Death Valley Trip Part II

After traveling North in the park, we stayed the night at Stovepipe Wells. I was surprised to find a small cell tower in the parking lot, which provided the opportunity to call home and check in. The tower wasn't very tall and when you drive a couple of miles away, you promptly loose your signal. It was nice to have the ability to call home at night and check in. We arose early with the promise of a nice sunrise and headed down the road to the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. This trail takes you off the main road West onto the Salt Flats and ends in a small parking area next to the Salt Creek. As we approached the parking area I was surprised to see that there was water in the creek. I know that sounds counter intuitive, but this area is typically very dry. The recent rains to the west setup just the right circumstances for us to have a small amount of flow heading towards the low point in the basin. I picked out a spot along the creek and waited for the sun and clouds to do their morning dance. The air was cold and there was a slight breeze. I had a few moments to enjoy the scene before me as I waited, looking out over the expanse of the basin.  After a few short minutes, the clouds began to light up & we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise. 

Daybreak - Salt Creek Interpretive Trail

After the sunrise, we headed over to the dunes at Stovepipe Wells and parked along the road about a mile past the parking area. I wanted to hike out to the dunes into an area that wasn't littered with hundreds of footprints. While I'm not entirely opposed to having footprints in my images, I prefer to shoot the landscape untouched by man. If I do choose to create an image that has footprints, It will likely be just a single set walking off into the expanse. We explored the area for a couple hours, climbing to the tops of a few of the taller dunes. 

Stovepipe wells sand dunes

The rest of the day was planned for visiting the Racetrack Playa, long on my list of places to visit & the location of the fabled sailing stones. The Racetrack is an extremely flat dry lake bed which only has about 1.5" of elevation change over its 2.8 mile length, sitting at over 3700' tucked up between two mountain ranges in a very remote area of the park. Short of a helicopter ride, there are two ways to get to the Racetrack: From the North near Ubehebe Crater, or the South near Panamint Springs. The Southern access is via Lippincott pass that is marked on most maps as extremely difficult true back country 4 wheeling with steep grades and very uneven terrain. I wouldn't attempt it without a high clearance 4WD with heavy duty off road tires. We were already in the North end of the park and were not going to take the chance to see if our rental could make the South pass access, so we decided on the access road from the Ubehebe Crater. This is 27 miles of unmanaged dirt road with numerous washed out areas & sharp rocks. It took us a little over 2 hours to drive the distance mainly because you can't drive more than 10-12 mph without vibrating your wheels right off of your vehicle. There were several areas where flash floods have washed out part of the path, but it was still passable. If you decide to take this trip, make sure your vehicle has good ground clearance to make sure you don't end up bottomed out or with a punctured oil pan. There is no cell phone service and help can be 4 hours to days away depending on the weather. During the trip out, we only saw one other vehicle heading back. At about 6 miles away, you will come upon Teakettle Junction, which is where you can take the road due East up into the Cottonwood Mountains. At the junction, there is a sign where past travelers have been leaving their tea kettles hanging - an interesting landmark in a desolate area.  Upon arrival, to our surprise there was a minivan parked on the side of the road, but no one else around. After a short period I went to check it out and found a note in the windshield stating they would be back in a few days. Not sure if they broke down or if they were doing some real back country camping. 
We explored the playa looking for recent evidence of sailing stones but did not have any luck. This phenomenon is seasonal and the conditions need to be right for it to happen. The rains over the summer form a thin sheet of water on the playa turning the hard surface to a soft mud. Any tracks from previous activity are erased as the water evaporates and the soft mud flattens out. The playa will continue to dry where the hexagon shaped cracks will form again. The playa will remain this way until some rains, freezing temps and wind come along to get stones moving again.

Last light on hexagonal patterns on the Racetrack Playa

Future sailing stone on Racetrack Playa

We planned on camping out at the Racetrack in hopes of taking some images lit by moonlight, but the winds were so strong that there was no way I was going to get the tent setup. With a front moving in, we decided it was better to head back before it got dark, so we began the 2 hour drive back to the main part of the park. After a total of 4 hours of being jarred around in the SUV, we were both exhausted. Jenn's fitbit logged 30k steps and 180 floors all due to the rough trip.

We stayed the night at the Furnace Creek Inn and planned the last day of the trip, which would include sunrise at Badwater Basin from West Side Road followed by another attempt at Ibex dunes before heading home. I settled on a spot a couple of miles onto West Side road and scoped out the landscape. There were no clouds in the sky facing East, so I decided to shoot away from the sun hoping that we would get some nice color on the Cottonwood Mountains. The area I stopped at had some really large hexagonal crust formations and made for a really interesting foreground. The salt deposits pushed up 6-8 inches, something I hadn't seen here before. 

Sunrise over the Panamint Range

After sunrise, we headed South on our route towards the Southern tip of the park. The first day we visited, we noticed an ATV park called Dumont Dunes, which is outside of the park, but right across the road. Once we got into the area, we decided to check out these dunes to see how they would look compared to Ibex. It was largely empty except for a few campers and riders, and you could drive right up to the edge of the dunes. I decided to shoot here for the afternoon. There is something about the intricate patterns in the windswept dunes that intrigues me. I have been drawn to them since my early days with a camera. The patterns are both chaotic and systematic at the same time. I'm sure Jenn saw her fill of dunes, I could have spent the whole week photographing them.

Dummond dunes in the afternoon light

After a while, the winds started picking up and we experienced our first true sandstorm. The winds were blowing so hard that I could not even get out of the vehicle and visibility was down to about 50 feet. We decided to call it a day and start heading back to Las Vegas to fly out the next morning. I was able to come away with some great shots during our couple of hours in the park. 

The trip was a great experience that I hope to repeat in years to come. I've logged plenty of miles and learned the lay of the land very well, which will make future visits much easier.

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed...

 

Death Valley trip report part I

I recently attended a convention in Las Vegas as part of my full time job. Since I was already going to be out there, I decided to take some vacation and visit one of the local parks. It was a relatively easy decision for me as I have been interested in going back to Death Valley since I visited for 1 day several years ago. After talking it over with my amazing wife, she decided to come along and keep me safe (be the voice of reason in my ear) while I was out in the middle of nowhere for several days. The trip turned out to be an amazing experience that I won't ever forget. 

The first day we arrived at the Southeast area of the park, which is an area without paved roads and no signage to let you know you are on the park property. Without the aide of a map, you might not even know you are in the park. There isn't much down on this end of the park except for Ibex Dunes which was high on my list. Ibex is a remote expanse miles off the paved road and was a logical start for us. It was only 90 minutes from Las Vegas. After driving on the dirt road for a bit, the massive dunes came into sight, but they were still several miles away. With the light fading fast we realized we weren't going to get there in time, so we decided to take a small jaunt onto the low lying area of the Ibex Wash and just explore a bit. We walked across the flat, which was very dry. After about a mile walk, to my surprise we came across some water flowing towards the lowest point in the park. It had rained over the weekend, but I wasn't sure if any of this part of the park saw any of it. It wasn't much, but was enough to bring some interest into my images. We spent an hour exploring before heading back to the car in the dark. I was very excited for the days ahead. The landscape is so interesting with all of the nuances of dried crust combined with rock, vegetation and magnificent mountains. In some areas, the dried earth looks like old paint peeling off the wall after years of neglect.

Last light on the cracked playa along the Ibex Wash

Texture and sediment along the Ibex Wash

That evening we decided to stay at the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort. It was more than adequate and had some great hot tub rooms where they pump the hot spring water right to you. After a little asking around, we decided to eat at a small shack (literally) called Steaks and Beer on the Old Spanish Trail. I was a little skeptical at first but the owner/cook/operator Eric Scott (yes he has two first names) has the best kept secret in all of the west. There is only enough room to seat 7-10 people in this place and after our visit, I left amazed there wasn't a line out the door. I had the absolute best rib eye steak and margarita I have ever had in my life - no question. If you are ever in the area, you have to stop in and enjoy this place. You won't be disappointed. We retired back to the resort where we took in the hot springs which is another story in itself, but was a great experience.

The following morning we woke up to some subtle rains and overcast skies, but set out for sunrise in the park regardless. We drove North through and headed into the park via the Jubilee Mountain pass on Rt. 178. At the top of the mountain we found the clouds breaking and winds shifting. The pass elevation is somewhere around 2700' as you traverse downhill into the basin of the Valley. The lowest point in the park, also the lowest elevation in North America is 282' below sea level. Amazing to think that you are that far under what the ocean level would be if this place weren't dry. We took the West Side road (another dirt road) to get a better vantage point for sunrise. We came upon a location that looked promising and made our way out onto the flats just before sunrise. The wind was relentless, even with my camera bag hanging off of my tripod I had a few instances where I needed to grab onto it before it blew over. I was able to get some decent shots this morning of the sun peaking over the mountains and bathing the clouds and mountains in the morning. 

Early morning along basin road

Jubilee Pass looking West into Death Valley

We planned out the rest of the day to continue North in the park, stoping at various spots along the way to take in the amazing landscape. More to follow on the second half of the trip.

 

Morning fog on farm road

Fall is my favorite time of the year. As the season changes and temperatures drop quickly at night, the air temp and dew point get within 5 degrees of one another causing fog to form in low lying open areas or over water. This happens pretty frequently in September and October in Maryland and makes for some great photographic opportunities each morning. 

One morning in October presented such an opportunity and I took some time to visit a local farm nearby my home. I arrived about 30 min before sunrise giving me plenty of time to find some good subject material. As I drove around, I came upon this scene where the fog was moving across the road and field, being carried by the calm breeze. Twilight was upon me and I was captivated by the mystery of this. There is something about a fog covered road that I am drawn too. Perhaps it is not knowing what is beyond. The muted colors and calm quiet are inviting. I could hear the geese and horses in the distance. It was a peaceful time to be out shooting and capturing the beauty of our world.

Morning fog on a farm road. © Rob Loughrey

Photoshop layer blend technique - using multiple layers to create a different scene

While on my trip to Oregon, I found myself looking at images of various waterfalls from around the area on 500px or instagram, all which largely looked the same. A few factors were driving this from my perspective. The first being, many of these falls are shot and over shot by everyone who visits the area as they are easily accessible. Another issue is that it is hard to get a different perspective on a falls where you are more or less contained to a given area. They all fall into a bowl like arena with rock faces that are several hundred feet tall. I had my hip waders along which helps me get to areas that other may not, but the spray from the water falling from those heights pours out over 50-100 feet away from the base of the falls depending on the wind. This makes the rocks very slippery and can get you soaked in a short period of time. It is a constant battle to keep your camera dry. At Elowah Falls, I surveyed the scene for a few moments and watched the wind patterns in an effort to get closer to the base while avoiding the spray. Most of the images I saw online were clearly long exposures with the stream of the falls a solid white stream. My personal preference is to have some detail in the water vice a solid washed out stream of white. While observing this falls, I noticed that the water would come down in sheets instead of a constant flow. I realized with a little work in photoshop and several exposures, I could create an image that looked different from the rest out there. With this in mind, I needed a  slightly faster shutter speed to change the look of the image and get more detail. I started with 1/30 of a sec which turned out a little too fast. I tried a few different shutter speeds and ended up shooting in the 1/15 range. I took 5-9 images in the same position with the intent to catch the falls in different intervals. I changed compositions a bit and took another series. Here are a couple of those images from the camera.

Two individual images in Lightroom - you can see the pattern in the sheets of water.

I took a series of 5 images like this and then brought them into Lightroom for my first step in processing. Even at 1/10 of a second, the water had blown out highlights at the top of the falls. I pulled back the highlights all the way and then filled in some shadows as well. I always turn on the Enable Lens Profile Corrections and Remove Chromatic Aberrations in the Lens Correction category, then added a little clarity, vibrance and saturation before bringing all of the images into Photoshop. Typically what I will do in Lightroom is make the changes to one of the images and then copy and paste my develop settings to the other images - provided they were all shot with the same exposure settings. I then select all of them and go to Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop to bring all of the images into one file with multiple layers.

Open as Layers in Photoshop

Open as Layers in Photoshop

Once I have it into Photoshop, the process to blend them all together is relatively simple. First to ensure you have a good blend, select all of the layers by clicking on the top layer, holding the shift key and then selecting the bottom layer. Now all of them should be a darker grey color than before. 

All layers selected

After selecting all of the layers, you need to ensure all of the layers are aligned. Even though I took the images with my camera secured on a tripod and used a cable release, the images will almost always be slightly misaligned when bringing them in as layers. Go to Edit > Auto Align Layers...

Auto Align Layers

Auto Align Layers

You will get a dialog with a bunch of options. For this instance, I leave it on Auto and let photoshop do the rest of the work. 

Auto-Align dialog

Auto-Align dialog

You will get a progress bar while Photoshop does the alignment. 

You may see a bit of space around the image after it is done. Photoshop will make the image a bit larger around the edges if it has to shift one of the layers. My next step is normally to crop this extra space out. 

Once this is complete, the final step is simply to blend the layers together. The object here was to allow the different patterns of water to show up as one. This is the beauty of layer modes in Photoshop. Control click on the bottom layer to deselect it from the stack. You should have one layer that is a different brightness than the rest and will look like this.

Bottom layer deselected

Now in your layers palette, go to the pull down the menu where you see "Normal" and select Lighten. 

Pull down menu for Layer Mode

Select Lighten Layer Mode

Select Lighten Layer Mode

Bam! You will now have an image that allows what is different in each layer to show through. It is that simple. 

Before - Single layer showing waterfall

Before - Single layer showing waterfall

After - with 5 layers blended to show the true nature of the waterfall

Once I have completed this step, I zoom in on the image and look around for imperfections, especially around the edges. I'll crop as needed, then I will flatten the image to continue with processing in Photoshop. The final image will have some other changes to boost contrast and increase color to what was really present at the scene. 

Final image of Elowah Falls

Elowah Falls - Columbia River Gorge, OR © Rob Loughrey

Elowah Falls - Columbia River Gorge, OR © Rob Loughrey

This entire process took about 20 minutes total. I also use On1 Photo Effects in my post processing. I'm a big fan of the Dynamic Contrast and Vignette filters in this software. You can apply this technique in so many other ways in your photography. One example would be to make a night photo with star trails. Hope you enjoy...

Oregon trip - final morning

The final morning of my trip I decided to head up to one of the lakes that surrounded Mount Hood for the morning. After doing a bit of google map recon, I decided on Trillium Lake, which was a short 45 min drive from the hotel. I gave myself plenty of time in the morning to be on-site before twilight which meant an early start for me. I got up at 4am and was on the road a short while later. As I drove on RT. 26 heading toward the park, I could see Mt. Hood in the light of the full moon towering over the landscape. It was an amazing sight in the dark of night with the moon really bright in the cool, crisp & clear Oregon air. As I drove higher into the mountains, the temp was dropping rapidly and finally leveled out at a cool 40 degrees, quite a drop from 75 in Portland. I arrived in the parking area and realized I was there all alone which was both exciting and a little unnerving. I looked around a bit and found a spot to shoot from and took in the amazing scenery before me. The conditions were just right that morning for the cold water to release water vapor in the form of fog. The only noise I could hear was a bald eagle calling as it flew around looking for food. I really can't explain what an amazing sight this place was. To the West, the full Moon was getting ready to set behind the mountains. To the East just over 4 miles away Mount Hood loomed over the lake at 11,250 feet tall. The side of the mountain still had a fair amount of snow on it from the previous winter, which I assume is the norm. I imagine the air temps up that high are never high enough for it to melt entirely. I spent a couple of hours shooting as the sun came up, changing locations around the lake. After a little while, some campers with fishing rods started to show up and enjoy the pristine wilderness. If you make a trip to Oregon, this area should be at the top of your list to visit and perhaps spend the night. What an amazing place. Here are a couple of shots from the visit. Hope you enjoy...

Moonset over Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey

Twilight at Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey

© Rob Loughrey

The light of dawn, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey

The amazing Oneonta Gorge

The Oneonta Gorge was one of the places on my list to check out during my trip to Oregon. After doing my research of the area, the images I saw online were intriguing and what I would call typical of Columbia River Gorge.  The gorge appeared to be a much smaller version of the canyon at Zion National Park but covered in moss and ferns. There are a total of 4 falls on the Oneonta Creek which dumps into the Columbia River. The lower falls is located just over 1/2 mile upstream from the parking area along the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. From the road, you go down a short set of steps and start your journey upstream. Not too far along, you come across about a 20' pile of dead fall trees that you need to climb over. Not too difficult of a climb but can look intimidating. Once you are over the trees, you are moving upstream in the Oneonta Creek. There are some areas where you can find some dry area to move along, but eventually you are going to get wet. To make it all the way to the lower falls, you need to trek through some water that is over 5' deep. It lasts for about 10-15 feet of the journey and there is no way to avoid it. Even in mid July, the water was ICE COLD and took my breath away. That is the price you pay to make it to see this massive 100' waterfall first hand. Most of the way to the lower falls you are in a deep chasm that is covered in moss and ferns from the top to bottom. It is really an amazing place and one of my top hikes while I was visiting Oregon. The middle & upper falls are accessible from the #400 hiking trail that starts from a nearby second parking area just to the west of where you park to hike directly up the creek. When you are on the trail, there is a point where you can drop off the main trail and go onto #438 Horsetail Falls trail. This will take you down towards the creek and had a short bridge that crosses over heading east. Before crossing the bridge, you can climb down on the south side down to the creek and wade through some water south. At this point, you will be at the top of the lower falls. Turning around and going back upstream a short distance will put you right in front of the middle falls. This was another beautiful location surrounded by moss covered rocks all around the 20' plume of water. I decided to shoot that falls in a panoramic format to help capture some of the amazing plant life along the creek. If you head further up the #400 trail you will come across Triple falls, the 4th falls along the creek. This falls you view from across the gorge. It is another beautiful 100' or higher falls. The view of this falls is from a higher elevation about 100 yards away but it is still an amazing site. Here are two shots from this hike. Hope you enjoy...

Lower Oneonta Falls, Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area © Rob Loughrey

Middle Oneonta Falls, Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area © Rob Loughrey

Columbia River Gorge & Proxy falls

The second day of my Oregon trip was spent trying to catch a sunrise at one of the Columbia River Gorge overlooks along the Historic Columbia River Highway. The morning proved to be a tough one with not a single ray of light to be found due to the heavy cloud cover. While I was a little bummed about the sunrise, I was stoked about having another overcast day to do some more waterfall Photography. The overlooks along the scenic highway are a perfect way to spend a morning in the area. 

We decided to take a 3 hour trip and head south to one of the top locations on my list - Proxy Falls. Proxy Falls is located in the Three Sisters Wilderness off of McKenzie Highway, deep in the mountains. The drive to the area was amazing and continued to look promising all morning. Promising to me - cloudy. That was the case until we passed along the Southern face of the mountains which border Detroit Lake. I couldn't believe it, but we literally rounded the corner and were greeted with a high pressure system of crystal blue skies. While it was really great to see such a beautiful landscape, I have to admit I was a little disappointed because I had a pretty good feeling that part of the waterfalls would be in direct sunlight. We pressed on, stopping for a nice lunch at Belknap Springs Resort along the McKenzie River a short 20 mins from the beginning of the falls trail head. Our lunch was fantastic and we found a great place to stay the night for future trips out to the falls.

The falls trail is a short 1.5 mile path which takes you through a large volcanic rock landscape that is a sight to see unto itself. The combination of dark volcanic rock and old growth forest was an amazing juxtaposition of nature. The fir trees along the path are gigantic elders that have stood for hundreds of years. As you get close to the falls, you can begin to hear the water falling over the 262 foot vertical drop. A short zig zag back and forth down a small hill and you can make your way over to the bottom of the falls. The main body of the falls cascades over volcanic rock and a large area of columnar basalt formations. Much of these are continuously wet and are covered in moss and other plant life. The numerous steps of the rock formations give way to a wide veil type falls as it widens all the way to the base. As expected, the falls was partially lit by the beaming sun, which made photographing the entire falls very problematic for me. I made the best of it - after all, It is breathtaking sight and I was able to work out some compositions while we explored the area. We spent a about an hour and a half there before making the trip back to the car and then onto our hotel. On the way back to Portland, we stopped for some dinner in the small town of Mill City and had the absolute BEST PIZZA ever. If you are in the area, be sure to stop by Giovanni's Mountain Pizza. You wont be disappointed.

Blue hour over the Columbia River, OR © Rob Loughrey

Moss covered columnar basalt at Proxy Falls, Three Sisters Wilderness, OR © Rob Loughrey

Proxy falls - Three Sisters Wilderness, OR © Rob Loughrey

Oregon trip report

If you are a follower of my FB page, you know I recently took a trip to Portland Oregon, piggybacking off a work trip with my wonderful wife. We arrived a few days prior to her seminar, having the weekend to explore places together. The first day we spent at Panther Creek Falls which is just across the Columbia River in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was a short 45 min drive from our hotel, the majority of the time was spent driving up into the mountain on a forest service road. It was a little harder to find than expected, mainly because there are no signs directing you to the falls when you were close. Using a drop pin on my google map, I found an area to park nearby the falls and when I looked off of the roadside, it was an extremely steep drop down to the river. We got into the car and started to head down stream looking for a better access point when I noticed spray painted on the road "Falls" with an arrow pointing into the woods. The trail was there, although pretty overgrown and hard to see at first. We found our way down the trail which was only a 5 minute walk and came to an observation platform. The viewpoint of the falls is from across the river and nearly even with the start of the falls from the other side. I looked all around for a way down into the stream but the vertical drop was too much to consider. After a short period, Jenn went back to the car and I looked around some more for a way down to the bottom. I finally found a rope that was tied off onto a rock face, which was there for anyone brave enough to scale down about 20 feet to better footing. I'm sure if Jenn were with me at that point, she would have given me a hard time about taking my chances on it. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get to a different vantage point. In the afternoon we drove out to Cannon Beach, about a 2 hour drive from Portland. The sunset weather wasn't cooperating, but we had an amazing time exploring the quaint little town and a portion of the beach. I am already planning another trip back out there to do some coastal photography.

This first shot is from Panther Creek Falls, a 130' beautiful beast. As you can see, the amount of green foliage is truly overwhelming. The entire area is more or less a temperate rain forest and is everything we expected. I distinctly remember driving the forest service road on the way to the falls and Jenn and I both commented at the same time about how green everything was. It was shade and brightness of green I have never seen before. Amazing is all I can say. More to follow in the coming days...

Panther Creek Falls - Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA © Rob Loughrey

Zion adventure

At the recommendation of fellow photographer Robert Clark, I made a trip to Zion National Park while on vacation in nearby Las Vegas. Zion is a 229 Sq Mile park with many options. The drive was about 3 1/2 hours long and fraught with the great wide open scenery the west is known for. From what we were told, the best thing to do on your first trip to Zion is to walk the Virgin River up through the Zion Canyon, and that is exactly what we decided to do. We arrived in the town of Springdale, which is just at the Southern entrance to the park before noon and stopped in at the Zion Adventure Company where we rented a set of water shoes and walking sticks for the hike. Before you depart, you also watch a safety video on flash floods, which is something of a concern there depending on the time of year. A shuttle bus runs from several bus stops in the town and takes you up into the park up to various drop off points. We took the shuttle all the way North to the last stop at the Temple of Sinawava and then picked up a paved path before entering the river. The next 3-4 miles we were literally walking up the river which winds through the canyon. There is no description that can prepare you for the amazing experience you get while walking through this place, which is the largest slot canyon in the U.S. The colorful sandstone walls tower over you hundreds of feet into the sky, trees are scattered throughout, sometimes growing right out of the side of the wall face and the Virgin River flows with purpose continuing to carve out the landscape. In areas of the hike, you are in water up to your waist with wall faces only 8 feet on either side of you. Looking up several hundred feet of sheer sandstone cliffs was absolutely breathtaking. We hiked North for about 2 hours before turning back around and heading back. All along the trip I found interesting things to capture, stopping and composing shots. I spent six hours in the water with my tripod and gear and could have spent another six if my wife had let me. I am already looking forward to my next trip to this park. It quickly became one of my favorite places to visit out West. Here are a couple images of the canyon from our trip. Hope you enjoy...

Sheer canyon walls frame the Virgin River, Zion National Park, UT © Rob Loughrey

Colorful Sandstone walls - Zion National Park, UT © Rob Loughrey

The Virgin River flows through the Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, UT © Rob Loughrey

The Virgin River flows through the Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, UT © Rob Loughrey


South Dakota Prairies and The Badlands

The prairie land of South Dakota seems endless. Massive fields of green grass and rolling hills go on for miles and miles leading into the Badlands National Park. Driving through this area on my way to the Badlands made me think of what it must have been like 150 years ago. Massive expanses of knee deep grass cover the landscape along Highway 44 leading East into Scenic, South Dakota. After a brief stop in the small town of Scenic, I took Sage Creek Road North into the vastness of the prairie. This is a partially managed dirt road that leads into the North West corner of the Badlands. The views along this road are amazing with the sporadic farm house and barn along the way. Living so far out in the middle of nowhere was something that was hard for me to fathom - some serious solitude. The Badlands is roughly 242,000 acres of eroded buttes, mountains and prairie land. The landscape is a surreal creation, a combination of volcanic ashes and sediments. The ashes were carried on the winds from the west and deposited there over 30 million years ago. Water from the flood plains carried other sediment into the area leaving colorful deposits. Years of heavy rains and erosion have carved the landscape into an other worldly environment. The land is striped with color, showing the various periods of its evolution. While visiting, be sure to go out on foot and explore the landscape. It is an amazing experience to view all of the natural habitat. The spring and fall are the best times to visit. Summers out here can be brutal with temps in the 100's. If you are planning a trip out west I highly recommend visiting this park for a day or two. Here are a few shots from the trip.

Prairies of South Dakota near Badlands National Park. © Rob Loughrey

Prairies of South Dakota near Badlands National Park. © Rob Loughrey

Highway 240, Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey

Highway 240, Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey

Pinnacles overlook, Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey

Pinnacles overlook, Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey

Twilight over the Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey

Twilight over the Badlands National Park, SD © Rob Loughrey


Captivated by the sea

The coast of California has long been on my list of places to visit. I had the opportunity to do just that last spring. A family trip took us to San Diego where we were able to see some friends and take in some of the sites. Each evening, we spent some time at one of the many places you could sit and enjoy the setting sun. The experience of the warm light on the landscape, the soothing sound of the crashing waves and the warm breeze of the ocean was truly amazing. There are so many places to see along this coast it is hard to decide where to go first. My favorite of the trip was Sunset Cliffs. The coastline is a harsh volcanic looking rocky environment that has been battered and shaped by the Pacific Ocean. The tide determines how far out you can venture onto the rocky surface. Watching the waves crash back and forth is something I could do for hours seemingly slipping into a trance. When going out onto these rocks, you have to be extremely careful to not get too close to the edge. At any time a large wave could come up and knock you over or sweep you out to sea - a lesson that I learned the hard way on my way back to the stairs at Sunset Cliffs. After the sun has set - don't pack up your gear right away. Stay a bit and watch the light change. You can continue to shoot and capture an entirely different feel. When shooting images of the coast, a tripod, remote shutter release and a polarizer is a must. I prefer to use an exposure that will help accentuate the movement of the sea. Depending on the strength of the tide, this can be anywhere from 1/15 of a second to several seconds with an aperture of at least F/11. If need be, I will use a Neutral Density filter to help extend my shutter speed.

If you have the opportunity to visit the San Diego area, make sure your agenda includes visiting one of these areas to experience the beauty and power of the sea. Thanks for taking a look and hope you enjoy...

Warm light blankets the coast, Sunset Cliffs Natural Point, San Diego, CA © Rob Loughrey

Warm light blankets the coast, Sunset Cliffs Natural Point, San Diego, CA © Rob Loughrey

Blue hour - Sunset Cliffs Natural Point, San Diego, CA © Rob Loughrey

Blue hour - Sunset Cliffs Natural Point, San Diego, CA © Rob Loughrey


Western dark skies

The western portion of the US has long been on my list of places to explore. I have always been intrigued by the way of life that people describe about the west. It has a lure unto itself, often described as a simple life. A life uncluttered or disrupted with our normal day to day experiences on the east coast. I had the opportunity to attend some training in South Dakota over the summer. Once I confirmed the dates, I started checking the calendar and maps for places to explore during my visit. It just so happened that I was visiting during the peak of the Perseids Meteor Shower and as luck would have it, it was a new moon phase that same week. Each night of my stay brought clear skies, an astrophotographers dream! It had been a long while since I was in a place where the skies were as dark as what I experienced here. I scouted out some locations in the Black Hills National Forest during the evening and then waited for the sun to set. Being there with such good weather and clear skies made it easy to try out some different techniques. I was able to do some time lapse photography a few long exposures and sat out and watched an incredible meteor shower. The only thing I was a little nervous about is being in the middle of the mountains/woods in complete darkness knowing full well there are hungry animals out there. Thankfully I didn't have to fight any off. Here are a few shots from the different shoots. For the last shot, I stood on the roof of my rental. This gave me a good silhouette against the night sky. Climbing up there in the dark wasn't easy, but I got it done without damaging myself or the rental. Hope you enjoy...

Dark skies over Black Hills National Forest, Deadwood S.D. © Rob Loughrey

Dark skies over Black Hills National Forest, Deadwood S.D. © Rob Loughrey

Perseids Meteor Shower, Black Hills National Forest S.D. © Rob Loughrey

Perseids Meteor Shower, Black Hills National Forest S.D. © Rob Loughrey

Stargazing - Black Hills National Forest, S.D. © Rob Loughrey

Stargazing - Black Hills National Forest, S.D. © Rob Loughrey


Persistence pays - Part II

Hello everyone,

Been a few weeks since I have been able to work on any images. To follow up on my last post, where I described working a scene and waiting for the right light, I decided to follow my own advice. During my annual visit to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, I took a more relaxed approach to my photography outings. I really just watched the weather and waited for what looked like a good evening and only ventured out 2 or 3 times during the week long vacation. This is a big difference from what I normally would do, which is going out every evening. On this particular evening, the clouds were looking pretty promising in the afternoon. I took a short drive down to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and walked out onto the beach. I scouted out the area for about 30 minutes before settling on a location. I found a spot where I had a good view of the lighthouse and felt the setting sun would be in a nice position. I setup and waited for the light to change. Over the course of an hour, I watched the sun dip down as the clouds rushed by. The position of the clouds really worked out well and I came away with some images I was very happy with. I processed these in Adobe Lightroom and then Photoshop using Tony Kuyper's luminosity masks. Tech Details: Nikon D800, 24-120mm lens, cable release, Induro Tripod. Hope you enjoy.

Sunset light - Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC © Rob Loughrey

Sunset light - Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC © Rob Loughrey

Summer color - Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC © Rob Loughrey

Summer color - Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC © Rob Loughrey

Sun, sand and a gentle breeze - Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC © Rob Loughrey

Sun, sand and a gentle breeze - Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC © Rob Loughrey


Persistance pays for sunset light

This is an image I took a few years ago while on vacation in NC. Being in the area reminded me of how lucky I was to capture this. While staying in the Outer Banks, I decided to take a ride and get some sunset images at the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is located just South of Nags Head at Oregon Inlet. At the time of this image, the lighthouse was still operational with an old style rotating light. I arrived in the area about an hour before sunset and was scoping out a few locations. This is a challenging location to shoot. The area to the East of the lighthouse is a boggy bush area that makes it very difficult to navigate. Basically it was a no go for launch as far as I was concerned. While looking around for locations to shoot, the sun dipped below the horizon, mostly obscured by a layer of clouds - making it uneventful. I did notice a strip of clouds that looked promising but was having difficulty finding a good location to shoot from. Based on the view of the lighthouse on my way in, I decided to get back in my car and go onto Route 12.  I drove south along the highway finding a spot where there was a break in the trees and brush and pulled over to the shoulder. The majority of the view was obscured with all of the vegetation, plus there were power lines right in front of me. My only option was to climb onto the roof of my vehicle, which I quickly did. Once I got up there, I had the perfect vantage point to take in this amazing display of color. Once I got setup, the only thing left to do was to time my capture so that the light from the lighthouse was lit during my exposure. My timing was just right, as the clouds lit up the sky in what looked like a fire in the sky. People passing by on Route 12 must have thought I was a bit crazy, standing on the roof of my vehicle, but it was well worth the effort. After a little work and thinking outside of the box, I came away with what I feel is a great image of an iconic landmark. Hope you enjoy...

Technical details: Nikon D200, Sigma 80-200mm F/2.8 lens @ 180mm. 1/8 sec at F18, ISO 100, Manfrotto Tripod, Really Right Stuff Ball Head.

Sunset light - Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC. © Rob Loughrey

Sunset light - Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC. © Rob Loughrey


Into the flow

Hey folks, here is a follow up shot from my trip to RIcketts Glen. I was knee deep into some pretty strong currents during this shot. Whenever I take a trip that involves water of any kind, I always bring with my hip and chest waders. Depending on the water temps, the need for the waders isn't always there, but I prefer to have them along just in case. The currents were extremely strong this particular morning but I was still able to navigate out into the stream using my tripod as a means to stabilize myself. I felt comfortable doing this because I was in a section of the creek that was a good distance from a falls and a relatively gradual grade. Had I been further downstream, perhaps closer to the 92' Ganoga Falls, I would not have taken the chance. The heavy rains and low clouds were dominating the area with an occasional separation which presented the rising sun and some crepuscular rays of light. I wasn't able to take full advantage of the scene but still came away with some images I was really happy with. A landscape version of this shot is already on order to hang up in the house. This image really depicts where I enjoy shooting from - right in the middle of things. Hope you enjoy...
Technical details: Nikon D810, 17-35mm F/2.8 lens, Exposed for 1/2 Sec at F/16, ISO 400. Induro Tripod, Really Right Stuff Ball Head & Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer.  

Summer Flow along Kitchen Creek
Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

Weekly inspiration

Hi everyone,

During the 4th of July holiday, I visited family in North East PA. As one would imagine, I can't go to PA without including plans to visit Ricketts Glen State Park with a fellow photographer and friend Ian. With everything we had planned, the only day we had open to visit the park was Saturday the 4th. Ian and I watched the forecast and as luck would have it, it was sketchy at best during the early morning. We didn't let that stop us and got up early to make the 2 hour trek to the park. We arrived with gloomy skies which included intermittent rain and periods of downpour. Still not wanting to be deterred, we pressed forward. The recent increase in rainfall had the water at a level that I had never seen before. I was amazed at how much flow there was even in the smaller tributaries that feed into the main runs. We parked in the Lake Rose trailhead parking lot and headed down the Ganoga Glen side of the falls trail. The rain continued to be a menace making getting any shots challenging. We made the best of it and trekked down the falls trail all the way to the top of the 94' Ganoga Falls. I stopped at each falls along the way and took in some shots. Most of my time I spent in the middle of the main run, shooting upstream in various spots. Here is one of my favorites from the trip of Oneida Falls. The amount of flow was so much on this falls that there was a wind driven spray even 50 feet from the base of the falls. At this particular location, the falls is exposed to the open sky, where the stream is mostly shaded by the canopy of trees along the edge. I don't often process my images as monochromatic - it just isn't my cup of tea. I played around with the highlights and shadows on this image and finally settled on the conversion. I think it evokes the mood of what we were experiencing that morning. If you are looking for a good place to shoot in the coming weeks, I highly recommend a trip here. The flows are likely still very high and will make for some fantastic waterfall photography. Thanks for stopping by to have a look at my work. Hope you enjoy! 

Tech details: Nikon D810, 17-35mm f/2.8 lens @ 25mm. ISO 400, .7 sec at f/11, Singh Ray LB Polarizer, Induro Tripod.  

Morning Mist at Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

Morning Mist at Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

Southwest Sunsets

Hello everyone, 

What makes up your dream sunrise or sunset venue? Is it being at the edge of the ocean, watching the colors change as the sun passes over the horizon? Perhaps at the top of a mountain where you can see for miles on end or maybe a good stretch of farm land riddled with trees and crops? For me, it is anywhere really. As an avid chaser of the light, I often find myself exploring my location for sunrise or sunset opportunities. Recently I spent some time in Arizona where you have wide expanses or flat land that go beyond your imagination. The landscape also has its share of mountains that literally jump out of the plains forming some extremely adverse terrain. One location that I visited while in Arizona was the Saguaro National Park, located just outside of Tucson. This is a unique area of the U.S. which has the distinct pleasure of being one of the sole places on this planet where the Saguaro Cactus grows and thrives. The Saguaro is an amazing plant that towers 20-30 feet up and is able to suck water out of some of the driest soil around. I was truly in awe looking at these marvels of nature. 

The park offers a wide expanse of areas to explore on foot and setup your camera and tripod to witness the light show. When shooting scenes like this, I prefer to shoot a silhouette of the scene rather than blow out the sky. With colors like this, you just can't go wrong. The only thing that is difficult about getting a shot like this is not running into other Cacti or any of the dozens of reptiles or other occupants of the area. Wear some good hiking shoes, preferably that protect your ankles and take a flashlight to help you find your way in the dark.  There are plenty of places in the park to pull off and explore and in many cases, you have a well traveled trail to follow out into the cactus fields. During my time in the area, I made several trips to the park for sunset. During these visits, I was lucky enough to witness some amazing colors with or without clouds. Hope you enjoy...

Twilight - Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Twilight - Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Light show over the Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Light show over the Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey


Natures color palette - Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Natures color palette - Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Trip report - Great Falls National Park, VA

Hello everyone,

Lasts week I posted Wednesday Inspiration, a wide format image from Great Falls National Park, VA. This park is relatively close to my home in Maryland and is someplace I frequent quite often. Most recently, I met up with a fellow photographer Robert Clark and spent a couple of hours along the river capturing the morning light. We had a great morning shooting different angles of the river as the sun crested and lit up the landscape. You can visit Bob's website  here, which I highly recommend. His work is amazing and he is an excellent writer to boot.

Great Falls NP  occupies the western side of the Potomac River in northern Virginia. It has numerous hiking trails, an old canal with locks in ruins (locks are used to raise or lower a vessel while traveling up or downstream). The main attraction for visitors are the 3 river overlooks, which give you an excellent vantage point over the mighty Potomac River. All of the overlook locations are just a short walk from the parking area and easily accessible. Each of the locations provides a commanding view of the river from an elevated position. n order to get some of the images I am after, I often hike one of the trails north and then do a little rock hopping. When doing so, I am very careful not too get close to the rivers edge. If you decide to go this route, only do so during dry periods. If there is even a little bit of water on the rocks, they are as slippery as an ice rink. Use extreme caution. With slippery conditions under your feet, you stand a good chance to fall and break an ankle, slam your head or worse, fall into the river. The Great Falls portion of the river is rated as a class 5-6 whitewater according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. This means certain death for anyone who thinks wading or swimming is a good idea. According to the NPS website - 7-10 deaths a year occur here. Most of them are related to drunken stupidity. Take my advice, don't get too close to the edge. If you fall in, it will be the last thing you do.

Directly across the river is the Maryland side of Great Falls and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. This side of the river features access to 6 different canal locks that were built in and in use during  the late 1700's and was partially funded by George Washington. The project canal system was used to help skirt around the falls and move goods upstream along the Potomac. Use of the canal was abandoned in 1830 with the advent of the U.S. Railroad system. In addition to the canals and historic buildings, there is also a long boardwalk trail that leads out to the river giving you a different angle to view Great Falls.  

For anyone in the Maryland, D.C. or Northern Virginia area, this park is on the list of must see locations. Either side of the river makes a great location for a day trip with the family. The spring and summer weekends are the busiest times, so plan your trip and arrive early. Park hours are from 7am until sunset all year round., but if you are interested in getting there earlier, the gate is normally open at 5:30am.

Here are a couple more shots from my recent trips...

Rivers edge - Great Falls National Park, VA © Rob Loughrey

Rivers edge - Great Falls National Park, VA © Rob Loughrey

Robert Clark hard at work capturing the morning light - Great Falls NP, VA © Rob Loughrey

Robert Clark hard at work capturing the morning light - Great Falls NP, VA © Rob Loughrey

Wednesday inspiration

Hello everyone,

Just wanted to make a quick post and give everyone a little inspiration for the rest of the week. This image is from a recent trip I took to Great Falls, VA with a friend and fellow photographer Bob Clark. As most of you know, I make several trips a year to this location. For me it is a quick getaway and an amazing place to take in the amazing forces of nature. There aren't any other locations nearby that can rival the mighty Potomac River as it approaches our Nations Capital. Even during spring or early summer, you can get to the park at a reasonable time and get setup prior to sunrise. This coming weekend looks like it would be a great time to visit. Don't hesitate and get out there early! Hope you enjoy...

Daybreak - Great Falls National Park, VA © Rob Loughrey

Daybreak - Great Falls National Park, VA © Rob Loughrey


Eastern Arizona - a hidden gem

During my trip to the southwest, I decided to take a weekend and see a National Monument in the Eastern part of Arizona. The park isn't very well known but looked intriguing nonetheless. The Chiricahua National Monument is about 120 miles SE of Tucson and fairly close to the border of New Mexico. The park is referred to as a wonderland of rocks and is very similar to Bryce Canyon. The park encompasses 12,000 acres of rugged terrain within a mountain range that is twenty miles wide and forty miles long. The heart of the park has amazing pinnacle rock formations called hoodoos that are formed by millions of years of weathering. The entire process is too long to explain here, but in short, the constant freeze / thaw periods in a year are a major factor in the hoodoos forming. 

When entering the park, there is a visitor station a few miles up the road which has great information, maps and displays. There is an 8 mile scenic road that takes you to the top of the mountain where you can access hiking trails. During the drive, you will see hoodoos and balanced rocks all along your drive. The best way to view them is to go to one of the trail heads and walk down into the canyon.  There are several trails to choose from depending on your hiking ability. I took a 3 mile hike into the canyon about an hour before sunset. The hoodoos are huge and full of color. Most of them were over 20' tall with many more than 30'.  The warm side lighting on the rocks made the colors pop and provided plenty of dimension to the scene. I didn't stay overnight, but based on the remote area of the country and desolate surroundings, I would imagine that this area has some amazing dark skies on a clear moonless night. Next time I am in the area, I plan to make stay in the park and get some moonlit hoodoo images. I'm sure it will be amazing. Still trying to get caught up on postings. More to follow on a recent trip to Great Falls National Park. Hope you enjoy...

Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey


Hoodoos and the rugged wilderness - Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Hoodoos and the rugged wilderness - Chiricahua National Monument, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Chiricahua National Monument , AZ © Rob Loughrey

Chiricahua National Monument , AZ © Rob Loughrey