Monthly Archives

September 2009

Banzai Run To Bishop Creek and Rock Creek

Sierra Nevada

I got reports that the Eastern Sierra fall colors in the Bishop Creek Canyon basin were starting to peak at higher elevations, and that one or two weather developments in the coming week might affect the weekend of 10/3-4, so I decided to jam up to Bishop (5 hours from my door to Schats bakkery!) at the last minute. It was a little stressful since we were in the middle of negotiating the purchase of a new home, but when photo opportunities develop what can one do? I was able to go, thanks to my understanding (and beautiful) wife. I shot Rock Creek basin on Sat 9/27 and all three Bishop Creek basins on Sun 9/28. Rock Creek: Many years ago, when I was running in high school, my team would do some high altitude training in June Lake and Mammoth each summer before starting the racing season. One year our coach dumped us at Toms Place and said “See you guys at the top of Rock Creek”. Huh? We ran the entire way up the canyon, ending up at Rock Creek Lake, it was crazy. Well, I’ve always wanted to revisit Rock Creek, so went up there on Saturday when I got to Bishop for a look at the aspens and lake. The color is about peak and looks good in areas, but I was not impressed with how “thin” it is, i.e., I did not see huge swaths of color around Rock Creek Lake, but rather smaller stands of aspens. I did not find the angles I was looking for. It sure was easier driving up to the lake than running. Bishop Creek: it is ON RIGHT NOW. Higher elevations are at peak with lots of lime-green and yellow color, large patches are near 100% yellow. The trees look pretty clean, only saw a few with black on the leaves and it was not enough to affect photos. North Lake looks fantastic, but is often crowded on weekend mornings. Fortunately I found a new vantage point there that I had largely to myself Sunday morning. The aspen tunnel from which I shot some of my favorite wide shots a few years ago is not as impressive right now, and strangely half of it is green while the other half is yellow (you can see it in the slideshow below). Sunrise at North Lake begins at 6:45am, alpenglow 30-40 minutes earlier, so I’ll save you the trouble of guessing. I forgot pants and only had my shorts, so it was pretty chilly standing beside the lake to catch alpenglow at 5:45am:

Lake Sabrina had plenty of yellow aspen stands around the lake, but I spent little time at Sabrina this visit. I did go to my favorite stand of very tall aspens near Sabrina to shoot epic wide stuff but the trees were still somewhat green so, while the angles look good, the color is less than epic. In fact, in many areas the taller aspens in all the basins are holding green while the scrub aspen are the ones going full yellow/orange right now. The grove above Aspendel looks good for that “up the basin” shot with the grove in the foreground. However, Cardinal Pond in Aspendel is totally green at this moment, as is Intake II. The most impressive swaths of color are in the South Fork, especially from Table Mountain campground up to South Lake. If weather cooperates and no blow comes through, lower parts of South Fork will come online and turn full yellow in the next week or so, already there is a mix of lime green / yellow in the lower parts of South Fork. And the good thing about South Fork is that the aspen stands are so accessible there is a lot of easy shooting to do, and they are so large that when they turn full color it will look great. Cross your fingers for no wind. Give it one week, two at the most, maybe less if the cold snap forcast for midweek materializes. On one weather source I heard mention of a second front suspected for next weekend (10/3-4). Some shots from Saturday and Sunday: Rock Creek Lake 9/27 and Bishop Creek Canyon 9/28 (North Lake, Sabrina, South Fork). All these images were shot in about 24 hours starting with a couple hours at the end of the day in Rock Creek, then from 5:45am until 5pm on Sunday with a short break to eat a tasty monster-sized burger and some delicious and heart-smart spicy fries at the Bishop Creek Lodge. After returning to Bishop I stoked up on caffeine and drove straight home. I always hate to leave the Sierras and hope to see the show again next fall.

Keywords: eastern sierra, 2009 fall color report, bishop creek canyon, rock creek canyon, aspen, photo, picture, image.

Fall Color in the Eastern Sierra

Sierra Nevada

Update 9/28/2009: see my report and latest photos from Bishop Creek and Rock Creek (cool slideshow).

Update 9/24/2009: some reports are showing up. The most informative are from Inge Fernau, Greg Boyer, Cory Freeman and Parcher’s Resort. If you are a weekend warrior and trying to assess which weekend will be “peak”, keep in mind that the color change is a continuum that generally moves down from the higher altitudes as the days go by from late September to mid October. All one really needs to shoot good aspen photos is to find one good grove that can be worked from hours. Chances are good you can find something worthwhile to shoot during the next 2-3 weeks, provided a front or big blow does not come through and clean out all the leaves across the eastern Sierra. You can read between the lines in these reports and guess which dates many are focusing on.

A few years ago I made one of my banzai photo outings** to catch some of the fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. I managed to pull off two mornings’ shooting in the Bishop Creek Canyon basins, and one sunset run up to the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains, on a jam-packed weekend. The key was paying close attention to the reports coming in from other photographers, making an educated guess as to what area along Highway 395 would be most productive, and going for it. The fact that 2006 was a super year for fall color in the Eastern Sierra, and that my weekend was just about at peak for Bishop Creek Canyon, certainly helped. I’m hoping to make another run up there sometime in late September or early October. And, as I did before, I’ll be paying close attention to advice and reports from several sources, foremost among them the list below. Note that two photographers, Greg Boyer and Cory Freeman, currently live in Bishop and are basically eyes-on-spot for those of us outside the area; I give their reports more credence than others, especially their comments about timing. Thanks Greg and Cory.

  • Inge Fernau / MagicalGlow.com. I first noticed Inge Fernau’s photography as a result of her incredibly rich fall color reports on Calphoto. How does she do it? She gets out there to so many places, then fills us all in with exactly what the conditions are. Inge’s blog is loaded with huge, beautiful images of the Eastern Sierra, and I’m hoping she publishes more of her fall color reports this year. Here is a two-part summary of her 2008 efforts, some spectacular images shown: 2008 Fall Color Summary Part 1 and 2008 Fall Color Summary Part 2.
  • Greg Boyer / Greg Boyer, a photographer in Bishop, has some great posts about the Sierra Nevada near Bishop, including several recent color reports.
  • Eastern Sierra Fall Color Reports, a thread at NaturePhotographers.net started by Bishop photographer Cory Freeman / Sierra Impressions.
  • Carol Leigh’s Calphoto.com. This is where many California photographers exchange information, especially timely, detailed reports concerning spring wildflowers and autumn foliage.
  • Steven Bourelle / SierraVisionsStock.com. Steven Bourelle gave me advice prior to my last visit to Bishop for fall colors, and he was spot on with his recommendations. He now has an e-book guide about photography in the Eastern Sierra and Bishop Creek Canyon packed with good information. Furthermore, his blog features the recent post “Eastern Sierra Nevada Fall Colors” about planning for a fall foliage shoot in the Eastern Sierra. Update: I purchased Steven’s e-book on Bishop Creek Canyon. If you are planning a first visit there this fall, and you want to make the most of your time, this e-book lays out the key places to stop for photos. A real time saver.
  • Dave Henry’s reports and tips at the Sacramento Bee are really good.
  • G. Dan Mitchell. G. Dan Mitchell’s Sierra Nevada photography is superb (especially his Yosemite images), and his blog is informative and well-written. Dan has made a number of recent posts advising on E. Sierra fall color, including “Sierra Nevada fall color season – coming sooner than you think!” loaded with good information about what to expect and how to plan for autumn in the Sierra Nevada.
  • John Wall’s California Nature Photographers. With John Wall at the helm, this blog features periodic posts from a wide variety of talented California nature photographers. I am sure there will be some fall color content appearing soon.
  • A Flickr group was created by Kahlee Brighton to discuss Eastern Sierra color, with a meet-up being considered.
  • Michael Frye, one of the best photographers around who focuses on Yosemite and surrounding areas, has a nice blog post about Autumn in Yosemite. (Michael Frye has THE BOOK on photographing in Yosemite, I own a copy and have referred to it often.)
  • Parcher’s Resort, near South Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon, maintains a fall color report in season.
  • Bishop weather forecast. (NWS)
  • Pictures of Fall Color in Bishop Creek Canyon on Google Earth. If you have Google Earth installed, this provides a map with 18 of my favorite aspen images appearing superimposed where they were taken in Bishop Creek Canyon. You can zoom around and click any of the tiny thumbnails in Google Earth to see the image large along with captions. In a perfect world I would offer to actually walk around with your camera and shoot the photos for you, but in lieu of that this is the best I can do.

Shameless plug: I’ve got a nice collection of fall color photos. Check them out, they really are pretty good if I do say so myself. (Heck, when the colors are peaking its hard to take a bad photo of turning aspens.)

If the peak color does not conflict with my daughter’s volleyball tryouts and I can get away from Southern California for a day or two, perhaps I will see you in the Eastern Sierra under some aspen trees this fall.

**banzai photographer (n): a photographer with a working spouse and multiple kids each of whom have lots of activities that require driving them all over the place during the week, help with homework in the evenings, and then driving them all over the place on the weekends; a photographer who crams five days of photography into a single weekend; a photographer with a banzai attitude about life; a photographer with a niche business of photographing banzai trees.

Keywords: eastern sierra fall color, aspen, report, foliage, photography, picture, bishop, photo, autumn, image, information, description.

Expose to the Right

How To, Wisdom

Are you exposing to the right and using the best in-camera settings for contrast and saturation? If you shoot RAW and expose to the right and think contract and saturation settings don’t affect you, think again. If you judge your exposure settings on whether you are clipping the highlights on your histogram, you may be underexposing unnecessarily. Here’s why.

Note that this post is primarily intended for photographers who shoot RAW. (If you shoot JPEG you may benefit from what follows simply by having a better understanding of what is going on inside your camera, but you probably do not want to use this technique.)

Exposing to the right. Many photographers trying to maximize the amount of data collected in their captures expose to the right, pushing the histogram as far to the right as possible without clipping the highlights. The idea is that by doing this the signal-to-noise ratio in the capture data is maximized. In practice, when determining what the correct exposure is for a given situation, one takes a shot, considers the resulting histogram and then increases exposure until the histogram nears or just touches the right extreme, indicating that pixels are about to be clipped. By shooting to the right one is deliberately increasing the signal (RGB values) as much as possible without clipping them. Since noise is somewhat constant, the resulting signal-to-noise ratio is maximized by exposing to the right in this way. Granted, there are some esoteric reasons for not exposing to the right, but by and large it is an accepted and effective technique for today’s digital cameras.

Clipping highlights. Key to shooting to the right is one’s ability to discern when highlights are being clipped. This is where the in-camera settings for contrast and saturation play a part. Current digital cameras base the histogram on an in-camera JPEG, even when shooting RAW. Typically, the in-camera JPEG has a greater spread in its histogram than is contained in the RAW data, due to the fact that the in-camera JPEG has contrast and saturation enhancement applied to it. Think about it: when you look at your RAW files they have low contrast and saturation, and really don’t come alive until after you have bumped these up a bit. Well, a similar difference occurs between the in-camera JPEG — upon which the histogram is based — and the underlying RAW data. The default in-camera JPEG has, by design, increased contrast and saturation compared to the RAW file, which translates into (among other things) a histogram that is “more spread out”, with tails reaching further to the left and right.

Now consider this: if the in-camera JPEG has a histogram that is more widely spread than the RAW data, it will show clipped highlights “earlier”. In other words, you won’t push the exposure as far to the right as you might, because the in-camera JPEG — upon which the histogram is based — is indicating highlights are clipped.

The solution is to turn down the contrast and saturation settings for the JPEGs that are created in-camera. On my Canon cameras I turn them each down two notches below the middle setting. Doing this produces an in-camera JPEG that more closely approximates the distribution of the actual RAW data, resulting in a histogram that is more accurate for my purposes. Since I want to maximize the information in the RAW file, I want a histogram that depicts the RAW data not an in-camera JPEG.

The bottom line is that by using lower settings for contrast and saturation I obtain a histogram that is more representative of the data in my RAW file, I can push that exposure further to the right and be confident that I am not clipping the highlights in my RAW data. If I were to use the default settings for contrast and saturation, the histogram would indicate clipping before it was actually occurring, leading me to unnecessarily underexpose the image.

Don’t guess, don’t approximate: take control of your exposures. As we all know, underexposure with digital cameras leads to noise. If you underexpose your RAW file, and you plan on compensating for it later in the RAW conversion, you’ll get some noise in the shadows. Perhaps not much, but as the ISO increases and the amount of underexposure error increases, the noise just gets worse. Why tolerate this at all? By understanding that the histogram is based on the in-camera JPEG, and taking control of the contrast and saturation settings that are used to create the in-camera JPEG, you can obtain a histogram that is more representative of the RAW data and eliminate a potential source of systematic exposure error.

Give it a try.

Thanks to Master Photographer Charles Glatzer for originally pointing out this important exposure issue in the Naturescapes.net discussion forums.

Keywords: exposing to the right, exposure, highlights, clipping, signal to noise, digital, photography.

Tiger Shark Pictures (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Bahamas, Sharks, Underwater Photography, Wildlife

See my new tiger shark photos!

My first tiger shark pictures (Galeocerdo cuvier) are were made with friends Skip Stubbs, Ken Howard, Keith Grundy and Jim Abernethy. These tiger sharks are really impressive fish, capable predators and in control of their surroundings. It was a real pleasure spending hours in the water with them swimming around us. Tiger sharks are typically about 11′ – 17′ in length (3.25-4.25m) and weigh in at 800-1400 lb (375-640 kg), although the largest recorded was 24′ (7.25m) long and weighed 1900 lb (900kg). Tiger sharks tend to be solitary hunters, but we sometimes had 3 or 4 simultaneously because we were baiting them.

Tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier

Tiger shark.
Image ID: 10648
Species: Tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier
Location: Bahamas

Keywords: tiger shark, picture, photo, Galeocerdo cuvier, underwater, stock photo, image, photograph.

Caribbean Reef Shark Pictures (Carcharhinus perezi)

Bahamas, Sharks, Underwater Photography, Wildlife

My Caribbean reef shark pictures (Carcharhinus perezi) are now on this website. These were also taken on the same trip with Skip, Ken Howard, Keith Grundy and Jim Abernethy. These dives were a lot of fun. Jim took down a few milk crates filled with fish heads, put them on the bottom, and within a few minutes the place was crawling with reef sharks. I sat on one of the milk crates, and waited for the sharks to swim right up the chum line toward me. When one got close enough to fill the frame in my wide lens !!POW!! I’d nail him in the face with some strobe light. Nothing simpler. After a while reef sharks were bouncing off my shoulders and I couldn’t keep my eyes on all of them at once. OK, that was a little nervous. My strobes were unable to keep up with the speed at which I was firing off frame. I can’t wait to do it again.

Caribbean reef shark, ampullae of Lorenzini visible on snout, Carcharhinus perezi

Caribbean reef shark, ampullae of Lorenzini visible on snout.
Image ID: 10550
Species: Caribbean reef shark, Carcharhinus perezi
Location: Bahamas

Keywords: caribbean reef shark, picture, photo, Carcharhinus perezi, underwater, stock photo, image, photograph.

Lemon Shark Pictures (Negaprion brevirostris)

Bahamas, Sharks, Underwater Photography, Wildlife

My lemon shark pictures (Negaprion brevirostris) are now on this website. I spent about 10 days in the Bahamas with Skip, Ken Howard, Keith Grundy and Jim Abernethy to shoot a few different kinds of sharks. When we got to the tiger shark spot, we found more lemon sharks than tigers, about 2:1 or 3:1 (although there we still plenty of tigers however!). When there wasn’t a tiger shark in view, there was always a lemon shark or two. The lemons were bigger than I remember (I’d seen lemon sharks before on a handful of dolphin trips to the same area), about 8′ to 11′ feet in length. And they were very accomodating, coming right up to the dome port on my water camera housing. It was really fun and easy photography of a reasonably large and charismatic creature. I hope to find time to do it again.

You can also see a lemon shark photo slideshow in case the one above does not appear in your feed reader.

Lemon shark with live sharksuckers, Negaprion brevirostris, Echeneis naucrates

Lemon shark with live sharksuckers.
Image ID: 10752
Species: Lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris, Echeneis naucrates
Location: Bahamas

Keywords: lemon shark, picture, photo, Negaprion brevirostris, underwater, stock photo, image, photograph.

Bull Shark Pictures (Carcharhinus leucas)

Bahamas, Sharks, Underwater Photography

My bull shark pictures (Carcharhinus leucas) are now on Photoshelter (in addition to the bull shark photos on this website). These underwater photos were taken in the Bahamas. And if you are curious, the answer is “yes”; the bull shark is one of the more dangerous sharks in the world and responsible for more than its share of attacks. Its a very “twitchy” shark. Even Kanye knows how formidable bull sharks are: “Yo great white, I know you are eating that elephant seal and ima let you finish, but the bull shark is the most dangerousest shark of all time, all time!”

You can also see a bull shark photo slideshow in case the one above does not appear in your feed reader.

Bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, Great Isaac Island

Bull shark.
Image ID: 12718
Species: Bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas
Location: Great Isaac Island, Bahamas

Keywords: bull shark, picture, photo, Carcharhinus leucas, underwater, stock photo, image, photograph.

Bishop Creek Canyon Fall Color on Google Earth

California, GeoBlog, Sierra Nevada

Update 9/28/2009: see my report and latest photos from Bishop Creek and Rock Creek (cool slideshow) as well as a summary of other links on the web about fall colors.

OK, last post about Fall Color in the Eastern Sierra. I am looking forward to getting up there and am optimistic this year will be a good one for turning aspens (Populus tremuloides). A couple photographers whom I follow have already remarked they have their reservations already. I was going through some of my favorite aspen shots from a few years ago, reminding myself where I shot them so I can be sure to revisit some of the same spots again. I put them on Google Earth (all of my images are geotagged so they feed automatically into Google Earth). If you have Google Earth installed, you can click either of these links. What **should** happen is that Google Earth should launch and soon after the 18 images will appear superimposed where they were taken in Bishop Creek Canyon. You can click any of the tiny thumbnails in Google Earth to see the image large along with captions.

I am now offering a new service: I will physically walk around with your camera and shoot the photos for you, process them and email you the best ones. It’s a win-win situation: you don’t need to ask your boss if you can ditch work in the middle of the week, you don’t need to make any tiresome hikes in the thin, cold, clean mountain air, you won’t make that long drive up 395 which cuts down on pollution, and the area is less crowded for me.

OK, that part was a lie, but in lieu of that showing you where I stood to take some nice photos is the best I can do. Enjoy.

I also recently posted some links where one can soon see reports about Fall Color in the Eastern Sierra. I don’t have reports to offer (I live in San Diego so its hard to just get up there for a day or two this time of year) but there are many talented California photographers who do share detailed and timely reports.

Shameless plug: I’ve got a nice collection of fall color photos. Check them out, they really are pretty good if I do say so myself. (Heck, when the colors are peaking its hard to take a bad photo of turning aspens.)

Keywords: fall color, eastern sierra, photo, picture, image, aspen, populus tremuloides, bishop creek canyon, google earth, geocoding, geotagging.

Guadalupe Island Diving Trip, July 2010 — Not Another Shark Trip

Guadalupe Island, Skip's Trips

I’m very happy to announce that our annual Guadalupe Island diving trip is on for July 2010! Skip Stubbs is once again personally leading this special trip to dive remote and unique Isla Guadalupe using the San Diego-based dive boat Horizon as our home-away-from-home. At present this trip is by invitation only (i.e., the entire boat is reserved and Skip is determining who the participants will be). If you are seriously interested in joining us, please get in touch with Skip (or me if you prefer) to discuss it. We have put together a lengthy flyer describing the trip, with links to many photos and lots of information about the island itself. Please read through the PDF brochure first, especially if you do not know anything about Guadalupe Island. You can print out if you wish (it will open in a new window):

Note: this is not a shark diving trip. This is an open water SCUBA and freediving trip designed to offer our guests opportunities to appreciate the unique inhabitants and explore the underwater scenery of Guadalupe Island. This is the only open-water diving trip to Guadalupe Island, this year (or probably ever), that we know of. The dates are July 21-29, 9 calendar days with 7 fulls days of diving and two travel days.

Cortez chubb, Kyphosus elegans, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

Cortez chubb.
Image ID: 01020
Species: Cortez chubb, Kyphosus elegans
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico

Keywords: Guadalupe Island, Mexico, Isla Guadalupe, scuba diving, free diving, dive boat Horizon, Baja California, San Diego.

Photo of Devil’s Postpile National Monument

Sierra Nevada

We wrapped up our end-of-summer family vacation in Mammoth, which we love to visit in the summer. We took the bus to Devil’s Postpile National Monument, never having seen it before. Our timing could not have been better, we got there just before the sun went down, leaving the Devil’s Postpile itself in warm late-day light. The walk to the Postpile from the bus stop cannot even be called a hike, it is so short and flat. Next time, rather than visiting only the Devil’s Postpile, we’ll hike in from one of the surrounding trail heads and see some of the surrounding area too.

Devil's Postpile, a spectacular example of columnar basalt.  Once molten and under great pressure underground, the lava that makes up Devil's Postpile cooled evenly and slowly, contracting and fracturing into polygonal-sided columns.  The age of the formation is estimated between 100 and 700 thousand years old.  Sometime after the basalt columns formed, a glacier passed over the formation, cutting and polishing the tops of the columns.  The columns have from three to seven sides, varying because of differences in how quickly portions of the lava cooled, Devils Postpile National Monument, California

Devil’s Postpile, a spectacular example of columnar basalt. Once molten and under great pressure underground, the lava that makes up Devil’s Postpile cooled evenly and slowly, contracting and fracturing into polygonal-sided columns. The age of the formation is estimated between 100 and 700 thousand years old. Sometime after the basalt columns formed, a glacier passed over the formation, cutting and polishing the tops of the columns. The columns have from three to seven sides, varying because of differences in how quickly portions of the lava cooled.
Image ID: 23266
Location: Devils Postpile National Monument, California, USA

Devil's Postpile, a spectacular example of columnar basalt.  Once molten and under great pressure underground, the lava that makes up Devil's Postpile cooled evenly and slowly, contracting and fracturing into polygonal-sided columns.  The age of the formation is estimated between 100 and 700 thousand years old.  Sometime after the basalt columns formed, a glacier passed over the formation, cutting and polishing the tops of the columns.  The columns have from three to seven sides, varying because of differences in how quickly portions of the lava cooled, Devils Postpile National Monument, California

Devil’s Postpile, a spectacular example of columnar basalt. Once molten and under great pressure underground, the lava that makes up Devil’s Postpile cooled evenly and slowly, contracting and fracturing into polygonal-sided columns. The age of the formation is estimated between 100 and 700 thousand years old. Sometime after the basalt columns formed, a glacier passed over the formation, cutting and polishing the tops of the columns. The columns have from three to seven sides, varying because of differences in how quickly portions of the lava cooled.
Image ID: 23267
Location: Devils Postpile National Monument, California, USA

Interestingly, in spite of my having spent lots of time in Mammoth, I had never before seen Devil’s Postpile until last August. It is without a doubt the finest example of columnar jointing I’ve ever seen. The only previous example of such geologic columns that I have ever seen is in Yellowstone: the columns that make up Sheepeater Cliffs.

Sheepeater Cliffs, an example of columnar jointing in basalt due to shrinkage during cooling, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Sheepeater Cliffs, an example of columnar jointing in basalt due to shrinkage during cooling.
Image ID: 19794
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

Devil’s Postpile is much larger and more impressive, but Sheepeater Cliff’s is somewhat more accessible, being immediately adjacent to a road and picnic area. Both are pretty cool!

Trivia: Devil’s Postpile was originally part of Yosemite National Park, but the discovery of gold near Mammoth Lakes led to Devil’s Postpile being removed fromt the National Park and being placed in public land. A plan to dynamite the structure so that it would collapse into an adjacent creek to create a hydroelectric dam was proposed, but citizens managed to persuade President Taft to instead create the Devil’s Postpile National Monument to protect the spectacular geology and surrounding environment in 1911.

Keywords: Devil’s Postpile, photo, picture, Sierra Nevada, image, photograph, Mammoth Mountain.