Painted Hill!

Location: Carrizo Plains National Monument 
Time: Midday 
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM | 65mm | f/16 | 1/200s | ISO 100

I have already written about my trip to Carrizo Plains National Monument. So, I won’t go into the details of the trip in this post. All I can say is that this place is truly one of a kind. I have never seen anything like this. Wildflowers as far as the eye can see; basically blanket of wildflowers hugging the entire landscape.

Before heading out there, I did some research and learnt that Carrizo Plain National Monument is the largest single native grassland remaining in California. It is listed as a Historic Place in National Register. It is also designated as a National Historic Landmark. One of the things California is infamous is for earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault runs through Carrizo.

I really wish I made multiple trips to Carrizo this year and more importantly, I went a few weeks or even a few before I did. When I went, we mostly saw yellow flowers. A few or two earlier, I would have seen all sorts of colors. Nevertheless, the place was still very beautiful. An afternoon is just not enough.

One of the places we spent a lot of time was this hiking trail that, for the life of me, I can’t seem to remember the name of. Anyways, we got to this hiking trail and by just walking 200 yards, we had outstanding views. Entire hill painted with wildflowers. We took several shots from there and started the hike up. At that point, I didn’t quite realize how much hiking we were going to do. We kept hiking up and stopping where we felt like to take photos. Every direction we turn was beautiful so we stopped quite a bit to take photos.

At some point, half the group (from meetup) decided to not hike anymore. Several of us decided to follow the meetup leader and kept hiking up. At some point, we all decided to turn back as we wanted to catch the Sunset, which was literally happening on the other side.

From where we started to where we ended up, I must have taken several hundred shots. To be honest, I have no idea where this particular shot was taken. All I know is it’s a 3 shot HDR blend.

Morning Rays

Location: Treasure Island
Time: Sunrise
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM | 34mm | f/16 | 5s | ISO 100

Another shot from my trip to Treasure Island. This is one of the last shots from the Blue Hour/Sunrise trip to Treasure Island. We ended where we started. What I mean is that this is the location we started when we first got to Treasure Island. It was still pretty dark when we got to this location and I was able to get a good reflection of the Bay Bridge.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we should have just stayed here for Sunrise. Unfortunately, we decided to scout 2 or 3 other locations but none of the locations really panned out.

After trying 2 or 3 different locations, I decided it was time to head back to the car. A couple of my friends wanted to check out a location that was a bit difficult (and probably illegal) to get to. Basically, you have to crawl under a barb-wire fence and walk down the hill to get to this location. Photos from this location are definitely nice. But I really didn’t want to crawl under the fence to check this location out. Oh, did I mention the entire area is under US Coast Guard monitoring and control? Yeah! There were clear posts that said not to trespass. So, I really didn’t feel like crawling under the fence.

Anyways, another friend of mine and I decided to walk back to the car. On the way, I stopped in a couple of places to shoot the Bay Bridge & San Francisco Skyline. There were some clouds and some color but nothing spectacular. When I got to the parking lot, I looked at the other side and saw beautiful Sun rays peeking through the clouds.

The moment I saw the rays peeking through, I decided to head out there and try to see if I can get a shot. I put on a 10 stop ND filter and went with a 5s shutter speed to smooth out the water. The first few shots didn’t quite work out. I then found a frame that I liked but the shots were blown. So, I decided to bracket my shots so I could recover details as well as bring out dynamic range.

I tried to bring out as much details as possible while post-processing. I am happy with the end result. I wish I took this same shot when the Sun was rising from the horizon. Then again, I wouldn’t have got the rays.

Serene Shasta

Location: Mt. Shasta 
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 18mm | f/8 | 1/160s | ISO 100

During a recent get together with our friends, someone made a comment that the guys should go on a camping trip and let the gals spend some quality time together. I am always up for a trip so I said I am in depending on date. To be honest, I thought these guys will never come up with a solid plan. I wasn’t going to come up with a plan as I had travel plans almost every week.

To my surprise, one of the guys that I thought would remain silent until all planning was done actually reached out and kickstarted the planning process. The moment I saw that one of the option was Burney Falls, I said yes and convinced everyone that we should go there. We found a cabin right there in the Burney Falls Campground. I asked one of my friends to book cabin as well as rental car.

Again, to my surprise, we were actually heading out on a trip. My flight from Boston to San Francisco was supposed to land around 8, which would have put me home around 9 or 9:30. Unfortunately, my flight got delayed for several hours. By the time I landed, it was around 11:30. By the time I got home, it was half past midnight. Thank god! I convinced my friends to leave around 8:00 instead of their original intended time of 6:00. I knew for a fact that there is no way these guys would have left at 6:00 anyway.

The drive to Burney Falls was pretty smooth. We got to the cabin and had the entire afternoon to pretty much to whatever we wanted. We went to Burney Falls and spent some time there. After that, we went to the Lake Britton. The goal was to do some boating and watch the Sunset at the lake. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to spend a lot of time on Photography so I decided to include some fun activities like hiking and boating.

Unfortunately, boat rentals were not available. So, after spending about 30 or 45 minutes at Lake Britton, we decided to head out and checkout what’s close by. When we asked one of the Ranger, she asked us to check out McCloud Falls. We asked her how far it is and she said it’s just about 15 to 20 minutes. So, we decided to check it out. We kept driving and after about 30 minutes of driving, we then realized that the Ranger was way off.

We got to McCloud Falls after about 45 minutes of driving. We spent about an hour in the McCloud area checking out all 3 falls – the lower, middle, and upper falls. Had we not spent the hour or so at Lake Britton, we could’ve actually hiked a larger trail. We didn’t have time to do that. So, we took the short trails to each of the falls and spent a few minutes at each fall.

One of the guys wanted to head back to the cabin but I wanted to go somewhere for Sunset. I wanted to go to Lake Siskiyou for Sunset so I can get reflection of Mt. Shasta on the lake. The other guys could have been easily convinced to go back to the cabin but I didn’t budge. I wanted to go to Lake Siskiyou and everyone agreed. We were scrambling to get to Lake Siskiyou as Sun was setting fast.

My phone gave me direction to Lake Siskiyou a different way compared to my friend. We decided to trust the directions from his phone. We got to the Lake but we couldn’t see Mt. Shasta at all. We kept driving but no luck. At some point, we were off roading with a sedan and a couple of guys were worried that the car might get stuck.

Anyways, we couldn’t even see Mt. Shasta at all. I then realized that Mt. Shasta is only visible from the other side of the Lake. At this point, it was too late to drive to the other side. Well, we could’ve made it but the guys wanted to head back. Without knowing the exact location, I really didn’t want to push for it.

On the way back, I saw this opening where Mt. Shasta was clearly visible. So, I asked my friends to stop the car. We stood at the side of the road and I shot this hand-held. I bracketed these shots so I could bring out all the details as well as dynamic range. There was no burn but the colors were subtle and serene.

I really wish I found the spot to take reflection of Mt. Shasta. After going all the way there, I missed a great photo opportunity. To be honest, I am glad I got one or two keepers from this trip. With this group of friends, photography is next to impossible.

Fire & Fog!

Location: Russian Ridge 
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF 70-200mm f/4 USM | 98mm | f/11 | 1/25s | ISO 100

One of those rare Summer days where Escaype predicted a good & colorful Sunset. There is no way I was going to miss it. The question, as usual, was to decide where to go. In the Escaype forum, Russian Ridge came up as a good spot for Sunset. So, I decided to head out to Russian Ridge and a couple of my friends wanted to join me.

We met at one of my friend’s office so we could park our cars there and carpool. The drive took us just about 45 minutes. In terms of distance, it’s only 20 miles or so but the road up the hill is with full of twists and turns. This is the second time I am heading up this road. The first time around, it was for Sunrise and that’s the day when a) my 7D stopped working and 2) I felt so nauseated that I almost threw up. I was worried about the trip up the hill but luckily I went up the hill without any discomfort.

Since none of us have been to Russian Ridge, we didn’t know where to go. One of our friends gave genera direction as to where to park and which trail to take. One of the Escaype members pointed to the same trail. We got to the parking lot about an hour and half ahead of Sunset time. We started walking up the Ridge Trail.

The first spot we stopped at was beautiful. We could see a thick layer of fog completely covering the scene in front of us. Actually, fog was not too high so a good portion of the foreground hills and grass were visible. We weren’t sure if we should stay at this spot or continue walking.

We saw a guy standing about half a mile away and we thought that may be a better place to stand for Sunset. So, we started walking towards him. When we got to where we thought he stood, we couldn’t find him. But, we saw that the trail we were on went up the hill to a corner. We thought that would make a good spot to setup for Sunset. When we went there, we realized that location wasn’t ideal but we didn’t want to keep searching for a better spot.

We setup our tripod and started taking test shots. The light was quite harsh so I knew that none of the shots were going to be good but I wanted to see what kind of comp I could get. We just waited and chatted as the Sun went down. What we realized was that clouds started dissipating, which was not good.

I took this shot when the Sun was behind the horizon. As you can see, there are only few wispy clouds. When we walked into this location, there were lot more clouds. We didn’t get the burn or the colors we had hoped for. But, I was able to bring some color in post processing.

Unfortunately, I did not have my ND filter with me. Let me take that back. I had the ND Filters with me but I didn’t have the adapter rings for the lenses I had that day. I wanted to use a 10 or 16, or even 19 stop ND filter to see if I can get the rolling fog but I couldn’t. Well, there’s always night time.

Carrizo Sunset!

Location: Four Mile Beach, Santa Cruz 
Time: Midnight
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM | 25mm | f/16 | 2s | ISO 3200

As I have mentioned numerous times before, I am so glad I got into Landscape Photography. More importantly, I am so glad I am part of a Photography community. Oh! The places I have visited in the last year and half. I didn’t even know a majority of them even existed. One such place is the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

My trip to Carrizo with my friends was quite fruitful. I have never seen anything like Carrizo before. I was lucky to visit during a year that had what’s called the super-bloom. To be honest, had I got a week or two earlier, it would have been even more spectacular as I would have seen lot more colors – yellows, purples, and oranges. By the time I went, it was a bit late and it was primarily yellows. Still, one of the most spectacular things I have seen. Sea of flowers everywhere you turn; what’s not to like.

As it so happened, there was Meetup at Carrizo the same day we were planning to be there. We love the organizer so we decided to join the Meetup. The good news is that we didn’t have to plan our day; the organizer knew what spots to take us to. The bad news, it’s exactly that. We were stuck to places that the organizer took us to. Believe me, every single spot the organizer took us to were breathtaking. However, it did restrict us from exploring certain spots or spend more time on certain spots.

After a long hike at one of the locations, it was time to decide what to do for Sunset. The organizer had plans to take to group to a specific location for Sunset. However, it didn’t quite workout. There were more than 2 dozen people in the group and with such a large group, it was impossible to gather everyone to get to the next spot. The group cooperated very well throughout the day until the last spot. Everyone became tired and took their sweet time.

Sun was setting fast and a good number didn’t get back from the hike. The organizer waited and waited but lost his patience. So, he asked whoever was there to head out and see if you we can capture the Sunset. The moment we heard that, we took off. We were scrambling to find a good spot to shoot the Sunset. We didn’t find a single spot to shoot the Sunset and the colors were fading fast. We decided to go to a known location rather than try to find a new spot.

So we went back to a spot that we went in the afternoon. By the time we got to the location, it was a bit late. The Sun was already behind the horizon but there was a little bit of color left. I didn’t really spend a lot time thinking about the comp. I just setup my tripod and started shooting.

I went with a slightly longer exposure to capture as much light as I could. I am happy that I got some shot with some color. Come to think of it, we should have either stayed where we were to capture the Sunset or take off right after we got down from our hike. Oh well! Too late to think about what we could have or should have done. It was a great trip, nevertheless.

Week 25 – Get Low

The 25th Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is to Get Low. The goal was to look at the world from a different angle and shoot a landscape from a low point of view.

This was a challenge that I knew I’d be able to easily meet. I take many of my landscape photos from a low angle. When I started with landscapes, I used to always take photos from one angle. I then started experimenting with different angles. I was amazed how much of a difference changing just the angle makes. Everything else remains the same including the frame but changing the angle completely changes the representation of the scene.

Every location I go to, I try different spots, different angles, different heights, and different frames. My goal is not to necessarily get something unique. I know that’s what a lot of Photographers are aiming for; to get something unique. I know many Photographers don’t like shooting together as they don’t want to end up with the same photo as the Photographer next to them.

To me, there’s only so much you can do to avoid getting similar or identical frames. Think about a scene like Tunnel View at Yosemite, which has been shot by thousands of Photographers. I am sure hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of photos have been taken from that location. How much different can your comp really be? I am not saying it’s impossible to get a unique comp but it is difficult. In my mind, where you can truly show your uniqueness is not just in the comp but in your post processing as well. What set apart Ansel Adams was not just what he captured but the hours and hours he spent dodging & burning his photos to get to a level that he was satisfied with. That’s what makes his work unique.

Here’s a photo that I took at Almaden Lake Park for this challenge. I went there knowing that there will be some cloud action and some color in the sky. I have shot Almaden Lake so many times; the challenge was to see if I can find a different comp. I was walking around and I saw a bunch of driftwood by the lake shore. I tried different comps with the various driftwoods that were there but nothing really worked. So, I decided to create my own comp.

I moved one of the drift woods into the position that I wanted and went really low to the ground. I tried crouching low to the ground to take the shot but that didn’t quite well. So, I sat on the muddy floor with all sorts of insects and bugs. The shots sitting down were closer to what I had in mind but still not quite what I wanted. So, I lied on the floor next to my tripod to take this shot. Was this the lowest I could’ve gone? No! I could’ve shortened my tripod even further and could’ve got a shot from a slightly lower angle. I didn’t think that was necessary for this shot.


Galactic Unicorn

Location: Four Mile Beach, Santa Cruz 
Time: Midnight
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM | 16mm | f/2.8 | 25s | ISO 3200

Oh man! I can’t believe I finally took the plunge and got the Canon 5D Mark IV. I have done hours and hours of research and decided to stick with Canon rather than go the Sony mirrorless route. The decision to go with 5D Mark IV was made early this year or even end of last year. I just didn’t want to drop so much on my camera but to some degree I had to.

Sowmya has been pushing me to get the 5D Mark IV for a while but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Even though my 7D had yielded outstanding results for me, I still felt in several instances that I needed a full-frame. One such situation is shooting Milky Way. After about 8 or 10 trips to shoot the Milky Way, I only managed to get 2 or 3 keepers. My 7D was just not cut out for shooting Milky Way; it wasn’t able to handle noise effectively.

While I was contemplating getting my next camera, I was perfectly fine shooting with my 7D. One of my friends asked if I wanted to go to Skyline Blvd. area for Sunrise as Escapye predicted a colorful Sunrise. I jumped on the opportunity and met with him at his office. We were a bit late but we started driving up the windy roads leading to Skyline Blvd. We didn’t have a particular spot in mind. This was my first trip up the hill so wasn’t even sure what to expect.

As we were driving up the hill, we were looking for an opening looking east and we found a couple. We decided to pull at the next opening rather than continuing to drive looking for a better location. So, we pull up to one of the openings and the colors are already popping. I am so excited to see a colorful sky after a while. I take my camera out and walk to a location and frame my shot. I try to autofocus and nothing. I mean, absolutely nothing happened. I tried a couple of times and nothing happened. I thought it might be the lens so I changed and still nothing. Then I thought it was the battery so I changed that and still nothing.

At this point, I was worried. I tried accessing the menu and it didn’t come up. I then realized that none of the buttons worked. Basically, other than manual focus, nothing worked. I tried everything I could but it just didn’t respond. I tried my best to shoot with manual focus but I couldn’t review my shots so I didn’t know how they were turning out. Trust me, I tried everything I could think of. Nothing worked!

Needless to say that I was really disappointed. On the way back, I knew it was time to finally pull the trigger on the 5D Mark IV. I placed a bid on Greentoe and within minutes I got a counter offer. Assuming that the dealer would not go below the counter offer, I put in a bid for another counter offer more than $100 lower than the counter offer. I came home and to my surprise, my counter offer was accepted. I couldn’t believe that I finally purchased a camera that I was eyeing for over 6 months.

Now that I had the 5D Mark IV, I was looking for an opportunity to put it to work. Of course, I fired a few test shots at home but I was looking to go out on a Photoshoot soon. When the opportunity came to shoot the Milky Way at Four Mile Beach, I couldn’t resist. Even though I was super tired after a busy couple of days planning for our Baby Shower and even we had company till about 8 PM, I decided to head out that night.

One of my friends picked me up around 9:30 and we went to our usual carpool spot to pick another friend. On the way to Santa Cruz, we stopped at another friend’s place to pick him up. The four of us went to Four Mile Beach. We found a parking lot that we thought and assumed was the Four Mile Beach. We started walking towards the beach and doubts started in everyone’s mind as to whether we are in the right location.

We kept walking and after about 5-7 minutes, we knew we were in the right location. We got to the beach and it was low tide. So, we decided to go close to the Four Mile Bach Sea Stack, which we wanted to use as our foreground element. We had to clim some rock formations to get to the other side where we had clear view of the sea stack and the Milky Way. We took several shots from our first spot. Those shots turned out well but we wanted more. So, we started walking closer and closer to the Sea Stack.

The difference between my 7D and the new 5D Mark IV was day and night. I couldn’t believe the details my new 5D Mark IV was able to capture. I knew that I couldn’t blame equipment anymore. If my Milky Way shots don’t turn out well, then it’s user error 🙂

To get to the next location, we had to climb even more rocks but it wasn’t too difficult. The next location was pretty close to the Sea Stack and by this time, the alignment with the stack was perfect. So, I started firing away shots. I went with the 400 rule as I heard it was better than the 500 or the 600 rule. I knew that going with NPF rule was gonna be better but I didn’t know what those settings should be. So, I went with a 25s exposure at f/2.8 and ISO 3200.

This is a single shot. I did get multiple frames to try and stack but somehow the single shot yielded better results compared to stacking. I have to figure out how to stack to get better MW shots. In terms of processing, I looked at several Youtube videos for inspiration and every video had a different take to processing Milky Way photos. I tried a few variations and came up with my own workflow.

By no means is this a ‘great’ Milky Way shot. But, it’s a step in the right direction. As I said before, it’s no longer equipment; it’s up to me to capture and process awesome Milky Way shots.

Week 24 – Contrasting Colors

The 24th Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is ‘Contrasting Colors’. One of the first things I learned during my research into Photography Color wheel is that colors opposite to each other are called ‘Complementary’ Colors and colors next to each other in the color wheel are called ‘Analogous’ Colors.

The challenge for last week was to shoot a scene with complementary colors. As part of the write-up for that challenge, I went into details about the Photography Color Wheel so I am not going to go into the same details here. The goal for this week is to do the opposite; meaning, shoot a scene with analogous colors.

I have already mentioned that Analogous colors are located next to each other on the color wheel. Which means that Orange/Yellow colors are analogous and so are blue/purple. I mentioned in my previous post that complementing colors bring contrast to an image and make it dynamic. Analogous colors, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. Meaning, analogous colors create a more soothing look; it can give photographs flow, harmony and an easy to understand color theme.

I was looking for an opportunity to shoot a landscape with analogous colors. Many of the posts that I read online about Analogous colors had Sunflower as an example. I knew my photography friends have been talking about heading to Davis area to shoot the Sunflower fields. So, I was waiting for that to happen.

The opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it. Going in, we knew that there would be no clouds and the sky would be colorful but we still wanted to head out before the Sunflowers season ended. The moment I saw the first Sunflower field I immediately realized why they are used time and again as an example for analogous colors. The yellow flower with green leaves work really well together.

Similar to complementary colors, analogous colors can be found plenty in nature. Now that I know what complementary and analogous colors are, I am going to consciously look for more of these color combinations to create unique perspectives.

Week 23 – Complementing Colors

The 23rd Challenge in my 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is Complementing Colors. The goal was to get familiar with the Photography color wheel and shoot a scene with complementing colors.

What’s the Photography Color Wheel? Here’s one that I found online that is a good representation of the Photography Color Wheel. A traditional color wheel is composed of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, and each color serves as the complement of the opposite color across the wheel.

Analogous Colors In Photography

Some examples of common color combinations that work as complementary colors include Orange/Blue, Yellow/Purple, and Red/Green. Nature is full of complementing colors. These are called complementing colors as they do just that; they seamlessly complement each other.

Here’s a good visual representation of ‘complementary’ colors that I found online. Lacie Lynnae

Since nature is full of complementary colors, looking for the right colors in our composition may help us broaden our range of shots. My goal with the 52 week Landscape Composition Photo challenge is to do just that. Instead of keep falling to the comp techniques that I am very comfortable aka Rule of Thirds or Leading Lines, I wanted to add more comp techniques to my tool belt. Understanding how to use colors effectively will be a great way to look for unique perspectives. Since complementary colors are easily found in nature, I don’t have to create it in post-processing.

The featured image in this post, in my mind, is a good example of complementing colors – blues & oranges. I shot this during Sunset at Alviso Marina. The predictions weren’t necessarily high that day but it turned out to be a spectacular Sunset. Since complementary colors occur in nature, you are naturally drawn to it. That’s exactly what happened here. The moment I saw oranges and blues, I started firing away. I went with long exposure to smooth out the water and make clouds wispy.

Here’s another example of complementary colors – Purple/Yellow. This was shot during Sunrise at Santa Teresa Park. A beautiful Sunrise where colors brilliantly complement each other.

One of the things I learned as part of my research on Photography Complementary colors is that 1) colors opposite to each other in the color wheel complement each other and 2) complementary colors create contrast in image and makes it more dynamic.

Complementary colors is definitely something I am going to consciously look for going forward.