Rocky Mountain High – Canadian Style

My wife, Tanya, and I recently vacationed in the Canmore/Banff area of Alberta, Canada. We settled on this location after reading a variety of reviews and looking over some stunning photos of the many attractions and wildlife. We planned a series of activities that would take us to some of the most scenic, historical, and cultural locations, provide some challenging hiking expeditions, and enable us to take a “few” photographs along the way. After receiving a new Nikon D800 (review), which I tested thoroughly, I was eager to put it to work in the field. Most of the photos in this article were taken with the D800, although some were shot with my infrared D90 (converted by Lifepixel.com). For those of you reading this on an RSS feed, you may want to consider linking to the main Mansurovs site, as there are quite a few photos associated with this post.

From Calgary To Canmore

We flew into the Calgary airport, and after renting a car, began the 74 mile drive from the Calgary Airport to the town of Canmore. This trip is an interesting study in transitions. Near Calgary, everything seems to be under construction. Bulldozers, heavy earth movers, building cranes, and construction signs dot the landscape in every direction. The terrain is pretty flat apart from a gentle mountainside slope on the western side of the city. Off in the distance, we could see some purplish mountains but didn’t have a good sense of their scale. 25 miles or so outside of Calgary, the scenery changes quite a bit. Green rolling hillsides of farm land become the dominant theme, with the familiar golden yellow hay bales lining the bright green fields. The purplish mountains have risen in stature quite a bit and we quickly realize that they are far different than those we left behind in western Pennsylvania. We also unfortunately discover that there are few exits for gas or food!

At the 50 mile mark, the landscape is changing quite a bit. Those little purple mountains seem to grow larger by the minute. Green fir trees that seem to have been cloned, now begin to populate the landscape like huge blades of grass. At the 60 mile mark, we are at the base of the mountains. The term “majestic” doesn’t quite rise to the occasion in describing what we now see. The mountain peaks require you to edge closer to the car window and strain your neck in order to see them. Even in August, we can identify snow patches that never completely melt.

The road begins to roll gently as we wind toward the valley between the mountain peaks. The number of signs warning you about the local wildlife population increase, and based on the fences that line the woods along the road, we suspect that the signs are not to be taken lightly. We had taken 3 exits hoping to find a restaurant or gas station only to conclude that the notion of modern facilities next within 25 miles of the exit is a mirage. We begin to imagine that grizzly bears and wolves have posted these exit signs to lure gullible travelers, low on gas and food, off the main highway where the animals can leisurely dine on them.

Within 5 miles of Canmore, we are deep into the mountains that seem be growing larger before our eyes. I am constantly trying to keep my eyes on the road as the rocky towers on both sides of the road continue to command my attention. By now, we are seriously wondering if we have been transported to another planet, since it couldn’t possibly be part of the one which we came from. Soon we arrived at the Falcon Crest Lodge, which proved to be the excellent “base camp” for our adventures.

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Mesa Verde Kiva Panorama

I’m finishing up working on the images from Yellowstone, which I will post tomorrow. Meanwhile, here is a shot of a Kiva that I captured at Mesa Verde National Park:

Mesa Verde Kiva Panorama

Since I did not carry a fisheye lens with me at the time and I had the Nikon 24-70mm attached to the D700, I could not fit much into the frame. Setting up a tripod inside the Kiva was not an option either, since it would take up additional space making it even more difficult to capture this tight space. The solution I came up with, was to lean against the wall and shoot 8-10 vertical frames hand-held @ 24mm using ISO 1600 to create a panorama. One problem, however, was the fact that I would never be able to stitch a panorama if I moved my camera from one side to another (like I typically do) without worrying about the nodal point (if you do not know what a nodal point is or want to find out how to properly photograph panoramas, check out my “how to photograph panoramas” article). What I did was I used the hand-held panoramic technique, which is described in the above link in section 3.3 #10 of the article, where I held the middle of the lens and rotated around it.

As you can see, the panorama stitched perfectly fine!

Sand Dunes Sunset Panorama

Looks like I did manage to capture a single landscape image from the last visit to Sand Dunes, where Sergey and I had some fun taking pictures of aerial kicks. I thought nothing good would come out, since it was extremely windy and there was too much dust and sand in the air.

Sand Dunes Sunset Panorama

The above is a panoramic image that I shot hand-held with the 24mm f/1.4G. It did not get stitched properly due to parallax errors, but the bad stitches are not that visible because of the moving sand. The 24mm was not wide enough for a single shot and I knew that it wouldn’t work, but I only took one lens with me and I did not have much choice…

I will soon write an article about Panorama stitching techniques, where I will go into more details about the above problem.

Fun at the Dunes

Sergey and I headed out to the Great Sand Dunes NP last weekend for some photography. He had this crazy idea about doing some Karate shots with him wearing a full uniform with a black belt and me taking high speed images of his jumps. I really liked the idea, so I took some of my lighting equipment, along with the D3s and the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.

The weather was OK, but the winds were too strong, blowing at 15-20 miles per hour with very strong gusts. Our photography plans pretty much collapsed with the winds, but we still decided to stay and try out a few shots. Here is Sergey doing a front kick:

Sergey Kick #1

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Back from Utah again

Well, technically, it was Grand Junction, not Utah. I had a very busy four day business trip to Grand Junction, CO and after spending countless hours taking care of a problem at work, I had a pleasure of visiting Moab, UT on the last day for a few hours. Woke up very early in the morning at around 3:45 AM and headed out to Dead Horse Point to make it there right before the sunrise. As I was driving the last 10 miles to get to the park, I saw seven cars slowly driving through the steep turns of Canyonlands. Who else would be driving that early? A group of photographers, of course! I was first following them, but then they were too slow and I was hurrying to get to the right spot at least 30 minutes before sunrise. So I stepped on gas and passed all seven cars at 90 miles an hour. I could tell they were pissed! Oh well, I wasn’t going to miss sunrise after 2+ hours of driving.

Arrived at the spot at about 6:20 AM and the sun came out at 6:42. Although the clouds were not as pretty, seems like I managed to capture a couple of shots that I like. I have not yet finished importing the files into Lightroom, but I will be working on some of those this weekend.

Meanwhile, here is me standing on the edge of the cliff:

Nasim Mansurov

And here is how it looks down there, with the nearest rock at approximately 300-400 feet below:

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Sunrise and Delicate Arch Wallpapers

Our readers kindly asked us to provide high resolution versions of Delicate Arch and Sunrise shots from my last trip to Utah, to be used as desktop wallpapers. Here are the two images in 2560×1600 resolution for widescreen monitors:

Delicate Arch

1) Delicate Arch 2560×1600 Widescreen Wallpaper

Sunrise

2) Sunrise 2560×1600 Widescreen Wallpaper

Enjoy! :)

Trip to Utah – Part 2

This is the second part of my trip log to Utah.

As we wrapped up Arches, we headed up to Canyonlands National Park while the weather was still OK. Afternoon at Canyonlands turned out to be rather productive and the sky got filled up with some gorgeous multi-layered clouds:

Canyonlands #3

Love those clouds! We snapped a few pictures with the clouds on the way up:

Canyonlands #1

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Trip to Utah – Part 1

I have been putting off working the Utah images for a while and I have finally decided to finish working on them this weekend. I decided to divide the photos to two parts – the first part is primarily Arches National Park and the second part is Canyonlands National Park. Although we spent about three full days in Utah, the weather did not cooperate half of the time, so we tried to shoot as much as we could while it lasted. On top of that, as I have indicated before, I lost about 8 gigs of photos from the last two days. Hope you enjoy these!

I was initially planning to go through I-70 directly to Grand Junction and stay overnight. After a rock fell on the highway and destroyed a portion of it, we detoured through highway 287. On the way to Grand Junction, we stopped at a local farm to take some pictures of the cows early in the morning:

Cows

This one looked at me, wondering what I was up to:

Cow Looking

Next, we headed straight to Arches. The park was flooded with rain from a couple of days before, so there were plenty of interesting pools in the area:

Pool

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Great Falls in Winter

Mukhsim and I spent the second day of my trip in Great Falls National Park (Maryland side). Although the falls are magnificent, the scene does not look so pretty in winter. Leafless trees, dirty snow and pale rocks, in addition to a windy and cloudy day did not present good opportunities for photography. We hiked for about a mile back and forth and finally went back, because I just could not see anything worth taking a picture of. Mukhsim said that the Virginia side looked prettier, but I bet it looks about the same at this time of the year…

Here are a couple of pictures from the day:

Great Falls National Park

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Death Valley – Part 2

As promised, this is Part 2 of the trip. The first part of the Death Valley trip is covered right here.

As I later found out, apparently, having water in Badwater Basin is a rare occasion. Although there were only a few spots with water in them, I still got off the car and took some pictures:

Badwater Textures #1

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