A Handful of Bridges in Prince William Forest

Winter can be cruel to photographers, so I'm spending the last days of fall capturing the remaining warmth and bright colors before the grey gloom of winter arrives.

Prince William Forest Park is one of the many national parks within a short drive of Washington, DC, but it is one often overshadowed by parks like Shenandoah, Great Falls, and Assateague. It has been a number of years since I've been to the park, so I grabbed my Nikon D850 and set out to see what sort of hidden gems I could find to mark the end of the fall season.

Prince William Forest has a number of small streams that snake through a lightly hilly forest. On this particular day, the park was relatively empty, and I came upon a few bridges that I thought were ideal for photography subjects.

I used my Nikon D850 and Nikon 24-70mm / 14-24mm lenses to capture these images. I am still getting used to this new camera, but find myself getting more comfortable with it by the day.

This tree next to the bridge was not that golden when I started walking around the bridge, but a beam of sunlight came through the forest canopy, lighting this tree up in a beautiful golden light

Over the river and through the woods

This single tree really stood out against the yellow leaves in the background

The wires on this suspension bridge create a nice composition element

I stood in the water (with good boots) to get a long exposure of the creek running under the bridge

Another bridge at the edge of the Prince William Forest scenic drive

Yellowstone: Tiles on Film

In March of 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant did something remarkable; he created the first National Park in United States in an area of Wyoming. This park, known today as Yellowstone National Park, comprises over 3,000 square miles and hosts more than 4 million visitors each year. Those visitors have come to see the over 10,000 geothermal features that comprise the park - ranging from the famous Old Faithful geyser to small steam vents - two-thirds of the world’s geysers are located within Yellowstone.  

The geysers and thermal features of Yellowstone are famous for numerous reasons, least of which is the color. Few places in the world are home to the vibrantly colored pools that dot Yellowstone’s landscape. These memorable colors form the basis of a dazzling mosaic, captured in individual tiles.

Today I am sharing a selection of images - dubbed "tiles" - that were taken with a medium format Rolleiflex film camera. The tiles were shot using Kodak color films, and other than scanning the images, slight cropping, and dust removal from the scanned negatives, there are no other adjustments. The vibrant colors and surreal abstract art is the natural look of these film images.

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(White)stone National Park

When I planned my fall trip to Yellowstone National Park, I had certain expectations for the types of art I would have an opportunity to create: fall colors, wildlife, spectacular sunsets, etc.

So much for planning. Mother Nature, it seems, had another idea.

Snow.

We had heavy precipitation every day that we were in the park, with five days in a winter weather advisory. Areas of the park accumulated over 10" of snow in one night, closing many roads and restricting travel through the park for a number of days.

In the midst of this surprise cold, there was still a great opportunity to capture some landscape images.... just not the ones I had planned on! With the sky hidden behind low, snow-filled clouds for days, I focused on more white landscapes to capture the essence of Yellowstone's first snowfall of 2017.

These photographs were all made with the Leica SL. Steam from active geothermal features and snow melt where warm ground met frozen tundra can be seen in a number of the finished prints.

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The Fall Aspen Hunt

I just returned from another incredible photography expedition, this time to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I had a number of photographic goals for this trip, one of which included capturing the changing colors of the aspen trees in Grand Teton.

Turns out it wasn't so easy. I had several ideas for what I wanted the final image to look like, but finding trees that were cooperating with my vision was more challenging than expected. The aspens that made a nice composition hadn't yet experienced the change of color that I wanted. The colorful trees weren't located in an area yielding a great composition.

After five days of hunting, I finally found some aspen clusters on the edge of the park boundary where I captured the following compositions. It was incredibly rewarding to finally discover a few aspen stands that had the mature golden yellow leaves that I wanted! 

Shot with the Leica SL.

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Day 3: Lake Manyara National Park

I am finding it increasingly difficult to come up with the words to describe the incredible wildlife and landscape in Tanzania. Our adventure today took us to Manyra National Park, which is located squarely in the heart of Maasai territory. The Maasai is one of the oldest and bigger tribes in this region; historically cattle farmers, they live a very primitive lifestyle in mud huts that dot the remote countryside. 

Manyra park borders a lake that is an alkaline lake full of millions of flamingos, but the park itself contains several mini ecosystems. With Ben once again at the helm, we set off in search of elephants, giraffe, monkey, and (fingers crossed) big cats. Ben told us that we’d have to be extremely lucky to see any cats in this park, it used to be more common but the cats have learned to avoid the areas visited by the 4x4’s and stick to remote areas. We started a running joke with Ben that, despite his warnings that this wasn’t a place to regularly see the big cats, we were still going to find a “leopard in a tree.” After a day and a half, the joke had evolved to finding all sorts of animals in trees: leopards, lions, and elephants! Every time we said it, Ben would chuckle and shake his head, no doubt thinking “those crazy people.”

You can imagine our excitement when a German tourist in another jeep mentioned “there is a lion in a tree just down the road, next to the wooden bridge.” Ben hit the accelerator and moments later we found the tree in question. Indeed, there was a large lioness relaxing in the upper branches in retreat of the hot sun. While we’d found our lion in a tree, this lion wasn’t exactly feeling social and only gave a view of her butt as she napped, occasionally shifting a paw to maintain her balance. As an aside, I was surprised by her choice of limbs for napping - she didn’t exactly go for big strong branches and I can’t imagine it was a terribly comfortable nap. 

I am sure Ben was relieved to finally produce a cat in a tree, hoping that would quell his guests and their jokes, but we immediately began joking that we now wanted elephants and leopards in trees. (Note: elephants don’t climb trees, but since Ben had delivered a sighting that was fairly rare, we figured we’d ask for the moon and see what we got!)

As we continued down the path, Ben would stop and chat with other guides in Swahili about their sightings: “did you see any elephants? any lions?” Ben reported back to us that the other safari groups were coming back empty handed, but this didn’t deter Ben. He’s one of the best drivers in Tanzania and if anyone was going to find the impossible, it was him. Onward we went!

Less than an hour later, we passed some very fresh elephant dung and urine; when urine is still present you know the elephants MUST be nearby. Despite our eagle eyes, we couldn't find any elephants, and pressed forward, disappointed that we may have missed a sighting by mere minutes. The end of this road was an open plain that eventually stretched to the edge of the lake. As we emerged onto the plain, Ben yelled out “Lion!”

Sure enough, in the middle of the plain was a single lioness walking towards the only bush that occupied this otherwise barren grassland. I only got a few quick snaps before she disappeared into the bush and sat down. After spending a minute looking around at the other animals, Ben drove the 4x4 over to the bush, putting us just feet away from the lion as she rested in the shade. 

Wow! These are big cats and very impressive to see in their natural environment - no cages or scheduled feedings. I don’t think she was as impressed with the humans as she’d occasionally lift one side of her lip to show us a long tooth. She was a truly magnificent animal and I cannot wait to see more in the Serengeti. 

We felt incredibly lucky - TWO lions! Ben commented that this is very rare to see here, so we felt very good about our timing, although still bummed the elephants evaded us. Unfortunately, the park was closing soon, so we had to start the drive back to the main gate without our elephant sighting. About fifteen minutes into the drive, Ben spotted an elephant leg as it moved across the road and into the bush. We drove to that area and could hear the sounds of a bunch of large animals and saw trees shaking. Ben stopped the engine and we sat there in silence listening to the bushes and trees around us shaking from a herd of elephants. Moments later the first elephant emerged from the bush and ambled toward us, getting within inches of the truck before ducking back into the overgrowth. Another group of elephants emerged, this time with a baby. The adult elephants surrounded the baby to protect it, but I still managed a few shots. Ben was starting to get nervous - the park was closing soon and we still had a long way to drive, but the elephants we were previously struggling to identify were now not in the mood to yield from the roadway. Even as we inched closer in the truck, the elephants were not interested in moving and we had no choice but to sit and watch this group of 10 or so elephants (bummer!). Almost as quickly as we found them, they disappeared when an older elephant was spooked by a nearby sound. Ben wasted no time and we tore onward to the main gate.

At this point, it seemed every time we wished to see an animal in a tree, that animal would appear for us, albeit not always in a tree! Once again we joked that all we needed now was a leopard in a tree. Almost as if it was on command, we passed another safari truck that was watching a leopard moving in the bushes. Unfortunately he was moving very quickly so we only got a minute to watch him before he disappeared from view.

On the whole, we had an extremely lucky day in a park that is more commonly known for the bird life. We are hoping our luck didn’t run out too quickly as our next safari stop is the Serengeti! The moral of this story is that we need to keep asking to see animals in trees!

Quick Shot: Great Falls Sunrise

The weather in the DC area abruptly went from pleasant fall days to blistering cold this weekend, but despite the weather, a few brave trees still cling to their fall colors. I decided to try and capture a last glimpse of fall this weekend with a trip to a favorite DC photo destination, Great Falls National Park.

Located on the border between Maryland, Virginia, and DC, Great Falls is a wonderful place to escape the urban sprawl. I've photographed the falls here several times, but never walked away with a photograph that I thought was particularly grand or truely captured the beauty of these falls. This time I woke up excruciatingly early to get to the falls for sunrise in the hope that the first rays of sun would cast a warm glow over the scene.

Although the sunrise wasn't spectacular, the location of the sun provided a brilliant golden light to the rocks in the middle of the river. To give the image some drama and depth, I used a long exposure to get the wispy effect on the falls. I wanted the resulting image to have lots of depth but to be very calm and inviting, and I think I hit the mark!

Shot with the Nikon D800 with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens using a Gitzo tripod and ND8 neutral density filter. Minor adjustments made in photoshop. 

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Quick Shot: Reflection of War

I recently visited the National World War I Memorial in Kansas City. During this visit, I found myself drawn to a glass rooftop at the base of the memorial (it was the roof for the museum below the memorial). The shiny glass reflected the memorial beautifully, so I took two photographs to capture that reflection.

The first shot was taken during the day and highlights the reflection of the inscription at the base of the tower. The second photo was taken at dusk, when the lights on the tower illuminated the scene. I couldn't decide which I liked better, so I thought I'd post them both and let you pick! 

Which of these two shots do you like more? Leave me a comment and let me know! 

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Quick Shot: Ponies of Assateague

It's been a few days since my last quick shot, but that's because I've been busy! I spent the weekend on Assateague Island, which is a long and uninhabited coastal island running through Maryland and Virginia. The island is most famous for the herds of wild horses and ponies that roam along it's beaches.  Equally famous are the marshes on Assateague, which are home to an abundance of birds and other wildlife.

The primary goal of this trip was to photograph wild ponies and birds. Like I normally do, I'd pre-visualized several photos I wanted to capture of these subjects (I'd never been there and used Google to research the wildlife extensively).  

One shot on my to-do list was a photograph detailing a pony's face. Ideally, I wanted to get the shot at sunrise or sunset, when the soft golden glow would cast the pony in a warm light.  

I had read online that the ponies often migrated to the beaches around sunset and would be inland during the day. Apparently the ponies read the same article I did; within hours of arriving on the island I found a herd of horses by the beach at sunset. Cha-ching!

I chose this pony for the face shot for several reasons:

1. He was facing into the sun, giving a nice cast of light on his face
2. I liked the white mark on his face
3. He was being a cooperative wild subject, which isn't something we get often as wildlife photographers!  

The ponies can be dangerous to humans if we get too close and the National Park Service gives every visitor a rather graphic flyer detailing the dangers of getting too close. That being said, I was sure to stay approximately 20 feet away and was mindful to never "box a horse into a corner" so as to not frighten them. 

Given the distance, it was a no-brainer to use the Nikon 80-400mm. I shot at f/8 to get a nice depth of field on his face and dialed in a -0.5 exposure compensation to ensure the camera didn't overexpose the areas in the sunlight.  

I did minor edits in Photoshop CS6 and ran a high pass filter over the nose fur to accentuate those details.  

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