Friday, January 20, 2017

Scorpian Canyon, Death Valley

My canyoneering buds and I have been to Scorpion Canyon in Death Valley National Park before, but that's no reason not to see it again. It's a fine place for a half-day excursion. Easy to drive to. Easy on the approach. And only seven rappels, none of which are extreme in height. Yeah, just a fine day of canyoneering. What could go wrong?

We got semi-lost. Couldn't find the right wash for climbing over a ridge that separated us from the canyon. After a few tries, we got there and then spent the rest of the day doing double-time to make it out before dark. Nailed it.

So I tried something different in terms of photography and shot everything with the lens wide open at f/2.8 for extreme shallow depth of field. A tough assignment because good focusing is necessary and I've probably gotten lazy lately with autofocus and stopping down for mistake-reducing depth of field. But this time I wanted a different look just for kicks. If nothing else, I realized I should only use the technique when shooting nearby action. Anything else benefits from stopping down my usual three stops. Next time.

Start of the trip down a wash in 20 Mule Team Canyon.
Climbing up the wash with the 20 Mule Team hills behind us.
Headed to the ridge we have to climb in order to get to the top of Scorpion Canyon.

Trying to find how close we were to the beta's coordinates. I believe someone concluded we were "pretty close" and so we headed up the slope in front of us.
Going up the wrong way . . .

 . . . coming back down.
The scene inside the wash. We needed to get to the fluted hills in the distance.

Looking down into Mule Team Canyon and the mountains of eastern Nevada.

After finding our way, descending into Scorpion Canyon. Those are the Panamint Mountains way off in the distance.

Jae and Kevin passing a particularly green rock formation.

Jae and Kevin hiking down through the canyon.
Jerri, Kevin and Jae getting near where the canyon narrows and fun begins.

Canyon scene.

A bush that has sprouted legs, or maybe it just blew there.

Jerri negotiating one of the longest down-climbs in the canyon.

Jerri on rappel.

Jae tossing the rope bag at the top of one of the taller rappels.
Jae on rappel while Kevin backs him up.

Jerri on the last rappel.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Santa Monica Mountain

Lately, I've been learning how to build a house out of Styrofoam. Got your attention? Actually, it's form of foam called ICF (insulated concrete form), interlocking, hollow blocks that feel like Styrofoam and once constructed into a house, are filled with concrete. Makes a pretty sturdy abode, I can tell you.

The project I'm working on is in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu and every (early) morning, I'm treated to incredible ocean air, coastal light and all sorts of other phenomena. Here are some recent shots as I was winding the hill to the job site.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wildflowers, Death Valley

I'm not a big one for taking pictures of wildflowers only because it feels like there's not more I can say about a flower that someone else hasn't already done, often better. But when it comes to flowers in the desert, I can't resist. I think it's the novelty of something so colorful, so delicate in an otherwise barren, often colorless environment. Plus, you know that what you're capturing is only hanging around for a few days, so it's also the rarity of the subject that makes it special. I was never able to nail down exactly what these blooms are which is odd because they were everywhere the day I was shooting in Death Valley National Park toward the end of February. I got down on my knees with the tripod legs spread out and using the widest setting on my lens focused on these beauts just a few inches from the lens' front element. It allowed me to gather in a close-up while at the same showing the surrounding environment.

tech stuff: Canon 5D, 16mm f/2.8 lens set to 16mm, f/13, 1/50, ISO 400

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Clearing Storm, Yosemite Valley

As I've said before, some times you just get lucky. I was in Yosemite for a wet weekend when I stopped at the famous, iconic Tunnel View with no real intention of getting a decent photograph of the valley. And yet . . . The ugly weather started clearing right before my eyes. Another good bit of timing was how the rainy weather had recharged Bridalveil Falls so that it was flowing enough to reflect the light and act as a kind of anchor for the otherwise shadowy right side of the picture. As I immediately recognized whiffs of Ansel Adams' famous "Clearing Winter Storm" shot, oh, about 80 years before, I decided to crank up the resolution by shooting this as a panorama, which worked out to be about eight vertical pictures stitched together in Photoshop. As a further homage to the master, I converted it to black and white with a slight selenium tone. The detail is pretty amazing and one could be forgiven for thinking this was shot on large format film. It looks that good in person.

Canon 5D, 28-70mm lens set to 48mm, 1/100, f/8 at ISO 100, Gitzo tripod with Kirk ballhead

Monday, November 21, 2016

Dewey Point, Yosemite

This is an example of having a wonderful scene but just not getting the photograph right technically. My wife, Gloria, and I had snowshoed out from Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park to Dewey Point in fresh snow from the night before. Above the Point, which was around the corner from our tent site, we hunkered down for the cold night but then I got restless and realized I needed to take a shot of our tent in the moonlight. I can't tell you how hard it is to wiggle out of a warm sleeping bag, put on a parka and boots, and then leave for the freezing night air. No, I'm not trying to demonstrate how dedicated I am . . . okay, maybe I am. In any event, I had figured I might try this composition the day before when I was packing and so I brought a flash and wireless trigger for it. Unfortunately, with Gloria holding the flash inside the tent, the signal from my camera to the trigger just wasn't getting through (or maybe it was too cold). We fiddled with it for awhile and decided that wasn't going to work. So next we got out Gloria's Canon Rebel and put my flash on it. Each time I took a picture with a fairly long exposure, I called her to take a picture inside the tent. First, she pointed the camera toward me but that was way too bright. In fact, we couldn't get the right balance of light and dark with my big, honkin' flash, so tried the pop-up flash on her camera. She pointed it in different directions and finally we nailed it when she directed the flash away from me. I don't know—I probably took 20 or 30 frames during this exercise. Strangely, while we were working out the picture, I didn't feel cold once.
Canon 5DMII, 15-35mm lens set to 23mm, 90 seconds at f/8, ISO 800.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Silver Moccasin Trail

The Silver Moccasin Trail runs 53 miles through the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles and from what I understand it's a rite of passage for many Boy Scouts. I have to admit it's never occurred to me to actually hike the whole thing, a trip that would probably last about four days or less depending on how motivated you are to get back to the city which is only a few miles away. My wife, Gloria, and I took on a few miles of it for a day hike and near the trailhead, I turned around to see this beautiful, late morning light filtering through the trees as she descended the trail. As is often the case, the original RAW file was pretty lackluster so I processed it to match what I saw and the feeling of soft sunlight. So, in Lightroom, I added a little contrast and black, but mainly attacked the image with the radial filter, isolating the splash of light behind Gloria. I softened it by going into minus territory with the clarity slider and added a smidge of white as well. I then added another radial filter, selecting just Gloria and some of the trail in front of her. I lightened this to lead the eye down the trail from the blast of light which grabs your attention first. Finally, in Photoshop, I added a bit of darkening around the corners and brightened her face and legs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cloudburst, Mexico City

A few minutes before this picture was taken, the streets were filled with people. And then without warning, mega-raindrops started splattering in the pavement and on our heads. The pedestrians disappeared as if vaporized. I and my wife hunkered under our umbrella across from this sporting goods store that had the only awning for blocks. While we waited out the rainstorm, I took a few pictures. Converting this one to black and white using Silver Efex Pro seemed to increase the almost claustrophobic feeling at the time without the distractions of color. And after all, it was a gray moment best described by shades of gray. Canon 5D, 16-35mm lens set at 35mm, f/8, 1/60 sec., ISO 400.