The sun sets over the Garden of the Gods in Arches National Park, Utah. Garry McCarthy and I were in Utah for a few days of hiking and night photography. While we shot the sunset from this scenic point we bumped into night photography great Brad Goldpaint, a nice guy and exceptional photographer who was teaching a night photography workshop. It was a fine sunset which we followed it up with some night photography of nearby Balanced Rock and Double Arch. If you like this please check out more photos from Arches National Park. Cheers and thanks for looking!
Twice each year, the sun sets perfectly centered in the long thin window of the Scripps Research Pier pilings. Photographing this event is frankly rather formulaic and straightforward, to the point that people pack the narrow space on the shore between the pier pilings well before the sunset to ensure they have a “spot” when the sun lines up. It’s not a secret photo op nor is it spontaneous, but it is a striking and fleeting sight to see. I met a couple photographer buddies for one of the lineup evenings in 2013 and managed to photograph it reasonably well: Scripps Pier Sunset Perfect Solar Alignment, La Jolla, San Diego, California. This year I gave the matter some thought and realized I just couldn’t bring myself to do the same photo over again, especially with the crowd that forms. How to do it differently and with at least a modicum of spontaneity and physical challenge?
Scripps Pier solstice, surfer’s view from among the waves, sunset aligned perfectly with the pier. Research pier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography SIO, sunset.
Image ID: 30150
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA
After pondering it for a while I realized leaving the shore was really the only option. I spent three afternoons recently photographing the pier using one of my water cam setups — a custom-made surf housing for my Canon 5D Mark III — along with a few pieces of simple but secret equipment to make it all possible. Shooting it from the surfline is pretty tough, the pier does not move of course but the water moves and thus so do I. The sun is only centered below the far end of the pier for a short while, perhaps 30 seconds or less, and getting the camera reasonably high up off the water while positioning the pilings where I wanted them and keeping them vertical was tougher than I thought I would be. The nice part was that even though the solar alignment that makes these sunsets special only really occurred one of the three evenings (and was probably not properly aligned had I been shooting from the shore), it was still great to get wet and enjoy the surf and I landed some new views of the pier I have known since 1981 (ok, including the older pier and this new one). This photograph was the image from that effort with which I am happiest; it seems to capture dark shadows that settle under the pier rapidly as the sun disappears, the thin pastel colors in the clouds, and rapidly moving wavelets of water reverberating through the pilings. Cheers, and thanks for looking!
This is Anacapa Island, viewed from the west with the California coastline visible in the distance. Anacapa Island is composed of three islets stretching about 6 miles long, located 11 miles off the coast. West Anacapa, seen here, is the highest of the three reaching an altitude of 930′ above the sea. Anacapa Island is part of California’s “Channel Islands” and is one of the five islands in Channel Islands National Park. This image was made during an aerial whale survey of the Channel Islands.
These ancient bristlecones are two of the more iconic in the world. They stand on an eastern slope in the White Mountains in a clearing with few other trees nearby. I am fairly certain the foreground tree — which has been photographed by thousands of photographers — is dead. It has a beautiful, gnarled, twisted shape and is quite imposing. The living bristlecone (Pinus longaeva) in the background is my favorite in this area, and one of the most beautiful of the old but living bristlecones anywhere along the White Mountains crest. It was the subject of the first milky way photograph (after many attempts) with which I was really happy, made alongside buddy Garry McCarthy in 2012. The evening I made this particular photographs brought a fast changing mix of light, with clearing storm clouds that alternately moved through the scene and then opened up to reveal stars. I timed my visit specifically for this one night since I knew the lunar phase would balance moonlight with starlight and lend a little bit of detail to the surrounding landscape, something that is more difficult to achieve on the new moon. I’ll post a few more from that night in the coming days. Cheers and thanks for looking!
Stars and the Milky Way over ancient bristlecone pine trees, in the White Mountains at an elevation of 10,000′ above sea level. These are some of the oldest trees in the world, some exceeding 4000 years in age.
Image ID: 29407
Species: Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva
Location: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California, USA
Ancient Bristlecone pine trees (Pinus longaeva) live in a relatively restricted area of eastern California, Nevada and Utah, typically at altitudes above 9500′. The ancient bristlecone pine tree is considered to be the world’s oldest species of tree (and indeed the world’s oldest sexually reproducing, nonclonal lifeform). A number of individual bristlecone pine trees are known to exceed 4000 years of age; the “Methuselah tree” in the Schulman grove was estimated to be 4838 years old in 2006. These extraordinarily hardy, gnarled and lonely trees are best seen in the White Mountains of the Inyo National Forest in California. These photos were taken in the Patriarch Grove and the Schulman Grove, two exemplary groves that can be accessed by car. A few new images below and in my gallery of bristlecone pine tree photos were taken on a clear spring night with the Milky Way spread across the sky — it was a moving and serene experience being around such old trees with the heavens spread so dramatically above.
Ancient bristlecone pine trees live at extremely high altitudes. In some regions, the lower treeline for bristlecone pines exceeds the upper treeline for all other species. Bristlecone forests often occur in areas where there is a strong carbonate content (limestone, dolomite and/or marble). In these barren, remote mountain areas, exposure to constant wind, excessive sun and bitter cold has molded the trees into remarkably gnarled, twisted shapes that have captured the interest of photographers and artists for years.
The trees do not grow tall — 60′ is about the tallest — but tend to be girthy with a wide base and roots that splay outward in all directions. Ancient bristlecone pine trees grow very slowly, and pine needles are infrequently dropped with some living for 30 years. Pinus longaeva has evolved a few strategies that yield such a long lifespan. Their wood is extraordinarily dense, and full of resin, making it nearly impossible for invasive bacteria and insects (what few there are in that inhospitable climate) to bore into and damage the wood. Bristlecone pines also tolerate a gradual dieback of their bark, in such a way that old specimens may have only a small amount of living bark. While the tree may appear dead or nearly so, this is actually an advantage as it lessens the bulk of living material the root system and crown must support. In some old trees, a thin strip of bark a foot or less in size is enough to support a healthy specimen.
Ancient bristlecone wood is so resistant to decay, and occurs in such an arid and cold environment, that fallen pieces dating back 8000+ years have been found in some groves. These pieces have been used in the calibration of the radiocarbon time-dating method, a technique which is employed in a broad range of scientific disciplines.
Please see my gallery of ancient bristlecone pine tree photos. Thanks for looking!