Posts Tagged ‘Southern California’

Images with Impact – Contrast in Nature

February 16th, 2016

Last year I started a series of articles under the general theme of Images with Impact. In it we are discussing things you can do with your images in Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance their impact. When I got to the topic of contrast I came to an abrupt halt. The more I thought about contrast, the more I wanted to begin that discussion with some real examples from nature. But to do that, I needed some photographs that illustrated what I wanted to share with you. And in Southern California, the types of photographs I wanted are only possible in winter. But it’s winter now. And I’ve been able to capture the photographs that I want, so now we’re picking up the series again.

What distinguishes a photograph created by the serious student of photography from one taken by a casual photographer? Many things to be sure. But one thing that stands out is a sense of clarity, a clear quality. The casual photographers’ photographs are just what the camera captures and are often like looking through a bit of haze and I don’t mean that they are out of focus. It’s the light. The effect may be subtle but it is very real. A more accomplished photographers’ photographs have a special quality to them, a quality that engages us, that draws us in and holds our attention. You might describe it as a crisp quality.  (You can click on the photographs to enlarge them.)


(My daughter some years ago as we hiked out of a late spring backpacking trip in the local mountains.)

The serious student of photography skillfully applies contrast in the digital darkroom to achieve this look. But before getting in to how this is done, let’s step back and take a look at how we respond to contrast not only in photographs but also in nature.

In the following discussion I will use examples from nature to illustrate the affect contrast has on us. The idea is to understand how it works so that we can more effectively apply this knowledge to our photographs.

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A Trek in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park

March 19th, 2011

Yesterday was a perfect day for a hike in Whiting Ranch (our back yard).  The hills are green from the wonderful rains we’ve had this winter.  This is welcomed in a location that is basically a desert and has its share of droughts.

WRWP_the_start The start of the hike is down the street at our local park.  It starts out easy enough.

WRWP_the_road_down The first part of the hike is easy.  An access road drops down to the bottom of the canyon behind our house.  This morning it is especially beautiful hiking in the lush green that seems to be hanging on and on and on.  The rains this winter have come at good intervals and have nourished the hills.  They have recovered beautifully from the fires three years ago.

WRWP_sleepy_hollow One of the most beautiful sections of the hike is through a lovely oak grove called “Sleepy Hollow.”  The trail meanders under a canopy of Coastal Live Oak.  And the stream is still trickling making this a special treat.

WRWP_lower_cattle_pond The Sleepy Hollow climbs out of the grove when it comes to a dam built during the ranching days.  Cowboys built it to catch water so they could graze cattle on the hillsides.  For many years this dam has been mostly dry with at best a small muddy puddle.  But this year there is a considerable amount of water.  There aren’t cattle in the area any more to drink the water but I’m sure the deer, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks, rabbits, mountain lions and all the other critters in the area enjoy it.

WRWP_upper_cattle_pond Not far above Lower Cattle Pond the trail goes by Upper Cattle Pond.  It too is nearly full.  When these hills were still private land you could wander around the banks of the pond.  (Well, maybe I trespassed just a little.)  But then the county bought it and has restricted access.  So the trade off is the county controls access but we don’t have developers building their homes down here.  I’ll opt for the limited access any day.

WRWP_erosion_control_oak This oak tree is amazing.  It’s standing all by itself and the ground on three sides is literally washing away.  Every rain that falls carries a bit more dirt away from its base.  If you look closely you can see it’s roots jutting out of the bank, dangling in mid air.  So far the oak is hanging on to a pretty large chunk of land but I wonder how long it can hold out.  I’ve been keeping an eye on this tree for over 20 years now and it seems to be doing just fine.  You gotta love it.

WRWP_four_corners The first resting point is Four Corners.  Mountain bikers and hikers alike sit on the benches projecting from both sides of the bulletin board.  The county brought in a water fountain for people and an automatic waterer for horses.  People stop here after a good climb to catch their breath before zooming down the other side.  It’s a good place to relax and an easy place talk with some very interesting people.  But this morning I’m not ready to turn back.  There’s more in store.

WRWP_dreaded_hill_road_start I’m going to continue on up this road.  It’s aptly names the Dreaded Hill road although this isn’t the dreaded part of it.  That’s further on.  This road will take me near the summit of the highest peak in the area.

WRWP_steep_road No, this isn’t the dreaded part of the road either.  It’s just a minor steep part on the way to the summit.

WRWP_mark_reynolds_memorial At the summit is the memorial to Mark Reynolds, an avid mountain biker who was attacked and killed by a mountain lion not far from here.  He was fixing a flat tire when the lion pounced on him.  He probably never saw it coming.  Later that same day the mountain lion came back and attacked another mountain biker, this time a woman.  Fortunately she was with her friend who, with the help of some other mountain bikers, were able to get the lion to release her and run off.  She recovered.

WRWP_mark-reynolds_plaque That all happened back in 2004.  Gosh, has it been that long already.

WRWP_dreaded_hill_descent Now we get to the dreaded part of Dreaded Hill Road.  I’m doing it the easy way – I’m heading down.  Climbing this road is another matter and very few mountain bikers will even attempt it.  This is mostly a hiker’s climb.  As beautiful as these foothills are you always know that the city is not far off.

WRWP_santiago_peak But when you look in the opposite direction from the city you are rewarded with inspiring views of Santiago Peak, the tallest summit in our very own Santa Ana Mountains.  I never tire of looking at the range. I’ve hiked all over them from the time I was a Boy Scout until now.

WRWP_dreaded_hill_bottom It’s difficult to capture just how steep Dreaded Hill really is.  I describe it this way, “Dreaded Hill is a killer at the bottom and a killer at the top and murder in between.”  If you look at this picture carefully you can see the road way down there as it enters the trees just to the right of center.  Maybe you can get a feel for how far down that is.

WRWP_below_dreaded_hill And this is what greets you where the Dreaded Hill road enters the grove.  Beautiful, isn’t it.  Just up a few more steps the road meets the Serrano Creek trail where I do an about face and head back towards the start.

WRWP_serrano_creek Serrano Creek gets its name from the Spanish Ranchero that this land was a part of.  The creek doesn’t flow all year, only a few weeks in the spring and that’s not a for sure thing.  Hey, this is Southern California.  You get used to it.  But I love this little stream, especially in spring.  It feels so good to walk in the cool air under the spreading oaks.  Even in summer this little canyon remains cool and inviting.

WRWP_serrano_creek_vignette Here’s another vignette of the creek that I just have to share with you.  This is such a glorious place.  I’m so fortunate to have this literally in my back yard.

This is a good place to end this account.  In just a few more steps the oak grove comes to an end and gives way to the open hillsides so typical of these foothills.  From that point on it’s an anticlimactic climb back up the hill to the park.

If you would like to join me on one of my adventures in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, let me know.  I’d love to share it with you and would enjoy your company.


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A Ten-Step Program for Grad ND Filters

January 10th, 2009

I have a couple of Lee graduated neutral density filters in my camera bag.  I don’t use them very much because I’m kind of an HDR guy.  But the past couple of mornings we’ve had some very clear sunrises and given the location of our home in the Southern California foothills this turned out to be a good opportunity to play around with my grad ND filters.

I discovered a few very interesting things.  I’m just going to provide a checklist here without any illustrations.  Hopefully it will make sense.

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Santiago Fire Aftermath

January 8th, 2008

We had some more good rain this weekend.  It was a huge storm but most of the precipitation came down up north.  The Sierra got as much as 10 feet of snow!  The state really needs it.

The aftermath in the Santiago Fire burn area relates to the green grass that is growing in profusion all over the hills.  Well, “all over” is something of an overstatement and here’s the interesting observation.  Where there was grass before the fire, these areas are covered in lush, vibrant green.  But where there was chaparral before the fire the ground is bare.  I suppose that makes sense.  That seems to be one of those things where when you know the answer, the answer is pretty obvious.

If you haven’t seen the photo journal of the days of the fire, click here.


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Santiago Fire Aftermath

January 4th, 2008

Rain is on the way.  We’ve been warned about a huge storm that will hit over the weekend.  The National Forest people have been mulching the hillsides.  The hope is it will at least slow erosion and runoff.  I talked to a couple of National Forest rangers yesterday and it’s not seed. 

In the past they have seeded burned areas with rye grass which, being non-native, has caused more long term problems (in the form of a greater fire threat) than the short term ones it solved.  So they’re mulching the hillsides instead.  We should get a good test of how that works this weekend.


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More Surprises

December 27th, 2007

The First Surprises 

The recovery after the burn holds one surprise after another.  The first surprise was how quickly the thistles started growing back.  They didn’t even wait for rain.  It only took a few weeks and they were sprouting.

 The second surprise was how quickly the grasses came up with just a couple of inches of rain.  And they’ve been nurtured with additional rain and are growing rapidly and spreading.

With the grasses growing the color combination of the hills was rapidly becoming green and black, not a combination of colors that I found particularly appealing.  The colors looked harsh.  I longed for the more familiar greens and browns typical of Southern California hillsides in spring (at least when we’re not in the midst of a drought year).

Well, as they say, be careful of what you wish (or long) for.  You just might get it.

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Aftermath – Green Hillsides

December 24th, 2007

There are more hillsides turning green besides the ones behind our house.  Further up Saddleback Mountain there is a growing patch of green.  But it’s not the natural green of tender shoots of new grass.  It’s artificial green.

 It has something to do with the crop dusters that have been flying over the canyons and ridges the past week.  These sturdy little planes have been circling above the mountains and then swooping down, much like the ariel tankers that were diving on the mountains two months ago.  But the material that comes out of this time is not water or the red fire retardant, it’s that same artificial green.

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Santiago Fire Aftermath – 2 months

December 23rd, 2007

Last night marked two months since the fire came through our ‘back yard.’  Since then we’ve had about four inches of rain.  In fact, there was more rain in one storm than all of last year.  As a result the scorched hills are starting to turn green.  We’ve seen crop duster planes flying over the foothills and mountains seeding the slopes to help control erosion.

Last night’s sunset was spectacular!

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7 Weeks, 6 Days after the Fire – Thoughts on the Stables

December 16th, 2007

There are several miracles related to the fire.  One is an apple tree at the stables.  It’s about five feet tall, just a small thing.  But it produces tiny apples every season.  Rumor has it that it was planted by a grieved person who lost a beloved horse.  What better gesture than to plant an apple tree.

So we all had a big question in our minds after the fire, “What happened to the apple tree?  Was it destroyed?”

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Aftermath at the Barn

December 12th, 2007

The fire really changed an important part of our life in an unexpected way.  We were leasing a horse at the stables not far from our house.  When the fire roared through Monday night it continued on and burned through the stables.  The big wooden barn burned to the ground. 

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