Aerial Panorama of La Jolla’s Bird Rock, with surfers in the water at lower right. Submarine reefs, characteristic of the La Jolla coast, can be seen through the clear water. Mount Soledad rises above everything. This 180-degree panorama extends from Camp Pendleton in the extreme distance to the north to Point Loma in the south. The resolution of this image will permit it to be printed 80″ high by 200″ wide with no interpolation.
Aerial Panoramic Photo of Bird Rock and La Jolla Coast, with surfers in the waves. Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are to the far right (south). La Jolla’s Mount Soledad rises in the center. The submarine reefs around Bird Rock are visible through the clear water. This extremely high resolution panorama will print 80 inches high by 200 inches wide. Image ID: 30778 Location: La Jolla, California, USA
In March and April I made a series of flights to photograph many of San Diego’s prominent coastal features. (Yesterday I described one flight focusing on making aerial photos of San Diego’s Marine Protected Areas.) During their spring breaks, my daughters and I hired helicopters a couple times with the goal of adding to my collection of aerial photos of San Diego, trying something new. The pilots and I discussed the plans before taking off, and we gave it a shot. Making an aerial panorama is very difficult to get just right. The technique used in the sky is important and requires a good pilot and the right conditions. Lens choice is important as well, otherwise distortion will affect the resulting image considerably. And obtaining a perfect result, with no “stitching errors” or gaps, requires a degree of patience, several pieces of software, and some trial and error. I spent days assembling these panoramas, and hope to see them reproduced at enormous sizes once the right opportunity presents itself. This is the first of several I will post over the coming days. Cheers and thanks for looking!
I recently made a special flight with my pilot friend Steve Parker in collaboration with Lighthawk. Lighthawk’s mission is “to accelerate conservation success through the powerful perspective of flight”. On this flight, we were trying to produce new aerial images of several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the San Diego coastline for organizations involved with these MPAs to use in their outreach, conservation, research and legislative efforts.
Aerial photo of Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad. The Batiquitos Lagoon is a coastal wetland in southern Carlsbad, California. Part of the lagoon is designated as the Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, run by the California Department of Fish and Game as a nature reserve Image ID: 30569 Location: Carlsbad, Callifornia, USA
I’ve flown with Steve many times, including previously for Lighthawk to document the impacts of the large wind turbines constructed on the landscape around Ocotillo, California as well as a number of times to survey blue whales in the southern California bight and the Channel Islands. On our San Diego MPA mission, we would be passing over several lagoons and rivermouths, various kelp forests, two submarine canyons, several stretches of coastal bluff, one peninsula and lots of urban elements surrounding and interspersed with these MPAs. Our goal was to produce imagery presenting, for each of the MPAs, at least the following: 1) the general setting of each MPA, so that viewers can quickly understand what and where it is, and 2) something unique, special and/or appealing about each MPA, to help viewers connect with and appreciate the MPAs. Steve’s daughter Roxanne accompanied us as second pilot as well as locating the MPAs and facilitating communication between Steve and me. Steve handled the primary piloting, and communications with air-traffic controllers in the area.
The Marine Protected Areas that we hoped to fly over were, from North to South in the order we would see them:
Batiquitos Lagoon SMCA
San Elijo Lagoon SMCA
San Dieguito Lagoon SMCA
San Diego Scripps Coastal SMCA
South La Jolla SMCA
South La Jolla SMR
Famosa Slough SMCA (we missed this one, unfortunately)
Tijuana River Mouth SMCA
Time in the air is always limited and, frankly, it comes at a steep price. I wanted to make sure we had some variety of perspectives, and at least one or two good images from each of different MPAs. It is a challenge, in more ways than one, to pull off a successful photo flight like this. We had several long conservations with Lee Pagni at Lighthawk about the objectives, then Steve and I had to work out several possible flight dates given tides, position of the sun in the sky, etc. Our first slot was scrubbed due to clouds. When we finally met at Palomar-McClellan airport in Carlsbad, we already had invested some hours and energy. On top of that are the expenses Steve incurs operating the plane, which are considerable. So, I did want to leave any possibility of missing a photo due to equipment failure or simply having the wrong lens in hand. I would be shooting out the side of Steve’s Cessna 206 plane, with views from about 7 to 10 o’clock (the nose of the plane being at 12 noon). We also mounted a GoPro camera on the wing, pointed somewhat forward and down, in the hopes of obtaining some additional very wide images with a view that I was not able to get. We set the GoPro to take a picture every 5 seconds for the duration of the flight. I photographed with three cameras to give me quick access to a variety of focal lengths: Nikon D800 with 14-24 lens, Nikon D800 with 24-70 lens, and Canon 5D Mark III with 70-200 lens. The 24-70 is by far the most useful lens for this sort of aerial landscape. The 14-24 is typically too wide and sometimes catches a wing tip or strut in the corner of the frame, but it can produce beautiful aerials in some circumstances. Unless the air is exceedingly clear, 70-200 is typically too much lens for my taste and produces a flat-looking, low-contrast image even with a polarizer. (The 70-200 is, however, excellent for photographing whales while shooting straight down.) I also had two GPS units recording our positions every few seconds, producing a “GPX file” which I would later use to “geo-tag” all of the photos. (Good thing I had two, my older GPS produced a faulty GPX file and is now retired.)
Editing left me with 150 images, including a few of the GoPro ones that illustrated reef structure in La Jolla that I did not manage to photograph well with my “real cameras”. In particular, the GoPro stills are hard to use due to the fisheye-like view they produce, but in some cases the fisheye distortion can be corrected and a useable image results. Taking all of the GoPro images, correcting them all for distortion and then cropping them to a 9:16 perspective, allowed me to produce a sort of jerky time-lapse which gives a sense of the views we where working with. If you don’t see a Youtube frame below, you might need to refresh the page. Be sure to select “HD” when it starts playing:
When editing aerial images, the first thing I always do is “geo-tag” them. This simply means adding the location (latitude, longitude and altitude) into the EXIF information that is present inside of a digital photograph. I do the geotagging in Adobe Lightroom, using the GPX file created by my handheld GPS. (Some cameras, including the iPhone, geotag photos as soon as they are taken.) The raw GPX file is simply a dot-to-dot set of locations that, when plotted in software like Google Earth, shows the path of the flight:
Here are a couple zoomed-in-views, showing our flight paths over Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) (first image) and Swami’s SMCA and San Elijo Lagoon SMCA (second image):
These tracklogs are nice, but without the images they simply say “we were here”. After geotagging the images and producing a “KMZ file” to display in Google Earth, one can see the images at the location where they were made. The geo-information associated with each image is now of some value:
If you have Google Earth installed, you can work with the full KMZ file by clicking the next image. (It may simply download the KMZ file instead of displaying it in Google Earth.) It contains embedded within it small versions of all the edited images, appearing at their proper locations. If this does not work, you can download the raw KMZ file to your computer and try loading it into Google Earth directly.
I would like to thank Lighthawk, Christine Steele and Lee Pagni of Lighthawk, and my pilot friends Steve and Roxanne Parker for helping to make these photographs possible. I will be posting detailed information about selected images from this flight over the coming weeks. If you reference these images, they should be credited “Phillip Colla / Oceanlight.com / Lighthawk.org”.
Aerial photo of Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad. The Batiquitos Lagoon is a coastal wetland in southern Carlsbad, California. Part of the lagoon is designated as the Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, run by the California Department of Fish and Game as a nature reserve Image ID: 30563 Location: Carlsbad, Callifornia, USA
Aerial Photo of San Diego Scripps Coastal SMCA. Blacks Beach and Torrey Pines State Reserve Image ID: 30622 Location: La Jolla, California, USA
I went up to Joshua Tree National Park to watch the lunar eclipse of April 4, 2015. Photographically, I was not sure what I was going to do. I’ve made a series of lunar eclipse sequence images (lunar eclipse October 8, 2014 and April 14, 2014version 2version 3). While these images are visually appealing and challenging to make well, I really wanted to do something different for this eclipse, push the creative comfort zone so to speak. Fellow photographer Garry McCarthy and I mulled over some ideas on the drive up to Joshua Tree but after arriving I was still at a loss. I deliberately left my 500mm lens at home so I would not fall into the trap of trying to photograph closeups and sequences that way. In fact, I brought my fish eye lens to force myself to look for something different. We headed to the arch, a spot we often go to for night photography and the place at which Garry (with some help from me) originally planned and executed the “Milky Way Arch over Arch” photo, which we have subsequently re-photographed in many variations over the years. A little pondering, a pause for a Santana’s chicken burrito, some crawling around on the rocks looking for angles, and then thankfully I had finally had an idea for a different kind of sequence and a different angle on the arch. At least something to try.
Lunar Eclipse Sequence, the path of the moon through the sky as it progresses from being fully visible (top) to fully eclipsed (middle) to almost fully visible again (bottom), viewed through Arch Rock, April 4 2015 Image ID: 30713 Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
I wanted a composition that told the story of the entire eclipse from start to end in one photograph, and in which the Joshua Tree NP setting was clearly evident. I recalled the exposure settings I had used during the last eclipse and realized that the variation of the moon’s light is too great to capture with just one exposure setting, but that could work to my advange in depicting the entire smooth path of the moon through the sky. I took a wild-ass-guess at the best aperture, shutter and ISO to use, set up my camera on a small tripod wedged into some rocks, turned on the intervalometer and let it go all night. The result is the following composite image, depicting the moon from about 1am until 6:30am, including the lunar eclipse from when it began at 3:15am until it set behind the rocks in the distance. The frame is “Arch Rock”, but in an unfamiliar angle. 890 individual images were taken to make this image. The stars and eclipsed moon are shown at about 5am, when the eclipse was at its “peak”, the moon being in its “blood red” phase and lit only by indirect, refracted light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. The color of the moon is indeed red in the full res version but its hard to make out on the web. The path of the moon is flared toward the top due to high altitude clouds which were passing by, but as the eclipse began the skies cleared and the moon’s path through the sky becomes smoother.
We also realized that during the eclipse, the milky way would become visible, something that is typically impossible to see during a full moon. In fact, the strength of the moonlight would gradually fade in such a way that we could wait for it to exactly match the milky way and starlight above, allowing us to photograph the arch lit by a perfect amount of moonlight, right at astronomical twilight when blue just begins to appear in the sky, without resorting to using any artificial light at all. The result was this image: Milky Way over Arch Rock during Lunar Eclipse of April 4, 2015. (Note: I think this is the highest quality panorama of this scene I’ve ever photographed, and I’ve practiced it many many times. It will print 4.5′ by 7′ with no interpolation.)
Milky Way during Full Lunar Eclipse over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, April 4 2015. 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
We were also treated to a 22° lunar halo an hour or so before the eclipse occurred. Often mistakenly called “lunar corona”, the lunar halo forms when moonlight refracts through hexagonal high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22° the sky is darker inside the halo. It formed a complete circle for about 45 minutes. We were freezing our asses off and, while this was a superb distraction, once it was gone we still had to wait and freeze until the eclipse began. Why is it still so cold in the high desert in April?
Full moon with 22-degree lunar halo, Joshua Tree National Park. The lunar halo (not to be cofused with lunar corona) forms when moonlight refracts through high altitude ice crystals. As no light is refracted at angles smaller than 22-degrees the sky is darker inside the halo. Image ID: 30711 Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
“Moonflowers” – with a nod to my favorite rock band, and the best guitarist of all time. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and the small community of Borrego Springs contained within, have had a reasonably nice wildflower bloom this year. That’s great news, since it has been awhile since the last nice bloom there that was not adversely affected by the black mustard plant. Alaskan photographer Ron Niebrugge kindly kept us up to date on the bloom from his winter location in Borrego Springs, and I managed to get out and try my hand at wildflower photography five times over the course of a week.
Anza-Borrego is only 75 miles from my home in Carlsbad, and the entire mountains along the way are beautiful right now, including the oaks on Mount Palomar and the rolling hills around Lake Henshaw, so the drive itself was fun each time. My first visit was actually a detour on the way to Death Valley, so I really just went to scout and find the densest, healthiest patch of flowers I could find, free from the hordes of caterpillars and footprints that had overtaken DiGiorgio Road a short time before. I did have some great evening storm clouds over the flowers, and managed a few photos. I found the best area well to the north of Henderson Canyon Road. From just before before a big rain, to a few days after the rain and then into a dry hot spell, I was able to watch this one patch of flowers flourish with moisture, rise out of the sand and bloom, only to be overtaken by moth caterpillars and dry conditions and soon reduced to virtually nothing in 9 days. Having not had a chance to really photograph my favorite wildflower — the dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides) — in some years, I tried photographing it in as many ways as I could think of, knowing it will probably be some years again before I see such nice displays. I shot these commando, working quickly and in one instance shooting handheld, while the moon rose (top photo) and fell (bottom photo). Cheers, and thanks for looking!
President’s Weekend was nice here. The rest of the country is freezing, yup that’s pretty bad. Southern California is in the midst of a bad drought and our Sierra Nevada is missing its usual snowpack which is going to hurt in the coming months, but at least the warm winter makes for clear skies and very nice temps. Here are a couple photos from President’s Day’s weekend, all depicting a few of my favorite scenes and all including the Pacific Ocean which was flat calm and glassy much of the time. Cheers and thanks for looking.
Wikipedia describes the origins of wind surfing in the 1940s and 1950s. It couldn’t be more wrong. For as long as they have existed, sea birds and their ancestors have plied the oceans, riding the updrafts of surf, waves and sea swells to gain efficiency and a free ride. My favorite practitioner of this skill is the pelican, although the wandering albatross is a close second. I have been watching pelicans cruise the coastline of my southern California home with a graceful effortlessness my whole life. This winter I made it a goal to shoot some images of brown pelicans surfing and skimming waves. Here are a few of my favorites, photographed in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar and La Jolla. Cheers, and thanks for looking!
La Jolla birds as of this morning. I had until 8:45 before catching the end of Sarah’s practice so I went down the coast highway. There were some waves in Encinitas but nothing special. Spectacular clearing mist at Torrey Pines at sunrise. In La Jolla the light changed much and often, wisps of fog passing just to the east in front of the sun. There was no workshop or crowd at the bird spot this morning which meant lots of birds and whisper quiet. Pelicans are at peak plumage, the cormorants have quite a ways to go. All in all a great morning. All photos are handheld with Canon 200-400. Cheers and thanks for looking!
On a lark one evening in 2014, my buddy Garry McCarthy and I headed out to the desert to do some night photography with only one caveat: try someplace new (in other words, not Joshua Tree again). We headed east and somewhat south with sort of a plan but really it was mostly the blind leading the blind. Eventually we got on spot, broke out the lights and flashed them around while clicking away with the cameras and what followed was one of the most industrial, industrious and unconventional photography sessions I’ve had. Thanks to Garry’s mad lighting skillz acquired on many landscape astrophotography trips, we came away with some creative and fun images. How big are these wind turbines? About 250′ tall at the rotor’s axle, and another 185′ for the blade, for a total reach of 435′ above ground. Pretty damn big! Cheers, and thanks for looking!
Ocotillo Wind Energy Turbines, at night with stars and the Milky Way in the sky above, the moving turbine blades illuminated by a small flashlight. Image ID: 30239 Location: Ocotillo, California, USA