From Night to Day at Mount Rainier

There are times when you feel impatient, wanting to do something, and yet, you can’t, since there are factors that block you from doing that. Like going out and getting a midnight coffee, and then not getting one due to health concerns, or going out and getting wet in the rain, but not doing it so as to not fall ill. Or maybe the good old days  of going out and playing sports, only to stay back and prepare for that meaningless exam. For quite some time, I have been wanting to go and spend the night at mount rainier and catch the milky way over the giant. Problem? Can’t do that over a weekday, and weekends had some or the other plans. The trip kept seeing so many delays. I came close to going once, but Seattle weather showed its true colors and the trip had to be cancelled.

 

This Saturday night was another of my “planned” attempts to go to rainier. I was at a friend’s wedding till about 11 PM , which in its own was another interesting event. Not much of a dancer you see, so a few moves and I have had it.  So I decided to head to rainier, as I had found that the weather at Mount Rainier was going to be “94% clear” between 1-3 PM in the night. Truth be told, I was highly doubtful about it, since it had been cloudy all day, but 94%?? …yeah, I will take that…. good enough for me.

 

So we started driving to Rainier and I do not remember seeing a single car ahead of me, neither crossing me. There were cars coming back from the opposite direction. Just as I was about to enter the Mount Rainier national park, I had to apply a sudden break, had this big deer cross the road right ahead of me. It took us 1:45 minutes to reach the sunrise point from wedding in Seattle. I got down and looked outside, it was AMAZING! Not only I could see numerous stars in the sky, I could identify the full milky way in the sky. Definitely less contrasting than the one I saw at crater lake, but it was still surreal.

 

So I took a couple of shots from the sunrise point, while the milky way was to the left of mount rainier. They all came out pretty nice. Then I decided to take a couple of shots with me in the frame along with the headlamp. I got this one attached.

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I had taken one shot without the headlamp, which had me and Taryn , but it was a little difficult to identify the foreground without the flashlight.

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After a few more shots , I decided to drive closer, near the sunrise visitor center parking lot, since I remember there were better views closer to the mountain. Also driving up north will buy us enough time so that the milky way is right on top of mount rainier. At this time, I decided to shoot in vertical frame to cover as much of the milky way as possible. I parked my car, set up my tripod in front of the parking lot and got this to start off (this happens to be my best shot from the night too)

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After enough shots with the mountain, it was time to try out my newly purchased headlamps again. So out it came, and set the camera on timer and ran and stood still for 30 seconds. Yes, that’s what you do to get these shots. If you observe carefully, you can probably still observe me shaking a little, possibly because of a little flicker while standing still. (however grammatically incorrect that may sound). Unfortunately, I had to shoot in high ISO, since I wanted to get as much details from the galaxy. I few trials , and I had my masterpiece.

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It was now time to drive up the mountain somewhere on the trail.  “Bears are active in this area”  signboard didn’t help much. I was lucky though as I found a few fellow photographers on the trail and they told me its all clear.  After hiking for about 15 minutes, I decided to set my camp at a dark location where I could see rainier and milky way (which by this time, had passed rainier).

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On my way back, I noticed that one of the trees had been lit up pretty nicely from the lights coming from the guest lodge a little distance away, so I took another shot (my second fav after the one with rainier).

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A quick check on the clock, and its already 3:40 AM. Last 2.5 hours have gone really fast. I am still not sleepy, but with sunrise 2 hours away, and another 2 hour drive back home, it was time to sleep in my car. So I took out the blankets and off to sleep we went. Not very helpful with the cold weather. It was almost freezing, and I had to switch on my car 5 times in 2 hours. At 5:30, I had seen enough, so I got out and realized all the stars were gone, and we were left with the pre-sunrise blue colored sky.  I walked in the cold up to a little pathway (now easily seen as compared to night) and took a shot with the blooming wildflowers.

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After this, I packed my camera and just waited for the sun to rise. But when I did, it was something else. I thought milky way was the best sight I would leave with, but the golden aura that rainier developed when those early morning  rays fell on it, was truly amazing. I took my last shot of the day. I call this  the “Golden Sunrise”. 

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By this time, 6:45 AM,  things were getting pretty warmed up, and it was time for us to head back home. So I looked at the giant one last time, and turned back to my car, only to return again, hopefully in another “planned trips”

 

 

 

Time travel at San Francisco Airport

I don’t know where, but I remember I had a seen a shot of the airtran a long time ago leading into a city. And I thought it was either taken in SFO or in Chicago. I ruled of Chicago from the list after I went there and personally saw no such location which would give me that angle or the view. I had almost forgotten about that pic until I was heading back to Seattle after a nice trip to SFO with my parents.

 

So, the story unfolds, it was  late about 9ish, and my flight was scheduled for departure at 11. I landed at car rental returns to hand over the car that had gained 700 miles in last 3 days thanks to my part time chauffeur job at the time.  Yes, showing parents around in a month, and covering a total of roughly 4300 miles just by driving, I can vouch for that. I was in the 3rd compartment with my parents and the airtran had just started, when suddenly it stuck me that I can try for a shot here. Too bad, my tripod was in my bag. Nevertheless, I decided to quickly run to  the front of the airtran, in the first compartment. So I told my parents to stay back and meet me at the next stop. My mom is not a big fan of me doing a lot of random stuff, so I had to “Convince” her of the idea.

 

So I ran at the next stop and got to the first compartment just in time before the door closed. To my luck, there wasn’t anyone in the compartment. I sat right in front of the train, knowing I don’t have a tripod, and have only 1 station to go for my destination. I decided to shoot in single shot mood and not in continuous hot as that would help me focus better in a moving train, which was wobbling more than I thought. I decided to hold back till the train reached a certain point where the tracks turn left and you see another highway road in a distance. I fixed my focus to the track as I knew it had less contrast and wouldn’t deviate as much. I took about 5 shots and that was it. I got out, met my parents and checked the shots.

 

2 of the shots were out of focus, of the 3 remaining, this is the best one I got. Lesson learned, when traveling by airtran, keep tripod handy. On a positive side, I have a new image to think about, every time I think about airtran and come back and read this blog post when I forget it. 🙂

 

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Catching the Alaskan Train

Remember the time you walked behind a train, ran and followed it all the way till it left you behind. Remember that zeal of running faster than you possibly can. I do, and the best part of it all is to still be excited and run and chase the trains. This time however, I was running with an injured left knee, (yes my broken ligament isn’t healing as fast as I thought it would). And the train was not an ordinary train, it was the Alaskan wheels on some of the most scenic routes I have ever visited. The Seward- Anchorage-Girdwood highway is one of the most scenic highways in Alaska with train route running parallel almost throughout the drive.

A shot of Alaskan Train with the scenic highway background was something that I had thought about even before the Alaskan trip started. Although 4 days into a 5 day trip, we still didn’t see any train on the tracks. Largely because we were driving at over speed limits and were too far into the Alaskan wilderness. I did get one shot of the train when we were on our way to Whittier to catch the glacier cruise tour. I took this from the car itself, so it wasn’t as good.

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However I had to wait till day 5 to get a good view and shot of the train.

So the story goes: we were driving on our way back to Anchorage from Homer. On the way we also had to cross Seward where the railroads starts…at least they start running parallel to the highway. A little while into the drive I noticed a train at a far distance. I brought it to everyone’s attention and all of us decided to drive a little bit forward and get to a point where we can stop and capture a train shot. So we drove another 3 miles and stopped at a point where one could see some reflection. Apparently, we were not the only ones waiting for the train. There was an old couple waiting just like us for the train to arrive. The old guy was well prepared, with a Nikon D600 and wide angle lens, the old lady decided to offer a smile and just stayed back in the car for her husband to be back.

Just a few mins later, we heard a big noise of the train whistling and walking fast towards us, we got ready to take the shot. I noticed a small pond next to rail tracks and thought a reflection shot of the train could come out good. I took a couple of shots in continuous shutter mode and here is one of the shot as taken at that point.

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Most of us were happy with the shots we got, but we all felt, the train was in a different direction from the real scenic background. On the other side lay a landscape filled with blue waters and snowcapped mountains. And we all felt, we needed that in the background along with the train. I think it was Shantanu or Aditi who suggested we should go to Beluga point, a point we had earlier been to while driving to Seward to try this same shot again. Reason was that the rail tracks would be on the other side and we would get a much better shot of the landscape. I instantly agreed. Beluga point seemed like a great choice for this shot. I had taken a shot of beluga point earlier in the trip from the west which looked like this.

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But for the train shot, I stayed closed to the parking lot and framed the mountain and the sea on the other side.  Train took a long time to come, but when it came, it was travelling at a much higher speed than I anticipated. Quick last minute settings to adjust my shutter speed and I took a bunch of shots. I wasn’t done there, I ran across to another point to get the trailing compartments of the train before the train disappeared into a bypass.  I however, got some pretty interesting shots with the one below being my favorite train click from the trip.

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Chicago from the top!!

 

As I recount my stay in Chicago, I must admit that I was in awe of its tall structures and the views they provide. One could see 4 US states and up to 50 miles in all directions on a clear day!! No wonder, the locals complain about the windy/cloudy weather. I visited two of the most popular towers in Chicago. The first one was Sears tower, now called Willis tower, supposed to be tallest building in USA at one point of time. As tall and high this 103 story building may sound, it took the lift about 45 seconds to get to the top. Compare that the one in office with a 5 second duration for climbing 2 stories, enough said.  Once at the top, you get very clear views of the city and lake Michigan. We were lucky that it wasn’t cloudy and in fact there was good sunshine .

 

The first shot at the top was a pretty basic shot that I had planned for. Sort of a mandatory shot. I just had to take it  now didn’t i?

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After I had taken a couple of photos of me and friends, I decided to go on the side to take another shot of my friend from the side of the Sky deck. Pic came out pretty well, but few lesser people in the frame would have been better.

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The next tower in the list was the John Hancock Observatory. We decided to do this in the night, to get some evening shots  of the city. I had anticipated this below shot of the North Chicago before I stepped into the building, and I glad it came out well.  Apparently, 500px has this rated as my best shot till date in terms of user review. Picture perfect this one, absolutely spot on!

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While I was taking the North Chicago shots, my friends went over on the other side and started doing casual chat. I joined them a little later and saw another downtown view , which was looking really pretty in the evening sunlight. And out came the camera again to take this shot of the downtown with Lake Michigan on the extreme left. Tallest building in the frame is the Sears tower discussed above.

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So loads of shots from aerial viewpoints. I must say after having visited many towers all over the world , Chicago towers left a great impression on me in terms of their size, views and most importantly, of a city that has made  this little chap a huge Batman fan 🙂

 

Chicago Clicks

 

It was supposed to be a reunion trip, ended up being a lot more. It is amazing to relive the good past memories with your old buddies.  Right then, back to my travel/photography review.  First time in Chicago,  I had planned a couple of shots in my mind. Here is a summary of the some of shots and how I ended up taking them. I decided to blog only about the cityscape and people in this edition. I will blog about the towers/skylines pictures in another one. 

 

As we moved into the city, there were some really nice locations, from where one could get some very neat cityscape. I decided to take a few long exposure shots with the city in the backdrop. The giant Chicago bean is symbolic of the Gotham city and I wanted to take a shot with a lot of people moving around , but unfortunately there were very few people, so didn’t get the entire effect in the picture.

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 I moved on to some street shots , randomly looking at different objects and taking pics . One of them happened to be this huge bus with trails, which gives a time travel perspective.

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Once I got the bus shot, I started walking down the street and saw a metro station nearby. Idea of another long exposure metro shot hit me and I quickly went to the station to take this next click. I had received feedback for only coloring the streaks and keep the rest of image in B&W on some photography forums, so I played around to get that effect, as can be seen in the pic.

 

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On the second day, when my friends had left the city, I was alone looking for some more shots, and I was joined by another fellow photographer , who was taking time lapse videos of the sunset and Chicago river. It was quite a sharp background, so I set myself up for another city landscape, and fast moving clouds meant the need of lower shutter speed than usual for such shots. I was pretty happy with what I got in the shot except for the harsh lightning form the street lights. Pretty sharp image though.

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While I was taking the previous pic, I couldn’t help but notice a local drummer hitting the beats in the middle of the road. He was actually pretty good, hitting some of Michal Jackson and oldies hits. I grabbed a few coins form my wallet and asked him to play with regular rhythm. When he started again, I was ready for the next shot and the outcome can be seen below.

 

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So, a fun filled trip with Chicago with some good shots of the city and people. But this trip wouldn’t have been as awesome without my buddies who made it very special. So a pic of us in the Adler planetarium with Chicago downtown in background to wrap this blog post and for me to get back to work. 

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Chirico Trail

It was sunny, don’t see that often in Seattle. I had been looking to get out on another hike in Issaquah and test my knee again. Chirico trail seemed like a good option. Pretty easy to average hike, 2 miles long, but it’s mostly uphill, so you have to take breaks in between. I was accompanied by Taryn and we started around 6 PM from the base. A few halts here and there and we were at the top by 7:15 PM. It was quite a sight. Mount rainier was looking amazing with a full view of its surrounding and the valley. Here is one of the shots  took from this trip. Have a few more, yet to be processed. Will post them soon. For now, here is the peek at classic rainier from NorthEast.

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Hello Sunny San Diego

Right then, as I spend some time looking outside the flight window into the darkness, I will pin down my thoughts about the last 2 days in San Diego in this blog post. For the third time, I am starting with my own blog. Ended up deactivating the last two blogs, hopefully 3rd time lucky!

 

So the occasion, Ignite Event for Microsoft Office 365, my future team, who felt it would be a good idea for me to attend and learn from the seminar. Move the clock into 6 hours of training and healthy interactions, I know a  whole lot more about the product than I did before the event. And need I say, I did the dogfooding for O365. So much for the dogfood. I flew in on Wednesday evening, to make sure I will be available for a few night calls, and still have enough time to catch the sunset and capture some nice shots with stars , which I hardly get to see amidst the cloudy Seattle skies.

 

Flight itself was pretty relaxed,  and en-route , we got a couple of nice views of the cascade mountains. I regretted not having my camera handy when the pilot decided to go close to mount rainier. The sourness of not having a camera handy was doubled when I saw absolutely clear views of Mount St Helens and Mount Hood in another 20 mins from the flight door. Good flight overall though and I was welcomed  by the nice sunny San Diego Sun. I grabbed a rental car at airport( ahoy Microsoft travel policy) and drove back to my hotel.

 

After meeting with my new colleagues and some customers and a nice get together with some partners, it was time to grab my camera and get out shooting the city lights. I met an old friend from my undergrad for dinner and he pointed me to some nice places to shoot nearby.

 

And the first location was the Pacific beach. A typical California beach, warm, sunny, and with nice clear waves. I was there at just about dawn and in nick of time to get a sunset shot , as seen below.

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I took a couple of shots here and then walked on the beach with my friend. 5 minutes into the walk, I noticed a very surreal looking beach houses , standing only on the wooden logs. You could actually go under the wood logs. And when I looked up towards the sky, a saw a few starts. A potential photo came to my mind, (luckily too, I love this shot!)  and I set my tripod on for a long exposure. Probably my favorite shot from the trip.

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Moving on, it’s about 11 PM now, and the heavy dinner accompanied by fast moving clouds overshadowing the stars mean I need to get to my next spot really soon before I miss the star trail possibility again. So I quickly drove (read over speeded) to get to Mt Soledad to a disappointing view of clouds all over the city. “Damn”, I said to myself. Unlucky again. (Have been chasing the stars for a while you see) .  Anyhow, I took my 3rd shot for the day of the famous cross and relaxed looking over the city and the pacific ocean and had regular chat with my friend.

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Right, its 1 AM now , and I have a presentation due in the morning 8 AM meeting, but I haven’t got a shot of the San Diego Skyline. How can my trip be complete without it? So I said goodbye to my friend and drove another 20 miles to get to other side of island near the Coronado beach into a public park. Its pin drop silence , with no other human visible. I quietly parked my car (only one in the lot as you would imagine) and walk towards the pathway which Is adjacent to the sound. A couple of shots of the bridge to start with which was rather pretty than I thought .

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And as for the final picture, hate to be in this position, but I had to stretch my knee (still recovering from my Ski accident) , I carefully went down the small rocky cliff to the base level and set my tripod. Did get my much needed frame but ended up making a mess of my shoes, which was all muddy after my little adventure.  

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Right, 1:30 AM in the night now, eventful day, started at 8 AM, hasn’t ended yet. I still have to drive another 25 miles to get back to hotel, get a quick shower and get to bed. But I am glad to have taken some really interesting shots of the city. My first visit to city, with many more planned, hopefully the cloud gods don’t show up next time to ruin what would have been a perfect photography trip!