Friday, December 25, 2015

Best Photos of 2015

Photographic Journeys - SkyVista Photography 10 Favorite Images of the Year
As I look back on 2015, it was one of my busiest and most productive ever. I haven't calculated how many photographs I took, but it's surely in the thousands. I was fortunate to have taken many trips, mostly in the U.S. and one memorable winter trip to Iceland.  In the U.S., my photography trips took me throughout the Pacific Northwest, the Desert Southwest, the Mid-Atlantic and Appalachia.  

It is so hard to pick just 10 favorite because I have many more, but these to me represent 10 of my best work of the year. Enjoy! 

"Temple of Time" - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
This absolutely stunning state park was my favorite new discovery in the U.S. this year. I spent parts of two weeks exploring the park inside and out, and rank this right up there with more known favorites such as Utah's Zion and Bryce Canyon. It's a must do for anyone visiting Las Vegas or southern Utah.

"Bryce Canyon Winter Dawn" - Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
I raced up to Bryce after a big rainstorm hit Las Vegas and arrived after the storm cleared and left a fresh blanket of snow on the iconic amphitheater and hoodoos. I was the only soul braving the 10-degree temperature and strong winds but to get this shot was so worth it!

"Heart of Stone" - Snow Canyon State Park, Utah
This is another lightly visited and largely undiscovered state park gem in southern Utah. An all-day rain and sleet pounded the park, but I waited patiently and the storm cleared out just in time to cast beautiful light on this heart-shaped formation filled with precious water in the harsh desert environment.

"Ride the Light" - Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
I made my first trip to Iceland last winter and also saw the Northern Lights in person for the very first time. For 90 minutes, the sky put on an incredible, brilliant display, the Aurora Borealis dancing across the skies over this national park on the popular Golden Circle route. We were the only ones here and enjoyed our private viewing!

"Prime Parking Spot" - Dalles Mountain Ranch, Columbia Hills State Park, Washington
Spring comes early to the Columbia River Gorge that splits Washington and Oregon, where carpets of purple lupine and golden balsamroot fill the scene in every direction. This old rusted car seems perfectly at home at its resting spot in the massive ranch.

"After the Storm" - Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena Crest, Oregon
One of my favorite spots on the Oregon side of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, the Preserve is filled with early spring wildflowers and I was there at the right time to capture a clearing storm as the sun went down, lighting up the sky in beautiful pink and purple light.

"Dreamtime" - Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Summer came early to Mount Rainier this year, thanks to a lack of winter snow and severe drought. I was able to capture this fleeting bit of bright pink light one evening, which showed itself for less than 5 minutes, a perfect way to cap a great day hiking the park.

"Shining Beacon" - Mount Hood, Oregon
One of my favorite scenes is this iconic view of Oregon's stunning Mount Hood from beautiful Trillium Lake.  I was on the mountain shooting fall foliage and raced back just in time to capture the peak lit up in golden goodness as the sun faded away. The severe drought left the mountain as bare as it has ever been, but the air was so still that it is still a gorgeous image and cast a perfect reflection in the lake.

"Blaze of Glory" - Wasatch National Forest, Utah
It's hard to capture unique shots of peak golden aspen trees in the fall, but I loved this composition of a stand of nail-thin tall aspen glowing in the sunlight and the strip of blue sky shining through the canopy.

"Fire and Fury" - Cape Perpetua, Oregon
Cape Perpetua is a stunning section of protected, wild coastline in central Oregon. Giant waves, with 20+ foot swells, were caused by the periodic King Tides, and I captured this huge breaker just as the sun was setting over the Pacific and the coastline was lit by rich, warm light.


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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A West Virginia Autumn

On the Trail of Fall Foliage in the Mountain State

After an early fall trip in September to Utah to photograph the foliage in northern portions the Beehive State, my next journey took me to beautiful West Virginia in October.  A state that I had merely passed through on way to or from other places, I had always wanted to spend some time exploring there so I spent a full week crisscrossing most of the eastern half of the state. 
The Beautiful Grist Mill at Babcock State Park
West Virginia is very mountainous, but also is a place of varied terrain.  Thus, catching fall foliage at peak in every place was near impossible. Foliage peaks typically from north to south starting as early as mid-September in northern mountain regions but not until mid-late October in middle to southern portions of the state.  I've include a peak fall color map below to illustrate what I'm writing about. 

Peak Fall Color Map in West Virginia, courtesy of West Virginia State Parks & Forests
Over the course of a full week in mid-October  I put an amazing 1,600 miles on my rental car!  West Virginia may look small on a map, but it's really.  That total also includes my journey to and from Dulles Airport in Virginia and a side trip into southern Pennsylvania, but still I racked up the miles.  I covered an area from about Lewisburg in the south to Morgantown in the north, and most everywhere in between to the east. 
Stunning Colors in Coopers Rock State Forest
Foliage varied widely depending on where I was, from mostly green to peak, to just before or just past, to leaves pretty much completely dropped.  Still, I found many great places on my trip where the foliage was just perfect.  The best places with the most at-peak foliage were at: 
  • Around Morgantown, Cheat Lake and in Coopers Rock State Forest and Chestnut Ridge Park to the north
  • Much of Marion County in the north
  • Upshur County in the northeast
  • At Babcock State Park and the historic Grist Mill (pictured above) in the south
  • Around Elkins and much of Randolph County in the northeast
  • In addition, Valley Falls State Park near Grafton was also stunning
 Peak Foliage at Valley Falls State Park in West Virginia
I also covered a number of backroads, many often unpaved, in places that I can't even remember because they were so rural. 
A Stunning Reflection of Reds and Yellows in a Lake in Cooper's Rock State Forest
Places that were past peak included the Dolly Sods Wilderness, the Canaan Plateau and Blackwater Falls State Park.  Much of Greenbrier County, the Lewisburg Area, Hawk's Nest State Park, and the New River Gorge were still too early and mostly green when I visited. 

A little church along a country road
One of my favorite - and very much unexpected - journeys was to Holly River State Park. Along the route, as was the case in much of the rural parts of the state, I had neither cell service nor GPS and sometimes I was trying to find someplace without back-up directions.  I ended turning off the main highway onto a rural road that soon become one lane, then gravel, and then a rocky four-wheel drive road over a mountain.  I eventually made it to the park, but the route I ended up taking was some of the most beautiful scenery of my trip in Upshur County.

Along the mountain backroad to Holly River State Park
But what I found was completely unexpected - and very exciting.  As I came around a bend, the trees opened up to a beautiful view of peak foliage over a ridge, with an old farm on the hillside. It turns out this was the Balli Farm, which was run by three sisters well into their 80s and 90s with Swiss origins.  It was quiet and peaceful, and the scene was just beautiful, with the autumn color, the abandoned buildings and the moody clouds.  

The Historic Balli Farm in Hacker Valley, WV
The weather was a real mixed bag - warm, cloudless, sunny days, and a cold snap one weekend that sent temperatures plummeting into the 20s overnight.  There was barely a sprinkle of rain the entire time, and it was obvious the state was very dry, judging by the very low flow in most of the creeks, rivers and waterfalls.  

Stunning Sunset at Coopers Rock State Forest
I wrapped up my week with more driving and more exploring, and a new appreciation for The Mountain State. I know I'll definitely come back again.  

Colorful Foliage at Blackwater Falls

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Fall Foliage Hunting in Northern Utah

My Journey Through Canyons and Mountains in the Beehive State

Fiery fall color in Logan Canyon - Northern Utah
This year I decided to start my fall color hunt in a new place, the northern half of the great state of Utah. I'd heard it was a great place for fall colors, but after so many years of living in Colorado I couldn't seem to ever get over the Rockies to our western neighbor in autumn. So now that I'm in the Pacific Northwest I decided to cross the Cascades and go east to check out the northern reaches of the Beehive State. 

And what an unexpected find it was!  Not only were there groves upon groves of aspen trees which are typical of the American West, but much to my pleasant surprise were the endless forests and mountainsides of oak trees that were in full fiery red and orange bloom. 

Fiery fall foliage in a canyon east of Logan, Utah
Unfortunately my trip, which was to have included an extension into western Colorado, got cut short by a nasty flu bug that cropped up just as I arrived in Utah, which forced a change in plans and altered my visit. Whereas I was planning on a mainly camping trip, the onset of the illness forced me to hole up in hotels in Park City and Salt Lake City for much of the time. 

Despite the bug, I was able to get some good shooting in. The weather also was against me. You might say how could sunny, blue sky, 80-90 degree Indian summer weather be bad, and the answer is cloudless skies do not make for the best photography, as bland blue skies make photography much more challenging than with some good cloud formations that can light up with various colors for good sunrises and sunsets. There were none of those to be had on this trip. 
Golden aspen forest near Guardsman Pass in Utah
With my health and the weather not cooperating, I still managed to venture out into a number of scenic byways, canyons and mountain passes.  Among the places I got to included Logan Canyon in the far northern reaches of the state, the Tony Grove area, the Mirror Lake byway area south of Evanston, Wyoming and back into Utah, Park City, Pine Canyon, Guardsman Pass, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude, American Fork Canyon and the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway in the Wasatch Front between American Fork and Provo. 

Conditions were, in the 3rd-4th week of September, generally past peak for aspen in many areas. There were certainly some peak groves, but many of the aspen were either on the downward trend or had completely dropped their leaves - I was amazed that most of the big aspen groves above Park City were completely bare this early for example. 
Along the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway in northern Utah
However, many the aspen were at peak just beyond Park City, up and around Guardsman Pass, and also on the approach and decent from Mirror Lake, west of Heber City.  

The oaks were what really made the trip. They seemed at peak vibrancy everywhere I went, and I could not get enough of the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows that were lining the canyons and foothill areas on either side of the Wasatch and Uinta mountains.  
Amazing oaks at peak color in Utah's Pine Canyon
Would I return to northern Utah again for foliage season? Without question, absolutely! And so should you! Utah may not be on many people's fall leaf-peeping radar, but it should be. Often overshadowed by Colorado to the east, the Grand Tetons to the north, and Zion Canyon area to the south, the northern destinations of the state can make for weeks of fall foliage fun if you hit it right.  
Hillsides ablaze with color in Utah's Logan Canyon
Here's a few helpful links I used in planning my trip that anyone should find useful, including a number of hikes and drives to see the fall leaves at their best: 
Have you been to Utah for fall foliage season?  If so, what are your favorite places to see the autumn colors? Share any places or tips in the comments section.  Happy Leaf Peeping!

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Gearing Up for Fall Color Season

Why I Love Photography During Fall

One of the many waterfalls in Oregon's Silver Falls State Park
Autumn is knocking on the door, that summer is officially winding down.  This year, it cannot come soon enough. With the incredibly dry summer in the Pacific Northwest filled with record-breaking heat, drought and numerous destructive wildfires, I won't be sad to kiss the summer of 2015 goodbye.

The good news is that fall is my favorite season, something I look forward to all year. The cooler days are most welcome but its the fantastic foliage that I circle my calendar months in advance to.  There's just something about being among trees ablaze in yellows, greens, reds and oranges and how they paint already grand landscapes to even more spectacularness (is that a word?!)

This year will be a different one because of the extreme weather and my thinking at this point is the fall foliage season in the Pacific Northwest may be one big dud.  Leaves are already dropping and trees are turning color, and that started in August, almost two months before they should.  And that's not good as the trees look very stressed and some are downright suffering from the lack of moisture.

But that's okay as it give me more reason to travel to areas where the fall color will be spectacular. One such place I do plan to shoot fall again this year in the Rockies. Aspen are one of my favorite types of tree groups for fall color, as you'll see in these images below. While you may believe they only turn one color - yellow - the fact is they also turn red and orange as well.  

This link is a great video made by Oregon Public Broadcasting about these unique trees and well worth a watch, as it chronicles the wild Steens Mountain area in remote southeastern Oregon, one of the few places in that state with large groves of aspen.

Why Aspen Change Color, and Their Importance to the Forest

I'll keep you updated on my travels. For now, enjoy some of these images I made last year, in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. 

Old Barn in Washington County, Oregon

A gurgling creek with colored fall leaves in Oregon
A rainbow of colors outside of Crested Butte, Colorado

Golden aspen trees fill the scene near Gunnison, Colorado

The Historic Cedar Creek Grist Mill, in Washington state

Till next time, enjoy the vista! 

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lost in the Desert - Was it Worth It?

Getting the Shot at All Costs - What Cost is Too High a Price to Pay?

Earlier this year I traveled to Nevada on a photography expedition, with my prize being the other-worldly Valley of Fire State Park.  Never heard of this place? Few have, which is amazing because it is just a little over an hour's drive from Las Vegas.  

Valley of Fire State Park - Scenic Drive at Sunrise
Most people probably find too many other things to occupy their time in "Sin City" or they head into Utah and the many national parks in the southern half of the Beehive State.   Barreling north out of Vegas on I-15, it's easy to miss the rather unimpressive exit which features nothing more than a truck stop and dry desert scrubland for miles. 

Having done my research and formulated a plan for my time in Valley of Fire, I spent three full days exploring the park - and I could have spent many more.  Most visitors would be content with driving the scenic paved road through the multi-colored rock formations and doing a few short hikes.  For those with more wanderlust like me, we need to get into the backcountry, away from the tourists, to really experience the solitude and essence of the place. 

Unfortunately, there really aren't any defined trails but rather routes with an occasional rock cairn or a post in the ground, which can be very easy to miss.  If you don't have good route-finding skills and a strong sense of direction, that can be a recipe for disaster - particularly in a harsh desert environment that can have sudden and extreme weather, including temperatures that can climb over 110 for many months of the year with virtually no shade.  And lets not forget there are some creatures that could also cause a lot of harm to humans, including poisonous spiders and snakes, scorpions, gila monsters, and prickly cactus to name a few. 

The photographer always sees his shadow - at Valley of Fire State Park
On this trip, most of those concerns would be mitigated since it was February.  Even so, daytime high temperatures were in the low 70s, and when the sun went down it dropped quickly by 20 degrees or more.  Water is nowhere to be found unless you bring your own and plenty of it. 

One late afternoon I headed out for a relatively short hike, hoping to catch a good sunset to photograph. Leaving from a popular trailhead, the "trail" was nothing more than sand through rock formations, with only a few brief, small markers.  Wanting to get up high, I took a few turns and soon had scrambled up on a promonatory that offered panoramic views in all directions.  The late afternoon light was brilliant, and I went back and forth getting numerous shots of several arches, cool rock formations, and distant vistas.  The sunset did not disappoint, as the sky lit up in pink and purple hues which contrasted nicely with the orange, gold and white rocks. 

A very cool arch lit up by the late afternoon setting sun
 In fact, the sunset was so good I stayed out until dusk, taking numerous shots of the increasingly colorful sky.  Just before dark I started to head back to my car.  The park makes a point of warning visitors to not be in the heart of the park and the scenic drive after dark.  I scrambled back down toward familiar territory, and I knew I had to make a right turn to connect back onto the "trail" back to the parking lot. 

The sun set that I stayed out for
But with the light fading fast I never saw that turn, and I kept walking. And walking. And walking. It was almost dark and I was in a canyon bottom, and the once-familiar way was anything but.  The very warm afternoon had turned into a very cold early evening.  I also had broken several of my own rules for this type of exploration:  I was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and didn't have extra warm clothing.  I also didn't bring enough water and had run out. I didn't have a flashlight with me either.   And I didn't let anyone know where I was going (I was traveling by myself and staying in a motel in a small town north of Vegas). 

It was getting hard to see anything deep in that canyon, and I started to have very real thoughts that I would be one of "those people" (unprepared) featured on the evening news the next day that had to be rescued after getting lost in the desert. 

Not the most setting of sights when all alone in the desert!
Fortunately, two things I possess are 1) a very strong sense of direction and 2) a very calm demeanor, particularly under pressure.  I also remembered I had installed a flashlight app on my phone, and quickly switched it on.  

I knew three things at that point also: 1) I had gone way too far and had missed my turn, so I stopped and turned around back facing the way I came; 2) The sun sets in the west (and I knew which direction was west from where I was), which was where the parking lot was and thus I would be searching for a lefthand turn; 3) If I couldn't find the turn, I could continue hiking due north (straight) and come out onto a side road in the park, and walk the mile or so down the road to my car. Of course it was now almost completely dark so all of that was much easier said than done. 

But with my phone flashlight in hand I slowly, carefully retraced my steps. There was enough light left in the sky that it helped illuminate the canyon.  Thanks to that, I eventually found where I was supposed to turn - easy to miss in low light conditions.  I made the turn and then trudged through the sand toward the direction of the parking lot, finding a couple of those sign posts in the light of my torch.  

"Bumps in the Road" - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
I soon was in familiar territory and back at my car, in total darkness, alone, the last person left in the park that evening.  Before leaving, I contemplated what had happened, why and that my own actions had caused it.  I resolved not to break those personal safety rules in the future on the long, dark, lonely drive back to my motel.  

But it was a sobering reminder of what lengths that photographers go to in order get "the" shot.  Staying out too late, walking or hiking too far, going off-trail, or even to places considered dangerous, both in the wild and in the urban corridors, all for the sake of coming up with a specific shot.  I have to continually remind myself to not push the envelope, and my personal limits, so far that I end up in threatening or precarious situations. 

In the end, it was a great to Valley of Fire, and I highly recommend it to anyone if in the Las Vegas or southern Utah areas.  I enjoyed it so much that I went back a couple of months later for more fun, photography and exploration.  The second time, however, I was more careful and did not put myself in any situations of getting lost or stuck out in the desert.

So was it worth it? I'll leave that to readers to decide.   

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The "Fire Wave" - an iconic feature of Valley of Fire State Park

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Photo Contest Win and Feature on Utah State Park Website - My Journey into The Desert During a Rare Spring Storm

Friends of Snow Canyon State Park

Earlier this year, I was able to travel to the desert southwest for a week of photography.  I flew into Las Vegas, but my goal was not Sin City.  I planned to head north into southern Utah to spend some time in Zion National Park and also explore two new areas to me, Snow Canyon State Park and Red Canyon National Conservation Area, both very near the desert oasis city of St. George.  I would return through Valley of Fire State Park in northeastern Nevada, one of my favorite places for exploring and photography, before heading back to Vegas to catch my flight home.

As luck would have it, a storm system rolled into the desert just as I touched down in Las Vegas. Heavy rain pounded down on the city and was nearly blinding in spots as I headed north on I-15 into the dark desert lands ahead.  The storm settled in and wasn't going anywhere. Rain, hail and thunderstorms blanketed northern Nevada and southern Utah for the better part of three days, with snow in the high country in the Zion area.

Fortunately, I was able to make my first visit to Snow Canyon State Park in conditions not normally seen during the year. This meant that normally dry desert washes were flowing, and "potholes" in the red rock canyons were filled with water.  This was the equivalent of hitting the mother lode for a photographer!

Conditions were challenging, dodging frequent rain showers and threats of lightning, forcing me to retreat frequently.  But I got lucky on my last afternoon in the area. Going on a hunch, based on living for years in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado,  I drove into Snow Canyon about two hours before sunset, when everything was socked in by low clouds, fog, rain and a bit of sleet.

Soon though, there were signs of a clearing.  Sure enough, this heavy squall line started to break out and the sun came out.  I made my way up through the red rocks onto a plateau that overlooked the canyons and peaks of the area.  The late afternoon light was glorious, turning the already colorful canyons and rocks into a brilliantly glowing cavalcade of red and orange.  With all of the potholes filled with water it made for some great reflection shots.

The image you see, above in the screen shot and the full image below, I call "Heart of Stone." It was one of not one but two of my images that won the Friends of Snow Canyon State Park's photo contest. Both images are now featured prominently on their newly-designed website, and are right here below.

If you go to southern Utah's red rock canyon country, you must make a trip to Snow Canyon. It's a largely undiscovered gem missed by most travelers in their rush to go to Zion and the other "Big 5" national parks of the region.

While your at it, check out the Friends of Snow Canyon website and see all the great things they do to support the park!

Here is Heart of Stone:

This was my other image selected as a winner. I haven't named it!

Here are a couple more from this gorgeous park. Note the double rainbow that I caught in the 2nd image below. It only lasted about 2 minutes then was gone for good.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My Online Journey - The Launch of SkyVistaPhotography.Com

I'm excited to finally launch this website. It's been many months of work and effort to get this up and running and I hope you like what you see here. There may (probably will) be a few kinks here and there. If you find anything that doesn't work or doesn't look right, please contact me.  The launch of one's own personal photography website is quite a journey, and I've certainly been on one here!  
The ultimate goal of course is to reach potential buyers and customers with my artwork, and I've created other managed websites, fan pages and social media accounts (which you can access through links on my site).  But I've reached the point that to most effectively reach the audience I want to connect with, I needed my own website, with my own URL address, and voila, this is the result. 
I invite you to have a look around.  I have hundreds of images uploaded in various themed galleries. You can learn more about me, my background and history.  
All of images on here are for sale.  I also have included a link to my Fine Art America website, where I also market my artwork.  What's different about that site? Well, they offer a very wide array of options that my images can be bought, including canvas prints, endless frame and matte choices that you can preview right on their site, phone cases, metal prints, and even offbeat products like throw pillows and duvet covers.  I think that "FAA" makes a nice partner and for now I'm keeping them as another outlet for reaching customers and buyers. 
I plan to update the SkyVista Blog at least two times a month.  My next post will cover the steps to take if you are considering building your own photography website, there are many options - too many, in fact.  
Happy Shooting - Sky's the Limit!