Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011

2011 hasn't been the most productive year for me, photography-wise. But at least I have a valid reason.

After having sat out the housing market craziness of the mid-2000's, my wife and I seriously began looking to buy a house last May. We spent literally every weekend from May through the end of summer looking at house after house before we finally found the right place.

We finally moved in in the middle of November, and of course the holidays began right after that. So although it was time well spent, I have done precious little photography work in the past six months. And it shows, financially!

But we are very happy in our new home, and I'll upload some decent photos of our new home as soon as I getting around to taking some.

I promise that 2012 will be much more productive photographically, if just so that I can make our mortgage payment!

Thanks for reading, and I hope everyone has a wonderful 2012!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mendocino Wine Country

Last June I had the opportunity to visit the Anderson Valley for some vineyard photography. I won't deny that I did some wine tasting as well, but I tried to focus on the photography. Really.

Even though it was late June, the weather was wet and rainy for most of the trip, which actually worked out extremely well. I was able to get some photos with a very cool season feel to them.

Goldeneye Vineyards, Anderson Valley
Goldeneye Vineyards, Anderson Valley

Goldeneye Vineyards, Anderson Valley
Goldeneye Vineyards, Anderson Valley

Vineyards, Anderson Valley
Vineyards in the rain, Anderson Valley

Vineyards, Anderson Valley 
A wintery summer's day in the Anderson Valley

One of my favorite spots on the trip was the road to Lazy Creek Winery. The lush forest with beautiful moss covered trees was a stunning subject, and I spent several hours exploring the photographic possibilities of a couple of hundred yards of road.

Road to Lazy Creek Winery, Anderson Valley
Road to Lazy Creek Winery, Anderson Valley

Road to Lazy Creek Winery, Anderson Valley
Road to Lazy Creek Winery, Anderson Valley

Road to Lazy Creek Winery, Anderson Valley 
Road to Lazy Creek Winery, Anderson Valley

 I also took the opportunity to hike through the old growth redwood groves at Hendy Woods State Park. There were some beautiful trails, and of course, I took my camera along.

Path Through Hendy Woods State Park, Anderson Valley
Path in Hendy Woods State Park

Overall, it was a productive and enjoyable trip. Though it was a business trip, I managed to get in some personal photography - and wine tasting - as well. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Running Ahead of the Storm

This has been a very unusual May for northern California, especially the Sacramento Valley.

While it isn't completely unusual to have rain and cool weather, it is usual to have almost daily thunderstorms, and it's extremely unusual to have tornadoes - both of which we've had.

In a single week, we had 4 severe thunderstorms pass over Chico, including three tornadoes just south of town that made the national news and damaged a number of orchards. One night we had nickel-sized hail fill our back yard.

The frequent storms and cool, cloudy weather have thwarted most of my attempts to do any landscape photography in the past month or so, but last Saturday I was determined to get out no matter what the weather.

Of course, a major thunder cell emerged from the north as I headed into the field and began to move south down the valley. Though I had originally intended to head north, once I saw this huge stormfront, I turned around and ran south to stay ahead of the storm.

The Coming Storm

Unfortunately, the storm caught up to me right as the sun was setting. I was hoping to get some 'God rays' - beams of sunlight through the clouds - as the sun set, but the cloud thickened up too much for that.

Sunset ahead of the storm

However, I did get a few colorful sunset images over the rice fields before the storm closed in and dumped buckets of water.

Sunset ahead of the storm

All in all, it was a fun shoot, and I always enjoy extreme weather.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Endless Spring of Wildflowers

...or so it seems! We've been blessed with a wonderful and long lasting wildflower bloom this year, as you can tell from this post and this post and this post.

Before the spring comes to a complete end, I thought I'd publish at least one more post featuring wildflowers from the foothills surrounding the Sacramento Valley.

Triteleia laxa
Triteleia laxa at Black Butte Lake

Royal Larkspur
Royal Larkspur (delphinium variegatum) at Black Butte Lake

Black Butte Lake is a reliable place to go for larkspurs, lupines and triteleia, and this year was no exception.

While Lupine near Newville
White Lupine on Newville Road

A surprise for me this year, was Clark Valley Road, west of Willows. There were wildflowers of all varieties, easily accessible all along the road. Next year, I'm going back there without a doubt.

White Lupine
White Lupine on Clarks Valley Road

White Lupine
White Lupine on Clarks Valley Road

Monday, May 16, 2011

More Spring in the Foothills

We've been blessed this year with a long luxurious spring, due mostly to the heavy winter rains and the moderate temperatures (that will change soon, I'm sure).

Rows of Hills
Hills on Newville Road.

It has given me plenty of opportunities to get out to the west side of the Sacramento Valley, to remote and obscure places like Newville, Paskenta, and Sites, to capture the beauty of the foothills in spring. The green that lasted so long this year is rapidly fading, turning rapidly into the 'California gold' that is both dull and beautiful at the same time.

Oaks on the Hills
Oaks near Newville

Newville Road
Newville Road

Oak Tree on Hills near Newville.
Oak tree against the hills

But spring isn't quite done yet, and I'll have more photos before it's done!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

More Spring Wildflowers

This long, cool spring weather has made it a good year for wildflowers. Though we haven't had the intense blooms of some years, where flowers carpet acres upon acres of land, we have had a nice long bloom, that has given us the opportunity to enjoy the wildflowers longer than usual.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out looking for flowers to photograph, and found both a nice field of poppies and a some beautiful iris's to photograph. All of them were shot using off-camera flash to provide a bit more dramatic lighting. Enjoy!

California Poppies
California Poppies, north of Chico

California Poppies

California Poppies

Shasta Iris
Shasta Iris, on Honey Run Road.

Shasta Iris

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Dramatic Sunset - Sort Of

A few days back we had a cloudy, sprinkly day. As late afternoon approached, the clouds began to break up a bit and interesting formations began to form.

Clouds at Sunset - Sacramento Valley

I resisted heading out to try to capture the sunset, the better part of me thinking the clouds would wash out any chance of interesting sunset light. But another part of me felt that there might be a slim chance of something interesting. So I relented, and headed out into the Valley.

Eventually, I ended up near Capay, northeast of Orland, at the edge of a grassy field, with an open view to the west. I sat in my car for about 20 minutes waiting for something to happen. Right after sunset, I saw some color begin to appear in the clouds, so I quickly set up my camera despite the sprinkles of rain coming down.

I managed to capture one good image of the sunlight glowing through the clouds before the light quickly died. I'd say the light appeared in the clouds for less than five minutes.

Was it worth the drive for this one image? That's hard to say, but it's always worth the effort to go out shooting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring in the Foothills

I think I blog about this every year, but one of my absolute favorite areas to  do landscape photography - and one of the most beautiful areas of California, in my humble opinion - is the rolling foothills on the west side of the Sacramento Valley at the foot of the inner Coast Range.

Hills near Paskenta

Rolling oak-dotted hills at the foot of the Coast Range near Paskenta.

The rolling, oak-dotted hills are a reminder of a California now mostly gone - except in this forgotten corner of the state. I'm not completely sure why this strip of hills, that extends from Capay Valley in the south almost all the way up to Redding in the north, is so unpopulated, but it's very hot and dry in summer here, and water might be a limiting factor.

I visit this area every year, and every year I see something new, something that catches my eye photographically.

Hills near Paskenta
Near Paskenta

Hills near Paskenta
Near Paskenta

Hills near Red Banks
Near Red Banks

Hills near Paskenta
Near Paskenta

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Wildflowers on Table Mountain

Owl's Clover and Lupine - Table Mountain

This year, I've tried to make time to get out and photograph the spring wildflowers. I've driven down to Bear Valley in Colusa County (a great wildflower spot), but nothing was going on down there wildflower-wise. I've been up to the Vina Plains, but not much is happening there - at least yet. And I've been to Table Mountain (one of the best locations for wildflowers in northern California) twice so far this year (once was to conduct a workshop).

And so far, Table Mountain has been the best spot for wildflowers.

So here's a set of photos from my most recent trip. I've been spending a lot of time working using flash for wildflower photos, and virtually all of these images use at least some flash. In some of the images, virtually all of the light come from flash.


Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus) - Table Mountain
Yellow Monkeyflower

Lupines and Poppies - Table Mountain
Lupine and Poppies

Owl's Clover - Table Mountain
Owl's Clover

Albino Lupine - Table Mountain
Unusual albino Lupine

Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus) - Table Mountain
Yellow Monkeyflower

Owl's Clover - Table Mountain
Owl's Clover

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Midnight Poppies in Broad Daylight

California Poppies

Last month I attended the Flash Bus seminar in San Francisco, put on by David Hobby (of Strobist fame) and Joe McNally. In addition, I've been reading Syl Arena's wonderful Speedliter's Handbook.

All of these gave me some ideas about how to creatively light wildflowers (and a lot of other things as well).

So, since it is wildflower season, I headed into the field on a lightly overcast day to try it out.

To start, here's the location I was shooting, properly exposed:
Location of Poppy Shots

As you can see, light overcast with no hard shadows. The sun actually came and went during the shoot.

I brought along the following equipment (for any gearheads out there):
  • Canon 5D Mark II
  • Canon 17-40mm lens
  • Canon 580EX flash
  • Canon 430EX flash
  • 2 - PocketWizard FlexTT5s
  • PocketWizard MiniTT1
  • PocketWizard AC3 Zone controller
  • Lumiquest Softbox 3
  • Interfit Strobies softbox
  • 2 - Small light stands
I set up the two lights with PocketWizards on the light stands around a bunch of poppies and attached the softboxes.

Lighting for Poppy Shots

To get the exposure I wanted, I metered the scene in Aperture Priority mode, then switched to Manual mode and adjusted the exposure 2-3 stops below what the meter had told me was a proper exposure. This made the scene look almost like night, with just a bit of deep blue color in the sky. The resulting exposure was around 1/2000th of a second at f/7.1 at ISO 100.

I turned on the flashes and PocketWizards and set the flashes to high speed sync. That's the critical part here, since you have to use such a high shutter speed to made the scene dark enough to work. Without setting the flashes to high speed sync, you can't use a shutter speed faster than at 1/250 (Syl Arena explains all of this with perfect clarity in his book).

Then I sat down on the ground, set my 17-40mm lens at 40mm and held it down at or below the level of the flowers. Since I wasn't looking through the viewfinder, I had to take a lot of random shots to get compositions that I  liked.

All in all, an amazingly simple and effective technique to give fresh, dramatic lighting to an overdone subject.

Thanks to Syl Arena for his book and wonderfully clear explanations that made me think, 'hey, I could do that with wildflowers!'

California Poppies

California Poppies

California Poppies

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Food is People" Photography Project

This post is adapted from an email I sent to Colleen Cecil of the Butte County Farm Bureau regarding a photography project that's been brewing in my head for quite awhile now. I figured that this is as good a time as any to make that idea public...

I've been photographing farms and crops in the Sacramento Valley, both for personal pleasure and commercially, for the past 9 years. In the past couple of years, I've started photographing food as well. If you are one of the people who read this blog, you know most of that.

But I've never focused on photographing the people who run those farms or produce those crops that result in the food we eat. For me, that's a crucial element that is missing - both from my work as a photographer, and from the story I feel I can tell through my work. People grow food. I think we (non-farmers anyway) find it all too easy to forget that fact when all we see are piles of fruit and vegetables in the grocery store.

I've wanted to find a way to show that food is people (well, OK, not in the creepy Soylent Green sense) through my photography. I finally have come up with an idea for a project. I have no idea how it will be received, or even if it will be any good. But the idea is this: I want to create images (not just snapshots) of farmers in their environment and use those images - with text - to tell a bit of their story, the story of how food is people.

Essentially, I want to put a face on the food we all eat. I want people to realize that there are people, farmers and families behind every single thing we eat, even if we never see their faces or know their names.

It's still not completely cast in stone in my mind what the final form of this project will take. I'm planning (as a photographer, of course) to focus more on the images than the text, but I think that images alone can only tell part of the story. Certainly, I would be publishing the images and stories in this blog - and to our food blog. Some of the images might end up on my main website. Ultimately, it might end up as a gallery exhibition or hopefully a book. But right now, I'm just looking for farmers who are willing to work with a photographer and tell a bit of their story.

However, I'll warn any farmer considering participating that the reality of this project will be some idiot non-farmer coming out, asking a lot of dumb questions, setting up lights, and wasting huge amounts of your time fiddling with them to get the 'perfect shot', before he drives off not to be seen again until harvest time when you're honestly too busy to stand around waiting for him to fiddle with his stupid lights again.

Even I don't have a lot of patience for other photographers, but it's really a thankless profession despite all you hear about super models and trips to exotic locations. The most exciting model I've ever shot was a rack of lamb (for me, that's pretty exciting). And as for exotic locations... well, I did get to spend three days in gorgeous Modesto on a shoot last year. So, yeah, I guess photography is a pretty darned exciting profession.

Anyway, I apologize for that in advance, but it is a bit time consuming to get a truly expressive shot, and for some people it can take a while to develop the kind of relationship where you are comfortable having your photo taken. I understand that, and that's fine. At the very least, I'll get to know some cool farmers.

If you are a farmer (preferably within a reasonable distance of Chico, CA) that would like to waste your time with a photographer fiddling with his lights, I'd love to hear from you. If you don't have the patience for it, maybe you know a farmer who does, so please forward a link to this post to them.

I feel blessed to live in one of the most agriculturally productive (and let's face it, beautiful) areas in the world, and I hope that this project can be a small way of giving back to an area that gives us so much.

I'll close with my two favorite all time photos of farmland in the Sacramento Valley, both of rice fields...

Rice Harvest near Marysville

Monday, March 14, 2011

Snow Geese at Llano Seco Unit - Sacramento River National Wildlife Reserve

These images are part of the aerial shoot I did on February 26th. I'm still working my way through the over 1100 photos I took.

On our way across the valley toward Orland, we came across huge flocks of snow geese. I didn't realize it at the time, but they were in the Llano Seco Unit of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge. We circled above the geese for several minutes and I was able to get a number of fantastic images.

Snow Geese Over Llano Seco Wildlife Reserve
This is my favorite aerial photo of the geese - so far. Many more images to go through.

Snow Geese Over Llano Seco Wildlife Reserve
The geese were numberless when they took flight. It was breath-taking.

Snow Geese Over Llano Seco Wildlife Reserve
The flocks of snow geese were huge!

Snow Geese Over Llano Seco Wildlife Reserve
This is a nice 'close up' - we had to stay high enough to avoid potential collisions!

Snow Geese Over Llano Seco Wildlife Reserve
Snow geese flying over an island at Llano Seco

Snow Geese in Flight from the Air
Snow geese as seen from above - I love this image too

There are many more photos of the snow geese at Llano Seco still to be processed. I'm sure there will be another post in the next couple of weeks!