Blog - Photography Blog - Anish Patel Photography

Landscape and travel photography blog. Everything from traveling to camera gear.

Juniper & Monolith - Joshua Tree, CA

One place becoming one of the more iconic shooting locations in Joshua Tree, is The Juniper & Monolith (at Jumbo Rocks Campground). When I went, the Milky Way would potentially be right next to the Juniper after sunset. Sunset would be the time to go then; clouds would mean the sunset picture would be on point and no clouds would mean a killer Milky Way shot.

I got no clouds, so a standard sunset picture was to be. I arrived with buckets of time which was spent fiddling with my tripod and getting the focus right, being as I was so close to the tree. No way I would be able to focus in the dark, so I marked where the lens was in focus at f/16 and didn’t move the camera all night.

Sunset Pic - nice & easy edit!

With a good half hour burned, I proceeded to setup my other camera for a time-lapse, which I’m sure I’ll never get around to editing. I still think I had 30-40 minutes till sunset left so I paced waiting for the show to start. The other side of the monolith did look like a good shot too, with a sun-star and all. I took a crappy picture with my cell phone (no way I was gonna move my dslr now) but it did look much better in person (for next time maybe).

Sunset came and went, burning red skies and all. My camera wasn’t pointed there, so I just enjoyed the show. Then it started to get dark and it was time to get what I came for.

There are a couple of ways you can take the shot with the stars. First, you have to deal with the focus distance. I had the camera way too close to get the tree and infinity both in focus. I could either focus stack or back the camera away, to get everything in focus. I chose to go with a focus stack, with one exposure at f/16 focused at the juniper and another at infinity focused at the stars. The composition was way better but it did have the drawback of a very complicated edit afterwards.

Now that the focus distance was sorted I could deal with the lighting of the juniper and the monolith. I had three choices; take an image at blue hour, take a long exposure with the ambient light at twilight, or light-paint it. I chose light-painting at blue hour, which I really shouldn’t have done - it made merging the two exposures in Photoshop a big pain in the ass.

With a bright blue hour foreground and added light from the light-painting, adding the Milky Way when it was completely dark looked just too unrealistic. I ended up having to use a Milky Way shot that I took at the tail end of blue hour, with a lot of the color still in the sky but a much less visible galaxy.

Big lesson learned though; either take a long exposure blue hour shot to merge with a blue hour sky, or take a light-painted shot past astronomical twilight under similar ISO setting as the other shot you want to merge it with. I did take a light painted shot when it was dark but for some reason I took a way too underexposed one compared with the Milky Way shot - no way those two where going to be merged successfully.

So I did more or less get the image I wanted. I did spend a lot of time deciding what images to merge and then going in meticulously with a paintbrush to paint in the layer mask. I went through the whole sound and dance with a focus stacked image in Cholla Gardens too. It’s gonna be a long time before I take a focus stack image again! Starting to get jealous of those in-camera photographers, with their bags of filters and easy Lightroom edits.

Final Image of The Juniper, Monolith & Milky Way.

The Narrows

I don’t think I’ve ever been as frustrated as trying to plan and actually hike the Narrows, in Zion National Park. With an unusual warm front in about the whole the country this winter, there has been a large amount of snow melt coming this February. That meant the Narrows was closed for for a while as the water flow exceeded 150 cubic feet per second,  I complain but at least I wasn’t in California dealing with the 200 year flood.

The thing is, not only do you need a low water flow rate in the Virgin River but also some nice sun beating down into the canyons in the Narrows, for good photographs. I got one; the slow flow rate but got jibbed on the sun.

You know what though, it was my first time in the Narrows and it was an amazing hiking; an almost empty slot canyon, wading through a reasonably fast flowing river, in the cold February waters. I didn’t really get any great pictures but I got something better, an amazing experience.

Sometimes the photograph isn’t worth it; sometimes it’s just worth looking around and being thankful you're not in the dreaded cubicle.

Orderville Canyon - a side hike to the main Narrows route

The San Juan Mountains

Sunset over the Dallas Divide

Ay the San Juan Mountains. I didn’t think fall foliage would look this nice but apparently those yellow and red aspens under a nice mountainous backdrop really can leave your mouth ajar.

The thing about the San Juan Mountains is that it’s pretty remote and not internationally well-known, like say nearby Arches and Canyonland National Parks. This makes it less of a place for Disneyland tourists and more for people coming to hike, climb, off-road or run; my kind of people.

There are easy viewpoints to get to and hard remote ones and bunch in-between.  The ones you’re more than likely to have seen before are from the Dallas Divide, Million Dollar highway, or from the Telluride area. There’re not super easy to access though, as they usually require dirt road driving (probably the reason you see less tourists).

I did plan two hard hikes; one to Wetterhorn Peak and the other to Mount Sneffels. I couldn’t really make either though. Hiking up to Wetterhorn basin, I had only 4 hours of sleep the previous two nights. Add to that, camping at 12,000 ft and another night with even less sleep, I awoke in the morning with some altitude sickness and a massive headache.

 

High camp, at Wetterhorn Basin.

I did get some great astrophotography pictures while up there, in the night though, and massive headache or not I was going to climb something and I settled for Wetterhorn’s neighbor, Matterhorn Peak at 13,590 ft.  I would regret climbing it though, as the climb back down was twice as hard as the climb up and it made me way too tired to do anything the rest of the day or the next morning, so Sneffels was out of the question.

 

Next time I come I’m spending some more time and pacing myself a little better. Heck, I think I’ll leave the heavy ass camping and camera gear and do some running.

Wetterhorn Peak, at the dead of night.

Something Going Right At Mt Rainier

Sunrise, on the north entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, is the first place the sun hits Rainier (hence it’s name). With Mount Rainier to the south, it’s also a perfect place to get the Milky Way rising out of the volcanic crater on Rainier.

Being summer, there’s like a seven hour difference between sunrise and sunset. With it being a hour and half drive from where I was staying, I planned on going there for sunset and just staying up there till sunrise and shooting all night.

The one thing I needed was clear skies. A couple people warned me that even in summer that’s far from a sure thing in the pacific northwest. It turns out they weren’t kidding.

For the whole week I was in Washington, the only day with a clear sky was the night I was at Sunrise. It went far from planned it though.

I was going to go just shy of the first Burroughs Mountain peak, where the galactic core of the Milky Way would line up with the crater on Rainier. When I got there, I saw the first blue sky I had seen in Washington so far. With Rainier so big and visible, I was getting excited. After about a 40 minute hike up to Burroughs Mountain, I had my camera setup and ready two hours before sunset.

 Fog at Burroughs Mountain

Fog at Burroughs Mountain

That’s when things started to turn. First came a couple of clouds – no big deal I thought, it’s not obscuring the peak. Then came the tsunami over the ridge towards the south. The whole place was covered in fog and I couldn’t really see about 5 meters in front of me, let along Rainier.

I waited it out till about one hour after sunset. By then I was cold, disappointed and frustrated. I thought I’ll hike back down to the parking lot and get some coffee I had sitting in the car.

So I waited; drank some coffee, watched a movie, and took a nap. I woke up at around 1am and I took a look out the windshield. Low and behold the sky was starting to clear up.

I had a couple of options at this point; I could go back to Burroughs Mountain, hike to Dedge Peak towards the south or drive to Sunrise Point. Feeling tired and somewhat sleeping, I took the lazy option and went to Sunrise Point.

At Sunrise Point, the Milky Way wouldn’t really line up with Rainier but I went anyway. Turns out it was the best option. That huge amount of cloud that came rolling in, had moved lower down and had created an expansive cloud bank below Rainier – perfect for a panorama!

Moon setting, with a bank of clouds below Rainier

I got as many shots as I could with the short window with the moon setting and creating a moon star on the tip of the mountain. Once the moon had set though, it was Milky Way time! It really didn’t disappoint; I hadn’t seen so many stars since my trip to Death Valley.

The Milky Way about an hour after the moon set.

Sunrise was now looking to be on point. My mood was a complete 360 from being fogged in at Burroughs Mountain. I knew the best place to catch sunrise would be on top of Dedge Peak but I couldn’t bring myself to hike 1200 ft up in the middle of dark, to trail I hadn’t been on before. Had I known though that was the only really good sunrise I was going to get this trip, I would lit my ass on fire and ran up there.

Sunrise Point wouldn’t make a bad sunrise shot though and with me completely frozen solid from shooting for 2 hours and being sleep deprived, I just stayed put.

Sunrise turned out great, not as great as it would have been from Dedge Peak but that’s fine. Finally something went somewhat to plan on this trip and I headed back to Seattle a happy camper.

Ruined Trip?

I headed out to Washington State for the North Cascades and Mount Rainier. People warned me about the weather but I was going in mid July so I'll thought I'll be fine. Turns out living in Georgia has kind of spoiled me.

 View from the top of Table Mountain, in the Mount Baker Wilderness. You're looking at Mount Shuksan under cloud cover.

View from the top of Table Mountain, in the Mount Baker Wilderness. You're looking at Mount Shuksan under cloud cover.

The weather hasn't been bad per say, it's just been killing me exactly at sunset, sunrise and in the night.

One minute I have clear skies and then wham, clouds everywhere, and not the good kind of clouds either, where're talking about thick heavy clouds that the sun has no hope of shining through.

First there was my easy trips to Artist Point and Table Mountain on the Mount Baker highway. I knew going in, there was going to be a lot of clouds but who cares, my trip just started and it wasn't like it was a long hike.The clouds mostly covered the peak, which is not what I wanted and I got a pretty lame picture.

 

This is as clear as it got at night on the skyline divide trail. The peak of Mount Baker is completely hidden and the prominent peak to the left is Grant Peak, which is east of the true summit.

Then came the skyline divide trail, which gets nice and close to Mount Baker. I wanted to get sunset, the night and then sunrise all while solo camping up there.

While hiking up there things were what I would call partially cloudy. Once I got camp setup, on I think the fifth knoll of the trail, things got decidedly worse. A huge amount of clouds swept in for sunset. Oh well, I thought it should clear up some at 2 am, like the weather report said, so I went to sleep with the alarm set to 2 am. Nope, it turns out the weather on top of mountains is unpredictable - who would have thought? I did manage a decent picture of the clouds sweeping over Grant Peak, along the east ridge of Baker though.

 

Well that was that, hopefully Rainier would turn out better. I headed out to Sunrise at the north entrance, hoping to get some Milky Way shots overlooking Rainier. The weather forecast was for clear skies and when I got there, clear and blue it sure was.

 My view from Burroughs Mountain. I could barely see the camera in front of me.

My view from Burroughs Mountain. I could barely see the camera in front of me.

My plan was to hike to a half mile shy of Burroughs Mountain and take a shot on the trail with the almost sheer cliffs overlooking the volcano. I set up both cameras; one for stills and one for a time-lapse with a good 2 hours before sunset. Then I saw the first clouds about half way up the top of Rainier. No big deal, I thought…...

Looking back towards the Sunrise visitors center, a big wave of misty clouds looked to be rolling in. The weather report was for partial cloudy skies at sunset and clear skies at around 1 am, so I was still holding out hope that they would just pass. You can see what the visibility actually looked like on the right.

The weather report for clear skies at around 1 am held water though and I got some pretty good moonlit, milky way and sunrise shots.

This is the kind of view you can expect once the clouds dissipate, or in my case move lower, leaving an amazing bank of clouds below me.

That seemed like the only good weather I got for the whole week. For the next sunset I planned on going to Mount St Helens. Reports were for a partial cloudy sky which would clear up later in the night.

Driving up there I saw a pretty clear St Helens with some clouds. A big bank of clouds rolled in at what seemed like on cue at sunset. I got some OK shots looking at the other direction from the volcano but at that point I was feeling really frustrated and didn’t stick around for the night.

 Fogged out Mt Rainier, at Paradise.

Fogged out Mt Rainier, at Paradise.

The final place I planned on going; Paradise, on the south entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, turned out to be the biggest bust. Driving up there I could again see the peak clearly but as you can guess, once I got there it was completely under cloud cover. I waited one hour after sunset to see if would dissipate but once it didn’t, I hiked back down to the trail head parking lot and thought I would wait it out in the car.

As 1 am rolled around, the visibility was even worse. Then 3 am ticked by and still no luck. I decided to pack it in and just drive back at that point, as I doubted sunrise would be clear (I did double check the visitor center webcam to check I made the correct decision - I did - big whoop).

 

So that was the trip, mostly bad, but that’s looking at it right after the Paradise let down. The skyline divide trail, along the ridge line towards Mount Baker was still very cool, even though there were clouds covering most of the peaks. On top of that, I had a very nice night at Sunrise at Mount Rainier, looking at the stars. I guess that’s the pacific northwest; lots of gloomy clouds but amazing once you get lucky enough to peak past them.