Cedar Breaks Sunrise

Cedar Breaks Sunrise

Cedar Breaks National Monument lies peacefully under the subtle but brilliant colors of a Utah sunrise

I had seen Cedar Breaks National Monument on maps before and had been tempted to visit on prior trips to Zion National Park. Cedar Breaks is tantalizingly close to Zion but I had always been on my way further east to visit another of Southern Utah’s constellation of incredible state and national parks. Fortunately, we had actually built a visit to Cedar Breaks into our schedule this time and had scouted our shooting location the night before. As it turned out, I was really happy we had done so. The next morning turned out to be pretty cold and it was nice to know exactly where we would be setting up shop.

It doesn’t happen often, but in this case the best shooting location at sunrise was right at the visitors center in the principal overlook. We had a 270 degree view of Cedar Breaks and could quickly move from one angle to another. At one point I had a camera pointed due east and another looking almost west. Having two camera bodies and two tripods was a great luxury since this turned out to be a pretty epic sunrise and there were lots of shooting opportunities. As the sun rose closer to the horizon and eventually over, the view further down canyon and over to the distant mountains just got better and better.

As I normally do at sunrise and sunset, I was shooting series of three bracketed exposures. I may even have had to go to five shots separated by two stops for the first few series. There was quite a wide latitude of exposures needed to bring out shadow detail and not blow out the highlights of the clouds overhead. Eventually there was enough reflected light to drop to three shots and ultimately one exposure. I’m just happy that good technique and modern equipment allow me to capture these types of scenes. The camera simply can’t always capture what the eye can see without a bit of an assist in post-processing.

Cedar Breaks isn’t one of those places where I would recommend staying for a weeklong visit, but it’s definitely a place you don’t want to miss. I think our overnight stay in Cedar City with a chance to take in a sunset and sunrise was a reasonable amount of time there. I drove away appreciating our time there and ready for another visit in the future.

The Road to Cedar Breaks

The Road to Cedar Breaks

The view along UT 14 as it winds its way up from Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument

Since I visit the western US to shoot mostly during the fall, I’ve had the opportunity to see the aspens at peak fall color on several occasions. It’s always a magnificent experience. While planning this trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, I hoped that our schedule, elevation, and an aspen forest would intersect at some point. While at Great Basin National Park, the aspen forest had already turned and shed its leaves. Even so, the park was fun to visit and beautiful.

But, as we headed southeast toward Cedar City, I hoped that a beautiful aspen forest at the peak of fall color would be visible along the way. About thirty minutes out from Cedar City I began to see the mountains rising in the distance. I *thought* I could see pops of yellow on the mountainsides but I convinced myself that it was simply the way the sun was hitting the mountains. As we got closer, though, it became obvious that the large patches of yellow and orange that we could see were actually huge aspen groves. Needless to say, I got pretty excited.

I became even more excited once we dropped off our bags and headed up the mountain from Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument. While on prior trips to southern Utah I had heard of Cedar Breaks and its beauty but I had never visited. So, I was pretty stoked to pay it a visit. What I hadn’t anticipated was the amazing beauty of the road up the mountain. It was one of those drives where we were stopping at least once a mile, and sometimes more often, just to gape at the landscape. I had gone from no leaves on the aspen trees to grove after grove at the peak of their fall beauty. And, I hadn’t even made it to the main attraction yet!

This shot was taken during one of those stops. There was a county park where we parked the car and moved up and down the road for a while. I loved the way that he fence and the road led my eye into the mass of the aspen-covered mountain we had just driven past. The colors were amazing and there were even a few clouds in the sky to break up the otherwise perfect blue sky overhead. The scenery was so beautiful that we utterly enjoyed two or three trips up and down the mountain pass just so we could soak it all in. I hope this image conveys some sense of the beauty of the scene that we experienced.

Take the Long Way Home

Take the Long Way Home

A thirteen-mile long straight stretch of road in the Utah high desert

I’m showing my age a bit, but with apologies to 70s supergroup SuperTramp, I’ve titled this post after their famous song. I was actually in high school when it came out… It just seems appropriate given the length of the highway pictured stretching out seemingly to infinity.

As you might imagine the distance between population centers virtually anywhere in Nevada outside of Las Vegas is vast. It was not uncommon for us to drive stretches of highway where there was thirty, forty, or even fifty miles between towns. And, with few towns and relatively flat ground, the roads could be very, very straight. We finally started guessing how far it would be until we reached the next bend in the road and using the odometer to referee our guesses. As it turned out, parts of adjoining Utah were very similar.

This stretch of Utah state highway 21 was the longest stretch of straight road that we encountered. We started where the road disappears in the far distance and stopped just before a bend in the road immediately behind us in this image. That stretch of road was over thirteen miles long! While I was taking this series of shots, a car would appear and we would still literally have minutes to compose and shoot before the car came even remotely close to us. My only regret from this part of the trip was not having a supercar that we could have opened up to full throttle on these long, deserted stretches of road. Oh well. Maybe next time… Enjoy!

Great Basin National Park Sunset

Great Basin National Park Sunset

The late afternoon light filters through clouds hanging over Great Basin National Park at sunset

I’ve probably mentioned my friend Tom over the last few years. The way I describe our relationship is that he is a hiker who enjoys photography and I’m a photographer that reluctantly agrees to hike when necessary to get a great shot. Tom and I have been friends since I was in college at Georgia State and he was matriculating at Georgia Tech.

One of Tom’s bucket list items is to visit every national park in the United States. So, in the last few years we have fallen into a rhythm of taking trips that incorporate a national park that he (and in most cases, I) have not visited before. That was the case this past fall when we planned a trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona to visit Great Basin National Park followed by various other sites in those states. To be honest, I had no real desire to visit Great Basin, but after some research it certainly seemed worth a look.

I don’t know if GBNP is the least visited national park or not, but it is certainly on the low end of the list. I believe that it averages 100,000 visitors per year. It’s certainly in an out of the way location. GBNP is located almost exactly halfway between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Even more telling the road that runs to the east and north of the park is literally labeled The Loneliest Road in America on Google Maps. It’s the kind of place that you can go quite a while without seeing another person.

On our first night in the park, we set up hoping for an epic sunset looking west toward the horizon. Unfortunately, the spot we picked didn’t have a great view to the horizon. And, conditions weren’t shaping up for a blazing show in the west at sunset. However, as I looked back east, some low lying clouds caught the right amount of light and were briefly a fairly intense shade of pink. I captured this image looking out toward Utah over the Great Basin. It may be a desolate part of the world, but it is certainly beautiful in its own was as well. Enjoy.

Best of 2016

I’m now in the habit of looking over my work at the end of a year and posting my favorite images from that year. It’s a bit subjective and based on the mood I’m in at the time, but I manage to work through quite a few images and pick the ten or twelve that seem the best at the time. So, with no further ado, here’s the best (from a pure photography point of view anyway) shots I’ve taken in 2016. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comment section below. Enjoy. And may the upcoming new year bring you health, happiness, and peace.

Wotans Throne

Wotans Throne as viewed from Cape Royal on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset

These Eyes

A beautiful mural of a boy’s eyes in the Wynwood Walls section of Miami

Sunrise over Seattle

The Seattle skyline and Mt. Rainier as viewed from Kerry Park under an epic sunrise sky

Rising Sun and Fog

The sun rising through valley fog in the Great Smoky Mountains

Great Blue Heron in Flight

A great blue heron flies low over a pond creating a beautiful reflection of herself

Golden Gate Bridge in Fog

The graceful Golden Gate Bridge extends into the fog of a cool San Francisco summer evening

Cades Cove in Fall

Trees along Sparks Lane in beautiful Cades Cove display their annual show of color in fall

Autumn in a Japanese Garden

A small stone sculpture in a sea of leaves fallen from a Japanese Maple tree in autumn

Atlanta from Jackson Street, December 2016

Downtown Atlanta skyline as viewed from the Jackson Street overpass in December 2016

10th Street Lifeguard Stand at Sunrise

One of a string of unique and colorful lifeguard stands on South Beach in Miami, Florida

Golden Gate Bridge in Fog

Golden Gate Bridge in Fog

The graceful Golden Gate Bridge extends into the fog of a cool San Francisco summer evening

This is likely my last post from our California adventure this past summer. And, yes, I know that I’ve already posted an image of the Golden Gate Bridge. But, this one was beautiful enough that I couldn’t resist ending with it.

You see, I had already captured some pretty nice images of the bridge (Golden Gate Bridge and Summer Fog), but I had another image in mind. What I wanted to capture was a night shot of the bridge with a flow of traffic as one continuous light stream. We went to the parking area on the city side of the bridge and I actually found the spot that I needed to get the shot. Unfortunately, that location was completely fogged in and the shot I had visualized just wasn’t there that night.

So, I had to improvise. I began to scout around until I found another angle that would work. Although you can’t see the traffic flow from here, you can see the arch of the bridge deck as it spans San Francisco Bay. You can’t see the towers either, but you I love the way that they disappear into the gloom and fog above. I cranked up my aperture to f/22 to lengthen the exposure yielding beautiful, creamy water below in the bay and a lovely starburst on all the lights visible across the bridge.

All in all, I like the shot – even though it wasn’t what I had in mind originally. Enjoy.

Lavender and Barn Door

Lavender and Barn Door

Lavender in bloom contrasts beautifully with an old barn door in a Sonoma Valley vineyard

On the last few days of our trip to California we stayed in Napa and visited both the Napa and Sonoma valleys. I quickly became educated as to which is which and the virtues that each have to offer. Let’s just say that each is beautiful and each has its own unique qualities. No matter which one is your favorite, neither is a bad place to hang your hat at the end of the day.

Even though we had just met them, we were treated like royalty by our new friends, Andy and Kelli VomSteeg. They toured the area with us and gave us insights that we would never had gotten if we had stayed near our hotel room. In fact, this picture is an illustration of that. On our way from a private winery tour to a dinner party I somehow mentioned that I’d love to photograph a lavender field in bloom. Of course, the only lavender field I recalled seeing was in France. But, they quickly pointed out that there was a beautiful winery nearby that had a lavender field in it. So, I quickly went from wanting to photograph a lavender field to actually standing in one and taking shots. Incredible.

The lavender was planted in long rows that were really beautiful to capture. So, once I had taken my fill, we headed to the car to leave. Literally on the way out I spotted this old shed or barn at the edge of the field. It caught my eye because of the cool farm implements hanging on the door and the way the colorful lavender contrasted against the rustic texture of the doors. Hopefully it’s beautiful to you as well. Enjoy.

Golden Gate Bridge and Summer Fog

Golden Gate Bridge and Summer Fog

Fog rolls through San Francisco Bay and gently shrouds the Golden Gate Bridge

As a tourist, the negative about visiting the central California coast in the summer is that fog can hang around the coast all day long. As a photographer, the positive about visiting the central California coast in the summer is that fog can hang around the coast all day long. (See what I did there?)

As Pamela and I drove up the coast from Carmel Highlands to Napa Valley, we decided to stick to the coast road and go straight through San Francisco. Since it was Fourth of July weekend this was a risky strategy. As it turned out, there were rewards and penalties. The reward was a quick visit to the Golden Gate Bridge and a series of incredible images. We also got to visit a favorite park in the Marin headlands. The negative was a three-hour drive north from San Francisco that could have been only an hour or so. Oh well. The rewards outweighed the penalty but I’m certainly not going to complain about Atlanta traffic anytime in the near future.

We had another opportunity to visit the bridge later in our trip, but it turned out that these shots were my favorites. I love the vibrant orange paint on the bridge contrasted by the blue skies, white clouds, and sea-foam green ocean water. The Golden Gate is beautiful in just about any weather, but she was particularly pretty this day. Enjoy.

Pigeon Point Light Station

Pigeon Point Light Station

Pigeon Point Light Station as viewed from the north on an overcast early summer day

When we visited California this past summer, I took a ton of beautiful images. Now that I’ve developed such a backlog of images to post I’ll have to blitz through a few of these. Here’s an image of a lighthouse that I’ve photographed before. I’d still love to spend a few weeks on the California coast so I’d have a shot at capturing a lighthouse like this one with epic sunset light bathing it and colorful skies overhead. But, that’s not often to be found in the summer season when we are usually in the area. So, here’s a still beautiful version of the Pigeon Point Light Station. In early summer the coastal fog usually descends on the region yielding this beautiful, evenly lit type of image. Enjoy.

Atlanta from Freedom Parkway

Atlanta from Jackson Street, December 2016

Downtown Atlanta skyline as viewed from the Jackson Street overpass in December 2016

The app that I use to forecast sunrise and sunset conditions showed that there was a high chance of a brilliant sunset over Atlanta last night. So, Taylor and I headed down to the Jackson Street bridge over Freedom Parkway to see what might happen. I’ve shot from this location many, many times, but I’ve never come away with the shot I want. Unfortunately, the same was true last night. Conditions were promising, but no blazing sunset over my hometown materialized. Sigh. Conditions were great for the classic twilight view of Atlanta, however. Here’s that shot and here’s to that fiery sunset over the city that I’ve been chasing for a while now.