Ready to Bloom!

Location: San Jose, CA
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 13mm | f/16 | 1/60s | ISO 100

Almaden Lake Park has become one of my go to places for Sunset. Almaden Lake is just about 10 minutes from home and it used to be that I went there anytime I felt like shooting. I didn’t really care about what weather conditions called for. I’d just go to try a comp or try a new technique. I then started going when I see good cloud cover.  Ever since I got Escaype, I don’t go to Almaden Lake that often. Well, I do go but only if I don’t have anywhere else to go. To be honest, I am running out of comp ideas at Almaden.

Anyways, it was one of those days where prediction inland was pretty high. As I have said before, there are only a few spots in the San Jose area that I frequent when Escaype predictions for inland is high. I really need to find a few other options. Sowmya & I decided to head to Almaden as it was easy to get to, quick, and we always enjoy the park.

I got there an hour or so before Sunset. So, I had plenty of time to play around with my comp. As soon as we got there, Sowmya sat on one of the park benches by the lake and started talking to her sister. I was walking around trying to find a good comp. I decided to go down to the lake shore, which is only a 3 or 4 feet walk down from where Sowmya was sitting. I didn’t find anything interesting. So, I decided to walk up to see if there’s a better comp elsewhere.

As I was walking up, I looked up to see where Sowmya was and didn’t pay attention to where I was stepping. I lost my balance and hit the floor. I didn’t get hurt; at least, nothing more than a couple of scratches & bruises. I was more worried about my camera, which fell with me and my filter did take a small beating. Sowmya was watching me fall. She said that it felt like I was falling in slow-motion. We both had a good laugh and after making sure I was ok, she explained what happened to her niece. Everyone had a laugh at my expense.

After the fall, I went to another location to see if I can create a good comp. Sowmya warned me not to go down to the Lake shore again as the shoe I was wearing didn’t have good grip. I told her that I’ll give it a shot. As soon as I took a few steps, I almost fell. Luckily, I maintained my balance. Both Sowmya & I burst out laughing. I decided not to push my luck and walked on the paved trail. As I was walking, I noticed these orange flowers and decided to use that as foreground, use lake as the middle ground, and the sky as background.

It took a couple of tries but I finally got the comp, technique, and exposure I liked. I couldn’t use my tripod as the flowers were pretty low. I was almost lying down on the floor. So, the shot is not super sharp from FG to BG but it is ‘ok’. Where to focus to get tack sharp photos from FG all the way to BG is something I have been experimenting. I don’t think there is one answer or a silver bullet to this but different scenes require different techniques. One such technique that I am yet to try is focus stacking. It’s definitely something I want to experiment with and master.
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Breaking the Habit!

Location: Woodland, CA
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV| Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 33mm | f/11 | 1/20s | ISO 100

Here’s a shot from my trip to Woodland, CA. This was shot right before we packed up and headed back home. This was the first time I am shooting Sunflowers. We got to Dixon area several hours before Sunset so that we could scout different locations for a good comp.

 

We had several comps in mind; none of it unique. We wanted to comp stomp photos we saw on social media. We were looking for a barn and a lone tree. Neither of which we found for several hours. We found plenty of Sunflower fields but none of those worked well from a comp stand-point.

 

So, we kept driving based on locations we found online and none of those locations worked out. We then reached out to another Photographer who was in the area recently. Most Photographers hesitate to give out location as they don’t want everyone to get the comp they got. We thought it was worth a shot. This Photographer belongs to the same Escaype group as one of my friends.

 

To our pleasant surprise, we actually got GPS coordinates for potential locations. We did get a fair warning that some of the locations may not work out as flowers may have died out. The first couple of locations indeed did turn out to be useless. We then found a location that we thought was going to work well so we basically camped there for well over an hour 🙂

 

I did manage to get some good shots from that location. Unfortunately, there were no clouds that day so the sky didn’t light up. That would have made the photos I took from decent to spectacular. As we were planning to wrap up, I decided to turn around a bit and shoot a wide angle shot and show the scale of the Sunflower fields. The first few shots didn’t work out well as I was shooting hand-help standing on one leg inside my friends SUV. I then made some quick adjustments to get a sharpish shot considering the conditions.

 

As I was looking at this scene, what I as thinking was: Aren’t sunflowers supposed to follow the Sun? Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. An entire field of Sunflowers facing East. Based on quick research, it looks like Sunflowers only follow the Sun for a period. Meaning, Sunflowers follow the Sun when they are still growing/blooming. Once the Sunflower blooms and stops growing, they no longer follow the Sun. Instead, they start facing East. So, Sunflowers do follow the Sun but only until they bloom and then they ‘break the habit’ and face East.

With post processing, I was able to pop the little bit of color that was there. Processing was pretty straight forward actually. Getting the right crop is what took a bit of time. I’d love to go back to shoot Sunflowers in better light conditions.

Foggy Sunset!

Location: Russian Ridge, CA
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV| Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 56mm | f/22 | 1s | ISO 100

Another shot from my trip to Russian Ridge. I have seen so many shots of rolling fog and I have always wanted to shoot a thick layer of fog. I did go to Mt. Tam once and shot a tick layer of fog but we didn’t explore any trails. we just went up one trail and shot from there. But I’ve never been able to get rolling fog like I see so many shots in social media.

When I went to Mt. Tam, I didn’t try long exposure. I did manage to get some decent shots but I knew I have to visit Mt. Tam again and again. That opportunity hasn’t presented itself. Summer is almost over and with that the opportunity to shoot fog diminishes as well. It is unfortunate that I haven’t made it to Mt. Tam in almost 8 or 9 months. Hopefully, I’ll get an opportunity to get to Mt. Tam one of these days.

Like many other photo spots, I have never heard of Russian Ridge. I did go to Skyline Blvd. with a friend for Sunrise one day but didn’t go to Russian Ridge. This was the infamous day that my 7D died on me. Well, it didn’t quite die but for all intents & purposes, it stopped working. Other than manual focus through the viewfinder, nothing really worked. Well, that event is what made me pull the trigger on buying a 5D Mark IV. I was debating for well over 6 months. I did a lot of research and went back & forth between 5D Mark IV and Sony A7RII. Not having a camera forced me to make a decision fast and I went with 5D Mark IV.

Anyways, when I learnt that Russian Ridge is a great place to shoot fog, I wanted to go. I was looking for the right opportunity. That opportunity presented itself when Escaype predicted that Sunset above Fog will be good. I decided to head to Russian Ridge to give it a shot. With a couple of Photography buddies, we headed to Russian Ridge. It is a great landscape. I loved seeing the thick layer of fog. I wanted to try long exposure to see if I can get the wavy fog that I’ve seen but unfortunately, I did not have the filter ring for my 28-135 or the 70-200 lenses.

I took this particular shot right before we called it a day.  Since I couldn’t use my filter, I went up to f/22 to make the shutter speed as long as I could. Sunset was not spectacular but the sky did have some color (primarily orange). We were hoping for colors to pop after Sunset but that didn’t have as well. There were subtle yellows and oranges that I was able to bring out in this shot.

Definitely a place that will visit frequently. One of these days, I will be successful in capturing a rolling fog shot.

Middle of the Road!

Location: San Jose, CA
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV| Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | 28mm | f/5.6 | 1/3s | ISO 100

The same old debate of where to go inland for Sunset. There are only a few spots that I frequent. Not because they are the ‘best’ spots but those are the spots that I have found so far. After a bit of back & forth, I decided to head to Calero County Park as the potential/skunk combination was better than San Jose.

About 45 minutes before Sunset, I drove to Calero County Park. As I entered the park, the Ranger mentioned that the park will close at Sunset. I told him that I was there to catch the Sunset and he let me in for free. I parked my car and decided to head to take the trail to the East and get to the far end of the reservoir. My thought was that I’d have more water and I’d be able to capture the setting Sun from there.

As I kept walking, I realized that there were no good spots. At least, no good spots to take photos of the Sunset. There was no direct view of the setting Sun. I kept walking and walking. As I kept walking, I realized that I was going away from the Water. But I had a feeling I’d be able to loop back close to the water. After about 20 or 30 minutes of walking, I came to a spot that I thought would work well but withing a few minutes, I realized that the spot was not going to work. Too many distracting elements and no good foreground subject.

I evaluated my options and decided to walk back West, cross the parking lot and go to the spot I shot Sunset the last time I was in Calero. When I looked at my watch, I realized that I only had about 15 minutes before prime shooting time begins. I already saw colors in the Sky. So, I started running, literally. It wasn’t easy to run with my camera gear but I managed to get to location but was completely out of gas 🙂

I tried to find good comp but nothing really worked. So, I tried to create my own comp by dragging a drift wood to set it up as a foreground subject. In this process, my tripod fell. Yes, my brand new 5DM4 was on top of the tripod. Luckily, the L-bracket and my tripod took the hit and the camera was perfectly fine and so was the lens. Although, the UV filter is not stuck to the lens. I need to figure out a way to get it out.

Anyways, I waited about 10 minutes after Sunset and colors weren’t spectacular by any stretch of imagination. The sky was golden but that was pretty much it. No other colors popped. It was a bit disappointing but at least I got to watch and enjoy the Sunset. How any days to do we get to just be out in the nature and enjoy a Sunrise or Sunset? After the Sun went down, I decided to head back home.

As I was driving, I could see spectacular colors appearing on the sky. A good portion of the sky turned pink and lavender. It looked absolutely gorgeous. I was desperately looking for a spot to pull over and take a shot. I wasn’t even looking for a good comp; I just wanted to pull over and get a shot of the vibrant sky. For about 8 minutes, the road kept curving and there wasn’t any place for me to pull over. I then came to this straight road and I saw an opening to park my car. I immediately pulled over.

The only option was for me to go to the middle of the road and use the road as leading line and shoot the colorful sky. The first few shots did not yield good results. I had to use my tripod as the ambient light was pretty low. Unexpectedly, the road had lot of traffic so I had to go step out of the road and step back in. I took a few shots and looking at the LCD, I knew I had a couple of potential shots.

In my hustle to get a shot, I didn’t notice that my aperture had gone to f/5.6. I did not intend that at all. I would have liked to be at f/8 or higher but I had to work with what I got. I was so disappointed that I didn’t stay at the reservoir for 10 more minutes. The colors were spectacular to the East and I would have been able to get some good shots. But, I was lucky to get any shot at all.

From a post processing stand-point, it was pretty straight-forward. I didn’t have to do much. Just some quick adjustments in Lightroom. One thing that was pointed to me by a fellow Photographer after I posted the shot on 500px was that the shot would have been even better had I leveled the road. Until he mentioned, I didn’t see it. Now, I can’t unsee it. I just haven’t found the time to figure out how to do this effectively.

An interesting evening. Had I gone to Lake Cunningham or Almaden Lake, I would have got some great shots but it is what it is.

Sunflower Starburst!

Location: Woodland, CA
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV| Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM | 17mm | f/22 | 1/60s | ISO 100

Another one of those things that I didn’t even know existed until I got into Landscape Photography. The Sunflower fields in Yolo County. Field filled with Sunflowers is truly a beautiful sight. I didn’t know that these fields were just about 2 hours from home. Sometime last year, a discussion started in the Photography group about heading to Dixon to find these Sunflower fields. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t quite workout. We couldn’t go and when we could, Sunflowers weren’t blooming.

Over the course of last few weeks, photos of beautiful Sunflower fields started popping up on various social media sites. We knew that the timing was right and we had just a few weeks before the Sunflowers disappeared. A plan started brewing and the date was set for the weekend. Initially, the plan was to shoot Sunrise at the Sunflower fields. The more I thought about it, Sunrise didn’t make sense at all. I checked weather forecast and
neither Saturday nor Sunday had good prediction for Sunrise.

 In order to shoot Sunrise, we’d have to leave in the wee hours of the morning and we’d probably be only able to hit one or two spots. Moreover, trying to find a good comp in an unknown location is next to impossible. None of us have been to the Sunflower fields so it was going to be a shot in the dark, literally. So, I made my case and everyone agreed that we’ll go for Sunset on Sunday.

 We went to one of my friends place to park our cars and go in one car. We got to the first location with plenty of time left for Sunset. We knew the light at that time was pretty harsh and we aren’t gonna get any keepers but we wanted to try different comps to see what’ll work.

While we were experimenting with different comps, one of our friends decided to fly his drone. He got the drone several months back but hasn’t flown it much. He still wasn’t comfortable with flying it. It took a while for him to get the drone off the ground. Once it was up, he realized that his camera wasn’t working. He fixed that and took it to air again. Once in the air, everything seemed to be find until wind became a factor. He wasn’t able to quite control it and the drone went crashing to one of the trees and then to the floor. It was funny and scary at the same time 🙂

We spent about 45 minutes in the first couple of locations. We didn’t think either of the locations would be ideal for Sunset. We then stopped at a barn and totally trespassed to get a few shots. I was so scared of getting shot but we came out unscathed. More on the barn location in another post.

From the barn location, we went hunting for this one location that another Photographer told us about. This Photographer got an amazing shot with Sunflowers in the foreground, a lone tree in the background, and amazing colorful sky in the background. We knew the clouds or colors won’t be there but we wanted to find that lone tree.

After driving for about 45 minutes, we realized that we have been looking for the wrong thing. We were looking for a lone tree in the middle of the Sunflower field. We didn’t find one. We did find several trees including lone trees on the side of the road, next to the Sunflower field. We found one Sunflower field with a nice tree on the side of the road.

We were tired of driving around so we decided to just stop here for Sunset. Sun was going down pretty fast anyway. We setup our tripods for the first time and started experimenting with different comps. Everyone tried to get a starburst with Sun behind the tree. With my 16-35 lens, I knew that I’d get a crisp Sunstar. It was just a matter of finding a good comp.

For this particular shot, I shot a bit wide and then cropped to get this comp. I not only cropped but had to remove a bunch of stuff in Photoshop. Well, when I say I removed a bunch of stuff, it was actually Sowmya 🙂 She has lot more patience than I will ever have. She did a great job of removing a bunch of stuff that no one even knew was there.

I wish I had clouds and colors that day. This same shot would have been significantly different if there were clouds that lit up that day. Oh well! There’s always next year. I heard that the Sunflowers are already done this year.