Calero Sunset

Location: Highway 58, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/11 | 2s | ISO 100

One of those days where inland was projected to have better potential with low skunk compared to the coast. The quintessential question was where inland should I go to catch the Sunset. For some reason, Calero County Park comes up as default selection when I open the Escaype App. I have been meaning to check out Calero County Park for a while but never got a chance.

Actually, I did drive up to Calero County Park in the wee hours of the morning several weeks back to catch the Sunrise but turned back after going to the park. It was pitch dark and I didn’t want to really wander in a place that I haven’t been to before; especially when it was pitch dark.

When Calero County Park came up with high potential, I decided to head out. The forecaster’s note did say that there won’t be a lot of different colors; the sky will be golden. I decided to check it out as I wanted to see what I can get a Calero County Park.

Sowmya was planning to go to one of our friend’s place for dinner so I dropped Sowmya off at our friends place and headed to Calero County Park. It took less than 20 minutes for me to get there. I put directions to Calero County Park on my phone and it took me to the County Park. What I realized was that the reservoir is several miles west of the park and has a different entrance. So, after few minutes of walking to see if I can get a good comp, I decided to get back on my car and head to the reservoir.

When I got to the reservoir, I went straight to the parking lot as the ranger station was closed. I then saw a Park Ranger so I asked her where the pay station was. She pointed me to the Pay Station but asked if just got here. When I told her that I just got here, she said not to worry about paying as it was pretty close to Sunset and the park will be closed about 10 minutes after Sunset.

I thanked her and headed to the lake bank. I saw lots of shells so I decided to go as low as I can and see if I can use that in my foreground. I soon realized that it did not work at all; very dirty and distracting. Sun was going behind the hills so I decided to get some starburst. It didn’t work out as well as I hoped; even after putting my ND Filter, it didn’t work out well. I then started walking up and down to see what comp I can get. I was also looking to see what comp I can create.

I saw this driftwood so I decided to position it in line with the setting Sun to form a leading line. I decided to go with Long Exposure to smooth out the water. I tried several frames with the driftwood. I then moved around a bit to get different shots. I kept walking along the lake ban to take different shots. I wasn’t really happy with any of the shots that I got but I was focused on enjoying the Sunset and make the best out of the situation to take a bunch of shots.

As it got darker, I heard the Park Ranger’s horn, which I assumed was warning for people still in the park to head out as they’d be closing the park. I took a few more shots and decided to call it a day. Moreover, there were so many bugs all around and I didn’t want to catch anything. My shoes got completely wet and muddy as well.

I went straight to my friends place for dinner. We spent several hours there and then went back home. I loaded my photos to my Hard Drive but didn’t import it to Lightroom as it was pretty late and I was tired.

The next day, I imported my photos to Lightroom and checked to see if there were any keepers. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the photos. So, I decided to move on to photos from other photo shoots. For several weeks, I didn’t even look at the Photos from Calero. I was caught up with most of my other photo shoots so I decided to go back to the Calero shoot to see if I can make someone of the 2 dozen or more photos I took.

I found one frame that I liked but didn’t like where the driftwood was placed. What I decided to was something I haven’t done before and honestly have shied away from. I did my normal workflow in Lightroom and then took the photo to Photoshop, where I moved the driftwood where I wanted. I also took a couple of driftwoods from one of my other frames and added it to this to make the comp a bit more interesting.

This level of manipulation is something I’ve never done nor even thought about. I did it for multiple reasons: 1) to see if I can actually do it in Photoshop and 2) to see if I can actually salvage a photo that was technically sound but wasn’t attractive.

I don’t think I’ll be doing this often but always good to have the skills in your arsenal.

Mirror Mirror!

Location: Carrizo Plains National Monument, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 16mm | f/8 | 1/2000s | ISO 100

After we stopped at a few places on Highway 58, we decided to head to the meeting spot within Carrizo Plains National Monument to meet up with the group. The meeting organizer was already there. We were one of the first people to arrive. There were more than 2 dozen people that signed up for the event. It took a while for everyone to show up. The more time it took, the more irritated the organizer got 🙂

Once everyone showed up, the organizer told us the general direction we’ll be going and took off. We had to scramble to keep up with him. He’s the first car leading about 7 other cars, going pretty fast. With so much dirt from his car, it was very difficult to follow him. But everyone tried their best to keep up. Unlike the fall colors meetup in the Eastern Sierras, no one got lost 🙂

One of the first spots we stopped was this place with yellow flowers everywhere. On the other side of the field of flowers was this beautiful lake. As soon as I saw the lake, I wanted to go there to shoot the reflection. I knew I had a Symmetry Challenge to complete and I love reflections.

When I got to the lake, I saw perfect reflection of the painted hills. I also saw some tumble weed in the foreground that reflected well. I wanted to get closer to the water so I can avoid the lake bank, which had lot of distractions. When I took a couple of steps, I realized that the floor was not quite solid. My shoes started sinking. I thought I can be quick and take a few shots. But, within a matter of seconds, my shoe got completely wet.

I decided to walk to the far end of the lake to see if I could get the entire lake and maximize the reflection. After about 10-15 minutes of walking (and stopping along the way to take photos), I noticed that there was lot of wind on the far end of the lake causing the reflection to be fuzzy.

I walked almost all the way back to where I started and took this shot. It’s actually a 3 shot HDR blend. There was some foreground that cropped out of the frame.

Everything Ahead of Me!

Location: Highway 58, California
Time: Midday
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 38mm | f/8 | 1/1000s | ISO 100

We have been planning to head to Carrizo Plains National Monument to shoot the Wildflowers. Unfortunately, timing didn’t work for several weeks. We finally decided to head out one Saturday and realized that there was a meetup happening at Carrizo at the same time. The meetup organizer is someone that we all respect and enjoy shooting with so we decided to join his meetup.

I was traveling this week and was out of pocket for a good portion of the week. Four of us decided to carpool together. We decided to rent a car so we don’t take our personal car on the dirt roads. Knowing the meetup organizer, we knew for sure that he’d take us on roads that are not easy to drive 🙂

We hit the road from my place pretty early in the morning. Our first stop was at a Starbucks in Gilroy as the guys wanted to get some breakfast. On the way, we saw signs for Mission San Miguel. We decided to check it out. We spent about 45 minutes there trying to shoot whatever we could.

From there, our next stop was in the town of Paso Robles to grab some lunch at a Mexican restaurant. The burrito I got was humongous, which somehow I managed to finish. What we noticed in the restaurant was that every time someone requests for guacamole, the entire staff will yell out ‘guacamole’ in an accent. It was funny for the first few times but it got annoying really fast. I can’t believe they do this all day every time someone orders guacamole.

After lunch, we hit the road again to get to Carrizo. We still had an hour or so left before we’d see the Wildflowers. On the way, we stopped at a couple of places to see if we can get some shots. I didn’t even bother taking my camera out as I didn’t like what I saw. The guys were playing with some Macro shots.

One of the first real stops we made to shoot the Wildflowers was still several miles away from Carrizo Plains National Monument. We saw some shots online of this wide sweeping landscape with hills covered in wildflowers and a long, straight road leading to the hills. We knew the shots were taken from Highway 58. So, we were on the lookout for a good spot pull over when we got onto Highway 58.

I have been looking to shoot in a road like this for a very long time. The moment I saw this long, straight, up/down road leading to the painted hills, we decided to pull over. I went to the middle of the road when one of the guys watched for approaching cars 🙂

I kept firing away bracketing my shots so I can get the best dynamic range. This particular shot was taken from the middle of Highway 58 on the way to Carrizo Plians National Monument to view the spectacular Wildflower Super Bloom. A quote from Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road came to mind when I was standing there and looking at the Painted hills – “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

Week 16 – Foreground

The challenge for week 16 of my 52 week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Foreground. The goal for this week is to shoot a scene with a strong foreground element. The moment I saw Cala Lilies, I knew it would make a perfect example of a strong foreground element.

One of the things I have learned about Photography Composition is that a grand landscape can be divided into three sections: the foreground, mid-ground, and the background. Not all photos need to have all three elements to be successful. However, thinking about the three elements and placing them properly will definitely yield better results.

The scene in front of us is three-dimensional but the photos we take of that scene are not three-dimensional. They are two-dimensional. The challenge is to bring three-dimensionality into the two-dimensional photos. One way to create depth is to use a strong foreground/mid-ground/background elements.

What I have started doing is to pay attention to not just the grand landscape that I am shooting but also to everything that’s in the frame. Are there any foreground elements that are distracting? Or, conversely, are there any foreground elements that add to the photo by adding a sense of scale? So, I have made it a goal to always check the entire frame to see if there’s anything that I need to eliminate. I also review the scene to see if there’s anything I can include.

What I have learned is that good foregrounds (or good photos for that matter) don’t just happen. We have to deliberately look for it and decide whether or not it makes sense to include in the frame.

For this week’s challenge, I shot the Calla Lilies and decided to put 3 lilies in the foreground as the main subject of the photo. I did take several shots of the overall valley showcasing the hundreds of lilies. For this particular shot, I wanted a few lilies to be the primary focus. There is a mid-ground, and a background. But in this photo, they become more of supporting elements. One could argue that the Foreground, Mid-Ground, and Background all add equal value in this photo. But to me, the primary subject is the lilies in the foreground.

 

Firefall!

Location: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 56mm | f/8 | 1/8s | ISO 100

Another one from the Firefall series. I can’t believe how lucky I was to see this natural event. So many years in California and I didn’t even know about this until I got into Photography. Well, better late than never 🙂

I can’t imagine how Galen Rowell must have felt when taking the first-known photograph of the natural Yosemite Firefall. I am sure several others saw the phenomenon before Galen Rowell, he just was the first to Photograph. Such a beautiful thing to witness.

So many things have to line up and work harmoniously for the event to happen. To start with, the Horsetail Fall must be flowing. Obviously! But, think about it. If there’s not enough snow in early February, the Horsetail Fall will not be flowing. Assuming there is decent flow in the Fall, then weather conditions need to be near perfect. The Western Sky must be clear during Sunset. If there are any clouds, they’ll prevent Sun’s rays from hitting the Horsetail Falls and it will not light up. If the Fall is flowing and if weather conditions are good, then the Fall will light up for about 10 minutes and that too only during a 2 week period in February.

But to witness it, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The Horsetail Falls is visible from multiple locations in Yosemite. You have to be in the right angle to see the event in action. Now you can see why you should consider yourself lucky to witness this event. I sure was!

After debating whether or not to stick around and gamble to witness this event, we finally decided to stay. Then came the question of where to shoot it from. After walking for a bit, we decided to stick to our original spot. Until the very last minute, we didn’t know if it was going to light up. It suddenly did and it was simply superb.

I manually focused on the waterfall, went with what is considered to be the sharpest aperture for this lens (f/8) and kept firing away. I changed the focal length and orientation once in a while to switch things up.

From a processing stand-point, apart from my regular processing, I did some dodging and burning to highlight the lava-like waterfall. I like how it turned out.

Sierra Sunburst!

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/16 | 1/60s | ISO 100

Another shot from my trip to Sierra Open Preserve in San Jose. When we got to Sierra Open Preserve, we decided to hike on the trail opposite to the parking lot. We hiked for about 45 minutes trying to find a good comp for Sunset. This was my first time here so it was more of a scouting exercise.

We did find a couple of lone trees as well as rolling green hills. However, we didn’t find a good comp for Sunset. So, we decided to head to the trail close to the parking lot, which also had views of the city below. On the way, I stopped at a few places to get some Starburst. Somehow, I have this obsession with Starburst. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s a phase but who knows.

Anyways, Sun was going down pretty fast and I had to run to the other side of the parking lot to get to this trail. By the time I got there, Sun already started setting behind the hills. I setup my tripod and decided to shoot. I looked around for a good foreground but I didn’t find anything that I could get to. There were a couple of options but those would have taken me more than 5 minutes to get to. By the time I got there, Sun would have already set behind the hills.

So, I decided to shoot wide and at f/16 so I can get a starburst. Colors were starting to show up as well. I kept shooting until the Sun went behind the hills. Looking at the camera LCD, I knew I had a couple of shots that had potential. This is the one that I liked the most.

After I posted the shot, one of my Photography friend pings me and tell me that the shot he took standing right next to me had identical settings but the way I processed was different. Looking at his shot, I do see the difference in the way I have processed mine. I wouldn’t say one is better compared to the other though. It’s personal preference in terms of what colors, texture, and contrast you want to bring out. To me, post processing is where Photographers can really show the world how they saw the scene. Even though multiple people may shoot from the same location, the end result can be completely different after post processing, which is a great thing.

Golden Streaks!

Location: Battery Spencer, San Francisco
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM | 16mm | f/16 | 10s | ISO 100

Another one of Escaype’s predictions that didn’t quite hold. This is the second time I am getting skunked in San Francisco. The first time was when we went to Fort Point & Fort Baker. We had some colors that day but not so much this time around.

So, Escaype came up with very high numbers for San Francisco; especially looking East. After debating whether or not to go and where to go, we decided to head to Battery Spencer. I have been to Battery Spencer once but Mr. Karl showed up. We woke up at the wee hours of the morning to head to SF but fog completely covered the Golden Gate Bride. We then decided to head to Mt. Tam to shoot the fog. It worked out well as we got some good shots of the fog from Mt. Tam and while coming back, fog cleared enough for us to get some good shots from Hawk Hill.

When the opportunity to go back to Battery Spencer presented itself, I wanted to take advantage. I woke up early in the morning and headed to pick one of my photography buddies from his office. We then drove to Battery Spencer together. When we got there, we realized that the parking lots were closed. Not just the one close to Battery Spencer but pretty much everywhere in that hill. We even went all the way up to Hawk Hill. Our only option was to park at the lot below and hike up. Not something we planned or were looking forward to but you gotta do what you gotta do to get the ‘money’s shot 🙂

We parked at the lot below and there was a trail going up but it didn’t say Battery Spencer. Even though we had a feeling that it will end up at Battery Spencer, we didn’t want to take a chance. So, we walked around on the road to Battery Spencer. On the way up, we did see the trail coming up.

When we got to Battery Spencer, it was the end of Blue Hour. We started shooting and it started drizzling. We had very little hope of seeing any color. We got confirmation from Escaype that it might not happen after all. We still waited for 30 minutes or so and continued shooting in the rain. Absolutely no action. It was grey, grey, and more grey. On one hand, it allowed me to try my new 16-35 f/2.8 lens but on the other hand, I was worried about using my new lens in the rain.

There was enough rain to cause some of the photos to be unusable. After spending about 30 minutes trying to shoot from different spots, we decided that it was time to head back. We hiked back through the trail, which was definitely shorter than the path we took up. We were both disappointed but there isn’t a whole lot you can do. Predictions were high but it didn’t hold. Hopefully, there isn’t too many of these with Escaype. It kinda defeats the purpose of getting Escaype. But, there is only so much a weather forecasting model can do.

When I got back home, as expected, several of the photos were unusable due to rain spots. Many of the spots were right on the Golden Gate Bridge and cleaning it in PS would have taken a long time. So, I found about half a dozen shots that were ‘clean’. I tried my best to bring some color but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do. I liked this shot where the car streaks covered the length of the Golden Gate Bridge. Wish I had a vibrant sky in the background to go with this but it is what it is.

 

Sunrise Serenity!

Location: Lake Cunningham, San Jose
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/16 | 1/2s | ISO 100

One of those situations where Escaype predicted high numbers for inland areas. Whenever this happens, I scramble to figure out where to go. There are only few inland options that I have found so far. I definitely need to explore a bit more and find a few options in the San Jose, Morgan Hill, and Gilroy areas. As usual, I was debating whether to go and more importantly, where to go.

After a bit of back & forth, I decided to head to Lake Cunningham as it was within the area of focus provided by Escaype. I thought even if the sky doesn’t light up, I can get a shot that I messed up last time. Basically, there was a reflection of a boat that took but didn’t realize while shooting that I didn’t frame the entire reflection.

When I got there, it was still a bit dark and I was the only person in the park; at least as far as I could tell. I started exploring to see if there’s any unique comps that I can achieve. I tried getting to the pier to get the reflection but the area was close off. I really didn’t feel like jumping the barricade.

While I was walking around, I suddenly see colors popping up. I ran to this location where I knew I could get some reflection. Most of the colors were happening to the right of this frame. Unfortunately, that’s where the parking lot is. I didn’t want to shoot the parking lot.

I tried to include as much color as I could without including any distracting elements. I have shot from this very location before so I tried to create a slightly different comp. I could see pink colors everywhere. It was a very serene and calm scene. I still was the only person in the park. I enjoyed this Sunrise quite a bit. The sky didn’t burn but the subtle colors were superb.

 

Pride of Madiera!

Location: Bixby Bridge, CA
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/13 | 1/40s | ISO 400

A plan started brewing Saturday evening to head to Treasure Island for some blue hour photography. Basically, shoot the SF Skyline & Bay Bridge from different locations in Treasure Island during blue hour. The thought was to not worry about whether Sunrise is going to bring good colors or not and just shoot during Blue Hour. I went to bed setting my alarm for early AM to head out to Treasure Island.

When I woke up, I saw that the prediction for Monterey was very good. Golden Hour in Monterey and south was predicted to be have excellent colors. So, I told the guys that Treasure Island may not be a good idea and we should go to Monterey instead. One of my friends was picking me up and he didn’t respond for a while. I really wanted to go to Monterey as the chances of a good Sunrise was high.

Everyone agreed that we’d head to Monterey, specifically, Bixby Bridge. One of my friends picked me up and we went to another spot to pickup another friend of ours. He got delayed and that put us behind schedule by about 15 to 20 minutes. We then drove to Scotts Valley to pickup another friend of ours. With a packed car, we headed to Bixby Bridge.

When we got there, it was still blue hour. It was extremely cold and windy. The recommendation from Escaype was to face South, which is the direction we would face when shooting Bixby Bridge anyway. We waited in the car for a few minutes as it was too cold outside. After a few minutes of waiting, we decided to go out and start shooting.

It was still blue hour so we were trying to find the right composition. Time went by and we didn’t see any colors. It completely skunked. I was so disappointed. This was a long drive and to not see any colors was truly disappointing. We walked up and down PCH 1 to get a good comp. I got a couple of good shots even though there were no colors in the sky.

We were about to leave and one of the guys found this beautiful flower and said it would make a good foreground. These flowers are referred to as the Pride of Madeira. They were positioned in an awkward angle, which made it extremely difficult to shoot. We had to walk down the hill and stand in a very small space to get the shot.

When I went there, I tried a few shots. I first tried putting the flowers in the left; then in the center; and then I tried putting the flowers in the right of the frame. From a comp stand-point, I liked this the most. I actually sat down on a branch to get this shot. Having my ultra-wide angle lens definitely helped.

As I said, the sky did not have any colors. Actually, it did have some colors but definitely nothing compared to what was predicted. I had to bring colors in post processing, which wasn’t really difficult to do but would have loved to see more colors. I shot this hand-held so I bumped the ISO to get a sharp photo. I like how the photo turned out but wish I had done a couple of things differently. I should have move a little bit to the left to see if I could get all the flowers. As you can see, some of the flowers are hidden. Not sure if this is possible but I could have tried. Another thing is to leave a bit of room on the right so the rock is not on the extreme right.

 

Week 15 – Symmetry

The Challenge for Week 15 of my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Symmetry, which is often considered one of the hardest compositions to pull off. Symmetry, in Photography (and art in general) refers to a line (called the line of symmetry) that splits an image in half, either horizontally or vertically, and if both sides of the image are mirror images of each other, then the image is said to be symmetrical.

Visual balance is a key compositional technique that can bring harmony and stability to an image. An unbalanced image on the other hand can make an image feel dynamic. Not all photos can (or should) be balanced. It i up to the Photographer to decide what he/she is trying to achieve with a photo. The scene also determines whether or an image can even be balanced.

One of the easiest ways to achieve balance in a photo is to shoot a symmetrical scene. Symmetry can be found easily in nature; mirror-like reflections of a landscape on water is a good example. If you read articles on Composition, you’ll see that symmetry is listed as one of those compositional techniques that works extremely well but is not easy to achieve. A slightest misalignment can lead to a distracting image.

For this week’s challenge, I took this shot of the beautiful ‘painted’ hills at Carrizo Plains National Monument reflecting in one of the lakes. The moment I saw this scene, I knew I had to shoot a balanced reflection for the Symmetry challenge. This wasn’t an easy shot to achieve for multiple reasons. One, there were lot of distracting elements in the foreground. Second, the foreground was wet and muddy so standing in one place for more than 15 seconds resulted in wet shoes. Finally, from a composition stand-point, it was difficult to figure out the best way to achieve symmetry.

Well, my shoes got completely wet and muddy but I got a shot that I was able to work with. In my mind, a good example of Symmetry in nature.