On our day trip to the mountains, we decided to visit and photograph a burn scar; a section of burned forest from a fire a few years ago. The burned trees were intriguing with their swirls of white wood and black charred wood. The grasses had repopulated the area and the Rabbit Brush was blooming. It was a fun time.
Please click on caption to see image at higher resolution.
Almost a year and half ago, my friend Richard Bieniek took a day trip to the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco. The Headlands are the area north and west of the Golden Gate Bridge that border on the ocean. It was a beautiful day. The sun was almost blindingly bright. The waves were tall and strong. As we walked down the steep that was path cut into the cliff side, you could hear the waves thunder before you could even see them. When we reached the small, sandy beach in the cove, the unfolding scene was remarkable. It was mid—afternoon. The sun was so bright it caused strong silvery reflections on the water. Those reflections contrasted with the deep shadows in the surrounding rock. As the waves approached, they gave the impression of a wall of water coming right at you. The scene was full of energy. Though difficult, I knew I had to share the story of what I saw.
I hope this image gives you that picture because it was wonderful to behold.
How Did I Process This Image
Those of us who shoot with a DSLR will recognize the difficulty in capturing this image. The dynamic range, the difference in exposure needed to display some detail in the shadows while not blowing away the highlights in this image is well outside the capabilities of most cameras. The obvious answer is HDR. However, that requires 3 identical images with exposures about 2 stops apart. The problem is that the ocean won’t stand still and pose long enough to make that happen. I might have chosen to blur the waves but that would have defeated one of my main objectives, to show the energy of the scene.
As you can see from the histogram in this this screenshot below, I exposed the image to minimize both the black and white clipping thus minimizing the loss of detail in both shadows and highlights. However, the digital negative is very dark. Despite many hours of trying, there was no way get a good image just manipulating the sliders and using other features of Lightroom. I had to rely on HDR. I made 3 virtual copies of the digital negative in Adobe Lightroom. I opened the exposure of 1 copy about as far as I dare; about ¾ of a stop. I made one of the others about 2 stops brighter and the other about 2 stops darker than the first. I opened the 3 copies in Photomatrix to merge them into a single HDR image. I chose the option that gave me the best, most realistic image I could find. I made a few minor tweaks and created the final HDR image. But even that created an image where the foam in the foreground churn was dark and dingy. I couldn’t open the exposure, the highlights or the whites. It would cause the ocean to blow out and lose the silvery reflection. So, I finished the image using Lightroom’s paintbrush to open the exposure on just that section of the image. I believe it worked.
My wife, brother, sister-in-law and I took a trip to the Eastern Sierra and the desert of the Great Basin. I remember a trip to Yosemite and down Rte. 395 seeing the snow capped Sierra for the first time. It was an incredible experience. In the intervening years we have experienced drought. The snow left the mountains early causing the rivers to slow early. The beauty is always there but, it’s not as spectacular as when we get lots of snow and rain. This year we got a respite from the drought so the drive down 395 regained much of its splendor. We were treated to scenes from romantic westerns; large mountain valleys, ringed with high snowcapped peaks, cattle grazing on lush green grass. I felt like I should be on a horse with Hoss and Little Joe. The rivers were running hard, churning white water that glistened in the sun. At Yosemite, the waterfalls thundered.
As we travel south on Rte. 395 we reach a point where the terrain transitions from mountain valleys to the valleys of the high desert. The grass goes away and is replaced by gnarled shrub. Even the vegetation along the rivers is stunted. With this year’s rain and snow, the area took on a different look. The wildflower blooms in Bodie were near their end but, stalks retained their spring green, creating a strong contrast against the brown buildings and deep blue sky.
Mono Lake had a hue of emerald green instead of aqua. The lake color, along with the spring greens of its vegetation gave the tufa a softer, cooler gray color and gave a green cast to the air. The winds were very strong that day. They created white caps along with waves that crashed against the tufa and broke along the shore.
The strong winds followed us to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest where we had planned an early morning hike along the Methuselah Trail. We had to cancel the hike because the wind chill was really bad. We hiked the shorter Discovery Trail instead. The trail was clear but snow patches dotted the adjacent hillsides. The sun peeked through openings in the overcast sky highlighting the sculptural bristlecones and the mountains in the distance.
From the bristlecones, we made our way to Death Valley. Spring was in the desert air also. Wildflowers of yellow and white were in bloom along the road. The Joshua Trees were budding but not quite ready to open. Even the cholla cactus was putting on its spring display.
My brother and sister-in-law were taken aback by Death Valley. Like me, they were raised in the eastern US. We saw deserts only in movies. They were areas where sand dunes stretched from horizon to horizon; a place where people rode camels and hung out at an oasis with palm trees. Instead, Death Valley is a typical valley in the basin and range ecosystem. It is long and narrow and ringed with high mountains. It’s hard, gray-brown soil is dotted with gnarled vegetation and rocks that washed down from the mountainsides during storms. But even it was showing signs of spring. Some of the normally dry playas contained water. Tiny wildflowers, mostly yellow, were in bloom. We hiked back Golden Canyon and we watched a sunrise at Zabriske Point. The strongly eroded mountainsides, painted by mineral deposits are always a treat to see especially under the golden sunlight of a sunrise from Zabriske.
We continued our journey to Lone Pine, CA. Along the way, we chuckled at 2 coyotes working the tourists at a pull-off in Panamint Valley – Will pose of food.
The Alabama Hills are located near Lone Pine. They are oddly eroded, twisted rocks, at the base of Mt Whitney. They were used as the set for many Hollywood productions of western and other adventure movies. Those of us who were fans of Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, Hopalong Cassidy and the other cowboy protagonists of our childhood would find those hills familiar. Lone Pine also houses the Lone Pine Film History Museum. It holds memorabilia from movies produced in that area. It was fun to see the fancy saddles and guns, stagecoaches and even some monsters and space aliens. It was fun to reminisce also.
The final part of this journey took us to Yosemite. Our plans were to go across Tioga Pass but a snowfall the night before closed it. We had to detour. The detour took us on Rte. 88 from Sorenson’s to Jackson; a stretch we’ve never driven. It was a beautiful drive over granite balds, along steep sided canyons and past mountain lakes. We found a new place to explore for photo opportunities.
Yosemite is at its most beautiful in the spring. Waterfalls thundered, the Merced River churned white water, ephemeral waterfalls were still flowing. We were only able to visit the valley. Even Glacier Point was closed due to “impending storm”. But wondering through the valley is a joy. The immense scale, with waterfalls crashing over sheer granite cliffs towering 3,000 feet and more above your head, drive home the power and awesomeness of nature’s forces and God’s creativity. I am always awe-struck by its beauty. It never gets tiring.
I hope my images and words give you a sense of spring in Northern California. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our adventure.
We are fortunate this year that El Niño gave us a respite from the drought; a good snow pack in the Sierra! I moved to northern California 4 ½ years ago. My wife told me many times that the ephemeral waterfalls, those that dry up and go away quickly, make Yosemite especially beautiful in early spring. But years of drought gave us little snow, leaving those falls dormant or very short lived. I never had a chance to experience them.
Last weekend, we took an overnight visit to Yosemite. My wife was right, everywhere I looked there was a waterfall that I had never seen before. Even Horsetail falls, the one that lights up like fire at sunset in February, was still running. The Merced River was running strongly. We hiked along the Merced River on the trail to the bridge at Vernal Falls.
At the juncture of Illouette Creek and the Merced River, the waters roiled over the cascades making whitewater that looked like a giant head of cauliflower and sounded like thunder. It was amazing.
Yet, as I traveled through Yosemite, another thought struck me. As humans, ephemeral describes things that come and go quickly; in the span of short periods within our lifetime. But, solid rock in places like Yosemite last for time frames impossible for humans to comprehend but do eventually wash away. To the earth is really ephemeral?
My wife, my mother and I decided to visit Daffodil Hill, a beautiful spring attraction in Amador County, CA. After the visit, we decided to wander some of the lesser traveled roads in rural El Dorado and Placer counties; an area where my wife spent a lot of time during her childhood. As we wandered, we crossed a small bridge spanning the North Fork of the Cosumnes River. The Cosumnes is a 52 mile long river starting as 3 forks in the Sierra Nevada, eventually merging with other rivers and flowing into the San Francisco Bay by way of the Sacramento/San Juaquin delta. We were somewhere along the North Fork near Somerset, CA. The recent rain and snow, brought on by the El Nino, has given us a brief respite from the years of drought. The river was flowing rapidly through this shallow gorge. The morning sun filtered through the forest, highlighting the bright spring green of life reawakening.
I hope you enjoy these 2 perspectives of this beautiful canyon.
This past weekend, a few of my friends and I did a wildlife shoot in Carson Valley, near Minden, NV. Our guide was John Humphrey, a local wildlife photographer (www.akawolf.com). He provided us with access to private lands that we would not have had access to ourselves. It was a beautiful morning and we got plenty of interesting opportunities to shoot. Hope you enjoy these images.
As photographers, we are admonished to wait for the perfect light or, as a studio photographer, to set up the perfect light. It’s good advice, but not always practical. Sometimes you find yourself at a location you’d like to shoot and walk away disappointed because there are interesting subjects but bad lighting. I have been working on turning that admonishment around and searching where the light leads me; finding subjects where the light presents them. Those opportunities even avail themselves in very diffuse light. We just have to open our mind to creativity when thinking about light.
Last weekend, I visited the California State Rail Museum. If you are a railroad buff, there are a lot of great things to see. While there, I set 2 objectives: learn to use my cell phone camera more effectively and to look for subjects made interesting by the museum lighting. I did OK with the first objective but didn’t advance my skill as much as I’d have liked. I did learn that I have a little control over depth of field though not a lot. I did find interesting subjects to shoot. The museum lighting was very good and the light painted details in interesting ways. I’ve included a few examples for you to enjoy.
We are very lucky to be near the delta that flows into San Francisco Bay because it attracts many beautiful migrating birds in the winter. One of the birds that makes California’s Pacific Flyway their home is the Pintail Duck. I shot this image of a beautiful pintail Sunday morning, DEC 27, 2015.
Death Valley is an amazing place. Especially for those of us who love the desert. In fact, the only thing missing is the sandworms. Donna and I visited Death Valley last week. We arrived the evening after a deluge – 0.5” of rain in a short period of time; slightly more than 20% of its annual rainfall. Water flowing from the box canyons washed debris over many of the roads closing most of the tourist spots.
Water was left standing in some of the playas, lake beds where water flows in but not out; an unusual site for most visits. Fortunately, 2 of our favorite spots, Zabriske Point and Mesquite Dunes were accessible.
Zabriske Point is the go to place for a sunrise. The sun rises behind you and over your shoulder, casting an alpenglow onto the mountains on the far side of the valley. If you are lucky, there will be a few clouds over the far mountains and you can watch the sky turn from orange and magenta to gold and then white. It was Donna’s birthday. God was smiling upon her that day. The thick cloud cover from the previous day’s storm was breaking up. We got the beautiful color we had hoped for. But, in addition, we got a marvelous rainbow. It was an unforgettable moment.
TV and movies give us a picture of the desert as hot, dry, sandy, flat; sometimes with sand dunes. But, much of the desert, in the Great Basin of the western US, is gravely, gray-brown, clay sediment deposited when run off from glaciers made the basins inland lakes and earlier when it was part of an inland sea. It was supplemented by run-off from the surrounding mountains. It is sparsely populated by vegetation, some fragrant and colorful. Zabriske Point is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago. The sediment is painted by minerals and is heavily eroded by water washing down from the Black Mountains over untold millennia. This activity left behind a sculptural landscape, badlands, of muted earth tones. On this morning, after the storm, there was water was standing in both the erosion channels and in the normally dry playas in the valley below.
I’ve photographed Mesquite Dunes at sunrise and sunset. Sunset seems to be the better time; especially later in the sunset when the wind carved dunes cast shadows that are deep and long. To me, the shapes created by the light and dark areas provide a texture reminiscent of a cubist painting by Picasso. It’s fun to watch the light play on the dunes as the sun sets. Shapes and textures change; color changes; all in ways that stimulate the imagination.
I hope you enjoy these images from our day in Death Valley. Please share them with your friends.
These and other images are available for sale by contacting me at email@example.com or on my web site: www.earthwatcher.us.
Sometimes the light presents itself in such a way that it transforms a mundane setting into one that is stunning. That is what happened this evening. The setting sun cast a narrow beam of light that caught the fireplace in our family room, highlighting St. Francis looking upon the freesias. As I walked into the family room, I was stopped in my tracks by the beauty of the scene. I knew at once that I needed to capture and share it. I wish you could have been there with me to share the moment.