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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


 

Grand Canyon, Arizona: Clear Weather and Changing Light

May 11, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Long View,  Grand Canyon AZLong View, Grand Canyon AZ

“The glories and the beauties of form, color and sound unite in the Grand Canyon – forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop; from cataract to bubbling fountain.”  - John Wesley Powell

Last weekend, we had a memorable visit to the Grand Canyon, South Rim.   Initially, I thought about cancelling the trip, given the weather forecast for totally clear, blue skies.  Not the best situation for landscape photography, which is richly enhanced with a touch of weather at the Grand Canyon.  That said, the Canyon was as grand and inspirational as ever .... as always.  The splendor of this national treasure should never be in doubt, I remind myself again and again. 

As it turned out, we actually had some clouds in the late afternoons, making for some wonderful photo ops. The first photo shown here was taken at dusk, in the waning light, on our drive back from the Grand View overlook.   The second photo was taken in late afternoon light, from the Yavapai view point.  What a magnificent area for morning or late afternoon photography. 

We were graced with a bit of fleeting evening light in the third image,  showing a dramatic geological formation deep in the valley - viewed from the Grand View trail head.  This location provided an opportunity to see the Colorado River and to work with a new Nikkor 2x teleconverter, effectively doubling the reach of my Nikkor Z 70-200 f/2.8 telephoto lens.  Here,  warm light casted a rich golden hue which remains a vivid memory today.  If only we could freeze moments like this in nature. 


Grand Canyon South Rim 1, AZGrand Canyon South Rim 1, AZ The bottom photo shown here is from our first morning sunrise, viewed from Yavapai Point at the Geological Museum. Not a cloud in the sky on this chilly morning. This was, for sure, my briefest round of photography. That said, we still found the whole experience delightful, spending some time exploring this part of the rim.  

Special thanks to my lovely and very patient wife, Anita, for her great company throughout this visit ... including 4 AM wake-up times.  Anita is a great trooper and I often find her i-phone pics to be better than those from my heavy, cumbersome Nikon camera gear and tripod!  

For trip planning and scenic locations, see Whirlwind Photography Trek and  Havasu Falls Photography: The Color Blue

Afterglow, Grand View, Grand Canyon AZ 1Afterglow, Grand View, Grand Canyon AZ 1 Sunrrise at Vavapai Point, Grand Canyon AZ 1Sunrrise at Vavapai Point, Grand Canyon AZ 1


Northern Arizona Wild Flowers: Flagstaff, Arizona

April 28, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

  Sun Flower Covered Hillside Flagstaff (1)Sun Flower Covered Hillside Flagstaff (1)

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.

For tips on wild flower photography, see Northern Arizona Sunflowers and Monsoon Rains Bring Wild Flowers.  
 


West Clear Creek, Arizona: Deep Canyon Photography

December 19, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Cascade West Clear Creek AZCascade West Clear Creek AZ Autumn Reflections, West Clear Creek AZ 2Autumn Reflections, West Clear Creek AZ 2 Autumn Reflections, West Clear Creek AZ 3Autumn Reflections, West Clear Creek AZ 3 Autumn Reflection, West Clear Creek AZ 1Autumn Reflection, West Clear Creek AZ 1 Autumn Transiton, West Clear Creek AZ 1Autumn Transiton, West Clear Creek AZ 1 Canyon Hike,  West Clear Creek AZ 1Canyon Hike, West Clear Creek AZ 1 Dancing Autumn Leaves,  West Clear Creek AZDancing Autumn Leaves, West Clear Creek AZ

 

“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, ArizonaAspens Aglow in Arizona Mountains: Tilt Shift Lens for Landscape Photography and West Fork Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona: Part 2 - Autumn

 


Autumn's Quiet Passage: Photos from Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona

November 20, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ 1Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ 1 Early Autumn, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ 1Early Autumn, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ 1 Autumn Passage, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona AZ 1Autumn Passage, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona AZ 1 Autumn Passage, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona AZ 2 BWAutumn Passage, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona AZ 2 BW Serenity Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ 1Serenity Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ 1

"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 

See also, Aspens Aglow in Arizona Mountains: Tilt Shift Lens for Landscape Photography and West Fork Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona: Part 2 - Autumn

Equipment: Nikon Z7, Nikon 24-70 mm f/5 S lens.


Aspens Aglow in Arizona Mountains: Tilt Shift Lens for Landscape Photography

October 24, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Autumn, Aspen Loop Trail 2, Flagstaff, AZAutumn, Aspen Loop Trail 2, Flagstaff, AZ

“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. 

Autumn, Aspen Loop Trail, Flagstaff, AZAutumn, Aspen Loop Trail, Flagstaff, AZ 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 Gold Above and Beyond, Aspen Loop Trail, Flagstaff, AZGold Above and Beyond, Aspen Loop Trail, Flagstaff, AZ Nature's Regeneration, Flagstaff, AZNature's Regeneration, Flagstaff, AZ  were pretty clean.  A bit of digital "noise" in the sky areas was easily reduced in Photoshop.  Dense Aspen Grove, Snowbowl,  Flagstaff, AZ 5700 WIdeDense Aspen Grove, Snowbowl, Flagstaff, AZ 5700 WIde

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.  

See also, Autumn Aspen Reflections: Northern Arizona Photography.


 

Notes+from+the+Field

Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.  

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