With Monday being a holiday, I took advantage of it to do an extended day trip, spending a chunk of it out in Panoche Valley and ended out at Merced Wildlife Refuge in search of a pretty sunset. The day started about 6:30AM, ended about 7:30PM, and covered about 320 miles.
The primary goal of the trip: get out, get alone, do some thinking, make some decisions. Oh, and Panoche Valley is a very interesting birding area in the winter, and full of interesting geological details and other things of interest worthy of pointing a camera at. The morning started out cool and damp — raining, actually — but the weather prognosis was clearing, so I decided not to go back to bed (tempting, though). I got on site about 8:30 at Paicines Reservoir, which was surprisingly quiet, other the the adult bald eagle (always a kick) sitting in a tree watching the area.
A big part of the trip was to give the new lenses a series workout and start understanding how best to use them, and to integrate the T3i into the mix and get a good feel for the picture quality and what it can do (and, compared to the 7d, what it can’t). I love being back in a two body photo gear configuration; for a trip like this, I put the 300+1.4x on the 7d, and the 24-105 on the T3i, and swapped in the 70-200 as appropriate. That seemed to work quite well through the day.
Every time I bird Panoche, I come back thinking I should spend time exploring it as a photo location. This time, I did, and I really came away wishing I’d done so before. the landscape is — the best description I can think of is “starkly beautiful”, ranging from wide open ranch lands to lots of convoluted hillsides to areas that look straight out of a desert. There’s a lot of oak, and that’s a tree I find fascinating and I’ve started exploring how to show that beauty.
It wasn’t a great day for photography; it started out early very damp and grey with weak light. I hoped it’d clear to partial cloudy, but by mid-day, it was in some areas fully cleared, leaving me with glary light and bad shadows, and the birding dried up as well (not complaining; while working on the shot below, I was serenaded at length by a singing california thrasher, and visited by a greater roadrunner. Both nice additions to this year’s list). That made some of the day more of a scouting trip, but I still found places where I could get some nice shots.
I ended up driving fairly far up New Idria, mostly to see what was there, and then backtracking and going out through Little Panoche. Once I popped out the other side, it was off to Santa Nella for a late lunch (the in-n-out is open!). And once I was there, I convinced myself to head off to Merced to look around and try for a nice sunset. Merced was really quiet, though, the Geese had headed to an evening roost nearby but off the refuge, and the Cranes were in small numbers and not particularly close to the tour route. The sunset I’d had hopes for turned into more or less a dud, enough so that I cleared out early.
Still, though, a nice and productive trip, although this is likely my last visit to Merced until fall. Some decent birding, some nice intense work with the cameras, and a nice day out where even the cell phone can’t interrupt. I’m just starting to work through the images, but some of them seem pretty nice. I’m really liking these new lenses and the quality of the images they generate, and the T3i is living up to my expectations and beyond as a second body. It looks to be a nice combo with the 24-105 for general shooting. More on that when I have a chance to do some more experimentation…
This shot is of a barn on a ranch on the early part the drive through Panoche. I loved its look, and how it was well-lit while framed in shadows. I ended up deciding to use two different shots of it, and then realized it would make a nice black and white as well, so I went and did conversions. I like all of these (but I think the first image in monochrome is my favorite). What’s your thought?
In the first, the sky was a bit too blown out, so I ended up cropping it out, but I like how I ended up with that composition. These are all processed with dFine and Viveza 2, and the monochromes through silver efex pro (which reminds me, I’ve been meaning to upgrade…). That’s a much more complex workflow than “just” Lightroom, and that’s part of the set of decisions I’ve been chewing on the last few weeks (or longer) as well. More on that in a future blog post…
There’s a lot of interesting subject matter in Panoche Valley, and I’m just scratching the surface, but now that I’ve taken some extended time there with an eye to the environment and not just the birds, I’m starting to see places to shoot and seeing the times and weather where it can make them sing. It’s an area that’s going to be a long term project, though, that’s for sure…
Not that I’m complaining..