Flower Seasons Past

Primrose Shine

It remains to be seen what, if any, kind of flower season we’ll have in the Great Basin desert this year. The indicators are definitely not good (my area just finished the water year with a frightening 19% of normal precipitation), but desert flowers can surprise you. These images also came in the wake of a very unpromising winter (2014-45).

I also wrote down some thoughts on flowers and the subtle charms of less impressive years for Mountain Journal. Check it out!

Indigo Stem

White and Purple

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Eureka Valley Endemics

Dunegrass Shadows

Two desert endemic plant species’ protected status has just been downgraded:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that it is “delisting” the Eureka Valley evening primrose and upgrading the status of the Eureka dune grass from endangered to the less-imperiled threatened status.

Primrose Morning

On one level, this is good news. If you read the entire USFWS document, you’ll find that the rationale for the decision is the claim that current protections are basically working. National Park status, Wilderness designation, prohibition of sandboarding, designated campsites and visitor education have greatly reduced disturbances to these species since they were initially listed. I certainly hope that trend continues. One does wonder, however. The dune grass continues to decline, hence its continued “threatened” status. Death Valley National Park has seen surging visitation in recent years, and vehicle incursions into closed areas are increasingly a problem, including in Eureka Valley. Law enforcement (or any Park Service presence) in Eureka Valley is for all practical purposes nonexistent. Though the report dismisses it as a threat, tumbleweeds have been increasing on the dunes every year I’ve been visiting. I hope this delisting does not prove premature.

Dunegrass

Eureka dune grass is fascinating stuff. Hard, tough and pointy, it almost seems more like a thorn bush than a grass. It is likely a relict species, persisting in this one remaining valley long after it is gone everywhere else. Its nearest relatives are found in north Africa.

Solitary Dunegrass

Mineral landscapes and apparently barren areas often receive short shrift. Though sand dunes often harbor rare species and surprisingly abundant wildlife (they are often hotspots for desert rodent diversity, for instance), they appear barren and many people are inclined to assume that anything goes and such places can’t possibly be damaged. They certainly do make wonderful playgrounds for human visitors, but I wish more dune fields in the west would be approached with a lighter touch, appreciated not merely as sandboxes but as ecosystems.

Sand at Dawn

Interview with Mountain Journal

Mountain Journal Screenshot

The online magazine Mountain Journal just published an interview with me. As I tend to, it goes on at some length, but I hope you’ll take a look, read some words and see a few favorite images. We cover my upbringing, photographic background and approach, conservation, the Great Basin and more.

Mountain Journal readers, welcome! Please feel free to say hello in the comments, browse my image collections or follow my work on Facebook.

Mountain Journal publishes lots of other good stuff with a Northern Rockies focus: conservation, sustainability, culture, art, mountain-town psychology, and more. I also plan to do some writing for them in the future. Check ’em out!

I also named a few favorite photographers in the interview. Please take a look at their work and writings!

Late Winter

Winter Above

On a lighter note, it may be months late and much moisture short, but winter has been putting in at least a few fleeting appearances. The snowpack situation in the Sierra and much of the southwest is truly scary this year and is now beyond the point where we can have any real hope of its turning around. But we take what pleasure we can in the smaller storms that have at last appeared. Even disappointing systems in the Eastern Sierra can be very beautiful!

Grouse Mountain Snowfall

Sierra Storm Study 04

Compositing and Honesty

Questions regarding the ethics and taste of digitally composited photos have been a hot topic on the landscape photography internet recently. Issues surrounding manipulation of photographs are as old as photography itself, but this most recent round of discussion was jump-started by this piece by Matt Payne entitled “Pretty Little Lies”. The topic received a boost in relevance coming on the heels of the much-hyped SuperBlueBloodMoonEclipse on Janury 31st, a celestial event that apparently inspired a great deal of heavy digital photo manipulation, and which I photographed myself. A largely justified cloud of suspicion now surrounds eclipse photos in particular, and I too have received some comments indicating that some do not trust my image as a fair representation of the real event. This is a good time to discuss both the particular image in question and my view on photo manipulation more generally.

Regarding my eclipse image, things are pretty simple: it is not a composite, it is not any kind of digital blend and it is in fact a very straightforward representation of the view through a telephoto lens. It was shot at 345mm equivalent as the moon was setting behind the Sierra crest 12-1/2 miles away. The moon was just reaching the end of eclipse totality, hence the brighter light on the left, and I believe that atmospheric haze caused glow. The eastern sky was bright enough before dawn to show detail in the mountain. Processing consisted of only very light adjustments to exposure and white balance in Lightroom; quite frankly, my Photoshop skills are nowhere near up to the task of compositing such a scene, even if I were so inclined!

Split Mountain Lunar Eclipse Sequence

Sequential shots of January 2018 lunar eclipse setting behind Split Mountain, Sierra Nevada.

Split Mountain Lunar Eclipse Before and After

Lightroom screen capture of January 2018 eclipse before and after processing.

The same can be said of my lunar eclipse images from December 2011: they are a single-frame telephoto shots of a sinking partly-eclipsed moon with dawn light illuminating the landscape from behind. My images of the May 2012 annular solar eclipse in New Mexico are similar telephoto views, though in one of them I blended in a somewhat brighter exposure for a little better detail in the landscape. The two shots in that blend were taken at identical focal lengths fifteen seconds apart and nothing was moved or otherwise manipulated. The image is an accurate representation of the sun’s position relative to the landscape at the time of capture. It’s partner, shot three minutes later, is again a simple single-frame image with no fancy processing.

Crescent Sun Sequence

May 2012 solar eclipse sequence – the dark frames were shot through a solar filter, others are unfiltered at different shutter speeds. Images 129 and 132 were blended into my final image.

It’s worth pointing out that these were really not very difficult images to capture. I’ve shot enough eclipses now to have an M.O., and it’s pretty simple: Look out for one that will be low in the sky, spend a little time with an astronomical calculator such as The Photographers Ephemeris considering options, and shoot with a telephoto lens from far enough away that both peak and moon/sun will fit in the frame. Hope clouds don’t interfere. That’s really all it takes – most of the ingenuity behind these shots was in knowing the areas well enough to choose landscape features that would work and having the competence not to mess up the shot in the moment. Any competent photographer could do something similar, so it’s beyond me why someone would feel the need to manufacture such a shot via digital compositing.

Why am I making such a point of clarifying the genesis of these images? It’s very  important to me that my photography maintain a close relationship with the world we live in. The world’s an amazing place full of amazing things, and landscape photography is a means for myself and others to know it more deeply. I strongly believe that nature photography derives much of its power from the unspoken assumption that images depict real places and real events that can actually be experienced. I would not Photoshop wildflowers into barren desert or waterfalls into dry gullies, because doing so would distort the relationships between the land, its creatures and condition, and myself. Eclipses and celestial events in particular are rare opportunities to perceive our place in the universe with one’s own senses, and to modify such an event out of shallow aesthetic ambitions diminishes its power and resonance. (more…)

Eclipse and Split Mountain

As the totality phase of this morning’s eclipse was ending, the moon set behind 14,065′ Split Mountain in the Sierra Nevada:

Split Mountain Lunar Eclipse

Favorites of 2017

Happy New Year! 2017 was a very good year for me photographically. I managed to visit some long-desired locations and I had some fine spontaneous discoveries. Most wonderful of all was enjoying the amazing winter and spring conditions at home in Deep Springs Valley – amazing winter weather and snow followed by amazing spring wildflowers. This is a rather generous collection at 20 images (plus a bonus honorable mention), but hey, it’s my website and it was a good year! Best wishes for all my readers in the year to come!

January: Winter dawn, Deep Springs Valley.

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January: Morning of mists, Deep Springs Valley.

Sunrise_on_Fog_900px

January: Deep Springs Valley and Split Mountain in snow.

Split Mountain over Deep Springs

January: Snow-covered desert, Deep Springs Valley.

Storm Shadows

February: Lithograph, Death Valley National Park.

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February: Dawn on Walker Lake and Mount Grant, Mineral County, Nevada.

Walker Shoreline

March: Green Gully, Riverside County, California.

Green Ravine

March: Poppy field, southern California.

Purple and Orange

April: Sea to summit, Big Sur coast.

Broken Coast

May: Sunrise garden, Deep Springs Valley.

Sunrise Garden

May: Amargosa River canyon, Inyo County, California.

Amargosa Canyon

June: Ramparts of Mount Williamson, John Muir Wilderness, California.

Williamson Buttresses

July: Glass and white, Tuolumne River, Yosemite National Park.

White and Glass

August: Sierran Treefrog (Pseudacris sierra), Golden Trout Wilderness, California.

Round Meadow Sierran Treefrog

August: Alpine reflection at sunrise, John Muir Wilderness, California.

Tree Glow

Bonus: It would be remiss not to mention one of the outstanding events not only of the year but of my entire life. Though I don’t believe my photo (or any photo) comes close to doing the event justice, the total eclipse in August was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.

End of Totality

September: Evening light and metamorphic rock, John Muir Wilderness, California.

Red Slate Evening

October: Snow squall, Great Basin National Park, Nevada.

Wheeler Cloud Cap

October: Desert autumn, eastern Sierra.

Fish Slough Autumn

December: Towers and shadows, Steens Mountain, Oregon.

Steens Towers and Shadows

December: Dawn light with fresh snow, Warner Valley wetlands, Lake County, Oregon. Though I suspect many will find it rather understated, this image may well be my absolute personal favorite of 2017, a fine gift to round off an amazing photographic year.

Winter Wetlands

 

2017 Favorites: Eli

The annual collection of Eli photos for friends and family:

Eli also did quite a bit of his own shooting in the last year or so, mostly with his own point-and-shoot, though I sometimes let him compose and shoot with my camera and tripod. Here are some of his keepers:

Green Slopes

Green Ravine

Late December is the time when I look back and recall all the images I have not gotten round to posting earlier in the year. This set is from a beautiful evening with Greg Russell as he showed me around his home turf in the Box Spring Mountains of Riverside County, California. The luxurious green grass following a wet winter was a delight for the eyes, but rather nerve-wracking to walk through, inasmuch as it was excellent concealment for the areas prosperous rattlesnake population. Fortunately, we avoided the venomous reptiles, though we did see an impressively massive migration of millipedes on our dusk hike out.

Box Spring Green

Real southern California is fairly exotic terrain for me and always feels a bit surreal. Greg Russell is currently working on a fascinating project to photograph the designated wilderness areas of Riverside County, most of which don’t receive much attention. Check out the Riverside County Wilderness Project!

Box Spring Boulders

Photographing so close to a major urban area was a little odd for me, but I love the feeling of being high above a big city, and the L.A. haze can be rather atmospheric.

Riverside Sunset

 

Seasonal Colors

Baker Creek Red and Green

Technically these are autumn images, from October rather than December, but they seem appropriate for the season. Both are from Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada: Streamside foliage and a snow squall over Wheeler Peak.

Wheeler Cloud Cap

Joyous late December to all!