Walking Together!

Location: Sierra Open Preserve, San Jose
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/8 | 1/6s | ISO 100

What a beautiful place! As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, this place is very close to where I live but unfortunately, I haven’t explored it much. When we went here for Sunset, we took the trail to the other side of the parking lot to see what we can find in terms of good composition.

We must have spent an hour or so on the other side hiking and trying different shots. As the Sun started setting behind the mountain, we decided to checkout the trails that have city views. We thought that would make a better comp compared to where we were. So, we started heading that direction. We stopped several times on the way as I was trying to get some starburst of the setting Sun as there were rocks that the Sun hit at the right angle.

I was asked to model for a few shots as the guys tried to shoot Sun through my hands and get a Starburst. As soon as we were done with that, I ran to the other trail so I can get the setting Sun. The colors were spectacular. I was able to get some starburst of the setting Sun.

Once the Sun was done, I was looking for other comp ideas. The colors were still spectacular. I went to this place to shoot the colorful sky with the busy city in my frame. As I was setting up my tripod, I saw this couple walk by. I thought I’d use them in my frame. I waited till they got to the right spot and clicked a few shots. I didn’t spend a lot of time processing this photo. I just did enough to tell a story. After publishing this to 500px, I do see a couple of things I can change to make it even better.

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Stargazer!

Location: Davenport, CA
Time: Wee Hour of the Morning
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Sigma 17-50mm | 18mm | f/2.8 | 15s | ISO 4000

Is there anyone who claim not be fascinated by the vast universe we are part of? Is there anyone who doesn’t look up at the night sky and dream? I am sure there are people who aren’t fascinated or who just don’t care but I have a feeling they are few and far inbetween. I have been fascinated by the cosmos for a very long time.

Until recently, I didn’t know I could imagine, plan, and shoot Milky Way pictures. I have seen several photos of the Milky Way online and I have always wondered how difficult it would be to capture the Milky Way.

To be honest, I had no idea where to begin. I read several articles online and watched some tutorials and got a bit familiar with the mechanics of shooting the Milky Way. Luckily, the Core Group of Photographers I shoot with are equally (if not more) fascinated by the Milky Way and they knew lot more about the subject.

One of my first attempts at shooting the Milky Way was with the Core Group at Pinnacles National Park. It was a good experience being out in the middle of the night chasing the MW but I didn’t come back with good MW shots. I didn’t have the right lens; I didn’t have the right focus; and, I didn’t have right technique. Still, looking at the MW arch made the trip worth it.

My next chance came when we planned a trip to Yosemite to shoot MW from Glacier Point. I got a lot of great shots at Yosemite but all were before the sky went dark. I didn’t come up with any usable photos. I had a lens that was pretty fast but I didn’t know where to focus and how to get sharp stars. I did get some decent shots during a meetup at Shark Fin cove but nothing spectacular. I really wanted to get a shot that was sharp, clean, and well composed. Unfortunately, the window to see and photograph the MW was gone.

I waited till the season started again this year, which is Spring time in the Northern Hemisphere. The first opportunity this year came last week and I jumped on it. I woke up at 1:30 AM and got ready to shoot the MW. The sky was supposed to be clear. A friend of mine came home and we carpooled together and went to Shark Fin Cove. We picked up another friend of ours on the way. When we got to Shark Fin Cove, we were very disappointed. We couldn’t even see the MW; clouds completely covered just part of the sky where MW would rise. We waited for about 20 minutes and it didn’t clear. We came home empty handed. It was disappointing but what can you do. No matter how many tools you have to predict nature, it sure is unpredictable.

The next chance came this week when we realized weather was going to be clear. A few of us decided to give it a try and head to Shark Fin Cove. When we got there, we did see clouds moving in but we were hoping it would clear. We got a couple of shots and the clouds covered the MW. We waited for it to clear and luckily it did clear. But we saw lot of light pollution from Santa Cruz. Most of the shots were unusable. We were debating if we should go down to the beach and try some shots. It was high tide so we wouldn’t be able to line up the MW with Shark Fin. After a bit of back & forth, we decided to head to Davenport.

The goal was to get to the beach and use the sea stack as foreground element and shoot the MW. When we got there, the MW was clearly visible. We saw a lone tree so we decided to shoot some shots with the Lone Tree in the FG. We then went down to the beach and started shooting. The first few shots were blurry as the focus wasn’t quite right. I then found the right focus so I was firing away.

We thought we were safe from the waves but we underestimated the high tide. A wave came in and hit all of us. We got wet till our knees. While I was running, I couldn’t really catch my falling tripod with my camera mounted but luckily one of the guys with me caught it. Thank god!

We continued shooting and one of the guys suggested I go stand and ‘light’ the MW with my headlamp. I focused my camera and asked one of my friends to press the shutter. I stood there for several minutes so everyone can get their shots.

When I came home, I had several shots from Davenport that were usable. I liked the composition on this one and how the overall image turned out. A good start to learning MW photography but a long way to go. My goal is to maximize the clear weather and shoot as much MW from as many locations as possible. As a matter of fact, the next shoot is already planned.

Calm before the Storm!

Location: Almaden Lake Park, San Jose
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM| 10mm | f/8 | 1/50s | ISO 100

Another spectacular Sunset from Almaden Lake Park. This is one of my go-to spots near home. For a while, this used to be ‘the’ go-to spot but now I have discovered a few more. I love Almaden Lake Park. It’s scenic, beautiful, and has lot of trails that Sowmya and I love to walk around. They also have picnic areas that Sowmy and I go to often. We pack lunch or dinner and go to the Lake and sit at the picnic tables by the water and enjoy our meal. The Lake also is home to a wide variety of birds. Even though I don’t do that much bird Photography anymore, I always love watching birds.

Anyways, it was Sunday afternoon and Sowmya wanted to finish some errands. I thought I’d go check out a farm about 20 minutes from home as I heard that they have Sunflowers. We finished our errands and I decided to not check out the Farm as I didn’t feel like dragging Sowmya with me.

When I got home, I checked Escaype add San Jose came up with very high potential. I wasn’t sure if the numbers were accurate. I was debating if I should go out or not. Then, I decided I will go but wasn’t sure where to go. I thought I’d checkout Sierra but by the time I decided to head out it was pretty late so I wouldn’t have made it on time.

I was under the impression that Almaden Lake Park was closed so I set my mind on Santa Teresa Park. I thought I’ll hike up the hill on one of the trails to see if I can find a lone tree or some interesting foreground. I asked Sowmya not to come as I didn’t want her to hike a lot. She agreed for a second but changed her mind. So, the two of us headed out. I asked Sowmya to call Alamaden Lake Park to see if it’s open and it actually was so we decided to go there instead.

When I got there, the colors were already starting to show. I had a feeling it’ll be a good Sunset. Sowmya sat on one of the park benches and started taking to her niece. As usual, I walked up and down to find a good comp. I went down to the lake bank and took a few shots. While coming up, I was looking at Sowmya and didn’t pay attention to where I was going. I took a fall! I didn’t get hurt or anything but my camera hit the ground. Sowmya came running to me to make sure I was ok. I was more worried about the camera than anything else. My knees did hurt a bit but I wasn’t bleeding. The camera and lens were just fine. The ND Filter did get a couple of small scratches so I did a couple of test shots. Seems to be ok but time will tell.

Sowmya and I had a good laugh and I went to different side of the lake to take a few shots. I was trying to go down to the lake bank again and as Sowmya was trying to prevent me, I stumbled. I almost fell again but I was able to keep my balance. We laughed out loud for several minutes. We both sat on the bench for a few minutes laughing.

Sowmya then continued her call telling her sister, her niece, and her mom about my fall. I decided to walk around to see if I find any good comp ideas. I saw this drift wood and immediately thought about using it in my comp.

I sat down on the floor in the lake bank, put my tripod as low as it would go and started taking shots. I was waiting for the sky to get lit up. A small portion of the sky in the horizon did light up and it reflected very well on the lake. This is a blend of 3 bracketed shots. After processing the photo, I see a lot of triangles which I think add to the composition.

Literally, minutes after taking this photo, I packed my gear and met up with Sowmya who was sitting in the picnic area. We started walking toward our car and it started raining. Before we could even say it was raining, it started pouring and we got drenched.

Floating Fin!

Location: Shark Fin Cove, California
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM| 10mm | f/8 | 30s | ISO 100

I have been to Shark Fin Cove a few times before but not during Golden Hour. I have been meaning to do that for a while. When Santa Cruz area came up with high potential for a colorful Sunrise, I decided to go. Few of the core members of the Photography group decided to join as well. So, everything was set for a few of us to go to Shark Fin Cove for Sunrise in the hopes that it will be colorful.

Right before going to bed, I did get a note that coast will be fogged and there won’t be any color. It was too late for me to back out though. We were going to carpool from my house. So, I decided to go ahead anyway in the hopes that the forecast would turn out to be wrong.

As planned, we hit the road around 5:30 in the morning. When we got to Shark Fin Cove, it was blue hour and we did see lot of clouds. The question was whether or not the clouds would light up. We started shooting from different spots. There were lot of wildflowers so we tried to use that in our comp.

I then decided to go down to the beach. The hike down is pretty easy and only takes a few minutes. We did see a couple camping there, which was odd. Camping is not ‘allowed’ on the beach. They just decided to crash there for the night.

We were trying different comps from the beach. At this point, we knew that the forecast (unfortunately) was accurate. No colors whatsoever. It was just grey. Not what I hoped for at all. I still don’t have any shot from Shark Fin where the sky is colorful.

Anyways, the moment I knew colors were not going to show up, I started looking for B&W comp ideas. I decided to put on my ND Filter and do a long exposure shot. I thought about going with a fast shutter as the waves were crashing hard. But I lost patience; I wasn’t able to get a single shot with good wave action. So, I decided I’ll go the other way and do long exposure.

I converted it to B&W in post processing and went through with my usual workflow. I loved how it turned out with foamy waters and the contrasting tones. Even though I didn’t get what I was hoping for, it was a great outing. Had great time experimenting with different comp ideas and had a lot of fun hanging out with friends.

Standing Strong!

Location: Sierra Open Preserve, San Jose
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Sigma 17-50mm 2.8 | 17mm | f/8 | 1/1250s | ISO 100

I have lived in the Bay Area for long time and this place is well within striking distance from home. It’ll probably take just 45 minutes to get up the winding roads to the top of the hill. Even though this place is so close, I haven’t really explored it. Definitely not for Photography. I have been there once or twice with friends before but those are what I call ‘drive-by’s. We basically drove up there, saw the city lights, spent a few minutes and drove back.

I’ve been thinking about going here during Sunrise or Sunset for a Photo Shoot; or, just to hike. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do it until recently. When Escaype forecasted high potential for inland areas, the usual back & forth started as to where we should go for Sunset. A friend and I were supposed to go to Sierra the previous day but because the forecast changed last minute, we decided to skip.

I checked on the Escaype forum and Sierra Open Preserve came up as a very good option for Sunset. So, we decided to check it out. My friend came to pick me up and we headed to Sierra. Another friend wanted to join as well so we went to his place and picked him up. The drive to the Open Preserve was smooth. When we got there, we had an hour or so before Sunset so we decided to explore one of the trails.

As we were walking the trail, all of us are thinking about comp ideas. We decided to go to one of the high spots so we can get a panoramic view. The view from the top was simply spectacular. On one side, we have the busy Silicon Valley buzzing and on the other side, the calm & serene rolling green hills. I took some shots trying to see what will work for Sunset. I took a couple of panoramic shots of the rolling green hills.

We all saw this lone tree, which was on the hill that we were standing but not on the top of the hill. So, I hiked down to see if I can get to the other side of the tree and use that as foreground during Sunset. As soon as I got there, I realized that’s not gonna work as the Sun was already going behind the hill. I decided to materialize the setting Sun and moved around to get a sunstar. It wasn’t easy but I got lucky. I was able to get a good Starburst and keep the image sharp.

 

Gold Lining!

Location: Lake Cunningham, San Jose
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 18mm | f/16 | 1/4s | ISO 100

As I have mentioned in my previous posts, one of the biggest challenges these days is deciding where to go. Especially, when Escaype forecast comes with high potential to an area that I am not very familiar with.

That was the case Saturday night. The Forecast came up with very high potential but only for inland areas south of where I live. Monterey was out of question as the high potential was only for inland areas. I didn’t know any good areas. I talked to a few friends but we all came up empty handed. We thought we’d check out Alviso Marina but that was outside of the Escaype mapped area.

We thought about checking out CA 152 as we have seen good sunrise while driving. But didn’t know of any spots to park and we didn’t want to take any chances. So, I decided that I’d go somewhere local as it will be known location and I can wake a bit later.

So, when I woke up in the morning, I debated between Santa Teresa Park and Lake Cunningham. I didn’t know if Almaden Lake Park was open so didn’t even consider that. I decided to check out Lake Cunningham. When I went there, I was basically the only person in the park. At least, in the area that I was walking around.

I was walking around to see if there’s any good comp. Nothing jumped out at me so I kept shooting, trying different things. While I was trying to find a good comp, I noticed that the colors started changing. For a few minutes, the entire sky turned pink except the horizon, which had a golden glow. I decided to use the tree’s reflection in my comp. I tried a couple of shots.

This is a 3 shot blended in LR. Processing was pretty straight-forward. All the colors were already there. All I had to do was slightly enhance it.

 

Week 12 – Sense of Scale

The 12th Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Sense of Scale. The first thing that popped into my head when thinking about Sense of Scale is to shoot a vast Landscape like Yosemite and put myself in the frame to truly showcase a Sense of Scale.

It’s a simple but effective technique to bring dimensionality to your photos. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a person in front of a grand landscape. It can be a car, trees, rock, or any prop which allows viewers to make a connection between what’s in the foreground and the surrounding environment to get a true sense of scale.

I was looking for a grand landscape where I could do this. The opportunity didn’t quite present itself. However, I saw another opportunity to this during one of my Photo outing in the wee hours of the morning to shoot the Milky Way.

This may not showcase a sense of scale like a person standing in front of a vast landscape would but think about the real sense of scale here. It is said that our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is so big that even at the speed of light, it would take 100,000 years to travel across it. All the starts you see in the night sky, including our own Sun, are just a portion of the residents of the Milky Way Galaxy. There are millions of stars that are too faint to be seen. That’s just our Milky Way Galaxy. Beyond our own galaxy, there’s a vast expanse of other galaxies. More and more galaxies are being discovered. It is said that there are billions of galaxies. It is said that light from some of these galaxies set out billions of years ago. Meaning, the light we see today actually originated long before there was any life on Earth.

Here’s what Nasa says about the size of our Milky Way Galaxy: “How Big is the Milky Way? Imagine that our entire Solar System were the size of a quarter. The Sun is now a microscopic speck of dust, as are its nine planets, whose orbits are represented by the flat disc of the coin. How far away is the nearest star to our sun? In our model, Proxima Centauri (and any planets that might be around it) would be another quarter, two soccer fields away. This is the typical separation of stars in our part of the galaxy.” Credit: Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STSCI/NASA); US Mint

Think about that for a minute! To me, there is no better example of Sense of Scale than this photo of me looking at the Milky Way. It may not look like much but what you are seeing is only part of our Milky Way, which is one of billions of Galaxies in our vast and awesome Universe. Our Solar System is just a speck in the Milky Way Galaxy; earth is even smaller speck. Think about how we (humans) compare to the vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Universe.

 

Midnight Reflections!

Location: Cambridge,  MA
Time: Midnight
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/16 | 120s | ISO 100

I have shot from this location before. Last November, I was in Cambridge for a couple of days for work and decided to take my camera. I have always thought about taking my camera with me when I travel but never did. When I was in Cambridge last November, I went out to the Charles River, which is literally less than 5 minutes walk from my hotel. I took several shots from this location but nothing turned out well. It was all either blurry or only parts of the photo turned out sharp.

I used a tripod that wasn’t quite sturdy so I attribute a lot of the not so sharp photos to bad equipment. To be honest, I don’t think it was all on the tripod. I don’t think I spent time to focus on the areas I wanted to be tack sharp. I didn’t know how to do focus stacking. I used auto focus and let the camera do it’s thing hoping it would get some sharp photos. Didn’t work out.

This time, I decided to take my go-to tripod. It is a full-sized tripod but folds pretty compactly. I wasn’t sure if I’d have any issues taking it on my carry on. Luckily, I didn’t have any issues. When I got to Cambridge, I was pretty tired. After spending some time at the bar, I debated going to the room to sleep or go out a take a few shots. I decided to go out and take a few shots.

I went to this spot where I knew I can get the skyline as well the boats docked in the Charlesgate Yacht Club. I tried a couple of shots trying to see what shutter speed and aperture would work out well. I was trying to stay within 30 seconds for the first few shots. It didn’t come out well. I then remembered that I had the remote trigger with me. So, I decided to do a 2 minute exposure at f/16. I took several shots manually focusing on key areas – one for the boats up front, one for the buildings on the left, and one for the buildings on the right.

The shots looked good on the camera LCD. But I never trust that as it can be deceiving. I wanted to go for a sunrise shoot but didn’t have time. I took a couple of shots from my window and headed to work.

When I came back home, I blended the shots in PS and the result turned out well. I think some areas can be sharper but overall, I like how this turned out.

Waves at 38000 Feet!

Location: At 38000 Feet above Boston
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Sigma 17-50mm | 50mm | f/8 | 1/50s | ISO 400

Traveling has been a part of my job for the last 12 years or so. Until a few years back, I used to travel extensively; between 100,000 to 150,000 miles every year. The last few years have been significantly less but I still do travel regularly.

For all those years that I traveled and all those great places I went to, I never really took advantage of the Photography opportunities that it presented. I could have gone to exotic locations every weekend instead of coming back to San Jose. I was single then and it would have been the perfect time to do it.

Well, I wasn’t into Landscape Photography back then. I was more into Fashion/Glamour Photography. I did go on a couple of Fashion shoots in the LA area several years back. Other than that, I really didn’t even consider taking my camera with me on my business trips. I changed that end of last year. I went to Boston for a business meeting and decided to take my camera with me. The Charles River is within stone’s throw from the hotel I stay in. I usually get a room with river view anyway and I have always thought about shooting the Boston Skyline reflecting in the river. I got several good shots in that trip.

When I got the opportunity again this month, I decided to take my camera with me. I didn’t have any time for Photography but I thought I’d shoot from my plane window, which I have never done. I usually pick aisle seats but this time, I picked a window seat. The seat was above wing but I knew I can change that to something up front during check-in because of my status. Unfortunately, I missed the window and I couldn’t move up to the front. I was stuck with the window seat above the wing. Going to Boston, I wasn’t able to get a single decent shot.

When I checked-in for the flight back home, I made sure that I got a window seat. The seat I got was towards the front of the plane but above the engine. That was the best I could do. It was one of those jumbo planes. Half of the flight was empty. I decided to still shoot and try to avoid the engine. It was difficult as I wanted more of the clouds than the sky. I moved a bit within my seat to see if I could change the angle.

After a bit of trial and error, I was able to get this shot. This is a 3 shot HDR blend. I usually shoot at 100 iso but decided to bump it up to 400 as I was shooting this handheld. I loved how there were no breaks in the clouds and it felt like waves. Sunset wasn’t spectacular but the colors were still very nice.

Looking for Breakfast!

Location: Natural Bridges State Beach, California
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/8 | 1/15s | ISO 100

Ever since I joined the Escaype community, looking for Golden Hour predictions from the Escapye Forecasters seems to have become a regular part of the routine. The Forecast comes out 4 times a day and I am awake for 3 forecasts and in some cases the fourth one as well. Friday night was busy a busy night within Escaype community as Saturday was predicted to be very good for Sunrise.

I was debating whether to go to SF or SC for Sunrise. Debating where to go for a Photo Shoot has become a major part of the process. I just feel that I should just pick a place and go. I really shouldn’t spend a lot of time deciding where to to. But, I do this all the time. As a matter of fact, the core group of Photographers I shoot with do the same thing.

Anyways, the plan Friday night before I slept was to wake up in the morning and look at the latest forecast. If SF has higher numbers than SC, I would go there. If not, I’ll go to SC. If SC, I decided I’ll checkout Natural Bridges. Another Photographer from was planning to join me as well. He is part of a Whatsapp group for Photographers that I belong to. I haven’t met him before but have chatted with him via Whatsapp numerous times.

When I woke up in the morning, the first thing I did was check the forecast. Actually, I did this in the middle of the night when I woke up thinking it was time to head out. I must have done woken up multiple times throughout the night. This happens to me all the time. Sowmya tells me that I do this whenever I am planning to go to a Photo Shoot. I am not sure if it’s the anticipation of the shoot or what it is.

The numbers showed high potential for both SF and SC. When I asked the forecaster, he said go to SC instead of SF due to fog. As a matter of fact, he asked someone who was en route to SF to turn back and head to SC. So, my decision to head to SC was an easy one knowing that there was going to be fog in SF.

The drive was pretty smooth. We got there right at the beginning of Golden Hour. When we got there, what we saw was rather disappointing. We didn’t see any break in the horizon. It was completely fogged. We were really hoping that it was going to open up and the sky will light up.

We started shooting, trying to make the best out of the situation. We did meet a couple of other Escaype members. After about 30 minutes of shooting the grey skies, we realized that it was not going to open up. As always, I moved around to see what comp ideas I can try. I did look for ideas from others as people were standing in different places in the beach.

Everyone left after realizing that the sky was not going to light up. I decided to head back as well. I was on top of some rocks that were a bit slippery. On the way down, I almost took a tumble. I slipped but somehow managed to keep my balance. After gaining my balance, I see this scene in front of me. The reflection of the arch rock as well as a snowy egret. I didn’t have time to change my lens. So, I shot this with my wide-angle lens. I tried to put the bird on one of the third. I also tried to put the arch rock on the third as well.

I like the comp. I just wished the sky lit up as predicted but fog rolled in. Maybe, next time I’ll get the lit up sky from Natural Bridges.