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Slot Canyons

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This post will be much shorter than my last few. Or, it may be longer – a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Slot canyons are incredibly beautiful natural sandstone carvings. As the name implies, these are “canyons,” and they’re typically found in desert regions where there’s lots of sandstone and an occasional thunderstorm.  Over millions of years, the abrasive nature of flowing water, sand and rocks carves narrow canyons through the sandstone. A slot canyon is usually deeper than it is wide and some can be EXTREMELY narrow. Since these slot canyons are typically in desert environments they also are frequently dry and it is relatively easy to visit these vertical, inside-out sculpture gardens. Danger does exist in slot canyons. Since desert soils don’t absorb much rainwater, if there’s a rainstorm in the vicinity (or, even miles upstream in the water basin), the runoff can rip and roar through a slot canyon and pound everything in it to pemmican. When walking over sandstone, it would sometimes be possible to walk over a slot canyon and not really notice it other than you’re walking over a dark crack, although most slot canyons are at least a few feet wide at their tops.

One of the most famous slot canyons in the world is Petra, Jordan. It’s on my bucket list to visit someday. Closer to my home, there’s a slot canyon, or something close to it in the form of Pewits Nest near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

But, some of the most beautiful slot canyons are found in Arizona and Utah. I’ve been fortunate to visit several of these slot canyons and I’m always in awe and inspired by them. Each slot canyon has it’s own character, even though one slot canyon can be just a few hundred meters from another slot canyon.

One of the most accessible and visited slot canyons is Antelope Canyon just east of Page, Arizona. If you visit, there are two major choices (or, simply choose both): Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. You can hire a Navajo guide to take you to and through the canyon of your choice, or you might be able to wander freely if you visit Lower Antelope Canyon. One of the good things about the Antelope Canyon system is that it’s very well protected and monitored for precipitation in the area. About twenty years ago, a group of tourists was exploring Lower Antelope Canyon and were caught in a flash flood, never to be seen again. Since that time, the Navajo Nation has instituted better security and limited site access to reduce the likelihood of these accidents. The first gallery below is from my most recent visit to Lower Antelope Canyon in June, 2012. Antelope Canyon is very beautiful and you won’t be disappointed with a visit there. My kids still talk about it! The colors and smooth carvings are entrancing, and it’s relatively easy to move about.

South of Escalante, Utah, in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, there are several accessible slot canyons, but it takes a little doing to get to them. They’re many miles in the wilderness, on rough gravel roads, and then there’s a mile or two or three hike to get to these slot canyons. But, the hikes are worth it (particularly if you take the shorter routes…).  We visited Spooky and Peek-a-boo Slot Canyons in one day, which are located in Upper Coyote Gulch. Spooky was VERY narrow – I barely could squeeze through in several sections and there were many visitors on the day we were there, creating traffic jams in the slot. I don’t have any good photographs from it because of how narrow and crowded it was. Nearby is a totally different looking slot canyon – Peek-a-boo. It is slightly wider and has a few arches overhead that give it quite a different feel.

A day later, we were back in the National Monument and visited Tunnel Slot Canyon and Zebra Slot Canyon; they are found to the side of Harris Wash. (If you want to find these slot canyons for yourself, just google them or check out the photographs on Google Earth; or, just write to me!). Parking for the hike to these two slots is just off of Hole in the Rock Road; however, if you’ve mismanaged your research, you also can drive to a different location in Harris Wash and then make a MUCH longer hike to them (not recommended, particularly if your family is along). Tunnel Slot is a relatively short slot canyon, narrow and dark. It’s so narrow at the top that not a whole lot of light gets down into it. Much of the light comes from the ends, which makes for some difficult photography.

About a mile northwest of Tunnel Slot is Zebra Slot. This is a narrow slot canyon and very different from Tunnel Slot – it’s open and well lit. The sidewalls show beautifully variegated sandstone layers with moqui marble inclusions. Similar to the Antelope Canyon system, it is just enthralling to be there and to think about the geology and how long it has taken to carve this fantastic place.

From here on, I’ll just let the photographs speak for themselves – enjoy.




I’m signing off…


Posted in Arizona, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, slot canyon, Utah Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

The Wave

[landscapephotograph description=”Panoramic view of The Wave in all its glory!” photoname=”The Wave” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Wave-Pan-3c.jpg” photourl=”http://IlluminataPhoto.zenfolio.com/p839107791/e46fb6cd9″][/landscapephotograph]



I’ve always been interested in science and the natural world, as well as reading. One day, likely in the mid-1970s, I opened a book and found a photograph of this amazing geological formation somewhere in the American southwest. I was mesmerized by this photograph. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of information on the location of this sandstone formation or how to get there – life before the internet. But, that image was burned into my memory.

At some later point in my life, as well as with the growth of the internet, my consciousness came back to this sandstone beauty. I found that it was called “The Wave,” and that it was somewhere in the middle of nowhere in northern Arizona. The more that I searched about The Wave, learned about it and viewed more photographs of it, it became sort of an obsession, which is typical of a nature and landscape photographer. We all have these lists of places that we must visit and photograph. The internet and various travel guides have increased awareness of The Wave to the point that obtaining a permit is even more difficult than it was ten years ago (and, yes, I’m contributing to that difficulty by writing this piece).

And, dreams do turn into realities. The dream of visiting and the result of all of this research is eventually getting to see The Wave and a host of other beautiful, natural locations. I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit “The Wave” on three different occasions.

The Wave is a natural formation of folded sandstone that used to be wind-blown sand dunes. The sand eventually was cemented into place and natural geological forces folded and eroded the sandstone into the beautiful shapes that we see today. The Wave is also a relatively small geological feature situated in an area called North Coyote Buttes that offers a great many opportunities for hiking, photography and amazement.

In a break with my usual style, I’m placing two slideshows here for your enjoyment. If you’re inclined to learn more about how to obtain a permit to visit The Wave, then by all means, keep reading! The first slideshow is from my 2013 visit, while the second slideshow is our most recent 2015 visit.






Getting to The Wave is not difficult, but it’s definitely not easy. The most difficult and frustrating part of seeing The Wave is getting a permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Wave is found in an area called the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area of southern Utah and northern Arizona. The Wave is also extremely fragile, as you might guess, so the BLM limits the number of daily visitors to reduce the wear and tear on this spectacular site, as well as to provide visitors an outstanding wilderness experience. While many folks like to visit large crowded cities on their vacations, it’s also nice to have remote, quiet and intimate wilderness opportunities for the rest of us.

Let’s get back to that difficult part of getting a permit. The BLM allows up to twenty people per day to visit North Coyote Buttes and The Wave. There are two ways to obtain these highly prized and difficult to procure permits. The “easier” way is to apply to the BLM’s online lottery. This way is easier because you can do it from home in front of your computer. You apply for your permits about five months in advance of when you hope to visit The Wave. For example, if you want to visit in April, then you apply during the previous December. The BLM holds a lottery on the first day of the fourth month before you’d like to visit; in my example, the lottery would be held on January 1st and you’ll be notified by email whether you received a permit or not. Through the online lottery, BLM distributes ten of the twenty permits it offers. The advantage of this system to you is that you’ll know in advance whether you’ve been extremely lucky to obtain a permit. The bad news is that for these ten daily permits, there are typically 200 or more requests for those few permits, which means that your chances of getting one of those permits is about 1% or less – yeah, not great odds. You’re permitted to request up to three different days in your lottery entry, so that might seem to increase your odds, but then, everyone gets to pick three days. I’ve also heard of some “tricks” to increase your chances of winning a permit, but the odds are still stacked against you. I’ve only known one or two people who have earned a permit through the online lottery; I’ve applied to the online lottery four or five times and never earned a permit in this way.

The other way to obtain a permit is to enter the “in-person” lottery that is now held at the BLM’s Interagency Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. To be clear, the BLM distributes the remaining ten permits through this process and these permits are good for the following day (i.e., tomorrow, not the day of the lottery). The first time that I attempted to visit The Wave, this lottery was held at a different location (the BLM’s Paria Contact Station). My wife and I entered the lottery and didn’t receive permits, but the BLM staff kindly told us that there were still permits available to visit a similarly beautiful area known as South Coyote Buttes, so we went there. (Permits for South Coyote Buttes are now becoming increasingly difficult to obtain through the same two lotteries; the information that I’m providing for North Coyote Buttes/The Wave lotteries also apply to the South Coyote Buttes permit lotteries.) When we applied at the in-person lottery, there were maybe fifteen to twenty total people requesting permits. The second time that I planned a Utah/Arizona trip with the hope of visiting The Wave (June, 2010), I applied online for a permit (no luck) and then entered the in-person lottery. Again, there were fifteen to twenty applicants and I scored! The weather was extremely pleasant and this was truly a happy moment in my life.

On my attempt to visit The Wave in November, 2013, I applied online (again, no luck), and then entered the in-person lottery in Kanab. I again drew a permit in the lottery, but this time there must have been thirty or forty applicants, so I felt very lucky. I also savored the experience even more because I did more research about the area and found some other gems in the vicinity of The Wave, like Top Rock Arch.

My latest visit to The Wave was also the luckiest. Again, no luck with the online lottery, but that wasn’t surprising. We visited southern Utah during Spring Break, 2015. Unfortunately for us, Utah’s schools were also on spring break at the same time. Places that I had visited in the past where I was all alone were “swarming” with people (OK, in my case, swarming means that there were twenty to thirty people). We entered the in-person lottery at Kanab on two successive days, because that’s all the time that we had for visiting the area. The first day the BLM’s “lottery room” was full and overflowing. We heard that there had been requests for ~170 permits a day or two before, and the first day that we applied, there were about sixty requests applications requesting about 150 permits (you’re permitted to request up to four permits on a single lottery application, I believe). Yes, the odds were terrible and we weren’t too disappointed when we didn’t get a permit. But, it was exciting to see a mother and daughter squeal with delight when they earned their first permits after learning that this was about their tenth application to the in-person lottery! When you participate in the in-person lottery you really have to set your goals low (as in, I’ll not receive a permit) and also enjoy the good luck of others when they receive their permits.

We applied again on the following day. Our odds were slightly better, as there were “only” about forty applications for about 130 permit requests. What was interesting about this trip to the lottery is that the BLM does seem to be very strict about it’s policy of allowing one application per group of applicants. It wasn’t apparent on our first visit to the lottery, but on our second attempt the woman running the lottery was clearly reviewing the applications and she disqualified two groups of applicants who had two applications each. That meant that our odds increased – if only slightly. And, after watching one permit be awarded, then two more permits, and then two more permits, we knew that our likelihood of getting our four permits with our draw was pretty low – but we did! ELATION!

So, here’s one “trick” that I can offer for improving your odds at The Wave lottery – apply for yourself only, whether in-person or online. Plan on a solo visit. It might seem a little odd, but there are quite a few applications who are requesting multiple permits. Once the first five, six, seven permits have been awarded, then the multi-permit applications are less likely to take their permit(s) if they are lucky in the lottery. Why? Because the participants with a multi-permit application want to go as a group so that all or none can enjoy the experience. Yes, those multi-permit, in-person applications might choose to take the remaining permits and figure out how to distribute them amongst themselves, but more often it seems that they decline to take their permits – all or none. So, after those first few in-person permits have been awarded, your chances for an individual request increase because the multi-permit applicants will decline their opportunity. I know, it ‘s not a lot of solace, but it’s some. And, the same logic applies to the online lottery – if there are only three permits remaining, then an application for four permits can’t win.

After you’ve finally won the lottery celebrate and then continue your planning and preparation. And, here’s a bit of help to get you prepared before you get there. This site has quite a bit of good information on The Wave and the general area of the Colorado Plateau = TheWave.Info

With the popularity of The Wave increasing, the number of unprepared visitors is also increasing. The Wave is a wilderness area. It’s about an hour drive from either Kanab, Utah or Page, Arizona. There are basically no services nearby, once you leave these main towns. The road to The Wave, House Rock Valley Road, is rough, rutted, and rocky, and passable by most vehicles when it’s dry. If it’s wet, the clay can become quite slippery. During our last visit at the lottery, we heard one group’s amazement that you couldn’t drive right up to The Wave! No, this is a desert wilderness and you’ll need to hike and be prepared for many eventualities. In the summer of 2013, an older couple hiked to The Wave and didn’t return – it was very hot, they likely didn’t have enough water, became disoriented and died. On our way out from our visit, a family of five was walking in to visit The Wave. They had heard about while vacationing in Kanab, didn’t realize that you needed permits (or, face a $500 citation if you’re caught without one), didn’t have maps and didn’t have nearly enough water for all of them – including their three year old twins. The route to The Wave is not marked – again, it’s wilderness. Be prepared. Bring a GPS or map and compass and know how to use them. I’m not providing directions here because the BLM will give them to you or there are much better resources on the internet.

But, once you get there, you’ll be amazed with what you see. My favorite part of my most recent visit was watching my family’s reaction when they entered the main amphitheater – priceless. And, on this trip, I found Melody Arch, which was spectacular, The Alcove and the Second Wave – there’s always something to discover in this area.

I hope that you enjoy your trip when you can finally get a permit!!! Please let me know when you get to visit!!!

OK, I’m signing off…


Posted in Arizona, desert, North Coyote Buttes, panorama, The Wave, Vermillion Cliffs Tagged , , , , , , |

Tutorial: How to Create a Digital Panoramic Photograph (Part III of III)

Von River Valley, Otago, New Zealand

Von River Valley, Otago, New Zealand


So far, I’ve taken you through my process of using my camera to take photographs that I will use to create a panoramic photograph (Part I), and then the editing workflow in Lightroom and Photoshop (PS) that I utilize (Part II). If you’ve been following along, I hope that this has made sense so far and that you’ve been able to successfully implement the workflow for yourself. If you’re still on board and now want to learn how to make the process a bit easier, particularly if you want to produce many panoramic photographs at the same time, then keep on reading!


Creating Multiple Panoramas: I have one more tool in my quiver for making panoramic images and it’s a wonderful time saver. With the help of others, I have created/modified a PS “script” so that PS will run Photomerge without any further assistance from me. I can set up dozens of potential panoramic images to be merged overnight or at any other convenient time for me. I have created hundreds of panoramic photographs in this manner since I started using this script and it is one of the best things that I’ve done for my panoramic photography workflow over the past few years.


To implement this approach, you’ll first need to have the Panorama script, have it in its proper form, and properly inserted into PS. WordPress won’t allow me to attach the java script file for security reasons, so if you wish to pursue this avenue, you’ll have to do a bit of work on your own.  First, you’ll need to download the Adobe Extend Script Editor (if you don’t have it already) through the following link:  Adobe Extend Script Editor (download)


Once you’ve downloaded the Extend Script Editor and have it open, now “click” on the following “Panorama”.jsx link.  This will open a separate page that has the java script on it. Simply copy everything on the Panorama script page into your Extend Script Editor window.



After you’ve copied the script text into the Extend Script Editor window, save the file with the name Panorama.jsx into your Script folder in Photoshop. In my Mac computer, the path is Applications>Adobe Photoshop CC 2014>Presets>Scripts. The next time that you open PS, you should find the Panorama script under File>Scripts. Here are some tips regarding the script that you’ve just created. The script as provided will run Photomerge just as I’ve described it in Part II of this Panoramic Photograph Tutorial.  That is, it will merge files to create panoramic images with Auto Layout, Blend Images Together, Geometric Distortion Correction and Vignette Removal. I’m not going to go into the details, as they’re beyond the scope of this Tutorial, but if you’ve gotten this far I hope that you can edit your Panorama.jsx file to run the Photomerge script differently, if you wish. Again, experiment to your heart’s desire!


Path: where to insert the Panorama.jsx file

Path: where to insert the Panorama.jsx file


The process of using the Panorama script for your benefit is fairly similar to what I’ve already described but with some minor modifications. When I choose the series of files that I want to turn into a panoramic photograph I will “copy” those files into a new folder. For example, after my recent Peru trip, I created a “Panoramas” folder under my Peru folder. Within that Panoramas folder, I then created a “Machu Picchu 1” folder and copied in my first series of files. For every panoramic photograph that I want to create I then create a new subfolder under Panoramas and name that subfolder according to the subject and order (i.e., Machu Picchu 2, Machu Picchu 3, Cusco 1, and so on). (FYI, I created >75 panoramas after my Peru trip using my Panorama script and saved myself countless hours of sitting in front of my computer and waiting for the merged photos to come out of PS.)


After I’ve created and filled as many subfolders as I need, I’ll open PS. Once PS is running, I’ll pull down the File menu and go to Scripts and then click on the Panorama script (File>Scrips>Panorama):


To start the Panorama script, go to File on the top menu, then Scripts and then Panorama

To start the Panorama script, go to File on the top menu, then Scripts and then Panorama


When you start the Panorama script, it will open a dialogue box. In that dialogue box you need to direct PS where to find your Panoramas folder that you’ve recently created that contains all of the subfolders with your multiple image files. In the case that I’m illustrating below, on a separate hard drive I have a folder for all of the photograph files from my Peru trip, and then have created a new subfolder called “Panoramas.” Within the Panoramas subfolder are several subfolders that I’ve created just for illustration:


Photoshop Dialogue Box: Selecting the Panorama script starting point

Photoshop Dialogue Box: Selecting the Panorama script starting point


When you’ve found your Panoramas subfolder simply click on the OK button. The next thing to do is to grab a cup of tea, a glass of wine, forty winks or whatever. The script will work its way through each of the subfolders under Panoramas and create a new panoramic photograph, flatten the image and then save that file with the name “completed.psd”. Again, due to the size of my files and the number of panoramic photographs that I might create this process can take a few hours for my computer.


Sunrise, Point Sublime, Grand Canyon National Park


As a warning, you can run into problems with this method if the files that you’ve collected for your pans won’t work to create a good image, just as if you were running the Photomerge script on your own. The script will “hang up” and stop, but you should have a good idea of what has failed and why. If you correct your mistake, make certain that you remove the panoramic photograph subfolders that have successfully worked before restarting.


When PS has created all of the panoramic images that it can, you’ll now need to open each of the “completed.psd” files in PS. My first step usually is to save the file with the correct file name – i.e., Machu Picchu Pan 1.psd and so on – and I’ll usually save it under my Panoramas folder so that I know that it has been completed (less confusing). From there, I’ll edit the panoramic photograph using the Warp tool to fix any distortions, as I detailed in Part II. From that point on, it’s up to you how you want to edit and improve on your new masterpiece!


Hopefully, this script will save you time and effort, and make your creation of beautiful panoramic photographs easier and more enjoyable.


‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN/Illuminata signing off…



Posted in Lightroom, Panoramic Photography, Photoshop Tagged , , , , |

Tutorial: How to Create a Digital Panoramic Photograph (Part II of III)

Panoramic view of Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Panoramic view of Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

In Part I of this Tutorial, I explored and explained how I create beautiful panoramic photographs with my camera – lenses, overlapping, compensating for movement and such. While the first part focuses on the mechanical and optical aspects of the camera and the shooting process, this second part addresses how I manage my individual frames to create the final panoramic image.

My studio workflow relies on Adobe Lightroom 5 (LR) and Photoshop 2014 (PS) (as of this writing). To me, these are two indispensable tools for my work recently I discover SodaPDF and it has been amazing tool. There are other software tools available, but I’m only familiar with the Adobe offerings. Most of my panoramic photo editing relies on Photoshop, so it’s readily possible to implement my workflow without using Lightroom.

Selecting Files in Finder or PS: If you’re not an LR user, then you can open the several image files that you want to turn into a panorama in PS either by opening the images in PS (Cmd-O on a Mac) or by selecting the image files in Mac’s Finder and then opening them into PS (Illustration 1)(you may “click” on the image to see a larger version in a separate window).

Opening files from the Finder into Photoshop

Illustration 1: Opening files from the Finder into Photoshop

Once the files are opened in PS, then go to the File menu, choose Automate and then Photomerge (File>Automate>Photomerge; see Illustration 2).

Opening Photomerge in Photoshop

Illustration 2: Opening Photomerge in Photoshop

The next window to pop open will look like this:

Illustration 3: The Photomerge dialogue box

Illustration 3: The Photomerge dialogue box

The files that you want to include in this panorama are already open, so now click on the “Add Open Files” button, and you’ll next see:


Illustration 4: The Photomerge dialogue box, filled with files to be merged

From this point, if you’re NOT using LR, the workflow is the same starting at Photomerge (Illustration 6) below.

Selecting Files in LR: Since I’m using LR, after I download my image files from my camera card to a new and unique folder on my computer, I import that new folder into LR. In LR I pick out the series of files that represent my potential panoramic photograph. This is where consistently shooting left-to-right in the field is helpful because it’s easier for me to pick out these left-to-right series in LR’s viewer. When I’ve identified a series of images that I want to turn into panoramic photograph, I will color code each file in that series, typically with a blue tag. I sometimes have image series right after each other and in that case the first series might be tagged blue, the next series tagged green, the third series back to blue and so on, so that I can readily distinguish between those series.

If I’m creating just a few panoramic photographs I will select (Cmd-A on a Mac) a series of images in LR. In the Library or Develop module I will then select from the top menu: Photo>Edit In>Merge to Panorama in Photoshop (Illustration 5a). More frequently, I will simply find this menu option by right clicking the selection with my mouse button while my mouse pointer is sitting above the files that I want to merge (Illustration 5b).

Illustration 5b: Merge to Panorama in Photoshop, starting from the top menu

Illustration 5a: Merge to Panorama in Photoshop, starting from the top menu

Illustration 5b: Merging to Panorama in Photoshop using a "right click" on your mouse

Illustration 5b: Merge to Panorama in Photoshop using a “right click” on your mouse

Photomerge: After selecting my files in LR and choosing Edit>Merge to Photomerge in Photoshop, Photoshop opens and soon the Photomerge menu screen appears:

Illustration 6: The Photomerge dialogue box, ready to start

Illustration 6: The Photomerge dialogue box, ready to start

Based on my workflow, I set the Layout to Auto and turn on the options for Blend Images Together, Vignette Removal, and Geometric Distortion Correction. When I use a wide-angle lens, there’s always the possibility for vignetting and lens distortion, so these Photomerge options are very helpful. After all of these boxes are checked I click on the OK button and let ‘er rip. In my case, it usually requires several minutes to create a panoramic file because I’m working with large image files.

As an aside, if I find that my final panoramic image doesn’t look good, then I may choose a different Layout option and create a second panoramic photo. Again, experiment to see what works well for you. There also are times when Photoshop seems to be unable to create a panorama with the files that I’ve chosen. If I feel that my images should work, then I’ll try again. Frequently, though, I’ll find that I’ve included a file on one end of the series that shouldn’t be there and that’s why Photoshop wasn’t able to create a panorama.

Below is a final result (Illustration 7):

Illustration 7: The merged panorama

Illustration 7: The merged panorama

In the lower right of this screen capture you can see that the panoramic photograph is composed of pieces of the individual frames that have been selectively masked by Photoshop. If you feel the need to still work on each frame, you can now save (Cmd-S on a Mac) your new file as a .PSD file (or, .PSB if it’s very large).

However, if you haven’t determined whether significant editing might be necessary to the individual frames (and, it is very likely that no further editing will be necessary; you can always regenerate the layered panoramic file by starting this process again), then it’s time to “flatten” your panoramic photo. To do this, you can either click on the drop down menu to the right of the Layers window in PS (circled in red in Illustration 8a) to reveal the Flatten Image command (Illustration 8b) or you can simply right click with your mouse when your pointer is over the list of layers in the Layers window (Illustration 9) to reveal the Flatten Image command:

Illustration 8a: where to find the dialogue box button on the Layers menu

Illustration 8a: where to find the dialogue box button on the Layers menu

Illustration 8b: The "Flatten Image" command on the Layers dropdown menu

Illustration 8b: The “Flatten Image” command on the Layers dropdown menu

Illustration 9: The "Flatten Image" command using the right button on your mouse

Illustration 9: The “Flatten Image” command using the right button on your mouse

After the image is flattened, I prefer to save the panoramic photo and give it an appropriate name that includes the phrase “Pan” (e.g., Machu_Picchu_Pan1.tif) in a new subfolder labeled “Panoramas.”

Since I started this process in LR, this new panoramic photograph now appears in LR. (If you’ve saved the file to a new Panoramas subfolder, make certain to import that folder into LR!) I can then do my normal edits in LR, or can do further edits in PS which will appear in LR when I save the edited file. You will note that the final image that appears in Illustration 7 (above) obviously needs cropping to eliminate white edges and this cropping can be done either in PS or LR.

The example panorama that appears in Illustration 7 was created using a telephoto lens with the camera on my tripod. It has come out fairly level and requires only typical editing – color, temperature, contrast, etc.

However, many of the panoramic photographs that I create utilize my wide-angle lenses. When I run a series of files through Photomerge that were captured with the wide-angle lens, the result is quite different. Check out Illustration 10:

Illustration 10: A completed pan exhibiting "arcing"

Illustration 10: A completed pan exhibiting “arcing”

Quite distorted, eh? Now we get to the reason for my workflow. If I had photographed this series of images on a special panorama attachment for my tripod, this panorama might look better, but not likely.

After I’ve flattened this strange looking panorama I’ll apply some PS “magic” – I’ll use the Warp tool to straighten the image and get it to looking great!

The first thing that I’ve learned to do is to reduce the size of my image in PS by using the Cmd-[-] command (i.e., the “command” or Apple key along with the minus key, on a Mac). To do this, I’ll “select” my image (Cmd-A on a Mac) and you’ll see the marching ants running around the image border. From here, I’ll to the Edit menu and then down to Transform and then Warp (Edit>Transform>Warp).

Illustration 11: The Warp Transformation

Illustration 11: The Warp Transformation

Once I click on Warp, a grid appears over my image with some “point” handles:

Illustration 12: Image with Warp ready to be applied

Illustration 12: Image with Warp ready to be applied

The fun begins as I have to warp this image to return it to its proper appearance. Using my mouse pointer, I can point to anywhere in the image and then hold down my mouse button to “grab” that point and move, bend and stretch the image to the desired shape. (I encourage you to stop reading and open PS with any image of yours and play with the Warp tool for a few minutes so that you get a feel for what I’m trying to explain.)

In Illustration 13 I’ve tried to demonstrate where I’ve “grabbed” the initial image (seen in Illustration 12) and then the general direction that I’ve warped the image from that particular point using the red arrows. As you can see, there are only five places in this image that I’ve needed to warp to get the image to its final shape. When I’m content with the image’s shape, I hit the “enter” key to commit to the warp transformation that I’ve created. (At this point, I might also crop the image in PS to remove any areas that don’t contribute to my final image, like the remaining bit of white in the lower right.) Finally, I’ll save the file and this will be the version of the panoramic photograph on which I’ll now perform my final edits.

Illustration 13: After the Warp has been applied; red arrows show where the image has been warped.

Illustration 13: After the Warp has been applied; red arrows show where the image has been warped.

In different panoramic photographs that I need to warp, it may be necessary to warp the image in numerous places. It’s also important to review your warp transformation when you think you’re finished, looking for instances where buildings or people appear skewed or distorted. You may need to go back and fine tune some of your transformations.

Cordillera Urupampa, Peru

Cordillera Urupampa, Peru

Quality Assurance: And, you’re still not quite finished. Again, you’ll need to apply your final editing – color temperature, lightness/darkness, contrast, luminance, saturation, etc. My “final” step, which I may perform before or after the editing steps that I just mentioned, is to review the panoramic photograph at 100% enlargement or larger. I typically work left to right over the whole of the image looking for obvious seams where the merging/masking was poor (not very frequent) or where an individual frame(s) is blurred from camera shake (more frequent than I wish). The camera shake issue is a big bugaboo and I can’t emphasize enough how necessary it is to review the quality of the panoramic photograph. I will also will empathize with you if you’ve gone through all of these steps only to find that your final pan is crap – it’s happened to me too many times. Yes, I could thoroughly examine each individual frame at 100% in LR before I merge the frames, but as frustrating as it is to find the problem at the end rather than the beginning, it is easier, in my view, to select the frames that I want for a panoramic photograph and go through the whole of the merging process and then do my image quality assurance. Since I’ve overlapped my images a fair amount during the capture phase, I’ll go back into LR, figure out which frame(s) is the problematic one and then determine if I feel that there’s sufficient overlap in the remaining images to run Photomerge again, and that’s usually the case.

A final QA issue that I’ll consider if I’m examining a pan that I’ve created that contains moving objects is whether those objects are distorted by the merging (i.e., the overlap occurred at a critical juncture) or whether a very noticeable object (car, person) appears in the image multiple times. If I discover a problem like these, then I’ll rerun Photomerge on the individual frames. But, before I flatten the image, I’ll work with the individual masked layers and determine if I can mask out the problem through hand editing and sometimes it’s possible.

In both of these major QA issues (blurring, movement) where I detect problems, before I rerun the Photomerge I’ll step back from the panoramic photo and honestly ask myself if it’s worth the effort to run it again – and sometimes, it’s not!

Again, there you have it. Once you start to implement this workflow (or something similar that meets your needs), all of these steps will “flow” for you and make more sense. It’s a lot to take in at one time so be patient and work through it. Feel free to ask questions, too!

In the final exciting installment of this tutorial, Part III, I’ll share with you one of my prize “possessions” for making panoramic photographs and making them more easily. Stay tuned!

‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN/Illuminata signing off…

Posted in Lightroom, panorama, Panoramic Photography, Photoshop, technique, warp Tagged , , , , , , , |

Tutorial: How to Create a Digital Panoramic Photograph (Part I of III)

Eggshell Arch, Arizona

Eggshell Arch, Arizona



Panoramic photographs are my favorite way of expressing my photographic vision because this is how I tend to see the world – in these long, horizontal panoramic strips of scenery. There are so many places that I visit where I have a broad vista in front of me and there’s no way to really express the awe-inspiring beauty well in a standard, “small” rectangle of an image. I frequently use a wide-angle lens in my work, but I often get more sky or background or foreground in my image than I really want. While I could take my wide-angle images and crop them to create a panoramic image, the final image size is still relatively small and I (and my clients) can’t print it to such a size that it creates the impression that I (and we) want.


Many simple digital and cell phone cameras have a sweep panoramic mode built into them and they can create some truly remarkable photographs! My older son has outdone me on more than a few occasions with his phone while I’m using my digital camera. But, he isn’t able to print a great big photograph, so that’s the benefit of my approach.


A panoramic image is, by definition, a picture that has a minimum dimensional ratio of at least three to one (3:1). That is, the width is at least three times the height. Thus, for example, for a 36” wide image to be considered panoramic, then it’s maximum height would be ~12” and it could be less than 12”. When I first started creating panoramic photographs, I used a Fuji 617 film camera and the negatives that this camera created were 6 cm tall and 17 cm wide (yes, not quite 3:1). That camera was a bit of a bear with which to work as it was large, moderately heavy and slightly unwieldy. That camera also limited me to that 3:1 ratio and it wasn’t readily possible to make a wider panoramic image. I sold this camera several years ago because it became easier, more flexible and cheaper to create panoramic images with my digital cameras, but there was a learning curve involved. I hope that this tutorial will help you to reduce your learning curve.


First of all, there are several different ways to go about this process. I’ll try to be flexible in my description, but I’ve honed my process to be most successful with my workflow. That is, from beginning to end, all of these steps contribute to my creation of a digital panoramic photograph. The process that I’m going to describe requires that you:

  • are competent user of a DSLR;
  • have a tripod; and,
  • have at least a modest understanding of Photoshop.

While it may well be possible to use my approach without using Photoshop, I can’t describe those steps because I am not familiar with them. For example, there are other photography software programs available that can be used to create panoramic images (e.g., PTGUI, AutoStitch), but I’m not sufficiently familiar with them to be of much help to you. The camera process that I describe may work well for you if you modify it to fit with your photography software editing process.


My typical equipment starting point is my digital camera and my tripod. My second consideration is my lens choice, which also is extremely important. My primary lens for making panoramic photographs is a wide-angle lens. My main digital camera for panoramic photos is a Pentax 645D, and I like to use an older Pentax 67 55mm f/4 lens. This lens is equivalent to about a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera, so it’s considered a moderate wide-angle lens. It’s also one of my sharpest lenses. Another consideration here is that since this is a wide-angle lens it is easier for me to hand-hold the camera and shoot decent images (but not always). I also use an even wider angle lens (Pentax 645 35mm, equivalent to a 21 mm lens), but I get more image distortion if I use this lens. I also like to use normal and telephoto lenses for subjects that are further away, but these lenses of have the problem of shaking if not handled well, which results in blurred frames that make for an unusable panoramic photograph.


Starting with the camera, lens and tripod, my shooting process is pretty basic – the K.I.S.S. principal in action. I’ll first evaluate my situation with my eyes to determine what I think should be the left and right margins of the subject for my panoramic photo. I might also heft my camera and look through the view finder to get a sense of what the camera will see with that particularly lens and move the camera from left to right on my expected scene. Composition is as important with a panoramic photograph as it is with any photograph. At this stage, I’m also checking the shutter speed on my camera so that I can consider how the shutter speed will affect my image, and whether I can shoot the scene handheld. Usually, though, I have my tripod available and will use it. Through experience (i.e., mistakes, rushing myself), I know that I’m less likely to create a decent photograph of any kind if I hand hold my camera. And, I’ll level my camera in my hands or on the tripod.


Camera Orientation: Here’s one of my specific issues – I shoot the large majority of my panoramic photographs with my camera in a vertical orientation. I do this because it gives the greatest possible height in my final image since that is a limiting factor. Why? The great majority of my panoramic photographs are crafted from a single row of individual images. Second, I can always shoot as many photographs as I want from left to right to create my panorama, but the height of my panorama is limited to the angle of view of my particular lens. The exception to this is if my lens is unable to take in everything that I want and then I’ll shoot two or three rows of images. And in these situations, I know that the likelihood of creating a successful panoramic image is greatly reduced – more variables and chances of error are being introduced.


Frame Overlapping: The other major issue that has to be considered at this point is how I overlap my individual images to create a decent final image. There are a few schools of thought on this issue, but the minimum overlap that is usually suggested is at least 25%. If I’m shooting from left to right, then my second frame overlaps my first frame by at least 25%, and each subsequent frame you do similarly. In this approach you’re only capturing about half of the frame with the subject, while the left and right quarters represent the overlap.  (You may “click” on the following image to for a larger view in a separate window.)


Frame overlap example

Frame overlap example


In practice, though, I overlap my frames by at least 50% and sometimes more. With digital cameras and cards, I have a practically unlimited supply of “film.” And, from experience, I know that some of my individual frames might not work. There might be evidence camera shake (blur) in the photo if I’m hand holding and I’ve too frequently shaken my camera even when it’s on my tripod. The more that I overlap my frames, then the better chance that I can eliminate a bad frame(s) and still create a decent panorama. Most of my panoramas are created with a minimum of eight individual frames in a single row, and I commonly create panoramas from twenty and thirty frames. My limiting factor in the number of frames is the slow write speed of my camera to the memory card (after about fifteen frames my memory buffer is overwhelmed) and the fact that really wide, narrow panoramic photographs (e.g., 10:1 width to height ratio) are less appealing to me than 3:1 to 6:1 panoramas.


So, that’s the basic, straight-forward approach. Sounds easy, right? It’s not.


The Kawarau River Valley from the Crown Range Road at the Zig Zags, near Queenstown, NZ

The Kawarau River Valley from the Crown Range Road at the Zig Zags, near Queenstown, NZ


Movement/Motion: One problem with blending multiple images into a single final image is how subjects might move between those individual frames – people walking, cars moving, trees and flowers blowing. In those situations, it’s hit and miss. I usually try to gauge the “flow” of objects in my scene and work to photograph the scene in the opposite direction so that I know that something moving in or through the scene is captured at least once in the middle of a frame. So, if people are mostly walking from left to right in my scene, I’m more likely to shoot my scene from right to left so that an individual is less likely to appear in subsequent frames. Or, if I’m shooting a landscape on a windy day (not an ideal situation) and there’s a tree in a particular part of the scene, then I’ll make certain that that tree is centered in at least one frame. Panoramic scenes with movement are not easy to successfully create, but it is possible. I have successfully created panoramic photographs that involve waves and moving water at the shore, but it’s not common. You have to experiment to understand the limits of your technique so that you know when and where to best use it.


Light Variation: Another major issue with creating panoramic images is how light changes across your scene. A scene that encompasses 90 to 180 degrees of your field of view can have a significant variation in the amount of light from one edge to the other. If you’ve used a wide-angle lens then you should have experienced this issue. With a panoramic photograph, light variation/gradation can be further magnified. This is not an impossible situation with which to work, but it does take some care and practice to overcome it.


To accommodate light variability across your scene, you need to wisely choose your camera mode. Most digital panoramic photo tutorials will recommend that you shoot in manual mode (i.e., strictly setting the aperture and shutter speed and leaving them set). In this approach, I try to choose a middle area of my subject and use my camera’s light meter to determine the shutter speed. (If I have my hand-held light meter available, then I prefer to use it, but I seldom carry it any more.) From there, I’ll manually set my aperture and shutter speed, and then shoot all of my frames across my panorama with the same manual setting. This approach works, but it takes more thinking and patience, and I’m not convinced that it’s more effective. You can still see significant light variation across your final image that will need to be fixed in Photoshop with grad filters.


My typical approach is to set my camera mode to aperture priority and then let the chips fall where they may. There is a method to this madness, though. First, it’s easy – K.I.S.S. Shooting in aperture priority mode my shutter speed is likely to change across the frames and scene, and I will see some light variation across my individual frames. However, since I’m overlapping my frames by quite a bit, I feel that the light variation is less noticeable in my final panoramic photograph. This is because in the Photoshop Photomerge stage (see Part II of this tutorial), Photoshop is choosing relatively narrow sections of each frame, so the light levels across all of the frames is fairly consistent.


Polarizers: If you’d like to intentionally introduce light variation and “banding” into a panoramic photograph then use a polarizer, particularly on a wide-angle lens. Polarizing filters can be used to create a panoramic photograph, but they must be carefully and judiciously used. If you create your digital panorama with a wide-angle lens, then using a polarizing filter will greatly reduce the likelihood of obtaining a satisfactory final image. A polarizing filter on a wide-angle lens nearly always yields significant light variation across the frame, particularly if you’re photographing a clear sky. It’s best to NOT use a polarizing filter with a wide-angle lens when you’re creating digital panoramas. It is possible to use a polarizing filter with normal and telephoto lenses, especially if you overlap your frames by more than the minimum and the subject represents a relatively small portion of your normal frame of view. But, using a polarizer is one more way to reduce the likelihood of creating a satisfactory digital panorama. Thus, I rarely will use a polarizer on my wide-angle panoramas and may use a polarizer with my normal and telephoto panoramas.


Levelers and other tripod attachments: If you have experience creating panoramic images or have performed some research on the issue, then you’ll likely notice that I’m not using special adapters on my tripod to level my camera or keep it from creating an arcing image. Again, K.I.S.S. and the whole of my work flow. However, if you aren’t going to employ the whole of my panoramic workflow with Photoshop, then these devices may well be worth it to you. You’ll just have to keep reading to make that decision.


So, there you have it – my initial camera workflow for creating a digital panoramic photograph. In summary:


  • Keep it simple;
  • Wide-angle lens to telephoto lens;
  • Vertical camera;
  • Tripod;
  • Lots of overlap; and,
  • Aperture Priority.


In the second part of this tutorial, I take you through my steps with Photoshop to yield the final digital panorama, so I hope that you’ll keep reading.



‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN/Illuminata signing off…



Posted in camera, panorama, Panoramic Photography, technique Tagged , , , , , |

If Introverts Ran the World

There have been many wonderful articles on the Huffington Post website over the past year or so about introverts. I’ve never seen so much written about introverts and am thankful for the attention that we’re finally getting. But, as an introvert, I don’t want too much attention. Ever since Susan Cain published her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, introverts have received more attention and, I hope, are better understood. Additionally, introverts are feeling better about themselves as they are, rather than being compared so much to extroverts.


One of question that has occurred to me as I’ve read the Huffington Post articles is how the world might be different if introverts were in charge. First off, though, introverts wouldn’t “run” the world – they would allow the world to run itself. Sure, introverts can take charge when needed, but there’s just so much of the world that runs just fine without so many “interventions.” Introverted world leaders would likely be more reserved when it comes to inserting their countries into the affairs of other countries, which would mean fewer wars and skirmishes, and hopefully more friendship forces.


The entertainment world would likely be far different, too. There very well may be sports teams in an introverted world, but stadiums and arenas would likely be smaller since more fans would watch the game from their homes, maybe tailgating with a few friends in the living room. Conversely, art venues might be larger or better attended, as the introvert-dominated world would enjoy quietly strolling through the museum or sitting and enjoying a concert or show. And, the world of celebrities, gossip magazines and reality TV shows would be pretty sparse. There are some really wonderful possibilities that such a world could hold!


And, don’t you think that business would be far different, too? Would marketing be such a big deal? I think that there would be far less advertising in an intro-centric world. The average consumer would feel just fine about themselves, so it would be much more difficult for marketing to expose your supposed flaws and their commercial improvements for you. Somehow, though, the commercial sector would keep on going, but I don’t feel that it would be as dominant in such a world. Reduced consumerism would yield other benefits like less pollution, reduced natural resources use and so on. Conversely, though, the emphasis on collaboration in our contemporary world might not find as much traction, so some of the products that are on the market today might not be present in Intro World. The internet might be much more stark. Hmmm…


Cities – what might they be like in an intro-centric world? Would cities be as large? I’m guessing that smaller cities would be more popular. Or, maybe all of the remaining extroverts would crowd themselves into New York, Beijing and London, and leave the rest of the world for the “normal” introverts. Camping and outdoor endeavors would be even more popular, don’t you think? Would nature parks be overused since amusement parks would be less-well attended? Search-and-rescue might be a good business to be in.


Wouldn’t the world population be smaller, too, in a introverted world? The introverted couple would be content with fewer children, which, over generations, would have monumental repercussions for reproduction and population growth. Wow, an introverted world is sounding more appealing all the time, isn’t it?


The general intellect of the world would be higher, too. This “introvert-dominated” world would be more reflective and studious. We might have solved some of the world’s most complex problems by now and made fewer mistakes unleashing discoveries on the world because we’ve better thought through the consequences. Binge drinking on campuses wouldn’t a problem; binge studying might be.


Can you imagine politics in an intro-centric world? Hallelujah! Less bickering and grandstanding; more discussion and LISTENING. I’m thinking that there would be a greater recognition of our many commonalities and a greater interest in how our differences make us each special and unique contributors to society. Isn’t this a wonderful picture?


Let’s close with thinking about faith and religion in an introvert-dominated world. Faith would likely be a more inward activity, and our social celebrations of faith would be more subdued. We might even be closer to a universal faith. I would hope that there would be fewer conflicts based on religious intolerance.


I don’t know about you, but I feel a nice, warm, contented glow as I think about all of the wonderful possibilities that an introvert-centric world might hold. It’s fun to dream and it would be a wonderful world!


Thus sprach Dr. Poop, the introvert…


P.S. – here’s one of my favorite articles from the Huffington Post on the subject of introverts:  Understanding Introverts in One Simple Chart  Needless to say, my extremely sensitive significant other and my female progeny are delighting in the thought of buying me a hamster ball for Christmas…





Posted in Introverts Tagged , , |

Salkantay & Machu Picchu – bucket list!

Cordillera Urupampa, Sacred Valley, Peru

Cordillera Urupampa, Sacred Valley, Peru

It’s nearly Thanksgiving and cold, dreary November is upon us. Fortunately, we were able to get out and enjoy a little sun and exercise a few weeks ago.

As with many people, we have a bucket list of things we’d like to do and places we’d like to see. On that list was Machu Picchu in Peru. You know, those large, wonderful Incan ruins that sit atop a mountain, overlooking a river valley, surrounded by the Andes Mountains. Most everyone has seen pictures of it, and it was on our bucket list because of the Incan culture, traveling to Peru and enjoying its contemporary culture and being in the Andes.

Going to Machu Picchu takes some planning. One of the major planning issues is how you’ll approach Machu Picchu. The route that most visitors take is to arrive in Cusco, Peru and acclimatize for a few days at the higher altitude. From there, the majority of visitors will take the train from Cusco to the tourist town of Aguas Calientes that is just below Machu Picchu. Alternatively, it is also possible to take a bus or other road transportation to the town of Ollantaytambo in Peru’s Sacred Valley and then take the train from there to Aguas Calientes. The total travel time by driving to Ollantaytambo is slightly shorter. The second most popular way to make your way to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu is to walk the 26-mile long Inca Trail, which starts in Ollantaytambo. One of the people who first made me most aware of Machu Picchu walked the Inca Trail with his wife about twenty years ago. Today, the Inca Trail is extremely popular and crowded; you’ll have the opportunity to share it each day with five hundred of your closest friends – 200 hikers and 300 Peruvian porters/guides, along with their accumulated debris, detritus and flotsam. But, the allure of the Inca Trail is that you’ll also have the opportunity to view and visit several other Incan ruins along the way, and to say that you did it!

Finally, if you’re like us and love your adventures, the mountains and a bit of exertion, there’s a third way – the Salkantay Trail. The route is more difficult and at a higher altitude and, the scenery is spectacular, especially the Humantay and Salkantay mountains. In fact, the altitude is a significant issue on this trek, but not insurmountable. Getting to the trailhead requires a bit more effort as it’s necessary to take small buses from Cusco to the trailhead near Mollepata. You’ll only have to share the route with a couple of dozen folks each day (I suspect, as we didn’t see very many people hiking on the trail). On the Salkantay Trail, along with various guides and porters, you’re also permitted to take pack animals (mules and horses) which can carry your gear (or you, if the situation requires); pack animals aren’t allowed on the Inca Trail. Along the Salkantay Trail there are several minimalist shelters – medium-sized outbuildings surrounded by blue plastic tarps. The wind can blow so fiercely in poor conditions on the Salkantay that we saw backpackers who set up their tents inside of these shelters, just to reduce the savagery of the elements.

Lastly, it is possible to hike the Salkantay Trail while staying in the wonderful Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) facilities. Oh my stars!!! We’ve never done anything quite like this in the past. Yes, we love to travel and camp and eat, but we’ve never thought about a luxury adventure trip until some of our good friends did this same trip a few years ago and raved about it. As much as I like being outdoors and hiking and in the middle of nowhere, I’m also getting “mature” (soft?) enough that I also enjoy a warm shower at the end of a hard day and a comfortable bed. If you’re similarly “mature” or otherwise aligned, then this trek might appeal to you.

Overlooking the Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Overlooking the Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Let’s start at the beginning – Cusco, Peru. After traveling for the better part of a day from home to Chicago and Miami, we arrived in Cusco just in time for breakfast. After retrieving my luggage from another American who thought that his bag looked like mine (close, but no banana), we took a taxi to the small B&B where we stayed, the Quinua Villa Boutique. Before the Spanish arrived in the mid Sixteenth Century, Cusco was the capitol of the Incan empire. Even after the Spanish arrived, the major modes of transportation were feet, horses and carriages. The older parts of town are narrow and there’s not much room for a car or other vehicle to drive. Our taxi driver offered to carry our baggage from the nearest street up the hill to the Quinua, but being a tough guy, I figured I could make it a hundred meters with mine – wrong! Who stole my oxygen?! Cusco sits at an altitude of ~11,200′, which is only 11,000′ higher than home. Our two days in Cusco were not easy if an uphill climb was required, and that was the case when we walked downhill to visit the famous Plaza de Armas.

Our second day in the area was spent on a Sacred Valley tour – Chincero, Salinas de Maras (salt works), Moray Terraces, Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley (the valley of the Urubamba River). As much as I enjoyed seeing these various Incan sites, the scenery and just being in the Peruvian countryside was wonderful. For all of the travels that we’ve done, there are relatively few places that I’d like to visit again and get to know better, but Peru is definitely on that short list. Peru has had it’s difficulties in the past with cocaine and terrorists, but the worst of those days are past. Everywhere that we went, we felt safe and people were very nice to us.

We got our formal start on the Salkantay Trail on the third day. Our wonderful MLP guides, Admil and Ricky, picked us up near our B&B at 7:00 am, and we headed west out of town with four other couples. After a few stops, we arrived at a couple of trailheads beyond the village of Mollepata. Half of our group hiked nine miles the first day when they started at Marco Casa, a few miles after Mollepata. The other half of us started at Challacancha and hiked just four miles. We encountered about an hour’s worth of mild rain that afternoon – and that was the last time that we were rained on while hiking for the whole trip – lucky us!!! The first forty five minutes or so of hiking were uphill, but then it was flat after that as we followed a small canal most of the way to our first lodge at Soraypampa. I’ve stayed in several nice places before but none of them was in the middle of nowhere. We had warm water and showers, a nice big, warm bed, a hot tub and mucho gusto food. We stayed at Soraypampa lodge for two nights so that we could acclimatize to the higher altitude, which was about 12,500′. Soraypampa Lodge is at the end of the road, and it was the last time we’d see a road for a couple of days.

Salkantay Lodge

Salkantay Lodge, with Humantay Mountain in the clouds on the middle left and Salkantay in the clouds up the valley

Lago Humantay, with Humantay Glacier and Mountain behind

Lago Humantay, with Humantay Glacier and Mountain behind

Receiving a blessing

Receiving a blessing

After our first night at Soraypampa, we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and then set out on a four- to five-mile “warm-up” hike to Humantay Lake, which also is a climb of about 1300′. Yes, the climbing was taxing, as we still hadn’t fully adjusted to the altitude. The view at Humantay Lake is spectacular! The lake itself is a beautiful turquoise blue, and it’s surrounded on three sides by the mountains. Humantay Glacier’s moraine sits at the south end, blocking the flow of the snowmelt. We were treated to a moving ceremony at Humantay, an offering from a Quechua (native) priest to the mountain goddess, Pachamama, and the sun god, Inti, for our good luck and good health on our trek and in life.

At this point, allow me to tell you about our fellow hikers. First, our guides, Admil and Ricky, were absolutely wonderful, caring, respectful, knowledgeable and fun. Finest kind! Second, we were part of an equally wonderful group of people – four couples from the US and one couple from Perth, Australia. Age wise, the group ranged from mid-30s to about 70. Two of the men were mountain climbers and not phased by the altitude and conditions; they brought their wives on this trip to enjoy the altitude and scenery, but in relatively comfortable conditions. About half of our group had run marathons in their lives, and the group was relatively fit, some of them even use different diets and supplements like the keto, but for people who want to try it, these Keto pure must read this news before trying are essential. But, there were a couple of people who had never done anything quite like this before – hiking at this altitude – in their lives and they readily made the trip special for us all. In fact, everyone was most proud of them because these two people climbed the highest mountains on this trip, pushing their personal boundaries to new limits.

The third day was our big day – at least, that’s how we all built it up to be. We were on the trail by 7:00 am and slowly rising toward the Salkantay Pass. The climb was gentle and we all kept a reasonably moderate pace. A small, scenic meadow (pampa) with a shelter and camping area was our last significant stop before heading up the switchbacks to the pass. I seem to recall that it was “only” about an hour after that significant rest stop before we made the pass, but it seemed longer, arriving about 11:00 am. The scene at the pass was very dramatic with clouds blowing around Salkantay, playing hide-and-seek between us and the mountain. While I’ve hiked to over 14,000′ before in Colorado, this was different. In Colorado, we were on the top of Mt. Elbert, the second highest mountain in the continental 48 states, and looking down on everything around us. At Salkantay Pass, we were at ~15,200′ and Montaña Salkantay is still towering over us, another mile or so higher! It was a very humbling, but grand, experience. The pass is filled with hundreds of cairns from past hikers, giving thanks for making the trek and enjoying the experience. We left our own group cairn, complete with a coca leaf for Pachamama. Onward and downward…  A nice, warm lunch met us about an hour later, and it was well-received, appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. An hour or so after lunch, we were relaxing in Wayra Lodge, enjoying pisco sours and the hot tub (remember, this was a lux trip – sorry).

On the path to Salkantay

On the path to Salkantay


The steepest part is yet to come

Salkantay Pass

On top of the world!

Our fourth day was relatively easy and anti-climatic. The “big” day had been the day before and we were all happy and healthy. Since we were going downhill, the weather was warmer – no need for bundling up. We entered the cloud forest at lower elevations (we were still above nine and ten thousand feet, though), and started to attract the occasional mosquito.  And, about half of us finished the day by enjoying a zip line across the small valley that we had to cross to get to Colpa Lodge. We arrived relatively early, around lunch time, and enjoyed a late lunch of local delicacies including cuy (guinea pig). OK, not everyone enjoyed cuy, but I certainly did!


Cuy – it’s what’s for lunch!

Day five was warmer yet, and we hiked down the Rio Santa Teresa Valley. Along this part of the hike, the flowers of the cloud forest appeared more and more, and were a wonderful diversion. Along the trail, there was another warm, tasty, locally-prepared lunch waiting for us. I could get used to hiking like this! Near the village of La Playa, we were picked up in a small bus and transported a few kilometers down and to the other side of the valley. After being dropped off, we made a short ascent to the last lodge, Lucma Lodge, and enjoyed another fine meal and pisco sours. As an aside here, let me also write that most everyone on our trip was very prepared for hiking Salkantay Pass – the possibility of cold, miserable rain and the altitude. But, since we focused so much on that aspect of the hike, we tended to be underprepared for the remainder of the Salkantay Trek – too many cold weather clothes and not enough warm weather clothes!

Our last significant day of hiking dawned beautiful and pleasant. Since this was the day when we were to get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu from a distance, I brought most all of my camera gear, and this may have been a mistake. On this day, our hike was about 2000 feet up and 3000 feet down. The hike up was along an ancient Incan route. The hiking up wasn’t difficult, but it was still a 2000 foot climb in some of the warmest conditions we’d “enjoyed,” along with some humidity. After we passed through a saddle on the range, we arrived at Llactapata, an Incan outpost, and there it was – Machu Picchu! Seeing Machu Picchu for the first time, whether near or far, is just breathtaking! Standing at Llactapata, it seemed more like an island in these mountainous jungles than in any other image that I’ve seen of it. Seeing Machu Picchu after the many days of hiking was also quite uplifting. After about thirty minutes of taking it all in and resting a bit, we had a rugged downhill hike to our last wonderful, warm lunch on the trail. We’re also very fortunate on this particular day that it wasn’t raining, as the trail from Llactapata down to the Rio Ahobamba was the steepest trail that we traversed, and it was also quite rocky and slippery – which would have been worse on a wet day. And, woe is me, yes, I was still carrying my heavy load of gear down this slope. By the end of the trail at the Hidroelectrica Train Station, my legs were burning and knees quite sore. The good news is that we took the train to Aguas Calientes, which is the hopping off point to reach Machu Picchu, marched through town to the Inkaterra Hotel, and had a hot shower and delicious meal.

Machu Picchu from Llactapata

On our last day together, we were up early as usual and caught a bus up to Machu Picchu. I don’t feel that any of us was really in the mood to hike up to it. Again, that first full view of Machu Picchu is just breathtaking. It’s amazing to think that the Incans lived here, maybe not for very long, but that they lived here, on top of the world, and the Spanish never knew that it existed. While I could go on describing Machu Picchu in words, the photographs are much more appealing. Our group took in the Inca Drawbridge, a very secure “back” entrance into Machu Picchu, walked through the ruins, and then half of us climbed to the top of Huayna Picchu on the far end of the park. The hike up Huayna Picchu is steep, but there are more ruins at the top of it and the view is overwhelming, and it’s not a view that appears in many photographs that you may have previously seen. After descending, we gathered at the main tourist entrance and that was it – our wonderful group began to go its own ways. One couple stayed on top, while the rest returned to Aguas Calientes for lunch and then more departures. It was sad to part with everyone after having spent such an intense week together – living, hiking and laughing.


First glimpse of Machu Picchu

Inca Drawbridge

Inca Drawbridge at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Asta and I spent one more day at Machu Picchu so that we could also climb Montaña Machu Picchu, which is higher than Huayna Picchu and affords an even grander view of Machu Picchu, the surrounding Andes Mountains and the Rio Vilcanota that seems like it’s Machu Picchu’s moat. I was very glad that this was the last day, as my knees were quite sore by this time. The hike up the mountain was less steep, but more difficult and longer than going up Huayna Picchu. Inti smiled on us while we were on top, as the sun was out, giving us a dazzling view all around. Unfortunately, there were clouds behind us and we were unable to catch a glimpse of Montaña Salkantay to the south – oh well. After a slow climb down, I took one more lap around the ruins while Asta whet her thirst at the tourist bar with a local Cusqueña cerveza.

Machu Picchu from Montana Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu from Montaña Machu Picchu

Following is the gallery of all images from our Peru trip – lots of photographs of Machu Picchu. Remember, click on the gallery below to view it full screen!

And, there you have it. A wonderful week of traveling, hiking, eating, aching, and laughing in the Peruvian Andes, and being overwhelmed by Montaña Salkantay and Machu Picchu. There was only one thing missing from this trip and I didn’t miss it (them) that much until we returned home – the kids…

I hope that you’ll take your opportunities to check things and places off of your bucket list so that you have wonderful memories to last the rest of your life. In our case, we can never have enough memories and rich, warm experiences and new friends.

‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN signing off…

Posted in cusco, machu picchu, peru, salkantay trail Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Over the Lower Wisconsin River

It’s been a while since I’ve published anything on my blog. Last spring, I was busy working on my New Zealand book. Over the summer, it seems like about half of my time was spent traveling. I’m now starting to catch up on all that I didn’t do during over the past several months, like writing an occasional blog piece.


Aside from a recent wedding and some portraits, I had the pleasure of flying along the Lower Wisconsin Riverway a few days ago with my friend, Ditas, and daughter, Julija. I was pretty excited, as I’ve always wanted to fly. One of the first careers that I wanted to pursue was pilot/astronaut (and, chef). Life gets in the way of some of our dreams, but that doesn’t prevent us from living our dreams in other ways – in my case, vicariously through Ditas. Ditas was gracious enough to take me up about eight years ago before Julija was around, and then we flew around the Madison area and up to Devil’s Lake.


We met at the Watertown, Wisconsin airport on a beautiful morning. I checked over the airplane (yes, the wings were there), and then Ditas did a very proper and thorough inspection. Before long, we were up in the air. I guess that I’ve become accustomed/jaded to commercial airplanes, as I dislike going through security and then being packed into the aluminum cattle cars. Flying on a small aircraft is so much different! The cockpit is even more confining and there’s no toilet. But, you feel like you can reach out and touch the clouds!


A few minutes out of Watertown and we were flying over Devil’s Lake State Park near Baraboo. Just after that, we headed a bit south and flew over Lake Wisconsin and then around Gibraltar Rock and over a corn maze. We flew downstream over Sauk Prairie and we could make out the Wollersheim Winery from the air. There were low clouds over the Wisconsin River beyond Sauk Prairie and they provided beautiful texture to the scene, giving the agricultural lands a sort of dreamy quality. Spring Green was our next waypoint, and then further down the Wisconsin River. It seemed like just a few minutes before we were landing in Prairie du Chien for a quick lunch. Since we flew into town, we had to walk all the way to Culver’s – poor us. On the way back, we briefly flew up the mighty Mississippi River – I loved seeing it and it’s twisting and turning – the land’s network of major arteries, it’s aorta. On the way back to Watertown, the sun was in my face, so there weren’t any decent photographic opportunities, which was fine. It’s nice to put the camera down and enjoy the scenery, particularly from on high. By this time, Julija was slightly bored, so she buried herself under a blanket to help keep the sun out of her eyes. It wasn’t possible for me to do anything like that.


Then there was another thrill – Ditas let me fly the plane! Woo hoo! I’d never before had my hands on the controls of any aircraft for more than a moment. I broke any previous flying records of mine by safely getting us much of the way from Prairie du Chien to Watertown. It was a wonderful experience to feel how the aircraft handled and how it was different from a car. It was also amazing to have access to a third dimension – up & down – that’s not controlled by the contours of the land that you experience on a road.

pilot tim

Following is quick visual tour of our aerial survey of the Lower Wisconsin River. I hope that you’ll have a chance like this to explore your passions, as well as to enjoy Wisconsin’s beautiful autumn scenery.



And, thank you Ditas for a thrilling adventure.


‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN signing off…


Posted in Devil's Lake, Wisconsin Tagged , , , |

Key Summit

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Let’s see…  It’s been more than a year since we hiked/tramped up to Key Summit in Fiordland National Park in southwest New Zealand. In may ways, it feels like it was just yesterday and in other ways it feels like I was another person then. Key Summit was one of our favorite hikes for the whole year – outstanding views, great weather and a hike that was “just right” – except for the part where Mom said, “hey, let’s go just a little bit further…” I believe that the “little bit further” parts doubled the length of the whole hike.



The Key Summit Track follows the route of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s many famous multi-day tramps, for the first couple of kilometers. We had spent the night in Te Anau, I believe, and then drop the road towards Milford. About 45 minutes from Te Anau is a parking area called “The Divide,” and this is the starting point for the Routeburn Track and Key Summit Track. There’s also a bus stop at The Divide for those folks who are looking for transportation to/from the Routeburn Track so that they can hike from one end to the other, and leave they’re vehicle at the other end (or, be picked up by the bus).



The day that we hiked started out pleasantly cool (hats and gloves weather) and once we got a bit higher and above the trees it was time to open the jackets and air out a bit. I don’t recall the route being all that memorable until you get to the top of Key Summit and then the vistas open up in all directions! SPECTACULAR! There’s not a lot to write about the hike itself. It wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t easy. It takes a bit of effort to hike upward to Key Summit, but once you’re “on top,” most of the hiking is relatively flat. And, like many hikes, it was easier to hike downhill back to the car at The Divide.



There were a few other hikers/trampers already up on Key Summit, so we weren’t alone. At the main point of interest, there are several beautiful, fragile little tarns (alpine ponds/lakes). You can see for many miles in every direction from atop Key Summit. One of our favorite views from Key Summit was looking across the valley to see Lake Marion, a beautiful lake to which we had hiked a couple of months earlier, a few days before Christmas.



As noted earlier, someone in our party kept saying “hey, let’s hike just a little farther…”  The additional steps were interesting and gave us a different perspective hiking along the ridge between Lake Fergus and Lake McKellar, more time in the warm sun, and more time to growl – are we there yet? After another mile or two of walking south on a poorly defined track, we came to a knoll and the our learless feeder said that we could return to the car.



Unlike other postings that I’ve written, the gallery for this one is not extensive – you’ll be able to enjoy it in a few minutes – and, I do hope that you’ll enjoy it. And, I’ve thrown in a couple of other photographs from Te Anau and a nearby waterfall, Humboldt Falls, which is at the end of a long drive in Fiordland National Park.



‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN signing off…



Posted in Fiordland, Key Summit, Lake Marian, Milford, New Zealand Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

St. Clair Beach

[landscapephotograph description=”St. Clair Beach” photoname=”St. Clair Beach” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/St-Clair-Beach-0338-3.jpg” photourl=”http://illuminataphoto.zenfolio.com/p916699114/h20744E1#h20744e1″][/landscapephotograph]

This post is a different from what I’ve been doing…

In March, 2013, we spent a long weekend around Dunedin, which is one of our favorite cities in New Zealand. Dunedin is a city by the sea that’s built on the hills. We had been to Dunedin a few months earlier, mostly spending a long weekend on the Otago Peninsula hiking, bird watching and watching the New Zealand sea lions and fur seals on the beaches. During this second trip, we spent a part of a day on Tunnel Beach and then spent the night in the St. Clair Beach neighborhood of Dunedin. The second day, the weather was much more overcast and rainy, and lent itself to quietly walking around and enjoying the city.

St. Clair Beach is a pleasant neighborhood that sits on the southern side of Dunedin, along the Pacific Ocean. At sometime during our New Zealand stay and looking at things to do in Dunedin, a photograph of St. Clair Beach caught my eye. Like many of the photographic opportunities that I pursue, this was a site that I really wanted to find if I could. It turns out that finding the specific location in this case was pretty easy. (Someday, I’ll write a story about a much more difficult opportunity that took me years to find – stay tuned.) All we had to do was walk down to the beach from the neighborhood and scout about for a wee bit – and there it was.

In the gallery that follows, there’s really only a single subject – an abandoned pier (pilings) in the water. It’s fun to work with these types of situations and get all that you can out of them. In photographic parlance, we “work” a scene or situation to extract a variety of photographs from the one scene and moment. In this gallery, in addition to several different photographs, I’ve also treated some of the same photographs in different ways. One photograph of the scene is in color, a second version is converted to black & white, and finally the black & white version is converted to sepia. As you can guess, then, this particular gallery might be sort of monotonous – or is it?

As you view this gallery, I’d suggest that you be aware of how these very similar photographs make you feel, how the different treatments change the mood of the photograph and of the photograph’s viewer – you.

I hope that you enjoy this different presentation – full screen if you can and want!

43 N MSN signing off…

Posted in Dunedin, New Zealand, St. Clair Beach Tagged , , , |