Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jeepin' in Joshua Tree

We took our granddaughter on a Jeep ride in the park last Saturday. She really enjoys the great desert views out the back of the open Jeep... far superior to the very limited view she has out of the family sedan! For her, it's a little like a ride at Disneyland!

This is in the Queen Valley area of the park. An easy dirt road that goes through some really pretty areas and eventually ends up back on pavement near Barker Dam.
I used my fisheye lens to take the shot below... I was lying flat on my back shooting up toward the sky. I was trying to get maximum distortion... make my wife look really tall... and it turned into a very funny moment as my granddaughter walked over, stood in front of my wife, and imitated the way she was standing!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks to our hosts - Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy!!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Poseidon On The Beach, Del Mar, CA

I spent the last three days in the San Diego area in business meetings. I feel very fortunate, as I usually have to fly to the East Coast (my company is based there), so any meetings I can have in my own time zone are always welcome! Even better, we have a facility based in the La Jolla/Torrey Pines area, so we used meeting rooms at that facility. If you need to spend a few days in meetings, it's hard to beat La Jolla. For our team dinner we went to Poseidon On The Beach, which is a short drive north up a beautiful stretch of highway along the coast. No time for photography this week, other than a couple iPhone shots at the restaurant. I purposefully darkened for foreground to protect my coworker's privacy.
I ordered the swordfish which was pretty good (I've had better), but you absolutely cannot beat the views and the ambiance. Watching the sun set in the pacific from your table is so much fun, the food is almost an afterthought!
Hope your week is going well. Linking with Skywatch Friday. Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world. And thanks to our hosts - Yogi, Sylvia, and Sandy!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Amboy, CA

This forgotten desert town (like others on Route 66) is now a photographers favorite. I was there last weekend a little after sunrise. My wife gave me a free pass for the weekend, and I wanted to make the most of it! At one time (prior to the building of the freeway that took all the traffic away from Route 66) Amboy was a thriving tourist stop. The main attraction now is the old Roy's Cafe sign and motel bungalows. Kind of a tribute to a bygone era. There is no cafe, no functioning motel. The gas station has one pump that works (a good thing because it's quite a distance to the next gas station) and the store sells cold drinks, T-shirts and other souvenirs. The long stretch of old Route 66 that seems to go on forever and the huge desert vistas and surrounding mountains make it a special place.

Just a guess, but the Roy's sign is probably the most photographed of all the Route 66 signs, at least along the CA stretch of Route 66. And look at those bungalows! You can just imagine the wide-eyed families motoring west from places like Chicago who have, perhaps, never even seen the desert before. They would be pulling into Roy's to fill their tank, eat at the cafe and get a good nights sleep before heading on to the Pacific. If those bungalow walls could talk!
Linking with Skywatch Friday. Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world. And thanks to Yogi, Sandy and Sylvia for hosting this blog!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Desert Smoketree (Psorothamnus spinosus)

I think this is a case of you have to learn to like them. First appearances are deceiving! They grow on you over a long period of time and after many hikes and drives across the desert. The desert Smoketree has a very limited distribution... the desert washes of southeastern CA, southwest AZ, and a little stretch of Baja California on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. If you see one in it's natural environment, then you know you are in a wash! One can guess about how they came by their name. Perhaps their smokey color, almost devoid of the typical greens seen in most plants, with mostly grays and dusty yellows that imitate a cloud of smoke. Not very flattering, but they remind me of those scary adds about how your lungs will look if you smoke. They often look dead, and you might wonder how anything can grow in the loose sands of a desert wash that typically go many months and sometimes years without a drop of rain. But when there is rain, it can be torrential and flooding. The desert wash, probably one of the most inhospitable environments in the world.

For more Smoketree images, click on the link: Desert Smoketree. But be careful, they might start to grow on you!

Hope you enjoyed these classic desert shots along with the clear blue skies. Linking with Skywatch Friday. Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world. And thanks to our Skywatch Friday hosts Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Desert Hummers

We have 3 Desert Willow trees on our property in 29 Palms, and I always look forward to this time of year when they start to bloom. "Tree" is perhaps an overstatement, as they tend to be almost bush-like in appearance, with multiple trunks and generally getting to only about 15 feet or so in height. However, you have to admire anything that can survive and grow in this severe desert environment, and the Desert Willow is one of the few native trees able to do this. Here's a shot of my wife sitting next to a Desert Willow... actually a better shot of the prickly pear than the Desert Willow, but you get the idea!
They have a lavender-color flower that reminds me of a jacaranda flower, and the trees always attract lots of humming birds. Desert hummers tend to be a little smaller and less colorful than those I see in other parts of CA, but fun to photograph nonetheless.
The shot below is a good one to show the appearance of the Desert Willow flowers and leaves.
There are a limited number of flowering trees and plants in the desert, especially during years of low rain, and I'm always amazed how these hummers seem to almost magically show up, and in significant numbers, when things are in bloom. They love the red ocotillo blooms as well, but I'll have to save that for a future post.
This little hummer (above) seemed not at all bothered by me and my 400mm lens. She (I'm guessing a female because lack of color, or perhaps a juvenile?) sat on the same branch as I circled her with my camera. It was very windy, and you can kind of see she has some feathers out of place! The sun was behind her, hence the backlighting.

Linking with Wild Bird Wednesday.
Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Star Trails

Have you ever wondered how photographers get those great star trail shots? You know the kind I mean, right? The streaks of light in the sky that show star movement over time? I've done my share of night photography, but never a serious attempt at star trails. When trying something new I generally consult the all-knowing source of information for the universe (YouTube), and bingo, multiple instructional videos right at my fingertips! Here are the basics, in case you're interested:
1] Pick a night when there is no moon and no clouds. This is critical!
2] You will need a sturdy tripod, a wide angle lens (the wider, the better), and a shutter control device.
3] Figure out where the North Star is, and point your camera in that direction (assuming you are in the northern hemisphere). All the other stars swirl around the North Star.
4] Camera setting:  Manual focus set at "infinity", 30 second exposure, ISO at 1600, and aperture wide open. For most lenses, this will work pretty well, but some tweaking may be necessary. Take a test shot and adjust accordingly.
5] Using your remote shutter device, set your camera to shoot continuously, one shot after another, every 30 seconds, for about 2 hours. At 2 shots per minute, this will give you 120 shots/hour. Two hours is plenty of time to track the movement of the stars across the sky. The video said the longer, the better.

I pretty much followed the above guidelines. I used an 8mm fisheye just to try it out, and to capture the entire night sky (true 180 degree view). Here's what a single image looks like through the fisheye lens with the camera mounted on a tripod and pointed straight up at the sky (camera settings as above). Look closely, you can see the Milky Way.
I started shooting about 11 PM on a nice, dark night last weekend. I stumbled back outside after waking up sometime between 1:30 and 2 AM. I had 341 images, and the camera will still shooting (battery still charged), so I could have taken even more shots. I went in the house and looked at a shot on the camera's screen... very disappointed. It appeared to be solid black, and I couldn't make out any stars. It wasn't until later on my computer screen that I could make out the detail of the stars. Lesson learned: don't try to judge photos viewing the back of the camera. Wait until you can view it on your computer screen! I used a free program called StarStaX to layer the shots on top of each other. This program makes it very easy to manipulate a large number of photos and generate your finished shot.
Pretty crazy shot, don't you think? Sometimes it looks like a globe to me, other times a funnel. If you look closely, you can see city lights and creosote bushes around the perimeter of the shot. Oh yes, and easy to see where the North Star is! Here's a cropped version of the shot.
So overall, I'm pretty happy with my first attempt at star trail photography. Next time I'm out in the desert on a dark night, I definitely want to try it again. I'm going to use a different lens (not the fisheye), and I'm going to try to find something in the foreground (boulder formation or a big Joshua Tree) to make it a more dramatic and interesting shot. 

Thanks for putting up with my photo-experimenting, and I hope your weekend is a good one! Linking with Skywatch Friday. Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world!!