Significant

General Thoughts
Lifting Fog Over Antelope Flats — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

Lifting Fog Over Antelope Flats — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”

– Ansel Adams

The idea of choosing the word “significant” to describe the twelve photographs of a good annual crop, certainly leaves the quote open to interpretation. What are the determining factors or definition of the term? and who or what decides the criteria? Who knows? It goes right to the core of the question “What is art”.

Early on in my photography, I had an opportunity to join several other photographers in an exhibition at a new gallery in NJ; in fact, our’s was the first exhibit there. When I delivered my work, I chatted with the two owners and asked if either, as new gallery owners, had any background in art either as artists, or had any education in art history. Neither had any whatsoever; they were business people. Yet, they were the ones who, in the future, would decide what was exhibited… in other words, they would decide for their gallery, what is art! I would hope that they were the exception to the rule, but I fear that may not be the case. So we should never place too much emphasis into the choices a judge makes on our own work, even if they do have a working knowledge of photography. It is completely subjective, and accepting that, can help minimize any disappointments as well as any validation we may receive. Ansel Adams himself judged his own work in determining on average, how many in any given year were deemed as significant, where others may have been either more forgiving or even harsher critics. The same holds true of our own work.

Still Waters — Yellowstone, NP © jj raia

Still Waters — Yellowstone, NP © jj raia

My “excuse” for photography is, in most cases, to see our world in a way that it may have been prior to any imprint left by humanity; to be a “fly on the wall” of geologic history. I would love to watch firsthand the fast-forward of many millions of years in a few minutes, watching the rise and fall of mountain ranges, or the encroachment of oceans inland. It is that sense of historical perspective, whether eons or years, that I  try to capture in many of the images that end up in front of my camera, whether it is a grand landscape or something much more intimate.

 

Forest Understory — Yellowstone, NP © jj raia

Forest Understory — Yellowstone, NP © jj raia

Photography sometimes gets me out where nature is a bit more raw and threatening to those of us who are used to the comforts of modern living, as it did on this trip. I suppose that desire to feel nature’s fury was always in me because I can vividly recall, in my early teens, putting on as much clothing as I could to fend off a raging blizzard, and venturing out at night to wander the neighborhood, ending up in a small forest trudging through the snow, forging ahead against a ferocious wind. Of course my Mother thought I was crazy, but I loved every minute of it, finally coming home half-frozen, but exhilarated.

Evening Grazing — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

Evening Grazing — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

Seeing the raw landscape in Grand Teton, Craters of the Moon and Yellowstone put me in touch with that same exhilaration, and rekindled the feeling of how helpless we are in the face of the forces of nature. I try to imagine how the sharp peaks of the Tetons over eons, rose inexorably out of the flat expanse to the east, or the close connection to the inner earth the geysers and hot springs clearly exhibit in Yellowstone. Seeing the herds of bison that have wandered this area for thousands of years was certainly like a live view into ancient history. Adding unsettled weather to it all just made it better than I realized at the time. I appreciate that now after sifting through and processing so many images. I suppose it was the scenes that illustrate our own insignificance that were the photos that touched me most; and I sincerely hope that some of those brought back from this trip have touched others as well. If they have, then they can be considered significant.

Young Aspens — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

Young Aspens — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

 

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A Few Quick Notes

General Thoughts
Lost River Range and Lava Flow — Idaho © jj raia

Lost River Range and Lava Flow — Idaho © jj raia

Parts of the west offer the opportunity to experience far ranging views and thereby, at times, to see entire mountain ranges; something most of us living here in the east do not experience very often. That’s the case with the Grand Tetons, a fairly well known and recognizable chain of mountains. From Craters of the Moon National Monument, I could see a mountain range I had never heard of: The Lost River Range. They weren’t as majestic as the Tetons, but they gathered the late afternoon glow just as the sun went down one afternoon and were highlighted against a watercolor sky. The black expanse of ancient lava flows forms the base of the panorama above, stitched from five separate panels. As mentioned in previous posts, it was done to keep the perspective accurate for the range since getting in this much real estate would have required a very wide angle lens and made the mountains look like a tiny sliver without any definition.

Beaver Pond at Schwabcher's Landing — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

Beaver Pond at Schwabcher’s Landing — Grand Teton NP © jj raia

Although you always feel the presence of the Tetons when you’re visiting the park, Willow Flats offers a lot of different options when the mountains provide only a backdrop for the patterns that run through the flats. A zoom allows you to precisely extract specific areas within the frame that had either a singular focal point or a particular pattern to the growth shimmering in the late afternoon sun.

In the burn area I happened upon, that same zoom provided a backdrop to isolate a few trees where a normal or wide angle lens would not. Most times a small angle of view is needed to bring the background up against the subject to make it seem more wall like; in the same way you may use an actual wall as a background when shooting portraits. Afterall, when the main subjects are isolated in the field, it’s important to have an appropriate background from which they can stand out.

The final image below was shot through steam from the hot spring, lightly lit from behind by the sun straining to see through the cloud cover. The shadows of the tree darkened the steam a bit and provides a graphic element that would otherwise not be present. The steam would have been just a blob of white without the shadows breaking it up. It was one of those moments where the sunlight barely poked through for just a few seconds and was gone. But that overcast provided the even “lightbox” effect that sometimes works well for foliage rather than strong lighting that is just too contrasty to properly record. In either case, whether it is overcast or very contrasty as in the backlit scenes from Willow Flats, a polarizer is necessary to cut through the glare eminating from the leaves. Without the polarizer, the images of the flats and the burn area would be dull and lifeless. For the image below, the polarizer cut through the glare coming from the water and gave the stream some color that, without the polarizer, would have simply been the gray reflection of the clouds above and blended in with the steam.

Terrace Spring Runoff — Yellowstone NP © jj raia

Terrace Spring Runoff — Yellowstone NP © jj raia

Just a Few More

General Thoughts
Hayden Valley — Yellowstone River © jj raia

Hayden Valley — Yellowstone River © jj raia

Scanning through all the images from the trip for a second time, there were a few sets of panorama frames that I hadn’t stitched together on the first round and I found one set that I had skipped over pretty much out of hand, figuring that it just didn’t have anything that warranted spending the time to do so. But I decided to give it a try and use the Photoshop auto-fill feature (content aware) for the first time, to fill in the areas that are usually left blank after all the panels are pieced together in the photo merge. I never used it before and it worked out really well on the clouds in the sky, and so-so on the lower central area. But with a bit of work, it seems pretty real allowing for the frame to have a more familiar shape rather than the usual, very thin horizontal frame. The right edge ended up being cropped out anyway because the blend from the actual picture just didn’t look very good on closer inspection and my attempts at repairing didn’t help either. A few of the usual tweaks and some normal dodging and burning, and I had a decent image of the beautiful s-curve in the Yellowstone River through Hayden Valley that originally caused me to pull over to take the shot. Of course, as was usually the case, some late afternoon sunlight would have really helped. The reason of utilizing several panels of a panorama was to encompass the whole scene here while maintaining the significance of the mountains in the distance, whose size would have been diminished with the use of a very wide-angle lens, and the sweep of the bend’s surrounding broad valley would have been lost.

Buffalo Herd at Dusk — Grand Teton, NP © jj raia

Buffalo Herd at Dusk — Grand Teton, NP © jj raia

In the image above, since the herd of bison were pretty far off, in order to include the sky would have necessitated using a normal lens mounted horizontally. However, the herd would seem pretty miniscule, even smaller than seen here. Using a telephoto brought the animals a bit closer, keeping the proper perspective of the flats and mountains, and by mounting the camera vertically, I was able to include the top clouds that were lit by the sun as well. Stitching a few panels together kept the expanse of the scene in tact instead of only having a vertical slice.

Earlier in the day that I shot the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley, I traveled to Gibbon Falls with what was also a mostly cloudy sky, and tried to use High Dynamic Range to record on the scene, but was not completely satisfied with the results. So I tried using only one image of the bracket group and found that simply using Lightroom, I  was able to bring out everything in the shadows and reduce the highlights in the sky into the manageable range.

The image on the left was the HDR, and while it gets more detail out of the tree trunks and some of the dark areas of the canyon, it also rendered the sky a bit strange with the color a bit off, looking somewhat artificial, while the single frame on the right seems a bit more accurate to what was there.

Above Virginia Cascade — Yellowstone, NP © jj raia

Above Virginia Cascade — Yellowstone, NP © jj raia

In the open meadows above Virginia Cascade, I found another s-curve that are prevelant throughout the many flats in Yellowstone, and was able to use it to form a path along which the viewer can travel into the scene. Without it, the scene would have lacked any sense of depth, especially with the flat lighting at the time. The fresh coating of snow added to the beauty of the yellow autumn grasses and evergreens creating more texture, while the clouds added more interest to the sky that if clear may have been a bit boring. But by this time in the trip, I might have welcomed boring since the sun may have added additional sculpting to the otherwise flatly lit tufts of grass. This is another image that I passed over at first, but managed to coax into respectiability with the help of Lightroom; but without all the additional elements that embellished the scene, it may have never been taken in the first place.

Edge of the Forest — Porcelain Basin © jj raia

Edge of the Forest — Porcelain Basin © jj raia

The image above was taken while some light snow was falling, so I used the umbrella holder again. However, patience did not seem to work waiting for a moment when most of the hot spring’s steam was blown out-of-the-way, opening up the view a bit more in the center. So I ended up blending two images to eliminate a large white blob of steam in the top left corner in this scene which had a rare clear center. It was somewhat difficult to balance the elements within the frame, as raising the camera any more would have included the bright gray clouds in the sky, and moving either right or left caused some other elements (trees) to creep into the edge of the photo as distractions. porcelain-basin-repairThe option was to step back a few feet off to the right and shoot through some of those trees that surrounded this hot spring as a sort of frame through which to view the same basic scene. Not sure which of the two is better, but sometimes with the addition of framing, the original image becomes something completely different with the added depth, as in this case, when it creates a sense of discovery as it was when I came upon it that day.

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Root Detail — Black Sand Basin © jj raia

This final image is of a type for which I am a sucker every time. I photographed a giant sequoia root system once many, many years ago and ever since, whenever I see a fallen tree with some interesting designs in the roots, I am almost compelled to record it. As is usually the case with these “close-ups”, keeping the image completely sharp throughout the frame can be a challenge, trading off small apertures for more depth of field. I suppose focus stacking would be the answer for that problem, and I took a few but have not ever tried that process yet.

As these images illustrate, we’re getting to the end of the line from this trip and I look forward to the next group of local photos to work on as I enjoy the processing as much as taking the photos in the first place. But I did want to mention again the importance of using the panorama technique when not necessarily looking to create a long, thin horizontal image, but to keep backgrounds in proper perspective and not have them recede into the distance. In addition, HDR is not always the answer when facing great differences in light as in the case of Gibbon Falls where the sky was very bright, yet the small canyon was in complete shade. And finally, just to bring out the idea of focus stacking, where several photos are focused at different depths within the frame and blended together afterwards. Just some things to keep in the back of your mind of what’s possible later on after the shot is taken.

In the Mind’s Eye

General Thoughts

Whenever I plan a trip, I research the areas I intend to visit as much as I can and view photos on the internet to get a sense of where the locations are that may afford the best opportunities to come away with some exciting imagery. So by the time I arrive, I have quite a few mental images I would like to shoot during my visit. Of course, each mental image, or as Ansel Adams called them, “…in the mind’s eye…” is seen through the near perfect conditions of our imagination, which almost never exist when you actually get there. In the two weeks of this trip, only two came close to my pre-visualization; one being the dawn shot of the Grand Tetons at Schwabacher’s Landing, but it was missing a dusting of snow on the peaks and a moose in the foreground waters in my perfect shot (a beaver did swim through momentarily disturbing the reflections in the water, but no moose); and the second being the Milky Way above the erupting White Dome Geyser when I wanted to do the same thing at Old Faithful, but there was never another clear night in the next five.

Although I didn’t pre-visualize any specific image when it came to the thermophile abstracts in the hot springs of Yellowstone, I certainly was able to come back with several that contained the elements I thought necessary for something that is not a recognizable subject for most viewers. But I think the cooler temperatures of autumn created much more steam and therefore fewer opportunities since standing in the steam blocked much of the view as well as putting your camera at risk (moisture and electronics do not mix well). I actually covered the camera with a plastic bag at times for protection when the tripod was dripping with moisture.

Grasses near Terrace Spring — Yellowstone NP © jj raia

Grasses near Terrace Spring — Yellowstone NP © jj raia

Another unexpected opportunity was the beautiful grasses found around the hot spring areas colored in so many shades of rust, ochre, tan, or burnt sienna. Sometimes a photo can be successful even though, upon initial viewing, it may seem a bit dull and uninteresting. However, on closer inspection, the small details contained within can reveal the true beauty that lies before us if only we take the time to look more closely, both within the photo and out in the field. This small area around Terrace Spring was truly an amazing sight for someone who had never seen anything like it. So maybe it was the initial uniqueness that drove me to try to photograph it. But it proved difficult in that a balance within the frame was hard to find, there needed to be something that centered the initial point of interest, and I wanted it to be completely sharp throughout creating limitations on the front to back distances included. I finally settled on this spot because of the almost circular shape of the hint of frost on some of the grasses toward the center and the framing of the small bushes. The one clump in the top left seemed to balance the thread-like, tall grass in the lower right and I used the hyperfocal distances within the markings on the barrel of my 50mm lens to make sure every thing was in focus from the closest area to infinity. The original reason why I bought that particular 50mm lens was because it had the f/stop markings on the barrel and you can dial in the infinity marking to correspond with the f/stop you’re using and determine what will be in focus on the close end. In fact, when I changed my gear to digital, I opted for an old 80-200mm manual focus, push/pull zoom lens for that same reason. It had great reviews for sharpness, had the f/stop markings throughout the zoom range, and the biggest bonus was it was about $2300 cheaper than a new lens with all the bells and whistles. It won’t instantaneously focus and it’s barrel rotates when you do focus; so there were trade-offs. But my thriftiness won out in the end.

But it’s the unexpected, and your ability to adapt to the conditions that are encountered, that determine any success you may have, because as we all know, nothing ever goes exactly as intended or as we hoped. Expect the unexpected and you won’t be disappointed. Preparation does play an important role, as does patience, in coming away from a trip satisfied because those two elements can sometimes lead to luck. And I would rather be lucky than good, because I screw-up taking photos more often than I would like to admit. Luck finds you in the right place at the right time, but preparation and/or patience puts you there in the first place. How lucky was I when on a bad morning for photographing the Tetons. Showers and clouds blocked most of the Teton range to the west and a tiny shaft of sunlight from the east produced a rainbow.

Rainbow at Schwabacher's Landing © jj raia

Rainbow at Schwabacher’s Landing © jj raia

Or that I happened to be at Riverside and Grand Geysers (top two, below) in the later afternoon when the low sun would produce a rainbow there as well. Neither was anticipated beforehand, but each made sense to me afterward, that there was a strong possibility they would appear because of where the sun was when each erupted in close succession. I also just happened to be in Lower Geyser Basin when this geyser (lower left) erupted when the sunlight managed to get through the clouds a bit to light it slightly compared to its surroundings; and while I missed getting close to Old Faithful as I intended, I would not have this shot (lower right) showing just how high the eruption goes above its surroundings.

Although I was initially a bit disappointed about the challenging weather throughout the trip, I was also lucky enough to witness some of those weather systems passing through that invigorated an otherwise boring scene that might not even been worthy of taking the camera from the bag. At other times, when the sun did shine through the clouds for a moment, it created something special that had me literally running to set the tripod down and record the moment. I didn’t fully appreciate the conditions until I sat in front of the computer, worked through the files and found those very same disappointing conditions enhanced, rather than diminished the scenes. As I continue to process more of them on the second pass through, I hope to find a few more surprises.

 

Other Things

General Thoughts
Interior, Chapel of the Transformation — Grand Teton © jj raia

Interior, Chapel of the Transformation — Grand Teton © jj raia

With all the cloudy weather during the time in the Tetons and Yellowstone, it afforded the opportunity to try some things I would usually not take the time to try. Normally, every second of every day is spent either taking photographs or scouting for shots for either that day or later in the trip, but always thinking about photography. More often than not, nothing came from my “experiments” or my “just passing the time” shots. But it is probably a good idea to continue to shoot even when there doesn’t seem to be anything that inspires you, just to keep you in that photographic mindset. In order to do so, I took a chance to see the Chapel of the Transformation which was built in the early 1920’s completely from local timbers and found that some HDR software was desperately needed to make the image work. The view outside the alter in the center of the photo was of the Tetons, very inspirational for the worshipers.

Moulton Barn "Postcard" — Grand Teton © jj raia

Moulton Barn “Postcard” — Grand Teton © jj raia

The barns of Grand Teton, which provide so many iconic images when conditions are right, can also be pretty dull when conditions are not. That’s when your mind wanders toward close-ups, details or postcard shots that would have been great if the lighting were better. Even though I used a split ND filter to get some detail below the clouds, it was Lightroom that coaxed every bit of detail from the RAW file and made the image of the barn shot through the trees presentable. Since the ND also darkened the tops of the trunks in the foreground as well as the clouds, that was easily corrected later by brushing them lighter in Lightroom.

Often, it was details of the larger scene or structure that seemed to find their way in front of my lens when I seemed to be just passing the time waiting for the sun to shine through or if nothing else seemed to inspire me. The one on the left below was a closeup of a building’s raw wood exterior, while the one on the right is a closeup of the bark from one of the few aspen trees near the barns.

Doors always seemed to be interesting things to photograph and I did that a few times as well.

But while I was in Arco, just outside Craters of the Moon, to have a breakfast of more than my usual single power bar, I found an abandoned gas station with a peeling white garage door. I was arranging my camera to eliminate my and the camera’s reflection from the windows, when I noticed a couple slowly walking down the street toward me. I was hoping they would not turn into a side street, but continue on their path to make their way into the reflection of the window, and was lucky enough to remember to turn off the “mirror up” function that would have otherwise required a second trip of the shutter release to record the image, and captured them at just the right moment. That was a highlight for me, since I rarely even try to take anything that.

Garage Reflections — Arco, Idaho © jj raia

Garage Reflections — Arco, Idaho © jj raia

And while having breakfast that morning, I spoke at length to Wendy, the “chief cook and bottle-washer” and every other job there was in that local restaurant, and felt comfortable enough to ask permission to take her photograph among her kitchen kingdom. She was so lively and energetic, she just couldn’t seem to stay still long enough to get a crisp image in the dimly lit place, and it took several attempts just to get something close. But, of all the people I met during the trip, she is the one I will always remember.

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The “never stop moving” Wendy from Arco, Idaho

 

 

Surrounded by Lava

General Thoughts
Lava Flow — Craters of the Moon NM, ID © jj raia

Lava Flow — Craters of the Moon NM, ID © jj raia

The idea that active volcanos existed hundreds of thousands of years ago in this area of the western United States has always fascinated me, which was probably the impetus behind deciding to make Yellowstone a major part of this trip with its hot springs and geysers. Although originally planning to go on to Glacier afterwards, the extra driving (in the opposite direction of where I would end the trip in Denver) and lack of enough time led me to one of my options when I couldn’t make my way to the northern sections of Yellowstone because of road construction and snow. So I opted to head to Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho to continue the theme of volcanos. I wasn’t sure of what to expect, but looked forward to a landscape completely different, one covered in ancient lava flows, some dating as recently as 125,000 years ago. Driving nearby, you could see the succession of several cinder cones dotting the area and how the rock around the vegetation was mostly black. It was a new type of landscape to experience and in the different light of clear skies; something I didn’t have much of in Yellowstone. The campground itself was interesting and is literally within a flow of lava and my site had a 5-foot wall of lava on one side.

The image at the top was taken just as the sky lightened in the east, and required a 2-stop Neutral density filter to make the light values somewhere in the vicinity of each other. Because the lava is basically black, it was pretty difficult and I shot a few exposures for use in HDR software afterward. Although that method seemed to work out well for the lava and the slight lighting on the plants, not so much around the edges of the distant mountains where a definite halo was readily apparent. Several attempts at correcting that problem were unsatisfactory, so I resorted to blending layers of differing exposures in Photoshop and finishing up in Lightroom.

For the first sunset of the visit, I decided to climb to one of the highest viewpoints in the park and found some really interesting red rock that would glow in the afternoon sun to use as a foreground. But as mentioned recently, you need that foreground to lead the eye somewhere into the scene, but unfortunately, those rocks did not lead anywhere that made a good photograph. But even then, the Lost River Range of mountains to the northeast that would provide the backdrop for any foreground and middle ground, were not close or tall enough to really punctuate the image. There was a huge, solitary beautiful tree up there too, but the lighting and rocks just did not line up, nor did the tree by itself either line up with the distant mountains or provide any framing for them. I thought they may line up correctly for sunrise, but found the next morning, after climbing up there again, that was not really the case; at least during this time of the year. In the summer, when the sun rises further north, it may work out better. Sometimes the elements simply do not come together and this seemed to be one of those occasions.

Milky Way and Snag — Craters of the Moon © jj raia

Milky Way and Snag — Craters of the Moon © jj raia

Of course, the clear skies found me out at night trying to find the Milky Way and I returned to the snag I scouted right next to the Devil’s Orchard parking area. It was easy to determine where it was, but this time I played a bit with the coloration of the tree while trying to keep everything else pretty much normal in the post processing. I originally thought I would combine two images, one shot using tungsten white balance to give the sky the blue tint I prefer, while the other was shot using daylight for the warm brown glow. But it turned out to be too much trouble to combine them in Photoshop, so I just used the tungsten (blue) image and brushed the rocks and bushes with a very warm temperature and tint to mimic the daylight white balance.

The lava tubes in the park were interesting and I explored one where the ceiling was about 30 feet high, but the others were a bit too constrictive for someone who is a bit claustrophobic like myself. I had hoped for some wild coloration of lichen growth, but not as much as I thought there might be. I found just a few spots, so there was only one shot I thought worthy of an abstraction. But a blue tone seemed to permeate throughout the lava fields, especially during the blue hour before sunrise on my last day, that was fun to try things with. It’s better to remove any polarizer from the lens in these situations in order to capture all the blue reflected light from the sky that a polarizer might eliminate.

On the afternoon I arrived, I saw a hillside with young evergreens growing sporadically across it’s face. I filed that away thinking it might look good with late afternoon light, but opted to take the short hike to a highpoint with great views all around instead. The next day I did make a point to attempt a shot at the hillside but it looked kind of flat until I adjusted the polarizer on my telephoto and then the evergreens popped. The polarizer is a great tool and it’s use cannot be overstated which is why it is on my lenses almost all the time.

Volcanic Hillside — Craters of the Moon © jj raia

Volcanic Hillside — Craters of the Moon © jj raia

 

Yellowstone’s Grand

General Thoughts
Lakeshore Geyser — West Thumb © jj raia

Lakeshore Geyser — West Thumb © jj raia

Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake above 7000 feet in all of North America, covering 136 square miles and measuring almost 20 miles in length. Every time I passed by the lake, it was either raining or snowing and so I never did see just how large it was, never getting past the gloom around the shoreline of the West Thumb area. The one time I did photograph there it was snowing, so the long distant views I had hoped for just weren’t there. I did hope for that to be a sunrise location, but the weather never cooperated, so I had to adjust to the conditions, using the umbrella holder on my tripod for protection to photograph a few features in there. The lake’s outflow forms the Yellowstone River which travels 671 miles and is a tributary of the Missouri River, but while still within the park, flows through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone dropping 308 feet at the Lower Falls.

Lower Falls — Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone © jj raia

Lower Falls — Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone © jj raia

Although the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is impressive, and every bit the icon one would expect (with the associated crowds), my hopes were to come away with a few detail abstracts of the steep canyon walls; one of the two images I remember from my 1978 trip there. Just as with the thermophiles in other parts of the park, by isolating small areas, in this case with a telephoto lens, the beauty of the erosional effects on the canyon become readily apparent. Many of my attempts were failures because of the flat lighting caused by the overcast, but the times when it appeared, the details became much more alive, similar to my recollections.

Detail — Yellowstone Canyon © jj raia

Detail — Yellowstone Canyon © jj raia

Sometimes the main focus was on the erosional designs of the softer sediments of the canyon wall, while others showed more of the rock and the struggles the trees have to overcome in order to survive.

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Detail — Yellowstone Canyon © jj raia

It was fortunate that when the sun did peek from behind the clouds, it raked across the opposite canyon wall sometimes highlighting the evergreens clinging to the rock face.

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Bonsai Pine — Yellowstone Canyon © jj raia

Detail — Yellowstone Canyon © jj raia

Detail — Yellowstone Canyon © jj raia

In any event, the same method utilized at the Grand Prismatic Spring of zoning out the crowds and pretending to be alone kept me sane while the circus around me unfolded. I stayed for quite some time, visiting a few different overlooks, all the time hoping that the sunlight would come out for good, but I had to be content with the peek-a-boo sky most of the afternoon.

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Detail (face)— Yellowstone Canyon © jj raia

 

 

 

 

Panoramas

General Thoughts
Rain Curtains — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Rain Curtains — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Ever since my month-long western trip two years ago, at the insistence of Walter Santos (waltersantosphotography.com) whom I met in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, I’ve always been on the lookout to shoot panoramas. And with the wide open views in the four national parks and monuments I visited on this trip, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to do so. Whenever confronted with the challenge of how to incorporate a huge view into a single image, the instinct is to get the wide-angle lens out, look for an interesting foreground element that hopefully leads to the real star of the scene, and click the shutter. But the wider the lens, the further away the main attraction may appear, especially a range of mountains, and thus diminishing their enormity and power. Sometimes they are fairly close and it is not an issue, but other times they are not, and using a wide-angle is a trade-off. At some point, it may be beneficial to the final image to use a “normal” lens for your particular camera format, or even a short telephoto, to maintain the power of those majestic mountains, and take several panels of the scene to stitch together later. One additional benefit to using these more normal lenses is there is less distortion around the edges of the frame making it easier to stitch several frames into a single panorama and making it less necessary to have an expensive camera mount that can set the nodal point.

Teton Range © jj raia

The Teton Range © jj raia

In the image above, looking west from a road in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, is a simple two panel shot using a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor which maintained the power of the Tetons while a wide-angle would have pushed them further away, diminishing their ominous stature above the valley. Although not a very dramatic image because it was taken in the middle of the day, it illustrates the point. However, in the image below from Yellowstone, although there were no mountains, I wanted to maintain the resolution and drama of the distant clouds and steam vents of the hot springs by using  a 70-200 zoom to eliminate the wasted pixels that would have resulted using a wide-angle to get the entire scene into a single frame.

Storm over Lower Geyser Basin — Yellowstone  © jj raia

Storm over Lower Geyser Basin — Yellowstone © jj raia

 

Willow Flats and the Teton Range — © jj raia

Willow Flats and the Teton Range — © jj raia

The same holds true for this image above of the Tetons and Willow Flats as well, even when including the mountains. Without the sharp, crisp resolution held within the leaves of all the backlit  bushes in brilliant fall colors that a multi-frame panorama provides, both its detail and brilliance would be greatly diminished with a single frame, especially if the final image were printed in the substantial size these views really need to adequately convey the majesty of the landscape. In fact, when magnified to 100%, an elk was discovered in the very upper left of the flats.

Clearing Mammattus Clouds — Rocky Mountain NP, CO © jj raia

Clearing Mammatus Clouds — Rocky Mountain NP, CO © jj raia

This final shot taken from Rocky Mountain National Park’s famous Trail Ridge Road at about 12,00 feet, represents about a 120-degree angle of view…wider than a 14mm lens on a full frame sensor (10mm on a 1.5 crop sensor). Using  a 14mm would have pushed the mountains way off in the distance, making them, and the clouds, insignificant when their power is so important to the scene. By using a normal lens with the camera mounted vertically and shooting 7 panels across the scene, both the mountains and clouds were recorded in proper perspective with the added bonus of extraordinary detail. Unlike the midday image of the Tetons before, the drama of the clearing storm clouds in the light of late afternoon, makes a world of difference. One note of caution: when making a panorama which includes fast-moving clouds, try to take all the panels as quickly as you can without compromising accuracy in overlapping each while keeping the camera moving parallel and perpendicular to the horizon. This will eliminate “ghosting” of any moving elements within the frames, which includes tree branches or grasses. These may blur a bit when the panels are stitched together.

Just before this last image was taken, the squall hit my location creating a whiteout with snow blowing sideways and winds shaking the car violently!! It was a bit scary, but I calmed myself by having a good snack of M&M’s and some trail mix while I waited it out, hoping it would not last very long. When it finally did start to break and the sunlight began to peek through the clouds revealing the range across the valley, I said a quiet thank you to be witness to it all. Little did I know what lay ahead overnight not far from this same spot. To read about that little  “adventure” scroll back a bit to Day 15 – Decisions. I get a bit shaky just thinking about it!!

PS – Don’t forget to vote!!!

 

More Thermophiles

General Thoughts
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Thermophiles — Grand Geyser © jj raia

As I said in a previous post, there are so many opportunities to create abstracts from the thermophiles that live throughout the hot springs in Yellowstone, you may be hard pressed to ever get bored in your attempts at creating them. There is always another to be made simply by adjusting your position slightly, or zooming in or out with your lens, let alone move a few feet or on to another area within the same hot spring. You can literally spend hours in the same basin. The one above was along the outlet for Grand Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin not too distant from Old Faithful. What was distinctive about this particular spot was its smoothness, so different from the very textural types at most other places. I hope no one gets bored with these additional abstracts I made at various times during my visit, as I never did and found it very liberating in the creative process to just let your imagination run wild simply by moving the camera. Whether they were close-ups (although I never used a macro lens or close-up filters), middle distance, or included a wide area, they were just so much fun to create. To view them larger, simply click on one and then scroll through. But beware as more abstracts may be coming, but of a different subject that was just as much fun and just as liberating.

 

Wildlife

General Thoughts
Bison Herd — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Bison Herd — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Having never felt any need to photograph wildlife since there are so many great wildlife photographers out there, I did take one bit of wisdom from Eric Bowles whom I met in Grand Teton: the world doesn’t need another perfect head shot of a wild animal, but rather the environment in which it lives could be more special and unique. Another reason is that the longest lens I own is 200mm and not the standard for getting close to the animals while remaining at a safe distance. However, there was one instance when I used a 17-35mm lens to record some bison up close when I wasn’t even attempting to do so. I was in Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone when a herd sauntered into the area and at one point, managed to corral a few of us within their herd while we were on the boardwalk.

Grazing Bison, Lower Geyser Basin — Yellowstone © jj raia

Grazing Bison, Lower Geyser Basin — Yellowstone © jj raia

This was the single time when the throng of tourists remained quiet, actually whispering instead of cackling, laughing and just being their usual tourist selves. But there were plenty of opportunities to photograph bison in many locations throughout both parks. Naturally they were usually grazing in the wide open meadows, but sometimes, I spotted them within the forest as well. Actually, the first up close encounter I had in Yellowstone was on the first night after the Milky Way shots of White Dome Geyser. I was driving on to my campsite and coming around a curve when out of the forest, along the roadway right in front of me, popped a bison!! Almost the size of my car, and coming out from the dark, it scared the life out of me to say the least.

— click on the images above to see full size —

But there were other times I pulled off the road and tried my hand at being a wildlife photographer. The photo on the left is of the trails in the dusting of snow left behind by the bison grazing before dawn, because they were nowhere to be found. Although I found it a bit rewarding, I think I’ll leave it to others to do the wildlife thing. The very first animal I photographed was a pronghorn in Grand Teton. Eric Bowles (who had to tell me what kind of animal it was) and I happened upon a few when we were exploring Antelope Flats and I clicked off a few shots before they crossed the road and fled from us. Luckily they were close enough that the 200mm was mildly sufficient as I used the suggestion to include their environment.

Pronghorn — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

Pronghorn — Grand Teton NP, WY © jj raia

I did take heed from some friends about safety from the wildlife and bought some bear spray for this trip, and also made a mental note of the warnings contained in those posted in the campground bathrooms.

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