And have you seen my new video? It’s only 90 seconds long, but it packs in some spectacular behind-the-scenes timelapse clips and images, along with the resulting photographs, photos by Enrico Fossati, and lots of information about our upcoming workshop in the Dolomites. Yep! All of that in 90 seconds!
About this photo:
I feel as though I got this photo only because I managed to slink into the location under the cover of night, while Murphy and his Law weren’t looking. A month before I shot this, I worked the same composition for three sunrises in a row, and each time something went horribly wrong. I’d say it was a comedy of errors, except that I was distinctly unamused by it all.
It all seemed so easy at first. With only the light of the moon and my headlamp to aid me, I stumbled upon this composition one morning after wandering away from my friends who were working a field of mud tiles further to the east. I was pretty bleary-eyed and still not thinking clearly at that early hour, but when I knelt down to investigate these curving cracks, I instantly noticed the alignment with the moon. So I plopped down my tripod and went to work. I had no idea at the time that this composition would become a “white whale” for me. During that first attempt to shoot it, my remote shutter release developed a short and wouldn’t stop taking pictures all on its own. The next morning, in a sleep-deprived stupor, I neglected to tighten the panning knob on my ballhead and then unwittingly swiveled the camera out of position. And the morning after that, I abandoned the comp midway through sunrise to chase some meager clouds—only to watch those clouds sail backwards (i.e. towards the west!), over to where I had originally wanted them. I could almost hear the clouds laughing at me. Grrrrrr.
Oh well, at least I learned a lot about shooting this composition during those three ill-fated attempts. The first thing I learned was that it was possible to catch the moon setting into the dip between the peaks. I also learned that there is a small window of time when the warm ambient light picks out the textures on the mud tiles at dawn. And just as important, I learned how little wiggle room I had with this composition before it would fall apart; the slightest changes in height, lateral positioning, or angling would wreak havoc on different features of its forms. It was so tricky to find that exact place where the forms gelled that I twice decided to leave my tripod set up overnight while I returned to camp a mile away. My friends decided to do the same, since they were working equally delicate compositions. Yep, we got everything dialed in and then left thousands of dollars of gear unattended in the middle of the desert! (Lest you should think that we’re crazy, I should note that this is a very remote location, so our biggest worry was that a coyote might use a tripod as a fire hydrant. And, okay, we’re also crazy.)
Alas, none of those outings produced a shot that I wanted to process; so, armed with the observations and practice from them, I planned my next trip a month later. I worked out when the moon would be in the right place again and got there as soon as my schedule would allow, which meant rolling in well after dark, with only hours to spare. This time I traveled with David Kingham, whose impressive driving skills got us down some sixty miles of dirt road at night so that we could catch the sunrise (of course an expert night photographer would also have masterful nighttime off-road driving skills!). The fourth time was the charm in this case. That morning’s sky was glorious, and our stealthy nighttime arrival allowed me to sneak up on this view and catch it looking awesome at long last.
Would you like to join me on an adventure? Well here’s the good news…I will be conducting a workshop in the Italian Dolomites with co-leader Enrico Fossati. If a trip to Italy during the second week of July for some sweet action sounds appealing, be sure to get in touch with me so I can add you to the workshop mailing list.
More info here: Dolomites Workshop
For prints and licensing of this image, please visit my website.
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Sandy River Basin from Jonsrud Viewpoint・Sandy・Oregon・USA
Soft morning sunlight bathes a mixed Douglas-fir and black cottonwood forest partially ensconced in fog in this view of the Sandy River basin from high atop Jonsud Viewpoint. I was rolling with my boy Jeff Chen, who amusingly asked en route if he thought we’d be the only ones there to take in the sunrise. I knew there was little chance of that, what with this being just a mile off the main thoroughfare through the town of Sandy, Oregon, a common waypoint for Portlanders heading toward Mt. Hood by way of its southwestern approach. Not only that, we were cutting things close having decided at the last second to switch our morning destination from Chanticleer Point to here.
Sure enough, we managed to squeeze into the last remaining non-RV parking spot and wedged in tight between several other photographers already there. As I was setting up my gear, the gentleman to my left suddenly turned to me: “Are you Tula Top?” I don’t think he noticed, but I regarded him cautiously. After quickly but occultly eyeing him up and down to make sure he wasn’t harboring any scary shiny things on his person (e.g., badge, hand cuffs, gun, shanks, syringes), I replied in the affirmative. “I’m David Leahy, nice to meet you!” he said. And Facebook shrinks the world yet again.
It truly is flattering to have someone I’ve never met before aside from online circles recognize me in the field, but it’s happening more and more often. As you can see, David’s one heckuva photographer, and he managed to capture Mt. Hood on this morning in a dramatic fashion that I couldn’t quite pull off myself. Instead, I decided to focus on the vapors slithering through the forest like a white serpent and took advantage of the 300mm reach of my lens to compress the view. David came away with a similarly atmospheric image captured before the sun fully gained the eastern hills.
I came to learn that David is a schoolteacher, and a wonderfully dedicated one at that. Between frames we talked about his profession, about how I could name all of my homeroom teachers through grade school (Mrs. Zollo, Mrs. Klaas, Mrs. Cripe, Mrs. Irvine, Mrs. Schneider, Mrs. Klass again, and Mrs. Phelps) and how much gratitude I owed them for their patience and guidance. No jokes here: teachers are a wholly undervalued and underappreciated lot. Next to parents I think they hold the greatest ability to shape the character and enrich the experience of our youth, and those that took that supreme responsibility to heart will always hold a special place in mine.
So please, carry on, good sir. It was a privilege to meet you. 🙂
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