Lori Carey Photography

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.