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A drive to Yellowstone

I've not yet learned to plan a vacation few months ahead. I usually have few targets in mind and pick one on the night before travel. Only in rare case, it might be a month ahead because I either need a visa to the destination or have to reserve a plane ticket or both.
So when I thought about Yellowstone and search the internet, I discovered that you would need to book your hotel room at least a year ahead if you wanna stay inside the park. There are plenty of hotels outside the park, but they too get sold out during summer. Fortunately, I got a hotel at West Yellowstone, just less than a mile from the west gate entrance. There are other options to stay south ( Jackson, Moran),  north, or even east. But West Yellowstone is the best for people driving from San Francisco.
The distance is about 1000 miles that you shouldn't drive in one day.  I decided to drive 600 on day one and stopped at Wells, NV for the night. Got up early the second day and headed for Twin Fall, Idaho. Highway 93 is very scenic. Our first stop was at Shoshone Fall, Twin Fall, Idaho. It's  an amazing waterfall on the Snake River. The park has an entree fee just $3.00. There are ample parking available inside the park . There is also a gift shop and the restroom is just behind it. We spent about 2 hours in the park before we headed for the West Yellowstone.

The amazing Shoshone Fall on Snake River, at Twin Fall, Idaho

From Twin Fall to West Yellowstone is about 4 hours drive. By 3 pm, we were at our hotel gate. We took about half hour to freshen up before we headed for Old Faithful Biscuit Basin. It's Geysers everywhere. They smell awful but looks spectacular.

The long boardwalk goes around all geysers. Be sure to stay on the boardwalk. There were incidence where people tripped while taking selfie. The result could be a badly burned body, if not death. So, stay on the boardwalk and enjoy the nature's wonder.
Sunburst in the Geyser

Some of the Geysers erupt at regular interval. So you need real patience to stick around one of those to see hot spring water erupting out of holes. The steam makes it foggy very often. Protect your camera lens and wipe off the water if you find few sprinkler drop on the glass. They have sulphur which would be difficult to remove once dried up.
A Geyser in Biscuit Basin
Hot Steam Erupting from a Geyser at Old Faithful

We were done with the Old Faithful Geysers by the end of Day 2. We had our dinner at 'Three Bears Restaurant'  at West Yellowstone. There are a lot of restaurant around, but I'm not talking about food here. However, most restaurant closes at 10 pm, pretty early compared to Bay Area.
If you want to see animals, get up early and stay late. Animal loves dawn and dusk more than bright sunny day. On day 3, we drove to the Canyon Village early morning. It's called 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone', has two spectacular waterfall on the Yellowstone River.
The Lower Fall at Canyon Village

This is the Lower Fall. It's a bit of hike to go all the way near the fall. But it sure worth it. However, you get a wide view of the fall and the valley just from the vista point, 200' from the parking, only if you get to park there. It's a long queue to park near the view point. People usually park on Grand Loop road side. Be sure to park off the road, the park rangers could give you ticket  if you block the traffic.
Drive south from Canyon Village, and the whole animal kingdom will emerge as you hit the 'Hayden Valley'. There are Bison everywhere. If you are lucky, you would see wolves, bears, elk and moose too.  Unfortunately, we saw only Bison. The bulls started a fight over the small sand pit. All bulls want to take sand bath  and there were only one sand pit :)

The bulls were locked in horns over the sand pit
Further south of Hayden Valley, is the Fishing Bridge.  I don't know why they call it fishing bridge, I saw a board that stats 'no fishing on the bridge' !! You can see the Yellowstone Lake from the bridge. Down south, the Yellowstone lake starts. It's huge lake, and you would be driving around it till you hit West Thumb Geyser Basin.  Once again, it's a long boardwalk around many Geysers, some of them are inside the lake.  The moose below came to drink water. As the tourists crowded the boardwalk around  it, the moose panicked and jumped over the boardwalk before it vanished in the woods. I captured the whole movement from distance.
A moose flying over the boardwalk

From West Thumb, the Grand Loop  road turns towards Old Faithful which we already visited on our first day in the park. So we decided to take an 'U' turn and head towards Mammoth Hot Spring. It was a long drive through single lane narrow road. We took right at north-east junction to see Lamar Valley, where we saw more bison with calves, but no bears. Disappointed, we headed back to Mammoth, which is again full of Geysers. This one is probably biggest boardwalk in the Yellowstone. By the time we finished the walk, it was already dark. Then it was time to return to hotel for our last night.
Day 4, our last day in the park. We had half a day for Yellowstone & Grand Tetons. We drove straight to Hayden Valley to see some animals. Once again it was Bisons everywhere and lots of Geese in the river. This pair of Bison was crossing the road just in front of us. The shot is full framed, no cropped. They were that close :)
A pair of Bison exercising their right of way in Hayden Valley 
 The Grand Tetons would amaze you when you see it over the Jackson Lake. It was August 2nd week, but you could see snow on the mountains.  Further down south, is the Jackson Lake Dam. You could stop by to see gushing water being released to Jackson River from the Dam.
The picturesque Grand Tetons mountain range

Jackson Lake Dam
Our Vacation was virtually over once we were done in Jackson Lake Dam. We made some  mini stop to appreciate the beauty of the Grand Tetons while we drove south to Jackson Hole. It was  about 2 pm when we stopped at Jackson Hole for lunch. At this point, I was not sure where to stop for the night. We wanted to return via Salt Lake but it would be too early to stop for the night. I check in Expedia app, and found a hotel room at Wells, the same hotel where we stated 2 nights back. So I decided to stop at Wells for the night. But it was really tough to reach there that evening. We were caught in a storm and it was already dark by 6 pm. I never wanted to drive on freeway when it's dark, windy and pouring heavily. By the time I reached the hotel at Wells, it was 10 pm, tired like hell.

Day 5 was all driving back to home on I-80 west. We started lazy, stopped in every 2 hours, ate fast food and enjoyed the drive. We were back home by 6 pm, Yellowstone was now conquered once. I'm already looking forward for my 2nd trip. This time I would want to see bears, and so I would have to visit during early June, which is the best time to see bears with calves.

How to Photograph Fireworks Display

People all around the world celebrates some events with spectacular fireworks display. It maybe religious, social, sports, national days, or special events but fireworks are always awesome display of lights. They also look amazing on photograph if you can shoot them properly.  From my experiences, I would like to share some tips & tricks on how to shoot fireworks with a camera.
A single firecracker lit the sky

The Gear List:

Too close to the event won't fit all in the frame, staying far enough is recommended to fill the frame properly
  1. A Camera with manual control ( Manual focus, Manual exposure )
  2. Wide angle lens ( The wider is better, especially if you are near the event. I recommend 20mm or less. If you have only telephoto lens, then  find a place far away with good visibility to the event location)
  3. A sturdy tripod
  4. Cable release ( manual / electronic / remote, based on your camera)
  5. Fully charged camera battery ( keep an spare too for long event)
Too close to the event won't fit all in the frame, staying far enough is recommended to fill the frame properlyPatience is one of the key element but it's no gear

Shooting Location:

A clear  and wide view is recommended to compose additional elements
Once you have your gear ready, head off to the shooting location. Find a place to sit, a bit fur away from the place where firecrackers would be launched. Make sure you get a clear view of the sky where firecrackers will burst. The fireworks would cover the top half of the frame. You should be able to add people, buildings, tree, water-body in the bottom half of the frame. Plan early so that you get the perfect place to setup your gears.

Before The Shooting Starts:

  1.  Mount your camera on the tripod.
  2.  Attached the cable release or set your camera to remote release mode.
  3. Set focus to manual ( 'M' ) and then focus to infinity.
  4. Set exposure to manual ('M')
  5. Set aperture f16/f22/f32 whichever highest 'f' number available in your lens.
  6. Set shutter speed to 2 sec or more.
  7. Set the ISO to lowest available one e.g.  ISO 100
  8. Compose the frame in landscape position with top half covering sky where cracker will burst and the bottom half includes people, building, trees, lake etc.
  9. Take a test shots and adjust the frame if required.
  10. Seat back and wait till the event starts

The shooting:

Once the first firecracker is launched, it's time to press the shutter release button through your cable release or remote release. Be sure to check the following while you shoot.

  1. Check the first photo to verify your frame composition is as per your setup. You may need to adjust a little bit up or down, left or right.
  2. Increase or decrease the shutter speed based on the frequency of firecrackers launch
  3. Protect the setup, people may accidentally trip or shake your tripod
  4. Make sure, camera didn't run out of battery.
  5. Check every photo in the camera LCD after shutter is closed. Adjust the frame if required.

Shot from far and wide, steady tripod mounting is important

Other Tricks:

Most of the time, the firecrackers would cover a small area in the frame while the rest of the frame is completely dark, especially the sky part. There are two main ways to get the whole frame full of fireworks lights.
  1. Use Long Exposure ( 15 sec or more) : There are usually 2 to 5 secs gap between subsequent launch. Shoot the first set on the left or right side of the frame. Then, rotate the tripod head to frame the next set of fireworks in the middle of the frame. Note, it's dark between the launch so the camera would not record anything even if you adjust the frame while the shutter is still open. Record the 3rd set of launch on the other side of the frame. Now you have the full frame of lights.
  2. Use multiple exposure ( 2 or 3 ) : Set your camera in multiple exposure mode and adjust the frame between each exposure.

Long exposure, shot from far and wide, about 1/2 mile away from the event

There are other ways to get a full frame of fireworks  e.g. post processing using layer mask etc. I guess, these are all the tips & tricks you would need. Remember, photography is an art, so no rules are written in stone. You can adjust or innovate setting as per your need or imagination. But always practice safety first, don't get close to fireworks. They are hazardous and might cause injury. Stay safe and shoot amazing photographs. 
Post processed in Photoshop CS using layer mask. The left and right sides contains the same image.


Santa Cruz Natural Bridge

A breathtaking sunset view, sandy beach, bird rock, and Monarch Butterfly on the boardwalk complete the list of attraction at Santa Cruz Natural Bridge. Drive a little further south, you see the light house and the seal island. It's a good place to spend few hours with the nature.
A Dramatic View of the Bird Rock
The Natural Bridge Rock
Bird Rock - Clear View
A Diving Pelican
The BeachThe Beach
The Play AreaWaves and the Tourist
Sunset BeginningThe Beach During Sunset
A Wider ViewThe Natural Bridge at Santa Cruz
Monarch Butterfly Closeup Butterfly Nest on Boardwalk
The People and A BirdThe Birds on the Bird Rock
A Shadow before the Sun
The Amazing Color Of Sunset

Golden Gate and the Marin Headland

Ever wonder what lies beyond the hills, north of Golden Gate Bridge! Marine Headlands is a very scenic area, consists of several hills,  Golden Gate Light House, and few old army barracks now used for nature reserve activities.  The Muir Woods is not far from here but you would have to drive few miles on US-101 north to get there. 
View of Golden Gate Bridge from Light House

Many visitors would just stop at vista point, have a stroll on the bridge and return home or head to Muir Woods. But if you just go to the other side of US-101, the place is photographer's paradise. You get to hike, bike, surf, or shoot lush green nature and wildlife. If you are lucky, you may also see few marine mammals too. There is a marine mammal hospital in that area too. Here are the few photos I shot during my trip in this Marine Headland.

Fort Cronkhite as seen from the hill ahead of it. 

That is an amazing Beach
The Beach at Fort Cronkhite

These flowers look so amazing when you pass through the trail
Wild Flowers

When Ice Plant Blooms, you love it more
Ice Plants

Just Look at them and appreciate their beauty
Amazing yellow bloom

The Coyoto Came out at dusk, looking for it's supper
The cutest Coyoto

She raised her ears on the sound of shutter clicks but then she was not afraid, got back to grazing grass, only occasionally looking around
The Deer

The long stem, full of blooms. I asked few expert for it's name and no one had any idea. It looks amazing in the wild
Wild Flower

The Old Bunker Road is a nice trail to walk or bike on
The Direction

The cutest Robin just swallowed it's lunch and was looking for it's next course
The Blue Robin
More Photos from this Area 
The hills in SusalitoThe City San Francisco as seen from Golden Gate Light House
The Beautiful Susalito HillsSan Francisco as seen from Golden Gate Light House
Link to google photo page

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