Sunday, February 19, 2017

Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar National Historic Site, California


Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar
On February 19, 1942, seventy-five years ago today, the President of the United States authorized our government to incarcerate Americans. More than 110,000 American citizens and immigrants of Japanese ancestry were forced to give up their homes, businesses, and ways of life. 

This chapter of American history is included in history and civics education in California, but it doesn't seem to be common knowledge nationwide.


Ansel Adams photographed in and around Manzanar while it was in use.  My 2006 photo to the right was taken near where he captured his photo "Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar".

I included Manzanar on page 90 of in my 320-page photographers' guidebook "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".


Manzanar Internment Camp

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Bodie Researched for Alton Towers Theme Park



This was a fun video to shoot. U.K. theme park Alton Towers decided to research an authentic mining town for an attraction they're opening this week. We spent one day up in Bodie capturing video, time-lapse footage, stills, interviews and sounds, and this was the result.

 I'd like to thank the California Film Commission for the quick turnaround on our film permit, Bodie State Historic Park / +California State Parks for supporting the research and production, and +Lori Hibbett for producing sunrise and night time-lapse footage of Bodie's iconic car on the shoot.

The day before the Alton Towers shoot in Bodie it was snowing on us 
For more information on accessing the historic buildings and town of Bodie, California, for photography or filming, contact Jeff Sullivan Photography, www,JeffSullivanPhotography.com.

Jeff also teaches night photography workshops in Bodie, and night and landscape photography workshops in Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Eastern Sierra.  His 2017 schedule will be released shortly.

This photo of Bodie by Jeff was featured on the cover of Locations International 2015, a directory of locations for film location scouts that was distributed at the Cannes Film Festival.


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Where to Shoot Yosemite's Horsetail Fall

A happy Valentine's Day: February 14, 2017, Yosemite National Park
Horsetail Fall on Monday Night
Two flows in 2016!
Horsetail Fall in Yosemite Valley is backlit by the setting sun for roughly two weeks each year. As the sun falls behind the vertical face of El Capitan, it selectively lights this waterfall with its orange sunset glow.

This is an amazing spectacle to witness. Lasting only about 15 minutes before the sun goes down, the lighting gradually grows in intensity and color for the last 5 minutes or so. It is often like seeing a narrow strip of lava flowing down the face of El Capitan.

The weather and the water flows often don't cooperate.  You need enough snow above El Capitan, high enough temperatures up there for some of that snow to melt, and you need clear skies where the sun sets on the western horizon.  I was shut out by back to back blizzards in 2007, so I was fortunate to see this on two consecutive evenings from two different angles in 2008, and several times since then.

Different Take on Horsetail Fall
Nearly no water in 2012, it still looked great!
Sometimes there is little water flowing down the rock, but from a position to the south, the selective light on the wet spot makes it look like the waterfall is there anyway!

Other times, if there's clearly too much cloud cover or valley mist to allow light through, heading somewhere else for a more traditional landscape shot may be the ticket for that evening.  You have to first anticipate where the best light will be, before you can be in the right place to react to the light as it develops.

Horsetail Fall February 15, 2017In 2017 I experienced a new variation: there was little direct light on the waterfall at sunrise, but there was intense sunset color on the horizon a few minutes later, and while the main flow of water didn't pick that up with any particular intensity, the surrounding wet spots on the rock reflected it beautifully.

Unfortunately most photographers seemed to have been waiting only for the direct light of the sun, so there was a pulse of traffic as they drove away, probably not seeing the sunset light that developed after the official sunset time.  Folks, that's how sunsets usually work!  The best color is minutes AFTER the theoretical (zero degree horizon) sunset time. So stick around for at least 10 minutes "after sunset", or even 15 or 20, just to be sure that you don't miss that night's color, whatever it may be.

Natural Firefall (266,301 views on Flickr so far!)
February 28, 2008
1) Along the bank of the Merced River near the turnout just East of the Cathedral Beach picnic area (which is closed for Winter). This location is described on page 24 of my 320-page guidebook "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

This angle provides the composition that compresses the complete length of Horsetail Fall against the rock of El Capitan.  You can zoom in for a composition with no sky, or use a wider focal length to include the profile of El Capitan.  This seems to be the most crowded location in recent years, as photographers pack together to shoot through an opening in the trees.

This is arguably a more complete view of Horsetail Fall, showing a longer stretch of its descent, making it look longer and skinnier.  The view of more of the vertical drop makes the water flow look skinnier, and seeing it all from a longer distance makes it look more abstract and lava-like.

Horsetail Falls at Sunset2) In the vicinity of the Cathedral picnic area on Northside Road in the valley, 1/2 mile East of the El Capitan bridge. That North road is closed for maintenance, so it's a 1 mile walk each way from where the El Captan bridge road hits Southside Road. This location is also described in "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South".

This is more of a side view than the position on the south side of the Merced River, with the upper reaches of the waterfall against the sky.  By showing less of the vertical drop, the flow of the water looks wider, and you see more of the rock face relief in detail.

The more northern location is probably the more common and iconic shot you see, although I don't mean to imply that's better.  It's just another nice variation on a rare and amazing solar alignment event.

Winter Wonderland
No Horsetail, 2007.  So what?
The conditions required to make Horsetail Fall are unpredictable, so it's important not to rule out all trips that look iffy.  You're probably more likely to miss it than catch it, but it's important to remember that Yosemite is beautiful this time of year, and generally more so if there are passing storms!  So missing Horsetail Fall may be the best possible outcome for your trip.  You may catch far better photos, of far more unique conditions.

Plan on some dates, prepare yourself for the trip (carry chains), enjoy a winter trip to Yosemite, and consider Horsetail Fall to be possible icing on the cake!  And expect to enjoy return trips to Yosemite in the winter if you don't get the Horsetail Fall photo that you want on the first one.  Seriously, even when I lived in Sacramento, only 3 hours away, it was nearly impossible to predict when conditions would be great.

Life isn't a destination, it's the journey that occurs as you pursue your goals.  Enjoy and make the most out of every moment.

If you want a little help maximizing your odds of success and anticipating the light to be in the right place while you are in the park, I update my annual list of Yosemite photography workshops here.

Yosemite Falls Moonlit Night Reflection
Upper Yosemite Falls reflection on a moonlit night, February 15, 2017

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors Presentation October 8


I'll be presenting on Eastern Sierra Fall Colors this Saturday, October 8, 1 pm in the Mono Basin Visitor Center auditorium in Lee Vining. If you're in the area, drop by after lunch for some inspiration before you head back out!

I'll have copies of my guidebook "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South" on hand for signing, or if you already have one, bring it by and I'll sign it!

If you'd like to let me know that you might be coming, you can RSVP at the event page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1092501577530706/?active_tab=posts

If you can't make it to the event, the +Mono Lake Committee bookstore in Lee Vining has had the book in stock recently, and Whoa Nellie Deli as well.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Eastern Sierra Conditions Spring 2016


The aspen trees are starting to leaf out
My early May blog post on spring Eastern Sierra conditions contained a collection of possible outcomes and opportunities for spring.  I've been out a few times since then, checking the emergence status of various wildflowers, the water level at Mono Lake tufa sites (and their muddiness, since they form over springs), unpaved road access conditions, snow levels and lake iceout conditions around Tioga Pass, pond water levels and reflection opportunities in Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows, bird and wildlife photography opportunities, and so on.

A quick snapshot on my iPhone 6S+ - good enough to show the arrowleaf balsamroot starting to bloom

Wildflowers vary in intensity and timing from year to year, which is why I do these scouting trips before the workshop, and not while dragging customers around.  Even knowing where various species can be prolific, checking the current year's status and timing involves many less than fully productive searches.  Wild iris seemed to be a bit behind in timing.  Mules ears have been starting to emerge over the past 2 weeks, and could peak in the next week or two.  The few days of clearer, warmer weather in the forecast early next week could help them along.  Paintbrush was doing well at low elevations but it is too early to tell how prolific it'll be at mid to high altitudes.  Lupine were healthy in some areas and should still be available for another week or more a lower altitudes, and emerging at mid altitudes.  Wild peach has been strong, and yellow bitterbrush has bloomed as enthusiastically as many local residents can remember (one even mentioned that this native must be a new invasive species), but the peak is now past for both.  Isolated patches offered a variety of other species, sometimes dense, but you really have to search for them.  I'll be back out over the next few days to see if some of the patches have increased in intensity, enough to warrant a visit during the upcoming workshop.

All of the photos in this post are from May 2016



The weather has been unsettled, great for daytime photography as but less conducive for many types of night photography.  That's pretty typical for May, which is one reason why I only ran a couple of Bodie night photography workshops then, but currently focus more on June and later.

Some locations are on the wet and muddy side, not unsurprising for spring, but certainly good to know before you show up for a sunrise or sunset and can't access the compositions that you might have enjoyed in the past, in summer, fall, or simply a drier year.  In other cases, a site might be more dependent upon long term trends, and the long term drought continues to provide cracked earth foregrounds.  If you're shooting in one basin and the weather and light looks like it might be better 25 miles north or south, you can save an hour of driving if you know that the site that you have in mind isn't in great condition that week.  Conversely, you can make your day, week or month if you know that a site is in great shape, and you arrive to find great light to complement the site's full potential.  A good workshop is made great when you can "connect the dots" to consistently arrive at a series of good sites, in great seasonal condition, offering optimal lighting, while reacting to the day's weather conditions.  There are no guarantees in landscape photography, and that's part of what makes it exciting, but scouting trips do resolve what would otherwise be unknowns in the mix, increasing the odds of everything coming together just right.

A quick iPhone snapshot is good enough to record conditions, break out the DSLR upon returning in better light



The somewhat early opening of Tioga Pass is not surprising given a fairly dry month of February and the winter's overall normal to low snowpack (93% in the Mammoth lakes area, closer to 100% north of Tioga Pass).  It has re-closed at times as moisture causes afternoon and evening storms, but it's open again now.  Lakes are in various stages of losing their ice.  Tenaya Lake was clear by the time the pass opened, Ellery may be completely clear now, Tioga was mostly frozen last week, so it may still hold some ice into next week.  The terrain is complicated up in that area, so having spent many sunrises and sunsets up in that area is important to knowing what is likely to be productive, vs. a bust.

Tuolumne Meadows currently offers a lot of seasonal ponds.  Determining ahead of time which of them provide decent compositions at current water levels helps keep the workshop moving efficiently.  Many workshop leaders spend a lot of time and money marketing, and do a great job filling their workshops.  Good for them.  I prefer to spend my time in the field, develop extensive site and condition knowledge, and over time earn the reputation for delivering great opportunities and results.

It's important to me for my knowledge to include photographic technique and post-processing skill.  Anyone can apply a filter in post-processing software or use a certain technique to make a landscape look wacky, and there's nothing whatsoever wrong with that, it it's the style someone chooses, rather than is trapped into through less than optimal exposure technique or lack of alternate post-processing workflow options.  Getting through the end-to-end digital photographic process with realistic results is like walking a tightrope: bay far the easiest thing to do is to fall off.  There are subtle things you can do all along the way to optimize results.  You don't need the latest camera or software, it's more about fine tuning the various steps.

Backlit storm clouds at night


Ansel Adams produced timeless results by producing heavily manipulated but seamlessly realistic results, while popular trends included hand-tinting photographs to add color.  Most of us don't know the names of his contemporaries today.  No doubt Ansel could have had great commercial success producing those colorized postcards, but any era's hot trends can look cartoonish years later, out of the unique social context of the time.  We're not immune from that today: I have over-saturated digital photos from the mid-2000s, tonemapped HDRs from the late 2000s, and I've dabbled with luminance masking, color light painting, and lately software filters.  I gravitate more realistic results, and for the experiments with various trends, I'm gradually re-processing many of the more over-the-top post processing results.  It's useful to try a range of things to settle on your own preferred style, and to continue to try new things for variety and to see if you want to broaden your options for post-processing any given scene in the future.  So I want to maintain a broad enough collection of experiences to be prepared to help photographers who want to expand their own skills.

While the goal of my pre-workshop explorations are mainly to visit locations to assess conditions, it'll be a fun challenge to line up the sites for great light and weather during the workshop next week.

iPhone 6S+ panorama


With the storms in the past weeks I haven't been out for night photography as much as I would like, but we should have a great time in Bodie June 4/5, and I hope to be out a few times in the coming nights to assess a few new locations as well.

Starry Night over Bodie Church

Friday, May 13, 2016

Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop in June: What's in Store?


“The Traveler sees what he sees. The Tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

Eastern Sierra Mules EarsI can only be in one place at a time, so I have to be efficient and pack as much opportunity as I can into my time in the field. Every day has the sun rising and setting. Some weeks have wildflowers. Fall colors may be peaking in a given location for only a few days to a week. The Milky Way is available during a few weeks of the year, a moon rise at sunset or moon set at sunrise about a dozen times each. So I pick a prime season, the most likely peak days and times.

Storm Over Mono LakeWorkshops take me out of the field as I work on permits, itineraries, write descriptions, set up payment / registration buttons, and I perform a some kind of marketing to get them seen, if only a mention or two on social media. I'm not going for volume, and I personally lead all of my workshops, so they are designed to place you in a stunning place, in a peak season, as the exact best time.

The first week of June is amazing for the Eastern Sierra for so many reasons. Some snow remains on the Sierra Nevada (and possibly the White Mountains) to catch alpenglow, and there can be a fresh snowfall around the end of May to refresh that surface. Several species of wildflowers are starting to bloom, profusely in some areas.

This year the new moon and Milky Way shooting timing coincides with this week, and we have the possibility of a late spring storm from the northwest for interesting sunrises and sunsets, or warmer monsoon moisture from the Baja coast that could bring dramatic afternoon clouds, showers and rainbows, or evening thunderstorms.

I used to be nervous about the thunderstorms interfering with night photography, but I've learned through experience in Bodie and the surrounding area that convection-driven storms tend to break up or blow east by the time the sky is fully dark around 10/10:20, so they're really just bonuses for sunset and twilight shooting, even when rain showers interfere locally for an hour or so (and even then they often give way to rainbows).

Fresh Snowfall at Ellery LakeTioga Pass may have just opened and we may have interesting iceout conditions on the lakes. More often than not the pass opens in May, so with 89% snowpack, the odds are good for a normal, mid to late May opening. It seems like they often try to wrap up whatever road maintenance is needed in time for an opening for Memorial Day weekend, so I'm going to guess Friday at noon as the official time, but cars line up early and they often let them in around 9 am.

We'll start with a sunrise on Thursday, pursue wildflowers and weather during the day, have an early dinner, and head back out for sunset at Mono Lake.

Entering the Earth's Shadow

We'll pick from a number of spots for Milky Way shooting, and arrive by the time it's fully dark at 10:07, when the galactic center of the Milky Way has already risen 6 degrees, perfect for placing it in our compositions.

Mono Lake Milky Way Panorama

Friday we'll catch sunrise at Mono Lake before the weekend crowds arrive, shoot different wildflowers, maybe explore some interesting geology or head up to Tioga Pass if its open for snowier views. Another sunset spot, More night photography, and turn in not too late since most of us are continuing on to Bodie the following night, and Bodie interiors the following morning.

Eastern Sierra Wild Iris

Plans are all well and good; I frequently plan something as simple as a sunset moon rise composition weeks in advance.  But landscape photography is about light, so if you're on a workshop, you want a leader have enough depth in detailed regional knowledge to be ready to ditch all plans and react to the weather and light if there's more potential 20 or 30 miles from where you are.  So leave the tourists behind who are stuck to their fixed agenda, and rather than a traveler who reacts to the weather and looks for a place to shoot it, you can travel with a local who knows the opportunities in every direction, and anticipates the conditions before you pick the next destination and hop in the car to arrive there just in time.

Sunset Rain Clouds Over Mono LakeEarly June in the Eastern Sierra offers an annual convergence of so many factors which could make photography conditions stunning.  Photography is more fun shared, so I can't wait, and all the better that I get to share all of this bounty with old and new friends!

Spring is Coming to the High Sierra!

Most of the participants are returning customers, but we have room for one or two more if anyone's interested!

Bodie's Standard Mill

Milky Way Arch Over Standard Mill

Connect with or contact me in all of the usual places for photographers: Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+YouTube, 500px, Tumblr, or my Web site.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mercury Transit of the Sun Coming May 9, 2016

Venus transit of the sun June 5, 2012
There will a a transit of Mercury across the face of the sun, as seen from earth, on May 9, 2016.  This article on timeanddate.com can tell you when the mercury transit may be available from your location.  It also provides links to information on proper eye protection!

When the planet Venus was scheduled to pass in front of the sun in early June 2012 I wanted to capture the event, but I didn't want to simply record a dark spot in front of a bright one.  So I decided to place earth-bound objects in front of the sun to capture the Sun, Earth and Venus in the same shot.  And why not... the next opportunity to capture a Venus transit across the face of the sun wouldn't come for another 105 years!

My setup for the Venus transit enabled me to shoot it at 400mm:
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III 
  • EF 70-200mm f.4 IS L lens 
  • 2X III Teleconverter
  • Solar film for photographing the sun
Since I was including foreground objects but wanted to catch Venus and the sun as well, depth of field was a concern, so exposures were captured at f/32, 1/500 second, ISO 200.  That's with the solar filter reducing incoming light.

The setup I'm considering for the Mercury transit will enable me to shoot it at 640mm effective:
  • Canon EOS 70D 
  • EF 70-200mm f.4 IS L lens 
  • 2X III Teleconverter
  • Solar film for photographing the sun
This time I'll may track the sun and go for a composite photo showing the path of mercury across it.  In that case I could use an f-stop like f/11 to reduce any image softening from diffraction, so something like f/11, 1/2000 second, ISO 100.

Be careful if you try to capture photos of this event.  The sun can fry your sensor, so don't leave the shutter open in live view for long.  


I'm going to go get a camera or two set up and focused now!

"After centuries of trying, only photographic technology could measure the ‘Transit of Venus’ and tell us our position in the solar system." - +Royal Observatory Greenwich



Monday, May 02, 2016

April Road Trip to Death Valley

Natural Bridge
You may have noticed that I'm obsessed with death. Death Valley National Park, that is! I grew up in New England, just about as far from the desert as you can get in America, so in my current quest to explore the largest national park in the Lower 48 States, I must be making up for lost time. 

Mesquite Flat Dunes
Fortunately, currently living in the nearby Eastern Sierra region, I'm only 3-4 hours from a couple of park entrances, so I can indulge in my desert yearnings frequently. I usually visit once or twice in the Thanksgiving to New Year's Day time period, then again in February and March as the wildflowers start to bloom. But as spring continues and Death Valley starts to really warm up, I like looking for storms and bouts of cooler weather, in case I can slip one or two more visits in before it gets too hot. 

In April 2016 I could see a storm front approaching in the weather forecast. Daytime high temperatures would drop into the 80s.  I'm currently working on a detailed photographer's travel guide to the park to be offered in the +SNAPP Guides app, so I threw my camera and camping gear into the car, and headed to the park with a list of the sites I wanted to explore or revisit next.

I hiked to a natural bridge, and enjoyed great views with sunlight streaming through clouds. I explored stone-walled buildings at an old mining town site, and found wildflowers thriving at higher elevations than on past visits this year.

I met a Subaru coming out the wrong way from Titus Canyon, apparently deciding that "high clearance" meant higher then they had. The worst part of the road is about halfway through the 24-mile loop, so drivers that wait that long have a lot of wrong-way driving to do. Sometimes they're in a hurry to get out, so they come flying around blind turns!

On the edge of a canyon, two jets saw me with my camera, so they took two passes each direction up the canyon, turning and shooting up sharply right in front of me, so I was able to get some great shots. They were very fast, very close, and very loud!

In Salt Creek, the water was slightly higher than normal, so the pupfish were exploring down to the parking lot, feeding in the flooded margins before low water forced them back into their normal cramped habitat space. Normally they're a little skittish, but their quest for food prevailed, so when I held my iPhone out over the water, one came over and posed for a portrait.

On one evening, I caught a sandstorm over Mesquite Flat Dunes, back-lit with golden sunlight by the setting sun.

On the way home, sunset light was lighting up rain showers at Mono Lake. It was an eventful and productive trip. I can't wait to return!  In the meantime, I've uploaded the latest batch of photos to the Death Valley 2016 photo album on my +Death Valley Workshops page on Google+.

If you might like to join me in Death Valley sometime, my spring 2016 workshops are done for the season, but I can add a session in mid-December if there's sufficient interest: Death Valley Photography Workshops.

Jellyfish Cloud
Sunset rain showers over Mono Lake