Monthly Archives: February 2006

Let the Fire Fall!

In those nostalgic times before millions of tourists overran Yosemite valley, the “fire fall” was a great draw. For over thirty years, a chorus of greetings between Glacier Point and Camp Curry started the slow release of more than half a ton of burning redwood bark. As the fire hurtled down the cliffs below Glacier Point, a wonderous spectacle of a flaming waterfall was created.

Changing ideas about the role of the national parks and the exponentially increasing hordes of tourists doomed the fire fall in the 1960s. But it’s still remembered with great affection by Yosemite buffs (including those such as my eight-year-old son Julian, who have only seen it in slide shows and movies at campfire presentations).

Now touted as nature’s fire fall, Horsetail Falls (shown in the photo above) is backlit by the setting sun during the last two weeks in February.

This phenomenon was first made famous by a spectacular Galen Rowell photograph. It can be photographed from the El Capitan picnic area parking lot (or from some small clearings to the east of the picnic area) with a long lens.

On a recent cold but clear February evening Julian and I pulled up to the picnic area parking lot a few minutes before sunset. While Julian stayed in the car listening to his favorite Star Wars sound track, I got my camera and tripod set up along with a score or so of other hopeful photographers. (In some ways, photographing Yosemite is more like a competitive sport than a meditation on nature; more on this in a later story.)

As the sun went down, the light got golden on the cliffs of El Capitan–but Horsetail Falls didn’t ignite. Then the sun really set, and everything went grey. One by one the photographers packed up and left. Only a few of us were left. Finally I decided that the fire fall wasn’t going to happen, and packed up too.

As we were pulling out of the parking lot, Julian spoke up. “Dad,” he said, “It’s happening!”

The backlighting was triggered only when the sun was well below the horizon.

I turned around, yanked out my camera and tripod, and fired off about a dozen shots before the crimson turned to dullness. This is the first photo in the series I’ve processed.

Moral of the story: if you are photographing nature’s fire fall at Horsetail Falls–or any other natural phenomenon–wait for the bitter end.

Here’s another capture of the fire falling:

Let the Fire Fall 2

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

But Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear?

« Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? » wrote 15th century ballader François Villon. This plaint was famously translated by Dante Gabriel Rosetti as

But where are the snows of yesteryear?

The lament continues :

Why does life fade so quickly?

We all share this melancholy feeling from time to time: that our time is running out, and that things were bigger and grander in the past.

In the era of global warming, it also seems to be literally true, at least in Yosemite, that snow storms are not what they once were. But, as this photo shows, we certainly found a big storm last weekend.

Route 120 over Crane Flat was in full chains required white-out blizzard mode. I was driving into the valley with Julian. The wipers were freezing and large wet gobs of snow were turning visibility to nothing.

Then, all of a sudden, rounding the bend and beginning the descent, the storm began to lift. I parked, got out my camera, and began taking pictures while Julian made snow angels.

I’m on the road again tomorrow, so this one photo will have to be a teaser until I get back!

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Dawn in the Flower Forest

The last week or so I’ve been observing carefully how the sunrise lights up our garden. My idea was the capture the light of dawn within the scale of a small flower, like this tiarella. This flower is a member of the saxifrage family, and is low to the ground (maybe 3″ high from bottom to top). It is planted mostly in the shade where selective sun rays only hit it briefly.

Lying flat on the ground, coffee mug beside me, Julian and Nicky jumping over me, I waited patiently (more or less) for sunrise. The camera was handheld, with a vibration reduction lens at 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms). I used 12mm of extension tube and a +4 diopter close-up lens. As the sun hit the flower I snapped a whole series of photos that are about the play of light and depth of field.

Here are a couple of other recent photos that explore light and depth of field:

Wet Ranunculus in the Morning Sun

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Structure of the Trumpet Vine Flower

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By the way, I’m off to Yosemite tomorrow with Julian for some photography, and I have a great deal of other travel planned this month. So–excuses in advance–my photoblogging is going to be on the light side for a while. Then again, as Yoda might have said, the light side is the reverse of the dark side–and better!

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Poppy Cheeks

My wife suggested “Poppy Mooning” as an alternative title to “Poppy Cheeks.” You decide. This poppy bud belongs to an Icelandic Poppy, not the Opium Poppy I’ve been photographing lately.

Posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

Harbinger of Spring

Daffodils are harbingers of spring, so it’s a pleasure to photograph these beautiful flowers. However, I think these are hard flowers to portray in an original way.

About this photo I was asked, “Did you use your Lensbaby?” (Click here for some of my Lensbaby photos.)

A very reasonable guess, because the photo appears to have a “sweet spot” that is in focus in the center of the daffodil. But in fact, this photo started life as a fairly conventional macro. The daffodil was blowing around in the breeze (as they are wont to do), so I photographed it handheld with a vibration reduction lens, 36mm extender, and a +4 diopter close-up lens. The exposure at 1/60 of a second and f/5.6 was more or less fast enough to stop the motion of the flower, but didn’t give me enough depth of field to keep the detail in the center (which is really incredibly small) and on the petals (on the plane behind) both in focus. When I looked at the photo in Adobe Bridge, I liked this unusally close portrait of the daffodil but was uneasy about the not-quite-sharp aspect of the flower background.

I decided that the way to go was to accentuate the effect. In Photoshop, I selected the entire photo, and then used the Lasso selection tool in negative mode to deselect the center of the flower. I then added a great deal of Gaussian blur to the background. Next, I inverted the selection, and used Smart Sharpen to get the center detail of the flower really crisp.

Manipulation? Sure. But I like the result. Like the Lensbaby, post-production manipulation in Photoshop is a tool in your quiver when you shoot macros of flowers (or any other digital photo).

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Photoshop Techniques


The sun was just coming up. I photographed this day lily in our garden in the freshness of the morning. You can see the drops of morning dew fresh on the flower.

The kids were eating breakfast, and could see me out the window in the breakfast nook manipulating my camera, McClamp stick, and tripod. (More on the McClamp, the Wimberly Plamp, how to use them, and how they compare in a future post.)

The kids thought it was lots of fun to wave and blow kisses at me.

True luxury: to photograph flowers at home with my family nearby and a hot mug of coffee with steamed foam.

Here are some more photos of the lily:

Day Lily at Dawn

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Almost Paradise

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Posted in Flowers, Photography, Water Drops

By Any Other Name…

This poppy re-seeded itself from the specimen I planted last year. The grower, Annie’s Annuals, sold it as a “raspberry breadseed poppy.”

I asked Annie’s whether this interesting name was “for real.” What was the Latin name for the poppy?

Here’s the response:

It is Papaver somniferum, also known as opium poppy. We don’t want to give customers any ideas (it is quite illegal to grow opium poppies for opium purposes, but we have been assured that it is OK that people grow a few for ornamental purposes), so we don’t call it that.

What do you know? I had an opium poppy in my garden all along and never knew it. How cool.

As you can see, the flower–by whatever name–is very beautiful. Here are a few more photos:


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Poppy Heart

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Besides being beautiful, each flower is also very ephemeral (although the plant does seem to re-seed nicely). By the evening of the day I photographed this flower, here’s all that was left:

Poppy Gone

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Posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

World without End

The poppy has a short life span. It starts by emerging from a small pod…

Little Shop of Horrors

…opening like lucious velvet:

Red Poppy Opening

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…becomes mature for perhaps a day:

White Poppy

and keeps in its scarab heart the seeds of its own eventual resurrection:

Poppy Heart Like a Wheel

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Posted in Flowers, Photography


This is an extreme macro photograph of a polyganum flower in my garden. Polyganum is commonly known as “smart weed.” It’s quite invasive, and tiny: this flower can’t measure more than 1/4″ diameter altogether.

Looking at it closely, all I can say is, “Dang! That weed is smart!” If you have any of this smart weed in your garden, or see it around, take a close look at its very, very tiny but surprisingly beautiful flowers.

Posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

Do Opposites Attract?

Do opposites attract? How different can two people be? Do these two flowers really belong to the same family?

Leaving the first two questions out of it for the moment, I am bemused by the fact that both these two flowers in my garden are members of the ranunculus family.

Velvet Trap

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Posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

My Camera, My Flowers, and a Dedication

A French reader of Photoblog 2.0 asks some good questions that you, too, might want answered if you are new to my photoblog (and my life). I blush to translate the entire comment it’s so flattering, but here’s the gist:

Roughly speaking, what equipment do you use? And, how do you get so many different flowers around you to photograph?

Here’s the French original:

Cher Harold,

Vos photos sont si nettes, si précises. c’est abolument magnifique.
Avec quel appareil photo travaillez vous ?
Comment avez vous autant de fleurs différentes autour de vous ?
C’est un plaisir pour les yeux.


Sounds better in French, somehow, doesn’t it?!?

Here’s my response.

Dear Turqoise:

Thank you for your interest in my work and your very kind words.

I use a digital Nikon SLR with a variety of close-up equipment including a macro lens, extension tubes, an extension bellows, close-up filters, and a reversal ring. Most of my photomacrographs of flowers are long exposures on a tripod with high depth of field, but in some cases when I am interested in shallow depth of field I use a handheld vibration reduction lens with an extension tube and/or macro filter.

My belief is that equipment does not matter as much as the eye and spirit of the photographer and having a great love for photography.

Most of my photos are of flowers that I grow in my own garden here in Berkeley, CA. I love to garden, and my young sons are starting to enjoy it as well.

I also photograph in local gardens such as the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, Blake Garden, and Berkeley Horticultural Nurseries. Berkeley has a Mediterranean climate, and plants that are native to Southern Europe, Brazil, South Africa, and parts of Australia all grow nicely here in addition to indigenous California species.

In addition, some of my photos are of cut flower arrangements photographed under controlled indoor conditions.

I dedicate these photographs to you, Turquoise.

Very best wishes,


Poppy in the Sun

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Here’s a translation of my response (thank you Keara for help with the French):

Chère Turquoise,

Merci d’être si interesser avec mon travail et de dire des choses si gentilles.

J’utilise un « digital Nikon SLR » qui a un grand varieté de « close-up equipment » avec aussi un « macro lens », des « extension tubes, » des « extension bellows », « closup filters, » et un « reversal ring. » Beaucoup de mes « photomacrographs » de fleurs song des longs « exposures » sur un « tripod » avec « high depth of field », mais dans certains cas quand je suis interessé par un «shallow depth field» j’utilise un « handheld » « réduction de la vibration » lense avec un « extension tube » et un « macrofilter. »

Je croit que l’equipement n’a pas beaucoup d’importance que l’oeil et l’esprit de celui qui prend le photo est plus importante.

Beaucoup des fleurs que je photographe sont des fleurs que j’ai dans mon jardin içi a Berkeley, CA. J’aime beaucoup beaucoup le jardinage et mes fils aussi commençent a l’aimer.

Je photographe aussi dans des jardins près de moi comme ceux a San Francisco Botanical Gardens, Blake Graden, and Berkeley Horticultural Nurseries. Berkeley à un climat « mediterranean » et des plantes qui sont « natives » à Europe du Sud, Sud d’Afrique, et des partis d’Australie, poussent içi avec les plantes qui poussent naturellement.

J’ai aussi des photos de bouquets qui sont photographiés dans des conditions controllées a l’interieure.

J’ai dedié se photo à vous, Turquoise.


The photo at the beginning of this story is of Gazania petals in my lower (most sunny) garden. I think it would fit well on the Patterns page of my portfolio.

Technical info: Nikon D70 on tripod, 105mm macro lens with 36mm extension tube, +4 macro filter, ISO 200, f/40, and 1.3 seconds.

The poppy is a Raspberry Breadseed, photographed handheld with 18-200 VR Zoom lens at 90mm with 36mm extension tube, ISO 200, f/5.6, and 1/160 of a second.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Poppy Triptych

I’m pleased to present this triptych of poppy photos: white, red, and yellow. These flowers are all on one poppy plant in Julian’s garden. Here’s red:

Red Poppy

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This is an Icelandic Poppy, “wonderland,” Papaver nudicaule. It has been specially created to produce flowers of multiple colors off one plant. Here’s yellow:

Yellow Poppy

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It would certainly be possible to take the Frankenstein approach to this kind of thing: if humble poppies are genetically engineered to produce many colors in one plant, what happens when the genetic designers get human beings in their clutches? But I’ll leave such profound topics to others, and merely express myself delighted in the rainbow variety of Papaver nudicaule.

I think these three poppy images will make a great triptych when I print them up (about 20X24′ inches each print). If anyone is interested in acquiring a set of these prints, please contact me.

On another note, this is post number 400 on Photoblog 2.0.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Young Leucospermum

This is the leucospermum “scarlet ribbons” plant in my garden that I photographed earlier from above.

This photo shows a side view, which helps to explain why the common name of the plant refers to ribbons. I also think the petals-to-be look a bit like waves on the sea (if waves were red).

I was really close to the bud, using my D70, my PB-6 extension bellows, an extension tube to get the thing in place (I explain the mechanics of why I had to do this in an earlier post), a reversing ring, and my 105mm macro lens mounted in reverse. I think the setup works pretty well for extreme macros.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Garden in a Water Drop

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

–William Blake

This is my garden in a water drop. Like the world in a grain of sand, the closer you get to a drop of water, the more you see. And the more you feel.

What great fun on a sunny morning following the rain pointing my lens at the microcosm! Near enough to heaven for me.

Posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography, Water Drops

Do Flowers Weep?

Do flowers weep? Are rain drops tears from the sky? Or does the flower petal embrace the drops of rain like a lover, and sigh in contentment?

Here are some more floral water drops that I like.

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Water Drops