Witness Tree

They call them Witness Trees - they are trees that were present at the Battle of Gettysburg.  They are the last living survivors of those brutal three days in July of 1863.  While the people have long since gone, about 150 trees that were alive during the battle, remain alive and in place today.  If you stand and run your hands over the rough bark, it's quite possible soldiers from the battle 150 years ago did the same thing.  If the trees could talk, what would they tell us about what happened here?  Is it possible they remember what happened here?  

The tree above is a stately old oak located above Devil's Den - scene of some of the worst fighting in the battle.  Today, it watches the sun rise above Little Round Top and warm the rocks of Devil's Den, before setting over the distant ridge of South Mountain.  Today, it's like any other tree in any other field.  But it is definitely not like any other tree.  

I've had this idea for awhile - I thought of creating beautiful landscape images in fields that have seen battle - beauty where there was horror.  I thought I would start with the Civil War battlefields and start with Gettysburg since it is only about two hours from where I live.  It may become a long term project - or it may fade away.  But I think this is a good start.

Summer Fog

It's a Saturday morning in early summer. It's humid, very cloudy, and we've had several downpours by 9:30am.  A check of the forecast shows the rain is over but it will stay very cloudy, damp and humid all day. Do you stay inside or go outside?  Outside of course - there is no such thing as an "inside day" on a weekend in June!  Seriously, get a rain jacket on and go outside and do something different!

One of my favorite places to go on a cloudy, misty day in the summer is the forest. It just looks and feels totally different than on a sunny day.  On this misty summer Saturday, I decided to hike and photograph at Hawk Mountain. 

I spent four hours wandering the ridge top trails.  I hiked in similar foggy damp conditions one winter day and wrote about it here.  And while there were some similarities, the differences couldn't have been more dramatic. 

Everything was a dark saturated green. The fog was bright and changing, moving among the trees, ferns, and rocks. The mountain laurel were near the end of their blooming, but still a dramatic white and pink among the dark green leaves and pale mist. The tree trunks were varying shades of black and gray depending on distance. The occasional breeze brought the sound (and wetness) of rainwater falling from leaves overhead. It looked prehistoric. I imagined this is what the land looked like hundreds of thousands of years ago. I even think the one tree trunk rising in the right half background of the photo above could easily be the long neck of a Brontosaurus as it looked up from munching some grass!

There were only a few people on the trail with me that day.  Many more should have put on their rain jacket and hiking shoes and gone out there. They would have been well rewarded. 

Other Hawk Mountain images are on the Hawk Mountain Gallery page.  At the bottom is a grouping of the best four photos from this foggy Saturday morning.  

Transitions

The forecast called for rain and cold - not surprising for a Spring filled with rollercoaster weather patterns - 80's one day and 50's the next.  We had planned the spring weekend in Ocean City for a couple months but with this weather forecast I gently suggested we not go.  Marilyn's answer was pragmatic and strong - we spent the money on the hotel and we're going!  So of course we went.  And of course Marilyn was right and the weather forecasters were wrong.  The rain blew out early Friday evening and left incredible skies and decent weather for much of the weekend.

On a single weekend I was treated to rapidly changing skies and light that only happens during transitions.  We were in the transition between the storm system and calm weather - with the struggle going back and forth multiple times over the two days.  On the marsh it would be sunny while over the ocean the storm clouds were racing up the coast.  I was on the beach just after sunrise photographing under a cloudless sky and a few hours later freezing in the wind and drizzle.  

It got me thinking about transitions.  The best light and photographs are during transitions... the early morning transition when night becomes day or the golden hour transition when day becomes night, the transition where land abruptly meets water, the transition between winter and spring when the leaves are just barely covering trees, the rolling foothills where the flat land transitions into mighty mountains.  Transitions create adventure and interest.  Maybe not just for photography but for life too.  We should seek the transitions!  

In retrospect, it was a perfect weekend - just like I knew it would be!

Seeing Trees

Trees are so plentiful that it's easy to miss them. The forest and the trees virtually disappear into the background - like a stage set that serves no purpose. But this is only because we take them for granted - trees are everywhere, they become commonplace, they'll always be here.

But what if you take the time to look closely and really see trees. See them in different seasons, different light, different weather conditions, different stages of their lives. In the summer the leaves hide the true nature of the tree.  In the winter, the lines and patterns made by leafless branches with directional sunlight is like a charcoal sketch made by nature itself.

Of course to really see trees, we need do the hardest things of all - we need to slow down, walk, stare, stop and think. And if we do, the trees will come to the foreground and we will see them.

 

FOLIO PROJECT

For anyone who has followed my photography, you'll know that trees are a recurring subject for me.  So I created a small black & white folio project called "Seeing Trees".  

Click on the link...  Folio - Seeing Trees to view them.  Enjoy!

The Sycamore on Mill Road

Less than a second... that's the amount of time the shutter was open to record the light and make this photograph.  But in many ways, this photo has been a couple years in the making.  This grand sycamore tree is on my normal bike training loop.  I have ridden past it hundreds of times.  In the spring, summer, and fall it is like a thousand other trees I pass.  But in winter, something different happens.  Without the leaves, the white bark catches the low angle morning sun and the twisted branches pop out against the dark background.  I notice it every time I ride by and I think about the best time to photograph it.

I'd like to say this was all planned.  But as is often the case, there was some luck involved.  When I set out to photograph the tree this past weekend, there was still snow on the ground from winter's revenge - a mid March snowstorm after a warm February!  The sunlight reflecting off the snow also lit up the branches from underneath - giving them an extra pop of light.  To me, it looks like the tree is glowing as it enjoys a solo performance in the sun.

Hopefully next month's post will feature a beautiful warm spring image!  In the meantime, pay attention when you are outside - this is the time of year when things change almost daily!

Winter Trees

I like winter trees.  I definitely prefer the warmth of summer over the cold of winter.  And nothing is better than being outside on a warm spring or summer day.  But for me, trees have much more character to them in the winter.  They are more unique, more individual.

I pass by this field often since it's within a five minute drive of where I live.  I see it in all seasons, at all times of day, in all kinds of weather.  And every time I drive by, coming up the hill, this group of five grabs my attention.  But it was a winter day, as the sky was clearing, that the trees spoke most clearly.  

I don't know what kind of trees they are.  I'm sure they are five completely different kinds of trees.  And in other times of the year it's easy to see that one is no longer living.  But on this winter day, the five came together, alive, and communicated a welcoming message to anyone who was there to listen.

 

Trees, Silver in Light

I had a couple hours free on a recent sunny winter morning.  And because I only had a couple hours, I took my camera and once again went out to visit the Unami Creek - my favorite local wandering place.  I picked a new spot to enter the creek area and started walking along the banks - enjoying the sun, the quiet, and the crisp still air.  Just ahead, the creek rounded a bend and I stopped - I was fascinated by the tracery of the branches and how they caught the sunlight - looking silver rather than the normal color of branches.  As I looked even closer, I was struck by how the trees appeared to be reaching out across the creek.  And with the sun lighting up the grass, I knew it would be a strong photograph.  It captured the feeling I had on that sunny winter morning on the creek perfectly well.


Favorites of 2016

I have seen this on many websItes so it is not an original idea by any stretch.  But I thought it would be fun to choose my favorite 20 photographs from 2016 and put them in one place.  Many of them you have already seen, but several haven't been shown before - including my absolute favorite sunset photo ever.  

The photo at right was taken in the field behind my sister-in-law's home in October.  I happened to have my small camera with me in the car - just in case.  I was outside and saw this beautiful sunset forming but I resisted the urge to grab the camera - how many more sunset photos do I need?  A few minutes later it became too much to resist and I grabbed the camera and ran into the field and spent 45 minutes photographing the sunset that evening.  Glad I did.  See my favorite images of 2016 here!

Winter Light

On my favorite days in winter, the light is soft and very different than the light at other times of the year. Unlike the harsh sunlight of summer, the winter light is often softer and more yellow.  If you notice on those days, you'll see that the winter sun is veiled by thin, white, high clouds. It's what gives the soft light of winter its distinctive look and feel.  And with no leaves on the trees, the shadows are more open - you can see right into them - unlike when they go deep black in the summer. The winter sun is almost always at a low angle in the sky giving that yellow, glare of light that illuminates everything more evenly than the harsh summer sun. 

On one of those winter days, a late December Friday before Christmas, it was time for my third annual December Hawk Mountain hike. It was 45 degrees and calm - with the soft winter sun shining and providing warmth against the cool air. It was perfect winter weather for a hike. And while I didn't cover a lot of ground, I saw much. There was a little snow and ice on the trails left over from the dusting the week before. 

The image above caught my eye because one rock was lit by the soft yellow winter sunlight while the others were colored by the cool blue open shadows cast by larger rocks. The day started off sunny but the clouds were moving in quickly and the blue patch of sky completed the image for me. An hour later and the Mountain was under the dull light of a cloudy sky.  It was time to pack up and head back down the mountain and look forward to another trip sometime soon. 

Olympic NP Gallery

It has taken me a long time to work through the final set of photographs from Olympic, but I have finally finished.  You may remember I took this trip back in July with my friend Rich.  Five months later, as I look at the photos on this website and the ones hanging on our walls at home - I am still amazed by what we saw.  It is truly one of the best parks I have been to.

Olympic National Park is located in Washington and it is like three parks in one.  You can stand on top of 7,000 foot mountains with awe-inspiring 360 degree views that look like the Alps, walk among giant moss covered trees in a temperate rain forest, or walk along rocky beaches with off-shore sea stacks.  And, you can do it all in one day!  

The park is defined by the atmosphere and the weather.  Due to its location on the west coast and the size of the mountains, rain and clouds and fog play an important role.  You can start your trip into the park at the base of the mountains in full cloud cover, convinced you won't see anything.  But just before the road ends, you emerge above the clouds into the most amazing light as the sun rises.  Or, if you are very lucky, you can see the full moon setting over snow covered mountains right before the sun rises as in the photo above.  And for extra measure, you can go from completely clear to completely fogged in, and back again in minutes.  Mist rises up and suddenly surrounds you, rainstorms with thunder and lightening descend upon the valley, and clouds come and go quickly.  Olympic is easily one of my favorite places.

Here is a link to the full Olympic NP Gallery on my website.

 


FOLIOS

I have started creating folios as a way to preserve my best photographs. Folios are a cross between a book and a portfolio. Like a book, folios contain several pages, several images — and even text or text signatures. Unlike a book, they are not bound, but rather are individual sheets and images. Each sheet, each image, can be handheld and viewed as a single print.  Yet the collection of images in every folio is built around a central theme. 

Each folio is a collection of about thirteen fine art archival prints on 8.5 x 11 paper.  All prints are contained in a hand-crafted linen paper enclosure with an image title shown on the front.  The prints can be kept in the folio or they can be framed individually.  The folio concept was originally introduced by Brooks Jensen of LensWork and has been used to present a set of related fine art prints intended for handheld viewing.

Here is a link to the Folio Page on my website.  And here is a link to a black & white folio of Olympic National Park.

Twenty Three Minutes

We think of the landscape as something that doesn't change.  Or if it does, it changes over long periods of time.  The sky is a different story.  I think we all know and see the sky changing.  But still, we notice it's changes over longer periods of times - like hours - and mostly when something big is happening, like a storm front blowing in or clearing out.  On a normal late October sunny day, the sky will change for sure.  But how fast does it change?  And how much change could there possibly be in twenty three minutes?

Read the entire story and see additional images here at Twenty Three Minutes.

Harvest!

Wine Country

Marilyn and I just came back from a nice time in California celebrating a slightly late 30th anniversary.  We started in Santa Barbara, then drove up the coast through Big Sur to San Francisco, and finished in wine country at the tail end of Harvest.  The photo above is one of a small number of grapes that have escaped the annual Harvest.  It was really interesting how the entire Napa and Sonoma valleys were alive with excitement over harvest.  Here at home many different crops are grown and they all mature at different times.  But in Napa there is only one crop - grapes and wine - and September/October marks the time of harvest!

We learned a lot about the surprising number of variables and impact the land and weather have on the grapes they grow and the wine we drink.  The vines are planted all over the place - on the flat valley floor, on hills, and up the slopes of the mountains.  They abruptly stop in some areas, only to start again a small distance later where the volcanic soil creates perfect conditions.  We learned how different grapes thrive in the northern Napa Valley where it is about 10 degrees warmer than the southern valley due to fog from the nearby San Pablo Bay.  Slope of land, amount of sun, amount of fog, drainage of soil, angle of sun, what's planted between rows of vines - all of these things affect the quality of the grapes and wine.

The rolling hills, the mountains forming the Valley, the autumn colors from the grapevines planted row after row, and late the summer flowers all make this an exciting area to photograph too.  The only problem, is it is hard to get up for sunrise and good photographic light when you are enjoying wine and great food all day long!

 

The California Coast

Of the eight days we spent in California, we had beautiful sunny days with cool air and warm sunshine for seven of them.  The only day it rained was the day we set aside to drive up the scenic Big Sur coast from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.  Of course I whined a little about the weather - Marilyn will claim I whined the entire way!  In fact, we almost didn't go.  The forecast called for a flash flood warning in the Big Sur area below where a forest fire burned this summer and they warned of landslides.  But we decided to go and while it was not the beautiful sunny day I had hoped for, we did get a hint of how magnificent this area of coast must be.  

We made our way up the California Coast on a ten hour scenic drive up Pacific Coast Highway 1 (did I mention it was cloudy, rainy and foggy!).  We drove through the home of Split Pea Soup (Buellton CA), through the garlic capital of the world (Gilroy CA) and we added a little gas to the tank at the mere cost of $6.59 per gallon in the middle of nowhere.  When the road climbed up mountains on the coast - we could see almost nothing.  When the road dipped down to sea level, we got a hint of how great a sunny day would have been!  And just at the tail end, there was a small break in the clouds where we actually saw some late day golden sunlight.  The two photos below give you an idea of the better conditions we had during our drive.  It was still fun, and now we have another reason to go back.  After the drive up the coast, we spent two nights and a day in San Francisco before heading to Napa.

 

Santa Barbara

Our California trip started in Santa Barbara - an area Marilyn has always liked.  It's sometimes called the Riviera of the United States - with it's great weather, palm trees, oceanfront location and hillside background.  We met up with an old college friend who was in our wedding, but whom we hadn't seen in 25+ years.   We had two great dinners with him and his wife and caught up on 25 years of life!  The conversations and dinners were fun - it felt like that 25 year gap had disappeared.  The two photos below are from the Santa Barbara Harbor.  The Harbor holds sailboats and yachts but there is also a working section.  The mix of boats and activities is very interesting.

Our friend and his wife own a small Inn in Santa Barbara called the Casa Del Mar Inn.  If anyone is looking for a great place to spend some time, we definitely recommend Santa Barbara and please stay at Casa Del Mar!

NPS - 100 Years!

August 25th marks the 100 year anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS).  National Parks have been called "America's Best Idea" and we established the practice that the world has followed.  Setting aside truly remarkable lands for current and future generations to enjoy was a very far-sighted idea 100 years ago.

I have been obsessed with the outdoors since I was very young - long before I became interested in photography.  To this day I measure the "success" of a summer day by how long I have been outside, doing anything, or doing nothing - as long as it is outside.  So it's no surprise that when I became interested in photography, I would use the camera to show others what I enjoy most - the landscape.

I have used photography as a reason or a license to explore many national parks.  But it's not just the photographs, it's the experience of being there.  I have hiked in the dark by headlamp into the middle of a dune field to watch the sun rise and turn the sand shades of gold and yellow.  I have seen a tiny creek in the mountains knowing that at the other end as a mighty river it carved the Grand Canyon.  I have stood on the lowest ground in the United States.  I have stood on the Continental Divide where rain falling flows either to the Atlantic or the Pacific.  I have walked among strange sandstone formations called hoodoos and watched the light reflect in many directions.  I've watched in silence as the full moon dipped below snow capped mountains at five in the morning.  I have stood on a 9000 foot mountain staring at the remains of a dormant volcano.  I have climbed above the clouds many times watching amazing light change minute by minute.  I have felt the cool autumn air mix with the warm sun in November as it only can in the desert.  I have "heard" the sound of complete silence in one of our most remote parks.  I've watched in awe during forty sunrises and forty sunsets - all unique, all different - all amazing.

Of course, I have also almost backed the car off a six foot embankment because I saw a great photo.  I have run toward better photo angles leaving Marilyn or Rich to pick up the stuff I have left behind.  I've hiked to the top of a mountain trail in great excitement only to find we didn't bring enough food or water.  I've had leg cramps in more parks than I can remember.  I've set up for a beautiful sunset composition only to find the scene behind me illuminated by the setting sun.  And I've returned several rental cars with a few more scratches than they started with.  But it was worth it!

The 25 photos above are some of my favorites from just ten of the Parks I have visited.  I can't wait to experience the next one and the one after that.  If you enjoy the outdoors, make your next vacation at one of our National Parks.  And if you need photos, I can be hired for a low hourly rate!  ;)

(For extra credit, tell me the 10 National Parks pictured above!) 

Olympic NP Day 4 - Mountains

Today was our last day at Olympic and we spent it back in the mountains.  We learned a couple things today - weather changes fast, you can't predict sunrise or sunset light conditions, lightening storms in the mountains are loud, small clouds turn into big clouds, and it takes far longer to cover four miles with a camera than it does without one.

We hiked a trail called the Grand Valley Trail and the views were definitely grand.  We had to cross several snow banks and we walked along a ridge line with a great view of the mountains literally on all sides of us.  Every direction you turned - more mountains.  I think I took a photo of the same mountains every ten feet as the view changed.

It started off as a beautiful day - 48 degrees and the sun shining.  It rose quickly into the fifties and sixties.  It was the perfect combination of warm sun and cool air.  We had a snowball fight on one snowbank (I won) and rested on top of one of the most picturesque spots we have seen.

Then, as we were preparing for some sunset photography, the weather changed quickly.  And a lightening storm came down the valley.  The image above is from the early stages as the clouds rolled in.  The sun was still out at the other end and providing some great light.  It got worse than this and the lightening and rain chased us down the valley (we were in the car).  There was even some sleet mixed in with the rain.  So while we didn't get the typical sunset photos, we had a great day anyway!

The first photo below is an early morning view of Lake Crescent as we drove back to Hurricane Ridge.  And the other photo is what the same mountain range looked like during the nice sunny part of the day.

Hope you enjoyed the Olympic National Park photos as much as I enjoyed making them!

Olympic NP Day 3 - The Coast

We spent the entire day today hiking the coastal part of Olympic National Park.  The coastal part of the park is made up of many rocky beaches with offshore "sea stacks".  There are also lots of tide pools and marine life.  And we saw five bald eagles and some otters.  We also saw a mother deer and two fawns walk down onto the beach.   

Once again we got up at 4am and headed out to photograph the sunrise.  But this time the weather did not cooperate - we got to Rialto Beach and stared out at a thick fog cover.  But we made the best of it and hiked and photographed anyway.  The difference between high tide and low tide along the Washington Coast is amazing.  It was high tide when we hiked back around noon and that forced us to walk two miles on loose stones rather than hard packed sand - not the most pleasant thing to do in hiking boots!   We then went to "Second Beach" and hiked along the coast and finally ended back at Rialto Beach for the sunset.  All told, we hiked about ten miles along the coast today and my feet are really killing me!  The lead photograph above is from sunset at Rialto Beach.

The photo of the starfish below is one we saw clinging to a rock during low tide.  For hours each day they hang in until the tide comes back in and they get covered in water.  And the other photo below is one of the sea stacks on Second Beach.  It really is an incredible place to see!  

Olympic NP Day 2 - Variety!

It is the end of Day 2 and I am enjoying a dinner of goldfish crackers and pretzels as I write this blog.  With 17 hours of daylight and the need to be out before sunrise and after sunset, there isn't time for a real dinner.

The weather here changes often, changes quickly, and is hard to predict.  It's been in the fifties and sixties both days but we froze this morning on the top of Hurricane Ridge during sunrise.  It rained on us during our hike in the rainforest (I guess we shouldn't be surprised by that), and it was warm enough to walk in the water along the coast during the evening.

We had a very full day.  We raced up the mountain and saw the full moon set at 5am over the top of snow-capped mountains.  We then photographed the sunrise only to be swallowed in fog so thick you couldn't see.  Then we headed for the rain forest and had perfect conditions - overcast and light drizzle.  The trees were huge and covered in moss and everything was so green.  And finally we went to Ruby Beach which must have been the only place on the Olympic Peninsula where the sun was shining.

The main image at top is from the Hoh Rainforest.  The sunrise photo below is from the top of Hurricane Ridge.  And the beach photo is from Ruby Beach.  

Olympic NP Day 1 - Sunrise

Some of you know that I am at Olympic National Park in Washington for a four day photography and hiking trip.  I've been looking forward to the trip for awhile now and Rich and I have just had a very full first day.  

The weather forecast for Day 1 was the worst of the four days - cloudy and a couple showers.  After some whining we decided to get up at 4am anyway and drive to the top of Hurricane Ridge for sunrise photography.  Sunrise isn't so great on a cloudy day, but we were rewarded with an incredibly clear morning sky and I photographed the fog rolling over the ridges.

We hiked around some incredible mountains in the morning before our eight mile hike of the day.  During our eight mile hike the weather forecast turned accurate and we got rained on a couple times.  We hiked walked along a 6000 foot ridge top literally in the clouds.  It was eerie.

It was too cloudy for sunset at Hurricane Ridge so we drove down to the coast and spent a little time photographing there.  Tomorrow is Day 2 in the mountains and then we switch it up and spend two days on the coast and in the rain forest.

Summer Solstice

If you were outside on Monday at 8:35PM, you witnessed something special.  Yesterday, I saw the sun set and the full moon rise on the summer solstice on the North Lookout of Hawk Mountain.  The last time the full moon occurred on the same day as the summer solstice was 70 years ago!

I watched as the sun dipped below the horizon on the longest day of the year.  And within five minutes, directly behind me, the full moon rose over the ridge known as the Pinnacle.  It was very quiet and very still.  I sat and enjoyed the sight even though I knew I had a thirty minute hike back on a rocky trail illuminated only by my headlamp.

The Native Americans called this full moon the "Strawberry Moon".  People gather at Stonehenge on this day each year.  And it is said the Mayans pushed people off the pyramids on the solstice to appease the gods.  None of that happened at Hawk Mountain last night - it was just another routine sunset and moonrise.

I hope you all got out and saw this special event.

Follow Your Inner Voice

I was riding my bike on my normal training loop and spotted a fresh field of hay. I've ridden past this field of hay very often but on this early summer day it must have been just right. The rows of grass moving in the wind with the fuzzy seed tops caught my eye enough for me to make a mental note to return later in the day.  The field faced west so I also knew the low, early evening sunlight would hit it perfectly.

Early evening came and my inner voice reminded me about the possibility of a nice photograph. But by then, I was relaxing in a chair on the patio enjoying the best part of a warm, breezy summer day.  I rationalized that it was windy and so the pictures probably wouldn't come out good - maybe tomorrow. There's always tomorrow. My inner voice said "Get out of the chair!"  I resisted... I'm in the middle of a good book and I love reading outside. And besides, I did a three mile walk, cut the grass, and did an eighteen mile bike ride. I wasn't lazy today.  Again... "Get out of the chair!".  I shifted in the chair to silence that voice since it's so hard to read when you are distracted. I kept reading to the point where blinking becomes very slow - almost indistinguishable from sleep - only to be awakened by "Get out of the chair!"  

This time, for some reason, I listened and sprang out of the chair and raced the car to the field I saw earlier in the day. There was only about 30 minutes of good light left and I started photographing quickly. I ended up with a couple pictures that I really liked. They are the kind of pictures I want to do more of - as much about line and color and shape as they are about the "thing" being photographed. I was glad I got out of the chair!

(Historical Note... If FSA photographer Dorothea Lange had not followed her inner voice and turned her truck around and drove 19 miles back to the sign for the "pea pickers camp", we would not have one of the most impactful photographs ever!)