Monthly Archives

January 2011

Sunrise, Sandstone and Shadow, Valley of Fire

Nevada, Valley of Fire

The Valley of Fire sure lived up to its name on this morning!

I was driving along the main road in Valley of Fire State Park at sunrise on Sunday, heading toward the White Domes area when I saw the top of a impressive sandstone wall receiving the first rays of morning light. The orange/red/yellow color was so intense it stopped me in my tracks. The moon was just setting over the top of the wall as well. I decided to forget about my original plan for a sunrise hike across the mesa and see what photos I could make of this wall. This sort-of self-portrait with my tripod was my favorite of the bunch. The colors on this wall were so saturated at sunrise that I had to desaturate them a fair bit just to keep my computer monitor from spontaneously bursting into flame.

Rising sun creates the photographers shadow on a sandstone wall, Valley of Fire State Park

Rising sun creates the photographers shadow on a sandstone wall.
Image ID: 26474
Location: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA

See more photos of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

The Fire Wave, Valley of Fire State Park

Nevada, Valley of Fire

Photo of the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park

I recently had a chance to see a sandstone formation often called “The Fire Wave“. My daughter and I hiked to this place at sunset, in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, an hour east of Las Vegas. This was a beautiful spot, not only for this special striated sandstone formation but for the white domes, colorful eroded washes and brilliant red mesas that surrounded us as we enjoyed the fading light and still, warm air.

The Fire Wave, a beautiful sandstone formation exhibiting dramatic striations, striped layers in the geologic historical record, Valley of Fire State Park

The Fire Wave, a beautiful sandstone formation exhibiting dramatic striations, striped layers in the geologic historical record.
Image ID: 26473
Location: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA

My guess is that the name “Fire Wave” was bestowed upon this relatively small formation due to its similarity to the more famous “Wave” in North Coyote Buttes Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness a few hours away in Arizona.

Seabird Entanglement in Plastic

Environmental Problems, Pelicans

This week I licensed a photo of this unfortunate brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) entangled in what appears to be a grocery bag to an environmental education initiative, to illustrate the tangible effects of trash and debris on the marine environment. I originally posted about this bird in 2009. I believe the pelican speared a plastic grocery bag floating on the water, mistaking the plastic bag for prey. I would have loved to see the bird captured by wildlife rehab experts so that the bag could be removed, but the pelican was in a position that would have been difficult to approach successfully. Those parts of the bag that the pelican could grasp with its bill appear to have already been pulled away and I believe the remainder would have disintegrated in sunlight, weaked and fallen off soon. Hopefully the bird ingested no pieces of the bag, since plastic is often found clogging the digestive tracts of many species of seabirds.

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck.  This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican's neck.  Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

A California brown pelican entangled in a plastic bag which is wrapped around its neck. This unfortunate pelican probably became entangled in the bag by mistaking the floating plastic for food and diving on it, spearing it in such a way that the bag has lodged around the pelican’s neck. Plastic bags kill and injure untold numbers of marine animals each year.
Image ID: 22561
Species: Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Cute Harbor Seal

California, Harbor Seal, Wildlife

This harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) was quite animated. Most of the harbor seals lie on the sand throughout the day, resting between foraging sessions in the ocean, while younger/smaller seals seem to exhibit most of the activity. It is nearly February and just about time for newborn harbor seal pups to start appearing among the colony.

Pacific harbor seal, an sand at the edge of the sea, Phoca vitulina richardsi, La Jolla, California

Pacific harbor seal, an sand at the edge of the sea.
Image ID: 26315
Species: Pacific harbor seal, Phoca vitulina richardsi
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Pacific harbor seal, an sand at the edge of the sea, Phoca vitulina richardsi, La Jolla, California

Pacific harbor seal, an sand at the edge of the sea.
Image ID: 26320
Species: Pacific harbor seal, Phoca vitulina richardsi
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Torrey Pines Sunset

La Jolla, Seascapes

Torrey Pines State Park Sunset

Tracy and I were treated to a spectacular sunset cloud show at the Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla recently. These two photographs were made just a few minutes apart. The first looks south along Black’s Beach towards La Jolla, with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Pier just visible. The second is looking north along seacliffs of Torrey Pines State Park towards Del Mar. The colors in the sky were changing rapidly as the sun dropped below the horizon which is why the clouds look so different.

Sunset falls upon Torrey Pines State Reserve, viewed from the Torrey Pines glider port.  La Jolla, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Scripps Pier are seen in the distance

Sunset falls upon Torrey Pines State Reserve, viewed from the Torrey Pines glider port. La Jolla, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Scripps Pier are seen in the distance.
Image ID: 26436
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Sunset falls upon Torrey Pines State Reserve, viewed from the Torrey Pines glider port, La Jolla, California

Sunset falls upon Torrey Pines State Reserve, viewed from the Torrey Pines glider port.
Image ID: 26440
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

More La Jolla Photos and San Diego Photos.

La Jolla Photos

La Jolla, San Diego

La Jolla Photos

I have been having fun recently making new photographs of one of my favorite cities in California: La Jolla. I spent about 10 years living in La Jolla, first in undergrad and graduate school at UCSD then a while longer before moving to North County (Del Mar, Carlsbad). Tracy and I love La Jolla since many of our favorite restaurants are there, and Tracy works in La Jolla. La Jolla’s rocky coastline really is the jewel of San Diego. Included in these images are some from Coast Boulevard, Children’s Pool, Goldfish Point, Scripps Pier and Torrey Pines, plus a few aerial and UCSD photos shot in 2010:

Torrey Pines seacliffs, rising up to 300 feet above the ocean, stretch from Del Mar to La Jolla.  On the mesa atop the bluffs are found Torrey pine trees, one of the rare species of pines in the world, Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, California

Torrey Pines seacliffs, rising up to 300 feet above the ocean, stretch from Del Mar to La Jolla. On the mesa atop the bluffs are found Torrey pine trees, one of the rare species of pines in the world.
Image ID: 22285
Location: Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, California, USA

SIO Pier.  The Scripps Institution of Oceanography research pier is 1090 feet long and was built of reinforced concrete in 1988, replacing the original wooden pier built in 1915. The Scripps Pier is home to a variety of sensing equipment above and below water that collects various oceanographic data. The Scripps research diving facility is located at the foot of the pier. Fresh seawater is pumped from the pier to the many tanks and facilities of SIO, including the Birch Aquarium. The Scripps Pier is named in honor of Ellen Browning Scripps, the most significant donor and benefactor of the Institution, La Jolla, California

SIO Pier. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography research pier is 1090 feet long and was built of reinforced concrete in 1988, replacing the original wooden pier built in 1915. The Scripps Pier is home to a variety of sensing equipment above and below water that collects various oceanographic data. The Scripps research diving facility is located at the foot of the pier. Fresh seawater is pumped from the pier to the many tanks and facilities of SIO, including the Birch Aquarium. The Scripps Pier is named in honor of Ellen Browning Scripps, the most significant donor and benefactor of the Institution.
Image ID: 22286
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Pacific harbor seal, an sand at the edge of the sea, Phoca vitulina richardsi, La Jolla, California

Pacific harbor seal, an sand at the edge of the sea.
Image ID: 26315
Species: Pacific harbor seal, Phoca vitulina richardsi
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Sunset falls upon Torrey Pines State Reserve, viewed from the Torrey Pines glider port.  La Jolla, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Scripps Pier are seen in the distance

Sunset falls upon Torrey Pines State Reserve, viewed from the Torrey Pines glider port. La Jolla, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Scripps Pier are seen in the distance.
Image ID: 26436
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican, showing characteristic winter plumage including red/olive throat, brown hindneck, yellow and white head colors, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican, showing characteristic winter plumage including red/olive throat, brown hindneck, yellow and white head colors.
Image ID: 26462
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Earth Shadow lies over Point La Jolla at dawn

Earth Shadow lies over Point La Jolla at dawn.
Image ID: 26444
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Western gull, Larus occidentalis, La Jolla, California

Western gull.
Image ID: 26465
Species: Western gull, Larus occidentalis
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

The Children's Pool in La Jolla, also known as Casa Cove, is a small pocket cove protected by a curving seawall, with the rocky coastline and cottages and homes of La Jolla seen behind it

The Children’s Pool in La Jolla, also known as Casa Cove, is a small pocket cove protected by a curving seawall, with the rocky coastline and cottages and homes of La Jolla seen behind it.
Image ID: 22302
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

UCSD Library glows at sunset (Geisel Library, UCSD Central Library), University of California, San Diego, La Jolla

UCSD Library glows at sunset (Geisel Library, UCSD Central Library).
Image ID: 14780
Location: University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, USA

Sea Caves, the famous La Jolla sea caves lie below tall cliffs at Goldfish Point.  Sunrise

Sea Caves, the famous La Jolla sea caves lie below tall cliffs at Goldfish Point. Sunrise.
Image ID: 26442
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

UCSD Library glows at sunset (Geisel Library, UCSD Central Library), University of California, San Diego, La Jolla

UCSD Library glows at sunset (Geisel Library, UCSD Central Library).
Image ID: 14777
Location: University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, USA

Bear is another of the odd outdoor "art" pieces of the UCSD Stuart Collection.  Created by Tim Hawkinson in 2001 of eight large stones, it sits in the courtyard of the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla

Bear is another of the odd outdoor “art” pieces of the UCSD Stuart Collection. Created by Tim Hawkinson in 2001 of eight large stones, it sits in the courtyard of the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering.
Image ID: 20851
Location: University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, USA

La Jolla Coast Boulevard at sunset, ocean and sea bluffs

La Jolla Coast Boulevard at sunset, ocean and sea bluffs.
Image ID: 26424
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier, sunrise, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier, sunrise.
Image ID: 26427
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier, sunrise, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier, sunrise.
Image ID: 26430
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Fisherman at dawn along the La Jolla coastline, waves blur as they crash upon the Boomer Beach boulders

Fisherman at dawn along the La Jolla coastline, waves blur as they crash upon the Boomer Beach boulders.
Image ID: 26447
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Waves and beach boulders, abstract study of water movement, La Jolla, California

Waves and beach boulders, abstract study of water movement.
Image ID: 26449
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Waves wash over sandstone reef, clouds and sky, La Jolla, California

Waves wash over sandstone reef, clouds and sky.
Image ID: 26453
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier, predawn abstract study of pier pilings and moving water, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier, predawn abstract study of pier pilings and moving water.
Image ID: 26457
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

See also: San Diego photos, La Jolla photos.

Thanks for Garry McCarthy who showed me a nice spot to shoot rocky coastline photos in La Jolla.

Distance, Perspective and the Out-Of-Focus Background

Pelicans, Wisdom

I went down to La Jolla this morning to photograph brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) with my friend Garry McCarthy. My plan was to test the sharpness of my 500 with a 2x teleconverter** so I had a pretty long setup. Unfortunately, when I arrived I found that two photographers had already proceeded to sit on the lower shelf before sunrise. “Uh-oh” I thought, knowing this would basically screw the photographic opportunities for everyone (except perhaps the two guys pushing the birds, depending on what they were after). One of the two is exceptionally talented and experienced and should know better than to plant himself right where the pelicans try to land. In my estimation (I have been watching and photographing these birds at this location for about 25 years) this would cause most of the pelicans approaching from the ocean to swerve away and choose another area on which to land. Indeed, that is what transpired over the next 45 minutes as the sun lit the bluff, the pelicans appeared on the horizon in twos and threes, approached to within 200 yards or so and then veered west to land at the bluff 150 yds away along Coast Blvd. The top of the pelican bluff is normally chock full of preening pelicans shortly after sunrise, providing nothing spooks them. It is also, in my opinion, where the best portrait and flight photographs are made and is where the pelicans seem to be most comfortable and approachable after they have settled in and begun preening. It was empty this morning. It was dismaying to realize that one of the two was a pro who appeared to have a client with him. If that was indeed the case he was actually teaching his student this behavior by example. Photographers: please don’t push the birds on the bluff here, they are on the cliffs for reasons that have nothing to do with our photography — to rest and preen — and they need some space. But I digress…

In the course of reviewing the morning’s catch, I realized I made a series of images that illustrates well how increasing background distance relative to the subject serves to throw the background increasingly out of focus (OOF), resulting in that pleasingly smooth OOF background that wildlife photographers love. There is nothing cutting edge about these static pelican portraits, but they are tack sharp and show incredible detail in the eye and in the richly-colored throat and plumage feathers that California pelicans exhibit so strikingly each winter. All three of these images were shot in the same light, with similar background conditions (moderately smooth ocean in direct sun) on the same pelican, at the same distance with the same lens (500mm w/ 1.4x teleconverter) and f-stop (f/11), within a few minutes of each other. What changes most profoundly from one image to the next in this series is how the background (ocean water) is rendered behind the bird. From one image to the next, the ratio of the background distance to the subject distance increases by about an order of magnitude. In the first image, which is shot looking somewhat down on the pelican, the background ocean water is about twice the distance of the bird. There is some detail seen in the water; at least it is recognizable as ocean ripples. In the second image, I am lower to the water but have maintained the same distance to the bird. By being lower, I have caused the background to now be more distant, let’s say 5 to 10 times as far as the bird. This leads to an image that differs from the first primarily in a softening of the background while the pelican appears nearly the same as in the first image. In the third image, cropped somewhat and with added compression of a 2x converter, I shot from my knees so that the ocean background is now just below the horizon, as far as I could make it without showing any horizon or sky, effectively at infinity. The subject is a bit closer as well. This combination results in a ratio of background to subject distance that is far greater than that in the second image, perhaps 100 or 1000. At this point, the background has essentially no discernible detail and becomes a nearly smooth wash of blue color.

This notion — that increasing the ratio of background distance to subject distance softens the background — applies in countless situations: nearby bird and distant forest at Bosque del Apache, nearby whale fluke and distant ice in polar regions, nearby bikini-clad model and distant seacliffs in Malibu, nearby bug and distant foliage in insect photography. This is a fundamental idea and there is nothing groundbreaking in my comments, but its helps me to think about such things explicitly from time to time so I can better put them to use the next time I am out shooting.

California brown pelican, showing characteristic winter plumage including red/olive throat, brown hindneck, yellow and white head colors, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican, showing characteristic winter plumage including red/olive throat, brown hindneck, yellow and white head colors.
Image ID: 26471
Species: Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican, showing characteristic winter plumage including red/olive throat, brown hindneck, yellow and white head colors, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican, showing characteristic winter plumage including red/olive throat, brown hindneck, yellow and white head colors.
Image ID: 26470
Species: Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican, showing characteristic winter plumage including red/olive throat, brown hindneck, yellow and white head colors, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican, showing characteristic winter plumage including red/olive throat, brown hindneck, yellow and white head colors.
Image ID: 26467
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

**As I hoped: sharpness became tack at effective f/11 and got even better at f/16, meaning I must shut down a minimum of one stop and preferably two stops from wide open for a 2x converter. Similarly, for real sharpness I have found I need to stop down one stop for a 1.4x converter. (In contrast, with my 300 f/2.8 I can shoot wide open with a 1.4x converter and usually achieve a task sharp image.) By “tack” I mean sharp enough that I would be happy to submit the image to any publisher for reproduction at any size.

I’ve compiled my thoughts on photographing California brown pelicans in La Jolla in a PDF article.

If you like these photos, you can also see lots more blog posts from past sessions photographing California brown pelicans in La Jolla.

Antarctic Fur Seal Photos, Arctocephalus gazella

Fur Seal, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Antarctic Fur Seal Photos, Arctocephalus gazella

I love photographing fur seals. (I love diving among them even more, but that is not always possible.) Fur seals are one of the “eared seals”, similar to the gregarious sea lions familiar to my friends on the West Coast. In my opinion, however, fur seals are more elegant and appealing in their behavior and appearance than sea lions. On my trip to South Georgia Island last year, I was looking forward to seeing Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella). We saw plenty of them. Our timing (early January) coincided with the peak of their presence on the island and with their mating and courtship behavior. At this time, the fur seals are gathered ashore in huge numbers on beaches and rocky shorelines. At some of the landings we considered, the beaches were so crowded with fur seals we could not safely go ashore. During the breeding season, the fur seals’ hormones are raging, which causes adult male fur seals to become quite territorial. The bulls (males) have assembled small harems of females, attempting to mate with each one. The bull fur seals guard access to their females closely, defending the harem against interlopers. For many weeks the bulls remain ashore, guarding their harem, without going to sea for forage for food. They lose weight, and they are often seriously injured in bite-laden conflicts with other males. The fur seal bulls are easily agitated and will take a run at, and even try to nip, a passing human, so it was important for us to keep our eyes on the fur seals and make sure we did not encroach on their space. Even those unfortunate males who were too small or too old to win or maintain a harem were testy, probably as a result of their elevated hormones coupled with no way for them to release that pent up procreative energy. Making my way along a large sand beach near fur seals on the beach was not difficult, but there were times when I was walking through waist-high tussock grass that I would encounter a fur seal unexpectedly. That was exciting. I love these animals.

Antarctic fur seal, Arctocephalus gazella, Hercules Bay

Antarctic fur seal.
Image ID: 24392
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Hercules Bay, South Georgia Island

Antarctic fur seal colony, on a sand beach alongside Right Whale Bay, with the mountains of South Georgia Island in the background, sunset, Arctocephalus gazella

Antarctic fur seal colony, on a sand beach alongside Right Whale Bay, with the mountains of South Georgia Island in the background, sunset.
Image ID: 24315
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Right Whale Bay, South Georgia Island

Antarctic fur seals, adult male bull and female, illustrating extreme sexual dimorphism common among pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and fur seals), Arctocephalus gazella, Right Whale Bay

Antarctic fur seals, adult male bull and female, illustrating extreme sexual dimorphism common among pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and fur seals).
Image ID: 24324
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Right Whale Bay, South Georgia Island

An antarctic fur seal pup plays in the water, Arctocephalus gazella, Fortuna Bay

An antarctic fur seal pup plays in the water.
Image ID: 24605
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Fortuna Bay, South Georgia Island

Leucistic juvenile antarctic fur seal, young pup, juvenile, blond.  A leucistic animal is one that has pigmentation levels far below normal and is thus much more lightly colored, Arctocephalus gazella, Fortuna Bay

Leucistic juvenile antarctic fur seal, young pup, juvenile, blond. A leucistic animal is one that has pigmentation levels far below normal and is thus much more lightly colored.
Image ID: 24617
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Fortuna Bay, South Georgia Island

Antarctic fur seal, adult male bull (right) and female (left) confirm their identities via scent, Arctocephalus gazella, Right Whale Bay

Antarctic fur seal, adult male bull (right) and female (left) confirm their identities via scent.
Image ID: 24325
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Right Whale Bay, South Georgia Island

The Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) is found only in Antarctic waters, with 95% of the world population breeding at South Georgia Island. Male Antarctic fur seals are considerably larger than females, growing to 2m (6.5′) in length and weighing up to 450 lbs. Probably due to the stresses they encounter during the breeding season, males live only about 15 years while females live up to 25 years. Antarctic fur seals breed polygynously, meaning that a single bull (large adult male) mates with up to 20 females in a season. The female groups are often referred to as harems, which the bull guards in a aggressively territorial manner. Breeding territories are established on beaches in October and November. Females give birth to their single pups in November and December. Shortly after (7 to 10 days) they give birth, the females will mate and then sustain a gestation that is about a year long. The pups are weaned after about four months. During the six to eight weeks that they are establishing and maintaining their breeding territories, bull Antarctic fur seals fast and lose up to 3.5 lbs each day. Once the breeding season has ended, the fur seals will leave to spend much of the year at sea, foraging for food. Krill is the most common food source for Antarctic fur seals. Krill stocks around South Georgia Island vary from year to year. Below average amounts of krill stresses the Antarctic fur seal population, which can lead to high mortality, especially among juveniles and pups.