Thursday, October 31, 2013

Practice Run

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The waning crescent moon looked so good as it rose above Twin Peaks around 5:20 this morning that my wife, who'd just gotten up for work, opened the curtains and told me to have a look. I wasn't disappointed. Having taken the day off, I needed a little motivation to roll out from under the warm covers.

I could see the moon just fine without getting out of bed, but I had another motivation to actually get cracking and make the drive up to Mt. Tam.

We're heading up to the Sierra tomorrow to spend a couple of days in Yosemite, where I hope to expose a few sheets of Velvia 100F with a borrowed 4x5 view camera. I haven't touched a view camera since I used one during a brief stint at Brooks Institute of Photography in the early '80s, so I figured I'd get in some practice on Mt. Tam. I fired off a few frames with the D800E while I waited for the sun to come up. I was surprised to see the sun rising so far south of Mt. Diablo. Just last month (link to pix) it was rising north of the mountain.

I used my 300mm rotated to vertical position to knock off a few panoramas.

I'd meant to create one very long panorama, but I must have been too tired and/or caffeinated, because I didn't leave enough overlap in a couple of the frames for Photoshop to stitch it together.

I did manage to expose a couple of sheets during the sunrise -- one pointing into the sun, and another pointing west as in the "Dawn Farallones" shot above. My next stop was to check up on the trail camera and move it to a new location, which is when I disturbed this coyote who'd been casually strolling down the middle of the fire road until it spotted me heading its way. The old camera trap location was in a good spot, but I was eager to set it nearby in a spot closer to a spring before we get any rain (hopefully soon) and there's water everywhere.

After I moved the trail camera I wanted to head out West Ridgecrest to use the 4x5 out on Bolinas Ridge, but I had to wait with eight wild turkeys for the gate to be open. A ranger finally showed up to open the gate, but then closed it behind her! Stuck waiting, I scouted around the parking and area exposed another couple of sheets on some nearby bracken ferns, where I tried a camera movement (lens tilt). Ooooo, getting tricky.

But it was nice to have the turkeys around to keep my attention occupied. I'd never noticed before that the mileage on this sign is posted as "04" instead of just "4".

Turkeys passing the "No Dogs" sign....

I finally got through the gate and set up the 4x5 in a nice spot overlooking Bolinas, with the Farallon Islands in the distance. I exposed a couple of sheets here, then called it a day. Starting with a box of 20 sheets of film, I botched the very first two sheets trying to load them into the film holders (I have five, and each holds two sheets). Today, I snagged the focusing cloth on a catch that released one corner of the bellows from the rear standard, but I didn't notice in time and botched another couple of sheets. So, keeping a positive spin on things, I've got a 60-percent success rate -- which I hope to improve with the next 10 sheets, in Yosemite.

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I got the first batch of 4x5 slides back today (Nov. 8), and what it's difficult to wrap my brain around when viewing them is that I am viewing huge slides, not small prints. Pretty cool. I don't have any way to digitize them except to photograph them on a light table that I pulled out of storage.

Here's the image from the shoot shown in the last photo of the blog post.

Here's a comparison between a 35mm slide and two 4x5 slides.

I'm looking forward to going back out to try again. I had many more failures than successes with the first batch, but I think I've learned a few things and ought to do better with the next batch. Incidentally, I sent the film via flat-rate Priority Mail to Data-Chrome in Santa Ana on Monday and got the processed film back the same way today. 

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October Favorites

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As we made a low pass over the north side of Mount Tamalpais with the [airplane] window opened for photography, Barbara excitedly announced over the intercom: "This is incredible. It's all unbroken forest down there. I'm seeing more continuous forest right here in the Bay Area than in all my flights over the national parks of Costa Rica."
--Galen Rowell, from the Introduction to Bay Area Wild

Under the Madrones

Bathing Beauty

Redwoods & Friends

Above Alpine Lake

Raccoon Highway

Banded Garden Spider

Lake Fog

October Columbine

Turkey Tail Fungus

Pleated Caps

Slime Mold: Wet & Dry

Redwoods, Alpine Lake

Through the Moss

Orange Sulphur

Soaring Redtail

Sunrise from Mt. Tam

Moonset from Panoramic Highway

Blackberry Blossom

Secret Pool

Secret Pool #2

Rock Spring

Pelicans at Foot of Tamalpais

Buck Deer Frightens Burrowing Owl


Jay Feathers

Leaf in the Stream


Yawning Coyote

Zig Zag

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Phoenix Lake

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The early bird gets the sunrise, but there's such a thing as arriving too early.

The funny thing was, even though I arrived at the end of Lagunitas Road in the dark, I did so behind the vehicle in front of me. However, that vehicle only got in front of me because I didn't know where I was, being unable to see much, and had turned at the wrong place. I was actually glad to have some tail lights to follow the rest of the way. When I got to the lake, there were people jogging on the trails already -- in the dark!

I'm not sure when I was last at Phoenix Lake -- I've only been there twice before, and only once before to catch the sunrise: exactly 10 years ago today. The image I shot on Oct. 26, 2003 was made on Fuji Velvia film. It'd be another four years before my favorite local E6 labs closed and I reluctantly switched to digital film.

Now I'd be just as reluctant to go back to analog film. There's nothing like getting 400 shots on a "roll" and not having to spend a dime to get it developed. Nevertheless, I just ordered some film for the first time in years because a friend loaned me one of his 4x5 cameras. I look forward to trying it out in Yosemite next week. Once the rain gets going, I look forward to using it to photograph Cataract Falls. A scene like this one above, with so much detail to be captured, would also be fun to shoot in large format.

In the shot I made at Phoenix Lake ten years ago, the sun was shining on the foreground, and the big-leaf maples really blazed with golden fall color. The trees this year didn't look quite as good, so I didn't stick around to wait for the sun to rise high enough to light up the lake.

I drove back out through Ross and Fairfax to keep going out around Mt. Tam's north side, stopping to capture the morning light in this canyon just west of Azalea Hill, where the Doug fir forest gives way to riparian oak, maple and bay laurel, which in turn gives way, on the other side of the drainage, to hard chaparral.

The Oregon ash trees at the head of the canyon have lost all their leaves.

Here's Alpine Lake's "bathtub ring," with a trio of mergansers paddling by.

The cucumber beetle kept scuttling around to the back of the gumweed in an effort to hide from me, but I finally wore it out.

The dragonflies were more accommodating. Once this individual had looked me in the eye and buzzed a few figure-eights around me, it finally got used to me and settled on this stalk of Mt. Tam thistle, allowing me to approach closer and closer, until its wingspan filled the frame end-to-end (using a 105mm micro).

Meadowhawk on a stalk.

Even with its beautiful, distinctive markings, the buckeye butterfly can be hard to spot on a ground of "nature's chaos."

I had just set the camera trap in a new place when I walked past these manzanita berries. The berries are edible, even to humans, but they're not exactly what you'd call a "choice" edible, at least not right off the bush. Try a nibble sometime. The taste is pleasant, but the chaff is best spit out.

I'd somehow burned up the half the day already, it being about noon when I photographed this California sister butterfly sunning itself on a Doug fir branch. My belly said it was lunch time. My body (on about five hours of sleep) said it was nap time. I finally did get some lunch, but I had to save nap time for later....

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