This blog shares my "notes from the field," including photography techniques, hiking tips and lessons learned the hard way ... like the time I fell through the ice in the Merced River, Yosemite National Park. Thank you for visiting our site. Marcus
Thanks to Lexi Klinkenbert and Redfin for publishing this photo in "9 Places to Visit in Flagstaff, AZ That Locals Rave About." This photo brings back fond memories off-road exploration and hiking on a very windy day near Sunset Crater, north of Flagstaff.
“A river is water in its loveliest form, rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart.”
- Roderick Haig-Brown
Our morning begins with a bumpy dust filled four wheel drive to West Clear Creek, 12 miles east of Camp Verde, Arizona. Arriving at the Bull Pen Ranch trailhead, I note only one other parked SUV and a striking aura of silence. Thanks to my adventurous brother, Brian, and our son-in-law, Todd Severson, for their great company and navigation throughout this memorable photography trek.
Shortly into the hike, we’re excited to hear the unmistakable sound of cascading water. A short “off-trail” hike brings us to West Clear Creek, after a challenging stretch of boulder hopping and some bushwhacking. Here, we marvel at the vast size of the “creek,” the powerful flow of water and the beauty of the scene before us: Steep canyon walls laced with vivid greenery and rust colored leaves, fallen tree branches and large blue-gray boulders awash in clean white foam.
To capture “the shot,” I end up wading into the river water, first up to my knees and ultimately to just below my waist. Initially, the water feels very cold, indeed. I don’t give it too much thought though, given my sense of awe and the prospect of some potentially unique landscape photographs. Often, for this kind of photography, I find it’s safer and easier to walk the riverbed with my sturdy tripod in hand, rather than trying to secure a safe perch at the precarious water’s edge.
Once acclimated, we are keenly aware of the large, yet intimate, sense of scale in the heart of West Clear Creek. This morning, Mother Nature’s color palette is especially rich in the subdued, indirect morning winter light. Mesmerizing canyon wall reflections gently shift and merge as we make our way upstream.
The meandering river gently twists and turns, forging its way through the deep, remote canyon. Every turn brings us to a fresh new inspirational scene. Some scenes are captured on my camera, others on cell phones and many more as vivid memories. Today, my recollections of the West Clear Creek hike include the scent of late autumn, the sound of rushing water and the gentle touch of leaves wafting in the air.
Late in the morning, we venture from the shadowed canyon area back on to the official marked trail. As if a light switch is turned on, the thick woods instantly come alive in bright sunlight, flickering autumn leaves and a long view of the path ahead. Beyond the rich visuals, we’re grateful to warm up a bit under direct sunlight.
After shooting a few quick videos of yet another cascade, we turn back for our return hike. Our time for “serious fine arts photography” is concluded for the day, at least at this location. Discussion now turns to the impending change of seasons and planning for a return trip to this remote oasis. Back at the trailhead parking lot, there are now four dust covered vehicles.
Camera Gear: Nikon Z7, Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8 G ED N Wide Angle Lens, Nikon FTZ lens adaptor, Nikon Z 24-70 mm f/4.0 lens, B+W circular polarizer filter, Gitzo Tripod, Swiss Arca Z ball head.
See also: Autumn's Quiet Passage: Photos from Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona, Aspens Aglow in Arizona Mountains: Tilt Shift Lens for Landscape Photography and West Fork Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona: Part 2 - Autumn
"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."
- George Eliot
We're back at Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona, yet again for one last Autumn hike this year. What a difference a few weeks has made, both in the foliage and nature's grand color palette.
Shown here are photographs from the same location, taken about a month apart in time. The first two photos are from from early autumn, celebrating the change of seasons in rich golden foliage. What a contrast with this week's scene - the third and fourth photos - showing largely barren trees and a few leaves afloat.
Beyond the obvious changes in the visual scenery, I am struck by other notable qualities marking the autumn's grand finale: A deep chill in the air, the strong aroma of fallen leaves and a heavy flow of creek water. This being an overcast day, the lighting is flat and a bit moody.
Hiking down to Oak Creek, I am struck by the hypnotic sound of cascading waters in the otherwise silent forest. This familiar, entrancing sound ebbs and flows as we wander along the meandering creekside. The wooded area is very still, with the serenity only interrupted by some leaves wafting in the autumn air.
While brilliant Fall colors are the "main attraction," I've been converting some of this year's photos into monochromatic form. For the conversion from color to black and white, I'm using NIK Silver Efex software in Adobe Photoshop. This is an ideal medium for exploration of subtle autumn light, forest textures and time exposures of flowing creek waters.
Thank you for taking a moment to view my autumn landscape photos. Blessings on your day, Marcus
Equipment: Nikon Z7, Nikon 24-70 mm f/5 S lens.
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
― Albert Camus
Looking back at these photos, I'm still a bit chilled from the strong autumn winds at San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a clear, crisp day at Snow Bowl, elevation approximately 9,599 feet, with the Aspens aglow in golden leaves. Likewise, the forest floor was a carpet of golden leaves, laced with delicate rust colored ferns.
To "freeze" the leaves in these photos, I ended up shooting at high shutter speeds, like 1/500th of a second and faster. This required me to use high ISO settings, between 750 to 1,200. Back at home, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the resulting images were pretty clean. A bit of digital "noise" in the sky areas was easily reduced in Photoshop.
For the first, second and fifth photos shown here, I used a Nikon 24mm f/3.5D ED PC-E Tilt-Shift Lens for perspective correction.The vertical shift function helps to keep the trees standing upright and in proper 90 degree alignment with the horizon, instead of leaning into the picture frame. The tilt function worked well to maximize the depth of field in the image with the fallen log and the large rock.
I'm still learning how to operate the tilt shift lens efficiently in the field, as there is a bit of a learning curve with the manual focus and the tilt functions. After this last round, I'm committed to some more practice sessions at home - in my backyard - without the wind and other distractions.
The photo presented here, showing the two hillsides, is both instructive and inspirational in many ways. Known as the Hochderffer Hills, these formations and many of the nearby mountains are the remnants of old volcanos. The whole area was ravaged by an intense wildfire several years ago, a fragile situation that threatens the Coconino National Forest and the surrounding areas during hot, dry summer months.
The inspirational part of this scene, for me, is the strong resurgence of the Aspen grove on the hillsides. Here, we're privileged to witness the regenerative capacity of nature on a grand scale in a relatively short time period. Next Fall, this impressive grove of majestic trees will only stand a bit taller and wider, continuing to forge new life in the ashes. It is quite a sight to behold and better yet, to walk into.
Camera Gear: For these photos, I used a Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera, Nikon 24mm f/3.5D ED PC-E Tilt-Shift lens, Nikon 24-70 mm f/4 S lens and Gitzo tripod with Swiss Arca ball-head.
“… The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.” - Our National Parks, John Muir, 1901
<--- Capture My Arizona Photo of the Day
Last Saturday afternoon, I received a call from my good friend and fellow photographer, Randy Dannheim, inviting me out to shoot "the storm." Gazing out my house window, I could see only the typical blue Arizona desert sky and a few scattered clouds. Randy explained that clouds would soon "consolidate," creating some great photo opportunities if we could just keep a safe distance from the impending downpour.
Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to this impromptu trek, having little expectation of any dramatic weather scenes. To explain, while any opportunity for photography is always good, I've never had much luck with serious landscape photography under the harsh summer light in the Phoenix area. How mistaken I was that day.
Driving into Lost Dutchman Park a couple of hours later, we were awe struck by the ominous dark skies over the Superstition Mountains. Our set-up and shooting at the park was fast paced and a bit hectic, lasting only 30 minutes. Gusting winds ushered in erratic spitting rain, as lightning flashes appeared on the distant horizon. Right before us, though, the rugged mountain range was aglow in warm "Golden Hour" sunlight from the western horizon.
The real drama occurred a few minutes after we exited the park, driving east on AZ 88 towards Apache Lake. A faint rainbow emerged over the Superstition Mountains, seemingly demarcating the sky with vivid orange in one expanse and blue-gray in the other.
Setting up our tripods on the roadside, we took a few quick photographs of the rainbow. It was then that we were overwhelmed to see what appeared to be an advancing, vertical wall of orange dust and rain awash in an eerie glowing light. Being from the Midwest, I immediately thought of tornado-like conditions. Here again, in a matter of minutes, strong winds and pelting rain forced us back into our vehicle.
From there, we turned around and headed home, intent on leaving the rolling foothills before the dry "wash" areas would flood with watershed from the Superstition Mountains. We encountered massive rains on our drive back home and the storm raged on well into the night.
EPILOGUE: Randy was more "in the know" than I initially realized on this unforgettable evening. The dramatic weather system we witnessed was, in part, a remnant of Hurricane Norbert, a tropical storm off Mexico's Baja Coast. Massive rains ultimately resulted in a record 50 year flood in the Valley of the Sun, with Arizona's Governor declaring a state of emergency the following Monday morning.
The lesson of the day: Listen closely to your friends and daily weather forecasts.
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.