Brown Pelican in flight above Moss Landing, California
Here we have (yet) another in the continuing quest to get the exactly right pelican photograph. Actually, I’m joking — I don’t know what “the” right photograph would be, and I do know that there are almost infinite variations in these birds and the ways that they can be seen. Each individual looks at least a bit different, and they appear in all sorts of different surroundings: against the sky, against the water, close up or far away, overhead, at my level, below me when photographed from bluffs, midday or golden hour light, how the bird is orientated relative the light source, and on it goes.
This is another of the big group I photographed at Monterey Bay last summer, when the promise of whales surfacing near the shoreline took us there on short notice. Indeed, the whales were there and they were remarkably close to the shoreline. But nearly as remarkable was the absolutely huge number of birds that also showed up, including the pelicans.
Looking towards the Bavarian Alps from the Salzburg Castle
I’ll admit that this photograph has one of the more unusual compositions among my photographs. Late in the afternoon on a summer day, I made the photograph from within an upper courtyard of the Salzburg Castle during our visit to that part of the world a couple of years ago. We were actually staying in Bavaria, in the portion of the distant mountains that is in Germany, but we arrived by train in Salzburg, departed the same way, and managed to travel down to the flatlands and visit the city on a couple of other occasions.
The castle is a spectacular place, located on the high ground above the old town and a bend in the river and having a commanding view of the surrounding flatlands and all the way to the mountains. As impressive as it is to us today, it must have been far more impressive when it was built. From this vantage point I was just able to see over one of the upper walls toward the mountains, and the backlit, hazy sky glowed. I suppose that the photograph is all about shapes, mostly abundant rectangles, but also the triangular shapes of the roof of the white building. The mountains echo those shapes, but inverting the tones — where the white buildings are the lightest things in their part of the image, the mountains are the darkest things in the upper rectangle holding the distant landscape.
Brown pelican flight above the shoreline of Monterey Bay, Moss Landing, California
Rediscovering this photograph and a few of its buddies makes for a bit of an odd story. Earlier today I got a message telling me that one of the drives attached to my computer was nearly full. That seemed a bit surprising, but it also was clearly an issue I had to address, so I set about looking for unnecessary files on that volume. In doing so I “discovered” a folder full of raw files and a few Photoshop files that I had apparently transferred to the computer last year… and then forgot. Most of the files there turned out to be unneeded, and I reclaimed 5GB of disk space by deleting them. But among there were s small number of shorebird photographs that I had forgotten.
The photographs came from an amazing and surprising spur-of-the-moment visit to Monterey Bay last June. For weeks I had been hearing stories of whales coming very close to the shoreline, and I had even observed a few from the cliffs in the Big Sur area. A news story claimed that they were now inside Monterey Bay and even coming very close to the beaches an Moss Landing — and friends had photographs to prove it. So over the hill we went to go there ourselves. When we arrived we were, indeed, impressed by how close the whales came to the beach — I had no idea they did that. But as impressive was the huge collection of birds that was perhaps attracted to the same food sources that drew the whales. I had never seen such numbers of these birds along the coast. Among them were a large number of brown pelicans, so many that photographing them was almost too easy.
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.
I visit the Getty Center (perhaps once or so each year) as much to photograph the architecture as to see the art. The overall effect of the space, on the large and small levels, is stunning. It sits on top of a ridge with long views over the Los Angeles basin and out to see near Santa Monica. The Center sprawls along the top of the ridge, with many levels to the buildings and with an unusual garden below. The details are also fascinating — among other things, rectangular forms are reflected in almost all aspects of the design, yet there are things that are set off at odd angles from this regularity.
I made this photograph in a small interior area, more or less a sort of hallway and stairway with a walkway crossing in front of a wall of windows that are covered by translucent shades. As I looked at it I thought of it as a sort of cubist subject, and I found the colors (the various transparencies and the strips of muted blue sky beyond) and varying decrees of opacity/transparency very interesting.
A flock of Ross’s geese head west against the clouds of a winter evening sky
This may well end up being one of my final migratory bird photographs of the 2014-15 season. It seemed to wind down early this year, at least from what I saw. I suspect that this probably has something to do with the very unusual weather this winter in California. The temperatures were far above normal. In some places there averaged ten degrees higher than usual during the first three months of the year. Precipitation has also been way out of whack. There were some early indications of a possible wet year, then things seemed to be put on hold… until some serious rain (at my elevation) in December, which brought back memories of what winter used to be like in California. Then the tap seemed to be shut off with the new year, and where I live we went nearly 50 days with no rainfall whatsoever at what should be the wettest time of the year. It finally rained again, but not much. More troubling, the Sierra experience roughly 10% of typical precipitation levels, and this is the fourth year of below normal precipitation.
Despite the climate challenges, the season did produce some truly wonderful days of bird photography in the Central Valley. One thing that helped was a long period of tule fog in the Valley, which I find picturesque. Eventually the birds showed up, and we had a great stretch of geese and cranes and more up through the middle of February. At the end of the month we headed to the Sierra for an exhibit at the Yosemite Renaissance, stopping on the way to visit the birds. We didn’t see many at all, and when we stopped again on the way back things hadn’t changed much. Late in the day we did find a group of Ross’s geese on a pond, and I caught groups of them as they departed to the south and west.
I acknowledge that this color is pretty wild. This is partly a result of the way the camera sees in diminishing twilight, with colors saturating in surprising ways. The photograph was among the last couple I made on this evening when we continued photographing so late that it was about to become tricky finding our way back down in the near darkness. It is also the result of wild color in the sky — a bit of which you can see on the clouds in the upper portion of the frame — that fell on rock that is already quite red.
We had spent perhaps a couple of hours photographing in this terrain, focusing on the sensuous shapes of the curved sandstone, the odd cottonwood tree with fall color leaves, and bits of the surrounding landscape. It was a productive evening, working a group of six of us exploring, at times together, and times in smaller sub-groups, and sometimes alone. I didn’t really want to stop, since this isn’t the kind of location that I can easily return to — but eventually the light faded and our work was done for the day.