The fall foliage this year in West Virginia’s Allegheny Highlands and Monongahela forest was absolutely amazing, though a bit earlier than usual. Many of the higher areas around Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods were already barren upon our arrival, we were able to find many amazing pockets of color in the lower elevations. We photographed mountain landscapes, bountiful autumn foliage, and beautiful waterfalls, from sunrise to sunset for three full days, breaking only for the occasional omelet or nap.
We were told by many that we had arrived to the area much “past peak” fall foliage, but we concluded that the ideas we have for “near peak,” “peak,” and “past peak” foliage are all a bunch of B.S., because great images can be made in any of these conditions, if you know where and how to look for them. These methods of describing the state of autumn foliage do little to tell one how things are actually looking, because they do not take into account the different species of trees, leaf drop variability on slopes facing different directions, intensity and type of color, or leaf drop in general. Take, for example, this stand of Beech pictured below. In what many would consider “peak” fall foliage conditions, these trees would all still be green. In addition, when “past peak,” many of the streams and waterfalls seem to look best since the majority of leaves have fallen from the trees, coating the wet rocks, and filling the streams and swirling eddies such as in this photo from 2008.
I have quite a soft spot for West Virginia, as I spent quite a bit of time photographing there as I was just getting beginning with landscape photography. There is no other place in the Mid-Atlantic where mountains, sky, forests, and water come together in a truly “wild” place, and that is just what makes it so special. Many would argue that the autumn foliage in West Virginia can rival that of New England, and I agree, for the most part. I just wish I could have stayed longer. I miss it already, but there’s no time for that. I just got to North Carolina and it’s off to the desert in just a few days.
Despite the fact that Fall color has been quite rough this year in the Northeast (hurricane-force winds, catastrophic mold outbreaks, unfortunately high temperatures), the Vermont Workshop that I assisted Joe Rossbach with was a great success. Due to the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the many road closures and washouts in South and Central Vermont forced us to move the workshop from Killington to Montpelier at the last second. Luckily, that allowed us much closer access to the Northeast Kingdom, which was coincidentally the area in Vermont with the “best” color this year.
We made the most of our three days of shooting and scouting before the workshop, driving over 700 miles around the state in order to find areas that didn’t totally suck – and we were reasonably successful. We found some great pockets of color in the Northeast Kingdom, near Willoughby Lake, in the Groton Woods State Forest, around Noyes/Seyon Pond. Very surprisingly, areas around Smugglers Notch and the Green Mountains were, well, green. It was a weird year, for sure, but I am still very happy to have visited. I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be back East in the autumn will be, since I will be in school for at least the next three years, but I can’t wait until then.
During my visit to Glacier National Park this past August, I photographed Avalanche Gorge on a few separate occasions, seeking whatever new perspectives I could of this oft-photographed, rather iconic location. Avalanche Creek, blue due to minerals and sediments in glacial runoff, cuts a narrow chasm into red rock for just a few hundred incredibly beautiful yards.
Well, it sure has been a long time since I last updated this blog. This year has been extremely busy for me, with being in school full time, a five-week tour with my band, an extended visit back home in Virginia, and a healthy dose of summer shooting out west.
Earlier in the month, I spent about ten days in Montana’s insanely beautiful Glacier National Park. It was my first visit to the park, and I was thoroughly excited and impressed by the tall, rugged, and beautiful peaks, beautiful alpine meadows, deep glacier-cut valleys, beautiful deep-blue lakes, and the (tiny) glaciers themselves. On top of that, the summer thunderstorm cycle was in full effect, providing beautiful and dramatic light most evenings.
I had the excitement of seeing dozens of Mountain Goats and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and I even got to see a Wolverine! Despite the two million visitors-per-year that the park sees, wildlife seemed to flourish and just about any area away from Going-to-the-sun road and Logan Pass seemed to be just as pristine and wild as anywhere in the mountains.
And, like I said, good light was plentiful. It was a great trip, and I will certainly return in years to come.
The Short-eared Owl, is one of the most widely distributed owls in the natural world, but is not necessarily common nor easy to find and photograph. They reside in all 50 states and every province of Canada, but situations like this in which everything comes together to make for good shooting opportunities seem to be fairly uncommon. Most often found in meadows, farmland, and marshy areas, these birds can be quite difficult to track down and get close enough to photograph.
Last week, I headed up and across the border in search of Short-eared Owls. I was very fortunate to have spent two days photographing these beautiful birds flying, hunting meadow voles, and perching. With me were two other young nature photographers, Connor Stefanison
and Jess Findlay
, to whom I owe thanks for cluing me in to this opportunity.
On the second day of this trip, I was also able to pay a visit to a nearby jetty where I was able to photograph this Black Oystercatcher, without a doubt one of my favorite common birds of the Pacific coast.
(EDIT: I have since gone through my files and found two more images that I feel are worth sharing.)
Meandering for miles down the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains and towards the Pacific Ocean, the mighty Hoh River and its turquoise waters are a beautiful spectacle of nature on their own. However, along the banks of the river there lies a lush and verdant natural treasure equally as astounding as the craggy, glaciated peaks that tower above it, the Hoh Rainforest.
With an astounding average of 140-170 inches of precipitation a year, the aptly named Hoh Rainforest is just that–a rainforest. Her massive old growth Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce trees have been be found to grow over 300 feet tall, and interlaced in these stands of massive old growth, one can find almost inconceivably verdant groves of Epiphyte-covered Bigleaf and Vine Maples. In this temperate rainforest, there is not a single direction that one can focus their eyes and not be gazing directly upon flora of some kind.
From the sound of it, one might assume a place like this to be a nature photographer’s dream, which it very well may be, but not in a conventional sense. The temperate rainforest is so chaotic and messy that despite everything being lush and green, it is truly a compositional nightmare! It takes a great deal of patience, persistence, and concentration to identify just how to compose an image in this kind of place, and I recently learned that the hard way.
I just returned yesterday from a brief three day trip to a few of the temperate rainforests of Washington’s Olympic National Park, focusing my camera mainly upon the Hoh. For the entirety of my visit I was lucky to have bright overcast skies and light, misty drizzles, which bring out all of the best qualities these mossy green jungles have to offer. I hiked, scouted, and photographed all day for three consecutive days yet I came away with such few photographs that I am truly happy with.
One day of this trip was spent with fellow photographer and recent PNW transplant Floris van Breugel, We enjoyed a full day of hiking in the Hoh Rainforest, slowly meandering and photographing about nine miles up and down the river.
This is my take on the Bigleaf maple we took a lunch break next to. A light mist was moving in and out of the grove, and I was briefly able to make some order out of the chaos. I look forward to returning and photographing more!
[Edit:Reprocessed and re-posted on 2/11/11.]
I’ve made my way down out of the mountains, and over to the desert for the remainder of my trip. Before leaving the San Juan Mountains, I did a few fun overnight backpacks by myself, including Wetterhorn Basin, Ice Lakes Basin, and Highland Mary Lakes. After that, I proceeded to get rained on and slide around in the mud for two consecutive days in New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands, and I’m currently in Page, Arizona.
Anyhow, I’d like to share a photo I took on a ~9 mile out-and-back overnight trip to Wetterhorn Basin, in Colorado’s Uncompahgre National Forest. I hiked up the steep, but manageable West Fork Pass with my 40 pounds of camping gear, food, water, and photo equipment, and moseyed along towards the upper reaches of the Wetterhorn Basin, where I found an extensive and beautiful field of Sneezeweed and Rosy Paintbrush flowers. I set up my camp nearby, and hunkered down in my tent for two hours of torrential monsoon downpours and lightning strikes that were quite honestly WAY too close for comfort. Throughout all of this, however, a small patch of clear sky remained on the western horizon, and I knew what that meant: if it stays there, I’ll have fantastic sunset/alpenglow light against the stormy skies. Luckily enough, the clear spot remained, and I was treated to this extraordinary light. I definitely didn’t think about the chance of there being a rainbow up there!
It was an absolute treat photographing this raptor and many others last winter with my friend Greg Schneider. Rough-legged Hawks are usually quite shy of humans, and we were quite lucky to find this individual along a rural road in Ontario’s Amish country!
This article is featured here on Naturescapes.net. This past summer, I traveled and photographed for two weeks in Northern Arizona, chasing after the dramatic skies that so enthusiastically present themselves in tandem with the monsoon thunderstorms and intense 100+ degree heat. Simply put, the monsoon is a daily series of extremely powerful and isolated low-pressure systems that begin to build around midday, caused by the extreme heat of the land disagreeing with the cool, moist air coming off the oceans. While some may think that it’s absolutely preposterous to head out to the desert in ridiculous summer heat, the truth is that thanks to the monsoon, there are incredible photographic opportunities and dramatic cloud formations that are not readily available in any other season. To many photographers’ delight, these monsoon storms tend to dissolve immediately before sunset, often creating beautifully colorful and interesting skies.
On one particularly eventful afternoon and evening in Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs NM this past August, the monsoon put on perhaps it’s finest show that I have yet to witness. As I waited for hours in the locale referred to as “White Pocket,” under the continuous rumble of thunder, deep, dark skies, and multiple torrential downpours, I seriously doubted things would clear up by sunset – this series of storms was just too strong, I thought. I relaxed in my tent and read a book.
An hour or so before sunset, after being teased by the skies brightening and darkening three or four times and not thinking much of it, the storm broke in what seemed to have been a split second. As the storm receded, it left behind an intricate patchwork of mammatus to accompany it’s tall, dark clouds. Seizing the opportunity, I composed a few black-and-white images.
As the sun became lower and lower in the sky, it lit up the entire cumulonimbus formation all the way until it’s very last rays of the day. Having scouted many locations in the area with this in mind, I climbed up onto my favorite section of brain-rock, waited until the light was just right, and fired away.
Feeling greedy after such fantastic light, I stuck around and photographed in the idyllic “desert glow,” twenty or so minutes after sundown. As the storm clouds further dissipated, I was able to pull one additional “keeper” from the gorgeous conditions nature presented to me. What a day!
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Here’s the second image I kept from this outing. To achieve this effect in the sky, I stacked five 30-second exposures during sunset’s brightest colors. Sorry for the brief post!