March madness

Comet PanSTARRS and the  Grand Canyon by Moonlight, Yavapai Point

Comet PanSTARRS and the Grand Canyon by Moonlight, Yavapai Point

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Scheduling most workshops at least a year in advance, it’s easy to forget that distant dates will eventually become current dates. And so as 2013 approached I started looking somewhat askance at my spring schedule. Hmmm…, only four days at home from March 7 to March 29—what in the world had I been thinking? Ten days circling Maui and ten days bouncing between Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Page, and Sedona seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now that I was actually going to have to pack my suitcase and hit the road (as much as I looked forward to each destination), I seriously wondered if I’d made a mistake. Well, with March 2013 now in my rearview mirror, I’m happy to not only did I survive, I thrived. A little worn around the edges perhaps, but nevertheless quite happy with an unforgettable month of photography and friendship.

Helping me survive March was my good friend and fellow pro photographer Don Smith—Don assisted my Maui workshop, I assisted his Northern Arizona workshop, and we shared the Spring Training experience with Don’s son Aaron. Truth be told, Don and I have far more fun on the road than two grown men should have—we returned from these adventures with a fresh trove of stories that included a beer glass accident resulting in a free dinner for our entire table (thanks, Don), and a car stuck in the mud on a remote dirt road we (I) had no business attempting.

Another March treat that can’t be overstated is the opportunity leading workshops provides to make new photographer friends and reconnect with old ones. Spending hours driving to and from locations, sharing meals, and waiting in the dark for the sun or stars is a great way to get to know people—I never fail to marvel at photography’s ability to bond people with such diverse professions, cultures, interests, and values.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, here’s a review of some of the great sights I was blessed with in March (in no particular order):

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Comet PanSTARRS and New Moon, Haleakala, Maui

Comet PanSTARRS and New Moon, Haleakala, Maui

Regular readers know that I’m a lifelong comet enthusiast, so a major March highlight for me was the opportunity to photograph Comet PanSTARRS from atop Haleakala, the location of the PanSTARRS telescope that discovered the comet. I’m always surprised when people don’t realize how incredibly beautiful (and photogenic!) a comet is, but I’m pretty sure I made a few comet converts this year.

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Sky on Fire, Hopi Point, Grand Canyon

Sky on Fire, Hopi Point, Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon delivered colorful sunrises and sunsets each day, and the extreme cold (remember, I’d just returned from Maui) was a reasonable price for avoiding the flat blue skies that frequently make the Grand Canyon so difficult to photograph.

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Bamboo Sky, Maui, Hawaii

Bamboo Sky, Maui, Hawaii

As someone who loves seeing things I’ve never seen, the exotic beauty of Maui’s bamboo forest was a particular thrill.

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Heavenly Beam, Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Heavenly Beam, Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

At Upper Antelope Canyon, not only did our workshop group get the much coveted beams of light, the timing of our tour somehow managed to avoid the crowds at the beam locations. (I’ve photographed there enough to know that this was a total fluke that couldn’t have been planned.)

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Waterfall and Pool, Road to Hana, Maui

Waterfall and Pool, Road to Hana, Maui

I’ll never tire of the Road to Hana, with a surprise at every turn and a seemingly infinite supply of waterfalls. My goal with each visit is to find something new—this time I scrambled and rock-hopped up a narrow canyon to find a 100 foot waterfall plunging into a translucent turquoise pool.

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Lava Pool, West Maui, Hawaii

Lava Pool, West Maui, Hawaii

After nearly marooning on a muddy, remote dirt road on West Maui, on our final night Don and I returned to find out whether the spot was worth the trouble—it was.

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Comet PanSTARRS and the  Grand Canyon by Moonlight, Yavapai Point

Comet PanSTARRS and the Grand Canyon by Moonlight, Yavapai Point

I hadn’t expected to be able to photograph Comet PanSTARRS at the Grand Canyon, but after a quick calculation I decided to give it a try. We couldn’t see the comet with our unaided eyes, but I had a pretty good idea where to look, and it showed up beautifully on the LCD. One thing I love about photography is its ability to put nature in perspective. Here we have the Grand Canyon, a cross-section of Earth’s natural history, yet Comet PanSTARRS, while new to us, is probably the oldest thing in this image.

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Giants/Rockies at Scottsdale Stadium, March 21, 2013

Giants/Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium, March 24, 2013 (click to enlarge)

Somehow in the midst of all this photography Don and I managed to indulge my baseball passion by tacking a four day Arizona Spring Training visit to the Northern Arizona photo trip.  The weather couldn’t have been better (unless you don’t like 80 degrees and blue skies) and we got a healthy dose of our (World Champion!) San Francisco Giants. I’ve made this pilgrimage about fifteen times (I’ve lost the exact count) in the last twenty-five years and it never fails to disappoint.

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And that was my March, a month that could have battered me but instead reminded me how fortunate I am to do what I do. Bring on April!

Reliving the dream: Comet PanSTARRS above the Grand Canyon

Comet PanSTARRS and the  Grand Canyon by Moonlight, Yavapai Point

Comet PanSTARRS and the Grand Canyon by Moonlight, Yavapai Point

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about fulfilling my Comet PanSTARRS dreams from atop Haleakala (the location of PanSTARRS’ discovery) on Maui. After nearly a year of anticipation, being able to photograph this beautiful comet paired with a new moon had left me sated. And anyway, with the comet fading fast, I had no illusions that I’d be able to top what I already had. But less than two weeks removed from Maui, finding myself in Arizona to assist Don Smith’s Northern Arizona workshop (Don assisted me in Maui) and still seeing nice PanSTARRS images online, I decided to check PanSTARRS’ location relative to the Grand Canyon (where the workshop kicks off). And guess what…. Not only did it look like we could align PanSTARRS with the Grand Canyon, the 93% waxing gibbous moon would be perfectly positioned to illuminate the canyon, normally a bottomless black pit at night.

I should mention that Don and I preceded our Northern Arizona trip with a few days watching Spring Training baseball (go Giants!) in Phoenix, a much needed respite separating a grueling week on Maui from an equally grueling trip to the Grand Canyon, Page (Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend), and Sedona. (I know, I know, if our life gets any tougher U2 will probably be doing a benefit concert for us, but Don and I are just givers.)

Our original plan had been to catch the Giants and Angels in Tempe on Sunday afternoon, then take a leisurely drive to our hotel near the South Rim that night. But when I told Don about the opportunity to reprise our Maui PanSTARRS shoot, he was all for it. We bolted the Giants’ game in the seventh inning and rolled into the parking lot at Yavapai Point (by my calculation the only easily accessible, ideally aligned location) about 30 minutes after sunset.

We found the rim gloriously empty (and shockingly cold after Maui and Phoenix). The western horizon still held traces of warmth from the just finished day, but moonlight had already started spilling into the canyon. By the time we were set up and ready to shoot the sky had darkened enough that it was about dark enough to shoot. After a couple of test shots to get the exposure right and locate PanSTARRS (it’s too faint now to be seen with the naked eye), we got down to business. The comet was clearly visible as a white smudge on my LCD screen, even more visible than I expected it to be, making framing it in the composition easy. I just kept clicking, trying many horizontal and vertical variations as I could, until the comet finally faded into the orange haze.

Tonight we’ll take the group out and try again….

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