Category

Aerial Photography

Aerial Photographic Survey of San Diego Marine Protected Areas for Lighthawk

Aerial Photography, California, San Diego

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

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
  • Swami’s SMCA
  • San Elijo Lagoon SMCA
  • San Dieguito Lagoon SMCA
  • San Diego Scripps Coastal SMCA
  • Matlahuayal SMR
  • South La Jolla SMCA
  • South La Jolla SMR
  • Famosa Slough SMCA (we missed this one, unfortunately)
  • Cabrillo SMR
  • 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.)

Aerial Photo of Cabrillo State Marine Reserve, Point Loma, San Diego

Aerial Photo of Cabrillo State Marine Reserve, Point Loma, San Diego
Image ID: 30641
Location: San Diego, California, USA

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.

The full collection of images being made available to bon fide conservation organizations can be seen here. Please contact me directly if you have questions, or if you would like to make use of them.

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

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, La Jolla, California

Aerial Photo of San Diego Scripps Coastal SMCA. Blacks Beach and Torrey Pines State Reserve
Image ID: 30622
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Aerial Photo of South La Jolla State Marine Reserve

Aerial Photo of South La Jolla State Marine Reserve
Image ID: 30638
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Anacapa Island, Aerial Photo, Channel Islands National Park, California

Aerial Photography, Channel Islands

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.

Anacapa Island, west end, aerial photo

Anacapa Island, west end, aerial photo
Image ID: 29400
Location: Anacapa Island, California, USA

Aerial Photos of Islas Coronado, the Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico

Aerial Photography, Islas Coronado, Mexico

Aerial Photos of the Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico

These new aerial photos of the three main islands in Las Islas Coronado, offshore of Baja California not far from Tijuana (Mexico) and San Diego, came from a nice flight a few weeks ago during a high pressure system, which calmed the ocean surface thus allowing some of the submarine rocky reef structure to be visible. Thanks for looking!

North Coronado Island, Mexico, northern point looking south with Middle and South Islands in the distance, aerial photograph, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

North Coronado Island, Mexico, northern point looking south with Middle and South Islands in the distance, aerial photograph.
Image ID: 29052
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

North Coronado Island, Mexico, southern point looking north, aerial photograph, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

North Coronado Island, Mexico, southern point looking north, aerial photograph.
Image ID: 29053
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

South Coronado Island, Mexico, northern point showing underwater reef structure, aerial photograph, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

South Coronado Island, Mexico, northern point showing underwater reef structure, aerial photograph.
Image ID: 29061
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

South Coronado Island, Mexico, southern point looking north, Middle and North Islands in the distance, aerial photograph, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

South Coronado Island, Mexico, southern point looking north, Middle and North Islands in the distance, aerial photograph.
Image ID: 29063
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Middle Coronado Island, Mexico, looking north with San Diego and Point Loma in the distance, aerial photograph, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Middle Coronado Island, Mexico, looking north with San Diego and Point Loma in the distance, aerial photograph.
Image ID: 29059
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

South Coronado Island, Mexico, eastern side, Middle and North Islands in the distance, aerial photograph, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

South Coronado Island, Mexico, eastern side, Middle and North Islands in the distance, aerial photograph.
Image ID: 29066
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

If you like these, please check out more aerial photography or photos of the Coronado Islands in Mexico.

Aerial Panoramas of La Jolla and San Diego

Aerial Photography, La Jolla, Panoramas, San Diego

Flying recently while a winter high pressure system hung over Southern California, I was able to take advantage of clear dry air to shoot several aerial panoramic photos of the La Jolla and northern San Diego coastline. These are technically very difficult to realize, both in capturing the source images and in digitally blending them into the final high resolution panoramic image. The plane was moving 100+ mph, so parallax was a significant factor, and holding a 300mm lens steady while buffeted by wind is not easy. Shown below are coastlines along Torrey Pines State Reserve, Point La Jolla south to Bird Rock, and Point La Jolla north to Scripps Institution of Oceanography (including UCSD). Cheers and thanks for looking!

Aerial Panorama of La Jolla, University City, showing (from left) UCSD, University City, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla Shores, Point La Jolla, Mount Soledad, in the background some of the mountains to the east of San Diego.  The highest peak in the center of the panoram is Cuyamaca Peak (6512') while the rocky peak directly in front of it is El Cajon Mountain (3675')

Aerial Panorama of La Jolla, University City, showing (from left) UCSD, University City, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla Shores, Point La Jolla, Mount Soledad, in the background some of the mountains to the east of San Diego. The highest peak in the center of the panoram is Cuyamaca Peak (6512′) while the rocky peak directly in front of it is El Cajon Mountain (3675′).
Image ID: 29098

Aerial panorama of Torrey Pines State Reserve, from Del Mar (left) to La Jolla (right), San Diego, California

Aerial panorama of Torrey Pines State Reserve, from Del Mar (left) to La Jolla (right)
Image ID: 29096
Location: Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, California, USA

Aerial Panoramic Photograph of La Jolla, Mount Soledad, University City

Aerial Panoramic Photograph of La Jolla, Mount Soledad, University City
Image ID: 29097

If you like these, please see more aerial photographs, photos of La Jolla and photos of San Diego.

Gray Whale Aerial Photos, Eschrichtius robustus, California

Aerial Photography

Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) migrate from the Bering Sea in Alaska down the west coast of the United States to the “calving lagoons” of Baja California. (A small number of grays whales also live in the extreme western Pacific.) This migration is considered the longest of any mammal. Calves are typically, but not always, born in or very near the Baja California lagoons but are sometimes born north of there, during the southern migration. I have encountered one gray whale mother and newborn gray whale calf well to the north, in the cold gray waters of Big Sur, about 20 years ago. I recently had another special opportunity to photograph gray whales during their southern migration, this time from the air. Southern California had experienced a high pressure weather system that cleared out the air and laid the seas down flat. The best time to fly in such conditions is in the last days of the high pressure, before it breaks. We had clear skies, flat oceans, great visibility, and did see a few whales. These photos are tagged with their exact GPS locations (sometimes I get requests for info from cetacean researchers). Cheers, and thanks for looking!

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: 29001
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Clemente, California, USA

Gray whale blowing at the ocean surface, exhaling and breathing as it prepares to dive underwater, Eschrichtius robustus, Encinitas, California

Gray whale blowing at the ocean surface, exhaling and breathing as it prepares to dive underwater.
Image ID: 29045
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: Encinitas, California, USA

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: 29031
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Clemente, California, USA

Gray whales traveling south to Mexico during their winter migration.  The annual migration of the California gray whale is the longest known migration of any mammal, 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to Baja California, Eschrichtius robustus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Gray whales traveling south to Mexico during their winter migration. The annual migration of the California gray whale is the longest known migration of any mammal, 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to Baja California.
Image ID: 29048
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Gray whale diving below the ocean surface, leaving a footprint in its wake.  Aerial photo, Eschrichtius robustus, Encinitas, California

Gray whale diving below the ocean surface, leaving a footprint in its wake. Aerial photo.
Image ID: 29037
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: Encinitas, California, USA

Coronado Aerial Photos

Aerial Photography, San Diego

Aerial photographs of Coronado, California, including Coronado Island, the Hotel del Coronado, and the San Diego Coronado Bay Bridge.

These five Coronado Aerial Photographs are just a selection. If you like them, please be sure to see also my full collection of Coronado Aerial Photos and a gallery of San Diego Aerial Photos.

Hotel del Coronado, known affectionately as the Hotel Del.  It was once the largest hotel in the world, and is one of the few remaining wooden Victorian beach resorts.  It sits on the beach on Coronado Island, seen here with downtown San Diego in the distance.  It is widely considered to be one of Americas most beautiful and classic hotels. Built in 1888, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977

Hotel del Coronado, known affectionately as the Hotel Del. It was once the largest hotel in the world, and is one of the few remaining wooden Victorian beach resorts. It sits on the beach on Coronado Island, seen here with downtown San Diego in the distance. It is widely considered to be one of Americas most beautiful and classic hotels. Built in 1888, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
Image ID: 22287
Location: San Diego, California, USA

San Diego Coronado Bridge, known locally as the Coronado Bridge, links San Diego with Coronado, California.  The bridge was completed in 1969 and was a toll bridge until 2002.  It is 2.1 miles long and reaches a height of 200 feet above San Diego Bay.  Coronado Island is to the left, and downtown San Diego is to the right in this view looking north

San Diego Coronado Bridge, known locally as the Coronado Bridge, links San Diego with Coronado, California. The bridge was completed in 1969 and was a toll bridge until 2002. It is 2.1 miles long and reaches a height of 200 feet above San Diego Bay. Coronado Island is to the left, and downtown San Diego is to the right in this view looking north.
Image ID: 22288
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Coronado Shores, a group of 10 condominium buildings south of the Hotel Del, on the water on Coronado Island, San Diego, California

Coronado Shores, a group of 10 condominium buildings south of the Hotel Del, on the water on Coronado Island.
Image ID: 22297
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, situated on the Silver Strand between San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, is the West Coast focal point for special and expeditionary warfare training and operations.  The famous "swastika building" is seen on the southern (left) side of the base

Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, situated on the Silver Strand between San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, is the West Coast focal point for special and expeditionary warfare training and operations. The famous “swastika building” is seen on the southern (left) side of the base.
Image ID: 22298
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Sunset over Coronado Island and Point Loma, San Diego, California

Sunset over Coronado Island and Point Loma.
Image ID: 22335
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Blue Whale Aerial Photos

Aerial Photography, Blue Whale, California, GeoBlog

Blue whale aerial photos

This blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) was photographed from the air as it surfaced off the coast of Redondo Beach (near Los Angeles, California) to exhale and take a new breath, before diving underwater to feed on krill.

Blue whale, exhaling as it surfaces from a dive, aerial photo.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, exceeding 100' in length and 200 tons in weight, Balaenoptera musculus, Redondo Beach, California

Blue whale, exhaling as it surfaces from a dive, aerial photo. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, exceeding 100′ in length and 200 tons in weight.
Image ID: 25953
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Redondo Beach, California, USA

Blue whale swims at the surface of the ocean in this aerial photograph.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, exceeding 100' in length and 200 tons in weight, Balaenoptera musculus, Redondo Beach, California

Blue whale swims at the surface of the ocean in this aerial photograph. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, exceeding 100′ in length and 200 tons in weight.
Image ID: 25952
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Redondo Beach, California, USA

I recorded the GPS position (latitude, longitude) each time I took a photo of a blue whale. Curiously, the blue whales remained in a small area directly over the submarine canyon that lies offshore of Redondo Beach, as seen in the below screen shot from Google Earth. My hunch is that the krill upon which the blue whales were presumably feeding was gathered in, or near, the canyon. You can click the image below to bring up the Google Earth display, showing the images superimposed where they were photographed above the Redondo Beach submarine canyon.

To see more blue whale aerial photos, or stock photos of Balaenoptera musculus, click on the links or use the search box at upper left.

Keywords: blue whale, aerial photo, Balaenoptera musculus

San Clemente Island Aerial Photograph

Aerial Photography, California

Aerial photograph of San Clemente Island, California

San Clemente Island Pyramid Head, the distinctive pyramid shaped southern end of the island.  San Clemente Island Pyramid Head, showing geologic terracing, underwater reefs and giant kelp forests

San Clemente Island Pyramid Head, the distinctive pyramid shaped southern end of the island. San Clemente Island Pyramid Head, showing geologic terracing, underwater reefs and giant kelp forests
Image ID: 26003
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

San Clemente Island is where I have done the majority of my scuba diving. For at least 20 years I’ve been admiring the beautiful kelp forests, reefs and marine inhabitants of San Clemente Island, almost always aboard the San Diego-based dive boat Horizon. These days I’m lucky if my schedule allows me to get out there once a year for a bit of diving, but when I do and I finally get underwater it feels like I am home in a way: beams of light filtering through the towering stands of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) on a sunny day still take my breath away (figuratively speaking). The long, flowing schools of baitfish and hefty bat rays are wonderful to behold. San Clemente Island is owned and managed by the U.S. Navy, and at times we have seen Naval jets scream just overhead as the pilots show off to the earth-bound boats below. I have often wished I could join one of those pilots so that I could see my favorite island from the air, to see it in its entirety. I finally got a chance to do that. I recently took a survey flight up the coast with a pilot friend and photographer friend and we decided to fly out to the islands. After passing by Catalina Island we looked over the waters on the weather side of San Clemente Island, from Castle Rock at the northwest end to Pyramid Cove at the southeast end. What a great day!

Kelp beds adorn the coastline of San Clemente Island, aerial photograph, Macrocystis pyrifera

Kelp beds adorn the coastline of San Clemente Island, aerial photograph
Image ID: 25984
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Catalina Island Aerial Photograph

Aerial Photography, California, Catalina

Aerial photograph of Catalina Island

I was very fortunate recently to have the opportunity to fly over Catalina Island, and was able to take a few photographs of the West End of the island. Growing up in Newport Beach I used to visit Catalina fairly often as a kid, and as an adult I have been diving around most of the island, but I have only seen Catalina clearly from the air a few times. Catalina Island is one of California’s jewels. It is one of the Channel Islands and shares the rugged Mediterranean appearance of its siblings. Santa Catalina Island (as it is properly known) lies less than 20 miles offshore from the Los Angeles area at its closest point. Catalina is 22 miles long and reaches of height of 2,079′ at its summit. Seen here is the west end of the island. The brown patches just offshore of the island are the upper reaches of “kelp beds”, or submarine kelp forests, which are some of the most beautiful marine habitats anywhere in the world and a major attraction at Catalina Island. Eagle Rock is seen next to the largest kelp bed (for the curious: here’s a photo underwater at Eagle Rock)

Aerial photo of the West End of Catalina Island

Aerial photo of the West End of Catalina Island
Image ID: 25978
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Interesting fact: down there on somewhere on the West End lives a family of bald eagles whose nest can be observed by webcam.