Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eric Larsen

I recently met a very inspiring figure, polar explorer Eric Larsen. He gave a talk at my work and I spoke to him afterwards. This guy, together with a friend, did the first ever summer expedition to the North Pole and they did it using skies and canoes. One of the reasons was to show how much open water there is on the North Pole and to draw attention to the plight of polar bears. Fittingly they did not see a single polar bear until they got to the actual North Pole leading to some scary moments as they were waiting for the Russian helicopter that was picking them up. An interesting part of his talk was all the excellent photography of which you can see a little bit on his site. Eric insisted on dragging a DSLR along and they charged their batteries every night using solar cells (in summer the sun shines at night on the pole). You think of the arctic sea and the pole as just a big frozen lake, but it is quite convoluted with lots of pushed up ice and other obstacles such as big open rivers. An impressive feat to cross this for sure. Now Eric is gearing up to do a one-year trip visiting the three extremes: The South pole, the North Pole and Everest. See his website on that expedition. The goal is to highlight Global warming by visiting all the coldest places on this world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lightroom 2.1

Yeah! Adobe put out the final version of Lightroom 2.1. Mac version here. Windows version here. This update fixes many bugs that were present in 2.0 and is definitely worth it. Some things were already fixed in 2.1 RC, but this introduces some extra fixes and it's quite a bit faster than 2.1 RC letalone 2.0.
At the same time, Adobe released beta 2 of the camera matching profiles. These profiles are superb and they fixed some small issues in the highlights and other things. Definitely get them as fast as you can. The profiles are superb.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunrise at Blue lake

Order prints from the gallery here.

Flickr set.

This Saturday morning, I got out of bed before 4am and took off for a hike in the Indian Peaks wilderness area. I had been to this place many years ago and had taken some pictures, one of which is one of my most popular pictures on flickr. The objective this day was to return to the same spot and check out the sunrise. I had checked out Google's awesome Google earth and had seen that contrary to summer, this time of year the rising sun shines straight through the valley. The reason for this gets obvious if you check out the below terrain map from Google maps:

View Larger Map

The object is Blue lake, the lake that is slightly to the left of the middle of the map. The glacial valley leading up to it points slightly south of due east. You reach this point from the Mitchell lake trailhead in the Lake brainard recreation area. From that point it is about a 2.5 mile hike to Blue lake. In summer this trail is spectacular for all its wildflowers. Its also an extremely popular trail because of this and its location right next to the 13er Mount Audubon (strangely called Mt. Autobahn amongst Boulderites). Now I would be doing it in the dark, so I prepared everything the night before and set off at 4 am. At about 5:30 I had reached Lake Brainard. The road from Ward was open just like the lady from the forest service had told me. She had not told me that the road was closed at the lake, adding another 0.6 mile or so to my total hike. Mine was the only car there and I took off hiking. After looking at the "beware of mountain lions" sign (see end of post for a daylight image) at the deserted actual trailhead, I set off on the real trail. The moon was out and I didn't even notice for a long while that the batteries in my headlamp had died. Hiking was easy and following the path too as this is a well-trodden trail. When I started coming up to the moraine that separates the lake from the rest of the valley, I looked back and saw that the sky was an amazing purple and yellow glow from the sun being just below the horizon:

purple haze
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I reached the lake just before civil twilight (about 6.45 am it would start) and started taking some long exposures of the Boulder I had shot so many years ago with Mount Toll in the background. Here is an example:

Twilight at Blue Lake
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These colors are very close to what I saw. The water had a purple appearance, the sky sort of steel with a magenta tinge and the mountain had started glowing. Rocks like this were deposited by a glacier that must have sat in this valley a long time ago. The often look like a giant has put them down in random spots. The lake looks so downy because of the long exposure - a fun effect here making it seem even more ethereal.
A few minutes before actual sunrise, the mountain got a slight magenta glow:

Just before dawn
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After which at dawn, it suddenly turned completely on fire:

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The color was just absolutely amazing and I shot many images all around (which is why the vantage point on the rock and Toll changes all the time): One minute after dawn it looked like this.

One minute in
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The appearance of the mountain was rather incongruous with the feeling in my fingers. Now the colors were changing very rapidly. This image was taken 6 minutes after dawn:

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I shot several panoramas that I'll post some other time. For now, I'll point you to the smugmug gallery from which you can order prints where I put a few of the panoramas already. The flickr set of this trip is here.

I had some breakfast looking into the upcoming sun and noted how quickly the color changed. After just half an hour, the color was very flat and not much was left, so I gave up the plan to go to the upper blue lake and left that plan for next time I go here. My pinching boots (don't know why they suddenly started pinching) might have had something to do with it. Here is an example of the color at that point:

The color has gone

I love the deep blue though.
Going down, I shot some grab shots of the lakes I saw on the way.
Icy lake along the way

Lake Mitchell panorama

At Lake Mitchell, I saw the first other hikers. They were going up to go fishing in Blue Lake. Close to Lake Mitchell is the Mitchell lake trailhead, where I took a picture of the mountain lion sign:


I especially liked advice #1: "Walk in groups and make plenty of noise." Unfortunately, there are not many people I can get to go out this early. The only time I have seen a mountain lion in Colorado was when a few months ago two of them were mating not ten feet from our tents near Durango. The sound they make is like an animal that gets skinned alive. It is absolutely amazing. At the time I had not realized that they were mating and I could not see very well what animal was below, so at time I had thought something was getting killed by the enormous lion on top (it was rather dark and they were in the bushes at the side of the creek we were camping near). One of those experiences you never forget I guess. My daughter and my very young brother and sister had been playing a lot in that creek during the day.

Anyway. After the deserted trailhead, I hiked over the road towards my car and saw Scott, a guy I know from my dayjob as a famous ;-) scientist. He was starting on Mount "Autobahn." At the parking lot, I saw that I now was far from the only car. There must have been over a hundred in the different lots that are at Brainard Lake. Also driving down Brainard Lake road, lots and lots of folks in the ubiquitous (in the Boulder area at least) Toyota SUVs and pickups and Subarus were coming up. Funny that people still had to start while I was done for the day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

subprime/credit crisis

I just listened to two outstanding episodes of the always wonderful NPR radio show "this American Life". They do an outstanding job of explaining the origins of the current credit crisis. Listen to the first episode here and the second episode here. The second episode is also on iTunes as a free podcast. For a humorous take on the crisis watch the below sketch from a while ago:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fall sunset in RMNP

last wednesday, I decided to take off and go shoot some fall color somewhere. I ended up in our awesome Rocky Mountain National Park, where I saw many beautiful Aspen groves such as this one (click for a bigger version and to buy prints ;-) ): Update 10/16/08: There is also a full set on flickr now.

This is with back illumination which brings out the color in the leaves very well and I pulled up the foreground a little using a grad ND filter.

When I got to the park, I realized that I should just hike to a lake that I photographed years and years ago and that on the map looked like it was ideal for sunset photography - Mills lake. It is a short 3 mile hike from the trailhead and I was in time to make it. It was 4:45 when I started and the sun would set around 6:30 pm. On my way there, I saw many people with big photography gear coming down which surprised me. Don't they know that the best light was still to come? And I can tell you it absolutely did. Strangely enough this is a thing I see quite a bit. To get the best light for the better pictures, you need to sacrifice your dinner or breakfast time and often hike in the dark and cold. The Aspen grove I posted above was just a quarter of a mile onto the trail. This scene was a little further on the trail (much better large):

By this time, the trail had become completely empty and I had the place basically to myself.
Getting closer to Glacier gorge, the sun peeked over the edge of the mountains and illuminated some trees in the valley below:

A little later, I came around the corner to a point where 8-years ago or so we had shot our christmas card photo. The moon was rising above the edge of a nearby mountain that was illuminated by the setting sun. Just spectacular I think:

In the forest after this overlook, there was a beautiful waterfall. After the waterfall, you come accross a rock overlooking the valley. I had taken a picture a long time ago in this same spot that you can compare this to.

After taking some pictures of Longs peak being reflected in a little pre-pond to Mills lake, I reached Mills lake still in time for the sunset. At the headwater side of Mills lake there are many trees lodged into the outlet. I had photographed them in winter. This time around I was struck by the superb reflection of the sunlit peaks in the lake and the geometric shapes the tree trunks made. Here is one example:

I also shot a very high resolution version of this that can be seen here.

This long lens image of Longs peak is striking because of the moon and the beautiful color.

At this point, the sun started setting and the colors took on this amazing red tint:

I love how you can see the reflection of the moon in the water and how the submerged logs take on the sunset color.
Now the sun had set mostly completely and I started walking down the trail. I talked a little to two campers that were going to camp just on the other side of the lake and that were hurrying to get there before it became completely dark. A waterfall begged for my attention and turning around, this amazing scene unfolded:

Seeing scenes like this is like a religious experience. The warm feeling wore off just a little when I realized that I was quite a ways off from the trailhead and that it was becoming dark really quickly. Since I hadn't planned on going on a hike, I had not brought my headlamp, so I walked back the three miles in the moonlight.

That's such a long exposure that the moon moved a bit causing the slightly oblong shape. The white dots are stars coming out. The hike back, notwithstanding the dark was beautiful and serene. I had to use my cell phone's light a few times to check the signs at trailsplits and arrived at my car around 8. I love trips like this.