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Night Photography Catch Up

Life has been far too busy the last couple years and I haven’t kept up with posting photos from all of my trips.  Now, as I’m planning for a couple photography trips this summer and thinking about the night shots that I’m going to try to get, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite night shots from the past couple years.

First up is Delicate Arch in Arches National Park with stars behind.  Delicate Arch is an interesting place to shoot at night.  It’s a considerable hike in and back out, and getting your tripod set up for the “money shot” below the arch requires a willingness to walk down a slope just above a plummeting-to-your-death drop-off that’s mildly sketchy during the day and a whole lot more sketchy at night!  This particular shoot was a lesson in being less polite.  That night, another photographer had set up several cameras to shoot time lapses and I was being far more concerned about my impact on his shots than he was being about his impact on my shots… and when I was able to process my shots afterwards, I hadn’t really dialed things in as well as I needed to and ultimately didn’t get the shots that I wanted.  So one of these days I’ll have to go back and try again!


 

False Kiva in Utah.  I’d had a night shot at False Kiva on my wish list for some time.  Something about the place just spoke to me.  The shoot, however, was way on the outer edges of my comfort zone.  It involves a one-hour drive from the nearest town, followed by a one-hour hike from your car, then a primitive path halfway up a sheer cliff to a cave, then spending the night alone in that cave in the midst of Native American ruins.  More brave people than I might leave the cave and hike back out in the middle of the night, once they’ve gotten the shot, but you may notice a theme that I’m not really in favor of plummeting to my death in the middle of the night when out solo hiking in wild places.  I did try to sleep a little in the cave while waiting on my shot, but hadn’t hiked in a cot, the ground was pretty dusty with rodents skittering, and the one big flat rock that I tried out was a bit closer to the cliff edge that really seemed wise for sleeping.  It was, however, a great experience and I had a lot of fun experimenting with different ways to light the cave and kiva.

 

The Virgin River and The Watchman from Zion National Park.  Several attempts shown here, from a couple trips.  Night photography has gotten a lot more popular.  My first try at this shot I had the place to myself and very few people had taken this shot.  By my more recent attempts, there was a small gaggle of photographers (I think entirely photography guide and client pairs except for me) on the bridge in the middle of the night and the shot has become more common.  This is a theme; it gets harder and harder to find new & unique shots!

The classic view of The Watchman from the Canyon Junction Bridge in Zion National Park, where every sunset the bridge is lined with photographers. This photo was taken three hours after all the photographers left.

 

Looking down the Virgin River in Zion National Park towards The Watchman, lit by the lights of Springdale, Utah, under the night sky.

 

The Virgin River runs down past The Watchman rock formation under a night sky at blue hour. Zion National Park, Utah.

 

Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.  Funny story to this shot.  Old Faithful erupts roughly every 90 minutes.  I wanted full dark, Milky Way arching a bit to the left, and not too many people still out and about–so I chose an eruption somewhere around 11 PM to midnight to head out and attempt the shot.  Perfect night, Milky Way in great position.  Did a couple test shots before the eruption and all looked good.  Eruption started and I triggered my shot.  30 second exposure.  20-25 seconds into my exposure and some nitwit off to the right turns on an absolute canon of a light and paints the eruption.  My shot is completely blown out and no way did this bozo get a shot either.  If s/he had a long exposure, the shot was blown out.  If a short exposure, the stars wouldn’t show.  With much grumbling I headed in to the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn to wait another 90 minutes and try the shot again.  By that time is would be closer to 1 AM and I would be out there all by myself.  Talked with the staff in the Inn and asked if there were ever bears out by the geysers in the middle of the night?  “You should see the security footage from a couple nights ago of a grizzly chasing a bison down the boardwalk by Old Faithful,” they said.  “Here, you should take this bear spray with you,” they said.  No bears, no nitwits with light bazookas for attempt #2.

Old Faithful Geyser erupting at night. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.

 

Self-portrait of the photographer light-painting Thor’s Hammer in Bryce Canyon National Park at night.  Walking down into the amphitheater at Bryce by yourself at night?  Sketchy!

 

Silent City at Bryce at night.

Bryce Canyon hoodoos in the Silent City at night with the Milky Way arcing above. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA.

 

Two shots at Owachomo Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah.  First is your classic light-painting shot, second is winning the meteor lottery!  On this particular night, there ended up being four of us shooting at Owachomo Bridge–photographer Chris Eaton, two girls whose names I didn’t get and who were having a lot of fun, and myself.  I didn’t realize it, but it turned out to be one of the nights of the peak of the Aquariid Meteor Shower.  As the night progressed, there were more and more meteors streaking across the sky–but invariably not in camera frame, or when no one was taking a shot, of big beautiful streaks… behind us!  Several hours of “did you get it?”  “nope!” yelled between the four of us in the dark.  Finally, a huge meteor streaked straight through the middle of the bridge and exploded in a visual and sound punch that all of us could feel.  Chris and I both started screaming–we’d had our shutters open!!!!  The effect of the meteor in person was much, much more than it appears in the shot.  We could feel the explosion.

The Milky Way behind Owachomo Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument. Utah, USA.

 

An Aquariid meteor explodes below Mars after streaking across the Milky Way on a clear, dark night in Utah.

 

2017 Wildflowers, part 3

Really, this is Parts 3 & 4, but we’ll pretend that it’s just one part. Part 3 only consists of a couple photographs. In late March, I was in Phoenix for work and a friend had told me that the wildflower bloom up near New River was nice, so I spent my one evening in Arizona grinding my way through rush hour traffic to arrive at the referenced BLM lands north of New River just as the sun was setting. I found the first patch of flowers and saguaro that I could find, set up as fast as I could, and managed 20-30 minutes of photos in that one spot before it was dark. After that, the desert was too dark for me to even spot any wildflowers… though I did have fun bombing through dirt roads in the desert in the dark in my rental SUV!

Back in Southern California the buzz was all about Carrizo Plain National Monument, up in San Luis Obispo County, north of Santa Barbara. I tried and tried for several weeks to get up there, all the while seeing photos from friends of mine who were just killing it up there, but various things at home kept me from getting there until this past weekend. Finally I managed to get out of town… only to slog my way through $#(*@# Los Angeles–on Easter weekend no less. The 4.5 hour trip took me 7 hours.

In some ways, I wish that I’d made it up to Carrizo Plain earlier in the season. The big fields of Hillside Daisies down in the valley would have been less thrashed by tourists, and perhaps the fields of purples and oranges on the mountains would have been more pronounced. But it was still a lot of fun to shoot there, and there were still good photo opportunities. Not to mention that, if you took the time & energy to hike up into the mountains, those patches of orange and purple that seemed faded from the valley floor were suddenly much more healthy looking!

Cactus, yellow wildflowers, and saguaro near New River, Arizona, USA.

 

Yellow wildflowers and saguaro cactus near New River, Arizona, USA.

 

Saguaro and yellow wildflowers near New River, Arizona, USA.

 

Hillside Daisies (Monolopia lanceolata) at sunset in the central valley of Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

Mixed wildflowers on a hillside. Temblor Mountains, Carrizo Plain National Monument, California.

 

Looking down into the valley of Carrizo Plain National Monument from high in the Temblor Mountains.  Do you see the cars at the trailhead?

 

Wildflowers on the slope of the Temblor Mountain range. Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

A massive field of Hillside Daisies (Monolopia lanceolata) below the Caliente Range in Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

A smattering of purple in a field of varying yellows off Simmler Road in Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

The view of the painted Caliente Range in Carrizo Plain National Monument, across a field of Hillside Daisies (Monolopia lanceolata).

 

Hillside Daisies (Monolopia lanceolata) at sunrise after an overnight frost in Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

Stars and Hillside Daisies (Monolopia lanceolata) in the moonlight at Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

Hillside Daisies (Monolopia lanceolata) in the valley of Carrizo Plain National Monument

 

Looking down towards Soda Lake in the valley of Carrizo Plain National Monument from high in the Temblor Mountains.

 

Looking down into the valley of Carrizo Plain National Monument from high in the Temblor Mountains.

 

A hiking trail leads up into the Temblor Mountains and patches of colored wildflowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument

 

A painted hillside in the Temblor Mountains in Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

Mixed wildflowers on a hillside. Temblor Mountains, Carrizo Plain National Monument, California.

2017 Wildflowers, part 2

As completely overrun as Borrego Springs has been since the news started running stories about a “Super Bloom,” I hadn’t planned on heading back out to the desert again until the hype was over. However, Friday night a friend got in touch to say that the bloom of dune evening primrose had exploded in the past week. The friend has a bit of a thing for primroses… and because I’ve learned much from him over the years, I kind of do, too! They are very photogenic.

A week ago, sunrise was at 6:00 AM and I got up 90 miles away in San Diego at 3:00 AM on a weekday–to avoid the weekend traffic and be there well before sunrise. This trip on Saturday was definitely not a weekday, and the change to Daylight Savings Time made sunrise about 7:00 AM, but this time I was up at 2:45 AM for the long, dark drive. The fog was thick and scary until Highway 67 turned east. To my complete dismay, I arrived at 4:45 AM out at the east end of Henderson Canyon Road–that’s more than two hours before sunrise–and there were already a dozen cars there! I didn’t encounter any other people, however, until around sunrise… so they may have all arrived the night before and been sleeping.

The dune evening primrose had indeed exploded and were gorgeous. As were the rest of the flowers. Things were only mildly trampled, and not yet too much burnt from the sun. But between the sun and the caterpillars, I doubt this bloom will last too much longer.

The Big Dipper watches over a field of wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Night sky over dune evening primrose in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Wildflowers at sunrise in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Dune evening primrose at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Dandelions mix with dune evening primrose, desert sand verbena, and desert sunflowers off Henderson Canyon Road in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Dune evening primrose and other spring wildflowers at sunrise in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Sunrise light on the mountains of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park behind fields of spring wildflowers.

Dune evening primrose mixed with other spring wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Desert sand verbena mixed with desert sunflowers and a sea of dune evening primrose behind. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Dune evening primrose at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

A field of dune evening primrose greet the morning sun in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Mixed wildflowers at sunrise in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Dune evening primrose, desert sand verbena, and desert sunflowers off Henderson Canyon Road in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Dandelions greet the morning sun in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Early 2017 Wildflowers

The photographer’s pollen-covered hiking boots [click to view larger].

With as much rain as California has had in the past couple months, many of us have been carefully watching wildflower reports from other photographers in the hopes that 2017 might bring a spectacular wildflower season.  And in the past week or so, things have seemed to accelerate–with more and more reports coming in and some of them pretty good!  Unfortunately, the news media has also caught wind of this and has been reporting a “super bloom,” so now wildflower spots that would normally see an admittedly fair amount of traffic are being completely overrun.  There were reports of 2-4 hour traffic jams of San Diegans trying to get down the hill into Borrego Springs this past weekend!

To avoid that rush, I was up at 3:00 AM on Friday and quickly out the door for a weekend of wandering Southern California in search of wildflowers.  First stop, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  It did not disappoint… but I’m not sure that I would call it a “super bloom.”  The coverage was good but not insane.  Over the weekend I visited several locations within the Colorado Desert region of Southern California as well as some of the hillsides within the more urban part of Southern California that are now covered in California poppies.  It was a quick but incredibly (photographically) productive trip.  Below are some of the highlights.

Dune evening primrose (white) and desert sunflower (gold) in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Sunrise over the Cottonwood Mountains during wildflower season.

California poppies overlook a lake in Southern California.

Wildflowers at sunrise near the southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.

Wildflowers bloom on the southern slope of the Cottonwood Mountains.

Mixed wildflowers cover a hillside in Southern California.

Dune evening primrose grows out of cracked earth in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park at sunrise.

A dense row of wildflowers lines Henderson Canyon Road at sunrise in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

A field of desert sunflowers along Henderson Canyon Road in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Lupine in front of a boulder.

A field of desert dandelions along DiGorgio Road in Borrego Springs, California.

A field of lupine and other wildflowers, with a lone tree, at Joshua Tree National Park.

Wildflowers at sunset in the Colorado Desert.

A field of yellow wildflowers.

Wildflowers at sunset in the Cottonwood Mountains, overlooking the Salton Sea.

Sunrise light across a field of lupine and other wildflowers.

Snow-capped mountains loom behind fields of California poppies, Arroyo lupine, and California goldfields.

A sea of colors on a Southern California hillside.

Mixed California poppies, Arroyo lupine, California goldfields, chia, baby blue eyes, and an unknown white flower.

Snow-capped mountains loom behind fields of California poppies and Arroyo lupine.

A boat cruises past hillsides covered in California poppies.

A boat departs a marina in Southern California, past fields of California poppies and Arroyo lupine.