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A Scene at Muir Woods revisited some 12 years later

I have been a lover of trees for as long as I can remember. My back yard growing up was basically a section of forest. I loved being in forests and smelling the autumn leaves turning. I loved their different shapes and colors and smells. The greatest of trees it seemed were the redwoods. In my back yard growing up we had 3 or 4 dawn redwoods. These were relatively small as they were very young. I had read about the great coastal redwoods but had never seen them until in 1998 I made a trip out west. In this trip my dad and I made a stop at Muir Woods, and being a photography lover I had my Mamiya 645 with me. As we walked that wonderful grove, I made several pictures that to this day are some of my favorite photos that I have ever taken. Below is one of those images.

Arched Tree, Muir Woods, CA 1998

Arched Tree, Muir Woods, CA 1998

Walking along the trail I was fascinated by these trees that will fall over and then keep growing in their new orientation, sprouting limbs straight up from the fallen log in cases. These stood and fell in the shadow of the wonderful redwoods around. This one had somehow grown into a near perfect arch and stopped me in my tracks. The combination of the arch with the redwoods all around was instantly a must-shoot composition. After some searching around I found a spot that seemed to minimize the impact of the wooden boardwalk in the background and emphasized the arch. This is that picture. The light was soft and beautiful, emphasizing the colors.

Just recently I had the opportunity to revisit Muir Woods for the first time since that trip in 1998. I hit the loop and made my way through. We only had about two hours of light left, but I soon recognized the spot, or nearly anyway, where I had taken that arched branch photo all those years before. This time I did not have my Mamiya (I had forgotten it in the car! Next time I will not forget). Instead I had my my trusty Canon 5D Mark II which is my standard operating camera these days. Armed with cell phone service in the park I suddenly had the idea to try and take the same photo again. I had located the spot by memory, but couldn’t quite get the angle right. I called up a copy of the film image on my phone and did the best I could to get the right angle. What I got is pretty close. It’s definitely the same general position. However, you can obviously tell the landscape has changed! A whole new crop of leaves has enveloped the foreground and right side of the image. Looking at the two side by side, it seems as if the right most trunk had fallen over in the camera’s direction and then sprouted up all those branches and leaves. So, the picture I took all those years ago is not possible anymore. The foreground clutter just doesn’t give you the same effect. The arched tree is still there, growing slowly. In coming years it will no doubt look much different still.

Arched Tree, 12 years later

Arched Tree, 12 years later, 2010

Muir Woods is a magical place to me. My first exposure to the mighty coastal redwoods. I hope everyone has the opportunity to visit the redwoods somewhere one day. Stay tuned for more images from Muir Woods as soon as I can process them!

Death Valley Portfolio added to Flickr

There have not been many updates here lately as I have been busy with work and the holidays and not taking trips shooting. However, I have managed to go through and upload my 102 favorite Death Valley pictures to my Flickr stream. You can check them out starting with the first pic here:

Twin Suns in Death Valley

Some of my favorites:


Racing Rock

Magical Light

Standing ground on the dunes

East of the Sandstorm

Drifting Sand Patterns

These pictures are from four separate trips to Death Valley. Three trips in 2008 and my sole trek there in 2010. Sadly I did not make it there at all in 2009. Enjoy.

Joshua Tree by firelight and moonlight

Last night I was in Joshua Tree National Park again. This time it was not a backpacking / photography expedition. However, as I am compelled to do, I brought my camera gear along. At one point I realized that I might be able to take some photos of our camp. I also realized that our huge camp fire was lighting up the surrounding rock walls. So, I set the camera on my tripod and let it go to work. I was blown away when I saw the results!

Firelight and the half moon

Firelight and the half moon

“Wow!” is what I thought when I viewed this on the tiny LCD monitor. Blown away, I did a second exposure with far less desirable results. Despite the identical exposure, the fire died down significantly and there just wasn’t enough light. So, I decided to try something else. I set the camera up again, knowing that the moon was soon to disappear behind the rocks. This time after I clicked the shutter I beefed up the fire with the help of a fellow camper and spent the next 12 minutes painting the rocks with the fire as I constantly added bits of bright burning cardboard and additional wood.

The result? The starburst effect of the moon shot with a small aperture (f/16) just as it dipped behind the rocks.

Moonburst and firelight

Moonburst and firelight

After this I gave up on this composition and tried a few others near the fire. These shots combine some moon light (as the moon was still visible from the other side of the campground) with the fire light.

Red rocks and star trails I

Red rocks and star trails I

Red rocks and star trails II

Red rocks and star trails II

Shortly after this last one I the last bit of moonlight faded from the foreground rocks. I elected to head for my sleeping bag, but discovered there was enough light (and I had just enough energy) to try one more purely moonlit shot from a few hundred feet away from camp.

Moonlit star trails at Joshua Tree

Moonlit star trails at Joshua Tree

And finally, here are the two best shots of camp that led to all other night shots from the trip.

10 Seconds at camp

10 Seconds at camp

8 Minutes at camp

8 Minutes at camp

Yours truly can be seen in the second one, semi blurred, somewhere in there.

October 18, 2010 - 7:19 pm

Nancy - Kurt…I’ve never seen photography quite like this. Your pictures are truly amazing!!!!!
Thank you for sharing your talent with us. What a gift.

October 18, 2010 - 9:12 pm

admin - Thank you!

October 19, 2010 - 7:58 pm

Nancy Lehrer - These images are great. Your blog was forwarded to me by Suzanne Tanaka.

January 14, 2012 - 11:24 am

Brittany - Kurt I love the pictures you’ve posted- thank you for sharing not just your pics, but your experience while shooting them as well!

A stormy morning at Joshua Tree

A Solitary Joshua Tree

A Solitary Joshua Tree

The scene above is one of my favorites from my recent trip to Joshua Tree. The sun had just broken over the top of the thunderstorm line that had produced the lightning show a few hours earlier. The rain left a nice low level fog amongst the joshua tree forest ahead.

Joshua Tree Forest

Joshua Tree Forest

Here you can see the ground level fog. The backlight did not last long. As we got closer the sun dipped behind the clouds. We were on our way out at this point. The sun would emerge a short time later but the light had turned harsh. The previous morning was a different experience.

Sunshine and Thunderstorm

Sunshine and Thunderstorm

Taken at the Boy Scout Trail head where we began our journey, these three pictures show the storm that would shortly hammer us.

Incoming Storm

Incoming Storm

Ever changing storm clouds

Ever changing storm clouds

After the storm

After the storm

Joshua Tree Forest II

Joshua Tree Forest II

On this backpacking trip we encountered few wild animals. During one rest stop I looked over and spotted this tarantula walking across the southern slopes of Quail Mountain. I am not sure if it was looking for food or if it was a male looking for a mate (and its doom).

Wild Tarantula

Wild Tarantula

Looking North from Quail Mountain

Looking North from Quail Mountain

View from Quail Mountain

View from Quail Mountain

Our expedition was to summit Quail Mountain, which is the high point in the Little San Bernardino Mountains and also the high point in the park.

Desert Sunset

Desert Sunset

Desert Sunset II

Desert Sunset II

Desert Sunset III

Desert Sunset III

As a landscape photographer, I find a place like Joshua Tree can be very challenging to shoot. The cloudless skies we have in southern California can sometimes make things a bit dull. On this trip however the skies played nice. Clouds tend to make what might be an interesting photograph an exceptional one.

Lightning and Star Trails in Joshua Tree National Park

I have now visited Joshua Tree National Park twice. Contrary to what one might expect from the desert, both visits (February and October) have involved rain and lightning. I just yesterday returned from this second trip to Joshua Tree, and ahead of the other pictures I thought these deserved their own post. I have always wanted to shoot lightning pictures. I have never had the opportunity to do so from a safe distance. As luck would have it, yesterday morning afforded me the opportunity I had long waited for. I was on a backpacking trip to summit Quail Mountain, the highest peak in the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Starting around 4am, a huge light show played out to our east. I just had my 5D Mark II, 24-105mm lens and a tiny Gorillapod Focus (with the ballhead X). A rock outcrop provided a high platform for this setup so I could get a good view of the action from camp. I kept the camera close enough that I could keep an eye on it from my tent, and run out and fetch it if it started to rain, which it did twice.

Thunderstorm and Star Trails at Joshua Tree

Thunderstorm and Star Trails at Joshua Tree

Wow! That’s what I thought when this exposure finished. I decided that I would pretty much spend the rest of the morning taking pictures instead of sleeping. Who needs sleep when you’ve got this going on?

Thunderstorm and Star Trails Take 2

Thunderstorm and Star Trails Take 2

As the storm moved north it got closer to us. The lightning became more and more visible. The storm was so electrically active that there was almost a strike or cloud to cloud bolt every second, with a faint distant roar of thunder. It was really quite a show.

Pre-sunrise glow with lightning

Pre-sunrise glow with lightning

Here the sun was beginning to rise on the distant horizon. The horizon was 99% blocked by the storm except for a brief time where I could see a little red on the left.

Lightning 1

Lightning 1

Lightning 2

Lightning 2

Lightning 3

Lightning 3

Lightning 4

Lightning 4

Lightning 5

Lightning 5

Lightning 6

Lightning 6

Lightning 7

Lightning 7

In this last one the lightning almost seems to wrap around a cylinder of rain. All in all I’m ecstatic about my first ever lightning pictures. What an amazing trip this was!

Finally, here is a star trail picture I took earlier in the evening when the skies were clear.

Star Trails at Joshua Tree

Star Trails at Joshua Tree

Which lightning picture is your favorite? Let me know in the comments please!

October 4, 2010 - 7:59 am

Sally O'Brien - 6 is my favorite. GORGEOUS.

October 4, 2010 - 1:09 pm

Anthony - Love the star trails. I think lightning 3 & 7 are my favs.

October 4, 2010 - 6:05 pm

Kristen - These are AWESOME, Kurt. It’s hard to choose between the lightning pictures — maybe 1 or 6? The very first picture is my favorite of the whole bunch, though.

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