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Photo(s) of the Month–November

Friday, November 4th, 2011

I think this is the first time since beginning this blog I’ve broken from my Photo of the Month tradition.  Its not really for lack of wanting.  The truth is, I have had trouble deciding on just one image.

Instead I’ve decided to share a few new images that I’ve been working on, all with a common theme:  long exposure.   In the right situation, a long exposure provides extra time for either the camera to move, or elements within the frame to move (like clouds or water), adding unique drama to a scene.

First, I recently purchased an 8-stop neutral density filter.   I’ve wanted one for quite a while, after seeing some great long exposure work from other photographers.  Mac Danzig has a great tutorial/informational blog post on them here.  I waited for a stormy morning with dramatic skies to try it out at a local beach, with some great rock formations.  The rock in the second image reminds me of a molar from a Pleistocene-epoch carnivore…

Stormy morning at Little Corona Beach, Newport Beach, California

Stormy morning, November 2011

A clearing storm at Little Corona Beach, Newport Beach, California

The sea's jaws, November 2011

In addition to letting the scene move, interesting effects can also be achieved by moving the camera while the shutter is open.  Zoom blurs have become more popular over the last few years, but I added another element.  In addition to zooming the lens during the exposure, I also rotated the camera.  The subject I chose to try this out on is California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum); I have always loved the fall color palette of this plant, but haven’t been able to make an image of I like.  Finally, with this technique–although it won’t appeal to everyone–I feel like I’ve gotten the colors to blend in a way that’s appealing to me.

An abstract image of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum)

Hallucination I, October 2011


An abstract image of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum)

Hallucination II, October 2011

Looking out my window, I think autumn may have finally come to southern California!  I hope you have a great November; in the U.S. its a time we give thanks for many things–what are you thankful for this month?


Photo of the Month–June

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

In a previous blog post about the San Bernardino Mountains, a local range here in southern California, the comment section filled up with people who believe in finding the beauty in your own backyard, so to speak.  For this month’s image, I chose another from this range, because it represents the happiness of finding something quite unexpected and very photogenic, right in your own backyard.

A few weeks ago, we were driving to the mountains to attend a party my wife’s boss was throwing.  Due to a couple of wrong turns on the way up there, I noticed more and more Pacific Dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii) that were in full bloom.  I’m well aware of the huge flux of photographers into Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park for the spring Dogwood bloom, but I had no idea they bloomed so close to my home.

The next morning, a friend and I headed back to the mountains to spend some time with these lovely flowers.

Pacific Dogwoods near Crestline California, in the San Bernardino Mountains

In Bloom, May 2011

Also, I wanted to mention that I’ve put up a gallery of some of my images from the San Bernardino Mountains (click the image, or here).  It really is a pleasing mountain range that continues to surprise me.

Magnolia Blossoms

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

The neighbor’s magnolia tree hangs into our backyard, and the flowers are in bloom right now.  I’ve been looking at the flowers for a few days trying to figure out how to make an image of these flowers that will really make them pop.  Above the tree are some rather unattractive utility lines and the density of other trees makes for a not-so-clean background, from any angle.

Inspired by several of William Neill’s outstanding flower images made in a home studio (see some of my favorites here, here, and here), I decided to take a few branch clippings and try it myself in my garage.

The real challenge was mounting the clippings; I used “C-clamps” and a step ladder to stagger the branches on the left, and another clamp on a spare tripod for the branch on the right.  I used a piece of white foam core to bounce the my flash for some side lighting.

These blooms are from a ‘Japanese Magnolia’ (Magnolia liliiflora), which is different from the species that’s much more common to North America.

Image of Magnolia Blossoms made in a home studio

Magnolia Blossoms, January 2011

Mariposa Lilies

Friday, May 28th, 2010

A friend of mine told me about a small patch of Mariposa lilies that are currently blooming in the local foothills.  Mariposa lilies are fairly widespread throughout western North America, and can be white, yellow, purple, bluish, or streaked.  Regardless of the species, they are magnificent little flowers.  In our “local” patch, there are two species blooming, Palmer’s Mariposa lily (Calochortus palmerii), and the desert Mariposa lily (C. kennedyi).  Over the last few days, we’ve visited this patch a couple of times, hoping to find non-windy conditions; despite the spring gusts in southern California’s high desert, I managed to get some decent shots.  Hope you enjoy them!

Palmer's Mariposa Lily

Palmer's Mariposa Lily (C. palmerii)

Desert Mariposa Lily

Desert Mariposa Lily (C. kennedyi)

To see all of my Mariposa lily images, visit my new Mariposa lily page here.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Today is a great day to be outside with your mother, thanking her for all she’s done for you over the years.  I’d particularly like to thank my own mother, for always supporting my dreams, and my wife Stephanie for being a fantastic mother to our son, and wife to me.

Hope your day is a fantastic one!

These are some portraits I took of the irises I got my wife for Mother’s Day.  I took them in our kitchen, and of course Owen had to help…enjoy!

portrait of an iris on a black background

Mother's Day Iris I

portrait of iris on black background

Mother's Day Iris II

Helping Dad prep for Mother's Day

Inland Southern California wildflower observations

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

The rain that has been falling in southern California for the last few months has done a great job of greening up our hillsides.  Driving from the Inland Empire to Orange County regularly for work has given me a good chance to look for wildflowers, and today my son and I took a drive south to Lake Elsinore.  Here are some observations for these areas.

  • The northern end of the Santa Ana Mountains along the 91 Freeway and through the northern part of the 241 Tollroad are very green, and clusters of poppies are starting to appear on the hillsides, although getting to them will take some work as the hills are steep, and they’re high on the slopes (although they like are accessible via Gypsum Canyon Rd).  From the summit of the 241 Tollroad through Irvine on the 261, lupine are going crazy along the road cuts.  While there are a lot of flowers, photographing them may be challenging, as there is a freeway within about 5 yards of the flower patches.  Nevertheless, there are lots of lupine right now.  If you continue into southern Irvine on the 241, there seems to be less flowers.
  • Driving south on the 15 Freeway through Lake Elsinore, there are very few poppies to speak of.  Off of Lake Street, there is some color starting to appear, but further south off of Railroad Canyon road, there are few, if any, poppies blooming.  I have heard there are a few more poppies off of El Toro Rd. (exit the 15 at Nichols), but still pretty lackluster so far this year.

Our average temperatures have been as much at 10 degrees below normal, and this very well is what could be causing the lackluster showing so far this year.  The temperature is slated to warm up beginning tomorrow, so I would think that if the poppies et al. are going to make an appearance this year, we would see it in the next 2-3 weeks.

California poppies near Lake Elsinore California

California poppies near Lake Elsinore, March 2008

Chocolate and flowers, reinvented

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner; its a perfect day to reconnect and to remind each other what you mean to one another.

One of the most popular gifts on Valentine’s Day is chocolate and flowers.  These are both a tried and true tradition on February 14, however, despite the giver’s best intentions, neither gift will last for very long.  This year, I suggest you put a new twist on the traditional chocolate and flowers, and give my Chocolate Lily print to your loved one.

Chocolate Lilies

Chocolate Lilies, April 2009

Chocolate lilies are a widespread but relatively uncommon plant in several places along the Pacific coast.  I photographed these flowers last spring at one of their strongholds, the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, in the southern Santa Ana Mountains, near Murrieta California.

From now through February 14, I’m offering this print at a 30% discount.  All other floral photography is 20% off.

And, if you’re wondering, my wife already has this print hanging in our house.

Another shot from The Huntington

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

In addition to the captivating structures I wrote about earlier, The Huntington Library and Garden near Pasadena, CA is a very well kept botanic garden.  Many of the plants are exotic ornamentals, with collections from Mexico, South America and South Africa, among many others.  One of my favorite gardens is the Desert Garden, because of the bright cactus blooms, and the sensuous lines of the the agave.   Here’s another shot of an agave from The Huntington:

Agave, San Marino, CA, April 2009

Throwing image sharpness out the window

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

As photographers, we strive to make the sharpest, most crisp images we can.  We spend thousands of dollars on the best lenses to help us achieve this, and there are many websites and articles devoted to helping make images very sharp (examples here, here, and here).  However, sometimes it can be fun to make images that aren’t sharp at all.

Last spring, we were enjoying a beautiful spring afternoon at the Huntington Library, near Pasadena, California, and I was completely drawn in by the bamboo groves that they have:

Bamboo, April 2009

I really like this image, but when you have to stay on the path, your compositional choices are pretty limited!  That said, the vertical lines (and long exposure times) gave me a great idea: vertical pan blurs:

Bamboo pan blur, April 2009

This gives the scene a completely different feeling.  Not to sound too dark, but for me this image conveys an almost “nightmarish” feel–one of running away from something through the woods.  What does it evoke for you?

Another example of “alternative” techniques is when I was shooting lupine on a freeway offramp near San Diego this spring:

Lupine, San Diego County, CA, March 2009

This time, leaving the camera on my tripod, I zoomed in as I exposed the frame:

Lupine zoom blur, San Diego County, CA, March 2009

This shot has a very “smashing” feel to it.  It also screams, “Don’t look at me right after eating lunch!”  I guess it might be a bit vertigo-inducing…

My point is that abstract nature can be just as fun to shoot, and just as evocative, as the sharp, crisp nature.

Incidentally, I saw a magazine spread once of shots like this, but they were all taken by people tripping the shutter, then tossing their camera into the air.  Anyone who played basketball with me in the 4th grade knows I should NOT be doing that with my digital SLR.  However, if you’re a little more confident in your skills, then go for it!

Santa Rosa Plateau, part 2

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Yesterday I blogged about the Santa Rosa Plateau, and shared some poppies.  Today’s photo is of another flower, only a much rarer one: the chocolate lily:

Chocolate lilies, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, 2009

This is an uncommon lily, and the Santa Rosa Plateau is just about the southern tip of its range.  Each spring, people start hiking the plateau in hopes of finding blooming lilies.  Because of its dark appearance, it has earned the nickname “Cleopatra of the Fritillaries”.

I really like this shot, not only because of the composition and lighting (I love the soft backlighting and highlighting on the edges of the blooms), but also because we found these lilies after a hot day of hiking, and it felt good to sit in the shade of an oak tree, enjoying the day.