Lori Carey Photography

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tips for Photographing a Lunar Eclipse

August 28, 2007 full lunar eclipse as seen from San Juan Capistrano, California, USA.

It's been almost three years since the last total lunar eclipse was visible in North America and the next total eclipse visible for the entire continent won't come until April 14-15, 2014 (the West Coast will only see part of the one that occurs in 2011). If you want to try photographing one don't miss out on the opportunity this Monday night/Tuesday morning! This one is especially exciting because it coincides with the solstice. Sad thing for me in Southern California is that right now the forecast is for heavy rain.

Assuming you don't do any astrophotography and don't have the ability to use a telescope, tracking equipment and don't want to be bothered with calculating things like azimuth and altitude, here are a few tips for photographing an eclipse that I used to make the above composite of the total eclipse in August 2007:

First the basics: I do hope you realize that it can get cold when you stand outside for hours in the middle of the night in winter and don't need to be warned to dress warmly. I always have to laugh when I see that tip. You should take a flashlight, preferably a red astronomer's flashlight that won't ruin your night vision, so you can easily see your camera controls. I have a headlamp with a red light that is perfect because it leaves both my hands free. A thermos of hot coffee or your favorite warm beverage isn't a bad idea either!

These tips are good for both film and digital photography, each has its own considerations. With film you need to be concerned about reciprocity failure at long exposure times; with digital you need to be concerned about noise levels at higher ISOs.

You really have two choices - go with a wide angle and plan to capture a series of photos showing the moon moving across the sky, or go with your biggest telephoto and capture a series of single moon images that you later arrange in editing software any way you want.

If you choose to go wide angle you will need to account for the location of the moon in the sky at the onset and conclusion of the eclipse. An rough way to do this without needing to calculate altitude and azimuth is to scout your location the night before, assuming you are up to spending back-to-back all nighters outdoors or are willing to set your alarm throughout the night. The moon will appear very small in a wide angle frame so it's best to find an interesting foreground to add interest and provide context.

The latter option is the easiest if you don't understand how (or want) to plot the course of the moon and plan for it in your final image but you need a long lens. It also gives you the option to arrange your sequence of images creatively later in editing software. 200mm is a bare minimum, 500mm even better. You can use a teleconverter but you need to account for it in your exposure calculations since a teleconverter cuts down on the amount of light entering your camera. A 2x converter means you'll lose two stops of light. The above images were shot with a 70-200mm lens with a 1.4x converter and a Canon APS-C sensor, yielding an effective focal length of 448mm and the images of the moon were still fairly small.

The size of the moon's image can be calculated using the formula:

Focal Length(mm)/109

So a 50mm lens yields a 0.5mm image of the moon, a 200mm lens yields a 1.8mm moon and a 500mm lens yields a 4.6mm image.

You need to expose manually otherwise your camera's exposure meter will probably be tricked by the amount of dark sky in the frame and overexpose your images, leaving you with a bright white circle for the moon. The Sunny 16 rules applies to the full moon, which simply means that the correct exposure for a sunlit object at f/16 is 1/ISO. If you are shooting at ISO400 a good starting exposure for a sunlit object is f/16 at 1/400. You won't see much of a difference in exposure when the moon is in the penumbra, but when you can see the visible shadow line of the umbra on the moon's surface that's when things get fun. As the moon gets darker you will need to increase your exposure accordingly and bracket, bracket, bracket. During totality the moon will be completely in the earth's shadow (the umbra) and you will need a long exposure. It's best to factor this into your early planning; use a tripod and shutter release throughout your shoot and choose an ISO high enough to keep your shutter speed below two seconds at totality to prevent blurring if you don't have tracking equipment (remember, the moon is constantly moving!) but not so high that noise becomes an issue. ISO 400 or 800 is usually good, higher depending on how your camera handles noise. I used ISO400 and my image at totality was shot at f/5.6 for 1.3 seconds.

Here are some good starting exposures (but don't forget to bracket, bracket, bracket!):

ISO 400
Full moon - f/16, 1/500
Moon in penumbra, shadow line of umbra visible - f/8, 1/125
Totality - f/2.8, one second

I hate coding tables :P and I won't copy work that someone else has already put together, so I will point you to an outstanding exposure guide put together by Fred Espanek - Mr Eclipse. It takes into account the magnitude and the Danjon value (brightness) of the eclipse.

L = 0     Very dark eclipse.
               Moon almost invisible, especially at mid-totality.
L = 1     Dark Eclipse, gray or brownish in coloration.
               Details distinguishable only with difficulty.
L = 2     Deep red or rust-colored eclipse.
               Very dark central shadow, while outer edge of umbra
               is relatively bright.
L = 3     Brick-red eclipse.
               Umbral shadow usually has a bright or yellow rim.
L = 4     Very bright copper-red or orange eclipse.
               Umbral shadow has a bluish, very bright rim.

Click here to learn more about the Danjon scale on NASA's website.

Since these are just recommended exposures and based on your judgement of the L value, at totality you will want to bracket as much as 2-3 stops over and under the recommended exposure.

The entire eclipse will last approximately 4.5 hours. You can see the timing of the various stages in your time zone on the chart at Sky & Telescope here.
You'll probably want to take bracketed exposures every 10-15 minutes or so throughout the eclipse so make sure you have a big enough card (or enough cards). Just as a guide, I took 283 shots when I shot the one in 2007. Nothing would be worse than running out of data storage before the eclipse is over after spending several hours out in the cold!

We don't often have a chance to view or photograph a total lunar eclipse, so here's hoping for clear skies and if you are one of the lucky ones who can spend the night outdoors Monday please feel free to post links of your images here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's not too late...

...to order a gift of original artwork in time for Christmas, and to make your last minute shopping even easier I'm offering a 15% discount on the price of all prints and merchandise from December 10 to January 10. Just enter the coupon code Holiday2010 at checkout.

Ready to hang wrapped canvas giclee prints, Thin-Wrapped metallic prints with a satin finish and float-mounted metal prints make especially stunning gifts. Mounting and framing of standard prints is available; please contact me to discuss options or if you don't see what you're looking for. All of my prints are done at my pro lab Bay Photo and come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee...I will reprint or refund your money if you are not happy for any reason.

Last day to order if you want to receive in time for Christmas if your chosen shipping method is:

6-10 business days: December 11th
3-5 business days:   December 15th
2 business days:       December 20th
1 business day:         December 21st

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"I didn't know the desert got that cold" - Cuddeback 2

Water tank on its side at Cuddeback Dry Lake in the Mojave desert, California, USA

That's what my Dad said when I was telling him about our plans for the weekend. It's a common misconception with people who haven't spent a winter night in the desert, but the desert is a land of extremes and when the sun goes down the temperature drops like a rock. The warmer, lower Colorado desert in the far southern end of California never seems as bad, but the high desert of the Mojave can be brutal at night.

I forgot to mention in my last post about the new trick I learned Friday night in camp - the hot butt! I cannot believe that in all the years I've been camping and all of the friends I've camped with I have never learned about a hot butt before. A hot butt consists of a guy taking a small (very small!) shovelful of embers from the campfire, walking up to a girl sitting on a chair and telling her to "Spread 'em!" so he can place the hot embers on the ground beneath her chair. Oooooh, is that warm and cozy! It only takes a tiny bit of embers and it completely eliminates the need to play rotisserie. Okay, so gender doesn't really matter but I think the guys have so much fun telling girls to spread their legs that they are willing to keep our butts warm all night!

Since the forecast was calling for temperatures in the low 20s and that would be the coldest we had ever spent in a tent (27 was the lowest temp we noted so far), we had braved the Black Friday crowds to pick up a catalytic tent heater at a sporting goods store on the way to camp in the morning and that night we were really glad we finally wussed out and got one. Set atop the wooden block we keep in the jeep for a jack stand so it wouldn't accidentally come in contact with our sleeping bags and running on low all night (I need to note that you should NEVER run a heater in your tent while you're sleeping. We are foolish idiots, don't do what I do!), while the temperature inside our tent never got above freezing (my baby wipes inside my backpack were a frozen solid block the next morning) I can honestly say we were comfortable and had spent many nights when we were much more miserable.

It was 14 degrees when we woke up just before daybreak and the only thing on our minds was coffee and fire. Our jerry can of water was frozen solid so we checked the cooler and found two bottles of plain water (the rest was flavored vitamin water). Bill started pouring one into the coffee pot and the water froze the instant it hit the air, creating a solid waterfall. It was hysterical and I wish I had the presence of mind to take a photo but my brain doesn't function without coffee, especially in 14 degree weather! It finally clicked that we should have the pot sitting on a flame on the camp stove as we poured the water. There must've been ice in the line for the stove because after a few minutes flames starting shooting out the dial on the front. Without blinking an eye Bill extinguished the fire, checked the lines, and restarted the stove. Minor crisis averted and soon enough a life-saving cup of hot coffee was in my hands and a fire was blazing thanks to a duraflame log (essential for morning camp fires if your brain doesn't function well enough to build a real fire). Bill put the jerry can practically in the fire to melt the water. How cold is fourteen degrees? Two hours later the chunks of ice he had blown out of the siphon hose that landed six inches from the fire were still solid and had not shown any signs of melting. We were laughing hysterically about how crazy we were to camp out in this weather but we both agreed that it wasn't too bad and we were going to spend another night. The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is all in your attitude and I love that my husband has finally become comfortable enough in the outdoor to have a great attitude no matter what the obstacle we face.

For the first time ever we were in no rush to break camp and we spent a leisurely morning socializing with our friends and pouring over trail maps planning our day. One of the guys told us that the trail we wanted to take across the lake was closed at the gate and recommended another route over the mountains that he said was some great wheeling and would take us to where we wanted to go. "Just head that way," he said as he pointed "and when you get near the base of the mountains stay right until you find the trail that goes up and over". And we threw the cooler, backpacks and camera gear in the jeep and 'head that way'.

...I'm learning that if I don't hit "Publish" when I need to stop writing it may be days before I get back to a post, so I'm going to hit "Publish" now and get back to the story as soon as I can.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Appears to be an old blank signpost standing tall on three legs near the old gunnery range at Cuddeback Lake in the Mojave Desert, California.

It's tradition with many families in this part of southern California to head to the desert for the Thanksgiving holiday, so when we were invited to spend the long weekend with Bill's friend John and his family "somewhere in the Mojave north of Barstow" where they had been spending Thanksgiving for the past twenty years we eagerly accepted despite the weather forecast that was calling for record low temperatures. I was even more excited when I found out (24 hours before we were due to leave) that we'd be at Cuddeback Lake, a six-mile long, two and half mile wide dry lake bed that is a favorite spot for filming car commercials. Surrounded by the Almond Mountains, Red Mountain, the Lava Mountains, the Black Hills, the Gravel Hills, Rand Mountains, Fremont Peak, two wilderness areas - Golden Valley and Grass Valley, plenty of old mine sites, and old gunnery range and landing strip, there is plenty to explore in this area.

Cuddeback Lake is managed by the BLM and is probably best known to the OHV crowd. Its proximity to Spangler Hills and the Rand Management Area make for endless miles of trails through various terrain and Cuddeback is a great location for families to set up base camp with the motorhomes and trailers. I know, doesn't sound like my typical location, but despite the large number of people there it didn't feel the least bit crowded and it was nice to share camp with John and his extended family (I think we had 8 motorhomes at our camp). Base camps were well spread out and although the main trails get a lot of motorcycle and ATV traffic, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday, once we were off the beaten path we felt like the only ones out there.

After setting up and camp and going on a short get-acquainted with the entire group of trucks, bikes and ATVs to a nearby smaller dry lake bed, Bill and I set out for the opposite of Cuddeback to explore Grass Valley and pay our respects at the Husky Memorial. Originally a memorial for Jim Ericksen created by his family who buried his bike and scattered his ashes to the wind in this remote location, it now contains memorials for many who have died riding in the desert and is a sacred place for desert riders. We didn't see many people on the trail so we were surprised to see how many people had made the pilgrimage to the middle of nowhere to pay their respects. It made sense once we realized that most of them were the family and friends of the people memorialized, spending Thanksgiving in the desert like they always do.

Thanksgiving weekend crowd at the Jim Erickson Husky Memorial in the Cuddeback area of the Mojave desert, California

While we there we met the widow of Phillip Dunn, one of the men memorialized who died while riding with family Memorial Day weekend 2006. She told us that his was the second one placed and how much it means to her that others have followed suit, and to see all of the people coming out to pay their respects. Some of the memorials really are works of art but it was tough to get any photos because it was wall to wall people. This site has a lot of info.

After more exploring and dinner back at camp, someone got the idea to do a night run up Fremont Peak to the Monarch Rand Gold Mine and the adults packed into the vehicles. The moon wasn't up yet and racing across a dry lake bed in the pitch dark for the first time is a surreal experience but our friends knew the area well and soon we were climbing up Fremont Peak. There is a parking area for 2WD vehicles, but 4WD can continue right up to the mine shaft. When we reached the top we watched the most beautiful red three quarter waning moon rise and we all stood in silence watching. I debated setting up my tripod and camera for half a second, but I knew that by the time I had everything set up the moment would be over, and some moments are meant to just be experienced.

Grabbing flashlights we entered the tunnel in the side of the mountain (watch your head!) and I had only a momentary flash of wondering if there were bats inside. Way back in the tunnel the mine shaft is a wide opening that goes straight down 2500 feet (or so I've read). Hold on tightly to the little ones because there is nothing to keep you safe here except common sense. One of the guys told us about the time he came up to find a couple stuck in the hole in the wall behind us. They had thought that was the best approach, got stuck and scared with that deep gaping hole in front of them, and had to wait for hours until someone came to help them out.

We took a more technical route back to camp and I don't know how we found a steeper, rougher climb when we were supposed to be going back down, but there was one spot on the trail that had John thinking twice. He eventually decided to tackle it and it wasn't as bad as it looked. That night run was an awesome experience and the highlight of the trip for me.

Cuddeback Lake, a dry lake bed in the western Mojave desert, is a favorite location for the filming of car commercials because it is surrounded by several mountain ranges. These are the Almond Mountains, which lie within the Golden Valley Wilderness Area.

Back at camp Bill announced that our thermometer read 19 degrees. Thanks Bill, I wasn't cold until you said that! Everyone had to confirm for themselves and sure enough, 19 degrees across the board. After a few warming drinks, our friends settled in to their warm sturdy motorhomes while the two idiots with the only tent for miles around (us!) settled in for what would be the coldest night of camping we've ever experienced so far.

That's all for now, gotta run...more later!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park Scouting Report - Day Two

A dramatic monzogranite rock formation at Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Finally getting a little caught up, in between the mad rush to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner and plan another weekend adventure!

JTNP is a great place to photograph the Milky Way because there is very little light pollution. You can see so many stars that I find it difficult to spot the common constellations like the Big Dipper! For many people in light-polluted SoCal, a trip to the desert is the first time they'll see the Milky Way and it is truly amazing, so I wanted to play around with attempting to photograph it. What I learned is this: an exposure at ISO 1600 f/2.8 for 20 seconds seems to be the best, but unless you have an ultra-wide angle lens (especially if you have an APS-C sensor) you just can't do it justice. 28mm does not cut it for photographing the Milky Way. It was directly overhead and it just didn't make for a good shot with the gear I had. Perhaps if it were lower in the sky so I could get some distant foreground it would be better.

Since my plan to hit Barker Dam for sunrise was a bust Bill suggested we explore further up Park Boulevard to see if anything would catch my eye, but that was a bust too (common theme for the weekend haha) and before we knew we were at West Entrance Station. We decided to gas up in town before heading back to camp for some breakfast and to pack up, then head to the Skull Rock Nature Trail to catch the morning light. In hindsight I probably should've done the nature trail for sunrise since the trailhead was in right our campground.

This 1.7 mile nature trail wanders through a beautifully surreal area of weathered and eroded monzogranite rock formations and desert washes. Skull Rock itself is in the shade in the mornings so late afternoon would be best to photograph it, but there are many other beautiful formations to photograph. Once again we found that this trail was packed with people.

The Slull Rock nature trail wanders through a surreal landscape of weathered and eroded monzogranite rock formations and desert washes. Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Late morning we head out toward Keys View intending to stop by the Lost Horse Mine on the way. The turnoff for the Lost Horse Mine trailhead is along Keys View Road, a sandy road on the left. The trailhead had so many vehicles parked that Bill begged to skip it so we turned around and continued out to Keys View. If you are observant as you drive through Lost Horse Valley you'll spot the grave of Johnny Lang, a prospector who once owned the Lost Horse Mine. He died of starvation and froze to death in this spot while striking out to obtain provisions in the middle of winter.

John Lang's grave in Joshua Tree National Park. Lang was a prospector who once owned the Lost Horse Mine.

The inscription reads "John Lang died here. Buried by ? F Keys, Frank Kiler, Jeff Peeden, March 25 1925". Although he died mid-January, his body wasn't discovered until March by other prospectors. The January 1979 issue of Desert Magazine has a great article on the colorful past of Johnny Lang and the disputed ownership of Lost Horse Mine, "Legends of the Lost Horse Mine" beginning on page 8.

197901 Desert Magazine 1979 January

Keys View is worth the 20 minute drive for the panoramic view of the Coachella Valley. You can see Palm Springs down below, the Santa Rose Mountains and the 10,800 foot peak of San Jacinto, the Salton Sea out to the left, and a most impressive view of the San Andreas Fault. The viewpoint is wheelchair accessible. There is also a lot of haze from air pollution.

In this shot Palm Springs is at the base of the mountains and you can't miss the San Andreas Fault. Of course mid-day isn't the best time to shoot here.

Mt. San Jacinto, Palm Springs and the San Andreas Fault Line as seen from Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

By this time we had enough of the crowds and decided to start working our way out of the park via the North Entrance Station to see if anything else caught our eye, but we didn't spot anything of interest so we called it an early day and head back home.

Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful park with a wealth of opportunities for photography, it's just too crowded for our tastes. Day trips with a specific location in mind would work better for us if we were to return.

In case I don't get a chance to post tomorrow I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park Scouting Report - Day One

Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera) in the Pinto Basin, a 30 mile long, 10 mile wide flat area filled with sand and silt washed from the surrounding mountains in Joshua Tree National Park, Cailfornia.

When I plan a scouting trip I have a rough itinerary planned out with a goal of seeing as much as possible to get the lay of the land and plan the best time to return for shots I want, knowing that I probably won't have the light I want most of the time. I try to be at key locations for sunrise/sunset but it doesn't always work out that way.

Based on recommendations from other photographers we entered Joshua Tree from the southeast at the Cottonwood Visitor Center. This area lies within the Colorado Desert, a part of the Sonoran Desert. With elevations below 3,000 feet it is warmer and drier than the Mojave Desert, characterized by Creosote shrubs, Ocotillo and patches of Cholla cactus. Most people won't find this area of the park as visually interesting as they will the northeastern part, which lies in the Mojave Desert. You won't see any Joshua Trees here in the Sonoran Desert. There are some points of interest near Cottonwood but after hearing about the lack of campsites we decided that finding a place to set up base camp needed to be a priority so we started heading out in the direction of White Tank. Once you pass the Cottonwood Visitor Center (where it's worth the $12 to pick up the two-sided waterproof topo map for the park if you plan to do any real exploring) you have the Hexie Mountains on your left and the flat Pinto Basin on your right...and desert scrub for many many miles.

Along the way we noted the trailhead for Black Star Mine and Old Dale Road, saved for another day when we have time to explore this area and preferably some company.

The scenic Black Eagle Mine Road in Joshua Tree National Park wuns along the edge of the Pinto Basin and winds through canyons in the Eagle Mountains, passing near several old mining sites.

I wanted to visit the Cholla Cactus Garden on the western rim of the Pinto Basin as early as possible since it was along the way, hearing that morning light is the best time to photograph here, but stopping to read the interpretive signs along the way put us a little off schedule. There is a .25 mile self-guided nature walk through the garden with brochures available at the trailhead.

There are several different type of cactus here but the most predominant is Cylindropuntia bigelovii, commonly called Jumping Cholla or Teddy Bear Cholla (pronounced choy-ya). Although it may look soft and fuzzy from a distance, the slightest touch against one of the sharp spines causes the segmented joint to latch on tightly, making it appear as if the cactus 'jumped' onto its victim. Needless to say, one needs to be very careful on this trail.

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park, California. Cylindropuntia bigelovii is commonly called Jumping Cholla or Teddy Bear Cholla. Although it may look soft and fuzzy from a distance, the slightest touch against one of the sharp spines causes the segmented joint to latch on tightly, making it appear as if the cactus 'jumped' onto its victim.

Then it was the scramble to find an open campsite. White Tank was my first choice but it only has 15 sites and was packed. Jumbo Rock was recommended by a park ranger. With 125 sites it is the largest campground in the park. After several circles around we finally found an available spot, set up camp and had some lunch. Both of these campgrounds are surrounded by fantastic granite rock formations which makes them a good choice for easily accessible sunset/sunrise photography locations and good choices for after dark light painting. Arch Rock Trail is in White Tank and Skull Rock Trail begins in Jumbo Rocks. I couldn't help but think that this formation directly across from our campsite looked like Yogi Bear sleeping on his side with his back turned to us -

This monzogranite rock formation reminded me of Yogi Bear sleeping on his side with his back turned to me. Jumbo Rocks campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California USA

Heading back out after some much needed food, the plan was to scope out Geology Tour Road and Barker Dam for the afternoon, then head over to Arch Rock before sunset.

Geology Tour Road is an 18 mile self-guided motor tour on a sandy loop trail through Pleasant Valley. There are brochures available at the trailhead and numbered stops along the trail. Although it's sand it was well graded and though I wouldn't take a low sedan on the road just about anything else should have no problems on this road. 4WD is not needed. Just make sure you look at the trail on a map first and understand that it is a loop. While doing some research I noticed Michael Reichmann's writeup on luminous-landscape.com and I could tell that he mistakenly turned onto Berdoo Canyon Road where it intersects Geology Tour Road, and Berdoo Canyon most definitely is a 4WD only trail, which is why Reichmann had the trouble he did. Berdoo Canyon Road goes out to I-10, Geology Tour Road loops around and returns to where it began. Whenever you head off pavement, especially in the desert, it is very important to either be familiar with the trail or have a good map/trail guide and gps/compass and know how to read it. Or hire me to be your trail guide. :)

Geology Tour Road is a great introduction to the geology of the desert, although it was nothing new for us and my increasingly cynical husband said "If you've seen one bajada, you've seen them all". The high point for me was the panoramic view of Pleasant Valley you see after the intersection with Berdoo Canyon Road. This is Malapai Hill and the Hexie Mountains. The Blue Cut Fault runs underneath this valley.

Panarama of Pleasant Valley in Joshua Tree National Park, showing the twin peaks of Malapai Hill and the Hexie Mountains. The Blue Cut Fault runs through here.

Joshua Tree and the twin peaks of Malapai Hill along the Geology Tour Road in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA. Malapai Hill is composed mostly of black basalt.

Hexie Mountains and a Joshua Tree are some of the beautiful scenery in Pleasant Valley along the Geology Tour Road in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA. To the far left of the mountain range you can see where the White Tank Monzogranite meets the harder Pinto Gneiss rock.

I had seen many gorgeous sunrise photos taken at Barker Dam with the reflection of the rocks in the lake and I wanted to plan to be there early the following morning, but Barker Dam was a bust on many levels; the nature trail out to the dam felt like an amusement park line there were so many people and there was barely a trickle of water. I'm sure that there's not nearly as many people on the trail before sunset, but without water for reflections there wasn't much else here to make a pre-dawn return trip worth my while. Another disappointment here is that the 'official' petroglyphs with interpretive sign had been traced with paint. I've heard that there are other petroglyphs in this area that are well preserved in their natural state, but you need to do some exploring because people keep the exact locations quiet to prevent additional 'well-intentioned' vandalism.

We had some time to kill before heading over to Arch Rock so we tooled around on the back roads through Queen Valley before stopping to watch the climbers at Intersection Rock. The Pullharder crew was having their annual Halloween BBQ at the top of Intersection Rock and many of the climbers were in full costume.

The Pullharder crew was having their annual Halloween barbecue at the top of Intersection Rock - here is one of the costumed female climbers. Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

I did a little climbing when I was (much) younger so I love to wistfully watch and Bill was amazed by one guy in leather pants, bare chest and chains (Rocky Horror?) who could free climb like Spiderman (note to self: really need a longer lens to shoot climbers...or climb up there with them!) so we ended up hanging around longer than we should have. By the time we got to White Tank and made the short hike to Arch Rock the sun was already too low. You need to know that Arch Rock is DOWN and the low late fall sun is blocked early by the ridge above. I remind myself that this is just a scouting trip, that's the whole point of a scouting trip and now I know for next time.

We'd been up since 3:30 and had a very full day, so it was time to head back to camp for some dinner and to lay out the next day's agenda.

More later...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park - "Desert Lite"

Black and white study, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

I had been avoiding Joshua Tree National Park like the plague for the simple reason that it's too popular; everyone knows about and visits JTree as it's known to locals. When we started planning last weekend's trip Bill asked that I find someplace that didn't require a 5 hour drive to get to the trailhead and I figured since Joshua Tree is only 2.5 hours from home it was a good time to go check it out so we could at least say we've been there and check it off the list. We've spent a lot of time in the high desert of the Mojave and the low desert of the Colorado (a subsection of the Sonoran) and I thought it would be interesting to see both at the same time and where they meet up.

To understand this post's title of "Desert Lite" I have to give you some backstory: I grew up in the outdoors, camping and hiking since I was a baby. My dad is a great outdoorsman and taught me everything he knows, and for several years I went hunting with him, my grandfather and their friends (until I decided that I didn't really like the taste of game, and if I wasn't going to eat it I wasn't going to kill it). Being outdoors is a way of life for me. My husband on the other hand grew up without a father around and except for boating and fishing on the Atlantic Ocean, didn't spend time in the greater outdoors. I had to slowly indoctrinate him and we started with hiking. We even spent out honeymoon hiking around Arizona, but 'base camp' was always a hotel.

My career kept me too busy during the early years of our marriage but when we moved to California the call of the wild was too strong for me to resist. When I first brought up the topic of camping he refused to camp anyplace where he couldn't take a shower. That meant (gasp) crowded public campgrounds. His maiden camping trip was in Cleveland National Forest, close to home just in case, and he settled in well and decided he liked it. His first desert camping trip a few months later was in Anza-Borrego, again in a public campground with a shower, and that's when he started realizing that he didn't like having so many people around because it ruined his peace and quiet (yay!). After a few primitive camping trips with our friends from Project JK he was 100% hooked on being in the middle of nowhere with no one else around and the Mojave Road taught him that he wouldn't get cooties if he went a couple days without a shower (and that I knew what I was talking about when I told him about unscented baby wipes).

But I didn't realize how thoroughly he was converted until last weekend. The only backcountry camping in Joshua Tree is hike-in and no camp fires are permitted. The desert is cold at night, sometimes below freezing, and I did not want to camp if I couldn't have a fire for heat. The second the sun goes down the temperature drops like a rock. There is some BLM land outside the park to the south that allows campfires, but it would mean a lot of backtracking over too many miles (50?) and then having to cover that ground again the next morning. The BLM land to the north doesn't permit campfires. That left (gasp) the public campgrounds.

JTNP has 9 campgrounds with 490 campsites, first come first served. We arrived at the park by 8:30am and the ranger told us that all campgrounds were full but we could hang around and hope to get lucky. We did manage to grab a site at Jumbo Rocks, which is in a beautiful location. BUT at every campground we checked out the sites are right on top of each other and right on the road that winds through the campground. Since there are pit toilets throughout the campground there is steady traffic, vehicle and pedestrian, along the road as people make their way to and from the toilets. There was music coming from every direction, tons of loud kids and the beautiful rock formations were covered with people. Bill muttered about it not being quite what he expected, but we set up camp to reserve our spot and then headed out to explore.

Hiking trail in Joshua Tree National park, California, USA

We visited a few of the main attractions - the Cholla Garden, the Geology Tour Road, Barker Dam (very little water) - and we were hiking to the next destination (along with a hundred other people) and joking about the steps cut into the rock, all of the Day Use Only areas and how everything was 'just so' when Bill turned to me and said "This is like Desert Lite! This is for people who can't handle the REAL thing!" hahahahaha

"I remember the first time I took you camping and you said..."
"Hush! Don't say it!"
"I'm really proud of you Bill, you've come a long way and you're finally fully converted."

I don't mean to denigrate our National Park System at all. I've enjoyed visiting many of them and they are always beautiful, clean, well kept and have wonderful interpretive information so I always learn something. Joshua Tree is among the nicest we've visited and it is a beautiful example of the local desert environment. It's a safe way for people to visit the desert and hopefully develop an appreciation for it. National Parks just aren't a place to go when you want to get away from it all. If you're spoiled like we are and used to having solitude and complete quiet, visiting a National Park such as JTNP requires a bit of an adjustment of expectations - there will be LOTS of people.

It's also a good reminder of how fortunate we are to have hundreds of miles of open trail just waiting to be explored here in California, and that we need to do our part to protect and maintain those trails so we can continue to enjoy the complete solitude. Tread lightly, leave it better than you found it, and take only photographs and memories.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Iridescent Clouds

Iridescent clouds over Joshua Tree National Park, 6 November 2010.

Two cloud posts in a row! :P
But these were really cool to see and Bill mentioned them as soon as we walked in the door today.

Yesterday we saw iridescent clouds throughout the south Mojave and Joshua Tree several times during the day. When parts of a cloud are thin and have similar size water droplets diffraction can cause them to show colors of the rainbow. This usually occurs within 20 degrees of the sun (which makes them difficult to view directly) but can occur further away. The quantity of bright white light makes them appear pastel, and the ones we saw yesterday were pink and green.

My photos don't do them justice - the colors were so bright at times you couldn't miss it - but 'someone' forgot to take off her polarizing filter (ask me about my disappearing rainbow some day).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cumulous convectus

Just a quick one while I'll pack my gear for the weekend. :)

I usually see these huge towering clouds rising over the hills behind my house after a storm and they are gorgeous. Cumulous congestus form in unstable areas of the atmosphere which are undergoing convection and that usually causes them to be taller than they are wide. They can reach an altitude of 15,000 to 20,000 feet.

It is amazing to watch them grow right before your eyes. Because they rise from behind the hills here at my house they sometimes look like giant mushroom clouds and the first time I saw one form I was absolutely amazed.

I'm looking forward to a weekend with a new moon/dark sky, Leonid meteor showers, a new place to explore with some incredible rock formations and a natural arch, and (hopefully this time please) low winds so I can do some night photography.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Goodies for your Halloween treat bag

Stock image of ceramic jack-o-lantern pumpkin

A few free goodies, not all just for photographers:

Another photographer's blogpost really hit home with me a while back when he cited the reasons for his sporadic blogging as his compulsive need to blog events in chronological order and his obsession with research. I've really struggled with the personal need to stay in chronological order and I'm vowing here and now to break out of that. I also tend to spend considerable time researching the locations I photograph before I blog about them (and anyone who is concerned with keywording knows the need for good research) and being somewhat of a knowledge junky I find myself going off in tangents whenever I find something interesting until I have 75 tabs open of things I want to look into when I have more time. Evernote is my life (time) saver and if you're like me you need this tool. Installing the Web Clipper for my browser lets me click a button and automatically save either the page URL or clip the entire contents of the page and file it in a notebook for future reference. I have notebooks set up for my most used categories and projects I'm working on. For example I have one for Future Blog Posts where I clip things I find that are inspriration for, what else....future blog posts. Whenever I need an idea I can open that notebook and see everything that caught my interest while browsing other topics. I especially love it when I'm researching one location and stumble across another location that I'd like to visit; rather than get sidetracked researching the new location (or even worse, make a note and forget about it) I can just clip the page and continue doing what I'm doing, then pull up my notebook of interesting locations when I'm ready to plan the next trip. You can add tags to your clipped content to make it easy to find using Evernote's search function. Awesome stuff, I love this tool. Desktop and mobile versions available.

Anyone who shoots outdoors should grab a copy of The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) developed by Stephen Trainor. It calculates when and where the sun and moon rises and sets (and the azimuth) on any given day in any given location and overlays the results on a Google topographical Map so you can visualize the effect. It calculates civil, nautical and astronomical twilight. Best of all for landscape photographers is the Geodetics panel. Geodetics is a bit technical, but anyone who shoots in canyons/mountains knows that you can lose your light hours before sunset because the sun can disappear behind a higher ridge. TPE's Geodetics panel lets you calculate when you will lose the light, or for sunrise when the light should hit the geological feature you want to photograph. There are many sites on the web that photographers use for finding sun and moon times, but having the info overlayed on a topographical map with the geodetics panel so you can actual visualize the scene makes this an essential tool I plan to get a lot of use from. It runs on Adobe Air (download link on TPE's page), free for desktop version (Mac, PC and Linux) and $8.99 for iPhone.

If you love playing with color as much as I do you may find yourself wandering around COLOURlovers for days as I have been (I designed my site years ago and I've done a horrible job updating/maintaining it, so I decided it was time for a complete overhaul and rebranding, which leads to the need for a cohesive color palette for my site and branding). COLOURlovers has some great tools for creating palettes, including the ability to upload a photo and create a palette using the colors in your image, a great way to find the perfect mat color or design any creative around an image. Trend information, blog posts, design guides and as of today 1,340,680 gorgeous color palettes to inspire you. Don't say I didn't warn you about how addictive this site is!

If you're a photographer whose site is hosted by SmugMug (as I know many of my readers are) make sure you get your free copy of Zack Prez's SmugMug SEO How To Guide. It's filled with tips specific to SmugMug to help you make the most of your SEO efforts. All photographers should go check out his blog filled with many more great tips that go beyond the basics you find at most SEO sites, like "3 Places to Find Your SEO was Hacked" and "Does Geotagging Photos Help Google Maps and Earth Searches?". Zack Prez is the author of "Photographer's SEO Book" and "Blog SEO Zen", both available on his website as downloadable e-books.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mojave Moonrise

Mmoonrise over Ivanpah Mountains in the Mojave Desert, California, USA

Red rock moon rises...
my spirit is like the wind
the coyote sings

Moonrise over the Ivanpah Mountains with the shadow of Teutonia Peak creeping up on me...time to start heading back in the direction of camp if I don't want to be out that far away after dark (I prefer to be within screaming distance of camp when I'm wandering in the desert solo at night). Making the most of it when I'm caught without the lens I want, I was drawn to the simple lines and near-symmetry of this composition. It reminded me of a haiku. :)