Friday, October 23, 2015

A Day in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Lewis Falls,  Yellowstone National Park. 

Departing Yellowstone National Park to the south, you pass Lewis Falls on the Lewis River just below Lewis Lake.  There are a number of scenic stops that you can make along Jackson Lake, but campgrounds there were closed or full, so we headed towards the large Gros Ventre Campground down near the Jackson Hole Airport and the tiny town of Moose, Wyoming.  Fortunately Gros Ventre had room, and the cottonwoods were stunning in their yellow fall colors.

Smartphones are a great resource while you travel, whether looking up lodging and restaurants, using a map program to navigate, or Google Earth to look for unpaved roads to explore.  It's best for a smartphone's battery life not to keep it plugged in all the time, and to let it get pretty well discharged before charging it back up again.  There's no telling where your devices might be in the charge-discharge cycle when you stop, but when I'm not driving, I can top off my devices in a campground using a 10,000 MAh battery.  You don't expect to lose your vehicle as a power source, but on this trip I did, so it was good that I had an alternate power source to ensure that we'd have enough power to call for a tow truck!  

The LG G4 phone I was using for some photos on the trip has 32GB memory but, only 16GB after apps and OS, so it was at 1% remaining space when I took this.  The SanDisk memory stick charging here is also a Wireless Memory Stick that works over wifi, so I had it automatically back up all photos from the LG G4 as I took them.  I'd periodically delete a few photos from before the trip, since I was pretty sure that I had them at home, and they were backed up to the Wireless Stick anyway.  When I hit a hotel room every few days, I could plug the wireless stick in to my laptop like a standard USB memory.  (It could do that wirelessly in a campground as well, but I use laptops with 17" HD screens, which have short enough battery life to be more convenient to use when connected to power.)

Devices attended to, we could settle in for dinner and a glass of wine.  It was a clear day, so there was no need to rush out for sunset.  We had picked up a 2014 Larch Hills Marechal Foch Reserve, from the North Okanagan wine region in British Columbia, Canada.  I had never tasted a Marechal Foch before.  Now I have.  It had a very different flavor profile than more common red wines like cabernet or syrah.  It was more like Argentinian malbec meets "young wine" (think Beaujolais), with perhaps a trace of residual sugar.

The next morning we headed over to nearby Mormon Row and the popular Moulton Barn.  I forgot that we had passed some long, deep, muddy puddles in the road on our way to the campground the evening before, so when I came upon the first one, rather than stop and go around it seemed wiser to click on the 4WD and just power through, sheets of water and mud spraying out to the sides.

There were only a couple of people at the barn when we arrived, but it quickly got more crowded.  There wasn't anything exciting going on in the sky, so the scene of photographers was about as interesting a subject as anything.

The area just to the north of this is known as Antelope Flats, and true to its name, a buck antelope had a few girlfriends alongside the road.  It being close to mating season, at times he would spontaneously jump around and prance and dance, either to impress them or simply as an outlet for his excess energy.  If they noticed, they pretended to ignore him.
We went back for breakfast, packed up the campsite, and spent the day enjoying the changing light in Grand Teton National Park, as well as checking out the fall colors along nearby Forest Service and 4WD roads.  I wanted to drive by Jackson Hole Ski Resort and picture it with a coating of snow.  Maybe I'll return for some skiing in a few months.

Jackson Lake was nice and calm when we drove by, so there were some nice reflections of Mount Moran.  Oxbow Bend was calm as well, with the added bonus of bright yellow aspen reflecting in the still water of the oxbow.  I've encountered moose here on several occasions, and moose, elk and grizzly bears at Willow Flats just to the west, but this time people at the Oxbow Bend turnout were looking across the water for a moose they had seen over there.

Other animals were pretty much in their usual places.  Horses were feeding in a large field north of the historic Cunningham Cabin, and across the Jackson Hole Highway bison were feeding in their usual place on the Wolff Ranch.  Bison were also near the northern end of the Mormon Row barns.  In the evening, several bull elk near Teton Park Road south of Jenny Lake were bugling to warn potential challengers not to try to take their harem of cows.
There were a few sporadic clouds in the air during the day, so for sunset we found a nice spot on Jackson Lake to watch them turn color.  A slight breeze during the most intense color gave way to calmer air as sunset transitioned towards blue hour, so that phase yielded the best reflections (photo below).  We had a very nice dinner at nearby Signal Mountain Lodge.

We returned to Jackson Lake for sunrise the next day, which I describe in my next post:

End of the Road for My SUV!

Sunset at Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Thursday, October 22, 2015

End of the Road for My SUV!

First light on the colorful aspen at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Canon 5D Mark III)
The day started like any other fall day on the road: the pink over blue Belt of Venus light leading to a  sunrise, golden hour light and calm morning reflections, fall colors, then driving to the next location on the itinerary.  Usually I don't finish the drive in a tow truck, with my SUV on the back!

Let's talk about the good news first.  Sunrise on Jackson Lake was uneventful, with no clouds, but gorgeous nonetheless.  The Belt of Venus color can be fantastic if you know how to coax its color out of the sky and into your camera, and the pastel pink and blue tones on this morning didn't disappoint.

Fortunately the lake was calm, so the colorful light show in the sky was doubled in the water.  As the sun approached on the eastern horizon, the Tetons were bathed in golden light.  So far it was shaping up to be a good day.

Not far away was Oxbow Bend (above), where colorful aspen trees were lighting up in the first rays of the sun.  There was another spot to the east which had a nice stand of colorful aspen in front of Mt. Moran as well.

Schwabacher Landing (LG G4)
A few miles south on the way to Jackson was Schwabacher Landing, which can get really crowded at sunrise, but it wasn't all that crowded by the time I arrived.  The sun was behind me, but with a little bit of waiting and some coordination with people walking by, I was able to get some shots without people or shadows in them.  The Tetons here make a long, narrow subject, perfect for the 16 x 9 aspect ratio of my LG G4 smartphone, but it was out of memory.  It has 32GB of memory, 16GB of that left for photos.  The LG G4 has a microSD slot for memory expansion, but I was using one microSD in my GoPro, and had misplaced my spare.

Fortunately, prior to the trip I had been asked to try out the 32GB SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick.  It looks like a USB flash drive that you'd plug into computers, but it connects to your smartphone via wi-fi.  Earlier in the trip I had started a complete gallery backup from the LG G4, and not only did that transfer over 4200 existing photos, it also transferred new photos as I took them.  So all I had to do on the smartphone was delete old photos, since they were already backed up.  I also filled my 64GB iPhone 5S with photos on this trip, and I was able to back up files from that as well, then delete them on the phone.

SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick with iPhone 6S+
Smartphone memory issue solved, it was on to Jackson for breakfast, grocery shopping, then I could move on to the next area to shoot.  In this case, the location change was from Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming to Salt Lake City.  I should return home from there to prepare for a workshop in 2 weeks, but "shoulds" are for wimps.  Having invested so much time and so many miles to get that far, I could extend the trip underway to swing through Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and continue on to Colorado to catch fall colors in Aspen, at the Maroon Bells, in Telluride and Ouray before returning home.  I'd still have a week to get ready to go back out.  Or I could wait until next year, but something could come up and it could end up being the year after that.  Heck, I may not live that long.  Life and time are precious; there's no time like the present.

But as the saying goes, life is what happens when we're busy making other plans.

Somewhere between Jackson, Wyoming and Salt Lake City, a few miles south of the small town of Cokeville, in the middle of extensive hay fields, and outside of Verizon's service area, the Explorer made a noise.  An unhappy noise.  A warning noise.  A message in the dashboard was trying to tell me something, but driving into the bright glare of the afternoon sun, I couldn't read the fading light of its aging display.  Then it was gone.  Everything was apparently fine.  Without a warning indicator, the infamous "check engine" message, I couldn't use the engine code reader to give me some clues.

The peace didn't last long.  The light came on again, I was able to read it this time, and "Low Oil Pressure" meant that I needed to pull over ASAP.  The road was elevated with essentially no shoulder.  Just as I spotted a driveway coming up across the road, the engine cut off, so I had to wrestle the now-powerless steering and brakes to cross oncoming traffic and bring the vehicle to a stop.  The stall could have been an engine safety shutdown, but I would need to have it towed to somewhere where a mechanic could assess the failure.  Fortunately Lori Hibbett had flown in to Seattle to join me earlier in the trip, and her AT&T phone had one bar of service, so we could call for a tow.

It was late on a Friday afternoon, so Salt Lake City 150 miles to the south would be the best option for finding a mechanic working on a Saturday.  Thank goodness for premium roadside assistance plans covering tows up to 200 miles!  Not being able to look up shops or do a lot of calling to identify a shop open Saturdays, we had the SUV towed to the Courtyard Marriott at the airport so we'd be able to catch a shuttle to the airport and rent a car to get around.  When we arrived, I called every mobile mechanic in town, so see if one would come out late on a Friday or early Saturday.  No one called me back Friday, even the places which supposedly worked 24 x 7, but Saturday morning I did get a single call back, and the mechanic was there less than an hour later.  At first he was optimistic that the oil pressure sensor may have failed, since it had clearly been worked on, but he eventually tried to turn the engine with a large wrench, and it was seized.  The oil was topped off and there was no coolant mixed in from a broken gasket, so the mode of failure most likely had to do with the oil pump itself, possibly the timing chain which drives it.

Although I had kept the vehicle in immaculate shape to get me in and out of remote places, and I had recently put another $1000 into it to hopefully get another 100,000 miles out of it, the book value was only $2000 and a rebuilt engine would cost more, so it was a total loss.

One shuttle to the airport and one rental minivan later, we were leaving at noon for the 8-hour drive home.  Of course the minivan had weather stripping on both sides of the windshield that whistled loudly over 50 MPH, at what sounded like the exact frequency of my SUV's warning beep!  A couple of stops and a few feet of gaffer's tape, and the whistling minivan was silenced.

The following day I was able to locate a place that would buy my vehicle using its pink slip in Reno, but pick it up in Salt Lake City a couple of days later.  Done, except for the fact that I lost the vehicle and its $2000 value, plus expenses associated with the breakdown.  I guess that I need to come up with my next project, and include a new vehicle in the budget for it.

After the trip, I bought an Apple iPhone 6S+ using the Apple Upgrade Plan, and the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick worked like a charm with that as well.  Although the USB connection is mainly to keep the Wireless Stick charged, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when I plugged it into my laptop, it worked like a USB drive as well, and I was able to copy photos from all three smartphones directly to the laptop.

Although we think of hard drives as being a weak link in our photography toolkit (right behind vehicles), smartphones also fail, often by being dropped in water, so I'm glad to have to have an easy backup solution for the photos on mine.  If you think that you might want to pick up a SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick for storage expansion, backup, or wireless transfer of files among your wi-fi capable devices, SanDisk has given me a coupon code to offer you 30% off:

It handles a lot more than smartphones and photos, you can stream music or HD movies to up to 3 devices at once.  Learn about the product here: or watch a product video: 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SanDisk . The opinions and text are all mine.

Final Leg Home, Without My SUV

Uh oh, "Low Oil Pressure"!
After a breakdown on Friday and a diagnosis by a mobile mechanic on Saturday, it was time to drive from Salt Lake City, Utah back to Topaz Lake, in the Eastern Sierra on the California/Nevada border.  We reserved a rental full size SUV at one agency to fit our gear in, but it was unavailable when we showed up.  They tried to pawn off a RAV4 as full size, then substitute a pickup truck at 2X the price, but we eventually found a minivan elsewhere at a much more reasonable rate.

From our refuge at the Courtyard Marriott near the airport, we were on the highway west in minutes.  Crossing the rest of Utah and all but the last few feet of Nevada would be a trip of over 550 miles, about 8 hours.  First you pass south of the Great Salt Lake.  We had to pull off near a Morton Salt facility due to a very loud whistling sound, caused by the weather stripping on both sides of the minivan windshield.  Copious amounts of gaffers' tape later, the musical vibrating minivan was silenced.

Next you cross the Bonneville Salt Flats, for about an hour.  Near the far end is where the Bonneville Speedway is, where drag races are held, land speed records are broken, and many car commercials are filmed.  This week none of that would be happening, since a heavy rain had left standing water on much of the salt flats, and water-softened rock salt elsewhere.  There were reflections in the water and mirage reflections int he distance, and it was impossible to tell the difference between the two until you were close to the area that you thought had been flooded from a distance.

From the Nevada border to Wells there were some interesting mountains.the Toano Range and the Pequop Mountains. From Wells you can see the colorful aspen-decorated Humboldt Range, where I've camped at Angel Lake in the past.

Immediately after Wells was the exit for Deeth, where I encountered interesting and chaotic weather on a photography trip to the Rocky Mountains in the fall of 2006.

Next you can see the Ruby Mountains, where aspen appeared to be in peak color.  It was tempting to look towards Nevada's best-known leaf-peeping site or Lamoile Canyon and consider the trip out and back from Elko, but the drive today would be long enough without adding side trips to it.
The center of the state tends to be pretty dry and uninhabited, which is either beautiful or barren, or both.  It's not hard to see in the middle of the state how important mining is to the economy, as you pass mining machinery for sale, roads with names like Newmont Mine Road, and the mines themselves, with mountains of tailings growing toward the sky.  The boom and bust cycles as people chase one resource or another also tend to leave some interesting abandoned towns and facilities that can be interesting to explore.

We exited US-80 by Fernley, home to a large warehouse, and continued through Yerington, where we were treated to a moonrise during sunset.  The following evening the moon would rise entering a total eclipse.

The trip started September 7 with Lassen Volcanic National Park, passed through the Olympic Peninsula, to the Canadian Rockies, then down the Rocky Mountains to Grand Teton National Park.  It ended September 26 with the return from Salt lake City.  I was hoping to add a week-long extension to Colorado to enjoy fall colors there, but life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.

Returning early would give me time to prepare for my two-night photography workshop in Bodie State Historic Park.  Besides, if I'd have to be replacing my SUV, I had that unplanned expense to deal with... good thing I didn't have the breakdown another 600 miles further from home.  But if you do take long trips, I can't say enough for roadside assistance plans which give you the protection of a tow up to 200 miles!

I'm going to post the story of this trip on my blogs in installments, in reverse order, so that once they are all posted, they can be read straight through in chronological order to the end, no matter what section new readers may arrive in.  Here's the new post describing the prior day, leading up to the loss of my SUV:

Total lunar eclipse, as seen from home at Topaz Lake on September 27, 2015

Planets, Orionids and Zodiacal Light

Meteor with Venus, Jupiter and Mars rising in zodiacal light during the Orionids, October 22, 2015
Who saw or photographed some Orionid meteors over the last night or two?  In the photo above, a meteor crosses over the path of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, rising in zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower around 5 am this morning, October 22, 2015.

Although the streak is clearly a meteor (note the characteristic green color), technically it's not an Orionid, since the radiant point for the Orionid meteor shower is out of the upper right corner of the frame.  So this meteor is traveling at nearly a right angle to what its trajectory would be if it were one of the Orionids.

It may however be a Leo Minorid meteor, since its radiant point is to the left of Venus Jupiter and Mars this morning.  The Leo Minorid meteor shower peaks the morning of October 23, but it is a minor shower with an estimated 2 meteors per hour, but minor showers sometimes have an unexpectedly high rate, so tomorrow morning could offer a surprise from the Leo Minorids along with after-peak Orionids.

There are also random, sporadic meteors, particularly in the early morning, as your position on the earth rotates to the leading side of the earth as it travels through space rotating around the sun.

The Zodiacal light is sunlight shining off of dust in our solar system, the light tilted up from the lower left in the photo above.  You can experience the Zodiacal light, or false dawn, this time of year when a a pyramid-shaped glow can be seen in the east an hour before dawn's first light (or 80 to 120 minutes before sunrise). This light is caused by sunlight reflecting off of dust particles in space in the same plane as earth and can resemble the lights from a city. It is tilted to follow the same ecliptic plane that the planets travel in.  Zodiacal light is best seen under dark skies, in places with minimal light pollution.  You can catch the Zodiacal light for another 2 or 3 mornings this month, but after that the moon will be too full and it will no longer set early enough to leave you with a dark enough sky to see this pre-dawn light.

You can see the Zodiacal light as the planets rise in this time-lapse video captured this morning before and twilight light started to brighten the sky:

Venus, Jupiter and Mars in Zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower this morning

Monday, September 28, 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse September 27 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015: wide angle time-lapse and 640mm effective live action footage from the total lunar eclipse last night.  The partly cloudy forecast and webcam images didn't look all that promising in the Eastern Sierra yesterday afternoon, so I ditched my plans to pursue one of several compositions that I had worked out, and I stayed home to see if the moon would make any appearance at all.

I watched for about an hour after it was supposed to rise at 6:44, but there was no sign of it, so I left my camera shooting a sequence of images for a time-lapse video, and I went back inside.  A few minutes later, the fully eclipsed moon was visible through a break in the clouds, from 7:56 - 8:06.  I came back out a while later, but the moon was behind the clouds, so I didn't know that it had made a brief appearance until I reviewed the images later!

As the moon was more than halfway through the partial, umbral phase coming out of total eclipse, it emerged from the clouds and starting lighting up the clouds and landscape with increasingly bright light.

As the face of the moon returned to fully lit in the penumbral phase of the eclipse, there was a nice halo of color around the moon, so I set up a second camera to capture that.  I used my Canon EOS 70D with the EF 70-200mm f/4 IS L Series lens and a 2X teleconverter, for an effective focal length of 640mm.  The clouds were moving pretty quickly, so I also captures dome live video of the clouds moving across the face of the moon.  I had the camera on a sky-tracking mount, so the moon remains essentially still in the frame.

I didn't shoot where I expected or capture what I anticipated, but by being there to catch changes in the weather, I captured some interesting results.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

See the Supermoon Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight!

Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015
September 27, 2015, 6 pm -  See the "supermoon" total eclipse tonight!  For watchers in the Rocky Mountain states, partial eclipse begins at 7:11 pm local time, so look outside now!

For those of us on the West Coast of North America, moon rise occurs closer to sunset, in a little over 30 minutes.  Here in the Eastern Sierra, local moon rise is around 6:44 pm and sunset is around 6:47 pm, depending upon how far north or south you are. The moon will clear the horizon to the east right around sunset, well into its partial eclipse phase, and be fully eclipsed from 7:11 - 8:23 pm. Then as the moon exits total eclipse, it will be in a partial eclipse for over an hour more.

For more specific eclipse phase timing in your region, see the article at

Photography notes from the April 5, 2015 lunar eclipse:

Lunar eclipses are a fun challenge, in part because they push the limits of your equipment.  The image above was captured at 4:51 am during the April 4 lunar eclipse this year, about 6-7 minutes before totality, so there was a sliver of bright sunlight on the moon.

The Canon EF 70-200 f/4 IS lens was well focused, but shooting any lens at it's maximum aperture tends to result in slightly less sharp images.  Adding more glass elements such as the 2X teleconverter further challenges sharpness.  Adding a teleconverter also reduces the f-stop, in this case 2X to f/8.  I wanted to stay at or below below 1 second exposure time to reduce motion blur, and at ISO 1600 I could use 0.6 second.  The high ISO also creates a little bit of noise, which can also challenge fine detail.

I had changed my shooting location when the weather forecast made the original ones I had identified look less attractive with below freezing temperatures, high winds, and possible clouds to obscure the eclipse.  I decided to just catch what i could from home.  I was shooting a time-lapse sequence, and shooting at 400mm I had room to lengthen the exposure time as the moon darkened, but  and the moon set just before totality.

I had my Canon 70D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount to capture a time-lapse of the eclipse progress without the moon moving out of the field of view.  at 300mm the effective focal length was 480mm, but shooting wide open at f/5.6 that lens was a little softer than the EF 70-200mm and 2X teleconverter combo, even with the moon's relative motion taken out of the equation.

I was basically using the 5D Mark III to measure and track exposure as the eclipse progressed and the moon illumination constantly changed.

The 70D / 70-300mm combo is a lot lighter than the 5Dmkiii / 70-200mm / 2X combo.  Heavier camera bodies and longer, heavier lenses can sometimes cause various problems with sky tracking mounts, but it may be worthwhile to test the 5Dmkiii /70-200mm / 2X setup on the sky tracker and backing off of the maximum aperture and a stop or two on the ISO to get more sharpness and less noise, lengthening the exposure time.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015


Comet Swift-Tuttle only passes the earth and circles the sun once every 133 years, but the earth passes through its trail of dust every year.  The debris field is large, so Perseid meteors may be seen on nights from July 17 through August 24.  The earth passes through the most dense portion of the comet's dust trail on the night of August 12-13, so that is when the peak, or maximum hourly rate of meteors, is seen.

On any given night, the sun sets as your position on the earth rotates away from the sun, then around midnight you rotate to a point directly opposite the sun. As the earth also moves in its orbit around the sun, your position on the earth is just starting to rotate to the side of the earth leading its movement through space, which collides with more debris. So meteor rates go up starting at midnight. At dawn you're approximately in the middle of the face of the earth as it flies through space, so meteor rates continue to climb slightly towards dawn. So the best bet in the evening is after midnight, in the last hours of darkness before the dawn's oncoming light brightens the sky.

This year I pursued the Perseids on the mornings of August 9, 11, 12 and 13. The best viewing was on the peak morning of the 13th, as expected. The composite photo above shows many of the meteors that my camera picked up over the course of nearly four hours.

I also assembled a time-lapse video that condenses several hours of meteor activity into seconds of video. You can see it on Vimeo here:

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015 from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

Not everything that moves in the video are meteors; the meteors are the brief streaks of light, the slower ones are airplanes.  As you see the Milky Way and stars move, that is from the rotation of the earth. You can also see smoke from forest fires.

According to Wikipedia, Comet Swift–Tuttle has been described as "the single most dangerous object known to humanity". But don't worry, its next close encounter with the earth isn't expected until the year 4479. With a nucleus 26 kilometers across, if there were an impact, the force is estimated to be 27 times larger than the one which formed the Chicxulub crater beneath the Yucat√°n Peninsula in Mexico, which is believed to have caused the extinction the dinosaurs.

Doomsday preppers take note, you only have 2464 years to get ready!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower is Underway

Comet Swift-Tuttle only passes the earth and circles the sun once every 133 years, but the earth passes through its trail of dust every year.  The debris field is large, so Perseid meteors may be seen on nights from July 17 through August 24.  The earth passes through the most dense portion of the comet's dust trail on the night of August 12-13, so that is when the peak, or maximum hourly rate of meteors, will be seen.  The rates will also be high throughout the August 11 - 14 period, so you can look for Perseid meteors any or all nights this week.

Below is a video that I assembled in 2009 from several nights photographing the Perseid meteor shower.  It is a time-lapse video that condenses several hours of meteor activity into seconds of video:

Not everything that moves in the video are meteors; the meteors are the brief streaks of light, the slower ones are airplanes.  As you see the Milky Way and stars move, that is from the rotation of the earth.

You can also see haze that is smoke from forest fires that year.  I may have similar challenges this year due to the fires currently raging during California's drought.  Already the photo I captured above from last Saturday night is darker than usual, due to smoke from a wildfire.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Find the World's Coolest Toilets for Lonely Planet

If you are on the photo sharing site +500px , they have put out a call for licensing bathroom pictures on behalf of +Lonely Planet​.  Their example is an outhouse photo, so your favorite outhouse photos from Bodie should be fair game!  

For the photographers joining me in Bodie this Saturday, look for opportunities in golden hour light, without the daytime crowds as we access the park before it opens and after it closes.

The contest is much broader than just outhouses, so see what other ideas you can come up with as well.  You can find more details on the "Find the World's Coolest Toilets for Lonely Planet" opportunity here.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Planning Sunset and Sunrise Landscape Photography with TPE 3.3

Sunrise at Topaz Lake on the California / Nevada Border
Planning landscape photography has traditionally been a process of considering a combination of location and weather.  If you have a general understanding of the geography of a region, you could look at weather forecasts a few days ahead of time and anticipate where and when the best photographic opportunities might present themselves.  During the course of a day you could modify your plan even further, and decide where to be for sunset based on where you see the best cloud formations developing, and where enough breaks in the clouds might let light through.

In recent years the availability of maps and satellite imagery online in programs like +Google Maps made the location planning easier.  The availability of fairly detailed weather forecasts days in advance through the National Weather Service made the choice of where to go in a region a little easier.  Apps like   +The Photographer's Ephemeris added lines to show the direction of the sun and moon at any time of day or night, so you could anticipate the exact sun rise and set time, general sunlight illumination during the "golden hour" before sunset and after sunrise, as well as anticipate the location of the moon.

Forecast for August 2, 2015
The latest version 3.3 of The Photographer's Ephemeris uses the SkyFire service to check weather forecasts to predict sunrise and sunset color, and show a color-coded overlay on a map of the region your're in.  The more red the color, the higher the probability of sunset color,  The mroe blue to clear it is, the lower the probability. You can see the forecast two to four days in advance depending upon what level of service you'e enrolled to receive.

Another handy feature of SkyFire is to compare forecasts for a list of favorite locations that you've saved, so you can decide between locations to drive to, in order to have the best odds of a nice sunset.

I've tested these features a number of times now, and they do well at predicting when there will or won't be sunset color.  Weather forecasting is notoriously imprecise, so of course you can't predict the direction or extent of the color, but so far the correlation between the SkyFire forecast and the outcome is impressive.

Here's the sunset that actually occurred with the forecast shown to the right for August 2:

Multi-day SkyFire forecast on TPE
The multi-day SkyFire forecast format is shown to the right. The bright red box showed a potentially vivid sunrise opportunity at Lake Tahoe.

The SkyFire service is an optional in-app purchase for TPE, with prices as follows:

Top In-App Purchases

  1. Location Synch (1 year)$0.99
  2. Skyfire Plus (3-months)$14.99
  3. Skyfire (3-months)$9.99

There is also a new location synchronization feature, which finally enabled me to sync my iPhone TPE with my Windows TPE.  There was a procedure to do it before that I had not been able to complete.  With this new method it was quick and simple.

If you don't already have TPE, here's a link that you can use to find it in the Apple iStore:

The Photographer's Ephemeris - Crookneck Consulting LLC

Crookneck Consulting also offers a Photo Transit app which enables you to anticipate what focal length you'll need to capture a certain field of view to get the shot that you want:

The Photographer's Transit - Crookneck Consulting LLC

I'm also testing TPE 3.4, so I'll probably have some details on that for you shortly!

Another sunset accurately predicted by SunFire

Monday, July 27, 2015

New California Landscape Photography Guidebook Coming Soon

Photographing California - South, landscape photography travel guidebook
Photographing California - South, my new landscape photography guidebook
I'm one step closer to being able to ship you a copy of my new guidebook to the best landscape photography locations in California, from Yosemite National Park south.  I received the first sample copy, express-shipped ahead of the boxes and boxes of copies which will ship to retailers.

In the next few days I'll set up a purchasing link for pre-orders and author-signed copies, so I've set up a mailing list with a sign-up form below, where you can opt in to hear about its availability:

Notify me when the book is available

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California landscape photography guidebook by Jeff Sullivan

The book covers a lot of what you'd expect, including Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park, Channel Island National Park, Pinnacles National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Devil's Postpile National Monument, and the California Coast from Santa Cruz to San Diego.  It includes many state parks and beaches, sites on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Natural Landmarks.  I weighted coverage by scenic and photographic value, so the Eastern Sierra gets separate chapters for the Mono Basin, Mammoth Lakes area, Bishop Area, and Lone Pine to Mojave.

Most of the locations covered can be reached easily by car or via a short walk, but also included are a few stunning destinations best reached using high clearance or 4WD vehicles, overnight backpacking, or horses.  In all, over 350 photos are provided to illustrate over 300 locations, and many site entries reference additional nearby areas worthy of additional exploration.

Mammoth Lakes chapter
The photographic potential of a site can vary by season and by time of day, so I advise readers on both seasonal timing and when the light is best.  Where there are special technical photographic considerations such as optimal focal lengths or filters to use, I describe those as well.  Seasonal considerations can include the angle of the sun, wildflowers, fall colors, peak waterfall flows and special events such as lunar rainbows. Somehow I packed this all into 320 pages!

The book is the latest volume in the publisher's series covering many Western states, and an ebook version will be available as well.  This project was a massive undertaking, taking twice as much time as I expected, about 5 years.  To complete the book I drove a distance roughly equivalent to halfway to the moon.  Death Valley alone warranted approximately 20 visits to explore new locations, even after having already visited the park that many times already over the prior 5 years as well.  I'm crazy about nature, landscapes and photography, so I'd do it over again in a heartbeat.  Completing this book was the experience of a lifetime!

California landscape photography guidebook by Jeff Sullivan
I'll recoup my travel expenses slowly and it may be years before I get anything extra to cover my time, but I keep the retail markup on the author-signed copies, so your direct purchases through me provide maximum support for this project.

If you prefer free shipping copies from an online book retailer, no problem, I'll have a link for ordering it through my "astore" there, and even the few dimes more in commission I'll receive from using that link will help greatly towards making this project viable (compared to ordering it directly there without my affiliate link).  You can also order it alongside other books in the series, once the listing for my book goes live.

I'm generally fairly shy and not really comfortable asking for things, but if you tell your photographer friends about this book, it you buy copies for birthday or Christmas gifts, or even just "Like", comment on, or share my social media posts to help spread the word on it, you'll be doing me a huge favor.  Thanks in advance for your support, in any form it might take!

California landscape photography guidebook by Jeff Sullivan
Based on the success of this book release, I'll decide whether to move right into another travel guide.  If I do, what would you like me to cover next, Nevada, the High Sierra, Wyoming or Montana?  Drill down in more detailed regional guides (Yosemite, Death Valley, Eastern Sierra)?  Something international, perhaps Patagonia or Iceland, or more developed travel destinations like Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey?  Tell me in the comments.  If I can pick my next project now, I can set it up on  Kickstarter and use this first book as one of the rewards for your support on my next one.

Last but not least, thanks to everyone who cheered me along over the years, on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Google+, 500px, YouTube, Vimeo, PInterestWordpress, Tumblr, and here on Blogger,  You kept me going on this long road (looong road).  Thanks also to my photography workshop customers, you kept food on the table, a camera in my bag, a computer on my desk, and my car in working order.  I have a few more Bodie night photography and interior access dates left in 2015, and as the book sales go into autopilot as retailers pick it up, I hope to resume the Yosemite, Death Valley and Eastern Sierra workshops that I've offered in the past, and add dates to my calendar shortly.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Yosemite With Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot

I picked this gem up at the winery in September 2000
Happy Birthday Mom!
I really enjoyed my last bottle of 1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards merlot while waiting for our dinner reservation at the +The Ahwahnee Hotel on Thursday. I've been hoarding it for most of its nearly 17-year life! It held up remarkably well, particularly for a merlot, thanks to its ample concentration from growing on well-drained mountainsides, and its original balance of tannins and mouth-watering acid. The only unfortunate part was that I don't have any more, so I'll need to make a road trip to +Pride Mountain Vineyards, up on Spring Mountain between Napa and Sonoma Counties, sometime soon.

The 1998 merlot was so good, when I saw the 2012 Pride Mountain Vineyards merlot on the wine list with dinner at the Ahwahnee. There were 12 of us who came together in the park to celebrate my mother's birthday.  I don't think that she had eaten there before, so the meal was a special treat for her during the family reunion week.

Prior to moving to photography full time I was a wine broker, and before that an avid wine consumer as I worked for various Silicon Valley high tech companies. I attended major wine industry tasting events and held weekly blind tastings with friends. I eventually published thousands of tasting notes on the Internet, starting with a home page on my AOL account in 1995 or so.

Needless to say, I found some great wines and wineries.  I added the labels of some wines that I enjoyed in an album on Google+ and one on Facebook... the wines I enjoyed once scanners became inexpensive enough to attach to PCs.

I still stop at wineries whenever I have the chance as I travel.  It's nice to enjoy wines for their own merits rather than primarily in the context of business, but there's no reason why I can't share my latest finds, much like I did with friends back in the 1990s and early 2000s.

I originally typed my tasting notes into a spreadsheet, where I could 
sort the data, but I was also able to add columns for HTML code, and easily paste it all into Web pages.  It seems to work well for blog posts too.  Here, for example, are some of the other times that I enjoyed Pride's '98 merlot:

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 02/16/03 - The rumors of this wine's demise have been greatly exaggerated, it's still delivering the goods. Thick and syrupy supple black fruit with an ample but very well integrated tannin backbone, this is a merlot for cabernet drinkers. Its prodigious mass and subtle herbal notes on the finish may have some enthusiasts crying "oak", but this is the controversial vintage that the winery insisted spent only about 15% of its life on new oak. This is mountain fruit from a cooler climate than the Napa Valley floor, so neither characteristic rings any warning bells on my palate and I didn't pick up caramel/vanilla/smoky/graphite notes that dominate many well-oaked wines. Instead, I simply pair it with a cabernet meal (bacon-wrapped filet mignon in this case), hang on and enjoy the ride. With supporting acidity hiding behind the waves of fruit and mouth-tickling tannins, I predict that this wine has years of life left ahead of it. It may well slip into an awkward/backward period in mid-life, like some Sullivan merlots can (the 1990 comes to mind), but many hardy souls will enjoy this wine over much of the next 10+ years. 92

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 06/15/01 - Wow! Blackberry, exotic spices (asian five spice), cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, INTENSE, plush, supple earthy notes in the background. 93 *

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 05/13/01 - Smooth and supple, vanilla, spices, smoky, ample concentration without being clumsy. 93*

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 11/14/00 - Creamy, with coffe and spices. Closed. 92

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 09/02/00 - Dark fruit, tarry blackberry, dry and tight with good acid on the finish 92*

1998 Pride Mountain Vineyards Napa County 64% Sonoma County 36% Merlot $38.00 05/05/00 - Dark with a big, ripe, Bordeaux-like nose, firm blackberry mountain fruit, wonderful texture, tarry, smoky finish, rustic tannins, decent length. 92*

Given how easy it is to paste HTML code, I should look into getting my database back online! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in the Eastern Sierra, June 23, 2015

I read online yesterday that a particularly intense solar magnetic storm might enable the aurora borealis to be visible across much of the United States, as far south as San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. I could see from early results posted from the East Coast and Missouri that the event was progressing as expected.

The aurora borealis tends to be strongest in the location on the earth opposite the sun, and at 11 pm the aurora forecasting apps were showing the strongest magnetic field dipping down in the middle of the United States, so I had roughly one to two hours before that strongest part of the storm would reach us in the Western U.S..

The best visibility of the aurora would be to the north, but I live south of the light pollution from the Carson Valley and Minden/Gardnerville Nevada. There is also the Washignton Fire sending smoke in that direction, so I headed a few miles south then up into the Sierra Nevada to get further from lights and above the smoke.

Partway up the steep road I shot to the north, but the light pollution was too great, so I continued higher.  I tried shooting more to the east to cut out light pollution to the north, and there was a promising increase in green and red color in the sky, but common airglow can cause both of those colors, so I needed to try shooting a sequence of images and create a time-lapse video to see if the red-pink color on the horizon would dance like you see in aurora videos.

Sure enough, there was some aurora color on the horizon, and it gained in strength, shooting upwards into space and dancing across the sky:


I shot the time-lapse video from the high, dry, clear skies of the Sierra Nevada, near the Little Antelope Pack Station above the town of Walker, California:

For comparison, I also shot the sky more to the south- southeast, to get a reading of the ambient green and red airglow colors in the sky.

It was cool to see the aurora borealis all the way down here along the California - Nevada border.  The forecast for tonight isn't quite as strong, but it's a rare opportunity that is hard to resist, so I may have to go back out and try again!

The rays of red light could be 65 miles high above the earth, and 600 miles north!

Washington Fire South of Markleeville Grows

Smoke from the Washington Fire obscures the sun, as seen from Topaz Lake Sunday afternoon 
It's always interesting living in the Eastern Sierra, perhaps never more so than when you wake up one morning and discover that a wildfire is heading your general direction.  That was the situation yesterday as the Washington fire burned near Ebbetts Pass and Silver Peak in California's Sierra Nevada.  The fire started Friday, and by Sunday morning it had grown to 350 acres.  But the forecast for Sunday was dry and windy, so it had been identified as being a "red flag" day with the highest possible fire danger.

The Washington Fire near Silver Peak
Heading up on Highway 89 over Monitor Pass, the fire could be seen near Silver Peak, still fairly well localized, but with growing winds sending the smoke towards the Double Springs neighborhood and Simee Dimeh Summit.  Highway 4 was closed from Ebbetts Pass to its intersection with Highway 89 over Monitor Pass.

Depending upon the wind direction, the fire could head towards the town of Markleeville in Alpine County, California, over Monitor Pass towards Topaz Lake on the California/Nevada border, or towards neighborhoods in Nevada along Highway 395 between the two.  The most immediate concern was the town of Markleeville if the fire spread north, but with trees dry from drought and two days of high winds in the forecast, the fire could easily jump the East Carson River and head into Nevada.

Highway 89 over Monitor Pass
Early in the morning the smoke was a gray color and not too dense, although it spread over the landscape for many miles.  The winds grew quickly though, fanning and spreading the flames, and the smoke spread higher and became more thick.

The edge of the smoke plume over Topaz Lake
By mid-afternoon the wind had shifted to center the smoke plume between Simee Dimeh and Topaz Lake, and the color had turned more orange-brown.  The light filtering through the smoke turned the landscape orange.  Winds were gusting over 45 MPH, and the fire was reported as spreading quickly through 6500 acres, jumping forward via wind-carried embers.  Highway 89 over Monitor Pass had closed, residents south of Markleeville had been evacuated, and residents in town were put on notice.

The smoke as seen from Leviathan Mine Road
By early evening it seemed like a good idea to get an update on the fire's location and direction, but online updates can be sparse and vague.  With the high vantage points around Monitor Pass closed, the next best option would be to see what could be seen from the north/northeast.

Leviathan Mine Road departs Highway 395 at Simee Dimeh Summit and heads to Highway 89 on the west side of Monitor Pass, but it crossed directly under the dense, now tobacco-brown smoke.  But the road entered into the smoke that showed the fire's path in the wind.  Without better information on the fire's location and speed, it would not be wise to enter the area.

I captured some photos and video clips from a safe distance north of the smoke, then returned to Highway 395.  Heading south from Simee Dimeh to Topaz Lake, the smoke had darkened to dark brown.  It was so dark, vehicles had their headlights on.

The wind died down in the evening, so the spread of the fire slowed and the smoke less dense.  As of Monday morning, the acreage of the fire hasn't been updated since yesterday afternoon, but the fire has been reported in Bagley Valley south of Highway 89 and Heenan Lake, so the fire has crossed the East Carson River.  It has also been reported north of Highway 89, so it has also crossed the only paved roads between the original fire location and the neighborhoods along Highway 395.  With another day of wind gusts up to 40 MPH in the forecast, we just have to hope for a wind direction which will not bring the fire too close to homes before the wind subsides and the firefighters can work on the advancing edges.

The +Pacific Crest Trail Association published this map earlier today showing the extent of the fire:
I'll upload more photos to DripThat, a new app and community which facilitates the telling of stories through pictures, video and text.  You can find the DripThat app in the Apple App Store (Android soon), and you can connect with me in the community to see more of my photos from my road trips:

This information is on behalf of dripthat.