Archive for May, 2010

Photographing the Kelso Dunes

May 25, 2010

A view looking north towards the Old Dad Mountains

If you’re looking for a little more seclusion then the more visited dunes of Death Valley try the Kelso Dunes. Although just like the dunes at Stovepipe Wells there is main walkway from a parking lot area but you can leave this freeway of foot prints and veer off to the east or west and truly lose yourself into the void of 45 square miles of dune field, the largest in the Mojave Desert. Slide down from the top of 650ft high Star Dune on a hot day and listen to the odd booming vibrations. Make sure you are gassed up and have plenty of water and snacks it’s one of those out of the way special places. There is a small coffee shop inside the Kelso Depot but it’s not always open so make sure you check before you plan on stopping there. If you have time the Mojave Preserve is an under appreciated place in the desert with many other unique photo opportunities.

Seeing creatively in the field, 2006
From a first visit back in 2006.

Equipment needed: The bare necessities and whatever else you may have. Photography is about seeing creatively not about what you have in the bag.

Getting there: The Kelso Dunes are located between I -40 and I – 15 towards the Eastern California border. Kelbaker rd connects to the 2 freeways, it will take you there. There is sign for the dunes a few miles south of Kelso. From here a dirt road with the dunes in view will take you 3 miles to the parking lot.

An aerial view of the Kelso Dunes.
The extensive view of the dune field from the air.

Steve’s Mojave Desert gallery
Steve’s workshop listings


The Warm California Sun

May 22, 2010

Santa Monica Mountain Shorelines
Santa Monica Bay, Northern Los Angeles Coastline

Pt Mugu is not iconic for photographers but in cinema is it gets worked to death. Most of all cinema work is done from the road and it’s usually car commercials full of curving road with Mugu Rock as the backdrop. This was taken down on the sliver of boulders in between the shore and Pacific Coast Highway so removing the evidence of man is the most challenging thing in the area. As urban as it may be you can still keep the feeling of a beautiful seascape. The Channel Islands lay vaguely in the distance.

When I first started photographing landscapes I was gone to often and my friends began to think I was a recluse. I was the guy that was most likely to be living on a mountain where there are no roads. Shooting closer to home can keep you happy and keep your social life well oiled. I will always get that phone call from a friend saying, “Let me guess you’re on a ____ in _____?” I’m usually never more then a few hours from home.

Part of the Ventura County Collection

Workshop info here.

Canon 5D Mark II error message 30

May 18, 2010

A sign of a broken camera.

I was coming home today on the way back from a gig down in Malibu and I was shooting snap shots along the roadside in Malibu Canyon and my shutter made a distinct noise. The screen read “Error message 30” “turn off on and re-insert battery.” I did what it said but no luck I couldn’t get the camera to work. I called canon’s customer service and they did all they could do from a point of being on the phone and told me to send it in.

I went into the U.S. post office and had them send the package registered*. It ended up costing me 30 dollars and I will be without the camera almost 10 business days.

*Registered mail, this I was told would save me a lot of money then if I were to do this a different way. I was mainly saving on the cost of insuring the package. Anything over $500 worth of insurance should be done this way. There isn’t always someone knowledgable working there to help you figure out the easiest way so I thought folks would find this useful.

Now is the hard part do I use my old 5D to keep me working or do I rent a new one? I would buy a new one but it’s almost 2 years old now and so far I have never kept a body for over two years. Just thinking out loud here again.

From the Talus Slopes of Mt. Agassiz

May 2, 2010

The view from above Bishop Pass looking towards Mt. Humphries.

We as photographers love to be in that right place at the right time but of course it does not always pan out to our liking.  Maybe you timed it wrong or had to do more climbing then you thought you needed to. Maybe there was not a trail or a clear path to get to that destination.  One thing is certain nature is always there and you can return; it will be there waiting for you.

I tried to summit this high peak last year in July and needless to say I did not summit on this trip but I did return three days later to try again. . . .

On the first trip up I was a little frustrated since I was not near the peak and just had to make the best of the situation. Along the way at the point where my sunrise destination had to be improvised, I encountered the first two scenes. The most prominent geological features were these turret like formations but the flowers surrounded by rock caught my eye the most.

Sky Pilots

Nothing grows higher than a Sky Pilot in the Sierra Nevada. They grow right out of the scree slopes of Mt. Agassiz and stare at the Dusy Basin with LeConte Canyon off in the distance. The falling rocks just bounce off these little, dense, bush-like flowers only centimeters tall. I guess you can say we appreciate the smaller things in life.

Sky Pilot is also a common name for a person leading others to heaven. I am not trying to say I am taking you there but it is as close as you can get on your own 2 legs in the mountains of California while still having flowers at your feet.

Here I am three days later trying to summit this mountain so I can shoot from the top at sunrise. At 10am this morning I was at home in Thousand Oaks and had this spur of the moment idea to try to bag this peak again. At 3:30 I am hiking to the top of Bishop Pass trail again. Shoot! The sun is going down and I am only at 13,000ft. I’m not going to make the rest of the 1,000ft scramble up to the summit in daylight and the moon will not be out to guide me either.

I’m going for it! It’s dark and the temperature begins to drop. There is water running down the gulley I’m climbing and the patches of unmelted snow increase in size the higher I go. Occasionally I look down after each small section that requires climbing to see how much further I have gone. I make it to the top but I do not have a sleeping bag or a tent and there is still another 5 or 6 hours until sunrise. At this point the realization comes that this could be the stupidest thing I have ever chosen to do. I pull out hand warmer packages that skiers use for there hands, feet, and body and place them all over myself and attempt to sleep.

It is 11pm or so and it is dark and cold out. I can see into Big Pine and some of the Owens Valley but I can also see into the San Joaquin Valley. My head lamp is off and there is no moon but I can still see the ground and talus surrounding me. Dust in the atmosphere reflects light from the sun back down into Earth’s night sky. I am still finding it hard to sleep without the comfort of a pad or bag but I am warm enough.

A series of mulitple exposures at f4 20 seconds ISO 1600 in the early predawn light just to get myself warmed up compositionally before the actual sunlight shows up.
A series of mulitple exposures at f4 20 seconds ISO 1600 in the early predawn light just to get myself warmed up compositionally before the actual sunlight shows up.

After hours of falling in and out of sleep, dawn is finally here and clouds float above the Sierra Nevada’s largest glacier (it is Central California). I get up thinking what a rough night and imagine what if a storm might have passed while I was sleeping. After photographing the pastels of dawn the light quickly changes and I feel the sunlight graze my head and face before I see it hit the sea of peaks in Sierra. All the clouds are gone like a normal summer day in the Sierra but I am happy as can be as I head down the mountain.

Mt. Agassiz is California’s 20th highest peak at 13,891 ft and is a bit more of a challenge then walking up to the top of Mt. Whitney. You do not need any kind of technical gear to summit so anyone can climb as long as you do not have any limiting physical conditions. Beware of falling rock and there is not a designated route to summit. It was a highly enjoyable experience but in the end it was not really about summiting and capturing that alpen glow dream shot. It was about stopping to smell the sky pilots and admiring all the other beautiful things along the journey. In life we take risks big and small that help us pass certain personal boundaries and this was one of my own personal boundaries. Could you imagine if John Muir worried about the tiny little things most of us worry about today? If so he might not have any stories to tell.

Self portrait July 2009