Last month my older brother and I planned a long overdue backpacking weekend up in Yosemite, to retrace some of the steps we took 19 years ago in Tenaya Canyon.  It was a fun badly-needed three days of nothing but hiking, camping, and photographing amongst granite and pines.We spent the first afternoon in thick fog, backpacking our way up a steep granite dome near Olmsted Point, the second day cross-country backpacking down its wide, long arête then navigating down another steep granite wall into Tenaya Canyon.  We sat and ate lunch on a granite slope dipping our feet in a small pool of rainwater, and as the afternoon light began to fade, we set off searching for a campsite for our second night out.  Working our way through a dense forest and criss-crossing the almost dry Tenaya Creek, we decided to each take a side and see who might find the optimal location to set up camp.  After a few minutes my brother yelled out, “this looks like a nice spot”, and I meandered over to inspect it.  The campsite was perfect – just 25 feet or so from Tenaya Creek, one flat area next to some pines perfect for a tent, a few logs positioned nicely as chairs, and a round glacial erratic granite boulder with a small fire ring built into the side- ironically the only evidence of a past campsite we found in the canyon, yet easy to overlook.

After setting up camp, building a fire, shooting sunset over Half Dome, and cooking dinner, the stars began to appear at twilight.  As we sat cooking apple sausage over the first, I broke out my gear again to see what I might capture that evening.  I soon realized the scene I wanted was to include the campfire, the granite boulder, and the stars, but I wasn’t sure which angle would work best.  After setting up a few shots moving around the erratic, and settled in on a view that would include the campfire.  Understanding exposure well (having written a book on the subject), I knew I’d have to wait for the fire to dwindle down to a small glow in order to have its exposure match the faint glow of ambient light from the stars above.  

When that moment came, I mounted my Nikon D800E DSLR onto my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and Acratech GP ballhead, attached my 12-24mm lens, framed a vertical composition, and began shooting, alternating between ISO 800 all the way up to ISO 3200.  The campfire was still too bright, so while waiting patiently I thought of another idea – to use the light from my headlamp to illuminate the area surrounding the boulder, to add depth and dimension to the foreground.  Firing my shutter for the long exposure, I would move to the right of the boulder, turn on my headlamp, “paint” the area quickly with light, shut it off, then wait for the exposure to complete.  With each frame, I fine-tuned my light painting to make it look as natural and subtle as possible.  This was the result:

 

The orange glow of a campfire blazing against the granite boulder glacier erratic, below the star-filled night sky including The Milky Way, Pleiades (bottom right- also known as Seven Sisters, Messier object 45 or M45, an open star cluster), Cassiopeia (upper middle left –  a constellation in the northern sky), and the Andromeda Galaxy (upper right – a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth, also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224).  I exposed this scene with my lens set at 18mm, in manual mode, spot metering, for 15.0 seconds using f/4.0 at ISO 1600.

Granite is my all-time favorite type of rock.  There is an energy it gives off that makes me feel so happy.  If I had a previous life, I must have slept on it staring up at the stars because it always feels like home.  Fittingly, granite is an igneous rock, which means “born from fire”, red hot fluid rock that cooled slowly allowing crystals to form within it. So maybe a mimicked nature’s creation with my own creation.


I call this image my ode to Stephen Lyman.  Stephen was a painter who works I greatly admire.  I recall falling in love with his romantic rugged scenes of the Sierra, small campfires glowing at twilight surrounded by granite landscapes.  Sadly he died what he loved doing, off on another trek to find new inspiration, his body recovered from a rocky ledge near the Cathedral Rocks area of Yosemite National Park in 1996.  An experienced outdoorsman, he was only 38.  If you’d like to view some of his great works of art, visit: http://lymanprints.com/

 
I look forward to making a very large print and matting and framing it for our living room.  Hopefully the photo will sell well in my image library, maybe as a magazine cover someday, definitely as a fine art print.  Regardless, it’s one I’m proud to have captured, and a memory with my brother I’ll never forget.
 
For more on experiences in Tenaya Canyon, check out my September blog post talking about our trip 19 years ago: http://www.the-photoguru.blogspot.com/#!http://the-photoguru.blogspot.com/2012/09/into-tenaya-canyons-abyss.html

KOLO CONTEST for all my photo friends, fans, followers!  
 
 
I put this out to all my Facebook, Twitter, & Google+ photo friends last week, but no one has added a review for my current book, so I wanted to blog about it as well.

 
The first TWO people to post a review of my book on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-Nature-Photography-Professional/dp/0817400109) will receive a coupon code for a free 11×14 Kolo frame.  You can personalize by adding a photo, which Kolo will print (at roughly 8×10), mat, frame (in the 11×14 frame of your choosing) and ship to your home- about a $50 value.  This is only valid for US and Canada customers.  
 
 
 
I printed one myself, a photo of my wife and I (taken with my iPhone), and I love the results. Check it out below: 
 
 
So if you’ve read my new nature photography book (The Complete Guide to Nature Photography- Amphoto/Random House) write a review now and win!  Here are details and links again:
 
 
I will see your name and will message you through Amazon – then email me your information and Kolo will email you providing a coupon code.
 
Pick your Kolo frame and personalize it by uploading one of your photos (the Dearborn or Holden frames to personalize): http://kolo.com/mykolo/shop/products/frames/

If you are interesting in purchasing one of my how-to photo books (great for holiday gifts), The Complete Guide to Nature Photography, or, The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure, go here: http://www.seanarbabi.com/products_books.html

Thank you!

A fellow photographer and colleague recently posted this link on his Facebook page and it caught my eye.  A Dad and his daughter were recently rescued in Yosemite when they got trapped in this dangerous valley I once photographed – check out the article to read more: http://www.nps.gov/yose/blogs/Stranded-Hikers-Rescued-from-Tenaya-Canyon.htm
 
When in nature, one wrong decision can turn into an ordeal, a lot of extra work, stress and exhaustion, or worse- severe injury or death.


What caught my attention was the location of where these hikers were rescued from – Tenaya Canyon.  Tenaya Canyon is an area just East of Yosemite Valley, slightly rising above and gradually continuing up toward Tenaya Lake in a series of steep climbs, thousands of feet below Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, and Mount Watkins.  It’s the one area on the topographical maps of Yosemite and the Sierra labeled “Hiking in Tenaya Canyon is dangerous and not recommended”; and it’s one of the spots my brother and I found ourselves in one long backpacking weekend.

Here are a few shots of Tenaya Canyon from different vantage points:

Below: Two views of Tenaya Canyon from Cloud’s Rest, 5000 feet above – the first, a panorama of the canyon, and the second of the last section near Yosemite Valley (at bottom right)
 
Below: Two sunset/ dusk views of Tenaya Canyon below Half Dome from Olmsted Point
Below: A glacier carved Tenaya Canyon carving through the Sierra toward Half Dome (the black & white in morning light, and the color version at sunset) as seen from Mount Watkins (smoke from a distant forest fire rolls overhead)
 

John Muir wrote about this area in his story “A Geologist’s Winter Walk“, hiking up the canyon from Mirror Lake.  He writes I thought, a fast and a storm and a difficult canyon were just the medicine I needed.  It’s a good read as is any of his jaunts into the mountains.  In Muir’s words (which I edited down a bit), This canyon is accessible only to mountaineers…After I had passed the tall groves…and scrambled around the Tenaya Fall…ascending a precipitous rock front, smoothed by glacial action, when I suddenly fell — for the first time since I touched foot to Sierra rocks. After several somersaults, I became insensible from the shock, and when consciousness returned I found myself wedged among short, stiff bushes, trembling as if cold, not injured in the slightest.  Judging by the sun, I could not have been insensible very long; probably not a minute, possibly an hour; and I could not remember what made me fall, or where I had fallen from; but I saw that if I had rolled a little further, my mountain climbing would have been finished, for just beyond the bushes the canyon wall steepened and I might have fallen to the bottom. 

And then he writes a line I just love, and one that has become our silly mantra in the outdoors (and in other venues of life) was one he wrote after falling and knocking himself unconscious navigating the treacherous narrow canyon.  

I felt degraded and worthless. 

As in classic Muir fashion, he made it up through the canyon and returned to Yosemite Valley a few days later via a safer route.


By cool efforts, along glassy, ice-worn slopes, I reached the upper end in a little over a day, but was compelled to pass the second night in the gorge…I escaped from the gorge about noon, after accomplishing some of the most delicate feats of mountaineering I ever attempted.

I hadn’t read this account of the canyon before my brother and I took our August trip, but I wished I had.  We headed off on a three-day backpacking trip, not completely planned out, starting with a 7.2 mile trek up to Cloud’s Rest from Tenaya Lake.  We were either going to camp at Cloud’s Rest and return the next day, or spend another day out there somewhere – either heading to the valley or to another high country location.  Not growing up together, it was our first backcountry trip as brothers, so it was special.

Here are a few images I documented along our three-day journey.  The first (below) is a sea of smooth granite curved into a bowl-shaped depression as if from a cirque glacier, captured just down from the Cloud’s Rest trail in an area known as the First Rock Bowl.  This was after we spent a night atop 9,930 foot summit of Cloud’s Rest.  Heading back toward Lake Tenaya, we veered off the trail and cross-country hiked to get here, no designated trail leading us. 


It was a magical spot – Tenaya Creek trickling through various bowls of water we sat next to.  We plan on heading back here in the next month or so – it’s been too long.

 


At this point, we decided to head toward Yosemite Valley somehow. I had some knowledge Tenaya Canyon didn’t have a trail leading to the valley, so we headed West.  

This fourth image was shot as we head over a ridge cross-country from the First Rock Bowl to a dry creek bed just south of Olmsted Point.  Familiar with my surroundings, I had an idea where we were going, but without a more detailed topo map (mine covered the general area), I didn’t know if we’d hit a trail that would lead us to the valley.


This second day grew long and after climbing up and down a few ridges, we came to a dry creek and followed it to the edge overlooking Tenaya Canyon and across to Half Dome, Quarter Domes, and where we started our day on Cloud’s Rest.  It was a great view but we knew we couldn’t enjoy it for too long because we had to make a decision.  Filled with an adventurous spirit, my brother wanted to head down into the rugged dry river bed, packed thick with granite boulders.  But it looked steep and was the unknown.  I had a bit more backpacking experience and felt uneasy with this choice, but after some discussion of our options agreed with the route.  I told him if we reached any places we felt were points of no return (such as a place were we might be able to get down, but not back up), then we’d turn back.  My fear was we couldn’t see the entire route down, and if it appeared more hazardous than we thought, without ropes or any rock climbing experience, it could be extremely dangerous.  We were also very low on water and expected this river to be one of our fill-up spots.

The rest of the afternoon was spent maneuvering through the boulder-ridden dry river bed, passing our backpacks down to each other as to be as balanced and safe as possible.  We even past an airplane engine, crumbled and rusted from a crash in 1958.  Soon the sun set and it grew too dark and dangerous to continue- even with headlamps.  We had to settle in for the night, in a cramped sandy area too small to even set up our two-man tent.  From this vantage point, we could see Pywiack Cascade flowing 600 feet over a granite lip into Lost Valley.  The base looked to be only a couple of hundred feet down it, maybe 15-20 minute away, but we weren’t even sure we could get there.  We were tempted to continue just for the mere fact our water bottles were now empty.  Without any water for dinner, we ate what food we could and crashed for the night, our throats parched and our spirits a bit dampened.

Daybreak couldn’t come any sooner.  As soon as the first light gave us enough to see, we packed up and continued our scramble down toward the pool of water at the base of the waterfall.  All we had were potable water pills, and the ten minute wait to purify the water was torturous.  When you run out of water and you’re thirsty, boy you appreciate it all the more.  At this point there was still some descent but the valley widened and flattened out, and I was a bit relieved.



Here we stood near the bottom of Pywiack Cascade that morning, deep in Tenaya Canyon looking toward Half Dome at the start of Lost Valley (below).  The image above looking at the Pywiack’s pool and the ridge high up from where we came- little did we know what was ahead.



We played around a bit, then followed Tenaya Creek from the waterfall down into the V-shaped valley, and soon most of the creek seemed to sneak underground as the river bed turned mostly dry, which made it a bit easier to hike through instead of the thick foliage on each side.  Piles of bear scat dotted the valley, a bit unnerving since I knew these bears were probably from Yosemite Valley and less nervous to approach people.  I also had a feeling this rocky dry river bed was the calm before the storm.  I kept saying to myself, this looks easy but where ever this creek comes out, I have a feeling it might not be a good place for us.

Sure enough after a few hours zig-zagging through the rock bed, we came to a sandy area, and just beyond a few large granite boulders (most likely glacier erratics) we came to a place I call “The Gorge of Death”.  A steep drop-off where Tenaya Creek burst out and down into an overhanging gorge, unnavigable without serious climbing experience.  Any hopes of getting to Yosemite Valley, which felt all too close, were dashed.  It was Sunday mid-day and knew we had to decide what to do, but it wasn’t much of a decision – the only option was to hike back to our car at Tenaya Lake, miles away and thousands of feet above.  As we made our way back, a creek bed to our right looked easier and more inviting, but we decided against it, figuring the route we came down was the one we knew best – it was doable and predictable albeit hard.

Below: Retracing our steps back up Tenaya Canyon through the relatively dry Tenaya Creek
 


So we spent the rest of the day retracing our steps, filling our bottles at the bottom of Pywiack Cascade, and after a long hike up a few thousand feet in elevation gain, scrambling up the dry river bed, and over a number of false summits, we finally made it back to Olmsted Point – almost out of water again, beat, yet a bit relieved to have no major incidents.  Ahhhhh.  Off with my backpack, remove the boots and socks, guzzle down a gallon of water, smile, hitchhike back to our car in Yosemite Valley, and drive on home.

I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Lost Valley – maybe above it where it’s safer and more accessible, but not all the way down into Tenaya Canyon.  It was an adventure, but one that could have easily turned bad.  With a little luck, being extremely careful when my inner voice was telling me to heed the warnings, we had a special memory instead of a nightmare.

Below: A ridge above Olmsted Point at dusk

For more on navigating Tenaya Canyon, take serious caution, don’t travel alone, know what you’re doing, tell someone where you’re going, take lots of water, and see the route description at: http://www.summitpost.org/tenaya-canyon/160152


I just had to share a photo I captured yesterday while teaching a photo workshop on flowers at Calumet and the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco.  Sharing not so much to show the image I captured, yet more so the detail I’ve loving in my new Nikon D800E 36MP DSLR (and no, Nikon doesn’t pay or sponsor me).In a garden of dahlia flowers, I captured this scene with my 70-200mm f/2.8 Tamron lens – not a macro lens.  Take into account this bumblebee was visiting various flowers, buzzing in and out of each one, constantly on the move, so I wasn’t dealing with a still subject, nor was I using a tripod.  Even outside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, on the edge of the coastal fog rolling in, the flowers were catching some wind and moving themselves.

As far as my DSLR goes, yeah, I love it- it’s the camera I’ve always wanted.  The image sensor ranks even higher than the D4 (in fact DxO Labs rated it the highest DSLR on the market), and that’s a big part of why I bought it.  It’s also about the engine of this beast – 36 megapixels, which for an outdoor/ landscape/commercial photographer provides huge files to blow up nicely, tons of intricate detail, and minimal noise in a top-notch full-frame image sensor.  There’s lots of extra bells and whistles – cool new LiveView functions, an incredibly fast auto-focus (although I still manual focus a ton), and a sturdy well-built frame.

This image was captured at 1/400 sec, using f/2.8 and ISO 100 in manual exposure mode while spot metering.  You can see the detail of the bee here in a close-up.

It’s rare that a piece of equipment gets me excited about photography – usually it’s my subject, the location, the moment, the light.  This Nikon camera has energized me about the images I hope to capture in the near future!


25Aug

A photographic gift

My 82 year old neighbor invited me over yesterday.  We’ve lived across the street from each other the past ten years, share the same birthday (different year of course), and had talked from time to time about life’s happenings.  To my surprise, I come to find out he’s a photography buff like myself.  I knew he was into photography- he picked up both my books and asked me to sign them- but I didn’t know how much.  So yesterday, he wanted me to come over and check out his collection of cameras – over 110 in all.

His wife of 60 years past away earlier this year, and he’s moving to a retirement community in a few months.  He hoped to donate his collection to the local museum, but they said they didn’t have enough space.  So I walked into his office to view his collection and we talked shop about various cameras, many of which were his personal cameras that he snapped photos with, dating all the way back to 1956.  Kodak brownies (even a cool red one), a few movie cameras, even an old sleek black Viewmaster.

I told him I’d help him look around to find an organization that might be interested in the collection.  Then he turned to me and said, “Sean, I asked you over to let you pick out any camera you want”- totally caught me by surprise.  I told him I couldn’t accept the offer, but he insisted.  So instead of taking one of the cameras, or finding the most expensive one (which I’d never do), and decided on something else.  

He had what looked to be an old wooden film plate – what I thought might be a plate photographers coasted with chemicals and slid into the backs of their 4×5 or 8×10 field cameras to produce a glass plate image.  It looks real cool and seemed original.  Although I didn’t chose it, he knew and liked it, so he pulled it off the shelf and gave it to me.  I accepted his kind gift and told him I’d work on getting the rest of his collection into a place that could educate future generations on some of the history of photography.  I also took a few old photos of him to restore as a trade for the wooden plate.


I went home, did some research, and came to find out the wooden piece was a “camera print hinged wood plate holder frame – spring loaded” – I assume to be used to frame still photographs from the day.  Anthony and Scovill Co was printed on the back, the manufacturer of the piece of photo equipment, with “patented Aug 12 1880″ pressed into the wood.  It features a double spring hinged back with early type time indicator (not sure what that means).  The frame measures 6 1/4″ x 8 1/2” and apparently “will accept up to a 4 1/4″ x 6 1/2″ plate”.  Not an expensive piece by any means, but a very nice antique photography collectible over 132 years old.

It’s a very cool piece. I put a family photo inside and added it to our living room decor.  I wonder where it’s been and who used it. I’m sure someday I’ll give it away myself, trying to remember this story.  I hope my neighbor enjoys the last part of his life- I can’t imagine how hard it must be to not have his wife by his side.


25Aug

Interested in learning photography online?

PPSOP.com

Perfect Picture School of Photography

My current course is “Nature and Landscape Photography”

How does it work?

Four lessons, four assignments, four critiques over four weeks.  I sound like Dr. Seuss.

You can shoot when you want, what you want.

You can read the lessons when you can, working around your schedule.

I haven’t incorporated any videos or web conferencing to my online courses yet, but I imagine that’s not far away.  I’d like to add one video for each lesson and schedule one time a week to get online and meet everyone face-to-face, answering questions, etc.  But that’s tough with students in different time zones, as well as a cost factor that hasn’t been included in.


04Aug

The boathouse at dusk, Inverness, California


Last Saturday, I was teaching a photo workshop in Point Reyes National Seashore through the Point Reyes Field Institute. I’ve taught 2-4 workshops a year over the past 13 years, and wrote an article in Outdoor Photographer a couple of years ago about photographers past and present capturing images along this beautiful coastal region north of San Francisco – it’s a joy and a privilege to be part of the group of past and present image-makers.

So on July 28th I headed out from my home in the East Bay and drove an hour and a half to lecture at the Red Barn classroom near the Bear Valley Visitor Center – great place to teach.  We started at 1pm, I lectured about photographic exposure ’til about 5pm, and then after a break we drove up to Pierce Point Ranch, parked at the lower lot and hiked down to McClure Beach.  My hopes for nice sunset were a bit dashed as we drove through the park since waves of fog and wind were battering the coast (it was fairly sunny back at the Red Barn).  After a couple of hours talking shop on the beautiful storm beach we hiked down to, I thanked my students and we all headed on our respective ways.

Driving back to the Red Barn classroom to pick up some of gear, I passed back through Inverness- a small quaint little town along Tomales Bay.  The light dimmed, cabin and restaurant lights began to glow, and my photographic mind began to turn.  I love the time between dusk and dark – twilight – that ethereal deep blue light that casts across the land – add the artificial lights of a cabin, a building, a tent and the combo makes for a nice moody image.  So I parked my car just off the road, grabbed my DSLR, tripod and a 12-24mm f/4 lens and hiked down a few feet into the bushes near the shore.  As I metered, I waited for the artificial light to balance with the ambient light, then shot a number of compositions.  The scene felt mysterious and magical, and after a long day it was like a little gift.  I’ve always wanted a unique shot of this boathouse – now I had one.

Wish the web offered more colors, but it’s limited – especially for tones like this deep blue- so the original looks better (as probably the case with most images on the web).

The caption reads:  USA: California: Marin County: Inverness: Lights shine on a pier,  “Launch for Hire”, Brock Schreiber’s boathouse at dusk along the shores of Tomales Bay, as seen from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (preserved as prominent local landmark)

Exposed for 30 seconds at f/10 using ISO 200, at 24mm, spot metering with my trusty new Nikon D800E DSLR – my 36MP beast of beauty as I call it.  Processing the RAW in ACR, I recovered very little of the bright lights of the boathouse – that was about it.  You can see a larger copyrighted version here: http://twitpic.com/afi2b5/full

26Jan

My image on the cover of "Running on Empty"

Finally received my copy of Running On Empty by ultramarathoner Marshall Ulrich- can’t wait to read it.  

For the cover, they used an image I captured of Marshall running in Death Valley National Park– a slow exposure with flash at dusk as the full moon rose over the sweltering California desert in mid July, temperatures well over 115°F.  When I shot this image, Marshall was roughly 20-25 miles into his epic record-setting pace of running 151 miles in 33 hours.


I photographed Marshall three times running in the Badwater 146, an amazing ultramarathon race from the lowest point in the 48 states (-282 feet below sea level, Badwater, Death Valley National Park) to the highest point in the lower 48 (14,505 feet above sea level, Mt Whitney, Sequoia National Park).  The race is run in mid-July when temperatures are at their hottest – the three years I covered the event, at 6pm, the start of the race, temperatures were recorded at 118°F, 121°F, and 126°F (note- temperatures are measured in shade or underground).  I didn’t think the human body was capable of completing a race like this, but a few dozen men and women proved it was possible.  


The year I shot this image, Marshall had a near death experience mid way through the race, and in talking to him as we hiked up the last 12 mile section toward the summit of Mt. Whitney, he described some of the hallucinations he was having as in came in and out of reality.  Most people think these athletes are out to kill themselves, but that is far from their goal – from my understanding, it’s about pushing their own limits, and finding a peace in that challenge.


I got to know Marshall over the years, covering him again in a few adventure races such as the Eco-Challenge.  I can truly say he’s a kind, caring, humble person who’s performed some of the most amazing feats of running by any human being – someone who should be a household name but isn’t – at least not yet.  This book covers the 52 days he ran across the United States – over 3000 miles, at the age of 57 – 52 days in a row that is- unbelievable.


Marshall live in Colorado and continues to run at the age of 62.  If you are into running or just looking for a good read, check his book out: http://marshallulrich.com/runningonempty.htm


On a side note, another great running book to consider is Martin Dugard’s To Be a Runnerhttp://www.martindugard.com/.  I traveled with Marty around the world a number of times covering some adventure races- he wrote about the events and I photographed them.  Another good guy as well as an experienced author.



31Dec

Engadget Primed Article #2


Just wrote another feature article for Engadget Primed entitled “What is Aperture and How Does it Affect My Photos?“: 


Check it out- lots of solid info, links, diagrams, photos, and more – covers apertures, depth-of-field, hyper focal distance, how it relates to exposure, and so on.  Now I’m working on my third piece for Engadget- one of many to come.

Happy Shooting!

17Dec

My article for Engadget Primed

Check out my 1st feature article on image sensors for Engadget Primed: http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/16/engadget-primed-why-your-cameras-sensor-size-matters/


Tons of info on the history of an image sensor, what it is, how cameras have evolved, and where they are today.  You’ll be an expert by the time you’re done reading the piece.  🙂


I’ll be writing more big pieces for Engadget- it’s a great web magazine/ tech blog that receives anywhere from a million to ten million hits a day.  I’m glad to be a part of their team!