Rock Garden

Rock Garden


Behind the Scenes of this Photo

Taken in the Marie Lakes basin, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Eastern Sierra, California, on July 3rd, 2013

This night’s shoot held a little bit of insanity for me. There were beautiful clouds lighting up in every direction, starting from an hour before sunset. There were small ponds, reflecting pools, waterfalls, and cascades everywhere I looked and choosing one composition from among them was a virtually impossible task. On top of that, there were thousands of mosquitoes out, buzzing with hunger at the dawn of the high country spring. I hadn’t seen any bears or deer out, so it was safe to assume that I was the most mouth-watering, blood-filled mammal around for miles. As the horde descended upon me I lost my mind a little bit and in between shots I was leaping from side to side, spinning in circles, and slapping myself silly in an attempt to avoid their buzzing and biting. After awhile I gave up, focused on the photography, and let the mozzies do their thing. After all, bug bites fade, photos do not.

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A Leaping Heart

A Leaping Heart

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken at Little Lakes Valley, Sierra Nevada, California on July 9th, 2014

“Oh how the heart leaps and beats when you choose a course of action that nourishes the soul.” – Socrates Johnson.

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Carson Peak, June Lake, Sierra Nevada, California, January 23rd, 2016

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Carson Peak, June Lake, Sierra Nevada, California, January 23rd, 2016

In all honesty I’ve never been a cold weather person. Give me shorts and a t-shirt over boots and a parka any day. So when I moved to Mammoth Lakes late last year I decided I was going to embrace the cold or die trying. And I have to say, so far things are pretty alright.

This shot taken on my first ice climbing excursion near June Lake. Late afternoon sunlight catching the spindrift coming off snow-covered Carson Peak. Yeah, I think I’ll learn to like this.

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All Clouds Lead To Mammoth

Mammoth Mountain, Sierra Nevada, California, October 20th, 2015

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken from Lookout Mountain in the eastern Sierra Nevada, California, October 20th, 2015

While perusing google maps I noticed a broad patch of manzanita with what appeared to be a clear view of Mammoth Mountain to the southwest.

The only problem was that the patch was miles away from the nearest road. With richly textured clouds filling the afternoon sky I set off from my jeep on foot and quickly ran into my first obstacle: snowdrifts from the recent storm we had. I didn’t want my shoes and socks to get soaked so I took them off and barefoot post-holed uphill for about a mile before clearing the drift.

Thankfully the snow numbed my toes a little because the thorny undergrowth was slightly painful. After re-donning my footwear I continued the trudge uphill through grasping branches and face-whipping leaves. Using my compass and Quad15 topo map to navigate I arrived at the patch after about 90 minutes of strenuous hiking, my legs and arms scratched bloody by the foliage.

Just in time for the sunset I quickly set up my camera and tripod and snapped a handful of shots as the horizon lit up in a burst of rosy light. Of course, the beauty of the moment was ample reward for the difficulty of getting to the spot. I even set up my hammock and my tent to better enjoy the view. And the best part of all was that none of this story was even remotely true.

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Touching Distance

Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada, California, October 12th, 2015

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada, California, October 12th, 2015

Mono Lake is one of my absolute favorite places for stargazing and astrophotography.

For starters, there’s very little light pollution in the area and on a moonless night the skies are extraordinarily dark. Second, Mono Lake sits at 7,000 feet, high in the arid semi-desert, which means elevated atmospheric clarity. And third, there are all these wonderful tufa formations stretching up toward the sky. With the brilliance of the stars and the vertical reach of the tufa it often seems like the Earth and the sky are within touching distance.

About this photo specifically, this is a composition I had scouted in October a few years ago but hadn’t had the opportunity to shoot since then. But my recent move to Mammoth gave me all the proximity to Mono Lake I could ask for and when the forecast showed a clear night sky a few weeks back I took the chance to make this image. The orange glow on the horizon is from some haze in the air catching the very very faint light of deep twilight, and the green in the sky is an atmospheric phenomenon called airglow.

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Between a Rock and a Starred Place

Aeolian-Buttes, Sierra Nevada, California, October 9th, 2015

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Aeolian Buttes, Sierra Nevada, California, October 9th, 2015

Previously I’d scouted these amazing, huge boulders south of Mono Lake and realized that in early October the Milky Way would be visible exactly between them.

On a Friday in early October, 2015 the forecast called for clear skies so my friends and I rumbled down the forest service roads to these rocks and laid out our shots. This image is a composite of two photos: one taken at dusk at 14mm, f/16, ISO100, 15 seconds for the boulders, sage, and mountains, and a second exposure taken from the exact same spot about 90 minutes later at f/2.8, ISO3200, 30 seconds.

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Owens River, Lenticular Sunset, Sierra Nevada on January 14th, 2016

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at the Upper Owens River, California, on January 14th, 2016

I’d been looking for a guaranteed way to tell if my winter boots were waterproof. And I figured a really good one out: stand in the middle of a river while shooting sunset. If your feet get wet then your boots aren’t waterproof! Feel free to use that one.

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Scratching the Surface


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken near Black Point, Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, California on February 15th, 2015

Mono Lake is famous mostly for its tufa, those bizarre, inverted stalactites of calcium carbonate. Thus the surrounding region is often overlooked. Which is a shame, because the wonders of the area don’t stop at the tufa. To the south there are a serious of volcanic craters and extruded rocks. To the north there is a playground of boulders reminiscent of nothing so much as Joshua Tree National Park. And just above the lake lies Black Point.

At first glance Black Point looks like nothing so much as an unremarkable, raised hill. But closer inspection reveals a treasure trove of interesting things. There are acres of black sand, deep slot canyons, and high, craggy bluffs. The bluffs at Black Point provide a wonderful view of Mono Lake and the Sierra Crest to the south, which make them a perfect place to take in the sunset.

Two weekends ago I was wandering around these bluffs on a cloudless day. But as is often the case the cooling air leading up to sunset caused the formation of a high layer of thin clouds. As the sun dipped below the horizon these clouds caught fire in a show of pinks and oranges. Reflected in the calm lake you can see the Mono Craters, the Sierra Crest near Mammoth, and the eastern escarpment of Yosemite National Park.

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Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada, California, February 13th, 2015

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Mono Lake South Tufa on February 13th, 2015

Night photography provides a wonderful opportunity for contemplation. You are more likely to be waiting for an exposure to finish than be actively doing anything, and that provides a lot of time to think. As to what to think about, I find my mind always wanders toward the sky above and what is out there. I’ve always had a fascination with space (got my bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering), and I find that thinking about it is a wonderful way to put your brain through some mental gymnastics.

When we look up at the sky on a clear dark night we see, simply put, lots of stars. A seemingly uncountable amount. And yet with the naked eye you can actually only see around 5,000 stars. That’s right, a mere 5,000; and that’s if you have great eyesight and an amazingly clear night. And if 5,000 can seem like an uncountable amount consider that our galaxy alone has somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars, 80 million times more than you can see with your eye. What we see is a mere 0.00000125% of our celestial neighborhood.

What wonders, what creatures, what intelligent beings are lurking out there in the other 99.99999875% of our galaxy? Let alone the rest of the universe? Our Milky Way is only one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies. There is no way to conceive of that vastness in human terms, which is where imagination always steps in to help. To me it seems entirely possible that grand civilizations could have blossomed, spread to millions of planets, and lasted millions of years. And yet we wouldn’t have the faintest idea of their existence. Or perhaps it’s humanity’s fate to flourish in a similar manner and provide fodder for the imaginations of aliens on some distant world where they’ve only just discovered radio.

I can only hope that if we ever do cross paths with some alien intelligence that our eyes and ears are open to receive their transmission.

As for this photo, it’s a single 74-minute exposure of star trails above Mono Lake. The glow on the horizon is the town of Bridgeport reflecting off some low clouds. And if you look closely you can also see the head- and taillights of cars driving on highway 395 near Conway Summit. The temperature was a balmy 40 degrees F and the coyotes were yipping and yapping, enjoying the night as much as I was.

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Wet Feet


Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken in the Pioneer Basin in the John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada mountains, California on July 11th, 2014

One of the highlights of my 2014 summer was a 5-day solo backpacking trip I did to the Little Lakes Valley and Pioneer Basin in the John Muir Wilderness in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. On the last morning of the trip I woke up to a cloud-filled sky and a breathlessly calm atmosphere. It had rained for a few hours the previous day and that moisture still sat thick and fat on the ground. Each blade of grass hung heavy, bent over by the weight of the water drops clinging to it. I had hiked in in a pair of lightweight trail-running shoes -think all breathability and no waterproofing- and as I walked down to the lake shore with my camera my shoes sucked up the water like sponges, soaking my feet in seconds. And yet, as this beautiful sunrise lit up the clouds and mountains in front of me, my wet feet were the last thing on my mind.

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