Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of... New Mexico?

During a trip to west Texas and New Mexico in May I had the opportunity to shoot some stars while up around 9000ft of altitude in the mountains. I'll tell you what, the views out there sure beat what we get in the Twin Cities.

The first night I was tired from other activities so I took the lazy man's route and put the tripod on the deck of our cabin.  Luckily I had a nice open view to the North so I think it came out pretty well!
Inspired by my success, I got ambitious for my 2nd and final night up in the mountains and did some rather sketchy nighttime hiking to revisit the Mexican Canyon Trestle Bridge near Cloudcroft, NM, as well as Apache Point National Observatory.
While the position of the moon wasn't quite ideal (and the other side of the bridge was even more dangerous than where I was), I think it came out pretty well!  I did break one of the latches on my tripod using it as a makeshift walking pole though.  I don't really recommend that!  After I hauled myself and my gear (shivering due to the low temps at this altitude), I made the hour drive to Apache Point.  I'd done this earlier that day to visit the observatory while it was open to the public, but the drive through about 45 miles of insanely twisty mountain roads riddled with deer was far more exciting at 2am.
Inside the Dunn Solar Telescope at the National Solar Observatory, Sacramento Peak, NM
It had occured to me that the telescopes at Apache Point would be the perfect foreground for another star trails shot.  Plus I wanted to get some nice night shots of the facility, especially if it was in operation and the telescopes were open.  Since the observatory isn't exactly open to the public at night, I thought discretion was the order of the day, and followed the signs directing me to run my headlights off about a mile out.  It's a wonder I could stay on the road due to the trees blocking the moon, but I made it to their lot and quickly made my way up to the telescopes, only to be disappointed to see that they were not in operation.
The New Mexico State University 1.0m telescope in foreground, 0.5m Astrophysical Research Consortium scope in back
After setting up the camera and intervalometer for the above shot, I retired to my borrowed van to get out of the cold and read a book by flashlight.  After some time the doors locked automatically, and I nonchalantly unlocked it from the inside without thinking.  Cue the car alarm going off at 3AM!  It took me what seemed like an eternity to find the keyfob and disable the alarm, at which point I bailed out and hid in a bush waiting for the inevitably response to the racket I'd made.  After about 15 minutes of utter silence I realized no one was coming, and went back to grab my camera and shoot some some more angles.  Then I hightailed it back to the cabin for a couple hours of sleep!
New Mexico Museum of Space History, Alamagordo, NM
On the way out of NM I made sure to visit the New Mexico Museum of Space History, a great little museum with a bunch of rockets and plenty of artifacts from the nearby White Sands Missile Range.  Make sure to check it out if you're ever in the area!
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To canoe or cannot. The 2011 Mississippi River Challenge

I was invited back to shoot the 2011 iteration of the Mississippi River Challenge, put on by my friends at the Friends of the Mississippi River to raise money for their conservation efforts.
I had a blast shooting the event last year, and this year had some ideas I couldn't wait to put into action on the river. The forecast was for excellent weather, and with more than 350 paddlers, there wasn't going to be any shortage of experiences to capture.
The event started bring and early Saturday morning at Coon Rapids dam, and due to the unseasonably high water levels, the swift current ensured that paddlers were almost always ahead of schedule! It was a long day running up and down the river trying to catch the leaders, the middle pack, and the trailing boats.
Last year I snapped some of my favorite photos of the event from the Stone Arch Bridge as the paddlers went through the locks at Upper St. Anthony Falls, and this year I figured I could do better, and I did. Thanks to Gary and John of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I was able to get up on top of the locks themselves during the process, and captured a number of unique images from there. Plus I got to spend the time between groups in their air-conditioned office!

One of the most interesting parts of the trip is the finish at Grey Cloud Island. The mix of emotions you see among the paddlers runs the entire gamut, from elation to exhaustion, or even a blend of both. This little girl was waiting for mom to appear on the horizon and was plainly thrilled to see her after her weekend away.
This father/daughter duo did the entire trip together, and made for many great photos along the way. In a couple more years she'll probably be a good deal more help paddling, but I don't think dad minded too much!
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Starting 2011 off the right way!

With Minnesota covered in snow and too cold to properly work a camera's controls, I decided to head south and see if the "snowbirds" maybe had the right idea after all. I worked in Las Vegas at CES 2011, so I added a couple days to my trip so I'd have time to visit Zion National Park and some other scenic spots in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.
Las Vegas certainly had glitz, but after four days on the show floor at CES I was quite ready to get out of town. The first stop was Valley of Fire State Park, about 40 minutes east of Vegas. This was Nevada's first ever state park, and was quite beautiful! The amazing rock formations are just awesome shades of red and orange, and are carved into all sorts of nooks and crannies by the wind.
I didn't have too much time here though, because I was still several hours from Zion National Park, and wanted to have time to climb Angels Landing that evening! I arrived at the park about four hours from sundown, and started the ~1500 foot ascent up a seeminly neverending series of switchbacks known as Wally's Wiggles. The backpack full of gear and cameras started to seem like a poor choice after only a mile or so, but I pressed on. A half mile from the summit, signs warned of extreme danger in darkness, thunderstorms, or ice and snow conditions. What's an adventure without a little danger? I made it to the top in time to relax and watch the aftermath of the sunset at the end of the canyon, which was definitely worth the effort.
Of course, watching the sunset from the summit meant I now had the distinct priveledge of climbing back down in the dark. I was able to make it off the ridge and back to the switchbacks before it got really dark. The view of the valley from the trail was truly breathtaking. After turning off my headlamp and giving my eyes time to adjust, the moonlit canyon was laid out before me under the most stars I'd ever seen in my life.
Taking some photos also allowed for a much needed break from walking! Next on my agenda was star trails, so I bundled up and set up the tripod for almost three hours, compositing almost 1,000 frames to create the image and video below. Light clouds had blown in by then, which wasn't perfect, but the view was still spectacular!

Timelapse video:

I had a bit of a drive planned the next day, so I couldn't keep at it too much longer, and the cold was murder on camera batteries, so I snapped a couple more before calling it a night. The streak at the right of the photo below is most likely an airliner headed for Las Vegas.

The next day I headed to Arizona, by way of the Zion National Park Scenic Drive. Hairpin turn after hairpin turn on ice in a FWD rental. Exhilarating! My destination was one of the most-photographed canyons in the world, Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ. Since Antelope Canyon is a sacred Navajo place, I hooked up with a local guide and headed to upper Antelope Canyon. All I can say is, if you ever have the chance to visit, do it! During the warmer months the canyon is typically choked by tourists, but the upside of the ~30 degree weather was that I had the place to myself! I was also able to visit Rattlesnake Canyon, another nearby slot canyon that is less popular, mostly due to its extreme narrowness in some places.

After my visit to Antelope Canyon and the Navajo Nation, I turned west to return to Las Vegas to catch a jet home. I wish I'd had more time to visit some of the other nearby parks and monuments (Glen Canyon, Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Grand Basin, etc), but it couldn't last forever! All in all, this trip was a fantastic photographic start to 2011!
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Engagement adventures with Alex and Louise

Just before Christmas I met up with Louise and Alex, who will be getting married next July. They wanted to get their engagement photos taken while they were in town, so I started brainstorming some great winter locations. When I suggested behind the frozen waterfall at Minnehaha Park, they jumped at the chance!

They made the short but steep and slippery hike to the cavern with minimal fuss, and we got started. It's actually pretty warm behind the falls, since you're out of the wind, so we were able to work comfortably and get some awesome stuff.

Louise and Alex were both having a great time and loved the location, so we shot some stuff outside the falls and around the park as well.

Congrats Louise and Alex!
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

SoCal Sojourn

When I took this panorama, Minnesota was recieving it's first major snowfall. Did I feel bad for friends and family back home? Heck no. This was at Torrey Pines State Beach, between San Diego and Los Angeles.

In November I traveled to Los Angeles for business, and once again added a couple days to my trip for a little travel and photography at the seaside. There's really nothing like a sunset over the Pacific as seen from San Clemente Pier!

While in San Diego, I made the short trip to La Jolla, to visit the La Jolla Children's Pool, a man-made lagoon that was once intended for kids, but quickly became a favorite haunt for the local seal population. I was hoping to get some nice shots of some of the seals on the sandy beaches there, but they seemed content to lounge on hard rocks, so I had to make do with what I could get.

Next time I'd love to do some snorkeling or diving here. I saw dozens of divers and swimmers around, and I'm sure I could get some amazing shots. I'll need to put that on the to-do list...

Another California sunset, this time at LAX. The perfect spot to get this shot is also the perfect spot to grab dinner, at the In-N-Out right across the street from the airport. Can't beat that convenience!

If you're in LA, make sure to take some time to check out the Getty Center. The combination of amazing architecture, the hilltop location, and great art, photography, and sculpture make for an excellent afternoon. Plus, you can see the thick layer of smog lying over downtown on a calm day! Gotta love Los Angeles.

The high vantage point offered by the Getty Center made this shot of the sun setting over Santa Monica a joy to capture. I also shot this on my roll of Kodachrome slide film, which we're still waiting to get back from the lab, since it arrived the day before they stopped accepting Kodachrome forever!

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