Lori Carey Photography

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Full Moon

Last night's December full moon is known as the Full Cold Moon or the Full Moon in Cancer. The moon had a halo when it first rose, and as an added bonus, Mars was near opposition and so was just to the lower right of the moon.

Although I am by no means an expert, or even very good, at astrophotography, I have photographed the moon enough times to realize that the vast dark night sky tricks the camera meter into wanting to overexpose the moon, and so I bracket different exposures that my camera protests will yield a vastly underexposed image. I usually use f/8 or f/11, and I have the most success with

a shutter speed of 1/50.

The problem I had last night is that properly exposing for the moon wouldn't capture the halo, and capturing the halo meant overexposing the moon. With several bracketed shots I had hoped to be able to combine two exposures, but for some reason last night I just couldn't combine two in a way that looked natural for me. So the image you see here is a result of using layer masking on an image that was exposed for the halo at f/8 and 1/50. This image retained sufficient data in most of the overexposed portions of the moon (that's one of the benefits of shooting RAW), and I was able to bring it back with a levels and a curve adjustment to just the moon. It's far from being perfect, and I'm still not happy with the way the halo looks, but every good image of a moon halo that I've found so far on the astronomy sites show the moon itself completely blown out. I'll have to play around with exposures a bit more the next time I see a moon with a halo.

Here is another image with the aperature stopped down to f/11 and the shutter at 1/50 so you can see the difference that just one stop makes in the final image.

I like this exposure of the moon much better, but absolutely no light from the halo was captured.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One of things I've been trying to do lately is carry my camera with me more often. I had been in the habit of only taking the camera when I was "going out to shoot," and there are so many photos I've missed over the years. I always see some of the best things when I'm out with my friend a.k.a. Diana; she has the spirit of a true adventurer. I love her even more for putting up with me and my camera when we're out. Even when we keep things more mellow, there's always something that catches my eye.

I'm in a bit of rush because I was experiencing some technical difficulties and my schedule is crazy busy right now, so this is a bit short. But more to come!

Upcoming photo adventures in December:

- this weekend we're going to do a run on Otay Mountain Road to explore the old WWII bunkers and seek out some Mexican border monuments.

- On the 15th and 16th we're going to explore the western side of the Mojave National Preserve. Our Old Mojave Road trip has been reschedule twice already; once due to the fires and the second time because the friends who were going to join us on the trip had that three-week flu that was going around. Now we're trying for a shorter two-day trip. Tentatively planned are the lava tubes off Aiken Mine Road and most definitely the singing sand dunes for sunset/sunrise!

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Infatuation

As I was processing and uploading photos last night I realized that the most populated gallery on my website is now "Offroad Adventures." I've been shooting faster than I can process lately, let alone catch up on the older stuff, but I've been having a lot of fun with my jeep!

We had to skip the Project-JK run to the Panamint Mountains last weekend because Bill had to work Friday. Fortunately ctimrun was also in town for the weekend. We had a lift party to put a 4.5" Currie lift on his jeep the prior weekend and he was itching to try it out. But he was missing his front drive shaft while he waiting for the upgrade to come in. It was a perfect opportunity to head up to Main Divide to play around on the side trails and since I let Bill wheel, it gave me the opportunity to play around with the camera.

Cleveland National Forest was closed after the wildfires last month, but portions in the unburned areas reopened on November 10. Main Divide was open from the trailhead off of Ortega Highway up to where it meets Indian Truck Trail just short of Modjeska Peak. We took Indian out to the 15. Saturday's weather was perfect - bright and sunny with temperatures in the high 60's at an elevation of 4200 feet. The Santa Ana winds only provided a gentle breeze, but they had cleared the air down below and the views were spectacular.

The guys had so much fun playing on the side trails, climbing the hills and showing off their flex that what was planned as a half day run turned into a whole day and gave me plenty of photos ops. Every time they found a hill that they wanted to climb I would run to the top so I could photograph them on their way up, then run/slide down to the bottom to photograph them coming down.

Most of the time when we're out on a trail I'm too busy concentrating on my driving to give enough attention to my camera. I take some quick grab shots and don't have time to worry about if the lighting is right. I can deal with it somewhat in post, but nothing comes close to a photo taken with the proper exposure and lighting at the time of capture! This time I had willing participants that would move and pose the jeeps at my request, so it was a great opportunity to experiment and learn what works and what doesn't. The biggest disappointment was that most of the obstacles required an angle that had me shooting directly into the sun, and there wasn't much that could be done about that. I did use fillflash successfully when photographing the undercarriage of ctimrun's jeep, but I didn't think my 580EX alone would be powerful enough on its own to overpower the sunlight when shooting directly into it at a distance from the jeeps. I will try have to play around with it some more though, since setting up light stands on the trail is not practical (and noisy considering I'd need a generator!)

Since ctimrun's jeep is dark and mine is light, I did learn a lot about what light is more flattering for which color. Frequently, light that was perfect for my silver jeep was too dark for his redrock, and light that was perfect for his jeep was just too bright for mine. Trying to photograph the two of them side by side is akin to photographing a bride in a white dress next to a groom in a black tux, except the wedding photographer gets to use lights and I had to work with only the sun.

All in all, a great learning experience and really fun day. ctimrun is a great guy with a good looking jeep!

You can view the rest of the photos in the gallery here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Every day is a day of thanksgiving

Nietzsche wrote; "The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude."

I love sunflowers; they have a subtle quietness about them but at the same time have an in-your-face-look-at-me attitude; they are a little showy but not at all fussy; and they have a happy upbeat demeanor with a laid-back casual wildness about them. And when you look deeper you find a more serious side; they have stories to share about the golden mean and the mystical fibonacci sequence, clockwise and counterclockwise spirals and why pi spirals are not as efficient as golden ratio spirals in the world of phyllotaxis.

Most artists are familiar with the Rule of Thirds, but not all realize that the Rule of Thirds is merely an oversimplification of the Golden Ratio, the Divine Proportion, Leonardo's sectia aurea, "Phi", and it's fascinating relationship to the Fibonacci numbers.

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving? Everything.

My husband and I both try to live everyday in thanksgiving. Today I am thankful for, among many other things, sunflowers - the beauty they bring to my life, the mysteries they have shared with me and the wonder they inspire in me to learn about such things as Fibonacci numbers, Phi versus phi, magical spirals and the importance of math in both nature and art.

For me, Thanksgiving the national holiday is a day to celebrate the harvest not list the things for which I am thankful, and I feel pity for people who only remember once a year take time to reflect on the things and people they are grateful for. I have so much in my life to be thankful for that it could never all fit in one day! I think my husband said it best when he looked at me one morning and said "Every morning I wake up and I have to pinch myself." I hope we never lose that feeling.

But to my dear friends who may read this, yes, more than anything we are most thankful for the wonderful people we've met in our lives, especially those who have become our cherished friends.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Death Valley Trail Report

Yep, still making promises I can't keep!

We spent November 10th and 11th on a fun-filled weekend with the local contingent of Project-JK jeep folks for some mild offroading and wild sightseeing through Death Valley. We started out on Cerro Gordo (a.k.a. Yellow Grade) Road in the town of Keeler, California and made our first stop in the ghost town of the old Cerro Gordo Mine.

From there we took Saline Valley Road to Lippincott Mine Road. We camped near the Racetrack so we could grab sunset and sunrise photos, then took Racetrack Road to Teakettle Junction. At the Junction we turned onto Hidden Valley/Hunter Mountain Road. After airing up on 190, we swung by the Trona Pinnacles on the way home for another fantastic photo op. With a storm on the horizon, the lighting couldn't have been better.

I'm not going to post a full trip report here because I wrote one up for the Project-JK site (which is only part of the reason why I'm late posting here), so please visit www.project-jk.com and you can see my full trail report under Project-JK Death Valley Racetrack Run 2007.

I focused on processing and uploading photos for the trail report, and I still have many more photos from the Racetrack and the Trona Pinnacles to process for myself (in addition to some great shots I got last weekend) which will be posted in separate galleries. For now, you can view the gallery of trip photos here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

There are some people who should not have a blog, and I am probably one of them. I have just been too busy living to actually take the time to write about it. I guess that's a good thing for me because I have a full and happy life and I'm enjoying every minute of it.

So with my sincerest apologies for neglecting my posts for several weeks, I present you with another installment of my LOL Photographer while I play a little catch up and promise to post something real tomorrow. This is an appropriate one because I just returned from a weekend in Death Valley with the Project-JK folks, but the photo is from 2005.

The face is about as bad as it gets.

Friday, October 26, 2007


It's been a long, busy two weeks. The Coyote Canyon run was a fantastic trip, and I had just finished processing most of the photos from that and getting ready to blog about it when a friend I hadn't seen a few months had some time to get out and really wanted to go play in my jeep. I can't resist going out for an adventure with Marie because we always have so much fun together, so off we went.

The short version of the story is that while I was out photographing abandoned, fire-ravaged homes, we saw one of the San Diego county wildfires break out. The adventurous trip to get back home then began, and some extremely stressful days have since followed. Talk about irony.

I couldn't face processing the photos I had taken until today. It was just too heartbreaking and too much of a reminder of the fires that continue to burn out of control today.

So I've processed my first photo from the batch; it is one of my favorites and I think it shows what draws me to photograph these homes in ruins. I can only wonder about the despair homeowners must feel to walk away from some of these locations rather than rebuild.

So, I'll write about the rest of the day when I have the heart to finish processing the photos. And I'll get the trip report from our Coyote Canyon run posted over the weekend.

That's all for right now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep

October is officially the start of desert season, and to kick it off this year we're heading to Coyote Canyon in the north end of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with a bunch of friends. Sharing the adventure with friends will be a first for us since I usually prefer to travel solo so I can set my own schedule and agenda, but although this may limit my photography a bit we're really looking forward to exploring a new area of the park and having a great time.

Coyote Canyon is closed every year from May until the end of September because it is a breeding ground for the Peninsular Desert Bighorn sheep (ovis candensis).

The peninsular (desert) bighorn sheep has been listed under the California State Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1971 and the Federal Endangered Species Act since 1998, but their numbers continue to decline rapidly due to urban expansion and mountain lion predation. Current estimates are that less than 600 remain in the US, with some estimates as low as 335.

Approximately 200 of the remaining sheep are located in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. On December 30, 2005 I was extremely fortunate to happen upon a herd of 20 sheep, complete with a button buck and a little suckling calf who made his (her?) very first public appearance that day while we were hiking the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail near the visitor center.

Since that day the sheep have remained elusive, so I am very excited about the possibility of seeing them in Coyote Canyon this weekend. Although I'll be spending most of the day putting my four wheel drive skills to the test, I'm also looking forward to playing around with some star trail photography (Anza-Borrego is a certified Dark Sky Site), light painting and night photography.

So with all of this action starting up, I realized I really needed to work on processing my older ABDSP photos before taking more (my work flow needs major improvement), so my Desert Bighorn Sheep gallery is now update and can be viewed here.

By the end of the week I hope to have all of my images from Font's Point and some other locations in ABDSP processed and uploaded to the galleries.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Some people have this remarkable ability to point a camera at a mirror and take a great self portrait. I haven't figured out how to do that yet.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Rescue on Santiago Peak and a redemption of sorts

Bill and I decided to take a ride up to Santiago Peak in Cleveland National Forest last Saturday to enjoy the unseasonably cooler weather and explore a new trail. This time we entered from Silverado Canyon and took Silverado Road (5S06) to Maple Springs Road, where we jumped onto the Main Divide (3S04). Main Divide took us up and over Santiago Peak, and on the way down we turned on to the Indian Truck Trail (5S01).

At 5,687 feet, Santiago Peak is the highest and most prominent peak in Orange County and in the Santa Ana Mountains, and together with Modjeska Peak is known locally as "SaddleBack".

The Silverado Canyon side of the trail is drastically different from the opposite side of the peak; whereas the latter is more rocky, sandy high desert terrain, the Silverado Canyon side was heavily wooded, the hills were green and the live oaks were plentiful. It was a gorgeous early Autumn day with temperatures in mid-70's, and we took our time exploring, photographing and enjoying the views.

A lot of people had the same idea we did, and the trail traffic was much heavier than we had seen in other parts of CNF. There really isn't enough room for two vehicles to pass side-by-side on most of trail which necessitates some maneuvering at times, but everyone was courteous and although we'd much prefer to have the trails to ourselves, the moderately heavy traffic wasn't overly bothersome.

We stopped to enjoy lunch at the top of Santiago Peak, we shared our water with two hikers who hadn't counted on running out of theirs, and we started back down the other side of the mountain. As we came around a switchback we saw a helicopter on the edge of the switchback below us.

The last time I saw a helicopter near the trail I found myself smack in the middle of a marijuana field bust complete with a SWAT team, so I stopped on the trail for a minute to see if we could determine what was going on. When we hadn't seen any other activity after a few minutes, I drove down closer to the helicopter, parked the jeep and spoke to the helicopter pilot to see if we needed to turn around (although the trail was too narrow to be able to do so - I figured I'd have to drive in reverse up the mountain and around the switchbacks until I found someplace wide enough!). The pilot informed us that a motorbike rider had gone off the cliff, and if we didn't mind waiting until they brought him up, they could use my help with the trail traffic coming down off the peak. He told us that they had an extremely difficult time trying to find a place to set down (the rotors were still going because they were precariously balanced on the edge of the cliff), and the injured person was being brought up by car from further down the trail. Bill went down below to see if he could assist while I stayed on top to keep an eye on the trail traffic, and with their permission I photographed the part of the rescue I could see from my vantage point.

I can only guess at some of what happened, but the injured man was brought to the helicopter in the back of someone's SUV, perhaps the person who saw him go over the side and called for medical assistance because there didn't appear to be any friends or family with the man, and the SUV was obviously private.

I know it's standard procedure to use a backboard, but I can't tell you how happy I was to see that the man was moving his feet. You can see the terrain and how steep the cliffs are on this part of the trail in the photo of the helicopter; a fall off the sides is serious business and can easily be paralyzing. The rescue workers transferred him to a stretcher and rushed him onto the helicopter.

I had stopped two cars coming down the trail and everyone was gathered at a vantage point to watch the action; the helicopter was directly in front of us, the SUV with the injured biker was directly below us. After the biker was loaded onto the helicopter the pilot signaled us to move back, and he wasn't joking; the helicopter kicked up a huge debris cloud when it took off.

When the dust cloud settled all of the trail traffic that had been backed up had to find a way to get past each other at the switchback. Apparently the traffic coming up the mountain drove right up to the rescue SUV after the injured man was removed, so we now had vehicles going in each direction on a very narrow trail. We found a place to pull over and let everyone who was in a rush get out of the way, and after the dust settled we started back down the mountain. About half a mile or so, right near the Holy Jim trail, we noticed a motorbike on the side of the road and realized that it must belong to the injured man.

It didn't appear to have suffered any damage, and I thought for sure that it would get stolen if left on the trail. I told Bill that I didn't know what to do; if it were mine I would hope that someone would take care of it for me. But we didn't know who the man was, or even how we could find out who he was, and the bike wouldn't fit in the jeep anyway. It was hard to turn away from that bike and continue down the trail.

Our prayers go out to the injured man. We hope that he wasn't seriously hurt, that he has recovered his bike, and that he is out and riding again.

And our thanks and tremendous appreciation go out to the rescue team. Since we spend a lot of time in remote areas and difficult terrain, how to handle emergency situations is something that is always in the forefront of our minds. Seeing these guys in action was very reassuring, although I hope I never need them.

Friday, October 5, 2007


Bill has a habit of snapping photos of me in awkward positions and making the most horrendous faces while I'm out shooting. I know he does it on purpose and I think he finds real humor in it.

I came across quite a few of them as I was reviewing the massive quantity of images on my hard drive to select a few for display in a local business (more on that soon!), and being in a silly mood I decided to play around with them. I suppose it was actually procrastination on my part because I was getting a bit frustrated about selecting the proper images for my upcoming display, but it put me in a much better mood.

I posted a while ago about the internet meme "LOL cats" and how funny I found it,so I now present to you the first installment of my latest project, "The LOLPhotographer":

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Coyote Mountains and LAB

Hmmm...still slacking off, aren't I? Too many other things going on.

I really like the techniques I've been learning from Dan Margulis' book Photoshop LAB Color - The Canyon Conundrum and I'm sorry that I came to this party so late. I've struggled for a while to process desert and canyon photos to get realistic color that represents how I saw the scene. There is a wealth of color in those rocks, but it's subtle and hard to capture. I usually had to rely on multiple layer masks and combinations of Nik filters to try to get close, but I was never 100% happy with the results and sometimes spent days playing around with just one image. That's probably one of the biggest reasons that I haven't been processing all of my photos from my treks - there's just not enough time.

Well let me tell you, just the tricks learned in the first chapter of this book were eye opening and amazing. I'm about halfway through the book now, and I can't wait to finish. It has changed my whole thought process as to how I want to process my desert and canyon images. I went back and reprocessed some images from a hike Bill and I made in the Coyote Mountains Wilderness area to see the six million year old wind caves last March, and I did a side-by-side comparision with the images I had processed in RGB. I had left the images I did in LAB color a bit more subtle than I had the ones in RGB, but they look much more realistic and there is a tremendous difference in the amount of subtle detail retained, especially when viewed at full size.

Coyote Mountains Wilderness Windcaves

I was so happy with the results that I processed all of the photos from the trip and uploaded them with a trail report to my web page. You can view the trail report here. I'd eventually like to have an entire section of my website dedicated to trail reports, both hiking and 4WD.

BTW, we continue to have earthquakes in that same area, several over 3.0. There was one last week, then we had a 3.9 Tuesday afternoon that gave a really good jolt, followed by a few just under 2.0 later that evening which were probably aftershocks. Wonder if it's just a coincidence that September is National Preparedness Month?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Still shaking...and a black oystercatcher

Another two shakes yesterday from that same spur on the Elsinore fault line - a 3.2 and a 3.7. More shaking is expected. Geophysicists are keeping a close eye on it and there is concern that it could jump on to the main fault line and cause a major event. The fault line is about 110 miles long and runs from Chino Hills down to El Centro. The Elsinore fault line is capable of producing a quake of a magnitude up to 7.5, which could cause tremendous damage.

It's scary stuff that really forces one to review the emergency plan. We have a pretty complete bugout kit since it is really the same gear and food we use for hiking/camping/offroading with a few additions such as the Eton FR-300 radio and extra flashlights with batteries. I have three different stoves using three different types of fuel (coleman fuel, sterno and alcohol) so we should be able to eat hot meals no matter what. I just bought some new Wedco gas and water cans for the jeep, and they need to be filled.

But the one thing that I've never been good with despite repeated attempts is a comprehensive household inventory. I have been trying to get everything entered into Quicken's Household Inventory program, but it's so tedious to track down the details and enter it into the program that I've just never caught up. And to be quite honest, I supposed it would be fair to say that we've done more than our share of acquiring "stuff" the past few years, between purchases for yet another new house, my constant desire for more photography gear, assorted electronics, outdoor gear, you name it. I've been telling myself that I need to photograph everything and make it a part of the records, but it just hasn't happened yet...no excuses. At least I did finally get our important papers put in an ammo can; water- and fire-proof, and unlike a safe, it's portable. (That was Bill's idea.)

While I was photographing the sunset at Dana Point last weekend I to add another bird to my life list - a Black Oystercatcher (haematopus bachmani). Although not endangered, they are listed as a "Species of High Concern" on the US Shorebird Conservation Plan and they are on the Audubon Society Watchlist.
Sightings in this part of California are not very common since this is not their breeding range, but it's not out of the ordinary.

This is an eye-catching bird:

I do believe it only had one leg.

I really have been slacking off lately because I've been so focused on the jeep! I want everything on Phase I completed in time to hit the desert in October. I have my heart set on doing Mojave Road in October. Last week my Shrockworks Stubby front bumper came in, so we picked up the Warn winch and Bill installed all of that for me. It looks so good and I started getting compliments on it immediately. Saturday we went to a big Meet-and-Greet with 40+ other jeep JK owners at OffRoad Evolution in Fullerton. We had a lot of fun checking out the mods on all of the other rigs, although most were still in various stages of their build. We talked to the owner, Mel, and put the plan together for the lift; we're going to do a 3" Full Traction Ultimate and we're also going to regear. Not sure yet if we're going to do 4.88 or 5.13; I'll let Mel tell me which will be better.

I also finally decided on tires and wheels, so they are on order and can go on as soon as the lift is done. And then Phase I will be complete. There is no real Phase II, just a long list of things that it would be cool to add or modify some time in the future.

I will get out with the camera this weekend! I have a great idea for last Friday's dgrin assignment that I'm really excited about, I just need the weekend time for execution.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Number 3

Okay, third earthquake in 5 days in the same location...not that I'm getting nervous or anything, hehehe. At least they are decreasing in intensity.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Another earthquake and B.B. King photos

Well the good news is that the heatwave finally broke and it is a very comfortable 79 degrees here today with a good breeze. The scary news is that we had another earthquake in essentially the same location on the Elsinore fault as Sunday's quake. It was only a 3.4, and the ScienceDude says it was an aftershock from Sunday's quake. There is speculation that it's the beginning of an emerging "swarm", but they say that it is impossible to predict if it is a precursor to a large shaker. The Elsinore fault is capable of generating a 7.5 quake, which would cause considerable damage here in the O.C. There was a line in a novel I read one time - I forget the name of the novel but this line stuck with me - that between the earthquakes, landslides and wildfires, living in L.A. is like riding shotgun with the devil on the way to the apocalypse. Certainly seems fitting at times.

I finally finished processing all of my photos from the Doheny Blues Festival from May 2006. Doheny Blues is a two-day outdoor concert featuring top national and local blues and soul artists. There are several stages throughout the venue so there is always something going on. It is held on the weekend that corresponds with Bill's birthday in May every year, so we do it right; Gold Level tickets that get us front row seats, backstage access, a substantial meal and drink tickets to last through the day and night. Oh yeah, the most important part - private clean restrooms in trailers instead of the portajohns they have in general admission. It's worth the price just for the bathrooms!!! B.B. King was the headliner in 2006, celebrating his 80th birthday and capping off a fine day of fantastic blues, jazz and soul artists. I guess I got lucky that they allowed me to bring my camera inside in 2005 and 2006 - this year they took one look at the shiny bright white Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS USM in my backpack and said that no pros were allowed to photograph the concert. When I tried to explain that I wasn't a pro, they said no professional lenses were allowed inside. Kinda makes me mad that everyone had cameras except me - white lens discrimination, I say!

Anyway, B.B. King was so much fun to photograph because his face is so animated! He scowls, he leers, he laughs, he winks, he doesn't stop all night.

I also took photos of Blue Mama, James Hunter and the big local favorite Tower of Power. I don't remember why I didn't take photos of any of the other bands that played that day, guess they didn't excite me.

You can see the rest of this gallery here.

Now if I could just find the time to finish processing the photos from 2005 - The Neville Brothers and The Blind Boys of Alabama...

Monday, September 3, 2007

Earthquakes and Heatwaves

We had a little earthquake yesterday morning, only 4.7, but the epicenter was only about 20 miles away so it was a good little jolt. There were 13 aftershocks following, but we didn't feel any of them. I was sitting here at my computer in my home office when it hit and could see things moving, like the plant in a plant stand in my foyer. I supposed I've been here long enough now to be used to them, but still every time at that first jolt I always freeze for a minute and wonder if it's going to be a big one. I just sit there and wait to see what's going to happen. There is a fault line in the Santa Ana mountains that they say has been relatively quiet, and some people wonder if it's building up to a big one...

We're in Day 6 of a heatwave with most of the county reaching 100+ degrees. I'm glad I live on the coast and enjoy temperatures that are 15-20 degrees cooler than the rest of the county, but that still has us in the 90's. We've been spending the long holiday weekend in the pool, and went down to Dana Point to photograph the tidepools in the sunset last night. Beautiful light, low tide and a cool ocean breeze; what more could I ask for? I haven't processed the photos yet...maybe tomorrow. I'm having a lazy day.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A better eclipse photo

Fellow photographer Bendr posted a great tutorial on Dgrin that showed how he used the Screen blend mode to create multiple exposure images in Photoshop. I never realized how easy it could be!

Thanks to Bendr's fine tutorial, I created this fantastic 8 x 20 composite of August 28th's lunar eclipse.

I wish this blog format would allow me to post a larger version.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

O hai. I <3 teh kittehs!!1!

You know all of those really cute or weird pet photos that cause all serious photographers such angst when they get posted to photography forums? (I'm not one to talk; although I do appreciate a good image no matter what the subject, I did stop participating in one forum because it had become nothing but blurry pet photos. I'm sure it was just going through a stage with a rash of nOObs joining in, but it just wasn't fun anymore.) Bet you thought they were only good for the family photo album, didn't you? Huh?

Okay, if you haven't seen them already you really need to check out lolcats (see icanhascheezburger for the definitive site, although a google search yields over 3.8 million results). It's creative genius. I couldn't stop laughing, maybe because there's an undercurrent of truthfulness in there! It can't be described, you just have to see it for yourself.

There are huge marketing implications here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

If I seem a little foggy today it's because I stayed up all night to photograph the lunar eclipse. This was my first try at it, and I don't really have a long enough lens, but I gave it a valiant effort with my Canon 70-200mm IS USM and 1.4x TC. In hindsight, I think my crops would've been sharper if I left the TC off, but that's something to remember for the next eclipse in March 2008.

Eoren1 posted this great exposure guide on dgrin that I spent some time studying:

I found this Danjon Scale of Brightness at Sky and Telescope Magazine's website:

Danjon Scale of Brightness
L Value Description
0 Very dark eclipse, Moon almost invisible,
especially at midtotality.
1 Dark eclipse, gray or brownish coloration;
details distinguishable only with difficulty.
2 Deep red or rust-colored eclipse, with a
very dark central part in the umbra and
the outer rim of the umbra relatively bright.
3 Brick-red eclipse, usually with a bright
or yellow rim to the umbra.
4 Very bright copper-red or orange eclipse,
with a bluish, very bright umbral rim.

After doing some research on the required shutter speed to minimize (hopefully eliminate) movement of the moon, I decided to use ISO 400 and f/5.6. In my amateur's judgement the "L" didn't quite make it to 2 last night from my viewing location, although it did vary somewhat in brightness throughout the display. I wasn't about to go somewhere remote by myself at 2:00am, so I started in the front of my house and finished in the back, which meant I had light pollution from the neighbor's homes, a streetlight, and the usual SoCal light pollution.

It was really strange when the eclipse entered totality; all of sudden one realized that the moon was a huge round rock in the sky. I mean, my brain always knew that, but without the reflection of the sun the moon took on a new dimensionality that looked surreal. Despite the fact that my brain comprehends the realities of the laws of gravity, it was just strange to see this huge round rock impossibly hanging in the sky.

All in all I was pretty happy with the results considering my equipment and the circumstances. Here is one of my totality shots:

You can view the rest of my eclipse gallery here.

Friday, August 17, 2007

My latest piece of "equipment"

I've dreamed about owning one for years. I've imagined the wonderful images I could capture if only I had this one piece of equipment that was missing from my bag. I've tried to make do with poor substitutes many times in the past, only to be met with disappointment and frustration. As I stretched and tried to take my photography to another level, I knew I could reach the levels I wanted to reach if only I had this one thing. Yes, I am talking about...a Jeep.

Hehe, I am being quite sincere. I have always been an outdoors person and an explorer at heart, but since moving to California four years ago it's become a passion. The American southwest is so utterly gorgeous and steeped in history. I am constantly researching and have developed an incredibly long list of places to go and things to do, and we fit them in as our busy lives allow. But as my explorations were taking me to more remote places and harsher environments, the personal safety factor began to come into play. I've driven 4WD vehicles since I was 21 because they fit my lifestyle, but always long-wheel-base (Cherokee, Grand Cherokee) and always stock. It has just become increasingly apparent that stock just isn't going to cut it anymore.

I think the first warning sign was in Death Valley. I was trying to get out to the Racetrack Playa to photograph the famous moving rocks. The 27 mile dirt road from Ubehebe Crater out to the playa is normally just a bumpy dirt road that can even be negotiated by passenger cars, but the harsh environment, flash floods and erosion are constantly playing havoc. My attempt was during "The Year of the Rain" - 2005, and the road was developing a well deserved reputation for eating tires and shocks and stranding unprepared people, leaving them with $2000+ tow bills. I was driving a 4WD vehicle (not a Jeep, but I won't name the brand). Two miles into the trip I knew we should've turned around, but I really had my heart set on making it out to the playa so we pushed on. I'm not really sure what we were thinking - 27 miles at two miles an hour?? At mile four we smelled something hot and burning. The temperature gauge was fine so we took a peek under the vehicle and saw that I had blown a shock. OK, time to turn around. A check under the vehicle halfway back showed that another shock had blown, and by the time we made it back out I had blown all four. It was a Sunday and a holiday weekend, and I had no choice but to make the seven hour drive home in a vehicle without shocks. Every time we went over a bump it was like a bucking bronco - picture first the front end smacking the ground, then the back end, then the front end...It could've been worse; we could've been stuck in the middle of nowhere in the desert (Death Valley, of all places!), and the thought of that was eye-opening.

Next we started using Bill's truck for our treks, a huge quad-cab diesel beast of a truck. But I hated it. I hated the ride, it was just a brute. And I couldn't just take it whenever I wanted to; after all, it was his truck. And it was his daily driver, so he babied it (rightly so). It got us to the trail heads, but it just wasn't ideal and it still wasn't the most capable offroad vehicle. So we finally agreed get a Jeep Wrangler and modify it for tougher offroad treks in the desert.

It took us months to decide between a 4DR (yes, Jeep now makes a 4DR wrangler) and 2DR. Although I initially wanted the extra cargo room of the 4DR, Bill thought it was too big and wanted to stick with the traditional (real) Jeep. Since we don't have children and rarely have passengers, we went with the 2DR, knowing that the first thing we would do is pull out the back seat.

Woohoo! I love my new jeep. Here she is strictly stock on the first day she got dirty out on some easy dirt roads:

I've put together my "build plan" and Bill has been working on the modifications. So far we've installed an LOD rear bumper with a swingaway tire carrier, jerry can holders (for gas and water) and expedition rack, and the sidesteps have been replaced with Shrockworks rockrails. We've done some other minor stuff, too, such as grab handles (they have been put to good use already) and seat covers (the trails out here are really dusty). I'm waiting for my Shrockworks stubby front bumper to come in, and we'll install that with a Warn Winch (self-recovery is key if you're going to play the odds and venture out on your own). We still need to do the lift and tires; I lost over an inch of clearance just with the rear bumper. We need to do the CB install. Actually, I have a list a mile long of things I WANT to do to it. Once you get started it becomes addicting.

The one thing I haven't decided on yet is storage for my gear. Several companies make storage trunks for jeeps, but they all seem either too small or too large. I need to be able to at least lock up my backpack with my photography gear and my recovery gear, so the smaller trunk units that are designed to be used with the rear seat in the jeep are too small. The versatile Bestop FlexATrunk, which seemed ideal, won't work with the softtop boot in place, and I want to keep the softtop on the jeep even when I'm not using it because you never know when it might rain and sometimes we put it up without windows just to keep the sun off of us when it's 110 degrees. - Wow, that was a run-on sentence! That leaves the large Tuffy box, but I'm afraid it will take up too much room and limit my ability to just throw stuff in the back (like groceries, or even my backpack). Even though it is considered removable, it's bolted to the bed. Maybe the only option is to get the Tuffy box and just put it in the jeep when we're trekking, and leave it out the rest of the time. Tough decision, and I just haven't found a solution that is 100% perfect yet.

One more shot of a happy camper with her jeep on the trail to Santiago Peak:

Friday, August 10, 2007

July Road Trip VIII - The wrapup

We set out for San Francisco early on the morning of the 5th. Bill had his heart set on it although he didn't know exactly what in S.F. he wanted to see. So we just drove west until we hit the 101, then started south. As we rounded the bend on the approach to the Golden Gate bridge, all of sudden we spotted the very top of the bridge peeking out of the heavy marine layer and catching beautiful sunlight. Just then we saw the exit for the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so up we went.

We stopped at the first overlook, and I could not believe how cold and windy it was. We grabbed fleece pullovers from our backpacks, and since it was a short hike to reach what I hoped would be a good spot for photos, Bill decided to stay with the jeep to keep an eye on our possessions. I prowled around for half an hour but the fog never lifted, so I started back to the jeep. There are some very cool abandoned military structures out there; I'm guessing they were from Fort Cronkhite. Would have made for some great photos if I had time to explore, but I didn't want to leave Bill on his own any longer and it didn't seem like the best place for a woman to explore on her own.

Back in the jeep we headed for even higher ground and I was finally rewarded with the top of the Bridge making an appearance through the fog again, although it wasn't catching the sun the way it had earlier. It was just incredible to watch the fog come rolling over the top of the hills like a freight train.

We decided to head toward the Golden Gate Bridge Visitor Center and take a closer look, but when we got there the crowds were horrendous. We circled and circled looking for a place to park, then Bill announced that he didn't really need to see San Francisco anyway and he wanted to move on. We drove through the Presidio and stopped for a few minutes so Bill could set eyes on "The Rock." We initially had wanted to tour Alcatraz, but it was obvious that everyone decided to take the second half of the week off rather than the first half, and neither of us felt like dealing with the crowds.

We continued heading south on PCH (CA1), and the fog got thicker and thicker. Although I had photographed Monterrey and Big Sur in fog conditions before, I was concerned that the marine layer was too heavy this time. I was really looking forward to this return visit and a second opportunity to photograph one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the world, but it just didn't look like it was going to work. Over lunch at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company Bill suggested that maybe it didn't make sense to drive in the fog any longer since it limited the photographic possibilities and that we should head inland and jump on the 101 - the historic El Camino Real and try to make it home that night. It was breaking my heart to skip Big Sur, but he was getting road weary and so was I, so after a wonderful lobster and crab salad sandwich I hunted down a latte for the road and we detoured to the 101.

The historic El Camino Real is the 600 mile stretch of the California Mission Trail, which connects California's 21 missions. The missions are approximately 30 miles apart, making them one day's journey by horseback. From Los Angeles to San Pedro it follows along US 101, it's route marked by bells hanging from tall shepherd's crooks. Most of the original bells have been stolen or vandalized, and in the 1990's efforts began to replace the missing and damaged bells. As of June 2006, 555 bells have installed.

This stretch of highway really highlights California's agricultural nature; it is miles and miles and miles of farmland, with an occasional small town. Some absolutely gorgeous scenery, and I was disappointed that the harsh light of mid-day limited my photo opportunities.

We hit Santa Barbara county by late afternoon. This is one of my favorite areas to photograph. The hills and vineyards present a wealth of opportunities. I was able to spend a few hours here two years ago after working Camp Jeep, and have been wanting to return ever since, but life keeps getting in the way. We were keeping an eye out for someplace to get off the highway in Los Olivos when we noticed smoke in the hills and realized that a wildfire had broken out. There was no place to legally stop for several miles until we hit the shortcut at 154 - San Marcos Pass. We stopped at the intersection with Zaca Road and took a few photos of the vineyard with the smoke from the wildfire in the background.

Anyone who lives in wildfire country knows the feeling of dread one experiences at this sight, especially given the drought conditions this year. I honestly cannot remember the last time we had rain in Orange County; we've had less than three inches in over a year, and I believe that last rain was in April.

We watched for a while as helicopters dropped water and the smoke climbed higher and higher. It was obviously that this was a fairly new and growing fire, and we later learned that it was the Zaca wildfire in Los Padres National Forest. More than a month later and this fire is still raging; it has consumed over 80,000 acres (125 square miles) and is still only 68% contained. Full containment is not expected to be achieved until September 9, another full month from now. There are over 2,500 fireman battling the blaze, and the costs have already exceeded $59 million.

As the sun began sinking we knew we would have to make good time if we wanted to be home before midnight. We made one more stop for this sunset shot, the beauty of the sky enhanced by the tragedy of the wildfire smoke:

Thursday, August 9, 2007

July Road Trip VII - Napa

I guess I really need to wrap this trip up so I can move on to more current things! To be honest, the rest of the trip was disappointing photographically, and I think that's why I've been avoiding it. But, it was fantastic as far as vacation-worthy.

From Bodie we began our trek toward Napa; 395N to the very cool Monitor Pass (CA89). I imagine that in a wet year this road is absolutely gorgeous in the spring with plenty of wide open fields for wildflowers. In the middle of a dry-year summer, we had to be content with breathtaking mountains vistas and the clear blue lake. Monitor Pass is a designated National Scenic Drive, and it reaches an elevation of 8314 feet. There is a very neat stone marker at the high point and aspen trees that I would love to see in their golden glory in the fall. At the bottom we do a quick drive-by through the Lake Tahoe area, then it's on to the scorching inferno of the Sacramento Valley. This is the one spot that really made me regret that we were driving in an open-air jeep. We had the top up to protect us from the sun, but all of the windows were out and left at home. We figured we didn't want to risk someone deciding to slash the windows if they were going to steal our gear; better to just make it easy for them. The a/c was blasting, but it wasn't much relief when the thermometer hit 109.

Bill and I are really into our wine, and we had been talking about getting up to Napa for quite some time, although this really wasn't how I had planned to do it. I thought when we went it would be for a week, staying in a quaint B&B, with appointments for all the right wineries and reservations at French Laundry. Oh well, next time I supposed. We did make a smart decision to spend two nights so we could enjoy some tastings. We did pack SOME respectable clothes in our backpacks, so we found a chain hotel in downtown Napa and had dinner at a local Italian restaurant where we could sit at an outside table and watch the world pass by. After several days on the road it felt so good to have a real meal in comfortable surroundings. After dinner we took a drive through the vineyards territory looking for something to catch my eye for sunset, but I didn't find anything inspiring. We made it an early night.

The next morning we hit the road early looking for early light opportunities. We drove along the Silverado Trail, prowled around the back roads, found a narrow winding road that took us to a high point overlooking all of the vineyards, but nothing was working for me. I think it is because I am so enamored of Santa Barbara county vineyards, and maybe I was hoping to capture that same look and feel, but I didn't find it in Napa. Sometimes my muse needs a rest, so I put the camera away and we decided to see which walk-in tasting rooms were open on this July 4th holiday. Although we could've tried getting walk-up appointments at some of the better wineries, we just left that for our next visit when we could do it properly.

After perusing the list and the map we decided it made most sense to select one district rather than popping all around since the valley is 30 miles long. We agreed on Rutherford since we are both fans of Cabernet with the distinct Rutherford Dust. Our first stop was Provenance Vineyards, which makes a nice daily drinker that we enjoy. There was only one other couple in the tasting room and they were a lot of fun, so we had a great time. The tasting room has a great atmosphere with a horseshoe-shaped bar, a floor made out of barrel tops, and absolutely no pretension. We spent much more time here than we planned because we were just having a great time and the atmosphere was wonderful. I definitely recommend this tasting room for a visit. We both chose to do a flight of the reds, but when the conversation turned to red vs white and Bill mentioned that we both hated Chardonnay but were having fun tasting and learning about Sauvignon Blanc, our hostess gave us each a pour of their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford. Although the 2006 wasn't as good as the 2005 (87 points vs 93 points from Wine Spectator), it was still enjoyable and we purchased a bottle for our picnic lunch later in the day. With the temperature already in the 90's, a lightly chilled white seemed more appropriate than our favored Cab. Into the cooler it went (which had been freshly stocked with ice from the hotel ice-maker) and off we went in search of the next tasting room. Oh, I did forget to mention that we stopped at the famed Oakville Grocery to stock our picnic basket earlier that morning. What an incredible selection of cheeses!

Next stop was Beaulieu Vineyard, which has always been one of Bill's favorites. He's been spoiled by only drinking the Georges de LaTour reserve in the better vintages, so when we entered the tasting room, greeted with a complimentary glass wine, and were told that the reserve tastings were in another building, off we went. B.V. is not very consistent from year to year - it either scores in the 90's or the mid-to-high 80's. But a high 80's wine is still a wonderful wine, although a bit pricey when the label says Napa Valley. The reserve tasting room was empty when we first showed up, and we had a wonderful conversation with our host. Everything from the B.V. philosophy to why he chose to spend his second career as a tasting room host. I wish I could remember his name (Michael?) because he truly made our day. This is a tasting room that makes you feel spoiled. Once again we did a flight of reds, and halfway through we were joined by another couple. When we finished our tasting our host took us back to the Cabernet cellar where there were bottles from every vintage of B.V. Georges de LaTour Reserve. If you truly love wine this kind of experience is almost as good as sex. No, more like foreplay. Sex would be actually tasting the vertical. Anyway, apparently our host overhead us talking about purchasing a bottle from the year we were married to drink on our 10th anniversary (OMG, that's actually next year). Unfortunately 1998 wasn't one of their better vintages, only scored an 87 with Wine Spectator and the price was $85, but sometimes you just have to go with it. We also had to purchase the nifty new Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator after doing a side-by-side taste test. It's Bill's newest toy and he brings it everywhere. I never realized that my husband would turn into such a wine geek. On our first date he brought me Berringer's White Zinfandel! How far he's come.

B.V. does not have picnic facilities, and the heat was really getting to us, so we went back to the hotel to eat our picnic lunch in cool air conditioning, then I succumbed to a nap. When we headed back out at 4:00, we found that most of the tasting rooms closed at 4:00. We found one that stayed open until 5:00; Alpha Omega, one of Napa's newest wineries. What a difference compared to the two previous wineries we visited! This was not enjoyable at all. I don't know if they do it all the time, but when we visited they would take a group of people (12 or so) into a private room and rapidly pour a small taste of the various wines - no choice of which flight you would prefer, just whatever they were pouring. No personal touch, it felt very mass market. We didn't enjoy the wines, and although there is some beautiful artwork in the building the host wasn't in the mood to have a conversation about it. There was a very pervasive feeling of "we're just doing this because we have to." Bye-bye!

I still had photography on my mind so we drove down another back road. I snapped a few shots of the early evening sun on the vineyards, and although the leading lines were good the skies really weren't, so I'm not overwhelmed with the images. We came across a vineyard where it seems all of the locals park to watch the fireworks and figured that was as good a place as any, so we joined the group. I wasn't in the mood for firework photography this year, so we just kicked back and enjoyed. It was a fantastic view of a great show, and definitely a memory for the scrapbook.

I supposed this wouldn't be a photography blog without photos, so I'll leave you with the one thing that really caught my eye; a sculpture outside the Calistoga Beverage Company:

Monday, August 6, 2007

July Road Trip VI - Bodie

"Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie," or so the story goes that a young girl wrote this in her diary when she was told that her family was moving to Bodie, California.

Bodie is a genuine California gold-mining ghost town left in a state of arrested decay. The town was founded by Waterman S. Bodey (William Bodey) when he discovered gold in the hills north of Mono Lake in 1859. It became a boom town in 1877, and by 1879 it boasted a population of about 10,000. It was considered to be second to none in terms of lawlessness, badmen and the "worst climate out of doors." At one point in time there were 65 saloons, numerous brothels, gambling halls, and opium dens. The Reverend F.M. Warrington, in 1881, called called it "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempest of lust and passion."

The boom was over four years later. A fire in 1932 nearly wiped the town out and Bodie faded into a ghost town in the 1940's. It became a state park in 1962 and is maintained in a state of arrested decay. Less than 10% of the town's buildings remain standing but it is still the largest ghost town in the western United States.

A long and dusty 13 mile dirt road led us to Bodie. Along the way we saw a shepherd with his flock of sheep and trusty dogs, and I had to get out to take a few shots despite the bad angle of the sun. He waved to us and shouted "Good morning" and we responded in kind. It was very cool to watch the dogs work the flock.

Bodie hosts Photographers Days one Saturday a month during the summer. $30 buys the right to enter the park 1/2 hour before sunrise and remain a half hour after sunset, and reservations are required. That did not fit into our plans, but we were there mid-week (Tuesday) as soon as the park opened, and I suppose that since it was a hot July day in the midst of heat wave, there were very few people there; one family of six and a lone man with a camera. As soon as we entered we took off in the opposite direction and practically had the place to ourselves.

Although most of the buildings are identified with a small sign discretely place so as to not interfere with photography, we found the $2 map guide a worthwhile purchase to help us find our way around. Bodie is an entire town so it covers some ground. With the temperature rising and several uphill walks to reach portions of the town, it helped to narrow down our plans. We had lucked out with gorgeous early morning sun and an unbelievably blue sky, although I had wished for some clouds to add drama. I only shot the east-facing buildings because I didn't think my 580EX would provide sufficient fill-light on the west-facing buildings and I wasn't pleased with the way the light was hitting the north- and south- facing buildings. But the light on those east-facing buildings more than made up for it with amazing depth and warmth of the wood.

It's spooky to peer into the windows and see that it looks like everyone just disappeared while in the midst of going about their daily lives. The park service has left everything in place, and it's easy to imagine that someone is hiding around a corner, or that the ghosts come out to play at night.

All too soon the desert light turned harsh, as it always does. I hadn't had enough of a chance to photograph nearly as much as I had wanted, but you can't argue with the light. I took one last photo of the rusted car that I had seen in so many images and couldn't leave without, then we jumped in the jeep and headed toward Napa.

You can see the rest of my Bodie gallery here

Thursday, August 2, 2007

July Road Trip V - Mono Lake and Lee Vining

I know, here it is August already and I'm still writing about July. I wanted to get the majority of the photos from this trip processed before I started to write about it, and truthfully I'm only about halfway finished. Things just keep getting in the way. I remember a saying that went something along the lines of "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."

So, after checking into our hotel in Lee Vining we went to Bodie Mike's for some barbecue and cold drinks. The food was great, although this is definitely not a fancy place. I had asked for one of my favorite summer drinks - a Seabreeze. The waitress had to come back and ask me what is was. I explained that it is cranberry and grapefruit juice with vodka. Hmmm...I don't think they had any grapefruit juice because I could distinctly taste sour mix. But it was cold and refreshing, and I even ordered a second. The barbecue sandwiches were wonderful and the service was the best. But stick with beer if you're in the mood for a cold one.

Since I had no idea where to find the tufa towers I had come to photograph (remember, we're just winging it here), we popped into the Tourist Center. The two women there recommended we head to South Tufa, and told us if we were there by 6pm there was a free nature tour we might want to consider.

Ever since seeing photographs taken by other photographers of Mono Lake, I had been hoping for an opportunity to photograph the tufa towers myself. Mono Lake is the largest natural lake contained entirely within California. It is 2.5 times saltier and 80 times more than alkaline than ocean water. It is best known for its Tufa towers. These calcium carbonate towers form at the bottom of the lake when calcium bearing spring water hits the alkaline lake water that is rich in carbonates. They were first exposed when the lake levels dropped dramatically after tributary rivers were diverted to provide water for Los Angeles. The lake lost half its volume over 40 years before an agreement was reached to save it. Now that the level is rising slowly again, tufa towers that are seen today may once again be under water in the future.

We made it to South Tufa just as Sarah Jane of the Mono Lake Organization was rounding everyone up for the tour, and she flagged us down as soon as we stepped out of the jeep asking if we'd like to join. I definitely recommend this fun and interactive 45 minute tour. In addition to learning about the history of lake and the tufa, we learned how to make tufa (adding tap water with a bit of calcium to the alkaline lake water instantly begins the creation of tufa. "That's the youngest rock you will ever see," Sarah Jane told us), we caught brine shrimp that are only found in Mono Lake, and some of our group even sampled the fly larvae that were a staple of the local native American diet (not me!). Mono Lake is one big black black cloud of flies, but they are vegetarian so they don't bother people.

As the tour wrapped up I noticed photographers gathering on the beach so I hurried over to stake my claim for a piece of beachfront property. It was still quite a while before sunset, but I didn't want to risk not having a prime spot. In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time photographing the tufa that were on completely dry land because there were some very fascinating structures. Maybe more fascinating than those in the water. Oh well.

While there we met photographer Tim Schuette of Oregon Photo Art and his wonderful wife Becky. Tim and Becky saved my butt that night - as Tim and I played around with the cameras for the next several hours and talked shop, Becky gave Bill someone to talk to to keep him occupied. I think most of their conversation was about the things they had to put up with for their photographer spouses. If Tim and Becky hadn't been there (and hadn't been so incredibly sweet), Bill would've ran out of patience long before the sun set. As it was, we spent about four hours on the beach altogether.

The sunset was disappointing and not nearly as dramatic as I hoped, but one works with what one has. I couldn't seem to find a composition that looked as magical and surreal as some images I've seen. If I have the opportunity to make it back, next time I'll spend more time scouting out the locations instead of just going where everyone else is set up. I've also since learned that sunrise seems to be a better time to photograph the tufa towers.

As the last of the light left the sky I started packing my gear up. Tim and Becky were going to stay to shoot star trails, and I was insanely jealous, but since my second mistake of the night was in forgetting to pack the sunset picnic that usually "keeps me out of trouble," I knew better than to ask Bill to stay any longer. Then another photographer walked over and asked if we minded if he did some light painting. Oh cool! I really wanted to stick around for that, so I tried giving Bill the puppy dog eyes but it didn't work this time. Four hours of boredom from doing nothing but watch me shoot had worn him out. Actually, he had spent the entire day doing nothing but watch me shoot, so when he says he's done I have no right to complain. We packed up and headed back to the hotel.

The hotel - where should I start? When I was looking for a hotel on the internet right before we left, I did notice that most (all?) said no a/c. I figured if so many hotels didn't have a/c, they must not need it. Boy was that wrong. Of course, we happened to be smack in the middle of a heat wave. At least I booked a hotel with a lake view and a balcony. It did have a lake view, and it did have a shared balcony. The room also opened right onto the street, and the bathroom was one step up from an outhouse. Literally. It was bad. Bill hated me. We stepped out onto our shared balcony and met the couple from the room next door. They told us that there is a good breeze off the lake, but it was blowing so hard the previous night that everything was blowing all over the room and kept them awake all night. And it's a warm breeze. With the door to the balcony open it wasn't too bad, but then there is the several thousands of dollars worth of camera gear I have in the room, and the windows that are accessible to absolutely everyone who passes by in both the front and the back of the room. I knew that once we fell asleep we'd both be out cold, so I had to close the balcony door for security reasons and leave the windows open halfway. It wasn't a comfortable night.

I was awake by 6am the following morning, but Bill was still sleeping soundly and I didn't have the heart to wake him after the restless night we endured, so I made coffee and went out on the balcony to photograph the sun rising over the lake. I got a great "Muench star" (hey dgrinners!), so it wasn't a total loss.

Bill woke about an hour later, after showers and packing we went to Nicely's across the street for breakfast. That was another mistake. The service was unfriendly and the food was barely passable. I ordered their special homemade sausage because I love to try things that people consider their specialty. It looked and tasted like a brick. Enough said. Bill let me know that we would NEVER return to Lee Vining. If we were smart we would've camped at June Lake. Lesson learned.

With that, we didn't waste any time getting on the road to Bodie.

You can view my Mono Lake photo gallery here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

July Road Trip IV - Yosemite Valley & Tioga Pass

I must confess that we slept in the morning of Day Two, if you could call sleeping until 6:30am sleeping in. But I did miss the sunrise, so we decided to have a somewhat leisurely continental breakfast at the hotel before packing up and heading out to Yosemite Valley.

We had no idea where to go once we arrived back in Yosemite National Park so we turned onto Village Drive and drove in to the valley. I was incredibly fortunate with the light that morning; it was just gorgeous and so clear. I popped a circular polarizer on my lens to make the most of the dramatic clouds in the sky and didn't stop shooting the whole time. There were some wildflowers in the meadows, the falls were running strong, and El Cap, Half Dome and others were standing proudly in the early morning light. Once again Bill drove, as he would for the most of the rest of the trip, so that I could keep a watch for anything that caught my eye. Our first stop was Yosemite Falls. I regret now that I let the crowds keep me away from the base of the falls. I shot it from the meadow, but when I returned home to process my photos and do some research, I found photos that others had taken from closer in and I think it would have been worth fighting for space. That is the one downside of not planning; while I like to photograph a place with no preconceived notion of the "right" shots, it also means I can miss a lot of opportunities. But again I told myself that this was just a scouting trip, and now I know where I want to concentrate on my return trip.

One of my favorites images appeared as we were in the Village in search of some much-needed caffeine and protein. We both looked up at the same time and noticed the framing of El Cap and the dramatic cloud patterns. I started shooting right there in the middle of the walkway, and was soon joined by a group of people with their cameras.

The little coffee shop in the village makes a great latte, and the prepared sandwiches at the market next door were actually good. We sat at a table outside and enjoyed the vibe; cool shade under the trees, hikers and climbers loaded down with gear stopping by for provisions, incredible beauty everywhere one looked... I voiced the possibility of spending the rest of our trip right here. Bill promised a return trip so we could devote the time that Yosemite deserves, but had his heart set on the rest of our itinerary, which I couldn't argue. As much as I hated to leave Yosemite, I, too, was looking forward to visiting and photographing the other places on our agenda, especially Mono Lake and Bodie ghost town.

Sufficiently refueled we continued wandering the valley. I was still angry with myself for not leaving time for hiking, but there were plenty of things to photography in the valley itself. I spent a lot of time lying on a blanket in the middle of the meadow to get just the right angle, and Bill thought this was quite funny. He took several photos of me in strange contortions, I think to possibly use as blackmail sometime in the future.

Bridalveil Fall was blowing in the wind, a beautiful sight. You could see why the Native Americans named her "Pohono" - Spirit of the Blowing Wind. The sun was in the wrong position for good light, but I gave it my best attempt anyway because the falls were so beautiful. I tried bracketing exposures but haven't been successful in combining them because the wind was blowing the water all over. Once again I may have to resort to double-processing and keeping my fingers crossed.

At the base of El Capitan we spotted some climbers about 2/3 of the way up and hung out for a while to watch them. We met a man and his son who were travelling by motorcycle, and the four of us had a great time trying to spot climbers and their gear. Can you see them?

And of course I had to take some photos from the famous Wawona Tunnel View.

A little after noon we decided it was time start heading over Tioga Pass toward Mono Lake. It was only a 30 mile drive, but I had a feeling that it would take us hours with all of the stops I would want to take, and once again my goal was to make it to the next location in time for sunset.

Tioga Pass is a peaceful, breathtaking drive in the summer. I can image that it would be quite stressful with snow and ice on the ground. Olmsted Point offered an incredible (how many times can I use the words incredible and amazing?!) view of Cloud's Rest and Half Dome and showed the unique geology of jointed granodiorite. Cool stuff! It was very surreal and other-worldly. One had a good feeling for the elevation level from this viewpoint, and the images I took from Olmsted Point look very cold (temperature-wise), especially when compared the images taken from the valley floor just a few hours earlier. It's hard to believe that the two locations are just a few miles apart.

Toulumne Meadows is a beautiful area that I know requires some hiking to fully enjoy. Most of the imagery I've seen from this location has included water features, and with one exception they are not along "the side of the road." That one exception,
Tenaya Lake, is the most unbelievable color of blue, especially against the white granite. When it first appears in your sight, it doesn't look real. It was sparkling like a jewel against the mountains for us.

After three hours, we had finally reached Lee Vining. Time to check into our hotel and find some food!

You can view my Yosemite photo gallery here.

July Road Trip III - Yosemite NP

From General's Highway in Sequoia National Park we took CA180 to 41N to 140E. We'd been on the road over 12 hours now and had covered over 500 miles. We decided to check in to our hotel so we could clean up and relax a bit before heading out for sunset. Bill couldn't resist the pool, and I had a hard time dragging him away from it. We have an understanding that mornings and evenings are for me because I need to work around the light, and mid-day is for whatever he wants to do. It usually works, but it can be hard on him because I'm always pushing for early mornings and late nights.

Our hotel was 15 miles outside the entrance to Yosemite, which doesn't seem bad until you realize how big Yosemite is and how far we would have to drive to find a suitable location for sunset. We stopped in Wawona to gas up and find some food in the little market. It was slim pickings food-wise, but we were pleased to find small bottles of wine at a dirt-cheap price (I'm not picky when I'm living out of my backpack!), and so we grabbed a couple of them and a package of salami and cheese for sunset picnic dinner. We asked the clerk where she would recommend as a fairly close-by spot for sunset, and she recommended Glacier Point.

It wasn't exactly 15 minutes down the road like she said, and for a while there we wondered if we had missed a turn. Altogether it was over 50 miles from our hotel! Bill was tired and really just wanted to go back to the hotel to sleep, but I wasn't about to miss an opportunity for some great light. When we finally reached Washburn Point (N37.72025 W119.57263), an overlook on the road to Glacier Point, I was glad that the magnificent view of Half Dome and Vernal and Nevada waterfalls took his mind off of his need for sleep. Most people drive right past this overlook and just continue on to Glacier Point, but the views here are definitely worth stopping for. We stared in awe for a while, took the obligatory "I was here" photos and then continued on to Glacier Point.

Glacier Point itself it was overwhelmingly crowded and buses just kept bringing more people. I was so tired that I really didn't feel like trying to set up amidst all those people, so we started hiking and found a nearby viewpoint with an outstanding view of Half Dome and the falls, and absolutely no people. Well, most of the time there were no people. After Bill spread out the blanket for our picnic dinner and I had set up the camera, we were joined for a little while by a couple and their adorable little toddler. I took a few photos of them with their camera and we chatted a bit. He was quite knowledgeable about Yosemite and pointed several things out to us. As the light began changing and it became obvious that it was the only thing holding my attention, they drifted away.

We drank our cheap wine out of the bottle and munched on salami and cheese as we watched the sun drift lower and the light on the mountains turn a warm pink. There were very few clouds in the sky, so it wasn't as dramatic as I had hoped, but Half Dome was soon glowing in the warm light of sunset.

We stayed until well after dark when all of the people had left, and then started the long drive back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

Monday, July 30, 2007

July Road Trip II - Sequoia NP

With backpacks and gear loaded in the jeep, I took the first shift as we headed north on the 5 for 139 miles to pick up 99N. We would follow that 97 miles and get on 198E for 43 miles to Sequoia NP. Somehow I missed the sunrise I had hoped to catch. We must've been "nowhere" or I was too sleep- and caffeine-deprived to even notice. Other than a quick stop to grab a fastfood breakfast and use the facilities, our first stop was Kaweah Lake (N36.396 W118.98863) just outside Sequoia National Park around 8:30am. It had taken us 5 hours with our stops for gas and breakfast.

There were a few fisherman just putting their boats in the water and getting ready to head out to spend the morning on the lake. The water was a beautiful blue and the air was crisp, so we took some time to stretch our legs while I took a few photos. When we finally decided to get back in the car and continue up 398, we decided it was time to swap drivers so I could look for photo opportunities. Of course, that meant a few more stops before we actually made it to Sequoia NP because the road followed along the lake as it turned into a river into the Three Rivers area.

Finally we made it to the one thing Bill wanted to see - big trees. I have to admit that I was initially skeptical about the attraction, but when I first saw them I was in awe. As soon as we got our first glimpse Bill said "wow" and then we both went silent. Maybe it's because we're living in southern California now, land of eucalyptus and palm trees, and we haven't seen "real" trees for quite some time now. The sequoias were humbling; so proud and majestic. John Muir said it best;

"When I entered this sublime wilderness the day was nearly done," he observed, "the trees with glowing countenances seemed to be hushed and thoughtful, as if waiting in conscious religious dependence on the sun, and one naturally walked softly and awestricken among them."

We just had to get out of the car and take our "tourist" photos.

This is a "little" unnamed tree.

Sequoia NP is the second-old national park in the United States. It was established in 1890 to protect the Big Trees in Giant Forest, including General Sherman, the largest living thing in the world. Sequoia also contains Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain peak in the lower-48.

I struggled to find a way to capture the trees with a camera in a manner that would do them justice. I tried laying on the ground and shooting up, but the contrast of the sky was too much and I'm not really happy with those shots. I'm going to try double-processing one that has good potential and see if that will reveal what I want to convey. It was now late morning and the light just was not cooperating with me. Ultimately I found myself fascinated with the bottoms of the trees - the scarring from old fires and the incredible root systems of the fallen trees. I used my 580EX for fill flash because it was so dark under the canopy, and those are the shots I am happiest with. It was amazing to see how much damage the trees could take from fire and still stand so strong. Some of them were literally hollowed out halfway up.

We continued roaming along General's Highway through the Giant Forest, turning down the side roads and getting out whenever something caught our eye, but for the most part avoiding the crowds by avoiding the named trees and the visitor centers. It was kind of funny how no one paid attention to anything that didn't have a sign on it, but everyone had to have their picture taken at the Tunnel Tree or the Auto Log. We debated stopping to see the caves, but with a goal to make it to Yosemite in time for sunset we didn't think it would be prudent since it required purchasing tickets in advance and reserving more than two hours time. It was just killing me that we didn't leave any time for hiking on this trip, so I had to tell myself that this was just a scouting trip and that I would make a checklist of places that deserved more time on our next visit.

Eventually we came upon the turnoff for the road to Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow. Moro Rock (N36.544167 W118.764167) is an exfoliated granite dome that stands 6725 feet high and overlooks most of the park and the Great Western Divide, a company of peaks all over 11,500 feet. With several of the peaks over 12,000 feet, he Great Western Divide is so high that it blocks the view of Mount Whitney. It is an easy climb to the summit of Moro Rock; there is a staircase cut into the side of the dome (done long before we decided it was better to preserve such treasures in their natural state), and a steep 1/4 mile climb with a 300 foot ascent will take you to the top. We've lived at sea level all of our lives and I've always had a hard time acclimating to elevation, so in a sleep- and oxygen-deprived state we had to stop mid-way up to catch our breath before proceeding to the top.

"Why are we doing this again" Bill asked.
"We're bagging a peak." I replied. Ha-ha, I did a little climbing when I was younger, but he always thought it was crazy and would never even give it a try, so it was one of those things that fell by the wayside after we got married. This was the closest I'd get to peak bagging these days.

He he - I look like I'm so tired I can barely keep my eyes open! Look at the haze over the valley.

Still mid-day, so once again the light was not the best for photography, but the view of the Great Western Divide was just amazing. This was our first trip to the Sierra's, and they were everything we had hoped they would be.

After our invigorating climb to the top of Moro Rock we continued working our way over General's Highway. We had been warned about construction that had the road down to one lane at one section, and that northbound traffic was being let through every hour on the hour. We weren't sure how long the back up would be so we were anxious to put that part of the journey behind us and start heading toward Yosemite. We began climbing, climbing, climbing over the pass, and when we hit the construction area we must have timed it right because there was no backup to speak of. It was a scary sight to look out the window and realize that the road was one lane because the cliff had eroded away beneath the surface of the other lane! I can't even begin to imagine how they plan to fix it, and we supposed that the only fix would be to blast away rock from the far side of the road so there would again be two lanes. But what could they do to stop the cliffside from continued erosion? That vision of the crumbled road stuck with me throughout our journey as every destination required crossing over mountain passes with narrow roads on the sides of steep cliffs.

A meandering drive with incredible views and several more photo stops along the way eventually brought us out to CA180 for the 200 miles or so we'd drive to Yosemite.

You can view my Sequoia National Park photo gallery here.
There's not too many photos in there because I was shooting at mid-day, so I'm still thinking about how to possibly process some of them to see if they're worth saving.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

July Road Trip, Part I

My husband and I both share a love of the open road, and few things make us happier than to just throw a bag or two in the car on the spur of the moment and take off with little more than a vague idea of where we might want to go. We are wanderers and explorers at heart. And so when he suddenly found himself with an open week the beginning of July, what else would we do but hit the road?

We have only been living in California for four years, so there are still so many things in the northern half of the state that we hadn't had a chance to see yet. There were three places he had his heart set on for this trip; Napa, San Francisco and Sequoia National Park. If he had to choose only one, it would be Sequoia National Park. I'm not sure where he got this fascination with big trees, but if he wants to see big trees, we're going to see big trees.

What little planning is done, is done by me. So I play around in GoogleEarth to sketch out a rough route, and realize how close Yosemite is to Sequoia NP. Okay, I've been talking about getting to Yosemite forever, so I decide that we absolutely couldn't be that close and not take the time for Yosemite. Then I realized that if we took the Tioga Pass through Yosemite we'd end up at Mono Lake, and I've always wanted to photograph the tufa towers. Hmmm...from there we can head over to Napa, and Bodie SHP is just a short side-trip along the way. I've always wanted to photograph Bodie ghost town! From Napa we'd go to San Francisco, then take the coast all the way back home. That's an ambitious itinerary for one week, but I bounce it off the big guy and he's good with it so I download the routes into my gps.

Realizing that last minute travel during a holiday week could very well mean that there are no available hotels or campsites, I sneak off to my office to check on availability. Everything in Yosemite was booked (no surprise), so as a fail-safe I book a hotel room on the west side of the park for our first night and the east side of the park for our second night. I know, I'm getting older and sleeping in the car just isn't what it used to be. After the first two nights we'd just see what happens (I still have some sense of adventure!).

And so it was that I loaded up my gear, threw some clothes in a backpack and agreed to hit the road at 3am on Sunday, July 1 so we could be "somewhere" by sunrise. Okay, we actually didn't leave until 3:30am due to some discussion about the best way to pack the jeep when he decided that we should bring the tent and sleeping bags just in case. That led to a discussion as to whether or not we were camping, and if we were camping shouldn't we bring at least the campstove so we can cook, or at least boil water for coffee? And then of course, that means that I'll need to go pack some coffee because I have to have my coffee...

If you're married you'll understand.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Rude Awakening - or why I would never make it as a photojournalist

First let me say that I have no intention of making a serious attempt to break into the field of photojournalism. But what photographer (or for that matter these days, anyone with a cellphone camera) doesn't secretly harbor the wish that he or she will someday stumble upon a newsworthy event and find that they are the only one with a camera, thereby causing all of the newspapers to come knocking on their door, creating instant fame and fortune? Okay, that's the complete fantasy part, but I do believe that most photographers would like to think that they'd be able to rise to the occasion should they find themselves in the midst of a newsworthy event. I even carry the phone number for the newdesk of the local paper just in case. Well I found out the other day that I don't have what it takes, and I've been kicking myself ever since.

I was driving along the Killen Truck Trail/South Main Divide in Cleveland National Forest with two friends, and about 20 miles in we drove smack into a drug bust; LEO's as far as one could see, two suspects in handcuffs sitting in the road leaning against a sheriff's car, a big burly SWAT-looking guy keeping an eye on them, and a helicopter hauling up bales of marijuana from the canyon floor below. It must've been a huge haul because the helicopter kept bringing up load after load after load.

As a friendly LEO walked over to my jeep, our first instinct was concern that he was going to question why we were out here, which was silly but nonetheless was voiced by each of us. When the LEO told us that the road would be closed "for quite some" and that we'd have to backtrack all the way out to the main road, John started looking on his gpsr for possible side trails rather than retracing our steps, Marie remained fascinated with watching how quickly the helicopter hauled the bales of marijuana up, and I sat there and said "Sh*t!" as I tried to figure out how I was going to turn around on this narrow canyon road.

Oh wait! Hey, I've got my camera in my backpack! So what did I do? I am sad to report that I proceed to take photos of the helicopter. Not the handcuffed suspects guarded by the big guy, even though we were probably the only ones who had access to that side because anyone from the closest town would've had to come in the OTHER way, which was completely blocked off. No, I took photos of the helicopter hauling up bales of marijuana, backlit because I was shooting into the sun. And since I only had my 24-70 lens with me (which would've been perfect for photographing handcuffed suspects!), it is a TINY backlit helicopter. And the whole time I'm doing so, I'm afraid of getting caught (I'd better cross paparazzi off my list, too).

So I keep asking myself where was that instinct that I thought I would have, and why did I feel so intimidated? I've never had any unpleasant run-ins with the law, I wasn't out there doing anything questionable, and I'm not uncomfortable around guns because I grew up around guns and learned to shoot when I was a kid. To make matters worse, we've been checking all of the news sources and haven't found a single word about the incident. Now my friend raises the possibility that it was a secret bust and "they" don't want to publicize it. Maybe because there was another recent large marijuana bust very near by and TPTB don't want everyone to think that all of SoCal is turning to marijuana farms. Okay, so now the photograph that I failed to take could've busted the whole thing WIDE OPEN! Ha-ha.

All right, so it wasn't national news-worthy, but I still feel like I failed a test.