Monthly Archives: August 2008

A Walk on the Wild Side

[Note: this is a reposting of a story originally published in July 2005.]

Thousand Islands Lake

© Harold Davis – Thousand Islands Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, July 2, 2005

About a week ago I organized a solo hiking trip to the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The Ansel Adams Wilderness is administratively part of Inyo National Forest, and lies just south of Yosemite National Park in the high Sierra. It’s accessible to hikers from the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains off Route 395, which runs past Mono Lake and through Owens Valley. Here’s the general area in question shown as a Google Satellite image. My goal was to go camp beside Thousand Islands Lake, where I’d spent some time thirty years or so ago in my backpacking glory years. The lake is nestled under Banner Peak and Mount Ritter. I thought it would make good photographic material for the digital equipment I’ve been playing with lately. It’s spectacular country, and there are many islands in Thousand Islands Lake, although probably not one thousand of them. (You’d hardly know there were any from the picture above with the lake mostly under snow.)

I had about a day to make my preparations. I finished up Chapter 9 of the book about Google I am working on, and swung into gear. It had been a while since I had been backpacking, so I needed to remember what stuff to bring, to shop for food, load a backpack and make sure I could carry it, and get a wilderness permit.

The wilderness permit part of it was easy. I called the reservation number at Inyo National Forest, and for $5.00 on my Visa card got a wilderness permit which would be left for me in the night drop box at the Mono Lake Visitors Center in Lee Vining. Lee Vining is on the eastern side of Tioga Pass. The pass had opened a few days before following one of the heaviest snow years in recorded history in the Sierras.

As I chatted with the reservations ranger, he told me that there was lots of snow (I knew that already), and that I probably wouldn’t see too many people or mosquitos on my trip. I said both of these were good things. He also told me I needed to carry my food in an approved bear-resistant container. These bear canisters are made of molded plastic and use screws that you turn with a coin (or back of a spoon) to make it difficult for a bear to get inside. Personally, I kind of think that if a bear can get into a car trunk, a bear can probably get into one of these things. But regulations are regulations, so I added a bear food storage thing to my list of supplies to buy at REI (Recreational Equipment).

I also wanted to figure out a way to store my digital images in the field without having to use a whole mess of memory cards, so I bought a 40 Gigabyte battery operated photo storage gadget. I’ll be writing more about digital photo field storage options in a subsequent blog entry.

After my day shopping, organizing, and preparing I loaded my food in the bear canister, and the canister, sleeping bag, tent, cameras, and so on, into my backpack, and shouldered the backpack. With my backpack, probably about forty-five pounds, and in my hiking boots, I walked to the top of Marin Ave, a pretty straight up road that goes up about 1200 feet here to the top of the Berkeley hills. I was sweating, but I could do it! I felt good. I though to myself, “I may be fifty-something, but I’m fit – and you’d never know it!”

Wednesday morning early I left the three boys and Phyllis, drove out through the Bay area sprawl, across the central valley via Oakdale and Manteca, and onto the North Yosemite highway at China Camp. From there, after passing the park entrance station at Crane Flat, I turned onto the spectacular road that goes up to Tulomne Meadows and Tioga Pass.

On the other side of the mountains, in Lee Vining I picked up my wilderness permit – once I signed it my permission to hike was official! – had some dinner in a restaurant, and headed for a campground near my trailhead.

The trailhead I was going to use, Rush Creek, starts from Silver Lake at an altitude of about 7,200 feet on the June Lake loop. Grant, Silver, and June Lakes are a kind of messy resort (with a ski lift and many trailer parks) the first stop south of Lee Vining and the Tioga pass road. So I drove south for about ten miles, and then turned right towards the mountains. As I passed Grant Lake, the high rolling sage brush turned to mountain forest, rock and snowy vista.

The next morning I grabbed a massive breakfast at the Silver Lake Resort. For the record, I ate “Miner’s hash – everything but the kitchen sink.” I can’t vouch for the kitchen sink, but it certainly had eggs, ham, bacon, and potatoes. They are big on gold and silver mining and hearty eating in the tourist enclaves of the eastern Sierra.

Next, I stuffed my tent back into its sack, parked by the trailhead, and started up. Here’s a map of the area (you can click it for a larger size):

It’s amazing how easy it is to leave our everyday world and enter a completely different universe. This other universe is one where issues are simple: survival, not falling down a cliff or into a hole in the snow, being warm and dry, having enough to eat, and (if you are fifty-ish with kids) not having a stroke or heart attack alone in the wild. The wilderness is grand and majestic and magnificent – but it is utterly alien to us, and does not care in the least about us and our concerns, our well-being, or whether we live or die. Depending upon how you look at things, this is either comforting or terrifying (or both). Hikers do vanish each year in the Sierran wilderness; for example, probably no one will ever know what happened to Fred Claasen or Michael Ficery other than that they died.

Perhaps it is a good time to start making clear the mistakes I made on my journey through one of these cracks into the alternate universe that is the wilderness. First, I wasn’t really paying attention when people (such as the reservation ranger) told me about all the snow, and how empty the Sierra wilderness was this year. I also wasn’t taking the time to get adjusted to the change in altitude. I drove from sea level to above 7,000 feet in one day, and then started hiking up. No wonder I didn’t feel so good. My head was pounding, and my breathing labored. Stay tuned for one big whopper of a mistake to come (though obviously I am here to write about it).

The Rush Creek Trail goes up on a long diagonal above Silver Lake. You can look down at the normal world of people fishing on the lake:

Silver Lake

Around the bend, Rush Creek pours out of Agnew Lake – this year, a great deal of water (which might have made me stop to think):

Rush Creek Falls

The trail on its way up to Agnew Lake somewhat bizarrely crosses a cog railway twice. This railway is used by Southern California Edison, who uses the area for power generation in a modest way. Also on this first bench up, I crossed a snow field (not very hard, but a slip could have been bad news – in fact I later heard someone had been badly injured crossing this patch), and a creek crossing where the bridge had been washed out, both within two miles of the start of my hike. Obviously, I wasn’t paying very good attention. My attitude was simply “Gosh darn I can do this!” Here’s the railway:

Tramway below Agnew Lake

Right about at the second crossing of the tracks I met a hiker, my first on this trip. He was an old codger dodger – well, no older than me, but you know what I mean – carrying a day pack and his name was Billy. Billy’s hobbies were leading boy scouts from his home near Ventura into this area and helping with search and rescue operations. He knew this part of the mountains pretty well.

I told him what I was planning: to head up the cliff on the little-used trail on the south side of Agnew Lake, continue past Spooky Meadow, Clark Lake, and Summit Lake, and find the Pacific Crest and John Muir trails near Thousand Island Lakes, camp there a few days, and then head out the same way.

Billy suggested gently that I might want to reconsider. He said that in thie year of extraordinary snow the trail I was planning to take would almost certainly be under snow and probably impassable and dangerous. I should at least scout it, he said, from the other side of the lake before heading up it. Billy also suggested several longer (but less steep and dangerous) ways to get into the high country.

I can say with absolute certainty that I paid no attention to anything Billy the search and rescue codger-dodger said to me. When I got to the junction with the side trail I’d been planning to take – my trail led off to the left on the far side of the lake – I took it without looking ahead. I did notice that there was no sign marking my trail. I later learned that they didn’t post “my” trail because they wanted to discourage people from using it.

For the first part of the trip up the steep side of the lake, things seemed OK, and well steep. Here’s a picture with the trail outlined in red so you can see it:


I took the photo from the other side of the lake on my way out a few days later because I wanted to get a good look at where I had started my walk on the wild side. The first part up along the side of a steep scree field was no particular problem, although I did have to pause to take a breath frequently. When I got to the trees shown in the photo I had to start pulling myself up hand over hand, backpack and all. As I continued up the snow crossings started to get more and more difficult and scary. Some were undercut with fast running water, and I knew a collapse was possible at almost any time in these conditions of brutally hot sun and massive snow. As I’ve said, I drew the trail into the photo above. The part I drew in towards the top was the last I saw of the trail for many miles – it vanished under a snow field, and didn’t reappear. I began to wonder why I hadn’t brought proper gear for traversing snow – an ice ax, or at least crampons. Gators would have been nice, too, although more a matter of comfort than safety.

At some point when I was fairly shortly above the area shown in the photo I realized that I had lost the trail in a terrain of infinite snow and steep cliffs, and that it was probably too dangerous to go back down the way I had come.

This story is continued in Does the Wilderness Care about Me?
It concludes in There and Back Again

Posted in High Sierra, Hiking, Landscape, Photography

Sexy Angel Face

This is an Angel Face rose from my garden. I think it is so sexy!

Here’s another photo of the same rose bud, sexy (but in a different way):

Angel Face

[Note: this is a reposting of a story originally published in June 2005.]

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away

This photo shows photographer Jay Maisel buried in Kodachrome slides around 1980. But Kodachrome is doomed. Kodachrome, the most permanent and colorful of color films is also very expensive to process.

An 2005 New York Times article covers the story of the end of Kodachrome in Super 8 format. (Processing ceased at the end of 2007.) Kodak still makes and processes Kodachrome in 16mm and 35mm formats, but the picture is clearly flickring on the wall. Kodachrome will join all the other antique processes – tintypes, daguerotypes, cyanotypes, and so on – in the dustbin of technology history.

In the Times article, Kodak spokesperson Judy Doherty is quoted as saying that Super 8 Kodachrome fans can simply transfer their film onto digital “and achieve any kind of effect they want.”

Much as I love digital photography, this (of course) is simply not true. There are plenty of extremely cool things you can do with digital that you can’t do with film. But making your digitals imagery look like Kodachrome is not easily one of them.

Generally, it’s no good being nostalgic for the era of film anymore than it makes sense for motorists to waste over the glory days of horse transport. Digital is here to stay, and film is going away.

Meanwhile, a major battle is shaping up for the hearts and minds of digital snapshooters. Where do they print these pictures? Do they use an online service (Snapfly, Shutterfish, or Kodak), go to Costco, or buy a home printer. I think the home photo printer comes out ahead slightly just on convenience. But the real winner is digital to digital: mostly I want to put my digital photos up on Flickr and share them digitally. To heck with having these bits and pieces of papers and prints around! So yesterday! So horse and buggy. When someone finally comes up with a decent wireless photo album that synchs with services like Flickr then the companies offering photo processing and photo printers can finally die (as they ought to).

[Note: this is a reposting of a story originally published in May 2005. My opinions today may vary.]

Posted in Photography

Fog on the Headlands

Fog on the Headlands

Fog on the Headlands, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The other day Mark and I climbed Slacker Ridge, and watched the early evening fog pour over Marin Headlands and through the Golden Gate. I saw the scene in black in white, although of course I shot in-camera in color. It’s always a good idea to keep one’s options open. (This story explains some of my black and white conversion process.)

The funny thing is that the intense, cold, wind-powered fog, which had all the appearance of settling in for the night, cleared a few moments later, and was gone.

Posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

Baby Face

Baby Face

Baby Face, photo by Harold Davis.

Briefly noted: This is a close-up of Katie Rose’s face. It’s probably closer up than you might think, and certainly in macro territory.

I used my Nikkor 18-200 zoom lens with a Kenko 36mm extension tube, hand held, taking advantage of image stabilization. When I use this zoom lens with an extension tube, I leave the focus at one setting, and focus on my subject by position. Next, I fine tune the focus using the zoom ring to alter designated focal length—which also changes the point of focus. A little weird, but it works.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 120mm, 36mm extension tube, 1/15 of a second at f/5.3 and ISO 2,000, hand held using vibration reduction.]

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

Katie Rose at Home

Katie at Home

Katie at Home, photo by Harold Davis.

It’s been a week since we brought Katie Rose home from the NICU. There’s been some adjustment, of course, to having a newborn in the house, but mostly it is bliss watching her thrive. She is now in the vicinity of seven pounds, passed her hearing test, and seems very unlikely to develop ROP (one of the scourges of prematurity). Altogether, Katie Rose remains a miracle.

When we took Katie Rose in for her pediatrician visit she was weighed on a doctor’s scale:

Weighing Katie Rose

The next day we had a home visit from two nurses who had a more ad-hoc weighing device:

Weighing Katie at Home

Katie Rose likes to dress up, or more accurately, her mom likes to dress her up (fair enough after three boys!), and she doesn’t seem to mind. This outfit was a present for Katie Rose from Nurse Ashlee, who took care of her in the NICU:

Katie Rose Clotheshorse

Julian, Nicky, and Mathew are really pleased to have Katie Rose home. This is absolutely true of Julian and Nicky, and mostly true of Mathew. This photo shows Katie Rose and Nicky on the rug:

Katie and Nicky

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids

Book Review: Night Vision

Night Vision Troy Paiva, whose work is handsomely reproduced in Chronicle Book’s recent Night Vision, is one of the acknowledged masters within the small cadre of professional night photographers. The stunning photos in this monograph demonstrate the high quality of Troy’s work.

These are images of crumbling ruins in the American west ranging from abandoned military bases and resorts to the old train station in Oakland, airplane part junkyards, and erstwhile roadside attractions. If it is romantic, seedy, falling down, and visually arresting it is grist for Troy Paiva’s night time mill, who previously mined this vein in his classic Lost America: The Abandoned Roadside West.

Night Vision is subtitled The Art of Urban Exploration, which strikes me as a bit odd. Certainly, the fascinating photos in this book and the related stories are about the archeology of recent human culture. But they are not particularly “urban.” In fact, with the exception of the wonderful series of photos of the old Oakland train station, this work shows isolated or even rural settings (you can get a sense of this even from the book’s cover).

While Troy Paiva’s writing is lucid and compelling, I also don’t have much use for the trendy and mostly irrelevant opening essay, Desert Iliad by Geoff Manaugh.

Troy writes that he shot film until fairly recently, switching to digital in 2005 (about the time I did). I believe that most of the photos in the book were taken with digital equipment. Troy’s preferred subject matter and technique differ from mine. He is looking for lost human artifacts at night, I primarily like the natural landscape. Troy’s exposures are in the 2-4 minute range, and he light paints with flashlights and gels. My exposures are often far longer, and I’m not that interested in colored light painting. These differences help point out the vast vocabulary range available in night photography, and why this is an exciting area for many people.

In his description of his technique, Troy writes that mostly he doesn’t post process his images much: “These captures are virtually untouched, straight out of the camera, with all the scene’s warts and blemishes intact.” Why Troy thinks this is a positive is unclear to me, although obviously many people share this viewpoint. (I won’t go into the argument in great length here, but a digital camera is a computer with a scanner and lens attached, so why not do some of the processing on a computer with greater capabilities?)

I highly recommend this book for three different reasons:

  • You can learn techniques of night photography from a master.
  • Troy’s stories of getting these photos on location in crumbling America are a great tale of adventure.
  • The images are stunning, and worth the price of admission on their own.
Posted in Book Reviews

Fourth of July Rose

Fourth of July Rose

Fourth of July Rose, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: For a special project I needed macro photos of flowers showing selective focus. I photographed this Fourth of July rose in high contrast late afternoon sunlight, with low depth-of-field and the focus on the core of the flower.

I intentionally underexposed by one EV (exposure value) so that I could get the almost ominous effect in the background, slightly out-of-focus petals. To draw attention to the center of the flower, I lightened this part of the photo with several lighter conversions brought in from camera RAW and layered in Photoshop. In post processing, I also selectively sharpened the center of the image (without sharpening the out-of-focus flower petals, which would have led to unfortunmate results).

Related stories: Gaillardia Lit from Behind, Fourth of July Rose.

[Nikon D300, Zeiss Macro 100mm f/2 ZF Makro-Planar T* Manual Focus Lens (150mm in 35mm terms), 1/640 of a second at f/4 and ISO 200, hand held.]

Posted in Flowers, Photography

North Berkeley at Night

North Berkeley at Night

North Berkeley at Night, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a 32 minute exposure from the roof near my bedroom looking east up San Fernando towards Arlington in Berkeley (location shown here).

There’s a fair amount of urban haze in the sky compared to my long exposures of the deep night landscape.

To get an exposure this long considering the ambient light I had to stop the camera way down. In addition to star trails, the polygonal shapes you see in the sky are refractions of the small diaphragm opening of the camera, although one comment on Flickr likened them to “rain”. Internal lens coatings prevent this kind of artifact from appearing in most photos.

The smaller the opening and the brighter the light source, the more you see these refractions (More Night Music in this story shows them at f/16 caused by the moon). Feature or bug? I’m not entirely sure, but you will get them in long exposures stopped down to f/16 or smaller when there’s contrast between a dark overall subject and a comparative bright light source (in this photo the street lamps).

I used AC power (easy at home with extension cords) and programmed interval timing, so basically this was one of a series of captures taken on auto pilot. This photo was taken with my old Nikon D200 because my D300 was in the shop. The repaired D300 just showed up on the front porch, so I’m finishing this story quickly to open the box!

[Nikon D200, 12-24mm zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 1,918 seconds (roughly 32 minutes) at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Stephanorrhina gaffata

Towards the end of 2007 I was working on a special project that involved photographing, scanning, and Photoshopping flowers and insects using a variety of techniques. This beetle ended up looking pretty psychedelic.

I’m preparing a case study explaining the post-processing workflow of my green Dragonfly image for a Mac users group in Emeryville next week. Looking through my back files in the area of the dragonfly work, I came across the early stages of the work on this beetle (Stephanorrhina gaffata from the Cameroons). It seems to me that his natural colors are quite fantastic enough.

Stephanorrhina gaffata

View this image larger.

The moral here is to archive carefully every version of a digital file, and to always shoot to keep as much information as possible by using your camera’s RAW format. If you don’t know how to process the file today, you may in the future.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Bringing Katie Rose Home

It took Phileas Fogg eighty days to go around the world in the Jules Verne novel, and it’s been eighty days and change since the birth of Katie Rose. Our darling baby girl is home. What a gift and miracle!

Katie Rose Davis

Yesterday we brought Katie Rose home. When we arrived at the NICU, nurse Denise had started the preparations for Katie’s discharge.

Nurse Denise Discharges Katie

Denise promised to come visit Katie Rose at home in our “four ring” circus. Then Dr Nancy came by to go over the discharge instructions with us.

Dr Nancy Says 'Good Bye' to Katie

You can see Katie Rose in the photo on Phyllis’s lap waving good bye to Dr Nancy. Then Denise unplugged the monitor leads, and removed the adhesive pads that kept the leads in place on Katie. The red rings on her torso you can see in the photo come from these monitor pads, but Denise was very gentle, the marks went away quickly.

Unplugging Katie

We put Katie in her car seat, put the car seat on a stroller, and Denise helped us out to the car. There was plenty of congratulatory waving, hugging, and some tearful eyes. The lower photo below shows Katie’s car seat insert, which we’ll use until she gets a bit bigger.

Katie in Car Seat 1

Katie in Car Seat 2

Katie Rose has been home a full 24 hours now. The boys love having her, want to hold her, and tiptoe around looking at her. Sleep is in short supply as Katie adjusts to her new environment and we adjust to her. We love her so much!

Katie is shown below in an ad-hoc basinette on our kitchen table.

Baby in a Bin

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids



Clouds, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

My idea was to hike down to the northeastern end of Drakes Beach, and see if I could make my way to the spot where Drakes Estero flows into the ocean. This took some bushwacking, but I did figure out how to get there. On the way, I found this platform of rock above a placid, reflecting tidal flat.

I used a circular polarizing filter to enhance the reflections.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms) with polarizer, 25 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Tracks Not Taken

Tracks Not Taken

Tracks Not Taken, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is another photo of the abandoned naval shipyards on Mare Island. I like the conjunction of tracks and lines (the railroad, the airplane trail in the sky) and points of light (the moon, the reflection of the moon, the bright star).

Mark had the idea of getting down low to the tracks, and I think this works very well. Little enough traffic that we ran no risk of getting, as my kids would say, “runned over.”

[Nikon D300 with a 12-24mm Zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 25 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography