Monday, August 28, 2017

Eclipse Over the Tetons

I just returned from a trip to Wyoming where I photographed the August 21st Total Eclipse over the Tetons.

The  total eclipse of Aug 21, 2017 is something I have been thinking about for a few years.  Back in 2012 I had watched and photographed an annular eclipse in New Mexico.  That was only a partial eclipse where the sun set during the event.  It was a magical experience and one that made me start to think about the 2017 event.

I knew it was going to be a total eclipse and I knew it would go over Wyoming.  That got me to thinking of different locations and how I might photograph it.  My first thought was photographing the eclipse over the Tetons as this is an iconic location and truly a once in a lifetime event.  I also looked at going into the Wind River Range and being in the high country.  The more I put into planning the shot, the more I kept coming back to the unique and once in a lifetime aspect of it being over the Tetons.

In the last few years I made a couple of trips to Grand Teton National Park and really took to sunrise at Schwabacher Landing. This is a very famous view of the Tetons over some beaver ponds along the Snake River.  The most photographed location is actually framed between some trees and gets most of the people who watch it on any given sunrise.  I prefer some of the spots on the way to the famous view along the little series of beaver ponds and not the location most people go.  I decided to make this the place I would shoot the eclipse.

Working with the Photographers Ephemeris I knew the eclipse would be in the middle of the day and the sun would be high in the sky.  Now I know most people planning for the eclipse will say that you cannot get both the Tetons and the sun in the image from Schwabacher Landing.  Most people are also thinking using a longer lens.  I like wide angle lenses and wanted to put the eclipse in context.  I went to work thinking how I might get it.

Looking up at Totality
I have a 15mm lens for my full frame Sony A7R.  Last fall I set up some shots when I was in the Tetons and quickly came to realize the 15mm would not be wide enough.  I do have a couple of fisheye lenses I was pretty confident could do the shot.  Since I wanted to use a rectilinear lens if possible, I looked at and rented the Voigtlander 10mm lens for the Sony, hoping this would be wide enough with my fisheye lenses as backups.  I also ordered some of the NASA recommended eclipse glasses so I could look at the sun.

As we got closer to August and the news began to talk more about the eclipse and the how it would be an event watched by millions I began to worry about getting to the park, gas shortages, etc.  I wondered if this was going to be the Super Bowl meets Woodstock with thousands already there ahead of me making it impossible to get around.  Would I even be able to get into Grand Teton National Park or Schwabacher Landing at all?  Would there be a thousand people at Schwabacher Landing all jostling for the same spot?

To make things more difficult, the campgrounds in the Tetons do not take reservations.  I knew showing up just a couple of days before the eclipse I had about zero chance of snagging an open tent site.  So I booked a campsite in Yellowstone.

My plan was to fly to Salt Lake City and drive up to Yellowstone.  I would camp and photograph in Yellowstone for a few days and then get to the Tetons for the eclipse.

It seemed like it would work but I also kept seeing news that they expected Aug 21st to be the busiest day in the history of Grand Teton National Park.  I read the park had a plan for the crowds, they would set up some special viewing areas and would not let people into parking lots and overlooks until 0600 on the 21st.  This made me feel better that my plan just might work.

Finally the trip arrived and I made my way to Yellowstone a few days before the eclipse where I pleased to find it was just a typical busy summer crowd.  Yes, there were people but not an overwhelming crush of people like I feared.  I spent a couple of days photographing in Yellowstone taking in geysers, wildlife and photographing the night sky.

On eclipse Monday I made my way down into the the path of totality getting to the gate at Schwabacher Landing right after it had opened finding I was about the tenth car in.  I was both relieved and ecstatic to be in my spot!!

There were a few clouds in the sky and I went to my spot along the beaver ponds for sunrise.  The clouds made the sunrise weak but that was not the reason to be there this morning.  I found the water a little lower in the area I wanted to use as my foreground and so moved about 20 feet up to the next level of the beaver pond where I had a great reflection.  I also found a moose in the pond!  

It would have been neat for momma moose to stay there through the eclipse, but unfortunately, that did not happen as she left before the eclipse started.  

As the morning went on the clouds cleared, I had my spot, and I had my gear ready.  Now it was just time to wait.

I was surprised to find that not many people were in the area.  The parking lot had filled up but most folks were close to their cars and looking east toward the rising sun.  At my spot by the beaver pond I was looking west and began to set up my cameras.

I brought three tripods and set up three cameras.  
Cameras at the ready

I worked with the rented 10mm Voigtlander but by mid morning knew it was not wide enough.

So I went with a plan like this.

Sony A7R with Samyang 12mm fisheye on my full size Gitzo 1348 tripod set up with a vertical orientation.  With this set up I could get the beaver pond, the Tetons and looking back with its huge view, the sun.

Sony A7S with Voigtlander 15mm lens on my travel Gitzo 1541T set up looking toward the Tetons across the pond.  This would give me a view of the scene in front of me.

Sony NEX6 with the 8mm Samyang fisheye lens on my tiny Sirui 025X.  This is a low tripod and I set it up to look up through the grass by the beaver pond up at the eclipse.

I had all three cameras focused and set for aperture priority so I could just fire off each one.

Totality over the Tetons
As the eclipse started at first contact we started watching the eclipse through the glasses, taking a look every few minutes.  Then take a few images, both normal and also massively under exposed to see if I could get the partial eclipse.  

As we approached totality the light kept getting dimmer and dimmer.  There was a tension and excitement in the air.  I kept snapping images and taking a look as the moon took a bigger and bigger bite out of the sun.  The temperature felt cooler.  

The light looked strange.

Right before totality coyotes started howling!

Then suddenly the moon covered the sun.  It was like a light switch went off.  We were under totality!  The sky is suddenly dark like it is 40 minutes after sunset.  I stand there in awe for a split second.

Nothing can prepare you for that moment!  No written word can fully describe it.  No image can do it justice.  It is something one has to experience.

I began to snap images.

I took off the eclipse glasses (not needed during totality) and looked up to see a black hole in the sky.  It is magical.  The dark sky, the black hole of the eclipse, and the distant light from the edge of the shadow like a far off sunset.
Sunlight on the Tetons moments before totality ended

More images are made.  I looked at the horizon.  I looked up again.  It is amazing, almost unbelievable and I was lucky enough to be there to see it.

The two minutes and a few odd seconds went by like it was maybe ten seconds.

Looking west as I took a few more images, I saw light on the Tetons.  I get one last look around,  In just a second or so later there is suddenly light on us.  Totality has ended.

The full eclipse is over and I continue to take images as the light gets brighter and brighter.

I stay at Schwabacher Landing until after the eclipse has ended.  I check the cameras and see what look like successful images of totality!

Planning and effort paid off with the images I had envisioned. I am elated.  It was everything I hoped for and then some!

What a day this was.  One I will remember for a long time and images I will revisit often for a view I will never see again.

What an amazing experience it was seeing a total eclipse, I had read how people sought them out and how it had profound impact on them but until you experience it, you cannot fully fathom what it is like.  To all of those who saw this one, you understand.  To the rest, do yourself a favor and try to see one in the future if you can.

In seven years we can do this again as an April 2024 eclipse will go from Texas into eastern Canada.  I already have been looking at maps and planning possible images.  You can say I am joining the crowd of eclipse chasers.

One last note, a big kudos to the National Park Service folks at Grand Teton National Park!  The plan they had for location and traffic control worked incredibly well.  Their folks were on site, friendly, helpful and so incredibly professional.  Their efforts made this day a very smooth and well run event.

Lastly, I have prints available of the eclipse on my website:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Castles of the Scottish Highlands

Eilean Donan
When planning a journey to Scotland I knew I wanted to visit the Highlands to see the amazing scenery.  I also wanted to visit the castles. As a reader of history to being an avid Tolkien fan, I wanted to see and photograph some of the castles in the Highlands.

Even early on I knew that Eilean Donan had to be part of that.  I have wanted to visit there since seeing it used in the movie Highlander.  As I explored the area more I found other castles too.  I tried to plan a route and visits to them all.  In the end I would see most and only skip one for being too far out of the way and i will save it for my next visit.

Dunscaith Castle
Eilean Donan- may be the most famous and photographed castle in Scotland.  It was rebuilt a hundred years ago and they now offer tours.  In the daytime you can pay a nominal fee ( 7 pounds in fall of 2016) and do a self paced tour that is outstanding.  No photos allowed inside the castle though.  Take all you want outside.  I camped in nearby Dornie and was here for a sunset and sunrise.  I also revisited between the Isle of Skye and Torridon in the rain to take the tour.  It is busy in the daytime but at dawn and dusk has fewer people.  Very photogenic and a great tour make this a must see.

Dunscaith- The Fortress of Shadows is on the Isle of Skye.  This is a ruin with only a little of it left standing and it sits on a cliff with the Cuillins rising beyond.  When I saw the name meant Fortress of Shadows, I knew I had to visit.  Only a few visitors make the journey out to here.  I spent a few hours on the site and really liked finding images here.

Ardvreck Castle
Ardvreck- A small lonely haunted castle on Loch Assynt.  This one is in the far northwest region of Assynt and close to the road.  Two known ghosts here.  I was here in the dark, by myself, on Halloween.  No ghosts seen but I did get some great shots of the castle and loch.  I stayed into the night photographing until the rains came.  The wild lonely landscape here works well with the castle.  If you are going north of Ullapool, plan a stop here.

Inverlochy- A well preserved castle with all four walls still standing.  This is on the edge of Fort William and it has modern things around it.   Still worth a visit for an hour or so.  Easy to get to since most visits to the Highlands involve going through Fort William.

Inverlochy Castle
Urquardt- sits on the edge of Loch Ness and is very crowded.  So much so that I passed on the tour and went to Fort William to see Inverlochy Castle instead.  This looks very neat to see and of course with Loch Ness there it draws a crowd, but it was very busy.  Maybe next time.

Kilchurn-  A very neat castle not too far from the Glencoe/Glen Etive area.  Well preserved.  I had heard it was open to visit but I found it locked up in November and had to photograph it from the exterior.  This is another place one could spend several hours photographing.  Even in a steady and heavy rain I explored the area for a couple of hours trying to grab some images of the different views of this structure.

I had wanted to visit Tioram and Caeverlock castles but did not have the time.  On a future visit I plan to see them.  You can also be sure I plan to revisit many if not all of these castles.
Kilchurn Castle

There are many more castles in the country and these were just a few of them.  All were worth a visit and had chances for a great photograph or to just relive some history.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Glen Orchy
The fourth area I visited in the Highlands was Glencoe.  After a week and a half in country I felt I was just getting started and being down to just a few days left I was wishing I had planned for three weeks instead of two.

Like each of the other areas, I had seen a few images that had really drawn my interest and I knew a few spots I wanted to visit.  Of course, images might be worth a thousand words, but being there is always better (and different).

The location that had really intrigued me was the famous Buchaille Etive Mor.  The mountain that sits at the top of Glen Etive where it meets Rannoch Moor and Glencoe.  The images there always looked wild and very interesting.  

There is a famous waterfall I have seen in several images and with a little looking at Google Earth, thought I had a rough idea of the spot.  I drove into the area, turned on the Glen Etive road off of the A82 and sure enough there is a little parking spot (by that I mean room for three cars) and 50 years away is the falls.  

I got there right for sunset.

It was nice.  Glencoe turned out to give me a couple of good sunrises and a sunset and ended up being the place with the best overall light on the trip.  It still rained a lot but I did get some nice light too.

I found there were a couple of camping options nearby.  The Ski Lodge at Glencoe Mountain has tent camping but it is just a patch of grass next to the showers.  Red Squirrel is down the valley but a proper campground in the trees by the river.  Being November,there were just like three other campers there.

After a good sunset at the waterfall, I did a rainy dawn at the Three Sisters.  From there I was off to explore the nearby Kilchurn Castle in the rain.  I had heard it was open but apparently not in winter as I found it locked.  It still made for a neat location to photograph in the rain.  On the drive back I explored Glen Orchy finding a very scenic waterfall with some of the slickest rock I have ever walked on.

I would do a few hikes in the glen and then tried a sunset down by the river right under the Three Sisters, again to just have clouds.

Finally on my last night in the Highlands, the rain turned to snow and I awoke to fresh powder on the peaks.  After a few early images of the Three Sisters, I made my way up to Buchaille Etive Mor for my last sunrise.  It was great!  Clouds, light, a little snow all added up to quite the send off.

I spent my last few hours chasing images.

Before I knew it, it was time to start the drive south.  I packed up, took one last look around and began the journey home.  On the drive, I began to already plan my return......

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wilds of Assynt

In the northwest of the Highlands the land becomes a bit more open and the mountains become more single mounts.  It is a wild landscape called Assynt.  It was here I made my third location to visit in the Highlands.

While the landscape looked intriguing so did one particular place, Ardvreck Castle.  A ruin on the edge of the lake and fairly close to the road.  It is one of many castle ruins to see in Scotland but something about it kept drawing me back to looking at pictures of it.

The haunted castle on Halloween
So when I finished my days in Torridon I made my way toward the castle.  I first stopped in Ullapool for food, fuel and a hot meal (eggs with smoked salmon).  Then with restocked provisions, I headed north under interesting clouds.  There were many place I wanted to stop but I was drawn to the castle as it sits along the dark waters of Loch Assynt.

At first my plan was to stay for a few hours and then head back to some mountains I wanted to photograph, but the light was great and the castle kept revealing different views to me, that I stayed and stayed right to sunset.

Wild Country of Assynt
My plan had been to drive another 30 miles to the Scourie campsite but with it being here on Halloween and it being a supposedly haunted castle.....I decided to stay into the night and photograph it.

So here I am alone, under brooding skies, at a haunted castle on Halloween.

This is fun!

As the night swept across the land and the darkness set in, I set up to make images of the castle in the dark.  At first I was photographing the castle across the water but then I went up to it, set up the camera on the intervalometer to do shots one after the other.  Then I set out to walk around the castle in the dark occasionally lighting it with my flashlight.

Brooding skies and rain
I did this until the rain started and I called it a night, retreating to the dry of my tent with no ghosts seen.

The next day dawned with sun and rain that I watched near Stac Polly.  Standing in the rain watching a sunrise is such a Scottish thing.  A day then spent hiking in the rain.  I started on the trail to Suilven but the constant rain made travel tough and hid the mountain again and again.  I decided better to find drier places and gave up on a 12+ mile hike.  This is something I need to consider overnighting the next trip.

After a day in the rain I welcomed the chance to camp at Altandhu and a hot shower.  Cooking Scotch Broth in the wind and rain and falling asleep to the wind, rain and crashing waves.

Suilven rises in the distance
I spent another day in the rain hiking in the wild hills of the northwest.  From a few forested areas to boggy moorland, to small lochs, and fantastically shaped mountains, this had it all.

Rainbows, clouds, wind, rain, fall color, red deer, brooding skies.  I saw it all.

Again, I found it an intriguing area and one that needed more time on a future visit.

I wrapped up my days in the north thinking three nights in an area was just not enough time and I should have stayed for three weeks.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Empty Country of Torridon
North of the Isle of Skye the rugged and mountainous region of Torridon is reached.  Here one finds big mountains and all but treeless glens.  It was another location I had seen images from and knew I wanted to visit.

I drove up from the Isle of Skye in the rain.  Make that pouring, heavy rain.  It actually turned out to be a good day to drive as photography was all but out of the question with only one good stop at a waterfall for ten minutes.  Lets just say good rain gear is well worth the price as it was the only way to stay dry.
The treeless route

As I arrived in the little village of Torridon the rain let up and I was able to set up my tent.  The town runs a little campsite.  I hear it is busy in the summer but at the end of October it was all but empty with just one other camper there.  I found a somewhat dry patch and put the tent up.

Then it was out to the glen and I caught some nice light at sunset.

I had three nights here and that would give me two full days to explore.  I had picked out a hike I wanted to do around Beinn Eighe to the Triple Buttress on the north side of the mountain.  It was about 9 miles round trip.  I spent a little time in the glen in the morning and left mid-morning spending the rest of the day on the hike.
Torridon Waterfall

This was a treeless hike.  Not one tree seen the entire way.  Just big mountains, streams, waterfalls, rocks and emptiness.  It was fantastic!  The weather was windy and mostly cloudy but I did get just a few minutes where the sun popped out along the hike.

When I reached the Triple Buttress, I found shelter from the howling wind on the leeward side of a rock to have a snack, drink some water, and look at the surrounding peaks.  Next trip I think I will backpack up for a night of wild camping here.

I spent most of the afternoon making my way back down to the car getting there right at sunset.  I photographed and took my time.  This was what I had been hoping for and this was a good day.  That night as I sat by my tent cooking Scotch Broth I was still in awe with the area.

There were several possible hikes I had seen in the area and (again just like Skye) did not have enough time to do them all.  I decided to do a hike north west of the village into the region under Beinn Alligin.  Here was a long valley between towering peaks.  There was a very small section of remnant forest here.  As in just a few acres and it was fenced to keep the deer out.  The rest was again all but treeless.
River Gorge

I followed a stream through the valley that had waterfall after waterfall.  The stream entered a small gorge and just kept getting more scenic.  I stopped for so many pictures that by lunch I had not even gone two miles.

I also found what I thought would be a great location for a sunset and planned to go back.  It was very overcast but I hoped the light might happen at sunset.

During an afternoon rain, I spent some time in the afternoon exploring one of those small sections of forest.  Really amazing that a forest might only be 4 acres.

As the day waned I hiked back up the Valley under Beinn Alligin to a wasterfall with a view west hoping for sunset, but it never happened.  It was just a gray sunset.  I hiked back to the car in the gathering dark still as content as one could hope for.  No it was not a sunset, but I was in the Scottish Highlands camping in the rain!!!

Loch Torridon
The next morning I was by the loch taking images in early gray light.  Then I went back up to the same waterfall hoping the clouds might break but again they stayed gray.

So I wrapped up my day time in Torridon in a light fog and mist.  I packed my wet tent up and headed north again.  I was off to find second breakfast in Ullapool.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Isle of Skye

In the fall of 2016 I did a trip way outside the box for me, I flew to the UK and spent two weeks in the Scottish Highlands, finally getting a stamp in my passport.

This is one of those trips I had thought about for years and never taken.  Last year I made it happen.  It was easier and cheaper than I thought.  I did cash in some airline miles for free airfare then rented a car for two weeks and camped in the Highlands.

This was a solo trip too.  I could not get anyone to go with me.  So here I am traveling internationally for the first time in life, going solo and going to live in a one man tent for two weeks at the end of October.

Needless to say my friends thought I was crazy......
Sky coastal cliffs

When I think Scotland I wanted the lonely mountains, castles and wild country of the Highlands.  So I decided to skip the typical tourist spots and the cities and to concentrate on visiting four areas:  Isle of Skye, Torridon, Assynt, and Glencoe.

This let me stay in each location 3 nights and gave me a chance to explore a few areas rather than hurry through the country trying to do too much.

I started on the Isle of Skye.

Skye is one of those locations I had heard of and seen some amazing images of.  Since I wanted to camp I looked for one of the campgrounds there.  I found that Uig Bay campsite was open all year.  Like most of the campsites in Scotland, it is private.  It had a grassy area for tents (I was the only person in a tent) and a parking area for camper vans (4 or 5 of those).  They had showers and a laundry on site.  Nice people too.

I set up camp and began to explore the island.

Dunscaith Castle- the Shadow Fortress
Now I had a car but for those who have never driven in the UK, it is a bit disconcerting when you first get out on the road in a right hand drive car, driving on the "wrong" side of the road, in a manual where you shift with your left hand.  

Honestly it was not too bad.  The first 15 minutes are the worst, but keep saying...stay left...  

On Skye some of the roads become single track.  There are turn outs every few hundred yards.  When I saw an oncoming car, I always pulled into pull out to let them past.

Wizards Tower in the Fairy Glen
So on the Isle of Skye I had marked several areas I wanted to visit but even with three days it was not enough to see them all.  On my next trip to Scotland I will do 4 nights there.

One of the places I had seen on the map was Dunscaith Castle.  It sits on a cliff over the sea.  It means the Shadow Fortress.  Now what Tolkien fan can resist a name like that? :-)  I made my way there on morning and took the short walk out to the castle ruins.  I made my way up the hill past what were the stone ruins of a draw bridge and listened to the waves crashing in below.

Off to the north the peaks of the Cuillins had dark clouds hanging over them and I can see how it gets it name of Shadow Fortress.  I easily spend a couple of hours exploring the location and imagining the stories the stones could tell.

I spent an afternoon in the Fairy Glen.  This is an area of unique little hills and rocks that also looks like something out of Tolkien.  If you saw elves and hobbits running around you would not be surprised.  I stayed here through a cloudy evening with no sunset and still loved the moody quality to it.

I planned a morning photography hike along the Quiraing a cliff of green with more unique rock formations.  I made the drive in the early morning rain and 40+ mph winds.  There was little indication of a sunrise.  Despite the wind and rain, I geared up and started hiking under the rim.  The rain stopped, the clouds parted and glorious light light the hills.  For ten minutes I was going crazy taking images.  Then the clouds closed back in and the rain started again.

That is typical Scottish weather.  In fact it rained at least part of every day there over my two weeks.  I only saw the stars once.

I made the drive to Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock.  The viewpoint is such only one person at a time can really get a good picture of the falls, but it is still a good stop.

I also had a rainy morning near the Cuillins.  These are said to be the most rugged mountains in Britian and on this rainy, windy morning certainly looked ominous.  

The few days on the island were just not enough to see it all.  I have several more locations on my list, but they will have to wait until my next trip.

I drove back over the Skye bridge and headed north.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande

Santa Elena Canyon and Rio Grande
Big Bend National Park is the true end of the road.  There is no happening upon it while passing through.  You have to want to get there to be there.  

If you are lucky enough to get here, you will find a big landscape with desert, mountains, and the canyons of the Rio Grande.  You will also find some of the darkest sky in the lower 48.

This is a landscape and nightscape photographers dream park that I visit multiple times a year returning to places I know yet a park I am always finding new locations.  

One of my favorite locations in the park is Santa Elena Canyon.  This is the crown jewel of the park and one not to miss at sunrise.  If there is any clear sky in the east the canyon will light up and glow orange at sunrise.  Standing on the banks of the Rio Grande staring up at the 1500' walls of the canyon (and likely having it to yourself) is an awe inspiring experience.

Making the shot #VantagePoint
I was in the park this last winter and could see there were nice clouds in the sky foretelling a great sunrise.  So I decided to adapt and shoot out of the canyon rather than into it.  I packed up my gear in the dark, forded Terlingua Creek at the mouth of the canyon, and hiked up the hill leading into the canyon.

There I set up to shoot out of the canyon, the Rio Grande, and the distant Chisos mountains.

I brought two tripods and two cameras with me.  I had my big Gitzo tripod with my Sony A7R and I bought my little Sirui tripod with my Sony A7S.  This allowed me to have two different lenses at anyone time.  I like having options.  The small size of the camera really calls for small lenses and I use a few small primes to keep a compact package.

Even though I also shoot 4x5 large format film camera, I really like small cameras with big capabilities  All of my Sony cameras are that way, giving me amazing capabilities in a tiny, easy to carry camera.  I am impressed with what even my Android device can do these days.  Technology is moving fast and giving us cameras that can do things we never thought possible.  

I have seen information on the new Light L16 Camera from  With multiple lenses and sensors, different focal lengths, Android operating system, and more, I was intrigued.  This looks like a lot of camera in a tiny package and one I would like to try in the field.  

Rio Grande Sunrise in Big Bend
The folks at asked me to participate in their #VantagePoint project to talk about some of my favorite photo locations and getting the shot.  I had to go with photographing the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park.  By the way you can participate too.  Tag your shots with #VantagePoint.

The top image here is taking in the wide view from my Sony A7R with Voigtlander 15mm lens.  ISO 100 at f/5.6 for 1/3 of a second.  My goal was to capture as much of the scene as I could.  Get the canyon walls, river, mountains and as much sky as I could.  The little Voigtlander is a great match for the Sony A7R and has become my favorite combo.

The middle image is me set up with my smaller Sirui tripod, with Sony A7S making images.  People always ask me what it is like in the field, so here you can see me in action.  Yes, my little tripod really is this small.

The bottom image is from the Sony A7S and Sony 55mm lens.  ISO 100 f/5.6 for 13 seconds.  Although I am really a fan of wide angle lenses, I wanted a tighter crop of the river, mountains and early light.  Here I was able to get that by swapping out to the Sony 55mm lens.

Photography is an adventure, so get out there with your camera and find and share your #VantagePoint.