Friday, June 9, 2017

Far Up Right Fork of Zion's North Creek there is an Oasis

Landscape photography in Zion Right Fork North Creek with pines trees and flowers and waterfall
Waterfall, flowers and redrock located in Zion's Right Fork of North Creek
Ever since hiking to Double Falls in 2011, I have wanted to return and explore further.  I made it happen this year and hiked all the way into the deepest part of the canyon possible without ropes, harnesses and such:  Barrier Falls.  While Barrier Falls is not particularly scenic, seeing the "Barrier" remains quite an accomplishment because the hiking here is so slow, rocky and wet.  The last mile is pure bushwhacking and bouldering.

Below Barrier Falls, this smaller and idyllic pool and waterfall are located.  The waters are cool on my legs.  I'd often wade up to my thighs and sometimes higher.  I loved the sound of falling water on the rocks and a breeze through the trees.  No other disturbances in this remote location.

I loved these little red flowers.  As I saw them, I wanted to include them somehow in a grander photograph of the surroundings.  Getting very low and very close to the flowers allowed me to frame plenty of the flowers in-line with the waterfall and a towering pine tree.

I knew keeping everything in focus would be impossible because some things were so close and others were so far.  I took 3 shots, focusing on the near points, mid-points and distant points each time.  Back home I merged these 3 shots in Photoshop to create an image that is sharp near to far!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Yellow Rock, Utah: Sunset in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Sunset atop Yellow Rock, Utah, Southwest USA
Yellow Rock within Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is one of many fabulous natural beauties!
Yellow Rock, Utah remains one of the most unique and beautiful locations I've ever visited.  I've traveled in pursuit of great photo locations for 12 years now and Yellow Rock remains one of the most photogenic in memory.  I visited this remote location once, in 2008 (before blogging, so I thought it deserved a blog post now).  After 9 years, this photo remains one of my favorite.  I'd ascended the monolith, huffing and puffing, until I reached the top.  I searched around, looking for good photo subjects.  I discovered this wavy line of white and deep purple etched on the yellow sandstone.  Just about this time, sunset happened and the last sun rays shone on the distant cliffs and clouds.

Processing note:  This photo was before HDR and multiple exposure blending.  I shot with a Lee graduated neutral density filter to balance out the exposure.  Later I developed this in photoshop with small adjustment using the screen and multiply layers.

This year I will return and hope to photograph a scene equal to or better than this old gem from a great hike.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

Beachy Head Photography Guide: White Cliffs and Surroundings

Red and White Lighthouse in United Kingdom
Beachy Head Lighthouse, as seen from the cliffs high above
Beachy head is extremely photogenic.  Some pictures of those massive white cliffs are instantly recognizable as England.  They are featured in several movies.  Though the "white cliffs of Dover" are what we learn in school, Beachy Head is what we see in the pictures.  Dover is a bit further east but not as spectacular.

What is there to photograph here?
1.  The White Cliffs of Beachy Head can be shot in isolation or with some of the sea birds to give sense of scale.
2.  Coast Guard Cottages -- these are further west and require a circuitous drive but the view with the white cliffs in the background is unparalleled!
dawn at the coast guard cottages with white chalk cliffs
Coast Guard Cottages and the White Cliffs at
Beachy Head, United Kingdom
3.  Birling Gap -- This looks west towards those Coast Guard Cottages and shows the "Seven Sisters".
View of Birling Gap and Seven Sisters
View towards Birling Gap (lighthouse in distance) with
Seven Sisters -- the chalk cliff peaks
4.  Beachy Head -- the cliffs directly above the lighthouse are spectacular, scary and straight down!  Don't get too close to the edge.  It doesn't look very stable to me.
Beachy Head Chalk Cliffs and Green Grass
Chalk Cliffs at Beachy Head.  The lighthouse stands in the
sea at high tide.  At low tide the land stretches out to it.  
5.  The Beachy Head Lighthouse.  I captured this in many shots but found the isolated shot with the house surrounded by the angry ocean to be my favorite.

And nearby:
1.  The Long Man of Wilmington
Long Man of Wilmington Chalk Drawing Hill
Long Man of Wilmington, near Beachy Head, UK
2.  Lovely photogenic village of Alfriston.  This little town stole my heart.  It's picture perfect and has most-welcoming residents.  Do stop by and visit their lovely church.
Church and Cemetery with flowers in Alfriston, UK
Alfriston Church and Graves with beautiful flowers

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Gordon Smith shooting a wedding
Using the 5D Mark IV is a breeze.
I got a new Canon 5D Mark 4 (5D Mark IV) 6 months ago.  I’ve put my Canon 1Ds Mark III into semi-retirement.  I thought it might be worthwhile to compare the two exceptional cameras.  If it’s possible to love a piece of magnesium alloy housing mirrors and computer chips, then I loved my 1Ds Mark III.  I still do. 

After shooting for half a year, I discovered my new 5D Mark IV can do everything my 1Ds Mark 3 did and more.  What can it do better than the 1Ds Mark III?  Here’s my much-anticipated list of my favorites:


10.  Touchscreen can be used for menus, zooming, shutter, focus and much more.
9.  Optional battery grip:  you can go "big camera" or "small camera" as you prefer.
8.  Fast frames per second with a larger buffer for those large files.
7.  Multiple Speedlite control remotely from the touchscreen!
6.  Self timer option allows multiple exposures.  You set the frames and interval to whatever you want.
Photographer Gordon Smith in the United Kingdom

5.  HD and 4K movies.  Heck, any movies are better than no movie mode at all that I previously had.
4.  ISO that lets me shoot in the dark.  Previously my ISO limits were 1600.  Now it’s nearly infinite with choices of 3200, 6400, 12800, 25600 and even more.  This is a big plus and the image quality at these higher ISO is vastly improved!
3.  auto ISO choice makes quality shots quick and easy.  That was very handy at a recent wedding shoot.
2.  Built-in level within the viewfinder.  Never shoot a slanted horizon again!
1.  GPS tagging photos automatically.  As a landscape photographer, I love this feature!

photographer Gordon Smith

Hell Hole Canyon Beauty

Tree with purple blossoms in Hell Hole Canyon, Utah
Purple Blossoms of Spring as seen on the Hellhole (or Hell Hole) Trail in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is a vast area north of St. George.  The reserve was initially formed, in part, because of the desert tortoise.  These seldom-seen residents are a threatened local species.  The reserve status protects this land for recreational use and I’ve enjoyed several jaunts into various parts of the reserve.  Some have famous names like Yant Flat or the Vortex.  Others are unknown. 

On this day I hiked into an unknown area named “Hell hole” because of the miserable heart in the summer.  My visit had clouds and rain and I felt it more like a desert garden than a pit of despair.  I know that a waterfall can appear from the high cliffs if it rains enough.  I hoped for a waterfall appearance . . . but got something different. 

The trail heads up a wash on the west side of Red Mountain.  The sandy going makes for slow travel.  Raindrops falling on and off had me donning and doffing my rain jacket several times.  The sheer cliff walls get closer and closer until you cannot go any further.  The hike ends at the cliffs. 

This furthest-possible location holds some beautiful scenery.  A handful of healthy cottonwood trees hide beside some muddy watering holes.  In March they are freshly green and vibrant against the sandstone backdrop.  After taking a few pictures here I explored a bit more and found my greatest prize:  a large bush blooming with purple flowers.  Desert blooms are rare and beautiful events.  This tall bush was at peak for color and evenly covered with blossoms on every branch!  Even more unique, there wasn’t another bush like it anywhere.  I photographed several angles and perspectives in the light rain and left feeling satisfied that’s I’d captured something rare and wonderful.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

West Rim Trail, Zion: Backpack and Photography

landscape photograph over the West Rim Trail in Zion
East Temple as seen from the West Rim Trail
The West Rim Trail is one of the top backpacking trips in all of Utah.  It is the best and most renown backpacking trail in Zion National Park.  For over a decade I've had it on my wish list and never seemed to get things started.  Finally I made a short bucket list of things to do, short enough that I could accomplish some of these things each year.  I have less than 10 things on this list.  West Rim Trail made the list and I finally stopped making excuses and instead took those days off work.  Time to stop planning and start doing.

The Permit:
I went as a walk-in to the ranger station at 6 AM, waited in line and got my lucky top-choice campsite:  # 5.  Why #5?  Campsite 5 is right in the middle of the hike, it's right on the edge of Phantom Valley, it's right where I wanted to be for sunset and sunrise.  And I got it.  Yes!  Campsites 4 and 6 are also on the plateau but were reserved in advance online.
Two hiking women in Zion National Park
Lava Point Trailhead:  13.5 or 14.5 Miles to the Main Zion Canyon on the West Rim Trail.
Pictured are my sister-in-law and my wife.
The Hike:
Starting at Lava Point at over 7,000 feet we began the long gradual hike toward Zion's main canyon which is near 4,000 feet.  The first few hours are pretty, nothing spectacular.  The hiking is easy with a gradual downhill journey.  At about 3 miles, we got a fantastic view into the Left Fork of North Creek.
West Rim Trail and south guardian angel
First View into the Left Fork of North Creek
and South Guardian Angel

Women backpack high over cliffs in Zion, Utah
West Rim Trail:  the Viewpoints and Views become more numerous and better throughout!
This is just the beginning of the amazing scenery to come.  The trail hugs the canyon edge the rest of the hike.  There are a few ups and downs but the big rise comes up to Horse Pasture Plateau.  Here we passed a vacant campsite 6 and reached #5.  The views from #6 to #4 all look down onto the spectacular Phantom Valley.  I spent my sunset hour shooting over this valley.  We had a quiet camp that night and I again shot over the Phantom Valley for sunrise.  Inclined Mountain, South Guardian Angel, North Guardian Angel and the great Right Fork were some of the more prominent landmarks.

Zion West Rim Trail landscape photography
West Rim Trail sunset photograph

West Rim Trail Zion National Park, Utah
Inclined Temple as seen from the West Rim Trail at dawn
During my wandering north and south along the rim, I discovered that campsite 4 was also vacant.  We had the whole plateau to ourselves.

West Rim Trail Camping and Tent
West Rim Trail:  Camp Site 5
(On a side note, I feel that it's so wrong that these coveted campsites got reserved months before by people who never came.  I can understand that plans change, but there ought to be a way to release those campsites to people to really want to backpack.)

I never sleep that great while camping, especially on the first night.  The campsite is pretty basic with a log or two for sitting and some rocks in a rectangle around our tent site.  You must carry all your water and can only fill up at natural springs.  Our first and only opportunity for this would be at Cabin Springs, a few miles ahead.  We broke camp in the morning and kept hiking with great views all on our right (to the West).
panorama from West Rim Trail Horse Pasture Plateau
Panorama of the Views from Horse Pasture Plateau over Phantom Valley.  Campsites 4 - 6 each share this massive view!
Hiking along this section is very easy, flat, smooth.  The scenery is world class!  Spectacular tall pine trees grow atop the mesas and straight out of the cliffs too.

After Cabin Springs, the trail descends on a path cut into the stone cliff!  There are switchbacks cut into the cliff that make a pathway about 3-5 feet wide which allowed us to hike single-file down into a hanging valley above the main canyon floor.  We passed Behunin Canyon at the bottom of the switchbacks.  It is here that we began to see day-hikers coming up from Angel's Landing.  The closer we got to Angel's Landing, the more neighbors we had.
High mesa and cliffs in Zion, Utah
West Rim Trail looks down on all these finger canyons:  Phantom Valley on the Right, Behunin Canyon on the Left.

Hiking switchbacks in West Rim Trail, zion
Burnt Tree over West Rim Canyon.  Before
long the trail drops down to the lowest point visible.

View from Cabin Springs:  the trail is down there.  Look for it skirting in and out of the shadows!
This is the hanging valley above Scout's Lookout but below Horse Pasture Plateau.
Switchback cut into the sandstone on the West Rim Trail
West Rim Trail Switchback

Some parts of the switchbacks are more sketchy than others.  Here's a scary part: see the trail?  Cut into the cliff face with a huge death-drop on the right side?  Yeah.  This is unforgettable!  We came down that!
Tall trees in Zion national park
Typical scenery below Cabin Springs and
the switchbacks with tall Pines and Cliffs
This section is also very scenic but the trail is part of the scenery here instead of on top of it all.  Just before Angel's Landing, the West Rim Trail makes its' only prolonged uphill climb.  Once on top of this last obstacle, it's all downhill.  You're looking down on Angel's Landing and my footsteps got heavy, reckless and quick.  Before long, we crossed the Virgin River and were waiting for the shuttle to take us back to the parking lot where we'd spotted a car.
West Rim Trail ascending to Cabin Spring
West Rim Trail just higher than Scout's Lookout and Angel's Landing.  The trail on the right is headed
up the West Rim Trail.  You can see the trail cutting diagonally up from the lower left of this
picture.  That's the beginning of the ascent to Cabin Springs.  It get much steeper later on.
My Take:
West Rim Trail won't disappoint.  5/5 Stars!  It's challenging without being technical, long enough to escape the crowds without being too long.  It's perfect.
Most beautiful place in Zion national park.
West Rim Trail Photography and Backpacking

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Winnat's Pass in the Peaks District

Road through green canyon of Winnats Pass, united kingdom.
Road through Winnats Pass
I saw some spectacular photos of Winnats pass when researching the Peaks District.  They impressed me so much I decided to go here for my sunrise.  I started off hiking along the southern edge which became higher and higher.  Deep grass was easily negotiated because there are some footpaths running here and there.  I hiked out to those prominent rocks in the upper picture and shot a mostly-cloudy sunrise.  My result is the photo below.
peaks district photography winnats pass
Winnats Pass at Sunrise
The small town in the distant haze is Castleton, UK.  I went there for sunrise and found some clouds, a little bit of light peeking through and some colors in the sky.  Looking down, I found much more to be excited about: green like I never see covering all the hills, crags and slopes.  From high up on the canyon precipice I watched the light slowly come into the world.  The vibrant green color and steep canyons here reminded me of Hawaii.

After hiking back down, I started driving through the pass but had to pull over and photograph this awesome view of the road.  This lovely but twisted road goes down through the pass and into quaint lovely villages.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Duddo Stone Circle

Duddo stone circle in a field
Walking to Duddo Stone circle through a vast wind-swept field!
Imagine a stone circle in England that stands on a mound with fields in every direction:  nothing to block the view from this ancient stone circle.  The Duddo Stones form a 5-stone circle that can be walked to over a flat farmer's field.  Near Duddo, UK, this circle is a bit off the beaten path in Northumberland.  A few small signs will point you in the right direction.  A right-of-way path goes through some fields.  After about 1/2 a mile of walking, you'll see this view of the stones with a direct path to them.

The stones are rough with deep creases and irregular shapes.  Some distant fields are yellow with rapeseed.
5 stone circle in Northumberland
All 5 Duddo stones
Duddo stone circle irregular stones
Duddo Stones with deep gouges and lines.
duddo stone circle landscape photography artistic
Duddo Stones in a big universe
And to get the spooky and eerie feeling, I processed this shot in black and white.
duddo stone circle is spooky and cool
Black and White:  Duddo Stone Circle

Skyfall: the place, not the movie

Skyfall panorama with mountains and valley
Skyfall, the place
Skyfall is a catchy name for a James Bond movie.  The actual location Skyfall is near Glencoe, Scotland.  When exploring around I couldn't resist the urge to see this place, so say I'd been to Skyfall myself.

What's there?  Air, mountains, valleys, green growth, big skies.
What's not there?  People, James Bond's home, civilization.

This panorama is at the end of the road (it's a dead end) looking back over the terrain from Kings House to Skyfall.  Deer jump across the roads, clouds pass surprisingly quickly across the sky and times doesn't seem to matter.  I'd recommend a visit.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kanab Point for Sunrise over the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon at Kanab Point
Kanab Point at the exact moment of Sunrise
Kanab point has everything I'd want in a Grand Canyon viewpoint.  It's remote.  My family had it all to ourselves.  It's got great views at sunrise and sunset.  It's got towering rock pillars and distant twisted dark canyons.  It overlooks the confluence of two huge canyons:  the Grand Canyon and Kanab Canyon.  You can see all the way down to the water far below.  It's pretty undiscovered as far as photography goes.

After camping there overnight, I got up before sunrise and went to the point looking east.  The sun will rise over Kanab Creek to the east and the main Grand Canyon with the Colorado is slightly to the southeast.  You can include views in any direction except northwest.  It drops off in sheer cliffs in all those directions.

I shot with a variety of lenses to bring some specific things into focus, such as the Golden Rocky Towers with a 70-200 mm lens.  I used the 17 mm tilt-shift lens to make the Kanab Creek panorama.  I also used multiple exposures and HDR processing for the first photo which includes the sun.  I hoped to capture the glorious glow on the towers below Kanab Point and also see the darker depths of Kanab creek and see the sun simultaneously.  I did some manual local adjustments to get things exactly right.
Kanab Point landscape photography
Golden Rocky Towers over the Grand Canyon

Kanab Point view over Kanab Creek
Kanab Creek drainage:  a panoramic photo
Driving to Kanab Point takes patience.  Before you even get on the dirt, you've driven quite a ways from some small towns.  Once you are on the dirt road, you're only halfway.  Although the path is not particularly difficult, the road quality is lacking.  This path goes around every small shrub and tree, sometimes twice around the same bush, or so it seems.  You won't drive straight for more than 2 feet before another turn.  So, it's slow.  Got it?
morning photo of kanab point
Kanab Point:  the view to the west

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Little Finland: Land of Many Names and Shapes

Little Finland arch window through sandstone
Eye:  Hobgoblin Playground (Little Finland) landscape photography
This is a timely post because this location was recently designated Gold Butte National Monument.  It is also known as Hobgoblin Playground.  The name that most people recognize is Little Finland.  That name is the most mysterious and curious.  I assume it is referring to the sandstone "fins" which are present on many of these delicate creatures.  The name hobgoblin seems to make more sense because it is similar to Goblin Valley in Utah.  Nevertheless by any name it is an interesting place to visit and I must say it is a long road to visit.  The scenery is pretty, lonely.  I have no idea if President Obama has ever visited this area before turning it into a national monument.  This designation will surely bring more visitors to the area.  The beauty is undisputed.
bizarre sandstone structure hobgoblins playground
Pincer:  the lobster or crab reaches out in this bizarre sandstone shape.
As far as photography goes, I visited in the middle of winter.  The low angle of the sun and some lovely clouds allowed me to create lots of beautiful compositions.  I primarily shot pictures with the 16-35mm f/2.8 L lens.  I also used the 90mm tilt-shift for some of these images.  With the hobgoblins it makes a better more dramatic picture to shoot from a low angle and have stone structure surrounded by the sky.  This works well with these particularly lovely skies.  This was my 2nd visit to the area.  I made a previous visit 5 years ago.  That visit was to try out a new tilt-shift lens, the 17mm.:  My prior visit to Little Finland.
landscape photography at little Finland
Hovering Hobgoblin
hobgoblin playground landscape photography
Little Finland taken at sunset/dusk
hobgoblin playground mushroom rock
Mushroom rock at Little Finland

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bridal Photo Shoot: Mark+Missy

Southern Utah Bride portrait
Bridal Shoot in southern Utah
Here's is Part Two of my fun and fast photo-fest with Mark and Missy.  We shot their bridal portraits the afternoon after their engagement shots.  We chose an empty world outside of the city for these shots.  The true nothing-ness surrounding them gives an exotic feel.