The Story of the Poppy, the Caterpillar and the Spider

California Poppy

California Poppy

California Poppy, Painted Lady Caterpillar, Spider

California Poppy, Painted Lady Caterpillar, Spider

Nature is beautiful, challenging, dangerous and merciless all at the same time. Take the story of the poppy, the caterpillar and the spider, for instance.

One morning while roaming around near the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve outside of Lancaster, CA, I was searching for the beauty of a Southern California spring morning. The beauty was obvious. Poppies covered the ground almost as far as the eye could see mixed with owl’s clover, goldfields and Joshua trees.

It wasn’t long after sunrise and the poppies had just opened. The ground was damp and I imagined that the rattlesnakes were beginning to warm up and the scorpions were on their way to their homes in the cool soil underneath rocks.  I set up my tripod and camera, laid flat on the ground and expected both of these animals to come inspect what I was doing. I’m used to being in areas with bears, mountain lions and other creatures with teeth and claws but, being the only warm thing around, I figured that the smaller man-eaters would enjoy breakfast (actually, the scorpions there are relatively harmless and the rattlers aren’t particularly interested in things that they can’t eat).

In this peaceful environment, I watched the flowers open to the sun. Painted Lady butterflies were going from flower to flower adding to the beauty of the poppies. The young caterpillars were scattered among the plants innocently eating both leaves and petals with no awareness of the dangers around them.

I watched one caterpillar enjoying his (her?) breakfast. Then, suddenly, the caterpillar’s world was about to change. A spider came out from under the poppy pedal searching for a victim that would sustain it. It spotted the young caterpillar. The spider struck! The caterpillar had no escape. It fought valiantly but finally succumbed to the merciless spider.

Of course, I’ve anthropomorphized just a little bit. Nature simply took it’s normal course that morning and I was lucky enough to witness it. My plan was simply to shoot poppies before the sun got too high and I walked away with a prize that made my entire shoot more than I could have imagined.

I tend to capture the world in a little different way than most photographers and I brought black and white film in addition to color film so that I could make unusual poppy images. I aimed upward through the flower using the camera loaded with black and white in order to make it look like I had x-rayed the poppy.  It definitely came out as a different view.

If you visit Antelope Valley this spring, you’ll find your own story of the beauty of nature. The challenge will be to see the detail and not the entire field of poppies. The only danger, though, is becoming so enamored with the beauty that you may find yourself spending the entire day wandering aimlessly and then wondering where you left your car.


The Hike to Berry Creek Falls

090524010 Berry Creek Falls

Berry Creek Falls

090524005 Golden Cascade Golden Cascade

On Veteran’s Day, I went hiking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park to see the Berry Creek Falls.  This particular hike provides great photographic opportunities.

The hike is about 11 miles long with an elevation gain of 2000’.  There are several options to hike to the falls and my group chose the toughest (of course).  We hiked through incredible redwoods and along several creeks in order to reach the falls.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, just outside of Boulder Creek, CA and less than an hour from my house, consists of several different ecosystems and habitats. You can visit immense redwood forests, dense chaparral, beautiful creeks and interesting sandstone formations.  Also, it provides trails that take you from the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.  The park was created in 1902 and is the oldest of California’s state parks.

Berry Creek Falls actually consists of three falls. Heading uphill, the first falls is Berry Creek, the second is Silver Falls and the third is the Golden Cascade.  Surprisingly, there was plenty of water in all three falls.  Each of the falls is unique and I’ll let the photographs provide the descriptions.

I made the images in May 2009 and the amount of water going through them then and now is pretty much the same.  I fully expected that there would be little, if any water, due to the dryness of the last several years.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Photographing waterfalls in a manner that shows the flow of water is simple.  A tripod is required in order to ensure that the camera is still. I take my time composing the image so that I can create an interesting balance.  I use as large an aperture as possible to capture as much light as I can and I expose for about one second.  Obviously, I set the camera on manual so that I have complete control over the image that I create.  In my opinion, using automatic settings is letting the camera make the image, not the photographer.

Take the hike to Berry Creek Falls if you visit Santa Cruz.  Bring your tripod, camera and lunch and enjoy the falls and the redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Climbing the Cables Part II – The Great Adventure

130727020BW 255 px Half Dome from Olmstead Point130727023BW 255 px Half Dome from Olmstead Point

130728018 255 px Half Dome 130729004 255px The Gang

The hike to Half Dome was a great adventure. The day was spectacular and the photographic opportunities began almost immediately.  We all woke up at 4:00 AM and hit the trail at 5:25 in the morning.  Our group consisted of Glenn Sander (our fearless leader), Doug Harrold, Angie Briones, Debbie Perham, Penny Hunter and myself.   Peter Hendrycks and Margie Maraist started with us (and provided great margaritas at the end!) but Peter was up and down Half Dome before we even got there.

The hike was 18 miles round trip with a 4100′ elevation gain.  Our plan was to stay at a reasonable pace in order to make it to the top around lunchtime.  It was hard, though, with all of the things to be photographed along the way.  I brought a lot of equipment, including a monopod, camera body and two lenses.  Glenn brought his brand new point-and-shoot and Debbie fired away with her cell phone.  Also, as usual, the gang brought enough food to feed the entire population of Curry Village (or so it seemed).

The hike itself was no harder than any of our normal hikes.  That is, until we got to Subdome (the bulge attached to Half Dome).  Subdome is a tough climb and some people that I talked to said it was harder than Half Dome.  The climb up Subdome is 400′ of fully exposed exfoliating granite and steps without railings or handholds. The granite surfaces required walking or crawling along the dome itself.  At least Half Dome has cables to climb.

Everyone in the group made it to the top of Subdome which is an accomplishment in itself.  Unfortunately, most of us got stopped there.  There was a storm building and, after much discussion, we decided to head back down Subdome to see what the weather was going to do.  After waiting a bit, the storm blew off and Glenn and Doug decided to go for it.  My knee and ankle were starting to swell and I was pretty sure that I could make it up but not down.

Even without making it to the top, the entire experience was a great adventure.  We became closer and supported each other and we had fun doing it.  We ended the trip with a picnic beneath El Capitan and finished with our traditional margaritas.

The photographs, fun, friendship and camaraderie made it all worthwhile.  What a great group of people!  To quote our former governor “I’ll be back!”.  I plan to go up Half Dome next summer and I hope the group will also.

Climbing the Cables Part I

370-28BW rev 25 JUL 13 El Capitan and Half Dome

In a few days I will have completed an objective that I’ve wanted to achieve since I moved to California almost 30 years ago.  I will have hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

During the last three months, my friends Glenn Sander, Debbie Perham, Angie Briones, Penny Hunter, Bill Gingras and Doug Harrold have been training as if we were going to climb Mt. Everest.  We’ve been hiking several times each week and our weekend hikes have been progressively longer, tougher and with greater elevation gains.  This past weekend we went somewhere in excess of 16 miles and 3600′ up in order to earn the traditional end-of-hike margarita.  As we like to remind ourselves, we are badass and awesome!  Unfortunately, Bill won’t be joining us for our adventure but hopefully he’ll be there for our next one.

The Half Dome hike shouldn’t be much harder than our training hikes. The trail is about 15 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 4800′.  We plan to head out at 0 dark 30 and we’re expecting to be on the trail for about 12 hours.

For our final preparation for the hike, we intend to eat our way through the eastern Sierra.  Our first stop will be the restaurant at Convict Lake for a low calorie, light meal. Yeah, right!  Our next stop is the Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining and I’ll be having, of course, the bison meatloaf. It will be my first time “home” since Murphey’s Motel was sold earlier this year (see my blog of 18 May 2013).  Assuming that we can still walk after all of that food we’ll take a hike the next day from Glacier Point to Sentinel Dome where we’ll eat again.

Finally, up the rock we’ll go.  Heights don’t thrill me exactly but my acrophobia hasn’t stopped me so far.  Last year I summitted Mt. Dana and I plan to do a few more peaks in excess of 13,000′ before the season is over.  Climbing up the cables, though, is a little more daunting than scrambling up a mountain.  Thousands of people have made the trip so it can’t be too bad.  I’ll keep telling myself that!

Next stop, Mt. Everest!

Surf’s Up

080114007 Flying Surfer

I live near one of the top surfing spots in the country: “The Hook” at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz County. It’s a spot well known for its dependable waves, easy ocean access and beauty. It’s more suited for experienced surfers and often professional surfers and major competitors can be found here . You can see both longboard and shortboard surfing and both are exciting to watch. The Hook area of Pleasure Point is also home to Jack O’Neill, well known in the surfing and diving world as the inventor of the neoprene wetsuit.

I am probably the only non-surfer in my neighborhood but I enjoy surfing photography. I can occasionally be found photographing at The Hook on good surf days in the winter and spring when the northwest swells are in.  However, for the photographer if not the surfers, surfing is good anytime even though the summer waves tend to be smaller.

Santa Cruz County recently finished a major construction project along the Pleasure Point cliffs.  They shored up (pardon the pun) the cliffs to slow the erosion process and built new stairs from the top of the bluff to all of the beaches and key access points.  The best thing they did for surfing watchers and photographers was to rebuild the observation area.

Photographing surfing can often be a difficult proposition. The action is fast and a DSLR camera set at about 800-1200 ISO is best. As always, I use a tripod with a ball head which allows both stability and movement. The distance from the action requires a lot of glass and I typically use a 400 mm lens. Unfortunately, even when mounted on a tripod, a lens of that size is subject to vibration from the almost constant wind.

I have often seen people with cameras shooting “rapid fire” to capture the action.  It’s unnecessary, though, and indicates a lack of planning, thought and visualization.  Think about the image you want to capture and visualize the finished result before ever aiming the camera.  Determine the correct exposure prior to shooting, be patient and watch the action.  Fire only when you’ve gone through this process and you will achieve good results.

Remember, and this applies to photographers and non-photographers, the true camera is in your mind and your eye is the lens; the camera is only a tool.  Surf’s up!

Duck, Duck, Goose

111015028  Children Feeding Ducks - Westlake ver 31 MAY 13 111015028BW  Children Feeding Ducks - Westlake ver 31 MAY 13

I was on a walk around Westlake Park in Santa Cruz on a beautiful  October evening with the mission of photographing the recently arrived great blue heron (see my blog of the 11th of May).  On my way to shooting the heron, I came upon a father and his children feeding the ducks and geese.  I watched them play for a little while and realized there was a good photo op happening.  I studied them for a few minutes and visualized an image in black and white.  I had my digital camera with me so I shot the image in color to be processed into black and white later.

Many photographers, particularly those of us that are a little on the more “seasoned” side,  began with black and white film then switched to Kodachrome then Ektachrome (or Velvia) and finally to digital.  Then some of us either returned to black and white film or began creating black and white images digitally.

My photographic focus (sorry!) has been nature and in recent years it has been mustangs.  These subjects lend themselves to black and white for me.  I find black and white people photography, to be much more difficult.

I was trained using b&w film and was quite used to carrying red, green, blue and yellow filters around with me.  I visualized my images in black and white and I knew how to use the filters to achieve the result that I wanted.

The digital world is a bit different.  In order to get the best possible b&w image, you need to photograph in color and then convert the image into b&w in the computer.  This requires me to see the color image in the camera and computer before I make the b&w image.   As a result, I find myself comparing the color and b&w images and then making a decision about which image I like best.  I analyzed both of these images in Photoshop and I preferred the black and white to the color.  That’s how I initially visualized the photograph and I decided to stick with my original idea.

What do you think?  Which image do you like better, the one in color or the b&w?  Please send me a comment with your opinion.

By the way, a little bit of advice: I recommend that you not use the b&w settings in the camera because they won’t adequately duplicate the effect of film.  The best results come from your image processing software and your printer.  The better the software / printer combination, the better the b&w image.  Make the investment in either Photoshop (not Elements) or a processor of equivalent capability and don’t set the camera to black and white.


As of today, my photographs are for sale at Scotts Valley Artisans, 230-D Mt. Hermon Rd., Scotts Valley, CA 95066.  Their website is at  Drop by and visit if you’re in the area.


The End of an Era

081225004 Murphey's 081225008 Bill and Nancy

Last week, Nancy and Bill Boman retired from managing Murphey’s Motel in Lee Vining, CA.  Lee Vining is the town adjacent to Mono Lake and Murphey’s has been my part-time home for many years.  They managed the motel for more years than I can remember and created a welcoming place to stay for many photographers and ice climbers over the years.

I became friends with Nancy and Bill a long time ago and had incredible fun managing the motel when they would go to Alaska to visit their son, Justin, and only granddaughter (so far), Emily.  I thoroughly enjoyed running the motel and found that I had almost as much fun behind the front desk as I did behind my camera in the field.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting fascinating guests from around the world.  I was able to spend time catching up with my photographer friends and even a former professor of mine whom I hadn’t seen in more than 30 years.  I saw many of the same guests year after year.

I met people like Vic Smith, Rick Knepp, Mary Church, Phil Lindsay, Sam Lucero, Susan Farrar and many, many others with whom I have remained friends ever since.

My border collie, Pepper, made a home for herself at Murphey’s.  She would run to Nancy as soon as I would return from the coast and then go running off to look for Bill.  My first return to Murphey’s after Pepper died was difficult and Nancy could hardly bear to look at my Jeep knowing that it was empty.  They felt Pepper’s loss as much as I did.

The last few years have presented health challenges to Nancy and Bill.  Bill had major heart surgery last summer and Nancy has been carrying the load of managing the place 24/7 each year with her own health issues.  It is time for them to finally enjoy their home in Walker.

I will miss Murphey’s, running the motel in Nancy’s absence but mostly Nancy and Bill.  I plan to visit them in Walker whenever I can.  Murphey’s will never be the same without them.  An era has truly come to an end.


On another note, my work is scheduled to be for sale on-line at on the 1st of June and Scotts Valley Artisans will begin carrying my photography on the 2nd of June.  Additionally, through Scotts Valley Artisans (, I will have at least 20 images on display in the Scotts Valley Library beginning 17 August and there will be a reception on the 24th of August.  On the 23rd of July, I will be giving a talk for the Sierra Club on the Mono Basin and other events will soon be scheduled.


Lastly, thanks to Vic Smith ( for his post about Bill and Nancy and my talks on the Mono Basin and the mustangs of Montgomery Pass.  Read his post at

The Great Blue Harbinger of Summer

111015031 rev 4 MAY 13  Great Blue Heron

I received a call the other day from a friend telling me that the resident Great Blue Heron was back at Westlake Park on the west side of Santa Cruz.  I’ve been photographing this heron for several years now and he has been a great model at the right price.  In other words, free.  I’m always happy when this heron returns because he brings with him no doubt that summer is almost here on Monterey Bay.

This particular heron likes to spend much of his time standing on a platform in the middle of the park’s little lake watching for the bluegills and other small fish to come by so that he  can snatch a tasty fish dinner (or breakfast or lunch, etc.).  The heron shares the lake with several breeds of ducks, geese, coots and a relatively uncommon green-backed heron (more on this in another blog).

The nice thing about this particular heron’s favorite place is that it is relatively easy to photograph.  Essentially, he poses, I set up my camera and expose the film (or sensor).  He seems to have endless patience and stands for long periods of time just waiting for that morsel to swim by.  It’s amazing how fast he moves to catch that fish.

The Great Blue Heron is native to a large portion of North and Central America and part of South America.  Besides their seemingly endless patience, one of the most surprising things about them are their nesting habits.  They nest in tall trees like our local cypress.  The colonies can be well over 100 nests and, although the Elkhorn Slough colony is much smaller, it’s still impressive to see such large water birds nesting in the tops of the trees.

Welcome home, heron, and thanks for bringing summer with you.

Aim for the Moon!

120929017 ver 4 Moonrise

“Aiming for the moon and missing it is better than aiming for the ditch and hitting it” – Unknown

The full moon was yesterday afternoon at 12:57 PM and rose last night at 8:09 PM here in Capitola.  I didn’t have a chance to photograph it but it brought back an experience I had this past September in the desert near Mono Lake.

Night photography is one of my favorite forms of image making.  It requires a sense of adventure, thought, calculation, experimentation and a bit of luck.  Many people are afraid to try it, though, because  they fear making mistakes.  Photographing the full moon is even harder than ambient light night photography because you are shooting directly at the source of light rather than at a subject illuminated by that source and your chance of failure is even greater.

Remember, though, the old adage that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes photographing at night and I’ve frozen myself and my equipment in the process of making both.  The results have been worth it.

During the last week of September, I spent almost every night using the light of the waxing and full moon to create images of the desert mountains, rock formations and sand tufa formations.  However, I couldn’t resist taking the chance of photographing the full moon itself knowing that the chance of me succeeding with the equipment I had with me was slim.  If I hadn’t risked aiming and missing I never would have captured the image above.

I headed back to Lee Vining later that evening and went out to the deck to enjoy watching the moon continue its climb into the sky.  I couldn’t help overhearing some tourists nearby complaining about how they would never try photographing at night again because everything they did came out either overexposed or black.  Then one of the people looked up at the moon and stated very loudly that there was no possible way to photograph the full moon anyway and that they shouldn’t waste the effort.

I looked at the image that I had in the can and smiled to myself.  Those poor folks didn’t understand that you have to aim high and take the risk.  I know for myself I would rather aim for the moon, miss and maybe hit a star instead of aiming for the ditch and hitting the ground.

So go ahead and aim for the moon.

The Mono Basin – An Enchanted Land

120928018BW Modified 16APR13 Mono Lake and Dana Plateau from Summit of Mt Dana

This Thursday, the 18th of April 2013, I have the honor of presenting a talk to the Royal Photographic Society, USA Pacific Chapter, entitled “The Mono Basin – An Enchanted Land”.  I will be sharing my images and experiences in a unique portion of California and one of my favorite places in the world.

My talk will take you on a journey to one of the most amazing parts of the American West and it will provide you with the opportunity to experience where the Sierra Nevada meets the Great Basin, the largest desert in North America. You will step into a place where pine trees meet sagebrush and freshwater streams tumble out of the high Sierra to replenish the saltiest lake in North America.  You will experience tufa formations and obsidian domes, beaver ponds and old ranches, stunning sunrises and sunsets, alpine lakes and beautiful storms.  In this place, light and color create a kaleidoscope in nature.

The link to my talk is and it will be held at the Millbrae Recreation Center, 477 Lincoln Circle, Millbrae, CA 94030.  Please join me.