Foggy Cottonwoods and West Coast Autumn, Boulder Canyon, Colorado

East Coast Autumn is the best. I won't apologize, it's true. It's my favorite subject to photograph and my favorite time of year. Cloudy, drizzly days and a tapestry of fiery tones blanketing every tree. My new home in Colorado is beautiful in its own way, too, with golden aspens and bluebird skies. But it's not East Coast Autumn.

I miss East Coast Autumn. And just as my yearning grew to new heights, nature gifted me with 5 consecutive overcast days during the waning days of the season. I was in my element, and all was right in the world. I traveled winding canyon roads in search of golden cottonwood and aspen, set among shadowed evergreens in the damp air. The search was a success.

In this image, I worked with the fog to separate the three distinct types of trees. An explosion of color, a boney structure, and a base of greenish-blue. I loved the way their shapes, colors, and textures mingled. Each balancing each other within the composition. All different, yet all the same.The fog provided the breathing room to showcase each, and the flat light allowed the texture to be studied intimately.

I'll always have a nostalgia for East Coast Autumn, but I think I could get used to this.

“Blaze in the Canyon” - A lone yellow cottonwood glows among evergreen trees during a foggy autumn day in Boulder Canyon, Colorado.

“Blaze in the Canyon” - A lone yellow cottonwood glows among evergreen trees during a foggy autumn day in Boulder Canyon, Colorado.

About the Image: Using my 70-200 lens I zoomed into the different types of trees while trying to arrange them within a pleasing composition. I made sure to leave ample breathing room around the trees on the edge of my frame and placed the bright yellow tree centrally to anchor the composition. I set the aperture to f/16 to ensure ample depth of field, and pressed the shutter.

Techs: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200 f/4 @ 78mm. 1/2 second, f/16, ISO 200.

Channeling My Inner Galen. A Trip to the Pawnee Buttes. Colorado.

Plucked from sweet, peaceful sleep by the sound of "Slow Rise" belting out of my iPhone, I frantically search my disheveled tent to swipe away the nuisance. As silence settles in again, I reflect on the night past. A thin piece of foam known as a "sleeping pad". Dry prickly grass and rock. Freezing temperatures. Tossing and turning. The overbearing sound of coyotes close by. Have you ever heard a pack of coyotes while camping alone? It isn't good. Maybe it was a pack of undead rabid coyotes? Yeah, Zombieyotes. My eyes begin to focus and adjust. What is that ominous glow? I unzip my inner tent, then my rain fly, and peak my head out into the brisk dawn air. "What the hell?" Sunrise is in 45 minutes but the sky is already aglow with fiery red. I throw on my jacket, load up my pack, and step outside.

Sunset the previous night was rushed, and I hadn't properly scouted the buttes. So there I was, on the verge of a colorful sunrise without adequate knowledge of the landscape nearby. I channeled my inner Galen. Rowell, that is. In other words, I began running. Or maybe it was just a jog-walk. Either way, my goal was within sight. The buttes tower above the surrounding landscape like monoliths. I simply needed to get over there, find a composition, and capture the impending light. Unfortunately, distance is not easily judged when out in the open grasslands. The buttes looked so close, but even my incredible jog-walk wasn't able to close the gap as quickly as I wanted. I was nervous, but the light just kept lingering. Maybe it was some kind of special light, or maybe that's just the way light behaves way out in the middle of nowhere? Eventually I reached the base of the first butte. In the homogeneous landscape, my first priority was finding something, anything, that could sit in the foreground of my image and help lead the eye towards the buttes. I skirted the edge of the rock wall and eventually found a field of fallen boulders. The light intensified and within minutes I was pressing the shutter to capture the image seen below. As the color finally began to subside, I packed up my bag yet again and began the trek back to my campsite and ultimately the trailhead. The Pawnee Buttes, and the Pawnee National Grassland as a whole, proved to be quite a unique and captivating location. The wide open expanses, the quality of the light, and the silence (except those Coyotes) left me wanting more, and I will soon return to explore them again.

“Duality” - Warm sunrise light glows on the face of one of the Pawnee buttes. Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado.

“Duality” - Warm sunrise light glows on the face of one of the Pawnee buttes. Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado.

About the Image: Creating a composition that was more than just "PLOP! Here's a cool butte." was much tougher than I imagined. The landscape consists mostly of short-grass prairie as far as the eye can see, with few defining features other than some groups of yucca plants here and there. As I scouted around the buttes and found this field of fallen boulders, I knew the potential was there. Approaching from below, I placed the closest two large boulders in the foreground of my composition. From there, I raised my tripod to provide some separation between them and the buttes, and moved left and right in order to avoid any additional overlap between the 5 or 6 other prominent boulders in the background. From there, it was simply a matter of waiting for the light. I took two exposures and blended them together. Simple enough, the light and a simple, clean composition really produced on this morning.

Techs: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35 f/4 @ 18mm. 0.8 seconds, f/11, ISO 200.

"Hard Times" - A Snow-Covered Dolly Sods, West Virginia

Last month as winter was just beginning to pick up here and there, I made my way to West Virginia to photograph during a day of light snow showers. Surprisingly, the snow, as well as some ice, had begun to accumulate in the higher elevations of Dolly Sods. To get to the top of the plateau requires a drive up a steep dirt forest road, or, in snowier conditions, a hike with snowshoes. I decided to make the attempt to drive up. The snow began to pile up as I gained elevation. A dusting turned into an inch. An inch turned into a few inches. Traction was iffy but doable, as long as I didn't stop. I was committed! Eventually reaching the top, I was greeted with stiff winds and freezing temperatures. It was brutal, but I donned my parka and hopped out of the car. The beauty overcame most of the discomfort, and how beautiful it was. As clouds whipped overhead, sunlight penetrated and darted across the distant mountain ridges. Every rock and crevice was coated in a thick layer of ice. Snow dust whipped and whirled around. Satisfied with my images, I headed back to the car to brew some hot coffee and cook some Ramen.

"Hard Times" - A snow-covered Dolly Sods, West Virginia.

About the Image: In the field, I decided to take multiple exposures of this composition. One image was exposed brighter for a proper exposure of the foreground, and the other a bit darker for the sky. This is standard practice for me when shooting landscapes with a wide dynamic range. Once home, I layer both images together in Photoshop and then mask out the sky to merge the two images together while keeping the best parts of both. This accomplishes the same thing as a graduated neutral density filter, but I like that I have more control over the process and can achieve a seamless transition along the horizon. As I began processing this image, however, I realized that the clouds were moving so quickly that the sunbeam had moved quite a bit in the few seconds between my two exposures. I didn't want the light on the land to be in a different area than the sunbeam stretching into the sky, so I had to figure out another way to process the image. I achieved that by creating a copy of one of the files, and then pushing the exposure of that copy by a stop and a half. Then, bringing both the copy with the brighter exposure, and the original into Photoshop, I was able to blend as I normally would have if I had two exposures. Perhaps a graduated neutral density would have been better in this case with the fast moving clouds, but this method also worked just fine. It's all about having the right tools in your toolbox!

"Hopeful Moment" - Backlit Snow Showers on a Winter Hillside, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

I learned a valuable lesson while taking this image. I travelled all the way to the mountains of West Virginia with the hopes of photographing intimate ice patterns. However, the previous days had not been quite cold enough to form much ice. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy, and without any ice to photograph, subjects were hard to come by. I didn't let that tamper my mood. I decided to continue exploring and just have some fun. To be in the moment. As I drove down a gravel road I discovered the scene in the photograph. A beautiful snow shower and winter pines backlit by a mid-afternoon sun. The lesson? Forget the weather forecast. Forget having an itinerary of what to photograph that is set in stone. If I had known that there would be no ice, I very likely would have never driven three hours to get to West Virginia in the first place, and that would be a damn shame. When photographing, try to remember what it was like when you first picked up your camera. Remember the time before you became just a little jaded. It's a hard lesson to follow, and one that I will likely relearn over and over throughout my life. I look forward to it.

"Hopeful Moment" - Backlit snow showers and winter pines on a hillside in Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia.

About the Image: I utilized my 70-200 to zoom in on the hillside while still providing a sense of scale and to include many snowflakes in the image. A longer lens might have looked nice to show off the pines, but I would have lost the oppossing diagonals as well as the nice gradient of light from bright in the upper right and darker in the shadows elsewhere. Additionally, I made sure to use a high enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the snow.

Techs: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200 f/4 @ 113mm. 1/1000th second, f/5.6., ISO 400. Tripod.

"Autumn Bonsai" - Three Trees on a Foggy Autumn Day, Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia

This autumn I was lucky enough to travel to West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Maine. During that time, I was able to create a lot of images that I'm really excited about. To start things off, here is an image of some beautifully figured trees on top of Dolly Sods during a rainy and cold morning. I've been trying for a decade to get this type of image up on Dolly Sods! It's much harder than it might seem.

"Autumn Bonsai" - Three trees on a foggy autumn day, Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia.

About the image: By putting on my big boy pants and hiking over a mile into the cold bogs of Dolly Sods, where at times, the water was about a foot deep, I found this cluster of trees out in the open. It was just what I needed to create a simple and pleasing composition. The way the tree on the left leans slightly towards the left and the one on the right leans slightly right creates a sense of movement and flow within the composition. Additionally, the bright red blueberry bushes at the bottom of the frame provide a nice anchor. Once I got the composition dialed in, the rest was simple. I used a low ISO of 100 to reduce any noise, an aperture of f/16 to provide enough depth of field to cover front to back, and let the shutter speed settle at 1/2 second, which was fine since there was no wind.

"Silently into the Night" - Sunset Along the Potomac River, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

With a tropical depression moving up the East Coast last week, clouds billowed to the east while the sky remained completely clear to the west. Hey, that seems like the perfect recipe for a colorful sunset! 

"Silently into the Night" - Sunset along the Potomac River, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

About the Image: The sunset itself is the star here, but I made sure to focus on the foreground as well. The small cascade worked well, providing a sense of movement. I used a polarizer in this image, but made sure to only polarize about half-way. I wanted to kept some of the reflections, which picked up bits of the rich magenta sky. Always remember to think about your polarizer setting instead of just going for max polarization, as a little glare can sometimes be a good thing by giving the image more depth. 

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 10-22 @ 10mm. 2.5 seconds, f/9, ISO 200. Polarizer. Tripod.

"Pathways" - A Great Blue Heron Hunting During High Water, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

Hello there! It's been a little while, I know. My healthy and beautiful son, Porter, was born in early June, and while I wish I could say my absence was solely thanks to the hectic adjustment period of having a newborn in the house, that just wouldn't be true. He's the best damn baby ever. Sleeps all night, smiles at his parents, laughs, and drinks milk pretty much all day long. What a life. I guess the truth is that I just haven't been inspired lately. Like a summer drought, my creatives juices had slowed to a trickle. But just upstream, a rainstorm is pouring, and I can feel my artistic soul beginning to re-hydrate. And man, was I thirsty. It's funny how you don't realize what you've been missing sometimes. With autumn just around the corner, I can't wait to get out to my favorite local areas to capture the stunning change from summer, to autumn, to winter. For now, here is an image that I'm extremely excited about. I created this photograph earlier this summer in Great Falls National Park. Every summer shad migrate upstream, and the local great blue herons gather along the banks of these rapids to chow down. 

"Pathways" - A great blue heron attempts to catch Shad and other fish during high water in the Potomac River. Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

About the Image: The unusually high water level during this time of year, this year, led to some new compositional opportunities at a place that I sometimes think I've gotten every possible heron shot at (what a stupid notion). Typically the river along the bottom right side of this image is just dry rocks. Using my 70-200 f/4 with a slow shutter speed while locked down on a tripod, I composed the image where the water flow made an S-curve from top left, to middle right, and finally bottom left. Additionally, I watched the placement of the trees so as not to clip the tree in the top right and to provide enough of an anchor to the tree on the bottom left so that it didn't feel too truncated. Taking several exposures, as I always do when including moving water in the photograph allowed me to pick the image with the best looking water, as well as ensuring that the heron was sharp, as they do occasionally move during the relatively long exposure. A polarizer helped to cut some of the glare on the rocks to provide some more contrast overall in the scene.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 400 f/5.6., 1/4th second, f/14, ISO 100. Polarizer. Tripod.

"Wintry Womb" - Ice Patterns in Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C.

I've got some great news for you all. I'm having a baby boy at the end of May! I'm so eager to meet the little dude. This image of some ice in a small stream in D.C. reminded me of a womb during this nervous, exciting, and life changing time.

"Wintry Womb" - Ice Patterns in Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C.

About the Image: The main challenge of shooting an image like this is finding a composition that makes sense and flows without feeling truncated. I utilized the main bubble in the center as a focal point, and let the other lines flow outward while being careful to compose the image so that no major bubbles or features were cut off at the edge of the frame. 

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200 f/4 + 500D Closeup Filter @ 118mm. 2.5 seconds, f/22, ISO 100. Tripod.

"Winter Kaleidoscope" - Ice Patterns with Reflected Sunset Light

Forget about "Snowzilla", I was more excited for the single digit lows a few days before the big storm hit us. I ended up exploring two new locations, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and Rock Creek Park, in search of exciting ice patterns. I don't know how, but every year I stay jazzed up about Capturing new images of ice. It's a bit like a treasure hunt, you never know what you're going to find. 

"Winter Kaleidoscope" - Ice Patterns with Reflected Sunset Light, Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C.

About the Image: I've photographed this particular flavor of ice a few times before. Always from above. Always in shadow. The shapes are cool enough, and make for a decent image of repeating triangles. I strive to move forward creatively, though, and photographing these patterns from the top in flat light just wasn't cutting it. As I moved around the scene photographing other bits of ice, I noticed that the warm light of sunset on a distant hillside was casting some lovely, lively, light onto the ice. Especially so when I placed the camera very low to pick up the reflections. It looked beautiful to my eye, but how could I record this with my camera and keep the depth of field large enough to render the entire scene in focus from such a sharp angle? Not even f/32 resulted in a sharp image, so I decided to do a focus blend. With my lens at f/11, I changed focus slightly over the course of 8 images, from front to back. Later, I utilized Photoshop's focus stacking tool to piece them together into one sharp, perfectly focused frame.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200 f/4 + 500D Closeup Filter. 0.3 seconds, f/11, ISO 100. Focus Blend. Tripod.

"A Striking Image" - Great Blue Heron Hunting Minnows in Fort De Soto Park, Florida

Capturing a decisive moment such as this can really add a lot of movement to an otherwise still wildlife photograph. Subjects such as slow moving herons and egrets are perfect  to practice on. By utilizing a tripod to compose for the body of the heron, one must simply choose a high enough shutter speed (1/2500th second in this case) and hold down the shutter button when the action begins. Higher frame rate cameras are certainly beneficial here, but you can get by with about 5 frames per second or so quite well. 

About the Image: Using a slightly higher ISO of 400 here was important to quicken up the shutter speed a bit to 1/2500th second. In hindsight, I probably should have chosen ISO 800 as 1/2500th is right on the edge of capturing such a quick movement sharply. However, it did work out in this case and I'm glad it did! Additionally, I chose an aperture of f/7.1. instead of wide open to add a bit of depth of field in case the heron's head and eye moved slightly out of focus during the strike. Exposure was quite straight forward, spot metering the blue water at -1 exposure compensation let everything fall into place. In regards to composition, I let the heron sit quite far to the right to not appear too centralized and to allow space for water droplets to fly up on the left. Those flying drops of water add movement and are an integral part of the composition. They also look damn cool, and I wouldn't want to miss out on being able to include them in my image!

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 400 f/5.6. 1/2500th second, f/7.1., ISO 400. Tripod.