The Spectacular Coral Reef Walls of Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji

Fiji, Seascapes, Underwater Photography, Vatu i Ra Passage

One of most spectacular underwater sights I saw while in Fiji was the incredible wall at Mount Mutiny, a huge coral bommie in the Bligh Waters near the middle of the Fiji Islands. Mount Mutiny is surrounded by deep water and typically bathed in strong ocean currents rich with plankton, so the vast walls are covered with colorful invertebrate life, most notably large expanses of Chironephthya and Dendronephthya soft corals. Here are some of my favorite images from Mount Mutiny which I visited while on the liveaboard dive boat Nai’a, photographed at depths ranging from about 80′ to as shallow as 15′. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Red whip coral, Ellisella ceratophyta, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji, Gorgonacea, Ellisella ceratophyta, Vatu I Ra Passage

Red whip coral, Ellisella ceratophyta, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji
Image ID: 31332
Species: Gorgonian, Whip Coral, Gorgonacea, Ellisella ceratophyta
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Crinoid clinging to gorgonian sea fan, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji, Crinoidea, Gorgonacea, Vatu I Ra Passage

Crinoid clinging to gorgonian sea fan, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji
Image ID: 31368
Species: Crinoid Feather Star, Gorgonian, Crinoidea, Gorgonacea
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Branching whip coral (Ellisella sp.) captures passing planktonic food in ocean currents, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji, Ellisella, Vatu I Ra Passage

Branching whip coral (Ellisella sp.) captures passing planktonic food in ocean currents, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji
Image ID: 31369
Species: Branching Whip Coral, Ellisella
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Tubastrea micrantha, Vatu I Ra Passage

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji
Image ID: 31370
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Black Sun Coral, Dendronephthya, Tubastrea micrantha
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Brain corals on tropical coral reef, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji. Left brain coral is Symphllia, right bain coral is Platygyra lamellina, Symphyllia, Platygyra lamellina, Vatu I Ra Passage

Brain corals on tropical coral reef, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji. Left brain coral is Symphllia, right bain coral is Platygyra lamellina.
Image ID: 31371
Species: Brain Coral, Symphyllia, Platygyra lamellina
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji
Image ID: 31496
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji
Image ID: 31499
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians. Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji, Gorgonacea, Chironephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians. Mount Mutiny, Bligh Waters, Fiji.
Image ID: 31694
Species: Gorgonian, Chironephthya Soft Coral, Gorgonacea, Chironephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

California Sea Lions at Los Islotes, Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve, Baja California, Mexico

Mexico, Sea Lion, Sea of Cortez, Underwater Photography

California sea lions underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Zalophus californianus

California sea lions underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31205
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

In October, Tracy and I joined our friends Mike and Sherry, Skip, Shirley, Barb and Walt for 9 wonderful days diving in the Sea of Cortez around La Paz. It was the first time Tracy and I had been diving together for any length of time in 18 years. It was so much fun to be back in the water together and the Sea of Cortez in Fall is about as relaxed, easy, warm and fun as can be. Los Islotes, a small island just north of Espiritu Santo, is famous for its rookery of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). I love diving there, more than perhaps any other place in the Sea of Cortez, and in particular like being there early or late in the day when there are no day boats around. (I could have spent the entire trip at Islotes, but fortunately for the others we did venture north to some relatively unexplored, colorful and fishy reefs that Mike has found over the years and keeps under wraps.) Islotes was as fishy as I have ever seen it, with enormous dense polarized schools of sardines along with pargo and other larger reef fish which the Sea of Cortez used to have in abundance but which are now harder to find. Los Islotes does have some legal protections against fishing, and these protections help to keep the waters around Islotes reasonably full of big fish and other marine life. But Islotes is also under threat of illegal fishing, and it is only through vigilance by those who care about a healthy Sea of Cortez that the laws that are on the books will mean something. Seawatch has made some progress on this front, but its difficult to keep eyes on Islotes 24-hours a day.

Here are some of my favorite images from our October dives around Islotes. I don’t keep a log any more but I would guess I spent about 30 hours underwater just photographing the sea lions, really getting to know several adult groups and having a great time watching how one bull in particular would manage his harem of females over the course of 4-5 days, not to mention the 30+ pups that would play with us at the edge of his territory. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

California sea lion underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Zalophus californianus

California sea lion underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31206
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sea lion underwater in beautiful sunset light, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Sea lion underwater in beautiful sunset light
Image ID: 31208
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Young California sea lion pups underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Zalophus californianus

Young California sea lion pups underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31209
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sea lion blowing underwater bubbles as it stands on its flippers, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Sea lion blowing underwater bubbles as it stands on its flippers
Image ID: 31210
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Blue-bronze sea chub schooling, Sea of Cortez, Kyphosus analogus

Blue-bronze sea chub schooling, Sea of Cortez
Image ID: 31213
Species: Blue-bronze Chub, Kyphosus analogus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

California sea lion and school of sardines underwater, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Zalophus californianus

California sea lion and school of sardines underwater, Sea of Cortez, Baja California
Image ID: 31220
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Young sea lion hides in an underwater crevice, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Young sea lion hides in an underwater crevice
Image ID: 31226
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sardines and Scad, Los Islotes, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Sardines and Scad, Los Islotes, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31246
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sea lion harem of females, underwater, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Sea lion harem of females, underwater
Image ID: 31247
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Large adult male sea lion underwater, Zalophus californianus, Sea of Cortez

Large adult male sea lion underwater
Image ID: 31248
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Dendronephthya Soft Corals

Fiji, Seascapes, Underwater Photography

In my experience Dendronephthya soft corals are the most spectacular and photogenic of the myriad invertebrate denizens of tropical coral reefs. “Soft coral” is a broad term, often used to describe gorgonians, leather corals, cup corals, sea whips, octocorals, etc etc that are found in all oceans of the world. The genus Dendronephthya sp., including about 250 species, is the one I want to highlight here. I was recently diving and photographing in Fiji for a few weeks and focused my efforts on its colorful reefscapes, in which Dendronephthya plays a starring role.

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Dendronephthya is found on Indo-Pacific tropical reefs, often carpeting coral reefs with amazing color: red, orange, yellow, pink and white are typical.  Dendronephthya soft corals do not contain zooxanthellae (unicellular symbiotic algae found in many coral species) and so must capture and consume copious amounts of plankton passing by in order to survive.  Since planktons are delivered by ocean currents, Dendronephthya and other soft corals are often found in profusion in areas where ocean currents are strong. Dendronephthya soft corals have a thick main stalk with bushy groups of polyps at the end of branches. Supporting the polyps are a network of sclerite spicules which give some rigidity to the stalk and branches.  Below are a few images illustrating what I love about Dendronephthya soft corals: their fantastic colors, their capacity to attract large schools of reef fish, and the endless variety of shapes and details with which they are found.  Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Spectacular pristine tropical reef, including dendronephthya soft corals, sarcophyton leather corals and schooling Anthias fishes, pulsing with life in a strong current over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Sarcophyton, Namena Marine Reserve, Namena Island

Spectacular pristine tropical reef, including dendronephthya soft corals, sarcophyton leather corals and schooling Anthias fishes, pulsing with life in a strong current over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31309
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Sarcophyton Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Sarcophyton
Location: Namena Marine Reserve, Namena Island, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Namena Marine Reserve, Namena Island

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31319
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Namena Marine Reserve, Namena Island, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31340
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Fiji

A Large Dendronephthya Soft Coral extends into ocean currents to grasp passing planktonic food, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

A Large Dendronephthya Soft Coral extends into ocean currents to grasp passing planktonic food, Fiji
Image ID: 31356
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft coral detail including polyps and calcium carbonate spicules, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Makogai Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Dendronephthya soft coral detail including polyps and calcium carbonate spicules, Fiji
Image ID: 31453
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Makogai Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft coral detail including polyps and calcium carbonate spicules, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Makogai Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Dendronephthya soft coral detail including polyps and calcium carbonate spicules, Fiji
Image ID: 31455
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Makogai Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Spectacularly colorful dendronephthya soft corals on South Pacific reef, reaching out into strong ocean currents to capture passing planktonic food, Fiji
Image ID: 31499
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Dendronephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Seven of my Favorite Images #challengeonnaturephotography

Alaska, Antarctica, Bald Eagle, California, Fiji, Hawaii, Mexico, Ocean Sunfish, Penguin, Surf, Underwater Photography

In December a Facebook “challenge” was making the rounds named #challengeonnaturephotography. One of my favorite underwater photographers, Allison Vitsky Sallmon, nominated me to give it a try, and these are the seven images I plucked from my files to share. Each bears a special place in my personal history of travel, diving and photography, even if they don’t cut any new ground photographically. If you want to connect you can find me on Facebook and Instagram. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Ocean sunfish recruiting fish near drift kelp to clean parasites, open ocean, Baja California, Mola mola

Ocean sunfish recruiting fish near drift kelp to clean parasites, open ocean, Baja California.
Image ID: 03267
Species: Ocean sunfish, Mola mola

Sunrise breaking wave, dawn surf, The Wedge, Newport Beach, California

Sunrise breaking wave, dawn surf.
Image ID: 27978
Location: The Wedge, Newport Beach, California, USA

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Gau Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31378
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Gau Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Bald eagle spreads its wings to land amid a large group of bald eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle spreads its wings to land amid a large group of bald eagles.
Image ID: 22669
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

A curious Adelie penguin, standing at the edge of an iceberg, looks over the photographer, Pygoscelis adeliae, Paulet Island

A curious Adelie penguin, standing at the edge of an iceberg, looks over the photographer.
Image ID: 25015
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place, Eschrichtius robustus, San Clemente

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place.
Image ID: 29029
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Clemente, California, USA

Humpback whale (male) singing, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Humpback whale (male) singing.
Image ID: 02813
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Chironephthya, Fiji’s “Other” Soft Coral

Fiji, Seascapes, Underwater Photography

Fiji’s Coral Reefs are known as the “Soft Coral Capital of the World” for good reason. Spectacular displays of colorful soft coral, usually Dendronepthya, are found on Fiji’s coral reefs in abundance. I had done a fair bit of research before the trip and thought I knew what types of soft coral I would see, and how I wanted to photograph them. However, one type of soft coral that escaped my attention before I got to Fiji was Chironephthya. While Dendronephthya tends to inflate and “stand up” off the reef, with fat cylindrical branches, Chironephthya on the other hand more often “hangs down” and, at first glance, looks similar to some of the gorgonians and sea fans I have seen in temperate water albeit with more intense color.

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians, Chironephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians.
Image ID: 31487
Species: Chironephthya Soft Coral, Chironephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

From “species-identification.org”: Colonies heavely branched, resembling gorgonians. Polyps scattered on stalk and main branches as well as at the end of terminal branchlets. Calyces prominent. Stem and main branches almost hollow. Brightly coloured pink, purple, red, yellow, orange. Sclerites are spindles. Zooxanthellae absent.

My best looks at Chironephthya were at the dive spot Mount Mutiny, a lone coral bommie in the current-laden Bligh Waters, with vast sheer walls perfect for soft corals to thrive. I made several dives at Mount Mutiny, each time passing along the spectacular Rainbow Wall section, a huge wall replete with dense swaths of Chironephthya color, particularly underneath overhangs. I hope to return in the next few years and photograph it with some macro gear. All of my Fiji coral reef images are available for publication and as high quality metal, canvas or photographic prints. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians, Chironephthya, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Colorful Chironephthya soft coral coloniea in Fiji, hanging off wall, resembling sea fans or gorgonians.
Image ID: 31682
Species: Chironephthya Soft Coral, Chironephthya
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Diving the Vatu-I-Ra Passage in Fiji’s Bligh Waters

Fiji, Seascapes, Underwater Photography, Vatu i Ra Passage

See also: Photos of Fiji’s Beautiful Coral Reefs

The ocean waters between Fiji’s Viti Levu and Vanua Levu islands are called the Bligh Waters after Captain William Bligh and his flight from mutineers. The Bligh Waters are famous among divers as they are home to some of the most spectacular coral reef diving in the world. In particular, the Vatu-i-Ra Passage area of the Bligh Waters is wonderful, perhaps my favorite in Fiji and certainly the most colorful diving I have seen anywhere in the tropics. Some friends and I spent 6 days exploring the bommies, reefs, canyons, and walls of the Vatu-i-Ra region (as well as 8 more days elsewhere in the Bligh Waters), both from a land resort (Wananavu, highly recommended) and from the excellent liveaboard dive vessel Nai’a (one of the finest diving experiences I’ve ever had). The Vatu-i-Ra Passage, or Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, is named after the small island Vatu-i-Ra, a bird sanctuary with two beautiful white sand beaches. The coral reefs near this island, and in particular the narrow passages between the reefs and opening into atolls, pulse with life and energy when currents build and water begins flowing quickly. It is then that the soft corals for which Fiji is famous are fully extended, reaching for planktonic food, surrounded by the clouds of anthias and reef fishes, and at their most beautiful. Here are some underwater photos of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape to give you a sense of what its like. All of my Fiji coral reef images are available for publication and as high quality metal, canvas or photographic prints. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Colorful Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fish on coral reef, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Tubastrea micrantha, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Colorful Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fish on coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31316
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Black Sun Coral, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Tubastrea micrantha
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Colorful Dendronephthya soft coral and schooling Anthias fish on coral reef, Fiji, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Colorful Dendronephthya soft coral and schooling Anthias fish on coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31349
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Bright red Plexauridae sea fan gorgonian and yellow sarcophyton leather coral on pristine coral reef, Fiji, Sarcophyton, Gorgonacea, Plexauridae, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Bright red Plexauridae sea fan gorgonian and yellow sarcophyton leather coral on pristine coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31325
Species: Sarcophyton Soft Coral, Gorgonian, Sea Fan, Sarcophyton, Gorgonacea, Plexauridae
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Symphyllia brain coral on tropical coral reef, Fiji, Symphyllia, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Symphyllia brain coral on tropical coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31327
Species: Brain Coral, Symphyllia
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31358
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Sarcophyton leather coral on diverse coral reef, Fiji, Sarcophyton, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Sarcophyton leather coral on diverse coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31456
Species: Sarcophyton Soft Coral, Sarcophyton
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Acropora coral (foreground) on South Pacific Coral Reef, Fiji, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Acropora coral (foreground) on South Pacific Coral Reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31483
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Acropora table coral on pristine tropical reef. Table coral competes for space on the coral reef by growing above and spreading over other coral species keeping them from receiving sunlight, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island, Fiji

Acropora table coral on pristine tropical reef. Table coral competes for space on the coral reef by growing above and spreading over other coral species keeping them from receiving sunlight.
Image ID: 31490
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Staghorn coral Acropora palifera on pristine Fijian coral reef, Acropora palifera, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Staghorn coral Acropora palifera on pristine Fijian coral reef
Image ID: 31514
Species: Staghorn Coral, Acropora palifera
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Green fan coral, extending into ocean currents where tiny polyps gather passing plankton, Fiji, Tubastrea micrantha, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Green fan coral, extending into ocean currents where tiny polyps gather passing plankton, Fiji
Image ID: 31687
Species: Black Sun Coral, Tubastrea micrantha
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Natural History Photography – Best Photos of 2015

Best Photographs of the Year

My Best Natural History Photographs of 2015

2015 offered opportunities for me to photograph the Sierra Nevada, the Sea of Cortez, California’s Channel Islands, the coral reefs of the Fiji Islands, a Louisiana plantation, astrophotography landscapes in the Southwest, and as always America’s Finest City, San Diego. I was finally able to get back in the water and focus on underwater photography, which is where I got my start as a photographer but which has been nearly absent in my work for the past 10 years.

This is the ninth year in a row I have done an annual retrospective. My creative goal for any one year is, as it always has been, to shoot 3-4 world-class images and 10-15 portfolio-quality images. Below are my favorites from 2015. If you like these feel free to check out previous years’ favorites as well: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007. Also, be sure to check out Jim Goldstein’s blog, where he collects the “best of the year” collections of many talented photographers. Cheers and Thanks for looking!

Desert Light

Erosion in the salt patterns of Badwater Playa, Death Valley National Park

Erosion in the salt patterns of Badwater Playa, Death Valley National Park
Image ID: 30475
Location: Badwater, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Mesquite Dunes at sunrise, dawn, clouds and morning sky, sand dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Mesquite Dunes at sunrise, dawn, clouds and morning sky, sand dunes.
Image ID: 30479
Location: Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Sand verbena wildflowers on sand dunes, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Abronia villosa, Borrego Springs, California

Sand verbena wildflowers on sand dunes, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Image ID: 30516
Species: Sand verbena, Abronia villosa
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, California, USA

San Diego From Above

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

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

Del Mar beach and homes at sunset

Del Mar beach and homes at sunset
Image ID: 30491
Location: Del Mar, California, USA

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: 30786
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Astrophotography Landscapes

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: 30718
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park, Aug 13, 2014

Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park, Aug 13, 2014
Image ID: 31145
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Jet Airliner Silhouetted Against Supermoon Eclipse, at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015

Jet Airliner Silhouetted Against Supermoon Eclipse, at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015
Image ID: 31869

Milky Way over Mount Laguna FAA Radar Site, including ARSR-4 radome (radar dome)

Milky Way over Mount Laguna FAA Radar Site, including ARSR-4 radome (radar dome).
Image ID: 31047

Sierra Nevada – The Range of Light

Panorama of Bear Creek Spire over Long Lake at Sunrise, Little Lakes Valley, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Little Lakes Valley, Inyo National Forest

Panorama of Bear Creek Spire over Long Lake at Sunrise, Little Lakes Valley, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest
Image ID: 31173
Location: Little Lakes Valley, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

Milky Way over Tenaya Lake, Polly Dome (left), Tenaya Peak (center), Yosemite National Park

Milky Way over Tenaya Lake, Polly Dome (left), Tenaya Peak (center), Yosemite National Park
Image ID: 31185
Location: Yosemite National Park, California, USA

North Peak (12242', center), Mount Conness (left, 12589') and Conness Lake with its green glacial meltwater, Hoover Wilderness, Conness Lakes Basin

North Peak (12242′, center), Mount Conness (left, 12589′) and Conness Lake with its green glacial meltwater, Hoover Wilderness
Image ID: 31060
Location: Conness Lakes Basin, Hoover Wilderness, California, USA

View from Summit of Mount Hoffmann, Ten Lakes Basin at lower left, looking northeast toward remote northern reaches of Yosemite National Park

View from Summit of Mount Hoffmann, Ten Lakes Basin at lower left, looking northeast toward remote northern reaches of Yosemite National Park
Image ID: 31193
Location: Mount Hoffmann, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Ocean Light

California sea lions underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Zalophus californianus

California sea lions underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31205
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Young California sea lion pups underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Zalophus californianus

Young California sea lion pups underwater, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Image ID: 31209
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

Sea fan gorgonian and schooling Anthias on pristine and beautiful coral reef, Fiji, Pseudanthias, Gorgonacea, Wakaya Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Sea fan gorgonian and schooling Anthias on pristine and beautiful coral reef, Fiji
Image ID: 31311
Species: Gorgonian, Anthias, Pseudanthias, Gorgonacea
Location: Wakaya Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Gau Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31318
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Gau Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Acropora table coral on pristine tropical reef. Table coral competes for space on the coral reef by growing above and spreading over other coral species keeping them from receiving sunlight, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island, Fiji

Acropora table coral on pristine tropical reef. Table coral competes for space on the coral reef by growing above and spreading over other coral species keeping them from receiving sunlight.
Image ID: 31331
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30262
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

Gray whale raising fluke before diving, on southern migration to calving lagoons in Baja, Eschrichtius robustus, San Diego, California

Gray whale raising fluke before diving, on southern migration to calving lagoons in Baja.
Image ID: 30463
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Spectacular pristine tropical reef with vibrant colorful soft corals. Dendronephthya soft corals, crinoids, sea fan gorgonians and schooling Anthias fishes, pulsing with life in a strong current over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Crinoidea, Gorgonacea, Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu  Island

Spectacular pristine tropical reef with vibrant colorful soft corals. Dendronephthya soft corals, crinoids, sea fan gorgonians and schooling Anthias fishes, pulsing with life in a strong current over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31367
Species: Crinoid Feather Star, Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Gorgonian, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Crinoidea, Gorgonacea
Location: Vatu I Ra Passage, Bligh Waters, Viti Levu Island, Fiji

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30429
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, 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 throughout 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 throughout California’s Southern Channel Islands
Image ID: 30998
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Blood Red Moon Madness! A Tetrad of Total Lunar Eclipses

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California, Joshua Tree

Lunar eclipse sequence, showing total eclipse (left) through full moon (right).  While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere.  As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether.  August 28, 2007, Earth Orbit, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, The Universe

Lunar eclipse sequence, showing total eclipse (left) through full moon (right). While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. August 28, 2007.
Image ID: 19392
Location: Earth Orbit, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, The Universe

During 2014 and 2015 we were treated to a tetrad (quartet) of total lunar eclipses. For landscape astrophotography buffs, this was a big deal: each six months (lunar cycles, to be more precise) we would be offered a chance to watch the full moon pass into the shadow of the Earth and, for a while, be illuminated only by the faint light skirting the edge of the Earth rather than the direct light of the sun which normally illuminates a full moon. This “edge light” — sunlight passing obliquely through the thin atmosphere of the Earth, scattering and bending as it does — casts a faint, reddish light upon the moon that lends to oft-heard phrase “blood red moon”. Indeed, while the moon is dim during a total lunar eclipse, it is typically red, or orange, in color due to this edge light. There are even moon-geeks that have developed a scale for the gradations of this eclipse light.

I set out to photograph each of the four eclipses that would occur: April 14/15 2014, October 8 2014, April 4 2015 and September 28 2015. To my surprise, I managed to get at least one good image of each of the eclipse events. I say “surprise” because I live along the coast of California, and our skies are usually overcast. If I were a betting man I would have wagered against my chances of having clear skies for all four eclipses. I got lucky.

Prior to each eclipse, I wanted to know what lens choice would give me the best composition for a “sequence image”, in which a collage of each phase of the eclipse could be seen as the moon arced through the sky over a terrestrial landscape. There are lots of eclipse calculators out there, and using them I was able to determine, for each eclipse, the time, angle of inclination and compass degree for the moments when the partial eclipse would begin and end. Knowing these angles, it was a pretty straightforward thing to figure out what lens to use on my 35mm camera. I chose a landscape composition, setup my camera on a tripod to repeated photograph the composition with the moon passing through, and then layered the resulting images so that the moon appeared in various stages of eclipse, and positions in the sky, while the landscape below remain fixed. While it is not rocket science, I do explain a little bit more about my thinking when I posted about the April 14 2015 Lunar Eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse, April 14 2014, Joshua Tree National Park (link, link)

I had grand plans to shoot the lunar eclipse as a sequence. I went to Joshua Tree National Park since it tends to have clearer skies than the coast near my home, and is less influenced by light pollution than some other local desert options such as Anza Borrego. I had several different compositions I wanted to depict, so I set up three different cameras in three different parts of Joshua Tree National Park, and let them record the eclipse throughout the night. I then assembled the sequences into composite images. I was pretty happy with each one, but the Arch Rock Lunar Eclipse photograph is my favorite, partly because it was the most difficult to set up and partly due to the fact I love trying to photograph this one iconic arch in as many ways a possible.

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, planet Mars above the moon, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence over Arch Rock, planet Mars above the moon, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29201

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, over Juniper and Standing Rock, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29204

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, stars, astronomical twilight, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014

Lunar Eclipse and blood red moon sequence, stars, astronomical twilight, composite image, Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15 2014.
Image ID: 29202
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Full lunar eclipse, blood red moon, with blue star Spica (right of moon) and planet Mars (top right), over Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15, 2014

Full lunar eclipse, blood red moon, with blue star Spica (right of moon) and planet Mars (top right), over Joshua Tree National Park, April 14/15, 2014.
Image ID: 29205
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Lunar Eclipse, October 8 2014, Torrey Pines

For this eclipse I was unable to get away, and was forced to photograph it near the coast. The forecast was not good, with cloudy skies predicted. I had two ideas: Torrey Pines, and Scripps Pier, both locations I have photographed many times. I went out to the bluffs above Torrey Pines beach and checked out how the angles would work, knowing from the eclipse predictions where the moon would be passing and using that to line up the famous Broken Hill promontory below the moon’s path. I set up the camera to record all night long, and let it go. I had no idea what I would get, or whether it would even be clear enough to get any images. I also went down to Scripps Pier, but the conditions there were poor: the air was very wet, humid, and it felt like coastal fog was going to obscure the view, so I took no images there. When I finally retrieved my camera from Torrey Pines and processed the images, I was pleased to find I had recorded the entire eclipse and it was positioned right above Broken Hill as I had planned. Score one for high school geometry and the compass.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Over Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014, San Diego, California

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Over Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014.
Image ID: 29412
Location: Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, California, USA

Lunar eclipse sequence. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014

Lunar eclipse sequence. While the moon lies in the full shadow of the earth (umbra) it receives only faint, red-tinged light refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere. As the moon passes into the penumbra it receives increasing amounts of direct sunlight, eventually leaving the shadow of the Earth altogether. October 8, 2014.
Image ID: 29411

Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015, Joshua Tree National Park

By this time I was done with eclipse sequences depicting all the phases of the eclipse where they occurred in the night sky: I wanted to shoot something different! My friend Garry McCarthy and I decided to run up to Joshua Tree for this eclipse, primarily in an attempt to find clear skies. We also had two ideas for new images, both of which succeeded beyond my expectations. We would use Arch Rock as the focal point for these images, as we often have in the past. Garry had determined that during full eclipse the Milky Way would be positioned above Arch Rock, similar to how we usually photograph it but in this unusual case the blood moon itself would be providing the light on the arch (as opposed to light painting, as in most of these images of the Milky Way over Arch Rock). This meant we would have a chance to photograph the Milky Way during a full moon, which is normally an impossible proposition. A rare occurrence — a full eclipse in the Western sky and the fortunate location of the milky way low in the Eastern sky, all in synchony not long before dawn, made this image possible. The red color on the arch is natural in this case, as it is the light of the sun, passing through the Earth’s atmosphere, reflecting off the moon and reaching the arch. I don’t think I will have an opportunity to shoot exactly this combination of light at this location ever again.

I also placed a second camera behind the arch, pointed toward the West, to depict the moon passing through the sky. I chose to use exposures that would illustrate how the brightness of the moon wanes and waxes as it passes through the shadow of the Earth.

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, 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

Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015.  The arch and surrounding landscape are illuminated by the faint light of the fully-eclipsed blood red moon.  Light from the sun has passed obliquely through the Earth's thin atmosphere, taking on a red color, and is then reflected off the moon and reaches the Earth again to light the arch.  The intensity of this light is so faint that the Milky Way can be seen clearly at the same time

Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015. The arch and surrounding landscape are illuminated by the faint light of the fully-eclipsed blood red moon. Light from the sun has passed obliquely through the Earth’s thin atmosphere, taking on a red color, and is then reflected off the moon and reaches the Earth again to light the arch. The intensity of this light is so faint that the Milky Way can be seen clearly at the same time.
Image ID: 30717
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Lunar Eclipse September 27, 2015, San Diego

The final eclipse of the tetrad took me to Shelter Island. The moon was already partially eclipsed when it rose over the San Diego City Skyline. I managed to get one frame in which a jet plane, approaching to land at Lindberg Field, was silhouetted against the eclipsed moon itself.

Jet Airliner Silhouetted Against Supermoon Eclipse, at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015

Jet Airliner Silhouetted Against Supermoon Eclipse, at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015
Image ID: 31869

Supermoon Eclipse at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015

Supermoon Eclipse at Moonrise over San Diego, September 27 2015
Image ID: 31874

Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Perseid Meteor Shower over Joshua Tree National Park, August 2015

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California, Desert, Joshua Tree

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!

(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

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, California, Desert, Joshua Tree

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.

(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!