April in the Skagit Valley is one on the photographic highlights of Washington State. April is when the tulip and daffodil fields west of Mount Vernon are in bloom (actually, the daffodils typically start blooming in March). These fields, and the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, attract big crowds – and, therefore, I’ve avoided them for years (actually I did photograph some of the early daffodil fields a few years back, visiting at non-busy time). However, I did venture up to the fields last Friday – and wow, was I missing out by not going earlier. Actually, I picked a good day. It was rainy in Seattle and Tacoma, but not too bad up in Mount Vernon, and the weather may have kept the crowds down (being a weekday also helped). There still were plenty of people, just not the mobs the flowers attract like bees on sunny weekends.
Here’s a quick report:
- best time to go – go now! The tulips are at their peak. The early tulips have already been headed (the growers de-head the tulips to prevent disease and promote bulb growth, and the longer you wait, the more flowers will be de-headed), the mid-season tulips are in full bloom, and the late-season ones are just starting. Most the daffodil fields are long-past their prime, though a few still have decent flowers.
- best display garden – Roozengaarde. There are two major tulip growers in the valley, Roozengaarde (a division of Washington Bulb) and Tulip Town. Both have display gardens. Roozengaarde’s is larger and better developed. There is an entry fee of $5 – well worth it. This fee also gets you into their tulip field across the road. Roozengaarde’s other tulip fields, elsewhere in valley, are free to visit.
- best tulip field – Tulip Town. Behind the display garden at Tulip Town is relatively small tulip field, but one packed with lots of colors and varieties. Most the other tulip fields in the valley are very large, and though they may have several varieties of tulips, it’s difficult to get more than a couple of varieties into a single image. No such problem at Tulip Town. Another big advantage at Tulip Town is two red barns next to the field that make good backgrounds. Like Roozengaarde, there is a $5 entry fee.
- weather – it rains a lot in the area in April, you just have to work with it. Sunny days (like today) are great, but not very predictable unless you have a flexible schedule. You can make great photos on cloudy days, or even in the rain (as long it is not a downpour).
- footwear – the fields are muddy – extremely muddy if it has rained lately. Wear boots. I wore hiking boots; many people had rubber bo0ts.
- pets – of course, Tanya and I had Carson with us. Dogs are not allowed in the display garden at Roozengaarde or in Tulip Town, but are allowed in most the fields. Carson had a great time laying in mud puddles.
- parking – the entrance fee to Roozengaarde also pays for parking at their fields – assuming the parking lots are open (they close if it is too muddy). There is also a parking lot at Tulip Town. Otherwise, you will need to park on the road. Be warned: if any part of your car is across the marking the edge of the road, you will get ticketed. The local cops were out in force when we were there.
Here are some more details about the Paria Canyon hike along with some more photos.
There are four trailheads: three starting trailheads (assuming hiking downstream), all in Utah: Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, and Whitehouse campground; and one ending trailhead, at Lee’s Ferry, AZ. My hiking buddies (Rob Tubbs, an friend from grad school; his wife, Deanna; and daughter, Abby; and my brother Rob) and I choose to start at the Whitehouse trailhead because there were better camping options on this route (there are no places to camp in Wire Pass and very few in Buckskin Gulch). The Whitehouse trailhead is on the Paria River, two miles south of the Paria Contact Station on US Highway 89, roughly mid-way between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT. The Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass trailheads are south of US 89 on House Rock Road. Roads to all the trailheads, at the time of this writing, were passable by passenger car.
Buckskin Gulch is a tributary to the Paria River, and hits the Paria 7 miles from the Whitehouse trailhead. Wire Pass is a tributary to Buckskin Gulch, and is relatively short. Hiking Wire Pass cuts off a portion of Buckskin Gulch.In addition to the hike to Lee’s Ferry, it is also a popular hike to start at Wire Pass or Buckskin, hike to the Paria, then upstream to the Whitehouse trailhead.
Permits: a permit is needed to hike from any of the trailheads, and there is a limit of 20 overnight permits per day. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of people on the 6 days we were in the canyon. Permits are also needed for day use, but there is no limit on the number of permits issues. Dogs are allowed, but also need a permit. Permit information can be obtained here.
Shuttle: Unless you want to backtrack back up the canyon, this is a one-way hike. There’s no quick way to drive from the starting trailhead to the end. Unfortunately, the quickest paved route is not currently an option because the highway between Page, AZ and Lee’s Ferry is out for the foreseeable future due to a landslide which took out a portion of the road on February 20th. Now the quickest route involves driving the length of the unpaved House Rock Road. In our case, I followed Rob Tubbs’ Ford F350 truck in my little Hyundai Elantra. Now, while I’m a proponent of the drive-fast-over-washboards-on-dirt-roads method, I’m a piker compared to Rob Tubbs, whom I swear is a teacher at the Drive-As-Fast-As-You-Can-on-Desert-Roads School. There was no way to keep up with him, but we did eventually make the drive. In total, the shuttle took 3.75 hours, with about half the mileage over dirt roads. (Google Maps suggests the round trip over the same roads should take approximately 5.5 hours). It is also possible to leave your cars at one end and hire a shuttle company to do the driving.
Best season: This is definitely not a place to go hiking when it’s raining. The flash flood danger is serious. Plus, as the Paria River drains a large area north of the hike, a thunderstorm miles away can cause a flood in the canyon. August is typically the rainest month of the year here, with May having the least rain; though floods have been recorded in every month of the year. The peak visitation is during April and May – but with the permit system, the canyon is never crowded.
Trail conditions: there is no official trail. Much of the trip is in water. On our hike, I estimate 20% of the trip was walking in the river – mostly in the narrows section. The water was typically ankle-deep, but occasionally knee-deep. Of course, water depths depend on the weather – flash floods occur every year and can be dangerous. It’s best to plan the hike during the dry season (spring). In the lower portion of the canyon, where the canyon opens up, there is an unmaintained overland trail (with many river crossings) which is much easier than walking along the river – which contains many large boulders in this portion of the canyon; these create deeper pools.
A large portion of the hike, when not actually in the water, is on muddy river bank. Quicksand is fairly common, both on the muddy riverbank and in the water itself. It’s not dangerous, but you can sink quickly up to your knees (this happened to me once), and it is difficult to get out of without help. You can avoid quicksand by testing suspect locations with a light foot before putting all your weight on it. Also, when crossing the river, favor rocky spots rather than slow water spots.
Buckskin Gulch is known for having large pools of standing water that sometimes must be waded or swum, as well as one point where boulders block the route. In previous years, these boulders present a problem where some climbing might be necessary. Currently, we found the boulder section, several miles upstream from the confluence with the Paria, was easily passable without scrambling. Report from other hikers who had done the complete length of Buckskin reported no large pools of water either. Of course, this could change with the next rainstorm.
Guidebook: there is a guidebook with maps of all three canyons (Paria, Buckskin, and Wire Pass) available at the Paria Contact Station for $9. This is well worth the money, particularly as it shows the locations of springs. My one complaint about the maps is that they lack north arrows, which can sometimes make it difficult to orient the maps properly (every map is oriented differently, with the river/canyon running lengthwise on the page).
Shoes and clothing: I wore hiking boots with gore tex socks over wool socks. Don’t bother with the gore tex socks – they just filled with water. Most people hike in sandals or tennis/running shoes. I chose hiking boots for the ankle support – but the boots never completely dried out the whole trip. Your feet will get cold. You might consider neoprene socks to help keep them warm.
Even in warm weather, it can be cool in the narrows section of the canyon where there is plenty of shade. This is even more true in Buckskin Gulch where it is rather dark. Take warmer clothes than you would think are necessary based on the weather.
Water: the river water is very silty and will quickly clog a water filter. Luckily there are a number of springs in the canyon where fresh water can be obtain. We drank from these springs without using filtration (do take some care how you fill your bottles if not using a filter). The springs are well marked on the guide maps, but still may be hard to find. We had a particularly hard time finding one called Shower Spring. The boy scout leader we met told us his scout group planned to camp there, yet when we arrived, we saw them hiking off down the canyon. But then, we couldn’t see the spring. We just about gave up looking for it, but as we were running low on water, I gave one last look. I crossed the river and found a hidden trail through tall, thick pampas-type grass, and behold, a big spring with lots of water! The last spring, aptly named Last Reliable Spring, was easier to find, but has a low flow rate so it took time to fill our bottles. The final 12 miles of the hike do not have any reliable water sources. If you plan well, you can minimize the water you have to carry by planning your daily mileage around the spring or by camping near by the springs. Do remember to carry enough water – you’ll need it, even in April or May.
Campsites: there are campsites marked on the map, but many other campsites are available – just be sure to camp high enough above the river in case the water comes up overnight. Within the narrows section of the canyon, campsites are much harder to find. And in the full 18 miles of Buckskin Gulch, there are only a couple, including the one we stayed at our second night, shortly up canyon from Buckskin’s confluence with the Paria.
The Scoop on Poop: When you check in at the Paria Contact Station, you will be given human-waste disposal bags. These consist of one or two silver bags with some dry chemicals in them. These bags open up to rear-end size. And a yellow mesh bag to carry the used silver bags. The ranger writes your permit number on the silver bags, so if perchance you leave one in the canyon, they will make you come and get it (okay, they’d probably give you a fine; she said they started putting numbers on the bags after some hikers started leaving the used bags in the canyon thinking the rangers came through and picked them up). Luckily, you are only required to use these bags within the narrows section of the canyon. Elsewhere, you can dig “cat holes” away from the river and campsites. In our case, we were only in the narrows for about a day and a half. It’s amazing how your body can react when forced with the possibility of using one of these bags. Four of the five of us were able to “hold it” and carried out empty bags. Concerning toilet paper, that comes out with you, even if using cat holes.
Historical sites: portions of the canyon were historically used by Ancient Pueblo people (Anasizi). There are no ruins, at least that we saw, but there are several petroglyph sites (only one of which is marked on the guide map). If you go, the best petroglyph site we saw is between mile 24 and 25. There are several more recent sites as well. These include the remains of an irrigation pump from an ill-fated attempt to pump water out of the canyon in the 1949 at mile 17.5 and a historical ranch property right at the end of the trail in Lee’s Ferry.
Critters: We saw few animals on our hike other than birds, bats, lizards and mice (luckily only at our final campsite), but I did find a scorpion behind my backpack the night we camped in Buckskin Gulch. You should also be aware that rattlesnakes are occasionally seen. Reportedly there are also beavers (we did see some logs they had worked on), coyotes, jack rabbits, cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, deer and bighorn sheep.
Overall, this is one hike I can highly recommend. The scenery is outstanding. The country is remote, but easily accessible. I waited about 30 years to take this hike – in hind sight, I should have gone a long time ago. It’s one fantastic hike.
I’ve been back several days now from my backpacking trip down the Paria River canyon (Paria is pronounced like Maria). We hiked out of the canyon on Thursday. I had hoped to post about the trip earlier, but after driving 900 miles on Friday, going to by sister’s surprise 50th birthday party on Saturday, Easter on Sunday, and with Monday being opening day for the Seattle Mariners (I’m a baseball nut and went to watch the game at Safeco Field on the big screen even though the game was in Oakland), I haven’t had a chance until now.
When people ask about where I went, I say the Paria River – which usually brings a confused look as they have never heard of it. They ask where it is, and I say mostly in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument – which continues the confused look because they have never heard of it. So then I say, the 38-mile hike ends at where rafting trips through the Grand Canyon start (at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona) and most people then have a general idea.
The Paria River hike is one of the classic hikes in the American Southwest, and I have wanted to do it for over 30 years. Let me tell you, the hike did not disappoint. Much of the hike is through narrows, where the canyon walls are only 5 to 30 meters wide. The hike is considered as a rival to the much more famous Virgin River Narrows hike in Zion National Park.
The first day we got a late start (after having to drive the shuttle, placing a car at Lee’s Ferry to drive back at the end of the hike) only hiked about 3.5 miles, camping before the narrows begins. The narrows begin at about mile 4 and were spectacular. At mile 7, still in the narrows, we turned and went up Buckskin Gulch (a tributary to the Paria). We dropped our packs at one of the only campsites in Buckskin, about 1/4 mile from the confluence with the Paria, and day hiked several miles up Buckskin. That night, we camped where we had left the packs. The following day, we hiked 10 miles down the Paria, leaving the narrows. Though not in the narrows, this section of the canyon was still not wide and still very beautiful. Much of the hiking these three days was in the river itself. The following three days, more and more of the hiking was out of the river, as the canyon widened up. Besides the day hike up Buckskin, we also made the day hike to Wrather Arch – reportedly the largest natural arch in the world outside the state of Utah.
Here’s a few images from the trip. I’ll try to do a more complete blog post on the hike, with more photos, as time allows.
A week ago last Saturday, Tanya, Carson and I took another hike. This one to Ebey’s Landing up on Whidbey Island. This hike covers a bit less than 6 miles roundtrip and involves walking across a classic, island prairie, along the tallest coastal bluff in Washington State, and along a driftwood-strewn Puget Sound beach.
Though this is a great hike anytime of the year, it is especially good in the winter when snow prevents hiking in the mountains. It is also in the Olympic Mountain’s rain shadow, so it rains less there than in Seattle (the average annual precipitation is about 24 inches compared to 34 inches in Seattle).
Almost every step of this hike has a great view of the Olympics (though they were mostly cloud covered on our trip). There is also an awesome view of Mount Baker, and even a view of Mount Rainier far to the south. The hike even has a bit of history; the hike being inside Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. The area was first settled in the 1850s, and a few of the original homestead buildings are still standing today.
And after the hike, don’t forget to drop into the nearby, historic town of Coupeville for some of the famous Penn Cove mussels. We stopped at Toby’s Tavern for a quick bite and a cold beer. The tavern sits on the water of Penn Cove and offers affordable seafood and other bar foods (though if stuffed animal heads make you nervous, you might want to try someplace else).
PS – Kickstarter update: my project has been online a little over a week and has already been fully funded. However, the project will still be active on Kickstarter another few weeks. You still have a chance to pledge. For a $5 pledge, you will receive a copy of the ebook – that’s a discount on what the ebook will cost after it’s published. Check out my Seattle ebook project here.
Yesterday, Tanya and I decided to take Carson on a day trip to Bainbridge Island. Rather than driving up, we drove to Seattle and took the ferry across. Carson was a huge hit on the ferry – they don’t often see dogs that big. During the day, both on the Island and the two ferry crossings, he had his photo numerous times by people we met (having a huge dog is a great way to meet people, though they only remember the dog). I imagine, Carson has his picture on Facebook more than I do.
The day was cloudy and a bit cold, and so was the ferry since we had to stay outside on the “sun” deck (no dogs allowed inside). When we arrived at Bainbridge Island, we took the Waterfront Trail, and after a light rain for 10 minutes or so, the sun came out. We had a pleasant walk, and while Carson received pets from many strangers, I took photographs. We spent several hours on the walk, and eventually made it back to the ferry, just one minute before it left for Seattle. Of course, they stop loading walk-on passengers two minutes before departure. So we had to wait an hour for the next one – such is life on an island. But even so, it was a fun day – no place special to be and no special time to be there.
The ride back to Seattle was uneventful, but then again not so. The sun had set, and with the gray skies, it was not particularly pretty out. I put the camera away and sat with Tanya on the sheltered part of the sun deck. Yet even as the gray dusk darkened and as we sailed closer to the city, without the camera in my hand, it gave me the chance to truly appreciate the Seattle skyline as the city lights came on. Even on this unspectacular evening, it was beautiful. Sometimes it’s better to just put the camera away and enjoy the now. (There’s a Jimmy Buffett song I particularly like, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On, with lyrics about a watch that doesn’t have numbers, but just says now. And even though the song is about Hurricane Katrina, it just shows that that man really knows something about island time.) We talked to a couple visiting from New Orleans – they took a photo of Carson of course, several actually – and enjoyed the view and our sailing across Puget Sound, safe in knowing we had no schedule to meet and no particular place to go.
Enjoy these photos from Bainbridge Island; there’s nothing to special here, but then again, they were taken on island time.
First, before the story, a mini-rant – I hate the weather. I, like most photographers who shoot outdoors, am obsessed with the weather. The weather is never perfect – it’s either too cloudy, or not enough clouds, or too sunny, or too gray, etc. etc. For my Friday trip, I wasn’t looking for perfect weather. Rather if I was taking a day off from work to go take photos, I didn’t want to waste my time if the weather wasn’t going to be good enough to offer at least a few decent shots. Rant’s over, now on to the story.
On Thursday night, I checked the weather forecast to see what was in store. The forecast for Seattle was cloudy with a 70% chance of rain both in morning and afternoon – yuck! I thought about going to eastern Washington (which often has better weather), and the forecast for Yakima was cloudy with a 30% chance of freezing rain – not much better. I decided to stay home, work on the computer, and if it looked like the clouds might break, to run up to Seattle.
When I got up Friday morning, it was cloudy, but not rainy. As the morning wore on, there were breaks in the clouds, and I could see a bit of blue sky. So at noon, Tanya, Carson and I headed to Seattle. We went to the Great Wheel, Elliot Bay Park, and West Seattle. It was fairly cloudy when we arrived in Seattle, but as the afternoon wore on it got sunny and warm. By late afternoon, there were scattered clouds both to the east and west of the city, the city itself was under blue skies. It was near perfect weather for photography!
One of the shots I wanted was the moonrise over the city. This was the day before the full moon, and using the Photographers Emphemeris I knew the moon would rise about an hour before sunset directly over the city as viewed from West Seattle. This situation only happens a couple of times each year and those are always in winter. We drove to West Seattle, getting there about 1.5 hours before sunset. However, the few clouds that were left east of Seattle looked like they would block the rising moon.
I was able to get some nice, colorful late afternoon shots of the city skyline. Time for the moonrise came and went, and we couldn’t see the moon. Then Tanya helped me shoot a short video for my Kickstarter project (concerning my Seattle ebook I’ve talked about previously). We took a couple takes, when Tanya said “wow, look at that moon!” (my back was toward the city view). I turned around, and wow was right. I quickly grabbed the camera, switch to still photo mode, put on the 70-200 lens and shot away. I think you’ll agree, the results (featured above) were good.
So what I had thought was going to be a bad weather day for photography, turned out being perfect. Goes to show, you can never trust those weather reports.
Since I always shoot in RAW, I almost always have the camera set on auto white balance (since I can change it during Lightroom processing). My Canon 50D does a fair job with the white balance, though I usually have to bump the purple a bit (the images are a bit green). I’ve just picked up a Canon 6D (more on this in a later post), and the auto white balance seems to do even a better job. However, in certain situations, the auto white balance setting is totally fooled. Such was the case when I shot in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Reina Sofia Art Museum in Madrid on my recent trip. It seems that my camera, if not most cameras, have a hard time with artificial light – often because there are multiple light sources (with different color characteristics) plus colored reflections off painted walls.
I suppose a quick primer on the color of light and white balance is needed (if you know about this stuff, skip this paragraph). All light has color. Daylight is naturally a bit yellow and warm. However, the same daylight in the shade is often blue because of the light coming from a blue sky. Light from tungsten bulbs is very warm and orange-yellow; light from fluorescent bulbs is green. The human eye does see these colors, but the human mind overrides what we see because the mind “knows” what color things are supposed to be and corrects for the “wrong” colors produced by the light. For example, snow is white, right. So when we look at a snow field in the shade on a sunny day, we see white snow; but in reality, the snow is blue in color. Same for a white piece of paper being lit by a tungsten lamp, it looks white, but in reality, it is colored orange -yellow. (Want proof? Try this experiment. Take a plain white piece of paper. Set it upright against the base of a table lamp with a tungsten bulb by a window. The paper should look white. Now, go outside [preferably at dusk, while there is still light in the sky] a ways off from the house and look back in the window at the paper. It should look orange or yellow tinted. This is because your mind is now “correcting” for the outside light, not the inside light.) While our minds can do this nifty little trick, cameras cannot. This is why digital cameras have white balance settings (and film cameras have different types of film for different light conditions). The white balance setting attempts to correct for the color of the light to make white white, black black, and grey grey. If you shoot JPEGs (instead of RAW), it is important to get the right white balance setting, or you may end up with color tints you don’t want (for example, using a daylight setting in the snow example above will result in blue snow in your image).
White balance settings in cameras are far from perfect. Often a scene is lit by more than one type of light (a scene with significant areas of both sunlit and shaded subjects for example). This is why I like auto white balance and shooting in RAW – the camera makes a guess, but if it is wrong, I can easily fix it.
However, sometimes I have no idea what the color of the light and no idea what the true color of the subject is. In these cases, it is difficult to get the color right. In these situations, following best photographic practices, you should set a custom white balance for your camera (many digital cameras have this option, it typically involves taking a photo of a white or 18% gray piece of paper. Alternatively, you can take your image of the paper with any white balance setting, then in Lightroom, correct the white balance by using the white balance eyedropper tool [also known as the white balance selector tool] on the paper). While it doesn’t take very long to set a custom white balance, it is only good for those exact light conditions. If you go to a different room, say in an art museum, you need a new custom white balance. Needless to say, I’m typically not that dedicated. So when in the art museums on my trip, I just used auto white balance and thought I’d try to correct later.
When I looked at the art museum photos after the trip ended, they typically had orange color casts, as in the examples here (Girl in the Window by Dali from the Reina Sofia Art Museum, and By the Seashore by Renoir and The Dance Class by Degas both in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). In Lightroom, I played with the white balance, but couldn’t seem to find a setting I liked.If I only had a neutral color (black, white, or grey) in the images, I could use the Lightroom’s custom white balance eyedropper tool and correct the color cast. My frustration was made only worse by the realization I had no idea what color Degas, Picasso, Renoir, Dali, or Van Gogh, etc. intended in their paintings, even for those areas that looked white, black or grey.
However, I soon figured out how to restore the correct color to the art masterpieces. It is my habit, when taking photos in a museum, to also photograph the explanation for the exhibit I’m photographing so I can remember exactly what it is. So in this case, when I took a photo of a painting, I also took a photo of the explanatory card next to it listing the painter, name of the painting, etc. Whether on purpose or not, it turns out, at least in these two art museums, the explanatory cards are printed on neutral-colored papers, and being next to the paintings, they are lit by the same light source.
With this realization, in Lightroom I opened the card photo for a particular painting in the Develop module and used the eyedropper tool on the card paper. Then copying the white balance settings, applied the same settings to the photo with the painting. It was as if magic, suddenly the colors popped and the paintings looked even better than I remembered them in the museums. Masterpieces restored by the magic of custom white balance.
Winter officially started here in the northern hemisphere a week ago yesterday. Winter in western Washington is typically pretty grey and wet. But now and then, winter serves up a great day. December 21st, the first day of winter, was one such day in Seattle, and I was lucky enough to be there photographing along with Tanya and Carson.
We spent several hours in West Seattle, visiting Lincoln Park and making two visits to the Belvedere Viewpoint (better light the second time around). Lincoln Park is the largest park in West Seattle and has great views of the Olympic Mountains and the ferry to Vashon Island. It also has wonderful madrona trees, with their peeling red bark, which I love to photograph. The Belevedere Viewpoint has an excellent view of downtown Seattle, which is across Elliot Bay from West Seattle. However, it is a bit far, so if you ever go shooting there, be sure to take a telephoto lens so you can zoom in on the buildings and ferries. Luckily for us, one of the fireboats was practicing spraying water int he bay and the snow covered Cascade Mountains were shining in the background.
From there, we drove up to north Seattle and went to Carkeek Park. I had hoped to find some salmon running in the creek in the park, but the run was apparently over. I understand it is best from mid-November to mid-December. I was just too late. Instead, I photographed on the beach and was rewarded with a great sunset.
From there, we headed to the East Portal Viewpoint on the west shore of Lake Washington (in the eastern part of the city). I hoped to get there with some light left in the sky, but traffic held us up. Still, it was fun to photograph the car headlight and tail light trails on the floating bridge (Interstate 90) over the lake and the lights from the city of Bellevue reflecting in the lake.
What a great start to winter in Seattle! Of course, the weather didn’t last, and the next day was grey and rainy, as was the next, and the next, and the…
I haven’t had much chance to edit or go over the images from my recent trip to New York and Spain last month. My final night in New York, I spent an hour or so working on night shots along the East River photographing Manhattan and the Queensboro Bridge (59th Street Bridge). The location was only a couple of minutes walk from the apartment I stayed at on Roosevelt Island.
After taking several shots of the bridge and various compositions with the buildings in Manhattan, I decided to try a panorama. My efforts were frustrated by the passing of barges along the East River, which ruined the reflections in the water. But eventually I got several series of images completed. The one above is a HDR panorama created from 6 vertical shots (with each vertical shot created by 3 different exposures). Thus the complete image represents 18 different shots. Exposure times were 4, 15, and 30 seconds. The HDR work was done with Photomatix and the panorama was stitched in Photoshop. I’m not totally happy with the result, and it needs a bit more work, but I thought I’d post it to see what you thought.
Tanya and I are leaving Spain today. We spent the last four days in Madrid, the first couple days with Brooks (who flew back separately). I didn’t have time for any serious photography, but wanted to post a few quick shots before I left. Enjoy!
1492 was a big year in Spain. Americans, me included, mainly associate the year 1492 with when Columbus sailed to the Americas. However, here, 1492 is the year the Catholics finally conquered all of Spain from the Moors. The Moors last stand was here in Granada. The Alhambra was the last Moorish palace and seat of power in Spain. Over the prior several hundred years, the Moorish holdings in Spain had gradually been pushed south and east, until finally Granada was the last stronghold. Then in 1492, King Fredinand and Queen Isabella ruled over the conquest of Granada. As was the tradition, they moved their capital to Granada to establish the new seat of power on top of the old (similarly, many churches and cathedrals were built on top of mosques). When the country was finally all Catholic, Fredinand and Isabella also required all non-Catholics to convert (the year being 1492). So you can see, 1942 was a big year for Spain (I apologize to any of my Spanish readers for butchering your history).
One of the big themes in Sevilla was Columbus, who sailed to the Americas from that port. His tomb is in a grand crypt in the Sevilla Cathedral (he is supposedly also buried at two other sites, but Sevillans claim the one in their cathedral is the real one). Here the big theme is the Alhambra, the last stand of the Moors, and the reign of Fredinand and Isabella. Fredinand and Isabella are entombed here, in the Royal Chapel, which we visited yesterday.The Alhambra stands high above the old Moorish section of the town, and the Moorish influence is still heavy today (there are many shops selling goods from north Africa and restaurants with Moroccan food).
The Alhambra is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the most popular attraction in Spain. However, November is the off-season, and when we went yesterday afternoon, it was not too crowded. It is truly an amazing place, and I can highly recommend it. It’s main attraction is the Palacios Nazaries – the Moorish palace; but there are other wonderful sites as well, including the Alcazaba (the fort), Charles V’s palace, the Generalife Gardens with the Moorish summer palace, and the Partal Gardens.
We are leaving Seville (or Sevilla as it is spelled here) this morning and heading off to Granada with a quick stop in Gibraltar along the way. I don’t have time to write much, so I’m just posting a few photos of Sevilla. The featured photo above is of a domed ceiling in the Alcazar. The Alcazar is the royal palace in Sevilla. Enjoy the photos!
From New York, Tanya and I flew to Spain, rented a car, and drove to Toledo to start our Spanish vacation. The next morning, our son Brooks flew in to meet us.
Toledo is the former capital of Spain. The city teems with Christian, Jewish, Moorish, Visigothic, and Roman history. The cathedral was amazing. Construction of the cathedral started in the year 1226 and was completed a mere 250 years later. My photos don’t due it justice. The place is huge. I could have spent all day in there taking photos. We also visited the Santa Cruz Museum, home to more than a dozen El Greco paintings (El Greco lived in Toledo in the late 1500s and early 1600s); the Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, a synagogue built by Moorish workmen in 1200 (later converted to a church in 1492 after the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity); the San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio, a Franciscan monastery built in the Gothic style circa 1500; and Santa Tome, a wonderful little church that is home to one of El Greco’s most famous paintings, the The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (unfortunately, no photography allowed).
We stayed in an apartment a few meters from the Toledo cathedral. Driving to the apartment was an adventure in itself. Most the roads are only wide enough for a single car. At some corners, the edges of buildings are carved out to allow room for side mirrors. The apartment was inside a building constructed in the 15th century. Unfortunately, our internet connection was not working, so I’m posting this from Sevilla.
Enjoy these photos from Toledo and I’ll post some from Sevilla in the next few days.
Yesterday, being our first full day in New York, I decided to carry the full camera bag and tripod around. Probably not the best move, since the camera bag bumped into several people, including Tanya (according to her, about 25 times). We hit two big sites yesterday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Top of the Rock.
It is the museum’s policy to have visitors check all bags and backpacks – except for camera bags! At the security desk, they gave me a special pass allowing me to carry my camera bag (backpack) in the museum. However, it could not be worn on my back. Most of the visit, Tanya wore it for me on her front – what a woman! And, as it turns out, tripods are allowed on Wednesdays through Fridays – again with a special pass, this one given out by the information desk. They tape the pass to the tripod, so that the museum the guards/docents can see that you have it. I got the feeling they didn’t particularly like me using my tripod (more than one dirty look), but only one or two checked my passes. I felt rather special, being able to use the tripod; and it came in very handy, since flash is not allowed.
After the museum, and a short taxi ride, we arrived at Rockefeller Plaza. Here we bought our tickets to the top ($25 each, a bit steep if you ask me), and went to have a drink at the Rockefeller Cafe (with windows on the ice-skating rink). We had to wait an hour, then went through security (think airport, complete with x-ray machines and metal detectors) to go up. At security, they asked “did anyone tell you about the tripod policy?” “No,” I said. “Well, you cannot spread the legs; you can only use it with the legs together like a monopod.” I’m thinking, you’ve got to be kidding, a classy place like the Metropolitan Museum lets me use a tripod, and a tourist dive like the Top of the Rock will not?
The Top of the Rock is on the 68th, 69th, and 70th floors of Rockefeller center. The 70th floor is a 360-degree, open-air view. There were one of two other people using tripods, and I wanted to take a shot of Tanya and I with the city in the background, so I broke the rules and no one said anything. It was about 6:20 p.m. and dark. So I used the flash for us and a long exposure for the background lights. (Hint – when shooting a photo like this, have the subject stay still through the entire exposure, in this case 10 seconds, not just during the flash. If the subject moves after the flash goes, the background will be visible through the subject.) Tanya went inside out of the cold (the wind was blowing) and I took a lot more shots (trying to not fully extend my tripod legs). This, coupled with the wind, presented a problem, and most the shots I took turned out blurry. However, I did get a few relatively clear ones and put together the HDR image featured here (three shots, 2 stops apart).
Today, I left the tripod at the apartment we are renting, and we went to the American Museum of Natural History (no tripods allowed). Tonight, I did pull out the tripod again to take more night shots – this time with the legs fully extended. These shots are of the skyline and East River from Roosevelt Island (which is where we are staying). I doubt I’ll have a chance to process those until I get home, so stay tuned and hopefully I can show you in a couple weeks how those turned out.
Tomorrow we leave New York and fly to Spain. I hope to have another post from there in a few days.
Have you ever had a free day? You know, a day where you had something planned, and the plans fall through, and so you have a day without obligations and you’re free to do anything you want? I had hoped to be posting from New York today. You see, the dog/house sitter was set, the bags were packed, and Tanya and I were almost ready to go (kind of sounds like a song), when the airline called last night around 9 p.m. Due to a winter storm hitting the New York area, our flight was cancelled.
Though I was a bit miffed, it wasn’t too bad. Our main destination is Spain; New York is just a stop along the way. Since our flight to Madrid doesn’t leave until next Sunday, the flight delay doesn’t affect the flight to Spain. So although we are missing a day in New York, it doesn’t totally screw up the trip. (Though I still may have to pay for last night’s room – ouch!)
So here I am, still in Tacoma, with a free day. I accomplished all my pre-trip chores yesterday; so today I can do whatever I want. And it isn’t so bad being here today. The sun is shining and it’s about 55 degrees – rather pleasant. At this very moment, according to NOAA, there is a blizzard in New York, specifically 32 degrees, foggy, heavy snow, with winds over 20 miles per hour.
As a teaser for my upcoming posts for Europe, I’m posting one of my favorite images from my last trip to Europe. I shot the following image in Edinburgh, Scotland on the Royal Mile. The black & white conversion was completed in Photoshop.
One more thing – today is Tanya’s birthday! As you now know, we had planned to celebrate it in New York. But with those plans ruined by the weather, we’ll have a little dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine. Then tomorrow morning, dark and early, it will be off to the airport and hopefully to New York. For now, in celebration of her birthday, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite portraits of Tanya.
I went with a friend and my trusty dog Carson (just over two weeks ago) to Heather Meadows at the end of the Mount Baker Highway (in a earlier post, I gave a Quick Shot from the trip). The fall colors were fantastic, as I hope these images show. Want to go for the colors? You may be too late. The fall color season was short at Heather Meadows this year (though it’s probably short most years). A trail report on the Washington Trails Association websitedidn’t mention fall colors on September 30th, nor did the accompanying photos show much. And as of October 22nd, according to the US Forest Service website, all the Heather Meadows trails are now snow-covered, the lakes have started freezing over, and the road is gated at the ski area’s upper parking lot – a good distance below Artist Point were about half of these photos were taken. Winter has come to Heather Meadows. Fall lasted about 3 weeks.
Though on the Mount Baker Highway, the real star of the Heather Meadows area is Mount Shuksan. The view of Mt. Shuksan from Picture Lake (the featured image above) is one of the most photographed scenes in Washington State. Unfortunately, when we were there, there was a breeze, ruining the reflection in Picture Lake, but it still made a great scene.
Besides Picture Lake, we drove up to the end of the highway at Artist Point and did the short hike along Artist Ridge. Again, Shuksan is the star here – though the view of Mount Baker is good too. We were there in the afternoon (and later, at sunset), and the light was much better on Shuksan than Baker. I venture that Baker looks better in morning light (but with a 5+ hour drive from Tacoma, I wasn’t about to get there early).
Unlike the northeastern United States, the Northwest is not know for its autumn colors. This is not surprising, considering the primary tree cover in the Pacific Northwest is composed of firs, pines, and other evergreens. But, there are some spots where fall color can be found. The Heather Meadows area is one – you just have to be quick to see it.
At last the rain hit today, ending perhaps the longest dry spell in western Washington history. Luckily, I spent the last day of the dry weather (yesterday) up at Mount Baker in the Heather Meadows area. The fall colors were fantastic. Tomorrow, in the morning, I’m heading off to eastern Washington for the weekend to go to a football game. I wanted to leave you with a blog post before I go, so here’s a quick shot I took yesterday. This is Mount Baker, as seen from Artist Point. More from my trip up to Heather Meadows later.
By working on my Seattle ebook project, I’ve visited a few sites in Seattle that I’ve never been before. Though I’ve been to Lake Union Park and the Center for Wooden Boats several times in the past, somehow I have always missed the Historic Ships Wharf, that is until last week. If you like maritime history, this is fun little place to visit. It is located in Lake Union Park, at the north end of the Naval armory (soon to be the new home of the Museum of History and Industry).
There are five or six boats berthed at the Historic Ships Wharf. Northwest Seaport owns two of the ships – the tugboat Arthur Foss and the lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure”, both of which are National Historic Landmarks. The Arthur Foss was built in 1889 and has a long history of working from Alaska to Hawaii, including starring in the 1934 movie Tugboat Annie. She was decommissioned in 1970. Lightship No. 83 was built in 1904 and has served on both the east and west coasts. She retired in 1961 and is currently undergoing restoration by the Northwest Seaport.
Other vessels at the wharf include the 1922 steamship Virginia V (also a National Historic Landmark) and the 1910 fireboat Duwamish. The Virginia V is the last remaining steamer of Seattle’s famous Mosquito Fleet. It currently hosts the Farmboat Floating Market (a farmers market, for information go to www.farmboat.org) every Thursday.
The wharf is also home to schooner Lavengro – the last original Biloxi “White Winged Queen” schooner in the world. When photographing the Lavengro, I had the good fortune to meet her captain – Kim Carver. She told me a little history about her ship and suggested that owners of most the boats at the wharf would welcome a photographer on board by just asking. Captain Carver also said that she gives free rides on the Lavengro most Sundays as part of a program sponsored by the Center for Wooden Boats.
There are few places where you can see several historic ships like these all on one pier. If you like old boats, I suggest checking it out.
Seattle, widely known for its rain, has had 0.03 inches of rain so far this September. Combined with no measurable rain in August, we’ve had one of the driest periods on record. Nor is rain falling much elsewhere in Washington State. All month-long there have been forest fires burning in the mountains and eastern Washington, and the smoke is really messing up the air quality. So when I took a day off to go do some photography earlier this month, I decided against going to the mountains which are full of smoke and instead Tanya, Carson and I headed for the beach. We decided to head for Kalaloch and Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, a 3-hour drive from Tacoma. It’s 156 miles from my house to Kalaloch, and only the last 5 miles is along the ocean. And when making the drive over, it was sunny and the closer to the coast we got, the less smokey the air was. Then, at approximately mile 151 from my house, we entered a fog bank. That’s right, all this sun all over the whole state, and the beaches along the Olympic coast were fogged in. The good news for photography – no boring totally blue skies. The bad news for photography – no great sunset shots either.
We spent the first part of our trip at Ruby Beach, which has some nice sea stacks and a creek on the beach. The fog made for some interesting compositions, and several other photographers also had their tripods out. We walked north on the beach. The fog closed in around us, and it was if we were alone in the world, just the ocean on one side and a wilderness forest on the other. No sounds but the crashing waves. Hunger eventually drove us back to the car and we headed back down the highway to find a viewpoint where we could eat a picnic dinner with a view, or as much of one as the fog would allow.
It was nearing sunset, and the fog bank started to roll off shore such that it wasn’t actually fogging on the beach, but the fog still blocked the sun. Ever optimistic and still hoping for a good sunset, we stopped in at Beach 4 (which is between Kalaloch and Ruby Beach). No luck on the sunset, but as it was shortly after low time, there were tide pools to explore and starfish to photograph.
All in all, it was a good day, and I didn’t have to worry about forest fire smoke ruining my photographs. Given the choice of smoke or fog, I was happy to have the fog.
Earlier this summer I visited my old hometown of Spokane, Washington. I previously have only shown one image from that trip in my blog because I was there on assignment with American Bungalow Magazine, and they had first publication rights to the images. The current issue (August-November 2012) of American Bungalow came out late last month with a 8-page article on Spokane featuring 12 of my images. You can go to your local bookstore or library to see those images, but here are several that didn’t make the magazine. Enjoy and let me know what you think.
Earlier this week, Tanya,, Carson and I went camping for three days at La Wis Wis near White Pass. I took the opportunity to drive up to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park for one sunset and one sunrise. Though it looked like they were slightly past their prime, the wildflowers were incredible at Paradise. If you want to see them this year, you best get up there fast.
For my sunset shots, I hiked from the visitor center eastward on the Skyline Trail then partly up the Golden Gate Trail. The flowers were great on the Golden Gate Trail, but the view of Rainier is partially obstructed by a ridge. Luckily for me, the view of the Tatoosh Range to the south put on a good alpenglow show.
The next morning, after arriving at Paradise at 5:45 a.m. (no trouble finding parking at that time!), I headed north on the Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista, then back to the visitor center via the Deadhorse Creek and Waterfall Trails. Again, great flowers, but also more unobstructed views of Rainier (the featured photo above is of Rainier from the Deadhorse Creek Trail). Unfortunately, there wasn’t much color in the sunrise. However, low-lying clouds below Paradise made for some good shots.
Anyway, I just wanted to post a few photos from the trip to show you why they call it Paradise!
A month or so ago, I purchased a Vello Wireless Shutterboss for project and then ended up not using it. This device allows remote control of a camera, including the ability to shoot a series of photos at regular intervals. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to play with the Shutterboss, and finally found that opportunity last weekend. Tanya and I spent the weekend in Twisp, Washington with friends at their cabin. Saturday night I set up the camera to do a time-lapse sequence of the sun setting over the hills across the valley.
This was my first attempt at time-lapse photography. I set the Shutterboss to record 75 images, 2 minutes apart starting just after 7 p.m. in the evening. I processed the images and made the video in Adobe Lightroom 4.
You can see the result above, though it looks better if you click the link and watch it on the Vimeo site. What do you think? I rate myself with a solid C+ effort. In hindsight, I should have set up the camera for more frequent shots, perhaps every minute or even half minute to make the transitions a bit smoother and the video longer. But overall, not bad for a first try.
Those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis know I’ve been working on a personal project documenting Seattle. Last week, Tanya, Carson and I took another day trip up to Seattle to work on the project. At this point in the project, I’m filling in “holes” in shot list; so the sites we visited were scattered across the city.Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t that great (a common theme for western Washington). It was overcast, but at least it wasn’t raining. Consequently, most my images (as you can see my the examples included here) avoided showing the sky, which would have turned out totally white/blown-out.
Many of the most photogenic sites in Seattle are along the Elliot Bay waterfront. However, Seattle sits between two bodies of water: Elliot Bay and Puget Sound on the west and Lake Washington on the east. I needed some coverage for Lake Washington, so our first stop was Seward Park. Seward Park covers the 300-acre (a21 hectares) Bailey Peninsula, which sticks out into the lake from the western shore like a sore thumb. As well as two miles (3.2 kilometers) of shoreline, the park has the largest remaining patch of old growth forest in the City. We took a short hike through the forest down to the lakeshore, where I took photos and Carson took a swim (both under the watchful eye of an immature bald eagle).
From there, we traveled to Gasworks Park. Gasworks is on the northern shore of Lake Union, north of the downtown area. It is on the grounds of a former manufactured gas plant, and much of the old machinery has been left in the park – some of which is painted with bright colors. The park also has a great view of the downtown area, but with the cloudy sky, I focused most my shots on the machinery to avoid the sky.
Our tour continued to one of the City’s quirkiest icons – the Fremont Troll. The troll, an 18-foot (5.5 meter) tall sculpture located underneath the northern end of the Aurora Street Bridge, looks like he has popped out the ground and grabbed a Volkswagen Beetle just as he was frozen into stone. By the way, the artists who created the Fremont Troll sculpture, and hold a copyright on it, are Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. I asked permission to use a copy of their work here, and they gave permission, but wish to state that they discourage commercial use without permission.
Following our stop at the Troll, we headed over to Discovery Park, but first made a quick stop at the Fishermen’s Terminal. I did take a few shots there, but since the docks were largely empty with most the fishing fleet out making a living, we didn’t stay long.
Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle and is dedicated to providing Seattle residents with an open space of quiet tranquility (according to the Seattle Park’s website). Therefore, though large, most of the park is only accessible by foot or bicycle. The one road through the park to the beach is open by permit only. We opted to not go to the beach, but instead wandered through the historic district – former home to the US Army’s Fort Lawton. The fort was largely built in the early 1900′s. Most of the buildings are gone, but a few remain in a large open field in the center of the park. We also visited the military cemetery, located away from the historic district, near the park’s east entrance.
That pretty much covered our Seattle trip. Hope you enjoy the images. Before closing though, I’d like to give a nod to Jennifer Wimsatt and her blog A Bipolar Journey Through the Rabbit Hole. Last month, Jennifer kindly nominated me for the Sunshine blogger award. Though as a rule I don’t perpetuate awards of this type, I truly appreciate her nomination and her very kind words about my photography. Jennifer’s blog is about her own special journey through life with bipolar mood disorder. She hasn’t blogged much recently, and I do hope to see her posting more in the future.
It’s been a busy week, and I haven’t been able to post. Landscape photographer Guy Tal sent me an advance copy of his new ebook on black and white photography to review, and I’ve been busy reading it. Hopefully I’ll have the review posted soon. If you can’t wait to learn more, here’s a link to Guy’s blog about it. I’ve also been preparing a photobooth that I will be debuting at a street fair this weekend – more on that later as well.
So in the mean time, here’s just a quick shot that I took last month in Spokane, Washington (where I grew up) while working on an assignment for American Bungalow magazine. This was shot at twilight, after the sun had set – one of my favorite times to shoot. It’s a 30 second exposure, but luckily the couple by the river held still enough to be visible.