January Reflections

All in all, a good day
I have certainly hit the ground running this year, at least in terms of photography. I decided to attempt the 2009 Photo Challenge so I’ve been taking a lot of photos. I’ve only missed one day so far, which means I’ve posted 34 photos for the challenge alone. I’ve also posted about 40+ other photos to Zooomr and Flickr. That has to be one my best months ever with about 75 photos in the month.

I’ve also been very pleased with the quality of the shots I’ve been posting, and several have received a lot of faves and views. While I’d like to think I’m growing as a photographer, I’m certain the 2009 Challenge has helped me improve. In fact, a friend is buying prints of three shots taken specifically for the 2009 Challenge. That will be my first photography sale. I’m also contributing a photo to a fund raising auction for my kids’ school later this month.

One of the high points of January was my first photowalk with Jeremy Brooks and Andrew Lighten. I was on a jury in San Francisco and Jeremy and I decided to meet up one evening. It just happened that Andrew flew into SF that day. Hanging out even for a short time with other photographers is very rewarding. Thanks guys. I’m definitely going to make more of an effort to get to other Bay Area photowalks this year.  This is one of the shots I took on that walk:
Night on the Bay

January was a good start to the year for me. I know the economy sucks and California is heading into a severe drought, but I’m looking forward to this year. And looking back, this is my favorite shot of the month:
Day 28 - Water

One final thing, I want to give a little promotion to the PhotoNetCast podcast. I’ve only recently started listening to this and have really enjoyed it. It’s entertaining and informative. I know everyone listens to TWIP, but you should also listen to PhotoNetCast. Really.

My Top 10 Photos of 2008

I hadn’t considered doing a post summing up my year in photography, but today I saw a tweet from Phill Price reminding people to submit their Top Ten to Jim M. Goldstein’s blog project. I’ve run across Jim’s blog before, but for some reason I haven’t subscribed in Google Reader. Well, that has been fixed.

I usually find it hard to pick shots I like. The shots I like are often not the ones that get the most views or faves. I went through my Zooomr photostream and picked the ones I like best that were also favorites of the Zooomr community. So here are my best shots of 2008, in no particular order:

Dreaming of Summer
Dreaming of Summer
Elk Lake, Oregon. One of my favorite places.

Seeing Stars
Seeing Stars
My wife always has fresh flowers in the house, so I get a lot of opportunities to take flower shots.

Barack Obama, plate 6
Barack Obama, plate 6
I had to include one of these shots. I was one of the highlights of the year for me, and the nation.

Return to Earth
Return to Earth
Morrison Planetarium, Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Heartland Dreams
Heartland Dreams
Somewhere near Southwick, Idaho. Another shot from our summer vacation.

What do you hold in
What do you hold in
A fence post near Petaluma, CA

Everything you want
Everything you want
Taken in Redding, CA at the Sundial Bridge. Also from the summer vacation.


Another shot of flowers in my house.

Visual Pollution
Visual Pollution
Power lines in Petaluma, CA

Petaluma, CA

The Sky We Live Under

The sky we live under
I took this for the 2008 challenge last week and posted it to Zooomr and Flickr, but haven’t had a chance to blog it yet. I also submitted it to JPG Magazine under the “Fresh” theme for Issue 16. I’d appreciate a vote if you like it.

This scene is very representative of the farmland around Petaluma at this time of year – green and yellow with a bright blue sky. Even though much of the country is still in winter, California gets to experience Spring starting in February. We’ll get some more rain before Summer, but at least we have color early. The color will fade by June and the fields will all be brown then, so I always enjoy the green while it lasts.

The irony of this shot is that the county landfill is nestled in the hills in the background. Fortunately, you can’t seen it in this shot.

This shot has a Geotag on Zooomr for those that want to know the exact location. This shot was taken as part of the 2008 Challenge at photochallenge.org.

Antoher Spring

Another Spring
It’s the end of February and Spring is in full force. In typical California fashion, a few weeks of bad weather was followed by a week of upper 60s and low 70s, so all the plants have started budding and blooming. I drove by this house kind of on accident today and had to stop to take a picture.

Even though I didn’t plan the shot, it’s perfect for the 2008 Challenge for this week because the weather has been spectacular, as it usually is in February. Our town has a lot of flowering trees and several beautiful Magnolias. This tree, in particular, is stunning and the photo just doesn’t do it justice. So, no long blog post for this one, just enjoy the weather, if you can.

I used a polarizing filter, so the sky is really dark. I did some minor contrast adjustment, but this one is pretty
much “as is”. This shot was taken as part of the 2008 Challenge at photochallenge.org. The photo is hosted on Zooomr, along with these others I shot this week.
Signs of Spring There is beauty in imperfection

Alone in this world

Alone in this world

Corner of Rohnert Park Expressway and Stony Point Road, Rohnert Park, CA.

Rohnert Park is not really in my local community, but my family does bit of shopping in Rohnert Park and we drive through it often. This particular location could have a dramatic impact on my local community, though. The land in the middle distance of this shot is slated to become a Las Vegas style casino built by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Imagine a large building with lots of blinking lights obscuring the view of the mountains in the background. For those that cherish open space the casino will be a horror. The cow pastures will be replaced with parking lots. The street I stood on to take this will likely be too busy for me feel safe standing on. Not that the view would be worth photographing if the casino gets built.

Most folks don’t want the casino, but with the casino the city will get a nice kick-back for fire and police service. I think there will also be money for schools and other organizations as well. The tribe says they have the right to develop the land, even though the local community is vehemently opposed to it. This impacts Petaluma because Petaluma is only 11 miles South, and between Rohnert Park and the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Basically, everyone coming from all points South and East will have to drive through Petaluma to get to the casino. The casino would be about 45-60 minutes from San Francisco. Well, not considering the extra traffic that will no doubt clog Highway 101.

Another concern for Petaluma is that another tribe has bought land on the southern edge of Petaluma. The tribe claims they have no plans for a casino, but residents don’t believe them. Just because they don’t have plans today doesn’t mean they won’t in the near future. If the casino gets built in Rohnert Park, Petaluma will be next. The goal of the casino developers is to buy land as close to the Bay Area as possible while paying the lowest prices. Petaluma is not cheap, but it’s not as much as Marin County or the South Bay. Our suburban town with a history in farming and agriculture will be transformed into a gambling destination. I don’t care how much money comes to the city or county, it’s not worth it. How much is your soul worth? More than a couple of casinos.

The Stop the Casino 101 Coalition has more information on how the casino will impact Sonoma County. The City of Rohnert Park also has information including environmental impact statements regarding the development.

This shot was taken as part of the 2008 Challenge at photochallenge.org. You can see where the shot was taken by viewing the Geotag on Zooomr.

Half Dome

Half Dome

Last weekend we went to Yosemite for a quick weekend trip. It had been six years since our family had been there, and our youngest had never been, so it was time. As expected, we had a great time and I got to take a lot of pictures. It’s hard not to take pictures because there are so many striking rock formations and Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Half Dome is probably the most photographed formation in the park, and for good reason. It dominates the landscape in much of Yosemite valley. It’s hard not to
take pictures of it because it is so incredible. This shot was taken near Curry Village, along the road. I’m sure millions of people have taken pictures from this location. I geotagged in on Zooomr so you can see about where I was when I took the picture.

I found the lighting to be a little tricky, probably because of the time of year and angle of the Sun. Because the mountains around the valley are so high and the Sun is so low in the southern sky, the south side of the valley is in shade most of the day. With a clear sky you can get a wide range of contrast between bright sunlight and dark shadows. You really have to make decisions about what you want to highlight – the trees and meadows or the rocks towering above. Of course, if you time things really well you can get both. As you can see, for this shot I opted to expose for the rocks, not the trees.

For anyone planning a Fall or early Winter trip, here are a few pointers:

  • El Capitan is best shot in the morning. The light from sunrise hits it perfectly. Ask a park ranger when sunrise actually happens and get there early. The sun doesn’t hit the valley floor until long after it hits the rocks.
  • The meadows near El Capitan have really cool ground fog in the morning.
  • Half Dome is best shot late in the day, when the sun hits its face. There’s a great spot along the river near the Ahwahnee Hotel.
  • There’s not a lot of water in the falls. None in Yosemite Falls, very little in Vernal, Nevada, and Bridal Veil.
  • Take some time to stake out locations the first day, then come back to shoot. There are dozens of photographers with tripods set up early for sunrise and sunset shots, so plan ahead for a good locations.
  • Bring lots of memory cards or a laptop to download photos. I shot with a 4 gig card and downloaded every night.
  • The sun hits the North side of the valley near Yosemite Village early, so you can get some good shots of trees, meadows, the river, and possibly bears before you start your day.
  • You can get great shots from the road, but if you walk a little you can get better shots. Please stay on the paths and respect the plants.
  • Don’t forget to look for the details. Sure, the rocks are spectacular, but so are the leaves and grasses and rivers and countless other little things.

If you look at the satellite or hybrid view of Yosemite on Google maps, you can see the shadows on the south side of the valley to get an idea of how the lighting will be. Take into account the time of year, shorter days, and angle of the sun as Winter Solstice approaches.

I have roughly 500 pictures to go through, so this will likely be the first of many from the trip. I uploaded 13 to Zooomr last night and created a set so you can view them all in one place. As I upload more, I’ll add them to the set.

The Coming Storm

It's gonna rain - Fall Series

Vineyard photos in Sonoma County, California are a little cliché, but they do make for great landscapes. I took this yesterday at lunch. A storm was heading in, creating some dramatic cloudscapes. I used a graduated filter to help bring out the clouds and keep the vineyard visible. I did some tweaking in Lightroom to add more contrast to the clouds and bring out the blue in the sky. Lightroom makes it very easy to adjust colors and contrast in subtle ways. The flexibility of that program is astounding. When my trial runs out I’m going to be sad. Hopefully in the next few months I can buy it.

The sun was just out of the frame, at the top of the picture, making the exposure a little tricky. I used manual exposure and according to the meter, overexposed the shot. I think it worked better because you can still see some detail in the vineyard and the sky is not blown out. Since I started this blog, I learned to read the light of a given shot much better than I used to. I know when the meter isn’t getting the exposure I want. I’ve taken many shots that if I had used Program mode would not have come out the way I wanted. If the light is even the meter is right on, but sometimes you have make adjustments based on what you see. I do need to experiment more with metering modes in my camera to see how the different modes impact a picture. Some test shots may be in order.

This photo is part of the Fall Series I started this week. I specifically drove to this vineyard to take some photos of the vines changing colors. The clouds ended up being the focal point of my images because they looked so amazing. This photo is on Zooomr with a geotag if you want to see the location and EXIF information. Here’s another shot I took yesterday:
Fall Vineyard - Fall Series

I copied the settings from the main shot and applied them to this image as well. I also used the “Heal” tool to remove a bird from this photo. It looked like a black speck in the sky. I don’t normally retouch images in that way, but this bird just bugged me, so I had to remove it.

Also, I won’t be posting anything for a few days. This weekend is a busy one for my family, and with all the activities and commitments, I know I won’t have time to blog anything. I’ll still take some pictures, but won’t have time until early next week to post anything to the blog, or even to Zooomr.

Fall Clouds

The other side of the road

Today I took a little drive a lunch, looking for something to shoot. I’ve been a little slow the past couple of days, so wanted to at least take a few shots.

The weather cooperated today and blew in a great mix of upper and lower atmosphere clouds. This was taken right outside town, by the side of the road. I was actually shooting barns on the other side of the road from this shot, but when I turned to walk back the car, I saw these great clouds. This photo is on Zooomr with a geotag so you can see the location. EXIF data is also there.

I did the processing in Lightroom. My trial has 23 more days, so I need to get busy and take a lot of pictures. I really like Lightroom. It makes processing easy, without making pictures look too processed.

I also want to share a site I found out about a couple of days ago – 365 Portraits. A real photographer is posting a new portrait everyday. These are incredible portraits. Very inspiring.