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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Water Carved Rocks at Fossil Falls

Water carves the shapes into the lava flow at Fossil Falls

Water is a huge shaper of our world. It influences the coast line, erodes mountains, and shapes rocks. Fossil Falls has a whole field of rock showing the affect of water on the planet.

Fossil Falls is a volcanic lava flow that has been worn by water over the last 20,000 years resulting in beautiful, smooth shapes carved into the rocks.

A photographer can find a shot just about anywhere here by just changing their view point with the camera. The subtle shapes, shades, and textures all lend themselves to interesting subject material.

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Bush Growing in Water Carved Rocks at Fossil Falls

Bush Growing in Fossil Falls

The rocks at Fossil Falls are perfect for capturing subtle patterns of shade and texture. You can wander for hours and as the light changes see new things to shoot.

There aren’t many plants or animals, but the ones that are there are hardy and adapted to live a life in a harsh environmental. Most of the animals are reptile or arthropods and the plant life hangs on to what ever small patch of dirt it can find.

This small plant was growing out of a crack in the rocks, getting it nutrients from a the small amount of dirt that was there.

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Grass and Water Carved Rocks at Fossil Falls

fossil falls-7

Fossil Falls is off highway 395 , just north of Inyokern, in the heart of just about no where. There is a little sign off the highway, but there isn’t any real big notification that there is anything to see there and if you look at the landscape around the area, the only noticiable trait is a red cinder cone just north of the “falls”.

The reason taht you don’t see much as you’re traveling up 395 at 60+ mph is that the falls are below your sightline. You have to climb down to them.

The falls were carved through an old lava flow by flowing water ages ago. What remains is a canyon of smooth, worn rock that presents some great photo opportunites to a creative shooter.

I took this image while climbing down the falls. I liked the contrast between the organic dried grass and the inorganic dark rock. I also like that it shows that life will find a way to survive in a very narrow range of tolerance. There isn’t much water in this area and the grass is growing in a very small amount of dirt.

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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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Spider and It’s Web

spider with web

I love spring. It’s the time of year that the world comes alive. Yes, I know that in Southern California it never really goes away, but it really lets you know there is life that is awakening.

One of the fun parts of spring is knowing that later, near the end of summer, in those warm nights, spiders are going to be big and building their webs in the backyard. I love that. Of course I’ve done the spider dance where you flail around, waving your arms, trying to get the invisible spider web off of me before I am bitten by “the most deadly spider known to man” more than once.

But in the right light and with some realization of the marvel of engineering that goes into building a spider web, they are beautiful creatures.

I never kill spiders outside and once you know they are there, the number of spider dance routines goes way down. This one was right outside my backdoor where he lived until I assume he died a natural death.

I had to go out the front door and around to get this shot so I didn’t disturb the little guy. I use an SB900 flash off camera, mounted on a light stand to light both the web and the spider. It had to angled just right so as not to illuminate the house, yard, or whatever was behind the spider. And this all had to be done without disturbing the spider or the web.

After playing with the setup for a while, over several nights, I got this shot. A spider and it’s web.



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Road to Nowhere

Road to Nowhere


Driving southbound down Highway 395 from Lava Bed National Monument, headed west toward Lassen National Park, I was looking for a two lane road that would (maybe) shorten my trip. I found this gem. It did shorten my trip, but it was a road through ranch country and just went straight for what seemed like EVER!

I really don’t mind long mindless trips. It gives me the chance for some interpersonal communication and on this road, I didn’t have to worry about traffic. I got to spend almost two hours with myself.

Somewhere in the middle of this introspective  I realized that the road might make a good shot. So I stopped the car. In the middle of the road. It wasn’t like I was going to hold anyone up or block traffic.

I tried several different compositions, both vertical and horizontal, and this is the one that I like best. I kept thinking that I’d have liked some clouds in the picture, but I realized that the desolation is enhanced by the empty sky. And after driving on it for over an hour and what appeared to be more hours to go, it truly did seem to be a road to nowhere

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