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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