Archive for January, 2012

Sparks Of Light – 1/30/2012

Advancements in the material world would never have occurred had it not been for fire. And yet the final abode, in the spiritual world, of the mischief makers of the material world is in the Fire. I am sure there is a connection there somewhere.

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Just Another Day In The Park

As I started to write this post, about two weeks ago, nearly a third of winter had passed and barely a drop of rain had fallen here in California. This is troubling because if it does not rain in the low lands it is not going to be snowing in the high country. While the rain is important, its the snow pack in the higher elevations that fill our water reservoirs and keep the perennial creeks and rivers flowing. This year it has snowed once or twice leaving behind a negligible amount of snow on the ground.

The high country of the Sierra Nevada is normally unreachable by this time into winter by virtue of the hundreds of inches of snow that block roads and by the continuous storms that make snow plowing a futile effort. This year however, a new record has been set for the Tioga Road remaining open into winter. The previous record of January 1st set in 2006 has been put to rest and it has extended late into January.  This strange winter has also created an interesting and fairly unique opportunity to photograph places and events in the high country in winter normally not accessible.

Full Moon

Full Moon

The full moon this month fell on January 8th.  The full moon always rises as the sun is setting and this is a very nice time to add the moon to the landscape in photos.  Actually its better to make a photo with the rising moon a day or two before the moon is full due to the contrast variation between the land and moon at sunset.  On the day of the full moon, the sky and land will have darkened sufficiently such that to photograph both in a single exposure and retain detail in both the land and moon is nearly impossible.  However, the moon lags the sun by 45 to 50 minutes each day, so the day before the full moon the moon will rise about 45 minutes before sunset giving the opportunity to photograph the rising moon with sufficient light on the land as well.

The other interesting fact is that in January, the full moon rises just to the right of Half Dome in Yosemite when viewed from locations near Glacier Point.  In a normal winter, reaching Glacier Point is a monumental task as one has to either ski or snow shoe in for miles.  Not something that is done very often.  However this year the roads in the high country are still open, the full moon was rising, and access to these locations was incredibly easy.  Put all three of these circumstances together and you have the possibility for some interesting photo opportunities.

Knowing this, I presented the scenario to my 4 assistants two days before the full moon to hear there opinions on a one day excursion to the Yosemite High Country where we would hike in to the top of Sentinel Dome, a location west of Half Dome, like Glacier Point, but about 800 feet higher in elevation to see and photograph the rising full moon over Half Dome.  The consensus was a resounding yes!  So we started making plans for the trip, what we would need to bring, who would carry what and planned out our timetable.  We would leave on Saturday no later than 10 am, giving us enough time to reach the trail head and make the short 1.2 mile hike to the top of Sentinel Dome with enough time to set up the cameras.  Mind you, our youngest companion is only 5 years old.

I planned on making a couple of panoramic photos, one using the DSLR and one using the large format camera.  So rather than having to switch out cameras on one tripod, I opted to bring two tripods.  I would carry one and my oldest assistant, 14 years old would carry the second, along with extra water and food.  My second assistant, 12 years old, would carry extra warm clothing, water and some food.  The other two assistants, kept the hike lively.

Needless to say, we missed our departure deadline by one hour.  This cut into the schedule in a not so serious way as long as we did not have to make to many stops along the way…however we did, twice for bathroom breaks and once for gas.  As we made our way up the west side of the Sierra Nevada the absence of snow was very apparent and brought nothing but disappointment to my four assistants who secretly were hoping to find snow everywhere, after all it was winter.  Once we did reach an elevation of about 6000 feet we started seeing remnant ice fields from some snow storms in late autumn that have now turned into giant fields of frozen snow.  However to the occupants of a moving car, it looked white, it was on the ground, it had to be snow and the beseeching started. “Please!, Please!. Pleeeaseeeee!!….stop! we’ll do anything, Pleeaseeee!”  Icy patch after icy patch, the crescendo of pleading increased.  We finally reached the trail head at an elevation of about 7700 ft at around 3pm.  We still had close to one hour to reach the summit, I thought we were in good shape.

As soon as the assistants saw the ice fields they rushed to them with all abandon. It only took about 4 slips of the feet out from under them to realize it really was not snow and they came back with both their heads on straight and eyes on the prize of summitting Sentinel Dome.  This ate about 30 minutes of time before we were out on the trail.  The trail to Sentinel Dome is not a difficult one.  Elevation gain is only about 350 feet and it only gets steep once we reach the final ascent on the north side of the dome.  Along the trail there are two locations where Sentinel Dome can be seen completely and it was at the first location that my my youngest assistant, hand in my hand, asks “what is that?”  I replied, “that is the mountain we are going to climb, we are going up to the top”.  Suddenly she says, “Baba, I’m scared”  All her intrepidness seemed to vanish into thin air.  I reassured her that it would be ok.  She insisted that she did not know how to climb a mountain, but I continued to reassure here that she could hold my hand the whole way up and that we were not going to “rock climb”  Somehow I felt she really did not believe me.  Just before reaching the base of the granite dome, she started to give up out of tiredness and decided to just sit there in the middle of the trail.  After a little coaxing I manage to get her to continue.  The other assistants were already ahead of us and once she saw them ascending the dome, my little one suddenly became over exuberant and started after them.

It was as if I had not existed and this mountain was nothing more than a mole hill to her.  They all charged up the dome ahead of me.  I was about 50 feet from the summit, when my second oldest came rushing back down yelling “the moon is rising, hurry take a picture!”.  It was too late of course, I had missed the rising. Rather than trying to scramble and set up the camera on the slope I continued to the top and once there set everything up.  I started with the large format camera while the moon was still relatively close to the horizon.  I set it up, focused, metered and determined the filtering needed to hold the sky back while still keeping detail in the trees now in the shadow of Sentinel Dome.  I planned on using back shifts to create a two frame panoramic.  With this technique, I would only need to focus once and as long as I did not move the rear standard forwards or back, focus would stay the same.  Once I finished with the larger camera, I switched to the DSLR.  I planned out a sweeping panorama using my 80-200 mm lens set at 80 mm.  Even at 80mm the angle of view was quite tight so it required three vertical passes.  I made 36 separate exposures, twelve in three rows.  By the time I had finished all of this, the wind had started to pick up and with it the wind chill kicked in fiercely.  The air temperature was around 40°F and with that brisk wind, possibly 15 mph, the temperature suddenly felt like it was below freezing.

Sentinel Dome and Moon Rise Panoram

Moonrise over Half Dome

My assistants started to complainof the cold and found a small impression on the dome and all huddled in it to shield themselves from the wind.  Rather than risking anyone getting really cold, I packed up and we started down just as the the light was starting to become golden in color.  I sensed that the sky was going to ignite with color however reason won out and we found ourselves on the trail and heading down hill.  Once below the tree line the wind was non-existent and everyone was happy again.  Just before reaching the trial head we crossed over a wooden foot bridge that spans over a small unnamed tributary creek that feeds into Sentinel Creek.  The creek is not more than about 10 feet wide and it was completely frozen over.  The creek was a ribbon of ice meandering through the trees, each cascade, with all its ripples and splashes, caught frozen in time. It was too much for them to bear, they just had to walk out onto it.  At first they did so with an ample amount of care, which slowly eroded away and it led them to only find themselves flat on their backs on the icy surface.  This lasted for about 5 minutes with me bellowing out loud in both laughter and admonition to come back off the ice.

We all reached our vehicle in one piece and with our spirits soaring.  We made a quick trip down to Washburn Point, where I made two more photos of little Yosemite Valley under the light of the full moon and fading dusk light and then it was down to the Valley for something warm to eat before heading home.

Washburn Point at Dusk under Moonlight

Dusk at Washburn Point

On the short trip down to the Valley, we started recounting our hike and realized that my youngest assistant suddenly became the record holder in our clan as the youngest to summit Sentinel Dome, at 5 years old.  Not to be outdone, the others started to boast of their own records.  My next youngest holds the record of most number of times to Yosemite before age one.  He in fact visited Yosemite three times before reaching the ripe old age of one year.  Then my oldest of course holds the record for longest hike as a toddler, 4.5 miles at the age of 4 years.  My second oldest holds the record for many things in our clan none of which are for our outdoor escapades.

We arrived home just over 13 hours from the time we left.  We spent about as much time at 8000 feet as we would have on any of our local outings and yet somehow it was not just another day in the park.  We accomplished something great together, as a unit, and discovered things about ourselves and shared an experience, laughter, and each other.  I think we fell in love that day, with each other, with Sentinel Dome, and with Mother Earth.  I don’t know about  my assistants, but to me I feel like every step we took that day forged a stronger bond between the five of us, a bond, God Willing, that will hold us together for many moons to come. It also has seemed to light a desire in us that keeps calling us back to the mountains.

I encourage all of you to go out and do something epic with someone you want to get close to, as epic as you dare, or perhaps maybe even just with Mother Earth. She just might show you the time of your life and lasso your heart.



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Sparks Of Light – 1/5/12

We were created with our eyes looking forward, looking into the future, not to sides to dwell where we are nor behind to live in the past.

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Heart Of Hearts Wins 2nd Honorable Mention

Heart Of Hearts 2nd Honorable Mention Award Winning Photo

Heart Of Hearts

This photo was made at the end of October.  I was photographing this colorful frosted edge Cottonwood leaf on a cold autumn morning in Yosemite National Park on the outskirts of a small Cottonwood grove along the Merced river.  It was a cold chilly morning and the leaves were still delicately frosted on the leaf face and along the edges.  I still use my old manual focus lenses from my 35mm film camera days, but now on a DSLR.  One of my favorite lenses is the 80-200mm fixed f/4 lens.  It has a single focusing ring and to zoom in  and out the barrel is move in and out respectively.  As I was working the camera was pointed directly down at the leaf.  As I was metering the leaf, I kept seeing the leaf size changing as the lens’ barrel kept sliding down changing the focal length.  Suddenly an idea hit me.  What would happen if zoomed in or out during the exposure.  I closed down the aperture to its smallest setting which gave me the longest shutter I could muster.  I started the exposure with the lens zoomed in to 200 mm and then about 1/3 of the way through the exposure I quickly zoomed out to 80mm and allowed the exposure to finish.  I must have made over 20 attempts to get both the zoomed out and zoomed in leaf well defined in the photo.  This one was my favorite.  My reflection about this photo is below.

Making photographs is an enigma to most when asked why the take photos, or at least it might spark some introspection. Photography, writing with light, is something that might be rooted deep in the need for us to share our experiences with others. It might also be rooted in the need to feel connected to what the photograph was taken of. It could also be rooted in the need to hold on to those things we find dear to our heart. When we look into our heart of hearts we just might find that photography fulfills all of these needs, regardless of what we photograph. In fact, even if the image is never really captured due to the absence of film or other capture media, the very act of tripping a shutter to trap the brief moment of light might be all that is needed to find fulfillment, reward and connection to the things that we love.

Heart Of Hearts has just been announced as the 2nd Honorable Mention on the NPN (Nature Photographers.Net) Editors Pick Awards 2011.  You can see it on the NPN website HERE.

Heart Of Hearts is available for orders on the Organic Light Photography website at this link, HERE


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Organic Light Photography Best Of 2011

It was a strange year of photography for me.  It seemed like I hardly got out at all, but the number of photographs made this past year speak to the contrary.  It was difficult narrowing down all the photos to just these favorites.  The other thing I noticed was that I did not update the website as I normally do, unfortunately time just did not allow for it.  I will try to do better this coming year.  So without any further delay, enjoy my favorite images from 2011.  And don’t forget to visit the website to see the other photos from the year in the “new images” section, HERE

Number 1:

I think by far my most favorite photograph of the year is The Gathering.  It was a whole family effort and it brings back a great memory of my four children, uh assistants, and I stomping around in the surf at the coast gathering and placing all these amazing rocks.  And I did not think I would even make a photo that day as the coast was completely socked in with a thick fog that never lifted.  ‘The Gathering’ has also been a big hit in the art show exhibit as well.  I am hoping for great things with this photo.

The Gathering Ano Nuevo State Reserve

The Gathering

Number 2:

I started out the year in a real funk.  I was having a very hard time “seeing”.  I went out one warm, we’re talking like 70 degrees warm, yeah California is strange, February day to the coast with my four assistants to play in the sand.  I wandered the beach while the assistants did what they do best, play.  I soon became enamored with patterns in the sand and started to work.  As soon as I made this photo, my youngest got caught by a sneaker wave and even though it was warm to a dry body, her little 5 year old wet body could not handle it and started to shiver uncontrollably.  We piled whatever clothes we could on her, packed up the camera and carried our little treasure for over 1/2 mile back to the car to warm her up.  She was fine, and my vision was renewed with Treasure.



 Number 3:

There are those times when you walk upon a scene where the light is just speaking to you in a very deep way.  This was one of those times.  The light falling on this small area of fallen Black Oak leaves was something I just could not pass up.  I look forward to printing this one very large and exhibiting Final Words in the show.

Final Words

Final Words

Number 4:

There is a place along the Merced River in Yosemite National Park that brings tranquility to my heart.  Its the place I think of when I need to go to my ‘Happy Place’ and its a place that I have been photographing for years with only marginal success.  This year, the photos I made there were exceptional.  The variety of colors and shapes made me think of an Autumn Garden.

Autumn Garden

Autumn Garden

Number 5:

This past spring was lackluster at best in California, at least for me.  The one photo that I came back with was from Carizzo Plain.  It was my first multi-4×5-sheet film stitched panoramic.  It brought my computer to its knees, then running Windows XP with only 2 GB of RAM.  The final photograph opened for me some great possibilities in both size and detail in my prints.  The final photograph, Remembering Spring, can be printed out at its native resolution of 360 dpi to the size of 50 inches tall by 100 inches wide!  It can go even larger than that.  I am looking for takers.

Remembering Spring

Remembering Spring


Number 6:

I have been photographing the moon, the new crescent in particular, for the last 20 years.  I go out each and every month to find it in the sky if not to photographing it as well.  Some months the sky sings with color and vibrancy as the moon sinks slowly to the horizon.  However on this night, color was not even a question, but the atmosphere and the company, Venus shown there to the left, made up for it.  To add to the ambiance, this moon marked the beginning of the new Islamic year, 1433 AH.  This scene made Starting Anew one of my all time favorite new moon photos.

Starting Anew

Starting Anew

Number 7:

Some friends and I have a tradition where we take our kids out for several days of camping and fun in the Sierra.  Most often we find ourselves somewhere along the Yuba River.  Years ago, I found a tributary to the Yuba river which came to this lush waterfall about a mile or some up this side canyon.  Each time we camp in the area, I try to make a photograph of it.  It has taken me quite a long time, but I finally captured that waterfall to my liking.  The Long Wait was a exercise in patience.  I guess good things do come those who wait.

The Long Wait

The Long Wait

Number 8:

Acquiring wisdom is a life long effort.  The longer we live the better the chances of becoming wise as we have more chances of learning the life lessons associated with wisdom.  I am always in awe of things that portray wisdom by virtue of their age.  Desert Sage and Tufa formations impart that awe to me.  My recent visit to South Tufa Beach along the Mono Lake shore was interesting in that I found a serendipitous juxtaposition of the young crescent moon with old desert sage and ancient Tufa.  I saw myself sitting before The Tufa Sage seeking the wisdom to navigate through life.  Knowing myself and how forgetful I am, I left Mono Lake with a sprig of the desert sage that I now keep in my studio hoping that the aroma would remind me of what I learned.  My studio now reminds me daily with the scent of desert sage to be cognizant that every event in life has a lesson to be learned and waxes my wisdom just a little bit more.

The Tufa Sage Mono Lake

The Tufa Sage


These are the eight photos from this past year that meant the most to me.  I invite you all to let me know which of these  photos are your favorite.  If you would like more information about each photo, the title of each was hyperlinked to the photo on the Organic Light Photography website where you can read my reflections about the photo and possibly purchase a print for your home, office or as a gift to a friend or loved one.  I thank all of my patrons and supporters for the continued support that makes this body of work and what is to come possible.

Have a Happy, Prosperous and Peace filled New Year.

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