Walking up Market Street in San Francisco I was watching out for anything that could be photographically interesting — architecture, people, vehicles, light — when I looked down and saw this little vignette of… not much at all really. Perhaps someone had been cleaning the street earlier, and now a puddle of water covered some sidewalk bricks and flowed over the gaps between others.
I stopped, more or less in the middle of the sidewalk, likely forcing a few people to take a path around me or perhaps just wonder what I was photographing with my camera pointed straight down. What I saw was, first, the water itself. Then I saw the narrow vertical band of lighter tones, where there was a break between reflected buildings. I only paused for a moment to make a couple of exposures, and then I continued on.
Dawn light comes to the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada and Mono Lake.
Some years back I visited Mono Lake very early one morning with my brother, Richard, who is also a dedicated landscape photographer. My recollection is that we had arrived separately in the eastern Sierra and somehow ended up meeting here near the town of Lee Vining and heading out to this familiar spot before dawn to make photographs.
I never know exactly what will turn up here. Yes, I can always photograph those tufa towers, but I’m usually often interested in special atmospheric effects: haze, clouds, broken dawn light, the glow on the peaks of the eastern Sierra, reflections in the morning-smooth water. We began by photographing fairly conventional photographs of the tufa towers before the light arrived. It was a cloudy morning, though the deck of clouds was broken, allowing some light to make it through the gaps and a momentary band of light to strike the mountains as the sun came up beneath the far edge of the clouds in the east. I must have made this photograph fairly close to that moment. Most of the scene is in shadow, but bands of light appear on the peaks, and a bit of softer light illuminates the foreground tufa.
The east face of the Panamint Range is reflected in the surface of a desert pool
This is a photograph of one of those surprising features of Death Valley — water in the middle of a place that is astonishingly arid. This location is one of the lowest, hottest, and driest places in the Valley, and beyond this pool is a terrain that is particularly inhospitable, the famous salt flats. It is not pleasant to venture out there on a hot and sunny day, when not only is the heat oppressive but the light is so intense on the white playa surface that it is almost impossible to look.
I went here quite early one morning, in time for the sunrise light across the Valley on the mountains of the Panamint Range. In many ways this was not a hugely promising morning. I would have preferred some interesting clouds, though the thing high clouds are not completely uninteresting. It might have been nice to have white salt flats, but the playa had apparently gone so long without rain and had experience enough wind that the sometimes-white salt was quite gray. This little pool, at the edge of the Valley and the base of the tall and rugged hills, mirrored the early morning sky and a bit of the dawn color on the mountains.
Steep, tree-covered cliffs along the shore of the Königsee, Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany
I 2013 we spent a magical week in the Berchtesgaden area of Bavaria, right next to the Berchtesgaden National Park and a short drive from Salzburg, Austria. This was part of a longer trip that began in London and also included an additional week in the Heidelberg, Germany area. We met up with members of Patty’s family, and this big extended family group stayed at a big, rambling farm-house in Bavaria, from which the backyard view from the outdoor table where we often ate included a chunk of the Bavaria Alps culminating in the summit of the Watzmann, the second-tallest peak in Germany.
The Königsee was a short distance away. In a loose way, Königsee feels just a little like a Yosemite Valley with a Lake filling it. The lake sits in a long, narrow valley surrounded by much higher mountains — though these mountains have a more alpine appearance than those visible from the floor of Yosemite Valley. It also includes some of the “touristy” features of Yosemite — the lake itself is most certainly no longer a wilderness. One of the most popular of those features is the system providing boat rides up the length of the lake. (In deference to the purity of the lake water, these boats are powered by electricity.) The boat ride is quite something, beginning at a place that truly is “touristy,” but soon passing through this narrow section of the lower lake between steep, tree-covered cliffs, before the terrain opens up revealing longer views further up the lake.
Curving window reflects the courtyard of the Getty Center
This curving wall of tinted windows is a favorite subject of mine at the Getty — I have photographed it several times, in fog and rain, with people in front of it, with people behind, and the structure alone. People often move across the courtyard area in front of it on their way to other places, so I can catch people in motion against this background. In fact, one other series from this visit includes a child jumping and hopping his way across. Frequently people will appear momentarily between the columns leading into the distance at the right, too.
This was a very clear day, so the light is crisp and the reflections are very visible in the curving glass. The color of the glass almost reminds me of the water of a swimming pool, and I wonder if the architects thought about this when they designed this aquarium-like rounded building with its many windows.
Autumn oak leaves, reflections of sky and sandstone cliffs on stained rock
This was a wonderful autumn day of exploration, re-visiting a familiar place, wandering with friends, and photography. We drove a short distance down a back-country road from our campsite to get to the start of a canyon, beginning in a spot where there is little in the surrounding landscape to indicate what is hidden here. We left our vehicles on the flats at the edge of a shallow valley and dropped into it. The valley quickly narrowed and it wasn’t long until sandstone walls towered above as we traced the meandering course of the stream that had cut this canyon. We travelled slowly, making detours as the spirit took us, and halting to concentrate on photographic subjects we discovered along the way.
Eventually we arrived at a sort of “half-subway” (referencing a well-known Utah landscape subject that is far from this spot) where the creek rounded a bend in a narrow section of the canyon and has cut away rock back underneath the overhead walls. At the lower end of this section we arrived at a wider flat area, though the canyon was still quite narrow, and we paused to eat, talk, make photographs, and ponder. Across the bend in the creek a smooth rock wall dropped down from beneath a thickly vegetated ledge to the banks of the creek, and water seeped from cracks below the ledge, providing enough water to keep the rock constantly damp, and autumn leaves from an oak tree on the ledge were scattered on the rock.
American Avocet and reflection, San Joaquin Valley wetlands
I have written before — often! — about the tremendous numbers of birds in California’s Central Valley, especially in the winter when migrating birds overwinter here. It is easy to be most impressed by the birds that are the biggest, the most unusual, those that are found in almost unbelievable numbers, and those whose cries are most striking. Frankly, very few experiences can compete with the sound and fury of many thousands of geese taking to the air at once, the magic of squadrons of cranes gliding in at dusk, the grace and size of the slower-moving egrets and herons, and too many others to list.
I’ve never been the classic “birder” type — the guy with the scope who searches out and identifies any and all birds — though I have become much more sympathetic to the passions of such people as I have spent more time among these remarkable birds! More recently, as I have returned to these places more and more frequently, I have gradually become aware that there are many other birds besides the big, impressive specimens mentioned above. These include individuals such as the hawks and owls, small birds that also live in flocks such as red-winged blackbirds, and a bunch of smaller birds that hang out in and around the water… like the avocet shown here. At one end of a refuge where we frequently photograph there are some quiet ponds along the side of the access road. I rarely see the bigger birds here, but I have recently learned that there is a lot more going on here than initially meets the untrained eye. On one of our recent visits I spent some time photographing avocets against the mostly smooth water in the morning just after the fog had cleared.