Ross’s geese in flight above San Joaquin Valley wetlands in dusk light
This was a beautiful mid-winter day in the San Joaquin Valley. It began with a two-hour pre-dawn drive from home, starting earlier than a month ago now that the days are beginning to lengthen again. I drove in clear weather and it remained so as the sky began to brighten as I entered the valley, but as I got closer to my destination I was pleased to encounter for — thin at first but within minutes so think that I had to slow and turn on fog lights. I arrived at my destination a half hour before sunrise, and began photographing, working all morning before finally taking a break for lunch.
My friends Claudia and Michael had dropped a hint in an email that they might be out that way later in the day, and I was pleased to find them there when I came back from my break. We greeted one another, took a quick trip around the area to scout the birds for evening photography, and then ended right back were we started. Big groups of sandhill cranes and geese (mostly Ross’s but with a few other interlopers mixed in) were active in newly turned fields nearby, so we found a good vantage point and watched as the evening light came on. Eventually the light became so dim that it was no longer really possible to make sharp stop-motion photographs of birds in flight. This is, in a way, one of my favorite times of day, when I switch over from a more typical kind of bird photography and begin to go with the darkness, using slow shutter speeds and panning along with the motion of flocks, and making photographs that work with the motion blur of low light and slower shutter speeds.
Morning light and reflections on the rocky shoreline of a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake
A wonderful thing about making photographs is that I get to travel backwards and forwards in time almost at will. Here it is in the middle of winter, and by looking back a few months in my archive I can go right back to a beautiful late summer week spent photographing around a Yosemite subalpine lake with a couple of friends. All of the sensory memories come right back: the stillness of the morning lake as the first sun worked its way through high clouds and haze, the memory of carrying my camera around the perimeter of that lake every morning as I looked slowly of subjects, the first colors of Sierra autumn.
We camped here for a full week, working intensively to photograph in and around one small area. If you haven’t done this you could be forgiven for wondering how in the world one could spend an entire week in area not much larger than a mile or two across. In fact, I still have those doubts at the start of any trip like this. All I can say is that, inevitably, the end of such a week comes too soon, I depart with many things left unphotographed, and I often return to these places again and find even more to see and photograph.
A woman walks past scaffolding in front of Manhattan shops
There are several things that I find interesting about this photograph. First, I don’t remember making it! I remember many other subjects from this evening — we had walked across the Williamsburg Bridge, stopped in a tavern, visited Stand Bookstore, and more. But I have no recollection of making this final photograph of the evening. Second, the scaffolding lining the sidewalk and, above where we cannot see it in this photograph, seems like a common feature in Manhattan. I walked through, past, and around scaffold-covered buildings frequent.
My subject here is yet another example of that modern species of human who walks (at least at the moment of my photograph) along city streets and elsewhere, absorbed in the world of that little handheld device and giving no indication of being connected to the surrounding world. OK, I like the light, too. The light from the shop spills out of the front windows and across the sidewalk, creating shadows that are muted and filled by light from the surrounding neighborhood.
Evening light on the Big Sur Coast and the Big Creek Bridge
I have to admit that when it comes to available photograph subjects… I am spoiled. I knew I was going to go make photographs today, but when I awoke well before dawn I had not decided for sure where I would go. I considered going north across the Golden Gate to Point Reyes National Seashore, but it sounded like a weak weather system was going to pass through that area late in the day. I thought about heading to the Central Valley where my favorite winter subject, migratory birds, can be found — but I generally prefer to go there when I think there will be at least some fog. So I headed south, beginning my morning with a few hours at the Point Lobos State Reserve and then heading further south down the Big Sur coastline.
When I arrived at Point Lobos the light was interesting and the surf was still huge. Over the next few hours the surf diminished a bit and a thin overcast drifted in overhead and began to thicken. I figured that I might get somewhat clearer light a bit further south, so off I went on the Pacific Coast Highway. On the way south I stopped at this spot and considered it as a possible subject for the sunset hour, and then I continued on down the coast. Later I checked the time, estimated I had enough to make it back to this spot before sunset, and headed back up the road, arriving here perhaps ten minutes before the good light arrived. The bridge, dwarfed by the immense landscape of coastal mountains and ocean, spans the outlet of Big Creek.
People assemble outside of Buddha Bodai One on Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve in New York City, and after joining the throngs up on Fifth Avenue we headed down to China Town for dinner, planning to eat at a place that we’ve gone to in the past. We arrived and it was surprisingly crowded and when I asked I was told that the wait would be “an hour and a half or longer!” Hey, the food is good… but not that good, so we set out to find an alternative. We wandered the area a bit, figured out that just about everything on Mott Street was similarly crowded, and then headed off to a different street where we found a quieter Vietnamese place.
While wandering Mott Street to look for an alternative I kept the camera out and made a series of photographs of scenes along this street. It was a great spot to photograph, with lots of people who were often somewhat static in front of businesses and restaurants, and streets so narrow that signs from lights tended to fill in the shadows across the street. For me the elements of a photograph in a place like this include the light itself, whether flowing across sidewalks and into the streets or the light of the business signs; lots of color; and people assembling themselves into interesting arrangements. Here many of the individuals in the group are doing interesting things — a woman pushes a child in a stroller (which, for some reason, is starting to be a motive in my street photography), another woman seems to be slightly off-balance, a couple is in a darker area off to the right, and an older man stands along in front of a stairway, looking alone and slightly uncomfortable.
I made this photograph on my second visit to the San Joaquin Valley migratory birds this season, on a day that features some very beautiful light near the end of the day. As always, I arrived before dawn, at first photographing in very thin fog. (Overall, this year so far seems have produced a lot less fog than usual and much less than last year.) I photographed all morning, finally took my midday break, then returned in the mid-afternoon.
This group of birds managed to pose quite nicely for me. There are many challenges when it comes to getting a group of birds together in one photograph. There are the usual issues — the birds need to fly past within camera distance, they must be oriented so that they are decently lit, there must be enough light to allow a fast enough shutter speed in order to minimize motion blur. While “decent” light can work, better light is, well, better. In this case the group of birds cooperated and flew toward the low angle light source of the sun, with just enough side light to enhance their features. Another challenge is taking advantage of opportunities when the birds line up in interesting and photogenic ways. Here they are all (well, almost all) headed the same direction. Wings are mostly in interesting and dynamic positions. There is barely any overlap among the birds, and the one small overlap has the head of the closer bird visible.
Evening light breaks through clouds to light trees growing on granite slabs along the Tuolumne River
This photograph takes me back to mid-summer days in the high county when I spent a big chunk of time in the Tuolumne Meadows area making photographs in July. It was an odd year — July seemed almost normal, despite the historic drought, except that it looks more like a normal August, with virtually all snow gone, low water in the creeks, and fairly settled weather.
One evening a group of us joined forces to wander along the Tuolumne River in evening light. Here we stopped at a curve where the river curves around a section lined with large granite slabs. It was cloudy, but a bit of late-day light slanted in from the left.