Eastern Sierra Fall Colors Peaking Now in Mono County

Eastern Sierra landscape photography

Mono County fall colors are peaking now!

If you’ve been waiting to head to the Eastern Sierra for fall colors, wait no longer!  These photos were all taken yesterday afternoon.  The spectacular color could last through the weekend, but maybe not: the forecast warns that Thursday could bring stormy weather that might knock a few leaves down before the weekend.

West Walker River in October

West Walker River October 15

Topaz Lake Cottonwood Trees

Topaz Lake October 15

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Photograph the Moon Rise at Sunset Tonight, October 4, 2017

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve: Super Moon Rise

The moon will rise shortly before sunset tonight, providing a perfect opportunity to photograph the moon near the horizon at sunset.  Here are 38 degrees north it’ll rise about 15 minutes before sunset, and be about 1.6 degrees high, or three moon widths, above a zero-degree horizon at sunset.

Mono Lake Moonrise (Re-edit)

About ten minutes later as you may start to see the earth’s shadow rise above the horizon, its blue color contrasting against the adjacent pink-orange last light of the sun in the “belt of Venus” effect, the moon will be about 3.5 degrees high, seven moon widths.

Super Moon Reflection

In apps such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris and PhotoPills you can fine tune the times and moon direction and elevation for any shooting spot you might want to plan for.  Plan well enough, and you can anticipate compositions that place the moon reflecting in lakes, or beside or just over natural or man-made landmarks.

Moon Rise Behind Half Dome

Similar opportunities present themselves on the opposite horizon with the moon set at sunrise, so look at your favorite astrophotography app and start planning! You can combine opportunities, such as catching a moon coming out of eclipse, as it sets behind a nearby ridge.

Partially Eclipsed Moon Setting, October 8, 2014

Or place the moon on a man-made structure like the tip of the Transamerica building in San Francisco.  I started shooting this sequence of images about 15 minutes ahead of time to show how the placement of the moon can be accurately planned in advance, and rendering the images as a time-lapse video lets you see the entire sequence:

Plan to Shoot the April 14/15 2014 Lunar Eclipse: Example Landing on the Transamerica Pyramid
As calculated, the moon ends up centered on the tip of the pyramid!

For a discussion of advanced considerations, read the article, “I’ve planned my supermoon eclipse shot: what could possibly go wrong?

For a bonus on the tomorrow morning, I see in my SkyWeek+ app that the planets moonVenus and Mars will be within 1/4 degree of each other before dawn on October 5.  The StarWalk+ app shows me that they will be rising by about 5:10 am roughly due east.  Photograph them on and close to the horizon, then conditions should continue to improve improve by around 6 am as they’re rising out of the thicker air and haze close to the horizon.  At that point they are still low enough to be captured in landscape shots as the oncoming twilight increasingly illuminates the landscape.  The sun rises close to 7 am, so they may fade as the sky brightens, and Mars in particular may be long gone by 6:30 am.

Venus Jupiter Moon Conjunction

You never know what you might come up with.  A while back I shot the moon with Jupiter and Venus rising nearby, and my photo was used in an article by astronomer Don Olson of the University of Texas, in an article in the August issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine!

I haven’t looked up the phase that Venus is in, but if you have a strong enough lens, youc an see that it’s illuminated in a crescent phase.

Multi-Colored UFO?

The first step is to anticipate and plan for some great opportunities with the moon and/or planets. Then get out there and shoot! Tonight at sunset and tomorrow before dawn offer you a couple of good ones to start with. You never know what you might discover!

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5 incredible stargazing spots in California’s Eastern Sierra

stargazing locations

Night photography locations in California’s Eastern Sierra

Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News for using several of my photos to illustrate their article on viewing the night sky in the Eastern Sierra!

Here’s another location covered in the story.

For the rest, read the article at the San Jose Mercury News:

5 incredible stargazing spots in California’s Eastern Sierra
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/03/5-incredible-stargazing-spots/
by Jackie Burrell

#astrophotography #astronomy #nightphotography #easternsierra

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Solar Eclipse Road Trip, Here We Come!

Solar eclipse photography

Solar eclipse October 2014

I can’t wait to get on the road to shoot the Great American Eclipse!

The path of the moon’s shadow, where the total eclipse will be visible, goes right across the United States.  If you’re not directly in that path a partial eclipse will be visible if you have proper viewing glasses that block the most harmful wavelengths of light.  But people who have experienced totality say there’s nothing quite like it, and you should get to the path if you can.

So where should you go?  Bear in mind that totality lasts 2-3 minutes, so if you have multiple routes to take, weather can be a consideration.  The site GreatAmericanEclipse has suggested ten of the better spots across the country.  They also have state by state maps showing the path of the eclipse across the country, with lines to show the approximate duration of totality depending upon where in that path you are.

Sky and Telescope Magazine suggests a similar Top 10 Places to View the Solar Eclipse.  Another map by Xavier Jubier has superimposed the path of the earth’s shadow on an interactive Google map in case you want to find a place a little less promoted.

Crowds are expected to be record-breaking along the path of the solar eclipse coming up August 21.  Many areas are trying to implement temporary traffic control plans in the narrow path of the moon’s shadow.  I hear that even porta-potty rentals are in short supply as communities try to cope with the crowds.  Fortunately I’ll be bringing my own facilities with me!

You may thank that Jackson, Wyoming sounds like an attractive place to catch the eclipse, but the sun will be south, not west towards the Tetons when the eclipse peaks.  The Jackson Hole Astronomy Club did extensive research with local meteorologists on data from the 2005 – 2015 and determined that just about anywhere else within a 3 mile driving radius had better odds of clear weather.  I’ll be staying near there, but eclipse day is expected to be the busiest day ever for the area, so traffic jams and parking issues could seriously affect viewing plans, and I have plans to exit the area if the crowds look too daunting or the weather forecast turns bad.

If that all sounds like too much risk or hassle to be worth the trip, no problem, there’s a tool that can help you determine how much of an eclipse will be visible wherever you are on that day.

Thank you +Capital Ford for getting the +Ford Motor Company-remanufactured engine into my Ford F-350 truck ASAP so we can stake our claim to a great shooting location!  As of August 4 it’s not going to be back in time to leave this weekend, but they assure me that it’ll be done by Monday or Tuesday.  Fingers crossed!
I’ll make a separate post on viewing and photography, including some of the products I’ve bought for the trip.

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Conditions for Our 2016 Eastern Sierra Spring Workshop Next Week

My early May blog post on spring Eastern Sierra conditions contained a collection of possible outcomes and opportunities for spring.  I’ve been out a few times since then, checking the emergence status of various wildflowers, the water level at Mono Lake tufa sites (and their muddiness, since they form over springs), unpaved road access conditions, snow levels and lake iceout conditions around Tioga Pass, pond water levels and reflection opportunities in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, bird and wildlife photography opportunities, and so on.

 

Wildflowers vary in intensity and timing from year to year, which is why I do these scouting trips before the workshop, and not while dragging customers around.  Even knowing where various species can be prolific, checking the current year’s status and timing involves many less than fully productive searches.  Wild iris seemed to be a bit behind in timing.  Mules ears have been starting to emerge over the past 2 weeks, and could peak in the next week or two.  The few days of clearer, warmer weather in the forecast early next week could help them along.  Paintbrush was doing well at low elevations but it is too early to tell how prolific it’ll be at mid to high altitudes.  Lupine were healthy in some areas and should still be available for another week or more a lower altitudes, and emerging at mid altitudes.  Wild peach has been strong, and yellow bitterbrush has bloomed as enthusiastically as many local residents can remember (one even mentioned that this native must be a new invasive species), but the peak is now past for both.  Isolated patches offered a variety of other species, sometimes dense, but you really have to search for them.  I’ll be back out over the next few days to see if some of the patches have increased in intensity, enough to warrant a visit during the upcoming workshop.

All of the photos in this post are from May 2016

The weather has been unsettled, great for daytime photography as but less conducive for many types of night photography.  That’s pretty typical for May, which is one reason why I only ran a couple of Bodie night photography workshops then, but currently focus more on June and later.

Some locations are on the wet and muddy side, not unsurprising for spring, but certainly good to know before you show up for a sunrise or sunset and can’t access the compositions that you might have enjoyed in the past, in summer, fall, or simply a drier year.  In other cases, a site might be more dependent upon long term trends, and the long term drought continues to provide cracked earth foregrounds.  If you’re shooting in one basin and the weather and light looks like it might be better 25 miles north or south, you can save an hour of driving if you know that the site that you have in mind isn’t in great condition that week.  Conversely, you can make your day, week or month if you know that a site is in great shape, and you arrive to find great light to complement the site’s full potential.  A good workshop is made great when you can “connect the dots” to consistently arrive at a series of good sites, in great seasonal condition, offering optimal lighting, while reacting to the day’s weather conditions.  There are no guarantees in landscape photography, and that’s part of what makes it exciting, but scouting trips do resolve what would otherwise be unknowns in the mix, increasing the odds of everything coming together just right.

A quick iPhone snapshot is good enough to record conditions, break out the DSLR upon returning in better light

The somewhat early opening of Tioga Pass is not surprising given a fairly dry month of February and the winter’s overall normal to low snowpack (93% in the Mammoth lakes area, closer to 100% north of Tioga Pass).  It has re-closed at times as moisture causes afternoon and evening storms, but it’s open again now.  Lakes are in various stages of losing their ice.  Tenaya Lake was clear by the time the pass opened, Ellery may be completely clear now, Tioga was mostly frozen last week, so it may still hold some ice into next week.  The terrain is complicated up in that area, so having spent many sunrises and sunsets up in that area is important to knowing what is likely to be productive, vs. a bust.

Tuolumne Meadows currently offers a lot of seasonal ponds.  Determining ahead of time which of them provide decent compositions at current water levels helps keep the workshop moving efficiently.  Many workshop leaders spend a lot of time and money marketing, and do a great job filling their workshops.  Good for them.  I prefer to spend my time in the field, develop extensive site and condition knowledge, and over time earn the reputation for delivering great opportunities and results.

It’s important to me for my knowledge to include photographic technique and post-processing skill.  Anyone can apply a filter in post-processing software or use a certain technique to make a landscape look wacky, and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that, it it’s the style someone chooses, rather than is trapped into through less than optimal exposure technique or lack of alternate post-processing workflow options.  Getting through the end-to-end digital photographic process with realistic results is like walking a tightrope: bay far the easiest thing to do is to fall off.  There are subtle things you can do all along the way to optimize results.  You don’t need the latest camera or software, it’s more about fine tuning the various steps.

Backlit storm clouds at night

Ansel Adams produced timeless results by producing heavily manipulated but seamlessly realistic results, while popular trends included hand-tinting photographs to add color.  Most of us don’t know the names of his contemporaries today.  No doubt Ansel could have had great commercial success producing those colorized postcards, but any era’s hot trends can look cartoonish years later, out of the unique social context of the time.  We’re not immune from that today: I have over-saturated digital photos from the mid-2000s, tonemapped HDRs from the late 2000s, and I’ve dabbled with luminance masking, color light painting, and lately software filters.  I gravitate more realistic results, and for the experiments with various trends, I’m gradually re-processing many of the more over-the-top post processing results.  It’s useful to try a range of things to settle on your own preferred style, and to continue to try new things for variety and to see if you want to broaden your options for post-processing any given scene in the future.  So I want to maintain a broad enough collection of experiences to be prepared to help photographers who want to expand their own skills.

While the goal of my pre-workshop explorations are mainly to visit locations to assess conditions, it’ll be a fun challenge to line up the sites for great light and weather during the workshop next week.

iPhone 6S+ panorama

With the storms in the past weeks I haven’t been out for night photography as much as I would like, but we should have a great time in Bodie June 4/5, and I hope to be out a few times in the coming nights to assess a few new locations as well.

Starry Night over Bodie Church

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Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop in June: What’s in Store?

Eastern Sierra landscape photography workshops

Eastern Sierra wildflowers, late May

“The Traveler sees what he sees. The Tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

North Peak Sunset AlpenglowUpdate 1, May 31: Tioga Pass opened in Mid-May, so we can include Yosemite”s Tioga Pass area in our workshops starting this Thursday.  I’ve already been up there three times in the past couple of weeks to assess and monitor conditions.

Update 2, May 31: One of my customers has asked to extend the workshop with a few days in Yosemite Valley, so we’re adding June 6, 7, and 8 next week to the schedule!

The first week of June is amazing for the Eastern Sierra for so many reasons. Some snow remains on the Sierra Nevada (and possibly the White Mountains) to catch alpenglow, and there can be a fresh snowfall around the end of May to refresh that surface. Several species of wildflowers are starting to bloom, profusely in some areas.

This year the new moon and Milky Way shooting timing coincides with this week, and we have the possibility of a late spring storm from the northwest for interesting sunrises and sunsets, or warmer monsoon moisture from the Baja coast that could bring dramatic afternoon clouds, showers and rainbows, or evening thunderstorms.

I used to be nervous about the thunderstorms interfering with night photography, but I’ve learned through experience in Bodie and the surrounding area that convection-driven storms tend to break up or blow east by the time the sky is fully dark around 10/10:20, so they’re really just bonuses for sunset and twilight shooting, even when rain showers interfere locally for an hour or so (and even then they often give way to rainbows).

We’ll start with a sunrise on Thursday, pursue wildflowers and weather during the day, have an early dinner, and head back out for sunset at Mono Lake.
Entering the Earth's Shadow

We’ll pick from a number of spots for Milky Way shooting, and arrive by the time it’s fully dark at 10:07, when the galactic center of the Milky Way has already risen 6 degrees, perfect for placing it in our compositions.

Mono Lake Milky Way Panorama

Friday we’ll catch sunrise at Mono Lake before the weekend crowds arrive, shoot different wildflowers, maybe explore some interesting geology or head up to Tioga Pass if its open for snowier views. Another sunset spot, More night photography, and turn in not too late since most of us are continuing on to Bodie the following night, and Bodie interiors the following morning.

Storm Over Mono LakeWorkshops take me out of the field as I work on permits, itineraries, write descriptions, set up payment / registration buttons, and I perform a some kind of marketing to get them seen, if only a mention or two on social media. I’m not going for volume, and I personally lead all of my workshops, so they are designed to place you in a stunning place, in a peak season, as the exact best time.

Eastern Sierra Mules EarsI have to be efficient and pack as much opportunity as I can into my time in the field. Every day has the sun rising and setting. Some weeks have wildflowers. Fall colors may be peaking in a given location for only a few days to a week. The Milky Way is available during a few weeks of the year, a moon rise at sunset or moon set at sunrise about a dozen times each. So I am careful to hold my workshops in a prime season, and I then select the most likely peak days and times, including astronomical considerations.

Along Yosemite's Tioga Pass Road

Tioga Pass Road sunset reflection, May 2016

Plans are all well and good; I frequently plan something as simple as a sunset moon rise composition weeks in advance.  But landscape photography is about light, so if you’re on a workshop, you want a leader have enough depth in detailed regional knowledge to be ready to ditch all plans and react to the weather and light if there’s more potential 20 or 30 miles from where you are.  So leave the tourists behind who are stuck to their fixed agenda, and rather than a traveler who reacts to the weather and looks for a place to shoot it, you can travel with a local who knows the opportunities in every direction, and anticipates the conditions before you pick the next destination and hop in the car to arrive there just in time.

Sunset Rain Clouds Over Mono LakeEarly June in the Eastern Sierra offers an annual convergence of so many factors which could make photography conditions stunning.  Photography is more fun shared, so I can’t wait, and all the better that I get to share all of this bounty with old and new friends!

Spring is Coming to the High Sierra!

Most of the participants are returning customers, but we have room for one or two more if anyone’s interested!

Bodie's Standard Mill

Milky Way Arch Over Standard Mill

Connect with me in all of the usual places for photographers: Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+YouTube, 500px, Tumblr, or my Web site.

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Shell Creek Road Wildflowers

Shell Creek Road is a rural road running north – south
between CA – 58 and CA – 46, passing pastures and rolling hills that can feature wildflowers in late March through April. There are also agricultural fields which can have symmetric lines for photographs, as well as a large vineyard with both old and young vines. The old vines are probably the ones which yield the excellent the Shell Creek Vineyard reserve petite sirah produced by David Bruce Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Shell Creek Road can be a convenient detour to take when approaching Carrizo Plain National Monument from the north, or departing Carrizo Plain in the direction of Paso Robles. The wildflowers are more concentrated towards the southern 6 miles or so.

Directions

From Paso Robles at US-101, take CA-46 east 15.6 miles and turn right onto CA-41 West Centre street.  Go 2.8 miles and turn right onto Toby Way.  After 0.3 miles on Toby Way turn right onto San Juan Road.  After 4.5 miles turn right onto Shell Creek Road.  You’ll be on Shell Creek Road 10.7 miles, ending at CA-58.

To continue to Carrizo Plain National Monument, travel east on CA-58 24.2 miles, turn right on Soda Lake Road and travel 13.7 miles.

There’s a creek at the north end of the road which can flow over the road after a heavy rain, and this can close the road. When I last visited, there was a car in the creek, just downstream of where it had washed off of the road. Don’t underestimate how deep the water is, or how little force it might take to push your vehicle off the road!

For more information on the area, I cover Shell Creek Road on page 177 of my “Photographing California Vol. 2 South” landscape photography guidebook.

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California Wildflower Sites: Antelope Valley

The Mojave Desert in April

Goldfields and California poppies mix with Joshua trees in Antelope Valley

One of my favorite photography road trips ever was a tour of California wildflower sites in the spring, including Antelope Valley and the California State Poppy Reserve, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area in the +Los Padres National Forest, and the area covered by the annual Ridgecrest Wildflower Festival in the Eastern Sierra. I posted on my blog at the time some of my favorite photos from the Antelope Valley, but I have a little more time now to take a second pass and show you more of what I saw.

I’m considering taking that route again this year, so reviewing past trips and refreshing my memory on what to stop in on and check can be productive. I’ve also looked up the wildflower report at the California State Poppy Reserve, which posted this update on Saturday, April 2:

“The season appears to have ended early, as last month’s rains came too late to sustain the bloom that had barely started. The fields are mostly grasses now; only a handful of poppies are blooming alongside the trails. The beavertail cactus in front of the visitor center is blooming, which usually happens after the season has ended- a sign that an early summer is on the way.”

An early start to summer should not be entirely unexpected, given the record El Nino heat in the Pacific Ocean driving our weather pattern in recent months. It’s a shame though that it didn’t bring enough rain at the right time to deliver a bumper crop of wildflowers in the Antelope Valley. The Antelope Valley is large though, and there may be dispersed pockets where enough rain fell, perhaps with a northern exposure to minimize drying during the gap in winter storms in February. Much of the area is in the Mojave Desert ecosystem, where Joshua trees serve as gerat subjects, with or without wildflowers.

In any case, many other areas of Southern California desert are blooming with normal to above normal intensity, so if I decide to take the trip, the conditions in the Antelope Valley won’t make or break the outcome.

So while I have my photos handy, here are a few more photos from the Antelope Valley area on that prior trip, and I’ll sprinkle a few across my various social media accounts as well.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve often starts its wildflower reports in mid-March to keep visitors updated on the conditions as they peak at some point through April. The area celebrates the annual bloom at the California Poppy Festival.  This year the 25th California Poppy Festival will be held April 16-17, 2016.

For more information, I cover the Antelope Valley California State Poppy Reserve and other sites to visit on an April California wildflower tour on page 184 of my new 320-page guidebook, Photographing California Vol. 2 – South (shown to the right).

Road to Nowhere

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Death Valley Wildflower Workshop This Week

Ashford Mill to Jubilee Pass
With modest enrollment, the participants have elected to make this a camping-based trip, so we can stay closer to where we want to shoot, and pursue night shots as well.  We’ll also have the flexibility to follow the latest wildflower reports, the unfolding weather, and the discoveries we make along the way.  

Desert Gold February 2016This is probably the best wildflower season in the last decade, with the added bonus of water on Badwater salt flats (as of a couple of days ago) for sunrise reflections.  I just passed through the park 2 weeks ago and I’ve been following updated wildflower reports, so I have a good idea from those and from past years where to go.

When we get tired of wildflowers and Badwater reflections, if that’s possible, they want me to show them a slot canyon and sand dunes that most park visitors don’t visit or see.  We’ll pursue a little night photography as well, and I have some good ideas on what we might want to do for that.
Temporary Inland Sea

This Spring in Death Valley album shows approximately what we might cover this week, with the most relevant being the first 50-60, up to the red fire truck and red Fiat: https://plus.google.com/photos/107459220492917008623/albums/5831194499079947137

Dune Lines

Although we’ll be camping, we’ll often be only 30 to 60 minuted from Furnace Creek or Shoshone to access a meal or shower.  We’ll have camp stoves for some meals and I’ll bring wood, steaks, etc. and cook over a fire Tuesday or Wednesday night.

It’s going to be a fun week!
http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/blog/death-valley-photography-workshop-2013/

Revisting an Old Friend

Desert Gold and Sand Verbena

Milky Way over Devil's Cornfield

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Top 10 Travel Photos: 2014

Milky Way rising behind the Standard Mill in Bodie, California

Continuing the retrospective look at my last decade of travel and landscape photography, 2006 – 2015, here are some of my favorites from 2014.

Sierra Crest Sunset Layers
The Minarets and Sierra Nevada at sunset
Snowy Day at Mono Lake
Mono Lake tufa rock formations selectively lit by the sun
Bodie Sunset Re-edit with HDR
Sunset in Bodie State Historic Park, California
SUCCESS!
NASA’s Orion EFT-1 launch at Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Sunrise Yesterday Morning
There’s no place like home.  A rock sheep enclosure at sunrise, Topaz Lake (on the California/Nevada border).
Revisting an Old Friend
One of the Death Valley slot canyons disclosed in my “Photographing California – South” guidebook
Partially Eclipsed Moon Setting, October 8, 2014
Moon setting over the Sierra Nevada, while emerging from the earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse!
Wild Mustangs
Wild mustangs in the Eastern Sierra

Bristlecone Pine
Playing with depth of field in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (iPhone 5S)

This was a selection of a few of my favorites from an album of over 45 photos from 2013, so there are many more that you might prefer over these. To see more of them, click on the link or album photo below.

More of my favorite photos from 2014:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffreysullivan/albums/72157650285822751

2014 Favorites
#landscapephotography #travelphotography #photography #top10

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