San Francisco is an amazing city, but my favorite thing about it might be its location. Just drive and hour or two in any direction and you'll stumble across any number of scenic locations. The fact that Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero isn't even that well know is a testament to how beautiful California is.
This is the best time of year to explore Mount Tam and the Marin Headlands, with fog rolling in almost every day.
In all the time I've been exploring the Marin Headlands I can't believe I'd never visited Muir Beach Overlook before. This is a location I'll be visiting again.
Monterey might be a tourist trap, but there's a reason. The landscape all down the coast is just stunning, and the animals who live there are incredible. My favorite thing, however, is the way the ocean clouds often diffuse the sunlight and cast everything in a dreamy haze.
Pinnacles isn't, at first glance, the most picturesque of National Parks. The rock formations are often bleached in the sunlight, and the caves have challenging light conditions for photography. And while the condors are truly amazing creatures, they have the kind of faces only a mother could love. But as the sun goes down and the animals appear it's a fun place to be, and when the stars fill the night sky, it's awe-inspiring.
I must have visited Rodeo Beach ten to twenty times to take photos, and it seems like every time I go there's more photographers setting up tripods with the same hope of capturing something special. It's always fascinating to see what everyone is doing differently to get the image that appeals to them.
For me though, the most interesting thing is how it changes over time. The tide might be high or low, the weather clear or not, and the sun setting in a different spot. At certain times of year the sea seems to dump much more sand around the rocks than at others, so even the makeup of the landscape changes frequently. It makes it worth returning to old haunts.
Sometimes it's great to just take photos with no agenda: landscapes, wildlife, old places or new. Leaving the house with no expectations of taking any photos is like hitting the reset button.
The more time I spend photographing wildlife the more I enjoy it, but what constitutes a good shot is evolving. At first I was just excited to see the animals in the wild and a photograph was a just a bonus to prove I witnessed it. Getting a shot that was well composed and in focus was obviously the next step up. And soon I was interested in capturing some of their environment too, highlighting how natural and adapted they were to their surroundings. But now I'm focused on characteristics and behavior.
Learning more about their behavior and studying their character not only reveals more personality, it allows you to predict how best to compose the shot or when the best time to hit the shutter will be. When I learned that herons also hunted on land I knew to wait patiently until it pierced the ground and came up with a gopher in it's beak. Knowing how a coyote moves made me think of composing it sneaking through the grass, partially hidden. And in return I now want to learn more about the animals I'm photographing so I can improve every time.
I'm really going down the rabbit hole of wildlife photography now. I'm still trying to work out a style, especially one that gels with my landscape stuff, but a couple of hours at Cosumnes River Preserve this weekend produced a few images I was happy with. And they seemed somewhat consistent in tone too, which I liked. I realized that one of the reasons I like long exposure shots is because they reveal something that's there in nature, but not immediately visible. The zoom lens gives me the same feeling because when I see birds in their natural environment I don't get to see them in detail until I use photography, so that reveals something too.
This week I had a great surprise: a photo I submitted to LEE Filters – Winter Storm, Yosemite Falls – was one of 5 chosen to be critiqued by landscape photographer David Noton. Great honor! Here’s what he said...
Dappled light on the landscape is so much more dramatic then blanket illumination, isn’t it? This is a wonderfully atmospheric picture. OK, Yosemite is epic, we all know that, but the most dramatic landscapes are often the hardest to shoot. To capture something special in such well known and overly photographed locations we really have to dig deep.
Derick has captured an image full of dark mood here. Too dark? Those shadows on the left are awfully dense, but then again there’s beauty in a rich black. I may have teased out a bit more detail there, but I applaud Derick’s courage in embracing the darkness.
He’s used his filters subtly too, with no obvious grad line darkening down the top of the mountain and good detail in the heavy threatening sky. I’m not quite sure what the use of a Big Stopper achieved though; an exposure just a few seconds long would blur the water fall nicely. But who am I to question? It’s worked, and by the way; it’s another minimal colour image! Don’t you just love them?
– David Noton
As to my “embracing the darkness”, I kind of like that!
With a powerful zoom lens it's tempting to just get as tight a shot as possible when you encounter animals in the wild, especially as you can give them the respect and distance they deserve. And to some extent that's been fun to experiment with this week at Point Reyes and Corte Madera Marsh State Marine Park. But I've found that zooming out a little and showing them in context is more interesting. You can see how perfectly adapted they are for their surroundings and suddenly the importance of the whole ecosystem makes sense. In these four shots each bird (a northern harrier, a yellow-rumped warbler, a snowy egret, and a red-tailed hawk) is so vastly different from the last, but they all have specialist skills to survive in close proximity. That blows my mind.
The wildlife photography safari I took in Point Reyes last year has inspired me to up my game there, and I just acquired a Tamron 150-600mm lens to make the most of it. Today was really just an exploratory trip to check out some new areas of the park and test the lens. I didn't see a lot of wildlife, but I was really impressed with the quality of the few shots I got.
Photo trips have been few and far between recently but this week I went out with a MeetUp group. I found it under the photography section of the site but the excursion was actually made of people from multiple groups and I was really the only photographer there. That was disappointing as we were hiking and nobody else was stopping to take photos. I got a few shots in though and got to explore a new part of the coastline.
This weekend I headed to North Beach in Point Reyes. My idea was to experiment with how minimal and serene I could make my compositions. It was hard to maintain those elements with the extreme light of the sunset. After I packed up and headed out I caught the very last of the light at Schooner's Bay. It was totally unplanned but they ended up being the best shots of the day. The best laid plans and all that...
This year on Instagram I created 143 posts and received a surprising 17,183 likes. I'm not ashamed to say that's a number I'm proud of. The images above were generated by 2017bestnine.com. These were my nine most popular photos, all of the natural world in California, but my favorite nine are shown below.
This week we took a trip to Tahoe to experience a bit of winter snow. It was our first time snowshoeing and staying in a backcountry cabin. It was a cold and rustic experience, but a fun adventure. Snow brings a magical aspect to any landscape and as I'm always drawn to minimal compositions I love the way it simplifies everything except the atmosphere.
It'd been a while since I'd been out taking landscape shots but I managed a few hours this weekend. It was amazing how rusty I felt doing something familiar after just a few weeks off. The light was incredible though. Hopefully I won't leave it as long next time.
Sometimes you don't know what you don't know. As a photographer I guess I consider myself a landscape photographer first and foremost, but where you find nature you find wildlife and it's not unusual to find deer, chipmunks or other animals in frame. And I knew I didn't have the skills or the equipment to be a serious wildlife photographer but this weekend I had my eyes opened on both how much I had to learn and how much I wanted to.
I recently got an amazing birthday present: a half day safari with a professional wildlife photographer in Point Reyes. Daniel Dietrich was the perfect guide; he was an expert in the wildlife, the landscape, and photography (and a friendly, patient guy to boot). His trained eye knew where to look and he spotted the most hidden, camouflaged animals from a distance. In a few short hours we saw three species of owl, otters, elk, harriers, hawks and one creature I wanted to see most, a bobcat.
Looking back at the day I'm pleased with my photos but the experience of seeing the animals in the wild was the biggest thrill. During the day I had been focused on getting the sharpest, most detailed shot of each animal, as close in as possible, but studying the images I realized something else. Every animal was perfectly evolved for its environment. The fascinating thing was framing it wider with some landscape only emphasized that relationship and the context added to the story. Seeing how much I have to learn and how exciting it is to search, I might just be hooked.
I will never tire of Yosemite. Every season is so different and with vast areas outside the valley to explore there's something new to see every time. This past weekend we camped at Hodgdon Meadow and braved the cold to see some more of the Tioga Pass before the snow closes the road.
We hiked out to Lower Cathedral Lake, a beautiful and quiet part of the park. The walk wasn't too strenuous, but even if it had been, I'd have gone for the views of Cathedral Peak. One of the last incredible, sunny days before winter comes.
Last week I received one of those chain challenged on Facebook from a friend. She challenged me to post one black and white photo per day for a week. My initial reaction was to make grayscale versions of existing images I created with my DSLR, but it seemed like a good opportunity to try something different.
I decided to shoot images on the day of posting–of anything that caught my eye–with my iPhone. I didn't spend time agonizing over composition or getting things perfect. It was much more immediate and I even enjoyed getting things deliberately grimy and out of focus. I was just trying to do something I wouldn't normally do.
The results were much more abstract than normal, and expressive in a different way. I didn't overthink anything and it was surprisingly fun and cathartic to through everything I've been working on out the window for a week and just shoot for the hell of it.