Tag Archives: sunrise

Camping at the Grand Canyon, Arizona

27 May

Jonathan and I had been craving a camping trip for some time now, and after tossing around various plans (Yosemite? Yellowstone? Sequoias?) we finally decided on a quick jaunt to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, one of the seven natural wonders of the world – thus allowing me to check off another location on our 501 Places To Visit Before You Die checklist. I love me my checklists. Our friend Nate came along to spend his birthday weekend with us at the Canyon.

While I tend to pride myself on my vacation planning abilities, this weekend was, uh, not well planned. First we forgot it was a holiday weekend. (Oops.) Then, we didn’t check routes till we were halfway there (landslide in the park made us have to backtrack and reroute), we misjudged the cost of gas, and once we arrived at the National Park, we found that Desert View – the first-come first-serve campground we intended to set up at – was full, and we had to drive 15 miles out to Ten-X Campground that LUCKILY had a cancellation and let us set up camp. But all those adventures aside, the trip was a blast!

We were up at 3am to drive to the canyon, grab a vantage point and watch the sunrise. While Jonathan and I had both been to the canyon prior to meeting each other, we’ve concluded that this is THE way to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. We literally watched the canyon unveil. It’s gorgeous. At its widest point, the canyon stretches 18 miles across and is around 6000 feet deep, so in the dim light of the pre-dawn moon, you can only see the cliffs around you faintly – the gap across the canyon and the floor is pitch black. Then as the horizon lightened and the sun rose, the canyon was literally unveiled. It was unreal. It was like watching a literal painting in process.

We spent the morning hopping along vantage points and visiting Native American ruins. When we went to the historic Indian watchtower at Desert View on the South Rim, they were playing the Disneyland Grand Canyon song that plays during the train ride and I was like, “OMG, it’s for real!” (Yes, I get all my real life adventures out by reenacting my childhood make believe sessions from Disneyland..)

We also brought our puppy Thor along with us and he was fantastic. It was the first major trip we brought him along on and he couldn’t have been a better behaved dog. He spent most of his weekend off the leash because he was so well mannered and obedient. I really don’t know what happened to the little terror we’ve spent the last year trying to train! ^_^

So, according to the Grand Canyon National Park Service, the only thing more dangerous than a person hiking the canyon alone, are two men in their 20s hiking together. The majority of people who die by falling over the edge of the canyon are men aged 20-40, and many of the deaths involve guys peeing off the edge. Guess what Jonathan and Nate both did? *sigh*

I don’t really get the appeal of peeing into a giant hole in the ground. What is it? Claiming your territory? Although I do kind of get the bragging rights concept. I mean, I once peed in the original Batman Bat Cave in the Hollywood Hills. In high heels. So there’s that. And for the record, I also peed in the canyon. Well, Tessa started kicking my bladder so I hid behind a bush to go. So it was less peeing in and more peeing on.

Anyhoo, we had a fun weekend of camping and sightseeing. I love creating memories around the world with my handsome husband – and soon our family vacation will include TESSA! I’m so glad we had a chance to do this last minute trip, it will be our last family vacation as a two-some. Jonathan leaves for boot camp in just 7 days.

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Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower. Or, uh, How To Capture Sunrise Photos.

6 May

The nerd realm has been abuzz with word of how wonderful the Eta Aquarid meteor shower was gonna be this year. The offspring of Halley’s comet, originating from Aquarius the Water Bearer, was all set to peak in the dark hours before dawn this morning. What’s more, the thin waning crescent moon was supposed to guarantee a great show this year, allowing the ionized gas trails to show persistent trains for seconds after the meteors have passed.

Since I was too lazy to catch the Lyrids last month, I was all set. Not only would I watch this bad boy, I was going to get all fancy up in hyah and play around with some time-lapse photography. I spent most of my 5 hours of sleep dreaming about the gorgeous star trail photos I would catch in the darkness before dawn.

So 4:30am. Rolled out of bed. Woke up my cranky husband. Forced him to make us some coffee. Started gathering my camera equipment and prepping my settings. Headed outside and then……. IT WAS OVERCAST. No stars. No meteors. No lovely star trails. KAJHFDUIBST$@&^#!!!!!

Unable to go back to bed, we decided to make the most of things. We packed up our camera, our coffee and our golden retriever Thor and headed out to Freedom Park in Hanford to watch the sunrise and let our puppy get some energy out in the dog run. And! We captured some sunrise photos. So I figure, why not blog about that?

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Sunrise / sunset pictures are not really my forte and when it comes to photography, I am the least technical camera geek that I know. I love talking about capturing photos, but get self-conscious and irritated when people want to talk about cameras and equipment. I am like the country hick who knows how to make her fiddle sound gorgeous, but couldn’t read sheet music to save her life. Even so, I have picked up some tips and tricks along the way. If you’re looking to grab some pretty shots with minimal thinking and technical exertion (aka, if you’re lazy like me) then I’d like to share how I compose my sunrise pictures.

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Sunrise in Hanford, California. Captured with a Nikon D3S and 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens. Taken at 1/640 sec at f/13 and ISO 200.

1. Find a pretty sunrise / sunset. In my experience, the best sunrise / sunset images include clouds and an interesting(ish) foreground.

The clouds capture the growing (or fading) light of the sun and become drenched in wild and rich colors. Silhouettes act as focal points. They can be used as frames (as with the trees in my picture this morning at Freedom Park), or act as the foundation that draws the eyes up to the sunrise (like the mountain range in the Alaskan sunrise below). The great things about silhouettes is that they add mood and context to a shot. Without a silhouette to work with, it’s wise to follow the rule of thirds, (as with the Mexican sunset photo below). But remember, photography is kind of like piracy. It’s always much more interesting with rum, and the “rules” are more like guidelines. Do what makes you happy, and what seems beautiful to you.

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Sunrise in the Tracey Arm Fjord, Alaska. Captured with a Nikon D3S and 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens. Taken at 1/400 sec at f/10 and ISO 200.

2. I set my camera to Program Mode, so that the camera automatically calculates the shutter speed and aperture.

3. I set my ISO as low as possible, usually 200.

I usually don’t lug around a tripod with me, so I find the most stable surface I can and then take a few test shots. If light is so terribly low that I’m getting blurry shots with my balancing the camera on a rock or a fence or my husband, then I pick the ISO up a tad. Since sunrise / sunsets are usually best with creamy or smooth imagery, the lower the ISO – and the least noise in the image – the better.

4. I intentionally set the exposure to underexpose the image.

With the constantly changing light with sunrises / sunsets, it’s wise to shoot at a variety of exposures. In my experience, if I let my camera decide the exposure, I’m likely to get an overexposed shot that doesn’t really capture the beauty of the light. But I’ll usually experiment with various exposures to find the formula that “pops”. The key is to experiment.

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Sunrise in Progreso, Mexico. Captured with a Nikon D3S and 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens. Taken at 1/320 sec at f/9 and ISO 200.

5. It also helps to take the camera out of auto white balance mode.

When your camera is on auto white balance mode you run the risk of losing some of the warm golden tones of a sunrise or sunset. Instead try shooting in ‘cloudy’ or ‘shade’ which are usually used in cooler lights and tell your camera to warm things up a little.

6. Keep Shooting!

For every one photo I post, I have like, a trillion rejects. I’ve been scolded by fellow photographer friends for being so trigger finger happy, but I prefer to experiment and shoot to my little hearts content, rather than gruel away with a viewfinder and tripod to get “the shot”. Bumbling around with imagery is half the fun for me. Actually, it’s all the fun. Some of my best shots are really happy mistakes and misfires that I’ve come to treasure. So if your temperament matches mine, give these tips a try.