Tag Archives: nature

Lava Beds National Monument–A Land of Primordial Beauty

Lava Beds National MonumentLava Beds National Monument is a land of stark and primordial beauty. It is a landscape rich in geologic and cultural history. When Lava Beds was declared a national monument in 1925, a unique and incredibly diverse natural wonder is preserved for future generations to discover and explore. The many lava flows, fumaroles, and cinder cones offer testament to this planet’s fiery origins. More than 700 caves can be found here. The Klamath Basin is also home to the Klamath and Modoc tribes and is one of the longest continually occupied areas in North America, going back thousands of years. Their presence is evident in various locations throughout the basin, including Petroglyph Point, to the northeast of the park. A wide variety of plant and animal species reside within the monument’s more than 46,000 acres, making Lava Beds National Monument a perfect photo destination. And with the nearby Klamath Wildlife Refuges and Medicine Lake highlands, the photo-ops are world-class.

Lava Beds National MonumentLava Beds National Monument consists of more than 30 separate lava flows, ranging from 2 million years to 1100 years in age. The majority of those flows originated with the Mammoth and Modoc craters located in the southern portion of the park. A smooth, rope-like lava known as pahoehoe (pronounced pah-hoy-hoy) covers most of the monument. Some 22 caves are open for exploration, including Fern Cave. With the exception of Mushpot Cave, near the Visitor’s Center, all caves are unlighted. Bring a flashlight or headlamp and wear a helmet. Long-sleeves and closed-toe hiking shoes or boots are highly recommended.

With an elevation between 4000 feet (1200 meters) and 5700 feet (1700 meters), Lava Beds National Monument supports a variety of vegetation. Grassland and sagebrush occupy the lower elevations, yielding to juniper and chaparral at mid-elevations. Coniferous forests dominated by ponderosa pine are found at higher elevations. Wildflowers include Indian paintbrush, Mariposa lilies, and the slender penstemon. The monument is home to a diversity of wildlife, as well. Badgers, coyotes, and pronghorn antelope are among the mammals you will find here, along with a number of raptors. The Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Bald Eagle feed on the abundance of birds, rodents, and fish in the area. Several species of reptiles inhabit Lava Beds, including the Western Rattlesnake, so please use caution when hiking.

Lava Beds National Monument

 

The Klamath Basin is one of the longest continually occupied areas in North America, dating back thousands of years. When White settlers began arriving here in the early 19th century, skirmishes between the indigenous people (specifically, the Modocs) and encroaching settlers broke out. With injustices and atrocities committed on both sides, the U.S. Cavalry was sent in to forcefully re-locate the natives to the Lost River Reservation. They resisted and the stage was set for what is commonly referred to as the Modoc Wars (1872-73). Outnumbered ten-to-one, the Modocs were able to hold out for several months, before succumbing to the inevitable. Several battlefield sites have been preserved, commemorating what is considered the only major Indian war to be fought in California. The National Park Service offers Special Events, including re-enactments of the Modoc conflict. For more information on Lava Beds National Monument, visit their website.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photographing Wildflowers

Photographing WildflowersPhotographing wildflowers is its own art form–much like portraiture or wildlife photography. With the most basic camera equipment, you can create stunning and compelling floral portraits. The key to successful wildflower photography is less about equipment and more about spending time in the field. Flowers bloom in the Spring and Summer months and the window of opportunity is often very short. More time in the field equates to better photographs.

Photographing WildflowersTechnique is the single most important component in creating any compelling image. Photographing wildflowers usually requires close focusing distances and controlling depth-of-field is critical to the final feel of your photograph. A shallow depth-of-field isolates the subject and provides a soft background, while increasing depth-of-field brings a greater area into sharp focus. Use a tripod and cable release whenever possible. Pay attention to composition. Look for simple backgrounds free of competing distractions. Shoot during the golden hours–that hour just after sunrise and the hour just before sunset. Rainy and overcast days provide a diffuse light and increased color saturation. Do your homework. Research flower-rich areas near you. Study your subject and return until you have adequately captured it. Experiment. Try different and unusual perspectives. Wide-angle and telephoto lenses can yield striking results.

Photographing wildflowers is a specialized pursuit. Three items can enhance your creative possibilities. The first item is a macro lens. A true macro lens provides magnifications up to 1:1. This means that if you photograph a small object (say, a penny) at the lens’ closest focusing distance, the image projected onto the camera’s sensor is life-size. Macros generally come in two focal lengths–50mm and 100mm (Exact focal lengths vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer). The 100mm lens allows a little more distance between camera and subject. You are less likely to cast a shadow upon the flower and depth-of-field is increased. Extension tubes are an inexpensive alternative to a macro lens. Extension tubes are hollow tubes which mount between your lens and camera body to shorten the minimum focusing distance. They often come in a set of 3 and can be used in varying combinations to achieve different magnifications. Extension tubes work particularly well with short to moderate telephotos. The final piece of equipment is a ring flash–a circular flash unit which mounts to the front of the lens. Low light can be a challenge in macro photography. A ring flash resolves that issue.

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Mount Shasta–Its Many Moods and Faces

Mount ShastaMount Shasta is a mountain of continually changing moods and faces. It is a mountain of striking natural beauty–a constantly swirling interplay of light and shadow, sun and clouds, wind, rain, and snow. Mount Shasta is a larger-than-life presence, an iconic mountain immersed in myth and legend. It is a living, breathing entity–an otherworldly landscape born of fire and ice. Hotsprings at its summit offer testament to its fiery origins living still, while glaciers continue to slowly and methodically scour out valleys as they have for centuries.

Mount Shasta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mount Shasta is sometimes a deceptive mountain. Warm and inviting in Summer, it can turn hostile and forbidding in Winter. Temperatures can plummet to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and winds at the summit can exceed 200 miles per hour. Weather can change suddenly and unpredictably any time of year. Mount Shasta claims the world record for the most snowfall in a single storm–nearly 16 feet in the Old Ski Bowl in February 1959. Other forces, such as avalanches and mudslides, can drastically alter the terrain with little or no warning, as with the Bolam Creek debris flow in 1997.

Mount ShastaWeather is Mount Shasta’s most exciting and dynamic element. Clear skies can quickly turn dark and ominous. Thunder and lightning in the mountains can be terrifying–yet it is intrinsically beautiful at the same time. Skies explode in a swirl of color, lightning flashes, as rain falls through a shaft of sunlight. This is the indescribable magic that is Mount Shasta. This is the drama that makes for outstanding photography. And it is precisely my reason for moving here more than three decades ago.

I look forward to sharing other photographs, thoughts, and reminiscences in future posts. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #10: Photographing Wildlife

Photographing Wildlife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing wildlife is a challenging and highly rewarding pursuit. Wildlife adds a magical element to any nature experience. Most of us interact with some form of wildlife on a daily basis. With some basic equipment, a little preparation, and a focused effort, you can achieve outstanding results–and often within a relatively short distance from your home.

While wildlife photography usually conjures up images of exotic locations like Kenya or Alaska, the lower 48 states are rich with wildlife. We are fortunate here in America to have such an extensive system of national parks, state parks, and wildlife refuges throughout the country. These preserves are often havens for wildlife in a world of increasing habitat loss. Yellowstone is the crown jewel of national parks and boasts the highest concentrations of wild animals in the contiguous U.S.. The Yellowstone ecosystem is comprised of some 28 million acres and claims some of North America’s most impressive species–including grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and bison. Living here in Mount Shasta, I am blessed to have the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges just an hour away. The Klamath Refuges are a major stopover along the Pacific Flyway and home to the largest wintering population of bald eagles in the lower 48. Millions of birds migrate through the Refuges every Spring and Fall. Many areas throughout the country offer similar opportunities for photographing wildlife.

 

Photographing Wildlife

When we think of wildlife, we tend to think of the larger and more obvious species–but let’s not overlook the small and seemingly commonplace. Several photographers have opened our eyes to the beauty and wonder of the myriad tiny creatures with whom we share this Earth. Every living organism is a miracle of creation, and as unique and fascinating as any other when observed closely. Insects comprise the largest number of species in the animal kingdom–over 1 million recognized species worldwide. North America alone is home to more than 88,000 species of insects, so don’t overlook them as potential subjects. They are among the planet’s most fantastic critters. Check out The Smaller Majority, by Piotr Naskrecki. The photography is stunning!

You can shoot exceptional wildlife photographs with the most basic equipment. The majority of cameras come standard with some kind of zoom lens. Longer focal lengths have more reach and allow you to work at greater distances from your subject. Animals tend to be wary of humans and some are simply too dangerous to photograph at close range. If you are serious about wildlife photography, a 300 to 500mm telephoto is optimal. Many camera manufacturers sell telephotos up to 1200mm. These lenses get quite pricey. At these long focal lengths, you want the very best glass you can afford. Even a 200mm length can yield professional results. Roosevelt Elk (above) was taken handheld with a Canon 200mm f/4 telephoto lens. Canon now offers a 70-200mm f/2.8 image-stabilized zoom. This is an exceptionally sharp and versatile lens and is excellent for photographing wildlife or people, landscapes or cityscapes.

 

Photographing Wildlife

Teleconverters mount between the camera body and lens to increase focal length. They are available in 1.4x and 2x. A 200mm f/4 telephoto with a 2x teleconverter becomes a 400mm f/8 lens. I always recommend using a tripod and cable release with telephotos.

It isn’t necessary to spend thousands of dollars on long telephotos to capture striking wildlife images. Vision and imagination are the primary components to strong image-making. More gear does not equate to better photography–it simply means more possibilities. A 50mm lens in the hands of a competent photographer can yield dramatic results. A macro lens is specifically designed for close-up photography and works especially well with small amphibians, reptiles, and insects, as well as wildflowers. Macros usually come in two focal lengths–50 and 100mm. An inexpensive alternative to the macro lens are extension tubes, which increase the distance between the lens element and sensor, offering up to larger-than-lifesize magnification. They commonly come in a set of three (12, 20, and 36mm) and can be used in varying combinations to achieve different magnifications. Many photographers use a ring flash to light their subject. Any external flash will work if you’re in need of one. You may also want to use a flash diffuser to soften the illumination.

Great photographs rarely just happen. They are typically the product of hard work and dedicated effort–years in the field, studying and knowing the subject. A little homework here can mean the difference between seeing wildlife at all and coming away with an exceptional image. Do your homework and have a plan. For me, one of the great joys of photography is the continual education I receive. Mother Nature is the ultimate educator and we, as human beings, stand to learn much about ourselves through observing nature.

 

Photographing Wildlife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Animals are usually most active in the early morning and evening hours. Spring and Fall are times of great activity. Fall is the mating season. Elk and big-horned sheep are in the rut and banging heads for mating rites. Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. Moose are calving and myriad birds are hatching. These are dynamic seasons for a wildlife photographer. For that very reason, they also warrant caution. These are wild animals and the seemingly most docile creature can turn frightfully dangerous if approached. Always give animals plenty of distance, and be especially wary of animals with young. For them, survival is a serious matter.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a grizzly bear peering down your lens. First and foremost–remain aware of your surroundings and your safety. With that ingrained, pay attention to the image-making part of the process–composition and lighting. Scan the viewfinder for any distracting elements and eliminate them. Think ahead to the finished photograph. Do you want to isolate the subject against a soft background or do you prefer maximum depth-of-field for sharp detail? Do you want to freeze motion or accent it with a long exposure? Anticipate where any action might occur and be ready. As the light changes, take meter readings and make test shots. If you live in close proximity to wildlife habitat, make repeated trips and look for new and interesting vantage points. Take note of the light throughout the day and throughout the seasons. Animals, like human beings, are part of their environment. Look to place them in their surroundings. It can provide a telling insight into the nature of the animal.

A few last words–and for some of us, I am overstating the obvious–wild animals have an extremely acute sense of smell. If Fido has just ridden in your lap for the last 150 miles, any animal will know it. Avoid using scented products–shampoo, soap, and laundry detergent. No colognes or perfumes. Women should also be aware of their cycle when in the wild. It can attract curious and sometimes unwanted visitors. If you’re photographing grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, carry pepper spray and hope you don’t have to use it.

The continued survival of hundreds and thousands of species of wildlife all around the world are stressed with a rapidly declining habitat, pollution, and other environmental pressures. Please be respectful of all the creatures you encounter. Give them ample space. NO photograph is so important as to stress an animal in the making of it! We are privileged to bear witness to the processes of nature. And when it comes down to it, in the wild, we are the visitors.

Check out the work of Frans Lanting. This man exemplifies fine art nature photography in a way that few are able!

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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The Eddys–Worlds To Discover

The Eddys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eddys are among the Mount Shasta area’s truly spectacular and dramatic landscapes. Numerous lakes, breath-taking meadows, and colorful floral displays are hallmarks of most any foray into the Eddys. As a sub-range of the Klamath Mountains, the Eddys are one of Northern California’s oldest mountain ranges–dating as far back as 500 million years. A diverse geology, unique flora, and abundance of lakes make hiking the Eddys a consistent favorite.

Mount Eddy, at 9025 feet, is the second highest point in Siskiyou County, behind Mount Shasta. Because its summit straddles the Trinity Divide and the boundary between Siskiyou and Trinity Counties, it is simultaneously the highest point in Trinity County and marks the division between the Sacramento River and Trinity River watersheds. The hike to the summit comes highly recommended–certainly for the views, but as much for the experience of the hike. You pass by three lakes and an unnamed tarn on your way to the saddle. This vantage point offers exceptional views of Mount Shasta with Black Butte to the east, and the Trinity-Alps and Marble Mountains to the west. Sources are divided on the origin of the peak’s name. Some accounts say it is named after Nelson Harvey Eddy, who moved to the area from New York in 1856. Others claim the name honors his wife, Olive Paddock Eddy, the first woman to climb Mount Shasta. Still a third account names her as Harriett C. Eddy.

The Sisson-Callahan Trail was established in the mid-1800s and served as a main route between the two towns. In 1911, the U.S. Forest Service constructed an official trail linking the Callahan Ranger Station in the Scott Valley with the Forest Service headquarters in Sisson, and a telephone line was maintained between the two stations. In 1979, the Sisson-Callahan Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail. This trail follows the North Fork of the Sacramento River to the Deadfall Summit (8020 feet), then descends to join with the PCT at Lower Deadfall Lake. At the saddle, you will see the trail leading up to Mount Eddy.

A fire lookout was constructed on the Mount Eddy summit and operated until 1931. The remains of an adjacent cabin stood propped up with boards and cables until finally succumbing to the inevitable forces of snow and wind and gravity a few years ago. Many of us maintain romantic notions about what it means to be a fire lookout, but as J.S. McClemmons learned, the position can be a harrowing and sometimes life-threatening one. The Bakersfield Californian reported that on August 5, 1920, Mr. McClemmons was on the telephone when lightning struck the building, blowing a four-foot hole in the wall and starting the structure on fire (a bit of an irony). McClemmons was rendered unconscious, but quickly recovered to extinguish the flames. He then set out on foot for Sisson (Mount Shasta City), 12 miles away. There, he was treated for his burns and released.

The Eddys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siskiyou County is home to at least 272 named lakes, many of which are found in the Eddys. Some 60 lakes lie nestled within a 12-mile radius of Mount Eddy alone. Of these, Deadfall Lakes is probably the most popular destination. This cluster of lakes exemplifies the beauty that comprises the Eddy Range. A local’s tip: Most guidebooks give directions to the Park’s Summit (PCT) trailhead. This is a relatively level hike on the well-maintained Pacific Crest Trail. It is also the most direct hike in; perhaps this is the author’s thinking in sending you this way. A second and highly preferable option awaits those more adventurous spirits. Continue on past the trailhead parking area. In approximately 1/4 mile, the road will curve left and start to descend. At the bottom of the grade, the road then curves sharply to your right. At this hairpin turn, you will see a small, non-descript parking area on your right. Park here, then walk across the road to the sign marking Deadfall Meadows. This lower trail will take you through the meadows themselves and eventually connect with the PCT and Deadfall Lakes. While this route requires that you regain some elevation, it is, by far, the more scenic of the two trails–and the least crowded. If your interest is in photographing wildflowers, you want to take this lower trail. The first section of the hike crosses a marshy area for about 500 feet, so waterproof hiking boots are advised. Deadfall Meadows boasts one of the northstate’s most colorful and prolific floral displays. The insectivore, Darlingtonia californica (California Pitcher Plant) grows in profusion along many of the creeks. July and August are prime months for photographing the blooms. Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, Jefferey’s Shooting Stars, and Indian Paintbrush, are but a few of the species you can expect to find here. Pack a small tripod and your wildflower field guide.

The Eddys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Lakes Basin is another place worth exploring. Again, this hike offers superlative views of Mount Shasta, the Trinity-Alps, and Marble Mountains, and access to–need I say it?–a multitude of lakes. For those wanting a more physical challenge, try the hike up to Little Crater Lake. Bring your route-finding skills and leave the GPS at home. The Eddys provide for a lifetime of discovery and more. Many good local guidebooks are available, including John R. Soares’ 75 Hikes in California’s Mount Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park Regions (The Mountaineers Books).

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Welcome to Bruce McKinley Photography

Mount Shasta Photography

Welcome to Bruce McKinley Photography and my new website and blog. In the upcoming weeks, I am going to be indoctrinating myself in the fine art of blogging. As I do so, I’d like to share photos, stories, and information with you. I want to offer photo tips–from the most rudimentary to more advanced and experimental techniques. I welcome any inquiries into any of my photographs–the hows and wheres, etc.. If you have specific questions about some aspect of the photographic process, including scanning, photo retouching and optimization, please feel free to contact me. I will also share helpful links I encounter along the way–and please feel free to do the same.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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