Winterland

I am just three days away from my around-the world move back to the United States, so I've been busy packing, sorting, organizing, and freaking out! But I'm going to surface from my moving-induced panic to share a few more photographs from our last trip to Finland.

As part of our overnight dogsled adventure, we trekked through deep Finnish forest, seeing a wilderness untouched except by winter. I could have spent hours photographing all the landscapes, but that wasn't an option.... I was riding on the back of a dog sled! So to take any photographs, I had to balance on the sled, take my hands off the steering, and hope to time up a good composition. And that's what I did.

I carried my Leica M240 under my heavy down jacket to keep it warm, retrieving it whenever I saw a photographic opportunity ahead. I used the 28mm f/5.6 Summaron lens, which was a great choice given it's small size to sit under my jacket, wide field of view, and large depth of field. Rattling off snaps as we whooshed past on the dogsled, I hoped there was something in focus and well composed in the mix!

Focusing a rangefinder is already a two handed task, and it's certainly complicated when a dogsled is involved, but I was able to zone focus and get sharp images--- much to my delight! 

Video: Adventures in Sunlight

You already know that our primary goal when we travelled to Menesjarvi, Finland, was to see the Aurora Borealis, and we certainly saw it (check this video if you missed that!).

But how did we spend our daylight hours (besides waiting for the sun to set)? We kept very busy on snowmobiles, ice fishing, dog sledding, reindeer herding, snowshoeing, and having fun in the snow! This short video highlights our adventures when the sun was up.... check it out. And if something like this appeals to your adventurous spirit, then check out TheAuroraZone.com - they arranged all of the travel and activities.

Quick Shot: Finnish Forrest

I have been saturating my website with aurora photos, so it's time for a quick change up! Today's quick shot features one of the landscapes I was most excited to see while in Finland --- trees sagging under the weight of months of snow. 

This was one of the easiest shots I took in Finland. We were hiking on a small trail with some snowshoes and the low sunlight on the horizon gave some nice color to the sky. All I needed to do was stand back and shoot!

PS - if a trip like this interests you, check out www.theaurorazone.com. They were top notch!

Quick Shot: Teaser Aurora

Today was our first night in Menesjarvi, Finland on our week long aurora-hunting trip. I know what you're wondering..... where the heck is Menesjarvi? For the geography students - that 68*North and well into the arctic circle. The airport we flew to, Ivalo, is the northernmost airport in Finland and Menesjarvi is another hour from there. Having grown up in Atlanta, today hit several milestones for most snow I've ever seen, first wild reindeer seen, and first time I've been outside in temperatures below -10*F.

We spent the day recovering from a long series of flights and connections, taking a hike through the back country, and exploring Menesjarvi. Our lodging is a converted boarding school that sits on the edge of the frozen lake and was selected for it's location and total darkness. No city or highway nearby to provide light pollution!

On our drive to the lodging this morning, we'd inquired about the recent aurora activity and our spirits were lifted when we were told it'd been quite good recently. Our spirits were then crushed when we saw the thick cloud cover that was forecast to hang around all day.

Hang around it did - the clouds were thick and very grey, so we expected an early night with no chance of catching nature's fireworks. But you don't win a baseball game if you never swing a bat, so we decided to brave the elements to try swinging at balls we probably had no chance of hitting. To make getting around a little easier, there are kick sleds that we use to move across the frozen lake. The sleds also have little seats built in, so we went out onto the lake to an area we liked and setup mini camp. 

For two hours, my friend and I just sat there with our necks kinked back looking into a dark sky. The clouds had started to break enough that we could see some stars and planets, so we called out the few constellations we knew to help distract ourselves from the -18*F temperatures. At one point we decided there was a band of clouds that looked green, so I took a photograph to test if we were seeing things, or if this was real activity. Sure enough, the viewfinder agreed - aurora! For the next 20 minutes, the clouds were away enough for us to see several distinct bands of green light up the sky. It was certainly hampered by the clouds and not as prominent as I expect it will be in good weather, but the long exposure on the camera was able to pull out the northern lights.

So here's a teaser of things to come. The weather forecast looks favorable during our trip so we should have some clear nights for better viewing.... but for now, mission accomplished!

Quick Shot: Frozen Run

With much of the eastern United States covered in snow (including close to 7 inches at my house), it seems like a good time to pull out this quick shot of Difficult Run partially frozen. I took this a few weeks ago after cold temperatures and snow previously blanketed northern Virginia.

My first ever trip to Difficult Run left me with one of my favorite pictures from 2013, so I figured I should start 2014 with another visit to the site. This time, I was interested in shooting the scene with the ice and snow covering the rocks and falls.

This photograph was taken early in the morning, which is why I was able to get that soft yellow light on the rocks. I think the photograph has an interesting contrast of soft colors and features with harsh shapes and dark tones. 

Taken with my Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm lens, and WonderPana ND filter kit.

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Quick Shot: Frozen Potomac

It has been unusually cold in Washington, DC for the past few weeks, including a few solid inches of snow early last week. Snow and ice can bring out different behaviors in animals, so I decided to head out with my friend Tim to explore along the C&O Canal.

This particular Quick Shot captured something you'll rarely see in Washington, DC. Although snow is fairly common in the winter, the low temperatures that caused chunks of ice to be floating in the Potomac River are fairly uncommon. Apparently the creative part of my brain hadn't frozen despite a few hours in the brutal cold, because I was instantly struck by the beauty of the scene when I came across this view. The contrast of the white trees, white snow, and white ice chunks against dark and dreary winter captured my attention immediately. I wish this photo came with sound because listening to the chunks of ice scrape along the shore line was an incredible sound. 

I took this photograph from the Maryland side of the Potomac but the photograph is of the Virginia side of the river.

I decided to convert the photograph into black and white because the colors were already fairly muted in a grey winter sky. The photo was taken with a Nikon D800 + Nikon 80-400mm lens. 

 

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Quick Shot: Blackwater Falls

Waterfalls have always been a favorite subject of mine, but there are only so many different falls within a reasonable drive of Washington, DC, which means I tend to revisit the same falls throughout the year and try to catch them in a new season or setting.

A few weeks ago, the colors of fall were very vibrant in DC, so I grabbed the camera and headed to a favorite spot in West Virginia - Blackwater Falls State Park. As chronicled in my previous blog, my arrival in West Virginia was greeted with snow.... all the fall leaves had given way to an early winter storm. 

I grabbed the camera and went out to Blackwater Falls, the main attraction for the park, which was very colorful due to a recent storm and late afternoon sun poking through the dark storm clouds. Thankfully a few pine trees added some extra color and masked the fact that all the leaves had already fallen! 

I've photographed this waterfall in many seasons and with many techniques (including infrared) but I think this is one of my favorite photos of the falls to date.... and it didn't even go as originally planned! Shot with the Nikon D800 & Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. 

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Quick Shot: Elakala Falls Adventure

October 27th.... this trip was all about fall colors. Autumn is in full swing around northern Virginia, so I decided to plan an extended day trip to really capture the great colors. Instead, I got snow......

Background: 

I decided to head to Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, West Virginia. I'd been there earlier in the year and thought the waterfalls would look great surrounded by bright orange and red trees. In anticipation of great colors, I'd purchased some new 35mm film that I could take with to shoot both digital and film of the colors. Unfortunately, when loading the film into the old Minolta, the film advance lever broke, so it was a digital only kinda day. 

This morning:

I set the alarm for 6am and rolled out the door with Davis, West Virginia as the destination. The weather was expected to be chilly, but pleasant. I loaded the car with all the essentials and a pair of knee high rain boots. The boots were in case I wanted to wade into the water, but not soak my feet.

The drive: 

With each mile that ticked by on my odometer, I was getting more excited. The further into the Shenandoah region I went, the more vibrant the trees became. My mind was racing with all of the possible shots I could/would take in short order. 

The final leg of the drive takes you up a steep mountain and past a series of power plants (gotta have your West Virginia coal)! Although they aren't "pretty" subjects, I enjoy driving next to these power plants and wondering if that plant supplies my electricity at home.  

Right as I clear the power plants, I look around and realize there are no more colors. 

Just gray

Not even pretty gray

No leaves

and SNOW! 

If I wasn't just 10 miles from my destination, I might have stopped and done a u-turn. My car flashed the snowflake symbol that apparently indicated I'd left a pleasant fall day and arrived abruptly in winter. 

I decided to keep the hope. Maybe, just maybe, the park was in a "safe area" where the leaves where still clinging to trees, despite the drop in temperature and recent snowfall. 

The disappointment: 

My prayers were not going to be answered by the photo gods today. The park was like the surrounding area - every tree (that wasn't evergreen) was naked. But I didn't drive all that way to come out empty handed, so I shelved the original plan and started a backup. 

Elakala Falls: 

This was my favorite spot during the last visit. The falls aren't "technically" accessible from the base, but years of explorers have made a crude trail down the side of a cliff to photograph the falls from below. Unfortunately, I didn't realize how wet it would be at the bottom of a waterfall, so I was stuck shooting from the rocks during my last visit. This time, however, I packed my rain boots so that I could wade into the river to get the shots I wanted. This comes with the obvious risk of falling or having your equipment take a swim, but it's worth the risk! 

Despite the recent snow, there was enough sun to melt any snowfall around the falls themselves, so I could take the photos and "pretend" I wasn't resting my backpack against snow.  

This shot: 

To get this shot, I pulled on the rain boots and slogged out to the middle of the stream. I had to be careful not to let the ice cold water get into my boots as I stepped and had to avoid dropping the camera as I teetered from rock-to-rock. After getting tangled in a fallen branch and almost having a catastrophic spill, I arrived at my destination for this shot. 

I wanted the viewer to know this photo was taken from mid-stream, and I think I successfully achieved that look by actually being mid-steam when I took the shot! I also wanted to take a long exposure to make the flows and stream really flow. There are these swirling pools in the steam and I positioned the camera to catch the swirls from the frothy water. 

This image was taken with my Nikon D800 & Nikon 24-70mm lens with an ND8 neutral density filter. It was taken at ISO 100, f/22 for 20 seconds! 

Next time:

I'm coming three weeks sooner! I'd rather have pre-autumn leaves than no leaves at all! 

 

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Quick Shot: White Pass

The White Pass and Yukon Rail is one of the most unique railroads in the United States. The railroad was built using narrow gauge rail during the gold rush (by using narrow gauge, the workers needed to clear less land and use less dynamite than a normal rail bed width) and runs from Skagway, Alaska. Because the railroad isn't interconnected with other Alaskan and Canadian rail, all supplies carried by the train must originate at the port of Skagway. 

Although no longer used by gold seekers, the White Pass and Yukon Rail line still operates to support Alaskan tourism and takes riders into Canada. As a result, anyone riding the railroad needs to carry a passport for US Customs inspection upon returning into the town of Skagway... even if you never crossed the border. 

In May 2013, I took the railroad to access a glacial area covered in dense snow. Our journey was to snow shoe into the forest and hike to within feet of the US/Canada border. The route we took wasn't part of a trail network and the wet snow made the trailblazing extra difficult. 

After hours of hiking, we reached our destination. We were the only people for more than 50 miles - out in the raw Alaskan wilderness. The only way to get to this part of America was by train and snow shoe. 

With the advent of interstates and airplanes, we tend to forget about the significance of America's rail network. The White Pass and Yukon rail road represents more than an important part of history, to me, the railroad is a memory of the adventure into the middle of the Alaskan wilderness... an adventure only possible via rail. 

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