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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Category Archives: Photography – Landscapes
A friend of mine asked me if I could help out teaching a class on beginning bird photography and introduction to Adobe Lightroom. That was an opportunity I was hoping to try for a while, so I jumped on it. Even better, it was being taught through Yosemite Audubon and that meant I could schedule a trip to the park. Work schedules being what they are, I couldn’t take much time off, but I made it a long weekend and headed out of the bay area on a friday afternoon.
Much as I like staying in Mariposa, I decided to stay in Oakhurst, which is outside of the park’s south entrance. I picked the Yosemite Southgate motel, which is fairly new and had competitive rates. I loved the place — the rooms are big, the facility is pretty quiet, it had a decent refrigerator in it (one that would freeze blue ice for the cooler and keep things cold), and the staff was both friendly and efficient. Definitely recommended.
Saturday’s class started very early at a private residence near Mariposa, on about 25 acres with a pond. Also on the property was an ancient valley oak — estimated 350 years or so — that was truly stunning to see. Nearby was some granite embedded in the ground with a number of grinding holes where the locals would have ground the acorns of that tree to flour. I, intelligent person that I am, was only carrying my bird lens.
The primary instructor had spent an evening earlier in the week going over basic photography concepts and techniques. Saturday morning had them wandering the property trying to take properly exposed images of things, from trees against the sky to cars to whatever, and then looking for whatever they found interesting and taking images. Everyone was supposed to be in manual mode for this.
About 2/3 of the class were using point and shoots, so this was very much an enthusiastic beginner class. I spent the morning helping them figure out how to set their camera (stay tuned for a rant on just how badly point and shoot cameras suck), and to give them advice on exposure and reading their histograms, composition ideas, and just generally answering whatever questions they had.
Our leader, Ashok Khosla, did a lecture on basic Lightroom concepts, and then all of the students sat down, imported their images, and started whacking away. Ashok and I wandered about offering advice and showing them ways to process their images.
I did a couple of short talks on some of my standard processing tactics and some very basic ideas on how color and light attract the eye and how to use that to shape the image — the idea was to give them some things to think about but things that wouldn’t overwhelm them as they were trying to figure out all the knobs and levers of Lightroom.
At the end of the afternoon, each student chose three images and showed them to everyone for discussion and critique. Ashok and I (and the rest of the class) commented on them and made suggestions on how they might be improved.
if was the first time I had a chance to work with Ashok and watch how he worked. He’s an immensely talented photographer who’s been a huge help in my development, so it was nice to pay a little bit forward with him.
I was impressed with the quality of the images that were produced, as well as the variety. Given we were ostensibly in a bird photography class, the variety of images taken was fascinating. Everyone focused in on things they found interesting, and it went all over the map. Some of them showed a very intuitive eye with a lot of potential, too.
The class seemed well received. Ashok and I have already talked about doing it again next year with Yosemite Audubon. A number of the class asked me if I’d workshop with them in Yosemite itself. I declined, because to do a workshop well requires time I simply don’t have (and permits, and all sorts of details).
All in all the day was amazing. I had a ball, and I was exhausted and fried at the end. I’ve already heard from a couple of students following up from the class, and it helped my finalize some ideas that had been floating in my head for the blog and my site.
My photography that day was quite limited; I spent the time helping out the students instead of trying to shoot myself. Still, I did end up with a couple of shots I liked:
Afterward, I went back to the room in Oakhurst and crashed early. I was beat, and I had a long day planned, starting early….
Is there anyone who does not do some variation of this shot when visiting the gorge? This was taken during a november trip and I feel nicely reflects the cool and damp of that time of year — and it’s still an interesting place to visit, as long as you don’t melt in a bit of rain.
Here’s a great example of how post processing won’t save a flawed image. I really like the image, but in working on it — I have to admit it’s broken. It looks okay online, but as soon as it hits paper, the flaws pop out. It’s not sharp, and that’s a killer.
So there are a couple of things to take away from an image like this:
First, just looking at it online, or on a monitor, will hide some kinds of major flaws in an image. This image looks okay online. But even at 8×10, it falls apart.
Second, if you take the attitude that you can fix it in photoshop, you will fail. If it’s not there, photoshop can’t find it to fix.
That said, I still like this image. Or at least, I like what this image ought to be. But it’s not something I’m ever going to use for more than an online slideshow — of course, that’s another useful lesson. Understand what an image is useful for, and use it for that. Don’t just throw it away because it’s not perfect…
On my trip over the weekend, I spent Sunday exploring Carrizo Plains National Monument. I’d visited it once before, poking at the edges, and on a trip a couple of years ago spent an afternoon exploring an area known as Bitterwater north of the monument proper, but this was my first run through the entire area.
This area is bounded on the north by state highway 58 and on the south by highway 166. there’s about 50 miles between the two and about 2/3 of that road is unpaved. The monument is — rustic — and much of it is impassible in wet weather. Even though I ran through in good weather after a stretch of no rain, there were still a few places on the road where it was wet and slippery enough for traction to get iffy, and my beast has 4WD.
It’s a fascinating area. The geology is created because this is the San Andreas Fault, where the two plates grind up next to each other. As they move slowly past each other, the soil above is shifted and mounted, leading to the hills being heavily folded and mounded. The area’s foliage shows it to be an area of little moisture, but not quite to desert.
The valley itself is very wide and flat, with hills on both sides. On Sunday, there were clouds hugging the hills and creating lots of shadows (but not necessarily good ones for photography), but most of the valley itself was sunny.
This was for me more of a scouting trip to try to get a feel for the area and start thinking about how I wanted to show it in my images. It’s the kind of area that to me, is hard to show because it hides its scale well. You have to be there to really experience it, but I want to find a way to show that in the photos — and to me, that means panoramas to bring the scale of it into view.
This is the first one I’ve processed from my shooting, and I like it. This is a small version, I still need to upload the entire beast — it’s 140 megs of TIFF and it’s about 15,000 x 3000. Click through the image above to get to larger versions of it on Flickr.
It’s the SMALL Pano of the set I shot. I’ll be at this a while…
More as I get more of the photography of the area online…
After spending a few days in Southern California for christmas with the family, Laurie and I snuck away for a few days in Morro Bay before heading back to the Bay area. One thing I always try to do when I visit that area is go down to Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, a little area on the edge of the bay in Los Osos that is a great little walking/birding area — and one thing I like to do from there when the weather permits are panoramas of the rock. Here’s my latest.
If you click through you can get to the full-sized image, which is about 18,000 by 4,000 and about 8 megabytes of jpeg. This one was handheld, taken vertically, consists of (mumble… I forget) slices and the slices cleaned up in Lightroom a bit and then stitched in Photoshop Elements. It’s not a killer panorama, but I think it turned out nicely…
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..
One of the realities of nature photography is that you can only control nature so much — all the planning in the universe won’t prevent some challenges, like a change in the weather. Sometimes you go and epic pictures fall in your lap. Sometimes you go and conditions are such that you just grind it out and hope some of the images are good. And sometimes you sit in the hotel room listening to the rain and wish you’d cancelled….
This week was my spring trip to Yosemite. It’s been a truly weird year weather-wise, in case you haven’t noticed. Spring is late, cold and wet. The wildflower season has been at best, late and erratic. Bird migrations are off as well. All in all, it’s been tough planning around “spring”. But finally, word came out the dogwood was starting to bloom, and I really, really didn’t want to schedule time in Yosemite after Memorial day — as it was, it was clear the park was getting busier and the hotels around it closer to capacity. I finally decided I needed to go, or decide to wait for some other time. So I set everything up for a few nights in the park.
Of course, then I watched the weather, as a late, wet, cold, spring storm decided to hit Northern California and the Sierra. The couple of days prior to my going, yosemite was seeing highs near 70 and plenty of sun. the day before I was due to arrive, the storm moved in and the temps plunged donw into the 40s, and more storms were moving in as the week progressed. There is, unfortunately, a fine line between hitting the edge of a storm and the unbelievable skies that can create for your landscapes and having the clouds move in and close everything down in a sodden grey mass; and many times, you won’t know which you have until you get there and have to haul out the umbrella.
To be honest, I seriously considered canceling. I thought the weather was going to be iffy, but I felt it was worth a shot. So I went, making a later start on Sunday in hopes of trailing the storm and hitting the motel, then driving into the park to scout and see if there was anything interesting to photograph in the late afternoon. I ended up arriving on the Valley floor about 5PM. The temp was in the high 30′s, and the clouds were pretty heavy., but there were a few opportunities at shots.
I stuck around for a couple of hours, and then it started sleeting. That was enough for me for the night, and I headed out to grab a few last supplies and hit the room for the evening. I chose not to do dawn patrol because of the temps and worry there might be ice or chain issues on the roads, but I got up early and was in the park around 8AM, to bright skies and a rather pleasant set of views.
This was the day I knew I’d have dry weather. What I didn’t plan for was for the clouds to build back in as early as they did. By noon, we were back to mostly drab grey, although it did warm up, that afternoon it may have even hit 50. Welcome to “spring”.
My original plan was to travel out towards Hetch Hetchy for birds and critters. The road out was on chain requirements just after Foresta, and Foresta itself was under a few inches of snow. I scouted out there a bit, didn’t go into the chain areas, and finally headed back to the valley. I decided to head out to Wawona (to scout, and for gas) and it was fascinating to see how much snow had been dropped — 6-8 inches and the drive through that area looked like a winter trip. Other than road construction, nothing really caught my eye, so I decided to focus on the valley floor and headed back.
While I was doing that, the clouds were moving in. And so were the crowds. The park was busy, making parking a challenge in places, and to top it off, I was starting to feel like crap, with a headache building and generally feeling like a bug was coming on. On the other hand, the water flow in the Merced was amazing, and the waterfalls were even more amazing. I mentally shifted away from photographing birds and critters and instead decided to focus on the falls.
There are many falls in Yosemite that are only active during spring melt, and which dry up again after a few weeks, so unless you come during this period, you’ll never know they’re there. Some of them are stunning to watch.
Some of the more familiar falls were kicking, too. Bridalveil was as full and active as I’ve ever seen it.
And it wasn’t until I took these shots that I realized I’d never photographed Horsetail Falls at all.
Unfortunately, I kept feeling worse; by 3PM, I was exhausted. Almost fell asleep twice parked and watching the falls to judge how to image them. Ultimately, I decided I wasn’t doing myself any good and pulled the plug. On the way out, however, I saw the clot of people that signposts “critter!”, and in the middle was the ranger, which usually means the critter is a bear. So I found a place to park, grabbed the binocs and camera, and headed back to where everyone was clustered.
Meet “White 1″, a 28 month old cinnamon black bear — not all black bears are black, but this color is fairly rare in Yosemite. He was busily foraging for grubs in the fallen tree. Ryan the ranger was thrilled — as he said “I have a wild bear doing wild bear things, and everyone is behaving so I don’t have to yell at anyone”. And then he pointed to one person who was busily running through the meadow “well, except him, but he’s a pro”.
That was @yosemitesteve, who films for the park and does the awesome Nature Notes series available on Youtube. If you haven’t discovered them yet, do so — check out his one on Frazil Ice. And kids, don’t try that on your own… I ended up with the “wrong” lens on the camera, the Tamron 28-300, which is unfortunately really soft at 300MM, as you can see from that image. If I’d been thinking more carefully, I should have swapped to my critter lens, but didn’t. And when I went back to get it, of course, the bear ran off just as I attached the big lens to the camera body — of course. So all I have are some rather soft pictures as a great practical example of why I try NOT to use that lens beyond about 150mm except in an emergency (and this came up over on the Stack Exchange photo site, and I ended up chiming in on it).
Photographing a bear qualifies as an emergency. As bears go, it’s a rather small animal, being quite young. But still — I wish I’d grabbed the other lens. But still — being able to just watch an animal like that for a while totally made the trip for me.
After the bear skedaddled, I got back in the car and headed back to Mariposa for the night (Having your hotel room an hour away creates tradeoffs, which I talked about on my Wednesdays in Review). It was at dinner that I suddenly realized I was exceptionally thirsty.
So a nice meatball sub and a liter and a half of water later, I headed back to my room, already feeling better.
Dehydrated. Which explained why I felt like crap. And honestly, I know better, I really do. I’ve known since high school that I dehydrate early and often, and when I’m travelling, have to be careful — the air in most hotel rooms is fairly low humidity, and I tend to lose a lot of water in my breathing. And even though I thought I was taking in enough water, I evidently started the trip a bit dehydrated, and it spiraled. So sometimes, even if you think you have details covered, they get away from you (another truism about only being able to plan so many details; the one you miss messes with you). I actually have a protocol for staying hydrated on the road; for various reasons, I didn’t follow it properly, and it caught me. (yes, my life is an endless mental checklist of things I’ve learned not to forget over the years — and which I sometimes forget anyway). That’s a lesson learned — again.
I was asleep before 9PM, and slept 11 hours. And woke up thirsty. And woke up to rain. Which I expected. The new storm moved in overnight, and things looked ugly. I still felt somewhat ugly, and I’d decided the night before that if the weather was bad as expected, I’d cut the trip short and head home, because there was a 2nd, bigger storm chasing that morning storm into the area. The chances I’d had much good photography in those conditions was minimal, IMHO, so I decided to cut and run.
I drank another two liters of water on the drive home; it wasn’t until I was within 10 miles of home that my body started telling me my hydration levels were fine again (do I really need to explain how you can tell? No, I didn’t think so).
So some thoughts on the trip. Instead of the planned 2 full days and two partial days, I got one full day and a few hours the afternoon before. Instead of spring weather, I got late winter blustery and dull grey skies (and sleet). I took a total of 350 images, a percentage of that was pieces for HDR generation. My ding rate was about 10%. I ended up putting about 50 images into my primary library including HDR material, with a total of 27 “keeper” images. the rest went into my retired library (technically good, but overlapping the keepers and not as interesting, but there if I want a different take of need them in some way). I drove 620miles, and I spent about $500 on the trip.
Was it what I planned? Not remotely. Did I come back with some good images? Yes. Was it worth it? Just to stand and watch the bear for a while, absolutely freaking totally yes. Despite being disappointed at having the wrong lens handy for the pictures, I don’t care. Much.
Would I do it again? Yes, but without the dehydration; that impacted the day a lot more than I realized until later (I don’t know about you, but when I get dehydrated, I get slow and tired, low energy, a headache, grumpy and a bad attitude; so I didn’t push myself into doing as much as I would have if I felt better. oh well). Part of that is practical; I wasn’t going to reschedule my time off at work again. I wasn’t going to push my Yosemite trip out past Memorial day. Staying home instead was an option, but hell, a chance to go to Yosemite?
But I do wish I’d hit more spring than late winter. And it’s a bit annoying that a couple of days after I pulled out, the rain is gone and the weather is heading back into the 60′s. This storm was perfectly timed to annoy me.
Still, when you’re doing nature photography, it’s important to remember nature doesn’t always cooperate. And just roll with it. (and drink plenty of fluids).
And I ended up with zero shots of dogwood blossoms, after all of that. Because they were gonig to be a big part of the 2nd day of photography. oops. well, next year.
And that may be the important lesson of a trip like this (other than “drink that bottle of water NOW, and open another”) — a place like Yosemite, you don’t visit once and have a finished portfolio. Too much to cover, too many different things, too many different looks — adding images every trip is how you do this, over time and with some patience. And in the final judgement, the images I added weren’t the ones I’d planned (except the chapel image, which I’ll write about tomorrow), but they were the ones that deserved to be added based on what was going on when I got there. And with that, I won’t complain about a little sleet and a headache. After all — Yosemite? Or going to work.