All the Places I Managed to Find - Part 1

by Andrew Beldowicz April. 10, 2020 1149 views

Thanks for reading a bit about my adventures in capturing these images. I also have a full gallery version of these images on a public Adobe Lightroom site.

On the Edge

Grand Canyon, Arizona - July 2004

Grand Canyon, Arizona - July 2004

Long before we were here, and long after we're gone, this majestic landscape will persist.

This is hardly my best photograph. But it feels like an appropriate place to start. At some point, I'll post the photograph that started it all for me (that one isn't my best either). But Arizona, as it was our home, sparked in me the desire to explore and capture the beauty of the landscape of this world. And so I'll start here. I do remember the feeling of being on the edge of this scene at the golden hour of sunset. How lucky I was. I made it a point to be here and the world revealed a little bit of itself to me. I wish I could go back to this moment.

Being so close to the edge to witness this scene was magical. I felt like I was in the scene, a technique I would later learn to hone purposefully.

Our state of quarantine in response to this global pandemic is depressing. But I hold out hope, hope that we’ll make it through, and once again be on the edge of something… something grand.

Thanks for looking.

Punch Bowl Falls

Punch Bowl Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - September, 2010

Punch Bowl Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - September, 2010

This is one of my top 5 all time favorite images, mostly because of the experience. There’s hardly a day I wouldn’t trade to repeat this one over again. This image is everything photography means to me.

I had an opportunity to get back to Oregon. My initial trip to visit my brother during residency was single-handedly responsible for my “waterfall” portfolio - it was a collection of gems captured along the old Columbia River Gorge highway. But this time, I wanted to take it to the next level. There are some masterful folks trying to map all of the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. The site was more primitive in 2010, but plenty informative. I think this was the resource I used, it seems more modern now (https://www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/). Punch Bowl falls jumped out at me both for it’s visual appeal, and it’s location beyond those falls you could reach within a ¼ mile of your car.

I had to be back by evening, so I started out early. On my way to the Eagle Creek trail trailhead, I stopped at Multnomah Falls early in the morning. Magically, I had the place to myself. I fired off a few shots (more on those to come), and I made my way to the trailhead for Punch Bowl Falls. I consider myself an able hiker, but hardly advanced. At about 4 miles round trip, this was a reasonable day hike combined with a drive and a proper photo shoot. I wanted time to shoot it well.

The hike was spectacular. The day was overcast and wet but not full-on raining. The conditions could not have been better for waterfall photography. This was strenuous for a day hike after roughly an hour’s drive outside of Portland, especially with full photo gear, but not excessive. Throughout the hike, despite being in the gorge - I could feel the sense of grandeur. Eventually, I could hear the falls as I approached. Excitement built until I could see the falls from above. Magnificent. Then it was time to immerse myself in the scene.

I scrambled down the hill to the rocky “beach” beyond the base of the falls. I set up shop, and started framing some shots. Wet rocks in the foreground, moss along the sides… I was sure that this is the scene neutral density filters were invented for. After firing off a few shots, I knew the angle I wanted was in the pool. Prepared with rugged water shoes and a bathing suit, I entered the water, careful with my gear on the slippery rock bed. After some maneuvering, I had my shot. This was it… this was what I was seeking.

I can still feel that cold refreshing water. I remember the feeling of lining up the shot, certain that the photo would reflect the scene I had literally immersed myself in. The planning, the gear, the early morning start, the hike, and then the setup in the water - everything came together.

EDIT: I knew there had been a terrible fire in the area in 2017, but I didn't realize the impact it is still having. Trails and roads remain closed due to the damage done. I'm sad to know that I couldn't relive this scene now if I wanted to, and who knows if anyone ever will. I'm certainly glad to have been there. There's a bit of reassurance in knowing that the ecosystem is showing signs of rebirth. And the forest may actually benefit from the burn (even if other destruction never recovers).

This is a great blog post, helping me recall the enjoyable and rewarding hike I took to get this shot: https://www.world-of-waterfalls.com/waterfalls/pacific-northwest-punch-bowl-falls/ and a fantastic video of the hike of the total 25mi trail (I only made the 4.7 mi roundtrip to Punch Bowl Falls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5DzGrDp5Xw

Here's a disheartening one discussing the damage done. https://wyeastblog.org/2018/05/28/cliff-collapse-at-punch-bowl-falls/

I couldn't find a "current" shot of what my scene above looks like now. I can only assume nobody has seen this view since the fire.

Lastly, here's a harrowing story of a real-life escape from the fiery gorge the night the fire began on Eagle Creek Trail. https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/sep/05/lesson-by-fire-eagle-creek-fire-survivor-will-neve/

Thanks for looking.

A Local Adventure

Manasquan Reservoir, New Jersey - August 2011

Manasquan Reservoir, New Jersey - August 2011

I was in a photography funk. We had traded the grandeur of the West for a return and proximity to family in New Jersey. Sure it had the coast, fall colors, and snow. But it wasn’t BIG, and it wasn’t motivating my photography. I had to do something.

I started searching online to see what was nearby. Monmouth County was pretty scenic, surely there had to be something to photograph that interested me. I came across this sunrise scene from a location not far away that I hadn’t been to. I don’t necessarily aspire to shoot something brand new. I am plenty content to be inspired by other photographers and seek out that image that allowed them to make me want to be in the scene. So that’s what I did here. Some internet searching and finally the long overdue acknowledgement that some interesting photography could be made outside of Arizona.

A dark drive down route 9, only 20-30 minutes or so from the house, I drove right into the scene. It was dark, so I knew I got there in time to set up. There’s nothing worse than arriving late to the golden hour and scrambling.

Of course, it was still uncertain whether the scene I was seeking would unfold. Overcast would yield no sunrise. “Not a cloud in the sky” would make for a rather unspectacular scene. But as if the photography gods knew I needed a win, this scene opened up for me. The clouds, the sun, the dark foreground subjects… everything came together and painted a beautiful picture before my eyes. It didn’t last long, but long enough to capture a few magical frames with the help of a sturdy tripod and a trusty neutral density filter. My own little mini adventure into a scene that, at least on that morning, nobody else seemed to witness. I was glad to be making exciting images again, and re-invigorated that I could do so locally. This would serve me well right now as this quarantine has us all hyper-local right now.

Thanks for looking.

Isolation

Sunrise, Monument Valley, Arizona - May 2006

Sunrise, Monument Valley, Arizona - May 2006

I’ve been lucky enough to catch sunrise at Monument Valley a few times, though it's never enough. It is as magical as you imagine. Amidst the grandeur, you can watch the sunlight slowly bath the landscape in vibrant color. This particular shot was a less rugged visit. I left the hotel (in Kayenta I think?) well before anyone was awake. This was in May 2006 I think, I had the place nearly to myself as I moved about trying to frame some interesting shots.

In the distance, I noticed this house. Immediately I thought “I can’t think of a more amazing place to live, to wake up and come home to this scene every day.” Several years prior, Monument Valley was our home for a night when we awoke, unzipped the tent, and watched the early morning sunrise performance. Truth be told, I don’t know if this was a house. It may simply have been a storage building or something else. But it’s smallness amidst this massive landscape was striking. As it lit up with the landscape around it, I decided I wanted it to be a home. And I wanted someone lucky to live there. And I wanted to imagine that the person had figured it all out. That they were smarter than me and realized what was really important in life.

But the nearest soccer field is probably far away. And sadly, quality healthcare is literally out of reach. And while community bonds are likely strong, the wealth of experiences (some useful, others extraneous) would be out of reach for my kids. And there’s value in those things as well. If I look at where I live, I’d say I’m pretty lucky as well.

I still wanted this to be a house. And this is the point of my photography. With this image, I get to visit this spectacular home any time I want. And I can’t think of a better time than during quarantine.

Thanks for looking.

Partners in Life

Cannon Beach, Oregon - September, 2010

Cannon Beach, Oregon - September, 2010

My wife loves the beach. So on a trip for a wedding to Portland, OR - I thought I’d surprise her. “Honey, I’m taking you to the beach.” She knew better than to take the bait. She knew me well, and knew my motive.

The Oregon Coast is about a 90 minute drive from Portland where we were staying. The golden hour of sunrise was somewhere around 6:30am. Which means we’d need to leave by 5:00. Except I’d never scouted the area, and knew I’d need time to find a shot. Better leave no later than 4:00am. Not quite the beach trip she’s used to, she came along just the same.

She slept most of the ride out, but marveled at the scene at sunrise. I was busy toiling away, setting up filters and framing shots. She was just taking it all in. This new scene, on a new day, she was also impressed by the grandeur of it all. At first I dutifully framed up the haystack rock formation, pooling waters in the foreground. Some nice shots to be had for sure, though it was many frames in before I realized I wasn’t shooting RAW - I had forgotten to check my settings from the night before where I was trying to limit memory card space for some shots around town. I recall literally spinning 360 degrees - there were scenes to be shot in every direction. And that was a powerful lesson that day. This remains my favorite image from Cannon Beach, but from this shot, you won’t even know that the iconic Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach is behind me and to the right.

When the golden sunrise hour passed and my work was done, we enjoyed walking through town, enjoying a fresh coffee from Bald Eagle Coffee house. I’m pretty sure Lisa slept on the drive home as well. But she joined me for this one, put up with my photography antics, and made it a memory twice as nice. For sure, I want to be back in this scene - for the view, and for the coffee with Lisa.

Thanks for Looking.

EDIT: Memory fades, but metadata remains. I’m reminded that this coastal shot was from the same trip as the Punch Bowl Falls image above. Did I mention Oregon is one of my favorite photography locations?

On the Beaten Path

Mount Rainier National Park, August 2007

Mount Rainier National Park, August 2007

In this shot, I see potential As I look at the image, I am thrilled with the bright blue (yes, it was really that color) juxtaposed against the harsh but warm colored rocks, with the right amount of accent green of the foliage peeking in. My technique is decent, the rushing water effectively blurred. I enjoy this image on it’s own merit.

Almost all of my images have a story. Not usually spectacular, but meaningful. That’s what makes the images so enjoyable. A lengthy trek to a place I’ve never been. An unexpected angle or the success of the elements to align. This shot had none of that. It was the type of experience where I normally wouldn’t even bring my “good” camera. Midday, overcast, the entire family at one of the Visitor Centers in Mount Rainier National Park. No time to hike or scout or setup much past the basic visitor paths. I’m not even sure if I brought my tripod - I may have stabilized on the Rock Bridge where I found this scene. But we stumbled across this scene and in my mind it was perfect if framed well. The colors, the lack of debris in the way, and this beautiful flowing water mere steps from the simple walk around the park.

My brother lived in Seattle, and lives there again. I’ve shot in the city, driven to Portland for the Columbia River Gorge shots, and even framed Rainier in the background of the city. But there is so much I want to explore in Washington State, with Rainier at the top of the list. The opportunity couldn’t be easier - a place to stay and a local companion. I just need to make it happen.

This photo represents the potential of the experience I can have and the images I can make at Mount Rainier. When this quarantine is all over, I really ought to prioritize a more comprehensive visit.

Thanks for looking.

Award Winning Photographer

7 Presidents Beach, New Jersey - September, 2008

7 Presidents Beach, New Jersey - September, 2008

This is my lone “award winning” photograph. I don’t submit often, but this one I did. And it won. You are looking at the 3rd place winner of the Freehold Soil Conservation District’s 2010 photo contest. I think it also took honors at the Monmouth County Camera Club’s library exhibit. As I said, award winning.

We had just moved to Freehold only a few months prior. Of course I was familiar with the Jersey shore, but had never really photographed it. A quick scan of photos online and I found some foreground of interest - the jetty at Seven President’s.

Seven President’s would become “our beach” during our time in Monmouth County. A straight shot from home, it was convenient, well equipped, and right near the Windmill! We enjoyed many summer days at “our beach.”

This shot was lucky - like many often are. You put yourself in position, and wait to see what the world unfolds. I’ve “photographed” many cloudless sunrises with nothing much to show for it. But this morning, everything was perfect. The clouds did their part and built the most beautifully vibrant skies I had ever seen. Strangely, even peering out into the ocean amidst this wide open sky - I still don’t get the feeling of grandeur. Maybe because there is no reference point across the horizon. But despite my persistent fascination with the West, this remains one of my favorite photos. The very first in my journey back to New Jersey that I had executed as I envisioned it.

I hope you enjoy my “award winning” image.

Thanks for looking.

Superstition Snow

Superstition Mountains, Arizona - March 2006

Superstition Mountains, Arizona - March 2006

I’ve come to enjoy my local walks and runs during this quarantine, but I can’t help but feel it should be a bit warmer. I’m ready for less frost and more spring.

This feeling reminds me of the scene that unfolded only once or twice while we lived in Arizona. Many of you know the Superstition Mountain range was “our mountain.” We could see it (if positioned right) from our neighborhood. A 20 minute drive and I was IN a desert mountain range. The dog, the truck, the camera… I loved getting lost in there. I had heard rumors of snow. Arizona gets plenty of snow, some parts get more snow than I do now in PA. But it doesn’t snow in the Valley. Except… on those rare occasions where you wake up from a cooler than normal night and realize there WAS snow at certain elevations.

Superstition Mountains with a blanket of snow was a magnificent scene. I never did quite execute the perfectly lit/colored scene while I was there, though I have some decent shots. But this particular frame just worked in black and white. The white snow on the dark, rugged peaks. The deep blue sky (yep, that’s a polarizer) backing the white cloud’s performance overhead. And just a dusting of snow at the highest elevation. For me, this scene was all that I loved about Arizona with a dusting of what I remembered about back home.

It’s April 22, and I keep waiting to see our blooming flowers and trees wake up one morning with just a dusting of snow. But I wouldn’t mind if we found our stride and sauntered right into weather where we could BBQ, even if quarantined, into the evening.

Thanks for looking.

Broken Dreams

Thompson River, Rocky Mountain National Park - April, 2009

Thompson River, Rocky Mountain National Park - April, 2009

This image is the result of a failed attempt to reach Dream lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is the reason I love photography.

My wife had one of those important academic conferences, the kind that keeps you busy all day and well into evening, in Denver, Colorado. Jackpot, for me. We’ve gotten good at parlaying professional trips into mini-getaways, and I wasn’t going to miss this chance to get back out West. I did my scouting online, and settled on Rocky Mountain National Park.

The conference was April 2nd. The beginnings of Spring wildflower season… for Arizona! I came to realize, this was still winter in the Rocky Mountains. I suspected this would be the case, but was motivated to make something happen nonetheless.

I had my sights set on “Dream Lake.” A magical alpine lake surrounded by mountain peaks, ready to receive the very first morning light. But it was going to be a grind. I figured an hour-ish hike to go the 1 mile from the lot to the lake, probably in the snow. A 2-ish hour drive from Denver. Time to scout, set up, etc. It was going to be tight, but I set out from our hotel in Denver somewhere around 3AM the very morning after we arrived from the East coast. I can do this.
I vividly remember the drive. Active snow as I reached higher elevations, still very much in the dark of night. Into Estes Park, the gauge on in the car showed the temperature dropping rapidly into the single digits as I ascended. I arrived at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park… it was barren. This place clearly wasn’t “open.” Snow drifts, no plowing, and a ranger station abandoned many months ago. It was clear that nobody was going to hassle me for entering the park early. It was equally clear that I was on my own.

I was behind schedule… the alpen glow of the morning light was already emerging when I finally found the parking lot I was looking for. I snapped a few images, then packed up for what should have been a reasonable hike, made slightly more difficult by the snow.

I clearly wasn’t my best trailblazer that day. I quickly found Bear Lake, easily enough. But everything was snow covered. Aside from the openness, it was hard to tell what was lake and what was land. I hung a sharp left… but I was already off track. Looking back, I never should have made it to Bear Lake - the hard left should have come at the lot. I spent the next few hours trekking in what I thought was the right direction. Venturing out on my own probably wasn’t very smart. I was conscious of it though, trying to balance my desire with my perceived limitations. Watching a group ski up the hill was a good indicator that I wasn’t where I was intending to be.

But my time in this space was remarkable. The trees, the snow, the ascent… the morning glow. I wouldn’t trade my time in this place for anything. I never did reach my destination. I finally hit a point where I thought better of going on. Clearly I had hiked more than a mile, and I wasn’t where I intended to be. With a rough sense of how to retrace my steps, I descended (I embellish - this was a hike, I was hardly rappelling down a mountain). I made my way back to the lot, well after sunrise, feeling a bit dejected for not reaching the magical scene I sought, but still thankful to be in this place.

I got back in the car, drove through the unplowed lot and back through the unattended entrance gate. I kept my eyes peeled for photo ops. But I was closer to mid-day than I was to the golden hour. I wasn’t expecting much, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught a scene well down the mountain from where I was hiking. The elevation was lower, the ground wasn’t fully snow covered, but the Thompson River drew my eye.

Strangely, I can’t recall exactly the steps I took to recognize the scene, park, and hike to the spot where I ultimately captured this image. But I do remember being in this place. I remember taking in all of the elements: the warm color of the ground and the brown grass. The blue water rushing through the landscape, and the white snow accents throughout. The foreground was enough of a study to intrigue me. The hillsides and peaks in the distance were the gravy on top. But if there was a single magical element that brought this scene to another level, it was the cloud cover that weaved through the valley, accenting the otherwise “plain” blue sky.

I was pretty sure I knew what I had in the moment. I explored it from a few angles and I knew I nabbed at least 1 or 2 “crack images” as Peter Lik would say.

These are all the things I will remember about this image. You’ll never see it in this photo, but I’ll know the effort, the planning, the initial failure - but intrigue that my first few hours yielded. Then finally, this scene that unfolded itself to me as though the universe thought I deserved a consolation prize for having screwed up the hike to Dream Lake. I see all of those experiences and feelings in this image, though they’ll never be apparent to the casual observer. To those casual observers, I do hope you’ll find an interesting, reasonably well executed image of an interesting foreground, a cooperating background and the right lighting for the moment to produce a peek into one of the many scenes that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer.

Thanks for looking.

EDIT: As I scan images of Thompson River on google images… I friggin nailed this one, purely by accident. I see photos of this scene in spring. Or fully snow covered in winter. But on the day that I visited, it was the perfect balance of spring thaw and winter snow accentuation… with the river flowing a deep blue that yielded this image, one of my favorites both visually and for the total experience noted above.

Thanks for looking.

The Perfect Shot

Watkins Glen State Park, Finger Lakes Region, NY - October, 2013

Watkins Glen State Park, Finger Lakes Region, NY - October, 2013

We were committed. With the support of our wives, Dave and I sought to find a reasonable, but adventurous photography opportunity. After some back and forth, we settle on something drive-able. The Fall colors were upon us, so timing was important. After some scouting online to maximize the opportunity (scenic areas, drive time, etc.), we settled on the Finger Lakes region in NY.

We picked our weekend, arranged the support of our wives to handle the homestead, and off we set. Fall colors in the Northeast are always a moving target, and it’s hard to plan. So you take a swing, and hope for the best. In this particular year, we were lucky - we nailed it. The colors were ripe, the weather reasonable for what we aimed to accomplish… we couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.

Almost as if on auto-pilot, we plotted our routine: nighttime prep for an early morning start. We weren’t necessarily chasing sunrise or early morning light, but it was innate. An early start was required for good photography. And we were rewarded. While we hardly chased the golden hour light, we did however have a magnificent (and soon to be overpopulated) landscape to ourselves. We were certainly the first to arrive at Watkins Glen State Park. We started our trek well before anyone even knew we were there, though we did encounter the odd compatriot similarly seeking that perfect shot or that surreal feeling of being one with the surroundings (without the crowds).

When we arrived at this scene, it was more magical than we could have imagined. Until you’re IN a scene, it’s hard to fully appreciate it. On a normal tourist trip to this point, you’d contend with bright midday sun and throngs of visitors. But at this early hour, it was just us and the scene. Us IN the scene. The overcast skies provided the perfect softbox lighting. And the dampness brought the colors to life. We envisioned, set up, adjusted, and executed. This was the shot we had come for. And we had the space to ourselves to work it the best way we knew how. You can’t ask for anything more than that.

To this day this remains, in my mind, one of my most perfectly executed scenes. I shot a portfolio’s worth of images on the way to and from this particular spot. But this was the money shot. Discovered, scouted, visualized and executed - I love this scene. It is both simple and complex and it remains one of my proudest photography moments. This instance was both mesmerizing and successful, enabling me to execute the vision I had coming in.

I would gladly return to Watkins Glen State park, in the Finger Lakes Region of NY in the fall. But I know it would be a gamble that I would be as lucky as I was during this shoot.

Thanks for looking.

Where Hemingway Drank

Muir Beach, California - October 2014

Muir Beach, California - October 2014

I had visited Muir Woods every time I made my way out to San Francisco. Boudin Bread Company too. I’ll do it again the next chance I get. But this last trip, I had a bit more time to wander. Having had Muir Woods to myself in the early morning (but still struggling to shoot redwoods to my satisfaction), I had time to branch out. So I drove, through Marin county, toward signs for Muir Beach. Unsurprisingly, it was an overcast day. I had already spent the golden hour in Muir Woods, so I don’t know what I expected. But I’m a casual explorer as much as I’m a photographer, so I set my destination.

I’ve talked about grandeur a lot in my previous images. Similar to the Arizona desert or the Rocky Mountains, the West Coast (California, Oregon, and I assume - Washington) is grand. Big cliffs, big beaches, big skies. Where NJ beaches feel familiar, West Coast beaches feel grand, unknown, exciting.

I got out of the car at Muir Beach thinking “I have no business trying to make a photograph at this time in these conditions.” But no matter, I was looking for the experience. I damn near had the place to myself. I needed a telephoto lense to see the nearest wanderer on this beach. So I had free range to explore the rocks, the cliffs, the waves crashing against the shoreline, and the colors, even in a seemingly colorless landscape.

I wandered across the beach with my gear, toward the rocks on the beach. I was taking it all in: just being here was magical. How to capture this scene? Normally I’m looking for a sky on fire, or perfectly placed clouds for dramatic effect. There would be none of that. But still, the scene was mesmerizing. I worked several angles until I felt I captured the water, the rocks, and the cliffs… and all the muted colors they presented.

I don’t know if this is a gallery worthy image. But I love it. It represents the grandeur one can find when we’re willing to spelunk just a little bit even when it’s not the perfect timing.

There’s an extra bit of awesome for this scene in my mind. I shot Muir Woods way early. I got to Muir Beach fairly early. It was barely noon when I finished shooting. I remember seeing an interesting setup literally on the “side street” to the beach on my way in. The Pelican Inn. It looked like the place one must stop to enjoy a pint. Surely Hemingway stopped here (he didn’t). So when I was done exploring and shooting Muir Beach, I stopped into the bar at the Pelican Inn. It was barely noon. The bartender was more focused on cleaning up from the night before than he was on serving the non-existent patrons at this hour of the day. But he humored me and poured me a pint. The floors were old, wooden planks. The structure itself felt as though it housed The Old Man and the Sea at least for a night, if not Hemingway himself. I took my time enjoying every sip of my pint. It was the perfect day.

This is why I do photography. This image is probably mediocre at best, but I’m thrilled to share it with you for all that it represents to me.

Thanks for looking.

Hiking With My Son

I was still just getting into photography. But I had already learned that you need to plan, seek out interesting scenes, and act when opportunity arose.

Snow in the Arizona mountains (near the Valley) was something worth seeing. Not impossible, but not likely. Less reliable than the level of splendor during wildflower seasons, which themselves were fickle (and ironically tied somewhat to the snow).

In fact, this may have been one of the first few efforts with my new Pentax istDL DIGITAL SLR. The internet was not the instant feedback mechanism it is today, but it did help raise awareness for potential. I don’t recall if I yet knew the importance of the golden hours of the day. But I had heard there was snow in them there mountains within 30 minutes of the house (where it would be 117 degrees in 3 months or less). I don’t recall what my wife was doing, but I grabbed my son and jumped in the truck. I had some ideas on where I might have some good angles of the peaks.

My son… wasn’t even 1 year old at the time. Probably his first photography adventure (they still happen from time to time). This wasn’t a backpacking effort, or a mild hike in effort. This was a “how close can I get to a good scene with an off road truck.”

The EXIF data on this one doesn’t feel right. I know data doesn’t lie. But I don’t recall this being an early morning shoot. Rather, I remember this being closer to sun-down. Which meant I was scouting from the truck with mid-day light on snow-covered peaks. I remember pulling into an area with a lot of dirt bikes and ATVs. It seems like the place to tool around a bit to find a good angle. I wasn’t sure what the light was going to do, but I found a spot with dry cactus in the foreground, snow covered mountains in the distance.

I was a brand new father, not even a year. I’m sure my wife thought I was traumatizing the kid, or exposing him to unnecessary risk out the in the wilderness. But I was safe. We didn’t stray more than a few feet from the truck. I set up my gear and grabbed a bunch of shots. I wish I had better glass back then. And better stabilization knowledge. Several shots were blurry, or not exposed properly. I was still learning photography, let alone my gear. But I’m certain the instant feedback of a digital SLR gave me enough insight to make some adjustments and grab at least a few shots of this magical scene.

The juxtaposition of the cactus in the desert along with snow is always interesting to me. The (I’m pretty sure) afternoon light created enough drama to capture something worth keeping. But importantly, it captured a memory of a time and a place (and my son) for me. This was part of the magic of Arizona. And looking back, it was part of the magic of having kids. It wasn’t the grand adventure I always seek. But it was the chance to be a father and a hobbyist photographer at the same time, all in this unique place. I’m glad to say that in addition to this shot, I managed a portrait of me and the boy. Probably the worst photo effort of the day. But the best memory. Quality image or not, it helps me remember that I was there, in that magical place, with my 9 month old son.

Thanks for looking.

Just a Dusting

Lake Topanemus, Freehold, NJ - October 2011

Lake Topanemus, Freehold, NJ - October 2011

I love stealing away on conference trips and otherwise to find the grandeur of the west. But when I moved back to Jersey, I forced myself to not fall into the trap of lamenting where I wasn’t. Changing of the seasons, micro-landscapes… there were plenty of photography opportunities in places other than my beloved West. One of the first years back to NJ, I happily explored the fall colors at our local little Lake Topanemus. It was ours (those of us who lived near it). And for those willing to seek it out, the lake and the park around it displayed some magical fall colors. I had snagged a shot of this scene good enough to hang already. But when the weather grew surreal in the fall of 2011, I took the opportunity to revisit an already successful shot.

What makes a fall scene of bursting colors amidst a blue sky on the water even better? A dusting of snow on those colors.

Too much snow on a scene changes it’s feel, what’s possible. But a dusting of snow on an otherwise already fantastic scene is a real treat. Monitoring the weather and again - simply planning to arrive at the right time of lighting provided my reward. The dusting of snow accented the spectacular fall colors in a way I thought only possible in Colorado. The contrast of the blue sky was perfect. And I was there to capture it all.

I find this image one of my more visually appealing shots. But what makes it truly enjoyable to me is the notion that great landscape photography can happen almost wherever you are. I am still chasing the perfect Colorado trip where the early season snow meets the late season colors for a stunning scene. But this image will always remind me that while you’re planning the next great adventure, there are plenty of scenes outside your back door worth exploring if only you’re willing to find them. I think I shot this one before putting in a full day’s work. When this quarantine is over, get out there!

Thanks for looking.

The Open Road

Valley of the Gods, UT - May, 2006

Valley of the Gods, UT - May, 2006

The open Arizona roads. I moved out there for the love of my life with a motorcycle and a bunch of crap. I was all in. I visited Sedona before the move, and I was sold. But aside from my boy scout campouts (which were great), I wasn't exactly the national adventurer. Get to AZ, figure things out with Lisa, try not to screw up my remote NYC job. That was the immediate task at hand.

It wasn’t long before I discovered the magical Arizona landscape. I got into photography, and practiced. My dad got me a Pentax SLR when he saw a hint of interest. I read up, but mostly I practiced. I fiddled with the settings, and wondered what would come out. I had a pro lab in Tempe that would develop slide film properly, even if I didn’t know how to shoot it properly. But I was learning. Second to the experience of making the photographs was the moment I pulled into the lot at Tempe camera, picked up my envelopes of developed slide film, and flipped through to see what I got. It was like opening a pack of baseball cards, looking for that Daryl Strawberry rookie card… but more personal. What was I able to make?

Then Lisa saw my interest, my passion, and surprised me with my first digital SLR. THAT became the teaching tool I needed to take my interest to the next level. These were two of the greatest gifts I ever received. They helped me become a photographer. But more importantly, they made me an adventurer. I was hooked.

I rode the bike. I bought a truck. We got a dog. I was a modern day cowboy, in search of an adventure across some of the most beautiful land I had ever seen, before returning to our central air abode complete with a swimming pool. It was a pretty perfect life.

This image represents the open Arizona roads. I remember how vivid this scene was in the midday sunlight. Normally not a great time to shoot. Ironically, this wasn’t a lonesome cowboy western adventure. I was on a normal sightseeing trip with my parents, Lisa, and our newborn son. We were in the truck, but hardly the rigged adventure. Yet as we drove the scene unfolded before my eyes while we were driving. I pulled over and made the whole operation stop while I fired off a few frames This was grandeur. I learned after we drove through this magical place that we were in the Valley of the Gods. Aptly named.

I wish I could have explored the area around Monument Valley a hundred more times. I did it by motorcycle before I was much of a photographer. I did it with family when I started becoming one. But I’ll never tire of these scenes, and that’s why I love my photography. I can revisit them any time I want, with a little help.

Here’s to the open road.

Thanks for looking.

Taking the Next Step

Columbia River Gorge, OR - August, 2007

Columbia River Gorge, OR - August, 2007

One of my favorites, this is one of dozens of images I came away with on this shoot. I had visited Seattle before, but I had never really shot the Pacific Northwest. With some insightful planning, I was able to schedule a two week business trip out to the Seattle area. My brother lived there at the time, so I’d bridge the two weeks with a fantastic weekend of visiting and photography. Turned out, he was actually on a rotation down in Portland, OR.

Any guesses which waterfall this is?

The waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest seemed an amazing opportunity. In fact, I had just started working through the “soft flow” technique of neutral density filters and slow shutter speeds on waterfalls. After quite a bit of research, the Columbia River Gorge seemed to be where I wanted to be. It almost seemed too good to be true. Waterfalls everywhere.

Online research helped me chart a course through the Old Columbia River Gorge Highway. Thanks again to https://www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/ for the extensive research, I felt I had maximized my opportunities. Most of my shots were midday. Typically the worst time to shoot, but this was the Pacific Northwest. Overcast and a slight mist eliminated the harsh sunlight and made the greens pop brilliantly. If I didn’t see it.. if I wasn’t in it, I wouldn’t believe it.

A trailhead here, literally leaning out the car window there, I bagged shot after shot of some of the most beautiful waterfalls I had ever seen. The rocks, the green, (the yellow), and the rushing water - made for the perfect lab for waterfall photography. I was learning, capturing, succeeding, and learning some more. Framing, focusing, slowing down… I practiced and refined my skills on this trip.

When all was said and done, I came away with dozens of shots I enjoy looking at. This, however, is one of my favorites. The blue water against the dark grey rocks with vivid green growth, and the brown to add complexity. I love this image.

What's your guess?

Multnomah Falls.

This was 2007. Turns out I was lucky to even get a spot in the lot on a weekend in August. But surely not lucky enough to have an unobstructed shot of the falls. The constant flow of people on the bridge kept me from the pristine image of the entire falls. Of course I took several of those shots, waiting for the least amount of people in my image I could muster. But knowing I wouldn't have a view of the entire falls, I started exploring angles, close-ups, crops. etc. This is the lowest portion of Multnomah Falls, close-up, in stunning detail. Those familiar with the falls will notice I even cropped out the half a tree settled at the bottom of the falls (I assume it’s still settled there?). I had always listened to the advice: pay attention to detail. Look for different angles. Explore different aspects of the scene you are in. Beyond the half a portfolio of images I came back with from this trip, I came back with the experience of really exploring a landscape, near and far. I felt like I genuinely took the next step in my photography efforts during this trip. In a lifetime I couldn’t explore all I’d want to in this region. But if I never make it back (damn, I hope not)... I know I made the absolute most of my time there that I could. I’ll never forget it, and it’s what keeps me longing to return.

More to come on this story. As it turns out, I validated what I had always known: the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Thanks for looking.

Let's Hit the Beach

The Jersey Shore - July 2012

The Jersey Shore - July 2012

I’m no longer a Monmouth County resident. I don’t know if I’d hit the Jersey shore this weekend or not. Probably. We're in our new PA digs now. I’d certainly be looking for a beer and a lounge chair at our local pool club. But there’ll be none of that this weekend. NJ beaches seem to be opening. I hope all goes well, but it will be a different experience for sure.

We seem to be getting enough of a handle on this (data incompetence or not) that the outdoor recreation is loosening up. With more magical vacations cancelled, I’m hoping to spend some time spelunking somewhat locally. Northern and Western PA for some hills and streams. But I need to get out with the camera again.

This is a beach shot. Let’s get out there and see what we can see. An early morning drive to the beach. The sky didn’t explode in a ball of fire on this particular morning as I probably hoped, but I couldn’t be happier with this shot. The soft but evident pink did surface in the sky. The green moss on the rocks was slippery! But the perfect foreground pop on the jagged rocks. The water rolling in kept me on (or off) my toes. This isn’t the beach I think of on a summer weekend at the Jersey shore. That has lots of people, and lots of cars, and lots of everything. But this shot is of the same Jersey shore. It’s quiet, peaceful, maybe a little intense with the water crashing, but overall quite serene. These are the shapes and the colors I chase, and for this one - I managed to find the right spot to release the shutter.

I hope everyone enjoys this holiday weekend. We need it. I’ll sit back on this one, one less pseudo local on the beach or the boardwalk. But I hope we can learn a new and safe normal this weekend. Someday soon I’ll be back out there. But maybe just to grab a sunrise shot like this one. Then I’ll pull back and let others enjoy the space.

Thanks for looking.

A Memorable Hike

Shenandoah National Park - June 2103

Shenandoah National Park - June 2103

A fantastic professional conference. For years, Lisa and I would piggyback off each others’ conferences. Vegas, San Francisco.. And Virginia. This particular conference brought Lisa to Virginia, and right near Shenandoah National Park. Dave and I drove down a day early, and hit a few spots on the way. This was one of them. A hot spot that I would take my young kids to within a few days. But today was a photography effort. A sunset hike, and curiosity on what the light would bring.

The skies did not disappoint. Though this highlights the use of a graduated neutral density filter for the expansive range, the colors are legit. They’re as they appeared before us. It was a magical scene, and we scrambled to capture what we were witnessing.

This wasn’t that deep of a hike to this location, but it was our first time here, so we didn’t know what to expect. And we knew that after the sun descended, we would be chasing the light back to the car. But that was ok. The sky lit up in a burst of colors, and painted the landscape we were standing in. The jagged rocks provided the perfect foreground, and the evergreens added a pop of green that is always welcome.

Only 2 days later, I would bring my young children to this rock scramble. It was mid-day with no risk of losing daylight. But it was equally fantastic. The photos that day focused on young children scrambling above their limit, and taking it all in.

This photo reminds me to chase the light. A magnificent scene at any time, the sun setting and the clouds made for a magical scene. We hiked back to the car in the dark, but it was well worth it. I don’t think I captured this scene as well as I could have, but I will never forget the experience. And these photos remind me of that magical experience.

Here’s to exploring, even if my efforts aren’t exactly professional.

Thanks for looking.

Look Close

Marshall's Beach, San Francisco - April 2010

Marshall's Beach, San Francisco - April 2010

I’ve written about how I seek the grandeur of the American landscape. Big, beautiful, sweeping views that lay out all that is possible in front of you. I will forever chase those possibilities, in photography and in life. But sometimes you need to look closely. You need to pay attention to what’s really going on, right in front of you. You need to be willing to slow down, investigate, and be willing to see the environment you are in.

This shot came from one of my San Francisco treks. As I recall, I was actually hiking back up from Marshall’s Beach. Of course I was aiming to get some shoreline shots, some rocks, maybe the bridge. I’d get that image elsewhere on this trip. It just wasn’t lining up here. But on the hike back up, just off the walking path I noticed this intense pop of color. Like the over-saturate filter on an Instagram post, only this was right in front of my eyes. So I looked closer at this patch of plants, and then closer.

This is one of my favorite all time shots. Hanging in our house as a constant reminder to pay attention. In this typically hectic and fast paced world, my hope for myself, for my family, and for anyone I come in contact with is that we are willing to stop now and then. Pay attention. Look. Listen. Be genuinely curious. We will all be better for it.

Thanks for looking

Monument Valley Social Distancing

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation Reservation - May. 2006

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation Reservation - May. 2006

Happy 4th of July, 2020. I’ll admit up front, there’s a lot to this simplistic scene when I look at it today. When I took this image, surely it was the grandeur and the colors of the landscape that inspired me. Despite near mid-day light, the red earth, the white clouds and the blue sky converged for a colorful and inspiring shot. Red, white, and blue.

As I revisit this red, white and blue image on July 4, 2020 it conjures many more thoughts. Wondering if I can continue to safely stay 6 feet apart to protect loved ones, I reminisce about the beautiful open space of lands like these. Partially because of my early morning and sunset antics - on more than one occasion, I found myself wondering if I was the only one there. A perfect and magical place to socially distance oneself.

In recent weeks, America has been revisiting it’s past. Behaviors, logos, monuments and more. I’ve had the privilege to visit this beautiful land several times. To roll through and marvel at a time and culture when things were different (simpler?). I thought “how lucky” people were to live here, in this beautiful place. But maybe they don’t consider themselves lucky. Maybe they consider themselves holding on for dear life. From Native American lands to national “monuments” like Bears Ears National Monument today (the irony in the notion of “protecting monuments”) - we all ought to reconsider our past. Self reflection is important. I’m not sure what to do about it. But I’ve decided that throwing a tantrum and degrading those who aren’t like me isn’t a path I will ever respect again. There was a time when I wouldn’t be able to think of a single thing more American than shooting off fireworks over Mount Rushmore. Now I’m reconsidering that maybe there isn’t a single thing less reflective of what I want America to be.

This photo also brings me back to a time when I visited this magnificent place with my family. We immersed ourselves in the beauty of America on a simple road trip in a Chevy Truck. It was back in a time where we could travel safely, and I had my camera.

So many layers to this photo, especially on this day. But in the moment I took it, there was none of that. It was just a vast American landscape that left me in awe and inspired to see more, and bring my camera along.

Happy 4th of July everyone. Reflect thoughtfully, celebrate safely, and enjoy.

Thanks for looking

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