The holidays are a great time for reflection – time to appreciate the good in our lives and be thankful for what we have. This has been a trying and enduring year for all of us, but there are brighter pastures ahead.
The ‘holiday spirit’ is more important now more than ever. With all that said, there’s another big part of the holiday culture that I know all of us enjoy – gift-giving, right?! There’s nothing like opening presents under the tree with your family or receiving that one thing you really wanted. It adds to that holiday feeling.
I didn’t ask for much this year, but my gift requests are always a bit unusual. When my wife asks me what I want for Christmas, and I say, “a helicopter drops off in the middle of nowhere in Alaska,” she kind of just rolls her eyes at me.
But, what do you expect from a photographer? We all have locations in mind and photos we want to capture for the year ahead. Call it a ‘photographer’s wish list’, if you want. And in my opinion, getting an epic shot at one of those places trumps any physical gift!
So, without further ado – here is my landscape photographer’s 2020 Holiday Wish List. Hint: It can be yours too!
Dramatic Dunes – Death Valley
I’ve visited Death Valley National Park many times over the years. Like any trip, I have certain shots that I want to capture each trip. I’ve had very successful trips to Death Valley, but one shot has always eluded me! I want a really good dune shot and that might seem easy, the park has incredible dune fields.
A really good dune shot isn’t just an ordinary one with good light for me though. At certain times of the year, the winds really kick up, like 40-50mph, and it turns the dunes into a sandstorm. Now, that doesn’t sound all that great or comfortable, but it creates the most incredible atmosphere. If you can brave the conditions and capture some images, the dune images are extremely powerful because of the drama you can capture and motion you can capture with the sand blowing off the dunes.
Iconic Firefall – Yosemite
Horsetail Fall of Yosemite National Park is responsible for the majestic natural phenomenon that we all know and love – Firefall.
The ‘Firefall’ event only happens for 2-3 weeks a year, in February, making it a rare spectacle to capture. For those of you who don’t know, the phenomenon refers to the setting sun hitting Horsetails Fall at the perfect angle to create the illusion that the waterfall is actually on fire.
It’s become one of the most sought-after shots. It is definitely amazing to see.
The weather can be tricky though and throw a wrench in the event. If there are any clouds on the horizon, the fall won’t light up fire red. I’m still after a really good ‘Firefall’ image, as the clouds really have it out for me. I’m hoping it happens in 2021. And to cap it off, I’d love a more unique shot, which includes a more wide-angle view of the Yosemite Valley (hint: you can only get the perspective with some strenuous snowshoeing). Want to join – check out Yosemite in Winter.
Seascapes – Pacific Northwest
Ah, seascapes, who doesn’t love a good seascape. It seems that a seascape is always on my holiday wish list. Especially the seascapes of the Pacific Northwest – there aren’t many better coastlines for photography.
Give me sea stacks, dramatic light, great tides, and I’ll be a happy camper for 2021. I really want a nice shot from Rialto Beach and Second Beach in Olympic National Park. Come along with us if you want to chase gold by my side.
It all starts with nice light, but after that, I’m hoping to get a really nice long exposure, around 1 second, where the tide is flushing back out to the sea, that’s my leading line. I want to pair that with the sea stacks at those two respective beaches, if you come along, you’ll know them when you see them.
A shot like this seems simple when I type it up, but it’s actually quite challenging. To be successful, it requires you to get wet, to potentially get your gear wet, the use of ND filters, and a lot of back and forth to dodge the waves. It’s key to keep that nasty saltwater off your lens too.
If it all comes together though, you have a really nice and unique shot that depicts the PNW coast in all its glory.
Wildflowers – Glacier/Redwoods/Grand Teton
If I had to list things that I’m after every year, I’d say wildflowers and fall color are always on the list. They are my two favorite things to photograph, especially when dramatic landscapes are involved.
I always want a wildflower shot, and 2021 will be a good year to get this shot with Backcountry Journeys.
It could happen on a lot of trips – Glacier National Park in summer is always a great choice, it could happen in the forests of the Redwoods in May, too, or spring in the Tetons. I’m hoping to be in Alaska in June where I might catch an early lupine bloom.
For me, it doesn’t really matter where it happens, it’s always a pleasure to photograph wildflowers.
The Narrows – Zion
The Narrows in Zion National Park is my favorite day hike and one of the best hikes I’ve ever done, period.
Its uniqueness lies in the hike being 95% aquatic – you hike in a river with massive slot canyon walls towering above. I got engaged to my wife in The Narrows too, so it’s a special place for life to me.
Light bounces off the canyon walls creating a fiery glow, which makes it one of the most miraculous sights and landscapes to capture anywhere. I should mention we visit The Narrows during our Canyons of Utah: Zion & Bryce ‘Hiker’ trip.
I’ve done the Narrows route probably 10 times, but I’m still after a shot from deeper inside the canyon. I know 2021 will be the year that I get it, hopefully!
The Na Pali Coast – Kauai
Okay, I’ll be honest, this is more of a 2022 wish list item, but I figured I could slide a January 2022 trip in since it’ll be the next time I travel to Kauai.
The Hawaiian Island of Kauai is filled with incredible landscapes, but the one that sticks out the most is the Na Pali Coast. Its characterized by its jagged and serrated mountains, which seemingly crash into the sea. It’s the most impressive stretch of coastline I’ve ever seen. I have one shot that I really love from the coast, but I really want more! The great thing about the Na Pali is it offers up a lot of different perspectives. There are options to shoot it from land, sea, and air, which we do during our workshop to Kauai: The Garden Isle.
A rugged backpacking trail leads to the base of the cliffs and that’s high on my list next time I travel to Kauai. It’s a perspective of the Na Pali that I have yet to capture.
The Fjords of Alaska – Kenai
Alaska is my favorite place in the world. It’s the greatest landscape destination, in my opinion. I could probably fill this article with Alaska locations alone (it has a rugged coastline, tidewater glaciers, huge mountains, wildflowers, and yes, even sand dunes too).
Each year, we travel to the Kenai Peninsula for our Marine Wildlife: Kenai Fjords workshop, which is ‘technically’ a wildlife-based photo workshop. However, it just so happens that the marine critters we see during the trip love beautiful landscapes too. Kenai and all of southeast Alaska is a really special place, glaciated mountains meet the sea and much like the Na Pali Coast, they seem to rise straight from the ocean to great heights.
I can’t get enough of the fjords and although wildlife might be the goal, great landscape shots can be had during our marine trip. I for one have a specific shot in mind for my 2021 wish list. Picture some massive mountains towering over a tidewater glacier that meets the sea. Next, crystal clear icebergs afloat near the glacier. Okay, so my shot goes like this – focus stacking the icebergs for an awesome foreground with the glacier and mountains in the background PLUS some dramatic light. That’s not too much to ask for right?!
Fall Color – Multiple Locations
As I said, I’m always after wildflowers and fall color. I’ll be chasing fall color during the entire fall season. Fall colors peak at all different times across the country, which is awesome. I’ll start by chasing fall color in Alaska, then move down to the Pacific Northwest, then on to southern Utah.
I figured I’d just list some of our top fall color trips if you’re interested in joining us. Fall is one of the best times for landscape photography, hands down.
- The Best of Iceland – Autumn […Learn More]
- Glacier National Park in Autumn […Learn More]
- Yellowstone & Grand Teton in the Fall […Learn More]
- Yosemite Fall Colors […Learn More]
- Canyons of Utah: Zion & Bryce […Learn More]
One scene in particular that I strive for each fall is one illustrating the clash between autumn and winter. This year is the same. I want a shot with peak fall color, but also with an early snowstorm, so the beautiful foliage and mountains or whatever else I’m shooting are draped in snow. That’s a lofty ‘ask,’ but it’s something I’m after each year.
Lightning – Grand Canyon
Since I’ve been a photographer, it’s been my goal to capture some of nature’s dramatic weather events. Getting a rainbow paired with good composition and an epic landscape was on my list for years. I finally checked off that box in Kauai a few years ago.
One weather event that has eluded me is lightning. I really want a great shot of lightning. I’d love to capture it over a great location like the Grand Canyon, where monsoons and storm events are semi-predictable.
We offer a monsoon trip to Grand Canyon Country, and although not a guarantee, it represents one of the best opportunities to capture a lightning storm, and with iconic scenes from the American southwest included, as well. It’s not easy though, and lightning seems to be something that bursts onto my wish list every year.
The Aurora – Alaska
Last, but definitely not least, and actually maybe the most spectacular of all on this list – the Aurora Borealis. Give an Aurora shot for 2021!
If you’ve never seen the Northern Lights, it is one of those phenomena’s that you NEED to see and photograph during your lifetime. A ‘Lights’ show is difficult to predict, and you’ll also be fighting against the weather. But, when everything comes together, it’s probably the most beautiful natural event to witness.
You’ll generally need to travel to the far north, or the Arctic, as the lights are most consistent between 60-75 degrees latitude. Those areas might be cold, but feature some great landscapes to pair with the Aurora. If you want to chase the lights with us, check out our Ultimate Northern Lights or Alaska Northern Lights workshops.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image.
Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world.
As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals.
You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t miss the next session of BCJ Live!
Big Alaska: Stories & Slideshow
with Grant Ordelheide
Tuesday, February 1st, 2022
11 am – 12 pm Mountain Time