Dream Lake in the dead of Winter (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Winter in the Rockies are magical – yes any time of season can be defined as magical so what makes the winter different? For me it is the dead silence that envelopes one of our nations most populated/visited national parks. In the summer I’d probably encounter one, if not two other people, on the trails pre-dawn but in the winter….not a single soul. It is just me and the watchful eyes of the elk wondering what the hell it is that I’m doing that early when it is this damn cold!?!

Dream Lake in the dead of Winter (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Dream Lake in the dead of Winter (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Regardless of the temperatures there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing the light hit the peaks as daybreaks on the Rockies. I only wish that during these trips I knew better how to use my GoPro because I would have taped it to a tree and captured the movement of the sun over the mountains as the day announces itself.

Cheetah’s at Sunset (Phinda Game Reserve, South African Safari)

During our trip to South Africa I rented a lens from Borrowlenses.com in order to bring the ‘action’ closer to me. The lens I rented was the new Tamron 150mm – 600mm and it certainly did the trick as I found myself able to zoom in tight and bring the animals right to me. For example, in this image the cheetah’s were probably 20 or 25 feet from our safari vehicle but because I had the long lens I was able to zoom in tight and frame this shot perfectly so that this guy and his brother were both in the shot as the sunset over the horizon. I intentionally let the light leak into the frame as I wanted the image to be warm and for the sunset ‘feel’ to be established without actually bringing in the sky. I did have to wait several minutes with the camera up to my eye for the cheetah in the front to do anything interesting but finally he looked towards us and yawned – clearly he was ready for us to move on as well.

Cheetah’s at Sunset (Phinda Game Reserve, South African Safari)

Cheetah's at Sunset (Phinda Game Reserve, South Africa)

Sunrise over Cottonball Basin (Death Valley National Park)

Finding interesting patterns in the Cottonball Basin of Death Valley National Park is not as easy as it seems when you look at this picture and geometrical shapes seem to spread out as far as the eye can see. The reality is finding these types of patterns in the direction that you want to see the sun rise or set is one of the challenges of taking interesting pictures of Death Valley National Park. The prior day I walked 6 – 8 miles back and forth across the Cottonball Basin and dropped pins on my GPS so that I could re-locate the spots in the dark the following morning. I wound up dropping around 8 pins – taking test shots during harsh lighting – and then deciding on which location to revisit the night before while scrolling through the photos on my laptop the night before.

Sunrise over Cottonball Basin (Death Valley National Park)

Sunrise over Cottonball Basin (Death Valley National Park)

Cape Town from Table Mountain (Cape Town, South Africa)

We went to the top of Table Mountain twice during our trip Cape Town – the first trip was foggy and the views were unique but less impressive than they were on the second trip when the sun was shining and the blue sky stretched as far as the eye could see. With the view I needed to take a panorama to bring the whole scene together so I took 17 individual pictures and merged them into a panorama in Photoshop. Because of the size of the image the one below is a smaller size than I normally post but if you have the time (and patience) to click on the picture, load in ‘original size’ and zoom in and see all the details it is quite impressive!

All of the focal points of Cape Town are shown in this picture. From left to right – the cable car from the bottom to the top of table mountain is on the left, Lion’s Head (another famous mountain with spectacular views) which trails down to Signal Hill and leads to the Soccer Stadium that housed the most important matches of the world cup in South Africa a few years back. Off in the distance is Robben Island which has been used over the years as a prison and held Nelson Mandela during his 18 of his years spent behind bars.

Cape Town from Table Mountain (Cape Town, South Africa)

Cape Town from Table Mountain (Cape Town, South Africa)

Giraffes in South Africa

With a body type like a tall camel and spots like a cheetah the giraffe – despite its height was surprisingly elusive in the wild. You’d think that spotting their heads above the trees would be easy but alot of times they have their heads slightly bowed as they are constantly eating. However, when we did find them they tended to be in tight knit groups with a couple of adults and baby/small giraffes with them. They were more skittish than I expected and often took off when the safari vehicle would stop a little too close – they were surprisingly fast.

Our guide did use the giraffes to track the lions though since you can follow their eyes to locations of dangerous predators – which for adult giraffe is really only a lion. Smaller giraffes are hunted by other big cats – like the cheetah – but once they are of substantial size they are a tougher target unless the cats are extremely desperate.

Giraffes in South Africa

Giraffes on a Hill (South Africa)

I took a lot of pictures of giraffes but I liked this one because of the openness of space behind it them heading into the distance. There is really so much land out there supporting the wildness of all these species. It was a great experience to watch the animals behave in the wild compared to just seeing them in a zoo.

Mount Rundle from Tunnel Mountain Road (Banff National Park)

A spot that is often mentioned by photographers as one of their favorites for sunrise is the Hoodoos Viewpoint on Tunnel Mountain Road that provides views of the backside of Mount Rundle, the Bow Valley and the hoodoos (small, jutting rock formations). Maybe I just haven’t gone at the right time of year or have experienced bad light but it isn’t one of my favorite spots. I went through some old images this evening and this was among my favorites but it is still not one that I’m in love with. From this angle Mount Rundle just doesn’t look as majestic as I think it does from the other side (Vermillion Lakes area, Two Jack Lake Area, etc…). Given my viewpoint on the aesthetics of the peak it is probably not a mystery that I have a dozen or so images of the mountain from the other side but only a handful from tunnel mountain road.

Mount Rundle from Tunnel Mountain Road (Banff National Park)

Lion Cub (Phinda Game Reserve, South Africa)

Before going to Africa I rented a lens from Borrowlenses.com and it sure did come in handy. The Tamron 150mm – 600mm lens was a (relative) bargain compared to some of the more ‘professional’ lenses and it worked great even in low light at the end of days while we tracked tiger cubs in the bush of Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa.

Our guides on this excursion were great and in Phinda (unlike in our game reserve) the guides are able to off road and track the animals throughout the bush. Our guides followed the footprints of this family of lions and located them lounging underneath a tree. Due to the cubs being in the area we couldn’t get very close to them since the female and younger males were protective of them. Thus, we kept a respective distance and I focused through the trees on the cubs to try and capture their expressions as they wrestled with each other and climbed trees in the background. The Tamron lens did its job and I came out of the situation with a lot of nice shots (like the one below) where the curious cubs are trying to figure out what it is that the weird humans ooohhhing and ahhhhhing are doing.

Lion Cub (Phinda Game Reserve, South Africa)

Tiger Cub (Phinda Game Reserve, South Africa)

Sunrise over Zabriskie Point (Death Valley National Park)

Millions of years ago there was a giant lake sitting at the base of Zabriskie Point – covering the location I was standing in when I took this photo last year. The rising/falling water levels and erosion that it caused formed the badlands in the foreground of the image.

A popular spot for sunrise in Death Valley I spent the morning with about twenty other photographers sipping coffee and commenting on the colors in the sky. The highlight of sunrise from this point is actually the mountain range that is directly behind where I’m standing here. Unfortunately, the wispy clouds that turned so colorful in the minutes before the sun came above the horizon prevented the sun from hitting the mountain and so most people who spent the morning out there left disappointed with the outcome. I made the best of it and got a few usable shots – like this one and a couple that I’ll eventually convert to black and white of some heavy clouds over the mountain.

Sunrise over Zabriskie Point (Death Valley National Park)

Sunrise over Zabriskie Point (Death Valley National Park)

Sprague Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

We should have already landed in Cape Town a week from now for the start of our African Vacation. We’ve been planning it for almost a year and a half and it is finally here – crazy how it sneaks up on you as we still have a lot to finish up this week in preparation to be gone for over two weeks.

The image below is from one of my favorite and easiest landscape photography spots in Rocky Mountain National Park. An easy trail winds around the lake from the parking lot and brings you to this spot which – in the summer – has these two rocks prominently occupying the foreground of the image. I know I’ve posted a lot of Sprague Lake shots in the past but the blue sky in this one and clouds reflecting in the lake make it one of my favorites for non-sunrise/sunset times of day.

Sprague Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Sprague Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Sunset over Joshua Tree National Park (Joshua Tree National Park)

In Joshua Tree earlier this year I was pretty fortunate with two really nice sunsets during my only two nights in the park. I spent the afternoon driving all throughout the park to different locations looking for some nice Joshua Trees to put in the foreground. I also wanted to catch the hills (or are they mountains?) in the distance. The Mojave desert is one of the only places in the world where the joshua trees grow so I definitely wanted to make them one of the stars of this image.

Sunset over Joshua Tree National Park (Joshua Tree National Park)

Sunset over Joshua Tree National Park (Joshua Tree National Park)

In Lightroom I cropped the image a bit to remove some of the distracting foreground and also added a vignette and a little more vibrance to the colors.