Mountain Mama

Over the weekend, my friends John, Aira, and I decided to take an adventure to traditionally climb some unique West Virginia gritstone. We biked in 3 miles to the spot, and hiked down to the base of the 100 foot cliff.  Aira enjoyed the sun while John and I discussed who’d take the first lead on an unknown climb.

Mountain Momma

John began his rigorous stretching (aka yoga) in preparation for the first lead. Aira was still undecided whether she would climb or not, being 37 weeks pregnant. But, John made the 90+ feet of lieback flake look simple during his onsite of it, providing Aira the confidence to give it a show of her own on TR.

Mountain Momma

We decided the grade was at least a Seneca 5.7…based on the old school standards. Modern grading it would probably be a 5.9+. The crux for John and I was pulling the lie back roof, but for Aira the crux  was the first 8’…her baby belly made the thin 5.2 traverse quite difficult for her, which ended up requiring a short pendulum swing across into the start of the climb 😛

Mountain Momma

While Aira climbed, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to take some maternity photos for her…especially as she hasn’t had any taken yet. This impromptu photo shoot was one of my favorites. To get these shots I scrambled up an easy 5th class area of rock, and plugged a small cam into a crack for a little added protection while I was stretching out to reach the action. I was using a new 35mm 1.4 lens from Sigma, which created the sweetest depth of field. If you’re viewing these images from a smartphone, it’s hard to tell the detail, but Aira is tack sharp in each photo.

Mountain MommaMountain MommaMountain MommaMountain Momma  Mountain Momma
Mountain MommaMountain MommaMountain MommaMountain Momma  Mountain MommaMountain MommaMountain Momma  Mountain MommaMountain MommaMountain Momma  Mountain MommaMountain MommaMountain Momma
Mountain Momma

Aira Burkhart, a true West Virginia Mountain Mama!!

John has the kindest smile..

Mountain Momma

Northern Lights

Last night the earth’s atmosphere was lit up by an impacting solar storm, burped up from the sun 3 days ago. It’s supposedly the largest one so far in the current solar cycle (which is 11 years long). The last few years I’ve gone to Alaska to observe the Aurora Borealis, but last night many people in the Northern States of the U.S. probably had one of the most epic views of it from their home.  I watched the forecast from the Space Weather Prediction Center, but sadly WV wasn’t “north” enough to see anything 😉

But, this storm came just a day short of two years ago when a similar solar storm lit up the night sky, creating the most epic waves and ripples of pretty lights I’ve ever seen! …here are a few of my photos of the Northern Lights I was able to capture, along with a few tips on shooting the aurora..

Tips for photographing the Northern Lights in Alaska

The best month to see the Aurora is in March…September is good too…

  • The best months to observe the Northern Lights are September and March. The best choice for photographers is March, as it tends toward having the highest probability or clearer nights. I can’t speak from experience about September in Alaska, but I do know it’s warmer, which may be more pleasant for photography, but Alaska has lots of bugs, and they’re still out strong in September from what I gathered.  And, because it’s warmer I would expect there to be more people/tourists if heading to publicly accessible areas.  But, the main reason for me to not choose September was because of the warmer temps, as the relative humidity can decrease visibility, and cloud cover has thwarted many a September aurora viewer.

 

I did some research on the Northern Lights prior to the trip, and I extrapolated that 2013/2014 would likely be the solar maximum period for our sun, (solar maxes occur every 11 years). I used data from the Geophysical Institute to make an excel plot of our son’s activity to aid in my planning/predicting the best times to see the Aurora.   I really wish I was into photography back in 1991 (when I was eight), or even back in 2001. I was in high school staying over at a friends house, and I remember seeing red waves of light arching over his back back from his house in Cheat Lake, West Virginia (during a large solar storm in November, 2001).

Aurora Plot

Angel Rocks, Chena River Valley, AK - March 2013

  • While the night sky visibility is at its best during a new moon, a little bit of moonlight can add a lot of depth to a photo.  
  • Be prepared for extreme weather conditions. March in Alaska: temps when I left WV were around the mid 20’s °F , and the temps when I landed in Anchorage, AK were in the upper 20’s °F…not so bad, not too different, right? Well, in Fairbanks one night I was photographing on a mountain top and it was -14°F, not including the windchill from 20-30 mph winds…I had frostbite around my nostrils where the two layers of balaclavas didn’t cover.

Nothern Lights, Aurora Borealis

  • Get away from the city lights if possible. 
  • Try to stay in cabins… The image above and below were taken at the Fielding Lake Cabin, a brisk 2 mile trek from the road

Nothern Lights, Aurora BorealisOne night I thought I’d try my hand at camping in Alaska. I gave my sister my two warmest sleeping bags to use that night, and I used a lightweight 20°F bag, thinking that layering up would keep me warm. While she slept soundly, I remember being so miserably cold that I swore I was booking a Marriott for the remainder of the trip (which I didn’t, but I was that cold).

It was -10°F that night, after suffering for a few hours I decided that I would try sleeping in the car. When I crawled out of my tent around 4am, car bound, I saw the strangest clouds overhead…and then I said “..oh shit..” …I was so tired and cold that I didn’t want to take pictures, so it wasn’t an expression of elation… but after I saw the result of my first photo, then a second “oh shit” was voiced, with much more elation!

Per camera and setup, I’m going to reiterate some things I’ve mentioned in another post (Moonlit Nights).

  • Use a Tripod
  • When shooting, use at least a 2 second delay (I often use 5 seconds), to remove any camera shake. Or, use a remote trigger
  • Make sure noise reduction for high ISO and long shutter speeds are enabled.
  • Use manual focus (when capturing stars, focus at infinity, or just a hair back off from it).
  • After setting the focus, check the first shot by zooming in on the playback image (recheck the focus often as moving about can budge things).
  • On cropped sensor cameras be careful of high ISO ranges as they produce a lot of noise. I take great photos at an ISO of 3200 on my D800 (full frame sensor), but anything above ISO 800 on my D300s (cropped sensor) is almost worthless.
  • Modulate the shutter speed and aperture based on your composition and light demands.
  • Try to keep the ISO as low as possible, but don’t be afraid to play with the higher values. Just remember with higher ISO levels comes more noise and a lower dynamic range.

The list goes on, but these few tip are enough to get the wheels turning…

The Aurora Borealis over the White Mountains, AK - March 2013 - This panorama Image is made of set of 5 images stitched together. The resulting cropped image is ~22 megapixels, and can be printed up to 22 inches wide without needing additional image interpolation when printed.

I’ll gladly answer other questions though, just leave a comment at the end of the post!

Here’s a link to more of my photos of the Northern Lights and my Alaska adventures.

“To the lover of pure wildness Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” ~John Muir

2015 American Alpine Club Guidebook to Membership

I just had a photo published by the AAC, check out page 33 (slide 34)!

The American Alpine Club’s 2015 Guidebook to Membership

My photo

AAC, American Alpine Club, 2015 Guidebook to Membership.

A big thank Whitney Bradberry, Lisa Hummel and the American Alpine Club Southeast Region for helping make this all happen!

All the photos and stories are amazing…and West Virginia was well represented.

Here’s Dan Brayack’s photo of David Statler at the New River Gorge, with articles by Paul Nelson & Jeffrey Hearn.

Dan Bra

… also, check out page 15 for an epic photo of my friend Benjamin Eaton chilling out on a portaledge in Zion. (photo by Ken Klingler).

my friend

Here’s a link to the visual story of their climb up Moonlit Buttress..

It’s climbing season! No, It’s Boating Season!!

The plan was to go to the Rec Center and climb after work yesterday. A week ago, Morgantown was shut down from an overnight snow storm, and the days were an hour shorter. This week we gained an hour of daylight! Yesterday, it was pleasantly warm by contrast to days of late, but most importantly the rocks were dry.

Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset

With the road into Coopers Rock closed until April 1st, Tara, Brian and I went to a more local spot with a few nice sandstone boulders.

 …it’s climbing season!

 

 climbing season, Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset  climbing season, Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset

Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset  Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset

climbing season, Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset

Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; 110; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset  Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; 132; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset

Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; 141; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset

Bouldering; Pioneer; Rocks; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; 147; Brian Brotherton; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Pioneer Rocks; Places; Sigma Art Lens 35 mm F1.4; West Virginia; bouldering; by Gabe DeWitt; climbers; climbing; rocks; space; sun; sunset Read more

Wild West Virginia Weather

The weather in WV the last 7 days has been rather crazy. Snow, then rain, then rain back to snow, lots more snow…then lots of sun! Today, the snow has almost melted away, but the last 5 days has made for some of the winter’s best walkabouts and skiing adventures …around town and in the local hills. Here’s a quick recap of last Thursday’s wild West Virginia weather!

Wild West Virginia Weather; Snow; Day; Morgantown; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Buildings; City; Favorite things; Morgantown; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt

The start of a great snow day, working from home with Anna and Tara…

Snow; Day; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Anna Withrow; Favorite things; Morgantown; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt   Snow; Day; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Anna Withrow; Favorite things; Morgantown; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt

After spending the morning working remotely, I decided to spend my lunch enjoying the intense snow that shut down Morgantown. In order to get around Morgantown in the winter, one must have a decent 4×4…my choice vehicle is a 95 Toyota FJ-80.

Wild West Virginia Weather; Land; Cruiser; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Favorite things; Morgantown; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt

Snow; Day; Cross; Country; Skiing; WVU; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Cross Country Skiing; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; Zach Fowler; by Gabe DeWitt; friends

Snow; Day; Cross; Country; Skiing; WVU; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Cross Country Skiing; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; Zach Fowler; by Gabe DeWitt; friends  Snow; Day; Cross; Country; Skiing; WVU; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Cross Country Skiing; Favorite things; Morgantown; People; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; Zach Fowler; by Gabe DeWitt; friends

I found my friend Zach skiing on the streets through town, and after a few quick jaunts down a couple hills and streets, we jumped in my FJ and and met up with some other friends (Jamie and Jeff), who where cross country skiing at Dorseys Knob.

Snow; Day; Cross; Country; Skiing; Dorseys; Knob; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Cross Country Skiing; Favorite things; Jamie Lester; Morgantown; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt Read more

Moonlit Nights

Skiing Coopers Rock by Moonlight

Moonlit Nights; Coopers; Rock; Winter; cross; country; skiing; Moonlight; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Coopers Rock; Cross Country Skiing; Favorite things; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt

There was no need for a headlamp last night. The almost full moon lit the trail out to Coopers Rock’s overlook with a perfect glow. We skied in via roadside trial, and back via the road.

Moonlit Nights; Coopers; Rock; Winter; cross; country; skiing; Moonlight; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Coopers Rock; Cross Country Skiing; Favorite things; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt

We made it up to Coopers around 9:30pm, skiing to the overlook and back by 11:30pm, and home by midnight.

Night Photography

Moonlit Nights; Coopers; Rock; Winter; cross; country; skiing; Moonlight; West; Virginia; photo; Gabe; DeWitt; March; 2015; Adventure Photography; Coopers Rock; Cross Country Skiing; Favorite things; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt
A few things to remember when shooting at night:

  • Use a Tripod
  • Use at least a 2 second delay (I often use 5 seconds), to remove any camera shake. Or, use a remote trigger
  • Make sure noise reduction for high ISO and long shutter speeds are enabled.
  • Use manual focus (when capturing stars, focus at infinity, or just a hair back off from it).
  • After setting the focus, check the first shot by zooming in on the playback image (recheck the focus often as moving about can budge things).
  • On cropped sensor cameras be careful of high ISO ranges as they produce a lot of noise. I take great photos at an ISO of 3200 on my D800 (full frame sensor), but anything above ISO 800 on my D300s (cropped sensor) is almost worthless.
  • Modulate the shutter speed and aperture based on your composition and light demands.
  • Try to keep the ISO as low as possible, but don’t be afraid to play with the higher values. Just remember with higher ISO levels comes more noise and a lower dynamic range.
  • The list goes on, but these few tip are enough to get the wheels turning.

I’ll gladly answer other questions though, just leave a comment at the end of the post!

Moonlit Nights; Adventure Photography; Coopers Rock; Cross Country Skiing; Favorite things; Places; Seasons; Snow; Snow Day; West Virginia; Winter; by Gabe DeWitt; panorama

This is a 51.6 megapixel image. I’m making 30 signed and numbered canvas prints of this image available at it’s native size of 32 in by 17 in. I should have a few ready in the next week or so.