Posted by: kerryl29 | March 28, 2023

The Story Behind the Image: Heart of Nature

When I was in New England during the fall a few years ago, on the very first day I arrived in northwest Maine, I made a quick foray to Coos Canyon before the sun set that day. The canyon is right off the side of the road, a public wayside of sorts, where the Swift River flows. It’s not a very deep canyon and is easily accessible.

It had been a relatively dry summer and early fall in New England, so the river wasn’t particularly high. As a result, many of the rocky canyon’s potholes were exposed as such. It was still before peak color set in in northern New England, but enough early turning trees had dropped leaves that, along with pine needles from the considerable number of coniferous trees nearby, debris was collected in the water pockets, forming interesting intimate subjects.

I wandered around the rock slabs, on both sides of the Swift River, with no particular subject in mind; I was just looking for something that would catch my eye. And then I spotted the heart. One of the potholes was unmistakably formed in the shape of a heart, filled with water, colorful fallen leaves and the ubiquitous pine needles.

This visit was just weeks after the sudden passing of my friend Craig Steffen,; he was (and remains) frequently on my mind, and the very first thing that popped into my head when I saw the heart was the union of Craig and his wife. Whenever I view this image, that bittersweet memory is rekindled. There’s always a tiny bit of pain associated with this experience, but of one thing I am certain: it beats forgetting.

Coos Canyon Intimate, Oxford County, Maine
Posted by: kerryl29 | March 21, 2023

On the Road Again

Just a quick interim post with an administrative update.

As part of a process that has been underway since last summer, my wife and I are in the late stages of relocating from the Houston, Texas area to northern Delaware. I will not bore anyone with the details, which are novel-length and as interesting, broadly speaking, as watching dust accumulate on a flat surface.

If you’re thinking “didn’t you just move a few years ago?” the answer is yes. So what’s your point?

Once the physical relocation is complete, which should be the case by late April, I will be splitting my time more or less evenly between northeast Illinois and northern Delaware. At that point, things will return, presumably, to what passes for “normal” in this little corner of the world.

In the meantime, I will attempt to keep up with weekly blog posts, though things may be a bit more chaotic than is ordinarily the case here on the Lightscapes Nature Photography blog.

For now, I hope you enjoy the image below, which isn’t quite as random as it might seem, given its foreshadowing of the coming spring. ‘Til next time…

Redbud Serenade, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana
Posted by: kerryl29 | March 13, 2023

The Story Behind the Image: The Narrows

11 years ago this coming May, I spent roughly 10 days photographing in Utah and Nevada. My first destination was Zion National Park, a place I had previously visited 14 years earlier, on a two-week hiking trip in the national parks of southern Utah. (It was that 1998 trip, coincidentally, that served as the trigger for taking my photography to “the next level.” But I digress…)

It was on this trip that I finally satisfied a longstanding desire to hike (and photograph) part of the Virgin River Narrows. Shortly after that trip ended, I wrote a lengthy post covering the entirety of the hike experience, and if that sort of thing interests you, I direct you to that entry. As part of this–considerably more concise–piece, I will focus my attention on a tiny bit of the hike that preceded my first image making opportunity in the Narrows.

As discussed at some length in the post linked above, the time of year of any Narrows hike impacts the experience tremendously. I conducted my hike in early May, when water levels in the snow melt-fed Virgin River are at or very near their highest. At certain points in the Narrows, the water was so deep that swimming was required to traverse specific areas. I wasn’t impacted to that degree, but I was told before beginning that I should anticipate having to hike through waist-level water. This foreknowledge, frankly, had me a bit freaked out. I wasn’t concerned about the ability to drag my body through such water levels (I had a full wetsuit for the hike). My concern was about carrying my gear–including my tripod–in such conditions.

It was dawn when I hit the river–the very first person to start the hike from the jumping off point at the Riverside Walk that day–and due to the towering canyon walls that make the Narrows what they are, it was still quite dark when I set out.

I will now quote from the linked entry to set the scene:

The water was very shallow at the outset as I forded the river, walking carefully at first over a seemingly endless set of rocks.  As background, I’m extremely fit and naturally athletic.  It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be up to the hike physically, and I was correct about that; I had no problems.  I’ve done more than my share of photographing in and around shallow water and I’ve traipsed through water knee-deep or below countless times.  But this was something altogether new.  In the Narrows, I wasn’t hiking through water to get somewhere; the water itself was the “somewhere.”  Furthermore, footing was going to be a constant issue.  Most of the river walking was on rocks deposited on the river bottom.  The rocks were somewhat slippery and some of them aren’t well anchored.  I had a walking stick with me and it was a welcome companion, both for maintaining balance on occasion (though I didn’t employ it for that unless I was well above knee-level in water) and for probing the depths of the river.

So, at first, the water wasn’t much more than ankle deep. But that changed in a hurry.

Very early in the hike–I’d say maybe 1/8 of a mile from the start–I was walking in a section of river without the commonly rocky bottom. It was still pretty dark, but I was treading on a shallow, sandy bottom, with water at mid-calf level. I could see that I needed to cross to a shoal ahead of me on the other side of the river and I started to make the crossing. I took a step and the water level rose to knee-high. Another step and it was thigh-high. A third step and it was waist high. After the second step, the bottom of the river was no longer visible. I was still walking on sand, but it was falling away and rapidly and I had no idea how deep it would get. There was no one else in sight, so I couldn’t follow anyone’s example. I probed the river bottom with my walking stick and it was completely submerged. I took another half step and the water continued to rise, above waist level. I was smack in the middle of the river and by probing with my stick I couldn’t find any shallower area in any direction except to go back the way I came.

This was, to put it mildly, a bit of a pickle. I recall a thought briefly coursing through my mind as a I stood there in the middle of the river, momentarily paralyzed as the current swiftly swept past me, that I couldn’t risk my gear being soaked, and that the hike might be over right then and there, without my having made a single image. But I then had a revelation that allowed me to quickly reject such a notion.

Looking around, I noticed that–though I couldn’t see the bottom anywhere–the relatively shallow areas that I had already traversed were brownish in color (a function of the sandy mix). Deeper areas that I was looking at were green-tinged. I could see brownish-colored water on the other side of the river perhaps 15 or 20 feet ahead of me. I decided to take a chance that the water I’d have to walk through–already a few inches above waist-level on me–wouldn’t get any deeper as I approached the brownish area ahead. What choice did I really have, I reasoned, other than to turn back. So, standing on tiptoe to keep the water from lapping at the bottom of my backpack, I moved ahead…and sure enough, the water got no deeper and then got shallower. That turned out to be as deep as any water I’d encounter on the hike and on the couple of other occasions when I ran into something as deep, I could see the river bottom. In fact, when I returned through the same area well into the afternoon, sunlight was directly hitting the river and I could easily see the bottom, making crossing the river on the way back a snap.

Shortly after I cleared this figurative hurdle, having breathed a modest sigh of relief and feeling particularly encouraged that I had been able to proceed, I paused at a shoal on the right-hand side of the river and went though the time-consuming process of extracting my equipment to set up for my first photograph of the hike. It remains, to this day, one of the most satisfying images I’ve ever produced, given the angst involving in attaining the opportunity to make the photo.

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
Posted by: kerryl29 | March 6, 2023

A Portfolio this is Not

I recently received a communique from someone complimenting me on several photographs that I’d posted. It was a bit of a backhanded compliment, however, as this person went on to state some puzzlement over the sense that–I’m paraphrasing–not all of the photos that appear on this blog are of equivalent quality.

The Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Let’s set aside any discussion of the inherent subjectivity of “quality” when it comes to art. We’ve been down that road on this very blog a number of times previously. The truth is, I share the opinion that the quality of imagery that appears on this blog is uneven. This is particularly the case when I endeavor to chronicle photo expeditions. I am deliberately not limiting the imagery that I post to that which I consider my best work.

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunset, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

More than a decade ago, I laid out an image typology. Using the parlance of that post, there is a lot of Category 2 material that appears on this blog. In fact, the vast majority of the photographs that appear here fall into that category.

Virgin River Intimate black & white, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

Why is that? Why don’t I limit myself to posting portfolio-quality imagery?

There are two basic reasons. The first…[looks furtively in multiple directions]…I don’t have that much portfolio-quality imagery upon which to draw.


Little Cut, Coconino County, Arizona

Seriously–and, again, without getting into an ultimately pointless debate about what, exactly constitutes a portfolio-quality image–there’s simply a finite selection of truly top-notch images from which to choose. In short, if I limited myself to portfolio-quality imagery to accompany blog posts, I’d be recycling images with regularity and I’d have to dramatically limit the number of images accompanying each post.

Aspen Intimate, Dark Canyon Loop Trail, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

The second reason is, in my view, the more important: the primary purpose of this blog is not to showcase what I consider to be my best work. (If you want to see what I consider my best imagery, go here and here.) This blog’s principal purposes are 1) to relate an experience; or 2) to make a point. (Or occasionally both.) In my view, sometimes this is best accomplished by posting some of what I consider to be my best work; frequently it is accomplished with imagery of secondary and tertiary quality. Regardless, the imagery selected is intended to support the theme of the post. (On the very rare occasion when irony rears its implacable head, showcasing what I consider to be my best imagery is the theme being supported.)

So, yes, the image quality is uneven, purposefully and inevitably. A portfolio this blog is not.

Kekaha Beach at Dusk, Kauai, Hawaii
Posted by: kerryl29 | February 27, 2023

Smokies Spring: Day 1

I arrived in Gallinburg late in the afternoon, following a 600-odd-mile drive from the Chicago area that culminated in an interminable slog through Pigeon Forge. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the traffic in these two Tennessee towns can be, and frequently is, oppressive; it’s probably the best reason to avoid them if possible. This not being possible, I gritted my teeth and bore it. After checking into my lodgings, and coming to grips with the fact that it was a warn, breezy, blue sky day, I was still itching to do something with the camera, so I braved the Gatlinburg traffic and finally escaped the town.

It had become clear that the spring was a bit late to southeast Tennessee in 2022. As I arched around the Sugarlands Vistors Center in the northeast corner of the park and began to drive west on the Little River Road, I noted that most of the trees were in the early budding stages. That is unusual at this low(ish) altitude roughly 2/3 of the way into April. The forthcoming forecast was for unceasingly warn, sunny days and I figured that the budding/bloom situation would change quickly. I had no idea…

As I worked my way in the direction of the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, roughly halfway between Gatlinburg and Townsend, something in the river caught my eye. Having no particular agenda (other than to get out of the car after a very long day of driving), I turned into one of the many small turnoffs that abut the Little River Road and got out of the car to investigate. Dong so required descending the moderately steep river bank to the right of the road, for roughly 150 feet. As I was still attired in tennis shoes, rather than hiking boots, I had to be a tad bit more deliberate than otherwise would be the case, but in a few moments I found myself at the water’s edge.

What had drawn my attention from the car was a reflection in the river, and of course I had changed my perspective dramatically when I had meandered down to river level. Some reflection was still visible, but it wasn’t the mind-bending splash I had seen from higher up. (Obscuring tree trunks and shrubbery made it impossible to photograph what I had seen from the road.) Not particularly interested in getting back in the car, I decided to see if I could make anything of the scene in front of me. I was in the shade, it was pleasantly warm, and the breeze was greatly mitigated down in this pseudo-canyon. There was no one else around; the only audible noise was the sound of moving water. In short, I was incentivized to spend some time at this spot, so I took a very close look at my immediate surroundings for approximately 30 minutes.

What I was looking at was a scene that included trees (their trunks and exposed roots); rocks, both in and out of the water; tufts of wildflowers and greenery; and reflections of the other side of the river. And, of course, the water itself. I had one heck of a time trying compose this scene in a manner I found meaningful, but I had a lot of fun trying. After retreating back to the car for my gear, I must have looked at three dozen different comps, at least. I finally settled on a broad perspective, but found myself repeatedly adjusting my specific position, as I kept going back and forth regarding how close I should be to the group of blossoms nestled between the tree roots. I liked the idea of letting them dominate the foreground, but doing so badly unsettled the mid-ground and background of the frame.

Ultimately I settled on a mid-ground location for the flowers and finally produced the image you see below. (A larger rendition, with more easily visible details, can be viewed here.)

Little River Evening, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I eventually made a few other images at this location, which can be seen below.

Little River Reflections, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Reflections, and an accompanying color cast, from the deep blue sky dominated some locations, depending on my perspective, and I decided to lean into them rather than attempting to overcome them.

Little River Cascades, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I made one stop on the way back to Gatlinburg, as twilight began to take over. This was the last image of a very short day of photography.

Little River Aerial, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

It was a slow photographic start to the trip, admittedly and–spoiler alert–the next day wouldn’t be much more productive, if it was better at all.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 21, 2023

The Story Behind the Image: Home on the Range

2017 was probably the single busiest photography trip year I’ve ever had. I’ve been taking dedicated photo trips, in some form or fashion, for more than two decades now, and 2017 is the only year during which I took three trips to remote (relative to my Midwest base) locations. I decamped to southern Florida in February and California in May before heading to Colorado on a trip that began in late September and lapsed into early October.

The Florida and California trips involved plane rides, but I drove to southwest Colorado from Indianapolis–a trip of roughly 1500 miles, one-way. The main reason I drove out to Colorado was to avoid the substantial limitations that would have been placed on what I could take with me, had I chosen to fly. Given the amount of time I was gong to be on the ground in Colorado (two weeks) and expectations of dramatic variation in weather conditions, I wanted to bring far more with me than I’d be able to stuff into a suitcase, (This was partly informed by experience on the California trip a few months earlier.)

While the advantages stemming from having a vehicle to place all of the overflow gear paid off handsomely, the driving itself was grueling. In addition to the 3000-mile round trip, I probably put a comparable amount of miles on my (rental) vehicle while in Colorado. By the end of my time on the ground, after the Big Wind took down just about all of the remaining leaves, I was pretty well worn out, and still facing two long days of driving to get home.

Since the first day of that return trip began in Ouray, I had to clear the Rockies just to get to eastern Colorado. The day was to end in western Kansas, and the next day was to finish with me back in Indianapolis, after 850 more miles of (mostly) flat driving.

I was 400-odd miles into the drive that first day, having completely cleared the Rocky Mountains and was traveling north on nearly deserted U.S. Highway 24 through rural Elbert County in eastern Colorado. I was on my way to a junction with I-70, which would take me the final 1100 miles or so back to the Midwest.

It was late in the afternoon, the light was lovely, the sky was filled with wispy cirrus clouds and the scenery was pleasant enough. As I zipped along, I noticed open pastureland to my left. Then I spotted an old-style farm windmill…and then I saw a group of horses. An idea briefly popped into my head: should I stop and take a look a closer look? It was a thought that I rejected more or less immediately. I had been awake, at that point, for more than 12 hours. I had just gone through two weeks of extremely long days in the field, filled with countless hours of driving. I still had more than three hours of driving to do that evening, and another 14 hours on tap the next day. I had clicked the shutter thousands of times over the prior two weeks and would ultimately see fit to process more than 600 distinct compositions from the trip. I could afford to just let this go. I wasn’t even certain that there was a single decent image to be made at this spot. Relax. Let it go.

About a mile further down the road, I had reached a different conclusion. As I wrote when I chronicled this experience in an epilogue to the trip:

I got about a mile farther along the road and then asked myself–out loud–what are you doing? The light, the subject matter…if you’re not going to stop for a few minutes to photograph this, why are you bothering to photograph at all?

So, I turned around and headed back, found a spot where I could pull completely onto the shoulder of the road, and took a closer look…and was immediately glad that I had done so. Not so much because I thought I’d make any once-in-a-lifetime images as a result of my decision. I probably clicked the shutter a dozen times at this site, and processed about half of the frames. None of these are, in my view, among the best images I made on this particular trip, let alone ever. But my goal isn’t to produce an all-time great image every time I photograph or, frankly, any time I photograph.

Exactly what my goal is when photographing is something I’m still sorting out (and probably always will be), but at least part of the answer has to do with the notion of photographs as memory stimulants, and in that regard the below image serves aptly.

Home on the Range, Elbert County, Colorado
Posted by: kerryl29 | February 13, 2023

The Smokies in Springtime: The Back Story

Long-time readers of this blog may recall a chronicling of my experiences of time spent in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But we’re talking long-time readers only. Even though I’ve spent more time in the Smokies than any other location outside of my immediate home area(s) (excluding the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), prior to last spring, I hadn’t visited the region since 2013.

River’s Flow, Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

There were a variety of reasons why I was leaning in favor of a long-deferred return trip last year, but the most significant of those was the opportunity to, finally, meet and photograph with Nye Simmons. I had been communicating with Nye in a variety of forms–photography message board forums, email and phone calls–for approximately two decades, but we’d never met face-to-face. As a long-time admirer of Nye’s photography and a devotee of Nye’s photo guides to the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Parkway, I’d always regretted that we’d never been able to exchange direct pleasantries. But Nye had told me, a number of times, to let him know if I was ever able to make it back to the area. So when I first started considering making a spring trip–this would have been in late February of 2022–I sent Nye a note and he told me that he’d be around during the spring bloom and he’d be happy to spend some time with me in the field, if I’d like the company. That bit of news is what solidified my plans and, indeed, we met up a half-dozen times or so while I was on the ground in the area. It was a tremendous experience, and one I’ll relate in some detail, bit by bit, as I cover the trip.

White Trillium, Whiteoak Sink, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Home Base

I greatly prefer to stay in the small village of Townsend, Tennessee when I’m based in the Smokies. It’s a much quieter, less-populated base than better known tourist locations such as Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. But on this occasion, partly because of my relatively late decision to make the trip and partly because a Ford Bronco gathering had booked up every available room in Townsend, I found myself facing the prospect of staying in Gatlinburg. Much to my chagrin.

Foggy Sunrise, Oconaluftee Valley Overlook, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

If you haven’t been to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and you simply looked at a map, you’d undoubtedly wonder why it wouldn’t be my first choice. With a bullet. In terms of sheer proximity to many of the most interesting and photogenic locations in the park, Gatlinburg is the ideal spot. It’s the closest jumping off point for the Newfound Gap Road, which provides access to countless great photographic opportunities. It’s by far the closest spot to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It provides the closest access to Greenbrier, another excellent photo area. It’s the best location for the eastern end of the Little River Road. Townsend, by contrast, is closer only to Tremont and Cades Cove.

Little River Evening, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

But Gatlinburg is perhaps the quintessential tourist trap town in North America. (And if it isn’t, Pigeon Forge–just a few miles up the road–is.) Particularly on weekends (but weekdays are not exempt), tourists descend on Gatlinburg like plagues of locusts. This is not a snooty commentary on the amenities. Many of the attractions in Gatlinburg (and Pigeon Forge) are not my cup of tea, but that’s entirely beside the point. My problem with these locations is the traffic. During the height of the tourist hours–and in a place like this, that extends from mid-morning until well into the evening (particularly on weekends)–the entire town is a perpetual snarl of vehicles and pedestrians. There is no way to avoid this other than to avoid the town, either entirely or during the many hours of the day where the traffic resembles something like midtown Manhattan. This can be….inconvenient, to put it mildly. But, given the circumstances outlined above, it was Gatlinburg or forget the trip entirely. So, I braced myself and booked a place to stay and, given my familiarity with the drill, I made plans to avoid the worst the town had to offer. I was mostly successful in that regard.

Confluence, Kephart Prong, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina


I have said, many times in the past, that I think the Smokies may be the single best spot for nature photography in the United States east of the Mississippi River, due to the sheer variety of photographic options and opportunities the regions holds. (This is particularly true, in my opinion, for landscape photographers, but there is some excellent wildlife photography to he had as well.) Misty layered mountain;, the opportunity for epic sunrises and sunsets from a seemingly endless number of overlooks; rushing streams endowed with moss-filled rocks; waterfalls and cascades; carpets of wildflowers, flowering trees, magnificent new spring buds; character-filled rustic buildings; and more good reflection locations than I’ve seen anywhere else. What more could you ask for?

Dogwood Spring, Little River Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee


The only caveat to my above statement–and the answer to the rhetorical question at the end of the above paragraph–is one I would have tattooed on my body (if I were into tattoos): if the conditions are amenable. When the conditions are, in fact, good, the Smokies is a landscape photographic nirvana. What does the term “good conditions” entail when applied to the Smokies? Well, in springtime, it means a good bloom–wildflowers in general, but flowering trees (especially dogwoods) in particular. It also means a dearth of wind and minimal blue sky days. Good water flow in creeks, streams and rivers during springtime is a given.

Pastels, Newfound Gap Overlook, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

What does the ideal photography weather day in the Smokies look like? No wind, partly cloudy at sunrise (with valley fog), clouding up about an hour after sunrise, staying overcast all day until about an hour before sunset when it becomes partly cloudy again. Low clouds (producing the chimera of fog at higher elevations) is always welcome. Rinse and repeat. Give me a week of days like that and you’ll probably never hear from me again. But I’d settle for one or two days that even vaguely resemble the above description.

Black Bear, Whiteoak Sink, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

If you’re guessing that the conditions when I was in the Smokies last spring didn’t exactly resemble the platonic ideal…you would be correct. As I mentioned in an entry that I posted some weeks ago:

During the week or so that I was on the ground in the region, all but two days were filled, end-to-end, with blue skies, and even the two days that didn’t fit that description featured clear skies half the time. There was also a fair amount of wind. And, to top things off, due to a late-in-the-season hard freeze that covered two consecutive nights, the bloom was stunted. As I stated, less than ideal.

Mind Bender, Little River, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

But I made the best of the situation and I think I did just fine in the end. This is partly because I’ve photographed in the Smokies a number of times before and have learned a thing or two about how to make the proverbial lemonade out of lemons when there. It’s also because Nye was with me on several occasions and he’s turned the making-of-photographic-lemonade in the Smokies into a true art form. And it didn’t hurt, psychologically, that given my numerous previous excursions to the region, I wasn’t beset by the “woe is me, I may never have this opportunity again” syndrome that can rise up in once-in-a-lifetime scenarios.

Trail of Phlox, Whiteoak Sink, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

You’ve now seen a bit of what the trip yielded in the accompanying photos. The day-to-day chronicle will commence in the coming weeks…perhaps as soon as next week.

Morton Overlook at Sunset, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The image highlighted in this post was more than two years in the making. When I visited the southern Oregon Coast in early May, 2015, I carved out a few days to head a little bit farther south and spend a bit of time in the coastal redwood groves of far northern California. I was hoping I’d get lucky. The ideal time to catch the rhododendron bloom in these groves is roughly from mid-May to mid-June, with a reasonable best guess for peak opportunities the last week or so of May. I was about two weeks early, but I hoped I’d get lucky, and I scoured all four of the parks with redwood groves in northwest California.

I don’t play the visualization game all that often, truth be told, but this was an exception, because I had an image in my head of a redwood grove with a plethora of rhododendron bushes, immersed in coastal fog. I found none of it Well, that’s not entirely true. I found plenty of redwood groves. And, though I was too early for the best of the flowering shrubs, I managed to find a couple of spots in one of the parks with a semblance of blooming rhododendron. And when I say “a couple,” I mean that literally…as in two spots. Both were in the early stages of blooming and one was totally unphotographable; the other was nearly so, but I persevered and managed, with difficulty, to produce a frame that I was mostly pleased with. Fog, however, was nowhere to be found. And while the groves themselves were mesmerizing places to be, I found myself less than fully satisfied with the photographic experience.

Fast forward two years. On a trip to California in May, 2017 that was mostly about Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra, I shoehorned another visit to the northern California redwood groves into the itinerary. It was not convenient, as it took two days to drive to Crescent City, just south of the Oregon border, from Lee Vining. But that’s how badly I wanted another crack at those groves. I timed the redwood portion of the trip for the end of the two weeks I was on the ground in California; that would put me in Crescent City over the final week of May, two full weeks later than my visit in 2015. I was pretty confident that I’d get better rhododendron blooms and hopeful that I’d get more fog…or any fog.

I couldn’t help myself on the drive up to Crescent City and stopped at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. There hadn’t been a single rhododendron bloom in sight when I visited this park in 2015, but this time…bingo! It was mid-day and the light was awful so I didn’t bring my gear, but I hiked a trail I had traversed two years earlier (the aptly named “Rhododendron Trail”) and within minutes I spotted my first blooms. And as I moved along I saw more and more and became convinced that my timing for rhododendron was, if not necessarily perfect, pretty damn close.

Now I just needed some fog.

Fog on this part of the California coast, at least in spring, tends to be a morning phenomenon, but for the first four days of the (parts of) five that I was to be in the area, I saw none at all. I did, however, late on the afternoon of the fourth (and final full) day, inadvertently stumble across access to the best stand of rhododendron I’d ever seen. I referred to it as “the mother lode.”

With one more morning prior to a full-day drive back to the Bay Area in preparation for a flight home, I kept all of my fingers and toes crossed that I would finally be treated to morning fog, something I had been told was ubiquitous in that area at that time of the year.

I woke up the next morning long before daybreak and made the 15-odd minute drive to the mother lode location. It was dark, of course, but there was no evidence of fog visible…until I got to within about a mile of the Damnation Creek Trail parking area, and then I was enveloped. I changed plans on the spot and shot along the Damnation Creek and Coastal Trails first….and then I returned to the mother lode, where the fog was thicker than it had been anywhere else all morning. Without a breath of wind, the conditions were absolutely perfect and I photographed for at least two hours at the same spot I had visited the previous afternoon. The subject matter, technically, was the same, but everything looked completely different due to the fog–the great equalizer.

Many, many images were made that morning, and I can’t say that I have a specific favorite, but the one below is representative of the Mother Lode Experience.

Rhododendrons and Redwoods in Fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California
Posted by: kerryl29 | January 30, 2023

The Story Behind the Image: The Mountain

On my first trip to Alaska, on a day in the late summer of 2018, the better part of a day was spent on the Denali National Park bus, burrowing deep into the interior of the park. I was, shall we way, a bit outspoken about the bus experience, but it was the only actionable way to penetrate any distance into the park’s interior on a day pass. So, it was endured. And, ultimately, the process led to the desired result: the opportunity to view The Mountain from a relatively nearby vantage point.

I have described that day’s events in some detail previously on this blog, but the focus of this brief entry is on one particular image: a portrait of The Mountain that I converted to black and white because I thought it worked so well in monochrome.

The short story of the experience is that we took the Denali bus all the way to the Eielson Visitors Center, a one-way trip of roughly four hours. There we disembarked. The Mountain was not visible when we arrived but after 30 minutes or so the clouds seemed to be in the process of lifting. A decision had to be made about whether to get back on the bus and return back to the entrance or to wait at Eielson to see if The Mountain became visible and arrange to take another, later bus back to the disembarkation point. We chose the latter. It turned out to be a good call because, after another 30 minutes or so, The Mountain became partially and then fully visible and remained so for the the duration of our time at Eielson; we were on the ground there for several hours in all.

When the clouds parted sufficiently for the entire Mountain to become visible, I photographed the subject in countless ways, using every lens in my bag. That included my telephoto lens, by which The Mountain itself, its foothills and the low-hanging clouds that continued to fill its valleys, could be isolated in complementary layers. Since little color, apart from the sky, was visible, a black and white conversion seemed like an obvious choice. And the final version, which highlighted these layers and showed off the freshly deposited snow blowing off the peaks, epitomized Denali for me.

The final product is below.

The Mountain Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska
Posted by: kerryl29 | January 23, 2023

The Story Behind the Image: Opabin Plateau

The Opabin Plateau, located above Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, may be the most enchanting place I’ve ever visited, and I will always be grateful to Royce Howland for making me aware of the location, 10-odd years ago.

I have discussed my experiences around Lake O’Hara–which serves as the jumping-off point for exploration of the Opabin Plateau, and is a worthy photo destination in its own right–many times previously on this blog. My first trip to the area was among the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had on a photo trip, due to the atrocious weather. But despite dealing with non-stop rain, I could see that the beauty of the place was absolutely transcendent. That experience lead to my return to the Canadian Rockies the following year and three more visits to the Lake O’Hara area, two of which included far nicer weather and immeasurably better explorations.

One of the locations I stumbled across during the rain-soaked first visit was the Hungabee Lake outlet stream, complete with its own small waterfall. It was extremely difficult to photograph that day, given the elements, so I was quite limited in terms of the number of times I took the camera out of the bag. But one of the roughly 10 occasions when I did so was at the outlet stream.

When I returned to the Opabin Plateau the following year, the outlet stream scene was one of a small number of locations I specifically sought out. (Most of the photographs I made while on the Opabin Plateau during that second trip were of scenes I discovered while on the ground. The conditions were so dramatically different that the photographic opportunities were altered just as drastically.)

On this partly cloudy, rather warm and nearly windless day, I was able to take my time and tease out a composition I really liked without any concern about my equipment becoming drenched. With the plateau’s many larches in their resplendent golden dress, the outlet stream itself gushing nicely, Hungabee Mountain covered with a fresh dusting of snow and copious puffy clouds in the sky, the table was set. All I had to do was deliver the meal.

Hungabee Lake Outlet Stream, Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

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