Category Archives: California

Photo ops in California

Channeling the Beauty of our National Parks

Editors note:  Today we have another post from our roving correspondent,  MaryKate.  This time she travelled to the Channel Islands off the coast of California.   I hope you enjoy her report!


I’ve recently become even more enthralled with our country’s amazing National Park system. So when I headed to Los Angeles for an event with my friend Molly a few weekends ago, I jumped on the opportunity to visit two of our country’s jewels: Santa Monica National Recreation Area and Channel Islands National Park.

Just 35 miles from Los Angeles, the Santa Monica National Recreation Area is an escape from the bustle of the city. We headed to the Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center for some orientation (and souvenir shopping), and did the short but steep hike up to Inspiration Point. We saw lizards and birds along the way, and the dry landscape made for dramatic views against the Santa Monica Mountains:

Plant at the PinnaclePlant at the Pinnacle

That Saturday, we took a morning boat trip out to Anacapa Island – the smallest of the Channel Islands – with a company I’d highly recommend: Island Packers. For just $29 each way, the beautiful boat ride alone was worth the trip. On our way to Anacapa, we enjoyed stunning views of Oxnard Harbor, a few Harbor Seals “sunning”, and even an illusive Minke Whale (he was too quick to photograph and never came back up).

Seal ReflectionsSeal Reflections

The Channel Islands are truly a magical place, sometimes called the United States’ Galapagos Islands because there are 145 species of plants and animals only found there. We stayed 3 hours on the island exploring, seeing as much as we could, and eating the picnic we brought, but there are many arrival/departure options so you can stay as long as you’d like (or even camp over – although the smell of pigeon poop was rather strong!).

Anacapa LighthouseAnacapa Lighthouse

I also enjoyed playing with the fish eye lens I borrowed from my Dad – I thought it brought an interesting perspective to the Island.

Channel Islands National Park SignChannel Islands National park Sign

On our way back to land, we had the treat of a humpback whale doing acrobatics for us: for about 10 minutes we watched him partake in “pectoral slapping” – spinning back and forth and slapping his fin on the water – quite the site juxtaposed against a giant oil rig in the background.

Whale vs. ManMan vs. Whale

If you ever find yourself on the West Coast, it’s definitely worth the trip out to the Channel Islands (and a hike over in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area).  It’s amazing to find so much nature near such a large metropolitan area.  Check out the other photos from my trip in this flickr album (including a life bird: the Rock Wren!).


Thanks for stopping by and reading MaryKate’s blog post.  Now, go make some photos!

©2016, MaryKate. All rights reserved.

Death Valley Addendum

Good morning, wonderful readers!  I hope you don’t mind a short post today with a few more photos from Death Valley.  The place made a big impression on me.  I hope to return  sometime in the future.

Desert rain waterDesert rain water – A different view of the post storm water in Death Valley. Some locations had 5 inches of rain on October 18th. The water here collected in small puddles.

Overbury Building ruinsOverbury Building ruins in the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty, Nevada.  Black and White Infrared panorama.

Death Valley SundownDeath Valley Sundown – I like the sun rays and reflections from the wet mud below.

Mosaic Canyon MonochromeMosaic Canyon Monochrome – Rushing water carved these canyon walls, resulting in a variety of textures to explore.

Monochromatic testuresMonochromatic textures – Zabriskie Point in Death Valley is a wonderful place to photograph. The hills vary in color and with the changing light and clouds, it seems there are always new textures, shadows, and compositions to focus on (pun intended). I wanted to emphasize the textures, so I used Lightroom to convert this one to monochrome. For some reason, this was one of the first photos I made there and one of the last that I finished processing.

We’ve added even more photos from our Death Valley expedition in the albums at these links:

Thanks once again for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Death Valley National Park, California

As you may have gathered from last week’s post, I got home on October 24th from a trip to Death Valley National Park.  Four of us from the Photography Interest Group (me, Tom M., Kevin M., and Kevin K.) were out there together, exploring this waterless wonderland on our longest, farthest group photo expedition yet.

When you think of the desert in the western US, you might imagine extreme heat and monochromatic scenes of empty barren land.  If so you probably haven’t been to Death Valley.  There is some empty barren land:

Badlands sunriseBadlands sunrise – This was my first visit to Death Valley and what I thought it would look like. 

And there are sand dunes and wind-blown textures:

Photographing Mesquite Flat DunesPhotographing Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – A distant photographer lines up his shot.

But there are so many more things to experience there.

It’s the largest national park in the contiguous US at over 3.4 million acres.  The habitats are varied and the elevation ranges from 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America) to more than 11,000 feet at the top of Telescope Peak.

Badwater panorama from Dantes ViewPanorama of Badwater from Dantes View, looking west toward Telescope Peak

Wait – did I say “waterless wonderland”?  When we arrived on October 18th, there was an epic rain storm in progress that caused flash flooding, road closures, downed power lines and other damage inside the park.  If you’re interested, I’ve posted a short video on YouTube that we made on our drive into Death Valley, showing the rain storms and some of the flooding we ran into.  And you can read this article on the National Parks Traveler webpage about the floods and damage.

Many of the places we wanted to see weren’t accessible while we were there.  The good news is that there were more than enough locations we could still get to, and the water created some rare views of the area.

Death Valley FloodsDeath Valley Reflections – Some locations had 5 inches of rain.  The following morning, we saw large pools of water west of route 190 and north of Furnace Creek.  It was a long walk (~1.5 miles from the road) to get close, and at times I wondered whether it was a mirage.  I’m guessing it’s rare to see the mountains and clouds reflected in standing water at this spot.

And are there any waterfalls in the desert?  You wouldn’t think so, right?  We decided to find out one day and after a long drive, hike, and rock scramble through a gorgeous canyon, we arrived at Darwin Falls, which seems like a miracle in the middle of such arid country.

Darwin FallsDarwin Falls – This desert waterfall in Death Valley had about a 40 foot drop. It’s spring fed and  flows year round, although the rains may have added some water while we were there.

There’s a lot of history in Death Valley too.  The Native American Timbisha tribe have lived in the valley for at least 1000 years.  Gold and silver mining started in the 1850s and Borax was discovered in the 1880s.  There are also several ghost towns to explore in the park and the surrounding areas.

20 Mule Team Wagon Train20 Mule Team Wagon Train – Used in 1885 to haul Borax From Death Valley to Mojave.
Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California

Landscapes and scenery aren’t the only things to see.  There’s very little light pollution in the area.  The milky way is easily seen and we viewed an active Orionid Meteor shower on the morning of 21 October.

There’s also a surprising amount of wildlife.  While hiking back from the Mesquite Flat Dunes we spotted some motion ahead that turned out to be my first sighting ever of a fox in the wild.

Fox at Mesquite DunesKit Fox at Mesquite Dunes – We saw it from a distance. At first I thought it was a coyote, but Eric Vanbergen on Flickr suggested it might be a Kit Fox. Judging by the info on Wikipedia, he’s right.  I made the photo handheld (with my tripod still attached!) using a 24-120mm lens that I was using for landscapes. This is a small crop from the frame. It was nice of the Fox to stop, stand in the light, and look at the camera for me – but it should have come closer!

We also saw several of these, curiously along or as they crossed the road.  They’re large enough (~3 inches across) to spot as you drive by.

Classic Death ValleyClassic Death Valley (Photo by Kevin McKinney – used with permission) – We saw several Tarantulas while we were there.

And birds:  The National Park Service official bird list has hundreds of species that frequent Death Valley.  On this page they have some info on where to look and migration patterns.  Kevin M. also had a good time birding in places around and on the way to the park.

Here’s one last photo.  We’d been searching for a Road Runner all week but hadn’t seen any.  On the last afternoon we finally sighted this one as we drove by the visitor’s center. Of course, none of us had our camera gear – thank goodness for iPhones!

Greater Roadrunner, running“Beep Beep” – A Roadrunner outside the Visitor Center at Furnace Creek. I think this is the one the rangers have nick-named “Robbie”. It’s very tolerant of humans and went about catching and eating bugs while we watched.  

You can view many more photos from our trip at these links:

This is really more of trip report than a review or guide.  With so little time on site, I’m not qualified to give you much specific advice on photographing Death Valley.  But here is some info I found very useful:

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. We are really blessed in the US with all our national parks.  Now – visit one and make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Night Sky in Death Valley

I’ve been away for the last week and caught a bad cold on the trip.  I got home last night and I’m feeling better today although I  don’t have the energy for a long blog post. Sorry.

I’ll be back next week and I promise to provide more photos and info.  Here’s one image to whet your appetite.   This is a 20 second exposure at f/2.2 and ISO 1600, under the darkest skies I’ve ever seen.  The Milky Way was easily visible even though the brightest part was below the horizon.

Two galaxiesTwo galaxies – Andromeda Galaxy and part of the Milky Way, from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Panoramic alternatives – iPhones and more

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I like panoramic photos.  We’ve all been to many places where the view is so grand it doesn’t fit into a single frame.  Sometimes you can’t capture what your eyes see with one camera exposure.  So I started stitching panoramas together.  My first few were way back in the film era (1999 or 2000).  When I started using digital cameras, panoramas became easier and I’ve made many more since then.   They help me avoid “tunnel vision” and show more of a scene.  They’re also an excellent way to capture an image with a huge number of pixels – which allows for very large prints.

I often include panos in this blog.  When I checked today, there are 33 different posts (over 10%) that are tagged “panorama”, including my very first one from May of 2007.  For some panorama examples, look at this set of over 100 images on Flickr.

San Francisco panorama from Twin Peaks

May 2007:  View of San Francisco from Twin Peaks (6389 x 3110 pixels)

I’ve learned quite a bit about how to make panos, and in August of this year, I shared info on how I usually process them.  That was a description of the detailed workflow I use to make the best quality image I can.  It can be time consuming and requires care in capture as well as post processing.  But if you put in the effort, the results are very good – and the files are much bigger than from a single frame.  Here’s a recent example:

City at twilight
September 2013: Chicago skyline at twilight (11,175 x 4706 pixels)

But it turns out that my way isn’t the only way to make panos.  There’s a much easier way to make them – here’s an example:

Underneath the bridge over the St. John's River by the old bridge and railroad trestle
October 2013: Underneath the bridge over the St. John’s River by the old bridge and railroad trestle (7908 x 2692 pixels)

I made this pano with my phone.  It’s not as large (2692 pixels on the short side compared to 4706), but you probably couldn’t tell much of a difference in quality unless you pixel peep.  Using my phone is easier and if something is easier, people will do more of it – and more panos means better memories.

iPhones have had a built-in panorama mode for a while, and the latest versions bring a lot of processing power into it.  The iPhone 5S does automagic adjustment of exposure across the frame, and stitches the results together in real-time as you sweep your phone.  The results are fairly large files, and the quality is surprisingly good.

Here’s one more recent iPhone panorama example and proof of the saying that the best camera is the one you have with you:

Interior panorame of the Roman Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheatre)

November 2013:  Interior panorama of the Roman Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheatre) – Photo by MK Rosack (used with permission)

Lets compare making panoramas on a phone with a multi-photo approach.  I’ll use the iPhone 5S for this – your phone may be different.

iPhone 5S Multi-Photo
Capture convenience Very high – you always have it with you Low – You need to plan for it and carry your gear
Quickness High – End result available very quickly.  And can post right from the phone. Low – Need to get home and run your software
Processing flexibility Low – Done by the camera; Can adjust jpg result High – Adjustments can be made throughout each processing step
Processing difficulty Low – Done by the camera;  Some amount of touch up may be needed May be High, depending on software and source images
Raw capture No – jpg only Yes
Output size Medium – Short dimension a max of 2448 pixels High – DSLRs typically higher resolution than iPhone and you can make multiple rows if desired

So, should you use your phone for panoramas?  Yes!

Should you always use your phone for panoramas? Not quite yet.

Phones are getting better all the time.  And they’re getting better faster than cameras are getting better.  Sooner or later, most people won’t want or need a dedicated camera.  Right now I think phones are “good enough” in many cases, especially if you think about the trade-off between output quality and ease of use.   For panoramas, the ease of use and convenience allows many people to make photos they otherwise wouldn’t.  In my case, if I don’t have any other camera with me, I’m sure going to use my phone.  But if I want the best quality image possible, I’ll still use my stand alone cameras when possible.  Check again in a few years – the answers may be different.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some panoramas!  And don’t forget your phone!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Veteran’s Day, 2009: Thank you for your service

On this day I would like to thank all of our active duty military and and all veterans who have served in our Armed Forces.

You chose to answer the call.  Your commitment to freedom and your courage and sacrifices have brought the blessings of liberty to the people of the United States of America.  Most of the world will never know liberty and freedom like we know it.

It may not be possible for our gratitude to match the enormity of your gifts to us.  We are grateful that you stand between us and those who would do us harm.  We appreciate you giving our children a hopeful future.  And we pay tribute to those who offered their lives in defense of our freedom.

PICT3181

A view of San Francisco National Cemetery located in the Presidio, on Christmas Day, 2005 in the rain.  Minolta Dimage 7Hi @ ISO 100, 28mm eq., f/4.5, 1/45 sec.

©2009, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Way too short a visit: Yosemite National Park

On May 5th, I was able to go to Yosemite for a day during my visit to San Francisco. The drive from where we were in Dublin, California (east of San Francisco) is about 120 miles. We were on the road at 6 am, and it took us about 3 hours to get to the park.

Two waterfalls: El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks and Merced River

May is a good time to go – The snow is melting and the waterfalls are in full force. There are some wild flowers blooming, but not as many as later in the year. We did see some nice Pacific Dogwoods in bloom. In early May, school’s not yet out, so the traffic is not as bad as it gets in the summer. We were there on a Saturday and I was very surprised by how little traffic there was.

Bridalveil Falls through dogwood tree

Recommended reading – I bought a book on the way into the park called The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, by Michael Frye . I highly recommend it, and I wish I’d had time to read it before I got there.

They’re hiring at the park! While we were checking out in the gift shop, I talked to the sales clerk. He lives in the park and explores every chance he gets. He told me they need 200 people. They pay minimum wage, but room and board is incredibly inexpensive (~$70 / week!). It was very tempting, but Lynn would’ve probably been upset with me if I didn’t come home all summer.

I wish we could have spent more time in the park. We were only there for a few hours before we had to head back. There’s so much more to see.

The National Park Service web site for Yosemite is here .

Please take a look at the rest of my Yosemite photographs, posted here.

Mary also took some very good photographs of Yosemite and Muir Woods which are posted here.

©2007, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.