birds results in a high failure rate (at least for me it does) especially when trying to keep a focus sensor on a fast flying crane’s head and when you are shooting at 1/125 or 1/250 second to get some wing motion blur while maintaining a sharp head.  I could easily shoot everything at 1/1000 second but why play it safe?  Go for something more artistic!  And as usual, I seem to be the only photographer there that makes any serious attempt to include the human element while photographing the birds.

Screenshot of Lightroom showing total import from a 2 day shoot

Screenshot of Lightroom showing total import from a 2 day shoot

Back to the editing.  From those shoots I imported 4,045 images.  That included 102 motion clips so the still count was 3,943.   I do practice what I preach when I say I eliminate up to 90% without batting an eye.  My initial edit, which took about 2 hours after all were imported, reduced it down to 561 stills.  I have not edited the motion clips yet.   My normal workflow is to walk away from a shoot for a few days so the “newness” wears off and I can do a more objective second edit.  Due to time constraints, I didn’t have a few days.  So, the next day I sat down again for about an hour and the second edit put the still image count at 266.  After 2 relatively quick edits I am down to 6.7% of what I shot.

Screenshot of Lightroom showing second edit count

Screenshot of Lightroom showing second edit count of 266 still image selects

Here are a few shots from the shoot.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico, sandhill crane taking off in early morning

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico, full frame image of sandhill crane in flight

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico, winter moonrise from the Flight Deck

 

 

A Fitness Shoot I Just Had To Take It Outside

I don’t do much indoor work.  But I do like to shake it up once in a while, come out of my comfort zone, and photograph something different.   As with any shoot I do, I like to use people who are the “real deal.”  So I asked our awesome senior fitness trainer, Tristin, who we know from the Northside Health and Fitness in Taos  if we could do a shoot in her studio with one of her clients.  Her client, Teresa, is also the real deal who works at keeping herself fit.

Personal trainer with client in home studio, Taos New Mexico doing Basu shuffle sqats.

Personal trainer with client in home studio – Taos, New Mexico – doing Bosu shuffle squats.

Well wouldn’t you know it.  The day the shoot was scheduled it snowed.  And the snow stuck to the trees and sagebrush.  This is an uncommon event in Taos because typically the snow is light and dry and most snowstorms come with wind.  This snow was wet, sticky and windless which made for a beautiful wintery landscape.  After a couple of hours of studio work, I just couldn’t take it anymore!  It didn’t take much to convince Tristin and Teresa to do a few rounds outside, doing walking lunges and power walking in the snowy landscape.

Personal Trainer and client doing walking lunges with weights in Taos, New Mexico

Personal Trainer and client doing walking lunges with weights in Taos, New Mexico

For the indoor work, the lighting was ganged speedlights through an umbrella and one speedlight for fill.  The trick was to keep the lights from reflecting in the glass.  Outside, because of the overcast skies and white landscape, it was just point and shoot baby!  Can’t get much easier or more flattering for my seasoned fitness models.  You know my motto:  Shoot what’s happening.  We can shoot indoors almost anytime but this kind of landscape, especially this early in the season, is rare.  Always wish I could have shot longer.

Personal Trainer and client power walking with weights, Taos New Mexico

Personal Trainer and client power walking with weights – Taos,  New Mexico

Sunrise Photography in the Zion Backcountry

hiking in Zion National Park, Utah

Hiker walks up a slickrock pool as first light hits cliffs above, Zion National Park, Utah

The first week of November is usually my favorite week to be in Zion Canyon in Zion National Park for the peak of fall colors.  There are many other photographers who like this week as well.  I saw more tripods in Zion last week than ever before!  Trouble is, few (to my advantage) venture very far from the road.   On our way up to the east end above the tunnel, we made a quick pit stop at the Human History Museum (the old visitor center.)  Already there were some 20 vehicles parked and 30 shooters lined up to catch first light on the West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin.  This is probably the most popular sunrise spot in the park.  While you can get some very good shots from here and other roadside pullouts, Zion offers equally as outstanding off road and off trail photo ops at sunrise and sunset.   All ya gotta do is get up early and hoof it a little bit with your headlamp.

This year the colors were well past their peak during this time.  Time to adjust your thinking and “shoot what is happening.”  Recent rains and an approaching cold front told me to get up early and catch a colorful sunrise and reflections in slickrock pools.  We scouted one of our  “go to” canyons on the eastern end of the park the day before.   Sure enough, plenty of water in the pools – except this morning they were frozen!   OK, I had to break up the ice a bit with my tripod before I managed to catch Lauri hiking as first light hit the cliffs on the north side of the park road.  A little pop with an off-camera speedlight makes the shot.  In ten minutes it was over.  Light was ho-hum the rest of the day.

fall colors in Zion National Park

The Virgin River and The Watchman in afternoon light with waning fall colors, Zion National Park, Utah.

What To Do At A Portfolio Review From A Photographer’s Perspective

There are plenty of blogs about photographer portfolio reviews.  Most blogs on reviews are from art buyers, reps and agencies like PhotoShelter and they all have good things to say.  I’ve listed several of them with links at the bottom of this blog.

What I’ll talk about here are my observations on what worked during my reviews with real clients working on accounts that hire photographers and who are meeting with you during their normal hectic work days, and NOT at a scheduled portfolio review event, like at Palm Springs Photo Festival.

women camping with iPad

Ladies campout getaway. Four women looking at iPad at camp in South Fork Eagle River Valley, Chugach State Park, Alaska.

I’ve done 10 reviews in the past year, mostly in cities far from home.  I just did 2 last week, one in Denver and another in Santa Fe.  I’ll be completely honest.   None of my reviews in the past year have resulted in an assignment … yet.  While this can seem demoralizing I recognize that here are too many possible reasons for that – none of which are that I am not a capable photographer.  One review has lead to asking for an estimate which is good.  It was for a potential job later this winter that hasn’t been approved yet.   They tell me I’m still a contender if they do a campaign.

It boils down to this.  Regardless of how “connected” you are on social media, art buyers still want to work with those they feel they can work with and trust.  And the best way to get someone to know you and trust you is with vintage social media – old school face to face time – not Facebook time.   A portfolio review is simply an introduction and a first step to building a working relationship.

And just to throw a curve, it is still possible to receive a job simply based on your website and phone interviews.

Our meetings have mostly been with advertising agencies who have accounts that we feel we are a good fit for.  Two were client direct meetings. Don’t contact a prospective client and request a meeting until you’ve  sent them some promotional material first.   Usually it is at least a couple of eblasts, a direct mail promo or a targeted and personalized email letter of introduction along with some recent samples of work.

HELPFUL TIPS BASED ON MY OBSERVATIONS

BE PREPARED TO MEET WITH MORE THAN ONE CREATIVE.  Even though we made an appointment with one person, in more than half of my reviews my reviewer ended up bringing several other creatives to the meeting.  This was horrifying the first time.  Now I welcome it and consider it a compliment!  It means more creatives to introduce your work to.  I now bring several business cards and leave behind pieces with me.  (SIDEBAR:  If others at the meeting are interns or not “decision makers” treat them as equals.  One day they may become art buyers.  Remember, people may forget  what you said or what you did but they will NEVER forget how you made them feel.)

BRING SOME GOODIES.  My favorite is a small box of fine chocolates and truffles. Skip Walgreens, and buy from a popular local fine bakery or chocolatier.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF.  Practice your 30 second elevator speech:  who you are, what you love to shoot, maybe who you’ve worked for recently, and tell them why you wanted to meet with them!   If you’ve done a little research, mention a campaign you liked that they worked on, or, in the absence of that, mention something you may have in common that you  found out from their bio or LinkedIn profile.  Keep it short!  Like literally a minute!

OFFER A CHOICE OF PORTFOLIOS.  Truth is, a book is still king!  Creatives look at computers all day.  A well done  book is still the best presentation method.   My book is 10×15, contains 18 spreads with lay flat pages that are 30″ across.  I also offer my iPad with a collection of images tailored to them or brand new relevant work  shot since the book.   More often than not creatives looked at both portfolios.

LET THEM DRIVE THE MEETING:  But do ask a relevant question or two.  If you really want to shoot for a particular campaign it is OK to ask how to improve your chances to be considered.  If nothing else I ask how they would describe their ideal working relationship with a photographer.  I get a lot of good information this way.  If they are pressed for time they will let you know.  If they like you and want to chat,  take all the time they will give you.  I’ve had meetings last from 5 to 60 minutes.

CLOSING THE MEETING.  At the end of the meeting thank them for their time and hand them a leave behind piece.  Ask how they prefer to be contacted  and if you can continue to send them future promotions.  Ask if you can connect on LinkedIn if you have not done so already.  Don’t expect a job offer.  Remember, this is simply an interview and a first step to building a potential relationship.

FOLLOW UP.  With in a week follow up with a short but handwritten real thank you card, not an email.  For really special or dream clients, consider sending a nice print, especially if it is a shot from your book they really liked.  I like ready to hang aluminum prints.  Keep it small, like 8×10.  Most creatives sit in cramped offices and don’t have room for posters.

TRENDS. I’ve noticed the trends are consistent with what my stock agencies have been telling us.  There is definitely a desire for more authenticity in images.  Creatives understand you are setting up scenarios but the images need to have expressions and movements that look natural, real and not forced.  This just reinforces how critical casting is.  For the most part I feel I am doing a good job with that but it has made me re-think some of my shooting and portfolio choices.  I  always strive to show the most on target photography.  Even in advertising and promotion, clients are looking for a more editorial feel.

skiers-climb-taos-ski-valley

skiers and boarders climbing Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley in gusty ridgetop winds.

Here are some blogs about reviews.  My fav is from fellow photographer Todd Owyoung.  Todd designed our current website and its integration with our Photoshelter account and is an all around great guy.  I love that Todd, such a young guy, has great shots of KISS, a band from my generation.  OK, I just dated myself.  Good luck out there.  Feel free to share back any tips you have that have helped you!

http://www.ishootshows.com/2008/01/10/8-tips-for-a-great-photography-portfolio/

http://blog.photoshelter.com/2012/05/7-myths-about-portfolio-reviews-debunked/

http://www.jasminedefoore.com/portfolio-review-dos-and-donts/

 

New Work – On Assignment In Talkeetna, Alaska

TALKEETNA, ALASKA  was one of three places I was sent to on assignment to promote Alaska as a vacation destination.   Talkeetna, with a laid back funky vibe seemingly lost in time, has an eclectic mix of free spirits, rugged individualists, hard-core climbers and river junkies, and in summer, bus loads of cruise ship tourists.  It operates at warp speed for three months and then in near hibernation the rest of the year.   Lying at the end of a 14 mile spur road off the Parks Highway along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna is the hub for the last flag stop train in the U.S.  The sweeping panoramic views of the perpetually snow covered Alaska Range, particularly Mt. McKinley (Denali), dominates the skyline.

strolling in downtown Talkeetna, Alaska near the famous Roadhouse Inn.

Strolling in downtown Talkeetna, Alaska near the famous Roadhouse Inn.

THE PERCEPTION.  Here’s the thing.  The general public always see Lauri and I working with people in beautiful locations.  This gives the impression that our job as a photographer/assistant-producer team is a “vacation.”   Of course I tell them that is what I WISHED we did all the time.

THE REALITY.  The actual location shooting is about 23.3% of the effort involved to make the shoot a success.   So this is sort of “a day in the life of a photographer” blog.  Not complaining at all.  These shoots are exhausting but very rewarding.  Here’s why.

Chillin with the locals in Talkeetna at Coffee a la  Mar.

Chilling with the locals in Talkeetna at Coffee a la Mar.

IT’S THE PEOPLE.  We knew casting, like on any shoot, was paramount.   It took 3 weeks of emails, phone calls, phone tag, and coffee shop interviews to get 8 people with busy summer Alaskan lives and jobs to go to Talkeetna, 3 hours away from Anchorage (with some road construction) to shoot at insane hours when “the Mountain” (what Alaskans call Mt. McKinley or Denali) was out.  Then there was scouting and securing permissions and property releases for several locations.   Last but not least, I arranged a flight see and glacier landing but it was on a space available and ONLY if the mountain was out.

Hula hoopin on a scorching hot day along the Susitna River below Denali and the Alaska Range

Hula hooping on a scorching hot day along the Susitna River below Denali and the Alaska Range

THE MOUNTAIN HAS TO BE OUT!   No mountain, no shoot.  End of story!  Client wants the million-dollar view.  Best light is in the morning.  Lucky me, I needed two mornings with The Mountain out!   Denali is generally only visible 4-5 days on average in July.  Got lucky this summer with a great stretch of warm, clear weather.  It helps being a meteorologist, but, after committing to  multiple people and several grand in production expenses, you bet I was shitting bricks up until the start of the shoot on both days!

Mt McKinley (Denali) view from the Parks Highway near Talkeetna, Alaska

Mt McKinley (Denali) view from the Parks Highway near Talkeetna, Alaska

SLEEP IS OVERRATED.  At 62 north in July, the days are long and the nights, when you are supposed to sleep, almost non-existent.  The night before the first shoot day, Lauri and I are standing at river’s edge catching up with an old friend and Talkeetna transplant, watching the sunset over the Alaska Range at 11:50.  Tomorrow starts in 10 minutes.  I think I’m ready.

Lauri and Rich Crain on a pleasant sunset at 11:50pm along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna, Alaska

Lauri and Rich Crain on a pleasant sunset at 11:50pm along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna, Alaska

HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN.   Don’t worry.  Not gonna do a play by play of two days of shooting.  Day 1:  Mountain is clear at 6AM.  All 4 talent shows up including one of my favorites, Heidi.   The day was long as usual but went off mostly without a hitch.  We had the usual problems like dealing with hard clear day light and harsh shadows, crowds and surprisingly, the heat!  At 4PM it was near 86 and we just had to siesta.  This is a rare occurrence in Alaska.  Sunny days don’t always mean the best light.  But the Mountain was out.  I was happy.  The client will be happy too.

Breakfast with a view!  At the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge with views of the Alaska Range including Denali, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker.

Breakfast with a view! At the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge with views of the Alaska Range including Denali, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker.

 

Talkeetna, Alaska, where the road ends and life begins

Talkeetna, Alaska, where the road ends and life begins

But I gotta tell you about our super talent Melody on day 2.  What a pro!  Day started a little rough.  First, there was the message at 4AM saying that 2 of her family members couldn’t make it at the last minute and that she would be late.  Shit!  The sun waits for nobody!  We have a one hour drive to the trailhead, a two hour one-way hike and 1500 foot climb to get to where I wanted to shoot hikers with Denali in the background.  Working with Melody and her son Adam for the first time we pushed hard on the hike to get the shots before the light completely tanked and cumulus clouds blocked the Mountain.  Needed to be at the flight service for the last glacier landing of the day.   Had to race back down the trail and boogie back to town.  There was only room for two which meant only Melody and I could go.   Lauri had to sit this out.  The pilot basically said I had 15 minutes on the glacier.  That’s it!   No problem,  all I need is 10.   OK Melody, I know you’ve already had a 12 hour day with little sleep and got sick twice but you have to be “on” and pull off being enthralled with Alaska’s grandeur in 15 minutes.  It is times like this where a real pro comes through and she did.  I just had to make sure I didn’t screw it up technically.  Got back to Talkeetna around 7:30 and did a couple more hours of shooting around town.

Hiking in Denali State Park with views of Chulitna River and the south side of Denali

Hiking in Denali State Park with views of Chulitna River and the south side of Denali

 

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Walking around the snow in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Walking around the snow in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

BONUS DAY.  Late in the evening when saying goodbye to Melody, we met Warren Redfearn, the conductor on the Hurricane Gulch train.  (www.facebook.com/hurricaneturn)  He invited us on board the next day which turned out to be another clear day with sweeping views of Denali and the Susitna River.   Since we were on assignment, Warren stopped the train for us to get out and get a few choice shots for our client.   Riding Warren’s  flag stop train to Hurricane Gulch really gave me the sense of Alaska really being the last frontier.  Everyone should ride this train at some point!

Alaska Railroad, Hurricane Gulch Train along the Susitna River with fireweed and views of Denali

Alaska Railroad’s Hurricane Gulch Train along the Susitna River with fireweed and views of Denali

Conductor Warren Redfearn of the Alaska Railroad on the Hurricane Gulch Train, the last flag stop train in America that personifies life on the last frontier.  You should ride Warren's train if you visit Alaska.

Conductor Warren Redfearn of the Alaska Railroad on the Hurricane Gulch Train, the last flag stop train in America that personifies life on the last frontier. You should ride Warren’s train if you visit Alaska.

IT AIN’T OVER YET.  With three exhausting days I now had 3500 images to edit.  For every 1000 image day in the field creates at least 1 day of post production work to get presentation-ready images to the client.  Talkeetna alone meant I had at least 3 days of post production work.  Not much of a vacation.  No worries.  It’s all part of the process.  As I edit, I keep my new bumper sticker nearby which reads:  “Talkeetna, Alaska Where the Road Ends and Life Begins.”

Young grizzly walks the Denali National Park road in early morning near Reflection Pond.

Young grizzly walks the Denali National Park road in early morning near Reflection Pond.

Work the Golden Hour. Don’t Leave Good Light to Find Good Light.

My long time good friend, flyfishing guide and award winning author Pudge Kleinkauf of Women’s Flyfishing once said to me while grayling fishing in Lake Clark:  “Don’t leave fish to find fish.”  I have always carried that with me with my photography.

Earlier this month we were at Molas Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  The aspen colors at lower elevations were not that good  so I came upon Little Molas Lake earlier in the day and decided to shoot sunset here.  With recent snow on the peaks, light winds and a sky full of dense cirrus clouds, this seemed like the best place to shoot later that day.  Besides, I’m always a sucker for water and reflections in my landscape photography.

I returned about an hour before sunset and found 10 other photographers there with tripods and pro level gear.  Fortunately  no other shooter occupied the spot I scouted earlier in the day.  The sky was clear on the western horizon but the rest of the sky still contained dense cirrus clouds.  This scenario usually means colorful clouds.  Cirrus, regardless of the season, are  ice crystals and almost always produce pink to orange colors pre sunrise or post sunset.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013.

About 10 minutes before sunset, about half of the others packed up to “go somewhere else.”  I’m thinking, really?  Go where?  Beautiful lake, reflections, and good color to come meant stay put and be patient.   Don’t leave good light to find good light!   I never leave when the sun hits the horizon.  Sure enough, 15 minutes after sunset the sky exploded with color.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, minutes before the setting sun.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, minutes before the setting sun.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, 15 minutes after sunset with glowing dense cirrus and altocumulus clouds all comprised of ice crystals which produces the pink colors.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, 15 minutes after sunset with glowing dense cirrus and altocumulus clouds all comprised of ice crystals which produces the pink colors.

These 4 shots are less than an hour apart.  The first shot was about 15 minutes before sunset.  Sunset was to camera right so a polarizer helped to punch up the colors.  The last shot is 30 minutes later and a little into the “blue hour”

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, into the Blue Hour about 25 minutes after sunset.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, into the Blue Hour about 25 minutes after sunset.

Backpacking With Your Dog

Senior lab mix with saddle bags on trail to Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Senior lab mix with saddle bags on trail to Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Kyia near Ice Basin Trail on Oct. 1, 2013.  She’s been backpacking with us ever since we rescued her.  She is 12 now, had 2 knee surgeries and it’s heartbreaking to see her slow down so much even though she still wants to go.   We are very patient with her.  It took her three hours with frequent shade stops (below timberline) to climb the 2,800 feet and 3 miles to Ice Lake where we camped at 12, 300 feet.  We camped on a ridge top where she was content to lay in the bug-free cool tundra and overlook the massive valley below to South Mineral Creek.

My mission was to get sunrise shots of Ice Lake.  It was a little late in the season as fall was well past its peak at this altitude. Fortunately, there was some new snow to provide some visual interest.

tent at Ice Lake Basin, Colorado

Camp in dawn light, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Ice Lake Basin, Colorado

Sunrise, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

 September hiking/backpacking at Ice Lake, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

September hiking/backpacking at Ice Lake, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

 

 

New Work: On Vacation Hiking in the Dolomites of Italy

hiker on Alta Via 1, Dolomites

Hiker along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

This is brand new personal work from our 11-day hike in the Dolomites of Italy. This trip was the closest I’ve ever come to having a real vacation since becoming a full time pro in 1992. Taking a break from the weight and effort of backpacking, we hiked from inn to inn or hut to hut with meals, beer and wine, warm bed and usually a hot shower. That is what made it more of a holiday than a “shoot.”

citta_di_fiume_rifugio, Dolomites

Lauri relaxing in the morning sun at Rifugio Cita di Fiume, along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

hiker on Tre Cime di Lavaredo circuit, Dolomites

Lauri hiking from Rifugio Pian di Cengia below Cima Tre Scarperi in the Tre Cime area

For a photographer to truly be on holiday would mean no camera, right? Going to the Dolomites without a camera? Yeah right. I admit it, I’m as bad as the person who has to bring their work laptop with them on “vacation.” I’m cursed as a photographer and perfectionist. It’s unthinkable to go to a place like the Dolomites, holiday or not, without a tripod and a 70-200 lens  (my workhorse mountain landscape lens). The rest of the gear included a 5D-3, 17-40 lens, 600RT and a few accessories. All of this I carried in my pack every inch of the trail.

 cascading stream, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

cascading stream, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

My pack weighed in at 30lbs in which half this weight was photo gear. This was lighter than my standard week-long wilderness backpack but much heavier than most of the packs of other trekkers. I forgot that without the time needed to set up and break down camp and cooking meant longer hiking days when doing inn to inn style trekking. I (and Lauri too) felt the burden of our packs on some of the longer hikes with long and steep climbs.

Lauri greeting the locals at Ucia de Gran Fanes Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

Lauri greeting the locals at Ucia de Gran Fanes Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

hiker at Sennes Hut along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Checking in to the Senes Hut, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy. This is a private hut instead of an Italian Alpine Club hut. We had a private room here but with typical communal bathrooms or “water closets” All of our rooms were small but cozy and warm with a nice down comforter. Pretty posh after pounding the trail all day.

lunch at a rifugio in the Dolomites

Stopping for lunch of fresh hand made spinach ravioli and local bottled water at Rifugio Scotoni along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

 

We basically did the Alta Via 1 to Passo Duran and the Tre Cime-Lavaredo circuit. I won’t go into day to day detail of our route since this information is widely available on the web. The Tre Cime is the iconic image of the Dolomites, and every photographer and their brother shoots there. It is similar in popularity to North American photo icons like Delicate Arch, the Tetons from Oxbow Bend, and the Maroon Bells.

The Tre Cime/Drei Zinnen formation at sunset, Dolomites, Italyy

The Tre Cime/Drei Zinnen formation at sunset, Dolomites, Italy

Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomites, Italy

sunset from Rifugio Locatelli, Tre Cime area, Dolomites, Italy

The photo potential in the Tre Cime di Lavaredo is simply stunning but it was far more crowded than I expected. Next time I’ll skip the Locatelli Hut as that was the most run down, most crowded and noisiest hut we had on our trip.  I’ll hike the extra hour to the smaller and quainter Cengia Hut.  I thought the other peaks around the area were more visually interesting than the Tre Cime. We planned two days to capture some of the landscapes but unfortunately it was windy and very unseasonably cold while there.

We woke up to 4 inches of new snow the morning we hiked out of Fanes hut to Lagazoui. We were prepared for it and had no problem keeping comfy in the winter like weather that dominated our trip. It started out windy, overcast and cold but luckily the wind calmed down and the sun came mid morning where we stopped for an hour and did some nice winterish hiking and landscape photography. This was the second day we hiked nearly all day with snow on the ground.

hiker in autumn snow, Dolomites, Italy

Hiking in fresh snow along Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

hiker in autumn snow, Dolomites, Italy

Hiking in fresh snow along Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

Along the Alta Via 1 my favorite section and day hike was from Passo Giau to the Cita di Fiume Hut. This section was dominated by verdant green rolling alpine meadows surrounded by classic Dolomite big limestone cliffs and peaks. This was the day the snow melted and it finally started to warm up to very pleasant mid September conditions.

hiker along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Hiker along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

The final descent to the Cita di Fiume hut with a commanding view of the Pelmo in evening light was almost storybook like.

hiker above Rifugio Cita di Fiume, Dolomites, Italy

Lauri on final descent Rifugio Cita di Fiume, below the Pelmo along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Our one and only decent mountain sunrise with glowing orange Dolomite peaks was here at Cita di Fiume. Like every other morning, I was up at 6AM to get ready for possible morning light. Doesn’t everyone on holiday do that?

sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

Sunrise on Monte Civetta from Rifugio Cita di Fiume, along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

hikers along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Dutch hikers Dolf and Dianne, just 2 of the many nice and interesting European hikers we met along the way. Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

dog at Rifugio Stulanza, Dolomites

Sioux, the golden retriever at Rifugio Staulanza, Dolomites, along Alta Via 1

hikers at a rifugio, Dolomites

Self Portrait of Lauri and I at Rifugio Staulanza, our last night in the Dolomites

 

hiker on Alta Via 1, Dolomites

Lauri along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

 

 

 

 

Don’t Save the Best for Last!

photographer-lupines-anchorage-alaska

Photographer among lupines along Turnagain Arm, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

Saving the best for last may be a good way to view a decadent desert but this philosophy has no place in photography!  In fact my philosophy is “Shoot the best first!”  Whenever possible, I first go after the shots the client wants most, that I want most or those that are the most challenging.  Sometimes they are one in the same.   Your “best” or “hardest” shot may not mean the most physically demanding for you or the talent.  In most cases, for me at least, it is the most creatively challenging.  It could simply be an elusive expression or gesture that conveys the ” in the moment” feel or “sense of place” I’m looking for.

I do this while I am fresh, the talent is fresh and I have time to craft the shot and work through communication, creative and technical challenges.

This obviously doesn’t work if you don’t have a shoot list, or you don’t know what your “best” or most challenging shot is going to be.   That’s OK.  I certainly have shoots in that category.   It may also seem counter intuitive if you are shooting in the evening, knowing the best light may be at or just after sunset.

woman-hike-winner-creek-alaska1

Hiker along the Winner Creek Trail near Alyeska Resort. I’ve always loved the lush green forests around Girdwood and the inviting boardwalk. For years I’ve tried to capture the essence of what it is like to be here. And, yes, you can get good images on an overcast day!

Even on a sunset shoot, I still try to shoot what I perceive as the best first.  If the light is good an hour or two before, I’m shootin’!  I can’t tell you how many times I thought a sunset would be “epic” only to have it turn out to be a dud.   If the light gets magical at sunset, then I can repeat my “A” shots in the sunset light with greater chance of success since I’ve already worked through the creative challenges earlier.

sunset-lupines-anchorage-alaska1

Sunset over lupines and Chugach Mountains along Turnagain Arm at high tide. It took about 10 tries with 2 strobes to get the lighting close to what I wanted. When the sun hit the horizon we had our lighting formula dialied in.

 

Assignment Shoot Marathon

young-adults-adventure-boat-prince-william-sound-alaska

End of day ride back to Whittier, Alaska after a full day of adventure in Prince William Sound

Three days after arriving in Alaska a shoot we’d been planning for weeks luckily fell into place.  Talent, available boat, and weather all aligned in our favor.  Operating on the typical Alaska summer sleep deprivation, we shot 3,600 frames in 30 hours at 3 locations with 8 talent.  Great shoots!  Looking forward to more shoots like that.

family-jump-on-snow-alyeska-resort-alaska1

Family jumping onto lingering summer snow on top of Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, Alaska

Our 12-hour day in Prince William Sound with Captain Mike of Lazy Otter Charters had to be one of the best days ever in Prince William Sound.  We had three fine folks for talent for a variety of adventure and tourism themes to create.

 

wo-couples-sea-kayaking-glacier-prince-william-sound-alaska

Kayaking in front of Coxe Glacier in Harriman fjord, Prince William Sound, Alaska

Keeping mental focus.  I am very fortunate to have a client that gives me a lot of creative freedom.  Investing the money and time I did without a shot list seems risky or foolish but it works.  The challenge was to have fresh ideas and sharp focus and keep the talent motivated all day.  Here is how I stack the odds in my favor.

women-icebergs-glacier-alaska

Checking out glacial ice and icebergs at low tide on the beach at Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound, Alaska

First, casting dependable and self-motivated talent, most of whom I’ve worked with before was a huge step toward a successful shoot.  Knowing the area and light was also a key component.  The only uncertainty is, as always, dealing with weather conditions that are not favorable to what the client wants.  We had a bit of flat light and ominous clouds in late morning.  Remaining flexible I was able to adjust my shoot ideas to work around this.  The rest of the day was just grand.

man-jumping-beach-glacier-alaska

Hiker hitting the beach in Harriman Fjord in Prince William Sound with Lazy Otter Charters from Whittier

Instead of a shoot list, I come up with a “concept” list short enough to keep in my head.  This allows me to take in the environment, the light and mood of the talent to generate ideas on the fly that convey the client’s visual message.  I also go after the ideas they want shot the most first while we are all fresh.  This approach along with good planning resulted in a successful but exhausting shoot.

woman-portage-glacier-alaska

Sunrise at Portage Lake, Alaska enroute to Whittier

women-sunbathing-grass-prince-william-sound-alaska

A rare sight: sunbathing in Harriman Fjord in Prince William Sound, Alaska

 

 

If Things Aren’t Going Well, Keep Shooting!

salt_lake_family_stand_up_paddle1

Family stand up paddling on the Great Salt Lake near Ogden, Utah.

My first stand up paddling shoot last summer seemed like it was circling the drain before it even started. I arrived at the Great Salt Lake about an hour before the talent (a family of 3) did. Forest fire smoke and thick high clouds delivered flat lifeless light and the mountain vistas that I was envisioning as a backdrop just were not going to happen. On top of that is was miserably hot like 100 degrees even with overcast skies! Understandably, my talent seemed sluggish at first to take to the boards. I began to question my judgment of doing a shoot with people who’ve never been on stand up paddle boards. The heat was getting to me. They were amazing athletes and after a half hour or so they began to take to the boards.

I still was not convinced at the time that I’d produced anything worthwhile and creative – mainly due to the normal stress that comes with every production on top of the heat stress. From past experience I new better than to edit in the field. Something inside my head that could not be articulated at that moment told me to just keep on shooting. And that’s what I did.

For about half an hour the air became very still and surreal and the reflections were amazing. The near sunset sky became slightly warmed and very pastel like. The talent was relaxed and had a rhythm going. All I had to do now was apply some skillful off-camera speed light and I had a fighting chance of getting something decent.

Another shot from this series is a finalist in a national contest, the Great Outdoors Photo Contest. I won’t know where I placed until the August issue of PDN comes out.

Even after 20 plus years of shooting I rarely know how successful a shoot will be until I look at the results on the computer. Sometimes it goes the other way. On another recent stand up paddle shoot I had great talent, great light at a location I was familiar with and I had half a dozen pre-visualized shots in my memory bank. I was just not on top of my game that morning. Shit happens. To all of us, pro and hobbyist alike.

Let the outcome be what it will be. Just remember – DON’T edit in the field and DON’T give up until the light is gone.

New Work: Grand Canyon National Park Backpacking Adventure

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Standing beneath the Royal Arch, a view seen by few visitors.

In addition to showing new adventure images, I address degree of difficulty and creativity as well as sacrifice and compromise with respect to photography.

Lauri and I completed our second weeklong trip on the Royal Arch Loop with longtime friend and backpacking companion John Hoffer.  The Royal Arch is a special and beautiful place seen by few because it is a difficult multi day hike.

I feel fortunate that at 50+ I am still capable of making physically demanding treks to create images.  They are not without pain.  There are times I wish I had a normal mid life crisis like owning a Corvette and whooping it up in Vegas but no!  Instead, I do brutal backpack trips to remote places like the Royal Arch.   When I go to places like this I never lose sight of a principle of photography that has stuck with me for many years: Degree of difficulty does not correlate to creativity.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Descending the upper Royal Arch Creek.

 

Going to expensive exotic places, or places that are difficult to get to or require special skills (in this case rappelling and canyoneering skills) does not mean you will get great photography.  Your viewers, unless they were there with you, cannot relate to the physical or emotional pain and investment you make in your photographs.  Your images are judged solely on their creative merits.  And it should be that way.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Day hiking to the Royal Arch from camp.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Rappelling through the Muav Limestone above Toltec Beach

 

Photography on a backpack trip requires sacrifice but not compromise.  I’ll explain.  Sacrifice on this trip was severely limiting my equipment for obvious reasons.  I took a Canon 5D, Mark 3, 24/f2.8 lens, Sigma 15/f2.8 fisheye, a 600RT speedlight with a couple of gels and the ST-E3 transmitter.  For the first time in a long time, I went without a tripod.  That was the biggest sacrifice on this trip.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Climbing through the Tapeats Sandstone in Garnet Canyon.

 

I had to sacrifice some sweet photo ops.  As long as I stayed within the limitations of the equipment I had I didn’t have to compromise on the principles of making compelling imagery.  My focus would be on the hiking and at camp experience and making images where it was still possible to get sharp, hand held shots and shots that still looked well lit with simple fill flash skillfully applied.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Backcountry meal on the Esplanade

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Elves Chasm, below Royal Arch near the Colorado River.

 

Without a tripod and with only wide angle lenses I had to give up landscapes and many telephoto and macro ops.  I really felt the pain of what I sacrificed one evening when we had a blazing pink sunset.   I did however improvise on a full moon tent scene.  With plenty of rocks and a ziplock bag full of sand made a great stabilizer for a 2-3 minute exposure.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Camp on the Esplanade under moonlight.

 

The 15mm fisheye really came in handy as the noon sun was cresting the Royal Arch.  It is such a fun lens to shoot into the sun with and I did that a lot.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Standing beneath the Royal Arch, a view seen by few visitors.

 

Sacrifice without compromise of solid photography principles and remembering that degree of difficulty does not guarantee good imagery has hopefully resulted in a few marketable shots from a difficult to reach and seldom seen location that holds a special place in my memory.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Lunch stop along the Tonto Trail near Bass Canyon.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Second wind at sunset along the Esplanade.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Claret cup cacti in bloom along the Tonto Trail near Bass Canyon.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Clean up in the Colorado River at Toltec Beach

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Donning boots for the hike out.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Elves Chasm, below Royal Arch near the Colorado River. Taking a break from the camera for a cold bath.

 

A Successful Shoot: 70% planning, 20% camera operation, 10% spontaneous creative thinking.

All season long I’ve visualized a series of action images of a small child having fun, skiing down the mountain under the watchful eye of a parent. It took me two attempts to get something I’m satisfied with. I think success is directly connected to action and planning. The more you learn about your location, your subject, and your camera gear the more successful your images will be.

dad_7yr-old-ski1

Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. 7-year old boy skis in front of his father on a groomed intermediate run.

70% planning. Scouting the slopes and figuring out which runs were best in morning light for shooting uphill with the least amount of clutter was my first concern. Fortunately, I ski at Taos frequently enough to have learned most of the runs and lighting correlations. Casting the right family where everyone skis, has all the gear, looks good and coordinating their schedule with yours and optimal weather (kids get cold easily) took two months.

20% camera mechanics. Knowing your camera equipment intimately makes all the difference in the world when working with small children with a limited attention span. Fumble too much with your gear and you miss candid opportunities and run out of time. You have an hour or two at the most before they lose interest. Out of the gate I knew my lens, my focus point and exposure settings. On earlier shoots I tried positioning my talent uphill and having them ski a line toward me to get candid action shots. That works OK with older kids and adults who are precision skiers. Doesn’t work well with smaller kids.

To get the most spontaneous shot possible I had to get a rhythm going with the skiers and ski with them while shooting. So at the end of a 4’ boom with a Really Right Stuff BH30 head was my Mark IV and Sigma 15mm fisheye triggered remotely with my top hand. The camera ensemble is upside down and inches from the snow as we are all flying down the slope. It is situations like this I’m thankful for rugged pro gear. It took several trial and error shoots with this technique to estimate the framing more accurately.

chairlift-fisheye-lens-1

Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. Mom and 5 year old girl and 7 year old boy on chairlift.

The 10% spontaneous creativity came from the game of chasing “Mr. Fish” down the mountain. Earlier on the chairlift I told Sofia I was using a “fisheye” lens and to say hello to it. So I asked her to look at and say hello to “Mr. Fish” while skiing. I think that helped her take her mind off the 200lb guy skiing 6 feet in front of her. Shot about 500 frames of this scenario with mother-daughter and father-son combinations. Got about a dozen frames that really worked. A good take.

mom_5yr-old-ski1

Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. 5-year old girl skis in front of her mother on a groomed intermediate run.

Ski Action Photography With a Fisheye Lens

skier-jump-highline-taos-1

Ryan taking some air off HIghline Ridge at Taos Ski Valley. Shot with a Canon 1D Mark IV and Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye at 1/1000 second at f8 at 200 ISO.

Until recently, I’ve never been a big fan of fisheye lenses.  They look cool for an occasional shot where the distortion really adds to the visual interest of the image.  My first test with Sigma’s 15mm f2.8 fisheye for Canon was on a ski shoot at Taos Ski Valley close to home in northern New Mexico. The lens is solidly made and has a nice feel to it.  It is easy to focus and has a decent hyperfocal scale on the focus ring.  I’m not too concerned about its focus speed  because with a super wide lens I use hyperfocal manual focus anyway.  I used this lens on my Canon 1D, Mark IV.  With a 1.3x  sensor the 15mm fisheye became just short of a 20mm on this camera and it didn’t produce the full fisheye distortion.

For ski action work at close range to my subject, I set the focus to a little beyond 4 feet and everything from about 3 feet to infinity is in focus at f8.   This lens produces a beautiful diffraction star when shooting into the sun.  In fact it is better than my Canon EF 20/f2.8.  Shooting at 1/1000 second at f8 produced very sharp and contrasty images.  There is noticeable chromatic aberration but it was easy to correct with a simple checkbox in Lightroom 4.  In most instances, I actually preferred the distortion.  This lens has a profile built in to Lightroom 4 and correcting for distortion is as easy as checking a box.  The 2 images below show the uncorrected image on top and the same image corrected for distortion beneath it. The corrected one chops too much off the corners but it makes the skier look taller and Lauri likes that!

Lauri skiing across a rare flat section at Taos Ski Valley off of Highline Ridge.  Shot with a Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye.   This shot shows some fisheye distortion.  The shot below was corrected for lens distortion in the built in profiles in Lightroom 4.

Lauri skiing across a rare flat section at Taos Ski Valley off of Highline Ridge. Shot with a Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye. This shot shows some fisheye distortion. The shot below was corrected for lens distortion in the built in profiles in Lightroom 4.

Lauri skiing across a rare flat section at Taos Ski Valley off of Highline Ridge.  Shot with a Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye.  Distortion correction was applied in RAW processing in Lightroom 4.

Lauri skiing across a rare flat section at Taos Ski Valley off of Highline Ridge. Shot with a Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye. Distortion correction was applied in RAW processing in Lightroom 4.

 

All in all this is a great lens especially for shooting into the sun with lots of depth of field, contrast and sharpness.  I know fisheyes are popular for landscape photography but I can see using this lens just as much for unique sports action shooting too.  Definitely a worthwhile pro lens.

taos-chair-2-sun

Lauri and I riding up chair 2 at Taos Ski Valley with the morning sun cresting the ridge. Shot with Canon 1D Mark IV with Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye.

WEATHER, LIGHT and PHOTOGRAPHY Series: Photographing Snow

tent-aurora-borealis-alaska

Tent lit by stone on fresh snow lit by moonlight with aurora borealis display, Copper River Basin, Alaska

Intro:  Outdoor photographers all know that weather determines the quality, quantity, color, feel and mood of light, and light is the language of our art and craft.  Former weather forecaster Michael DeYoung shares his knowledge on weather, atmospheric phenomena and their effects on light and photography.

Photographing on and in Snow.  Snow and ice environments have obvious challenges like staying warm, keeping gear dry and out of the snow and getting firm footing under your tripod in deep snow.  However, in terms of quality and quantity of light nothing is better to me than a fresh snowy environment.  Snow is nature’s best reflector and the easiest environment to work with natural light in.  Even on flat terrain the snow becomes a light source beneath your subject and provides some fill regardless of whether your subject is a skier or moose.  Forest photography, especially in dark spruce or pines is virtually impossible on clear snowless days.  Cover the ground and better yet the trees with fresh white and magic happens.

matt-twin-trees2

Matt sking through Twin Trees at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. A similar scenario without snow cover would not have been within dynamic range to make a good image.

moose-in-river1

Cow moose feeding in the Teton River near Jackson, Wyoming. Light snowfall added some nice contrast to the dark fur of the moose

Even on cloudy days in a snow covered mountain environment I can shoot action at decent shutter speeds and aperture.  This shot of a skier jumping in overcast skies was shot at 1000 at f8 at ISO 200.  The same cloud cover at this same location on a snowless green/brown landscape might yield only a third of the exposure I got here.

Jimmy jumping off of Two-Bucks, Taos Ski Valley.  It was an overcast day but because of the fresh snow enough light gathered to give a 1/1000 shutter at F8

Jimmy jumping off of Two-Bucks, Taos Ski Valley. It was an overcast day but because of the fresh snow enough light gathered to give a 1/1000 shutter at F8

 

Meteorological Geek Speak on Snow.

Not much geek speak on the atmospheric dynamics of snow this blog.  It would create a far too complex and long blog.  Forecast models are better today than when I was actively forecasting at predicting snowfall amounts but there is still a fair degree of uncertainty particularly in the moisture starved west with highly variable elevations.  The ratio between snowfall and its liquid water equivalent is highly variable.  A quarter inch of water may only produce 2.5 inches (10:1 ratio) of wet snow at a location that is only marginally cold enough to support accumulating snow.  That same location after being sub-freezing for a long time and under different upper air dynamics can get 5 inches (20:1) of dry snow from the same quarter inch of precipitable water.

crested-butte-colorado1

View of Crested Butte and Gothic Mountain at dusk on a heavy snow winter. Cold interior and high elevation locations are known for dry powder snow. They often get 20:1 or higher snow to water equivalent ratios.

Snowfall is determined by available moisture, cold air and lift.  The mechanical lifting of air caused by fronts and upper level lows and short waves can be enhanced by orographic lift which is air forced to rise by terrain.  Many winter systems will bring in ocean moisture and transport it (advection) over inland regions where mountain ranges wring most of it out.  Some systems develop inland (like Alberta clippers) and don’t transport ocean moisture.  They work with moisture that is already in place over the region it is moving over which can be limited.   Interior moisture sources like the Great Lakes can produce local enhanced bands of “lake effect” snow.

stop-sign-in-snow

Stop sign buried in snow in downtown Crested Butte, Colorado.

The Great Lakes is not the only place where lake effect takes place.  The western slopes of the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City regularly get enhanced snowfalls from North Pacific fronts because of lake effect off the Great Salt Lake AND orographic lift from winds with a westerly component flowing off the lake and forced up by the terrain.  There is a reason why some of the best skiing is located here.

“Lake effect” is not limited to lakes.  The coastal mountains of Alaska receive copious amounts of ocean moisture enhanced by strong orographic lift that overruns the high elevation and high latitude cold air that clings to these mountains.  This is why the coastal mountains from Prince William Sound to Glacier Bay in the panhandle became most glaciated mountains on earth in modern geological time.

winter-sunset-anchorage-alaska

Winter sunset over Knik Arm, Anchorage, Alaska

 

Snow Photography Tips.

Exposure:   Snow, especially fresh snow, is the easiest background to expose for.  I was always perplexed in the film days over how many photographers struggled with exposures in snow and consistently came out with dark snow images.  My exposure for snow is simple:  I usually meter the brightest snow and open up 1 and 2/3 stops.  If you are shooting RAW you can tweak your exposures during processing and adjust how much you open up based on your taste and camera’s bias.  Digital cameras today are better at matrix metering but they can still underexpose snow scenes.  In aperture priority mode, I usually set my exposure compensation to +2/3 to +1 stop.  Done.  Shoot.

skier-hiking-taos-new-mexico

Amber beginning her hike up Highline Ridge at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico.

Backlight:   Snowy landscapes make it fun and possible to shoot into the light even making the sun part of your composition.  I always look for a sloped hill or mountainside opposite of the sun.  Then I can shoot into the light and have decent fill without resorting to strobes.  On this action ski shot at Taos I didn’t have a nearby hill for decent fill and the sunlight was basically parallel to the slope of the Mainstreet off of Kachina Peak.  So there was another reason, other than it looking cool for having my skier kick up some snow when she got close to me.  I knew it would create a reflector bringing additional fill light to hit her face.  (This technique also works with paddlers in foaming whitewater.)

skier-kachina-peak-new-mexico

Andrea skiing off of Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. Having her kick up snow created fill light to add detail to her face.

Snowshoers at sunset, Turnagain Pass, Alaska.  Snow takes on the color of what is above it.  Purple/pink alpenglow of the sky reflects in the shadowed snow and contrasts the warmly lit snow of the setting sun

Snowshoers at sunset, Turnagain Pass, Alaska. Snow takes on the color of what is above it. Purple/pink alpenglow of the sky reflects in the shadowed snow and contrasts the warmly lit snow of the setting sun

 

While it is Snowing:  Billions of snowflakes in the air below cloud cover means maximum scattering and diffusion of light.  While this is not good for panoramic landscapes, this softbox effect, similar to fog, is great for portraits.

RUNNER IN EXTEME COLD, IDAHO

Portrait of runner with frosted face on a snowy morning in Idaho.

When the snow is flying, break out the telephoto.  Long focal length compression really enhances falling snow visually.  Better yet, look for a dark background like dark trees or even water.  I almost NEVER use flash when snow is falling because you risk having blown out snowflakes in front of your subject.

winter-hiker-south-kaibab-trail1

Lauri hiking up the South Kaibab Trail in December during a snowshower

Using Speedlights on Snow.    Sometimes, action and portraits on the snow will benefit from the use of a speedlight.   The light could be flat, the sun below the horizon or your setting lacks a big bank of snow opposite of the natural light source to use as fill.  The key to using strobes in the snow is to absolutely keep stray light off the snow and focused on your subject.  Blown out foreground snow is very distracting, amateurish and usually indicates direct on camera flash use – a big no-no for snow.  I use grids and snoots (my favorite is the Spinlight 360 system) to control and focus the light on my subject and keep it off the snow.  In most instances, it takes a little trial and error and tweaking to get your light right when dealing with snow especially when using more than one off camera strobe.

Dog musher and sled dogs at sunset.  2 speedlights with warming gels and shoots were used to separate the dogs and musher from the shadowed snow, near Willow Alaska

Dog musher and sled dogs at sunset. 2 speedlights with warming gels and shoots were used to separate the dogs and musher from the shadowed snow, near Willow Alaska

 

man-snowshoeing-utah

Brandon out for a snowshoe/jog near Park City, Utah. Strobe was used to add detail to the subject

winter-mono-lake1

Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra on a winter dawn. A strobe with a warm gel was used to light the foreground rock and aimed to match the direction of the first light hitting the peaks

Snow, Color and Depth.  Snow, like liquid water, can take on the color cast of what is above it.  Use this to your advantage.   Colorful skies at sunrise and sunsets can create beautiful reflective pastel colors on the snow.   The warm colors of this Utah sunset reflected both in the snowy slope and in the backlit flying snow behind the snowshoer.

A snowshoer jumps at sunset up on Cedar Mountain, southern Utah

A snowshoer jumps at sunset up on Cedar Mountain, southern Utah

Shadowed snow tends to go really blue and you can use this to your advantage by using a warmed strobe or a warmed reflector to make your subject really pop from the background as seen in this wolf portrait and of the musher image in the speed light section.

wolf portrait in winter

Portrait of a wolf in winter – Montana.

Environments with partial snow cover can also enhance a sense of depth and distance.

winter-scenic-turnagain-arm-alaska

Snow covered ice floes at sunset, Turnagain Arm, Alaska

 

WEATHER, LIGHT and PHOTOGRAPHY Series: Photographing Fog

Intro:  Outdoor photographers all know that weather determines the quality, quantity, color, feel and mood of light, and light is the language of our art and craft.  Former weather forecaster Michael DeYoung shares his knowledge on weather, atmospheric phenomena and their effects on light and photography.

fog-alaganik-slough-cordova

Dissipating fog over Alaganik Slough on the Copper River Delta near Cordova, Alaska. Fair weather altocumulus clouds above the Chugach Mountains.

Photographing Fog.  Don’t get bummed out if you wake up to dense fog with cold flat light.  If no precipitation is falling chances are that magic light and golden photo ops are close by.  The keywords with fog are:  live on the edge and get high.  (Hopefully, this last phrase will make sense after reading this blog.)  There are two parts to this blog.  The first is the long-winded Geek Speak on fog.  The second part is tips and advice for photographing fog.

Swans in fog, Anchorage, Alaska

Trumpeter swans on Six-Mile Lake with morning radiation fog, Anchorage, Alaska

Meteorological Geek Speak on Fog.   Fog is a ground based cloud and along with its sister cloud, stratus, which is off the ground but very low, is ALWAYS trapped below a temperature inversion.   Fog can and does form during and after widespread precipitation events with precipitation falling from thicker clouds above such as nimbostratus.  But many times fog forms as a very shallow layer under clear skies.  It is under these conditions that fog can create great light and photo ops.  Fog and stratus not associated with precipitation are stable atmosphere clouds that form under high pressure.  Pacific high pressure during winter is the main culprit for fog in western North America.  Sometimes fog can be really thick vertically especially when there is an “upslope” wind flow into a mountain range.  In fact when fog/stratus reaches about 2000 feet in depth it produces drizzle, freezing drizzle or snow grains.

stratus clouds and clearing storm, Trail Lakes, Alaska

Stratus clouds cling to the shores of Upper Trail Lakes on the Kenai Peninsula. These clouds were the result of widespread and prolonged rain. Image made in a clearing storm scenario.

There are 3 types of fog: radiation, advection and ice fog.  Radiation fog is the most common type and occurs everywhere even in deserts.   Radiation fog forms when the sky is mostly clear but a shallow layer of air at the surface is very moist.  Cooling at night brings the air to close to saturation (close to the dewpoint temperature) and traps the shallow moisture under a temperature inversion.  A very light wind  (2-5mph) at or just above the surface mixes it up and presto, fog forms.  Let’s say it rained all day, the ground is soaked, and skies clear toward sunset with very light winds.  This is a good prescription for morning radiation fog.  In winter, radiation fog gets trapped in many western valleys for weeks.

salmon-river-idaho-fog

View of Salmon River and Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, Idaho. Stratus clouds frame sunlit peaks

Our coastal friends often get advection fog.  This is when fog over the water is drawn inland.  When you breathe on a cold window and it “fogs” up you are essentially creating advection fog.  This same mechanism happens on a large scale, when moist, relatively warm ocean air moves over a colder landmass. In the Cook Inlet region of Alaska, low tides exposes massive amounts of super cooled moisture in mudflats which is the principle cause of winter fog in Anchorage.  On the North Slope, open leads of ocean water called polynyas are the source of dense fog and even precipitation.

During summer air simply flowing from warmer water to colder waters can cause advection fog and this is a common occurrence off the west and northern coasts.   Mountainous coastal areas are subject to a double whammy of advection and radiation fogs that are often enhanced by orographic lift, where low level winds flow into higher terrain where air is forced to rise and condense.

When fog forms in winter at well below freezing temperatures it is referred to as freezing fog.  This is a natural phenomenon and is often mistaken for ice fog.  Water droplets can be “super-cooled” meaning they are liquid but below 32 degrees.  When moisture in the fog/stratus contacts very cold surfaces (roads, trees, anything) it will cause icing.  This causes the beautiful white cloaked forests after a fog event.

Frozen birch trees at sunset

Birch trees cloaked in rime ice and snow glow light pink near sunset, Anchorage, Alaska

True ice fog is a purely man made phenomena.  It forms in arctic air at -22F or colder.  Air at those temperatures can hold almost no moisture, so very little can saturate an airmass.  In winter in interior valleys of mainland Alaska and northern Canada, under extreme inversions, ice fog forms in villages and settlements.  The minute amount of moisture that comes from exhaust from internal combustion engines and building furnaces is enough to create fog at extreme temperatures, say like -40 and colder.  Ice fog is often less than 100 vertically where you can see stars above but can restrict horizontal visibility to almost zero!

 

Tips and Advice for Photographing Fog.   No need to get bummed out if you wake up to a thick fog and cold flat light.  You now know that chances are you can get high or to the edge where the light can be magical.  Or it can change right were you are.  Fog usually dissipates from the edges inward so start your photos near the edge if possible.  Fog often lifts into stratus and the tops can become a ragged edge.   The edges of the sun or moon are sharp and clearly discernible when seen through fog/stratus.   If the sun/moon edges are diffused or hidden, then that indicates there are higher clouds above the fog/stratus layer.  Any yes, there are times when none of this works and the whole day is shroud in thick cold fog.  Being on the edge or top of fog with the sun above means the brightest fog possible and this is where the light is absolutely lovely.  Like snow, fog is bright, relative to terrestrial subjects even if it looks grey to the eye.  This means it can fool meters into rendering underexposure.  I mainly meter manually but if you prefer aperture priority go with about +2/3 exposure comp.  Fog both diffuses and scatters light making a beautiful wrapping soft light on close-up subjects.  I rarely use a filter or strobe in the fog.  The exception would be if I’m above it and shooting backlit, I might use a grad ND (neutral density).

chairlift-in-fog-taos

Portrait of skiers on Taos Ski Valley chairlift. Image made near the top of a fog bank.

photographer-skiers-chairlift-taos

Michael DeYoung photographing skiers on Chair 4 at Taos Ski Valley. As we ascended above the fog into the sun, lighting became much harsher and unflattering than the shot in the fog below.

Here’s what I like to go after in fog.

Forest:  No better time for inside the forest photography than during a fog.  It helps exaggerate distances between near and far with close up subjects sharp and distant subjects fading into the mist.  The best scenario is when the sun shines through trees with lingering fog creating magical shafts of light in an alluvial fan pattern-pure magic.  Anyone who has been to the coastal redwood forests, or seen images from there, can attest to this.

Sun rays and fog, Kodiak Island

The last of marine fog scatters the morning sun through a Sitka spruce tree on Kodiak Island, Alaska

Moose in foggy forest, Alaska

Young moose in birch forest on a foggy autumn morning, Anchorage, Alaska

Anything macro:  great saturated colors and even tones and contrast.

Portraits:  No better natural beauty light than a bright fog and it can produce a better bokeh effect than any lens.

Teen skiers portrait, Taos

Teen girls portrait in the fog at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Landscapes with fog in the foreground:  This is when you are in the clear with a fog bank or stratus clouds all around you in the distance:  I love fog banks where mountain tops or tree tops rise above.  I think this effect makes mountains look taller.  Better yet if you can shoot it in backlight.  There have been several times when a fog bank has hidden buildings and power lines creating unique opportunities.   Fog also can create a horizonless landscape which is pretty ethereal.

Fog bank, Portage Valley, Alaska

Turnagain Arm near Portage Valley in spring with fog bank, Alaska

fogbank-lower-stanley-salmon-river

Radiational fog obscures the Salmon River and the town of Stanley below sunlit peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Being above it all:  My very favorite place to be is at the edge of the fog assuming it is sunny above.  Obviously you have to live in an area that has some vertical relief if you want to get above it. One of my favorite images took place while hiking above the fog.  Near the end of an 8-day Kongakut River trip in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Lauri and I hiked above fog advancing south off the Arctic Coastal Plain.  We spent midnight at the edge of the foothills of the North Slope of the Brooks Range watching fog dance in and out of ridges and valleys as the warm midnight sun never set.

hiker-midnight-sun-arctic-alaska

Hiker standing above Arctic Ocean fog above Kongakut River near Caribou Pass, Arctic National Wildlife Reguge, Alaska. Image about 1am showing the midnight sun

Most often for efficiency, I drive above it. On occasion, a ski resort chair lift has carried me above the fog.  I really love low angle sun skimming across tops of fog.  Shooting mountains with fog in valleys below can hide otherwise distracting elements and creates a heightened sense of well, height.  Being at or above the fog’s edge at sunrise or sunset – well it doesn’t get much better.

morning-fog-stanley-idaho

Radiational fog and stratus in early morning in the Upper Salmon River valley near Stanley, Idaho.

DeYoung Featured In Jan/Feb 2013 Issue of Outdoor Photographer: “Chugach Adventure”

Explorer Glacier from Moose Pond in the Portage Valley, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

Explorer Glacier from Moose Pond in the Portage Valley, Chugach National Forest, Alaska

Adventure, landscape, and lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung is featured in the January/February 2013 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine.

A former Alaska resident, DeYoung shares his 24+ years of knowledge and experience photographing his former backyard, Chugach State Park and surrounding area. In the interview-style article he offers advice on photographing the many landscape and wildlife opportunities in and around the Chugach.

“The Chugach are different and unique from what I was used to seeing in the Rockies. The sheer scale of endless peaks, vast deciduous forest, and steep cliffs and glaciers that come down to sea level have always captured my imagination.”

Read the full online article at Outdoor Photographer.

Winter Solstice Alaska Assignment: Wireless Speedlites in Extreme Cold

Winter scenic near Anchorage, Alaska

Sun at solar noon, shot at Otter Lake near Anchorage, Alaska near winter solstice

Only 3 days from the winter solstice I was on assignment shooting environmental portraits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey near his kennels near Willow. With the sun reaching only 5 degrees above the horizon at mid-day I was lucky to be nearby a lake where the trees were far enough away to give us some beautiful open sunlight. This time of year that meant about 3 hours of unobstructed sun. This far north, clear skies in the dead of winter mean only one thing: cold. This was a short trip (only 4 full days) and luckily the weather held for another day giving me a chance to spend an afternoon shooting winter landscapes around Anchorage. It was good to get re-acquainted with the Alaska winter landscape.

Winter scenic near Anchorage Alaska

Mid day sun on Otter Lake and Chugach Mountains near Anchorage, Alaska

My main concern was the cold. It was -22F (-30C) in Willow that morning and this time of year the daily temperature range is usually 10 degrees or less.  We started shooting about 12:30 and it had warmed very little.  Being on a lake, a low spot where cold air pools, it was -15F (-25C) max.

Canon Wireless Speedlights: This shoot was the first time I would use the Canon 600EX-RT speedlights fired wirelessly with the new ST-E3 transmitter in extreme temperatures. Knowing that alkaline and my rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries would die quickly in this cold, the speedlights, the external power packs, and the transmitter were all outfitted with lithium AA batteries which have the best cold weather performance.

On assignment in Willow, Alaska in sub-zero weather. Lynn Wegener and Karen Combs with Canon 600EX-RT speedlights equiped with Spinlight 360 light modifiers with Michael DeYoung shooting environmental portaits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey.

Photographer Michael DeYoung on assignment doing environmental portraits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey near Willow, Alaska in sub-zero temperatures.

The lighting plan was simple. Use the beautiful sub-arctic sun as sidelight and backlight, and fill the shadows with the speedlights. The RT wireless system worked flawlessly in the bright light and cold for about two hours when the recycle time started getting over 20 seconds. I love being able to control the ratio and mode (Manual or ETTL) from the transmitter though I still had to take my hands out of my gloves to make the changes. In these temperatures, I got about 150 shots before the recycle time became intolerable. Luckily the shoot was winding down.

SpinLight360: This was also the first shoot that I’ve used the new SpinLight 360 Extreme light mod system in these temperatures. I was concerned with the plastic becoming brittle and breaking during my typical hard use of my strobes. This system is mainly targeted for wedding and event shooters but I have really taken a liking to this system. Once the base unit spin ring was attached to the flash with Velcro ,which is very secure, the modifiers (dome, snoot, grid, bounce cards) were easy to attach in the cold with gloves on; a big plus in extreme conditions. I used a the diffuser dome, the grid and snoot and I am really impressed with the quality of light from these mods as well as their light weight and ease in attaching and removing various mods.

Photographers with Canon Speedlites and Spinlight 360 light modifiers near Willow, Alaska

On assignment in Willow, Alaska in sub-zero weather. Lynn Wegener and Karen Combs with Canon 600EX-RT speedlights equiped with Spinlight 360 light modifiers with Michael DeYoung shooting environmental portaits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey.

Near sunset, with the temp dropping I wanted to get a shot with Dallas and two of his dogs hooked up in front of his sled. I set up my 2 speedlights with snoots with the group B:A ratio of about 3:1. Group B, operated by my assistant Lynn, lit Dallas’s face. Since this was a wide angle shot Lynn had to maintain a fair distance and thus the snoot worked better than a grid by not reducing the light output as much. I aimed group A on a separate stand at Hero and Porter, also champion athletes in the foreground. The snoots did a very good job at focusing the light on the dogs and keeping unwanted light off the snow.

Dog musher at sunset near Willow, Alaska

012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey with sled dogs Hero and Porter at sunset near Willow, Alaska.

I also got to spend an afternoon shooting landscapes around Anchorage where I had a mix of sun and fog. The image of Otter Lake shows the mid day sun at how low it stays in the sky. From the same vantage point is a side-lit shot of the Chugach. An hour later near sunset I found this scene –  the frozen birch forest and peaks behind Ship Creek and Arctic Valley – diffused by the lingering freezing fog and stratus.

Frozen landscape close to winter solstice near Anchorage, Alaska

Winter landscape close to sunset, frozen birch-boreal forest looking up Ship Creek Valley and Chugach Mountains near Anchorage, Alaska

This short trip reminded me of just how nice winter landscape photography can be in mainland Alaska. Here is the shot I missed: Mt. McKinley, Hunter and Foraker glowing in warm light with beautifully lit snow-covered forest near Willow in the Susitna Valley. I didn’t stop because we were running a little late for our shoot and the client was more important than a landscape. But it was probably near the best I’ve seen of a winter view of the south side of McKinley and the Alaska Range.

Favorite Locations Revisited: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Photographing sunset on High Dune, Geat Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Photographing sunset on High Dune in November, Geat Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Introduction to Favorite Locations.

“If it is worth shooting once, it is worth shooting multiple times.”  I’ve abided by this principle since I started photography 25 years ago and it is something I stress in my workshops.   I shake my head in disbelief when I see photographers shooting out the window of a moving car!  Years ago a fellow paddler who did a 12 day raft trip down the Grand Canyon said that she’d “seen it” and there was no need to go back.   I’ve done multiple trips there ranging 7-day hikes to a 29 day river trip and the Grand NEVER grows old. The “been there, shot that” attitude is a creativity killer!

Like most photographers there are many places I’ll only go to once and come back with decent shots.  That will continue.  But, revisiting places multiple times is more rewarding when I learn the light and discover new compositions.  Ultimately this leads to better and more creative images.  I think photographers should have “binders full of locations” to revisit. These places don’t always have to be the most iconic or most popular.  Seek out places perhaps close to home, where compelling compositions are not immediately obvious but with time and study, great images emerge.

Runner on Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Fitness athlete and competitor training on sand dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Digital photography makes this more exciting to do.  It’s rewarding to go back to locations I shot years ago on film or with my original 1Ds and re-shoot stuff with twice as many pixels, with new updated or new lenses, and with more capable and portable lighting equipment.   Besides the updated gear, going back with more knowledge and creativity is icing on the cake.  Never get complacent with your photography.

FAVORITE PLACES REVISITED:  Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

 

Running down sand dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Hiker unning down High Dune at sunset in November
, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

The Sand Dunes are real easy to get to, like amazingly easy to cruise to on wide open, mostly straight, flat highway 160 in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado.   I love the imposing views of the Sangre de Cristo as you get ever closer to the park.  There are great vistas and panoramic image possibilities of the dunes and the mountains in the background near the park boundary several miles south of the entrance booth.

You gotta get ON the dunes to really experience the feel and dynamic light that goes on here.  Climb up to High Dune which is about 45 minutes from the parking lot carrying gear, and a 650’ climb.   Great ops abound from near the top and beyond in virtually all directions with the ever changing play of light and shadow on the dunes.

hikers-on-great-sand-dunes-colorado

Hikers near High Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado and Sangre de Cristo Mountains

I consider the dunes to be a “seasonless” place visually.  This is a good thing.  Except for snow, the dunes are similar color year round.  There is a splash of summer and fall color along Medano Creek.  I like coming here in the early winter when fall color is gone and winter photography in the Rockies isn’t really optimal yet.

As expected, most visitors go here in summer and it can get crowded even into fall.  That’s why I prefer to go in winter. Yes, the place is COLD.  After all, you are at about 8400’ and you can get blizzards into May.  There are several reasons why I feel winter is better.  First, the crowds are gone, meaning less tracks.  The dunes are firmer to walk on, especially if there has been recent moisture that freezes in the sand.  Mostly, the light is better since it is lower in the southern sky.  Just bring layers and keep your gear protected from the sand.

If you are lucky enough to be there after a fresh snow count your blessings.  I bring a headlamp because I’m usually getting back near dark but rarely use it.  Even 20 minutes after sunset to catch some color in the clouds if I’m lucky enough, it is fun to blast straight down the dunes at a run.  I usually make it back to the parking lot before I need to rely on my headlamp to see.

hiker with headlamp at dusk on Great Sand Dunes

 

 

 

Photography and Patience: What is The Longest You Waited to Get a Photograph?

Aerial view of Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alask

Arieal view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and Grand Plateau Glacier near Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Whenever possible, I offer my meteorological abilities and skills to my clients to advise when to shoot to get the best possible conditions.  This has been a big asset for my tourism clients.  Many shoots, however, have to be scheduled far beyond accurate forecasting range.   In Alaska, based on climatology and years of experience, I plan 7 days on location to get one evening or morning of nice light.  Getting more than one nice day in a given week is a bonus!  This is especially true anywhere in coastal Alaska and around Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park.

The longest I’ve had to wait to get a shot has been 12 days in the very inappropriately named Dry Bay!  The mission was to get a series of shots of the equally inappropriately named Fairweather Range and and the glaciers that flow into Alsek Lake in the northwest corner of Glacier Bay National Park.  Mt. Fairweather is one of the loftiest mountains rising from sea level to 15, 300’ in only a few miles.

In mid August we flew in to Dry Bay from Haines (in the rain) where we met Brabazon Expeditions to boat us up the Alsek River to the park boundary where we planned to canoe, camp and shoot for 7 days.  After 2 days of continuous rain with more rain forecast for the next 5 (we had a marine radio) we decided to paddle the 11 miles back to Dry Bay to hole up at Brabazon’s wood frame and tarp roof bunkhouse.

 

Canoeist of Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Lauri in a 14 foot inflatable whitewater canoe from Grabner in Austaralia navigating with map and GPS on Alsek Lake through icebergs toward the outlet where lake ends and the last 11 miles of the Alsek river flows into the Gulf of Alaska at Dry Bay.

That proved to be a good call.  On the three hour paddle back to Brabazon in a hard driving continuous rain dressed in $1200 each of high tech Gore-tex raingear and fleece base layers and we still got soaked (mainly from perspiration) and were border line hypothermic upon arrival.

 

Dry Bay and Mt. Fairweather, Alaska

Brabazon Expeditions rafters hut in Dry Bay, along the Gulf of Alaska coast below Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and the Fairweather Range. We spent 12 days waiting for a view of the peaks.

Monitoring the marine radio daily, horrified by the forecasts, we were pinned for 10 days waiting for the weather to clear!  We lived off of food left behind by rafting parties who didn’t want the weight for the flight back.  During the 10 day wait, Yakutat, the nearest reporting station 30 miles west, reported 16 inches of rainfall which is more than a year’s worth of rain in Taos!

Alaska Brown Bear, Dry Bay

Chocolate colored brown bear near our hut at Dry Bay, Alaska. These guys were digging up roots of eskimo potato roots all around the area. I stood under the covered front porch for about 30 minutes waiting for this young bear to get closer until I got a decent shot with my 300/f4. After one shutter click the bear turned and ran away.

 

On day 11 with a forecast of brief clearing, we were shuttled back up river in early afternoon.  We shot like crazy spending the night on Gateway Knob for sweeping views of the lake and Mt. Fairweather then paddling back down to Dry Bay again where FlyDrake would pick us up and return us to Haines before the weather closed in again.

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Dusk view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300), and Alsek Lake Glacier and Lake in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

 

Wilderness camp at Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Camp at Gateway Knob above Alsek Lake with view of the Fairweather Range. We hiked about 1/3 mile and 400′ above the lake from our boat to get a commanding dusk and dawn view of the lake and Fairweather Range after waiting out 12 days of rain and low clouds.

Why did we stay so long?  I am tenacious when it comes to getting my shots and just hate giving up.  Another trip would have cost more in both time and expense than just waiting it out even though our trip length doubled.  Being flexible allowed us to adjust to the prolonged wet weather regime.   In the end, we got the shots and that’s what counts the most.

Aerial view of Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Arieal view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and Grand Plateau Glacier near Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

 

Gear Review: Nice New Adventure Pack from MindShift Gear

Canyoneer on rappel in Zion National Park, Utah

Photo backpacks are not really designed for serious backcountry use. Lauri about to rappel 180 feet in a remote Zion canyon. She is carrying our trusty backcountry Gitzo mini tripod.

Never been a big fan of photo backpacks.   On hike-in shoots I will carry the photo gear I need for the trip in a performance pack designed for real trail use.  Photo backpacks are best suited for schlepping your gear from the parking lot to the overhead bin on the plane and fall short of being serious trail packs.

There are several reasons for this.  To satisfy marketing needs, most photo backpacks meet airline carry-on regulations which means the suspension system is too short for taller people.   Most have too much padding making them too stiff and heavy for a performance pack.  This means the pack doesn’t flex and contour your body well on uneven and difficult terrain.  Camera gear is heavy enough without the pack itself feeling like lead too.   I wish some manufacturer would abandon the airline carry on size limit and make a taller narrower pack that has a more versatile suspension system.  After all, I wear a pack more often on the trail than going to and from the airport.

Other limitations of a photo backpack are that you have to take the pack off to get access to your camera and most don’t have a really good external tripod carrying system.

I got a first glance at a great new pack for adventure shooters from MindShift Gear at Photo Plus Expo 2012 in NYC.  (MindShift Gear is founded by the creators of Think Tank Photo and conservation photographer Daniel Beltra.) The pack is due out in the spring of 2013.

The MindShift has an integral fanny pack that holds a pro body with 70-200/f2.8.  The fanny pack spins around to the front for quick access to your camera without having to take your pack off.   That’s definitely a nice feature! It’s nice not having to worry about where to place your pack to avoid mud or snow just to get access to your camera. Demo’ing this on the show floor, this seems like a very well designed pack.  Some other nice features include optional padding in the top compartment that’s easily removable.  The adjustment straps on the well padded hip belt pull inward like they do on performance packs.

I also would like to see them design a chest holster similar to the Clik Elite model that easily clips on and off the pack.  (I’ve been using this chest pack for a couple of years and it is a great way to carry a camera at the ready with other packs.)  Overall this may be the best photo backpack for real trail shooting yet.

I really look forward to trying one out in the field when they come out this spring!

skier-climbing-taos

Photographer Michael DeYoung climbing Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley with a photo chest pack from Clik Elite. The pack is holding a Canon 1D, MK IV with a 24-70/f2.8 lens

 

skiers-climb-taos-ski-valley

Skiers and boarders climbing Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley in gusty ridgetop winds. Quick access to my camera made this shot possible. I also was able to get my camera sheltered quickly again before being pounded by wind driven snow.

Simplifying Life and Photography While Backpacking

Image of couple backpackers on Devil's Dome in the North Cascades, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB148

Lauri and Michael DeYoung on Devil’s Dome in the North Cascades, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington

For a photographer who’s invested in an entire system whether you are a hobbyist, part time or full time pro it becomes difficult not to have your system with you whenever you shooting.  Every so often, maybe even on a regular basis, it is good to simplify and go with the mentality that “less is more.”

I recently read another excellent PDF by Photoshelter titled:  “Selling Nature Photography”.   One of the shooters profiled, Martin Bailey, in his “Tips from the Field” sidebar, it reads in part:  “keep your load light and you might increase your hours in the field.”

Sunset landscape image on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB131

Sunset on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

My backpacking trips force the issue of simplifying my equipment.  Besides photography what I really like about backpacking is that is also simplifies life.  At the start of a trip I’m always wondering if I can produce a compelling body of marketable images with just one lens and one strobe.   After a few days of life simplified on the trail my senses sharpen up, I’m in tune with the light and I begin seeing more clearly and creatively.  When this happens I begin feeling confident that I can make good images.

Image of group of 3 backpackers along Devil's Ridge Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB175

Lauri DeYoung, Michael DeYoung, John Hoffer along Devil’s Ridge Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington

 

This latest trip to the North Cascades was put together by my good friend John Hoffer who’s been a long time resident of Washington State.  We started at Harts Pass where it intersects the Pacific Crest Trail near 7000 feet and hiked 43 miles to Ross Lake at 1600 feet finishing at Ruby Creek Trailhead along Highway 20.  Most of the time was spent in the Pasayten Wilderness.  All but the last day was spent between 4500 and 7000 feet.  I was amazed by the wildflowers still abundant in the first week of September.   In addition to some sample images, here are the particulars on my camera outfit.

 

Image of Man crossing Canyon Creek below Sky Pilot Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB46

John Hoffer crossing Canyon Creek, below Sky Pilot Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

I take one body and lens, a Canon 24-70/2.8L.   It’s a heavy sucker but I just love the image quality of the heavy L lenses.   Yes there are times when I am frustrated, longing for a 100 macro, a 200, or my trusty 20mm.  But I force myself to see how this one lens sees, staying within its limitations.  The camera and lens, a polarizer, a 3-stop, hard edge ND grad filter, cable release, 4-16gb cards and lens cloth all fit in a Clik Elite chest pack that fits a pro body with 70-200.  It comes with a harness and 4 clips that attach to a backpack.  It rides nicely on the front of the pack and gives me easy access to my camera all day long.  I take one strobe with off camera cord with a couple of gels that weigh next to nothing.

Image of woman enjoying her morning cup of tea at camp on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB110

Morning tea at camp on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

I have the lightest Gitzo carbon fiber tripod made with a Really Right Stuff B-30 head.  On this trip, the sunset we had on Devil’s Dome with 360 degree views of the North Cascades was worth the anguish of carrying that extra 3lbs.

Image of woman walking among a tamarack forest, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB10

Lauri DeYoung walking among a tamarack forest, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of woman shaking off the frost on a chilly morning camp near Windy Pass, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB13

Shaking off the frost, chilly morning camp near Windy Pass, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of female hiker resting sore feet from a 11 mile day hike along Pacific Crest Trail near Holman Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB34

Lauri DeYoung resting sore feet on a 11 mile day, Pacific Crest Trail near Holman Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of man on break among the big trees on the Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB37

planner in chief, John Hoffer on break among the big trees, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Landscape image of lupine still in bloom in September along Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lupine still in bloom in September! Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of woman standing on a lingering snowfield at sunset on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lauri standing on a lingering snowfield at sunset on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of Big Agnes backpacking tent at dawn on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Big Agnes backpacking tent at dawn on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington. The tent survived 30-40mph winds most of the night.

 

Image of woman female backpacker backpacking on Devil's Ridge Trail, Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lauri backpacking on Devil’s Ridge Trail, Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Sunrise landscape image along Devil's Ridge Trail with first light on Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Sunrise landscape along Devil’s Ridge Trail with first light on Jack Mountain.

 

Michael DeYoung jumping into Ross Lake on day 6 of 7 backpacking. Photo by Lauri DeYoung

 

Image of Indian Paintbrush in bloom along Canyon Creek, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Indian Paintbrush in bloom along Canyon Creek, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Featured As One of ASMP’s ‘Best of 2012’ For South Carolina Ad Campaign

Adventure lifestyle and landscape photographer Michael DeYoung is featured as one of American Society of Media Photographer’s (ASMP) ‘Best of 2012’ for an ad campaign to promote South Carolina tourism, assigned by an agency representing South Carolina’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism office.

South_Carolina_Sailing

De Young, a New Mexico-based adventure and lifestyle photographer who never set foot in South Carolina before, was contacted directly through his Web site.  “Originally I thought my Alaska and Taos assignment experience had a lot to do with my being awarded this job. The art director told me it was mostly my style and ability to depict action and emotion and my adventure experience.”

Read more of the interview at ASMP’s ‘Best of 2012’

South_Carolina_Kite

Adventure Hike and Shoot in “The Subway”, Zion National Park, Utah.

Young female hiker hiking by the often photographed log located in the upper portion of the Subway (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan hiking by the often photographed log in the upper Subway. Hiking adventure in “The Subway” Zion National Park that involves route finding, downclimbing, swimming, and rappeling on a 9 mile one-way hike from the top down the Left Fork of North Creek.

I love this hike and love shooting in this kind of environment. We spent 12 hours, hiking, swimming, downclimbing, and rappelling with lots of gear (wetsuits, helmets, climbing harnesses and hardware, food, water, dry bags, rope, and camera and lighting gear.) At least 5 of those hours were devoted to just photography. With swimming and rappelling down a waterfall we had to pay close attention to keeping your gear dry. On many of the shots we employed wireless TTL strobe lighting. With everything in dry bags, getting gear out for our shots was a labor intensive process. Even though it was in the 90’s in Zion that day, the water in the Subway is frigid and the wetsuits were a must. The slow pace worked out great as we hit the top of the Subway in the desired warm reflected light.

Young female hiker wading the first of several very cold pools of water in the Subway (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan wading the first of very cold pools.

With Lauri and I on this trip was Brooke Bryner who used to model for us and is now an emerging family and portrait photographer near Ogden, Utah. My images of her have appeared in a few catalogs and calendars. Brooke’s younger sisters, Jordan and Madison, were great talent and assistants on this adventure. The day was a great combination of a shoot with very helpful assistants, a good workout, and a sister’s day getaway.

Three 20-something year old sisters having fun splashing through water in the middle of their Subway hiking adventure in Zion National Park

Three sisters having a blast on the upper Right Fork before needing a wetsuit.

Three sisters holding some of the mating frogs found in the Subway hike (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Checking out some of the many mating frogs.

Young female hiker on the last rappel in the Subway hike (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan on the last rappel.

Female hiker walking by pools in the Subway section of the Left Fork of North Creek hike in Zion National Park

Jordan on the lower part of the Subway.

Rocky Mountain School of Photography Writes About Popular Photography Interview with Michael DeYoung

Popular Photography Magazine Best Place to Photograph in Alaska that is proximate to well-known tourist destinations

Popular Photography magazine’s interview with Michael DeYoung about best place to photograph in Alaska that is proximate to well-known tourist destinations – May 2012 issue

Rocky Mountain School of Photography has a nice write-up about my interview and feature image (shown above) in the May 2012 issue of Popular Photography. Read more at ‘Paper Airplanes’, Rocky Mountain School of Photography’s renown blog.

Thank you Rocky Mountain School of Photography for the ‘kudos’.

Alaska’s Scenic Gems: 10 Road Accessible Landscape Photo Ops

Recently, I was featured (May, 2012) in Popular Photography and interviewed about lesser known Alaska locations for photography. Expanding upon that and drawing upon my 25 years of romping around Alaska I am profiling 10 road accessible places that offer excellent landscape photo ops. You can find all of these in the Milepost which is the best road guide for Alaska and northern Canada travel. This list is subjective and there are countless scenic views along the contiguous Alaska road system. If you are new or unfamiliar with this vast area, these locations are a good place to start.