Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"San Francisco from Bernal Heights" -- photo of SF's skyline from Bernal Heights Park

"San Francisco from Bernal Heights"

In California, people often talk about "June Gloom," "May Gray," or "Fogust" – referring to the onslaught of coastal fog that can make some cities lucky to catch a mere glimpse of blue sky in summer. San Francisco is often considered one of those cities, but the gloom really depends on the neighborhood. On many summer days, the neighborhoods west of and on top of the central hills (Twin Peaks, Diamond Heights, etc) can indeed be inundated by fog. But as the prevailing wind pushes the fog over the hills and down towards the flat land below, the air sinks, compresses, and warms, and thus the fog burns off. The neighborhoods to the east, like the Mission or Potrero Hill, get far more sunshine. Bernal Heights Park, the location from which I took this photograph, is one of my favorite parks in San Francisco because it offers such a great vantage to watch this whole dynamic take place. You can see the fog spilling over the peaks to the east, slowly evaporating over the Mission and downtown, and then almost always totally vanishing by the time it reaches the bay. I also love the park because this story of the fog is one I've watched from a similar perspective countless times in the Santa Cruz Mountains, like from Russian Ridge Open Space and Monte Bello Open Space, but now all I have done is add a city to the recipe. I find it amusing that I subconciously sought out the same old foggy dialogue. 

In this photograph, you can see San Francisco's Mission district in the left-foreground portion of the image, and Potrero Hill in the right-foreground.  The skyscrapers of the Financial District and downtown rise in the rear-left, while the Bay Bridge spans to Treasure Island in the rear-right.  This image was taken with a Canon 6D and 70-200 f/4 lens.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Pacific Ocean from Russian Ridge" -- photo from California's Santa Cruz Mountains

"Pacific Ocean from Russian Ridge"

In this simple scene from Russian Ridge, California, the drama was all in my mind. I know that the Pacific Ocean got its name when Ferdinand Magellan passed through the Straits of Magellan and into the relative calmness of the ocean beyond, but here I was rewriting history in my head. As someone who moved from Florida to San Francisco, it's hard for me to imagine that anyone considers the Pacific calm. However, unlike the Atlantic in Florida, many of my chances to glimpse the Pacific come from mountaintops. From up here, where you can't make out the swells and breakers, the sea looks as tranquil as an alpine lake. Even though I know it's incorrect, I imagined that the Pacific Ocean got its name when the early land-based explorers ascended these coastal mountains and got their first glimpse of the ocean, from up high. It's the only place where I can see the Pacific as "calm."

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Whittemore Gulch at Dusk" -- photo from Purisima Creek Redwoods

"Whittemore Gulch at Dusk"

This is another shot from my recent trip to Purisima Creek Redwoods. It was an absolutely incredible hike, with awesome views as well as some really playful fog that interacted nicely with the landscape.  I took some shots that I thought would for sure be keepers, but I knew they'd be tough to process on Photoshop due to the huge contrast in the scenes. The last two photographs I've posted from this trip were relatively low-contrast -- clearly I've been putting it off.  But I couldn't put it off forever, so here is one of the high contrast scenes, taken on Whittemore Gulch Trail.

Whittemore Gulch Trail is one of the more difficult hikes in Purisima Creek Redwoods, but also one of the most rewarding. There are steep ascents, but they repay you with stunning vistas over redwood forests, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. This view would indeed include the ocean on a fogless day, but those are rare in summer. Even though the fog is common, I still hope for it when hiking in this area, because it gives the photographs that distinctly California feel. And towards dusk, when it creeps further inland, I love how the gold sea of fog turns mountains into islands.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Constitutional Light" -- Photo from Mount Constitution, Orcas Island

"Constitutional Light"

My time in the San Juan Islands was short, but even so, my time on Mount Constitution was far too brief. Everyone told us that going to the top of Mount Constitution and taking in the view was a necessary part of our stay, but they also cautioned us that the view can often be shrouded in clouds, so it's best to plan ahead and be flexible. Flexibility was something we didn't have, since there was a lot we were trying to cram into our short stay on Orcas Island, such as sailing, kayaking, hiking, and dinner at the Red Rabbit Farm (an amazing experience). As such, we only made it to the top of Mount Constitution as an afterthought, when our sail ended and the sky was still clear. It was already late afternoon, so we didn't have long due to constraining dinner plans. Even so, on way back down, I couldn't resist stopping at a quaint roadside patch of forest that drew my eye. The lowering sunlight filtered beautifully through the trees, highlighting the forest's moss and saplings. I was only here for probably ten minutes and didn't expect to get a true keeper, but the scene was so perfect that even my rushed mindset couldn't hold it back.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"Purisima Creek" - photo from Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP

"Purisima Creek"

This is another image from Purisima Creek Redwoods, this time of Purisima Creek itself. This setting is near the western entrance of the park, where the woods flatten out after a long, steep descent through alternating scenes of redwood forests and coastal chaparral. While it is significantly more vigorous in the rainy season, Purisima Creek is nice in that it flows year-round -- a trait most creeks in the Santa Cruz Mountains lack. This location unfortunately does not quite feel like true wilderness; it is near the confluence of several large trails, and close enough to the entrance that civilization's metaphorical footprint can still be felt (if not literally seen or heard). However, I can't help but imagine this place in a wilder time. I like to think it was a favorite haunt of local mountain lions (maybe it still is -- mountain lion sightings have been reported on this very trail). Perhaps they know this set of leaning trees as the sign that the ascent up the mountain is beginning (or ending), pause for a sip of water, maybe scratch their head on the horizontal trunk, before continuing the trek to their favorite hunting grounds.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Coming Round the Mountain" - photo from Purisima Creek Redwoods

"Coming Round the Mountain"

This is not the most show-stopping photograph I've ever taken, but it pleases me in its own way.  Some background: this photograph was taken in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space, specifically on the Harkins Ridge Trail. Purisima Creek is hands down one of the most beautiful locations in the Bay Area - a must-hike for anyone in the region. There are stunning vistas, year-round streams, and monstrous redwood trees. But there are also quieter, more intimate scenes of equal beauty, like this one, if one keeps their eyes open. As I rounded the bend, I was struck by the simple, peaceful beauty of the dirt trail, flanked by wildflowers, passing between two evergreens. I had been spending the past several minutes photographing more grandiose views, but the sunset-colored fog racing over the trees, cloaking them in quickly-changing degrees of mist, really drew my attention. Sometimes it's nice to be reminded to pull your eyes back in closer to you.

The title comes from the song "She'll be coming 'round the mountain."  For some reason, this scene is nearly identical to the vision I conjure up in my head when I hear that song. I can't say why -- perhaps it's from a movie or cartoon I saw when I was younger, an eerie coincidence, or simply an adjusted after-the-fact memory -- but this is it, down to the width of the road and slope of the mountain.  Maybe that'll make this photograph more interesting to me than others, but I hope you find something in it to connect with, too.

Friday, July 26, 2013

St Mary Falls - photo from Glacier National Park

"St Mary Falls" 

Glacier National Park, Montana, is one of my favorite places I've been. The sweeping vistas there are truly stunning, as everyone is well aware, but the intimate scenes are no less stunning. It seems like the majority of the streams have carved themselves intricate canyons that would qualify as national treasures in their own right, if they were anywhere less spectacular. St Mary Falls, pictured here, is one such example. The canyon walls and turquoise glacial waters are hard to beat, but what actually drew me into this scene were the plants that grew on the rocky banks. It is them - the sparse flowers and stunted evergreen trees - that made this place feel like an idyllic oasis to me.

This image embodies why I love photography. I love nature; hiking, trekking, just being in it and soaking it in... it gives me such peace of mind, and is deeply mentally cleansing for me. It's the driving force behind some of my fondest memories. But over time the memories fade, just like anything else. Photography, for me, helps preserve the memories. I'm not talking about a photograph simply preserving a beautiful instant, which it does, but rather how it helps reawaken entire experiences.

I found this photograph a few days ago. It was taken in 2009, on a trip me and cousin took to Glacier National Park. On this day, we started the day with a sunrise hike up to Avalanche Lake, and ended the day with a dusk hike through Logan Pass to Hidden Lake. They were two of the most memorable hikes from that trip. But there was a third hike we did that day, in between the other two, that I had completely forgotten about until finding this photo. In the middle of the day, we hiked to St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. Even though the hike was less memorable than the other two, this photograph reminded me not only the sights we saw, but also the conversations we had, like whining about how hungry we were, and the blisters our soggy shoes were giving us. It made me really happy, just to be able to re-experience a day well spent.