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Joshua Tree National Park

Back on the 29th of March, I met a student out in Joshua Tree National Park for some 1-on-1 tutoring (Hey, Kim!). The hope was to capture some wildflower photographs but the bloom wasn't quite out just yet. There were some Desert Dandelions blooming along the side of the road, but nothing amazing. So instead, I led us out to Arch Rock and then the Cholla Cactus Gardens for some shots.

I wasn't jiving too well at Arch Rock, so I didn't bring anything home from it. The light was no good and I felt like I already got the best angles of it in a previous trip (you can see one of those shots here). But the Cholla Cactus Gardens turned out to be much more fun. I started out trying to capture the sheer denseness and expansiveness of this amazing wild garden by using my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to zoom into the landscape and get some pictures that highlighted the texture, shape, form and patterns of these cacti. I positioned myself so the sun would act as backlighting, giving the cacti a nice halo.

Then I put on my Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens to capture some more intimate, abstract views of these "Teddy Bear" cacti.

Then, when sunset rolled around, I switched to my wide-angle Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L and started working some more classic landscapes.


Click for a larger version of this panoramic

As I was doing some of these shots with my camera pointing southwest, I happened to glance over my shoulder towards the east to see the most stunning view of the full moon rising over the Colorado Desert. So, in a mad dash to beat the moon before it rose too high above the horizon, I called out to Kim to point her camera towards the moonrise, I switched out my lenses, framed up a quick composition and started firing away. The lesson here is never forget to look around when you're out in the field - sometimes the best shot is behind your back.

On our way out of the park, the full moon was shining so much light on the landscape that I just didn't feel right not stopping to get some nighttime shots. The following were taken at night under moonlight. You can see the constellation Orion if you look closely. The following shot was illuminated by nothing more than moonlight.

In this last shot, the rock formation in the background was illuminated solely by moonlight, but I "painted" the Joshua Tree in the foreground with a few sweeps of my LED headlamp throughout the 20-second exposure. I think it turned out quite well if I may say so myself!

Well there you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures - I know it's a lot this time, but I just couldn't leave any more out! All in all, the trip was a blast and it was great taking my very talented student, Kim, out there to teach her a thing or two about shooting in this great park! Until next time...

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This past Saturday, I decided to check out Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in Del Mar, CA. I'd never been there before and I'd only seen a few pictures of it online, so I didn't really know what to expect. But with gorgeous weather prevailing and some free time on my hands, I figured it would be a perfect time to visit a new location for potential photo ops.

After spending the whole day there, hiking/running about 5 miles of its trails and then taking pictures through sunset, I can safely say that Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve will be one of my most frequented parks from here on out. In fact, I'd say it's going to give my favorite place to shoot in Southern California, Crystal Cove State Park, a run for its money.

Home to America's rarest pine tree (the Torrey Pine, which is only found in this park and on Santa Rosa Island off the California coast), Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has some of the most unique geology and flora of any park I've visited. As I ran through the winding, narrow trails, I felt like I was transported to someplace further north - where pine forest meets the ocean. The eroded hillsides and cliffs at the edge of the water are reminiscent of San Onofre State Park, but even more beautiful.

Wildflowers were already blooming and I'm sure this place will absolutely explode with color in the next few weeks. It was quite crowded through the first half of the day, but what do you expect when you combine such a beautiful day with such a gorgeous park? The sunset turned out to be fantastic - just as I predicted. Some great clouds drifted in just in time to give the sunset some color. I also found a Torrey Pine tree with limbs shaped in such a way that they were just begging to be photographed. I took several similar shots of it but couldn't decide which was my favorite.

Here are the rest of my shots from the day:

Well, there you have it. My pictures from my first encounter with Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. I hope you enjoyed them and expect to see more where those came from.

Another Trip to the Dunes

I took a little trip to the Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve just over a week ago to get some shots. I was lucky enough to have the company of a few good friends that are right on the same level as me as far as their willingness to exert themselves and be out late. Road trips with a few friends are infinitely better than lone-ranger trips.

It had rained earlier in the morning at the dunes, so the sand was damp - a first experience for me. It changes the look and consistency of the dunes which was both good and bad. It created some interesting patterns in the sand, but it didn't have that classic dune look that dry sand yields. Nevertheless, the scenery was amazing and the whole experience was memorable as usual.†

A very interesting sky full of billowing cumulous clouds traversed slowly overhead, casting chilly shadows over the landscape. The shadows created so much depth on the dunes and on the adjacent Granite Mountains. I got a few shots of the midday scenery, but the bulk of my attention was on getting in the right spot for sunset.

We eventually set off to climb to the peak of the dunes in preparation for sunset shots. It had been pretty windy all day, but I didn't fully grasp the power of it until we started nearing the top.†

Sand was streaming off the crests of the dunes like waves of gold. Ascending the wall of sand in the shadow side of the dune, the sand blowing off the crest glowed with the sunlight. It was a truly beautiful†phenomena†that I had never seen before. Needless to say, I had to get a ton of pictures of it in an effort to document its beauty.†

As I sat on the crest of the dune getting showered with sand (and my camera†experiencing†the same) photographing the "sand waves," I started to realize what I was really watching. I was witnessing the transformation of these dunes by the very element that created them in the first place. Sand was being moved all over the place by the ton, completely at the mercy of the wind. These dunes were changing and growing, like a living organism, right before my very eyes. It was amazing.

When sunset rolled around, I was sure to be in a good spot to snap off a few shots before darkness fell over the landscape. The light shifted from daylight to a gorgeous warm glow and then a deep purple before fading off into blackness.

On the trek down to the car in total darkness, we stopped to get some star shots. Here's a little self-portrait in front of the Milky Way.

Also, I rented a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt/Shift lens for this trip. I used it to both minimize depth of field on some shots for special effect and to maximize depth of field in others. I am officially in love with this lens.†

Overall the trip was absolutely amazing, the landscape was breathtaking and the solitude atop the dunes was magical.

Enjoy the pics.