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.

The Alabama Hills

101127011BW Alabama Hills

I grew up with TV westerns like Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger and other fictional heroes of the Old West.  Many scenes of these and others were set in an area of large boulders, arroyos and canyons in which the bad guys and the Indians could lie in wait for opportunities to ambush the guys in the white hats.  If one studied the scenes carefully enough they would notice that they were all identical; the same rocks, canyons and other formations.

I didn’t learn until many years later that the westerns, as well as many other TV shows and movies, including “Gunga Din”, “How the West Was Won”, “Star Wars” and, most recently, “Django Unchained”, were shot in the Alabama Hills.  The Hills are located between Lone Pine, CA and the Sierra Nevada and they are one of the many interesting places in California for me.  Myths exist that have erroneously stated that the Alabama Hills are an ancient formation but the reality is that they are not.  They were uplifted in recent geologic times along with the Sierra  and eroded relatively quickly into the round and odd shapes of today.

The naming of the Alabama Hills is an interesting story.  During the War Between the States, there were both Confederate and Union sympathizers throughout California.  In 1864, Confederate sympathizers discovered gold in the Alabama Hills and named them after the CSS Alabama which had destroyed or captured over 60 Union ships.  However, Union sympathizers from nearby Independence discovered metals in the Inyo Mountains and named Kearsarge Peak, Kearsarge Pass and the town of Kearsarge after the USS Kearsarge which finally sank the Alabama in 1864.

As I’ve hiked in the Alabama Hills, I have found many formations that resemble animals and I find much fun trying to capture these imaginary creatures in my camera.  During my first visit I found a dog in the rocks.  My border collie Pepper wasn’t impressed, though.  Later I found other creatures from a fantasy world.

What do you see?

101127010BW The Shark 121228007 Alabama Hills 101127013BW Mobius Arch and Rock