California Central Coast

Big Sur Burnt Trees

A black and white shot of the dead trees as a result of a forest fire.Big Sur Burnt Trees

Driving on a back road above Big Sur, I came across the skeletal remains of trees after a forest fire. A lot of people thing that wild fires should be extinguished, but in reality, they are needed for the health of the ecosystem.

The fire clears the forest floor of excess detritus, eliminates the weaker members of each species, and actually helps the trees reproduce. The heat of the fire melts the resin in the cones, allowing them to open and release their seeds. If the fire doesn’t burn long enough, the seeds aren’t released. If it burns too long, the seeds are burnt too. A good fire will result in the release of over 500,000 seeds per acre and those seeds don’t have to compete with other plants because of the fire.

When I took this shot, knew there was something, but I wasn’t sure what. After playing with it, I found that I really liked it in black and white.

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Two Adolescent Male Elephant Seals Practice Fighting

Two Adolescent Male Elephant Seals Practice Fighting


The elephant seal colony at Pietras Blancas beach is a very busy place during December and January as the mothers are giving birth at the beginning of that time period and mating near the end. The males arrive in late October and the sub-adult males arrive late November/early December.

These two males have just reached the start of puberty, indicated by the slight growth at the end of their noses. When they finally reach adulthood, their noses can be as long as two feet.

The adolescent males practice fighting in order to prepare themselves for the day when they will have to battle for their harem of females on the beach. Very rarely are these mock battles or even the real ones fatal. Although once in a while a male may break a jaw or lose and eye which can hinder their chances for survival.

During their active months on the beach, you can see this behavior all of the time. I had to wait until the rest of the frame was clear of distractions and the water wasn’t covering them. Again, patients pays off in nature photography.

If you want more information on elephant seals, visit the Friends of Elephant Seals website.

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Sleeping Female Elephant Seal at Pietras Blancas

Sleeping Female Elephant Seal at Pietras Blancas

In my last post, I had a picture of a female elephant seal and described how being patient was rewarded by the seal finally looking up into the camera for the decisive moment. I thought I’d share what I saw for most of the rest of the time I spent focused on her.

Yes, she is cute when she sleeps, but this is type of picture that most people get at Pietras Blancas while watching elephant seals. They lay, they sleep, and they mostly don’t do anything exciting. In reality, that is what most of nature does.

But once in a while, if you wait and are patient, they will do something worth photographing; like lifting their head and looking into the camera. The secret is to be ready when it happens.

That is the key to getting a good or great shot, not just the same shot everyone else took.

You can read more about elephant seals by visiting the Friends of Elephant Seals website.


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Female Elephant Seal at Piedras Blancas

A female elephant seal looks up at Pietro Blanco beach

Just north of the town of  San Simeon is Piedras Blancas beach where in the last 25 years, a colony of elephant seals have made it their beach and rookery. As a result, the state or county has put up a board walk so visitors can view the elephant seals without disturbing them.

If you have a good lens and a clear day, you can get some great shots of the seals in their natural habitat. Depending on the time of year you go, you can see elephant seal behavior ranging from the usual sleeping, rolling over, and being lazy to mating and the birthing of pups.

There are times that you will have to fight with other tourists for prime locations on the boardwalk, but if you are patient, polite, and a little assertive, you can get a good spot to get some great images. The secret it to plan to stay in one place for a while before you move on.

While the seals are used to humans and I don’t think they alter their behavior, they don’t go through all of their behaviors all of the time. As with any nature photography, you sometimes have to wait for the decisive moment.

That is what I did here. I focused on the female sleeping in between her two friends and I knew she was going to eventually raise her head in order to get more comfortable. (Apparently, seals are like humans. They don’t stay in one position forever.)

I got lucky that she not only raised her head, but also seemed to look directly into my lens.

You can learn more about elephant seals by visiting the Friends of Elephant Seals website.

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Horse Friends

Two horses nuzzling noses

The Morro Bay Photo Expo is a very well organized and thought out workshop for photographers. Especially, beginner and beginning intermediate photographers. They have classes on everything from how to shoot with a point-and-shoot to getting better nature shots and lots of opportunities to practice what you learn. They have workshops on shooting from boats, wildlife photography, light painting, and basic camera use. Photographers have the opportunity to have their work evaluated by professionals and there are large group activities and opportunities to shoot different subjects.

I attended the Morro Bay Photo Expo in 2010 and one of the workshops was to photograph two horse riders on the Morro Strand. The riders had been hired as models for the workshop and were riding their horses up and down the beach. It was very crowded and there weren’t a lot of opportunities to get shots that didn’t have another photographer in the background. (You can see the size of the crowd here.)

At one point the riders stopped the horses so the instructor could talk about some aspect of shooting on the beach and I took the time to get really close to the horses and get this shot.


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Aerial of Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle from the air

Whenever I traveled up to Atascadero to visit my parents, I got to visit my “second” parents also. I grew up with the Arnolds as parents and, in some ways, they were more influential in my life than my real parents. The best part was that the Arnolds and my parentes were best friends.

Dave Arnold was also a pilot who was more than willing to take me up on flights over the central coastal area. He flew for the sheriff department and the civil air service and knew the area better than most pilots in the area.

I took my camera on every flight and on this particular flight, we circled Hearst Castle several times as I shot out the passenger window.

Shooting from a plane is problematic because of the vibration, but if you use a high shutter speed and don’t touch the camera or your arms to any part of the plane, you can get some good quality images.


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Morning Sun Rays in Big Sur

Morning Sun Rays Thru the Trees in Big Sur

I was lucky to get a camp site during the summer in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campground. Usually, they are sold out and there is a waiting list, but this time I got there early and got in for a few nights as I explored the area. During the day, I did the usual thing, driving up and down the coast looking for sunsets on the water, water falls in the forest, etc., but at night I stayed in the camp ground.

I’m not to big on staying in state/national park campgrounds because they are noisy, crowded, and usually full of people who have a pretty high sense of entitlement, but in this case it’s the only game within a reasonable driving distance. So, that is where I stayed.

In some ways, I got lucky. The sun was streaming in through the trees and the smoke from the other campers fires and cooking allowed to sun rays to form. I looked up and at first thought there was nothing there to shoot, but I grabbed my camera anyway and looked for the shot. I found that if I zoomed in on the rays and left out most of the rest of the scene, I got something I liked.

When I got home, I kept coming back to it, so I played with it and found that the image grew on me. Here it is.

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Morro Bay Sunrise HDR

Morro Bay Sunrise HDR

Morro Bay Sunrise HDR

At the Morro Bay Photo Expo in 2009, I took a panorama class that met at the peak of Black Rock near Morro Bay State Park. After learning about nodal points, tripods, and the RRS pano head for tripods, we hiked up to the peak and started setting up for the sunrise.

Honestly, I didn’t shoot to many panoramas, but I did play with HDR. I try to make it a point to shoot both panoramas and HDR in almost every situation where applicable. In this situation the lightening sky would either be blown out or the hills and forground would be blocked up. By bracketing and merging into HDR, I was able to bring out the small in the valley, the plants in the foreground, and the beautiful sky at the same time.

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Sunset Wave Against Rocks at Pietras Blancas

Sunset Wave Against Rocks at Pietras Blancas

Sunset Wave Against Rocks at Pietras Blancas

It was a good day driving down the California coast. Hearst Castle, the elephant seals at Pietras Blancas, a great camp site on the coast. Finally, a beautiful sunset with some great clouds.

Most of the rest of the people were trying to get the elephant seals and the waves in their shots, but I found a raised location that allowed me to get the rocks and the golden clouds. I noticed an occasional wave breaking over the rocks, so I waited until one broke and then ripped off a series of shots.


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