Kurt M Lawson Photography »

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Looking back at the Griffith Park fire of 2007

Three years ago a fire swept through parts of Griffith Park in the heart of Los Angeles. On this day for whatever reason I had brought my camera in to work. I was glad I did. From the rooftop of my workplace, we could see this during the day:

Griffith Park fire from a rooftop in Santa Monica

Griffith Park fire from a rooftop in Santa Monica

This looked big, and it was the first time I had seen a fire this close. Usually area fires had been far away in the San Gabriel Mountains or elsewhere away from the center of the city. Borrowing a telephoto lens for the night, the view became much more dramatic. Tragically the buildings and smoke are slightly out of focus in the series of shots I took from the rooftop at night.

Griffith Park fire gives an apocalyptic glow behind the buildings of Century City

Griffith Park fire gives an apocalyptic glow behind the buildings of Century City

Having seen this, and knowing that the park was surrounded by the city, I decided that this would probably be the safest fire I could chase with my camera that I’ll probably ever see. So, with a friend of mine along for the ride, we set out to check out this crazy sight.

A surreal alien firey landscape

A surreal alien firey landscape

What we saw blew our minds. I had seen fires in the past on TV but to see one with my own eyes was something else. It was insane. Whole hillsides right behind residential neighborhoods were black with glowing red embers. It looked like a mountain of lava with dark alien trees growing from it (where there were some left).

A neighborhood's light and power silhouetted against the firey landscape

A neighborhood's light and power silhouetted against the firey landscape

Hotspot in a forest of embers

Hotspot in a forest of embers

View of a red planet

View of a red planet

It was just surreal.

The fire and the freeway

The fire and the freeway

Our last stop was on the bridge of Los Feliz blvd over the 5 freeway. Here thousands of people were just driving on by the burning hillsides going about their business. Dozens of local Angelino’s were hanging out on the bridge under a rain of ash watching the action unfold and taking pictures. Everyone was super friendly. In fact, I noticed during the Station Fire last year that everyone I encountered was super friendly and helpful, giving me tips on where to shoot from safely.

As we get into the hot summer months I am sincerely hoping that we don’t have a repeat of last years devastating fire season.

June 10, 2010 - 5:36 pm

Kristen - Hi, Kurt! Those are some awesome and frightening pictures. I hope you guys don’t have to go through that again this summer.

June 11, 2010 - 9:20 pm

Nancy Culbertson - Kurt, You photographs and story could be in National Geographic.
Your pictures are amazing.

June 14, 2010 - 4:43 pm

Mark E - Kurt!
Amazing Photography! Keep up the great work.

May 3, 2012 - 10:47 am

John N. Maclean - Kurt,
Great photos. What is the status of the photos now? Have they been exhibited?
Sincerely, John N. Maclean

Photographic Print Store

I’ve been searching for some time for a simple solution for presenting a web store for selling prints. The closest thing I’ve yet found is the service from bigcartel. I’ve set up a basic store with them. Basically, you select the size of print you want and it will set up the transaction through Paypal. You need to specify which picture you would like printed, and then I will carefully and personally print the requested picture and send it to you. Check it out and tell me what you think!

http://kurtlawson.bigcartel.com

Some California Wildflowers in Wild Light

While a planned trip to Anza-Borrego State Park was a last minute bust, and the trip to Anacapa was a (not complete) disaster, I did manage do one shoot of California wildflowers while they were near their peak. The morning after the failed Anacapa trip fellow photographers Robert Mance, Dwight Blemker and myself headed up to the Tejon Pass to shoot some wildflowers. The weather seemed less than ideal as we set out early in the morning, but the weather would turn out to be magnificent for shooting. Up around 4000 feet, the wind was cold and blowing hard, but the flowers were open and the sun was dancing with the crazy fast moving clouds (See the video I at the end of this post). It was as if time was going fast forward for the clouds. At first when we arrived the clouds were hiding the sun completely and we weren’t sure what we were going to get. We drove around for a bit before deciding on an area to shoot and then waited for the light. I got out of the truck to get set up and then this beam of light shot out from the clouds like a spotlight or a UFO shining its beam down. In a panic I fired off a few shots and as luck would have it, I caught it.

Wild Spotlight

Wild Spotlight

What looked like patches of yellow and gold painted onto the hillsides were revealed to be clumps of surprisingly diverse flowers up close. The flowers were yellow and white mostly with clumps of California Poppies and purple flowers as well. In some places the purple flowers were entire patches themselves.

Sunbeams and wildflowers I

Sunbeams and wildflowers I

Which one of these two images from the same spot do you prefer?

Sunbeams and wildflowers II

Sunbeams and wildflowers II

Layers of color

Layers of color

The flowers were really stunning, the hills rolling and the light dancing.

Horseplay in the hills

Horseplay in the hills

At one point we looked over and some horses came up over the hill and for a brief moment were playing with each other. It was really quite a sight. You could almost imagine that the horses were wild.

Photonic symphony

Photonic symphony

When we started are trek, we began with a spot where Robert had shot his awesome picture of 78 snowy white egrets hanging out at this little lake. When we arrived there were three of them and the light was dull as the sun was not yet escaping from behind the clouds’ veil. However when we went back later in the morning, the light was rapidly changing and the wind was blowing quite hard here. Sunlight was racing through the landscape in sections (as can be seen in the video at the end of this post). Studying the scene I realized that a wonderful opportunity was presented by the light. At certain times the foreground trees would light up in a blaze of direct sunlight while the hills immediately beyond were dark in the cloud shadow still. I waited and fired of more than 100 frames trying to capture what I had in mind with the fast changing light. In the end the third try was the winner and produced the image above. I envisioned it as black and white from the start, and it is really one of my all time favorite pictures I have ever had the pleasure of capturing.

Three snowy white egrets

Three snowy white egrets

When we arrived in the morning there did turn out to be three egrets at the lake. It was quite dark and they would later fly off.

Gold and green, sun and shade

Gold and green, sun and shade

Layers of color

Layers of color

Gold in the hills

Gold in the hills

Poppies and gold

Poppies and gold

Here by the side of the road was a nice little colony of poppies. It’s hardly surprising to see poppies around here as we were not far from the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve. Another photographer who we encountered described the poppies as being “retina-searing orange” at the preserve, a phrase that has proven memorable. All in all it was an amazing morning and I walked away with a lot of amazing images. Next year I hope to tackle wildflower season with trips to Anza Borrego State Park, Anacapa Island, the Poppy Preserve and other places, though it might not be as wet a year as 2010 has been.

Check out this video shot with my 5DII of the crazy changing light we experienced.

Anacapa Island Adventure

Yesterday I was supposed to spend the night on Anacapa Island, which is one of the islands making up Channel Islands National Park. This was very exciting since it was a new National Park that I had not yet visited and it was also my first time on any of the islands off the west coast. However, due to a series of unfortunate events we were unable to stay. Because we spent time setting up camp and were expecting to stay much longer, our time shooting photographs was tragically short during our stay on the island. Nevertheless I was able to bring back some keepers for sure, and our return to the mainland also provided some local opportunities for some fantastic images that will be in the next blog update.

Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island

Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island

This is probably the most famous spot on the island, and a shot is pretty much obligatory. Despite my haste I’m really happy with this one. It’s a beautiful spot and I hope to come back and explore it further. I could literally spend all day looking at this view.

Anacapa Island Lighthouse

Anacapa Island Lighthouse

The lighthouse on Anacapa as seen from our approaching boat. The coloring of the cliffs with bird droppings, plants and rock was very interesting.

Arch Rock and Pelicans

Arch Rock and Pelicans

Just prior to leaving we took the boat around to the famous Arch Rock and around the corner to visit some sea lions. While we were there I spotted this string of pelicans approaching and managed to capture them right over Arch Rock.

Pacific Gull

Pacific Gull

The only permanent residents of this island are Pacific Gulls. There are thousands of them. They are really everywhere on the island, and they make nest there in the spring. We were a little early for that but we did see some Gulls paired up here and there. Their sounds are inescapable on every part of the island. Normally I don’t think to shoot pictures of gulls but here they just ham it up for the camera.

Broken wings

Along one of the trails was this set of wings. It was as if they were interchangeable parts and these spares were left on the ground. Oddly the rest of the bird was nowhere to be found. I wonder what befell the poor bird to have this happen.

Takeoff

Takeoff

Perched on the 100 foot cliff edge, this gull leans forward to take off and escape the approaching photographer.

Bow Wave

Bow Wave

On our voyage to the island we went around this huge cargo ship. It had this huge bow wave on the front, though it’s bulbous bow left little wake.

Pelican

Pelican

Finally, here is a Pelican that glided past our boat. I’m always fascinated the ability of these huge birds to glide just a few feet above the sea.

April 12, 2010 - 6:59 am

Marcia Lawson - Fantastic photos! Thanks so much for sharing!

April 16, 2010 - 8:04 am

Nancy Culbertson - Hi Kurt,
Your pictures are truly amazing. I love your blog and enjoy reading of your experience. You’re an inspiration!
Many Blessing,
Nancy

April 16, 2010 - 9:15 am

Kurt - Thanks Nancy!

April 16, 2010 - 9:57 am

Heidi Lacey - Breathtaking photos. Your mother is so proud. She so lovingly shares your talents with me. I enjoy the beauty of your work.

Heidi

April 19, 2010 - 2:30 pm

Susan Chambers - Kurt…your pictures are amazing! You are able to capture that split moment that we all try for; thank you for sharing these treasures! Love you, S

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