Sunset at Grand Prismatic Spring

Yellowstone Hot Spring at Sunset

The N. American Nature Photographer’s Assn. (NANPA) chose Sunset at Grand Prismatic Spring as one of the top 100 nature photographs of 2016. Tom Horton’s photo from Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park‘s Midway Geyser Basin picks up orange and purple sky reflections on sinuous travertine terraces, framed by a forested horizon. This very popular tourist spot is totally vacant by sunset, and like many Yellowstone locations, it completely changes character in the twilight. Anybody could make this photo, but nobody is there. This location is also a great lesson in observation. Surround by immense beauty on a grand scale, don’t forget to look down at your feet. About the time when the spring itself is too dark to see, the terraces at the margins come alive.

Grand Prismatic Spring is huge, gloriously colorful, and very hard to see from ground level. Rising steam often obscures it when you are very close. Realizing this, many visitors have improvised a solution by using a nearby hiking trail head to scramble up short and tall hills on the south to look down on the spring from above. Great idea, except that the accumulated passage of thousand of boots has scarred and eroded the hills far beyond the preservation idea behind national parks. I am told that the National Park Service intends to build permanent trails and rehabilitate the terrain, and I hope this is true — it is badly needed. (pricing schedule A)

Fire and Rain: the Forest in Ashes

Forest in Ashes #1

We are trying very hard to understand and appreciate fire in the forest. Nature’s life cycles are wise beyond human intellect, according to human intellect. Emotion rules, however, and the burned forest always seems a mistake, a loss, an epic tragedy. After the smoke clears, the embers die, and the rain settles the dust, there is nothing but black and gray. We fear that as the forest succumbs, so our lives will play out into ash, and of course that is our unavoidable destination.

Forest in Ash #2
Forest in Ash #2
Forest in Ash #3
Forest in Ash #3
Forest in Ash #4
Forest in Ash #4
Forest in Ash #5
Forest in Ash #5

Like nature’s version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” fire ends with rain. Water from the sky calms the conflagration and lays the destruction bare, and we see the forest for the first time. So much better, with the logs down and the vegetation missing, to finally know what has gone missing. Even with new shoots ready to begin the cycle again, the forest will not rise to its former majesty in our lifetime. A new generation will know the forest again, love it again, and lose it again.

Forest in Ash #6
Forest in Ash #6
Forest in Ash #7
Forest in Ash #7

(Photography near Lizard Point,  Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, September 2016.)

Grand Teton After the Storm

Grand Teton After the Storm

It took two nights sleeping in the back of the car in the parking lot on top of Signal Mountain to get this shot. I hope you like it. Two nights, because the first morning the dawn was still socked in by rain and the Grand Teton peaks couldn’t even be seen. By the second night the storm had faded out and dawn that morning was perfect. Morning mists were rising from the valley floor just as the sun caught the high peaks. It takes perfect timing and a healthy measure of luck to get this kind of shot, and if you spend the night too far away from the perfect spot, the probability of success can be discouraging.

Of course, this is a national park and camping outside of a campground is against the rules. Technically, I could get in trouble, but in many, many nights sleeping in the car that has never happened. I’m pretty sure that the park rangers have better things to do at midnight than roust out persistent photographers — like getting some sleep of their own. Believe me, I would much rather be nestled in a nice campground on a soft mattress in a comfy tent. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and never fun sleeping in the car. “You call this camping? No way.” And that’s how I rationalize this wanton, rebellious act. (Price Schedule B)

Professional Panorama – Second Place

After the Storm, West Yellowstone

Great News! My panoramic landscape photograph, “After the Storm, West Yellowstone” has been awarded second place in the Professional Panorama category at the Utah State Fair, 2016.

I am the kind of photographer who meticulously plans and stalks my shots, as if I actually have control of anything. It’s a comforting illusion, easily punctured by chance. This shot comes from a ecology outing with fifteen students in which I had no photo plans at all. Hunkered down in camp near West Yellowstone, Montana, during a crashing thunderstorm, it broke up at sunset and I walked over the hill and captured this spread. That simple. How excellent to be reminded so beautifully that my fastidious planning should not be taken so seriously.

I shot this scene several different ways, but opted for this panorama constructed of nine separate frames: three horizontal frames digitally stitched with Panorama Maker 6.0 software; each of the three itself composed of three HDR exposures at 1 EV intervals, assembled with Photomatix Pro 4.2.

Once There Were Farmers

Farm Wagon Capitol Reef

This long-abandoned farm wagon sits in a most unlikely place — along a creek bottom in the once-remote desert wilderness of what is now Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. This oasis is in a forbidding landscape that was one of the last districts of the American west to be explored and settled. Pioneer Farmers in this valley date from 1908, a good 40 years after the last of its wagon cousins carried pioneer all the way across the continent. It sounds sentimental, but standing in this spot, photographing this relic, does carry you back in time for a moment.

Many US national parks are based on pristine wilderness….but not all. Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is a good example of the latter. Pioneer farms dotted the habitable places long before anyone ever thought of setting the area aside as a national park. Here, visitors can be surprised a bit as the park incorporates an entire small community — the village of Fruita, where canyon-bottom orchards are still harvested for sweet fruit, and the summer hay is taken in to feed livestock. In virtually all national parks with pre-existing habitations, they have been incorporated into the park history, and operated consistent with the national parks’ historical mission. (Pricing Schedule E)

Gifford Barn, Capitol Reef

Many US national parks are based on pristine wilderness….but not all. Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is a good example of the latter. Pioneer farms dotted the habitable places long before anyone ever thought of setting aside the area as a national park. Here, visitors can be surprised a bit as the park incorporates an entire small community — the village of Fruita, where canyon-bottom orchards are still harvested for sweet fruit, and the summer hay is taken in to feed livestock. In virtually all national parks with pre-existing habitations, they have been incorporated into the park history, and operated consistent with the national parks’ historical mission.

The Gifford Barn and the nearby homestead at Capitol Reef fits like a charm. Its third occupant family since it’s construction in 1908 sold it to the park in 1969, but it continues to host visitors and livestock. It is easy to imagine what must have been an idyllic existence working the land in the shadow of isolated, spectacular cliffs and skies. Photographing the Gifford Barn has the same effect — kind of slow, relaxing, and homey. My intention is that the photograph conveys the same feeling. (Pricing Schedule E)

Cathedral Group Moon

Cathedral Group Moon

We are not used to seeing a full moon in a daytime sky and so, on first seeing this photograph, some people believe it is a composite image and couldn’t really exist. “Nice job with Photoshop.” is what I’m accustomed to hearing. It is real, however, and not all that uncommon. The morning after a full moon, it is still above the horizon for about an hour after sunrise, depending on the season. To create this picture of the “Cathedral Group” of peaks in Grand Teton National Park, I positioned myself to catch the setting full moon as it edged into the gold alpenglow of the Grand Teton summit at sunrise. Scattered cloud on the eastern horizon behind me provided a mottled effect to the lighting.

A nice stroke of luck to be in the right place at the right time, yes? Not exactly. I have a phone app which will show the time and direction of the setting and rising moon and sun from any point on earth, any day, past or future. Sure, you will suffer for your art — but I don’t want to get out of bed any earlier than I have to. (Pricing Schedule B)

After the Storm, West Yellowstone

After the Storm, West Yellowstone

I am the kind of photographer who meticulously plans and stalks my shots, as if I actually have control of anything. It’s a comforting illusion, easily punctured by chance. This shot comes from a ecology outing with fifteen students in which I had no photo plans at all. Hunkered down in camp near West Yellowstone, Montana, during a crashing thunderstorm, it broke up at sunset and I walked over the hill and captured this spread. That simple. How excellent to be reminded so beautifully that my fastidious planning should not be taken so seriously.

I shot this scene several different ways, but opted for this panorama constructed of nine separate frames: three horizontal frames digitally stitched with Panorama Maker 6.0 software; each of the three itself composed of three HDR exposures at 1 EV intervals, assembled with Photomatix Pro 4.2. (Price Schedule C)

Redwood Highway

Personally, when I am after scenes of natural beauty, I just hate to have to put a man-made object in the frame. But thankfully, the beauty usually wins out and I take the shot anyway, as with the little strip of highway in this scene. “Redwood Highway” is the name of US Highway 1 in northern California, as it snakes its way through these unbelievable groves, making the title of this photo a bit of a pun. (Price Schedule F)

Huangshan West Sea, China

Huangshan West Sea, China

We all see them, the old Chinese scroll paintings depicting soaring, foggy, peaks with ancient pines, waterfalls dropping into mountain lakes, and we know it is the exaggerated fantasy allowed in art. But it’s not — it is real, and China’s Yellow Mountain, Huangshan, is the source of much of it. It is China’s most popular national park, and to visit is to know the country’s culture in a new way. For one thing, China’s engineers know how to build scary-but-safe trails on the faces of huge cliffs, and dare you to walk on them.

The overnight visitor learns that every pinnacle, crevice, cliff and promontory has its own weather. The wind and cloud that careens through the mountains interacts with every feature differently. Thus, when I went out early one morning into the storm covering the dramatic Huangshan gorge known as the West Sea, I knew not to give up. As I hiked along a narrow ledge, conditions got lighter but not better, and I began to think about turning back to a warm cup of tea. But Huangshan had other plans. I rounded a bend at a canyon overlook and the clouds swirled in the wind, allowing brief glimpses of one of China’s most fantastic landscapes. (Price Schedule B)

Sunset on Špik, Julian Alps

Sunset on Spik, Julian Alps

It’s no surprise they’re called the Julian Alps — Julius Caesar had a summer estate here. And what a place to unwind after a smashing the Huns or dominating debate in the forum! The dramatic natural beauty blending into serene countryside is certainly a place this 21st century photographer could linger forever. Even the Slovenian people are friendly and accessible in a utopian kind of way.

Špik is not the highest peak in the range, but it is easily one of the most dramatic, especially when sunset and a lifting storm wrap it in mystic clouds and light. It looks over a valley used since ancient times as easy route between Italy, Austria and the Balkans. Not only has it witnessed the passage of endless figures of history before and after Caesar — but they have, in turn, witnessed Špik. (Pricing Schedule D)

Mt. Moran From Schwabacher Landing

You have probably seen dozens of swooning landscapes from Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park. Heaven knows I’ve taken my share, but this is the one you have never seen before.

Schwabacher Landing is at the end of a dirt road where the Snake River sends little side channels through the woods and creates terrific reflections of the centerpiece peaks of the Tetons, the Cathedral Group. Photographers can position themselves for the classic reflection shot and not even have to unplug their heated coffee mugs from the SUV. But if you don’t like to follow the crowd, and I don’t, you start walking upstream, alone, looking out for bears (if you’ve forgotten your bear spray, don’t even think about it), until you come across this secret little pond. There, you point your camera north, to a different mountain. This is my reward. And now it’s yours. (Price Schedule A)

Teton Pine Marten

I happened upon this busy member of the weasel family on a trail near Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National park. It was around dawn and he seemed to be finishing up a night of hunting, looking for one more snack. Martens scour the forest for rodents, birds, eggs, snakes, anything — it’s all fair game. This Pine Marten was oblivious to me and led me on a crazy route up and down trees, in and out of hollow logs, even digging through layers of pine needles looking for a juicy insect. His high-energy quest wore me out in no time, but fortunately I came away with a good shot. Pine Martens are cute, of course, and a smaller close relative, the ferret, is widely kept as a pet. (Pricing Schedule F)

Redwood Lagoon

Pond on Redwood Creek, California

Where the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean in northern California’s Redwood country, a small lagoon reflects the story of these great trees. This little assemblage of grass and lilies is just yards from the shore.

The fog lifting from the far hills is vital to the redwood forest, cooling their great hulks and bringing water to their upper stories. We think of Redwoods as growing right down to the water’s edge, but that is rare; they prefer hills and streambeds a bit inland. The foreground trees are not redwoods but Douglas Fir, which doesn’t mind the salt spray, and, with half a chance, will grow just about anywhere. (Pricing Schedule D)

Lower Falls Sunset, Yellowstone

Here we are in one of the most extraordinary setting in the natural world — Artist Point at Yellowstone National Park — and…where is everybody? Well, two hours ago, people were stacked three deep admiring the usual view of the Yellowstone River Lower Falls, but I didn’t even have my camera out of the bag. However, I knew what was coming, so while everyone retired to their dinner and other distractions, I could photograph – absolutely alone – a pretty okay sunset in an immensely okay setting.

This was not an easy photograph to make – the brightness of the sky and the darkness of the canyon are very hard to reconcile. I’m still not sure I have it right. I’ll probably try this shot a few more times over coming years. But one thing will remain true – I will never have to fight the crowds. (Pricing Schedule D)

Grand Canyon, Yellowstone

Afternoon light filtered through clouds brings out the arresting colors and textures of America’s “second Grand Canyon,” the cleft in Yellowstone National Park left by the Yellowstone River. Not nearly as deep as the first Grand Canyon, it is nevertheless magnificent for its red and yellow volcanic slopes dropping directly to the raging green river below. It is the yellow sulfurous rock of this canyon that inspired the name of America’s first national park.

Nearly four million people visit Yellowstone in a typical year, and virtually all of them stand at this spot, Artist Point. They are looking in a different direction, however, and often miss this view. A 180-degree pivot away is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, so mesmerizing that everyone forgets to turn around. (Pricing Schedule D)

Redwood Sunbeam

Redwood Sunbeams, California

I don’t know what it is with forests and me. Their dark depths and disquieting mystery always thrill me, but I find the feeling so difficult to capture in a photograph. Redwood forests of the California coast are the most thrilling, and the most frustrating. I have spent hour after hour stalking their trails and come back with very little. Sun, fog, dawn, dusk, I’ve done it all. And I’ll do it again. But occasionally, something clicks. This scene is from a misty morning at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park. (Pricing Schedule C)

North Rim Panorama

Most people would tell you there is only one Grand Canyon. In reality, there are two; the South Rim, which everybody visits, and the North Rim, which sees much less attention. And the two places are quite different. The north is a completely different environment – high, colder, wetter, and more forested. The photography is different, too. In the north, morning light brings out the amazing textures structure, while evening light works best in the south. “Wotan’s Throne” is the striking feature highlighted here by the sunrise. (Price Schedule F)

North Face, Grand Teton

It is useless to try and out-do all the endless superlatives that have been written about the Teton Range, the centerpiece of Grand Teton National Park. For me, their attraction is their yin-yang balance between abrupt, in-your-face brashness and gentle harmony with land and sky. You can watch them a lifetime and they are never the same twice.

Here, I was trying for a nice sunrise alpenglow kind of shot, but the clouds and wind washed it out. But, knowing that patience is a virtue with this subject, I waited for the clouds to break up and allow beams of sun to wash over the snow and rocks. Magic! (Pricing Schedule E)

Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon

If you visit Bryce Canyon National Park and neglect to descend from the canyon rim into the disorienting world of the “hoodoos,” you have shortchanged yourself. Hiking the trails finds you alternately in deep shade and bright sun. Redrock towers swirl and lean and spin around you. Pine trees and shrubs fight to capture a bit of light. Nothing is level. You massage your neck, stiff from constantly looking upward. It is something similar to seasickness you feel.

Capturing such a feeling in an image is very difficult. My initial impulse was to correct all the spatial craziness, but I eventually saw the impossibility of this. The answer is to go with it — lean into the distortion. So I hauled out my ultra-wide angle lens, the one that tilts everything it sees, and sought out the most convoluted scenes I could find. This image gets it about right — the feeling of being deep inside the guts of Bryce Canyon. (Price Schedule F)