Archive for April 2015

The Tragedy in Nepal   19 comments

Soulful bells echo through the mountains at dawn, calling the monks to prayer at Tangboche Monastery.

I want so much to be able to return to the mountain kingdom of Nepal and help them in their hour of need.  To see all those wonderful people again would be so great.  That may seem a strange thing to say.  But I know for a fact that even in the midst of tragedy they remain an optimistic and warm people.  Right now I’m missing them and praying for their safety.  I wanted to post some pictures of Nepal that I’ve never shared, and also go into some background on how and why this happened.

THE GEOLOGIC STORY

You may have heard that Mt. Everest is getting taller, and we just saw dramatic and horrific evidence of that fact.  India collided with south Asia some 55 million years ago, and the mighty Himalayas began then.  But that slow motion and awesome event continues today, as huge slabs of the earth’s crust continue to be shoved beneath the Tibetan Plateau.  The zone where they come together, along the 2400 km. (1500 mile) long Himalayan mountain front is complex.  But north-directed subduction, or underthrusting, is the dominant process.

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Ama Dablam in black and white.

Ama Dablam in black and white.

The earth’s most recent and currently most dramatic tectonic collision has resulted in shortening of northern India and southern Nepal, bringing Delhi and Lhasa closer together.  This in turn causes the crust to greatly thicken (mostly in the downward direction).  In other words, most of the long mountain range lies beneath sea level.  Like a giant iceberg, active mountain ranges have roots that are hundreds of times more voluminous than their visible parts.  The north-south shortening doesn’t just create crustal thickening; it also causes the region to widen in an east-west direction via a series of large strike-slip faults (like the San Andreas).

Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Having climbed Everest 8 times in his career, this Sherpa I met taking a walk above his home village had a great way about him.

Having climbed Everest 8 times in his career, this Sherpa I met taking a walk above his home village had a great way about him.

Deep beneath the Himalaya, collision takes the form of a slow, hot, plastic deformation.  There are no sudden jerking motions.  But in shallower regions, where the rocks are cooler and brittle, this is impossible.  Instead, the stress builds up until it’s finally released with a sudden rapid slide along a plane of weakness (or fault).

It is at those times that we on the surface of this planet are reminded that ours is a dynamic planet.  These events, which can vary from a gentle rocking that lasts only seconds and which you only notice if you are in a quiet place to violent minutes-long shaking that can bring down buildings and even whole mountainsides, are called earthquakes.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

3 man at airport

Waiting for weather to clear at Lukla, this gentleman’s beard was too cool I had to talk to him.

 

The earthquake of April 25th was centered about 80 km. (50 miles) NW of Kathmandu,  It was magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale.  It was located about 15 km. (9+ miles) deep.  That is fairly shallow for a quake of this size.  Combined with the dense population and low quality of construction in most of the region, this made for a major disaster.  Considering what is going on here, the coming together of two of Earth’s greatest tectonic plates, historic earthquakes are relatively few.  The last one to affect the same area was in 1988 and killed 1500.  The 1934 Bihar earthquake killed some 10,600 and severely damaged Kathmandu.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

I don't like thinking about the orphans.

I don’t like thinking about the orphans.  Just too sad!

 

Most of the people here, with the resources to live from day to day and not much more, have been deeply affected by this disaster.  The current count is over 4000 and still rising.  Many people live far from roads, so the final tally could take weeks or even months.  Undoubtedly many of the deaths will turn out to be caused by major landslides.  In any mountainous region, a big quake leads to landslides of epic size.  Snow avalanches also occurred in the alpine regions, including one caught on video that roared down the south side of Everest and hit base camp.

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

They are sacred but with the wonder they inspire comes a dangerous dynamism.

They are sacred but with the wonder they inspire comes a dangerous dynamism.

So much misery can be brought by earthquakes.  They strike without warning of course, and this makes them truly terrifying.  I have been in a few small ones, and get a visceral thrill out of it.  I get the same feeling witnessing a volcanic eruption.  That’s partly because I’m a geologist and know about the connection between a living breathing planet and life.  But I’m sure my reaction would be one of pure terror if and when I’m caught in a truly big event.  Once, in 1999, I flew out of Istanbul less than 24 hours before a major quake hit that city, killing 17,000.

Getting to spend time in a Sherpa kitchen, drinking tea, is a special thing.

Getting to spend time in a Sherpa kitchen, drinking tea, is a special thing.

A friend who suffered a broken leg in the quake but otherwise is okay.

I played around with this little Sherpa girl as her mother sewed in a small sun-warmed courtyard.  She is a teenager now.

I played around with this little Sherpa girl as her mother sewed in a small sun-warmed courtyard. She is a teenager now.

A Gurkha I met whitewater rafting, he emigrated to Hong Kong, and hosted me there.  Nepalis are so nice!

A Gurkha I met whitewater rafting, he emigrated to Hong Kong, and hosted me there. Nepalis are so nice!

Please give if you can to the legitimate aid organizations helping in Nepal.  And in any case, please keep those beautiful souls in your thoughts and prayers.  I’ve never seen a harder working people.  I’m sure they will recover, but big aftershocks continue as I’m writing this.

Friends of mine are camped outside in pouring rain, afraid to return to their homes.  So right now I’m hoping and praying the aftershocks are many and small, not fewer and large.  Namaste to all Nepalis and all those who have connections to the country.

I'm holding up the rafting party, but I wanted these kids to say Namaste without laughing, haha!

I’m holding up the rafting party, but I wanted these kids to say Namaste without laughing, haha!

Stupa at Boudhanath

Alpenglow over the Khumbu

 

 

 

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Friday Foto Talk: It’s Your Art   25 comments

Daybreak over the Columbia River Gorge.

Daybreak over the Columbia River Gorge.

This is a little different from my usual Friday Foto posts.  I think this is the most important thing to remember if you’re doing photography or any other art.  I don’t usually ask you to read my posts; I’m very happy if you just look at the pictures.  But this one is worth reading to the end, I’m sure you’ll think so!

In nature and landscape photography, I sometimes think about the way that others perceive things.  I want to know if it’s very similar to the way I see.  I’m sure there are differences, based on each person’s upbringing and experiences, but I really don’t have a good handle on what those differences may be.  I suspect the similarities are more important and fundamental, but I’m not sure about that.

Deep in the forest on a wet day in Oregon, spring orchids.

I think about this comparison with regard to all sorts of aspects of photography.  For example, what about composition and choice of subject?   I know what I like, but what pleases your eye?

 I boil composition down to one basic concept.  I shoot what looks cool to me, and compose it (in the right light) in a way that shows it at its best, or defines it best.  Other than making sure I don’t include a bunch of extraneous stuff that doesn’t support the image, I don’t arrange things just so.  I don’t follow this or that rule, at least in a deliberate way.  Very simple.

But inherent in that is an assumption.  I need to believe that other people (the viewers of my images) actually share my idea of what looks cool.  Or they are convinced once they see the way I’ve pictured it.  Otherwise I would never share any images.  I conveniently ignore the very real possibility that what looks cool to me may look quite ordinary and unremarkable to others.

A double rainbow graced the sky as I was visiting some of my old haunts in the Columbia River Gorge the other day.

A double rainbow graced the sky as I was visiting some of my old haunts in the Columbia River Gorge the other day.

I remember once reading an interview with Dustin Hoffman, the actor.  He was asked about, early in his career, how he handled critics and even being jeered by stage audiences.  Of course his acting is very natural and believable, in my opinion.  But he gave a very interesting answer.  He said that early on he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to worry about what anyone thought.  Pretty standard response, right?

But then he said something much more interesting.  He simply believed that whatever he did on stage or in front of the camera, a lot of people would enjoy it and connect with it.  He was so sure of that, it allowed him to relax and practice his art without worry.  And, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, he ended up being exactly right.  A great number of people have enjoyed what he does.

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It snowed on my first morning in Oregon!

That made me think about photography, and really everything I do.  There’s no sense trying to convince yourself that what others think doesn’t matter to you.  That’s a lie.  Everybody cares about what others think.  We’re social creatures who evolved to care about our interactions with other primates in our group.  The key is to be confident that what you’re doing (in this case to express yourself through photography) will appeal to other people.  That frees you up to pour your heart into it.

The North Umpqua River rushes out of the mountains bearing snowmelt from the southern Oregon Cascade Mtns.

The North Umpqua River rushes out of the mountains bearing snowmelt from the southern Oregon Cascade Mtns.

Of course some will not like (some of) what you produce.  Some folks are jealous so they’ll never admit to liking it.  Some will over-analyze and pick it apart.  But those are a small minority.  They always have been and always will be the minority.  The great majority will connect with your art, but only if you practice it honestly.  If you don’t pander, if you follow your own interests and personal style, and if you put yourself wholly into it, others will like what you’re doing.  Simple as that!

Hope you like the pictures, which are from my recent return home to Oregon.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Dusk falls on the Columbia River.

Dusk falls on the Columbia River.

Mtn. Monday: Mount Mazama & Crater Lake   9 comments

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon

My first day back in Oregon after almost a year gone, and I am psyched!  I went up to Crater Lake and hiked out into the snow for a sunset that never quite materialized.  But it was magnificent as always, staring down and out at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

For those who don’t know, this is a caldera: a giant hole in a volcano.  Calderas usually fill with lakes, at least until they are breached by erosion and drained.  This particular caldera was formed when Mount Mazama exploded in a furious eruption about 6700 years ago.  It’s estimated that the mountain was a bit bigger than Mount Shasta, making it one of the (former) giants of the Cascade Range.

The large magma chamber underneath the mountain emptied rapidly and gravity took over.  The entire peak area collapsed down, creating a caldera.  Some of the last volcanic activity at Mazama, some 800 years ago, formed Wizard Island at one end of the lake.  You can visit the island on boat tours.  I highly recommend you do this if it’s summertime and the tours are running.  You can hike to the 763-foot summit and then return to the cold blue lake waters for a very refreshing swim!

The meadows at Crater Lake aren’t as abundant as at some other Cascade Mountains, but they are nonetheless beautiful.

By the way, hiking to the top of Wizard Island gives you the all-time best lesson in the difference between a crater and a caldera.  Wizard is a cinder cone, a pile of loose pumice and other debris ejected into the air as hot frothy lava and ash.  At it’s summit is a crater, the hole left when that debris blasted out of the summit vent.  So instead of collapse into a large void beneath the mountain, craters are created by explosion outward.  Craters are normally quite a bit smaller than calderas.

This isn't Crater Lake, it's the lake filling Rinjani Caldera, a still-active but otherwise similar volcano on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

This isn’t Crater Lake, it’s the lake filling Rinjani Caldera, a still-active but otherwise similar volcano on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

Mazama’s position and height make it a magnet for snow storms, so it wasn’t long before the steaming caldera filled with some of the world’s cleanest water.  Springs in the porous volcanic debris also helped fill the lake, where evaporation and input from these two sources are now in equilibrium.  Visibility down into the lake is awesome, 100 feet plus.  In recent times that clarity has fluctuated, and scientists monitor things closely.

The forests surrounding Mount Mazama attract snowclouds in this image from the other morning.

The forests surrounding Mount Mazama attract snowclouds in this image from the other morning.

My first morning back into my home state after a long time away, and this is what it looked like:  Upper Rogue River area

My first morning back into my home state after a long time away, and this is what it looked like: Upper Rogue River area

Often overlooked when people come to Crater Lake are the beautiful forests surrounding the mountain.  On the wetter west side rises the Rogue River, which the writer Zane Gray made famous when he lived and fished its lower reaches.  Wandering around the rugged and heavily forested upper Rogue you’ll find big evergreens and crystal clear streams, punctuated by the occasional waterfall.

Enjoy Crater Lake, Oregon’s only National Park!

Crater Lake in August.

Crater Lake in August.

Friday Foto Talk: Cloudless Skies – Part II   6 comments

A cloudless morning is hardly unusual at Death Valley, California, one of the driest places in the world.

Let’s continue with the subject of shooting under cloudless conditions, which for many of us is a real challenge.  You may even say clear blue skies are an obstacle to getting the photos you want.  But it’s not the only one.  Check out my other posts in this series for ways to get around all the other obstacles.

Here are the ways I deal with cloudless conditions:

  • Find Shade:  Seems obvious, right?  If you’re shooting people find some shade to put them under, preferably near a large reflective surface that bounces light up into their faces.  Shade can be in short supply, so shooting small things & details, even going macro, can be a very good idea.  With the blue skies overhead, your images will likely end up on the cool side, so warming up white balance in post-processing is usually required.
These cliff dwellings dating from ancestral puebloan times in the southwestern U.S. desert were built under an overhang, so in the morning they can be photographed in shade.

These cliff dwellings dating from ancestral puebloan times in the southwestern U.S. desert were built under an overhang, so in the morning they can be photographed in shade.

 

  • Embrace Shadows:  Often when it’s clear and sunny out, you can use shadows as graphical elements (leading lines, etc.) to highlight certain parts of your subject.  The image at bottom is an example.  A low sun is key, so shoot in early morning or late afternoon.  By the way, I don’t really shoot strong graphical elements for their own sake; instead, they have to help highlight the subject or story I’m trying to show or tell.
Using shadows:  The view from atop Cedar Mesa, UT includes distant Monument Valley.

Using shadows: The view from atop Cedar Mesa, UT includes distant Monument Valley.

 

  • Use Diffuser & Fill Flash:  I have a portable hand-held diffuser panel that I use mostly to shoot flowers or other close-ups in bright contrasty light.  I place the diffuser panel as close to the subject as I can while keeping it out of the frame.  Using an off-camera flash can help fill shadows, even when you’re already in shade, and especially when photographing people.  Outdoors you rarely need to diffuse the light of the flash.   Just set flash exposure, shoot, then check the LCD to make sure it isn’t too bright or dim.  Repeat until you get just the right amount of fill light.

 

  • Black and White:  Shooting subjects that look good in black and white is a popular way to use high-contrast light to best effect.  If you wait until the sun is low, you can also work that side-light to your advantage, bringing out textures.
Cedar Mesa breaks away into Monument Valley in southern Utah.  Driving off the mesa involves a steep, twisty gravel road named Moki Dugway.

Cedar Mesa breaks away into Monument Valley in southern Utah. Driving off the mesa involves a steep, twisty gravel road called the Moki Dugway.

  • Keep it Simple:  Under clear skies, simple compositions work best.  For example, when shooting flowers, you would either use a diffuser (as mentioned above), which can work even when the sun is well up, or you can wait for the sun to sink low and shoot simply.  Single blooms, when spotlighted as in the image below, can look great in late afternoon light.
Bee plants are bloomin' in the Utah desert right now!

Bee plants are bloomin’ in the Utah desert right now!

 

  • Sunbursts:  An oldie but a goodie, sunbursts (at top and below) are created when you shoot with the sun in your frame and use a small aperture (f/22 for e.g.).  Other tips:  (1) Pay attention to exposure by using your histogram and re-shoot if you’re blowing out (too bright) or blocking (too dark) important parts of the image.  (2) Use obstructing elements in front of the sun, like tree branches or rock silhouettes, to increase or modify the star-like effect.  (3) Try to shoot compositions with some foreground interest and with a good amount of depth.
Live oak and spanish moss, Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Live oak and Spanish moss, Cumberland Island, Georgia.

 

  • Abstracts & Reflections:  I like shooting abstract reflections when it’s clear out.  This is when you allow water to slightly soften colorful elements, cropping in close to eliminate anything that potentially distracts from the abstract composition.  I love hiking desert canyons in mid-morning or late afternoon partly for this reason.
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White Canyon in Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  If you have some advice on making the best of bright sunny conditions, please let us all know in the comments below.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Clear weather forces you to get creative:  sunset at Lake Tahoe, California.

Clear weather forces you to get creative: sunset at Lake Tahoe, California.

Two for Tuesday: We’re Coming!   2 comments

If you want to see desert bighorn sheep, you can’t do much better than east Zion National Park in Utah.  Not the canyon itself so much; that can be a zoo in the warmer months.  If you travel east, through a couple spectacular tunnels, you come out in a wonderland of sandstone monoliths.  The bighorn sheep here are doing quite well.

I drove through my favorite part of Zion a couple days ago, stopping to take a short hike.  I saw two sheep browsing the spring growth and slowly pursued them, hoping they’d get comfortable with me.  They crossed the road and I crossed behind them.  Then I saw the babies & another female.

Mom was understandably shy about letting me get close to them, so I just watched as they climbed the steep sandstone.  Mom reached a viewpoint, but the kids were more careful.  They took their time, making sure each step was placed right.

Now they were very visible from the road and a few other cars stopped.   But since I had been with them for awhile, I ended up with a nice series, not just the one with them surveying their domain.  Stories and behavior are what I always hope for with wildlife.  I used my newish 600 mm. lens.  Enjoy!

Wait up mom, we’re coming!

Try and reach us now, haha!

 

Friday Foto Talk: Cloudless Skies – Part I   8 comments

In the land of the Ancient Ones: Four Corners area, desert southwest U.S.

Clear skies:  a landscape photographer’s nightmare.  Okay, maybe that’s being a bit too melodramatic.  But cloudless conditions are a kind of obstacle related to light.  You can find a general discussion of light, as important obstacle to overcome, in a recent post.  I’ve been doing a whole series of posts on Friday Foto Talk dealing with obstacles, so check them out if you have a moment.

Although landscape photography is where we most miss clouds, nature, sports, macro and portrait shooting are all potentially more challenging under clear skies.  Here are the main issues that can cause problems:

Although skies are clear, the subject here (Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains) is dramatic enough to compensate.

Although skies are clear, the subject here (Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains) is dramatic enough to compensate.

  • Harsh Contrast:  Bright sunshine causes big differences between areas that are brightly lit and those lying in shadows.  Besides the obvious problem of finding the right exposure, these bright and shadowed areas are typically separated by sharp lines, creating a scene which lacks any  softness.  This tends to be unpleasing to the eye.
  • Flat Light:  Hazy sunshine is the worst, but light can grow flat under other weather conditions as well.  You know this kind of light: despite the fact contrast is not as harsh as with perfectly clear sunshine, there is really no depth to the light.  Foreground objects appear to recede into the hazy background and distant objects may not be discernible enough to add depth to your images.
  • Cool Light:  By cool I mean blue, even though you scientist-types will object, quite reasonably, that blue light is actually at a higher temperature than red or orange light.  Bright and blue light is generally less attractive than somewhat dimmer and redder light.
  • Golden Hour Blues:  When skies are clear, sunrise and sunset are, like the shadows which characterize mid-day, abrupt, sharp and relatively unpleasing to the eye.  Dawn can pass without much color at all.  And sunset is a short, unspectacular affair, where the sun sinks to the horizon surrounded by an ocean of blue.
A simple unspectacular shot, but I so enjoyed stripping & dunking my dusty body in this crystal clear (and cold!) water-pocket on top of Cedar Mesa, UT.

An unspectacular shot, but I so enjoyed stripping & dunking my dusty body in this crystal clear (and cold!) water-pocket on top of Cedar Mesa, UT.

Direct sun from the side can bring out details like this bear print petroglyph I found along a canyon wall in Utah's Grand Gulch wilderness.

Direct sun from the side can bring out details like this bear print petroglyph I found along a canyon wall in Utah’s Grand Gulch wilderness.

 

On my journey west, ever since crossing the Great Plains, dry and sunny conditions have prevailed.  The American West is in the midst of a long-term drying trend, exacerbated by global warming.  On previous trips I’ve had the luxury of being able to hang out and wait for a front (or at least a few clouds) to come along.  But on this trip I’ve been forced to take what I can get, just like an average amateur photographer on vacation.

Unlike many photographers who drop into a low-grade sulk when confronted by clear blue skies, I can still enjoy this kind of weather.  Also, I don’t want to be thought of as some sort of disturbed, gothic creature, unhappy unless things are dim and gloomy.

Cactus bloom at the bottom of a deep canyon on a hike in southern Utah.

Cactus bloom at the bottom of a deep canyon on a hike in southern Utah.

But a big part of the reason I don’t mind (so much) when clouds are a no-show is that I still enjoy capturing images at these times.  True, there end up being fewer “Wow, stunning!” landscapes.  But I actually like photographing within limits, trying to come up with something good when conditions are unfavorable.  I think it forces creativity and makes me a better photographer in the long run.  Or this is what I tell myself.

There are two main ways to mitigate the effects of clear sunny weather when you’re traveling and photographing.  One is to shift focus to other subjects, and the other is to shoot in different ways.  In the 2nd and final part, I’ll cover some of the ways I get good pictures when the sky is cloudless and blue.  Have an awesome weekend!

To my delight, a few clouds moved in at sunset after a clear day at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

To my delight, a few clouds moved in at sunset after a clear day at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

 

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