Archive for the ‘Nature Photography’ Category

Eclipse Mania: Weather Worries   9 comments

A spectacular composite eclipse image from 1999, by Fred Espenak.

Can you believe the eclipse is only a few weeks away?  I can’t wait!  I’m concluding my series on planning for this eclipse by tackling perhaps the most difficult thing to plan for: weather.  But it really isn’t just about weather.  It actually has more to do with psychology.  I’m doing what is unusual for me, including images from other photogs.  Click on the image to go to the source web pages.

Weather: What, me Worry?

As you talk to other eclipse enthusiasts, the subject of clouds and weather is sure to come up.  It is probably the most over-thought aspect of chasing solar eclipses.  But I can’t really blame people for worrying.  Who wants to travel and spend a lot of money getting to a spot to watch an eclipse, only to be clouded out at totality.  Weather on eclipse day is something that all of us must prepare to accept.   But even though there is no changing the weather, a bit of thought and planning beforehand might help save the day.

Monitoring weather forecasts in the days leading up to the eclipse will help you plan, but only if you have solid backup plans.  This previous post discussed backup plans in some detail.  Satellite imagery in the 24 hours leading up to totality might lead you to choose one viewing spot over another.  If a large front is moving in, you will be faced with a dilemma.  You could wake in the wee hours of the 21st and drive to escape it.  But I only recommend such drastic action if there is little doubt that the sky will be covered by clouds and only if you know you can escape the front in plenty of time.

Most of all, don’t obsess about weather before the eclipse.  I am a landscape photographer but I don’t scan weather apps. prior to a shoot, preferring to scan the sky.  I never complain about weather because photography for me is about making the most of what you’re given.  Of course eclipses are different.  Clouds can completely negate the experience.  But you still can’t change the weather.

Let’s say the forecast is for mostly cloudy skies on eclipse day.  Before you go running off trying to out-run weather, realize you’ll be spending the hours leading up to the eclipse in a less-than-ideal manner.  Will you make it somewhere in time?  Or will you be forced to pull off the road just before totality?  Will you end up driving into cloudy conditions while the place you left opens up just in time?  The best plan may be to have faith and patience in equal measure.

Will the clouds clear out in time or will they block the view? Partial phase about a half hour before the 2016 Indonesian eclipse.

Yes, the clouds cleared! Indonesia eclipse of March, 2016.

A Lesson in Patience

The 1999 total eclipse in Turkey taught me a lot about clouds and over-thinking.  We were in a perfect spot on a mountain-top in the north-central part of the country.  That eclipse happened to also be in August, and that area is similar both geographically and climatically to parts of the inter-mountain west where the upcoming eclipse will happen.  In late summer Anatolia is typically dry and hot, with afternoons that commonly see isolated clouds and thundershowers.

Clouds started appearing just before the start of the partial phase and, predictably, our group’s anxiety rose.  There ensued an argument over whether to abandon the mountain and go out onto a wide plain that lay before us to the west.  The reasoning was simple: no orographic lifting on the plain and so less chance of clouds.  Air masses get pushed up a mountainside, cooling and condensing to form clouds.

After much hand-wringing debate it was decided to split the group, with one contingent heading out onto the plain and one remaining on the mountain.  I decided to stay up on the mountain.  That was partly because my girlfriend and I were comfortable picnicking and sipping some Efes pilsen I had smuggled in.  But it was also because the most experienced eclipse-chaser in the group (an author who was about to see his 14th eclipse!) had decided to stay put.

Those lucky enough to be on the Oregon Coast will be first to see the eclipse. Enjoy!

Clouds increased as the partial phase wore on.  I was having too much fun to care, playing with kids from a nearby village and joking around with the soldiers (they let me drive an armored vehicle!).  The government had insisted on our group being protected in the remote area.  As totality approached the air suddenly cooled.   Minutes before it happened most of the clouds dissipated.  I saw for the first time how during a solar eclipse the atmosphere can change in interesting ways.  It’s more noticeable when you’re elevated, such as on a mountain.  It was a spectacular eclipse!

The moral of the story is this: don’t stress a few clouds on eclipse day.  It can only negatively influence your experience.  Yes, a storm front will do a great job of hiding the eclipse.  But as far as partly cloudy skies go, keep the faith and stay positive.  The cooling of the atmosphere just before totality could stabilize the air enough to decrease the big puffies just in time.  By the way, the group that went out onto the plain also got a clear view of the Turkey eclipse.  But it was still satisfying to be one of those who had chosen to chill out on the mountain.

Thanks for reading.  Good luck and have a wonderful eclipse experience!

The sun sets over Pacific near the island of Iwo Jima after being eclipsed at noon: July, 2009.

Eclipse Mania: What’s your Excuse?   3 comments

Total solar eclipse sequence, Zambia 2001 by Fred Espenak.

I’ve noticed quite a few (facebook) friends are skipping this eclipse, even though all are within a day’s drive and a few live only an hour or so from the path of totality.  The reason?  They are afraid of the media’s predictions of apocalyptic disaster: traffic, crowds, food/water shortages, and assorted catastrophe.  Many of them are skipping the path of totality in favour of staying home to see a dramatically inferior partial eclipse.  I’m amazed that anyone still takes media hype and exaggeration seriously.

Of course I realize this will be a popular event, and if you don’t have a good plan (the reason I’m doing this series) you will have to endure hassles in order to get into position to see it.  But those people who do go to the trouble will be, years later, certainly not regretting doing so.  They won’t be talking about how epic the crowds and traffic were.  They’ll be talking about how incredibly epic the total eclipse of the sun was.

At first I assumed that these friends have simply seen enough eclipses and don’t want the (perceived) hassles involved in seeing yet another one.  I was giving them the benefit of the doubt.  But something about that didn’t make sense, so I asked why.  Some of them answered, saying yes, they have already seen eclipses and are not interested in this one.  One even said they weren’t that special.  That last is a sentiment I can respect if it’s based on actually seeing one (but certainly not several).

The strange fact is that these people are from the U.S.  That means that, to see a number of eclipses, they flew overseas, booked tours, or otherwise planned to be in the paths of totality.  The last total solar eclipse in North America was in 1979, and that was only visible from the Pacific Northwest.  The next one is in 2024 and does not boast the coast to coast path that this one does.

I don’t know of anyone who would fly halfway across the globe to see enough solar eclipses to be satiated, and then avoid driving a few hours to see one on his own turf.  That’s not how eclipses work.  You either love them and are motivated to travel long distances to see one, or you’re not impressed and don’t bother to see them at all unless they happen to pass over your house.  Put another way, for U.S. residents, there is no good excuse for missing this eclipse other than a disinterest in natural wonders.

Ozette Lake, a large and relatively unknown lake on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, is only a few miles from the rugged coast, but it has an exceptionally pristine night sky.

I must conclude that people not seeing this eclipse just do not know what they’re missing.  I think some must be confusing (very common) total lunar and (quite rare) total solar eclipses.  Or, since they seem to be looking forward to the partial eclipse, are unaware of the vast difference between a total and partial solar eclipse.  Some may be genuinely afraid of traffic and crowds, but as I’ve said earlier in this series, a little planning plus a willingness to share an “eclipse party” kind of atmosphere easily mitigates that concern and reveals it to be what it really is, a lame excuse.

So let me put it as strongly as I can.  The only good excuse for missing this eclipse (again, aside from disinterest in nature) is that you live on another continent and have upcoming opportunities to see one nearer to you.  Also, a partial solar eclipse is forgettable and barely worth your time, while a total solar eclipse is something you will remember your whole life, especially if you’ve never seen one before.  My first one was one of the best days of my life and I had a smile plastered onto my face until I went to sleep that night.  My fellow Americans: do not miss this eclipse!

The Africa eclipse of 2001 was one I wanted to travel to but couldn’t.  It took a full decade for me to finally visit this part of the world.  Zambia eclipse of 2001, image by Fred Espenak.

Posted July 22, 2017 by MJF Images in Nature Photography, Travel photography

Wordless Wednesday: The Birds   2 comments

Single-image Sunday: Mossy Creek   8 comments

Springtime on Alec Creek: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

Springtime on Alec Creek: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

I found this mossy scene while exploring a creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington.  This is one of the most amazing of America’s National Forests, huge and full of hidden waterfalls.  The backroad I was on crossed over the creek and I decided it was time for some “creeking”.  Creeking involves getting up close and personal with a stream, looking for mostly small-scale intimate landscapes.  Mostly it requires scrambling over, under and around logs and rocks.  And your feet usually get wet.

In the Pacific Northwest, springtime means the color green will probably dominate the palettes of your photos.  While negotiating a section choked with huge logs, I found this mossy scene.  But it was impossible to shoot without getting very low.  The tripod was a possibility, but a simpler and easier method was just to plop the camera right down on a small shelf of rock on the stream bank, using small pieces of wood to prop the lens up.

The nearest moss was only inches away, so depth of field was a challenge.  I had to focus stack, shooting a few images with focus increasingly further away.  Then in Photoshop I stacked the images together so that in the end I had one with pretty much everything in focus.

In one respect it’s a picture with perhaps too much “stuff” in it.  But in a way it’s also a very simple composition.  It’s definitely not a very standard way to shoot a creek, from the side under a log, with an ultra-low point of view, and with super-close foreground.  I actually have no idea whether it will appeal to anyone other than me, so I’d very much like to know what you all think.  Thanks and have a great week ahead.

Mountain Monday: King’s Mtn., Oregon   3 comments

The Wilson River flows west from the rugged peaks of Oregon's Coast Range, including King's Mtn. visible in the distance.

The Wilson River flows west from the rugged peaks of Oregon’s Coast Range, including King’s Mtn. visible in the distance.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve done a Mountain Monday post.  Today I’ll focus on King’s Mountain in Oregon’s northern Coast Range.  But since it’s impossible to visit mountains without also coming across rivers and streams, I’ll also highlight the main river in this area.  While it has a modest elevation (3226’/983 m.), King’s Mtn. is nonetheless a steep and rugged peak.  I haven’t captured the mountain in a photo before this, at least from a distance.  I know it mostly from a loop hike that I’ve done a half dozen times or so.  It takes you up a steep few miles to the summit of King’s, then over a very rugged traverse to the equally steep Elk Mtn.  You then descend a vertiginous trail to the Wilson River, where you loop back to the car.  Next morning you may feel like you’ve been kicked by a mule!

King’s is cloaked in a lovely conifer forest along its lower slopes.  In autumn tasty golden chanterelles pop up in dells and behind mossy logs.  The golden chanterelle is the official state mushroom (yes, there’s an official mushroom!).  This beautiful green forest  has grown in from seedlings that were hand-planted after the disastrous Tillamook Burn in 1933 (plus succeeding fires in the 30s).  The Burn laid low nearly 450,000 acres of prime Oregon timber, most of that in a hellish 30-hours where huge trees were uprooted and thrown into the air by the winds ahead of the inferno.  It’s a big part of Oregon history.

The other part of this image is the beautiful Wilson River, which is famous for its steelhead runs.  It rolls swiftly through the forested landscape, and its deep green pools are lined with volcanic rock outcrops that on hot days beg to be leapt from into the cool green depths.  The Wilson flows down to the Pacific Ocean at the town of Tillamook (where I’m writing this).  You always know you’re approaching Tillamook because of that wonderful (not!) smell of dairy cows.  It’s still the best cheddar cheese I know of for a grilled cheese sandwich, on good sourdough bread of course!  Make sure and get your free samples if you ever come this way on a tour of their factory.

The Wilson River banks are mostly lined with conifers and large vine maples, but frequent rock outcrops make for great places to fish or swim from.

The Wilson River banks are mostly lined with conifers and large vine maples, but frequent rock outcrops make for great places to fish or swim from.

Many springs empty into the Wilson.  I camped just a short stroll from this spot.

Many springs empty into the Wilson. I camped just a short stroll from this spot.

There are plenty of camping and picnicking sites to enjoy in the Tillamook State Forest where these images were captured.  A visitor center is located centrally not far west of the trailhead for King’s Mtn., and there are plenty of easier trails, including a rolling trail stretching 24 miles along the Wilson itself.  You obviously don’t need to do the whole 24 miles!  So if you ever find yourself traveling the Oregon Coast, consider a side-trip east along Hwy. 6 from Tillamook into the Coast Range.  Have a great week!

Two for Tuesday: Close-up Signs of Spring   12 comments

Orange globe mallow in bloom.

Orange globe mallow in bloom.

Yesterday was the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere.  So in celebration here’s a Two for Tuesday post.  It’s where I post two photos that are related to each other in some way.

This pair shows a couple closely related signs of Spring.   During a splendid hike through a desert canyon recently, the season was springing forth in typical desert fashion.  Spring rarely bowls you over in the desert.  But the closer you look the more you see.  It’s why both of these are close-up shots.

The hummingbird surprised me at first when he buzzed by my head, looking straight at me hovering a couple feet away before zooming off to perch on his branch.  I wondered why he was there at first, but then walkiaround I found a spring with some flowers blooming.  In fact the further up the little draw I walked the more like a lush oasis it seemed.

This little hummer was spending part of his morning checking out the visitor to his little oasis near a spring in a desert canyon: Death Valley National Park.

This little hummer was spending part of his morning checking out the visitor to his little oasis near a spring in a desert canyon: Death Valley National Park.

Get out there and enjoy springtime (or autumn for my southern hemisphere friends).  And thanks for checking in!

Abstract   12 comments

Since I’ve been shooting a few more abstracts recently I thought I’d join in on this week’s travel theme.  The theme appears on Ailsa’s blog Where’s My Backpack?  Hope you enjoy!

Algae releasing oxygen for us to breathe during photosynthesis in a meltwater pond at Mt. St. Helens.

Algae releasing oxygen for us to breathe during photosynthesis in a meltwater pond at Mt. St. Helens.

Springwater collects in a small canyon at Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Springwater collects in a small canyon at Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

A burned lodgepole pine forest in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

A burned lodgepole pine forest in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

Canyon scene reflected in a stream, southern Utah.

Canyon scene reflected in a stream, southern Utah.

Agave in Mexico is backlit by a setting sun.

Agave in Mexico is backlit by a setting sun.

Banded sandstone appears to flow at The Wave in southern Utah.

Banded sandstone appears to flow at The Wave in southern Utah.

Fine clay at the bottom of the amazing Utah slot canyon Buckskin Gulch.

Fine clay at the bottom of the amazing Utah slot canyon Buckskin Gulch.

Posted February 20, 2016 by MJF Images in Nature Photography, Photography

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Single-image Sunday: Afterlife   11 comments


This tree I found in a canyon not far from Zion National Park in Utah.  And since I’m doing a series on the park right now, I thought I’d post just this one image today, to show that the area around Zion is worth exploring too.

I called it afterlife because I think this ancient cottonwood may be dead.  But who knows, it is winter when many perfectly alive trees can look to be deceased, especially very old ones.  In any case, the old codger has obviously loved this rock for a long time.

And the tree continues to serve its ecosystem.  It has very likely served as home or shelter for many creatures, and it’s probably been a prime feeding spot for generations of insect-eating birds (like woodpeckers).  I’m also guessing many an owl has perched up there in the moonlight.  It’s a perfect height from which to swoop down on unsuspecting mice.

So if and when you come to Zion, at least on a second visit, make some time to explore the surrounding area as well as the park.  Hope your weekend and holiday preparations are going well.  But remember to enjoy the season and try not to stress out trying to make everything perfect.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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.


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.

Wordless Wednesday: In Florida!   8 comments


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