Monday, March 30, 2009

A Hooter Family Portrait

I noticed an article in the local paper last week about this family of great horned owls living high up in a eucalyptus tree at the lake/reservoir just a few miles from where I live.  So, I ended up making 2 trips to the lake this past saturday, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon. The morning session didn't produce much... they weren't very active and the light was in the wrong direction, too.  I was determined to get a least one decent shot and knew the light would be more favorable near the end of the day, so I went back for another try and spent close to 2 hours just watching and waiting.
After nothing at all for a while, they started to move around and Mama was ripping off bits of what looked like a rabbit and feeding bits of it to the youngsters.. really fascinating to watch, but they don't exactly cooperate by standing up on the edge where you can see them well, and one was completely out of site most of the time. 
I'm not really equipped to do this kind of work properly; this is just at the edge of what my gear can do. These guys are 40-50 feet up in the tree and the tree itself is further up on a hillside with restricted access, so to the naked eye, the nest is just a dark spot way up there in the branches. Even with my 400mm lens which is the longest I have, this is about a 50% crop!  Add in the wind blowing things around and the birds total unconcern about performing for their fans on the ground, and I now realize why I don't do a lot of wildlife photography. I do love animals and I love to photograph them, but in the wild, the logistics of it all are tough and you need extreme patience. 
I was just praying that they would somehow all get together for a few seconds and finally they did, almost like they were saying: "Alright.. here you go. Take your shot and get out of here!" Right after, they hunkered down again and I decided to call it a day.  Since I now know where they are and the best time to watch, I'll probably go by a few times a week to see how they grow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Some Wine Country Colors

No special subject comes to mind today, so here is a simple scene I caught 5-6 years ago while on a morning walk in Napa Valley. I'm sure almost everyone in the world knows that this is California's premier wine growing region (if you throw in Sonoma and Mendocino, which are both adjoining counties) although there are many other smaller regions also making wine these days. Even here in southern California we have quite a few wineries. However, it's very tough to beat this area north of San Francisco for sheer beauty and rural atmosphere. Different than Europe, but very attractive in it's own way. Sonoma and Mendocino both run up along the rugged coastline and Napa is a bit more inland. There are many nice B&B's to stay in, excellent restaurants and great wine to sample everywhere you go. This shot, I believe, was taken in early December, after the harvest but before real "winter", if you want to call it winter at all around here. Not to be missed if you ever visit California.
Not really the best image quality here; I remember I shot it hand-held but don't recall what camera I had with me at the time... I've always liked this scene, though.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Finding Hidden Gems

Sometimes, when I don't have any new images to work on (which is actually quite often since I don't tend to work much locally around where I live), I like to dig into my "digital negatives" of past sessions.
After a 3 or 4 day trip, I may have 150-200 exposures to go over(not that many compared to some people, I know), and I then go through a selection process where I assign star ratings to sort out the ones I'm pretty sure have potential, a second level that may or may not work, and finally, to leave out the ones that don't seem to have any potential at all. I'm pretty critical during this process; in the first go-round, I look only at the thumbnails, because I feel a really strong shot will come across even in miniature format, where you might not even be able to tell what it is... there's just something about the abstract shapes and tones that somehow works. Of course during the next phase, I might open a supposed winner to look in detail and find something that kills it, or a so-so looking image may come to beautiful life after a little tweaking. All of this is usually done in an inspired rush of first impressions and gut feelings when I get back home to the studio; the downside is that I sometimes pass over some good stuff, making it fun and productive to reprocess marginal images or even take a stab at some of the ones I completely ignored the first time around.
This is one of those... I took a second look at it after more than a year. Probably during the initial sorting process I was concentrating on bigger and more dramatic views and thought this was too simple or too flat, but after adjusting it to bring out the light and texture, I find this one really pleasing and peaceful, almost meditative to look at... there's a lot to be said for letting some time pass before you judge your own work.
This little piece of tumbleweed had blown down inside the canyon and lodged in a way that made it seem to be basking in sun from the slot above and growing right out of the rock. The textures of the rock remind me of a continuous brush stroke, flowing from lower left to upper right.

Monday, March 16, 2009

First Kiss of Dawn

"First Kiss of Dawn" - Eastern Sierra
Ahh.. what better place to be on a freezing December 31 morning than all alone among miles of hills and boulders, beneath the eastern wall of the Sierra Nevada mountains, waiting with your camera for the sun to come up? This particular area has thousands of fascinating granite formations and is right at the foot of the spectacular peaks surrounding Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Many old movies and TV shows like The Lone Ranger, Bonanza and Treasure of Sierra Madre were filmed here because of the unique western landscape of rocks and snow capped mountains, and it's still popular for commercials and movies. When my wife first saw this, she thought the subject rocks looked like two figures kissing, hence the title of this one. You can see some snowy peaks off on the left horizon, the distance exaggerated by a wide angle lens.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Really BIG view

Well, I wasn't going to go back to the same spot two posts in a row, but fact is, I've been busy with paying work this week and haven't had the time or energy to dig around for a new subject and write something to go with it. Also, the last photo I felt didn't really do justice to the enormity of this location. Everyone seemed to enjoy being able to view the detailed version last time, so I'm goin' all out with this one.. should be full screen on all but the largest of monitors.  You can see the remnants of the storm that dumped the snow off on the horizon (remember this was October 1!) Bit of a postcard shot, but fun to look at really big... so pop it up, hide your other windows, kick back with a nice cup of coffee or tea and enjoy the wintery view while nice and warm at home (or maybe at the office?) and remember Spring is just around the corner. See if you can count the trees:) Feel free to save it and use as a wallpaper if you're inclined. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Looks Like Winter, but..'s not. And, it's not Bryce Canyon either, for those who might think so. This is Cedar Breaks, similar to Bryce with it's characteristic red rock hoodoos and high country forest, but quite a bit smaller, although still huge and impressive by most standards. This is a single, large amphitheater carved out of the side of a mountain, about (I'm guessing here without checking the map) 60-70 miles west of Bryce and a bit north of Zion. It may look like a winter scene, but I actually shot this on October 1 of last year, during my annual "foliage hunt". The east side of the mountain is covered with aspen groves and lava fields that run 30 miles or so from here on the rim at 10,500 ft., down towards the Red Canyon and Bryce areas at somewhat lower elevation. You can see a bit of foliage if you look towards the top center of the frame. The day before this, I drove along the rim in near white-out blizzard conditions, and would not have gone considerably out of my way to get back here on my way home, except that I knew it had to be really beautiful after the fresh snow. Without the snow, this would probably be a pretty boring "viewpoint" shot, but I like the way the white creates a nice design against the darker shapes of the rocks and forest. The one open slope there in the middle was catching a bit of sunlight on an otherwise cloudy day.
I haven't been doing this, but for this post you can click the image for a LARGE view and enjoy the detail and textures in all their glory.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Secret World

I was debating where to go this week (subject-wise) and finally decided that the canyon thing might be interesting to pursue further.  I usually prefer to discuss art rather than travel related stuff, but several people commented on my last post that they were unfamiliar with the subject of slot canyons and several others indicated their plans to seek out some themselves this year.  In light of that, I have to mention Antelope Canyon in Arizona, right near the border with Utah and at the base of Lake Powell, near the Glen Canyon dam.
Many serious nature photographers from all over the world know about this place and let me tell you, a whole lot of them make the pilgrimage to get here every year. It's the Mecca of slot canyons and unfortunately gets quite crowded most days.  It lies on Navajo Indian land, so you need to hire one of the several guide services that share rights to bring people in here. They will transport you from the little nearby town of Page, right up to the opening that you see here in the middle pic, then take you on through for a certain amount of time, depending on the tour you purchase. If you want to do any serious photography, you'll need to pay a little more for the 2 1/2 hour photo session that most of the guides offer. That will give you, besides enough time to work, a referee of sorts for your limited size group, and they will at least try to keep the other groups separated and out of your way in each of several good spots. The guide for my group even played an indian flute for us while inside to enhance the mood. Even so, you will need to be patient and a bit aggressive to get the good angles. Fortunately, the exposures in here are quite long, so even if someone walks through your shot while your shutter is open, (and they will) they'll show up little if at all. Sometimes the "ghost" effect is even kind of cool. Some of the more casual tourists are not too concerned about kicking up dust as they shuffle about, either. 
I believe they used to let people in here by themselves after paying a fee, but it got too crowded to manage that way and also there is the danger of flash flooding. Rain so far away that you don't even know it's falling can rush through here suddenly and it's all over if you happen to be inside, so they are careful about watching the weather.  In 1997, eleven tourists from France, Sweden and the U.K. were caught in the lower Antelope Canyon and drowned. One somehow managed to survive.
The upper, vertical shot is taken from outside, right at the entrance and you can see some people with their point and shoot cameras.. once again,  good for scale reference, although it gets much larger inside. Some spots are comfortably wide, others are very narrow, so hopefully you don't have claustrophobia! The larger, third image is actually far from one of my best from this shoot, but I think it is reasonably good at expressing what it's like inside this mysterious place. If you're lucky, you'll catch a sunbeam shining down from above onto the floor!