When Will Eddie Go?

February 1st, 2014

The snow in Utah has been mediocre at best this season, so last week I decided to cash in some frequent-flier miles and go to Hawaii. I heard the surf was going to be extra large on the North Shore of Oahu. The North Shore is the birthplace of big-wave riding in Waimea Bay. It also is the home of the infamous Banzai Pipeline.

Every year there’s a waiting period for the Eddie Aikau big-wave surfing contest. The waiting period goes from December 1st to February 28th. To hold the contest the waves must  reach a minimum height of 20 feet. The contest has only been held eight times in the last 29 years. I had the honor to watch it in 2009 and can’t wait to see it again. To me this is my Super Bowl. So with some luck I was hoping it would run when I was there. That wasn’t the case. The waves were large enough but not organized due to the strong onshore winds. People still caught some nice waves during that week, and here are some of my photos to share with you.


Everyone came out to see how big the swell was, 1000s of people came throughout the day to the shores just to watch waves with no one even surfing them. Here’s a rare sight of Waimea Bay completely washed out.



Looking towards Waimea Bay from Sharks Cove. All the beaches were closed to swimming due to high surf and strong currents along the North Shore.



The next day the swell dropped some and the winds died downed a bit, so the surfers took to the bay. Not Eddie size but still big.



The heavy artillery also showed up. There’s never a shortage of big lenses in Hawaii; sometimes you can’t walk more than 20 feet along the beach without seeing one. I use a 400mm 2.8 with a camera 1.4 crop sensor. With the crop it turns a 400mm into a 580mm. I found it sharper than having an extender on. I think it’s the sharpest lens I have. I can read their board sponsor logo a half-mile away.



A surfer finding some air.



Another air drop.



An air drop that leads to a multiple-person wipeout.



This is what surfers call “over the falls.”



Everything going well in this shot.



Two surfers getting it done in black and white.



This photo was taken in January of 2011 during the “Almost Eddie.” It’s a photo of Kelly Slater, Kala Alexander, Sunny Garcia, and Tom Carroll sharing the wave with some unknown surfer.



A surfer during the last Eddie in December 2009. It shows you how big the waves can get at Waimea.

On the big days at Waimea, Pipeline washes out and can’t be surfed.  The next day after I shot Waimea I went down to Pipe at sunrise. The surf cleaned up nice and was delivering perfect barrels.


Looking down at Pipeline, love the perfect glassy wave.



Going down the line, about to get barreled.






Nice early-morning light at Pipe. I would go down every day just before sunrise, the wind would be calm, and the glassy waves would be perfect.



Another perfect wave.



A Pipe traffic jam.



A foamy tube.



A Pipeline form of  ”planking.”



I could show you lots of perfect barrels without seeing the surfer that’s in them. That would be silly, so here’s only a nose of a board.



Getting the shot. I would love to have some water shots.



Bailing out.



Your Pipeline experience wouldn’t be complete without some backdoor action.



John John Florence throwing some trickery from above.


The North Shore of Oahu is the surfing mecca of the world, even the school crossings speak surf. If you love the surf culture and waves, this is the place to be.

Stairway of Abandonment

January 31st, 2014

On the Hawaiian island of Oahu there’s a hike called the Stairway to Heaven or the Haiku Stairs. The stairs are 3922 steps that ascend 2800 vertical feet up a steep mountainside. The stairs end at an abandoned naval radio station on top of Puu Keahiakahoe. The stairs have been closed to the public since 1987,  and they’re illegal to climb. These days many people still climb them; you just need to be covert and avoid the guard. I’m not going to go into details how to access them since everything can be found online.


When I see a big red No Trespassing sign on public land it’s telling me to come on in. Behind the danger sign you can see the start of the stairs.


H3 Freeway

Looking down at the start of the stairs under the H3 freeway. I’m only about a quarter of the way up. The stairs are very steep, sometimes ladder-like.



Just when I started to hike the stairs I remembered that I forgot the tripod mount at home. I said to myself there was no way I was going back for it. I would have to figure something out when I got to the top. I found some parachute cord, and that was my solution. It actually worked quite well.


kaneohe bay,haiku stairs, stairway to heaven, oahu, moon, sunset,ocean,

The view from the top looking down at Kaneohe Bay.


navel station, light painting, full moon, moon, abandon, milky way, hawaii, haiku stairs, stairway to heaven, oahu, moon, sunset,ocean,

This photo is of the abandoned naval station on top. The apocalyptic orange glow in the sky is a reflection of the light pollution from the sodium vapor streetlights below. The structure was painted with a high-powered LED flash light. Photographing at this site was challenging with all the wind and moisture in the air. I had to hold my tripod down while blocking the 20mph-plus winds during the 45-second exposure. Keeping the moisture off the lens was next to impossible; even the chamois was damp.


navel station, light painting, full moon, moon, abandon, milky way, hawaii, haiku stairs, stairway to heaven, oahu, moon, sunset,ocean,

I normally don’t like photographing buildings with graffiti, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. I painted the front with natural light. The interior and dish were highlighted in color to make them stand out.


navel station, light painting, full moon, moon, abandon, milky way, hawaii, haiku stairs, stairway to heaven, oahu, moon, sunset,ocean,

Here’s  a different color scheme. I think the composition of the building could be better. I was working without a full-frame camera that night. The terrain dictated where you could shoot from, and a 1000-ft fall to my death wasn’t going to be in the plan.


navel station, light painting, full moon, moon, abandon, milky way, hawaii, haiku stairs, stairway to heaven, oahu, moon, sunset,ocean,

I called my title Stairway of Abandonment for a reason; this is a photo of the tramway hoist. The building sits about 500 vertical feet below the summit. As you see by the shaking of the flora, there was lots of wind that night.


navel station, light painting, full moon, moon, abandon, milky way, hawaii, haiku stairs, stairway to heaven, oahu, moon, sunset,ocean,

A photo of the tramway motor for the hoist.

The next time I’m in Oahu I plan on shooting the naval station with a full-frame camera. Maybe I’ll have a clear night without wind. Hopefully with the Milky Way or a full moon. Whatever the conditions are it will be a different experience and give me new results.



Alice in Goblinland

November 20th, 2013

With all the news about the dumbasses who tipped over one of the hoodoos in Goblin Valley, Utah. I figured I better go check the place out. The way things are going these days, before you know, it will be off limits to everyone. I recently purchased a Protomachines flash light. I’ve been using it on my abandoned equipment photos but it’s very subtle. Being inspired by Lost America‘s Troy Paiva, I needed to use its full psychedelic abilities, and Goblin Valley is perfect for that in more than one way.

The Protomachines light is very well made and can omit any color you want with its RGB  LEDs. They have two models. The one I have has power up to 1000 lumen, which comes in very handy when trying to focus in the dark. My only real complaint about it is that it would be nice if you could control the beam. I could write a blog about the Protomachines; maybe I’ll do that soon.

The photos below are done in camera; the colors are added during the exposure. Photoshop was only used to do standard clean-up from RAW images. I didn’t “cook” the images to get the saturation.


goblin valley hoodoos

This is what the hoodoos look like under the full moon at  145.0 sec at f/5.6. ISO 200. When painting with light it’s always nice to take a photo beforehand to see what shadows need to be filled in. It’s also good for getting your photo composition right and any unwanted elements out of the shot.


goblin valley hoodoos

The technical info for this photo is 163.0 sec at f/5.6. ISO 200. In this image I used three different colors.  I like to experiment to see what color blends the best for a more natural feel.


Goblin Valley goblins

Grace Slick would be proud of this alien landscape after eating some kind of mushroom…


goblin valley hoodoos in purple

Alice liking the purple and green landscape of the underworld.


Goblin Valley orange hoodoo's

They say psychedelic drugs can alter cognition and perception. Who needs them when you can add fire orange from your light? In this photo there is no rabbit, but I see a dog’s head and a lady with a poncho. Maybe the lady is the Virgin Mary, and now religious zealots can erect a shrine to her.


goblin Valley dog

It took me a little over 5 hours to get my 4 images. You may ask: Why so long? It takes time scouting the location to find the shot.It took numerous tries to get the light balance and blended right (as you can see above, too hot on the purple). You forget to turn off your headlamp during the exposure, but amateurs find that cool. Oh, I almost forgot about my hallucination; there’s that ghost dog again.



May 8th, 2013

I just read the photo guidelines for one of the top ski magazines. I really loved the photo editor’s last guideline: “If your question is, “This shot is really sick, but the skier is missing their grab, will you use it?” The answer is no.”  This made me laugh, because I totally agree with him. So many times, especially with up and comers, I’ll tell them to get the grab, even a soft grab because that is better than coming up empty-handed.  A lot of athletes forget that the photo is going to only 1/1000+ a second, so get the damn grab.

If I were a photo editor I would put these 10 guidelines for incoming edits. As a photographer these are my guidelines.


1. GET THE GRAB! Even better if you can make the ski bend or you can yank it off.



2. NO PETER PAN HAND! Your childhood fantasy of being a fairy should be over by now. Yes it was cool when Jonny Moseley had Peter Pan Hand in 1998, but now it’s 2013, and skiing has advanced since then.


3. KEEP THOSE TIPS BURIED!!! I see people showing up with 150 underfoot on a three-foot powder day, and I say WTF? I thought the whole point of skiing powder was to get face shots, and I’m not talking about porn.


4.  NO HOCKEY STOP TURNS! Do you go down the fall line making each turn 90 degrees? I think not; if you do you’re a gaper.


5.  NO WHISKEY BOTTLE HAND POLE PLANTS! Do you plant your pole like you are going to drink out of the grip? If so I hope you have a shot for me.


6. NO CROSS BLOCK! This is when you have your arm going across the front of your chest. In roller derby this works well.


7. NO TONGUE WAGGIN’!  A good way to bite off your tongue, but I wouldn’t say that to Micheal Jordan.


8. NO TREE GROWING OUT OF HEAD! No, it’s not a new hat.


9. NO CAMO CLOTHING!  Yes, I want to see you; leave your earth tones at home.


10. IF YOU FLIP!  See guideline number one above.




How bad do you want the shot?

December 2nd, 2012

These days everyone thinks they’re a photographer. Just get an iPhone and use Instagram with a sunflare, and–bang!–you are a photographer! A lot of people have a decent digital DSLR or high-pixel point and shoot. I don’t care who you are–if you shoot enough you will get a banger shot. The local news station has a monthly contest; most people who enter are amateurs, but the photos are of professional quality.

With the Internet you can learn about the mechanical aspects of any type of photography you want to shoot in minutes, compared to a lifetime in the film days. With all this info and so many people with cameras the digital age has produced some amazing photos, especially nighttime shots. No more metering flashes or guessing in the dark if it’s in focus or if the composition is O.K. I also feel it has produced a lot of piss-poor shots. I think it all started when some Hollywood director with cocaine withdrawal thought it was cool to shoot TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, etc., with shaky camera work. Now in photography you see sunflares, bad composition and over-sharpened, saturated photos. I guess anything goes nowadays.

The reason I’m writing this is not about all that; I feel if you want your photos to stand out you must do something that people haven’t seen or do the already-done very well. I think everyone has a dream shot in mind but don’t know how or if it can be done. Maybe because you don’t have the right gear, time, ideal  model or dedication or because your mommy wouldn’t approve.

My question to you is: how bad do you want the shot? If you don’t want it you will never get it. For me, when I want a shot I’ll try to get it no matter what’s in my way. I might have to try for years, take the shot over and over until it’s right. The photo could be on private or restricted property, so I ask myself how I am going to get in. I found out sometimes just asking is the best way. People are usually proud of their restricted area and like to show it off once you gain their trust. Being in the right place at the right time is the hardest part of photography. Scouting your location for the right season, time for the best light and unwanted visual pollution is the best way the get great photos. I know some of my best work has been when I thought the conditions weren’t quite right but I made myself go anyway. Not having the right equipment is the worst excuse: make what you have work for you. Once I had to make a water housing for this shot because it wouldn’t be practical to buy it for just one shot.

Here is a short story about a shot that took me 2 years, 4 different tries and over 50 attempts by my athletes to get. I had always known about Donut Falls from the short summer hikes to it. It is a shallow cave with a hole in the ceiling that water comes through, forming the falls. I dreamed that it would be cool to have someone jump over the opening as I stood behind the falls and shot through it. Sounds simple–Not! When I hiked to the falls in the early spring it was completely frozen over and covered with snow. So I probed the area carefully until I found the opening and dug out for a few hours. A couple of weeks went by, and I came back with Jamie Pierre and Kevin Brower to build the jump. I set up all my flashes and got in the cave. To get under the falls I built a platform with dead trees and branches, because of all the ice on the wall behind the falls. My next problem was I had no radio communication with the athletes because of the thundering pounding of the water. We tried throwing a snowball through the hole just before they went, which didn’t work well. We came back the next day with headphones for the radios, but it was still too loud. We tried a couple more times with no success. When I went home that night I felt defeated and wanted to quit. I got over it the next summer. I wanted that shot more than anything and thought: what could I do to make it work? My idea was to put the camera on a tripod and remote-fire it from the outside. That way I could stand there and get the timing over the hole right.

The next winter came, and I went up to the falls to start the whole process again. I went mid-season, because I wanted a lower volume of water going over the falls, so it wouldn’t be as loud and wet as the previous year. When I finally dug into the cave I noticed the water level was unusually high. I discovered there was an ice dam that formed a 3-foot high pool. I felt the shot wasn’t ever going to happen and almost gave up. Thankfully I brought a steel shovel that day, so I chipped away at the dam, and the water receded until about 8 to 12 inches remained. I got behind the falls and saw there was no way I was going to set up the tripod under the falls to shoot it remotely. I was over the shot. … Then I had a brilliant idea how to communicate with Jamie, so I got into position and started shooting. We started to get the results we wanted, but the grab wasn’t there, or the front-half or back-half of the ski was only showing. Finally we called it quits, but when I hiked down the trail that night I knew we could get the shot. The next day we went back, and on set-up I dropped a remote flash trigger in the water  and had to go under the falls to save it. Somehow it still worked. Completely soaked, I got into position and noticed the lens kept fogging up because it was a warmer day. I was so over it!! But I pushed through the fog problem, and Jamie did the jump about ten times and finally got it. On Jamie’s last jump he over-shot the landing, got off course and hit a snow pillow below, in which he did a flip and almost landed in the creek. He said it was one of the scariest things to happen to him skiing. I didn’t see it, but the spotter did and said it was crazy. When Jamie got back I told him we got it; he forgot about that incident quickly and the 40 hours we each put into it. When I descended the trail that night like a frozen popsicle, it was the best feeling in the world knowing that I got the shot.



From steam power to nukes.

October 28th, 2012

On the Friday of September 28th I decided to drive south below Moab, Utah to do some full-moon photography. My goal was to shoot an old abandoned electric mine train that was long-forgotten. The train sits outside of a uranium mine called the Mi Vida Mine. After wandering around the desert at 1am, thinking I was going to pass out or blow up, seeing signs that say “Poisonous Gases” and “No Open Flame.” I finally found my nuclear honey-hole amongst the fumes from the natural gas wells in the area: it was a short hike from the road, down a draw and back up to the mine.

moab utah

This is how the train looks with just the moonlight.

Uranium train

I decided to light the entrance to the mine with turquoise gel over the remote trigger flashes. I felt this would give it the glowing-Homer-Simpson, nuclear look. During the single exposure the train was painted with light to expose the patina of the subject. It also “pops” the branding of the train. The train was owned by the UTEX EXPLORATION CO.

This photo was a happy mistake. I had no idea it looked this good until I saw it on my monitor at home. I like this shot because the vegetation has a glowing look to it. It almost looks like an HDR photo. The shot was exposed a minute less than the photo above, and I don’t have an answer for that.

I tried this angle looking out of the mine, but as you can see it’s not much of a shot except for my ghost dog, Stoli, that appeared. I think I’ll do a Ghost Zombie shoot for the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse.

The next night I moved the location of the shoot to Silverton, Colorado. Silverton has a deep mining history and during the night I saw other photographers shooting buildings in the main street of the town. I decided to move on to the outskirts of the town.

silverton tram

This tramway was hard to shoot because the tram needed a point of reference, so I decided to shoot this carriage with the tram house in the background. I had to paint the carriage with light so it would show up. The moon did a nice job of lighting the building.

Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad’s 493 from days gone-by rests on the track in the Silverton rail yard. I shot this with moonlight and painted the gear drive and wheels with light. The B&W was done during post-processing.

Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad

The 493 lit up: I gelled the boiler along with the cab to get the fire-breathing-dragon look these steam engines were known for. The undercarriage was painted with a Coleman lantern to highlight its muscle. The green glow on the coal car is from the sodium-vapor street lights. I wish it wasn’t there, but I’ll live with it.

I love shooting at night because the moon gives out a warm glow that lasts for hours. It also gives the subject and landscapes a different look you won’t see during the day.  The best thing about night photography is the stillness of the night, the silence. Plus there’s no one around to muck up your shot and more chance to have an extraterrestrial encounter.




POWDER cover

September 15th, 2012

Every ski photographer/athlete always dreams of getting the cover of Powder magazine. Powder is the most prestigious magazine in the ski industry. When I had my first photo published, it was a 2-page spread in the gallery of  the September Powder back in 1999. I was lucky because it was my first year of shooting. For some photographers it takes years just to get into the gallery. Since 1999 I have had many gallery shots in Powder, some years I would have up to three. I thought I would get a cover within a few years. Well the years kept on slipping by and no cover; I have had photos that I thought were strong contenders, but no luck. Covers in foreign magazines did come over the years, even two this year, but no Powder cover.

Earlier last season I met Kalen Thorien. I heard from other athletes that Kalen could lay it down. I saw some of her photos, and I could tell that she had great style and was very photogenic. Throughout last season we would play phone tag but never hooked up until March 20th.

Last year was a piss-poor year for snow in Utah. Then came a classic Wasatch storm cycle that laid down 50 inches in 3 days. The last 14 inches of the storm had a water content of 4.71% with no wind. That morning I met Kalen at Alta with Alex Taran; we got early ups and shot on the back side of Alta. The snow is what every skier dreams of, absolutely perfect blower pow.

My first shot of Kalen ever. After seeing this 8am love in my camera, I knew she had it.

We shot this area for a couple of hours, other photographers started to show up and we knew it was time to beat it. I was thinking about going to Patsy Marley, but I knew there were many photographers and people ahead of us. I decided to gamble and hit lower Grizzly Gulch before anyone got it. Grizzly is a gamble, because many backcountry skiers, jibbers and photographers frequent it. It also was late March so I was worried it might be too warm and the snow would be shit. What I did know was the sun would be just hitting it and the light would be magical. When we got to the gulch I was very surprised to find the place completely pristine, not one track, no roller balls and zero people. I knew we had to move fast to beat the people and the radiant heating of the snow from the sun. Alex went first and the snow was billowing over her, sometimes too deep is not good because you lose your subject. I told Kalen to not go as fast and make more turns.

This is the cover shot uncropped. It was the third turn of the sequence.

My first Powder cover in its full glory.

We continue to track up the whole area. I got many great shots that day, but I knew this was the shot of the day. This time I was right.  :)

Powder photo editor Dave Reddick let me know I had the cover in late August and not to let Kalen know. Here’s how we surprised her.

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Lucin Sun Tunnels

September 10th, 2012

The Lucin Sun Tunnels lie in the  West Utah desert bordering Nevada. They’re an art project done by Nancy Holt in 1976. I decided to give them a little twist with some light painting of my own. During this shoot I tried fireworks and smoke bombs but to no avail.  I ended up using flashes with gels, LED flashlights and a Coleman lantern to get the results you see below.

The Sun Tunnels in their natural state lit only by moonlight. Loving the ”martian”-like landscape.

Looking west to tunnel flashed by gel. I’m not sure how I lit the inside of the first tunnel. I think it may be just the natural light from the full moon.

The inside of this tunnel was painted with the Coleman lantern during the exposure. I love the warm soft light it puts out.

Sting says, ” You don’t have to turn on the red light,” but I did.


After the red light came on, I decided to get horizontal.

This shot took multiple times to get right. It was very hard to blend the colors to get the spiral effect. This is when you can’t give up, or you will have a half-assed photo.

I like this photo the best because it reminds me of something Captain Kirk would see when he beamed down to an alien planet. These “orbs” were tricky to shoot because it was hard to distribute the flash evenly inside the tube. I also had to paint the left front tunnel with a flashlight so it would have some contrast. All this had to be done in less than 3 minutes.

Overall this shoot was a lot of fun. I tried some new things, drank some beers and watched the dog dance around under the moonlight.



Got air?

April 23rd, 2012

Over 100 million Super Bowl viewers watched Andy Lewis jumping on a slackline during the halftime show. Yesterday, I had the honor of watching him send his latest creation, “Leviathan,” for the first time.

Leviathan is a  285-foot slackline strung between the Echo and Cottontail towers of the Fisher Towers located outside of Moab, Utah.


The view of Andy’s Coliseum.

moab, andy lewis, slackline, fisher towers,

The height of the line is approximately 900 feet. This makes Leviathan the highest/longest slackline in the world. Andy estimates the tension of the line between 1600-1800 lbs. It’s a good thing he is using a “Gibbons” slackline.


Got air?

fisher towers, slackline, andy lewis, moab, gibbons, slacklife, leviathan

To get a scale of how high the tower is, the tower Ancient Art in the Citibank TV commercial is the one with “Benson” across it.


Here is a  400% blowup of Andy walking the line.

andy lewis, fisher towers, moab, slackline

Who knows? What’s next? All I know is ” The Slacklife” will continue …


Moab, Utah: “Getting lucky”

April 23rd, 2012

I’ve been interested in shooting the Milky Way. In order to shoot the Milky Way you need to have a new moon. This is a must because you need the sky to be completely dark. It also helps to have an area with no or little light pollution. Arches National Park in Moab,Utah is almost a perfect place for night photography. The night of April 21st was perfect for this: it was a new moon and–bonus–a Lyrid meteor shower.

I arrived in Arches around 11PM and took some test shots to kill time before the Milky Way rose. The first shot is of the Turrent arch taken at the The Window area of Arches.

Here is my photo of the Turrent from the north looking towards the southwest. 

As you can see from the photo, the Milky Way wasn’t present because it isn’t in that part of the sky.  Still a cool photo.


The next photo is of the North and South Windows with the Milky Way lighting up the sky. If you look closely at the left window, you can see a meteor streaking by.

milky way, arches,national park, moab,

Having the meteor in the shot was pure luck!!

After shooting at the Windows area I decided to go to Balanced Rock. I arrived around 3AM, and the Milky Way was in the perfect location for this silhouette of Balanced Rock.

 balance rock, arches, moab, milkyway


The last shot of the night is of Balanced Rock painted with light.

balance rock. arches, national park. moab, milky way

Well I didn’t get lucky with a shooting star after numerous photos taken, but I’m coming back during the next meteor shower. I hope luck will follow.