Blazing Glow!

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

Almaden Lake Park is my go-to location for Sunset if there’s no other plan. As a matter of fact, one of the first locations that I went to when I wanted to get serious about Landscape Photography was Almaden Lake Park. Another one of those locations that’s minutes away from home but didn’t even know about.

Even when I used to do a lot of bird photography, Almaden Lake Park never came up in my research. I primarily went to Palo Alto Baylands, Charlston Slough, Lake Elizabeth, among other places. When I went to Almaden Lake Park, there were so many birds – Night Heron, Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, etc. Why I didn’t know about this lake, I’ll never know.

Anyways, this was one of those days where inland areas had decent prediction. My first thought was to head to Santa Teresa Park and hike up the hill to the lone tree I have shot before or find another lone tree. Sowmya didn’t like that idea as there were reports of rattle snake in the park and she didn’t want me to go off-trail. We heard in the news that a guy got bit by rattlesnake at Fremont Peak; luckily, medics came in few minutes and saved his life.

So, Santa Teresa Park was out of question. I went to Hellyer Park a few weeks back and due to the amount of water, I wasn’t able to get a good comp. We decided to go to our ‘go-to’ place, Almaden Lake Park. As I mentioned, it’s a place I’ve been to plenty of times and have shot both Sunrise and Sunset. There’s always something new at Almaden Lake Park. As a matter of fact, that’s how I feel about any location. I don’t understand when some of my non-Photography friends ask me why I go to take photos of Sunrise or Sunset as they say – ‘it’s the same Sunrise’ or ‘haven’t you been there before?’.

To me, Photography gives me the opportunity and pleasure to visit so many places and experience so many things. While I enjoy capturing moments through my viewfinder, I have learned to take some time to enjoy the scene that unfolds in front of me. So, even though I’ve been to Almaden Lake so many times, I will always go whenever I get an opportunity. Even if I don’t take any photos, I’ll happily enjoy the Sunset with Sowmya. We’ve been to the park so many times just to take a walk and enjoy the nature.

When I got to the Lake, I knew the location I wanted to go to and the type of shot I wanted to try. I have seen a lot of driftwood in one location so I wanted to see if I can use that as part of my comp. There lot of bugs everywhere so I was a bit hesitant to go to the lake shore but I decided to go ahead anyway. Sowmya was sitting on one of the park benches and started talking to her mom & sis.

I found the comp (or I should say, I created) that I liked. I sat down on the floor and setup my tripod. I started firing away. I put a ND Filter and tried some Long Exposure shots. In terms of colors, there definitely were colors but I wouldn’t say it was a spectacular burn. It was beautiful, nevertheless.

In terms of processing, I just followed my normal workflow in Lightroom and cleaned up some unwanted items in Photoshop.

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Sunset Lilies!

Location: Garrapata State Park, Big Sur
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 | 17mm | f/8 | 1/1000s | ISO 400

One of the things I learned from my Photography buddies as well as the Photography Community at 500px or Instagram was about the Calla Lilies at Garrapata State Park in Big Sur. I have driven on PCH 1 going to Big Sur several times but didn’t even know this existed. After I saw a few photos of the Calla Lilies with the beautiful beach in the background, I knew I had to pay a visit. What a beautiful place! If you are visiting the Big Sur area during late Winter or early Spring, then you definitely have to stop at the Wild Calla Lilies Valley at Garrapata State Park.

Garrapata State Park is home to a small valley where Wild Calla Lilies are abloom during late Winter or early Spring. Timing is a bit tricky as the grove can be in full bloom one day and past its prime another. Beautiful Calla Lilies line up and lead to the gorgeous Pacific Ocean.

So, one of my buddies mentioned that he was gonna check out the Calla Lilies. I was debating whether to join him or not. When I checked Escaype, Monterey Bay came out with high potential. I have been meaning to go to Garrapata State Park to shoot sunset for a while. So I decided to head out with Sowmya to check out the Calla Lilies. My thought was that if the Calla Lilies don’t work out, I can at least shoot Sunset at the beach.

When we headed out, I put driving direction to Garrapata State Park. When we were entering Monterey, I checked with my buddy to see if there was a specific location for the Calla Lilies. He sent a pin to a location but came very close to Carmel beach. That didn’t seem right to me. Sowmya and I were debating whether to go to Garrapata State Park as planned or if we should go to the location that my friend sent. I wasn’t able to check back with him to confirm the location as we didn’t have any signal.

I decided to stick to my gut and go to Garrapata State Park. Sowmya coincidentally googled Calla Lilies at Garrapata and saw a post that said to look out for a specific mile marker and park there and hike down. This was a saving grace. We went to this specific mile marker (63) and parked there. We still weren’t sure if we were in the right place. There area absolutely no signs indicating the location of the Calla Lilies.

When we walked in, I saw a couple walking back from the trail. I asked them if they are coming back from the Calla Lilies Valley. They had no idea what I was talking about. We continued walking on the trail (as suggested by the post that Sowmya found) and we saw another family. We asked them the same question and they had no idea as well. I was a bit worried as to whether or not we were in the right place.

I finally saw another Photographer with his tripod. I asked him and he knew exactly where to go to see the Calla Lilies. The posting that Sowmya found was accurate; park at the mile marker (63), take the trail and walk to the right; keep walking and you’ll see a trail that take you all the way down to the Calla Lily Valley. Be extremely careful walking down to the Valley. This is said to be one of the scariest places to talk on as its surrounded by ravines and poison ivy. I kept telling Sowmya to watch out as I was very scared.

We finally hike all the way down to the Calla Lily Valley. I realize that most of the Lilies are on the other side of the fast flowing stream. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get to the other side. I see another Photographer on the other side so I asked him how he crossed the Stream and he says ‘he didn’t. I then realized that there is another trail on the other side. Basically, I could have parked a few hundred yard before where I did and taken a different trail.

Well, it was too late for that. So, the only option was to jump to the other side. The stream was no more than a few feet wide. I told Sowmya not to risk it. I went for it and made it safely. I went to the other side and took several shots but nothing really appealed to me. I decided to jump back so I can talk to Sowmya and decide what to do. The jump back was lot more difficult than expected. I landed in a place that was muddy and my shoes went completely in.

I also saw that there were lot of Lilies on the side that we were on but to get to that location, we had to go back up the trail and take a different trail to walk down a flight of steps. Sowmya was up for it so we decided to go for it. When we got down to the valley again, we had to jump through some tough spots to get there. We somehow managed to do that. We got to a location with a good population of lilies. I tried different comps. I spent a lot of time trying to get starburst with Sun behind one of the small hills. But I got a lot of solar flares.

Even from this location I had to jump back & forth from one location to another crossing the stream. But the stream was much narrower in this location compared to where I jumped before. Sowmya took some videos and photos of me jumping back & forth.

By the way, we had no idea whether my friend was coming to this location or if there was another location that he was at. The pin that he sent me showed a completely different location. After about 45 minutes in the Calla Lily Valley, we decided to check out the beach. While I was able to take the trail up the hill, I hear someone calling my name. I turn around and see my friend 🙂

After all, the location he sent me and the location that Sowmya found online were one and the same. Someone, the pin he dropped happened to be incorrect. I told him what I had tried so far and he jumped the stream a couple of times to try different shots. I joined him so I can get a few more shots.

One of those shots is this 3 shot HDR blend. I actually picked another 3 shot blend to process first. When I processed it, I realized it wasn’t as I expected. So, I asked Sowmya to do some clean up in Photoshop. She did so very patiently. I then found this 3 shot blend that actually was exactly what I was looking for. I converted the 3 bracketed shots to HDR in Lightroom and from there, it was pretty straight forward processing.

What I learned was that there were far few lilies this year compared to previous years. I have a feeling I got there just a bit late. A few weeks back would have made a different. Nevertheless, it was an awesome experience. It was definitely an adventure. I will definitely go back next Spring; but maybe a bit early to get a shot with the setting Sun.

After I got this shot, Sowmya and I decided to head to the beach. My friend decided to stay back and got the Calla Lilies with the setting sun in the background. I’ll try to get that next year. But we definitely had a lot of fun in the beach. More on that in an upcoming post.