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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.


More Big Surf

Following the spindrift (and big surf) photos from Friday, I rented a Sigma 150-600mm lens and headed back out on Saturday.  This weekend’s giant surf (forecast to peak at 18 feet on some surf breaks in San Diego) was supposed to peak Saturday afternoon.  I visited Windansea, Bird Rock, and then Sunset Cliffs–all with mid-sized messy waves and zero surfers–and then, as the afternoon waned, decided to head back to La Jolla Shores just really because I couldn’t figure out what else to do.  It looked like the big surf event was a non-event.

Man, was I wrong!  It was going off at the Shores.  I’m not a great judge of surf height, but I’d guess that the bigger waves were more than double overhead.  Looking across at the Point La Jolla, it looked like Boomer was also going off.  In fact, you could see a SD Lifeguard PWC out patrolling the shoulders of the breakers.

I stuck with one break at the north end of the La Jolla Shores beach that had a half-dozen or so surfers on it.  The sets were huge.  Too big, I think for the surfers, as no one attempted any rides at all the first 20 minutes or so that I was there.  And throughout, I never saw anyone take the biggest sets–so as you look at the surfer shots below, imagine that these were the smaller waves that they were riding!

A surfer does a flip off the backside of a wave at La Jolla Shores. La Jolla, California, USA.

 

Giant wave crashing behind a surfer at La Jolla Shores. La Jolla, California, USA.

 

Surfer inside a barrel at La Jolla Shores. La Jolla, California, USA.

 

How big is that wave? Surfer drops in on a big set at La Jolla Shores. La Jolla, California, USA.

 

Waves and surfers stacked up at La Jolla Shores. La Jolla, California, USA.

 

Sunlight off the ocean

 

Seaplane approaching Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma, California, USA.

 

Rain approaches surfers off La Jolla Shores, California, USA.

 

Stormy skies and light beams off La Jolla, California, USA.

 

Tree at Windansea beach in La Jolla, California, USA.


Spindrift

A passing conversation with a San Diego Lifeguard this morning:

John, “I love the spray coming off the top of the waves in the wind this morning!”

Lifeguard, “Spindrift?  Yeah.”

John, quietly to himself, “Wait, spindrift is something other than a street name??”

February 17, 2017:  Big, clean surf.  Winds gusting to 50 MPH.  Spindrift!

Three surf barrels in a row, with spindrift above, near Scripps Pier in La Jolla, California, USA

 

Breaking wave and spindrift near Scripps Pier. La Jolla, California, USA.

 

Surfer in a barrel on a very windy day (with spindrift) near Scripps Pier. La Jolla, California, USA.

 

A surfer inside a breaking wave with spindrift above. La Jolla, California, USA.

 

Surfers near Scripps Pier on a very windy day, with spindrift. La Jolla, California, USA.


Snowstorms in Yosemite Valley

El Capitan peeks out through falling snow. Yosemite National Park.

I love Yosemite National Park in winter.  There’s room to breathe… and park, and camp, and turn around without hitting a hundred tourists!  And it is so, so indescribably beautiful during snowstorms.  Almost all of my trips to Yosemite over the years have been in winter.  Fortunately the girls (not the eldest girl, who hates nature at this point, but the two younger girls) have also come to love Yosemite during snowstorms.  Thanksgiving 2015 there was a big snowstorm forecast for the Valley, so we threw everyone in the car and headed up.  Didn’t make it before the storm, thus the whole drive in on 41 was a slow but beautiful, tire-chain thumping, hours-long slog through nighttime blizzard.  Had an absolutely fabulous time playing in the snow and the girls have been begging since to do it again.

Fast forward to January 2017, which was a very, very wet month for Yosemite–between giant snowfalls (some of which made it down to the Valley floor) and torrential rains that flooded the Valley and caused the park to be evacuated.  By January 17th, there were several big snowfalls forecast to make it down to the Valley floor (many Sierra snowfalls will dump feet of snow at higher elevations but just rain the the Valley–which sits at just 4,000 feet and is somewhat thermally insulated by cloud cover topping the granite walls of the valley), so we made reservations for a 4-day weekend at the Lodge and started checking our snow gear.

We were not disappointed!  The weekend teetered between rain and snow.  Both Saturday and Monday mornings we awoke to 8-12 inches of new snow covering everything.  Sunday it rained all day–but without really melting much of the previous snowfall.  Monday was one of those absolutely classic Yosemite days with a clearing winter storm.  I would have killed to stay through Monday and catch more of the clearing skies (as local Michael Frye did), but I had a 2 PM flight out of Fresno to catch for work.  As it was, I stopped so many times on the drive out of the park to take photos… and it took me forever to get the snow chains on that morning… that we pulled up in front of the Fresno Airport just 20 minutes before my flight was to depart.  Miraculously, I made it!

Below are some of my early culls from an amazing number of “keepers” from that weekend.

El Capitan peeks out through falling snow. Yosemite National Park.

 

Flooded field and trees during a heavy snowstorm. Yosemite National Park.

 

The Merced River in Yosemite National Park during a heavy winter snowstorm.

 

Yosemite Valley Chapel during a winter snowstorm

 

Upper Yosemite Falls looms in the snowfall above broken ice in flooded Cook’s Meadow. Yosemite National Park.

 

Pre-sunrise Merced River in Yosemite National Park during a winter morning snowstorm.

 

A lovely photography mistake!  Pre-sunrise on the bridge across the Merced near Yosemite Valley Chapel.

 

Slabs of ice in a frozen flooded section of Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park.

 

Bridalveil Falls during a heavy winter snowstorm. Yosemite National Park.

 

Upper Yosemite Falls in a winter snowstorm

 

A stand of trees during a heavy winter snowstorm in Yosemite National Park.

 

Sentinel Rock overlooks icy flooded wetlands in Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park.

 

Yosemite National Park during a snowstorm

 

El Capitan looms through the falling snow over the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.

 

Bridalveil Falls during a snowstorm. Yosemite National Park.

 

Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park

 

Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park

 

Granite peaks peaking through clouds above Yosemite Valley

 

Footbridge over the Merced River in Yosemite National Park during a winter snowstorm.


Fall color in the Eastern Sierra

The photographer gets the tables turned on him.

The photographer gets the tables turned on him.

Most years in late September or early October, you can find me at least one long weekend up in the Eastern Sierra along Highway 395 between Bishop and June Lake Loop for fall color. That part of the Eastern Sierra is full of alpine lakes and creeks running down from the Sierras into the valley below. The lakes and creeks tend to be surrounded by aspen trees whose leaves turn the most lovely yellows and oranges in fall. In recent years, my two younger daughters have come along… and it’s getting to be more and more of a battle between my middle daughter and me for the camera. The girl needs her own camera, I think!

My younger daughters enjoy a walk in the woods near Bishop Creek.

My younger daughters enjoy a walk in the woods near Bishop Creek.

This year, conditions at higher elevations were beautifully at peak color and we were all set to head up the last couple days of September, but a final weather forecast check the night before showed nightly wind gusts in the 30-40 MPH range for the long weekend. I don’t know if you’ve ever camped in high winds, but it is not fun! So we delayed a week and prayed that the winds wouldn’t strip all the leaves that had already turned color off the trees. As we found out a week later, the winds had come that weekend and all the aspens at higher elevation were bare. Conditions at middle elevations were a weird mix… a few spots had great color, some spots were past peak with burnt oranges and yellows, and much hadn’t turned yet at all. In our time there, we explored both forks of Bishop Creek (and all three lakes) plus McGee Creek. We didn’t make it up to June Lake Loop, but my guess from the creeks closer to Mammoth is that it might have been nice.

Below are some of my better shots from this Mother Nature-challenged year.

Grove of aspens in different stages of color around a waterfall on the South Fork of Bishop Creek.

Grove of aspens in different stages of color around Mist Falls on the South Fork of Bishop Creek.

View of Cardinal Village Resort in Aspendell, California, from Highway 168 up to Lake Sabrina.

View of Cardinal Village Resort in Aspendell, California, from Highway 168 up to Lake Sabrina.

Mixed yellows and greens in a stand of aspens just turning color.

Mixed yellows and greens in a stand of aspens just turning color.

A road in the autumn woods near Cardinal Village Resort in Aspendell.

A road in the autumn woods near Cardinal Village Resort in Aspendell.

Aspen woods in fall.

Aspen woods in fall.

A sunny glade of aspens in fall.

A sunny glade of aspens in fall.

Fall color along McGee Creek.

Fall color along McGee Creek.

Fall leaves swirl in a small pool in a creek near Aspendell.

Fall leaves swirl in a small pool in a creek near Aspendell.

Fall color in the Eastern Sierra at McGee Creek.

Fall color in the Eastern Sierra at McGee Creek.

Fall color in the Eastern Sierra near Aspendell.

Fall color in the Eastern Sierra near Aspendell.

A path in autumn woods.

A path in autumn woods.

A deer in the woods along a the walking path at Carindal Village Resort in Aspendell.

A deer in the woods along a the walking path at Carindal Village Resort in Aspendell.

Aspens in fall.

Aspens in fall. Eastern Sierras.

Aspens turn color along Bishop Creek.

Aspens turn color along Bishop Creek.

A yellow leaf stuck on a stick along some rapids in McGee Creek.

A yellow leaf stuck on a stick along some rapids in McGee Creek.

A small grove of just-past-peek aspens, all in orange, just outside of Aspendell.

A small grove of just-past-peek aspens, all in orange, just outside of Aspendell.


The one time each year that it’s nice to live near MCAS Miramar

All of the 19 years that I’ve lived in San Diego, I’ve lived within a couple mile radius and always relatively under the flight path for NAS Miramar… now MCAS Miramar. Sometimes a little further, sometimes a little closer. These days it’s a little closer and while that’s OK almost all the time, there are maybe ten days each year when the kids are hiding under the tables and one wonders how it is that the pilots apparently cannot tell when they’re violating the flight path when they’ve got about a bazillion dollars of navigational equipment onboard. The fun days, though, are when Air Force One is in town (and takes off so low and slow, banking majestically right over our neighborhood) and during the annual Air Show.

The Miramar Air Show is a big deal in our neighborhood. One neighbor throws and annual party that’s up to about 100 guests at this point, and everyone else can be found up on their roofs waiting for the Blue Angels to go screaming by, car alarms blaring after each pass. They appear to use our street as their line up for the westward leg of their routine, and it can be very exciting and very loud!

The following are my favorites of this year’s Air Show photos. For the closer shots, you lay on your back on the roof, put the camera on continuous focus and high-speed shot burst, and swing the camera overhead–tracking the plane(s)–as fast as you can, trying desperately to keep the shot framed correctly. You miss as many as you get. But if you did this standing up, swinging the camera from west to east, over your head, as fast as you can… you’d end up knocking yourself off the roof!

Most of these are uncropped. Only a couple are cropped, and that just because the framing was pretty strange from the wildly swinging camera.

Plane 6 of the US Navy Blue Angels does a close flyby at the 2016 Miramar Air Show

Plane 6 of the US Navy Blue Angels does a close flyby at the 2016 Miramar Air Show. (This photo is not cropped!)

The Blue Angels make smoke at the 2016 Miramar Air Show

The Blue Angels make smoke at the 2016 Miramar Air Show.

Plane 6 of the Blue Angels makes a low pass over the University City neighborhood of San Diego.  2016 Miramar Air Show.

Plane 6 of the Blue Angels makes a low pass over the University City neighborhood of San Diego.

Plane 6 of the US Navy Blue Angels does a close flyby at the 2016 Miramar Air Show

Plane 6 of the US Navy Blue Angels does a close flyby at the 2016 Miramar Air Show

Blue Angel climbing and laying smoke.  2016 Miramar Air Show.  San Diego, California, USA.

Blue Angel climbing and laying smoke.

An F-35 lit up by the sun.  2016 Miramar Air Show.  San Diego, California, USA.

An F-35 lit up by the sun.

F-35.  2016 Miramar Air Show.  San Diego, California, USA.

The new F-35.

Breitling #5 and #3 at the 2016 Miramar Air Show.  San Diego, California, USA.

Breitling #5 and #3 at the 2016 Miramar Air Show.

Blue Angel #5 crosses above the smoke trail just laid by Blue Angel #6. 2016 Miramar Air Show.  San Diego, California, USA.

Blue Angel #5 crosses above the smoke trail just laid by Blue Angel #6.

Four Blue Angels cross while laying smoke.  2016 Miramar Air Show.  San Diego, California, USA.

Four Blue Angels cross while laying smoke.

A Blue Angel crosses back behind its own smoke.  2016 Miramar Air Show.  San Diego, California, USA.

A Blue Angel crosses back behind its own smoke.


Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Garry McCarthy points out the Milky WayOne of the areas of photography that really draws me personally is night photography. Until three years ago, I had absolutely no idea what night photography was… or even what the Milky Way was. I’m not sure when I last had been someplace truly dark and had paid any attention to the sky at night. But then in spring of 2010, Garry McCarthy, Phil Colla, and I took a long weekend trip to Death Valley, and Garry was all excited to do some night photography. He wanted to shoot this Milky Way thing. Me, my biggest concern was “what was this Milky Way thing and how would we even know if we were pointing our cameras in the right direction??”

As you can see in this photo of Garry pointing the Milky Way out to me, when you get someplace truly dark and look up at night, it’s pretty obvious where the Milky Way is!! Well, it’s not this obvious to the human eye, but it IS obvious… and even more so with a long exposure such as this.

Since then, I’ve been hooked on night photography, especially photographs of the Milky Way above something interesting in the foreground. I’ve wanted for several years now to get up to Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon to photograph the Milky Way over that gorgeous, reflective lake… and a week ago I finally had that chance! I got to spend two days up there, with two gorgeous, clear skies, dark skies nights out shooting half the night each. I would shoot until 2-3 AM, grab a couple hours sleep on an inflatable bed in the back of my rental minivan, and then be up again by 5:15 or so when the sky was significantly lightening towards sunrise.

The first night the sky was especially beautiful, as we were blessed with “airglow” in addition to the stars and Milky Way. Airglow is some kind of chemical reaction high in the atmosphere that creates the green streaks that you see in the sky here below the Milky Way.

The Milky Way and Airglow above Crater Lake

The second sunrise was also especially beautiful, with a fabulous swoosh of clouds reflected in the lake and the sun peaking over the caldera rim opposite.

Crater Lake sunrise

I’ve only just begun to process photos from this trip, so… more to come!


Scripps Pier Sunset Alignment

I’ve been remiss about posting here (life has been very full!), but thought I’d get going again with an update on a post from last year. Last summer, I posted about an Epic Fail when I randomly ended up down at Scripps Pier in La Jolla to shoot sunset, saw a whole lot of photographers piled on top of each other under Scripps Pier, and stayed away from the crowd… only to realize later that it was That Night… the night when the sunset lined up with the pier. THAT’s what all those nut-cases had been doing under the pier!

The sunset alignment happens twice a year—although many of those opportunities never materialize because of the marine layer we so often get here. This time around, we’d been socked in here at the coast for over a week with marine layer, but the forecast was for coming offshore winds and clearing skies, so we were cautiously optimistic. The alignment happens over the course of several days and, unless you have very precise data from past observation (now we do!), it’s never entirely certain which day you want… so it’s best to show up a day or two before when you think the right day is and then just keep showing up every day until it’s all done. The sun will be a bit higher or lower each day in the “window” at the end of the pier when it centers.

Day 1

Scripps Pier Sunset AlignmentI showed up later than I’d wanted to, and two photographers were already there—waiting on the sunset. Dang, our dreams that others wouldn’t have figured out these dates were dashed! Worse, they weren’t the least bit considerate. They were there first and as far as they were concerned, it didn’t matter whether anyone else managed to get the shot or not—in the very limited space where one can set up for this shot. You meet a lot of great people out in the photographic community, but sometimes… not so much. I did the best that I could and set up for the shot… waiting, waiting, for the sun to come into view in the window. It did! And it moves so much more fast than you might think once that moment gets there! This night, though, the sun was only barely, barely visible above the horizon when it centered.

Day 2

Scripps Pier Sunset AlignmentAfter the fiasco of Day 1, I showed up very early on Day 2. First there. Not long thereafter, a very nice photographer from LA showed up, Tom Piekunka … he’d planned his work schedule to visit a customer down here in San Diego just so that he’d be in town for the sunset alignment. Had a nice time talking with him and we got our tripods set up to wait… before too long my photography buddies Phil Colla and Garry McCarthy arrived, and we all had a fine time hanging out under the pier, talking photography, and waiting on the critical 30 seconds once the sun came into view. Being first there, I was able to set a much more accommodating tone to the group that night, and quite a few photographers were able to set up under the pier for the shot.

The time came and the sun was perfectly positioned under the pier when it centered… and I nearly missed it! I made the mistake of trying to do too many things. I was trying to (a) shoot wider (mid-focal range) at a crisp f/11 on my tripod-mounted camera, (b) shoot stopped down to f/22 at that same camera (quickly changing settings!) in the hopes of a sunburst, and (c) shoot long on a second camera to attempt a hand-held tight shot of just the window at the end. When an event is measured in seconds, perhaps it’s best to not try to do three things at once!!!

But while I tried hard to miss the shot, I didn’t! And the sunset had this completely lovely orange glow to it. The sky had been very clear, which generally isn’t very good for sunsets, but there was some haze on the horizon, and, I suspect, some soot in the air from the large wildfire up in Ventura County. That may account for the spectacular orange color in the sky that night.

Day 3

The following day we were pretty non-committal about whether to head back down to the pier. In some ways, we felt like we’d gotten the shot the night before… and we figured that the sun would be too high in the window… and by late afternoon the sky was almost completely covered by clouds. So I forgot the cardinal rule of photography: you have to show up. If the sky clears and angels sing at the last minute, you can only get the shot if you’re actually there!

Cut to a couple hours later, around sunset… where I watched the most amazing sunset ever… from my house… kicking myself over and over for not being down at the coast. I hear that just a couple photographers showed up… and the sky was amazing. As it turned out, the sun was indeed too high in the window when centered, but that did allow for a bit more light and sunbursts. While it wasn’t the shot that I was looking for, I’m sure that it was a great shot.

So this year is both a great success… and an Epic Fail… at the same time. And the learning continues. YOU HAVE TO SHOW UP.

My favorite shot from the Scripps Pier Sunset Alignment, which prints absolutely gorgeously! Purchase a print

Scripps Pier Sunset Alignmnet


Quest for a Moon Shot

My quest this past full moon? To get a photo of the full moon setting behind La Jolla’s Mount Soledad Cross. After some research and driving around scoping out locations and taking test photos, I thought that I might be able to line things up right to put the moon huge behind the cross around sunrise. I would have two shots at it—the morning of the full moon and the morning just after the full moon.

The day before the full moon, however, the sky cover (cloud) forecast for the next two nights was 90% coverage—meaning it was highly unlikely that I’d even be able to see the moon. But as the day progressed, the forecast changed and I went to bed with a 49% sky cover forecast AND CLEAR SKIES.

Day One

I was up at 5 AM to see what was to be seen. Got to my dark neighborhood and set up. Couldn’t actually see the cross in the dark, but the test long exposure shots revealed a little lick of coastal marine layer… DIRECTLY BEHIND THE CROSS. The only clouds in the sky were directly behind my shot and would block the moon as it got closer to the cross!

But always you wait for that one moment, because you never know what will happen. So much of photography is figuring out exactly when some event you want to shoot is going to happen and then being there at the right moment and praying for decent conditions. Often the conditions look great an hour before and then go to crap… or vice versa. But you never know unless you’ve there at that one moment! And that one moment only happens once or twice per year for many sun and moon shots.

As the moon crept towards the horizon, the marine layer thinned out a bit and the moon was shining through where I needed it, though rather diffused.

While I had a pretty close idea of where I needed to be, it turned out that I was 1–2 houses off station… so I picked up my tripod and ran. But I ran the wrong way! Blame it on addled early morning brain. I couldn’t actually see the cross in the dark, so it took me one test shot to figure out that I’d gone the wrong way. Sprinted back the other way and got my tripod set up in the right place… maybe 30 seconds too late. The moon was getting a bit low for the shot.

Not to mention that a tree blocked perfect alignment of the moon behind the cross… I could only get the moon near the cross, not behind it.

The diffused moon through the marine layer required a much longer shutter speed than anticipated and it turns out that the moon is moving much faster than you think it is (I swear it speeds up as it approaches the horizon!!). When I looked at my photos back at home on the big monitor, the moon was quite visibly moving during the exposure—see the photo at the left here.

So one night down and I have a great photo of what could have been. As a photo, it sucks. But man it could have been good!

One more chance the next morning, then if that doesn’t work out, I’ll have to wait for next year.

Day Two

The moon was setting a bit later on the second day, so I got to sleep in … until 6 AM! Then off over to my neighborhood below the cross. On the second day, the lineups were about 3/4 of a block south of where I was the day before. The first day I could see over the line of houses between me and the cross. The second day—3/4 of a block south—I could not! Huge problem. But I found two openings to shoot through… one way up on some guy’s wet lawn right in front of his living room picture window and the other in front of his neighbor’s front door. Not good! And very little room to adjust left-right to get the line-up just right.

Then throw in that the morning marine layer was COMPLETELY covering Mount Soledad. Covering. What cross???

But you always wait… that’s a rule of photography.

…and the marine layer pulled back, revealing the cross and a gorgeous, gorgeous moon!

Meanwhile, the guy whose house I was shooting over spotted me. Out he comes, fairly suspicious. “Hey, what are you doing?!?” From his perspective, I’m sure it looked like some random person was across the street taking photos through his windows with a really long lens! So I quietly (so as to not wake the people whose house I was in front of!!) told him to come over and see. He was pretty jazzed once I showed him, and even offered to let me shoot from his back yard! Very nice.

I had to do a little scrambling at the end, but I got the shot!! If I could do it again I would tweak it just a little, but I’m completely jazzed to have gotten the shot!!!! Both days it looked as if it wouldn’t happen, but in the end it all came together.

A Final Note

The Mount Soledad Cross is white… why is it orange here? I’m not entirely sure! It’s “real” (that’s how it is in the unprocessed RAW versions of this shot). The shot was something like 20–30 minutes before sunrise, which is exactly the time that you get that beautiful orangish mountaintop “alpenglow” in photos. For a bit before sunrise, the tops of mountains have a classic, orangish glow that everyone loves in photos… then the color fades and the sun comes up. I was well below the cross, shooting up, and the time of day was right… so my guess is that this is a form of alpenglow.


More La Jolla Sunsets

Haven’t gotten out of town recently, but have been working on La Jolla sunsets for the past couple weeks. This started with a EPIC FAIL down at Scripps Pier on August 9th. I wasn’t really planning on going to the coast, but when the sky looked nice at the last minute, I grabbed my bags and ran. I was too late to make the rocky coast over in La Jolla proper, so turned right at the bottom of the hill and went for Scripps Pier instead. Parking was harder than it ought to be, and when I ran (literally!) onto the beach there, I was surprised to see a large group of people by the pier. As I got closer, it became apparent that they were all photographers and all set up under the pier!

I’m not a big fan of crowds when I’m shooting, so I set up 50 feet south of the pier and didn’t really give the crowd a second thought. It’s summer. People are strange. Whatever. I took an iPhone photo of the crowd, joking that the real shot was all the photographers jammed under the pier, and then went back to my spot by myself 50 feet away. It was a gorgeous sunset! At the very end of the sunset I wandered back over to the pier and only then saw that IT WAS THAT NIGHT. THAT NIGHT EVERYONE WAITS ALL YEAR FOR. OH CRAP!!

Twice each year the setting sun lines up exactly in line with Scripps Pier, so that it sets in the small “window” at the end of the pier. This happens once in May, when we usually are overcast at sunset and you can’t see the setting sun, and once in August—when there’s a greater chance of seeing the setting sun. Probably you get a decent sunset on the alignment date once every couple years. And here I was, 50 feet away, and didn’t even realize that it was THAT NIGHT. I got some nice sunset shots, but nothing at all like THAT SHOT. Perhaps it goes without saying, but I’ve put the dates for 2013 in my calendar already!

Meanwhile, and perhaps to make up for my EPIC FAIL on the 9th… and for having been sick all of July, I’ve been down to the coast a bunch of times recently looking for nice sunsets. Here’s some of what I’ve found:


The Perfect California Sunset Photo… That I Didn’t Get!

This is the sunset shot that I DIDN’T get two nights ago at the La Jolla coast. I was at home Friday evening, feeling absolutely sick as a dog, when our 12 year old, Hannah, called out to me that the light in the clouds to the west was just beautiful. You may think that this is a common occurrence in Southern California, but the truth is that our sunsets usually suck—more often than not we have either no clouds whatsoever or a heavy marine layer at the coast, both of which make for poor sunsets.

I dragged my carcass out to the back yard to look and the clouds were indeed beautiful! I hesitated for a moment, then grabbed my camera bags and headed out the door. On a normal day, I can make La Jolla Shores from my house in about 7 minutes. But this was 7:35 PM on a Friday and I was trying to go through downtown La Jolla, with about 20 minutes until sunset.

I didn’t make it! As I sat in traffic at the east end of Prospect Street, I was treated to a gigantic glowing ball of yellow fire sinking through a brilliant purple sky into the gray marine layer… framed by palm tree silhouettes on either side. Absolutely freakin’ PERFECT California photo. Once in a … maybe not lifetime, but no-so-freaking-common. And I was stuck in my car in traffic. And my camera was in the trunk. And I would have needed a longer lens than was on the camera.

I quite seriously thought about putting the car in park in the middle of the road, getting out, opening the truck, changing lenses, taking the shot in the middle of the road, then jumping back in and driving off. Maybe the people behind me would have understood??

Then the sun disappeared into the marine layer.

When I got home, I asked Hannah to find her pastel oil crayons so I could draw the shot that I didn’t get. The second one is my drawing (sorry, someone folded it, apparently). Then Hannah disappeared for a bit and came back with the first one. As you can see, she’s the better artist! The third image is a pathetic attempt at saying that I got something, anything from my drive down there… which I really didn’t. This was the best of lot. 🙂


How to Destroy Your Eye in 8.2 Nanoseconds

UPDATE: “Destroy” in the title is being dramatic; two weeks after the events described below, I had some pretty fancy testing of my left eye—where they inject a dye into your blood and watch the dye pass through the blood vessels at the back of your eye—and no damage was done to my eye. But it surely hurt instantly and was sore for several days. Read on…

Sunday evening, May 20th was a annular solar eclipse if you were along a line from southern Oregon to northern Texas. I had planned on heading to northern Arizona for the shot, but ended up needing to be in San Diego on Monday morning and driving all night and arriving at my meeting with no sleep didn’t seem like the right plan, so I stayed in San Diego and enjoyed a partial solar eclipse with my family instead. Here in San Diego, the eclipse was about 83% (diameter) / 75% (area) and the sun and moon were never concentric.

I had a Nikon 400/2.8 lens rented for the annular solar eclipse and decided to keep it and just play with it around San Diego for the weekend. Down the street from us is a red-tailed hawk nest with three no-longer-very-small babies, so I put the 400 on my old crop-sensor camera body, plus a 2x teleconverter, for an effective 1,200mm lens… which was still not long enough for the hawk nest shots!

A sixth grade boy down the street had been talking with me about cameras and photography, so on Saturday I took the 400/2.8 lens on my full-frame camera and my 70-200/2.8 on my crop-sensor body to his football game and tried to get some shots of him… then let him use the cameras for the next two games. Lugging around the beast 400mm lens at a middle school football game got him lots of attention! Here he is tackling an opponent (he’s the one in grey in the middle). Turns out that I’m not the best sports photographer in the world—at least not on my first attempt!

Then I got set for the partial solar eclipse. I had done a lot of reading about solar eclipses and safely viewing/photographing them and ended up driving to a photo and telescope store in Oceanside to talk with them and buy supplies. I bought a bunch of eclipse-viewing glasses for the family to use and a sheet of Baader Optical-5 Solar Filter, which I used to fashion my own filter for the rented 400mm lens. Duct tape and a Priority Mail cardboard box have so very many uses! A test shot with my new filter worked just fine and nicely showed a series of sun spots on the sun.

We ended up with a small block party out front of our house for the partial solar eclipse. Everyone shared the eclipse-viewing glasses around and took turns looking through the big lens. I got a bunch of long shots during the eclipse, then the marine layer moved in right after the peak of the eclipse and created some fabulous moody sky silhouette shots of the eclipse, such as the one shown here. As it turned out, either something was wrong with my settings for the long shots (even though I checked them multiple times during the shoot) or there was simply too much atmospheric distortion—with the sun low in the sky and probably a bit of haze prior to the marine layer. All the long shots seem a bit out of focus. But the wider shots after the marine layer rolled in were nice!

The day after the eclipse, I went to do another test shot of the sun to see if I could sort out what happened, but just as I was getting the sun lined up in the camera eyepiece, the wind blew my solar filter off! I pulled my face off the camera as close to instantly as one can respond, but I still had a short moment of the sun at 800mm optical magnification directed straight at my left eyeball. It took about 8.2 nanoseconds for the highly magnified sun to turn my left eyeball to bacon that had been left on the grill for an hour. My eye hurt a lot and my vision for the first couple minutes looked very similar to Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone. The vision cleared up after probably 3-5 minutes, but my eye felt tender—as if it had been hit several days prior— for a couple days. On Tuesday, I saw the ophthalmologist, who took a close look at my eyes and said that I probably dodged a bullet and that the left eye would probably just be sore for a couple days, but she scheduled a fancy inner eye test in a couple weeks just to make sure. As of this writing, my eye feels pretty normal.

The morals of the story here? Never, ever look at the sun through a camera and use about half a roll of duct tape to ensure that your solar filter is well affixed to your lens before pointing it at the sun!!


Yosemite Rainbows and Moonbows

Another last-minute run up to Yosemite National Park—and this time I brought two of the kids! We went up the first weekend in May for the full moon, to show them Yosemite, to see & photograph rainbows and moonbows, and to join in a Google+ Photowalk led by Jeffrey Sullivan and Lori Hibbett.

We got up there Friday afternoon and got what must have been the very last campsite / open bear bin in Camp 4, then joined an early dinner gathering of the Photowalk crew. From there, maybe 15-20 of us decided to hike up an old, old access road across from Bridalveil Falls to try to frame up the rising nearly-full moon behind the falls. It was a fairly easy hike up and a great view. Hannah and Ava made another little friend, daughter of one of the other photographers, and those girls scrambled around on rocks while the rest of us photographed a beautiful evening rainbow on Bridalveil. Later just my girls and I hiked up a bit further right around sunset and found a great patch of lupine to frame up in the photo, thus fulfilling Ava’s sage advice to “get something unique, Daddy, something not everyone else is getting!”

The girls were troopers for the weekend, going to Lower Yosemite Falls one night for a quick moonbow shot (the full moon creates a rainbow in the mist of the waterfall), hiking the Mist Trail the next, and allowing a quick shot of the moonbow on Upper Yosemite Falls the following night. Quick was the operative word… when you have kids with you, you can’t stand in one place for hours waiting for the shot!

Monday they opened Tioga Pass Road for the season, so we crossed over, had a nice picnic lunch at half-frozen Tenaya Lake, quickly explored Panum Crater and Mono Lake on the backside, and then headed home down the long 395 stretch.

It was a fun trip and the girls did a great job of putting up with three nights in a tent and a bunch of hiking!


Snow in Yosemite and California Poppies

After much grousing about missing the great Yosemite Valley snowstorm the weekend March 18 (“um, honey, I know it’s your birthday and all, but, you see, there’s this really great snowstorm coming, and, um….”), a friend contacted me April 12th to tell me that they’d updated the forecast for the Valley to include 8–12 inches of snow the next night. Following a bunch of rushed planning and many messages back and forth, I decided to go and would pick up one of the photographers I’d met out at the Anza-Borrego meetup in March, Tony Payne, in Los Angeles on the way.

Getting through Los Angeles from San Diego, headed north, on a weekday morning is NOT FUN, so I was up early and out… and making good time up I-5 through Los Angeles until… someone in the line of cars in front of me braked hard, the next person had to brake harder, and so on down the line until some chump stood no chance of being able to stop in time. I was that chump. My first accident in 30 years of driving. And what really annoys me is being told that I was at fault… that I should have been far enough behind the car in front to be able to stop. I’m sorry, have these insurance nitwits ever driven in heavy traffic in Los Angeles?? There is no way that you can be whatever distance your stand-on-your-brakes-as-hard-as-you-can-at-freeway-speeds stopping distance behind the car in front of you. If you’re that far back, another three cars will fill the empty space.

Many hours and a 4WD rental beast of a midnight black Tahoe later, I was again on my way north to get Tony. After we threw all his gear in the Tahoe and got back on the freeway, it started POURING rain so hard that the Grapevine was a river flowing down into the city… and trying to take us with it! With snow on the mountains at the top of the Grapevine, we may have been lucky to get through before they closed it. Up through the Central Valley and once off 99 at Merced onto 140, the skies were clearing with gorgeous big poofy clouds and late afternoon light. All down 140 and especially once driving along the Merced River, we kept passing absolutely gorgeous photo opportunities—rolling green hills, beautifully rounded trees on hilltops, wildflowers everywhere, then snow on the Merced with Yosemite’s granite peaks in the background once we got closer. We kept thinking hard about stopping to photograph, but were running late to make it to Tunnel View by sunset. We banked on Tunnel View, the clearing clouds, and snow… which is close to what we got! It’s a toss-up as to whether we should have stopped and missed sunset at Tunnel View. Maybe we should have. But Tunnel View was nice also.

Tony and I set up our tents in Camp 4 in the snow and dark, then were up early Saturday morning for a foggy sunrise. The fog cleared and we had a gorgeous morning photographing in the Valley, then headed down 140 into the Merced River Canyon, but the light was in the opposite direction that it’d been in when we were driving in the evening before, so everything was all wrong. Early afternoon found us back in the Valley and everything clouded in; we didn’t see the sun again until Sunday morning when we left Yosemite and headed west.

As much as I’m coming to love Yosemite, I think the best parts of this trip might have been outside of the park. Certainly Sunday was amazing! By accidental good fortune only, we met up with Dave and Char Hoffman at the trailhead for Hite Cove Trail not far outside the park. Neither Tony or I had been there, but we’d heard good things. And amazing it was! The trail runs midway up the side of a very steep river canyon, parts of which were absolutely covered in California Poppies! The sun came out, the poppies opened up, and there were even some big, poofy white clouds! My favorite photos from the weekend were from the drive out!

After an oh-too-short hike with Dave and Char, we headed to Mariposa for a fabulous lunch at the Sugar Pine Cafe, and then stopped every five minutes on the drive out—photographing the rolling green hills, horses, cows, barns, perfectly crowned trees… and an almond tree grove, where the trip was capped off by a very sarcastic farmer across the road yelling out at me, “Oh my god, take a picture!!” when I stopped to do just that. Apparently, I wasn’t the first person to have that idea!

And from there we got safely home, with no more cars being damaged in the making of this film these photos. Two weeks later and my car is still in Los Angeles, being fixed!


Snow at Mount Laguna!

Twice so far this winter we’d made it up to Mount Laguna, an hour east of our house in San Diego, for sledding with the girls when winter storms had temporarily brought snow… and on Monday of this week the forecast was for a strong winter storm bringing the snow level down to 2,500′ and 8–10 inches of snow up at Julian and Mount Laguna. It rained really hard at the coast Monday evening and even briefly hailed. So I got all my gear together Monday night and dragged myself out of bed 90 minutes before sunrise Tuesday in the hopes that the roads were passable up to Mount Laguna.

As the sky lightened and I passed Alpine, going up in elevation, even the freeway got a bit sketchy. Sudden changes in direction or acceleration might not have been a good idea! Off the freeway at Sunrise Highway, I put on my snow chains and headed up the side of the mountain. Roads had been plowed, but were still almost completely snow and ice covered. Driving was passable… except when I would see a shot and slam on my brakes… after which I would prove that anti-lock brakes with snow chains on makes for a really interesting skidding experience, even when you were only going 20–25 MPH! I made sure not to brake hard for any photos in curves or near drop-offs!

It continued to snow off-and-on through most of the morning, with low clouds enveloping the mountain. There wasn’t as much snow on the trees as one might have hoped because the winds had been gusting to 80 MPH overnight, but many had a light coat of something resembling ice—which would light up just beautifully when there was a break in the clouds and the sun hit the trees. I worked back and forth along the road before and after Mount Laguna, sometimes briefly parking on the road while jumping out to get a shot, other times managing to park my car mostly off the road while I tromped through snowy fields. Other than the Border Patrol and San Diego Sheriffs, I was the only one up there that early.

By mid-morning, the clouds east over the Anza-Borrego Desert had dissipated and the view from snowy mountain down into dry desert was spectacular!

Late morning the light had gone yucky and the clouds hadn’t broken up into anything pretty, so back down the mountain I went with frozen toes and snow chains rattling on the now mostly bare pavement.

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Yosemite: Winter Storm

I made two trips to Yosemite in January, the first for the full moon rising at sunset and the second to try to be in the valley during and just after a winter storm. The storm took its sweet time arriving on the second trip, so I ended up spending six days in Yosemite that trip… which was a whole lot of cold, cold nights in a tent in Camp 4! And a second storm followed the day after I left, so I really wish I could have stayed longer!

The storm hit with a vengeance on Friday. I spent the day Friday photographing low clouds shrouding the granite valley walls, during sporadic rains… and by evening it was POURING. I went to a Ranger presentation at Yosemite Lodge, then around 8 or 9 PM I headed back to Camp 4 for the night. That the path from the parking lot into the campground was more lake than path was a bad sign… and when I got to my campsite I found my tent in the middle of a river! In fact, most of Camp 4 was either river or lake, with only a few high spots. Fortunately, the river was only 3–4 inches deep, and the waterproofing on the bottom of my tent was 6–8 inches. The inside of the tent was dry! The only other guy camping in Camp 4 that night helped me pick my tent up and carry it to one of the few high spots, where I spent a nearly sleepless night listening to the monsoon that went on all night. Many inches of rain fell that night, and I have to admit to having had some concerns of dying in a flash flood overnight!

I dragged my sleepless self out of the tent an hour before sunrise the next morning and headed towards Tunnel View. After the turn at Bridalveil Falls, the rain turned to snow… coming down hard! The valley was almost completely obscured by clouds and falling snow, but a guy from San Francisco and I had fun taking photos of snow and waiting out the sunrise just in case.

As the day progressed, the storm began to break up and great photo opportunities were everywhere. The waterfalls, that had been barely perceptible trickles the day before, now gushed as if we were in the middle of the spring melt. I shot all day, then late afternoon took a break in the Yosemite Lodge to check out my photos… only to discover that somehow, at the very beginning of the day, I had gotten an entire constellation of either water droplets or snowflakes directly on my camera sensor. Every single photo was ruined. I was literally sick to my stomach.

I was so dejected that I nearly didn’t go try to shoot sunset. Reluctantly, I told myself that I was here to shoot, so get up and go shoot. Off I went again to Tunnel View, where there were surprisingly few photographers. Three of us waited it out in the cold, watching the completely clouded over/fogged in valley as the minutes ticked by past sunset. One tiny break in the sky was all we got. The other two packed up to go, but I figured I was there anyway, so I ought to wait it out until well past sunset—just in case. I saw the more experienced of the other two hesitate at his car, and then moments later the sky parted and we were treated to the most amazing view of Yosemite Valley! The other two jumped back out of their cars and set up as quickly as they could. For the next 20 minutes, as the sky darkened, the clouds moved back and forth and showed us varying parts of the valley—in about as perfect of a view as one could hope for.

I shot in ways that minimized the effects of the gigantic constellation of blobs on my sensor (placing them outside areas of greatest interest and not shooting with a small aperture) and was able to recover some of the sunset shots!

Click the first thumbnail to view slideshow