Nature, Landscape, and Night Sky Photography by Zach Schierl

Posts tagged “year in review

Top 10 from 2014

As in past years, with the coming of the New Year I decided to take a look back at all the photos I took in 2014 and select some of my favorites to share with you here on the blog. Between finishing graduate school (yippee!) and making a permanent (for now) move from the Pacific Northwest to Colorado, I had less time to devote to photography than in previous years. Nevertheless, picking out my favorite photos was difficult as usual and a good reminder that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to experience and photograph a a number of new places in the past year, from the coasts of Olympic National Park to remote alpine basins in the Rocky Mountains.

Without further ado, here are my ten favorite photos from 2014 in chronological order. Here’s wishing you all a healthy and happy new year!

1. Tulip Fields at Sunset, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, Washington

Filed at Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Held annually in April, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is a must see for any spring visitor to NW Washington, photography buff or not. On weekends, especially sunny ones, the tulip fields that spread out across the Skagit Valley about an hour north of Seattle are overrun, making photography difficult. Fortunately, I lived only about a half hour away and was able to visit on a less-busy weekday evening in order to photograph the picture-perfect bulbs in their prime and without the crowds.

2. American Bison, Yellowstone National Park

A solitary bison in Yellowstone National Park

I’m going to come clean: this is the only photo on this list taken from the confines of my car! I was departing Yellowstone at the end of an impromptu day-trip to the park while attending a geology conference in Bozeman when I spotted this solitary bison along the road. Fortunately, no vehicles were coming up behind me so I was able to grab my camera and capture the glow of the late afternoon sunlight and the diffuse reflection of the bison in a pool of late-season snow melt.

3. Milky Way, Airglow, and Light Pollution from Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

Milky Way and airglow from Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Living near Seattle doesn’t exactly do wonders for one’s chances of observing rare celestial events. What’s one to do? Get above the clouds of course! I was thrilled to be visiting Olympic National Park during the peak of the Cameleopardalids meteor shower in May. In order to get an unobstructed view, we made the drive up to Hurricane Ridge just before midnight in hopes of catching some meteors. As you may recall, the meteor shower fizzled spectacularly but all was not lost: I was able to capture this panorama of the summer Milky Way emerging from the disgusting Seattle light dome (over 50 miles away as the crow flies) as it rose in the west. Despite the light pollution, I also managed to capture the ghostly green glow of an atmospheric phenomenon known as “airglow” (which I’ve written about previously) and the low lying clouds smothering the Elwah River Valley several thousand feet below.

4. Giant Green Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica), Olympic National Park

Close-up of a Giant Green Anemone in Olympic National Park

I developed a slight infatuation with seeking out and photographing marine life during my two years in Western Washington. Timing trips to the coast with some of the lowest tides of the year helped me discover a wide variety of anemones, nudibranchs, sea stars, urchins, and much more. Anemones were perhaps my favorite group to photograph, their neon-colored and delicate tentacles waving back and forth in the surf.

5. Panorama from Hole-in-the-Wall, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

Panorama from top of Hole-in-the-Wall, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

Rialto Beach is one of the most popular spots in Olympic National Park…for obvious reasons. The short 2-mile hike to Hole-in-the-Wall was one of my favorite experiences this year. Once reaching the famous rock formation, we found an nearly entirely overgrown path that led us up to a viewpoint on the crest of Hole-in-the-Wall, getting us away from the surprisingly scant Memorial Day crowds and immersing us in expansive views of sea stacks, rocks, and islands along the Olympic coast.

6. Summer Wildflowers at Ice Lake, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Wildflowers at Ice Lake

Despite my ravings about Rialto Beach in the previous photo, our trek to Ice Lake in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado was hands down my favorite hike of the year, and one of my most memorable ever. My only regret about this day was that we weren’t prepared for an overnight (or at least a hike back to the car in the dark!), which means I missed out on what was surely a epic sunset from the basin. Click the link above for more photos of this spectacular place.

7. Ice Lake Panorama, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Panorama of Ice Lake, San Juan Mountains

Did I mention Ice Lake was spectacular? It snagged two of the coveted spots on the top 10 list. That means you have to go.

8. Circumpolar Star Trails from Escalante Canyon, Colorado

Star Trails from Escalante Canyon

Photographing star trails is a bit more complex in the digital age than it was with film. This was only my second legitimate attempt, but I was happy with how it turned out. Extremely long single exposures suffer from a variety of maladies so this photo is actually a composite of over 100 consecutive 30″ exposures (for the stars), and one 3″ exposure for the foreground juniper which I illuminated with a headlamp. In post-processing, I had the pleasure of removing more than a dozen aircraft which passed overhead during the hour or so it took to gather the series of exposures. I elected not to remove the two meteors (astronomical objects flashing through the frame are fine by me) but I’m looking forward to doing some more star trail photography from places not on major transcontinental flight paths.

9. Exclamation Point, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison from Excalmation Point

I love this photo because it exemplifies how the canyon got its name. Despite being taken at 10 o’clock in the morning, the narrow gorge carved into dark Precambrian metamorphic rocks remained shrouded in shadow, while its surroundings (and portions of the canyon bottom) are basking in the bright, mid-morning sunshine. This photo was taken from an overlook on the remote and seldom visited North Rim of Black Canyon, which offers the most spectacular views into the narrowest portion of this amazing gorge and is truly worth the effort to visit.

10. Waving Aspen and Grasses, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Waving aspen tree, Rocky Mountain National Park

I didn’t purchase any new camera gear this year, but was the recipient of a 9-stop neutral density filter for my birthday, a filter I’ve been wanting to experiment with for a while now. That filter allowed me to take this photo, a 30″ exposure at f/22 in broad daylight, and capture the motion of a colorful aspen and meadow grasses waving in the wind on a autumn day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

 

 


Top 10 Images from 2013

So this is a taaaaad late, again, but since my shameless self-promotion retrospective was somewhat popular last year, I figured it was worth making another post highlighting my favorite images from the past year, even if it is now nearly a month into the new one. In honor of 2012, I chose my 12 favorite photos. This year I’ve chosen just ten, so as not to head down a road where this post gets ever so slightly longer and more agonizing to read each year.

As was the case last year, some of these photos you may have seen already if you follow me. Including some new images wasn’t difficult though, considering that I took an average of 1478 photos per month this past year, yet averaged just 1.5 posts per month. That adds up to 17,736 photos in the past year (a 221% increase over last year!). With the end of grad school in sight, hopefully I’ll be able to share photos more frequently this coming year, but for now I now humbly present my favorite (not necessarily for technical quality) 0.05% of the photos I took in 2013:

DSC_0195

1. Mt. Baker, Washington.

One of the things I dislike about the Pacific Northwest is that there are so many damn trees everywhere that even hiking to the crest of ridges and mountains in search of an expansive view is often a futile endeavor, especially in the lowlands. Unless that is, your summit has had the pleasure of being clear-cut in the past decade or so, in which case you can see halfway to Alaska (if it’s clear…).  I was surprised to find myself in one of these clearings on a January hike outside Bellingham following one of our biggest snowfalls of the year and took advantage by taking in a nice view (and some photos) of Mt. Baker and the foothills, alas one complete with more of the aforementioned clear cuts in the foreground.

Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly

2. Monarch Butterfly, Pacific Grove, California. 

The town of Pacific Grove, California loves their butterflies. Monarch butterflies specifically. So much so that an image of one can be found on every street sign. In March I visited the official Monarch Grove Sanctuary where thousands of monarchs flock to reproduce each year. While I don’t doubt this claim, on my visit I saw about a dozen butterflies, none of which where in range of my camera. I found this one downtown, along the beach, in a much more accessible location. I’m not sure what this guy is eating but it looks delicious.

Golden Gate Bridge in the fog

3. Golden Gate Bridge Fog and Sunset, San Francisco, CA.

This was one of the few shots on this list that actually had some degree of planning behind it. I had recollections of a good vantage point of the bridge from trips to San Francisco made pre-camera toting days. Fog had been rolling in and out of San Francisco all day but it  seemed to be a thin layer and I surmised that if I could get above the clouds, I might be treated to a dramatic view of the bridge’s towers poking up above the fog where they could intercept the last rays of sunlight.  As you can see, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. It’s incredibly satisfying when hunches work out that perfectly. I only wish I had possessed one of these suckers so that I could have increased my exposure time and smoothed out the rapidly moving fog. If anyone is looking for a belated Christmas present or a donation, hint hint…

Blood Star at low tide

4. Blood Star, somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

While I like this picture enough to have a 5×7 framed on my bookshelf, it was the experience associated with it that makes it worthy of inclusion on this list. Back on Memorial Day weekend, I headed out to the Olympic Peninsula (oddly enough, not to look at sea stars but rather the Elwah River restoration project) and happened to stumble across some epic tide pools one misty morning. We’re talking sea stars comparable in size to small children, anemones and urchins the size of bowling balls, and masses of gargantuan mussels sufficient in size to keep the aforementioned sea stars fat and happy. Despite it being a holiday weekend and one of the lowest tides of the year, there were only a smattering of people wandering around the tidal zone.  I spent several hours taking photos in a steady rain while balancing the need to keep my camera dry AND myself from slipping on kelp and splitting my skull open on jagged basalt. Several groups approached me during this time and asked me if I was local and how I had found about this place. After responding “Uhh, not really…” and “the Internet”, I proceeded to have a few nice conversations about the incredibly diversity of marine life in front of us. What was interesting was that each and every group urged me to keep this location a secret before continuing on their way. And given that other spectacular tide pools in Washington have suffered from over-popularity, I’m going to honor that request.

Snake-3

5. Snake eat Snake.

Any year in which you get to photograph wildlife eating other wildlife is a darn good year in my book, even if it is only two snakes rather than say, a mountain lion taking down a deer in full stride.

Sunset at Black Canyon on the Eve of the 2013 Supermoon

6. Sunset at Gunnison Point, Black Canyon National Park, Colorado.

If you ever want to visit a National Park in the summer and don’t want to feel like you’re at Disneyland, you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere more spectacular than Black Canyon. Think you could go to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite and have a major overlook all to yourself at sunset in mid-summer? Think again. In case you didn’t notice, lurking just above the far right horizon in this photo is the 2013 Supermoon for an added bonus.

Lightning and the Big Dipper

7. Lightning and the Big Dipper.

I had to include at least one night sky shot in this list (its part of my contract). Neither subject here (lightning and the Big Dipper) is particularly interesting on it’s own, but I think together they make a nice pair. I really would have loved a wider-angle lens on this one; I had to wait about an hour longer than I would have liked for the Big Dipper to rotate into the field of view of the cloud tops, and by then the best of the lightning storm was past. I also wish there was something more interesting in the foreground but achieving that would have meant leaving my front porch, something that I was very loath to do on this particular evening for obvious reasons. As nice as a intriguing foreground would have been, being alive to share this photo is even sweeter.

A colorful Collared Lizard in Dominguez Canyon, Colorado

8. Collared Lizard, Dominguez Canyon, Colorado.

I’ve come across these flamboyant lizards more than a few times in the southwest. Normally they peace out as soon as you get within 10 yards or attempt to intimidate you from coming closer by launching into their patented push-up routine. This one seemed to want his picture taken though. Almost motionless for several minutes, I reeled off a couple dozen shots trying to get the focus just right.

Sunset from the Box Canyon sign above Ouray, CO

9. Sunset from the Sign, Ouray, Colorado.

Another shot that involved a fair bit of planning. Ouray, CO might be about the most picturesque town this side of the Alps. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, some yahoos thought that a big metal, light-up marquee advertising one of Colorado’s most famous natural wonders (Box Canon) would somehow be a good idea. Thankfully, the lights on this metal monstrosity have since gone dark and nowadays the sign is barely visible from town unless you know where to look. But the sign’s location on a precipice above town makes for a great sunset vantage point, especially following an intense summer thunderstorm which left some wispy clouds hanging around the amphitheater to catch the last rays of sunlight.

Golden Western Larches in the North Cascades

10. (Golden) Western Larches, North Cascades, Washington.
Since I just wrote about this trip a few months ago, I won’t say much here…other than that I hope you enjoyed these photographs, and I would love to hear your comments or criticism in the comments below! Happy (belated) New Year!