Self-Critique: Sunset, Dead Tree, Ocean, Seal Rock

Above Sutro Baths Ruins, San Francisco

Sunset, Dead Tree, Ocean, Seal Rock. Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California. March 19, 2010. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Third post in my self-critique series.  It is much easier for me take photographs from last year that I really liked and thought were excellent to self-critique than photos I feel the same way about from this year.  It is the progression of skill, whether technically, compositionally (not a real word), or via lighting.  I guarantee next year I’ll feel the same way about photos from this year.  That’s why as photographers we have to keep shooting and learning from other photogs (beginning to pro).  You never know what you’ll learn from anyone.

From a composition standpoint, I’m actually ok with this photograph as it follows the “rule of thirds” in many aspects.  Maybe where the ocean meets the sky is a little too close to center, but I’m ok with that.  The major elements (Seal Rock, dead tree, and the sun) all follow the rule of thirds.  I wasn’t using a tripod at this point  so the horizon was not level and had to be adjusted in post processing.

As for the technical aspects, I was a bit lucky I was shooting into the sun since I could use a very high shutter speed and avoid blur due to the gusty winds here.  The biggest problem in this photograph is the shape of the sun.  It’s an amorphous blob.  The aperture was f/4.5.  To get a more circle shape or even a sun star, higher f-stops need to be used.  At least f/18-22 for sun stars.

ISO 360?  Yeah, I have no clue why I set the ISO to that number as this certainly wasn’t a low light photograph nor was I ramping up the ISO to attain a faster shutter speed to negate water/tree/leaf movement.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 32mm, ISO 360, 1/4000 sec, f/4.5


Pastel Doors, Hallway

Presidio, San Francisco, CA

Pastel Doors, Hallway.  Disney Family Museum, The Presidio, San Francisco, California. January 29, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

When you think of the The Presidio in San Francisco, words like military installation, fortification, cannons, and soldiers come into mind, not words like pastel doors.

Since The Presidio was inactivated as various Army’s headquarters and unit in 1995, the land was eventually transferred to the National Parks Service and managed by The Presidio Trust.  Some of the buildings are rented out to residential and commercial tenants.  One of these tenants is the Disney Family Museum.  While on a weekend getaway in San Francisco, we were surprised when we came across banners publicizing the museum.  As with all things Disney, everything must be to specifications, including paint colors.

So while we didn’t pay the $20/person to walk through the museum, we were still able to browse the high-end gift shop.  It was about this time that I noticed some framed vintage park attraction and movie posters down a flight of stairs.  Being a collector of vintage posters, in general, I knew how rare it was to see such a collection of paper.  It was while I was in this downstairs area which houses a small theater, a coat check, and offices that I glanced down a hallway and saw these colorful doors.  With camera in hand, I snapped a few photographs of the doors as well an Mickey-ear themed staircase.

While I was happily snapping away, I was courteously informed by the girl working the coat check area that photography was strictly forbidden while in the building.  Oops.  And as any Disney employee is taught, she was very nice about it and also didn’t ask me to delete any photos from my camera.

Yes, this picture was taken in January of 2010, making this trip the first real effort I made of starting to take photography seriously.  Looking back at some of these early photographs makes me cringe since I see a lack of composition skill in a lot of them.  And yes, practice makes perfect, or at least a lot better!

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 30mm, ISO 200, 1/13 sec, f/5.6

Sunset, Peaks, Silhouettes

Hwy 88 west of Silver Lake

Sunset, Peaks, Silhouettes. Hwy 88 near Silver Lake, California. October 24, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

As I was driving back from Hope Valley shooting fall foliage, I got the pleasure of driving back down the twisting roads of Hwy 88.  I enjoy it even more if I have an equally fast pace car ahead of me so in case any critters, namely deer, decide to jump onto the road, it will be the car ahead of me that will be in harm’s way.  When there are no cars around me, I tend to drive a little more conservatively.

Anyhow, I was in a pack of 4 cars on this particular stretch of road near Silver Lake when I started noticing the great sunset colors that were forming.  At first I thought it might have been caused by the smoke from the prescribed burn about 5-10 miles ahead near Bear River, but it turns out this color was a combination of clouds, haze, and a little smoke.

It is usually times like these a photographer must put an extra effort to stop, get out of the car, and take a few snapshots.  At this point, I was about to be behind a quick pace car, I was hungry and ready to hit a restaurant about 30 minutes down the road, and it was cold with light fading fast.  Plus, it is just slightly eerie to stop when you pass a road called Tragedy Springs and a landmark named Maiden’s Grave.

After speeding past a location with cars ahead and behind me, I made a u-turn at the next junction almost a mile down the road and sped back up the hill to the road for Shot Rock Vista Campground.  I quickly grabbed my camera bag and tripod, and went about shooting various compositions for 7 minutes.

This particular photograph was a bit tough to shoot because it was getting dark (as evidenced by the 20 seconds it took for this exposure) and these set of hills were actually to the left of where the sunset was and my camera refused to autofocus (AF) on them.  So what I had to do was AF on the hills near the sunset, turn off AF on both the lens and the camera, and then recompose for the shot as I guessed that what I could focus on was relatively the same distance to the objects I couldn’t focus on.

Here in post processing I’m playing with the crop also.  I thought I liked the more tightly cropped photograph above, but now I’m leaning towards a version that has very minor cropping and maintain the original ratio.  It’s the change in color of the sky as it becomes darker near the top that bothers me.

Version 2

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, spot metering mode, 145mm, ISO 100, 20 sec, f/5

Trip Report – Hope Valley 2011-Oct-24

After passing the Hope Valley area last weekend on the way home from a couple of days in the Eastern Sierra and seeing how many of the aspens had started to turn or were at peak, I knew there would be maybe a week or two left before the leaves would be down.   Yep, that was probably a run-on sentence too!  Anyhow, after seeing the forecast for potential rain/snow midweek, I didn’t want to take the chance of a storm coming through and taking down the remaining leaves.  I left at noon and was in the midst of lots of cars parked along the highway and folks snapping photographs.

Sorensen’s Resort & Fire Road

Sorensen's - Fire Road
Sorensen's - Fire Road

So while I completed neglected to take a photograph of the fall colors at highway level, I will report the aspens along the road near the resort are at peak.  It might last until the next weekend, but most likely not beyond that.  If you can make a midweek trip, that would be the best bet.

Instead, I started hiking up the fire road/trail immediately to the west of the resort.  It was immediately noticeable that the leaves are completely down from the start of the fire road and up to the 5 turn.  There is nothing left except for a few trees here and there and is not worth the uphill hike if the intent is for aspens.  On the other hand, between the 3rd and 4th turns on the trail and just past the downed tree across the trail, there is a rather large section of, what I believe are, bright yellow Broad Leaf Maples.  Some compositions can be made from the trail itself, while other can be made by going trailblazing up the side of the hill.

East Fork Carson River

East Fork Carson River

Just east of Sorensen’s Resort and starting down the east side of the Sierras on Hwy 88 are various turnoffs to explore the East Fork of the Carson River.  The colors here are at peak and may last for another week or so.  The area I explored is the first large turnoff area across the road from Horsethief Trail.  Since there are picnic benches and fire pits for families, access to the river itself very easy unlike locations in this area.  While I was here around 3pm and the sun was still rather high, I was able to take a few photographs of the colors, but most of my compositions were of close-ups of the leaves, branches, and boulders.  I’ll post those photographs in the coming days and weeks.  The fun part for me was hopping from boulder to boulder while carrying my camera equipment.  Ok, maybe that was the best idea, but it sure was fun!

Hope Valley

Ok, I’m obviously having formatting issues while using WordPress.  I have pictures all over the place.  And yes, I’ve worked with HTML in the past, but apparently not all the usual HTML rules are followed here.

Anyway, the centerpiece of this area is Hope Valley itself.  Most everything you need to see is visible from the main highway (Hwy 88).  Throughout this area this weekend were cars parked all along the road with photogs with all sorts of equipment, from cell phones, point-and-shoot cameras, and digital SLR cameras.  There is one official parking area with facilities and it is just west of the Hwy 88 and Hwy 89 (to Lake Tahoe) junction.  Most of the fall foliage is on the north side of the highway with most of the area accessible because it’s public campground.  Some of the area to the west is private grazing land but they barbed wire fence is down and hikers and photogs were walking in the area.  Just avoid the cow patties.  The color in this main area of Hope Valley is at peak and past peak.  We’ll be lucky if the leaves last into the next weekend.  Just beyond initial stand of aspens seen from the road at this location are trees with no leaves.  There will most likely still be large pockets of trees at peak by next weekend, but the area will be in decline by then.

Hope Valley, Hwy 88
Hope Valley, Hwy 88
Hope Valley - Hwy 88

Red Lake

The final area I was able to visit in Hope Valley as it was becoming dark was Red Lake.  This is the lake you see as your descending east from Carson Pass and the current one-lane stoplight as work is being done to remove and secure the hillside at the pass.  Due to the blasting of the granite and heavy equipment needed to remove debris, there may be up to a 2-hour delay during the weekdays until October 31st.

By the time I arrived at Red Lake, the light was fading fast as Carson Pass looms high over the lake.  While there are some trees around the lake, it’s nothing like the lakes in the Bishop Creek area where thousands of trees surround the lakes.  This area is at and past peak.  The photographs I took were from the areas away from the lake.  There is a nice composition with a red barn amongst the trees by taking the road to the left as you enter the Red Lake area from Hwy 88.  And no, I didn’t take a shot as it was becoming way too dark and I would have need to park in a mud pit on the dirt road.

Hope Valley, Red Lake
Red Lake, Hope Valley

All photos.  © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Pier, Starfish, Morning Light

Fort Baker Pier

Pier, Starfish, Morning Light. Fort Baker Pier, Marin, California. May 16, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

A HDR photograph from underneath the Fort Baker Pier in San Francisco Bay.  On the itinerary for this photo day was to potentially capture long exposures of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Fort Baker Pier, capture a few compositions from underneath the pier, and finish off with the usual stop at Muir Woods.

After another slow start and leaving home about 30 minutes later than I intended, the opportunity to shoot Golden Gate while the sky was still dark passed.  That seems to happen to me quite a bit when departure time is 3 or 4am.  It might have a lot to do with my habit of staying up late (usually between midnight and 2am).

I had almost forgotten about shooting under the pier before taking a walkway and then onto a very small “beach” that had more pebbles than sand.  Checking the tide charts for the day (5:14am -1.4ft low tide, 12:14pm +4.7ft high tide) before let me know that there would be some land for me set up my tripod and camera.  High tide would have prevented this shooting opportunity.

The reason I bracketed 3 exposures for an HDR is because from underneath the pier it is fairly dark and the light coming from the end of the pier is very bright.  So exposing for either of the spectrum wasn’t a good option.  Bracketing was set a -1, 0, +1 exposures, the shots were then set to “Camera Standard” profile in Adobe Lightroom, exported as TIFFs into Photomatix Pro 3 and tonemapped, and then brought back into Lightroom for final post processing.

Maybe I wasn’t paying attention or maybe it was just dark beneath the pier, but I didn’t even realize all the starfish clinging to all the pier pilings.  In fact, there is a starfish at the far end of the pier on the center piling.

This was entered into competition and took home a 1st place for color manipulated photography.  Woo-hoo!

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 55mm, ISO 200, HDR [25 sec, 13 sec, 6 sec], f/18

Dog Tufas, Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Dog Tufas, Grass.  Mono Lake, California. October 16, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Somehow I’m now on a streak of two posts in a row that have been inspired by other bloggers.

Today, it’s Erica’s experience-north-cape blog.  Erica lives in Norway, which looks like an serene place to live, plus she gets to use letters like å, ø, and æ.  Anyhow, there’s a place up there named Trollholmsund that has features much like the tufa towers at Mono Lake.  The only real difference is the “trolls” in Norway actually have a story behind them.

Erica’s post about Trollholmsund: Trolls, Dolomites and a Little Fantasy

So back here at Mono Lake, we have friends for her trolls.  Well, maybe we have pets for her trolls.  There are a couple of tufas here that look suspiciously like dogs.  Maybe they’re the faithful guardians of the lake?  We’ll never know.

What is interesting is that since these photographs were taken in October 2010, the water level at Mono Lake has risen due to an agreement by the city of Los Angeles to divert less water from the 4 main creeks/rivers that supply freshwater to Mono Lake.  Now access to these tufa formations is a little more difficult than before.  The choice is to either walk through ankle to knee high water or bushwhack through sage brush, which I wouldn’t recommend.

Mono Lake Tufa Dogs

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 175mm & 55mm, ISO 200, 1/40 sec & 1/10 sec, f/5.6 & f/22

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors – 2011 Oct 22 Weekend Outlook

Sorensen's Resort

Aspens, Pines, Sorensen’s.  Sorensen’s Resort, Hope Valley, California. September 29, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

UPDATE 10/23: The forecast for Kirkwood (Hope Valley) for Tuesday, October 25th is now calling for AM Rain/Snow.  This means there is a good chance the leaves may drop or turn brown by Wednesday.  So much for my idea of being lazy on Sunday and taking a day off midweek to photograph Hope Valley, I’ve got to go now (Sunday).

Yes, it’s Saturday night and I really should have put this post out on Friday at the latest.  In reading the SacBee’s Fall Color article it sounds like the best places for fall color this weekend are the areas around June Lake Loop, Lee Vining (LV Canyon, Lundy Canyon), Conway Summit, and the arrival of color at Hope Valley along Hwy 88 near Kirkwood on the western slopes of the Sierra.

In summary from the SacBee article, the peak for the northern Hwy 395 Eastern Sierras is either here or will be peak by the middle of next week.  So the time to go is now!

The weather forecast will be mostly sunny for the next 5 days so we’ll all be lucky to catch a few clouds here and there.  With that in mind, avoid the midday sun and shoot either in the mornings or afternoons for better (i.e. less harsh) light.  Shaded creeks will provide some great compositions of both the aspens and water.

The photograph here is from Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley from 2010.  If I do make it to the area tomorrow (Sunday), I’ll post a trip report and pictures by Sunday or Monday.  Good luck!

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 34mm, ISO 200, 1/60 sec, f/11