Follow our 49 hour roadtrip and backpacking journey into the Oregon Wilderness to see the Solar Eclipse. This is my first attempt at making a vlog. I learned much, and promise to make better ones in the future, LOL.
August 21st 2017 is a date that will not soon leave my memory. A close friend, his son and I made the long voyage to Northern Oregon to catch the Total Solar Eclipse.
We began our journey in Santa Rosa, California from where it would take us two days driving to reach the path of totality that stretched across Oregon from West to East. Our plan had us camping our first night at a beautiful Alpine Lake near Mount Shasta. Unfortunately we encountered some car troubles on the way up which forced us to take a 2 hour detour, and were forced to hike to Porcupine Lake in the dark. The darkness however, did not disappoint, and we were offered some spectacular views of the Milky Way over the lake.
The next morning I awoke to photograph sunrise. I was extremely tired from the long day before, but the photo was well worth the trouble.
After breakfast we hiked back to the car to finish the drive to Northern Oregon. This ended up taking longer than we anticipated and we had to pull off the side of the road and camp somewhere near Detroit, Oregon.
Finally we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trailhead at Olallie Lake, Oregon where we would begin the journey on foot. Thankfully it was only 3-4 miles, because our packs were extremely heavy with food, clothes, camping and photo equipment.
Our camping spot was absolutely world class, and we had the next 3 days to lounge and explore, before the real crowds began to show up.
The next days were spent meandering the nearby trails to other lakes, and eating the endless supplies of huckleberries the forest provided.
As the eclipse drew nearer, we made sure we had charged batteries, and began planning how we would shoot something that we had no experience of. From a photographic standpoint, photographing your first eclipse is extremely challenging, due to the constantly changing light levels.
Watching the sun slowly retreat behind the moon through a piece of solar film, I began to prepare my cameras. Below is what I managed to capture
My good friend Chad Zalunardo, an amazing photographer was able to capture some astounding images with his small Orion telescope. You can find more of Chad's images HERE
It is safe to say I am now a life long eclipse-chaser. This was such an awe-inspiring experience, and it can never be described with images, let alone words. I hope if you are reading this, you will one day be able to experience the magic of a total solar eclipse!
The Milky Way is back! Every year from April through August, we in the northern hemisphere are granted a glimpse deep into the heart of our home galaxy. During the remaining months of November through March, the Core of the Milky Way (at right, above) lies below our horizon during the night, and out of view.
During this early period of the galaxy's rise, it only reveals itself very late at night, and as the months progress through August, it will avail itself progressively earlier throughout the evening. This means capturing images in the earlier part of the year requires long, dark, often cold nights in remote locations far removed from the terrible light pollution generated by populated areas.
Over the past six years I have dedicated countless hundreds of hours both in the field and in front of the monitor learning the techniques, technology, and post-processing to produce high quality astrophotography. Now, with some new equipment at my disposal, I am finally beginning to produce images that I can be truly proud of.
Six years ago, when I began the slow process of learning astrophotography, camera equipment was much less advanced than it is currently. Camera sensor technology continues to evolve rapidly, allowing for much cleaner images of the dark night sky, with less 'noise' or graininess.
One obstacle all photographers encounter when photographing the stars is the constant spin of the Earth. The Earth's spin means that a photograph cannot be exposed for more than ~30 seconds before the stars visibly move across the image. Previously, one would need a telescope, with an extremely expensive motorized tracking mount to counteract this.
Thanks to a handful of specialized companies, we now have very compact, motorized mounts for our cameras that counteract the Earth's rotation (the white device pictured above). What were previously advanced scientific pieces of equipment are now available for under $400, and are extremely easy and convenient to set up and use. Simply align the North Star, Polaris, in a small sight-hole in the device, and turn it on.
These tracking mounts allow photographers without access to advanced telescopes to take stunning images of the deeper reaches of the night sky, previously only available to researchers and observatories.
Using a combination of classical photographic technique, star tracking motor, and image compositing on the computer, it is now possible to create images of the night sky that are suitable for large-scale printing. Previously any large print of images similar to these would be plagued with terrible graininess, lack of clarity, and imperfections. Now with sensor improvements, tracking motors, and software advancements, it is possible to achieve much cleaner images of the night sky than ever before.
April has been an amazing month in Southern California. Every year in spring, the region receives a dizzying variety of wildflowers, especially prominent in the regions between the wetter coast and dry desert plains. Some years are better than others, and some years are Superbloom years. 2017 Is being hailed as the best Superbloom in decades! Thanks to the much needed rainfall received this year, mother nature put on a psychedelic display unrivaled by anything I have ever witnessed.
I started my hunt for the Superbloom in far Southern California, around the borders of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. I returned to a small valley I had scouted a few months previous. Little Blair Valley offers free camping, and great trails with thousands of years old Native American Petroglyphs.
I thought the valley would offer a good opportunity as it lies at the correct altitude for the Superbloom. While it was beautiful, it didn't offer quite the spectacular display I had hoped for. I still made the most of my surroundings by hiking a few miles in the dark to do some lightpainting of the ancient petroglyphs.
I returned to my camping spot, as the weather began to turn. The winds were howling, and the temperatures dropped very quickly. I climbed into my tent, and quickly realized I had forgotten my good thermarest mat and pillow. I grabbed a headrest from my car's passenger seat to double as a pillow, it was going to be a long night. The sounds of the tent fabric catching the wind lulled me into a fitful sleep.
I woke up before dawn. The wind was still 50-60mph. I found some rocks to weigh my tent down and geared up for an early morning hike to shoot some timelapse of the sunrise. I battled the wind to get my Nikon setup on a hilltop and programmed it to shoot 1000 sequenced photos for timelapse. I made it a point to splay my tripod legs to make a wider base, so my camera would not be blown over (A problem I would sadly encounter later this day at another location). The sunrise was beautiful, with the high winds pushing striated cloud formations across the valley.
After about an hour, I went to gather my Nikon from the mountaintop, and drove back to camp. The tent was still there, albeit with all the stakes pulled from the ground by the wind. Clever me for putting the stones in to weigh it down, as it would still be blowing across the Mojave today had I not. I made a sandwich and snacked on fruit while convincing myself not to go back to sleep. I had a lot of driving ahead of me.
8 hours of yellow mustard fields, and a roadside nap in San Bernardino later, I was in Antelope Valley. Famous for it's preserve of California Poppies, Antelope is pretty much the Mecca of wildflowers in California. About 2 miles outside the park, I began to see the crests of the famed orange hills. I'd found it! Superbloom in action!
I soon realized I was going to be shouldering through masses of tourists and fellow photographers. The road for 2 miles leading into the preserve was packed with parked cars, and the park itself had a queue of over 50 cars just to enter. This wasn't what I envisioned, and I quickly drove past the park proper. I decided to do some exploring and found a side road. Usually Californian dirt roads such as this lead to gated or fenced off property, but I was in luck today. I drove 10 minutes into the a landscape of hills and valleys that seemed to have been watered with pure LSD. The colors were indescribable. The clouds were a photographers dream. Everything was perfect. Except the wind. I struggled to open the door of my car against the 60-70mph winds. But the wind was a minor hindrance to one of the most otherworldly and beautiful sites I had ever laid eyes upon.
I went through my paces, setting up a timelapse to capture the perfect cottonball clouds. I then set to shooting this landscape from every angle I could imagine. I was in a utopia of color and light. This lasted about 30 minutes until I went to check on the timelapse. I crested over the hill to be greeted by a horrible sight. My tripod was on it's side, blown over by the high winds. The foresight I had had at sunrise was overtaken by my eagerness to get started here.
The damages to my camera and wide angle lens put a damper on my joy. I still had my Sony A7Rii to shoot stills, but I was heartbroken to see the camera I had come to love in pieces, and a lens I use for work in critical shape.
Nonetheless I had to stay to capture sunset, which was still 2 hours away. I put the accident behind me and decided I would be depressed about it when I got the bill. I threw my 50mm f1.2 lens onto my Sony to get some closeups of a few of the millions of flowers. Choosing one flower out of the crowd felt like I was doing a disservice to all the others.
The wind continued as the backdrop to the whole journey, and even began to get stronger. I don't have any instrument to measure wind, but when you struggle to stay standing upright, it is safe to say the winds are strong.
Soon, the sunset came, and while beautiful, was not as spectacular as I had anticipated. I snapped the last few photos of the day, and drove the remaining 3 hours back to home in Santa Barbara, through the dark and winding corridor of San Francisquito Canyon.
About a week later I made a much less eventful, but still beautiful daytrip to the Carrizo Plains National Monument with my lovely Mom to capture the last of the Superbloom there. The drone was the star today, as the winds were behaving this time. The grey clouds obscured any quality light throughout the day, but the blossoms were still fantastic, and showing my Mom the process of landscape photography I spend so much time doing was a great time for both of us.
There are still a few weeks left before the wildflowers complete their lifecycle. The blooms will climb in elevation as the temperature rises through May. Perhaps I'll have time to go chase them once more before they say their final goodbye.
Tecopa, California Mine Exploration
The Mojave Desert is my escape from day-to-day life in Southern California. Every two months or so I get the overwhelming urge to pack up the car and get lost for a week. The desert offers a perfect place to do this, and is a brilliant photographic subject as a bonus.
I'd like to thank my favorite desert pioneer and entrepreneur Cynthia, who runs the only hotel in the desert encampment of Tecopa - Cynthia's. Tecopa served as a jumping off point for our plans to do some spelunking in the abandoned mines and climbing of amethyst laden mountain ranges of the area.
The landscape surrounding Tecopa is littered with mines. From talcum, to lead, silver, gold and iron, few are active, dozens are abandoned. A small number of these mines have been mapped and explored by the Underground Explorers Club. One of these is War Eagle mine. Active from 1912 to 1957, the mine was an abundant source of silver, lead, and even small amounts of gold.
Entering the mine, a cool winter breeze flowed through the top shaft, indicating another exit somewhere within the depths of the cavern. The walls and divergences within had been marked by the explorers club, which was a welcome sight, as the amount of twists and turns soon had us questioning our sense of direction. Roughly a quarter mile within, we were greeted with an extremely steep, sloped shaft.
The infrastructure, left untouched for over 70 years was in amazingly good shape, and the makeshift staircase allowed us to descend in relative safety. As we descended deeper into the Earth, the temperature rose, and a stifling stillness permeated the air. We passed through 6 levels of horizontal shafts, broken by platforms through which passed small trap doors to the levels below. It became increasingly difficult to breathe, and we contemplated turning back, but we soon reached the bottom, where we found a dead end, and interesting objects such as an 18 year old newspaper which showed absolutely no signs of age. The atmosphere within the belly of the earth seems to serve as a placid time capsule.