The Mono Basin will be a recurring topic in this blog throughout the year. It is my favorite place in the world. My first visit was with a photography workshop in October 1984 led by Al Weber and was an experience unto itself. We camped at Lundy Canyon and the overnight temperature dropped to 16 degrees. We froze, cameras froze, film froze and cars wouldn’t start but it was a great introduction to a place that has since become my true home.
What I experienced, besides the cold was a beauty like I had never seen. Sunrises and sunsets beyond belief with colors that were unsurpassed even in the Arizona desert from which I had just moved. The aspens ranged from red to gold and the sky was a deep blue.
I was in the Mono Basin again this past weekend having planned to spend several days snowshoeing and photographing. There was no snow and at first I was really disappointed. My brand new snowshoes remained in their package with all of the tags still on. Instead, it was warm and the light was superb. All of the conditions were right for image making. It was a perfect opportunity to hike around the rim of Panum Crater, a rhyolitic volcano that erupted just 600 years ago, the newest volcano in the Mono Craters, the youngest mountain range in North America. The rim of the caldera has a narrow trail and the core is a plug consisting mostly of obsidian and pumice.
As I almost always do, I used a tripod. A long lens was required from where I made the photograph making the tripod extremely important for stability. I opted to use black and white because of the texture and varying tonalities of the crater. Color would have added nothing.
If you visit the Mono Basin, bring your hiking boots, camera and a tripod and experience the newest volcano in a place like no other.
The California coast is an amazing place with many species of birds. As I walk along the beaches by my house I often see cormorants, grebes, plovers, willets, marbled godwits, sandpipers. I run into several species of gulls and, of course, the California Gull, many of which breed at my favorite place in the world, the magical Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierra. My favorite of all, though, is the brown pelican. These beautiful birds can be found on the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America. I’ve been fascinated by them my whole life.
A few interesting facts are that their only breeding sites in the United States are on West Anacapa Island and Santa Barbara Island, they can dive from as high as 60 feet above the water, they can live to be about 40 years old and they can hold two gallons of water in their pouch.
What interests me the most, though, is the way they fly. They are incredibly graceful in the air. They glide inches above the water’s surface and can fly “nap of the earth” (actually, nap of the water) unlike any aircraft. They see their target, aim and dive fast and true.
Pelicans can be hard to photograph. Seeing flocks of them in the air is beautiful. However, flocks don’t ordinarily make an interesting photograph. Making a good wildlife image requires that you get close to your subject, have a long lens or both. So the question is: how do you get close to a flying pelican? The answer is simple… climb a bluff. Of course, the easier option is to go where you can walk onto a bluff high enough above the ocean to be at eye-level with a pelican. Either way, you have to be careful and a fear of heights doesn’t help. The California coast has hundreds of places that allow the necessary access. I use a tripod with a ball head that provides me with stability and the ability to pan through a scene. It doesn’t matter if you use film or digital. I use both. Give it a try. The risk is worth it.
Night lends itself to images that are almost otherworldly. Colors appear differently and can be totally unexpected. Details may look surreal. Sometimes, things appear in your photographs that you never saw. For example, when I shot the image above I didn’t see anything that would cause the wide trail.
Night photography can be done anywhere; the mountains, the desert, in your city or even your backyard. My favorite place to photograph at night, though, is in the desert. The stars and the night animals are my company. The only sounds are the yipping of the coyotes. It’s quiet, peaceful and beautiful.
To photograph at night, you need the willingness to begin shooting late (sometimes very late) when there is no hint of sunlight, a bright moon for illumination, the ability to withstand cold (particularly if you photograph in the winter like I do) and good night vision. A tripod and cable release are absolutely necessary as is patience; some of your exposures may be 30 minutes or more.
The image this week is of the night sky above the Dana Plateau and Mt. Gibbs in the eastern Sierra. You’ll notice a wide star trail. What is it? A planet, satellite, meteor or something else? What do you think it could be?