A few short weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time in the backcountry of Hollister, California. I was out here for a few reasons, mostly to spend some time with some of my favorite people. I was also there to explore some subjects that have fascinated me for years. Oaks on rolling California hillsides have a special place in my heart, but I never really thought about why.
To me this is another iconic California scene although maybe overlooked because it’s so common. I love to see twisted backlit trunks on hilltops. Why? Yes they’re naturally beautiful, but why else? I think it’s because I usually see them on some road trip. These signify the beginning and the end of trips east.
Debbie and I had talked about studying these scenes almost always when returning from some epic Yosemite adventure. We recognized that this kind of thing needed time set aside just for the subject. That opportunity arose just a day before another epic Yosemite trip to Tuolumne Meadows and Elizabeth Lake .
We camped here for a couple of days with Debbie’s husband Tom. We also got to hang out with my friend Elizabeth who made sure that our campsite was set aside for us.
We did photograph some other scenes since it was high Milky Way Season. I’ll save that story for another time. Hint: it involves a nest of hornets.
This photograph is available in different sizes and print methods on my sales site. Contact me if you’d like something customized.
Debbie and I visited June Lake at sunrise in October, 2015. This trip was so full of wonder and surprises. California was in the midst of a long drought and the water in the lake was low. We got here just before sunrise and it was cool but not freezing.
Thoughts about the process at the time
There are a lot of choices I made for this photograph, many that I “past me” and “present me” wouldn’t really agree on. For example the aperture I chose was f/20. I don’t think that was necessary and it had an undesirable result with focus. I was using my Canon 7D Mk II. It’s not a bad camera but today I understand how depth of field is different on a crop sensor than with a full frame sensor. The lens used was a Sigma 17-50mm. It’s not a bad lens, but it’s nowhere near the quality of a Sigma Art series or a Canon L series. I had my reasons for using the Sigma, mostly because I was looking for the highest quality I could get on a strict budget. The body/lens combination worked very well for me for a few years until the lens fell apart. No really, that lens fell apart. A screw came loose inside and it would no longer focus.
What would I do differently today?
I’d definitely use my 5d Mk III (a fairly new addition to my toolset and a L-Series lens). I might use an aperture more like f/16 and possibly stack exposures with different focus points. I’d also probably take it less seriously. I’d probably work less hard at it and enjoy the moment more.
Processing the photograph
I’ve been thinking about my next trip into the Sierra for the past couple of days. I went through my Lightroom library for photographs of June Lake that I could process differently. The color version has a slight glow to the mountains. The lake reflects the sky as a deep blue. That was nice but I really wanted a dramatic black and white. I fuss over my black and whites at length and I love doing it like that. No one-click filters, no one-size-fits-all approach. Each one is different. I dialed down the blues to a near black. I brought down the highlights to recover some details in the clouds. A slight s-curve was added to the midtones selectively to bring out some detail in the foreground rocks. A high pass filter and a layer mask helped with selective sharpening (note, different print processes will have very different results. I keep this as a layer so it can be disabled if it utterly doesn’t work in a print. Finally a vignette was added as an organic shape to draw the viewer’s eye around the photograph.
There are a lot more details to this longer story, but I’ll break that up into smaller posts. It’s only been 4 years, why not draw it out a little longer? Spoiler alert: this trip was legendary.
A few days ago I spent the night at Refugio State Beach, Santa Barbara, CA. I haven’t been here since I was a little boy, so getting a camp site here was pure joy. I was greeted by dozens of these little Velella (“by the wind sailor”) . I’ve seen them along the beaches from San Francisco to Santa Cruz before, but I haven’t personally seen them this far south before. I think that says more about my travel habits than theirs though.
April 1, 2019 11:15am About 100 miles south of Santa Cruz along Hwy 1.
I brought a little notebook just in case I felt like writing. There’s a lot on my mind. I’m driving to Pizmo Pismo Beach (holy smokes, no matter how hard I try I have misspelled Pismo Beach as “Pizmo” for as long as I can remember. Thanks for correcting me Tori. ) to see some friends. Two I’ve known for decades now but haven’t seen in pushing 20 years. One I’ve known mostly online for the past 5 (via what used to be Google Plus… a long story).
I lost my job with 23 other people 2 months ago. We were all passionate about what we did at the “well known fitness brand.” This isn’t that story, but it is on my mind.
I’m hoping for a job offer in the next few days. This seemed like my last chance to see my friends E, S & L. I’m in no hurry since they’re all busy people so I’m taking the slow scenic route. Camping in Pismo Beach but not going especially light. The firewood in the skybox on top of my Subaru definitely cancels out the “light.”“Cheap” might be more accurate.
Just out of Carmel was the expected ultra slow tourist. I get it, she’s from the city. This is scenery she’s only seen in pictures and has never experienced herself. The coastline is mind boggling beautiful so she looks out the window instead of at the road, swerving like a drunk and going 20mph.
I know she’s going to stop at Bixby Bridge for The Perfect Tourist Selfie. She does, right on cue. The drive gets far less frustrating south of McWay Falls which for some reason is closed today. No worries, I’ve been there many times before.
The coffee caught up with me and it was time for a break. I’m sitting on the cliff writing in my notebook and snacking. I haven’t stopped here before and it’s a nice view. This is a bit further south on Hwy 1 than I’ve been before, somewhere between McWay Falls and Ragged Point. I’ve done the stretch from LA to Mexico, LA to Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz north past San Francisco… so this part between Big Sur and Pismo Beach is the big Hwy 1 gap for me. It’s one of those bucket list kinds of drives that most people dream about — until they’re behind that tourist headed to Bixby Bridge of course.
Some bicyclists just cruised past. I hung behind them a few miles ago providing them with some safety in a fast downhill stretch. They appreciated that. I raced bikes in college (badly) so I get it. Passing them would be dangerous for everybody, so this way I could be helpful.
I’ve been listening to music that my buddy John H gave me years ago. Some of this I’ve never heard before. I wonder why. A lot of it is good.
The next stop is a brief pause at Ragged Point. This looks like a place I’d like to spend more time, so I note the lodging so I can bring my family here another day. I think they’d like it. It’s about noon and the light is awful so there’s no point in taking many pictures. I brought my little Panasonic Lumix superzoom for these snapshots, the Canon 5d Mk III for the quality stuff.
I read about the San Simeon elephant seal migration, so that’s the next destination. The seals are all females and juveniles. I see a lot of these guys around Año Nuevo and they’re beautiful. I can get much closer since there’s a fenced boardwalk without causing any problems for the wildlife. It’s a good opportunity to use the Canon and a telephoto lens. Lots of people now want to talk about photography topics and I’ve become that guy declining shots because “the light’s no good that direction.” A snapshot of an excellent subject in bad light is nowhere near as good as a mundane subject in quality light. So I politely decline with only the brief explanation.
A couple of hours later I rolled through San Louis Obispo and into my campsite near Pismo Beach.
I unloaded, setup camp, and explored my new surroundings a bit before visiting my friends. Funny thing, I had forgotten that this was a popular spot to drive on the beach. I don’t feel inclined to get stuck in the sand so far from home so I’ll pass this trip.