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

Read more...

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.



Read more...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Death Valley National Park, CA


Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley
Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley

I had been wanting to visit Death Valley National Park for the last couple of years and finally got the chance to do so this past winter. Visiting the park in the winter held a couple of incentives for me; first, the climate was pleasant during the day, and second, the temperatures were sufficiently low (in the 30s) during the night, to allow me to photograph star trails with little image noise during the long exposures. I hoped to leave Los Angeles around 4 AM- the keyword being 'hoped'! Sleeping late and getting up early don't really mix well together, and after hitting the 'snooze' button on my alarm clock a few times, I finally managed to leave my apartment around 5 AM. A quick stop at the local gas station for a cup of joe, and I was cruising along CA-134.

Moonrise over Ubehebe Crater
Moonrise over Ubehebe Crater

I decided to take CA-134 to the I-15 N, before finally taking CA-127 at Barstow. The journey time from LA to Death Valley is approximately 5 hours. I arrived at Death Valley around 10 AM and after checking in at the visitor center, I headed to my campsite located in the Furnace Creek campground. The campground is well laid out with RV campsites in the middle and the tent sites circling the RV ones. If camping in a tent, it's advisable to book tent specific sites, as they have a softer ground (for the stakes). I made the mistake of booking one night in the RV site and could not for the life of me, hammer half of my stakes into the hard ground. I then decided to just hammer the stakes in at a 45 degree angle and set some stones on top of the stakes. As luck would have it, it was horribly windy that night and I was just hoping that the stakes/ stones combo, would keep the tent in place (which they did).

Sunset at Badwater
Sunset at Badwater

I basically wanted to photograph a few specific places in Death Valley. I knew that I definitely had to shoot the sunrise from Badwater as well as Dante's View, and the sunset at Ubehebe Crater (which is a few miles from Scotty's Castle and quite a distance from Furnace Creek). The drive to the crater is very scenic (with some great views). I recommend going to see the crater if you visit Scotty's Castle. The crater is also en-route to the Racetrack (which I have never been to, as one requires a 4WD high-clearance vehicle to get there). Besides these photos, I wanted a couple of panoramas and star trails (specifically from Zabriskie Point and Dante's View). I tend to shoot star trails around 2 AM or so, and was thus apprehensive about heading off to these remote areas alone at that time. I especially remember the trip to Dante's View (for those of you that have never been to Death Valley, Dante's View is a very scenic point at around 5000 feet above the valley below and is a good distance from civilization)- images of myself being stalked by an Axe-murderer kept flashing as I was driving up the solitary road towards my destination.

Sunrise at Dante's View
Sunrise, Panamint Range, Dante's View

If you do decide to go to Dante's View for night photography (I highly recommend it), then try and go with a friend (and don't forget to load your thermos up with some hot coffee the previous night). One of the great things about Death Valley is that they have a couple of restaurants and a grocery store very close to the visitor center. One of the most photographed locations in Death Valley is 'Zabriskie Point' which happens to be close to the visitor center. The view from this point is great and the light early morning and late evening is spectacular. This point has a lot of tourists for the sunset, but not too many show up for the sunrise (they tend to show up after the sun has risen). I shot an hour long star trail at this point (around 2AM or so) and it turned out well. I had planned my two visits to Death Valley so that I got the chance to photograph the valley, both during the new moon as well as the full moon.

Star Trails at Zabriskie Point
Star Trails at Zabriskie Point

A few weeks ago, I decided to go to Death Valley once again as I wanted to capture shots for a panorama at Badwater. At 282 feet below sea-level, Badwater is the lowest point in Death Valley (and also the USA). One of the cool things at the parking lot is a sign up on the mountain by the parking lot, that says 'Sea Level'. The location is very scenic and can provide some great photo opportunities. The panorama below is composed of around 13 shots stitched together (representing approximately 270 degrees of view). I got lucky that day as there were clouds and the panorama turned out quite dramatic. If you can go to Death Valley during a rainstorm, I think you will be well rewarded with some great photo opportunities.

To see the panorama below in all its glory, click on the photo and once it opens, use the scrollbar at the bottom to scroll to the right to see the full picture.

Badwater Panorama- Click on this photo to open large version
Badwater Panorama, Death Valley


Death Valley should definitely be on your list of must-see attractions. It's a great place to relax, shoot photos and just have a good time.
Read more...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

I first heard about the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park through a friend. He told me about this park, famous for miles and miles of dirt roads (five hundred miles to be precise) and close to the Salton Sea. Over the past weekend, I decided to take a short trip and check it out. Anza-Borrego lies Southeast of LA and is a 3 hour drive along the I-15S and CA-79 routes. The drive along CA-79 is very scenic, and in particular while approaching the park along Montezuma Valley Road.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Unlike most other parks, there is no fee to enter Anza-Borrego. The town of Borrego Springs is located within the park and has a few restaurants and a couple of gas stations. The visitor's center lies to the west of the town along Palm Canyon Road. Incidentally, Borrego Springs is the first town in California, where I have come across a traffic roundabout, known as the Christmas Circle.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The park is beautiful and as mentioned earlier, has a lot of dirt roads that lead to incredible vistas. Fonts Point, probably the most prominent viewpoint, provides a good view of the Borrego Badlands and the valley below and can be reached by a four-mile drive on a primitive (read dirt) road. Park rangers advise not to attempt driving on that road without a four-wheel drive vehicle. Coyote Canyon and Palm Canyon offer great hiking and riding trails. Traveling east along the S22, you can see Truckhaven Rocks which are sandstone slabs inclined at an angle. This seems to be a hot tourist destination too and I saw a lot of people taking pictures. I did not have time to check out the Desert Gardens and the Mud Caves.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Unfortunately, I traveled in my dinky car and was unable to check out most of the touristy destinations which are only accessible via dirt roads. To really appreciate Anza-Borrego, you would need a 4WD. Anza-Borrego is a picturesque park that deserves to be on your list of travel destinations.

Camping at Anza-Borrego

There are a few campgrounds in Anza-Borrego. I chose to stay at Tamarisk Grove which lies to the south of Borrego Springs. The campground has around 27 sites with restrooms and hot showers. It is one of the better campgrounds I have visited and I really enjoyed my stay there. Reservations for this campground can be made at Reserve America.

Tamarisk Grove Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Read more...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Joshua Tree National Park, CA


Sunset from Keys View
Sunset from Keys View

I first visited Joshua Tree National Park over ten years ago. I was visiting my sister in LA for a few weeks and after watching endless hours of mindless tv, I asked her to take me to Joshua Tree. We left LA around 10am or so and arrived at the park around 2pm (after making the customary stop to grab a Big Mac). We had barely spent 20 minutes in the park- driven a few miles in the park and taken a couple of photos, when we decided to head back to LA. Joshua Tree park, it seemed, did not hold our interest. After all, we had better things to do in LA- like watching mindless tv! Since then, I have always remembered Joshua Tree as this arid, barren park which had not appealed to me.

Moonset from Keys View
Moonset from Keys View

Fast forward a few years. I moved to LA in the fall of 2006 and the travel bug bit me big time. The problem was that the only national park within a couple of hours driving distance was Joshua Tree. Even though I had not so pleasant memories of my previous trip, I decided to go to the park once again. The rationale being that if I did not like the park, I could always swing by Palm Springs or better still, do some mindless shopping at the outlet malls.

Full Moon at Cap Rock
Full Moon at Cap Rock

The park has three main entrances- one each from the West, North and South. Since I was driving from LA, taking the 10E, I decided to enter the park from the West entrance. The drive by the way, is really scenic, especially as one meanders between the windmills on the 10 freeway, just before exiting onto CA62 (which leads to the park).

Sunrise at Joshua Tree
Sunrise at Joshua Tree

At the entrance I was convinced by a very happy park ranger (I was able to count all of her pearly whites) to get an annual pass which would allow me entry into all the national and some state parks (the pass is called 'America the Beautiful' and is probably one of the best purchases I have made. I strongly believe in supporting the national park service and this pass is a bargain at an $80 value). This time around though, I was struck by the stark beauty of the park. I guess the last time I wasn't really 'looking'.

Star Trails at Joshua Tree
Star Trails at Joshua Tree

I think the best way to see this park is to drive from one end of the park to the other. Driving east from the West entrance along Park Boulevard, one can see lots of interesting rock formations and undulating landscapes. After crossing Hidden Valley campground, you can stop by to visit Keys Ranch and Barker Dam. South of Hidden Valley at Cap Rock, the road forks with the south segment leading to the Lost Horse Mine and Keys View, which offers spectacular views of the valley below. I have always obtained great shots from Keys View- whether it be sunrise or sunset. From Keys View one can see the San Jacinto Mountains and Palm Springs. Take it from me- Keys View is a must see and if you can stay on for the sunset or get there for the sunrise, you will be very happy.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park

Traveling east along Park Boulevard, you can check out Jumbo and Skull rocks. Skull rock is a pretty interesting rock formation that looks like- you guessed it- a skull! A lot of people spend some time here hiking or just chilling out (especially in the afternoons and evenings). Past Skull rock you can either go North towards the entrance or choose to go South towards Cottonwood. As you head South towards Cottonwood, the change in the scenery is quite dramatic, especially past the Cholla Cactus Gardens (which are really beautiful). The landscape starts to get pretty barren and flat especially in the Pinto Basin area. Incidentally, Pinto Basin is a great place to photograph wildflowers in the spring.

Cholla Cactus Garden
Star Trails in Joshua Tree

While heading towards the park's exit, stop to see Cottonwood Spring and the Lost Palm Oasis. There is also a visitor center at this point with restrooms etc. The park does not have any shops or restaurants, so make sure you come with food supplies and plenty of water (particularly in the summer months).

Since my second visit to Joshua Tree in early 2007, I have been there around six to seven times- the more I visit it, the more I like it. It should definitely be on your must see list should you be in the area (or even LA- it is after all only a three hour drive from LA).

Camping at Joshua Tree

There are nine campgrounds in Joshua Tree. Most of these are on a first-come first-served basis (viz. Belle, Cottonwood, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan, and White Tank. The Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds are first-come, first-served only during the summer months). I personally really like the Indian Cove campground (the only drawback being that vehicular access is from outside the park). Indian Cove is famous for its rocks and a lot of campers spend time climbing and hiking. Some of the campsites here are HUGE! At under $20 a night for a campsite, it's a great deal.

Rock Climbing at Joshua Tree
Rock Climbing at Indian Cove Campground

Booking for Indian Cove and Black Rock campgrounds can be made either via the phone or the internet. These two campgrounds may be reserved from September through the Memorial Day weekend up to six months in advance of the date you want to reserve.

Camping at Joshua Tree
Camping at Indian Cove Campground

So what are you waiting for? Grab your tent, sleeping bag and camera, and head out to Joshua Tree. Even Bono would approve!
Read more...