Thursday, February 11, 2021

Photographing 'The Wave' | Coyote Buttes North | Arizona


The Wave, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Nikon D850, Nikon 16mm Fisheye
(Click on Image to Open)

For almost six years, I had diligently entered a monthly online lottery, to try and secure an elusive permit to visit 'The Wave' in Arizona. And every month during those six years, I received a polite email thanking me for my participation in the lottery process, while reminding me that I was yet again, a loser! In February of 2019, I decided to take a road trip to Kanab, Utah, to try my luck at the walk-in lottery - I entered the walk-in lottery on a daily basis, and on the third day of trying, I finally won a coveted permit, to hike to 'The Wave'.


The Wave & Moonlight, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
'The Wave' Bathed in Moonlight
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm, Star Adventurer Star Tracker
(Click on Image to Open)

'The Wave' is situated in Coyote Buttes North, which lies within the 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area. Coyote Buttes North is home to some of the most stunning geologic sandstone formations in the world, with 'The Wave' being just one of many. Ironically, a lot of folks that win the lottery to hike to Coyote Buttes North, end up going just to 'The Wave', without any idea of the existence of other features in that area.

The Wave in the Evening Light, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
'The Wave' in the Evening Light
Nikon D850, Nikon 16mm Fisheye
(Click on Image to Open)

Permits to hike to Coyote Buttes North are extremely hard to obtain. Prior to February 1, 2021, visitation was restricted to 20 people a day - 10 were selected via an online lottery 4 months in advance, while the other 10 were selected via a walk-in lottery, held in Kanab, Utah, for next-day hiking. Per BLM, in 2018, over 168,000 people applied for the lottery to win one of the 7,300 permits, while over 200,000 people applied for the same 7,300 permits in 2019 - a dramatic increase year over year.

Entrance to 'The Wave'
Entrance to 'The Wave'
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

To address this growing interest from the public, while protecting the fragile sandstone formations, BLM decided to increase the number of daily hikers to 64 (with the option to expand this number further, to 96). Under the new system, 48 people or 12 groups (a group can have up to 6 people) will be awarded permits via the online lottery, 4 months in advance, while 16 people or 4 groups (whichever comes first), will be awarded permits via the walk-in lottery held in Kanab, Utah, for next-day hiking. The online increase (from 10 to 48 per day) will take effect from May 2021. On paper it sounds like BLM has really increased the number of daily hikers - however, there is a caveat. Let's consider the increase in the walk-in lottery - 16 people OR 4 groups, whichever comes first. When I won the walk-in lottery (after Feb 1, 2021), the 4 applications (groups) that won, had 1, 1, 1 and 2 people - for a total of 5 people who were allowed to go. Prior to this limitation on groups, they would definitely let 10 people go, but they now limit visitation by the number of groups too - they thus just draw 4 bingo balls for the daily walk-in lottery. Similarly, the online lottery is also limited to 12 groups. Do note that if you secure a permit, you are not allowed to re-enter the lottery for 14 days from the date of your hike.

Reflections at 'The Wave'
Reflections at 'The Wave'
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

Since my first win in February of 2019, I have won multiple times at the walk-in lottery in Kanab. I thus have visited 'The Wave' in different seasons and under different light conditions. On each occasion, I would drive to Kanab, stay for a few days and enter the lottery daily. For some weird reason, I always ended up winning on the 2nd or 3rd day of trying. I prefer to try the walk-in lottery in the winter months, due to fewer visitors - additionally, from the middle of November through early March, BLM conducts the lottery for the Saturday, Sunday and Monday hikes, on Friday itself - so the odds of winning increase by 3X if you enter on Friday. Even in the winter months, there can be a lot of people applying for the walk-in lottery - the lowest I experienced were around 35 applications (for around 90 people - remember that each application can have up to 6 people). However, these are great odds compared with the busy Summer months, when over 400 people can be found trying their luck for those 10 spots (now 16).

The 'Milky Wave'
'The Milky Wave'
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm, Star Adventurer Star Tracker
(Click on Image to Open)

On the day of my hike, I typically leave Kanab for the trailhead, around 4 to 5 hours before dawn. The drive to 'Wire Pass Trailhead' takes around an hour - the first 37 miles are on Highway 89 and the next 8 miles are on the (in)famous 'House Rock Valley Road'. This road is a dirt road and can be very trecherous when wet. I always like to reach 'The Wave' a couple of hours before sunrise, as it gives me enough time to try some night exposures. One of my favorite shots was taken on a beautiful August night, when I hiked to 'The Wave' during a New Moon, and photographed the Milky Way over 'The Wave' with my star tracker. Apart from getting a nice photo, it was the solitude that really appealed to me - I was alone, in the wilderness, under the dark skies and stars, standing among some ancient sandstone formations. It was magical!

Colorful sandstone at 'The Wave'
Colorful Sandstone at 'The Wave'
Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200mm E Fl
(Click on Image to Open)

Once parked at 'Wire Pass Trailhead' and after signing the log book, I would commence my hike in the dark, with just my headlamp to guide me. The hike to 'The Wave' is around 3 miles one way, with the first mile on a well marked trail. At the end of the first mile, the trail disappears, signifying the commencement of the permit area. One now has to direction find and navigate towards the destination, by referring to the landmarks on the pictorial map (supplied with the physical permit). Despite having hiked multiple times to 'The Wave' in the dark, I still feel a little uneasy when en route to it at night. Being unable to see any of the landmarks, I have to rely on my phone's GPS to guide me.

A Couple Posing at 'The Wave'
A Couple Posing at 'The Wave'
Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200mm E Fl
(Click on Image to Open)

Upon arrival at 'The Wave', I normally spend some time taking night and dawn shots and then climb up the cliff face immediately behind 'The Wave' to 'Top Rock'. 'Top Rock' is the aptly named area on top of the cliff, immediately behind 'The Wave'. This area is home to some amazing formations like 'Top Rock Arch', 'The Alcove', 'Melody Arch' and 'Hourglass Arch'. I always find it interesting that most people don't bother coming up to 'Top Rock' - maybe they don't know about the great features in this area, maybe they don't want to climb the 400 feet to reach 'Top Rock' or maybe, they only want to visit the most famous formation in Coyote Buttes North - 'The Wave'.

The Alcove, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
The Alcove, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Nikon D850, Nikon 16mm Fisheye
(Click on Image to Open)

Access to 'Top Rock' is either via a short 400 feet climb up the cliff face, starting just North of the 'Second Wave', or a longer (albeit easier) 1 mile route from the East side of 'Top Rock'. Once on 'Top Rock', I first head to photograph 'The Alcove' - I find that an ultrawide or fisheye lens gives great results, with lots of opportunities for a good composition.

Hourglass Arch, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Hourglass Arch, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200mm E Fl
(Click on Image to Open)

Close to 'The Alcove' is the beautiful 'Hourglass Arch'. Access to this arch is very sketchy, as it is on the cliffside, and is thus not recommended. One can get a nice view of this arch from a safe location on 'Top Rock'. Now it is time to head towards 'Melody Arch', which lies a few feet above 'The Alcove' and close to it.

Melody Arch, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Melody Arch, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Nikon D850, Nikon 16mm Fisheye
(Click on Image to Open)

'Melody Arch' is one of my favorite features in Coyote Buttes North. The early morning light, filtering through a window in the sandstone wall facing this arch, really lights it up in gorgeous orange hues. On two occasions, I have been present when the sun just rose over the horizon, and began to light up the arch. After spending time exploring 'Top Rock' I would head down back to 'The Wave', but from the East side. The return hike via the East side of 'Top Rock' is easy, allowing one to soak in the rugged landscape of Coyote Buttes North.

The Second Wave, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
The Second Wave, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200mm E Fl
(Click on Image to Open)

Once back at 'The Wave', I would just sit back and soak in the views until an hour or so before sunset, when I would head a few hundred feet South, to photograph the 'Second Wave'. The rich light of the setting sun, really brings out the colors and texture of the 'Second Wave'. The evening light at the 'Second Wave' is special and is a fitting culmination to a tiring but wonderful day in that area. With an hour to spare before sunset, I would commence the return journey to my car - which gave me enough time to get out of the permit area during daylight. En route, the evening light on the Teepees in the distance, would remind me how lucky I was to get to visit this place - not once, but multiple times.

The Setting Sun over Teepees, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Sunset over the Teepees, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200mm E Fl
(Click on Image to Open)

Below is a video highlighting one of my visits to 'The Wave'. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below.

'The Wave', Coyote Buttes North, Arizona

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Friday, July 3, 2020

Photographing the Milky Way


Milky Way over Hoodoos
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

Photographing the Milky Way in beautiful and dark Utah, had been on my mind for many years. I had made several trips to Southern Utah in the past to visit Zion National Park and the GSENM - however, I was either visiting during the fall or winter months, when the Milky Way was not visible or during a full moon, when it was washed out by the moonlight. Well, in June of this year, I finally got a chance to go on a road trip across Utah and seized upon the opportunity, to finally photograph the Milky Way.


Milky Way and the Hoodoos
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

I decided to head to Kanab, Utah, as I wanted to photograph the Milky Way over Toadstool Hoodoos, which lie around 40 miles East of Kanab, on Highway 89. I had planned my 4 night stay in Kanab, to coincide with the new moon - doing so would ensure that I had dark skies to shoot the Milky Way. Since my style of photography doesn't involve using light painting to light up the foreground, I had to rely on natural light for my foreground exposures. I thus needed to take a dual exposure for each of my compositions - one for the foreground, taken at dusk and the other for the Milky Way, taken at night, when it would be at an angle conducive to my composition. Naturally, this meant that I could only photograph one location every night, since I would have to shoot my foreground during dusk and then leave the camera on the tripod, until I could shoot the Milky Way at night from the same location. I would then bring in both the foreground and background shots into software like Photoshop and blend the two exposures together, to get the final image.


Foreground and Background Images
Foreground & Background Images
(See the Composite Image Below)

Every evening, around an hour and a half before sunset, I would leave Kanab and head towards the hoodoos to photograph the Milky Way. It took me around 45 minutes to drive to the parking lot of the trailhead, and another 15 minutes to hike to the actual location of the hoodoos. On my first day, I arrived at the hoodoos around 7 pm and walked around the area, to scout prospective locations to use as a foreground. I settled on 4 locations that I felt would allow compelling images - two of these locations were at the main hoodoo itself. I would then setup my camera at my location for that night, take the foreground shot at dusk, and then wait until around 2 am or so to get my background shot of the Milky Way. I honestly was a little concerned being all alone at night, but my doubts quickly dispelled once the stars came out on the first night - it was magical!

Milky Way over Hoodoos
Composite Image - Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

I used the PhotoPills app to determine the time that the Milky Way would be at the optimal angle for my composition. I would then take my foreground shot at dusk, underexposing by a stop or two so that it blended well with the darker, Milky Way image. For the Milky Way image, I used the 500 rule to determine the slowest, usable shutter speed - essentially divide the number 500, by the focal length of the lens, and keep the shutter speed faster than the computed value. This is to avoid getting star trails and to have pinpoint sharp stars in the background frame. I however found that 500 was too large a number to use with modern sensors - I thus used 300 as my number to compute the slowest, usable shutter speed. Most of my Milky Way photographs were taken using an ISO of 4000 or 5000, an aperture of f/2.8 and a shutter speed of 15 seconds. I found these settings gave me a very sharp image of the Milky Way.

Milky Way over Hoodoos
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

On the 5th day, I passed through Zion National Park, while heading to Hurricane, Utah. Since I was already in the park, I decided to stop at the famous bridge and take a Milky Way photograph at night. As I set up my tripod on the bridge, a ranger came by and told me that stopping at the bridge, was now considered illegal activity. I thus had to find another location for my photo at Zion. I decided to head down to the river and settled upon a location with a clear view of the Watchman. In retrospect, I was happy to have been compelled to find another location (rather than the cliched one on the bridge), as it gave me a photo with a slightly fresh perspective of the Watchman.

Milky Way over the Watchman
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

A few days later, I thought about heading to the West Rim Trail in Zion to shoot the Milky Way. I have hiked the 15.5 mile West Rim Trail that commences at Lava Point in Zion National Park, and ends at The Grotto. It is a fantastic hike in the Zion Wilderness and you see landscapes most folks visiting Zion will never see. While hiking that trail, I came across this one vantage point that is incredible. I have always wanted to go back and photograph it - the trouble is, that it's around a 7 mile hike one-way to get to. So I would need to hike 7 miles in, 3 hours before sunset, photograph the foreground and the Milky Way, and then hike back the 7 miles in complete darkness, through the forests and meadows.Since none of my friends wanted to do this, I decided to go anyway. The hike in the evening was incredible with gorgeous lighting - but I have to say that the hike back at 2 AM at night, through that forest, in pitch darkness, with nothing but my headlamp illuminating the trail, was more than a little nerve-wracking. I kept imagining either a mountain lion or an axe murderer, hot on my heels, ready to get rid of the "stupid photographer". What an experience!

Milky Way at West Rim
Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200mm
(Click on Image to Open)

This was my first time photographing the Milky Way and needless to say, I am hooked. Southern Utah has some amazing landscapes, that make for compelling foregrounds to use in night photography, and I can't wait to head out soon on another adventure to capture the Milky Way.

Milky Way at GSENM
Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200mm
(Click on Image to Open)

Below is a video outlining my thought process, with respect to determining optimal locations for well structured compositions and technique to capture great images of the Milky Way. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below.

Milky Way & Hoodoos

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Monday, August 26, 2019

The Subway at Zion National Park (The Left Fork of North Creek)


The Subway, Zion National Park
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

The Subway in Zion National Park has been on my bucket list for quite a few years. Ever so often, I would come across some beautiful photos of this surreal landscape, tucked away in the inner depths of Zion. It seemed like a distant wonderland, something that was really hard to get to. Well, earlier this year, I finally got a chance to visit 'The Subway', and man, oh man, it really lived up to the hype.


Archangel Falls, Zion National Park
Archangel Falls - Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

In March of 2019, I decided to go on an extended road trip across Arizona and Utah. In the process, I spent a good deal of time in Zion National Park. During one of the cold winter evenings, I got chatting with a ranger who asked me if I had been to The Subway yet? I told him that I hadn't thought about it as I 'assumed' that a permit would be unavailable due to the heavy demand. He told me that several permits were available for multiple days as it was winter and there just weren't many people that wanted to do the hike, especially given the increase in water levels due to the excessive snowmelt. I looked online and sure enough, there were plenty of permits available for multiple days.

Alcove Fall, Zion National Park
Alcove Falls - Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

I reserved a permit online and the day before my hike, headed to the Zion National Park Visitor Center in Springdale, to collect it. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware that the Wilderness Desk at the visitor center in Springdale, was only open until noon and since I arrived a few minutes after noon, I was told that the permit couldn't be issued at that location.

Archangel Falls, Zion National Park
Archangel Falls - Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

My choices were to either collect it the following morning from the Springdale location or to drive 40 miles to the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center, which could issue the permit that day. Since I wanted an early start for this hike, I chose to drive to Kolob Canyon to collect it. It is worth mentioning that the $5 one pays to reserve the permit online, is for just that - reserving the permit. You have to make an additional payment for the actual permit, once you go to collect it. The cost varies, depending on how many people are in your group.

The Subway, Zion National Park
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

The day of my hike, I woke up well before dawn, and headed to the Left Fork Trailhead. The trailhead is around 8.3 miles from the town of Virgin, on the Kolob Terrace Road. I desired to commence my hike at the start of civil twilight, as I wanted to arrive at 'Archangel Falls' near The Subway, before the sun's rays hit the water and washed out all the color. I figured that it would take me around 2.5 to 3 hours to get to that location, given the weight of my backpack (25 lbs) and the high water levels due to the spring snowmelt.

The Crack at The Subway, Zion National Park
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

Well, it ended up taking me exactly 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to 'Archangel Falls' from the Left Fork Trailhead parking lot. The hike itself was strenuous due to the backpack weight and the high water levels - involving lots of scrambling over rocks and wading in waist deep water. I had rented a dry pants package from Zion Adventure Company in Springdale, and was nice and cozy during the hike. BTW, I subsequently did this hike in summer (August 2019), and the much lower water levels, made the hike a lot easier (as one could just walk in the water instead of scrambling over boulders).

The Subway, Zion National Park
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

By the time I arrived at Archangel Falls, the cliffs in the background were lit up with this beautiful reflected light, making them glow. I wasted no time and started shooting some photos with my camera on a tripod. The water was flowing fast and I had to be very careful when placing my tripod on the slickrock. I used my Nikon D850 coupled with a Nikon 14-24 lens, on an RRS TVC-33 tripod.

The Subway, Zion National Park
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

After spending an hour or so at 'Archangel Falls' and the beautiful 'Alcove Falls', I headed up to the main event - The Subway. Due to the strong water flow, the creekbed wasn't slippery and I had no problem with traction on the slickrock. High water levels meant that some of the famous potholes were covered with water - I thus had to get a little creative to capture the essence of The Subway. I should add that I did not see more than 5 to 6 hikers throughout my time there. I guess the high water levels and the cold weather, were a deterrent for many.

The Subway, Zion National Park
Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this hike, especially in late winter/ early spring, to capture a different perspective of this oft photographed subject. Due to the high water levels, there are countless opportunities to get some great shots of the waterfalls and The Subway. I would also recommend going in the summer to contrast your experience with that in the spring. The Left Fork of North Creek is a strenuous, albeit gorgeous hike, that offers the landscape photographer, great opportunities to get some lasting memories.

The Subway, Zion National Park
Archangel Falls - Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm
(Click on Image to Open)

Below is a video shot with my GoPro Hero7 Black of my hike to The Subway. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below.

The Subway, Zion National Park, Utah

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico


Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

I first heard about the Sandhill Cranes at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge last year. I came across some amazing images of these cranes, bathed in gorgeous New Mexico light, and thought that I definitely need to head there in the near future. Well, last week I finally got a chance to go to Bosque, and let me tell you, it really lives up to the hype - a photographer's paradise!


Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

The 57,000 acre refuge is situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east. During the fall and winter months, the refuge is home to tens of thousands of migratory Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese, besides the other birds that reside at the refuge. The refuge hosts an annual 'Festival of the Cranes' event around the middle of November, which marks the beginning of the migration season.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

The peak time to visit Bosque for photography is from the last week of November through the second or third week of December. Do note that a lot of pro photographers lead workshops during the month of December, so expect the locations to be crowded. From my perspective, there is enough room to accommodate everyone, unless you have a specific spot that you like - in which case you might want to arrive early to claim that location.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Panning shot, Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

I would begin my day by leaving my hotel in Socorro, around an hour and a half before sunrise. The drive from Socorro to the refuge takes around 30 minutes. This way I arrived at the refuge well before sunrise to allow me to get a good spot and setup my gear. Be advised that it can get very cold at the refuge early morning (it was around 18F or -8C last week), so definitely bundle up in layers and carry some hot coffee or other beverage. I love sipping on some hot coffee as dawn breaks in a gorgeous setting such as Bosque.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Panning shot, Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

Location(s) for Dawn/ Sunrise photography: Enter the refuge and take the first left at the 4-way just inside the refuge. Drive on until you reach the 'Flight Deck' parking lot to the right. This is a pretty well known location for early morning photography.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Dawn by the 'Flight Deck', Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

I personally prefer to drive past the 'Flight Deck' for approximately a hundred feet, and park just before the road becomes one-way (in the opposite direction - so one can't enter it anyway). Choose a spot in that vicinity and then take the dawn and maybe sunrise photos. If you don't have enough birds there close to you, you will definitely get the early morning color over the pond and some flying birds.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Dawn by the 'Flight Deck', Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

Location(s) for Sunrise until an hour after Sunrise: Once you have shot the birds by the 'Flight Deck', head straight to the crane pools. This is the water body that you will pass on your way to the refuge - I believe it's around 3.5 miles north of the main paid entrance to the refuge. So head out of the main entrance, make a right and get back on the road that you came in on from San Antonio. Drive around 3.5 miles until you see a big parking lot to your left alongside a water body.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

The cranes and snow geese roost here during the night and you will be able to get spectacular photos of them taking off a little after sunrise (when they head to the corn fields in the refuge). The lighting at this time is incredible. Try different photographic techniques like panning (use a shutter speed of around 1/100 of a second when you first start experimenting and then drop it to around 1/30s when you get good at panning).

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

After you have shot for an hour there, definitely head back into the refuge (so drive the 3.5 miles back to the entrance), enter the refuge and then drive straight to do the North Loop tour. Here you will find plenty of spots where these cranes will be feeding (some are very close and some a little distant).

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

For me personally, the light turned too harsh two to three hours after sunrise and I would return to my hotel in Socorro. I would then head back to the Crane Pools (the ones outside the refuge) around an hour and a half before sunset. The birds would start to come back from the corn fields to roost, around 45 minutes to an hour before sunset. The evening light is gorgeous and you will get great shots of the cranes landing on the water.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

Finally, be aware that wind direction is really important when photographing birds. The birds will fly into the wind while taking off and landing. So position yourself such that you get the best angle. You definitely don't want to get their rear ends in the frame if the wind is from the front, blowing onto your face. Having said that, even if the wind is from the front, the birds tend to circle before landing - that's when you can get a good shot if the wind is not cooperating.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

Bosque del Apache is an amazing place and one that I highly recommend you visit, especially if you like bird photography. The lighting there is gorgeous and one has a lot of opportunities to get some great shots. I personally used a Sigma 150-600mm Sports lens for my photographs and found it to be more than adequate to capture some great photos. Most importantly - Have Fun!

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

Feel free to comment below if you have specific questions about the place, or if you would like any more tips on photographing birds at Bosque.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Panning shot, Nikon D850, Sigma 150-600 Sports lens

Below is a quick iPhone video taken during an evening at the Crane pool.

Crane Pool, Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA


Horsetail Fall, February 2016, Yosemite National Park, CA
Horsetail Fall, February 2016, Yosemite National Park, CA

For the past three years, I have desired to visit Yosemite National Park to photograph the natural fire-fall. No these aren't lava spewing, heat dispensing falls of fire like the ones in the LOTR movies. Rather for a few days in February, the sun's angle is such, that it lights up 'Horsetail Fall' in Yosemite National Park as if it were on fire. It really is a spectacular sight and one that I have been fortunate to photograph last year as well as this year.

Horsetail Fall, February 2011, Yosemite National Park, CA
Wide View of Horsetail Fall from the Valley floor, February 2011

This fall was made famous by Galen Rowell through his photograph 'Last light on Horsetail Fall'. Since then throngs of photographers descend upon Yosemite during the month of February, to capture this natural wonder. This event happens twice a year - in October and in February. During October, the fall is dry and hence one cannot see the event. Even in February, a few conditions have to be met before one can see this beautiful phenomenon - there should be sufficient snow melt for the fall to flow and the sun should not be obstructed by clouds around sunset (when this phenomenon takes place). During this window in February, as the evening sets in and the sun goes down, the light falling on El Capitan assumes a rich golden color. As the sun nears the horizon, the light falling on either side of the fall, gets narrower and narrower, until the light is focused just on the fall, giving the impression that the fall is on fire. It was thus with the intent of photographing this elusive event, that my friend Mike and I drove from Los Angeles to Yosemite on a cold Saturday morning.

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA
Horsetail Fall, February 2016, Yosemite National Park, CA

We arrived at Yosemite National Park around 1 pm and found a great spot with a clear view of the fall. We set our chairs down, mounted our cameras on tripods and high-fived each other, excited that we had got a prime spot to photograph this event. While gorging on sandwiches and washing them down with coke, we waited for sunset and watched as the initially empty landscape, began to fill up with photographers. By 4 pm, all the good spots had gone and panic was setting in among the late arrivals. Some took to the trees and some waded into the river water to try and get that perfect composition. As the excitement mounted and the friendly chatter of all present drowned the babbling of the Merced river, 'Ra' decided to play dirty and hid behind some clouds.

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA
Horsetail Fall, February 2011, Yosemite National Park, CA

Some of us started to get nervous, thinking that we might not see the fire-fall, while others started to pray for the clouds to part. It was really interesting to watch the reaction of people around us - people from different walks of life and interests, all hoping and praying for the clouds to part and let the sunlight through. Fifteen minutes before sunset, the clouds were completely obscuring the sun and most of us had lost hope of seeing the event. And then... Magic! The bottom of the fall started to light up as the sun's rays broke through the clouds. "It's happening", I shouted out to the other photographers, who then looked up and ran towards their gear. Slowly, but surely, 'Horsetail Fall' transformed into the 'Fire-Fall' right before our eyes. Noisy chatter was replaced by shutter clicks as awe-struck spectators marveled at the sight before their eyes. And then, ten minutes later, it was all gone. The 'Fire-fall' reverted back to 'Horsetail Fall', as everyone let out a collective sigh of disappointment.

Horsetail Fall, February 2016, Yosemite National Park, CA
Horsetail Fall, February 2016, Yosemite National Park, CA

One thing is for sure - Mike and I will be back next year to capture this event. I for one, just want to be in the presence of this indescribable beauty.

Here is a video that I created of the event.



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