America’s Best Idea

Last light on Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park, California (© Russ Bishop/www.russbishop.com)
Last light on Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park, California (click image to view large)

August 25th is the 101st birthday of the National Park Service. Established in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service was created to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein…for the enjoyment of future generations.”

From its humble beginnings with just thirty-five parks administered under the Department of the Interior, today the National Park System includes over 400 units including parks, monuments, and historic sites. Ken Burns’ recent film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea rekindled the connection many feel with the parks, and is a wonderful tribute to the history and originality that first made them possible.

The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and a great resource for staying in the loop about events and activities at nearby parks or putting the finishing touches on planning your next big adventure.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

What You See Is What You Get

Sunset over the Channel Islands and Ventura Pier from San Buenaventura State Beach, Ventura, California
Sunset over the Channel Islands and Ventura Pier, Ventura State Beach, California

WYSIWYG (or “what you see is what you get”) is computer lingo for software that optimizes the screen display for a particular type of output. Back when word processing and desktop publishing software first hit the scene this was nothing short of a miracle. The software emulated the resolution of the printer in order to get as close as possible to WYSIWYG, but the main attraction was the ability to previsualize what you were producing prior to printing.

We now live in a far more advanced digital world of 4K monitors, massive image files, and the processors and video cards to handle them, but without color consistency across devices we might as well be living in the dark ages.

Monitor calibration has a reputation as being one of the great mysteries of digital imaging, but it really doesn’t have to be. Printing images that accurately represent what you see on-screen is a reasonable expectation that shouldn’t break the bank on wasted ink and paper. But unlike the out-of-box WYSIWYG experience you get when printing documents, your monitor requires a little assistance when it comes to images.

What you need is a spyder, and I’m not referring to those furry creatures lurking in your garage. Several companies sell highly accurate and reasonably priced kits like the Datacolor Spyder5Pro that include everything you need to guarantee that your output is consistent from screen to print. The spyder is actually a color sensor (called a colorimeter) that plugs into a standard USB port and works in tandem with software to read your monitor’s output. The process is known as calibration and it creates a custom profile that tunes your display to an industry reference standard, which is then used by image editing programs like Photoshop and Lightroom to provide consistent reliable color.

You trust your eyes and photo equipment when it comes to accurately representing your vision in the field, but it’s all for naught if your monitor doesn’t faithfully reproduce those tones and colors. Much like driving in the dark with your headlights off, editing images without a calibrated monitor is a guessing game. So before you buy another lens or camera body, don’t overlook one of the most important investments you can make as a digital photographer. A quality monitor and calibration kit may not be the most exciting gear you’ll buy, but they do guarantee that what you see is what you get.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua tree and star trails at night, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua tree and star trails at night, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park in the southern California high desert east of Palm Springs is an exotic arid playground that stimulates the imagination and rejuvenates the spirit.

As a world-class rock climbing mecca, its multitude of quality climbs and ideal off-season temperatures attract athletes from around the globe. And then there’s the landscape – a surreal mix of granite boulders strewn across the park like a giant’s marbles, and the namesake Joshua Trees with their whimsical spiny branches that conjure images of Dr. Seuss characters. From a photographic standpoint it’s a paradise of grand proportions, and when the sun goes down the night sky puts on a show of its own.

At the junction of two ecosystems, Joshua Tree National Park is host to both the Mojave Desert to the north in the higher elevations, and the Colorado Desert to the south. The Joshua Trees thrive in the slightly cooler Mojave Desert in the western part of the park, while the lower Colorado portion plays host to a multitude of spring wildflowers, a cholla cactus garden and the lush Cottonwood oasis near the southern entrance.

Summer temperatures can be unbearably hot, but the rest of the year is ideal for photography, climbing, hiking or just soaking up the visual experience in this otherworldly landscape.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Tuolumne Meadows

Sunset over Tuolumne Meadows along Budd Creek, Yosemite National Park, California
Sunset over Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, California

John Muir referred to the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the Range of Light, and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting moniker. The play of light amid the high peaks, the unique cloud formations along the eastern escarpment, and the painterly sunsets combine in a luminous landscape to stimulate the senses. And though I have many favorites in the range, one location seems to embody the spirit of these mountains like no other – Tuolumne.

Tuolumne Meadows, in the high country of Yosemite National Park, is a pristine alpine environment of glacial-polished domes, cascading streams and lush meadows under an indigo sky. At nearly 9,000 feet it also has a short summer season between snows with virtually no spring or fall, which makes an annual pilgrimage even more special.

Days here might be spent photographing the landscape, climbing the world-class granite, exploring miles of forest trail, or just lounging by a secluded spot along the river as Muir once did. However you experience Tuolumne, when the daylight fades it’s time to find a clearing in the meadow or scramble up a dome to reflect on the day and enjoy the show as the Sierra magic hour ushers in the night.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved