My daughter and I went on a riverfront hiking adventure a few nights ago, and this is one of the photos she was patient enough to let me stop and take. She was much more impressed by the soft river sand high on the bank than the pedestrian bridge or Omaha skyline. We started around sunset and stayed until we needed our flashlights to navigate our way back through the budding shrubs. And few things impress a four-year-old more than a flashlight, so needless to say, we had a great time. We’re planning on many more local adventures as the weather gets warmer.
Council Bluffs, high atop the Loess Hills. I’m not normally a wildlife photographer, but this doe got between me and last night’s sunset, so I shot her. For the procrastinators out there, our dining room has become a temporary gallery for last-minute Christmas gifts. Email me if you’re interested in stopping by to browse through the big selection of prints I have on hand. An added bonus is that you’ll see a 30X60 print of my favorite local photo, which I’ve never shared (nor will ever share) online.
The twinkling cityscape of downtown Omaha as admired from Tom Hanafan River's Edge Park in Council Bluffs. If you haven’t witnessed this view from the comparative silence of the CB riverfront recently, you should. On a cold winter’s night, the only sound is from the ice discs floating down the Missouri River from the Great Cold North, creating an eerie chatter as they spin into each other en route to warmer places. I know I’m in the minority here, but I’m not looking forward to the day when the quiet sandy banks on the Iowa side are replaced by condominiums and shopping centers. Late last year, news stories started emerging, reporting the Urban Land Institute’s vision of transforming the area into one of “dense urban living for young professionals,” which sounds repulsive to me. Here’s one vote for leaving the Iowa riverfront wild and green.
I need some help. I’m working on a continuing series of local barn photographs, and I need some suggestions. I could drive around the local gravel backroads endlessly searching for barns (or other interesting farm structures), but there’s just so much ground to cover, and many I find are on private property. If you know of an interesting local (around Council Bluffs, Omaha, west-central Iowa) barn, please let me know. And better yet, if you have one or know of someone who would let me on their land to take some photographs, let me know that too. I want to be respectful of private property. Thanks!
This is the view southwest into the wide expanse between Wabash Avenue and MidAmerican Energy. I've always loved this area. I just wish there were a place to park and enjoy the view.
Here's a time-lapse image (ie, long exposure) of the crepuscular goings on in Council Bluffs as viewed from the Lincoln Monument. In the background, of course, is downtown Omaha, looking like a distant lady in a sparkly dress.
Here's a higher-resolution and unFacebooked version of this image. I like to keep things positive, so I will just say that the image uploading process here on my site is much more gentle to images than in Facebook. The difference is more apparent in some images than in others, and this is one of the more dramatic examples. To judge for yourself, compare the image below to the one here. Enough about technical hangups.
I took this about a week ago on clear night from the Lincoln Monument here in Council Bluffs, Iowa. From this vantage, and with the sun setting so far south, the Omaha skyline is backlit by a luminous orange glow, and the long exposure (about 10 seconds) accentuates the background colors.
Some places are staggering in their vastness.
Of all the times I have been to the alpine summit of Rocky Mountain National Park over the past fifteen or so years, I have never been there at sunset, until last Wednesday. The alpine tundra is such a beautiful otherworldly experience, and even more so as the sun lowers, revealing the majestic relief of the mountainous display in front of you. I had a difficult time focusing my attention on any one particular element as the sunset was deepening the colors to the northwest and painting orange the craggy outcroppings to the east and south, all the while elk were emerging everywhere. Our thermometer said it was 50°F, but it must have been lying. My sister-in-law, Anne, and I were struggling to stay warm in the bitter-cold wind as we ran around frantically trying to photograph what we could while we had the chance.
I snapped the below shot near the beginning of the spectacular show. I’ve chosen to believe that he is admiring the light show right along with us.
As I mentioned last week, the point of my Oregon trip was to visit my friend Ben Coffman, who moved from my neck of the woods to Beaverton last year with his wife, Lori, and their two kids, Leo and Lily. Ben was gracious enough to act as equal parts host, guide, chauffeur, and fellow photographer for my seven days in the Pacific Northwest, and I take this opportunity to thank him again for his hospitality.
Taking a photography trip with Ben was, of course, a completely different experience from taking one with Teri, my normal travel companion. Ben and I had collaborated on the overall bones of the trip, but he had pieced together most of the logistic details long before I arrived, and he then spent the entire week in the driver’s seat (literally), which is the role I usually play.
Sitting in the passenger seat freed my eyes to wander through Oregon’s dense old-growth forests, study the roadside streams for waterfalls, and to turn around to see the view that oncoming traffic got to see. It was a refreshing shift of focus and responsibility.
It was also great to bounce ideas off each other, to see the contrasting angles that Ben was laboring to get, and to take note of the accessories he was using. In general, it was interesting to see the world through another outdoor photographer’s eyes.
As I’ve learned over the past three or so years since I’ve really become interested in photography, praise for one’s work offers a short-lived thrill, but it can easily lead to complacency. Your most valuable critics are those whose opinion and honesty you can trust. With that said, yesterday, I received an email message from my grandpa, Tom Majeski, a career artist and former art professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Concerning my prior post, he did not mince words:
“While impressive nature photography, it is not nearly as impressive for me as your Yellowstone pictures. Lot of love and luck, nearly ggpa.”
I cannot disagree. As I said to Ben at one of the many turnouts lining Crater Lake on our first morning there, although the place was undeniably beautiful, I was not yet feeling any “magic” yet in my photographs. He felt the same way.
The only way I can describe “magic” is a quality that carries an otherwise good photograph beyond the sum of its parts—when life is breathed into it. I do not feel it often, and I’m always disappointed when I don’t. Many landscape photographers would argue that magic (or their version of magic, anyway) can happen only when the light is spectacular, typically just around sunrise and sunset. I disagree, but it can take more effort to find at, say, noon on a cloudless day. The magic is always there; I just have to keep looking until I find it, and it had eluded me to that point.
Although I’m not sure I ever found that “magic” at Crater Lake, when we returned later that evening after spending some time around Diamond Lake, we were treated to one of the most impressive post-storm cloud and light displays I’ve ever seen. Beforehand, the storm had looked so ominous that we debated leaving the area for safety, but we pressed on anyway, determined to get to a spot along the southeast part of the lake to watch the sun go down.
The storm was at full power over the lake and along the opposite ridge when I got out of the car. As the sun dropped and the oranges deepened, we noticed that mammatus clouds had appeared overhead. It had become a full panorama of amazing sky, and I froze trying to take it all in. I guess it would have been a perfect time for a fisheye lens, but I do not have one, so I just tried to capture bits here and there, mostly to give Teri an idea of what we had seen.
The show was over before long, so we headed back to the campsite, had a few beers, and piled into our soggy tents.
Ben and I woke up early the next morning and headed back to Crater Lake for sunrise. When we arrived there, it was still mostly dark, with just a predawn glow in the east. We were hoping for more clouds in the sky, but it was mostly clear. Nonetheless, it was fun hiking around a point at the northwest part of the lake, near Wizard Island, watching as the caldera slowly filled with light.
Next post: Waterfalls.
It’s a shame how infrequently I get to visit the ocean. Living in western Iowa, we are about as landlocked as anybody in the United States. We used to visit my grandparents just about every winter in south Texas, where we’d always make our way down to South Padre Island to enjoy the pre–Spring Break calm-before-the-storm, but they’ve recently decided to stay put in Ashland, Nebraska, year-round. It’s awesome for being able to see them whenever we want, but lousy for making our annual visit to the coast. When I really started getting involved in photography, about two years ago, I started paying more and more attention to photo-sharing websites, such as Flickr, and many of my favorite landscape photographs have, of course, been of faraway seascapes at sunrise or sunset, with a dramatic sun-kissed sky and the surf rushing through the frame. Don’t get me wrong; we have amazing sunsets here, but it takes some work to get a nice view of one—typically a good long drive up to one of the lookout points along the western ridge of the spine of loess on which we live. But as for sunrises, forget about it. You might think of the Midwest as a depressingly flat and featureless expanse of cornfields and blue sky, and you’re mostly right, but to the east of our house is a ridge of relatively steep bluffs for miles, so it’s very rare that I get to see an unobstructed view of the sunrise.
This brings me back to my earlier discussion of U.S. Route 1, the highway that joins all the principal Keys. When I started looking at the Florida Keys on the map, there grew in me a romantic little spark as I envisioned all the opportunities for viewing and photographing sunrises, sunsets, moonrises, and moonsets. Seven days spent in the Keys meant 28 times I could watch the sun and moon make their entrances and exits, first ascending from the glittering depths of the Atlantic Ocean and then plunging out of view into the Gulf of Mexico, in an endless, resplendent circuit.
I might sound a little crazy to you at this point, but I assure you, I’m no crazier than the throng of tipsy tourists, street performers, and natives in Key West who congregate on Mallory Square every single evening to cheer, drinks in hand, as the sun drops slowly beneath the horizon. For some, it almost invariably marks the end of another gorgeous day in the Florida Keys, while for many others, it marks the beginning of a long drunken night ahead on Duval Street.
Below is my pictorial tribute to my brief love affair with the hours between dusk and dawn in the Florida Keys. Most of those hours were spent with my amazing wife, while she waited patiently as I stopped time and again to set up my tripod for yet another view and click of the shutter. One such night has become one of my all-time-favorite memories, when we watched invisible stars through my telephoto lens for hours on the beach, the sky as dark as I’ve ever seen it—so black that stars were visible all the way down to the ocean’s horizon line. And one morning, it was just me, a few early joggers, and a great egret watching the chalky, rosy glow intensify over the mangroves east of Key West. I’m glad I had my camera with me.