July 30, 2012

Backcountry Pack List

I'm headed off into the backcountry, and with a backcountry adventure comes meticulous packing. Every ounce counts, and as a photographer that can mean leaving most of your gear home. Any extra weight is just that much more you have to carry up the mountain, adding more stress to your neck and back and bringing less enjoyment to what should be an amazing experience. I already know going in that I'm going to have to sacrifice some equipment. But what if I want to take night shots? I will definitely need my tripod. And I know there is going to be wildlife up there. Don't I need my zoom lens? Perhaps when I get everything packed up and on my back I'll be thinking otherwise. But I do want to shoot some night photos, and I know there will be wildlife. I may have to choose between one or the other. Or maybe I can sacrifice some socks and underwear in order to bring both. Or maybe not... For now, this is how my pack list is looking:

Camera Equipment
Canon 5D Mark II (1)
Canon 24mm TS-E 3.5 (2)
Canon 70-200mm 2.8 (3)*
32 GB of CF cards (6)
2x Batteries (9)
Warming Filter (on the 70-200)
Singh-Ray ND graduated filters (5 stops total) (4)
Shutter release remote (for bulb exposures/time lapse)
Lens cloth and 2x Zeiss lens wipes
Rain cover (weighs next to nothing, but is invaluable in wet weather) (7)
Gitzo GT 2531 tripod (5)
Kirk BH-3 Ballhead

Camping Equipment
Tent (11)
Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad (12)
Optimus Terra Cook Set (13)
Sea to Summit Spork
Optimus Stove
Lightweight meals (2x breakfast, 2x lunch, 2x dinner)
Toiletries (14)
Headlamp (10)
Epi Pen
Seat to Summit 13L bag (just in case I need to keep the electronics dry)

Clothing (16)
Columbia shorts
Lightweight pants
3x T-shirts
Lightweight sweatshirt
Columbia lightweight rain jacket (15)
3x Undies
2x Wool socks
2x Sport socks

*This one is still on the fence. We'll see if it makes it into the final cut...

Edit: I ended up bringing both the 70-200 and the tripod. I just couldn't bear leaving one or the other behind. I may have been cursing them on the way up, but I was satisfied and happy to carry the weight coming back down. I wouldn't have gotten some of the imagery I ended up getting without them. However, it made me rethink a lot of the other gear I was hauling up, such as my old inefficient sleeping bag. I will most likely be revising this list as I continue to head into the backcountry. In the mean time, enjoy my next post on the imagery I captured in the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness. 

July 27, 2012

Canon 24mm TS-E

I got the chance to really use my 24mm 3.5 tilt shift lens at the Salt Flats a few weeks ago. It takes a lot more time to set up a shot, but it can produce some amazing results! I actually love taking the time to set up and manually adjusting everything. I've been trying to utilize the tilt function of the lens so that the plane of focus is spread between the foreground and the background. Everything is in focus from the details in the near foreground of the salt to the ridges in the far mountains. Take the above photo for example. Taken at aperture 3.5 and still the foreground and background are in perfect focus. This technique is a bit difficult to master, but I have a feeling I'm going to be using it often. 

July 06, 2012

Location: Cecret Lake

Cecret Lake, Albion Basin, Utah. Canon 5D Mark II, 17-40mm, Singh Ray 3-stop reverse filter, Warming Polarizer.

Last night, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I had envisioned shots like this at Cecret (Secret) Lake for some time now, and I finally got to capture it. I waited through wind and rain just hoping for the clouds to break at the right moment. I have to be honest, it wasn’t looking promising, and I kept thinking about how unprepared I actually was if things were to turn ugly. The rain was getting heavier and my crepe soled shoes (bad idea) had started slipping in the mud. I hiked to a spot I found photographically pleasing and waited. The light was fading and my hopes for a sky full of color were fading with it. It’s all part of the game. Often times the waiting doesn’t pay off. You sit and wait, only to come home cold and wet with grey photos. It’s the times when the waiting and the patience actually pay off that keep you coming back for more, and last night was one of those times.
There were moments of joy and frustration as the rain continued to spit on my most prized filter. The rain was the heaviest when the light finally leaked through, but I couldn’t wipe my filter off, hold it in front of my lens and place it fast enough before drops started to hit it again. The light went as quickly as it came, but I was so stoked about the shots I was able to get that I didn’t care how long it lasted. It was incredible. I didn’t care that I was wet, or that my shoes were muddy. Those things were only temporary. The moment and the beauty will be with me forever.
On my way back down the mountain, I was thinking of the natural wonder I had just witnessed. In my daydreaming and replaying of the last hour, I stumbled upon FOUR moose along the trail. The first sighting was of a mom and baby along the tree line about 50 yards away from the trail. We spotted each other at the same time, and I stopped just as they froze. I slowly crept past on the trail, keeping my eye on the mother. Further down, I nearly ran into a male moose eating along the trail. I must have only been 30 feet from him. With its head down eating the grass, and the low light of dusk, I didn’t recognize its form until he came up to chew his food. He hardly seemed fazed by my presence, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I started off trail to see if I could go around him when I saw yet another in my diverted path. I had to weigh my options for a minute and remain calm as I thought of my next step. I started off trail the other way, giving the male, still in the middle of the trail, plenty of room, and eventually got back on the path. I had never seen so many moose at once! And all so close. I’ll never forget it. 

Dramatic storm clouds and rainbow over Cecret Lake, Albion Basin, Utah.

Before the light hit at Cecret Lake, Albion Basin, Utah.
Cecret Lake, Albion Basin, Utah.

*Please click on photos for maximum viewing.

July 02, 2012

Location: Yosemite National Park

Sunset on Yosemite Valley from the spot made famous by, the one and only, Ansel Adams. Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park.

The last time I was able to see Yosemite, I wasn't really able to see Yosemite. The combination of Memorial Day weekend traffic throughout the one-way loop of Yosemite Valley and low hanging clouds blocking my first views of El Capitan and Half Dome, made for an underwhelming experience. This time it was going to be different. Pre-planning and internet scouting several photo locations for different weather gave me the confidence that this time was going to be a success. Traffic was still apparent, but bearable, and there were hardly any clouds in the sky; perhaps a bit boring for photography, but at least the mountains were visible. I could have used a few more days inside the park, but for the time I had, it ended up being a perfect weekend trip.

Half Dome getting the last bit of light in the valley from Sentinel Bridge, Yosemite National Park.

El Capitan and the Merced River near El Capitan Bridge, Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park.

Bridalveil Falls through the trees, Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Valley and the Merced River near El Capitan Bridge, Yosemite National Park.

Tips for planning a photo trip to Yosemite National Park:
  • Camp inside the park and make a reservation, as they are necessary. I would suggest sites just outside the valley, but still within the park. They are much cheaper ($20 compared to $35) and much less crowded. I stayed at Crane Flat, just 17 miles from the valley.
  • Look at a map of the valley beforehand and study it. I, for one, love maps. Without one, I feel lost. Finding a photogenic scene in this park is not difficult, but it can be a breeze when you know of specific locations you want to shoot. Sunset is the magical hour in this park, but that's not to say sunrise can't bring some magic, too. For alpenglow on the soaring cliffs, sunset is the most promising. Some photo spots I would suggest:*
      • El Capitan Bridge: There is a pullout right before the El Capitan Bridge that looks right over the river and toward El Capitan and the rest of the valley.
      • Sentinel Bridge: Park in the parking lot just north of this bridge. Half Dome is reflected in the Merced River from the bridge and trees frame the Dome nicely. 
      • Tunnel View: It may be over-shot, but this view can't be missed. Weather and light at the right time can make this view really spectacular. 
      • Glacier Point: Explore the area away from the concrete platform and come away with views of Half Dome and both Nevada and Vernal Falls all in the same shot.
  • Bring all your gear. Bring a wide lens, a zoom lens, all your filters, and a tripod. I used everything I had in my arsenal and you will find ways to do the same.
  • And last but not least, explore, be careful and don't forget to have fun!

*There are several other locations that I didn't get to shoot, so I can't really say if they are better or not. However, after my extensive research of perfect photo locations these were the highest on my list.