PNP Newsletter #16: Night ISO

March 14, 2017

Night ISO

Plus, upcoming workshops …

It’s been a while. 2016 was a year of quick growth in my career, and the rapid acceleration made it hard to hold on to some responsibilities, this newsletter included. But I never forgot it, knew I wanted to return to it, and have kept cognizant of how to re-adapt it into my workflow. Now, it’s back.

I enjoyed writing this newsletter last year, and am eager to write it more regularly this year. (Though I’ll likely be doing so biweekly, at least for a little while. We’ll see what works best.) Thank you for sticking with me, and as a reminder, if you have any questions I can help out with, please send them my way.

Before getting to this week’s Q&A, two related items:

I have a bunch of photography workshops I’ll be leading and teaching this year, but two in particular are worth mentioning now:

  1. From April 21 to 26 I’ll be with Lance Keimig, my partner at National Parks at Night, teaching at the first of our two workshops in Joshua Tree National Park in California. Joshua Tree is a surprisingly diverse park that I haven’t visited since 2003, and I’m very excited not only to be heading back, but to be bringing others to see how many fantastic photography opportunities await.
  2. From May 29 to June 2 I’ll be partnering with Susan Magnano and Michael Malandra to offer an all-encompassing workshop at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Great Smoky Mountains is the highest-visited national park year after year, and for good reason. Despite being known among photographers primarily as a fall destination, GSM is stunning in spring, with rushing streams and rivers, full-flowing waterfalls, trees colored in “new green”, and mountain laurel lacing the forest undergrowth.

Both of these workshops have a few seats left. If you’re interested in attending either but have questions first, please feel free to contact me today. We’d love to have you join us in these amazing places!

And for a complete list of all the locations I’m teaching at this year, please see my Photo Workshops and Tours webpage.

Onward…

This Week’s Question

Death Valley National Park star trails, ISO 100

Q.  When photographing the night sky, how important is your ISO setting? How do you keep from getting noise in your picture?Mike

A. Your question hits on one of the fundamental challenges (and therefore one of the fundamental strategies) of night photography. Noise is a monster that rears its head in different ways at different times. For example, noise can be less of an issue in colder temperatures than warmer, which is one of several reasons why winter is a great time to shoot at night.

High ISO noise, in my opinion, is the easiest to deal with, because you can run some simple tests with your camera, view the results, determine what is acceptable to you, and then abide by the limits you set for your workflow and your gear when you’re out shooting.

Your judgement is what’s important, because there’s no scientific measurement for when much noise is too much noise. Also, everyone’s gear produces different results. Therefore, the only way to know for sure how far you can push your camera is to test it yourself, to see what you like and what you don’t.

To run some low-light tests on your camera, set up either outdoors or indoors in low light. Put your camera on a tripod and aim it at someplace that provides a nice mix of highlights, shadows and midtones. Then make a series of exposures at different ISOs, using only shutter speed to compensate (i.e., keep the aperture consistent).

Dump that card into Lightroom (or another image editor of choice), and view each photo at 100 percent. Advance through the images, starting with the one shot at the lowest ISO and succeeding up through the higher ISOs. Use your own judgement as to what you find acceptable—in other words, at which ISO do you think the images are starting to suffer?

If you like to print, then do this same evaluation with prints, as the noise may (and likely will) bother you less when seen at viewing distance.

(For a more detailed explanation of how to run this test, see this recent blog post by my friend and business partner Matt Hill: “Keep the Noise Down: How to Take an ISO Test with your Camera.”)

Now you can employ this self-found knowledge when out shooting at night and deciding how far to push your camera.

When you’re photographing dark skies—such as star points or Milky Way photos—you need to use the ISO you need to use. There’s not a lot of downward leeway if you’re trying to freeze celestial action, because you’re limited by the minimal light and the motions of the universe. But if you’re shooting star trails, go ahead and use a low ISO; for example, I shot the photo above (from Death Valley) for 20 minutes at ISO 100. No high ISO noise.

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PNP Newsletter #15: Scouting Tools

March 10, 2016

Scouting Tools

Plus, lots of free info on photography and the parks …

Three items before we get to this week’s Q and accompanying A.

First, yet another big-time media production has joined the celebrate-the-centennial fray: “Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood” will every other week be profiling a national park, led by correspondent Conor Knighton, in a segment titled “On the Trail.” He started with Acadia and Mammoth Cave, and this week covered Hot Springs.

Second, if you’re based in the New York City area and interested in night photography, the National Parks at Night crew is running a series of lectures, followed by a panel discussion, followed by a night shoot at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The entire event is free, sponsored by Nikon and hosted by the B&H Event Space. For more info, see “National Parks at Night’s First Official Event.”

Third, if you’re interested in the photo opportunities at Acadia National Park, you can watch a recent presentation of mine that was just this week posted to the B&H YouTube channel. See “Photographing Acadia National Park Sponsored by Formatt-Hitech.”

Onward…

This Week’s Question

Q.  How do you keep track of the spots in which you want to shoot? I spent a week in Big Bend and there are so many places in such a big park that I couldn’t keep track of everything in which I was interested. I had a small notebook but I still had difficulty keeping all of the options straight. Is there an app you recommend where I could make notes of places maybe right on an electronic map, or some other process?Quinn M., Tenn.

A. You can use Evernote (an app that many people already have and use) to create text notes that are geotagged. For instance, if you find a great sunset spot on Rio Bravo, you can type “great sunset spot” into Evernote and recall it later on a map. There are other apps that specialize in accomplishing similar tasks, such as FieldNotes. A benefit to both is that you can create a note with a photo, thereby giving yourself a scouting shot too.

However, my preferred tools are tried and true and old-fashioned: a pen and a paper map.

I use the map the park provides, because it’s free and has a lot of space for writing. When I’m scouting locations, I make notes right on the map. For instance, at Big Bend National Park, I might circle Santa Elena Canyon and write, “Great angles for sunrise. Look for reflections in the creek. Interior hike could be good when overcast.”

That solution requires no batteries, recharging, cell service, data plans, or backup storage!

Plus, it’s easy to reference the paper map wherever I am, and it’s light to carry on a hike. After the trip, I file the map with all my other park info, so I can reference it when planning my next trip there.

Incidentally, you can do this preemptively, as well. Every national park website has a PDF map you can download, which you can print at home or at an office-services store. You can use the print-out to make notes as you research the park before your trip. (There’s also a web-based clearinghouse for all national park maps: See the NPS cartography page.)

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PNP Newsletter #14: Alternatives to Death Valley Heat

March 3, 2016

Alternatives to Death Valley Heat

Plus, lots of free info on photography and the parks …

If you’ve been following this newsletter, you know I’m excited about National Geographic’s coverage of the national parks this year, in honor of the NPS centennial. In March they ventured beyond the U.S. to reveal some species restoration efforts at a park in the Indian Ocean. See “In the Seychelles, Taking Aim at Nature’s Bullies.”

You may also remember that I’m a big fan of Chimani, the Maine-based company that provides free guide apps for the national parks, including tips for traveling photographers. This week they released new versions for Mount Rushmore, Joshua Tree and Petrified Forest.

Speaking of free information, National Parks at Night (of which I am part) just released an ebook titled Seize the Night: 20 Tips for Photographing in the Dark. It’s free for anyone who signs up for the NPAN newsletter.

Seize the Night_cover_600

Finally, published on PhotographingNationalParks.com yesterday was the latest in the series of “Picture Perfect Places.” This time around, Sherry Pincus of New Jersey tells us about the Sarvent Glaciers Cross-Country Zone, a beautiful backcountry location in Mount Rainier National Park. Thank you, Sherry!

If you’d like to share one of your own favorite spots with others who love photographing the national parks, please visit the website and “Submit a Picture Perfect Place.”

Onward…

This Week’s Question

Grand Canyon National Park, NPS Photo by Michael Quinn

Q.  I live in New York City and am considering taking a photo trip mid-spring. I was thinking about Death Valley, but I’m concerned with temperatures. Looks like it might be too late in the year as normal daily temperatures will already be mid-90’s. Are there any other parks you recommend for the last week of April?Ryan, New York City

A. You’re right that temperature is an important consideration when deciding when to visit Death Valley. Still, keep in mind that even in the mid-90s, it’s very dry heat there—some of the lowest humidity levels in the U.S. You would need to drink a lot fluids to stay well hydrated, but the temperatures wouldn’t be terribly uncomfortable, particularly at the edges of daylight. Also, that heat will be at valley-level; if it does prove to be too much, you can escape it by heading into the mountains.

But you asked for alternatives, so let’s break them down.

Despite planning your trip for late April, it’s early enough in the year that we probably can’t predict that spring will have sprung in any high-elevation park, nor in any park in the northern United States. In the Southeast, the bird show in Everglades will likely be over. So let’s stick with the Southwest.

If you were planning on Death Valley, you were probably planning to fly into Las Vegas. From there it’s easy to reach Grand Canyon, which will not be hot at the rim, where most photographers work from. (It’s also not a bad time of year to hike to the canyon floor.)

Zion and Bryce Canyon are also within reasonable distance of Vegas, and are generally temperate in April-May. (However, note that Zion is closing the roads to non-shuttle traffic early this year, so you can’t road-wander.) Another great spring park is Joshua Tree, which involves flying into Palm Springs or Los Angeles. (The former, while a smaller airport, is often a very affordable flight from NYC.)

Back to Utah: Arches and Canyonlands are there, pretty much right next to each other. I mention these last only because they are a further drive from the closest major airport (Salt Lake City, about four hours away) than the other parks we looked into above. But both parks’ temperatures are often very comfortable in mid-spring, and both parks feature amazing landscapes.

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Picture-Perfect Places: Sarvent Glacier Cross-Country Zone, Mount Rainier

March 2, 2016

Picture-Perfect Places

Sarvent Glacier Cross-Country Zone, Mount Rainier

by Sherry Pincus

Sarvent Glacier Cross-Country Zone, Mount Rainer National Park. © 2015 Sherry Pincus.

Sarvent Glacier Cross-Country Zone, Mount Rainer National Park. © 2015 Sherry Pincus.

The Photographer

Sherry Pincus.  I’m an avid backpacker and photographer, and a personal chef based in New York City and northern New Jersey.

The Picture Perfect Place

Sarvent Glacier Cross-Country Zone, Mount Rainier National Park

What’s There To Photograph

A 360-degree view of mountains: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and others, and obviously Mt. Rainier. You basically have a front-on view of the entire east side of Rainier, literally from the southern edge all the way up the northern side. You can see absolutely all of it. And behind you, you’re looking down into an area with glaciers that rest on old volcanic plugs called the Cowlitz Chimneys. They’re very worn, they’re gorgeous and they’re covered with lichen and all kinds of minerals. For macro work, there are also these tiny alpine flowers—really tiny. The other thing there to photograph is a resident herd of 30-45 mountain goats that wander all through the area, literally right by you. They are completely unfazed by people.

When To Go

The time of year is very important. There would be no possibility to get to this spot safely other than from mid-July to the end of August. You have maybe a six- to eight-week window.

Why I Love This Place

I love the Sarvent Glacier Cross-Country Zone for its remoteness and the fact that it is so untouched by people. There’s only one permit issued at a time for this area, so it’s just you. You literally have all those hundreds of acres completely to yourself. And because you’re high up, your views of the mountains are just incredible. It’s so expansive that you have options for both sunrises and sunsets. The sun comes up over the Chimneys, and you watch that first light hitting on the mountain—that part of the day is just unbelievable.

How To Get There

The Sarvent Glacier Cross-Country Zone is accessed from the east side of Mt. Rainier, at Panhandle Gap, the highest point on the Wonderland Trail (which goes all the way around the mountain). You can get to Panhandle Gap from two directions:

1) You can approach from the south by entering at Box Canyon Trailhead, and hike 11 miles with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain. This is the route I take.

2) You can approach from the north, which is the easier trip. From the Fryingpan Creek parking area, it’s a 5.5-mile hike to Panhandle Gap. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s climbing, with a challenging altitude gain. You can do it in one day, but you’d be tired. The less taxing alternative is to hike 4 miles from Fryingpan Creek to Summerland, where you can spend the night at an official backcountry campsite (permit required). From there, you would have only 2.5 additional miles to get to Panhandle Gap.

(If you arrange for transportation, you can tackle either option as a through-hike, as opposed to out and back via the same route. The whole trip is about 19 miles with magnificent scenery every step of the way.)

Once at Panhandle Gap, you head off-trail due east for about a mile, and you’re just climbing up at that point. But it’s easy, like a rolling-meadow kind of climb. You know you’re in the Sarvent Glacier Cross-Country Zone when the edge of the earth arrives; you climb to the top of this area and then there’s a cliff that falls thousands of feet. You don’t have to wonder if you need to go further.

You don’t need a permit for hiking through this area, but you do need a permit to camp, and the hike is so long that you need to stay over. So, essentially, you need a permit to visit and photograph here.

For the best photography opportunities, stay at least one night, and I recommend two. You definitely want to be up there for at least one sunset and one sunrise. You’re putting a lot of effort just to get there, so you don’t want to arrive and have it be raining that night and then you’re done.

Also, there is no water. You have to bring in whatever you need. Check with the ranger station when you pick up your permit for information about current reliable water sources.

Google Map Link: Sarvent Glaciers
Park Website: www.nps.gov/mora


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PNP Newsletter #13: Lightroom on the Road

February 25, 2016

Lightroom on the Road

Plus, lots of news about speaking and such …

Before we get to this week’s question, I’d like to thank the three organizations that hosted me for presentations this week. In New York City, the Park West Camera Club and the Sierra Club both invited me to speak about “Photographing National Parks.” The B&H Event Space invited me to speak on the same subject, plus about “Photographing Acadia National Park” (sponsored by Formatt-Hitech).

Speaking of Maine’s only national park (for now), there’s exciting news about the Acadia Night Photography Adventure Workshop I’m co-leading in May. A few days ago (we haven’t even officially announced this yet), Nikon agreed to come on board as a premier sponsor of our National Parks at Night program. As part of that partnership, Nikon will be sending gear (and possibly a Professional Services rep) to the Acadia workshop for attendees to try out during our night shoots. Another great reason to join us in Maine this spring!

Also regarding Acadia, did you know that astronomer Tyler Nordgren considers it his favorite national park for night photography? Tyler is an astronomy professor at University of Redlands in California, and is author of Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks. I recently interviewed him for a Q&A about night photography in the parks, which you can read at the National Parks at Night blog.

Onward…

This Week’s Question

LRoomQ.  I love Lightroom but there seems to be a lot involved in bringing it on the road with me while shooting. How do you do it? What’s your strategy for editing photos on a trip?Gary, Alexandria, Va.

A. My strategy is that I don’t edit photos while on a trip, unless it’s absolutely necessary.

I dump my cards pretty much every day, and try to maintain three copies of the RAW files until I get home. I usually have my laptop on a trip, and I do have Lightroom installed on the laptop, but I keep my working catalog (and do all of my “real” photo editing) at home on my desktop computer with a calibrated display.

While traveling for a shoot, I may import some images to Lightroom for the purpose of checking on technical aspects—getting a close look at a more detailed histogram, for example, or checking the results from a lens that’s acting suspiciously. Or (I’ll admit it), perhaps for getting an early peek at some photos I’m really excited about!

I agree with your assessment that working with a Lightroom catalog can be “involved” while on the road. They’ve made some strides in easing that situation, particularly with the advent of Smart Previews, which allow you to edit photos even when disconnected from your cache of source files (which would be on a central hard drive or other storage solution somewhere else).

But that’s not my primary reason for not tinkering with editing while traveling. I avoid it because when I’m in the field, I prefer to be creating images, and using all my time and resources toward that end. There’ll time enough for editing when the shooting’s done.

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PNP Newsletter #12: Bubble Levels

February 19, 2016

Bubble Levels

Plus, monuments and parks …

There has been news out of Washington, D.C., as three new national monuments were signed into existence, all in California: Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains. For some more info and a personal take, see this great essay by James Fallows in The Atlantic: “Welcome Our Newest National Monuments!

In other media news, I recommend reading the article about Denali National Park in this month’s National Geographic: “How Can 6 Million Acres at Denali Still Not Be Enough?” It’s an excellent profile of a park most “mainlanders” never get to visit, along with the wolf challenges there.

Speaking of national parks, next week I’ll be speaking about them four times on three consecutive days in New York City. On Monday I’ll be visiting the Park West Camera Club, and on Wednesday I’ll be speaking at Lincoln Center as a guest of the Sierrra Club.

In between, I’ll be spending a day talking at one of my favorite places, the B&H Event Space. They run a great program of near-daily free lectures about photography, videography, etc. On Tuesday, February 23, I’ll be delivering two lectures, “Photographing America’s National Parks” and “Photographing Acadia National Park.” The latter presentation is sponsored by Formatt-HiTech, the UK-based manufacturer of amazing neutral density filters.

Both of my B&H lectures are free, but seating is limited, so be sure to register! Hope to see you there!

Onward…

This Week’s Question

Vello Low Profile Bubble Level

Q.  I read your book. You mention different pieces of “ancillary” gear but I didn’t see any mention of hot-shoe bubble levels. Do you not use one? And if not, why? I see one on some people’s cameras but not all. I’m considering securing one before visiting parks in the northwest this summer.Levi B., Wisconsin

A. You have amazing timing, because I just ordered a bubble level two days ago.

The answer to your question is no, I have not historically used a hot-shoe bubble level. I did buy one once before, about six years ago, and promptly lost it during a trip  to Yellowstone. (Please let me know if you find it.)

I suppose I should have been using one in the sans-live-preview film days, but I either didn’t think about it or I was spending my money on other equipment that I considered a more important investment. (For me. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be a worthwhile investment for someone else.) Once the digital days came, I didn’t see much use for one, because it’s so easy to correct for a slanted horizon in Photoshop and Lightroom. (Just click-and-drag the ruler!)

Another reason I ignored this product was because my hot shoe was often busy doing something else: tracking my whereabouts. Before finding the AMOD AGL3080 geotagger a few years ago, I used the Nikon GP-1, which attached to the hot shoe, pretty much full-time.

Aside from that one week in 2010, I haven’t used a bubble level at all, nor have I usually missed having one. So why did I buy one now?

My first reason is because I’m doing more and more night photography, and the bubble level sure does help there. It can be much easier to ensure your camera is level by shining a light on a little air bubble than by looking at a dark landscape through the camera’s viewfinder.

My second reason is because I found this really cool, relatively flat Vello Low Profile Bubble Level. It’s less intrusive to have on the camera than the traditional cube design. My hunch is that the flat version won’t get knocked off as easily, so I can feel safe using it in Yellowstone.

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PNP Newsletter #11: Where are the Polar Bears?

February 5, 2016

Where are the Polar Bears?

Plus, miscellany …

Let’s start with a few quick notes. If you’re interested in:

Night photography: Check out NationalParksAtNight.com, where we just launched a new blog about … well, night photography. This week’s post is by longtime nocturnal photographer Lance Keimig, who answers the excellent question: “Does Expose to the Right apply at night?

Night wildlife photography: Read this great article that Huffington Post ran this week about George Shiras, who more than a century ago was photographing animals in the dark using what were then groundbreaking techniques: “How A Nocturnal Politician Became The Unlikely Father Of Wildlife Photography.”

New national parks: There’s some noise in Arizona in favor of making Chiricahua National Monument the next national park. The local U.S. Congressional representative is planning to introduce a bill soon. For some details, see “Our next national park could be in southern AZ.”

Ham radio: ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio, is hosting a yearlong campaign for ham operators to activate in national parks. I was interviewed for their magazine to offer tips for photographing while in the parks. See the PDF “National Parks on the Air.”

Onward…

This Week’s Question

Photo by Terry Debruyne/US Fish & Wildlife Service

Q.  I read your book, and while it covers a lot of the animals I can take pictures of, I don’t see anything about polar bears. What national park or parks can I find them in? Denise, Las Vegas

A. With that criterion, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. No U.S. national park has a population of polar bears.

If you want to photograph polar bears, here are two alternatives:

1) The National Park Service administers plenty of lands aside from national parks, and if you want to stay in U.S. parks, that’s where to look.

According to the NPS, polar bears are found in two of their units: Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and Cape Krusenstern National Monument, both of which are in Alaska, neither of which are easy to visit. For more information, see the park service’s “Polar Bears” website.

You could also try the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Both are run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which touts the two as the only refuges that are “home to all three species of North American bear (black, brown, and polar).”

2) Go to Canada. That’s where to find polar bears in national parks, and it’s arguably the best place to photograph them.

Polar bears frequent many Canadian national parks, perhaps most notably in Wapusk, Auyuittuq and Quttinirpaaq.

If you want to venture into the wild to photograph polar bears, it’s worth noting that their behavior is somewhat different than the brown or black bears common in the lower 48. Parks Canada has an excellent downloadable PDF brochure titled “Safety in Polar Bear Country.”

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PNP Newsletter #10: Flying With Tripods

January 28, 2016

Flying With Tripods

Also, REI app, upcoming lectures and new sponsor

This week’s question is a good one about traveling with a tripod. Upon seeing the inquiry, my first thought was, “Bravo for asking the right question!” Usually what I hear is, “Should I bring a tripod?” And of course the answer is yes! If the photo is worth making, it’s worth using a tripod for.

Before we get into that …

First, if you haven’t seen it already, I recommend checking out the free REI National Park Guide & Maps app, available for both iOS and Android. Not all the parks are represented, but the nifty part is that it includes crowd-provided information — i.e., like-minded travelers offering park tips, such as hidden trails, “secret” spots and more.

Second, I’d like to pass along information about two public lectures I have scheduled for the week of Ansel Adams’ birthday. On February 23, I’ll be returning to the B&H Event Space to speak about:

Both events are free to attend, but space is limited, so register today!

Incidentally, this is the first time I’m working with Formatt Hitech. But I know their product—their specialty is very high-quality neutral density filters, which, in my opinion, are must-have gear for a national park photo trip.

Onward…

This Week’s Question

Salt Creek and the Panamint Range, Death Valley National Park

Salt Creek and the Panamint Range, Death Valley National Park

Q.  How do you fly with a tripod? Do you use a special case? These days most airlines charge for bags, or for a second bag, so I don’t want to pay extra just to have a tripod on a trip. Scott, New York City

A. I’ve used a special case in the past, but no longer do. As you mentioned, in most instances a second checked bag (or a first) incurs a fee. And that fee applies to both legs of a trip, thereby doubling the cost.

Also, a second bag just gives something extra to keep track of while traveling, something extra to wait for at baggage claim, something extra that can get “erroneously rerouted,” etc.

There are many ways to deal with this, including taking the tripod onto the plane as part of your carry-on allowance. I don’t like to do that though, because I never know when a TSA agent or flight attendant won’t agree with the strategy.

So I always include my tripod with my checked baggage. Here’s my method:

When I fly for photography trip, I use a military-style duffel bag to pack everything except my cameras, lenses and rechargeable batteries (both of which are in my carried-on backpack). Everything I need fits in the duffel—tent, sleeping bag, towel, toiletries, outdoor supplies (including a camping knife), second pair of shoes, clothes and my tripod.

When I pack the duffel bag, my fully collapsed tripod is in the center, surrounded by the soft items (sleeping bag, clothes, etc.) that can protect it from the inevitable tosses, bumps and drops. Also, before packing, I remove the ball head, wrap it in a jacket or sweatshirt, and put it in the duffel separately. (I made a simple graphic to illustrate a top-down view of how I might pack the bag.)

If you need more protection than that to feel comfortable, many good cases are available. Here’s the selection that B&H offers, with choices that range from $100 to $450.

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PNP Newsletter #9: Bear Safety

January 21, 2016

Bear Safety

National Geographic, food safety …

Though I’m a big fan of the work National Geographic does, I had not subscribed (er, been a member?) since the late 1990s. But this fall I once again sent them money, in exchange for receiving the 12 issues they will publish in 2016. Why now? Because every one of those issues will contain features about the U.S. national parks.

The project kicked off with the January issue (of course), with a beautiful day-to-night cover photo of Yosemite by Stephen Wilkes. I can’t wait to see the other 11 issues!

Photographers might also want to check out National Geographic‘s online portal of national-park topics, titled “Power of the Parks.” The page includes exclusive features, news, travel guides, photos, videos, educational resources and more. The page also links to Geographic‘s “National Parks” iTunes app, which has location-specific photo tips written by NG photographers.

Okay, on to this week’s question, which is about managing your food supply in an area with a bear population. Did you know that bears are such a conspicuous resident of the national parks that the Park Service’s website has a page dedicated solely to them? See NPS’gov’s “Bears.”

Onward…

This Week’s Question

Grizzlies, Lake Clark National Park & Preserve. NPS Photo/K. Jalone.

Q.  I saw you do a lecture at B&H Photo last year and you talked about getting food at the beginning of a national park trip and keeping it in the car with you. How do you do that without worrying about bears breaking into the car to get the food? — Hanlon S., Greenwich, CT

A. On YouTube, you can see a video of a bear doing exactly that at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, right in the Clingmans Dome parking lot!

Any time I go to a national park, I review its website to read the area-specific regulations and best practices for bears. From park to park, the rules and suggestions differ. Many of those warnings involve a bottom-line goal of not providing food for the bears, whether from your stash or from your body.

For example:

  • At Glacier Bay National Park, you’re asked to cook only below the high tide line, to eat and to clean cooking gear 100 yards from both your tent and food storage area, and to store provisions only in portable bear-resistant food containers.
  • At Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, you’re asked to place food in metal storage boxes stationed in campgrounds and elsewhere, and to even remove child car-seats (which pretty much always smell like old food) from vehicles overnight.
  • At Rocky Mountain National Park, you’re asked to keep food in either an enclosed vehicle or in a storage locker, and if in the backcountry, to keep food in a backpack that you never leave unattended.
  • At Dry Tortugas, you’re fine. No bears.

I buy food in sealed containers, and once opened, I store the uneaten portions in Ziploc bags. All of this is stowed in an airtight cooler, in the trunk of the vehicle. I should note that this is my baseline strategy—I amend it according to local guidelines and issues.

 

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PNP Newsletter #8: Death Valley Food

January 13, 2016

Death Valley Food

Plus, fee-free days and Picture-Perfect Places

It’s almost here! The National Park Service’s first fee-free day of 2016 is this Monday, January 18, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Admission will be gratis to all national parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national seashores, etc. For a complete list of all such dates in 2016, see the NPS article “Free Entrance Days in the National Parks.”

Speaking of national parks (when am I not?), today I published the first in a new series of articles on PhotographingNationalParks.com called “Picture-Perfect Places.” Each entry will feature a location in the national parks that’s great for photography.

These articles may be submitted by any photographer of any level—the only requirement is a love of the national parks and a desire to share some of that passion. (Have one you’d like to share? Submit it today!)

To get that ball rolling, the first Picture-Perfect Place is by me, and it’s about Mahogany Hammock in Everglades National Parka great spot to find and photograph barred owls..

Onward…

This Week’s Question

Q.  You mentioned you were going to Death Valley National Park, which I’m planning to visit in the spring. (Hoping for wildflowers!!!) I’ve heard the food available in the park is terrible. Seeing as you were just there, just curious: What’s your experience with food? Or do you not even bother with park restaurants? — S. Sullivan, Texas

A. I’ve heard that, too, from multiple sources. I can tell you that the night I arrived at the park, I had an unforgettable dinner. Unfortunately, it was unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

I definitely understand the criticisms I’ve heard of the food there, but I think the bad thoughts have more to do with prices, not necessarily the quality. It’s just not of the quality that most people would associate with that cost. For example, if my first night’s dry fried chicken had cost $8 and not $18, I would have shrugged it off more easily.

However, there is at least one notable exception: The restaurant at the Inn at Furnace Creek serves an excellent breakfast. Yes, it’s a tad pricey (about $20 per person for meal and coffee—which, actually, isn’t all that expensive at a good hotel), but the quality certainly supported the price. I particularly liked the eggs Benedict with chili-lime Hollandaise, and the apple-bacon omelet. If I remember correctly, those were listed at $17 and $14, sans coffee.

I can’t speak for lunch and dinner at the Inn, as I’m generally out shooting at those times. Breakfast—or, really, brunch—tends to be the only time I sit down and pay someone to feed me. The break gives me a chance to review notes and to make plans for the rest of the day. I also can’t speak for some of the other restaurants in the park, because I tried only those two.

(Incidentally, my favorite spot for breakfast/brunch in the park system is the restaurant at Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Great quality combined with more-than-reasonable prices. I spoke with the owner a couple of years ago, and that combination of quality and price is exactly their goal.)

By the way, that’s a great idea to visit Death Valley this spring for wildflowers. The floods the park experienced last fall were precisely the kind of weather event that usually precedes a spring bloom in the desert.

One more thing I’ll mention: The reason I was in Death Valley last month was to plan and scout a night-photography workshop that I’ll be leading with Lance Keimig from November 15-19. Lance is one of the best in the genre, so this should be a fun one! More information can be found at NationalParksAtNight.com.

 

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