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. 

Brian ReitenauerComment
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.



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.

Brian ReitenauerComment
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.

Brian ReitenauerComment

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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!) 

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!)


This is what late spring looks like after weeks of sometimes warm, endlessly overcast, and often rainy weather.  The eastern forest is a wet, deep green color punctuated by white blooms.  I've always liked the way dogwood trees look in the wild - odd shaped splotches of white among the deep green leaves of the forest.  This year, the dogwoods appeared especially vibrant - the white ones in the wild along with the white and pink trees found in suburban landscapes.

Have you noticed the distinctive look of the flowers on the dogwood tree - especially when they first bud out?  All the flowers seem to sit on top of the branches.  The flowers are like small cups opening upward from the branches below.  It seems orderly compared to the haphazard blooms on other spring trees.

I noticed this small section of woods while Marilyn and I were on our way to dinner one night.  We've driven by it a hundred times or more.  But this time the light was dim, everything was a wet deep green - except for the white that jumped out and caught our eye.  I went back the next morning, and wandered around in a light drizzle in this small section of woods, hoping to capture the feeling of dogwoods in spring!

Spring Water

When I left my house in the morning, it was the height of Spring.  Tulips of every variety replaced the daffodils which had already faded away.  And the magnolia, plum, and pear trees gave up the spring blooming responsibility to the dogwoods and flowering crab apples.  There was color everywhere!  Bright green new leaves were on many of the trees where only two weeks ago white and pink blooms caught your eye.  And the forecast called for bright clouds - a perfect day to photograph the waterfalls amid the fresh green and blooming color of Spring at Ricketts Glen.

There was only one problem - Spring had not yet reached Ricketts Glen!  I knew there was a small difference in temperature, weather, and seasons between my home and Ricketts Glen.  But when I got there, it looked like I had stepped back three to four weeks in time - maybe more.  There was no hint of green on the tall hardwood trees and the dominant color was the brown of last season's leaves - accented by the light grey of the water reflecting the bright cloudy sky coming easily through the forest canopy.

I did see a few early flowering shrubs, but I could count them on two hands.  So, it was time to focus on rocks and water again (sorry Bill G!).  And I guess you'll know where I'll be three to four weeks from now and what the May Blog post might be!

Happy Spring!

Brian ReitenauerComment
Ghost In The Stream

I took advantage of a mid-50's weekend in March (courtesy of El Nino again!) and did some hiking along a stream in the Pocono Mountains.  I had photographed some water reflections on the same stream this past autumn and I wanted to see how different the colors would be in the winter - or even if there were any colors.  Not surprisingly, the colors were not as vivid as they were in October.  But there were interesting patterns and I carefully framed the photograph looking for the best combination of colors and swirls.

And when I viewed the image on the back of the camera to see if the exposure was correct, I couldn't believe what I saw.  I certainly didn't see the face in the water when I made the photograph.  I quickly looked back into the viewfinder and there it was - and then it was gone - and then it was back again.  The moving water made it flicker in and out of existence.  Was it really there?  Did it really exist?  It was a little strange to be honest!

The photo sequence below gives you an idea of what I saw in the viewfinder.  These are three sequential images with the camera in exactly the same spot on the tripod.  First the face is there, then it disappears with only a trace of features remaining, and then it starts to come back.  I can still remember the strangeness of it.

There is a road along the stream where these photographs were taken.  I'm guessing less than 10% of the people who drive that road ever get out and walk along the stream.  And I believe less than 10% have truly looked closely at the water to see the shapes and colors that swirl about.  And maybe nobody has ever seen the face in the stream!  It reminds me of why I photograph - I do it to look more closely, to see things I might otherwise not see, and to share them with friends and family.


Brian ReitenauerComment
Fifteen Years! (File 0001)

Fifteen years ago today, on March 12, 2001, I took my first photograph with a digital camera.  It was an Olympus 3040Z pocket size digital camera with an amazing 4 megapixels of image quality.  At the time, it was simply amazing.  It made photography magical again.

It also marked the beginning of my second phase of photography.  I can remember my interest in cameras at a young age and looking back at old high school yearbooks I see evidence that photography was a major interest of mine.  But then college came, and then work, my wonderful wife and kids, responsibilities, and other interests.  And I forgot about photography.  That is until I learned about this new technology of image sensors and megapixels.

After fifteen years, much practice, many trips in the field to photograph, lots of reading, and too much money spent on equipment - my enjoyment of photography is stronger than ever.  Looking at the photograph today makes me cringe a little - it's just a picture of a pine cone.  The composition is poor and about the only thing it communicates is the idea that I like the outdoors.  I feel my photography is much better today than it was back then.  Years ago, I photographed "things" that caught my interest.  Now I try to photograph "ideas" or "visual feelings" that I want to share with people.  I'm not always successful - the lure of photographing a beautiful sunset and sharing it with friends and family is strong.  But that is the fun of photography!

Brian ReitenauerComment
A Foggy Morning on Hawk Mountain

Hawk Mountain sits in Northern Berks County in Pennsylvania - along the Blue Mountains and the Appalachian Trail.  It's a world renowned sanctuary for the protection and study of raptors - hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey.  It also happens to be fifteen minutes from where I grew up.  So I come here often to photograph - at different seasons and under different conditions.

Hawk Mountain is not a wilderness area.  A fifteen minute drive in all directions will reveal farmlands and small towns.  And on weekends in the fall it can be crowded on the lookouts.  But if you get here early in the morning, you can have the mountain to yourself.  Walk a few steps on the trails and it feels like you are in nature as it was hundreds of years ago.  

That feeling is amplified on a misty, foggy morning - when the height of the ridges is just enough to rise into the low layer of clouds.  All you hear is the constant dripping of water from the soggy trees and branches overhead and an occasional brush of breeze.  Today is not a day for looking out over the many rock outcroppings that make the mountain famous - unless you enjoy staring at a blank, white, slightly disorienting view.  Today is a day for moving slow, listening, and for appreciating the mystery of the trees and rocks and trails as they are enveloped by constantly shifting fog.  Hours of quiet hiking and mesmerizing scenes are there for anyone willing to get up early on a foggy winter day.

See the full photo essay here... A Foggy Morning on Hawk Mountain.

Brian ReitenauerComment
Snow on the Unami

So much for the warmth of El Nino here in the Northeast.  This past weekend brought the area's first snow of the winter - and in grand fashion.  Between two and three feet of light fluffy snow blanketed the entire region.

I didn't brave the full strength of the storm with my camera on Friday night or Saturday.  Like many people, we stayed inside and read a book or watched a movie.  It's interesting how many people were looking forward to being locked inside for a day with all obligations cancelled.  The storm provided what we're often unable to give ourselves - a relaxing weekend day with nothing to do.

While the storm was a full raging Nor'easter on Friday and Saturday, we awoke on Sunday to that special feeling of a sunny day after a snowstorm.  The sky is impossibly clear and blue.  The sun is bright and warms your face even though it is only 32 degrees.  There is no wind - everything feels calm, still, and quiet under the blanket of snow.  And, if you are up early enough, no tracks anywhere - just an expanse of smooth white snow.

After digging out, I spent a little time photographing at the Unami Creek.  I found out how hard it is to climb down a 20 foot bank filled with three feet of drifted snow - only slightly less hard than climbing back up!

The image above comes the closest to conveying that "feeling" of the day after the storm.  The landscape is simplified.  The mounds of snow only give hints at what is underneath.  There are so many shades of white in a snowy landscape - and the shadows are unmistakably blue.  Next time it snows more than a foot - get up early, go outside, and really see and feel what is out there.

Brian ReitenauerComment