A Bright, High Energy Image

Black Sands Beach - Perspective 1

Black Sands Beach, Bonita Cove, Marin Headlands, Marin County, CA, FEB 2015 

Almost a year and half ago, my friend Richard Bieniek took a day trip to the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco.  The Headlands are the area north and west of the Golden Gate Bridge that border on the ocean.  It was a beautiful day.  The sun was almost blindingly bright.   The waves were tall and strong.  As we walked down the steep that was path cut into the cliff side, you could hear the waves thunder before you could even see them.  When we reached the small, sandy beach in the cove, the unfolding scene was remarkable.  It was mid—afternoon.  The sun was so bright it caused strong silvery reflections on the water.  Those reflections contrasted with the deep shadows in the surrounding rock.   As the waves approached, they gave the impression of a wall of water coming right at you.  The scene was full of energy.  Though difficult, I knew I had to share the story of what I saw.

I hope this image gives you that picture because it was wonderful to behold.

How Did I Process This Image

Those of us who shoot with a DSLR will recognize the difficulty in capturing this image.  The dynamic range, the difference in exposure needed to display some detail in the shadows while not blowing away the highlights in this image is well outside the capabilities of most cameras.  The obvious answer is HDR.  However, that requires 3 identical images with exposures about 2 stops apart.  The problem is that the ocean won’t stand still and pose long enough to make that happen.  I might have chosen to blur the waves but that would have defeated one of my main objectives, to show the energy of the scene.

As you can see from the histogram in this this screenshot below, I exposed the image to minimize both the black and white clipping thus minimizing the loss of detail in both shadows and highlights.  However, the digital negative is very dark.  Despite many hours of trying, there was no way get a good image just manipulating the sliders and using other features of Lightroom.  I had to rely on HDR.  I made 3 virtual copies of the digital negative in Adobe Lightroom.  I opened the exposure of 1 copy about as far as I dare; about ¾ of a stop.  I made one of the others about 2 stops brighter and the other about 2 stops darker than the first.  I opened the 3 copies in Photomatrix to merge them into a single HDR image.  I chose the option that gave me the best, most realistic image I could find.  I made a few minor tweaks and created the final HDR image.  But even that created an image where the foam in the foreground churn was dark and dingy.  I couldn’t open the exposure, the highlights or the whites.  It would cause the ocean to blow out and lose the silvery reflection.  So, I finished the image using Lightroom’s paintbrush to open the exposure on just that section of the image.  I believe it worked.

Lightroom Screenshot 20160615




This and other images are available to view and to purchase at my website: http://www.earthwatcher.us.


Spring in Northern California

My wife, brother, sister-in-law and I took a trip to the Eastern Sierra and the desert of the Great Basin.  I remember a trip to Yosemite and down Rte. 395 seeing the snow capped Sierra for the first time.  It was an incredible experience.  In the intervening years we have experienced drought.  The snow left the mountains early causing the rivers to slow early.  The beauty is always there but, it’s not as spectacular as when we get lots of snow and rain.  This year we got a respite from the drought so the drive down 395 regained much of its splendor.   We were treated to scenes from romantic westerns; large mountain valleys, ringed with high snowcapped peaks, cattle grazing on lush green grass.   I felt like I should be on a horse with Hoss and Little Joe.  The rivers were running hard, churning white water that glistened in the sun.  At Yosemite, the waterfalls thundered.

As we travel south on Rte. 395 we reach a point where the terrain transitions from mountain valleys to the valleys of the high desert.  The grass goes away and is replaced by gnarled shrub.  Even the vegetation along the rivers is stunted.  With this year’s rain and snow, the area took on a different look.  The wildflower blooms in Bodie were near their end but, stalks retained their spring green, creating a strong contrast against the brown buildings and deep blue sky.

Outhouse on a Hill

Outhouse on a Hill, Bodie, CA, MAY 2016

Mono Lake had a hue of emerald green instead of aqua.  The lake color, along with the spring greens of its vegetation gave the tufa a softer, cooler gray color and gave a green cast to the air.  The winds were very strong that day.  They created white caps along with waves that crashed against the tufa and broke along the shore.

Mono Lake on a Windy Spring Day

Mono Lake, South Tufa Reserve, May 2016

The strong winds followed us to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest where we had planned an early morning hike along the Methuselah Trail.  We had to cancel the hike because the wind chill was really bad.  We hiked the shorter Discovery Trail instead.  The trail was clear but snow patches dotted the adjacent hillsides.  The sun peeked through openings in the overcast sky highlighting the sculptural bristlecones and the mountains in the distance.

Bristlecone Pine

Schullman Grove, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, MAY 2016

From the bristlecones, we made our way to Death Valley.  Spring was in the desert air also.  Wildflowers of yellow and white were in bloom along the road.  The Joshua Trees were budding but not quite ready to open.  Even the cholla cactus was putting on its spring display.

My brother and sister-in-law were taken aback by Death Valley.  Like me, they were raised in the eastern US.  We saw deserts only in movies.  They were areas where sand dunes stretched from horizon to horizon; a place where people rode camels and hung out at an oasis with palm trees.  Instead, Death Valley is a typical valley in the basin and range ecosystem.  It is long and narrow and ringed with high mountains.  It’s hard, gray-brown soil is dotted with gnarled vegetation and rocks that washed down from the mountainsides during storms.  But even it was showing signs of spring.  Some of the normally dry playas contained water.  Tiny wildflowers, mostly yellow, were in bloom.  We hiked back Golden Canyon and we watched a sunrise at Zabriske Point.  The strongly eroded mountainsides, painted by mineral deposits are always a treat to see especially under the golden sunlight of a sunrise from Zabriske.

Side Canyon

Golden Canyon, Death Valley National Park, May 2016

We continued our journey to Lone Pine, CA.  Along the way, we chuckled at 2 coyotes working the tourists at a pull-off in Panamint Valley –  Will pose of food.

The Alabama Hills are located near Lone Pine.  They are oddly eroded, twisted rocks, at the base of Mt Whitney.  They were used as the set for many Hollywood productions of western and other adventure movies.  Those of us who were fans of Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, Hopalong Cassidy and the other cowboy protagonists of our childhood would find those hills familiar.  Lone Pine also houses the Lone Pine Film History Museum.  It holds memorabilia from movies produced in that area.  It was fun to see the fancy saddles and guns, stagecoaches and even some monsters and space aliens.  It was fun to reminisce also.

The final part of this journey took us to Yosemite.  Our plans were to go across Tioga Pass but a snowfall the night before closed it.  We had to detour.  The detour took us on Rte. 88 from Sorenson’s to Jackson; a stretch we’ve never driven.  It was a beautiful drive over granite balds, along steep sided canyons and past mountain lakes.  We found a new place to explore for photo opportunities.

Yosemite is at its most beautiful in the spring.  Waterfalls thundered, the Merced River churned white water, ephemeral waterfalls were still flowing.  We were only able to visit the valley.  Even Glacier Point was closed due to “impending storm”.  But wondering through the valley is a joy.  The immense scale, with waterfalls crashing over sheer granite cliffs towering 3,000 feet and more above your head, drive home the power and awesomeness of nature’s forces and God’s creativity.  I am always awe-struck by its beauty.  It never gets tiring.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite National Park, May 2016


I hope my images and words give you a sense of spring in Northern California.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of our adventure.