Category Archives: Point Reyes

Between Earth and Sky

Between Earth and Sky

Between Earth and Sky, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

On our way home from a sunset-to-night hike on the Tomales Point fork of Point Reyes, Mark and I stopped at the wreck of the Point Reyes fishing trawler. Many people like to photograph this trawler, which is easily accessible outside of Inverness, California.

The week before, at my Point Reyes night photography workshop, I’d been stymied in my idea of stacking photos to produce circular star trails (stymied because it was cloudy). But this time it was clear. The stars were bright, although a little less than on Tomales Point, probably because of the ambient light pollution.

I pointed the camera north, and used a digital fisheye lens to maximize the celestial rotation of the star trails.

First I tested the light with a one minute exposure at ISO 800 at f/3.5. Then I made an eight minute ISO 100 exposure (with in-camera long exposure noise reduction enabled) for the foreground. This image in its entirety is found below (I think it is interesting in its own right, with the still stars at the center and circular star trails around the edges).

Next, I turned noise reduction off, and programmed my Nikon MC-36 remote for twenty exposures, each capture at four minutes, ISO 100, and f/5.6.

It was damp and a bit chilly in the dark, and for a while Mark and I left my camera on autopilot and sat some distance away in my car, listening to the superb and eerie music of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. After twelve exposures (about 48 minutes) our patience wore out and weariness won. Mark had a plane to catch in the morning for a business meeting, and I’ve been going on fumes since Katie Rose was born. I stopped the automated exposure process, and packed it in.

This morning, I combined the thirteen images in Photoshop using the Statistics script, choosing Maximum as the method for combination. An airplane trail in one of the captures made it into the stack, and I decided to keep this apparent visual anomaly. Finally, I layered in the longer exposure for the detail in the foreground and boat.

[Above: Thirteen captures, all captures Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, tripod mounted; one capture 8 minutes at f/3.5 and ISO 100; twelve captures 4 minutes at f/5.6 and ISO 100; star trails created by statistical stacking of 13 exposures; foreground created by layer with the 8 minute exposure using a gradient and layer mask. Below: Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 8 minutes at f/3.5 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Point Reyes Trawler at Eight

View this image larger.

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography

Foggy Sea

Foggy Sea

Foggy Sea, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

What happens when you point a camera out to sea in the fog in an almost pitch-black night?

Taken at Limantour Beach during my recent Point Reyes night photography workshop.

[Nikon D300, 18-200VR zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), 241 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography

Point Reyes Night Photography Workshop

Point Reyes Trawler

Point Reyes Trawler, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Even though thick fog blanketed the night skies, I think the night photography workshop I taught this past weekend on Point Reyes was a success. The weather, of course, is not a tame lion—and I was amazed at the creative responses to the weather conditions, the talent of the workshop participants, and that no two photographers came up with the same image, even when photographing in near proximity. What a great group of people!

On Saturday evening we went to photograph the Point Reyes trawler behind the Inverness general store. I was hoping for another shot of the star trails around Polaris by pointing my camera directly at due north behind the boat (this time I would have tried statistical stacking as in Night Vortex). But obviously the cloud cover ruled out star trails.

David, who helped us experiment with light painting at a previous night photo workshop, crawled onto the trawler. The assembled photographers shouted directions and encouragements as he light painted the interior of the boat cabin.

Next day, I was pleased and surprised at the level of interest in post-processing these photos. I used this image as a case study. The original RAW file was dark with a left-side histogram that indicated underexposure. A common reponse: “You got this image from…that!” Of course, to see the original and the way I processed it, you needed to be at the workshop.

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

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Clouds

Clouds

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.]

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Tree Skeletons

Tree Skeletons

Tree Skeletons, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In 1995 the Vision Fire burned more than 12,000 acres of Point Reyes National Seashore. Fierce Santa Ana winds blew the resulting smoke plume a thousand miles out sea (here’s a satellte photo of the plume).

Today, thirteen years later, the burnt trees stand like sentinels against the sky while new growth has sprung up all around. This year, alas, the poison oak is particularly thick in the clearings.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR lens at 22mm (33mm in 35mm terms) with image stabilization turned off, three exposures between 2/5 of a second and 4 seconds at f/25 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

2,407 Seconds

Star Circles 2

Star Circles 2, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is my second forty minute exposure of stars circling over the Point Reyes the other night. The original version was horizontal. As this exposure progressed, low-flying clouds were sweeping across the sky, softening and darkening the scene. At the extreme left of the photo, a working boat on Tomales Bay flooded the scene with light. Time passed.

On a technical note, it’s pretty tough to accurately gauge exposures from the LCD at night because the display compensates. It might look decent on the screen, and still be four stops underexposed. So the exposure histogram is a better way to tell if your exposure is in the ball park. It’s unrealistic at night to expect nice, bell-shaped histograms in the middle of the range. But if your histogram is totally clumped on the left, you have a problem.

I glanced at the histogram for the previous exposure, and lightened things up a bit, moving from f/13 to f/10. Had I known the scene would darken as much as it did (because of the clouds), I would have opened it up at least another full f-stop.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 2,407 seconds (about 40 minutes) at f/10 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Star Circles

Star Circles

Star Circles, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Two thousand four hundred seconds, about forty minutes. Actually longer, maybe three thousand five hundred seconds, or close to an hour, when you add in-camera noise reduction.

I have mixed emotions when it comes to exposures that take this long. You don’t get many cracks at getting the exposure right. For one thing, each exposure drains a battery. Conditions change, and the night is only so long. Someone (or something like a car, boat, or plane) might shine a light in the direction of the camera. In the end, the LCD display is unreliable (it overcompensates for lousy exposures), so you can’t judge very well in the field (the exposure histogram gives better information).

So making these captures I feel every inch the heroic photographer in the tradition of the pioneers who made their subjects hold still for hours during an exposure (and then waited days for the wet plates to dry!). Of course, I also feel like a klutz when the exposure doesn’t come out, or the visual concept doesn’t hold up in the actual image.

On a more human element, I am measuring time as it passes. Sometimes I pace, sometimes I stand still. I try sitting or lying down, but the ground is too damp and cold. Each second can seem like eternity. There are thousands of seconds weighing me down.

I’m bundled against the wind and moisture in wool layers, poly piling, down, with a balaclava pulled down over my head. Is this water drop slow torture, or is it sublime as my city sensibility gradually clears, and I observe the night, forced to take the time to see things that are a cipher to most folk.

Other Star Trawler images: Big Dipper; Pole Star; The Long and Short; Star Trawler.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 2,407 seconds (about 40 minutes) at f/13 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography

Monochrome Shore

Monochrome Shore

Monochrome Shore, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I’ve been thinking a good bit lately about making black and white prints from certain of my digital images. Actually, since the final output would be using my digital printer, printing via offset, or display on a color monitor, what I’m really doing is to use the RGB (or CMYK) color notation to create a simulation of a black and white image. So this is an intentionally retro endeavor. Worth noting: quality vintage black and white prints were not actually “black” and white, but toned to create a rich (but monochromatic) look.

I took this photo from a position some way off the Chimney Rock Trail in Point Reyes, look west at the setting sun and the rugged shore of the end of the Point Reyes peninsula. My intention when I took the photo was to convert it to monochrome, because there were hardly any colors anyhow. The shoreline seemed backlit to me, and I figured, well you can get a glamour backlit black and white of a model, why not a landscape?

Taking the photo took a fraction of a second, but converting this image took much longer.

First I processed it from the RAW as I would a normal color image, using several different RAW “exposures” in combination. Next, I tweaked each color channel used Color Channel adjustment layers with monochromatic check. I weaked the whole confection a bit, then added a few adjustments in LAB color and a tritone version of the original on top of my (by now massive) layer stack. Not to oversimplify, I used a variety of blending modes, masks, and adjustment layers.

If there is a moral to this, it’s that the key word is “simulate.” To get the “black & white” results I wanted, I needed to alter the color structure of the image, creating an entirely new look in the process. Well, honestly, that’s what I normally do with my photos much of the time.

Related story: Nautilus in Black and White.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 55mm (77.5mm in 35mm terms), 1/160 of a second at f/32 and ISO 100, hand held, image stabilization engaged.]

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

Scalloped

Scalloped

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

I stood on the bluffs high above Drakes Beach just after the sun had dipped below the horizon. The high bluffs shadowed the beach below, while the light of sunset still reflected from the incoming surf. I shot a sequence of images at various shutter speeds.

If you are curious, the faster shutter speeds came out better than the slower ones at the same EV value. Across the board, I intentionally underexposed by about two f-stops (or by a factor of four) to make the beach go even darker while still picking up the colors in the water.

Scalloped

Back at home, when Phyllis and I looked at the sequence in Adobe Bridge, the thumbnail looked to us like a scalloped sea shell on a black background. I processed the photo in Photoshop to emphasize this effect.

Related stories: Wave Tangent, Patterns of Design.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms), 1/250 of a second at f/6.3 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Country Road

Country Road

Country Road, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The verdant emptiness of the Point Reyes peninsula is achingly beautiful just after sunset.

On a recent weekday, there was no one around. On my way back from the Point Reyes lighthouse and Chimney Rock, I paused on a rise beside the road. The fresh air was redolent of the ocean, with a tang of dairy farm and fresh grass.

I set up my tripod near the road, with the assumption that no car was going to careen over the rise into me. Then a lone car came over the hill, went wide around me, and I pressed the shutter for this fifteen second exposure.

Next, it was on to Inverness to photograph the star trawler.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), 15 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Pole Star

Pole Star

Pole Star, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is the last of a sequence of twelve photos of the wrecked Point Reyes trawler near Inverness. I took these photos the other night over the course of a couple of hours. The sequence started with The Long and the Short, and included Star Trawler. Like Star Trawler, this last capture in the series is a 1,204 second (20 minute) exposure.

As I was taking this photo, I was interested in the reflection of the boat in the water. I’ll admit I was pretty bored with all the waiting around during the long exposures and the in-camera noise processing, so I augmented the reflection with a little discreet light painting on the hull with my headlamp.

I also angled my camera so that it was facing due north and the Pole Star. The Pole Star, also called Polaris or the North Star, is almost stationary in this photo while all the other stars trail around it. This is because the Pole Star lies nearly in a direct line with the axis of the Earth’s rotation “above” the North Pole.

It has been rudimentary night-time navigation for thousands of years in the nothern hemisphere to determine north using the Pole Star (and is still useful if you are lost in the wilderness at night without a GPS or compass).

To determine north, first find the Big Dipper. Next, locate the “cup” part of the dipper so you can draw a mental line extending from the star Merak and extending beyond the star Dubhe (you’ll find a diagram in the Wikipedia article). The extended line will point at the bright Pole Star (it’s about five times as far from Dubhe as Merak and Dubhe are apart). Draw a line from the Pole Star to the earth, and you’ve fairly accurately found north.

This explains why I was excited when I spotted the Big Dipper pointing to the Pole Star directly above the wreck of the Point Reyes. I was hoping to capture the stars whirling around the single still point of Polaris above the boat.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 13mm (19.5mm in 35mm terms), 1,204 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

The Long and Short

Star Trawler 2

Star Trawler 2, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is my first, and shortest, exposure of the Point Reyes boat the other night. As I explained in my original story about the star trawler, I was surprised to find the apparently monchromatic moonlight producing such vibrant colors.

The longer exposure was intended to produce star trails, but I like the effect here too: of stars more the way we see them.

The pair of photos illustrates a spread of aperture-shutter speed combinations, both at essentially the same exposure value: from 1,204 seconds at f/22 at the long end to 30 seconds at f/3.5 at the short end. (“Long” and “short” refer to time.) Since depth of field is not an issue in these photos, the contrast is a good illustration of the differing way exposure time treats objects in motion (the stars).

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), 30 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Star Trawler

Star Trawler 1

Star Trawler 1, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a 1,204 second (or about twenty minute) exposure of the wrecked fishing trawler Point Reyes. I’ve photographed this boat before, but never at night.

There was a bright moon in the sky, and as I walked across the mud flats behind the Inverness General Store, my fear was that all that moonlight would detract from the starlight. As I set up my tripod, polka music came faintly from the Czech restaurant in Inverness. Vladimir’s, it seems is still run by 78-year-old Vlad, and according to this review sometimes features live music from the old country, which must have been what I was hearing. Somehow, the music seemed to fit the slightly sad scene of the wrecked boat forever grounded on the mudbank.

As I began running test exposures, it became clear from my review in the LCD that my fears that moonlight would render colors monotonic were misplaced. It’s true that the stars were not as bright in the sky as they would have been on a moonless night. But the moonlight brightly lit the dark mass of the trawler (helped along in this exposure, I confess, with a little judicious light painting with my head lamp). The moonlight also created the reflections in the water in the foreground. If you look closely, you’ll even see reflected star trails.

And the astounding thing was that to my eye the world lit by moonlight was close to monochromatic, but the sensor picked up things with the vivid colors you see here.

For this long exposure, I stopped the lens down to f/22, with the idea of picking up as much star motion as I could.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 13mm (19.5mm in 35mm terms), 1,204 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Lupine along the Trail

Lupine along the Trail

Lupine along the Trail, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Coming back from Alamere Falls, I photographed this lupine bush with two exposures, one for the sunset in the background, and one for the foreground which was already deep in twilight darkness. Within the curve of the sky, you can see the far end of the Point Reyes peninsula, silhouetted against the sunset.

Related story: Hike to Alamere Falls.

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 1/5 of a second (sunset background) and 3/5 of a second (foreground) at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Flowers, Landscape, Photography

Alamere Falls Looking North

Alamere Falls Looking North

Alamere Falls Looking North, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Alamere Falls is sited dramatically, tumbling over a sheer cliff to the beach and ocean. My compositional problem was to show the waterfall in the context of the site: if you take a photo of Alamere Falls against the cliff, you don’t see the ocean or beach.

To solve this problem, in this photo I snuck up to one side of the falls, and got the waterfall and the curve of Point Reyes in one composition.

Related story: Hike to Alamere Falls.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), circular polarizer, 1/10 of a second at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Landscape, Photography