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Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA
Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA
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I've become obsessed with palm tree pictures over the past couple years. I'm not sure why exactly; I've never really had strong thoughts about them one way or the other. But having grown up in Orange County, CA, they've been ever-present in my life. Perhaps they've burned into my psyche as a symbol of home and my childhood, kind of like the smell of mom's home cooking.

Thinking about this recent obsession two things come to mind. The first is an interesting tidbit that a good photographer friend of mine told me. He said that nature photographers typically organize their work by terrain - coastal photos, mountain photos, desert photos, etc. But that's not really what artists do. Artists often pick a subject to do "studies" on. They'll spend time focusing on a single subject or topic and really dissect it to get to the juicy meat. This subject might even consume their work for years. Just look at Andy Warhol and his Campbell's soup cans. So rather than avoiding this obsession in the interest of pursuing variety (as a younger Nick might have done), I'm letting this obsession guide much of my work. I'm letting my obsession play itself out until I feel a natural urge to move on. I'm trying to roll with it rather than fight it.

The second thing that comes to mind is a quote from the great Annie Leibovitz:

"I’ve said about a million times that the best thing a young photographer can do is to stay close to home... Discover what it means to be close to your work, to be intimate with a subject... Of course there are many good photographs that have nothing to do with staying close to home, and I guess what I’m really saying is that you should take pictures of something that has meaning for you…"

- Annie Leibovitz

Ms. Leibovitz here is not speaking of home in the literal sense, I don't believe. She's talking about working with subjects that mean something to you, subjects you can be intimate with. As a life-long resident of Orange County, palm trees are a subject I can really sink my teeth into because they are everywhere you look. And as I mentioned above, palms trees are meaningful to me in what they represent: home, growing up, building my career, and many fond memories of trips to Palm Springs, CA. To put it simply, palm trees have been a regular companion to many of my most important life events. They've often towered above me like gentle guardians as I've experienced the major milestones and memories in my life. I suppose that makes them worth obsessing over.

But beyond my own personal connection with palm trees there's something else I love about them. Palm trees embody the "dream" of Southern California. Think of every cheesy movie you've seen where the small-town girl with big dreams risks it all to come out to Hollywood in hopes of making it big. The first thing they cut to in the movie when she's finally made it to the city is a row of palm trees with the crisp California sun beating down on them. Palms trees and the Hollywood sign are the most basic symbols of "California Dreamin'."

And there's a special dichotomy with palm trees. On one hand they represent this ambition to reach greater heights, make it big, and find that elusive fame. While on the other hand, palm trees are a typical token of relaxation, vacation, and a slower pace of life. These palm trees with their unmistakable silhouette simultaneously represent ambition and taking it easy. I don't think you could make the same claim of the pine tree.

That California Dream doesn't speak to everyone and I'm not even saying it's a real thing, but what it represents is awfully romantic, isn't it?


Technical Notes:

All of the palm tree pictures shown here were made on 6x17 film with a Shen-Hao TFC-617A camera at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, CA. The color photos were made on Fuji Velvia 100 film and the black and white photos were made on Ilford Delta 100 film. The black and white photos are part of The Palms Collection - a series I've been working on using multiple-exposure techniques to capture that "California Dreamin'" vibe. You can view more of The Palms Collection here.

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Palm Tree Pictures from Laguna Beach, CA

Fog at the Quail Hill Trailhead in Irvine

Fog at Quail Hill Trailhead, Irvine, CAFog at Quail Hill Trailhead, Irvine, CA
Fuji Velvia 100 film, Shen Hao TFC 617-A camera
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I should probably move to Northern California, because I'm in love with fog. Waking up to that enveloping haze gets me all excited, like I'm seeing my lovely lady for the first time after months apart. And it should come as no surprise that I love fog. After all, I'm in love with clouds, and fog is nothing more than a cloud coming down to our level to say "hello." But we just don't get enough fog down here in Southern California, and when we do, it doesn't stick around long.

Oh, Fog, you're such a tease. Always playing hard to get.

Luckily for me, my muse - Fog - paid me a visit recently. She popped in to greet me several mornings in a row last week. Maybe she knew Valentine's Day was just around the corner. She wanted to surprise me. That's so cute. She knows me so well...

On Friday of last week, I seized the opportunity to spend some quality time with Fog. I woke up before dawn and packed up my panoramic camera, drowsily loaded up my truck, and headed to an old photographic stomping ground: Quail Hill Trailhead in Irvine. I fired off 3 rolls of Fuji Velvia 100 film over the course of a few hours, playing entirely with compositions involving dirt roads vanishing into the mist. The whole beauty of fog, after all, is the layers and depth she creates. With a road winding into the distance, I was able to show this layered effect.

Things didn't go well when I first arrived. I couldn't find a composition that worked, I felt rushed, I began to feel frustrated. It had been so long since Fog and I last spoke that it was just...awkward. But soon she'd be gone, and if I didn't turn on my A-game I'd have nothing to show for it. I was blowing my chance with Fog! Then, after taking the time to get reacquainted with each other, I finally found my groove and it was just like old times.

Quail Hill right now is beautifully lush from the rains this winter and I've been spending a lot of time lately at Quail Hill and the Irvine Open Space Preserve trying to capture this verdant landscape. Fog, though, mutes colors and casts a blue tinge over everything. The green was strong enough to show through, but it definitely takes on a different hue under these conditions. I actually dig the bluish color cast and muted tones for these shots. I think it captures the solitude and moodiness better than warm tones would.

Well, after this rendezvous with Fog, she fled town like she always does. I'm sure she's off playing with some other photographer's emotions up north, making him feel like the most important guy in the world until she wads him up and throws him in the garbage like a used tissue. I should break it off with Fog, tell her it's over and I'm done with her teasing me like this. But who am I kidding? I'll be waiting by the window with camera in-hand until she finds her way back to town.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

Fog at Quail Hill Trailhead, Irvine, CA

Fog at Quail Hill Trailhead, Irvine, CA

Fog at Quail Hill Trailhead, Irvine, CA

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs - Fuji Velvia 100 Film
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This past September I had plans to visit Cabo San Lucas for a week with my family. We'd been looking forward to it for months. We're pretty much all self-employed which means no paid time off, which also means we take very few week-long vacations. We were counting down the days, getting our passports ready, buying new swimsuits...the whole nine yards. Then the morning of departure rolled around. Our flight was cancelled. Turns out Cabo San Lucas was about to be pummeled by Hurrican Odile.

Thank God we didn't fly out a day earlier.

At first, we were all pretty upset. A cancelled vacation is nothing to complain about when the residents down there were about to lose everything, but the morning of, we had no idea how serious the hurricane would turn out to be. Since this hurricane hadn't even been forecasted in the weather reports we saw, we assumed the airlines were just being overly cautious. Once we saw the destruction the hurricane brought later that week, we counted our lucky stars for avoiding it.

With our week wide open and all of us itching to put on our swimsuits, we quickly scrambled for a plan B.

Flying anywhere was off the table - tickets would be outrageously expensive. That left locations within about 6 hours drive of Orange County. San Francisco would have been nice, but just a tad too far away. Santa Barbara was suggested, but a few of us quickly vetoed that. Santa Barbara is pretty, but it wouldn't feel like much of a vacation compared to Orange County. Orange County is just an artificial Santa Barbara anyway. I literally live in an apartment complex in OC with "Santa Barbara style architecture" stated in its leasing literature.

Then I remembered something I'd been wanting to try for months. I'd heard you can rent retro 60's-era houses in Palm Springs, CA complete with Mad Men style furniture and a private pool. I'd looked into it before, but hadn't yet found the time or money to do it. This Cabo cancellation was the perfect opportunity. Ah yes, Jack Daniels and Sinatra by a private pool - it was starting to sound better than Cabo.

With iPad and iPhone in hand, I spent the morning finding just the right Palm Springs retro rental property for our group of 8. We found the perfect place with Oasis Rentals (www.oasisrentals.com) called "Tangerine Modern." Five bedrooms, a spacious layout, and floor-to-ceiling windows opening up to the coolest backyard I've ever seen - yeah, this would do.

Needless to say, we had a hell of a time. It was a much-needed break from the daily grind. The September Palm Springs heat was stifling, but the crystalline waters in our backyard provided all the relief we craved.

The sunrises in Palm Springs are gorgeous. The clear desert air provides little barrier for the sun to paint the palm trees and mountains with its golden light. I wanted to sleep in on my vacation, but I just couldn't let that morning light slip past me without breaking out the camera. So on one of the mornings, I got up in the wee hours (when it was already pushing 90 degrees outside) and snapped some shots around the neighborhood. The suburban setting at my feet meant I couldn't do my typical landscapes with foreground and background, so instead I opted to focus my lens up on the trees and mountain above. Fuji Velvia 100 film brought out the colors like only Velvia can.

So the moral of the story, I suppose, is that a cancelled vacation is not worth getting upset about when an entire town is looking down the barrel of destruction. When you get hit with a first-world problem, just come up with a plan B and thank God you aren't dealing with a real problem - like a hurricane.

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs

Sunrise in Palm Springs