Tag Archives: travel photographer

The Moment: The Matterhorn Eclipses the Moon

A nearly full moon passes behind the Matterhorn's summit.

It took nearly an hour to discover what was happening.

We had hiked up to this meadow just outside Zermatt, on the trail that eventually leads to Zmutt and the North Face of the Matterhorn. It was getting hot, and Varenna was inspecting the gravel on the trail, handing her best specimens to Mom, and then pushing her stroller like the big girl she was proclaiming to be (“bick guhr! bick gurh!). We were all content, and not planning to go too far. After all, this appeared to be it: the iconic view of the Matterhorn, the one that conjures visions of alpenhorns and men yodeling “Ri-co-la” into the crisp glacial air.

But as we turned to head back to town, the moon was suddenly quite noticeable and on a very interesting course.

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The Semi-Complete Shooters Guide to: Lucerne

The Chapel Bridge, Jesuit Church and a moored boat, Lucerne, Switzerland.

Lucerne is said to be one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. I still have a lot of Europe to cover, but its hard to imagine a cleaner, more idyllic, more photogenic city than Lucerne. The place seems designed for postcards, coffeetable books and small 1-inch-by-1-inch decorative chocolate wrappers.

To get my best shots in Lucerne, I made my way to these places:

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Switzerland: Desaturated, and in Black and White

A banner cloud drapes around the summit of the Matterhorn near Zermatt, Switzerland.

(Click on images for a larger view)

I recently spent two weeks touring around Switzerland with my wife and our one-year-old daughter. It was a magnificent trip — one of those get-it-out-of-my-system-now kinds of trips while Varenna is young and portable. Ha! That’s at least what we thought when we booked the trip in January. She’s a bit more … mobile, shall we say.

But we had a very good time, and ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised with the images I returned home with. In the moment, we both were a bit distracted trying to keep our daughter entertained, engaged, and safe. We worked hard every hour of the trip, just not on photography. Or so it seemed.

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Kauai Through a Tilt-Shift Lens

Hanalei Valley Lookout, Kauai, Hawaii (tilt-shift)Hanalei Valley Lookout; Canon 45mm TS-E, ISO 400, 1/3200 sec, f2.8

I’d hesitate to say I’m “into gear.” I’d rather read a personal finance blog than the Digital Photography Magazine Buyer’s Guide. In writing, gear is just not interesting.

Where things get interesting for me is when gear enables new techniques. Last year, I used BorrowLenses.com to rent a 200mm prime lens and a 24mm tilt-shift for Holy Week in Mexico. To have two new weapons in my bag made the week’s imagery 100% better. The 200mm allowed for more intimate candid shots during the processions, while the tilt-shift opened up hundreds of doors of creativity for my cityscape and architecture. It was like shooting in a third and fourth dimension.

For Kauai, I once again rented two lenses: this time, a 24mm–105mm zoom lens (a must for the helicopter tour) and a 45mm tilt-shift lens. Once again, the tilt-shift rocked.

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6 Photography Tips for a Kauai Helicopter Tour

Aerial photos of the Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii.(Click on images for a larger view)

While on Kauai, Hailey and I took a 90-minute helicopter tour of the island with Jack Harter Helicopters. The tour was billed as a photographer’s tour because it went slower and took its time with each section of the trip. Because of this alone, I highly recommend it. Kauai’s interior and much of its coastline is inaccessible (to most of us) and seeing it by air is really the only way to truly get a sense for the island as a whole.

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Final Stop – Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The Springs Inn, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

To end the trip with fresh peaches, or to end the trip with hot springs? That was the question.

And an easy question at that. For 10 years now, I’ve been wanting to take my wife to Colorado’s best hot springs: The Springs Inn in Pagosa Springs. The only issue was its distance from Denver. A full six-hour drive. Hey, let’s do it together for the first time with a five-month-old, right?

In truth, it would be right on the way back from Mesa Verde, and rather than do the entire circuit in reverse (start in Pagosa, move to Mesa Verde, up to Telluride, back home through Palisade) we thought a long soak would be the proper conclusion to this road trip.

The Springs Inn, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Amazingly, nothing is close in this part of the state — at least by Denverites-with-an-infant standards. From Mesa Verde National Park it was two hours to Durango, and because of construction, another two hours to Pagosa. By the time we rolled into the Springs Inn, checked into our room, and changed into our suits, we were dying for some sulfur-mineral-water therapy.

Yes, that’s right: I said sulfur. These springs are delightfully stinky.

The Springs Inn, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

But as Hailey quickly found out (I’ve been a defender of sulfur for years because of this place), the big stink about the stink is simply overblown. For one, I think the smell has toned down over the years. Secondly, the high mineral content feels exceptional on the skin and has healing properties (and that’s not B.S. — I had a long skin ailment years ago that wouldn’t go away until I visited these springs. It’s been gone ever since).

The Springs Inn, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Six hours of tackling the hot springs in shifts was just what we needed, though it would have been nice to soak in the pools together after dark a bit more (ya know, little girl’s bedtime, someone’s got to babysit, etc.).

We’d need as much tension reduction as possible, because the next day was brutal. The six-hour drive took nine because of all the breaks Varenna required. The road trip had finally got to her, and her car seat had become her mortal enemy. But we rolled into Denver seven days, five peaches, four tanks of gas, one breakdown and 51 diapers later. It had been a remarkable trip, and as we found out, Southwest Colorado has remained the most remarkable part of Colorado.

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Mesa Verde National Park – Cedar Tree House and Long House

(Click on images for a larger view)

Mesa Verde National Park has long been on my list. Located near the Four Corners and home to an extensive network of abandoned dwellings from the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, it is a magical place I should know well. After all, it is in Colorado and its an UNESCO World Heritage site (so is Macchu Piccu, the Roman Coliseum, and the Pyramids of Egypt).

But time and distance had conspired in my head to keep me from going. Why? It is 8 hours by car from Denver … so is Billings, Montana.

I last visited when I was two years old. Naturally, that shouldn’t count as “having been there.” However, one of the earliest memories of my life is from when we went into the kiva at Cedar Tree House (below). I think it stands out to me because we descended a ladder into a hole in the ground. That’s got to mess with your head when your that young.


So we arrived at Mesa Verde after another long afternoon in the car. Varenna had slept for much of the uneventful journey, but by the time we weaved through the emerald gambel-oak forest that covers the mesa just inside the park entrance, she was kicking and screaming. Emotionally, I kept feeling like we were being selfish for going on this trip, but the wonderful thing about six-month-olds is how short their memory is. One stop, one good break to roll around on a blanket, and everything is right with the world again.

After checking into the underwhelming Far View Lodge (run by ARAMARK, a hospitality company that only works where it has no competition: like stadiums, national parks, college campuses, etc., explaining why the standards for food and bedding are so low), we gently buckled Varenna back up and drove 20 minutes south to see the only dwelling we could reach before sundown — Cedar Tree House (left in second photos above), considered the best preserved dwelling, and home to the reconstructed kiva that you can climb down into.

By the time we reached it, however, it was closed for the day, gated off across the grotto, with a phalanx of 50 to 60 vultures watching vigil over it from the trees above. It appeared that a forest fire had at one point reached the top of the dwelling and been beaten back. The sky burst into lavendar and pink, and an eerie silence permeated the whole scene. No wonder the Ute Indians didn’t like this mesa after it was abandoned. There was definitely a haunted vibe. The only sign of life came from a family of turkeys on the rocks above the dwelling who humorously chased the vultures.

The next day, we traveled to Wetherill Mesa, which practically comprises half the park but only sees 20% of the park’s visitors. There we took a hiking tour to Long House with a nasally, patronizing guide who — despite her smarter-than-you tone — provided an impressive amount of information on the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, their way of life, and their subsequent disappearance from the mesa. Long House was especially fascinating because of the seep spring at the back of the dwelling, which filled cups chipped into the stone drip-by-drip (above right). How they were able to keep the entire population of the dwelling hydrated off this meager faucet is mystifying, amazing and admirable.

There was also an amazing structure hanging above the dwelling (below), apparently reserved for food storage.

Taking photos on a guided tour can be a little awkward (“uh-huh, uh-huh <click> … I’m listening <click>”) but its the only way to gain access to the dwellings, and for good reason. They would certainly get trashed (accidentally by the klutzy and intentionally by the greedy) if they weren’t heavily policed and patrolled. Even backing up to frame a shot, I had to be careful not to bump into an ancient brick wall.

Maybe if you gave tours to people like me, you’d take on a patronizing tone over time.

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Time Out … Fall Color Preview


Going to briefly interrupt the Southwest Colorado trip with a quick preview of this past week’s trips to Steamboat Springs, Snowmass and Aspen for fall color in the Rockies. We usually have an autumn trip to Steamboat, but this year we added another to the middle part of the state. It’s pretty cool when you can compare and contrast fall color locales in the span of a week. Steamboat was a bit past prime, and a little less vibrant than previous years (but still gorgeous), while Vail (which we only passed through) had all the colors of the aspen spectrum.

We were in Snowmass so I could attend the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism. I spent much of the time in conference rooms, banquets and exhibit halls, while Hailey and Varenna got to explore. By Friday, however, I was liberated from the indoors and allowed a few hours to see Maroon Bells (above), the most famous mountains in Colorado, if not North America. They were stunning.

More to come … but first I’d like to plow through the rest of Telluride, Mesa Verde and Pagosa Springs.

And for the record, after these past three months, I am more in love with Colorado than ever before.

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Telluride, Colorado – Part 1

The New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado(Click on images for a larger version).

There is something to be said for living in a fantasy world. Check that: there is something to be said for visiting a fantasy world … for a few days.

Telluride defies description — at least one without hyperbole. Such as “the prettiest town in the United States.” (OK, there. I said it.) But for all of its majestic grandeur and quaint homeliness, it is a not a place that one would call “down-to-earth,” “approachable,” or “realistic.” We toured an open house — a 2500-square-foot Victorian two blocks off main — that was going for $3.2 million. I witnessed a morning rush hour on quiet little Lizard Head Pass that consisted of commuters driving in from Rico (28 miles south), and maybe even Dolores (67 miles south) — all flocking to this enchanting little town to work in the wine bars, day spas and five-star hotels. How this community functions is a bit of a mystery, but it does function. It functions magnificently. I want to go back. I’d put it on top of my U.S. destination list all over again.

Hotel room in the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado

And incredibly, in late August, it wasn’t too steep. We stayed at the New Sheridan Hotel on Main Street (that’s Varenna in our room, above) for less than $175. In the middle of winter, that would go for about $335. We ate a superb dinner, one of the best meals of the year, at 221 South Oak Restaurant for the same price as pretty much any nice sit-down restaurant in Denver. Hey: we were on vacation. Why not? And when you consider the crappy room we paid more for in Mesa Verde (not to mention the regrettable $13 “Navajo taco” Aramark doled out there), Telluride seemed like — gasp! — a great value.

Main Street in Telluride, Colorado

Still, this thought about people actually living there would not leave my head. Maybe it was because the night before, while eating dinner in an empty dining room at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, I told Hailey I could retire to Ridgway. It is gorgeous there as well, but it also felt cozy, livable, and … realistic. Telluride? It just didn’t add up how you could get to a point in your life where that was attainable.

Full moon over Telluride, Colorado

But ask me now what the highlight of our late-summer trip was, and I wouldn’t hesitate. It was this place. I’m a sucker for massive mountains, waterfalls spouting off in every direction, lush greenery everywhere you go. I like my scenery without subtly, and if I can have a medium-rare elk chop with asparagus and lingonberries for dinner beneath that landscape? Sold.

Panorama of Telluride, Colorado under a full moon(Hello, I’m a great big panorama … click on me for larger version)

Night one concluded with an amazing scene on Main Street. A full moon rising over the San Juan’s at the end of the valley. It was one of those stirring scenes you can’t turn away from. They happen all the time in Colorado, but this one was especially gripping. I stood out in the middle of the street with my camera on a tripod, firing off exposures trying to get it just right. Trying to put in perspective the magnificent beauty of these mountains … until a drunk stumbled out of the New Sheridan and asked me for a good burger.

Like I said … it’s nice visiting a fantasy world for a few days.

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Colorado National Monument at Dawn

Colorado National Monument at Dawn

(Click on images for larger version … especially this shot)

Falling a bit behind in updating the blog from our Southwest Colorado trip. Things take priority sometimes: you know, like a full-time job and life with a six-month old. Funny how every spare moment — mornings, nights, weekends — I want to spend with her. Just finished getting her down for bed and now I’ll be off on a business trip for three days. So it goes.

Colorado National Monument at Dawn

But odds are, I’ll have regular updates through the end of the year with this trip, next week’s trips to Steamboat Springs and Snowmass, and then our mid-November journey to Kauai. Good to have new material, for sure.

On the Sunday morning of our trip, I awoke at dawn … groggy, gross and overheated. The hot evening and sleeping on the ground had left me feeling less than ideal. Now would have been a great time for coffee (or a bucket of ice to dunk my head in), but again, we weren’t too adept at this camping thing, so we didn’t have any way to make coffee. We brought breakfast: 12 crummy Target cereal bars. That was it. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Colorado National Monument at Dawn

Varenna, however, was her usual spry self. Kids can sleep anywhere. In the future, we’ll camp because of her, not because of us. It won’t be because we thoroughly enjoy it (just being honest: after all, this was the first time we’d camped since we got engaged) or because we love making cowboy coffee over a fireplace. We’ll camp to experience her reaction to it. And that’s assuming she’ll love it (after seeing how she is in the outdoors, I’m fairly certain she will). And then as a result, we will love camping.

We set out along Rim Rock Drive around 7am, catching some of the most brilliant golden light I’ve seen in Colorado.

Colorado National Monument at Dawn

We experimented with lens flares, shooting into the sun, and comparing the way the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 40D handled the light. In fact, in some instances, the same shot came out better on the Canon 40D (I have no idea why).

Colorado National Monument at Dawn

By 8:30am we were back at the campground packing up. Onward through the rest of the park along Rim Rock Drive, a stop for brunch in Grand Junction, and then a two-hour drive to Ridgway at the foot of the San Juan Mountains. The drive was uneventful through the monument, but twice we heard a weird knocking sound — once pulling into a turnout and again on a steep switchback. Both times while turning. We didn’t think anything of it.

Colorado National Monument at Dawn

But a mile outside Delta, Colorado — at a speed of 65 mph — it occurred again and there was no way to ignore it. A bang followed by a high, straining whir of the engine. I began to slow down significantly, and noticed the steering wheel was like lead. It took about a quarter mile to stop in the shoulder, but I got it there in one piece. Varenna slept through the whole thing.

Was it a blowout? Nope. A quick walk around the vehicle disproved that theory. When I restarted the car, the transmission light, the oil light, the check engine light and the parking brake light were all on (even though the parking brake wasn’t engaged). That helps.

Colorado National Monument at Dawn

Long story short, it was the power-steering belt. It flew off because the mechanics who replaced it the week before forgot to clamp it down. For the entire drive from Denver down I-70, up Rim Rock Drive, around Colorado National Monument (alone) in the dead of night under a full moon, this belt spun and somehow didn’t fly off. Fortunately, it didn’t destroy anything else in the engine when it came off, and after a tow to Montrose and a drop off at the airport, the three of us were in a rental car headed to Ridgway to salvage our itinerary. We arrived in one piece at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, the perfect place to chill out after such an episode.

By Monday morning, the belt was replaced, and by noon we’d retrieved the car and were headed to Ouray and then Telluride. Vacation saved.

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