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

Torridon

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

Quiraing
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.

Cuillins
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 Light.co.  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 Light.co 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.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Exploring the Tetons

Exploring Grand Teton National Park and chasing images in the day and night.  After a couple of nights in Yellowstone, I moved camp south to the neighboring Grand Teton National Park.  I had several areas picked out for sunrise images and some locations I wanted to do some night photography.

Having waited until the fall I knew the Milky Way would be more in the southwest and west in the night sky which would open up some options to do some of the classic views of the Teton Range at night with the Milky Way beyond.

I was hoping to do Oxbow Bend, Schwabacher's Landing, Snake River Overlook, and maybe a few other spots.


All of those locations are great in the morning.  They could also be good at sunset if there were clouds.  Finally all of them would work with the Milky Way too if it was clear.

As always with landscape photography there is the weather factor and it could be clear or cloudy.  I was prepared for both and hoped for the best.

As luck would have it I was able to photograph several locations and get good light at sunrise, some Milky Way images, and then have some good hikes.

Sunrise is always a good time for the what the first light will bring to the Tetons and this trip was no exception.  Even on a mostly clear day, low fog made for a great shot of the Tetons.  I also caught a rainy morning at Schwabcaher's Landing with great soft light.

The Milky Way images worked out too with night images of the Tetons over Jackson Lake, Schwabacher's Landing and Oxbow Bend.

As always the park had a lot of people and the famous overlooks can be crowded, so while I will visit them, I often go looking for more solitude and had a spot along Jenny Lake all to myself for a sunset in the rain one day and a night of Milky Way images another.


The Tetons also let me make good use of differing lenses.  My favorite night lens is the fisheye but the 24mm and 55mm lenses worked well to bring the mountains closer and make the Milky Way bigger in the frame.

After four nights there I was exhausted from the long days and being up half the night chasing the Milky Way.  I had several very good images from the trip and had seen some amazing sights.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Yellowstone by Night

In the fall of 2016 I made a trip to Yellowstone timed for the new moon and a plan of photographing some locations in the park with the Milky Way.  I was there at the end of the season in late September as the park was starting to shut down.  My original idea had been to photograph both the Firehole River area while camping at Madison and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone while camping at Canyon Village.  Well, I was too late in the season and Canyon Village was already closed.  So I modified my plan to stay two nights at Madison and spend both nights photographing the Firehole River area.

I arrived in the park with just enough time to pitch my tent and then drive along the Firehole River.  I caught a nice sunset along the way and arrived at Grand Prismatic Spring as the last of the tourists were leaving.  I knew in the daytime this place was packed, but I walked on the boardwalk up to the spring and had it all to myself!

I knew once it got dark the Milky Way would be visible right over the spring and I waited for Astronomical Twilight and true night.  Sure enough the Milky Way was rising (or actually setting) right over the spring.  I sat there and made images as the temps dropped into the 30's and the spring put out steam.

What turned out to be a great surprise is that there is a Geyser right behind Grand Prismatic Spring and I was able to photograph it with a view to the north.  Now the Milky Way is not as bright that direction (see my last post for more on that) but with the steam plume it puts out it looked awesome!

As I photographed I noticed a strange light on the northern horizon.  There are no cities that direction for many many miles so I was not sure what it was at first.  Then looking at my camera images, the light was green.  I was witnessing the northern lights!!

Wow!  Wow!  Wow!

It was right on the horizon but it was the an aurora (AKA the northern lights).

I ended up there for a few hours photographing both geothermal features and finally was so tired I called it a night.  And what a night it was.  Milky Way, Geysers, Aurora.......Wow.

The next day I explored the area more and found a small side loop that went to the White Dome Geyser.  It has a nice cone.  You could be very close to it (maybe 40 feet) and the geyser was erupting every 30-40 minutes.  I knew this was the spot for that night.

I returned at sunset and photographed the only few clouds in the sky and the geyser.  Again I had the location to myself!  It was nothing like being one of thousands watching Old Faithful.   After it was dark, I waited for the eruption and had two cameras ready.  I could hear coyotes howling, I kept an eye out for bears (none) and watch the sky in awe. When it finally happened I was able to get three or four shots with each one during the eruption.

I did both some light painting and some just the stars.  I got another set of images I could have only hoped for, an erupting geyser under the Milky Way.  

After that I made a few stops along the river on my way back to camp picking up a few more images.

In two nights in Yellowstone I ended up with images I had hoped for but was not sure I could get.  What a way to start a trip.



Sunday, February 12, 2017

Milky Way in the Night Sky

Summer Milky Way and Galactic Core
The Milky Way is the galaxy we live in.  It is also HUGE!  Both in actual size and how large it is in the sky.  I often photograph it with a fisheye lens it is so big!

Finding the Milky way in the night sky is actually pretty easy.  Go outside and look is the simple advice.

Ok, maybe it is not quite that easy........  The Milky Way is visible every month of the year but you really need dark sky to see it.  That means getting away from the city and it helps when there is not a bright moon in the sky.  

Really you can observe it about three weeks a month with just a few days either side of the full moon being less than good viewing conditions.  Of course the days around the new moon will give you the longest nights of dark sky and are the best time to see the Milky Way.


Winter view Spiral Arm
So go outside at night close to the new moon helps.  But just because you can see stars it does not mean it is dark enough.

After sunset you need to wait for astronomical twilight which is roughly 90 minutes after sunset.  It takes the sky that long to get dark.  Then in the morning about 90 minutes before sunrise you begin to lose the night sky.

It also helps to find dark sky.  Get away from the city.  You need at least 30 miles.  At that distance I can see the Milky Way but often get light pollution.  When you find true dark sky areas then the magic of the night sky really appears.  Google dark sky map or light pollution map to find some sites like DarkSiteFinder to see maps of light pollution.  If you live east of the Mississippi River in the US or pretty much anywhere in western Europe you see very little dark sky.  Those west of the Mississippi or in western Australia can find some very dark sky.

Another thing to know is the Milky Way is visible at different times of the night and in different parts of the sky in different times of the year.  Make sense?

constellations
We can see the galactic core of our galaxy which is the best and brightest part of the Milky Way.  It runs between the constellations Sagittarius (also known as the Tea pot)  in the southern half of the sky in summer and Cassiopeia in the north.  Cassiopeia spins around the North Star opposite the Big Dipper.  We can also see one of the spiral arms of our galaxy between Cassiopeia (still in the north) and Orion in southern half of the sky in winter.  The spiral arm is not near as bright as the galactic core but it can be seen. Especially if you find very dark sky.

So here in February, if you go outside about two hours after sunset in a reasonably dark sky area you will see the spiral arm of the Milky Way from the northwest.  Remember this is the less bright part.    Look for Cassiopeia and Orion.  If you went back outside at 5am you would start to see the galactic core rise in the east right before night faded.

In June if you went outside about 11pm you would see the galactic core rising in the east and be visible the rest of the night.

In October if you went outside two hours after dark you would see the galactic core setting in the southwest.  The Milky Way will still be visible but the best part is now below the horizon.


Galactic core in the west in the fall
In December if you went outside after dark you would see Orion rising in the east and the Milky Way going to the northwest toward Cassiopeia and beyond.  Again the best part has set but it is still visible.

A general rule I use is in the spring the Milky Way is best visible in the morning in the east the week after the new moon.  In the fall it is best visible to the west in the evening the week leading into the new moon.

Check out apps like Stellarium, Google Sky, Photo Pills and many others to help you see and find the night sky.

Want to learn more about the Milky Way?  Check out this by NASA on our Galaxy:
NASA on the Milky Way