Images of California

Over a year ago I promised to post a gallery of images of California, but first I wanted to explore more of the state.  At the time I had spent a week in the desert and had made a couple of trips to the coast.  I’ve since been back to the desert twice, visited the coast a couple more times, and spent time in the Sierra Nevada mountains and redwood forests.  Turns out I have a pretty good span of pictures for someone who lives clear on the other side of the continent.  There is no doubt I will be back for more.  It’s a big state with plenty to explore, and as far as natural beauty it stands out amongst others in the lower forty-eight.  I think this gallery does a fairly decent job of exemplifying the contrasting landscapes, flora, and fauna of the state.  There is plenty I have left out and it will take many more trips across the the country to capture it all.  By no means am I done visiting the state.  There are places there that feel like home, places that my heart yearns for.  A strong sentiment, I know, but there is no other way to describe the feeling.  I’ll never live there, this much is clear to me, but I will always go back to say hello.

To explore the gallery of images of California follow this link: California Gallery, or visit the Image Galleries page via the top menu.  Have you visited any of these special places?  Wouldn’t it be nice to hang a memory on your wall?  All of the pictures contained in the gallery are for sale as prints. Visit my About page for prices and contact me directly with any questions.

Images of California, Joshua Trees with star Trails, Joshua tree National Park, California

Home Sweet Home

Home sweet home.  Rochester, NY is mine.  It’s where I grew up, it’s where I go to visit family, and it was there that I gained an interest in photography.  Maybe it began in high school, sporadically shooting with my dad’s old Nikkormat, taking months to fill a roll and spending my allowance on processing and purchasing film.  Film school may have advanced this interest, but it wasn’t until after college when I moved back home and began exploring the surrounding landscape that my interest really took off.  This time turned out to be the beginning of something amazing for me.  I gained a passion for nature and with that a desire to share it with other people.

You could say that Mendon Ponds is the place where this passion was born.  It’s a county park south of Rochester filled with unique glacial features and plenty of wildlife.  It’s known for its chickadees, so tame they will land in your hand if tempted with seed.  Even the more timid birds such as cardinals and nuthatches will get close if you stand perfectly still.  Songbirds like these are what you will typically run across in winter.  In the warmer months the ponds are alive with snakes, snapping turtles, beavers, and muskrats.  Deer traverse the meadows year round and migratory birds pass through every year.  It stands out as a truly beautiful and diverse natural landscape.  There are plenty of spots like it surrounding the Rochester area, many of which I have never visited. With a week to spend in the area over the holidays I had time to travel around and visit other small parks. Sterling Nature Center, a beautiful spot perched on the shore of Lake Ontario, is known for its great blue heron rookery.  The herons are nowhere to be found this time of year but the lake shore is dramatic in winter and was worth the drive out (I considered the trip as reconnaissance and after checking out the empty rookery promised myself that I’d return later in the year after the herons return).  I also spent a good amount of time looking for snowy owls, though it wasn’t until my last day in town that I finally found one. Thankfully the owl was cooperative and it didn’t take much effort to get a few shots.

Maybe it’s me, but I feel as if people take for granted what they have right in front of them. For as much as I appreciated Rochester when I lived there I never took full advantage of what I had access to.  It makes me wonder if I’m missing anything where I live now.  It’s hard to comprehend the fact that I will never see it all, no matter where I live and no matter where I travel something will be missed.  I think it’s a nice idea to pick a place, somewhere you will always return, somewhere to explore and to memorize.  Maybe mine will be a small park outside of Rochester, or perhaps it will be a huge one in a place like Alaska.  Time will tell.

Home Sweet Home, The Shore of Lake Ontario, Sterling Nature CenterHome Sweet Home, Winter Vegetation, Western New YorkHome Sweet Home, Cardinals, Mendon Ponds Park, RochesterHome Sweet Home, Snowy Owl, Western New YorkHome Sweet Home, Nuthatch on Tree Trunk, Mendon Ponds Park, RochesterHome Sweet Home, Chickadee/Cardinals, Mendon Ponds Park, RochesterHome Sweet Home, Feeding Chickadees, Mendon Ponds Park, Rochester

Eastern Sierra: Subject and Light

I don’t often speak about light.  In order of importance it comes second after subject.  There are many that disagree with me, but reading through these posts anyone could see that my discussions are always based around the subjects of my photos not the light they are in.  Is it hard to take a quality photo in poor light?  Yes, it can be, but what is poor light?  Midday sun, overcast skies, darkness?  It can be challenging to work under these and other circumstances but there are ways around them.  When faced with an interesting subject that I don’t want to pass up, or perhaps will never see again, I will always try to find a way to create an interesting picture using long exposures, filters, or artificial light. The trade off is that I have to carry more stuff, which can be a problem in itself when the subjects I’m after are 10,000 feet above sea level in California’s Eastern Sierra Mountains.

In the Eastern Sierras there is little escape from the sun.  From the valleys below to the tops of the alpine peaks the Eastern Sierras are desert.  The sun is hot and shade is little.  It is a dry place without much water, just a handful of alpine lakes and streams, all benefitting from the winter snow fall. When shooting midday I tend to shoot into the sun, photographing the shady side of things.  As a rule I tend to shoot in the shade.  1) It’s cooler in the shade, and 2) the sun’s light is harsh and hard to control, so I try to avoid it as much as possible.  This may sound backwards but it works.  I make up for this with either artificial light (strobes) or bouncing the sun’s light back into the subject with a reflector. With both of these methods I am able to control the direction and quality of the light.  This method worked wonders when photographing the gnarly, textured trunks of the foxtail pine trees that live and die in the Eastern Sierras.

An incredible photographic situation to watch for, and one solution to shooting in outer darkness, is the full moon on clear nights.  With a 30 second exposure you can light up the landscape like daytime and retain the star filled sky in your image, creating a scene that appears made up and fantastical. The trade off on these bright, moonlit nights is that you can’t see as many stars.  So if you’re looking for the milky way wait for a new moon.

After all of this there is of course the beautiful times of day that provide the highest quality of light to shoot under; sunrise, sunset, and of course twilight. And then there are the surprises; like the moon rising behind a giant cottonwood and reflecting the sun’s light through the dusty desert air (bottom of the page).  In any event, light is nice but subject is better.  If I didn’t own a camera I would still have hiked through the Eastern Sierras just to see what was there.

Eastern Sierra, Long Lake at Twilight, CaliforniaEastern Sierra, Moonrise, CaliforniaEastern Sierra, Dead Tree with Night Sky, CaliforniaEastern Sierra, Soldier Lake at Sunset/Meadow at Night, CaliforniaEastern Sierra, Foxtail Pine/Whitebark Pine at Night, CaliforniaEastern Sierra, Foxtail Closeup and Wide, CaliforniaEastern Sierra, Dead Foxtail Pines, CaliforniaEastern Sierra, Joshua Tree at Dawn, CaliforniaEastern Sierra, Cottonwood at Moonrise, California

 

 

Epic Landscapes: Crater Lake and Redwood National Parks

I know, I know… where are the Ireland pics!?  They’re coming, I promise… I have something special in mind for those.  Since returning from our trip to Ireland my wife and I took some time and traveled west to the Pacific Coast.  We wanted to check out new places.  I love California but had never been north of San Francisco.  Besides that, the two of us have long desired to see Oregon.  We flew into Portland and drove south checking out a few towns along the way.  Ultimately we ended up spending most our time in Crater Lake National Park and Redwood National and State Parks.  Both places are dominated by massive natural features.  So big and so grand that as a photographer (from the modestly beautiful east side of the country) I was intimidated.  It’s difficult to grasp a place photographically when only spending a couple days there.  These epic landscapes differ greatly from one another but both are remarkable.

Forest fires were (and still are) burning strong not far from Crater Lake.  The effect was hazy views across the crater and ominous colors in the evening sky.  On a blustery night on the rim of the crater the wind blew in smoke from over one hundred miles away.  Ash floated past and the air made my nostrils twinge, it was as potent as a campfire.

The air was clearer in the coastal redwood forests.  The trees stunned the mind with their size and greatness.  The forest was lush, overwhelmed with ferns, and enchanting in it’s volume.  Redwood NP also encompasses one of my favorite features of North America; the Pacific Coast.  In my opinion, you haven’t seen the ocean until you’ve stood on the western coast of the lower 48.

An expansive crater, a towering forest, and an endless horizon… truly epic landscapes.

Epic Landscapes, Crater Rim Sunset, Crater Lake National ParkEpic Landscapes, Trees Pointing to Space/Pinnacles, Crater Lake National ParkEpic Landscapes, Gnarly Tree and Crater, Crater Lake National ParkEpic Landscapes, Pinnacles/Clarks Nutcracker, Crater Lake National ParkEpic Landscapes, Fungus/Leaves, Redwood National and State ParksEpic Landscapes, Forest Scale, Redwood National and State ParksEpic Landscapes, California Seascape, Redwood National and State Parks

Microphotography: Nanoha Style

The sexuality of a flower is enhanced when you get this close.  Maybe it’s me, but the suggestive nature of their form is hard to ignore.  They have evolved to attract and there is no denying that they have succeeded at that.  Taking these photos was an intimate process.  Working this close with such delicate living things has to be.  At times I had to cut away pieces of the flowers to expose their innards.  The cutting and peeling of flesh felt invasive.  Often, I would look through the viewfinder and catch small insects scurrying and disappearing down the tubular petals; an indication that I had disturbed another world.

You must understand the scale of what you are looking at.  The opening at the end of each of the proboscis seen in these images is a fraction of a millimeter.  The detail in each image can not be seen with the naked eye.  Keeping my eye to the viewfinder and making slight adjustments to the position of the lens would hurl me into a biotic world; sending me down sparkling, rose colored tunnels or across fields of purple tentacles.  Nothing our eyes can distinguish looks like this.  I used a very specific lens to capture this world; the Nanoha 4-5x macro lens which is designed to be used only with specific mirrorless digital cameras.  Its only purpose is to take pictures at this scale.  The vote is still out as to whether or not the digital mirrorless movement will stay strong but companies like Yasuhara, who designed the Nanoha lens, seem to be putting stock into it (they just released their second specialty lens for DML cameras).  My intention is not to write a review on this lens but I did spend some quality time with it and even got to compare it to the monster 65mm 1-5x Macro lens that Canon produces.  The Nanoha has its flaws but they are few, the pictures tell that story.  It is much easier to work with than the Canon.  It’s a fraction of the size and weight and because it only works with mirrorless cameras you save size and weight there too -this is beneficial when making slight adjustments.  Check out the lens HERE, or Yasuhara, the company that makes it, HERE (use Chrome so you can translate the page).

I like this quote from the Yasuhara website: “NANOHA is the gate to the nano-meter world.”  Look at the pictures, you will see that it’s true.

Microphotography, Nanoha StyleMicrophotography, Nanoha StyleMicrophotography, Nanoha StyleMicrophotography, Nanoha StyleMicrophotography, Nanoha StyleMicrophotography, Nanoha StyleMicrophotography, Nanoha Style

For the Birds: Delaware Bay Conservation

Like many of us this past Memorial Day weekend I headed to the beach.  I left very early Saturday morning and took as many back roads as possible as I made my way south through the Garden State.  My intentions were not to go partying on the Jersey shore.  I was headed to the Delaware Bay where a handful of beaches had recently been restored. The restorations, headed up by Delaware Bay conservation groups, were not intended for swimmers and sunbathers, but for horseshoe crabs and the migratory birds that stop there on their journey north.

Something unique happened for conservation this year: Superstorm Sandy.  The same surge of wind and water that sent the company I work for and the lives, homes, and business of many others spinning into disarray created an opportunity for conservation.  Not necessarily a good thing mind you, just an opportunity.  Delaware Bay conservation groups had been seeking funds and permits to improve the wild beaches of the bay in the hopes of making better nesting grounds for horseshoe crabs.  The crabs are very picky about where and under what conditions they lay their eggs.  In experiments in the past, captive horseshoes wouldn’t spawn until they were given sand from the exact beach they were taken from.  Researchers in the bay area were eager to play with that sand.  They wanted to figure out what made it good sand by horseshoe crab standards.  But how do you go about replacing a beach?  Well, after the storm there were no beaches.  Conservation groups went into overdrive, knowing that without beaches there would be no horseshoe crabs to lay eggs.  Without horseshoe crab eggs there would be nothing for the birds to eat on their way north, therefore, in years to come, there would be less birds.  The money rolled in and so did the permits.  In a way it was like starting from scratch, they were able to set up test zones on the beaches.  Finer sand on one beach, larger grains on another, a combination of sizes on a third, and so on.  Their hopes being that they would learn what quality of sand attracts and, if you will, inspires a horseshoe crab.

Through one channel or another I got in touch with wildlife biologist Larry Niles who, after a brief conversation on the phone, invited me along to photograph some of the work he and his team were doing; netting and tagging migratory shore birds.  I showed up at 7am Sunday morning at headquarters; a beach house decorated with bird artwork and identification posters.  When I arrived Larry was still out scouting beaches looking for the birds.  He called in occasionally with updates causing flurries of excitement throughout the house.  I quickly discovered that this would be a hurry-up-and-wait type of situation, something I am very used coming from the world of film production and nature photography.  After about an hour and a half a serious sounding guy arrived and started giving direction.  He arrived so suddenly and took the reigns so quickly it was as if he had just appeared in the middle of the room mid-sentence.   When his eyes finally landed on me, him still with the room’s attention, he asked “Who are you, and who are you with?”  I told him Larry Niles had invited me along, he said “I’m Larry Niles.”  I told him it was nice to meet him.

We rushed to Pierce’s Point where Larry had scouted a large number of birds; specifically red knots and ruddy turnstones, two of the target species.  The team filled their arms with gear and headed down the shore towards the gathering birds.  The first step was to gently move the birds down the beach.  We wanted them to return to the exact spot we had found them.  Larry did this on his own, walking slowly down the beach as the birds hopped and fluttered to keep their distance.  Once the birds had moved the team moved in to lay out the cannon-net; a long net fixed to a handful of projectiles that fire from small mortars buried in the sand.  It was precision work.  The net had to be gathered and buried so that it wouldn’t double over on itself.  The cannons had to be settled into the sand, aimed, and camouflaged   Once set we retreated from the beach, hid in the bushes, and waited patiently for the birds to return. It didn’t take long until they were in the path of the net, the countdown came over the radio, and the net fired.  As soon as it came to rest the team went sprinting across the beach to the birds.  Their first priority was to cover the captured birds with a weaved tarp to calm them down.  The team worked quickly.  They pulled the birds one by one out from the net and organized them by species into plastic crates.  From there they were transferred and counted into burlap housings staked into the sand. One by one the birds were tagged, weighed, and measured.  They took blood and feces to check for disease and then released the birds into the air.  An exciting moment came when a captured turnstone was discovered with multiple tags already attached to it’s legs, including a green tag with a built in geo-tracker (I joked that this bird must have been slower than the rest).  The team quickly traced the tag back to the Canadian Arctic.

These beaches are closed temporarily each spring to allow migrating shorebirds a chance to fuel up and rest on their way to the Canadian Arctic to breed.  Its a hard time of year for them and the beaches provide an important stopover. In the few short days I’d spent in the area, I found ATV tracks leading out onto one of these beaches and the “Area Closed” sign torn from it’s post and laying face-down in the sand.  I saw couples who were staying in private homes near closed beaches taking casual strolls down the shore, threatening the comfort of the birds and inadvertently scaring them from their much needed feeding grounds.   I myself felt like an intruder while venturing into one of these protected areas even though I was with a team of experts who’s only intention was to help.  It’s a delicate cycle that requires a delicate touch.  The birds need the horseshoe crabs, the crabs need the beaches, all three need us, and I don’t know about you, but I need them.

For more about Delaware Bay conservation read this interview with Larry Niles.  It doesn’t include Hurricane Sandy but gives good insight into what the birds were up against even before the storm.

Cannon-Netting, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyCannon-Netting, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyCannon-Netting, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyCannon-Netting Shore Birds, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyCannon-Netting Shore Birds, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyCannon-Netting Shore Birds, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyCollecting Turnstones from Cannon-Net, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyCollecting Shore Birds for Research, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyGeo-tagged Turnstone, Delaware Bay Conservation, New JerseyHorseshoe Crab/Releasing Bird, Delaware Bay Conservation, New Jersey