The Milky Way Over Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree, California

Galactic Nights | Joshua Tree, California

It was a new moon this past Thursday evening and I had been planning for a month to go camping at Joshua Tree so I could photograph the Milky Way when it rises. I had also just picked up a 4x4 Chevy Avalanche and have been anxious go camping with it. Thursday morning came, I loaded all my gear up into the truck, and was on my way for the 120 mile trek out to the desert. As with all vehicles I obtain, I always get nervous about going on long trips with it, especially in areas with no cell phone reception. Thankfully the truck didn't hiccup once. First stop was at Indian Cove Campground to set up my tent at site 56. The wind was blowing really hard and I was nervous about my tent being gone when I came back. I had seen several other tents blown over already. It's starting to be rattle snake season too and the last thing I wanted was to encounter one while setting up camp in the dark. I proceeded to put my tent up and hoped for the best.

At about 8:30pm I arrived at the Arch Rock trail in the White Tank Campground. The public parking area at White Tank had a sign that said no parking 10pm - 7am, which basically threw a wrench into everything. I could park 3/4 mile up the road at Twin Tanks but I didn't want to walk along a road with no pedestrian walk way at night with minimal lighting for cars to see me with. I taped a note to my windshield saying "please don't ticket me" and went on my way. Let me just say this now. The trail for arch rock is very loosely defined. If you've never been to Arch Rock before, make sure you go there during the day so you can figure out where the actual trail is. I must have spent a solid half hour just wandering around trying to figure out how to follow the trail and get to Arch Rock. After much wandering and stepping carefully as to hopefully avoid a Rattlesnake, I finally made it there and found the spot I wanted to shoot from. Over the course of the evening there must have been 15+ other photographers who came out. It pays to get there early so you can pick your spot. Other photographers who showed up late had to leave because all the ideal spots were occupied already.

It was about 9:30pm when I was fully set up and situated. I searched around me for Rattlesnakes one more time and carefully picked a spot to sit down on. At that point it was purely a waiting game for the Milky Way to rise. I've been using the PlanIt! for Photographers app to research when and where to photograph the Milky Way. The app indicated it would start to rise around 10pm roughly. What I hadn't factored for was terrain, oops. All in all I was there for about four hours waiting for the right opportunity to begin shooting photos. That there is the less glamorous side of photography that you rarely hear about, the dark side of the lens you don't get to see when you look at a photographer's work. Still though, being under the stars, being away from the city, actually being able to see stars, feeling the hot desert cool off nicely, and chatting with other photographers had to have been one of the most peaceful experiences I've had as of late.

At about 11:30pm I started seeing a really good view of Milky Way, it was time to start shooting photos. Unfortunately I do not have a super wide angle lens that can stop down to f2.8, so I had to make do with my Zeiss 21mm lens. The 21mm lens is still considered wide angle, but with Arch Rock being in such close proximity, it really made me wish I had a 14mm lens with me. That's alright though, I've never been afraid to shoot a panorama and this evening was not going to be any exception. I clocked my camera around to portrait orientation on the tripod and proceeded to capture a sequence of ten vertical photos, each one at 20 seconds, f2.8, and ISO 3200.

It wasn't until 1am when I finally decided my bladder could wait no more and that I was done for the night. After packing up my gear, I proceeded to hop down from the rock I climbed onto and made my to the trail. I scoured the path before me for Rattlesnakes while sweeping the ground with the legs of my tripod and slowly made it back to my truck. Thankfully I didn't encounter any snakes but I always wonder if one might have been lurking in the bushes beside me, completely camouflaged from unsuspecting eyes. I checked my windshield fully expecting to see a ticket for illegally parking in an area beyond when you're allowed to. To much surprise there was no ticket. When I finally got back to my camp site at Indian Cove, my tent was also still standing. The evening couldn't have gone any better, except for the desert fox that was spying on me while I was photographing my tent under the stars. That was a little unnerving, especially seeing how he wasn't afraid of me at all until I raised my tripod in the air and proceeded to run towards him while yelling. Seeing as it was 1:30am at this time, I'm sure the neighboring tents didn't mind this one bit.

Ok now there's something I need to get off my chest. I've traditionally been a Canon shooter from day one. I started with a 40D and moved on to a 5D Mark III. The 5D has been an amazing camera for me. I've long been an advocate of good photos being a result of a good photographer, not so much the gear. However, there's one area where the 5D doesn't excel very well at, and that's with shadow recovery on low light photos. I don't care how good of a photographer you are. If your gear is limiting in this capacity, your only option is to blend photos into a composite. This is where my Sony A7R II comes into picture (pun intented). I plan on writing a separate post on my experience switching from Canon to Sony, so I won't go into too much detail here.

Let me just gripe about one thing though. The Electronic View Finder on the Sony was not designed to let you actually see anything in the dark of night. Oh how I longed for the Optical Viewfinder on my Canon. Generally speaking I love the EVF much more, but not for doing astroscapes. The experience was very much point the camera in the general direction you think you want to be photographing in, take a test shot, review, and repeat until you have the composition you want. Now I could have just shined a flashlight on the foreground but when you have 15 other photographers in the middle of a thirty second exposure, you can't do that. Thankfully my Zeiss lens manually focuses very easily, focus to infinity and you're good. Not so much with the Canon 16-35mm F4 lens I have adapted to the Sony. Autofocus was 100% impossible and manually focusing in the dark was a failed experience with all my shots on the 16-35 being slightly out of focus. I've come to the realization that there is no such thing as a perfect camera. The Sony A7R II isn't perfect by any means, but it does come really close. The highlight of the evening was being able to control the camera from my phone and hearing some of the Canon shooters ask me in awe about being able to sync the photos I'm taking to my phone. The night was a success and I certainly can't wait to go back.


The Difference Between 3.2 and 30 Seconds

Cameras can be a rather confusing mess of technology for those just starting off in Photography. It's easy to just leave the camera in auto mode and let the camera do all the work. But then you start looking at other people's shots and start asking why your photos don't look like theirs. Some will argue that the metering systems in cameras are so advanced now days that you really don't need to venture out of the automatic modes. Well, that's true to an extent, if you're simply wanting a well exposed photograph of the subject you're shooting. If you want to venture into the more creative side of photography, manual mode is the way to go. This is where you really start to manipulate light to portray things in a way that the human eye cannot see on its own.

Say for example you want to paint light trails from a car's headlights zooming through your photo. A camera's automatic mode really only knows how to adjust the exposure settings to provide a well exposed photograph. In auto mode you might get light trails, you might not. It'll depend on the metering setting you are using, spot vs evaluative, which determine how your camera interprets the lighting conditions. To really take advantage of the creative opportunities your camera can provide, you need to take control of the camera and tell it what to do.

The purpose of this post is to focus on shutter speed. I will cover aperture in a later post. Before we venture off into shutter speeds, lets first talk about ISO. Take a break from reading this post for a second and try what I am about to say.

Go into a dark room, close your eyes for a moment and leave them closed. Open your eyes quickly and then shut them again. What did you see? Absolutely nothing. This is also what your camera sees when you use a fast shutter speed at night.

Now, turn on a flash light and close your eyes again. Open them once more and then quickly shut them. What did you see? Most likely a dimly lit view of the room you are in. Think of this like changing your ISO setting from from 100 to 200.

Now, turn the flashlight off and turn the light switch on for the room you're in, then repeat the exercise of opening and closing your eyes quckly. What did you see? A brief view of a very well lit room. You likely saw a lot more detail and could make out certain objects around you. Think of this like changing your ISO setting from 200 to 800. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light your camera will be.

By now you're thinking great, I'll just crank the iso up to 12,500 to make it super sensitive to light when I'm doing night photography. Well hold on there tiger, the more ISO you use, the more noise you introduce into your photograph. When shooting photos at night or in dimly lit situations, you only want to use more ISO if you want to use a fast shutter speed to freeze your subject. A good example of this is if you are shooting portraits past sunset and you're using available light. You want to use a fast shutter speed so your subject will be sharp and available light is diminishing quickly, you can bump up the ISO to make the camera more sensitive to the light that is still available. Just note that doing so will introduce more noise to your photograph.

Now, lets talk about shutter speed for a bit. Shutter speed is exactly what it says, it is the speed in which the shutter opens and closes. Think back to the exercise we just did where you were opening and closing your eyes. That's shutter speed. Leaving the shutter open longer means more light being captured by the camera. The difference between ISO and Shutter Speed is that ISO makes your camera more sensitive to light independent of the shutter speed you use. A longer shutter speed physically leaves the shutter open for a greater length of time. If your subject isn't completely stationary, it'll appear blurred in your photograph because the subject is moving while you are exposing the scene.

A good example of this is if you are photographing a long exposure of a tree during a windy day. The tree will appear blurry because its branches and leaves are swaying in the wind while you are still exposing the photo. If you wanted to freeze the tree, you would have to use a fast shutter speed and possibly increase the ISO if there isn't a lot of available light.

I will now use three photographs of the exact same scene to help demonstrate what the different shutter speeds will do for the scene you are photographing. All three were shot in succession using ISO 100.

The first photo here was captured at 3.2 seconds. The photo is clearly underexposed due to the little amount of available light. There were moving objects in the scene, which were the cars on the freeway. At 3.2 seconds the headlights started to blur. If I were to have shot the scene faster than 3.2 seconds, the photo would have been darker but the headlights would be frozen. The buildings appear dark because the shutter speed was too fast to draw in more light. The signs at the top of the building appear perfectly exposed though because they emit a tremendous amount of light and the fast shutter speed limited the amount of light entering the camera.
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The second photo here was captured at 13 seconds. The overall exposure is better but still not perfect. The headlights are fully streaked since the shutter was open for a very long time compared to the blotchy looking headlights in the faster 3.2 second exposure above. The buildings aren't as dark since the longer shutter speed allowed more light to enter the camera. The signs at the top of the buildings are starting to appear over exposed and that's because they emit so much light that the camera physically captured too much light to properly expose the signs on the buildings. If you zoom in, the signs look too bright now.
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The third photo here was captured at 30 seconds. The overall exposure is really nice. Most of the areas within the photo are exposed very well, meaning there aren't too many dark spots. The buildings appear bright, the headlights from the cars are streaked perfectly through the photo, and the sky now has a ton more color in it compared to the 3.2 second exposure. The only problem with this photography is that the signs on the building are now completely over exposed due to how much light they emit and how long the shutter was open for. This photo will require significant highlight recovery in post processing but the good thing is the rest of the photo is exposed well and won't require a lot of processing.
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As you can see from the three examples above, faster shutter speeds will freeze moving objects and let less light in. Longer shutter speeds will blur moving objects and let more light in for a brighter exposure. Stationary objects, such as buildings and signs, will remain stationary during a long exposure, so long as your camera is mounted on a tripod. When you simply throw your camera into auto mode and let the camera take its best guess at how to expose the photo, (as my daughter would say) you get what you get and you don't throw a fit. If you want to really begin experimenting with the creative possibilities that your camera allows, turn that dial on top of your camera over to "M" and begin experimenting. I've said it before and I'll say it again, digital film is cheap these days. Don't be afraid to shoot hundreds of photos, it's the only way you'll truly learn what your camera can do and start to develop your own personal style.


Your Photos Don’t Need A Critique

Photo critiques are often requested by new photographers who are just starting off. Usually the point is to try and figure out ways they can improve their photography. It's a broken way of learning and IMHO, it should be avoided.

Photography is a visual representation of your creativity. That's it; nothing more, nothing less. As soon as you stop taking photos you want and start listening to what your critics say you should do, your work ceases to be a reflection of your creativity. It is at that point when your craft evolves into being a representation of someone else's creativity, not your own.

The important thing to remember here is, everyone's a critic and the internet is full of them. If you're not shooting for yourself first and foremost, then why are you picking up a camera to begin with? You are your own best critic. Only you can look at your work and decide if you've accurately captured a representation of your creative vision or not. There will be an audience waiting for you regardless of your skill level and there will be a critic waiting to criticize you just the same. The sooner you are able to accept that, the sooner you can get back to improving your craft.

Learn to grow from within and follow your own intuition. Don't allow other people's boundaries and perception to mold what you should and shouldn't do. The more you shoot the more you will grow. The more your creativity will evolve. Most importantly, read. A lot. Learn everything you can about how to use your camera, about compositional techniques, and about light. Knowledge is power. The more you know and understand, the more your photos will improve over time. Knowing your camera inside and out will help you understand how to use your camera as a tool for crafting your creative style.

Look at other people's work every day. Be inspired and discover new creative avenues. Know what you want to achieve, and ask for help to accomplish it. Share your work with the world. Let your vision be seen and experienced by others. Allow others to help you without dictating how you should or should not be doing it.

Know that not everyone will like your work but have the courage and drive to keep going, to keep trying, to keep creating, to keep growing, and to keep pushing yourself beyond what you'd conceive is possible to achieve.

Don't ask others what you should do different. It's your work, not theirs. They weren't in the moment. They didn't experience it. They weren't sparked by the same creative vision that ignited you and resulted in you picking up your camera.

The industry is full of so-called know it all's, industry experts, gate keepers if you will, people who would love to tell you they are the authority on photographic art, as if there are rules and boundaries to what can be considered creative art. As if creativity can be wrapped around a mold and bound to a set of rules and standards.

As cliche as it sounds, success in creativity is what you make of it. It's in your perception, not in the quantity of likes and comments you receive or the ribbons and accolades these so-called experts claim to hold the key to. Creativity doesnt need to be critiqued because its a form of expression that is unique to each living individual on this planet. Creativity is not taught but is discovered. It is learned through your own exploration and persistence to grow and evolve your craft as a creative artist.


Taking Chances

Ocean Fragments | Newport Beach, Ca

Ocean Fragments | Newport Beach, Ca

Everything that occurs in our lives can be summed up by the choices we make and the chance that our choices will bring an outcome we desire.  Some chances we take are more predictable than others. We go to college with the expectation that we will graduate, find a job, and then get paid. Others take chances with less predictable outcomes.  Some may perhaps skip college altogether or start their own business with the hope they'll arrive at the same outcome.

The chances we are willing to take are ultimately dictated by how much risk we are willing to accept. Balancing risk with opportunity is something I'm constantly managing, in both my personal and professional life.  Opportunities almost always come at the cost of another. Pursuing opportunities to develop my hobbies is a constant balancing act to ensure I don't sacrifice other important aspects of my life.

In the general sense,  it can be difficult at times to determine which chances we should take when opportunities are presented to us. If we take one path and not another, will we regret it in the end?  Will we ever know what could have been if we would have taken the path we chose not to take? Sometimes the path we embark on is a series of random events that we could never have foreseen at the beginning of our journey. One opportunity leads to another and before we know it we are somewhere completely different from where we originally intended.

When I bought my first camera, I never imagined it would lead me to the journey I've been on in my travels throughout the world. When I headed out to Newport Beach on this boring and drab evening, I was faced with two opportunities. I had to decide between shooting photos at the beach and staying home to edit photos.  Knowing the weather wouldn't be interesting, I took a chance and went to the beach anyways. This path opened my eyes to something completely new, abstract seascape photography.

When I arrived at my spot, I realized the weather was too boring to shoot wide like I usually do. I had no other choice but to try and focus in on the details instead. I was out of my photographic comfort zone for the first time in awhile. I was shooting seascape photos at the beach, not with my trusty Canon 16-35, but with my 70-200 telephoto lens instead. It felt completely foreign to be using such a long lens at the beach. At first I didn't know what to do. I could either pack up and go home or force myself to change my perspective. I was so upset by the poor conditions for shooting photos but I was determined to make something of the evening. It's difficult to explain exactly what happened but basically I just started experimenting with different compositions, focal lengths, and shutter speeds, and then fell into a groove. I started really digging my results with certain shutter speed and focal length combinations. When you have a firm understanding of the exposure triangle and the settings on your camera, your photographic possibilities are endless. Even though Southern California is still in a dry spell for interesting weather, I'm finding myself very eager to return to the beach to expand on this recent discovery.

Technical Details
Focal Length: 159mm
Shutter Speed: 1/1000 second
Aperture: F/11
ISO: 800
Comments: Shooting with a telephoto lens allowed me to zoom in on the water droplets from a distance without having to worry about getting washed up by the tide. The high ISO of 800 allowed me to increase my shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second without under exposing the photo. I could have opened up my aperture to F/4 instead of bumping the ISO to 800, but doing so with a long telephoto lens would have required me to sacrifice my large depth of field. I wanted all of the water droplets to be in focus as much as possible, so a smaller aperture was in store for this shot.


Tranquil Nights

Tranquil | Joshua Tree, California

Tranquil | Joshua Tree, California

I arrived at an undisclosed location in Joshua Tree at what felt like the corner of No Where Street and I'm Lost Avenue. After shutting everything off, I stepped outside, closed the door, and all the clutter disappeared. Feelings of tranquility hit me as I suddenly realized the noise had been subdued. Beautiful sounds of silence began to displace the distractions. I drew another breath in and watched the moisture from my lungs fill the air around me. The Florescent Gods were no longer towering above me and it was such a liberating feeling. There was no more pressure from seemingly important tasks that were more trivial than I tend to realize. It was as if there was a big reset button on the top of the head and someone pressed it. I really started to wonder how we can work ourselves tirelessly to support such lavish lifestyles and at the end of the day, expect to have enough energy to really enjoy it all. It's as if we preoccupy ourselves with material possessions to impress others and even our own self, and then flock to social media to brag about how well off we are. Meanwhile I'm standing out in the middle of nowhere, watching the sky transform before me, and things couldn't be more perfect.


How To Predict a Colorful Sunset

Inspiration Point | Corona Del Mar, California

Inspiration Point | Corona Del Mar, California

I've been trying a free demo for a new service called Skyfire. It was recently added as a subscription service within the Photographer's Ephemeris app on iOS devices. Unfortunately, it hasn't been made available yet on the TPE app for Android devices, so I'm stuck having to use this service on my iPad. The idea is, your standard weather report can tell you basic information about how weather conditions will be but it doesn't predict how colorful the sunrise and sunset will be. That's where services such as Skyfire step in to fill that gap.

Before Skyfire, I would check the weather report for cloudy conditions and then head out to shoot photos with the hopes that the weather conditions would provide a beautiful sunset. As every landscape photographer knows and has experienced, a cloudy weather forecast is no guarantee for optimal conditions. A cloudy forecast could mean anything from being completely grey and overcast, to being clear skies with an occasional cloud. The only way to know for sure how conditions are is to take a leap of faith and drive to your destination, all while hoping for the best conditions along the way. Skyfire helps to alleviate the frustration of showing up to your destination only to find out that weather conditions will make for a very dull sunset.

How it works is, you search on the map within the TPE app for your destination and then tap sunrise or sunset. The TPE app will overlay color shading on the map surrounding your plot point. The color shading indicates how colorful the sunrise or sunset will likely be, relative to the plot point where you plan on shooting photos from. Red shading indicates a 90% or greater chance of there being a colorful sunset, yellow is a 75% chance, turquoise is 50% a chance, white is overcast, and clear indicates a clear sky with no clouds.

The concept is fantastic but it's not without its flaws. There's also a fairly big learning curve to be able to use it effectively. Sadly with all weather prediction services, you have to take it with a healthy sized grain of salt. In my experience using it, the forecast was accurate to a degree. The accuracy was limited to the exact area in the sky where the sun was setting, which is also what the TPE app helps you find, and is also the direction you will likely be photographing in if you're shooting landscape photos. There are some obvious exceptions to this. Often times you can turn your back to the sunset and experience even more beauty in the sky. However, if the sky is overcast, all hope is usually lost for experiencing a colorful sunset in any direction. This is the part that gets confusing because when I searched for Laguna Beach, the app shaded the entire region with yellow to indicate a 75% chance of a colorful sunset. In reality, I arrived in Laguna Beach to discover that the entire area was blanketed in dark grey clouds except for a small break where the sun was setting. This area in the sky was also being hidden by all the cliffs. I'm not entirely sure how Skyfire makes it's predictions but based on my experience, I suspect it takes into account what the local weather report predicts. On this particular date and time, the weather report was saying partly cloudy skies, which makes sense why Skyfire indicated a 75% chance for a colorful sunset. Case in point, Skyfire will only be as reliable as your local weather forecast.

Feeling frustrated, I got back in my car and headed North up Pacific Coast Highway to look for an unobstructed view of the sunset. By the time I got to Corona Del Mar I realized I had to stop driving and find a spot. The sun was setting quickly and I was almost out of time. I knew if I didn't stop right then, I would miss the opportunity to shoot photos completely.

I parked my car anyways a little further north than I usually do at Corona Del Mar and ran out to the railing against the edge of the cliff. Despite Skyfire telling me Corona Del Mar would have a colorful sunset, it too was blanketed in clouds. I couldn't believe it. I felt completely let down. I stood there against the railing and veered north while contemplating what to do. A small break in the clouds was began to form and the sunset started to look spectacular, just as Skyfire promised it would be. What I also discovered completely blew me away. There was a small look out point called Inspiration Point mid way down the cliff and a trail leading there. I couldn't believe how I had never discovered this before. I've been to Corona Del Mar more times than I can count and I never knew it was there. It was the absolute most perfect look out point overlooking Corona Del Mar and it was positioned right where the sun was setting. I ran down the trail to the look out point and stood there in pure bliss as the sun peaked itself through the clouds to light up the entire sky and the beach around me.


Somber Sky

Laguna Beach, CA

Laguna Beach, CA

I don't always find myself with an abundance of time in recent days. With work and family taking a priority in addition to hobby time being split between a classic Mustang and photography, evenings at the beach are a refreshing break from everyday life. What has made things more difficult is that I've been feeling a bit uninspired and discouraged lately. I knew I had to get out and shoot again though to get out of this funk. I didn't know where to go, nor did I even know what I wanted to photograph. I just knew I had to get myself out there and that I could count on Crescent Bay as a source of inspiration in a time of need. I've been visiting this spot for years, it is one of my many happy places. I know I've said this before but it's truly one of two places I can always go back to and never get sick of photographing.

Making the decision to get out of the house and do this, I got in my car feeling hopeful. I threw back the sun roof, put on my favorite Social Distortion playlist, and just started to drive. The feeling was quite liberating. The weather report promised me cloudy skies for what I imaged would be a vibrant sunset to spark some excitement within me. As soon as I hit highway 133 and saw the heavy marine layer, I knew conditions were not going to be what I had expected. When I arrived, I spent a few minutes wandering up and down the beach, wondering what to do, and contemplating the disappointment that was overwhelming me. June gloom was living up to its typical reputation but I still felt great just digging my toes into the sand, smelling the salty ocean air, listening to the waves crashing, and feeling the ocean mist. I dug my camera out of my bag for the first time in what felt like ages, attached my 16-35mm lens to the camera body, and enjoyed the beauty that was surrounding me.


Jumping Cholla

Joshua Tree, California

Joshua Tree, California

The experience of visiting Joshua Tree can be compared to the likes traveling several decades into the past. You'll want to put your smart phone away and any other internet connected device or Bluetooth device you rely on every day. You won't be needing any of that stuff. Where you'll be going, there is no internet or 4g. Heck there isn't even 1g or 1xRTT. When the park ranger asks if you need a map upon entry into the park, you best be saying yes because that's about all you're going to have to go off of, unless you were smart enough to come equipped with a hand held GPS. I almost forgot to mention, a ham radio will be your only ticket to the outside world for the duration of your stay. Oh come on, it's not that bad. Remember the days when your car broke down how you'd have to walk miles to find a pay phone to get help? Well if you're a millennial you've never had to do this, but the rest of us all had to go through this at some point in our lives before cell phones existed.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is a popular spot deep within Joshua Tree. The only sign of civilization near by is the road that gets you there and the small parking lot at the trailhead. The Cholla Cactus earned it's nickname as the Jumping Cholla due to how easily the needles detach if you rub up against one. It's as if they jumped out at you. I can certainly attest to this considering I still have part of a needle embedded in my thumb. I have accepted that this needle is now a permanent addition to my thumb. I could have stayed on trail like the signs suggested, but venturing off through a maze of jumping cholla ment capturing a much more interesting composition. I'd say its a small price to pay for a cool shot. It was all worth it in the end.


Every Day Is A Great Day To Shoot Photos

Swells | Corona Del Mar, California

Swells | Corona Del Mar, California

Being a landscape photographer in Southern California has been a bit of a challenge for me. I'm constantly battling crummy weather and not a whole lot of scenic landscapes that are easily accessible. Not to mention the fact that we're enclosed by several mountain ranges that keep tons of smog trapped over our cities.

As any landscape photographer can vouch for, we always go out hoping for cloudy skies and perfect sunsets, but it rarely works out that way. The evening I shot this, I left the house not even being able to see Mt. Baldy, due to all the smog. To give you a bit more perspective on this, Mt. Baldy is less than an hour drive from my house. By the time I got to the beach, the sky was so hazy that you couldn't even make out the sun. It was as if the sun was hiding behind a curtain of fog, except it was smog.

It has become a challenge of mine to continue shooting through all the dull and uninspiring days, like on the evening I shot this photo, and to break free from my dependence on perfect sunsets to be able to shoot great photos. I read once that a great photographer can shoot great photos regardless of the conditions they are shooting in, and that is what I strive to achieve every time I go out shooting.


Downtown Portland

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

My wife and I recently paid a visit to Portland Oregon for our wedding anniversary. If you have a weekend to kill, this city is the place to see. We love visiting new places and when we found out Portland is essentially known as Beervana, we got really excited. I'm not by any means what you'd consider a beer snob, but I do enjoy craft beers. My beer vocabulary doesn't typically include stuff like Coors or Michelob. When I found out my favorite brewery, Rogue, had a public ale house in the Pearl District not too far from my hotel, I was through the roof.

If you like pub crawling, a weekend in Portland is perfect. All within walking distance from each other is Rogue, 10 Barrel Brewing, Brew Cycle, Bridgeport, and several others. My favorite, unsurprisingly, was Rogue. They had an amazing selection of limited release beers, including an interesting concoction only available at the Flanders Street location called the Haze-O-Lantern. I was about to order my favorite Hazelnut Brown when the server told us about this new specialty brew, a mix of their Hazelnut Brown, Chocolate stout, and Pumpkin Patch ales. I skeptically and reluctantly deviated from what I really wanted, and gave this unfamiliar brew a try. I've never tasted anything like it before, it was pure happiness, a combination of three of my favorite types of beers in one pint. I wanted this in a case to go but sadly it was a concoction they had to mix right there on the spot. It was proof that good beer isn't required to have the three letter acronym IPA. Dear Rogue, if you want to do something completely awesome, package the Haze-O-Lantern in bottles and ship it out across the nation.

The rest of Portland was a lot of fun too. It's a unique little city with lots of character. Running into the large homeless population right by the Hawthorne bridge, where I shot this photo, was anything but exciting, but the view is great. All the locals jogging along the Eastbank Esplanade didn't seem the be phased by the homeless either.

If you have about an hour to kill, wait in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. One of the highlights of this trip was ordering a half dozen box of these crazy not-so-little diabetes inducing globs of goodness for my wife and I to share. I barely made it through one full donut, and then out of obligation and guilt, I forced myself to try the others. It's not that I didn't like them, oh no, just the opposite. I had consumed so much sugar that I started getting sick. I felt like I needed to get up and run a 10k. Seriously though, you've never tried donuts until you've tried these. They're pretty darn awesome.


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