Natural History Photography Blog - Phillip Colla

Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park, August 2015

Each August the Perseid meteor shower takes place. This year it peaked during a new moon, which offered prime conditions for seeing many meteors. I photographed the Perseid meteor shower in Joshua Tree National Park using two compositions/locations: with Arch Rock as one feature and with a single joshua tree as an alternative composition. [See the former posted a few days ago: Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park.] Note that a completely different set of meteors are depicted in each of these two images. In each case, I rotated the images about Polaris (the “north star”) so that they aligned correctly with respect to the constellation Perseus, the northern arm of the Milky Way and the rest of the night sky. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park, 2015

Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park, 2015

(See two other Perseid meteor images: Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock and well as Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way over Half Dome.)

The Perseid meteor shower happens each year because the Earth is plowing through the trail of dust left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseid meteors are named for the constellation Perseus in the northern sky, from which the meteors appear to radiate. When sand- and pea-sized debris left behind by Swift-Tuttle collide with our atmosphere at about 37 miles per second, the gases in our upper atmosphere are superheated and glow, often with colors. In the above image as well as in “Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock”, I found that most of the meteor tracks I recorded have a pronounced green color at the beginning of their trail, ending in white or yellow.

Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, 2015

The Perseid meteor shower occurs each August, peaking on the evenings of August 12 and 13. It happens because the Earth is plowing through the trail of dust left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseid meteors are named for the constellation Perseus in the northern sky, from which the meteors appear to radiate. When sand- and pea-sized debris left behind by Swift-Tuttle collide with our atmosphere at about 37 miles per second, the gases in our upper atmosphere are superheated and glow, often with colors. That’s what I wanted to photograph, over what has become one of my go-to places to make astrophotographs, Arch Rock in Joshua Tree National Park. I photographed from about 10pm until 3am, seeing hundreds of meteors all over the night sky and capturing about 25 on my camera.

Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, 2015

Perseid Meteor Shower over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, 2015

(See two other Perseid meteor images: Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park and well as Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way over Half Dome.)

I was last photographing in JTNP with my buddy Garry in April, when we elected to photograph the total lunar eclipse over Arch Rock. We were alone then, it was great and easy to make good photographs. When I was at Arch Rock a few nights ago for the Perseid meteors, Arch Rock was crammed with people. Honestly I have never seen it so crowded, it was like Mesa Arch at dawn. A lot different than when we first photographed Arch Rock under the milky way 5-6 years ago and astrophotography was not as popular as it is now. A few nights ago, while the Perseids were flying overhead, many of the folks at the arch did not speak English. This made it impossible for everyone to be in sync, working together to keep the light pollution to a minimum and light the arch while balancing the star light. No problem, I just waited until everyone was done, and managed to sneak in a few exposures of the arch and milky way above it when noone was flashing a mag light, or red “night” lights or cylume sticks around. I think everyone photographing eventually got a good image of the arch and the milky way, but it took a while. As for recording the meteors — that’s the easy part: I just let my camera take photos of the north-eastern sky for hours (14mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 10 seconds) with a cable release locked down, and I kicked back in the bed of my truck and watched the show. (Note: the images are rotated in post to properly account for the rotation of the stars as the night goes by, so that they appear in their proper orientation relative to the milky way and Perseus in the final photo.)

What is depicted here is Arch Rock, with the northern arm of the Milky Way visible rising above to the left. The Andromeda galaxy is seen just above and to the left of the top of the arch, like a large star. The constellation Perseus, from which the meteors typically appear to emanate, is behind the arch and just rising above the horizon. What I found interesting is that virtually all of the meteors that I recorded have green coloration at the beginning of their tail, ending in white or light yellow. I don’t recall seeing that when I photographed the Perseid meteor shower over Half Dome in Yosemite a few years ago. OK, whatever. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Aerial Panoramic Photo of Sunset Cliffs, San Diego, California

This past spring my daughters and I took a couple flights over San Diego to shoot panoramas while the conditions were good. This is one of my favorites, showing the beautifully scalloped coastline of Sunset Cliffs, north of Point Loma. You can even see the sandstone outcropping we jumped off of into the ocean in the summer when I was in college! Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla are just visible at far left. This image was created with my uber-secret ball-head technique and is over 224 megapixels in size, printing up to 6′ x 20′ in size with no interpolation. If you like this, please see more panoramic photos and more aerial photos of San Diego. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Aerial Panoramic Photo of Sunset Cliffs San Diego, Pappy's Point, Claiborne Cove
Aerial Panoramic Photo of Sunset Cliffs San Diego, Pappy’s Point, Claiborne Cove.
Image ID: 30790  
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 8011 x 28354
 

Underwater Photos of Southern California Oil Rigs

Filed under: California, Underwater Photography — Tags: , , — on 8/2/2015

Recently I did some diving underneath three of Southern California’s offshore oil rigs: oil rig Eureka, oil rig Ellen and oil rig Elly. It was a lot of fun, and I hope to do it again soon. The amount of invertebrate life on the oil rig beams was impressive — copious amounts of large scallops, mussels, brittle stars, Corynactis and Metridium anemones, schools of fish moving through the beams and a few sea lions. Great stuff! Here are a few more underwater oil rig photos from that day. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31115  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Brittle stars covering beams of Oil Rig Elly, underwater structure covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Brittle stars covering beams of Oil Rig Elly, underwater structure covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31136  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil Rig Eureka, Underwater Structure, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Eureka, Underwater Structure.
Image ID: 31081  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
California sea lion at oil rig Eureka, underwater, among the pilings supporting the oil rig, Zalophus californianus, Long Beach
California sea lion at oil rig Eureka, underwater, among the pilings supporting the oil rig.
Image ID: 31086  
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Corynactis anemones on Oil Rig Elly underwater structure, Corynactis californica, Long Beach, California
Corynactis anemones on Oil Rig Elly underwater structure.
Image ID: 31130  
Species: Strawberry anemone, Corynactis californica
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31102  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31111  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Corynactis anemones on Oil Rig Elly underwater structure, Corynactis californica, Long Beach, California
Corynactis anemones on Oil Rig Elly underwater structure.
Image ID: 31124  
Species: Strawberry anemone, Corynactis californica
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil Rig Elly underwater structure covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Elly underwater structure covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31132  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil Rig Eureka, 8.5 miles off Long Beach, California, lies in 720' of water
Oil Rig Eureka, 8.5 miles off Long Beach, California, lies in 720′ of water.
Image ID: 31091  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 

The Marsh Pride of Lions, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Filed under: Kenya, Maasai Mara — Tags: , , , — on 7/30/2015

Of all the animals we saw during our safari in Kenya, the most fulfilling were the lions of the Maasai Mara. I say “fulfilling” because seeing these lions came at the end of 120 years (cumulatively, for my mom and I) of pondering Africa — reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, watching Denys Finch Hatton fly over Out of Africa, and hearing Richard Attenborough’s excited descriptions of the wildlife there — but never having had a chance to personally go on safari. So, finally seeing prides of lions, with their cubs, with their kills, in trees and roaming the savannah, was exciting. I guess someone who sees a whale for the first time, up close, after waiting their entire life must feel the same thing. We did see a few lions in Amboseli National Park around the elephants of course, and in Meru National Park as well, hidden in the bush, but it was not until we arrived in the greater Maasai Mara region that we really saw a lot of lions (and other cats) on the wide open terrain.

Lionness and two week old cub, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Panthera leo
Lionness and two week old cub, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Image ID: 29793  
Species: African Lion, Panthera leo
Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
 

The “Marsh Pride” is a family of lions living along the Mara River, near the lodge at which we were staying, so we made a point of finding them first thing on our sunrise game drives. These lions are stars of TV program I believe, as there were some folks at the lodge who knew all the “names” of the adults and how they were related. When I was a part of a whale research team in Hawaii, I learned quickly never to name the subjects of our observations. The practice has remained with me through my time photographing and watching animals, but I can see why these cats have their names. They are celebrities.

Our final morning at Little Governors camp, my mom opted to sleep in so I had a car to myself. My driver and I spent the entire morning watching Marsh Pride lions, all lionesses and cubs, as they moved out from the trees along the Mara river onto the savannah, inspecting old kills not yet fully consumed, the cubs alternating between play and keeping up the adults as they moved from place to place. As the sun rose and the day grew warmer, the lions finally settled under a cluster of trees in an otherwise wide open area, with a good view of the herds they would likely hunt later in the day, and slept.

Lion female, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Panthera leo
Lion female, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Image ID: 29917  
Species: African Lion, Panthera leo
Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
 
Lion, adult male, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Panthera leo
Lion, adult male, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Image ID: 29786  
Species: African Lion, Panthera leo
Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
 
Lions in a tree, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Panthera leo
Lions in a tree, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Image ID: 29882  
Species: African Lion, Panthera leo
Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
 
Lion, adult male, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Panthera leo
Lion, adult male, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Image ID: 29863  
Species: African Lion, Panthera leo
Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
 
Lions, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Panthera leo
Lions, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Image ID: 29861  
Species: African Lion, Panthera leo
Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
 
Lionness and cubs, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Panthera leo
Lionness and cubs, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Image ID: 29930  
Species: African Lion, Panthera leo
Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
 
Marsh pride of lions, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Panthera leo
Marsh pride of lions, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Image ID: 29951  
Species: African Lion, Panthera leo
Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
 

SCUBA Diving Beneath Oil Rigs Eureka, Ellen and Elly in Long Beach, California

Filed under: California, Underwater Photography — Tags: , , — on 7/28/2015

I recently made a few dives underneath the oil rigs “Eureka”, “Ellen” and “Elly”, about 8 miles off Long Beach, California. Oil rig Eureka is located in about 700′ of water, so from the perspective of recreational divers it is a bottomless dive. Ellen and Elly are in shallower water, about 260′, which is still out of reach of recreational dives but I suppose if you wanted to you could check out the bottom, at which point you could then direct your captain to take you directly to the Catalina chamber. The Power Scuba group with whom I was diving had chartered the dive boat Pacific Star for the day. We left the dock at 7am. I thought the boat looked familiar and indeed it was: I had divemastered on this boat 20+ years ago when it was named Bold Contender. About an hour later, after eating a great breakfast, getting a briefing and putting together gear, we arrived at the Eureka. Seas were flat calm and glassy, and the captain made our lives easy by bringing the stern of the boat close to the rig so we had only a short swim to reach the enormous pilings.

Oil Rig Eureka, 8.5 miles off Long Beach, California, lies in 720' of water
Oil Rig Eureka, 8.5 miles off Long Beach, California, lies in 720′ of water.
Image ID: 31093  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Scuba Divers at Oil Rig Eureka, 8.5 miles off Long Beach, California, lies in 720' of water
Scuba Divers at Oil Rig Eureka, 8.5 miles off Long Beach, California, lies in 720′ of water.
Image ID: 31089  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 

Water visibility was not great and the sun was still low on the horizon, so I had to resort to shutter speeds of about 1/8 to have any reasonable light to balance my strobes. My goal was to photograph the invertebrate life covering the underwater beams and columns. In preparation for a series of dive trips I have starting in October, I’m practicing wide-angle lighting again after taking about 14 years off of shooting underwater seriously. I figured big, stationary oil rig pilings with lots of color in relatively clear water was just the thing upon which to practice. The beams above about 50′ had been cleaned recently so did not offer much color, but below the first set of cross beams (at 60′) large clusters of Corynactis and Metridium anemones were growing and provided something to photograph.

Oil Rig Eureka, Underwater Structure and invertebrate Life, Corynactis californica, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Eureka, Underwater Structure and invertebrate Life.
Image ID: 31073  
Species: Strawberry anemone, Corynactis californica
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil Rig Eureka, Underwater Structure, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Eureka, Underwater Structure.
Image ID: 31080  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 

After finishing our dive on the Eureka we moved to the nearby twin rigs Ellen and Elly, and made a dive on each. Conditions were a little better since the sun had risen further and the water seemed a little cleaner. On all the rigs, we saw large schools of bait along with a few California sea lions in the shallower reaches of the beams, which was fun — I love diving with sea lions.

Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31114  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil platforms Ellen (left) and Elly (right) lie in 260' of seawater 8.5 miles off Long Beach, California
Oil platforms Ellen (left) and Elly (right) lie in 260′ of seawater 8.5 miles off Long Beach, California.
Image ID: 31095  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Corynactis anemones on Oil Rig Elly underwater structure, Corynactis californica, Long Beach, California
Corynactis anemones on Oil Rig Elly underwater structure.
Image ID: 31121  
Species: Strawberry anemone, Corynactis californica
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Starfish on Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure, covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Starfish on Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure, covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31117  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 

I plan to return and try it again, hoping for cleaner water and thicker schools of bait. It was a lot of fun, and pretty easy to do (provided one has excellent control of one’s buoyancy), and offers something very different than most of the other diving pursuits in California. Cheers and thanks for looking!

California sea lion at oil rig Eureka, underwater, among the pilings supporting the oil rig, Zalophus californianus, Long Beach
California sea lion at oil rig Eureka, underwater, among the pilings supporting the oil rig.
Image ID: 31087  
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Bait fish schooling underneath Oil Rig Elly, Long Beach, California
Bait fish schooling underneath Oil Rig Elly.
Image ID: 31143  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
California sea lion at oil rig Eureka, underwater, among the pilings supporting the oil rig, Zalophus californianus, Long Beach
California sea lion at oil rig Eureka, underwater, among the pilings supporting the oil rig.
Image ID: 31088  
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31100  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Metridium anemones covering Oil Rig Elly underwater structure, Metridium senile, Long Beach, California
Metridium anemones covering Oil Rig Elly underwater structure.
Image ID: 31125  
Species: Plumose anemone, Metridium senile
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Metridium anemones covering Oil Rig Elly underwater structure, Metridium senile, Long Beach, California
Metridium anemones covering Oil Rig Elly underwater structure.
Image ID: 31129  
Species: Plumose anemone, Metridium senile
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Corynactis anemones cover Oil Rig Ellen underwater, Corynactis californica, Long Beach, California
Corynactis anemones cover Oil Rig Ellen underwater.
Image ID: 31096  
Species: Strawberry anemone, Corynactis californica
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life, Long Beach, California
Oil Rig Ellen underwater structure covered in invertebrate life.
Image ID: 31112  
Location: Long Beach, California, USA
 

Beautiful Oaks and Perfect Sunrise at Oak Alley Plantation

Filed under: Landscape, Panoramas — Tags: , , , , — on 7/8/2015

Oak Alley Plantation, with its remarkable double row of 300-year-old southern live oaks (Quercus virginiana) is, I imagine, a near-ideal vision of what the old South once was. I photographed this amazing tunnel of oaks at both dusk and dawn and, after contemplating the images for a few weeks, have decided the light I had in the morning was perfect, sublime. After the sun rose it side-lit the trees beautifully. Since it had to pass through heavy, wet Louisiana air the light was just diffuse enough that it filled in the shadows of the trees. I was alone the entire morning, enjoying listening to the cicadas and watching the squirrels move about the trees and over the lawn. Perfect.

This image will print 36″ x 60″.

Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of  300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana).  The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark, Vacherie, Louisiana
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of 300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Image ID: 31019  
Location: Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, USA
 

If you enjoy this image but want something wider or bigger, this panoramic photo will print 60″ x 150″ long:

Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of  300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana).  The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark, Vacherie, Louisiana
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of 300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Image ID: 31018  
Location: Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, USA
Pano dimensions: 6564 x 17803
 

Photographing Macrocystis in La Jolla’s Beautiful Forests of Giant Kelp

I have been photographing kelp forests in California with a passion for 25 years, from the Mexican border on up to Monterey including all the Channel Islands. Usually when I go diving in kelp its to San Clemente Island, which arguably has the most beautiful underwater scenery anywhere in California. In doing so I have bypassed the large tracts of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) just offshore of La Jolla and Point Loma because the water is just not as clear as I would like in those places. During the last couple years, however, the kelp forests at San Clemente Island have thinned out incredibly due to overly warm water, while those along the coast are still thick and healthy. Recently while out with a friend on his boat, I was able to do a little freediving in the kelp beds just off Point La Jolla and managed to get some nice photographs. The light was great, the visibility “good enough” and I was reminded again just how beautiful a healthy kelp forest is. As is done with a lot of my underwater photography, these images are made with only the available light — no strobes or tricky equipment. In other words, this is what you would see if you put on a mask and fins and went for a swim off in the kelp beds off Alligator Head or Children’s Pool. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2' per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California's Southern Channel Islands, Macrocystis pyrifera
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2′ per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California’s Southern Channel Islands.
Image ID: 30986  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
 
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2' per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California's Southern Channel Islands, Macrocystis pyrifera
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2′ per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California’s Southern Channel Islands.
Image ID: 30989  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2' per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California's Southern Channel Islands, Macrocystis pyrifera
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2′ per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California’s Southern Channel Islands.
Image ID: 30996  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2' per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California's Southern Channel Islands, Macrocystis pyrifera
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2′ per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California’s Southern Channel Islands.
Image ID: 30998  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2' per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California's Southern Channel Islands, Macrocystis pyrifera
The Kelp Forest offshore of La Jolla, California. A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2′ per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California’s Southern Channel Islands.
Image ID: 30992  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 

Oak Alley Plantation and Its Famous Tunnel of Old Oak Trees, Vacherie, Louisiana

Filed under: Landscape, Panoramas — Tags: , , , , — on 7/4/2015

While in New Orleans recently, I made a side-trip to visit Oak Alley Plantation. I love ancient, huge and gnarly trees, and when it comes to oak trees — specifically the southern live oak, Quercus virginiana — Oak Alley Plantation has some of the most photogenic in the South.

Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of  300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana).  The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark, Vacherie, Louisiana
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of 300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Image ID: 31009  
Location: Vacherie, Louisiana, USA
 
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of  300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana).  The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark, Vacherie, Louisiana
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of 300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Image ID: 31005  
Location: Vacherie, Louisiana, USA
 

My goal was to produce one or two very large prints — 6 to 7 feet long — of the trees that grace this plantation, hopefully for hanging in our dining room. This required waiting for good light with no people around and shooting multi-image high resolution panoramic photographs, a slow process. The plantation’s most captivating view is that of its stately Antebellum mansion framed by the canopied tunnel of enormous trees, and that is where I spent most of my time. The double row of southern live oaks in this view was planted in the early 18th century, well before the house itself was built, and now forms a remarkable path between the house and the Mississippi River. The river itself can no longer be seen due to the the levee at its edge, but the effect is still stunning. Could the person who planted the trees 300 years ago have known what a perfectly balanced and imposing instance of deciduous wonder they would one day become, centuries hence? That would have been foresight indeed.

A tunnel of old southern oak trees stretches off toward the Mississippi River.  Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of  300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana).  The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark, Vacherie, Louisiana
A tunnel of old southern oak trees stretches off toward the Mississippi River. Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of 300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Image ID: 31021  
Location: Vacherie, Louisiana, USA
 
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of  300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana).  The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark, Vacherie, Louisiana
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of 300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Image ID: 31004  
Location: Vacherie, Louisiana, USA
 

Oak Alley Plantation receives hundreds of visitors each day, so I opted to avoid the crowds and shoot at sunrise and sunset. I lucked out and got both types of light I was hoping for: overcast skies and muted, soft, flat light at dusk, and fairly clear skies and warm side lighting at dawn. I was alone for some hours walking the grounds in peace and quiet, checking out the stately mansion and its varied barns, cottages, gardens and out-buildings in addition to the many huge old oaks spread across the plantation. After sunset the sound of what I am guessing were cicadas buzzed everywhere and continued through the night. Once all hint of color had left the evening sky, I returned to my cottage and enjoyed the meal of gumbo, etouffee and grits that the kitchen staff had left for me in the fridge. I was tempted to walk around again as the moon had risen and I knew the movie Interview with a Vampire had been filmed here so there must be some kind of evening spirits inhabiting the property, but jet lag caught up with me so I set my alarm for 30 minutes before sunrise and crashed for the night. The following morning the overcast skies had lifted so I knew there would be some side lighting on the trees. It is fortunate I rose early, since the first thing that happened when I stepped outside into the heavy, wet, warm morning air was to completely fog every surface of my camera. After many years of diving with cameras in the tropics I should have known better than to take a cold camera out into a warm humid place. After 20-30 minutes the camera fog had cleared and I could shoot properly, and I set about photographing the panorama that I had planned for just as the sun crested the horizon and shed warm, diffuse Louisiana light on the oaks. Around 7:30 I had to leave, needing to be back in downtown New Orleans by 9am. The light and conditions had been just perfect and I lucked out on this one.

Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of  300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana).  The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark, Quercus virginiana, Vacherie, Louisiana
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of 300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Image ID: 31017  
Species: Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana
Location: Vacherie, Louisiana, USA
 
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of  300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana).  The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark, Quercus virginiana, Vacherie, Louisiana
Oak Alley Plantation and its famous shaded tunnel of 300-year-old southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). The plantation is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Image ID: 31020  
Species: Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana
Location: Vacherie, Louisiana, USA
 

I was hoping to be captivated by the place — by the trees especially — and I was not disappointed. If I sound romantic it is with good reason since Oak Alley is indeed a romantic place, evoking the grace, decadence and elegance of the Old South. Will I return? Absolutely. The next time I am in New Orleans it will be the first thing I put on my calendar.

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

San Diego County Fair at Night, Del Mar, California

Filed under: California, San Diego — Tags: , , — on 7/3/2015

The Del Mar Fair — or, for noobs, the “San Diego County Fair” — has some great lights at night. My favorites are the ferris wheels and whirling rides. This year I added a new image to my collection, one in which the full moon is rising above the fairgrounds. A little bit of time exposure lets the moving rides trace out cool circles in the air like a Spyrograph. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Full moon rising at night over the San Diego County Fair.  Del Mar Fair at night
Full moon rising at night over the San Diego County Fair. Del Mar Fair at night.
Image ID: 31030  
Location: Del Mar, California, USA
 
Train lights, Del Mar Fair and San Dieguito Lagoon at Night.  Lights from the San Diego Fair reflect in San Dieguito Lagooon, with the train track trestles to the left
Train lights, Del Mar Fair and San Dieguito Lagoon at Night. Lights from the San Diego Fair reflect in San Dieguito Lagooon, with the train track trestles to the left.
Image ID: 31025  
Location: Del Mar, California, USA
 
Ferris wheel and fair rides at sunset, blurring due to long exposure, Del Mar Fair
Ferris wheel and fair rides at sunset, blurring due to long exposure.
Image ID: 20872  
Location: Del Mar Fair, California, USA
 
Hot Dog on a Stick, corn dog, greasy fried fatty food, Del Mar Fair
Hot Dog on a Stick, corn dog, greasy fried fatty food.
Image ID: 20860  
Location: Del Mar Fair, California, USA
 
Del Mar Fair rides at night, blurring due to long exposure
Del Mar Fair rides at night, blurring due to long exposure.
Image ID: 20876  
Location: Del Mar Fair, California, USA
 
Full moon rising at night over the San Diego County Fair.  Del Mar Fair at night
Full moon rising at night over the San Diego County Fair. Del Mar Fair at night.
Image ID: 31028  
Location: Del Mar, California, USA
 

Sport Diver Cover, June 2015, Sea Lion in the Sea of Cortez

I love diving in the Sea of Cortez in the Fall. The water is warm, the weather is often serene, the diving easy and fun. And there are some amazing rookeries of sea lions, including the world famous Los Islotes island in the Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve. So I was pleased when a photograph from my last visit to the Sea of Cortez ended up on this month’s cover of Sport Diver. Thanks Sport Diver and Seapics who arranged the photo use! If you like this cute sealion, be sure to see more Sea Lion Photos and more photos from the Sea of Cortez. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Sport Diver cover photo, June 2015, Sea Lion in the Sea of Cortez

Aerial Panoramic Photo of Torrey Pines Golf Course and Black’s Beach

This aerial panorama of Torrey Pines Golf Course will print huge: up to about 4′ high and 10′ wide! In the center is seen Torrey Pines Golf Course south course, with the north course to the left. I played Torrey Pines often when I first moved to La Jolla and it is as beautiful on the ground as it looks from the air. Dominating the scene are the 300′ tall seacliffs that characterize the coastline from Torrey Pines State Reserve south to Scripps Institute of Oceanography. To the right is seen Torrey Pines Glider Port on the mesa, and Black’s Beach at the base of the seacliffs. Interstate 5 is seen in the center distance along with University City, Del Mar to the extreme left and Mount Soledad and La Jolla to the extreme right. I am often asked if I use a drone to shoot aerials, since they are becoming so popular. The answer for now is “no”: I always hold the camera. Someday I will probably use a drone but for my current interests and goals, I have greater control and can produce a higher quality image if I am in the air with my camera. Besides, its fun to fly, and I don’t want a drone to have all the fun. It was exciting making this panorama, hovering over some of the most beautiful coastline in all of California. If you like this, see more of my aerial panoramic photographs. Cheers, and thanks for looking.

Aerial panorama of Blacks Beach, Torrey Pines Golf Course (south course), and views to La Jolla (south) and Carlsbad (north)
Aerial panorama of Blacks Beach, Torrey Pines Golf Course (south course), and views to La Jolla (south) and Carlsbad (north).
Image ID: 30851  
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 6962 x 19824
 

Underwater Photos of Marine Algae in Southern California and Baja California

Filed under: California, Underwater Photography — Tags: , , — on 5/31/2015

I dive in Southern California and Baja California, and one of the most appealing things about the underwater landscapes I see are the many species of marine algae. Marine algae cover the reefs in most places with a lush, colorful, vibrant carpet of life. Following are photos of some of the more common and beautiful forms of marine algae found underwater along the Pacific coast of Southern California and Baja California. Descriptions are from Wikipedia. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all marine algae, nor is it meant to be an identification guide — it is simply to show the variety and beauty of my favorite types of marine algae. Thank you to Dr. Kathy Ann Miller of UC Berkeley for help in identification, any errors are strictly mine. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Giant Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera

Macrocystis pyrifera, commonly known as giant kelp or giant bladder kelp, is a species of kelp (large brown algae), and one of four species in the genus Macrocystis. Giant kelp is common along the coast of the eastern Pacific Ocean, from Baja California north to southeast Alaska, and is also found in the southern oceans near South America, South Africa, and Australia. Individual algae may grow to more than 45 metres (148 ft) long at a rate of as much as 2 feet (61 cm) per day. Giant kelp grows in dense stands known as kelp forests, which are home to many marine animals that depend on the algae for food or shelter.

Kelp frond showing pneumatocysts, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island
Kelp frond showing pneumatocysts.
Image ID: 00627  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
A kelp forest.  Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2' per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy.  Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest.  Lush forests of kelp are found through California's Southern Channel Islands, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island
A kelp forest. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2′ per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California’s Southern Channel Islands.
Image ID: 23428  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
A view of an underwater forest of giant kelp.  Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2' per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy.  Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest.  Lush forests of kelp are found through California's Southern Channel Islands, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island
A view of an underwater forest of giant kelp. Giant kelp grows rapidly, up to 2′ per day, from the rocky reef on the ocean bottom to which it is anchored, toward the ocean surface where it spreads to form a thick canopy. Myriad species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates form a rich community in the kelp forest. Lush forests of kelp are found through California’s Southern Channel Islands.
Image ID: 25400  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
Kelp holdfast and substrate, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island
Kelp holdfast and substrate.
Image ID: 00622  
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 


Feather Boa Kelp, Egregia menziesii

Egregia menziesii is a species of kelp known commonly as feather boa kelp. It is native to the coastline of western North America from Alaska to Baja California, where it is a common kelp of the intertidal zone. It is dark brown in color, shiny and bumpy in texture, and may reach over five meters long. It grows a branching stipe from a thick holdfast. It bears long, flat, straplike fronds lined with small blades each a few centimeters long. There are pneumatocysts at intervals along the fronds which provide buoyancy. The alga varies in morphology; the rachis, or central strip, of the frond may be smooth or corrugated, and the blades along the edge of the rachis may be a variety of shapes.

Feather boa kelp (long brown fuzzy stuff) and other marine algae cover the rocky reef, Egregia menziesii, San Clemente Island
Feather boa kelp (long brown fuzzy stuff) and other marine algae cover the rocky reef.
Image ID: 25416  
Species: Feather boa kelp, Egregia menziesii
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 


Southern Sea Palm, Palm Kelp, Eisenia arborea

Eisenia arborea, or the southern sea palm (not to be confused with the sea palm), is a dominant species of kelp that is found in the Northern and Eastern Pacific from Vancouver Island, Canada south to Isla Magdalena, Mexico, and along the coast of Baja California. They are commonly found from the midtidal areas stretching to the subtidal areas. It is an edible seaweed, a source of nutrients for grazing marine invertebrates and a source of alginic acid, a food thickener. Some of the algas have a hollow stripe above its holdfast with two branches terminating in multiple blades. Eisenia arborea is studied in order to predict environmental stress in oceans intertidal zones. Hollow stripes where present when the Eisenia arborea did not receive essential nutrients for its thalli development. Eisenia arborea with hollow stripes are believed to be evolved algae in order to increase their survival in harsh living conditions. They play a huge role in determining environmental stress.

Southern sea palm, palm kelp, underwater, San Clemente Island, Eisenia arborea
Southern sea palm, palm kelp, underwater, San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 30919  
Species: Southern sea palm, Eisenia arborea
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
Southern sea palm, palm kelp, underwater, San Clemente Island, Eisenia arborea
Southern sea palm, palm kelp, underwater, San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 30917  
Species: Southern sea palm, Eisenia arborea
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
Southern sea palm, Eisenia arborea, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)
Southern sea palm.
Image ID: 09537  
Species: Southern sea palm, Eisenia arborea
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico
 
Palm kelp. Southern sea palm, Eisenia arborea, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)
Palm kelp. Southern sea palm.
Image ID: 01249  
Species: Southern sea palm, Eisenia arborea
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico
 
Kelp covered wall of Isla Afuera, diver, Eisenia arborea, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)
Kelp covered wall of Isla Afuera, diver.
Image ID: 03724  
Species: Southern Sea Palm, Eisenia arborea
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico
 


Surfgrass, Phyllospadix

Phyllospadix is a genus of seagrass or surfgrass, a flowering plant in the family Zosteraceae, described as a genus in 1840. Phyllospadix grows in marine waters along the coasts of the temperate North Pacific. It is one of the seagrass genuses that can perform completely submerged pollination.

Surfgrass (Phyllospadix), shallow water, San Clemente Island, Phyllospadix
Surfgrass (Phyllospadix), shallow water, San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 30941  
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
Surfgrass (Phyllospadix), shallow water, San Clemente Island, Phyllospadix
Surfgrass (Phyllospadix), shallow water, San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 30886  
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
Surfgrass and diver, Phyllospadix, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)
Surfgrass and diver.
Image ID: 03736  
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico
 


Asparagopsis taxiformis

Asparagopsis taxiformis, red marine algae, growing on underwater rocky reef below kelp forest at San Clemente Island, Asparagopsis taxiformis
Asparagopsis taxiformis, red marine algae, growing on underwater rocky reef below kelp forest at San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 30939  
Species: Asparagopsis taxiformis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
Garibaldi and Asparagopsis taxiformis (red marine algae), San Clemente Island, Hypsypops rubicundus, Asparagopsis taxiformis
Garibaldi and Asparagopsis taxiformis (red marine algae), San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 30881  
Species: Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, Asparagopsis taxiformis
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
Various kelp and algae, shallow water, Asparagopsis taxiformis, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)
Various kelp and algae, shallow water.
Image ID: 21376  
Species: Asparagopsis taxiformis
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico
 


Stephanocystis dioica

Stephanocystis is characterized by highly differentiated basal and apical regions and the presence of catenate pneumatocysts (air-vesicles). In Stephanocystis old plants have an elongated main axis, and in time the primary laterals become proportionally elongated. Their lower parts are strongly flattened into ‘foliar expansions’ or basal leaves. Fertile regions which bear conceptacles are known as receptacles. These are normally found at the tips of the branches. Their basal and apical regions are highly differentiated. They have catenate pnuematocysts (air vesicles). The aerocyst or air vesicles keep the organism erect, by causing it to float in strong currents.

Stephanocystis dioica (yellow) and surfgrass (green), shallow water, San Clemente Island, Phyllospadix, Stephanocystis dioica
Stephanocystis dioica (yellow) and surfgrass (green), shallow water, San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 30946  
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix, Stephanocystis dioica
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 
A group of juvenile and female Guadalupe fur seals rest and socialize over a shallow, kelp-covered reef.  During the summer mating season, a single adjult male will form a harem of females and continually patrol the underwater boundary of his territory, keeping the females near and intimidating other males from approaching, Arctocephalus townsendi, Stephanocystis dioica, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)
A group of juvenile and female Guadalupe fur seals rest and socialize over a shallow, kelp-covered reef. During the summer mating season, a single adjult male will form a harem of females and continually patrol the underwater boundary of his territory, keeping the females near and intimidating other males from approaching.
Image ID: 09677  
Species: Guadalupe fur seal, Arctocephalus townsendi, Stephanocystis dioica
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico
 
Stephanocystis dioica (lighter yellow), southern sea palm (darker yellow) and surfgrass (green), shallow water, San Clemente Island, Eisenia arborea, Phyllospadix, Stephanocystis dioica
Stephanocystis dioica (lighter yellow), southern sea palm (darker yellow) and surfgrass (green), shallow water, San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 30948  
Species: Southern palm kelp, Surfgrass, Eisenia arborea, Phyllospadix, Stephanocystis dioica
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA
 

The Disappearing Kelp Forests of San Clemente Island

Filed under: Aerial Photography, California — Tags: , , , — on 5/30/2015

I was recently diving at San Clemente Island. The profound lack of giant kelp forests was a striking contrast to what I am used to seeing over 25 years of diving at the island. Under ideal conditions, giant kelp can grow about 2′ per day (the fastest growing plant on Earth), but it does require relatively cool water to really flourish. In 2014, water temperatures were higher than normal, leading to poor growth conditions. The kelp has not recovered, and if an El Nino that is predicted to occur in 2015 comes to pass, it is almost certain to cause whatever kelp forests are at the island to recede considerably. Here are two images, from above the southeastern tip of the island (”Pyramid Head”) looking northwest along the axis of the island, shot in September 2010 (top, healthy thick kelp forests appear in brown, from Pyramid Cove in upper left around Pyramid Head point and up the eastern side of the island) and July 2014 (almost total absence of giant kelp forests). These two images are crops, click on either to see the original composition.





See more photos of San Clemente Island, photos of giant kelp forests, and aerial photos. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Aerial Panorama of Point Loma, Cabrillo Monument and San Diego Bay

This is a highly detailed aerial panoramic photo of the southern end of Point Loma, with Cabrillo Monument and both old and new lighthouses visible. The original Cabrillo lighthouse is seen atop the bluff, while the new lighthouse is down near the water’s edge next to the green lawns. North Island Naval Air Station and San Diego Bay are seen in the distance over the top of the peninsula. The submarine reefs of Cabrillo State Marine Reserve are clearly visible through the clear water. The Coronado Strand stretches off to the right (south) toward Mexico, while the broken coastline of Point Loma and Sunset Cliffs stretches off to the left (north). This high resolution panorama will print 40″ high by 90″ wide. If you like this, please see more aerial photos of San Diego. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Aerial Panoramic Photo of Point Loma and Cabrillo Monument, San Diego, California
Aerial Panoramic Photo of Point Loma and Cabrillo Monument.
Image ID: 30847  
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 6195 x 13742
 

Aerial Panorama of the San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge

One of the images I wanted to add to my collection of San Diego aerial photos was a very wide, very detailed image of the San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge. I could have taken a single image with a very wide lens — such as this image taken a few years ago that has since paid for the flight many times over — and achieved a reasonable result, but as far as high resolution goes this approach has its limits. The wider the lens, the more distortion is present in the image (think “fisheye view”). Correcting such distortion reduces the sharpness of the details especially around the edges of the image. Also, a single photograph will be limited in resolution by what the camera can record — these days, 36 megapixels is typical. What I really wanted was an enormous, highly detailed, and rectilinear (straight lines, no fisheye distortion) image suitable for large reproduction in a space that would warrant it, such as an office lobby, museum, or the Oval Office. Equipped with the most expensive and high-tech ball head in the world, my daughter and I got up in the air and set about shooting the images. I later stitched them together on the computer using several stages and software programs. The result is this panoramic photo of the San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge, suitable for printing 50″ by 100″ wide with no interpolation.

Panoramic Aerial Photo of San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge
Panoramic Aerial Photo of San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge.
Image ID: 30789  
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 7503 x 14441
 

If you like this, please see my other San Diego aerial photos, or my collection of aerial panoramic photos. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Aerial Panoramic Photo of La Jolla Cove and Scripps Park, San Diego

Panoramic aerial photograph of La Jolla Cove and Scripps Parks (center), with La Jolla’s Mount Soledad rising above, La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Caves to the left and the La Jolla Coast with Children’s Pool (Casa Cove) to the right. The undersea reefs of Boomer Beach are seen through the clear, calm ocean waters. This extremely high resolution panorama will print 50″ high by 130″ long with no interpolation. If you like this, be sure to check out my always growing gallery of San Diego photos.

Aerial Panoramic Photo of Point La Jolla and La Jolla Cove, Boomer Beach, Scripps Park
Aerial Panoramic Photo of Point La Jolla and La Jolla Cove, Boomer Beach, Scripps Park.
Image ID: 30773  
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 7744 x 20541
 

This is the second in my series of recent San Diego aerial panoramas, part of my collection of aerial photos of San Diego. Making an aerial panorama is difficult. The technique used in the sky is important and requires a good pilot and the right conditions. Lens choice is important as well, otherwise distortion will affect the resulting image considerably. And obtaining a perfect result, with no “stitching errors” or gaps, requires a degree of patience, several pieces of software, and some trial and error. I spent days assembling these panoramas, and hope to see them reproduced at enormous sizes once the right opportunity presents itself. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Aerial Panorama of Bird Rock and the La Jolla Coastline

Aerial Panorama of La Jolla’s Bird Rock, with surfers in the water at lower right. Submarine reefs, characteristic of the La Jolla coast, can be seen through the clear water. Mount Soledad rises above everything. This 180-degree panorama extends from Camp Pendleton in the extreme distance to the north to Point Loma in the south. The resolution of this image will permit it to be printed 80″ high by 200″ wide with no interpolation.

Aerial Panoramic Photo of Bird Rock and La Jolla Coast, with surfers in the waves.  Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are to the far right (south).  La Jolla's Mount Soledad rises in the center.  The submarine reefs around Bird Rock are visible through the clear water. This extremely high resolution panorama will print 80 inches high by 200 inches wide
Aerial Panoramic Photo of Bird Rock and La Jolla Coast, with surfers in the waves. Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are to the far right (south). La Jolla’s Mount Soledad rises in the center. The submarine reefs around Bird Rock are visible through the clear water. This extremely high resolution panorama will print 80 inches high by 200 inches wide.
Image ID: 30778  
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 7948 x 20303
 

In March and April I made a series of flights to photograph many of San Diego’s prominent coastal features. (Yesterday I described one flight focusing on making aerial photos of San Diego’s Marine Protected Areas.) During their spring breaks, my daughters and I hired helicopters a couple times with the goal of adding to my collection of aerial photos of San Diego, trying something new. The pilots and I discussed the plans before taking off, and we gave it a shot. Making an aerial panorama is very difficult to get just right. The technique used in the sky is important and requires a good pilot and the right conditions. Lens choice is important as well, otherwise distortion will affect the resulting image considerably. And obtaining a perfect result, with no “stitching errors” or gaps, requires a degree of patience, several pieces of software, and some trial and error. I spent days assembling these panoramas, and hope to see them reproduced at enormous sizes once the right opportunity presents itself. This is the first of several I will post over the coming days. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Aerial Photographic Survey of San Diego Marine Protected Areas for Lighthawk

I recently made a special flight with my pilot friend Steve Parker in collaboration with Lighthawk. Lighthawk’s mission is “to accelerate conservation success through the powerful perspective of flight”. On this flight, we were trying to produce new aerial images of several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the San Diego coastline for organizations involved with these MPAs to use in their outreach, conservation, research and legislative efforts.

Aerial photo of Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad. The Batiquitos Lagoon is a coastal wetland in southern Carlsbad, California. Part of the lagoon is designated as the Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, run by the California Department of Fish and Game as a nature reserve
Aerial photo of Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad. The Batiquitos Lagoon is a coastal wetland in southern Carlsbad, California. Part of the lagoon is designated as the Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, run by the California Department of Fish and Game as a nature reserve.
Image ID: 30569  
Location: Carlsbad, Callifornia, USA
 

I’ve flown with Steve many times, including previously for Lighthawk to document the impacts of the large wind turbines constructed on the landscape around Ocotillo, California as well as a number of times to survey blue whales in the southern California bight and the Channel Islands. On our San Diego MPA mission, we would be passing over several lagoons and rivermouths, various kelp forests, two submarine canyons, several stretches of coastal bluff, one peninsula and lots of urban elements surrounding and interspersed with these MPAs. Our goal was to produce imagery presenting, for each of the MPAs, at least the following: 1) the general setting of each MPA, so that viewers can quickly understand what and where it is, and 2) something unique, special and/or appealing about each MPA, to help viewers connect with and appreciate the MPAs. Steve’s daughter Roxanne accompanied us as second pilot as well as locating the MPAs and facilitating communication between Steve and me. Steve handled the primary piloting, and communications with air-traffic controllers in the area.

The Marine Protected Areas that we hoped to fly over were, from North to South in the order we would see them:

  • Batiquitos Lagoon SMCA
  • Swami’s SMCA
  • San Elijo Lagoon SMCA
  • San Dieguito Lagoon SMCA
  • San Diego Scripps Coastal SMCA
  • Matlahuayal SMR
  • South La Jolla SMCA
  • South La Jolla SMR
  • Famosa Slough SMCA (we missed this one, unfortunately)
  • Cabrillo SMR
  • Tijuana River Mouth SMCA

Time in the air is always limited and, frankly, it comes at a steep price. I wanted to make sure we had some variety of perspectives, and at least one or two good images from each of different MPAs. It is a challenge, in more ways than one, to pull off a successful photo flight like this. We had several long conservations with Lee Pagni at Lighthawk about the objectives, then Steve and I had to work out several possible flight dates given tides, position of the sun in the sky, etc. Our first slot was scrubbed due to clouds. When we finally met at Palomar-McClellan airport in Carlsbad, we already had invested some hours and energy. On top of that are the expenses Steve incurs operating the plane, which are considerable. So, I did want to leave any possibility of missing a photo due to equipment failure or simply having the wrong lens in hand. I would be shooting out the side of Steve’s Cessna 206 plane, with views from about 7 to 10 o’clock (the nose of the plane being at 12 noon). We also mounted a GoPro camera on the wing, pointed somewhat forward and down, in the hopes of obtaining some additional very wide images with a view that I was not able to get. We set the GoPro to take a picture every 5 seconds for the duration of the flight. I photographed with three cameras to give me quick access to a variety of focal lengths: Nikon D800 with 14-24 lens, Nikon D800 with 24-70 lens, and Canon 5D Mark III with 70-200 lens. The 24-70 is by far the most useful lens for this sort of aerial landscape. The 14-24 is typically too wide and sometimes catches a wing tip or strut in the corner of the frame, but it can produce beautiful aerials in some circumstances. Unless the air is exceedingly clear, 70-200 is typically too much lens for my taste and produces a flat-looking, low-contrast image even with a polarizer. (The 70-200 is, however, excellent for photographing whales while shooting straight down.) I also had two GPS units recording our positions every few seconds, producing a “GPX file” which I would later use to “geo-tag” all of the photos. (Good thing I had two, my older GPS produced a faulty GPX file and is now retired.)

Aerial Photo of Cabrillo State Marine Reserve, Point Loma, San Diego
Aerial Photo of Cabrillo State Marine Reserve, Point Loma, San Diego.
Image ID: 30641  
Location: San Diego, California, USA
 

Editing left me with 150 images, including a few of the GoPro ones that illustrated reef structure in La Jolla that I did not manage to photograph well with my “real cameras”. In particular, the GoPro stills are hard to use due to the fisheye-like view they produce, but in some cases the fisheye distortion can be corrected and a useable image results. Taking all of the GoPro images, correcting them all for distortion and then cropping them to a 9:16 perspective, allowed me to produce a sort of jerky time-lapse which gives a sense of the views we where working with. If you don’t see a Youtube frame below, you might need to refresh the page. Be sure to select “HD” when it starts playing:

When editing aerial images, the first thing I always do is “geo-tag” them. This simply means adding the location (latitude, longitude and altitude) into the EXIF information that is present inside of a digital photograph. I do the geotagging in Adobe Lightroom, using the GPX file created by my handheld GPS. (Some cameras, including the iPhone, geotag photos as soon as they are taken.) The raw GPX file is simply a dot-to-dot set of locations that, when plotted in software like Google Earth, shows the path of the flight:

Here are a couple zoomed-in-views, showing our flight paths over Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) (first image) and Swami’s SMCA and San Elijo Lagoon SMCA (second image):

These tracklogs are nice, but without the images they simply say “we were here”. After geotagging the images and producing a “KMZ file” to display in Google Earth, one can see the images at the location where they were made. The geo-information associated with each image is now of some value:

If you have Google Earth installed, you can work with the full KMZ file by clicking the next image. (It may simply download the KMZ file instead of displaying it in Google Earth.) It contains embedded within it small versions of all the edited images, appearing at their proper locations. If this does not work, you can download the raw KMZ file to your computer and try loading it into Google Earth directly.




click to launch this map in Google Earth

The full collection of images being made available to bon fide conservation organizations can be seen here. Please contact me directly if you have questions, or if you would like to make use of them.

I would like to thank Lighthawk, Christine Steele and Lee Pagni of Lighthawk, and my pilot friends Steve and Roxanne Parker for helping to make these photographs possible. I will be posting detailed information about selected images from this flight over the coming weeks. If you reference these images, they should be credited “Phillip Colla / Oceanlight.com / Lighthawk.org”.

Aerial photo of Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad. The Batiquitos Lagoon is a coastal wetland in southern Carlsbad, California. Part of the lagoon is designated as the Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, run by the California Department of Fish and Game as a nature reserve
Aerial photo of Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad. The Batiquitos Lagoon is a coastal wetland in southern Carlsbad, California. Part of the lagoon is designated as the Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, run by the California Department of Fish and Game as a nature reserve.
Image ID: 30563  
Location: Carlsbad, Callifornia, USA
 
Aerial Photo of San Diego Scripps Coastal SMCA. Blacks Beach and Torrey Pines State Reserve, La Jolla, California
Aerial Photo of San Diego Scripps Coastal SMCA. Blacks Beach and Torrey Pines State Reserve.
Image ID: 30622  
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 
Aerial Photo of South La Jolla State Marine Reserve
Aerial Photo of South La Jolla State Marine Reserve.
Image ID: 30638  
Location: La Jolla, California, USA
 

Lunar Eclipse April 4 2015 from Joshua Tree National Park

I went up to Joshua Tree National Park to watch the lunar eclipse of April 4, 2015. Photographically, I was not sure what I was going to do. I’ve made a series of lunar eclipse sequence images (lunar eclipse October 8, 2014 and April 14, 2014 version 2 version 3). While these images are visually appealing and challenging to make well, I really wanted to do something different for this eclipse, push the creative comfort zone so to speak. Fellow photographer Garry McCarthy and I mulled over some ideas on the drive up to Joshua Tree but after arriving I was still at a loss. I deliberately left my 500mm lens at home so I would not fall into the trap of trying to photograph closeups and sequences that way. In fact, I brought my fish eye lens to force myself to look for something different. We headed to the arch, a spot we often go to for night photography and the place at which Garry (with some help from me) originally planned and executed the “Milky Way Arch over Arch” photo, which we have subsequently re-photographed in many variations over the years. A little pondering, a pause for a Santana’s chicken burrito, some crawling around on the rocks looking for angles, and then thankfully I had finally had an idea for a different kind of sequence and a different angle on the arch. At least something to try.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence through Arch Rock, April 4 2015, Joshua Tree National Park, California
Lunar Eclipse Sequence, the path of the moon through the sky as it progresses from being fully visible (top) to fully eclipsed (middle) to almost fully visible again (bottom), viewed through Arch Rock, April 4 2015.
Image ID: 30713  
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
 

I wanted a composition that told the story of the entire eclipse from start to end in one photograph, and in which the Joshua Tree NP setting was clearly evident. I recalled the exposure settings I had used during the last eclipse and realized that the variation of the moon’s light is too great to capture with just one exposure setting, but that could work to my advange in depicting the entire smooth path of the moon through the sky. I took a wild-ass-guess at the best aperture, shutter and ISO to use, set up my camera on a small tripod wedged into some rocks, turned on the intervalometer and let it go all night. The result is the following composite image, depicting the moon from about 1am until 6:30am, including the lunar eclipse from when it began at 3:15am until it set behind the rocks in the distance. The frame is “Arch Rock”, but in an unfamiliar angle. 890 individual images were taken to make this image. The stars and eclipsed moon are shown at about 5am, when the eclipse was at its “peak”, the moon being in its “blood red” phase and lit only by indirect, refracted light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. The color of the moon is indeed red in the full res version but its hard to make out on the web. The path of the moon is flared toward the top due to high altitude clouds which were passing by, but as the eclipse began the skies cleared and the moon’s path through the sky becomes smoother.

We also realized that during the eclipse, the milky way would become visible, something that is typically impossible to see during a full moon. In fact, the strength of the moonlight would gradually fade in such a way that we could wait for it to exactly match the milky way and starlight above, allowing us to photograph the arch lit by a perfect amount of moonlight, right at astronomical twilight when blue just begins to appear in the sky, without resorting to using any artificial light at all. The result was this image: Milky Way over Arch Rock during Lunar Eclipse of April 4, 2015. (Note: I think this is the highest quality panorama of this scene I’ve ever photographed, and I’ve practiced it many many times. It will print 4.5′ by 7′ with no interpolation.)

Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015
Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015.
Image ID: 30717  
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
Pano dimensions: 8903 x 14184
 

We were also treated to a 22° lunar halo an hour or so before the eclipse occurred. Often mistakenly called “lunar corona”, the lunar halo forms when moonlight refracts through hexagonal high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22° the sky is darker inside the halo. It formed a complete circle for about 45 minutes. We were freezing our asses off and, while this was a superb distraction, once it was gone we still had to wait and freeze until the eclipse began. Why is it still so cold in the high desert in April?

Full moon with 22-degree lunar halo, Joshua Tree National Park.  The lunar halo (not to be cofused with lunar corona) forms when moonlight refracts through high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22-degrees the sky is darker inside the halo
Full moon with 22-degree lunar halo, Joshua Tree National Park. The lunar halo (not to be cofused with lunar corona) forms when moonlight refracts through high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22-degrees the sky is darker inside the halo.
Image ID: 30711  
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
 

Cheers and thanks for looking!


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Updated: August 29, 2015