Since moving to Kauai last year, I have been trying to allocate my time by doing only things that I like doing while spending time with people I enjoy being around. Seems pretty simple, right? So, when your oldest photo buddy starts pumping you for information about photographing wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert State Park after a very wet winter, why not jump on a plane back to the mainland and join him? That is exactly what I did 2 weeks ago. I had been aware that California had a very wet winter and started reading about the predicted super bloom. Apparently, so did every one else, because even though we were only there for 3 days in the middle of the week, Borrego Springs was totally crazy packed with visitors. Fortunately, most other photographers aspire for the “best” light around noon time, which meant that the parking before sunrise was not a problem for us. I photographed this beautiful display of wildflowers near the visitor center on the one morning there were clouds in the sky.
I just returned from spending a fantastic week in the Bay Area of California. During my visit, I gave 4 presentations about my photography to excited audiences every night from Berkeley to Monterrey. I also finally had the opportunity to meet in person and spend time with many talented and amazing photography friends who I have only known online.
I also brought my remote controlled hexacopters with me in order to do some flying. The above abstract aerial image is from my second attempt at flying over the marshes located in the south Bay near Facebook’s headquarters. I spent one morning last week flying with my friend and acclaimed photographer QT Luong, but realized that I needed to return at low tide. So, on Sunday afternoon I returned with my old college roommate and new friend and gifted photographer Patrick Smith. It was a bit breezy during my second visit, but I got my copter up in the air right at low tide in order to frame up this beautiful composition. I am not yet sure where I am going with this new style of photography, but I am passionate about merging technology and art. To me, it is not just about the cool, gee-whiz factor of building and flying “drones”, but rather using them like any other creative tool to produce extraordinary images.
One of my sea otter images is on the cover of the February 2013 issue of Ranger Rick Jr! I created this image while visiting Moss Landing in California in 2008 with my friend Phil Colla. We had a great time together photographing the sea otters at sunset several days in a row. Unlike Alaska sea otters, the Moss Landing otters are used to seeing people and are easily photographed from a boat with a local guide. If you’ve never been, I encourage you to go. Bring your kids since the otters are so cute, unless of course a male gets ahold of a female and tries to mate with her. Ouch! Let’s just say that I would not want to be a female sea otter. I created this image with my Canon 50D and 400mm f4 DO IS lens and processed the image using whatever version of Aperture and Photoshop was available at that time.
I just returned from leading a private photography tour in Death Valley National Park. I’ve spent a lot of time in this dramatic but desolate park the last few years, so it was nice to return to a place that I know so well. It was especially nice seeing the sun while missing the lousy weather back home in Seattle. I did not take a lot of photos during this trip because the shooting conditions never got epic, plus my attention was focused on working with my clients. What is important is that they had a great time and learned a lot from me. Most of my photography tours are done on a private basis, and include as much instruction as I can cram into a trip. The cost of working with me is higher per person compared to an instructor who leads a dozen people at a time, but my clients have me all to themselves. Please consider working with me if you are interested in pushing your photography to a new level.
This image is my favorite from the trip. My regular readers and fans might wonder, “why is this not some epic-light, wide-angle shot from some far off destination like Jon typically shoots?” I occasionally photograph abstract details and patterns, but they never sell or license compared to the “bigger” images that I am know for. Even though the clouds did not light up as I had hoped for at sunset, I used the twilight glow to add some red color to this intricate mosaic pattern of mud. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkII body and Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE lens. It required minimal processing using Aperture 3.
My latest article “Desert Song” is featured in the March 2011 issue of Popular Photography! The article gives suggestions for photographing California desert locations including Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Death Valley National Park, the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve, and San Elijo State Beach, all of which are best photographed this time of year. The article is 6 pages long and showcases 6 of my images, including the double page opener of wildflowers in bloom from Anza Borrego. I created this image almost exactly 2 years ago. This was first trip using a digital camera to photograph landscapes rather than with my beloved Pentax 67II medium format film camera. I used my Canon 5DmkII body, Canon 17-40mm f4 lens, and Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer. It required minimal processing using Aperture 2. I also clearly remember signing up for Twitter during that trip at the urging of my client-friend, Mark Teskey. Wow! That seems like a lifetime ago back in the social media dark ages.
Since I won’t be visiting the desert this spring, I won’t be able to offer my own wildflower reports, however, you can read about the latest conditions by visiting the Desert USA Wildlflower Report.
I haven’t been out shooting this last month, just home editing photos, updating my website, completing submissions, and taking care of my family. I think that a lot of people think that I am always gone, but that is not the case. I spend almost 40% of each year traveling, but that still means that I am in Seattle with my family over 60% of the year. Since I work at home, I don’t leave my neighborhood, let alone my house all that often. I have enjoyed my recent time at home, but I am looking forward to flying to Iceland this weekend and creating incredible images!
Since I don’t have any brand-spanking-new images to share, I decided to post this dramatic sunset image that I created last January in Death Valley National Park. While exploring the sand dunes north of Stovepipe Wells, I was drawn to photograph these delicate mud-sand textures. This was one of those sunsets where nothing exciting happened until 15 minutes after the sun went down and the clouds brilliantly lit up neon pink. I know better than to put away my camera gear while there is still light left in the sky. Dramatic images like this are my reward for sticking out an otherwise unproductive afternoon.
During my recent trip to Death Valley National Park, I visited the Eureka Dunes. At over 600′ tall, these dunes are the tallest in California. They are located almost 100 miles due north of Furnace Creek, requiring either a 40 mile off-road drive or 160 mile circuitous route around the park to the northwest. After soliciting advice from the park rangers, I decided to try the off-road option since the road was reportedly dry and in good condition. There were a few washboard sections, but nothing as difficult as my previous drives to the Racetrack. When I finally arrived at the dunes, I was impressed by their girth. If you’ve visited the Mesquite Dunes, imagine them piled on top of each other until they blocked out the horizon. I was daunted by their size, but since the sunset was approaching, I grabbed my camera gear and headed straight up. I probably climbed about 2/3 of the way up to the top, but once I surveyed the massive ridge patterns to the north, I went back down and headed towards them. As the sunlight turned golden yellow and the shadows began to elongate, I settled on this image beneath the summit. After the sun sank below the mountains to the west, I hiked for 45 minute back to my truck, and then drove for over 2 hours back to my camping trailer. It was a long day, but worth the effort.
During my recent visit to Death Valley National Park, I created this image Mesquite Sand Dunes Sunset 3. Because they are close to the road, the dunes get a lot of foot traffic and are usually covered in un-photogenic tracks. However, several days of strong wind had blow away any footprints and created razor sharp edges on the dunes. When I began my hike, the wind was still howling. I stood for over an hour in the maelstrom being sand blasted, but the winds ceased 20 minutes before sunset. The conditions serendipitously came together to create this beautiful image. You can watch my iPhone video from this shoot here.
I want to thank California photographer Steve Sieren for camping with me last month in Joshua Tree National Park & for sharing his location advice about photographing desert wildflowers near the Ibex Dunes in Death Valley National Park. Following his advice, I drove 90 miles from where I set up my camp at Furnace Creek down to the southeastern corner of the park where the dunes are located. After a short 4wd excursion from the highway, I parked my truck and hiked for 45 minutes towards the dunes. I’ve been working with a lot of photo tour clients the past few months, so it was refreshing to experience such a fantastic location by myself. The sand verbena was in full bloom so I composed this image and waited for the exquisite light of sunset to capture the moment. If you want to photograph sand dunes without a ton of people & tracks on them, keep the Ibex Dunes in mind.
I prefer shooting wildflowers still and sharp rather than a blur in a maelstrom. After waiting patiently for the wind to stop blowing in Death Valley National Park, I was rewarded with this scene (on April 13th) of desert sunflowers and purple phacelia framing the Panamint Range at firstlight. Internet reports heralded an unusually lush bloom this year. This information proved accurate. Anyone who has the opportunity should head to Death Valley this week before the heat dries out the spectacular display.